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Addendum to the Examination of Conscience

I have never added this to my examination of conscience. Maybe it is because I have plenty of sin. I need to get to the heart of my vices – and there is nothing new under the sun.

The routine Examination of Conscience should suffice. Right?

So, we review our day, our week, our month… or the last thirty years if it has been a long time since we darkened the door of the Confessional.

And we come up with the usual suspects. The Commandments broken. The Precepts set aside. The grievances against another. The times we put ourselves and our desires above God.

But…

There is another sin, and it is probably rare. It is a sin that just doesn’t make the usual examination of conscience.

We are so busy looking at the vile things we do to another and to God that we fail to ask ourselves when we have sinned against our own selves.

Oh, I’m not talking about eating disorders or sexual immorality or self-harm.

There is a disposition in which we fail to elevate our souls to joy of life. Joy. Radiating joy.

We stopped feeling like little children so long ago that we don’t remember how to do it anymore.

A sweet treat without the self-loathing of will this make me fat.

A time set aside for planting flower seeds and watching them grow because we don’t plant anything anymore and if we do it is the practical, utilitarian seeds of vegetables. Bring on the kale.

A song that is sung in the shower, a song from childhood, something that used to make us happy.

A romp with our dog in the backyard.

A moment in the sun, on your back, making pictures out of clouds.

A deliberate walk in a warm rain. Or a night walk in the crunch of newly fallen snow.

Standing in the shower longer than usual, just to feel the water on your face.

Listening to the roll of thunder, without wondering if you left your windows open, or any of the many things adults think but children never ponder.

It is a sin to be joyless.

A true saint is not that.

Can there be true holiness without joy? Yet we never include this on an examination of conscience. When did I last do something that honored God by embracing His creation and letting that embrace come like a divine Visitation?

When did I last let myself be joyful?

Today’s Responsorial Psalm says: Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy.

And who doesn’t want that?!

Come to Him today as a little child. True saints are like little children. And little children never forget to have joy.

Radiant.

What a great word.

Top Three Easter Resolutions

Lent was not easy. Perhaps you can relate.

I began with a simple plan: Trust Jesus more.

On Ash Wednesday, I spent my last full day in Jerusalem, and I promised to trust Jesus.

Easy enough. Wrong. Then it all came to a head. The trauma of rape – though it all happened 30 years ago. The hurts I had sustained from others. Some I loved. Some I had trusted. Some new wounds. Some old.

Some minor. Some life-changing, personality-altering.

Jesus, I trust in You.

A person who prays as much as I do… shouldn’t feel like life is coming apart at loose ends.

A person who goes to weekly Mass, sometimes daily Mass, always remembers to take her hour of Adoration at midnight on Thursdays…shouldn’t feel like she doesn’t know who she is anymore.

She should have her act together.

She should be able to stand up straight.

No self-doubt.

Only self-doubt was all around me and in me and above me and beneath me… the opposite of St. Patrick’s Prayer.

Jesus, I trust in You.

And the words and letters seem to slip around on the page and fall off the page or slid down the page or disappear altogether.

J s  , I   st  n  .

e  s    tr   i  Y

u       u    ou

Nonsense. It doesn’t make any sense anymore.

What is trust? How do I do it?

And you find that you need your husband more, and your priest-who-is-also-your-spiritual-director, and a counselor, and a friend.

You cling to them, and begin to realize… It’s Jesus in disguise. Yes, Jesus, I do trust in You.

And when Easter comes, you find that you can stand on your wobbly legs though they feel like you just climbed Mt. Arbel all over again.

I can do this.

You are resolved:

  1. I will not be silent. I will speak out. I will keep speaking out. I will not be embarrassed by what happened to me. Jesus, I trust in You to help me be vocal about it.
  2. I will affirm life, even the life of the unborn conceived in rape. I will speak out. I will keep speaking out. I will not be embarrassed by what happened to me. Jesus, I trust in You to help me be vocal about it.
  3. I will continue to heal. I will not be weak. I will not quit. I will do the things that are hard for me. I will not hide. I will not cling to what is easy or familiar. I will not sit more than a few seconds in a place of old memories. I will not let unwanted dreams linger when I wake from them. I will reach for everything that heals. Jesus, I trust in You to finish the healing You have begun.

I will not be silent. I will affirm life. I will continue to heal.

So be it.

Amen.

The only wise choice: having the baby conceived in rape

I had the dream again last night. Same, but different.

That’s the problem with dreams. You can’t make them stop out of an ironclad will. Those who are walking with you as you sort through the buried violation of an old rape aren’t there either.

You are there all by yourself, and you aren’t even you.

That is to say, you feel all of it. Every emotion. Every fear. Every injustice. But you are in a weakened state without your coping strategies and the advocates who stand beside you in the waking hours of life.

I read an article yesterday.

It was about the road rape survivors walk. But it was from a secular viewpoint. The baby conceived in rape is the alien, unwanted, a constant reminder, something far from the human created in the image and likeness of God.

The unborn child is an extension of the violator.

Like they are joined more than the mother is to her child.

I wonder, sometimes, where I fit in this modern hashing out of the conception-in-rape scenario.

I feel the burden of memories and dreams-I-can’t-stop.

But I do not, at all, in any way, feel what the world says about the unborn-conceived-in-rape.

I’ve lived too long with my daughter who is a gift. A gift. A gift. A gift.

A GIFT!!!!!!!

She is the only good that came from those nights when I was violated.

Even in the dream last night, she was there, and I was protecting her. Getting her away. By force. By ingenuity. By biding my time. By any means.

She does not belong to him.

She doesn’t even belong to me.

She belongs to God, and I am entrusted with protecting her.

It is, perhaps, my only weapon against the violation. What was meant for evil, God has used for good.

And He has given me a path to something good and beautiful through the memories and dreams-which-are-nightmares.

Conception-in-rape is a topic used for the advancement of abortion.

Even the pro-life community doesn’t go there because it seems to be a difficult point to refute. Especially for a pro-life man. Especially for a pro-life woman who has not been raped. Even for a pro-life woman who had a child in less than ideal circumstances.

You just don’t know what it is like for the woman who carries with her a violation. A conception without a yes.

But I do.

And the only wise choice is life. It becomes the only good in a swirling mix of memories and nightmares.

It is a triumph over violation.

A living, breathing triumph.

Love Israel and the Jewish People

It is Pesach. Passover.

My Jewish friends are ready. Their homes are cleaned. Their hearts are there. Centered on the story of Moses.

The lamb. The spices. The unleavened bread. The memorial of blood on the door frame and an angel of death passing over.

The fleeing from slavery. The deliverance through the desert and into a Promised Land.

I am not Jewish. I am Catholic.

It is Saturday, and in one week, we will be preparing for Easter Vigil.

The Lamb. The unleavened Bread. The Precious Blood. Our souls cleaned through Confession. Our hearts there. Centered on the story.

Fleeing the days in the desert. Ready to receive the Promised One. Death giving way to the Lord of Life.

Our Jewish Lord. Son of David. Son of God.

The readings today make me feel the rush of time, the roll of events, the gathering together of prophecy and the reality of Old Covenant and New Covenant.

There is a trend today to focus only on the New. See Israel only in the New Israel. See the New and jettison the Old.

But God does not revoke His promises. He never jettisons His own Covenant.

Today’s prophecy tells of a nation that gathers in her children, scattered throughout the world. Just watch Against All Odds, a documentary by Michael Greenspan, and it is easy to see the fulfillment of the prophecy.

From 100+ nations, they came. After 2,000 years of exile, they returned. A dead language was reborn. And today, right now, Passover is observed in the Land that was a gift from God after slavery and wandering and total reliance upon God’s provision.

The Readings today predicted this. And we are told that, at the end of the age, the Jewish people will see the Messiah. And know it is He.

This One they pray for every day. This One promised to them, by way of David’s line, they will see it is the Christ.

The question that haunts me, the thought I cannot turn from, is this:

How will they ever see Jesus as the Messiah if we, faithful Catholics, do not renew our love for the Jewish people and reclaim our commitment to tell the stories of the Old as well as the New to our children and to the world?

They are our matriarchs and patriarchs.

Yet the world has become more and more anti-Semitic.

We must not join the world.

The Jewish people gave birth to the Blessed Mother. She is Daughter Zion. Her Son is Our Lord. She is Our Lady.

Does not honoring our Father (God) and our Mother (Mary) necessitate a remembering of the Jewish people on our part? Does it not require of us a love and rediscovery of the common ground we share?

Do we love the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as we do the stories of the New Covenant?

Do we retell the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel? Do we remember the lineage of Jesus as well as the papal list?

Do we burn with a desire to share their Messiah with them? To tell them thank you for the greatest gift we have?

Or do we only see Israel today through the eyes of a growing anti-Semitic culture? Through policies or political ideology?

How will the prophecy be fulfilled if we, the Church, do not turn with massive amounts of love and gratitude toward them?

Now is a very good time. Passover. Holy Week.

Something Old.

Something New.

The Jewish people are not our enemy. They are our matriarchs and patriarchs.

Amen. And Amen.

Lent Should Heal Us

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.