Out of the Box

free crab

When I was in college, one of my professors told a story of these crabs in a box at the Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle. He said that these crabs are alive and all just piled in this box, and every once in a while a rebel crab will try to break free and almost get out of the box, but the other crabs will pull him down.  In their chaos and confusion of trying to all climb over each other to get out, none of them get out because they keep each other down.  And they all die.  Steamed or boiled, dipped in butter. It is the inevitable fate of each crab all because they cannot stand to see another doing something different or better.

Several months back, when Papa Francisco was visiting the States, my old Sunday School teacher (from my Baptist days) said some very false and mean things about the Pope and Catholics in general on Facebook.  It was not pleasant and I was very hurt, and, truthfully, quite furious.  I wasn’t actually surprised and was sorta expecting someone from my past to pipe up over the course of that week with something, but when it actually happened my anger was stronger than I anticipated.  At first, I was a lone Catholic in a sea of Fundamentalists defending the Faith and Church teachings with Scripture and Tradition. I attempted to be outwardly patient and dignified as I was inwardly seething at the barrage of insults. I was seriously about to run out of grace and snap as the arguments on the opposing side got personal: someone said how “sorry they were that I had lost my way so badly in my sin” and that they “always remembered me as a very intelligent girl and who used to have a real heart for Jesus and whose dad sometimes wouldn’t let her come to church” (um… first: my dad is a Catholic who took me to a Baptist church at my request four times a week, and second: NO ONE says mean things about my daddy to this daddy’s girl).  I felt like the rebel crab being dragged down, my joy being sapped from me, when suddenly…

The Calvary (Marine-life activists?)  came to the rescue!  Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Non-denominationalists, back-sliders, front-pew-sitters, and even an atheist reached out their hands to pull me out of that box of snapping, fear-mongering, chaos.  I was reminded again and in many ways how ignorance and fear mostly lead to tragic consequences, but kindness and love can help in every situation.  I was also reminded that stooping to meanness only sucks you back into that damn box of crabs.

This past weekend was one of my favorite sets of Bible readings.  Each reading really spoke to me and entered the very cockels of my heart, which was still bruised and as yet a little resentful still of the attack.

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19  The word Yahweh came to me, saying:

5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.’

17 ‘As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless.

18 For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country.

19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you.’

As the priest said during his homily, God made me a prophet. He made us all prophets, to proclaim His word and truth.  He made me strong, and with faith in His grace, no one can tear me down because He is with me.  I need constant reminding of this because I am wont to make excuses…

First Corinthians (or One Corinthians, as Trump would say, lol) 12:31—13:13

Set your mind on the higher gifts. And now I am going to put before you the best way of all.

1 Though I command languages both human and angelic — if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

2 And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains — if I am without love, I am nothing.

3 Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned — if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

4 Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited,

5 it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.

6 Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.

7 It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

8 Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will fall silent; and if knowledge, it will be done away with.

9 For we know only imperfectly, and we prophesy imperfectly;

10 but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will be done away with.

11 When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways.

12 Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.

13 As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.

Isn’t this just one of the greatest passages in the Bible????? It just sums pretty much everything up, to me.  As Jeff Cavins pointed out in the fantastic Bible study I have been doing at my parish, I cannot have one hand raised for Jesus and praising God and the other around the throat of someone that hurt me, because forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a will…Jesus didn’t “feel” like dying for us, he chose to because he loves us. God forgives me over and over again, and I owe my fellow humans this same forgiveness if I expect God to forgive me.  Tearing someone else down for any reason does not build you up and it certainly does not make you holy.  I am called—no, COMMANDED—to love…holding on to resentments, thinking ill thoughts, and spreading meanness is certainly not loving.

The funny thing is, the more you love, the easier it is. That channel of grace gets wider and stronger.  I used to hold grudges ’til kingdom come, but lately my flashes of anger tend to cool quite quickly.  I still have an Irish temper and a smart mouth that gets me into plenty of trouble, but I am becoming more understanding, apologetic, and forgiving than I was before.  Though I have so much more room for improvement, I sure hope it counts for something, anyway, and I know I didn’t come that way, so it MUST be grace…

Finally, the Gospel: Luke 4: 21-30

21 Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

22 And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

23 But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own country.” ‘

24 And he went on, ‘In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

25 ‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land,

26 but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a town in Sidonia.

27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many suffering from virulent skin-diseases in Israel, but none of these was cured — only Naaman the Syrian.’

28 When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.

29 They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him off the cliff,

30 but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away.

So, God made me (and all of us Christians) to be a prophet and promises He will be with me; He commands me to love, which is the greatest of all things; and He reminds me that a prophet is rarely accepted in his own country (though His reward for us is greater than the suffering).  I am not going to convince everyone I meet, especially in my former church, of the truth I have found, but I can live it…and I can show and tell others of the love and truth…especially those others who have felt the “bad side” of so-called Christians and have the scars to show for it.  Refusing to give in and spread negativity is the only way to fight your way out of a box of crabs.  More than that, by building each other up and loving each other past our faults, showing mercy, and rejoicing in our faith, we can all get out of the box.

Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above

Today we celebrate the Queenship of our Blessed Mother Mary. A new-ish Catholic, this concept is still something I am learning about. Maybe we are all always learning about it, though, so I won’t fret over that. I will say when I learned about the connection of the Queen Mother in the Old Testament and Mary, I was thrilled. Actually all the references to Mary I missed as a fundamental Baptist–from Eve to Revelation–rather profoundly struck me as I was learning about Catholicism; I have felt safe, relieved, humbled, and honored to build a relationship with her since and rather sorry that she is skimmed over by many other Christians. I love the rosary, pondering and attempting to emulate her graces, and the Immaculate Heart.

The thing most non-Catholics do not understand is that Mary never takes anything away from her Son. Catholics do not worship her. We love her for the beautiful, wonderful woman, wife, mother, and example she is and we love her for her fateful “be it unto me according to your word” that was the means to bring salvation–her son, our Lord–into the world. She always gently leads us to Him, and like her motherly commands to the servants at Cana, she advises us to do whatever He tells us. She prays for us and loves all of us as her adopted children.

Being the dork that I am, I love to see how other countries and cultures view the Blessed Virgin and the feasts and celebrations held in her honor around the world.

Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes–France

Fatima

Our Lady of Fatima–Portugal

indian virgin mary

Indian Madonna–I have no idea who painted her, I found her on Pinterest. Isn’t she lovely?

Madonna and Child by Tim Ashkar

asian virgin mary

Obviously, being married to a devout Catholic Mexican, I have a special devotion to the Virgin de Guadalupe; we get up early on December 12th for the celebration of that special Mass and the church is PACKED to standing room only and filled with the overwhelming smell of roses. Dances and a procession follow and then tamale season is kicked off in a big tent in the parking lot. Easily one of the best holidays of the year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

“A woman clothed with the sun” Our Lady de Guadalupe

I also love learning about and having little home celebrations of other Marian holidays throughout our liturgical year, but as wonderful as all of those things are–and our incessant holidays and feast days are some of the best things about being Catholic–I really love pondering just the simple girl, Mary.

My husband had an artist paint a copy of the Polish Madonna for me for Christmas last year. I begged for a copy for months, and being the art snob that he is, no regular re-print would do, so he scoured the internet for someone that could actually paint her. I hang her in a place of honor above my piano in the living room and I can look at her every time I walk through to my bedroom or to the kitchen. I love how little Baby Jesus is just sitting in the dirt like any little baby, playing while his mommy does the laundry.

Polish Madonna

Polish Madonna

I tear up when I think about how she must have felt to have the baby, her God and Creator, moving and kicking inside of her. I imagine the moment his little naked body was laid in her arms and she looked into his eyes that were so innocent and yet held the secrets of the universe. She probably counted every finger and toe, just like any other mother, knowing he would be perfect, but checking all the same. She got up at night, probably several times, to feed him, check his breath, change his nappies. Think of that! She had to CLEAN Jesus. It was to her that he ran when he fell and scraped his little knees, with her he cuddled when he was feeling under the weather. She sang him songs and rocked him to sleep. She made his meals, maybe even some he didn’t like as well as some that he loved and that would remind him of her when he was older.  I think of her in her plain gowns and humble spirit, cooking and all the sudden a bunch of rich kings from the Orient show up at her doorstep bearing gifts richer than she would have ever seen for her little infant son playing in the corner with little blocks of wood. She tossed him in the air and tickled and blew raspberries on his belly to make him laugh. I sort of chuckle when I think about the time Jesus got “lost” in Jerusalem when he was about 12, and she was worried frantic…”Oy vey! I lost the Son of God! What am I going to tell Him???”  I smile when her mama role comes out at the wedding at Cana and she asks him to do something about the hospitality catastrophe about to occur.

Holy Mary and boy JesusMaryplayingwithJesusmarybreastfeeding

And I cry actual tears when I think of her watching her only son get tortured to death, and then his bruised, bloody body lowered into her arms. How she probably kissed his face and wiped the blood from him as she removed the horrid crown they shoved on his head and mocking purple cloth. The simple woman, who knew somehow this was not the end, but still had to go through the absolute worst pain and suffering imaginable. I wonder if she even for a moment had that doubt and fear start to creep in–just  for a millisecond– when she held his broken body that maybe she was mistaken about God’s plan for her and all of humanity. Her beloved baby was taken from her in the most cruel way ever dreamt of by wicked men, and how she lived through it, I cannot fathom. God gave her the grace to squash that doubt that tried to attack her, I am sure, and the strength to endure the pain and offer up her suffering for all of us–the same grace she was given to crush the head of the serpent. But she was fully human, not divine, and had to choose to keep the faith remember that with God “nothing will be impossible”.  I thank God she did.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta

Note: I try to source pictures when I can. All photos were found on the internet and remain property of their rightful owners and I thank them for their beautiful masterpieces that share joy in the world.

Our Love Story: Or, The Only Piece of Advice We Are Entitled to Give

Whew! Sorry ya’ll! I have been on an unexpected hiatus because my busy-ness went up from about a level 8 to a level 18 on a scale of one to ten. I have plenty of things to catch up on with you guys, but today is a special day: my third anniversary with my sweetie! As it is a Tuesday and raining cats and dogs outside with terrifying lightening strikes seemingly in our yard, we are waiting until the weekend to do anything special, so I will take a little sec to tell you our little story.

My husband is always telling me “It is us against the world, baby!”

And, I tell ya, that isn’t far from the truth. We have dealt with family feuds on both sides, tackling and nearly eliminating a mountain of debt, the continuing pain of infertility, and major remodeling projects with a house that fights back.  But our marriage has a not-so-secret weapon: a Christ-centered relationship.

I met my husband in November 2010.  I met him online and I am not ashamed of that.  For some reason,  people think that is weird sometimes.  It’s not.  You and I are meeting online right now.

I had to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.  A lot. I AM ashamed of that.

I had a high-school relationship that spilled over into college and beyond.  This man is the father of my son and is a very good man and a wonderful father. He will even be a very good husband…for someone else.  We were too young and dumb and immature, with problems and obstacles way too big for us to overcome.  We did not have a God-centered relationship, though we both came from good, God-fearing stock.  Anyway, about three weeks before our wedding, this relationship imploded. Badly. I am talking we had third degree burns.  And I was MAD.  I went on some stupid rampage trying to prove a point—that I was desirable and I could have any man I wanted.  Of course,  he didn’t care what I did or didn’t do, so I hurt no one but myself and worse, I hurt my son. My son never really saw the men in and out of my life, but he felt the repercussions from them because I was sad, mad, or just honestly not as good as I could have been as a mom.  I never neglected him and I took very good care of him, but instead of trusting in God to find us someone, if we were indeed to have someone, I went hunting.  And continually got my heart broken, or broke someone else’s heart, and in either case, lost a little more of the person God intended me to be for the person that was out there waiting for me.

After about 5 years of my nonsense, God brought me to my knees.  My heart needed HIM, not a mortal man.  I joined the Catholic Church and fell in love with Him all over again and my heart healed up slowly.  I then prayed for a husband if that was God’s will for me…a real man that would love Him, me and my child. A man that would challenge me and guide me and nurture me, although I had my Savior, and I didn’t need another.

I made a list of criteria…of course the above mentioned was numero uno.  Because my faith was new and so important to me, Mr. Right had to be Catholic. I am not against people marrying outside their faith—that is up to them.  For me to be “equally yoked”, I needed a man that was of the same faith.  Besides, there are plenty of other things to debate about in marriage, and that was one thing I didn’t want to debate about.  Other than that, I had no real specifics other than there be no weird criminal history and preferably he be educated or talented in something.  I liked short, tall, fat, thin, quiet, loud. I trusted that if God wanted to call me to married life, he would work out the specifics that were best suited for me.  In the meantime, I just kept my prayer request in my heart and worked on being the best mom I could be and providing for my son.  I had a good career, bought a house with a big back yard and started my own little home improvements.

Eventually, I went on a free dating website because I was house poor.  It was the best mistake I ever made.  I was on the website a grand total of 48 hours.  I am not bragging, but seriously, after 24 hours, I had 57 emails from men—most of them disgusting creatures.  Rather than weeding through the slough of perverts and douche-bags in my in-box,  I did a quick scan of guys in my area and saw a photo of a tall, thin Latino leaning against a rail with a big boat in the background.  I thought to myself: he has traveled somewhere, so that is cool; he appears pretty handsome; and I sure do like Spanish accents. His religious views said he was Catholic and better and better, he lived within about 30 minutes of me.  So I emailed him a monologue and said I was shutting down my account and he would need to contact me ASAP if he was interested.  He will tell you that the email he received sounded like it was from a neurotic, demanding person…and if that is so, why on earth he responded to it is beyond me. My version is, I knew what I wanted and what I did not, and all others need not apply, and this was a limited-time offer, baby.

He emailed me back the next day and then we exchanged numbers.  He called and to my dismay he did NOT have a Spanish accent…but a perfectly normal American one.  But he was ever so nice…we chatted a while and a few days later agreed to meet up at a Chinese restaurant.  He actually was on his way home from visiting his parents’ farm and smelled…so he stopped at Wal-Mart to freshen up and buy a new shirt. I was in Target in my holey jeans and Chuck Taylors and not at all my normal dressed-to-the-nines first date self.  I quickly bought cheap make-up and fixed my face in the car. He showed up just as I finished applying my lipstick.  I took one look at him and knew…I was going to break his heart and ruin his life.  I was sure of it. I could see that he was a genuine person, an honest person, a simple person….and I was a hot mess, practiced in the conniving and deceitful ways of women.  I prayed a quick prayer that either God would give me the grace to a woman worthy of such a man or make him turn tail and run without me having to chase him off.

So, we had our first date and talked and talked.  I learned he was born in Mexico and immigrated at the age of 3 so that his older brother could attend a school for the blind here.  He had such a fascinating story and spoke so humbly and he was just so damn sweet that I just had to see him again, but I let him take the reins.  For once, I really tried to behave like a lady; and he was always a true gentleman.  He actually courted me, and interestingly, refused to kiss me until our third date. I lingered while he helped me with my coat and made my lips available like Scarlett O’Hara throwing herself at Rhett, but he didn’t take the bait.

He is so sweet and shy!

By and by, after we had been dating about a year, he decided he would move closer and he got a job at the same company I worked for.  It had been pretty much never since I had someone around so often and someone that I actually had to answer to, so I, of course, freaked out and had to break the whole thing off…on his first day at his new job…which was at MY job.  I was at first relieved, for about 3 hours, but I just knew in my heart it wasn’t right. God had given me exactly what I asked for…which doesn’t always happen. God answers all prayers, but they don’t always happen to be exactly what you ask for because what you ask for isn’t always the right thing.  Hubby was devastated because this really was an out of the blue thing.

I don’t remember who called who at this point, but it righted itself in the span of about 3 days and we were suddenly on fast-track because we both knew that we wanted to be with only each other forever.  He proposed on Valentine’s day 2012 and we were married just 4 months later in June.  We had a giant Mexican wedding and were married through the Church.

The night before our wedding, we thought we had a bad omen: we LOST our marriage license. After my Narc Cop BFF tore apart my husband’s car and took out his dash looking for it, my sister in law sent up feverish prayers to Saint Anthony. Our priest solemnly told us there would be no wedding without that paper and my heart nearly exploded. I went home in tears to ransack the house. Since there were boxes everywhere in preparation for his move in, I felt so dismal and overwhelmed. My husband stayed with me to tear apart the house and eventually we found the fated piece of paper in one of his boxes of junk to THROW AWAY in the wee sma’s if the morn. Exhausted, we sheepishly we curled up and slept on the couch, waking up to each other on our wedding morning to a knock on the door from Father Charles. His eyebrows raised, he flicked his cigarette and inquired if he should perform a wedding that afternoon. Still in my pajamas with my husband cowering in the shadows, I told him all was well and we would be there at five-thirty.

Father Charles actually said something on our wedding day that I will never forget.  He looked each of us in the eyes and told us it was our job to make sure the other got to Heaven, and that did not mean for us to kill each other to meet that goal. I cannot say I am an expert on marriage, by any stretch of the imagination, but I can tell you that we both take that statement to heart, though we do our lapses in judgment and downfalls and have come close to trying to kill the other to send them to Heaven prematurely.  Despite the double-whammy of nearly throwing our marriage away, quite literally, and seeing each other prior to the wedding, we have been doing just fine.

I can tell you that the first year was SO hard…learning to live with another person when you are both independent people is very tough.  When you come from very different cultures, it is even tougher.  We both had to learn that you are still YOU, when you become one as man and wife. We finally hit a stride and we have learned how to communicate much better and we have really become one. There is no one I would rather be with and I cannot even picture my life without him.  I have no advice at all to give because we are still “newlyweds” in a sense, except that if you ever hope to make it to a place and a time where you are entitled to give advice to others, you have to have God in the marriage. Bottom line is, I have never been happier, more at peace, and more content, and while we know that the future is scary with unknowns and obstacles are in our path now, if we keep Christ in our relationship and continue to use the example of His love for us and the Church as the center of our marriage, we can at least be assured that at the end of this journey, we will have got each other to Heaven.

Te amo mucho mucho, mi amor. Para siempre!

A Mildly Red Pentecost: Misadventures in Planning

So I had this really grandiose plan of making this Pentecost Sunday a true blue (red) celebration—something I could stake a claim on in the family calendar and have people over and really celebrate the beauty of our Catholic/Christian faith. I had been thinking about it for months, because I wanted a holiday that was specifically always celebrated at the De Lara house…we are the “newlyweds” and we have just one almost grown kid, so we don’t merit high enough on the family scale to claim a “major” holiday. HA HA HA…who was I kidding? My ridiculous schedule, my always-under-construction house, my procrastinating personality, and my mediocre talent all conspired against me. Not to mention, we had a tragic week, so no one felt much like partying anyway.

I painstakingly researched international celebrations for this feast in hopes of adopting some new traditions for my family. Pentecost, although a very major holiday, is not as popular as it should be—my cynical side thinks this is because there is nothing to secularize, “consumerize”, and sell to the masses. My son and I started celebrating Christmas Around the World about 10 years ago, before we met my husband, and we typically “adopt a culture” during the Christmas season and celebrate in their traditional manner with decorations, games, and foods (as closely as possible, anyway, and in addition to our own regular traditions). I thought perhaps we can do a condensed version of this for Pentecost, taking little things here and there and coming up with a really nice celebration that we can share with our family and friends. It would be new and different and completely alien to most because much of our circle is not Catholic and many of them have no idea what the Pentecost is. I know many Protestant denominations do celebrate it, but we never mentioned it at all in the church I grew up in.

Some of the ideas I had were:

  • Shocking the household awake with trumpet music, as a sort of a play on the French tradition of using trumpets during the Divine Service (our parish doesn’t usually use trumpets, but there is no reason we couldn’t have them at home).
  • Having a morning prayer outside in our really great back yard and walking through the morning dew (The “Veni Sancte Spiritus” sequence at The Pentecost Mass includes the phrase “Heal our wounds, our strength renew, on our dryness pour thy dew.”) as per the English custom.
  • Mass all decked out in the liturgical color red.
  • Berry and peach picking, and then sharing the wealth with neighbors or, even better, the shelter. Pentecost is a Jewish holiday as well, commemorating the birthday of the Jewish faith when God gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. It marks the beginning of the Feast of Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks, and the beginning of the harvest season. It is obligatory to take special care of the poor during this time, as well.  It was a nice sunny and breezy day, so a picnic lunch would have been perfect after our harvesting.
  • Dinner was going to be spaghetti with red sauce (because I do this really, really well, or else carne asada con salsa rojo—always a Mexican staple at parties) on a backyard tablescape decked out with ferns and strewn with rose petals, with paper doves hanging from the roof of the porch.  It is a Polish and German custom to bring green branches and plants inside for this Feast in hopes that the Holy Spirit will enter the home and bring life and blessings and it is an Italian custom to scatter rose petals over the congregation to symbolize the tongues of fire, and also to hang paper doves from the ceiling.
  • No birthday celebration is complete without a birthday cake, so I was going to have a red velvet cake (which is always MY birthday cake, too) and top it with 13 candles to symbolize the 12 apostles and Mary (because 120+ for all of the disciples present would have been a fire hazard).
  • Finally, I was going to take a leaf out of Kendra’s book and have a backyard bonfire, while the kids do another English custom of cheese wheel rolling race.  We don’t have a hill like Gloucester, but we do have a nice enough incline to allow the laws of physics to create a rollicking good (and mostly safe) time. Think of that opening scene of Little House on the Prairie.

Womp womp womp………I got as far as wearing red at Mass. And walking in the dew.

photo 3

Our backyard patio oasis is still under construction, and this construction takes up almost all of our free time. It is a serious to-do with handmade cobblestones for the floor, a giant brick oven, a 20 x 25 pavilion—the works. No parties just yet. No fire pit. No picnic tables. We are now officially two months behind schedule on this renovation…but when it is done, I will have mind-blowing before and after pics for you.

I did make red velvet cupcakes because I seem to have lost one of my cake pans. Only I had just two bottles of food coloring, so they are more like brick red velvet cakes. *sigh*

photo 1

Also…due to my week, I neglected to go grocery shopping, so instead of spaghetti with red sauce we had penne with vodka sauce—from a jar! *bigger sigh*

Jack abandoned us for a Memorial Day weekend crab-boil at his cousin’s, so hubby and I, along with my drop-by-the-house-at-random brother-in-law, celebrated by our lonesome.

NEXT year, next year will be awesome.

I did have an inspiration and an epiphany, though…which I will post about later this week. And Mass was super awesome…we went to Spanish Mass at St. Ann’s and the music there never disappoints. So, despite my lack of a formal reception and celebration, the Holy Spirit was (is) with us anyway, and I suppose that is all that really matters.

Cooking Lessons, St. Joseph the Worker, and Me

Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God through him, alleluia.–Colossians 3:17

Last week was one of the hardest at my job in a looooong time. I have a hard job as it is, which I have discussed briefly before, but last week sucked the life-blood out of me. I came in early and stayed late by hours and felt very discouraged that nothing I did or said would make a difference and I was always going to be a hamster in a wheel, never getting anywhere and running until my little feet fall off. This isn’t true, of course, as most days things go as smooth as possible in a world that revolves around chaos.  My job is actually quite an important one in which I make many heavy decisions that can have serious repercussions for many people. Truthfully, I actually like my job just fine and I do get to help lots of people, but, you know, when it rains it pours and all that. I don’t know if Daniel Day-Lewis actually backed out of a movie in which he would play a claims adjuster, but his sentiments expressed about it are spot on with how I felt last week.

Friday morning I took a few hours off in the morning to go to the dentist. Since I knew I was going to have to stay late to make up the time missed anyway, I decided take a detour on the way to work and go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in goodness only knows how long. I absolutely needed the quiet time with Jesus to calm my busy mind and I knew it would do more good than harm to put in that time with Him and make it up later at work. I knelt in thanks for a good while, then I poured my heart and soul out to Jesus, just asking for strength, courage, and a pleasant attitude, among my other intentions for others.

It is amazing how God works. Sometimes you feel you wait years before you hear an answer (and sometimes you literally do) and sometimes He lobs the answer at you like a perfectly thrown football, spiraling right at your wide open hands. Sometimes, His answers are in motion before you even ask for them (hopefully more on that kind later). As I got up off my knees and settled into my seat to start my Rosary, I saw a lady out of the corner of my eye reading the missal. Inspired, I picked up my own missal out of the little pocket of the seat in front of me and turned to the readings for that day’s Mass, which I missed earlier.

I make it to daily mass perhaps once or twice a year, due to my work schedule, and the liturgical year moves faster than I can keep up much of the time, so I had no idea that Friday was celebrating St. Joseph the Worker. As I sat there reading the explanation of the feast day and the accompanying Scripture, I was floored. It was a glaring reminder that my work will be blessed if I keep in the attitude of Christ.

I went to work that day with a much lighter spirit and accomplished much. Even though I stayed late (again), my weariness was not so profound. This was an answer to a prayer, but really only a Tylenol version–something to get me through the pain. The actual answer came at the end of the day when my mother-in-law came to stay with us for the weekend.

As I have mentioned before, Ma De Lara doesn’t speak any English, but my Spanish is improving my leaps and bounds, so I am not uncomfortable to be alone with her. I guess she decided to up my game, because she had me take her grocery shopping for ingredients to make gorditas zacatecanas. She has been giving me cooking lessons on her visits because she wishes to make sure the culture lives on through me and any future baby De Laras.

Ma De Lara delegates the most menial tasks for me–peeling potatoes, gutting chiles, flipping many (thousands) of tortillas. I am not experienced enough or trusted enough to flavor the meat or cook the rice in her presence yet, but my attention is sharply recalled to her deft hands if it is diverted elsewhere–eventually there will be a test. The cooking lessons last for hours, because no Mexican woman worth her salt does anything half-way and the men are very hungry when they come in. It feels brutal–hot from the stove, my lower back aching, my hands perpetually smelling of onions and peppers, and my eyes itching without me being able to scratch them.

Ma cheerfully does her work, occasionally praising or admonishing me in Spanish, as I struggle to keep up with her pace. I think of how this is all she has ever done: cook, clean, raise 7 babies, and pick crops. Sixty-eight years old, and she still does the same tasks (less the crop picking–although we did go pick peaches and blueberries this weekend) as she cares for all of us and helps to raise her grandbabies.

St. Joseph is always the quiet one–he doesn’t say much in the Gospels and not much is known about him. Outside of being the earthly father of Jesus, he wasn’t important. Aside from his earlier lineage, most of his ancestors were probably just normal people. Nothing to suggest that he would be anyone special–many other Jews could claim similar heritage, and indeed many of us today can claim to be descended from royalty or nobility. We can assume he was a man of honor and empathy, because when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, rather than exposing her to the law, which would have condemned her to death, he thought of just letting her go quietly her own way. We know he was obedient because he listened to God’s command without question when he was told to take Mary as his wife and again when he was told to flee Bethlehem for Egypt. He was a wise man, considering his honor, empathy, and obedience, and also because we know that he was hand-selected by God to be the earthly custodian of Jesus, who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” The human side of Jesus would have had to learn from somewhere. He may have been a carpenter, but more than likely he was a day-laborer or a handyman (tekton), which is hard manual labor no matter which way you call it, and probably means he was not a man of wealth. St. Joseph probably had little inkling as to his actual importance–and perhaps it would be better that way, because I cannot even imagine how intimidating it would have been to KNOW you are the foster father of God.

Ma is like my own living, breathing St. Joe. She is certainly not a parent of God, but she is a contemporary embodiment of the virtues of St. Joe. She is not classically trained in anything in particular, but is a Jack–er, Jane-of-all-trades. She works tirelessly for her family, taking life in stride. Although not highly educated, she is very wise and respected, and we all turn to her for advice. She loves Jesus and Mary with her whole heart and is a very devout Catholic with very strong prayers. It is a comfort to me, as much as it makes me smile,  to see her wave crosses in the air and whisper prayers of safety for us as we back out of the driveway. She is very empathetic and I have never heard her judge a person for anything in my life–when wronged by someone very close to her, she simply removed herself from the situation and refuses to be goaded into saying mean things about that person, and instead mumbles, “Pobrecita, may God help her.”  None of her children may be very prominent or “important” people, but who knows that she isn’t in some great lineage that does produce someone of notoriety someday–more importantly, she recognizes that although she is small in the scheme of things, her kindness can go far and accomplish much. She presses this to her children, who, for the most part, exhibit this virtue as well.

Although our jobs are very different, and tiring in different ways, and neither terribly important to the universe (unlike St. Joseph’s actual job), the cooking lessons and getting to know my mother-in-law a little better first-hand instead of through a translator, have been, and continue to be St. Joseph’s intercession and God’s answer to my prayer for finding value in my work.

Whether it be flipping toasting tortillas with her bare fingers, climbing ladders to clean the trim on the house because it is cochino, bending over picking berries in the cruel Florida sun, or painstakingly plucking feathers from tonight’s future roast chicken, the woman does it with a song of gratefulness in her heart. I am ever so lucky to have my own beautiful, sainted mother and this adopted one to give me shining examples to live by. I suppose I should suck it up at my air-conditioned desk job and learn to be thankful I am not on the other end of the phone.

P.S. If you ever ARE in the unfortunate circumstance to be in an auto accident, do be kind to your adjuster, though. Trust me when I say we get absolutely no benefit from your misery, either.

How the Roman Road Leads Us to…Rome

 

When I was in middle school and up until about half-way through high school, my best friend and I would walk the two blocks from our school to our church to join the youth group in “soul-winning” every Wednesday afternoon, which was, in all actuality, a social event for us. We would get to walk somewhere by ourselves, be reunited with the friends we longed to see since Sunday, go on a field trip, have dinner, sing in choir and then have Bible study that night.

The weekly field trip, as it were, was more often than not to a poor or lower-middle class area to go knock on doors and frighten people into Heaven. Armed with little Gideon’s New Testaments, flagged with neon page markers and underlined verses, we waylaid harried mothers in the middle of cooking dinner, children playing kickball in the yard, and fathers just stepping out of the car into the driveway and asked them point-blank if they died this instant would they be in Heaven or Hell. We passed out little pamphlets and invited them to the only truly “Bible believing” church in the area. Many times we were swatted away like flies; sometimes people ignored us even though there were signs of life within the home. I have been guilty of this myself, when I see a Jehovah’s Witness coming up the walk, I have been known to hit the floor and hold my breath until I hear their retreating footsteps. Sometimes, though, people would humor us—they would listen politely and go through the motions of praying the prayer of salvation and then promise they would come to church on Sunday. We would walk away from the house, feeling self-important, to report the number of souls we won to Christ that day to the rest of the group waiting on the bus. It became almost a contest to see who could win the most souls, and it was a special prize if anyone converted a Catholic.

We had a specific tactic–a favorite of all Evangelical Protestants–the Roman Road coupled with the Four Spiritual Laws. Specific verses, plucked out of context, arranged in such a way to scare the living daylights out of anyone that believed them and cause a smirk or sneer of derision out of those that didn’t. In all my years of soul-winning, I cannot recall even one time when I met an unbeliever and convinced them to believe—like, TRULY believe. Later, I would learn this is because I didn’t believe it myself fully, at least not in the context in which they were presented. Even though I doubted their sincerity, I still counted those that humored my efforts as “wins” and kept a little tally on the inside cover of my New Testament.

Until this one day…..suddenly everything seemed so….ridiculous. Almost 20 years later, I can picture the whole thing as vividly as 20 minutes ago.

It was August, which is a time of pure torture in Central Florida. You are never completely dry, your hair is never laying down, and the air is always like that puff of wicked-hotness that blasts you when you open a 400 degree oven. I was wearing a Monica Gellar inspired black and white floral print skirt that touched the toes of my super-trendy black mary-janes (so Clueless, right?). My partner, who I viewed as my arch-nemesis throughout my teenage years because we vied for the same boy’s attention, was wearing a barely legal pencil skirt that juuuuusst touched her knee and her beautiful strawberry-blonde hair lay smoothly down ignoring the 112% humidity. The rickety bus dropped us off in the poorest part of our poor town and we were assigned the right side of the street before it lumbered away. Never saying a word to each other, we plastered welcoming smiles on our faces when we approached each house.

Walking up to a teenage Haitian girl feeding a baby rice on the top step, we introduced ourselves and proceeded to accost the dear with verse after verse pointing to her clear damnation. The girl distractedly fed the baby one rice grain at a time and occasionally nodded in assent. When my partner asked her if she would like to go to Heaven she said yes in a thick accent. She began to pray with her, and I also bowed my head, but kept my eyes open. The young girl wasn’t praying at all, but steadily feeding the baby grains of rice; she even looked side-eyed at me and caught my gaze. “She doesn’t speak English”, I thought, “she has no earthly idea who these creepy white girls are praying over her!”

My partner and I walked back to the bus when it stopped to pick us up and I looked back at the girl, who was continuing to feed the baby. She looked up at me with a completely bemused look before diverting her attentions back to the infant, who began squalling for his dinner to be fed in a proper manner. Back on the bus, my partner triumphantly announced that she led that girl to the Lord as I slid into my seat and propped my knees up on the back of the seat in front of me and pondered what the heck I was doing there.

I started rifling through my memories of each afternoon of soul-winning…and I could not recall ever seeing one face again after my initial contact. I never saw them in church—and buddy, I’d notice if they were because I was there a LOT. I never remembered anyone thanking me or crying or walking away with a new bounce in their step. I felt like a dismal failure as a Christian as I looked forlornly at my tally marks that stood for nothing. I tried to give myself hope—maybe I planted a seed and Christ would water it! Maybe I did…who knows, but I began to feel that maybe the tactic was all wrong, because I cannot remember any of us ever bringing anyone to church from those Wednesday trips, so it wasn’t just my failure. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I never felt a sudden change or even a cozy comfort from my own knowledge of the salvation plan and the day I said the prayer. Why not? It was not the first time, nor the last, the “one and done” doctrine had bothered me—it just felt so incomplete, somehow.

Being a public school kid, I had exposure to outside ideas, which, coupled with my naturally curious mind, marked me as a potential trouble source in my fundamentalist world. I toed the line for many years, wanting acceptance and desiring so badly to have the fire in my heart that I perceived that many of them had, but I was not buying any of it and my skepticism brought suspicion upon myself. As a cocky teenager, my questions got bolder, my remarks got sassier, and my smirk more frequent. It wasn’t long before not only was I uncomfortable around people I knew my whole life, but I was becoming justifiably unwelcome.

It would be years before I felt true fire in my heart, as my journey to the Catholic faith was not an easy Point A to Point B journey. However, after truly discovering Catholicism, I felt an inner glow and peace I had never known, and I feel sure it radiates outside of me—maybe not all of the time because I am human with bad days and good days, but certainly it never goes out and it is genuine. My evangelism and discipleship have changed and I attempt to allow the Holy Spirit to use me to show kindness and work for unity to help bring people closer to Him.

Recently, I have re-visited the Roman Road through Roman eyes. It is hard to argue with the black and white divinely inspired word of God, and indeed, Catholics have no argument against it at all despite what Protestants may think (Catholic friends, check this out for a hearty LOL—my favorite phrase is “The Vatican has redefined many of its keywords”). In fact, Catholics walk further down that Roman Road to the finish line to include the sacraments, instead of taking the first exit off at the end of a prayer.

It may seem more complicated, but it is really not. Catholics believe we are saved through God’s Grace—not works (Ephesians 2: 4-9), as commonly believed by those outside the faith. By accepting the free gift of God’s Grace, we are professing our faith and receiving Him into our heart, but we live our faith through works. Our Baptism, even if done as an infant before we are aware of what it entails, is the opening of the channel of grace and the beginning of our salvation. What we do from there either hinders or increases the flow of grace; the grace is still free and it is always your choice to accept it or throw it away. Our sin separates us from God and blocks the channel of grace that He continually bestows upon us, but confessing it and repenting re-opens the channel so blessings can flow anew. Jesus paid the price for our sin and the grace provided through His mercy enables our faith and works through faith, which are not innately valuable on their own and do not merit us salvation without His grace.

Nothing about the Roman Road implies that it is a “one and done” deal. Yes, we are saved by accepting the grace of God through faith—absolutely. We continue to be saved by grace, through faith, which is lived through works. The saving does start at a moment in time, but it continues on throughout our lives, and does not end at the end of a prayer. Jesus himself makes it very clear in the Sermon on the Mount that faith and works go hand in hand and neither by itself is justification. He continually preached this in his parables, as well, and instilled this in his disciples. This teaching is most clear in the Book of James, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man can say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works…Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-18, 24, 26).

That being said, let’s revisit the famed Roman Road:

  • Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” —I think all Christians can agree that men deserve God’s righteous wrath for our offenses against Him and against each other, and that men suppress God’s truth and attempt to pervert it for their own purposes.
  • Romans 3:10 “As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one.”–I think that is pretty straightforward. Catholics believe we are all born tainted with original sin thanks to our first parents, Adam and Eve, choosing their will above God’s
  • Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”—Again, no argument here.
  • Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”—Yep. Sounds legit to Catholic ears. We deserve death because of our sin, but God gives us the gift of salvation through His Son, and in Him, we are alive forever, even after we shed this earthly body. Catholics believe this better than most, because we profess the communion of saints and practice it.
  • Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth His love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—True, John 3:16 repeated. God loves us, even when we don’t deserve it, and because He loves us so much, Christ died for us so we can be in full communion with Him again. Mankind continually broke God’s covenant, but instead of killing us, He died instead, to form a new covenant.
  • Romans 3:24 “Being justified freely by his grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus”—Uh…yeah. Grace. We think so, too. We are reading the same thing, after all!
  • Romans 10: 9-10, 13 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart of man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”—We totally get that, too. We even confess it over and over again at every Mass, every time we pray the Rosary—all the time. We continually ask and pray for salvation.
  • Romans 8:30, 35, 38-39 “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—We agree, no outside forces of any kind can take us away from the love of God. We, can, however, remove ourselves. God would still love us, but we would be rejecting Him and His grace. Paul was speaking to the early Christians that were being martyred, giving them hope and courage to face whatever might befall them because the reward of heaven would be theirs.

It has always made me squirm when I have confided to my new Catholic friends that the vast majority of evangelical Christians do not consider Catholics true Christians. They are always shocked because they would never say that about a Protestant, though they will wonder sadly why Protestants will reject lovely sacraments, sacramentals, and devotions that bring us only closer to God. Catholics take turns from being genuinely hurt to heartily amused when confronted with what Protestants think Catholics believe. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said it best when he said “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” Protestants, Go ye therefore teaching all nations, baptizing them, and all that, but please read up on the first Church and understand you are preaching to the choir when you knock on a faithful Catholic’s door.

Your sister in Christ,

Janie

 

Wanted: Prayer for Dummies

I am not too good at prayer, in spite of the many things I have to be thankful for and the many times I have been delivered after being backed into a corner by a terrifying mess (usually of my own making). Of all things in my spiritual life, and my life in general, that I hope to change, this is the top dawg. I want to learn to pray. Not HOW to pray, but just to pray.

I scares me to admit that out loud, because God will surely bring it on, then. “Soooooo…you wanna learn to pray, huh? Let’s just allow mayhem and chaos into your life and see how fast your knees hit the ground.” Not that God is like that…I don’t think, anyway…but He does seem to like to pile it on and prove the “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” bit.

It is more like, the less I pray, or the less I actually put my heart into it, I draw myself away from His channels of grace.  He is probably just standing there tapping His foot, holding His hand out like any parent waiting on a clumsy, stubborn child, waiting to kiss my boo-boos and set me back on my feet.

I actually do pray every day, in some form or another, but usually it is a personal request (“God let there be no traffic so I can make it to work on time”), or an afterthought of thanks when something didn’t go wrong or I got my butt saved from something awful (“Whew! Thank you God for allowing that assignment to go to someone else!”), or a plea for salvation from something I didn’t get saved from (“Please, God, just this once, I swear I won’t do it again, just save me from this mess I made!”).

I talk to God, too, almost incessantly, like an ADHD stream-of-consciousness type ramble. Many times I am driving along like talking to myself, but I don’t want to appear TOO crazy, so I address it to God instead: “Dear God, So-and-so has really been annoying me lately and I am not sure how to handle her. Can you believe she did such-and-such today? I mean, really! Who does she think she is?…Do you think I should buy that dress I saw at the mall for my sister’s wedding? We have been trying to cut back lately and I do have lots of dresses already…I have been worried about Jack lately; he isn’t really ambitious and he doesn’t really like school–do you think you can help me help him with a little push?”

My problem is listening. Waiting. Hearing. Seeking. I just do my own thing and ramble on at God, but I don’t often ask his permission or guidance first.  I will jump headlong into a new project or make a decision in life and forget to give it to Him first and then WAIT for His response. I will assume because something is a good thing that it is the RIGHT thing for me or my family at the time. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not.

A few years ago my parish was starting a young adult program for adults between 18-45 years old. This is a group that is sadly lacking in zeal in my parish, despite the numerous activities we do promote or host. I was very enthusiastic and wanted to jump right in and help with this. I went on a little conference at the Swan and Dolphin at Disney (where, incidentally, my husband won an all-expenses-paid trip to Poland for World Youth Day next year), met all kinds of nice people, got all kinds of fresh ideas…and then…life got in the way. My marriage was very, very new still and we were adjusting to living within the same domain. My husband was finishing his degree,  my son was floundering with school a little, and my work became an all-consuming, many-headed beast that became a daily struggle to subdue. I suddenly understood why the young adults were lacking in zeal…you just cannot do it all.

I felt horribly guilty, like I let my parish and God down. How could He not want me to help with this group? Of COURSE, He wanted me to, I thought. I never really prayed about it, though. I never really asked Him. I just assumed. I have prayed about it since, and He quietly showed me that He does want me to help and use my talents, but He wants me to do it in HIS time…someone else was more qualified than I am to handle such a massive undertaking at that time. Since then, though, I learned to listen a little bit more, but I am no pro at it. It was one of my resolutions this year to pray and listen.

About a month ago, I participated in Christ Renews His Parish, which is a really lovely retreat and everyone should do it at least once. I really spent the whole weekend praying and listening rather than talking. God really put the burden in my heart to proceed with the “formation” part of this ministry, in which I get to help host the next retreat in six months. For the past four weeks I have been praying and asking what He wants me to do in this ministry–I did not want a repeat of the fiasco and guilt I felt in my last attempt at ministry. He kept telling me to help lead this group. I did NOT want to do this. I really, really, really have very little time to myself and there are several other very capable, lovely ladies who could perhaps do a better job. I am not terribly organized, and anyone close to me will attest that I NEVER have my phone with me or check my emails timely. He kept poking me in the back about it, though. The former lay director of the group told her story that was very similar and yet another reminded me how God “winks” at you to give you signs…and I glared and grimaced at God on the inside. “Yeah, I get it”, I told him, “I see what you are doing here.” But I was still digging in my heels. Our house is under massive renovations, my job has a strangle-hold on me, my son has mountains of homework and tae kwon do, my mother needs help with my Mamaw, and…and…and…

“You can do this. You should do this. I WANT you to do this.”

So I listened. I am doing it. I don’t know how I will accomplish it, except with a lot of prayer, which I am not too good at. God is making me learn. I know this will bring me closer to Him. I know I will learn so much and get so many blessings from this–I feel pretty sure about that. But the thing about blessings, though, sometimes, is that you don’t know what IS a blessing until much later. Sometimes you just think you are treading water, trying to keep your head up and you don’t see any blessings in sight, but then after you get out of the water, you look back and you see how strong you are and that is your blessing. Blessings are not always rewards in the way we think of them, I notice.

So, if I don’t want my hair to look like this

by the end of my CRHP weekend, I am going to have to learn to pray and listen to the answer. And recognize the blessings.