Category Archives: spirituality

Why bother?

I stopped in the narthex of my parish Church yesterday morning to pick up a copy of the Order of Baptism (we had a Baptism/Chrismation/First Holy Communion yesterday!) and a bulletin, and on the table with those items was a small stack of brochures advertising the “Sixth Annual Day of Reflection of Women” to be held at our Cathedral, sponsored by the Archeparchial Office of Religious Education.

I opened the brochure to take a look; it’s to be held on a Saturday and I thought perhaps if it looked interesting and solid, I’d try to get child care so I could attend.

There are to be three presenters; the first one mentioned is a Therapist and Spiritual Director……she is also an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church USA….Whoa!  Hold the phone! This is an event put together and officially sanctioned by the archeparchy.  We’re Catholic.  In the Catholic Church, women are unable to be ordained. I am disturbed.

There are two other presenters, one of whom is a member of a Byzantine parish in Butler; the other’s connection (or lack of) is nowhere mentioned.

Other perturbing things about this ‘day of reflection’:  nowhere on the schedule does it mention that there will be an opportunity for spiritual direction or confession; there is only one mention of prayer and that is at the beginning of the day – the final event listed is a benefit auction for local women’s shelters (nothing wrong with that, don’t misunderstand me please).

One word:  ecumania.  This isn’t ecumenism; giving credence to this woman’s invalid ordination by inviting her to speak at a gathering for Catholic women is perpetuating the dissent that is rotting the Church from the inside out.  she may be a very effective counselor; she may also be an effective spiritual director but she cannot be those things to a Catholic woman; her very publicized credentials are an affront to Catholic women.

Needless to say, I won’t be trying to get child care to attend this gathering.  I’m going to speak with my pastor first, but I also might be calling the archeparchy to register my dismay over this.

sigh.

Advertisements

Confirmation: Graduation or Commencement?

I was very humbled (and thrilled) to be asked to sponsor one of the wonderful young women in our Catholic homeschoolers group for her Confirmation, which Mass is this evening in a beautiful Church about an hour from here.  I’ve been thinking over the past couple of weeks about the Sacrament, and how saddened I have been to hear some confirmandi speak of it as a sort of graduation ceremony – you know, no more CCD and all that.  It’s almost as if they think that in the decade-plus they have attended CCD they have learned all there is to know about their Faith and that of their Church, and now they can be turned loose upon the parish and the world.

Wrong.

It’s a commencement.  To commence something means to begin.  Certainly the Sacrament of Confirmation is the last of those of Initiation (Illumination to us Easterners), but by no means does that mean one is finished with formation as a mature Catholic Christian.  Au contraire!

In the Confraternity of Penitents, we go through four years of formation before permission may be granted by our respective spiritual directors for us to pledge to live our Rule and Constitutions either for one year or for life.  And after our pledging, we are committed to continue our study of the Faith as guided by the same spiritual director for the rest of our lives on earth.  We read the Church Fathers, Council documents, Papal Encyclicals; we study Scripture; we pray, adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, meditate; we continue to “work out our salvation”.

Confirmation is truly the ‘commencement’ of that working out of salvation.  Not that we can ever earn it, but confirmandi ought to be taught that following their reception of the Sacrament, they must be sure to have a plan by which they will try to continue to grow in Faith, Hope and Charity as fully Illumined members of the Body of Christ, the Church Militant.

I have every confidence that the young woman who honored me by asking me to sponsor her for Confirmation will do exactly that.

And I have been praying (and will continue to pray) that God makes me worthy to be what a sponsor ought to be, now and unto the ages of ages.

The Spirituality of Gardening

I’ve been mulling over the subject of this post for a couple of weeks now, having taken some time off for the Great Fast and then trying to catch up on some other things.  As I look at the yard and the flower beds around my house, I notice that although the same things come back year after year, nothing looks exactly the same as it did in previous years.

I have tulips in a long, narrow bed along the rear wall of my house.  The year I moved in we planted 25 bulbs, scattered evenly in the soil.  The following spring about 15 of them bloomed, and over the past few years they have increased and though I haven’t counted them this spring, last year I had 50 blooms.  Maybe this is how our souls grow…..God plants the seeds of grace in us, and if the soil is fertile the seeds will germinate.  I believe that only in rare cases does a soul go from infancy in the spiritual life to maturity – this kind of growth takes time and if probably pretty much impossible.  If we plant 25 tulip bulbs it would be silly to expect 50 tulips the very next spring!  But with proper care and nurturing, those 25 bulbs can multiply to 50 in a relatively short time.

So it may be with our souls?

Those seeds are planted in many different ways; by family and friends; by circumstances and experiences; by prayer, fasting and almsgiving…..sometimes it takes a while for them to germinate.  Maybe soil of our souls is not as fertile as it ought to be, or maybe it hasn’t been tilled enough by life – and living – for the seeds to bear any fruit at all.  But I think that at some point when I look back upon where I have been and where I am now, I see the Gardener…..cultivating, rooting out weeds of indifference and discouragement, pruning off the suckers of pride and fertilizing the new green shoots of humility and obedience to His will.

At the corner of my lot there is a small triangular bed where I have tried, without much success, to grow various things in differing seasons.  Two years ago I frustratedly crammed into the ground about 12 daffodil bulbs given to me by someone who thinks I have more space than I actually do, for flowers.  Last spring they came up but none of them bloomed; this year two of them have blossoms.

We can be given gifts that nourish our faith by those who don’t even realize what they are doing.  In some seemingly random comment, a magazine article forwarded through email, a card in the snail mail, God in His infinite wisdom and goodness send what He knows we need, before we can identify the need ourselves.  After a time it takes root and we remember, thinking “if it hadn’t been for _______________ I would never have ___________________” and if the eyes of our souls are open we see that God has taken care of us once more.

I enjoy the digging, weeding, deciding what to grow, planting, cultivating and harvesting, but in these flower beds I have a chance to watch God at work.  How very blessed I am, and how utterly unable to ever thank Him enough for caring for me the way He does.

I leave you with a picture:

Signs of spring!

The Crescat’s 2008 Home Altar Tour

I haven’t posted any photos of our icon corner/home altar in a while – not since I did some adding and reorganizing.  So here it is.  You all should know by know that when the pictures are fuzzy it’s because I am using my phone, not owning a real digital camera yet.  Someday…

Icon corner 1

This picture is, of course, a close up view, showing our Bible (D-R), candle(s), the icon of the current feast (Encounter of Our Lord with Simeon and Anna), and our holy relic of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Icon corner 2

The wall upon which are hung the main icons of Christ and the Theotokos, another candle, the San Damiano Crucifix given to me by ByzCat as a pledging-in-the-CFP gift in 2006, and above that a frieze of various icons of our patron saints – Peter, Augustine, the Holy Protection, Jude Thaddeus, Thecla, and Cyril & Methodius.

Icon corner 3

Another view of the whole thing – the table to the left holds our breviaries and other prayer books.

There are other links to other home altars at the Crescat, here.  Stop by and take a look!

Humility isn’t born of a full belly

Lent – the Great Fast – is fast approaching, and the checs and I will be trying to do a much more ‘traditional’ Lenten fast than in years past. This is going to entail some changes in the weekly grocery list, as the old-fashioned Byzantine Great Fast menu eliminates meat (including fish), dairy foods, eggs, olive oil and wine. (Shrimp and other shellfish are OK though). This means that the four of us, confirmed carnivores all, will be essentially vegan for the 7 weeks beginning February 4.

Why bother? I thought the same thing. As this is not meant to be any sort of scholarly research paper there won’t be citations and links to online Bibles for the Scriptures I’m going to paraphrase shortly – I think most of them are common enough that you’ll agree I got them right. What follows are my thoughts on what I think I can hope to gain by following a much stricter ascesis during this Great Fast than I’ve ever done.

The olive oil prohibition in particular got me to thinking, until a verse from good ol’ Psalm 23 lit up in my brain – “Thou anointest my head with oil…..” Honored guests, in the time of Christ’s life on earth, were anointed with perfumed olive oil. Olive oil was practically used as currency. The Pharisees and others of more-than-modest means dressed their hair and beards with oil. By denying myself the use of olive oil, I am inwardly telling Christ, “I am not worthy, I have humbled myself as someone who is too lowly to be received as an honored guest at your banquet” – the feast of Pascha will symbolically represent the reception of me, a sinner, to the Heavenly Banquet, drawn in by Christ Himself.

Meat, and fish? Well, the Great Fast is supposed to be a time of taming the passions, which some early Church Fathers say that meat inflames. And with today’s concern about cholesterol and mad cow disease, 7 weeks away from meat probably wouldn’t hurt any of us. As for the fish, there’s the mercury scare and all that. But wait, there’s more. St. Paul wrote, more than once I think, about spiritual children having to be fed on milk and pablum, not being ready for meat. Denial of meat foods takes us back to that sense of pure trust in God for all that is good for us, a simple childlike faith – we are not ready for the spiritual gymnastics of a Teresa of Avila or a John of the Cross – once again we are prostrate before His great mercy – “Lord, I am not worthy….”

The Psalms mention in several places that the person in pursuit of holiness shall “nurse at the abundant breasts” of the Wisdom of God. We deny ourselves milk and cheese so as to leave no worldly obstacle between our desire for wisdom, and God’s delivery of it to our hearts.

I almost wrote that I didn’t ever see any connection in regards to wine. Writing this, I believe that the abstention from wine is to discourage spiritual gluttony – too much wine makes people giddy, silly and useless – too much of the things of God, if we are not properly prepared (through practice of prayer, regular conversations with a spiritual father or mother, frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion), can lead to delusion, errors and……..pride.

Basically all this denial is meant to foster humility. Pride is the root of most, if not all, sin, and if we make a serious attempt to grow in humility we cannot help but become less prideful. “I must decrease, but He must increase.” We humble ourselves for the period of Lent in order to more fully feel, at Easter, that “Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered death, and to those in the grave He granted life.”

Here are two prayers, from the book Byzantine Catholic Prayer for the Home, from St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Seattle:

Prayer of the Great Fast: O Lord Almighty, God of powers and of all flesh, You dwell on high, but watch over the humble. You search the heart and the innermost being of man, and clearly perceive his secrets. O Eternal and Ever-Existent Light, in You there is no change nor even a shadow of change. O Immortal King, accept our prayers which at this present moment depend upon the multitude of Your mercies, and which we offer to You from defiled lips.  Forgive our transgressions committed in word, deed, or thought, committed with knowledge or through thoughtlessness.  Cleanse us from every kind of defilement of body and soul, and grant that we approach all the nights of this present life with a watchful heart and sound judgment, awaiting the glorious coming and day of revelation of Your only-begotten Son, Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ who will come with glory as Judge of all, granting to everyone according to their deeds.  Let us not fall and become slothful, but rather, help us to be on guard and ready for good works.  Let us turn from our former ways and be ready to joyfully accompany Him into the divine inner-chamber, where the sound of rejoicing never ceases, and where there is indescribable delight in those who behold the inexpressible goodness of Your countenance.  For You are the True Light that enlightens and sanctifies all things, and all creation praises you + forever and ever.  Amen.

The Prayer of St. Ephrem:  O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.  (Prostration)

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.  (Prostration)

O Lord and King, grant to me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed now and ever and forever.  Amen.  (Prostration)

O God, me merciful (+ and bow) to me a sinner.  O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy (+ and bow) on me.  O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned (+ and bow) without number. {Repeat 4x}

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.  Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.  O Lord and King, grant to me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed now and ever and forever.  Amen.  (Prostration)

May all of you have a grace-filled, blessed, holy and joyful Lent, and may the Lord of all grant all that is necessary for your salvation, now and always.

What price grace?

What is grace, exactly?  Is it one of those terms that is easier to define by stating what it is not?  Is it even definable?  Does one have to experience grace to know what it is?

Let me start by saying that I am not a person whom God whispers in the ear.  I am the person whom God has to whack over the head with the Divine Whack-o-Matic, several times, before I get the picture.

Last night I re-read my post in which I mentioned the book some of us homeschooling moms are reading this spring, and that got me ruminating on grace.  It came to my mind again last night during the pre-bedtime television, when Agent Jack Malone visited a young girl from whom he saved from a horrible kidnapping in an attempt to bring her the comfort and solace that three therapists and the girl’s mother had so far failed miserably to deliver.  It popped up again this morning on my visits to the blogs in my blogroll….Abbot Joseph’s blog in particular.  And then when I clicked on a couple of links on his blog, I got even more mental images added to the pot….all about grace.

The Baltimore Catechism defines grace:  “Grace is a supernatural gift of God bestowed on us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation.”  (Q. 109).  The glossary in the CCC says:  “The free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become His adopted children.  As sanctifying grace, God shares His divine life and friendship with us in a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that enables the soul to live with God, at act by His love.  as actual grace, God gives us the help to conform our lives to His will.  Sacramental grace and special graces (charisms, the grace of one’s state on life) are gifts of the Holy Spirit to hel pus live out our Christian vocation (para. 1996, 2000; cf. 654).”

Well, that doesn’t help very much.  Abbot Joseph quotes St. Paul that God’s grace “is sufficient” in our weakness.  I can’t help but think that grace is probably something very much like divine WD-40:  life works without it, but not very well.  With it, things happen in ways you never dreamed of.

I need grace all the time.  Without grace I’d never be able to run a business, raise three kids, homeschool them, help do a Latin co-op, assist with the Catholic homeschoolers’ group here in town, be a reader in my parish, be the parish sewing lady……you get the idea.  Without grace I’d be cranky and irritable all the time; when I remember to pray and ask God for grace, things seem to take on their proper perspective.

Could grace be the effect of accepting God’s love for us?  I mean, you have to be willing to be loved, warts and all, to admit that even in spite of those warts (or maybe because of them), you’re lovable?  And the more you rest in that love, the more grace you receive and the more you can see what grace is.  And the more grace you have, the more willing you are to be loved by God.  And the more willing you are to be loved by God, the less you care what expression that love takes.  A thorn in the flesh, like St. Paul?  God’s grace is sufficient.  Noisy neighbors who don’t seem to grasp the concept that there is more to life than beer and some people need 7 hours of quiet every night in order to function?  God’s grace can get you through those draggy Mondays.

And of course the opposite must also be true.  God whispers in your ear, “I love you, let Me help you through this” and you’re not feeling one teeny tiny bit lovable.  So you cringe and mentally think “no, this is something I ought to be able to handle on my own, I don’t think I need to ask God’s help with EVERYTHING….”  Well, DUH.  Of course you need to ask God’s help with everything.  And if you forget, and you get in a pickle, He’s right there, tapping on your shoulder, wanting to know if it would be OK if He contributed a bit of……Grace.

Grace to not munch on the cookies you bought for your kids.  Grace to remember to pray.  Grace to pray for the people who don’t like you (not that they will change, but that you will change and it won’t matter since God likes you and He is the #1 important Person whom you have to please).  Grace to not scream at your kid when they do for the billionth time something you’ve told them not to do.  Grace to remember that even badly celebrated Masses are still Masses.  Grace to pray for priests, especially those who seem to have lost their Faith.  Grace to pray that perhaps you could give one of your children to God as a priest or religious.

Back in the days before I really had a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord God and Savior’ (to borrow a phrase from a Protestant relative who still wonders if I’m saved), I used to have hanging on my wall a saying by Confucius:

Our greatest glory lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.

Grace is what makes us get up.  One of the glories of God, to me, is that He created us with free will, and that even though it’s much easier physically to lie there and wallow in self-pity, many of us have that mental image of Christ on the Via Dolorosa, and we accept the helping hand of God’s grace and get up.

I can’t think of anything else to write, so I guess I’ve responded to the grace in sufficient manner.  Pray that I never stop.

Two prayers

A prayer for the morning, from Matins:

O Lord our God!  We give thanks to You who have raised us from our sleep and placed upon our lips the words of praise that we may adore You and call upon your holy Name.  We beseech You, through the mercies You have always bestowed upon our life:  send down once more your assistance upon those who stand in the presence of your holy glory, expecting abundant mercy from You.  Grant that, having served you unceasingly in fear and with love, we may come to praise your goodness which is beyond description:  for to You, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit, is due all glory, honor, and worship, now, and ever, and forever.  Amen.

And one of the Lamplighting Prayers from Vespers:

O Lord, compassionate and loving, long-suffering and most merciful, hear our prayer and listen to the voice of our supplication.  Make a favorable covenant with us, guide us along your ways that we may live in your truth; gladden our hearts that we may fear your holy Name for You are great and You perform wondrous deeds.  You are the one God and there is no other like You, O Lord.  You are great in mercy and able, in your power, to assist, support, and save all those who place their hope in your holy Name, and all glory, honor and adoration are due You, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever.  Amen.