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I Hate Snakes

I hate snakes.

I cannot walk through a field of high grass without being en guarde.

We are building a chicken coop along one side of our house. I have seen two itty, bitty snakes there in the last few years. Snakes like eggs. I’m envisioning the snake-swarm. One snake telling another, “Hey, there’s food over there. Let’s go.”

My husband says we will move if he ever sees a cockroach in the house. I tell him we will move if there is ever a snake in the house.

I hate snakes.

The people of God were about to bypass Edom. About to make their way to Mount Nebo. I’ve been there.

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I can imagine the snakes.

I can imagine the panic when one of them bites.

I can imagine the despair.

Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.

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Mount Nebo

We pray it every time we pray the Stations of the Cross. For by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

We face the serpent daily. We know his bite. We battle the fear of what will happen to us now. But in that moment, we are to genuflect. We raise our eyes to the Cross.

And we are healed.

We rejoice, because Easter is so close. Our redemption awaits. He has overcome death and sin and the grave.

Snakes be damned.

And we rise with Him to enter a Promised Land.

Silent No More

Did Lazarus want to be known as the stinky man raised from the dead? Did he want everyone throughout history to imagine a raised corpse in grave clothes walking from an opened tomb?

Did the woman with an issue of blood want to be remembered in such ghastly terms?

The woman caught in the act of sin. Did she want her story to be told and retold, how the men gathered around her to throw stones?

Did Mary Magdalene want to be remembered as the woman from whom the demons were cast?

For that matter, did St. Augustine want to be remembered as the man who had a child with his mistress?

Did St. Maria Goretti want to be remembered as a rape victim? A young woman murdered because she fought back?

St. Maria of Egypt, did she wish to be remembered much the same as the woman at the well?

Did St. Paul want to be remembered as the one who persecuted Christians?

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Yes and no.

No, if that is all there is to it. No, if the story ends there.

But yes. They shared their stories. Spoke of them. Wrote of them. Their stories were lifted up and attached to the Cross of Christ for the glory of God.

I wonder if there were some who shook their heads. Talked about them behind their backs. Assumed they just liked to wallow in the old stories because they wanted their names to be remembered.

Were they judged and misjudged?

The stinky man?

The trashy woman?

The victimized girl?

The murderous zealot?

The disbelieving, womanizing orator?

Their stories call to us. It is okay to have a past that frightens you. A past that horrifies you. A past in which you were victimized or victimized another, when you love Jesus Christ and give the past up for His glory.

In fact, you are supposed to do that with your past.

Let them think you are talking about yourself. Let them feel justified in saying whatever they want to say.

They can be angry. Or hurt. Or judgmental. Or confused. Or scandalized.

May Jesus Christ be praised, both now and forever.

May the ones who are lifted up from the mire because of your story be healed and redeemed.

May all things work together for the greater glory of God.

So let the stories come up and out.

Jesus has always used our stories to bring others to Himself. And there have always been well-meaning and mean-spirited people who wanted to suppress and silence the witnesses.

Can I have a witness?

Yes.

I am silent no more.

The Hour Is Coming

I say it all of the time.

If you ever travel to the Holy Land, it will have a daily impact on how deep you are able to go into the Daily Readings at Mass.

Not once in a while.

Not every few weeks.

Not even every other day.

Every single day.

Today’s Gospel and Old Testament Readings both bear this out, but let’s just focus on the Gospel Reading.

Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.

A few days ago, we read about the resurrection of Lazarus, which occurred on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives.

Today, we read of the end of times, when the Messiah returns and all the graves are opened and each one given over to the judgment.

Look at the photo. It is of the Mount of Olives. The oldest active cemetery in Israel, perhaps the world.

According to Jewish Tradition, when the Messiah comes, these graves will be opened first.

It’s easy to imagine. It happened to Lazarus before it happened to anyone else along that slope.

A foretaste? To be sure.

The memories and Readings make me glad I went. They also make me ready to go back.

Scripture has a place. It is rooted in a place.

Here.

Behold, this is where it began.

Teresa would understand.

I don’t know where faith comes from. God. Our feeble yes to grace. Then faith rushes in.

But beyond that, I don’t know how it comes to us.

I think that is because it is rooted in God’s love for us. It is a gift from Him, and His love is infinite. My finite mind can grasp in part, not in full.

Trusting God has a similar dynamic going for it. I say this because I am learning to trust Him.

I trusted.

But now I am learning to trust.

Just as I had faith for years.

And then I began to have faith.

An ever-winding road that circles higher. A St. Teresa of Avila kind of journey to and through the Interior Castle. The rooms within are each located on a winding ramp upward.

I am learning to trust.

He speaks in words that are not words. And I say yes.

He scoops me up with arms that are not arms–

and I am raised.

What was before was real.

What is now is a higher real.

The table ‘s surface has been cleared off–

and He has set a new table, still in the presence of my enemies. But Jesus, I trust in You. All of that matters (all the things that happen around me and to me), and it doesn’t matter. It is something, but it doesn’t trouble, does not disturb.

It isn’t just a Jesus-and-Me kind of trust. It is my saint, all the saints, my Mother who is perfect and pure and loves me beyond what I can put into neat little words or attach to any level of petition and she presses it to her Maternal and Immaculate Heart. It is a guardian angel I rarely sense but is there always. It is in the prayer, not my words. And yet it is a response to my words.

Jesus, I trust in You.

I did, when I thought as a child.

But I am learning to put away childish things, like trusting on a childish level. This is a pursuit of total abandonment. And I don’t know where this is going, except to the Sacred Heart of your Divine Life.

Jesus, I want the kind of trust  You want to teach me. Not knowing, until you reveal.

Not outguessing. And then you direct my feet.

Not anticipating, but being ready with my yes and a child’s smile.

Feet that skip to this new level.

This new room in the castle.

For a moment, hide-and-seek is a charade, a mirage.

He has been here the whole time.

He who was, when I barely knew what trust meant–

He who is, now looks at me with eyes that I have always loved–

He who is to come–

Jesus, I trust in You.

And I have a sudden intake of breath. A few tears.

The learning is not easy. The mechanics and methodology of trust are discarded. I never understood them anyway.

And it doesn’t matter. Trust is something anyone can learn.

Eyes on Christ.

Don’t look away.

When you see Him in Galilee. Eyes on Christ. Walking on water. Eyes on Christ. Walking toward Jerusalem. Eyes on Christ. Hanging on a Cross. Eyes on Christ.

Risen. Eyes fixed. And falling to your knees.

Jesus, there was so much I didn’t understand. So much that remains a mystery. There is a glorious life to be lived in the middle of Divine Mystery.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Amen. And Amen.

A Word: Catholic Women’s Conferences; Catholic Men’s Conferences

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Finally, dioceses/archdioceses across the nation are stepping up and answering the call to evangelize by putting money and effort into establishing conferences for women and for men.

We each have unique needs. Women aren’t men. Men aren’t women. We need each other, but we also need a day set aside to minister to us – a day that affirms our gender and dignity as a woman made in the image of God, as a man made in the image of God.

And that is unique. It is not the same. I am so far and completely and hilariously different from my husband. I am not my father. Not my son. Not like any man.

I am a woman. The evangelizing of my soul looks different from the evangelizing of my husband’s soul.

In part, we need a break from our duties at home and work to gather with other women, with other men to be nurtured and filled.

And yet…

I noticed something Saturday that is essential. When the teams gather in the quiet of a diocesan room and plan our conferences, there is one aspect that is often forgotten.

It was not forgotten at the women’s conference here in St. Louis last Saturday.

In between the two female speakers, for a space of time following the female MC’s introduction, gracing the stage beside the Blessed Mother, to stand before the thousand-plus Catholic women, was Monsignor Eugene Morris.

He was the highlight of the day.

His mother watched from one balcony window. She looked down upon her son. He honored her, praised her, and then talked of Our Lady and Confession and Our Faith.

We laughed. We felt his mother’s gaze. We saw the love. We entered for a few minutes into their connection.

And I thought about the importance of seeing a man in the midst of this women’s conference. A son. A brother. A priest.

He belongs to us as women in a unique way. We need him. He needed us.

It is true that we needed a day away from our homes, a day just for us. But that day was made better – the best – because one man had been permitted to break up the day with all the female voices with a call to remember who we are as “woman.” A reminder that only a man, only a priest can deliver.

It’s like our children when they hear our voice all day long, and then daddy comes home.

He can say the same thing we have said, repeatedly. Now, they hear it. Now, they respond.

It made me think.

What if men’s and women’s conferences began adding one segment where a priest (for the women) or a woman religious (for the men) or a grandfather (for the women) or a grandmother (for the men) had a space of time to speak.

I’m going to sound like goldilocks…

not too young

not too attractive

not too distracting in that way.

But a voice with a cadence and timbre we would otherwise miss.

Telling us the same things in another way.

As the conference ended, we quieted our spirits and made a space for the Lord to come to us in the Mass.

The deacons and priests and Archbishop processed.

The Knights of Columbus raised their swords.

The women felt something. The renewal was coming full-circle. These are our men, our sons, our brothers, our fathers and priests. They are here because of us. We are here because of them. We are uniquely made. Knit together male or female in our mother’s wombs for distinct roles, then knit together in the fabric of the Church for distinct roles. We need a day filled with voices of women. But nothing can take away our need to hear a man’s voice calling us to the Confessional. A man’s sword raised as the Archbishop enters. A young man enters with eyes on the cross he carries as his alb flows and the belt swings at his side.

Gather in your little rooms. Eat your finger sandwiches. Jot your notes down for next year’s conference. Assign the action-items. Send the emails to the prospective speaker.

But in a deliberate and lovely way, preserve a space for us to see and hear from the one not like us.

They are flesh from our flesh. Flesh of our flesh. And male and female He created us.

The perfect women’s conference comes full-circle.

We are created in the image of God.

I came back home and saw my husband. My grandsons.

Thought of my priest.

Saw my deacon with new eyes Sunday morning.

Wondered if my husband had a calling to be a deacon (probably not). Or my son. Or my sons-in-law.

I wondered if my grandsons had a vocation to the priesthood. I imagined them as altar servers.

I felt my feminine genius acutely. And it made me see all of us more clearly.

I imagined talking to a Catholic men’s conference. Oh, there are many things I would say. But mostly, it would be this:

She needs you to be the man God created you to be. She.

Your wife.

Your daughter.

Your sister.

Your mother.

They need you to be firmly planted in Christ Jesus.

So listen to these male speakers. And go from this place changed. And ready.

Day Nine Novena from Israel

Day Eight Novena from Israel

Day Seven Novena from Israel

Day Six Novena from Israel

I am sick.

The sore throat’s become a cold. I’m stuffy-headed. My ear feels all wrong.

I can’t blow my nose, but it feels like I should.

Two days ago, I worried about climbing a rock wall.

Yesterday, I worried about finding the bus station and getting the car rental returned and getting my body and all my luggage back to Jerusalem.

And finding the hotel again.

I worried. Even though Sunday’s homily was about not worrying.

The flowers of the field, and such.

Today’s worry? What will I do if I get sick?

There really is enough “evil” for each day, as Sunday’s readings said.

And each day there is enough to offer up.

There is something appropriate about feeling physically yucky as one gets ready for praying the Stations of the Cross.

Okay, then.

Thank you, Lord, that I am here, and for all of Your blessings.

I will praie you still.

Day Five – Novena from Israel

Finding the Lord is usually not difficult. Get in your car. Walk a few blocks.

There He is.

Even on pilgrimage, the priest is usually on the trip. He prays the Mass. Jesus shows up.

But when you are in an unfamiliar place, spiritually or geographically, when the Holy Spirit seems lost to you or you to the Lord. When you don’t know the way around and even the directions another offers seems murky and indecipherable, then the trusting is something you commit to and not something you possess.

It is a yes you give to God.

Even when He seems hidden.

Today, I decided to find St. Peter’s church in Tiberias.

I left early and decided to walk. According to my phone, it should be four minutes from the hotel.

The streets are confusing. Even when you know the Lord is right around the bend.

You doubt yourself.

You want someone to just point the way, lead you, take you by the hand.

But they don’t speak your language.

Spiritually or really.

They don’t know where to tell you where to go even if they did speak your language.

This is not a place they have ever sought for themselves.

It’s just you, darling, and fortitude and grace.

And there it is. A little sign on a humble exterior wall with a gate around the outside. It doesn’t look like you belong there. It’s too private-looking. Like it belongs to another.

But you see the Jerusalem Cross in the grill of the gate, like a figure in a hidden-pictures children’s book.

This is your “hello” in a world of “I don’t know you.”

This is your hiding place in a foreign land.

This is your station. Where the buses and trains all go to your ultimate destination.

If you will it and say yes.

If you persevere.

If you submit and seek to be part of E family waiting inside.

You go inside, as I did.

Someone asks if you came for Mass. And your heart simultaneously leaps for joy and relaxes because you are home.

You ask if it is ok.

And a lovely religious sister smiles and says, “Yes, of course.”