What He Wants

March 26, 2010

 

Dear Claire and Ella: 

If there’s one thing I pray you understand at a young age, it is this:

God is more interested in your holiness than He is

in your temporal happiness.

This is a lesson I’m still learning but I do know it starts with understanding that holiness comes by way of love — His love for you flowing through you to others. That is is why He wants all of you. He wants all of your heart so He can fill it with His love.

Because He wants your heart He’ll allow all kinds of circumstances in your life in order to draw you to Him. Sometimes He’ll court your heart with wonderful consolations and blessings in this life. Of course we all love these sweet circumstances and moments in life.  But, He also knows our human weakness and tendency to become attached to the consolations instead of The Consoler, attached to the gifts instead of The Giver.

Amazingly, instead of abandoning you in your weakness, He loves you enough to do whatever it takes to get your attention so you will let go of those things which get in the way of love. Sometimes He withdraws his consolations and waits for you to seek Him, to seek His heart and not just His gifts. At other times He redeems the painful consequences of living in a fallen world by using them to draw us to Him.

His desire for your holiness is not based on some puritanical rule but instead a desire for you to have a  heart of pure love for Him and for others. This is what we were created for. 

That’s why he won’t leave you where you are, even if you are happy. No, if you truly desire Him, if you truly want to love Him and love like Him, then He will use the circumstances of your life to challenge you to let go of your selfish attachments to this temporal life and grab hold of Him, of His love, mercy and grace.

It may surprise you to hear this but, this is His gift of grace to you.

Anything that draws you to Him is a grace because left to our own devices we would not seek Him. The key is recognizing his hand at work in these difficult circumstances. Seeing that something greater is going on. This seeing requires eyes of faith. It requires you trust that He really does have your best interests at heart. Acknowledging this truth is the first step in surrender. I say step, because surrender is a process.

Surrendering means you stop fighting His will and you finally let Him do the work in you and through you. But remember, surrender does not make everything all better. The work He is doing may still be painful and difficult. But, when you begin to trust that He is working all things together for your eternal good then you can begin to find moments of peace in the midst of the pain, moments of trust where there used to be fear and worry.

Those moments most often come when you seek Him, when you place yourself before Him in worship, adoration and in stillness and quiet. They come as you receive Him and His strength in Communion. They come as you renew your mind and heart with the truth that this is not your final home; this temporal life is just one part of the journey. And they come when you serve and sacrifice for others.

This is why I take you often to Mass and Adoration. I want you to learn to give Him all of your heart in worship, to turn you eyes from your own circumstances and pray for others, and to spend time contemplating what Jesus did for us on the cross.

I want you to learn now because as you get older there will be times when it seems hard to surrender. In those moments remain faithful, continue to seek Jesus. Things may not change overnight. You  may not change overnight. So be patient with the process. Be patient with yourself.  It’s natural to want to avoid difficulties and pain. Your emotions will tell you to protect yourself in selfish ways, to run or to fight the process. And there will be times when you might give in to your emotions. Do not worry about this. Repent and turn your heart and mind back toward God.

As you give more of your heart to him and learn to constantly turn to Him for your strength you will find that you are more than your emotions; you are His and His Spirit can transform you. And as He transforms you, you will know more of His love and see it flowing  through you to others.

And finally you will see what He has known all along…

In holiness there is more happiness than you could have ever imagined!

Love,

Mom


what you don’t know…

February 16, 2010

 

Dear Claire:

This weekend you made your first confession. Your dad and I couldn’t be more happy for you. As I watched you and your friends kneel and pray in the front of the church I realized how grateful I am that we’re raising you in the Catholic faith and you’ll grow up experiencing the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

This was not the case for your dad and me. We didn’t experience this sacrament until after you were born.  And oh, the hurdles we had to overcome before our hearts and minds were even open to the idea of confessing our sins to God in the presence of a priest.

You see Claire, we were like most Protestants who believed going to confession was unnecessary because we could go directly to God to confess our sins and receive forgiveness. We didn’t understand why Catholics practiced this “man made” tradition and we certainly didn’t believe another human being had the right to absolve someone of their sins. In our eyes confession wasn’t Biblical and I even told a few of my Catholic friends so.  No one ever corrected me by sharing the Biblical basis for confession. 

This is why I am writing Claire. There may come a day in your life when you question whether or not going to confession is an important or necessary part of your faith journey. I can almost guarantee you that someday a well-meaning non-Catholic will try to tell you that you don’t need to confess your sins to a priest and they may even try to convince you it’s not Biblical. I want to make sure that when that day comes you know the Biblical reasons for this beautiful sacrament because if you’re not careful, what you don’t know could lead you away from this gift of grace.

One of the most common arguments against confessing your sins to a priest is that we can go directly to God to confess our sins. This is true Claire, we can go directly to God and we should on a daily basis. However, the Bible makes it clear there are times when we should confess our sins to another person. James 5:16  tells us, Therefore confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.

This begs the question, to whom do we confess our sins? Should you go to your friends, your parents, a deacon, a youth pastor?  Is it enough when you’re 16 to simply confess your sins to a friend in youth group, afterall, they are an “other”?  Do I confess my sins to a group publicly or privately? These are important questions because if it doesn’t matter who then I could go to just about anyone and then I’d have to ask what exactly is the point? 

Of course we can confess our struggles and sins to one another and pray for one another. This can be a good thing but the Bible makes it clear that when we commit a sin that leads to death that our prayers for one another are not the answer.

I John 5:16-17 — If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

Claire, this is the difference between venial sin (disobedience to God involving light moral matter that does not lead to death) and mortal sin (the deliberate, conscious, free transgression of a moral law in a serious matter that leads to death/separation from the life of God — i.e. adultery, armed robbery, murder, lying under oath). 

This difference between what the Church calls venial and mortal sins is something I never learned when I was growing up. I was taught all sin is equal in the eyes of God. But clearly the Bible does not teach this. Instead it says that all wrongdoing is sin but some sins lead to a spiritual death and some do not. So, if someone ever tries to tell you that there’s no spiritual difference between some sins you may want to point out that the Bible says something very different.

Because we know God’s grace is huge and no sin is too big for forgiveness we have to conclude that these mortal require something more than the prayers of our brothers and sisters. While the passage in First John does not tell us what they require, the Church has taught throughout the ages that these mortal sins should be confessed to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. [And not just these sins but venial sins that keep us from loving God and others or lesser sins that have become habits in our lives.]

It’s likely that if someone is challenging your Catholic faith they’ll ask if that means we believe God can’t forgive those sins if that person comes to Him with a repentant heart? By no means Claire, God is bound to the promise of His grace in His Sacraments but He’s not bound by His Sacraments. God is bound by no one. The reason we confess mortal sin in confession with a priest is because these sins are serious, intentional choices against the life and love of God.  They are sins that lead to spiritual death.  We need that life in us restored (which happens with a contrite heart and through the power of the Holy Spirit and authority bestowed on the priest by Jesus — John 20:19-223 ).  And, if we are making conscious choices and committing such serious sins it’s safe to say we also need the spiritual direction and guidance of one who’ll counsel us and lead us in the way of holiness. 

Now it’s important to note that even if our sin is not mortal we benefit from confessing our sins and selfish ways and receiving the grace  and forgiveness of this sacrament so that we can overcome our flesh. Not to mention the fact that confession is humbling and keeps your pride in check.

Someday you may ask why confess to a priest? Why not any man or woman who calls themself a pastor?  What’s so special about priests? Or, someone may challenge you like I challenged my Catholic friends by saying, Priests don’t have any special authority to forgive sins, they’re just men, they aren’t God.

As Catholics we can answer these questions by looking to the Bible.

Why do we confess our sins to a priest, Claire?

The answer: Because they’ve been given the authority to forgive sins.

John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent  me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

There are  many important things to learn from this passage: 

1) Jesus sends his disciples out on the same mission that the Father gave him. What was his mission?  Reconciling the world to God through the forgiveness of sins.  So Jesus gives the ministry of reconciliation to his disciples. Who in the Catholic Church has the role of administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Priests.  

2) Jesus gives the disciples the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins. He breathes His life upon them in the Holy Spirit. The same life that is imparted to the repentant man or woman who confesses their mortal sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Notice that Jesus isn’t telling them that if they have a personal beef with someone and they don’t forgive this person for offending them then this person is not forgiven. That would be un-Biblical and wouldn’t make sense in the context of this passage. In this passage Jesus is giving his disciples His authority to absolve someone of their sins.

As Catholics we believe the authority given to the disciples is passed on to priests through apostolic succession. Just as the Father sent Jesus and Jesus sent the disciples so too, the disciples sent others with the authority and ministry of reconciliation.  The key here is being sent with authority.

This issue of authority is an important part of our Catholic faith Claire. A man doesn’t just wake up one day and decide to open a parish in a Catholic diocese. He doesn’t decide he’s going to be a priest and then all the sudden he has authority to forgive sins and celebrate Mass etc. He must be sent out by the Bishop  just like in Biblical times when there was a laying on of hands and a sending forth with authority. In some cases there were men claiming to be of the church but they were not teaching sound doctrine and the people were warned against listening to those who’d not been sent with authority.

St. Paul talks about being given this ministry of reconcilation as well: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, 20) 

3) The forgiveness of sins administered through the disciples must have been very important and necessary because it was one of the first things Jesus did when He appeared to the disciples as a group after His resurrection.

Of course  some like to argue that we don’t need to go through another human or “mediator.”  Some non-Catholics will quote from the book of Hebrews to support this claim. But just remind them Claire that anytime they pray for someone else they are “mediating” between that person’s need and Jesus. And besides, Jesus clearly gave the disciples his authority to forgive and retain sins which means He is telling them to act as a go-between on His behalf. Kind of hard to argue with Jesus on that point.

It might also help if you remind them that as Catholics we see the priest as Christ’s representative. We know the authority and forgiveness first and foremost comes from the Father through Christ.

 Our Heavenly Father knows our human needs.  He gave us the gift of hearing these words of forgiveness from a priest. As Fr. Malley is quick to remind us, God made us a “sensing” people and He expresses His grace to us through our senses and not just through a mystical, abstract and hidden faith. You will quickly learn what a gift it is to hear the words “I forgive you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”  from one who has been given the authority to forgive from Christ. There is a peace that comes with this that can’t be explained. That’s probably why Jesus says “Peace be with you” two times to His disciples in that passage in John. Forgiveness and reconciliation brings peace to the heart.  

Claire, it’s my heart’s desire that you grow up knowing what you believe as a Catholic and why. And as someone who grew up thinking that much of Catholicism was un-Biblical it’s especially important to me that you know the Biblical basis for our Catholic beliefs.

So now, should you ever run into a well-meaning non-Catholic who attempts to tell you that confessing your sins to a priest is un-Biblical and unnecessary, you can explain that it’s not only Biblical but it’s an incredible gift and blessing from God. Of course they may not like or agree with the Catholic interpretation of Scripture. But that’s ok, you can just ask them why their interpretation of Scripture is right and the Catholic one is wrong. Which is a good question for them to consider.

In the meantime, I pray you never take for granted this gift of grace God has given you. Avail yourelf of His mercy and love in this sacrament so that you can grow to be more loving like Jesus and live in peace.

Love,

Mom


Lordy, Lordy, today I’m…

February 5, 2010

…40?

 

Say it isn’t so! 🙂 

How quickly time goes by. Seems like just yesterday Claire was defending my youthfulness to her little sister.

For whatever reason our culture places a lot of importance on this birthday. I suppose for some it marks the turning point where one begins the second  half of their life (as if the years of anyone’s life are actually guaranteed and can be marked by a specific number of birthdays–a bit presumptuous of us humans don’t you think?). 

I may joke around about turning 40 and this “mid-life” thing but I’m not sure that deep down I buy into this viewpoint. I do however think it’s only natural to reflect on the years gone by and my life choices thus far–you know the drill…

I’m glad I did…

I wish I’d done…

and of course,

If I’d known then what I know now…

Here are some of my reflections and what I hope my girls might learn from me as a result.

I’m glad I

…became Catholic. Words can’t even describe how grateful I am that my faith journey landed me in the Catholic Church. There is a fullness to my faith that didn’t exist before. This is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t understand what Catholics really believe. All I can say is this is the best decision I’ve made in the last 10 years of my life.

 On this faith journey we each have to follow our own conscience but if you’ve never taken the time to understand what the Catholic Church really believes then I’d encourage you to find out (from an orthodox source). You may discover the depth and riches of this treasure we found.

Lesson for my daughters: Our Catholic faith is a pearl of great price. Your dad and I gave up a lot to find it. Don’t just take our word for it, study the Faith in order to know what you believe and why.

I wish I’d

…followed my heart and double-majored in college. I had two loves when I was young–teaching and music. I’ll never regret teaching at the community college, it was a great career choice for me. But, I wish I’d had the courage to pursue a degree in music too. I didn’t believe enough in my talent and potential and so I went with what my head told me was the safe bet. I should have followed my heart as well, not because I want a career in music but for my own growth, enjoyment and for the glory of God .

Lesson: Claire and Ella, listen to your head and your heart. Pursue your dreams. Don’t be afraid to have confidence in the gifts God has given you and use them for His glory.

If I’d known then…

the truth about artificial birth control and the beauty of the theology of the our bodies, I would’ve done things very differently early in our marriage.  My house would probably have a few more kids, be a little messier and a lot more chaotic. But oh the joy and love that comes with each miraculous gift of life!

Lesson: Claire and Ella, don’t just accept what our culture teaches about fertility and artificial birth control (ABC) like I did. Take the time to understand why the Church tells us that ABC is not God’s plan for His children. Trust the Word of God that tells us fertility is a gift, not a curse and children are a blessing, not a burden. 

Hmmm, a light-hearted beginning and heavy ending. Such is life –made up of both and everything in- between.


A lesson for all ages and times

September 21, 2009

I’ve noticed an interesting difference between my girls. Claire is an encourager. When Ella is attempting to do something, Claire cheers her on.  And if Ella happens to be better at doing something than Claire, well, Claire still encourages her and praises her. This happens a lot when it comes to certain physical activities. Ella is naturally more athletic. Surprisingly, I can’t recall a time when Claire ever seemed jealous of her sister when she was able to do something and Claire couldn’t. I like this quality in Claire and I hope she never changes.

Ella, on the other hand, has a hard time when she can’t perform as well as someone else.  Usually her reaction includes these words,  “I can’t…I don’t…I’ll never be able…Why is she better?…I don’t have…I’m not smart enough…”  Honestly, it can be a frustrating thing to deal with. Of course when appropriate we try to use these as “teaching moments, ” teaching her about being grateful for what she can do, to be content with the natural abilities God has given her… etc. Of course, there’s only so much you can do to reason with a five year old so I’m hoping that with age she outgrows this. However, something I read in that Holy Abandonment book reminded me it’s not necessarily something we outgrow with age. It seems that often God has to reason with us grown ups and remind us of these very same truths as we navigate different passages of life.

The text I read is long but  it’s worth sharing the whole thing. You can tell by the language and style that it was written a while ago but it’s still a lesson for all ages and all times.

We should all be content with the gifts and talents wherewith Providence has endowed us, and no one should ever permit himself to complain of the fact that he has not received as much intelligence or skill as another, or that his strength hs been impaired by over-work, years or illness…because even the most gifted have always some defects which oblige them to practice resignation and humility…

In this matter, just as in everything else, we are bound to conform ourselves to the will of God, to be satisfied with the talents which He has given us, and with the conditions in which He has placed us. Therefore we should not wish to be wiser, more skillful, or held in higher esteem than is in accordance with His good-pleasure. If we are not so liberally endowed as some others, if we have some natural defect of body or mind, an unprepossessing exterior, or disabled limb, poor health, a treacherous memory, a slow intelligence, a weak judgment…we must not complain or murmur…nor must we envy those endowed with the qualities we lack. A person would show very bad taste by taking offense because the present given him as a pure favor was not as rich or as beautiful as he would have liked. Was God obliged to give us a more brilliant mind or a better body? Could He have not created us in a condition less favorable still…Have we merited as much as He has bestowed upon us? No, it is a pure largess of His bounty to which we are immensely indebted. Who would complain of a gratiuity he has received? Let us, then, suppress this miserable pride which would make us ingrates, and humbly thank the Lord for the gifts He has been pleased to grant us.

In the distribution of natural talents God is not obliged to respect our facllacious principles of equality. Under no obligation to anyone, He remains absolute Master of His benefits. He is guilty of no injustice when he gives more to some and less to others.  His wisdom directs Him to bestow on each as much as is required fro the charge He will to entrust to him. The artisan makes his instruments of the size, weight, and form best suited for the work in which he means to employ them. In the same manner, God gives us our different minds and talents according to the service He has designed for us and the degree of glory He intends to derive therefrom…Above all else, He seeks the good of our souls, or rather His one exclusive object is to procure His own glory by our sanctification. And like Him, we, too, ought to see in all His gifts, natural and supernatural, only the means to glorify the Giver by sanctifying ourselves.

Rt. Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, pp. 191-193

 

 


Hide and Seek

February 16, 2009

 

A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.

-Max Lucado

 

Dear Claire and Ella:

Today you’re too young to fully understand this quote. Right now you’re far more interested in jumping on the trampoline with your daddy and playing hide and seek with your friends than you are in matters of love. But, when you are older, should you decide that God is calling you to married life, I want you to remember this quote and bind its truth to your heart.

There will come a time when men will seek after your heart and try to win it with their charm and the things of this world. And when they do, remember this, you are a beloved daughter of God, hidden in Christ Jesus. And this is where your heart should be–hidden in Christ and set upon the treasures of heaven. 

If you hide your heart in Christ you will not be impressed by men with earthly treasures. You will not be swept off your feet by vain ambition and temporal attraction. If you hide your heart in Christ He will rescue you from such worldy distractions as well as the pain and disappointment that comes from following after them.

My beautiful daughters guard your precious hearts and heed the wisdom in these words… hide your heart so deeply in Jesus so that only a man who seeks first Christ and his Kingdom will ever have a chance of finding it.

Love,

Mom