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dirt

Sometimes I make a big mess of things. A really big mess. Sometimes the messes I make are the work of several awful days that finally pile up to create an overwhelming avalanche of terrible, and sometimes I do just one swift awful thing and them BAM. There I am, spiritually face down in the dirt, having failed the very people that God gave me to take care of. And when I’ve done something awful, I find it near impossible to get up and do the next thing. Unload the dishwasher. Say sorry. Anything. Move on and try again. I find it hard to do that. I’m just so awful, I think. I should just stop because I’m just going to keep doing awful things. There’s really no hope for me or for these sad people who need me.

Flashback to the mid-nineties…

During what may have been my last bike ride, my front wheel slipped on a steep bit of road and I flew off, head first. If it were one of those extreme sports competitions, I would have gotten all sorts of points for how high I was. I landed roughly on the dirt and gravel and when I finally stopped skidding, I lay there for a bit, face to the ground, dazed. I stayed there for a while, painfully covered in cuts and bruises.

Fast-forward again…

That’s what a spiritual faceplant feels like to me: humiliating and awful and you just don’t want to move. For a while. A long while. Everything hurts and maybe, maybe they’ll all just let you stay down here, in the dirt (or mud, if you’re crying).

After typing all that, I wish I had something profound and practical to share about what to do in these situations. Most times, and for longer than I would admit, for longer than I need, I just wallow. Feel bad for myself. And boy is it hard to do good things in this state. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, I remember to turn to God and say Help me, please! through my tears, or anger, or humiliation. I feel really silly saying that, if I really thought about it, thought back to all those really terrible times, God hasn’t failed me yet. All those moments have ultimately worked out for the good. God hasn’t failed me yet, and still I linger in the dirt before asking Him for help. Sometimes I don’t even remember to ask at all. He is all-merciful and all-powerful. And He loves me more than I can imagine. Even if I’m a very slow learner.

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In just a few days, thousands and thousands of youth from around the world with gather in Madrid, Spain to celebrate World Youth Day 2011, sharing with the whole world (and with each other) their hope of committing themselves to Christ. Our kids are still too little to participate, but my husband and I have amazing memories of attending past World Youth Days, back when we were “youth”. Way, waaay back.


Rome, 2001. One of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’m cropped off the photo, to the right. My knees were shaking uncontrollably.

On the occasion of this summer’s WYD, the Holy Father prepared a message reflecting on this year’s theme: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7). A fellow parishoner forwarded it to me, suggesting that it would be timely to share a bit of it with you.

We too want to be able to see Jesus, to speak with him and to feel his presence even more powerfully. For many people today, it has become difficult to approach Jesus. There are so many images of Jesus in circulation which, while claiming to be scientific, detract from his greatness and the uniqueness of his person. That is why, after many years of study and reflection, I thought of sharing something of my own personal encounter with Jesus by writing a book. It was a way to help others see, hear and touch the Lord in whom God came to us in order to make himself known. Jesus himself, when he appeared again to his disciples a week later, said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (Jn 20:27). We too can have tangible contact with Jesus and put our hand, so to speak, upon the signs of his Passion, the signs of his love. It is in the sacraments that he draws particularly near to us and gives himself to us. Dear young people, learn to “see” and to “meet” Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present and close to us, and even becomes food for our journey. In the sacrament of Penance the Lord reveals his mercy and always grants us his forgiveness. Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.

WYD will take place between the 16th and the 21st of August – a good time to say a small prayer for the youth who will be, as the Holy Father puts it, wanting something great, something new, wanting to discover life itself.

Since my kids are starch-itarians, going meatless on Fridays doesn’t quite have the same effect as it does on adults. I suspect that when they find out that we’re having grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight I will receive the title The Best Mama Ever in the Whole World and there will be much rejoicing in our little house. My daughter asked me today why we give up meat on Fridays. I explained that sometimes, when people get so preoccupied with things that they really like, it’s hard to be good. So Lent is a time that we do without some of those things that we like so that we’re not so distracted. Then we can focus on being better. I suggested that she should think of something else she can do without today, since she’s not really a big fan of meat.

“Oh, I can’t have that at all. My teacher says that if there’s something we really like, then we can’t have it!” announced another daughter when I was serving her something at breakfast. Not that she understood why. I’m going to have to work on the whys. As Pope Benedict puts it, Lent is not a season of sadness, but a season of meaning:

“In common opinion, this time runs the risk of being marked by sadness, by the darkness of life,” the Pontiff stated. “Instead, it is a precious gift of God; it is an intense time full of meaning in the journey of the Church; it is the itinerary to the Lord’s Easter.”

Changes in food routine always makes for an increase in interesting conversation at our house during mealtimes. It’s a great chance to work on the various whys of this liturgical season.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Now, the only reason I’m about to tell you how to make a grilled cheese sandwich is that, once upon a time, not so long ago, I didn’t know how to make them either. Really and truly. So here goes: butter two pieces of bread (butter goes on the outside of the sandwich). Put cheese on the inside, non-buttered part. Set a pan to medium and place the sandwich on the heated pan. After a long, long time, flip. You’ll know it’ll be time to flip when the bottom of the sandwich is a nice, toasted golden brown. When you flip, all the cheese will fall out and the entire thing will fall apart. At least this is what happened to me the first few times. Take a deep breath, reconstruct the sandwich and try again.

You must know what you believe; you must know your faith with the same precision with which a specialist in information technology knows the working system of a computer; you must know it as a musician knows his piece; yes, you must be much more profoundly rooted in the faith of the generation of your parents, to be able to resist forcefully and with determination the challenges and temptations of this time. You have need of divine help, if you do not want your faith to dry up as a dewdrop in the sun, if you do not want to succumb to the temptations of consumerism, if you do not want your love to be drowned in pornography, if you do not want to betray the weak and the victims of abuse and violence. -Pope Benedict XVI

My kids are still pretty little, and presenting matters of the faith does not take a great deal of courage. I imagine that this will not always be the case. As they get older and life gets more challenging, as situations get less black-and-white and more gray, as they see and experience more of the world, it will take more guts on my part to continue to be a witness to the message of Jesus. Pope Benedict challenges the youth time and time again to keep their standards high. I hope, when the time comes, I will, too.

By the way, the quotation was taken from an article in Zenit, a news agency whose aim it is “to look at the modern world through the messages of the Pope and the Holy see, inform about the happenings of the Church in the world, and the topics, debates and events that are especially interesting to Christians worldwide.” I find it a great resource for following what the Holy Father is up to and saying.

I often tell my kids not to make each other grumpy since it’s hard to be good when you’re grumpy. Sometimes, I need to hear it, too. The Holy Father recently put it more eloquently, by saying “Make your home a real nursery of virtues and a serene and luminous place of trust, in which, guided by God’s grace, it is possible to discern wisely the call of the Lord who continues to invite people to follow him.”

You see, some of us have the flu. Unfortunately, some includes me. Non-essential services at our home have come to a grinding halt as our family trudges through each day. Our home is now the site of mountains of laundry, general random mess, dust elephants and kleenexes. Fancy recipes are on hold and we are going through the entire inventory of easy dinner options.

Each day as my body slowly gets better, my mind is more and more frantic about the amount of housework and other tasks that are piling up. It’s so disheartening to think about how little physically can be done when one is sick! My temper is short and the members of my household are having to live with an ogre of a mom. And mama ogres usually create little grumpy ogres, not to mention a stressed out Mr. Ogre.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God… really? The Kingdom of God first? But what about the laundry? What about the dust elephants? What about the toilets? Not disinfect ye first the toilets? Seek ye first the Kingdom of God? I don’t know what that means… God? Please just show me what to do. I’m sick and tired and I need simple instructions. Simple instructions came in the faces of my tired, grumpy family. So instead of focusing on the mountain of tasks, I tried to focus on the people around me. Often it meant trying not to lose my temper. Sometimes it meant sitting with a one-year old and piling blocks whose destiny it was to be knocked down anyway. Extra kisses for a sniffly toddler. Small things that seemed bigger now that I’m extra powerless to do big things.

Which reminds me of a neat quote by Mother Teresa: There are no great things, only small things with great love.

Holy Father in the Popemobile

During his visit to the UK, the Holy Father had an opportunity to speak to Catholic students. Definitely worth a read.

Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love. You all know what it is like when you meet someone interesting and attractive, and you want to be that person’s friend. You always hope they will find you interesting and attractive, and want to be your friend. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.

Here is the link.

UPDATE
You’ve got to see this! It’s a set of photos on the website called Flickr taken when the Holy Father was in Hyde Park. Very moving. Look for the baby being lifted up to be kissed.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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