losing your balance

July 12, 2010

 

I’ve never been a very graceful or coordinated person. I tend to run into things and drop stuff (especially in the kitchen). I’ve been known to  fall down while going up the stairs and trip over invisible bumps in the sidewalk. After 15 years of marriage Scott’s pretty much used to it. I like to tell myself he finds it to be an endearing quality of mine.

One of my most embarrassing moments occurred while I was working for the Department of Defense and performing with the USO overseas. It was a 4th of July show on a large military base in Japan. Picture 1000 families, a stage that had just been waxed and an opening number performed in a pair of old dance shoes that desperately needed to be re-soled. Combine all that with my stellar coordination (they hired me for my voice not for my dance skills) and you can imagine what that embarrassing moment looked like. I slid across the stage and landed right on my… (well, you get the picture).

Staying balanced has been an issue in others ways too. As a teen and young adult my days were booked solid. Friends joked with me about having to be penciled into my schedule. I look back on those days and realize how much I missed in some of those relationships. Mostly because I was a chronic overachiever for all the wrong reasons.

In my mid-twenties I did a lot of soul-searching and began to understand the motivation behind many of my choices. Since then I’ve made a conscious effort to be careful as to where I spend my time, talents and thoughts. I know well some of my weaknesses and I don’t want my relationship with God,  my family or my close friends to suffer because of them.

It’s easy to lose your balance in life–to wake up one day and realize you’ve spent too much time and energy on something that God never really called you to do. It could be as big as career and relationship choices made from a deeply rooted and mistaken belief that you are what you do. Or as simple as a worry or concern you’ve allowed to consume your thoughts. Either one is like a cyst or foreign object growing in your heart and mind, taking up space in a place it doesn’t belong. Before you know it things just don’t feel right and your life is thrown out of balance.

Last week my brother had brain surgery to remove some tumors and a large cyst that was placing pressure on his  cerebellum. Apparently it had been there growing at a slow pace for quite some time. He didn’t know it until his symptoms appeared. His coordination and balance were off. He lost dexteriety in his hand and there were headaches as a well as fatigue. 

They were a lot like the spiritual sypmptoms I see when I’ve allowed something to creep into my life that shouldn’t be there. My balance is thrown off, it’s hard to coordinate everything in my calendar and it’s easy to fall into sin. I find I’m not as flexible in my relationships, especially with my family, and I can get tired and stressed out.

I’m especially in tune with this balance issue right now because of starting my new job at church. Not only has my brother’s surgery made me stop and think but God sent me another reminder a few weeks ago when the girls went to VBS (Vacation Bible School). The theme was about keeping your balance when you work,  play, rest and pray. It was His not so subtle way of reminding me that now more than ever I need to guard my time and my thoughts so I stay centered in Christ.

Of course, I can’t help but ask…

What is it in your life that causes you to lose your balance? What do you need to do this week to stay centered in your relationship with Christ? Whatever it is, make sure you do it!


Story Time

June 3, 2010

 

Last night I had the chance to sit around a table with a small group of men and women from my church and share our faith “stories.” As I listened I realized in some ways I was being allowed to enter “holy ground.” I mean the work of God in our lives, his gift of faith which draws us into a love relationship with Him, isn’t that a holy thing? It’s holy ground.

Each believer has a story and that story is not only deeply personal, it’s holy. Some may think their story isn’t exciting or all that interesting but who are we to say God’s handiwork isn’t exciting. If the God of the universe knows us as intimately as Psalm 139 tells us He does, then how could the work of His love in our lives not be interesting?

Perhaps one of the most beautiful stories I heard last night was given by a woman who simply lived a faithful life with Jesus, never wavering, only seeking to do His will.  I should be careful though not to label this the most beautiful story because I was moved by each one I heard. Each one reminded me of how incredibly personal our God is and yet how very similar our stories really are. 

Here’s the paradox: Our stories are both unique while at the same time universal.

The Father knows you, His Son loves you and the Spirit is working in your life. This is the outline for your story and mine. The rest of the details may be very different but the blueprint is the same. This is the beauty of our common faith in and love for Christ. And that beauty makes me want to ask the people I meet…

What’s your story?

Another post on “Stories”


Change is coming…

May 17, 2010

 

It’s been raining off and on all night and this morning. Looks like a good snow day to me.

Translation: No School!! 

I think we’ll curl up on the couch and read books today. We need a quiet day and some rest. Life’s been busy around here. Our weekends have been especially busy.

It seems like we’ve been going non-stop ever since Holy Week.

After Easter we had the dedication of our new church. I’ll share some pictures sometime soon.

Claire then had her First Communion retreat.

I’ve had a couple of weddings to sing at (one of which was very special to our family).

Claire received her First Holy Communion last weekend. That was a full weekend. There’s more to share about First Communion and I probably will, just not today.

My sister was in town last week. We celebrated my brother’s graduation from his PH.D program. We now have a Dr. in the family! (We’re proud of you Pat and so glad that part of your journey is over for you and your family).

And of course there’s been much time spent with friends, just doing life and this faith journey together.

So I’ve been too busy to write. And life is about to get a little busier. Busy in a good way though.

I’ve been contemplating taking on a new role in life. I finally made a decision last week.

Scott and I are embarking on a new adventure in our faith journey.  I agreed to join the staff at my church where I’ll serve part-time as a faith formation director. On the one hand this is totally new but on the other I’ve sensed some kind of change in my life coming. I just didn’t expect it this year.

You can pray for us as we serve. I say we because this really is a family deal. There’s no way I could do this and still home school the girls without Scott’s involvement and support. Although it’s a sacrifice of time we’re excited about what God will do as we serve and grow with the other families in our parish.

Change can be good.

Change for our family.

And change for me as I’m challenged in this new role to grow in His grace and love.


The chicken or the egg?

April 26, 2010

The classic debate: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christians should be asking the same kind of question…

 The Bible or the Church, which one came first?

My Protestant upbringing taught me that in matters of faith everything, including the structure and ways of the Church, should come from the Bible alone, hence the phrase “Sola Scriptura” or Scripture Alone. Only that which fit into our interpretation of Scripture could be justified as truth or the way of doing things in the church.

Like most independent Protestant pastors, my pastor subscribed to Sola Scripture and based the structure and guidelines of his church on the Bible alone or rather his personal interpretation of the Bible. So for him (and others like him), the Bible came first and from that the Church was born or structured. Consequently my theological beliefs and faith journey were largely based on my own personal interpretation of Scripture and his teachings (which were based largely on my pastor’s interpretation of Scripture).

On the otherhand, the Catholic faith believes and teaches that Jesus first established the Church and gave it His authority to “bind and loose” while promising to protect the Church from the gates of hell (Matthew 16:17-19). It wasn’t until after this that the Bible was inspired and written by members of that Church and more than two centuries later was declared Sacred Scripture by the Church at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. During this time the Church was led and grew not under the teachings of the “Bible Alone”  but by the Sacred Traditions protected by the Holy Spirit and passed from one generation of church leaders to the next.

This is why Catholics look to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the teaching Magisterium (authority) of the Church and the Holy Spirit to form their consciences on matters of faith and morals. Doctrinal truth and morality is never a matter of one’s personal interpretation or preferences. Nor is it a matter of one pastor’s interpretation or teaching. 

All four (Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit) work together to help form our conscience when it comes to the faith. This is because Sacred Tradition and Scripture were both were born of the Church.  Technically, the Bible itself comes from tradition because it was passed down to us by the Church, it was born out of the Church. We accept it as Sacred Scripture because the Church, led by the Spirit, declared it to be so.

Some might ask, what’s the big deal, why does it matter? Well…

If you say that the Church came first then it should have an impact on your faith journey and understanding of the Bible and Tradition.

If the Church really did come first and it had the authority to declare the Bible Sacred Word of God, then shouldn’t it also have that same authority in other matters of faith and morals?  (i.e. Communion, birth control, divorce and re-marriage, baptism, Holy Orders or ordination?)

If you say that it doesn’t matter if the Church came first because the Bible alone is your authority then here are soem questions to consider…

At what point did Jesus take back the words He spoke to Peter? When did Jesus declare the Church no longer had the authority to “bind and loose?” 

When did He say the authority to declare and define doctrinal and moral truth belonged to the Bible alone and our personal interpretation of its words?

And, if the Church, which compiled and canonized the Bible, has no binding authority, then how can you be sure the books of the Bible you read really are the Sacred Scripture? If the Church  has no authority then why should we believe what this group of men, this teaching magisterium of the 4th century, says about these books? For all you know they could have picked the wrong books?

So, which came first, the Church or the Bible?

What do you believe and why?

And what difference does your belief make in your faith journey?


For the Glory of God Alone

April 8, 2010

 

 A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. This is part two on the Introductory Rites. If you want to catch up click here.

When we left off we’d just finished the penitential rite. After the penitential rite we sing the Gloria.

The relationship between the penitential prayer and the Gloria is beautiful. In the penitential rite we’ve confessed our sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. Now with faith in the grace and mercy of God we sing the Gloria with joy and give Him glory because we know we are forgiven!

By the way, like many parts of the Mass, the Gloria is taken from Scripture. The opening line comes from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. [And you thought we Catholics didn’t know the Bible or use it in our worship. Just wait until we get to the Liturgy of the Word.]

Here’s the Gloria in its entirety…

Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father.
We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father.
Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord.
You alone are the most high, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.
Amen.

If you come to Mass during Advent and Lent you won’t hear the Gloria. These are seasons of penance during which we don’t sing the Gloria, not until Christmas Eve and the Easter Vigil.  When we finally sing the Gloria it’s sung loudly with bells ringing throughout the entire song in celebration of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.

While on the topic of muisc…

One thing that was different for me when I left my non-denominational church and started attending Mass was the way I experienced the use of  music for worship. Not only was the style different (until I discovered the Life Teen Mass which incorporates more contemporary music) but so was the placement of music in the service.

In most of the Protestant churches I attended the music was sung at the beginning of the service. We called this our time of  “praise and worship.”  Instead of having us sing worship songs for 15 minutes and then sit down to listen to a man speak for an hour, the Mass engages us in worship the entire time (minus a short homily). Music is incorporated throughout the service as we participate in the different prayers and parts of the liturgy.

Because worship music had always been a big part of  my life it took me a while to get used to this difference but I’ve grown to appreciate and even prefer the way music is used in the Mass.

Music is never the focal point in the Mass which helps to keep it from becoming about the glory of man. You’ll never see a worship band at “center stage” during a Mass. The Eucharist, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, is the focal point of the Mass. Neither is the use of music designed to entertain and entice people to come to Mass. The music is simply part of the ongoing prayer of the Mass.

 Once we’ve finished singing the Gloria we remain standing for the Opening Prayer.  Before this prayer, the celebrant raises his arms. This isn’t a random act on his part, even this gesture has meaning. It’s linked to the Gloria and the penitential rite.

The priest, standing there with his arms raised, is symbolic of the person who’s been freed from sin through the Resurrection of Jesus. This, of course, is what we’ve just professed and experienced through the penitential rite and the singing of the Gloria. Jesus ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Because of the resurrection power we are set free from death and the power of sin. Glory to God in the highest!

The opening prayer is not something the priest makes up based on how he’s feeling that day. It’s related to the liturgical season or the feast day celebrated during this Mass and it’s prayed at every Mass in every Catholic Church on that day. The tradition of this prayer, which is also known as the collect, has been around since the 5th century.

Just from the Introductory Rites you can see begin to see that everything done in the Mass has a purpose. It’s rich in tradition, symbolism and based on Scripture. And, it’s done for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).

When you understand the symbolism and how everything has meaning (even the simple gesture of a priest raising his arms in prayer) you realize that the Mass is far from being  “old dead liturgy” as my friend described it. No, the Mass is alive and well and we’ve only just covered the Introductory Rites!

Next up, the Liturgy of the Word.


A man ought to examine himself…

April 6, 2010

 

A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. If you want to catch up click here.

Just like families that get together to share a meal or celebrate a special event have traditions and rituals for the way they do things, our Catholic family has rituals and traditions we practice when we celebrate the Mass together. Ours start with the Introductory Rites. (Rites: Ceremonies surrounding the Sacred Liturgy and the sacraments)

The Mass begins with an entrance song or antiphon prayed by the entire congregation (an antiphon is a prayer, often taken from the Bible). If you drop by a daily Mass you’re more likely to hear the antiphon. Most Sunday Masses begin with a song and the processional which includes an altar server carrying a crucifix and other servers following behind, along with the celebrant (the priest celebrating the Mass).

After the procession, the priest goes to the altar and kisses it. Now don’t worry my Protestant friends, he’s not worshipping the altar and making it an idol. A kiss is a sign of devotion. Just like your favorite aunt who gives you a big kiss on the cheek when she comes to dinner, the priest kisses the altar as a sign of our love and devotion to Christ for His sacrifice.

The celebrant then leads us in making the sign of the cross. Like I mentioned before, this signifies our identity, who we are as the family of God.

Next, he welcomes the family of God gathered for this celebration with a greeting  taken from Scripture. For example: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:13). And because the Mass is a liturgy (a work of the people) we participate and respond by saying, and also with you.

What follows is known as the penitential rite.  This is where we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge we’ve sinned and fall short of ever measuring up and that is why we need Jesus. We know we can’t approach God on our own merit so before we enter into corporate worship we take time to confess our faults and ask for forgiveness. Ideally, we’ve spent time before Mass examining our hearts for this penitential rite and preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion.   

This rite may include a couple of traditions. Sometimes at a special Sunday Mass the priest will sprinkle the congregation with holy water as a reminder of their baptismal promises (to reject sin and follow Jesus) and as a symbol of healing and cleansing. 

More often the celebrant asks us to call to mind our sin in silence and ask for God’s forgiveness. Then he leads and we all pray a prayer. My favorite penitential prayer is called the Confiteor. It goes like this:

I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault. In my thoughts and in my words, what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  And I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I’ll say this about many parts of the Mass, but…

I love this tradition and rite. It makes so much sense doesn’t it? I mean here we are, gathered to worship and one of the first things we do is humble ourselves before God and one another and ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us to overcome our faults. This is the beauty of the Body of Christ isn’t it. And, it’s Scriptural. (If you’re not sure about asking Mary to pray for us, click here for a little perspective.)

If you read my letter to Claire about Confession and mortal sin vs. venial sin then you know that the Bible tells us there are some sins we are to pray about for one another (I John 5:16-17). These venial sins are the very ones we’re confessing in our hearts before we prepare to celebrate the Mass. This penitential rite is also part of what St. Paul reminds us to do before we receive Holy Communion: 

Therefore, whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.  (I Corinthians 11:27-29,31)

These verses explain the Biblical basis for the penitential rite:  Examining our hearts and confessing our sin before recognizing His body and blood and receiving Him in Communion.

These verses also say a lot about Communion and what the early church believed. I must admit that when I was a Protestant and I read those verses in light of what I’d been taught about Communion was faced with several questions, such as… 

If the bread and wine are symbolic and not truly the body and blood of Christ then why does Paul specifically say that taking the bread and wine in an unworthy manner is a sin against the body and blood of Christ? How can you eat bread and drink wine in an unworthy manner? How is it possible to sin against a symbol?

And, if the bread and wine are supposed to be symbolic and not changed into the body and blood of Christ then why would we be judged for not recognizing it as the body of the Lord?  If it’s just a symbol then why would St. Paul risk creating confusion by telling the people to recognize a symbol as the actual body of the Lord?

On the other hand, if it really is the body and blood of Jesus and I take it without confessing my sin, acknowledging His sacrifice and His real presence then St. Paul’s words make sense. I can see how I would be sinning against the actual body and blood of Christ.

Of course those questions and thoughts take me well beyond the scope of the Introductory Rites and this post. They’ll have to be addressed at a later date. But it does make you wonder, what exactly was St. Paul telling us about Holy Communion in these verses?

What is clear is that the Bible says we are to examine our hearts before coming to the Lord’s Table.  There’s no doubt that we Catholics take St. Paul’s words to heart, so much so that it’s a part of our worship at every Mass.

This is all I have time for today. I’ll finish the Introductions tomorrow.


A change of seasons

April 1, 2010

 One thing I love about the Catholic faith is the seasons of the liturgical calendar. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, especially today, the beginning of the Paschal Triduum.

Paschal Triduum: A period of three days for the most exalted liturgical celebration of the year, beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and concluding with Vespers on Easter Sunday, recalling the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, along with His Institution of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders.

For the last 40 days, the Mass Scripture readings, the prayers and the music have pointed us toward the this triduum celebration. I love this about the Church. There’s no way that Good Friday and Easter can just creep up on you in the Catholic faith.  Instead we’ve been slowing creeping up on it, preparing our hearts and minds through prayer, fasting, going to confession and meditating on Christ’s humility and self-sacrificing love.

And here’s what is so beautiful: We won’t just celebrate Easter for a day and then move on or go back to studying a randomly  selected book of the Bible. We spent 40 days in Lent, a season of repentance and dying to self. For the 50 days following Easter we will celebrate, rejoice and focus on Christ’s resurrection and his time on earth after his resurrection. All the prayers, Scripture readings and music will emphasize this. All of this then leads us to the celebration of Pentecost when He sent His Holy Spirit to lead and guide His Church.

I treasure these seasons and the rhythm of living them with our parish community. I love the preparation and then the joyful celebration. I think we humans are hardwired this way. Just look at the secular world, even they enjoy a change of seasons, reasons to celebrate. It’s so fitting then that God would redeem this part of our human nature and give us a Church that leads us through seasons and celebrations that emphasize the true meaning of life — the grace, salvation and love of God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

So tonight begins the Triduum. We call this Holy Thursday. It’s the night Christ  instituted the Eucharist. He celebrated the Last Supper, consecrated the bread and the wine, and called his 12 disciples to do the same. This is why we also celebrate the institution of Holy Orders today.  

With respect to Holy Orders and the priesthood here’s something to think about…

On the night before He died, Jesus even called Judas to this role of priest. He knew Judas was going to fail him as a priest and betray Him and His Church. The same goes for Peter whom He called to be the rock of the Church and the first pope (click here if you need more Scriptural support for this), except Peter repented. 

It’s interesting to note that the human failings of the disciples didn’t stop Jesus from building His Church and giving us priests to celebrate the Eucharist.  He knew all along there would be faithful priests who would still fall but repent and there would be some unfaithful, unrepentant priests. Maybe we need to have a little more faith and trust that God is in charge of the Church no matter how grieviously some our leaders might fail us.

Tonight my family and I plan to go to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is a beautiful liturgy. After which the priest removes the Blessed Sacrament (the Body of Christ) from the Tabernacle.  The removal of his tangible, physcial presence from the church is symbolic of His death. 

At my parish, Jesus, who is present in the Blessed Sacrament is taken to an auxiliary chapel, reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane. Like the first disciples, we are invited to come and pray with Him “in the Garden” until midnight. After that the Blessed Sacrament is removed. Just as Jesus was taken from the Garden by the soldiers and His disciples were left without Him we too are left without the tangible presence of Christ until we celebrate His resurrection at Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Last year was the first year Claire understood what was going on at this Mass. As the priest took the Body of Christ from the Tabernacle Claire started to cry. She leaned over and whispered, Mommy, I know Jesus lives in my heart but I don’t want Him to leave the Tabernacle tonight.  I imagine the disciples felt the same when the soldiers dragged their beloved Jesus away.

I don’t know if your church celebrates the Paschal Triduum but if you’re looking for a way to recognize these three solemn and holy days I encourage you to check out your local Catholic Church. You are always welcome and I guarantee that if you come with an open heart and mind you will be blessed by this liturgy.


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