Catholic or Bust

“But Who Do you Say That I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Matthew 16:15-16.

Have you ever listened to conversion stories? Many Catholic converts tell passionate anecdotes about their spiritual journey to Catholicism. Conversion stories run the gambit. Many converts felt a tug or pull towards Catholicism throughout their lives. Many converts recall times of keen resistance to the faith or frustration with the pull towards the Faith of Our Fathers. After critically studying Catholicism from Scripture to Tradition to Magisterium, some converts note “aha!” moments or “Nooooo . . . Anything but. . . Fine!!” moments. Some fell into Catholicism like a delightful bubble bath or breathed a sigh of relief walking into the home they always sought. Some stumbled into Catholicism for less profound reasons but continue practicing anyways. Others suffered and survived persecution to became a member of the Church.

Catholicism for me was like breathing air both a subconscious and conscious act. Faith came easily to me as a child. Maintaining that childlike trust of faith not easy. As a child, the world was a spiritual place where you used all five senses to experience its beauty, mystery, and truth. Faith was my sixth sense. Catholicism is a fleshy, tactile, and sensual religion that matches how a child explores, experiences, and discovers the world. In many ways, elements of Catholic liturgy and ritual that give some the heebie jeebies reflect a childlike wonder and exploration of the spiritual realm. We use all five senses to seek, worship, experience, and connect with God and the divine.

Catholic means: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. You’re a part of something much greater than yourself as a Catholic yet an unique individual too. Every church housing a tabernacle or altar offering the Sacrifice of the Mass is a home regardless of the location, rite, or language. As a Catholic you’re more aware that you’re an intricate and important thread in a elaborate tapestry of all the faithful both living or dead whether in heaven or purgatory. We receive immense grace from the Sacramental life of the Church, the Communion of Saints, the Holy Trinity, and the intercession of Our Lady. And, yes, we can trace our founder to Jesus Christ and an apostolic succession based on scripture and guided by the Holy Spirit despite concupiscence and human involvement.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” John 20:29.

But THE ULTIMATE REASON is the source and summit of the Catholic Faith: The Eucharist, i.e., the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The reason Catholic Christians are not and cannot be just another Christian denomination.

edieval

Because of our bold claim as Catholics, our lives radically change or should radically change. If we are what we consume and if what we consume is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we become not only a part of the Body of Christ, but the Body of Christ. With that efficacious grace and transformation, we go out into the world and proclaim the Good News! Everything changes or should change: our thoughts, words, deeds, actions, relationships, priorities, hopes, dreams, goals and pursuits. The Faith changes how we: dress, educate, drive, work, socialize, worship, approach sexuality, manage life challenges, celebrate, mourn, suffer, suffer with, marry, procreate, raise children, etc. Etc.

The Eucharist isn’t a magic circle that absolves us from pain, suffering, and trials. Au Contraire! The world rejected Christ and still rejects Christ. As Christians, especially Catholic Christians, we understand our world, our fellow believers, our families, our peoples, our cultures, etc, will reject, ostracize and persecute even kill us too.

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.– Luke 12:51-53

“Thy word’s thy ship not thy home.”- St. Therese of Lisieux. St. John Paul said living the faith would be hard-  potentially a white or red martyrdom. But at the end of it all, when the world turns away, when your friends, family or loved ones turn away or turn you in, the grace and peace of truth carries one through. Even through the profound hurt and pain of rejection and persecution, salvific hope and trust remains- a divine purpose and plan.

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

-St. John Paul II. Vergata Prayer Vigil at World Youth Day 8/19/2000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neither My Brother Nor My Brother’s Keeper

Who is my brother?

Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’ Anyone who does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.

Matthew 12: 48-50.

We were also instructed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. If all these people are our brothers and sisters and mothers, why do we gossip, slander, and libel? Why do we Christians and Catholic Christians build each other up by putting others down? Why do we “bond” at the expense of another child of God?

Mother Theresa Lenten Wisdom

Pope Francis calls gossip “the terrorism of words,” “poison” and the “devil’s weapon.” I myself am fully culpable of sins committed against others via flagrant or careless abuse of the tongue. Pope Francis recommends “biting our tongues.” Words can kill. But what about the “lesser” evils of words? Those abuses of the tongue that seem harmless or less harmful. Maybe funny? Witty? Cheeky?  Intriguing? Bonding?

I’m an active listener. Daily I witness conversations which thrive on the expense of another or others. Everyday friends, family, and loved ones build each other up by putting others down. What ignorant and insecure people we are.

Observation without compassion and charity becomes sinful. There is right and wrong. There is natural law. There is physical and metaphysical reality. There is faith and reason. There is sin and evil. There is love and virtue. Not everything is relative.

What happens when we use our differences to hide our insecurities or avoid much needed growth? There is nothing quite like a little laughter and public mocking as a familial and bonding activity or an intense avoidance tactic.

Sometimes a familiar target is chosen. Many times an unknown target is chosen. Different: clothes, food, language, accents, employment, religion, residencies, vehicles, education, culture, geographic regions, expectations, music, etc. Oh, how many times I hear people mock Southerners or cultural expectations or music preferences. It’s always us versus them and cackle like hyenas. Aren’t we so enlightened and witty? You can’t get much further from the truth. If we must build ourselves up (and our families, friends, cultures, cities, groups, and loved ones) at the expense of others, how small, unenlightened, shallow, and insecure people we must be. Our love for comparison diminishes our capacity for virtue. Comparison also enslaves us and limits our freedom.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4: 18

Whether in a Siberian gulag, a Yazidi camp or African nomadic village, we are born, we live, and we die. We are more similar than dissimilar. An Alabama soldier is a much a person as an Idaho tire salesman or an Ivy League Scholar or a Midwestern housewife or a Mormon missionary.

We must remember that each and every person is a child of God. Our words must also mirror this reality, especially as Catholic Christians. It’s better to “bite our tongues” than spiritually die by the words that escape our lips. Words mean something. Words either bring forth greater light, life and love or not. Do our words send us to heaven or hell? Do our words reflect the intrinsic dignity of humanity or not?

We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whomever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 18-21

Classy Elegance: A Dying Art Form?

cinderella

Over the weekend, my niece and I enjoyed a special lady’s outing. We attended the Roger and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella. Originally created for television, the 1957 production starred the legendary actress and singer Julie Andrews. Not until the second or third song did I connect the dots about why the music and lyrics were so familiar. 20+ years ago in the upper Midwest as a wee child, my mother and I watched the 1965 film version. My one encounter from decades ago triggered a flood memories. Though I never “identified” with Cinderella nor obsessed over the Cinderella legacy, the musical blew me away.

My niece and I watched wide-eyed at the whimsical, sophisticated, intricate, and elegant stage production. The costume changes, set changes, stage lighting, plot, dancing, music, humor, and lyrics filled the performing arts center like a dream- a very surreal and elegant dream. From London to Broadway to Vancouver, I’ve enjoyed musicals and stage productions. As much as I enjoy the colorful and catchy sounds and sights of Hairspray, Cinderella evoked a seemingly long-lost or dying art form- classy and elegant.

I’m sure the musical has been modified for a more modern audience. Overall, the intonation of the singing evoked a pure and classy quality that I hadn’t heard in years. Though catchy and interesting, feelings of softness, elegance, and innocence were conjured. The closest image I could conjure was Julie Andrews in the Sounds of Music or Mary Poppins (which at the time, I forgot Julie Andrews ever played Cinderella.) The voice had a level of sophistication and demure beauty instead of the in your face power that Wicked or Frozen did not.

In our modern era of constant noise and media, less and less I witness art-forms, though talented, that evoke pure class and elegance. Classiness and elegance have become almost taboo and antiquated. I’ve even heard people mock classiness, culture, and elegance. Now, to be fair, I now live in a region that doesn’t have a strong sense of culture, but as the locals begrudgingly admit, “I was raised in culture.”

Here are some questions people not long ago could answer and people today may have to pause before answering at all: What is the difference between waltz and a Viennese waltz? Do you know the difference between a formal or casual dinner place setting? Do you know the difference between cocktail attire, semi-formal, and formal attire? What is business casual versus business professional? What is romance? What is a date versus dating? What is courting? What is good posture versus bad posture? What is chivalry? What is a gentleman? What is a lady? What is the difference between damask, taffeta, and silk? What is modesty? What is the difference between class and classiness? What are manners? What are kind words versus mean words? What is a cuss word? What is disrespectful language? How do you talk to a man? How do you address a woman? Do we call our relatives by their respective title followed by their name (i.e., Aunt Hannah,)? Is Sunday the Lord’s Day or a day of family? What is the difference between dinner and supper? Etc. Etc. Etc.

I rarely quote seculars on my blog (disclaimer: not advocating for all aspects of their lifestyle nor life choices), but here are some thoughts to ponder:

Simplicity is ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous. – Coco Chanel

Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside. -Coco Chanel

The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. – Albert Einstein 

Elegance is the only beauty that never fades. – Audrey Hepburn

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.– Audrey Hepburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catholic Romance Stories . . . Christmas

Our First Christmas Gift Exchange:

christmas-mother-teresa-of-calcuttaTwas the Night of New Years and all through the house three creatures were stirring including the cat. The tree gleamed bright and cast whimsical colors and shapes on the walls and the windows. With my family snug in their beds an earshot away, only he and I remained in the soft Christmas tree glow while the cat never ceased staring in her watchful vigilance. All prepared and excited my festive wrapped gift lay upon the coffee table alone. No gift joined it’s side. I stared in astonishment and wonder. My mind buzzed and blew with more thoughts than Christmas ornaments. With each moment my brow furrowed and lines etched my face like stringed lights on the tree or lines on a stocking. My thoughts mirrored twinkling light colors all fuzzy and bright. Still no gift appeared and my heart lept in fright. Despite being seated by my side, I strained as his words floated in and out one-side. I heard. I processed. But it all seemed too bizarre. The words seemed too light and the meaning too dense like snow in a blizzard one moment fluffy and the next moment sleet. Bracing for a gift packed like a wet snowball, I quietly closed my eyes. The Christmas light glow matched my thoughts. Breathless I awaited.rings

Some rustle and bustle. A pause. A disclaimer. My breathe became frosty and slow. As I opened both palms to receive the gift, my brain turned to meringue while my hands trembled like tinsel. The cat kept her perpetual gaze while I stood frozen awaiting. A coolness brushed my palm and settled for landing. Daring to open my eyes, I peeped down. My thoughts exploded into fireworks while my vision turned into sparkling cider. Little bubbles floated up and up and up. Everything suddenly stopped. All fireworks and cider bubbles screeched to a halt. Numbness settled in and the void of pure silence settled. He waited for a response. A noise. A sign. A reaction. Anything.

A warm glow washed over me like candlelight Christmas Mass. The lights refocused as I peered below and sighed.

A ring box peered upwards while my gaze focused ever more sharply as the ivory coating glinted in the low light. Opening the box, my muscles eased. A warm, serene calmness flushed over me replacing the frigid tinged of panic.

To be continued . . .

February is Catholic Romance Month

What does a Catholic romance look, feel, and act like? Does it differ from other Christian relationships? Do our heartfelt relationships follow swoon worthy scripts of the popular romantic comedy? The Notebook? P.S. I Love You? Or do our “rigid” moral teachings, practices, and beliefs squelch the passion and pleasure of erotic love?

Catholic romances are individually written by God and the brokenness of each couples humanity. Despite the taint of original sin, our love stories are filled with a passion and fire beyond the popular romantic comedy or epic romantic fail like the 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight series. Our love stories, as any Christian love story should, mirror the wood of the manager that leads to the wood of the Cross.

But our love stories are worth a laugh. A song. A dance. A prayer. Even tears. I can think of many moments between my friends and I that are more than romantic comedy worthy. So I decided to share a few.

There is a special man in my life. . . . Not a shocking catchy first line. Nonetheless, the sentiment in very true. I do have a special man in my life. During the course of a close friend’s wedding weekend, I spent quality time with the above mentioned individual.

Here are a few first memories. I present the art of subtle, good clean flirtation:

  1. “Are you going to join us? . . . ” When followed by a muffled response expressing he wasn’t joining us on the carousal ride, my benevolent invitation seemed to fall on deaf ears. I entered the carousal ride carefree and indifferent but puzzled.

    img_40471
    Are You Going to Join Us? Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography
  2. “That’s more like luv not love.” I stared with a quizzical befuddled expression on my face. Internally I was thinking, “Only my family and I talk like that. On occasions my friends. Who is this guy?” Who in my general peer group actually knows how to delineate between luv the hokey superficial version of love rampid everywhere versus the real deal, authentic expression of Christ-like love.
  3. By the rehearsal dinner Saturday night, I recognized there was something different going on. I felt a perpetual gaze and adorable smile penetrating the back of my head all dinner. Every time I turned around to address the bride and groom at the table behind me, smiles and light blushes met my gaze.
  4.  Scandal!!!! I’m alone in a bedroom with a handsome man yelling nonsense. He had no idea. This occurred the morning of the wedding while the bride and bridal party prepared before the pictures and ceremony. Being the made of honor, I took my job very seriously. Time arrived for the bride to don her wedding dress. I marched into the master bedroom and yelled, “WHY ARE THE LIGHTS OFF & DOOR CLOSED?” I honestly thought a fuse had blown in her 1940s ranch. On the opposite side of the master bed, a lone photographer quietly crouched on the floor snapping pictures of her bridal gown hung on the closet door while I yelled.  Looking over, I blushed bright red embarrassed and mortified. I promptly marched out of the room and shut the door.
  5. I may have aggressively competed with another member of the bridal party for the bouquet toss. The whole scenario was in-jest.  I didn’t care that much about catching the bridal bouquet which I did not catch. The entire incident is captured in beautiful and vivid detail. This includes a picture of me going “missed it by that much!” When I looked up, a bright blushing face and smile met my gaze. Our eyes met and I blushed bright red too.

 

Being Young & Catholic in the Northwest . . .

I’ve either lived in or visited most regions of the USA. Few people outside the West know much about the Northwest region of our country let alone the Inland Northwest. Before I moved to Washington State, Washington meant D.C. and any reference to the State of WA really meant Seattle. Some sport fans recognize Spokane in Eastern WA as “that place those Zags are from.” Wait, that isn’t a suburb of Seattle?” Nope. What is it like being a Young Adult Catholic in the Inland Northwest or Northwest for that matter. Here is a beginners guide:

1.) Theology on Tap/ Pub Nights are an integral part of the Young Adult Community. There will be serious conversations about the merits of micro brews and craft beer. And Jesus. And other important faith related topics.

Pub Night
Photo Credit: Cathedral Of Our Lady of Lourdes, Pub Night

2.) If you aren’t willing to learn how to coordinate a fleece jacket with Mass attire, don’t move here. Khakis, dress pants, skirts, and dresses can all be worn with a stylish fleece jacket, preferably name brand.

3.) Our Young Adult retreats usually involve a river, lake, ocean, or mountain setting. Walking Pilgrimages are a big deal here. We love praying with our feet and enjoying the bounty of God’s pristine, beautiful creation.

Bowl & Pitcher
Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

4.)   Welcome, to the land of the Jesuits, i.e., the Society of Jesus. Many schools, missions, parishes, and colleges in the Northwest are Jesuits. You will inevitably share good times and interesting conversations with Jesuits in all stages of formation. For all those who are rolling their eyes, yes, Jesuits certainly vary from member to member. But remember, EWTN’s Fr. Mitch Pacwa and my former university president and uber philosopher Fr. Robert Spitzer are Jesuits. . . . Not to mention the Pope too. When they are devout, Jesuits are amazing.

st als
Photo Credit: Gonzaga University, St. Ignatius, & St. Al’s Church

5.) We celebrate Mass at pristine mountain vistas and historic Mission Churches.

seattle young adiult
Photo Credit: University of Washington Newman Center Young Adult Group

6.) Our events tend to be lighter in attendance. The Northwest is considered the least “Churched” area of the country. Being Catholic in the Northwest requires active seeking out and choosing something not a thriving part of the general culture.

7.)  Our summer parish or young adult picnics can involve wildfire smoke.

smoke 2015 spokesman
Photo Credit: Spokesman Review, 2015 Wildfires (an extreme example)

8.) Our priests tend to drive motorcycles complete with Eucharistic Adoration Monstrance decals, go fly fishing on their day off, and host social events at local, eclectic coffee houses and sustainable, farm-to-table eateries.

9.) We have less religious orders in comparison to many other regions of the USA and even fewer religious orders that wear habits. We get excited about habits like the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church or the Dominicans.

10.)  Being Catholic in the Northwest in an adventure, a learning experience, a test of conviction, and an ongoing project at building a devout, thriving community. St. Francis Quote

 

 

Cowboy Ethics: The Code of the West

CowboeEthicsHeader
Photo Credit: Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership

I’m not a Cowboy. I was not raised by Cowboy. But I learned something from Cowboys.

Over the past 4.5 years, I visited family for months at a time in the rugged, majestic State of Wyoming. Where the colors brown and gold permeate the landscape and culture. Where wild horses roam free. Where cows outnumber people. Where Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks reside. Where Colorado residents downplay its mountainous and rugged beauty. Where pick-up trucks, cowboy boots and hats, denim, and camouflage reign supreme. Where you hear “God Bless . . .” or “family first. . . ” This State is where the Code of the West still is practiced and preached. Even my brother’s doctoral diploma holder came with a copy of the Code of the West.

What is the Code of the West? It’s like Pirate Code but Cowboy Code of Ethics. Literally, there is a Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership. The Code of West codifies a life style, honor code, and mentality embraced by the rugged frontiersmen of years past spanning to the modern cowboy. We could all learn a lesson from the Code of the West and embrace the positive merits of Cowboy Ethics. My city slicker side learned valuable life lessons from my rugged, rural counterparts whose Cowboy Ethic shaped and still shapes the West.

IMG_0238[1] (2)Code of the West

1) Live each day with courage.
2) Take pride in your work.
3) Always finish what you start.
4) Do what has to be done.
5) Be tough, but fair.
6) When you make a promise, keep it.
7) Ride for the brand.
8) Talk less and say more.
9) Remember that some things
aren’t for sale.
10) Know where to draw the line.

 

“How Are You Today?” GIF Response Guide

This is an interpretive guide to the many colorful verbal and non-verbal responses a person with chronic health conditions may respond with to the seemingly non-threatening inquiry into their health and well-being: “How are You Today?”

1.) Rolls eyes & no verbal response:

photo credit: tina fey
photo credit: Tina Fey

Said individual heard, “What is your problem?” instead of, “How are you today?” He or she may feel physically poor or not, but their mental and emotional state is complicated. Struggle or exasperation is apparent. You may want to leave us alone.

2.) No verbal response, glassy eyes, & unresponsive:

slow lorisThe person either is in-pain, entered a medication induced haze, or is experiencing significant mental exhaustion. In my house, this response prompts further inquiries and occasionally, neurological testing. Please, be patient with us.

3.) “Hmms,” “Mhmms,” & other Guttural Sounds:

photo credit: Gilmore Girls
photo credit: Gilmore Girls

I acknowledge your effort and consideration, but presently I’m annoyed and potentially confused about how to answer. Bugger off.

4.) The Shoulder Shrug:

photo credit: The Devil Wears Prada
photo credit: The Devil Wears Prada

Oops. Oh no, I didn’t, but yes, I just did. The shoulder shrug translates into, “Who cares how I feel?” or “Why do you always ask me questions I can’t answer?”

5.) “I’m fine.” + sarcastic tone:

Photo Credit: Star Trek tokomia
Photo Credit: Star Trek tokomia

Today, I’m cognoscente enough to acknowledge and respond, but I have no real desire to discuss my personal health and well-being. Next topic.

6.) “I’m fine.” + pleasant, slightly flippant tone:

Photo Credit: Pirates of the Caribbean
Photo Credit: Pirates of the Caribbean

Today isn’t such a bad day. I still don’t want to discuss my health and well-being. Next topic.

7.) “Good.” or “Doing well.”

frozen gifThis non-obligatory statement either is expressing a better stretch of health or hiding/covering personal suffering or struggles.

8.) “Okay.” or “I’m okay.”

Photo Credit: House
Photo Credit: House

This is one of the worst responses a person with chronic health conditions can respond with, because these statements cover anything from a near death experience to life is good. Usually, “okay” refers to a peaceful or resigned mental state despite the actual circumstances, but can indicate great suffering. When I was hospitalized at 15 years old in pediatric oncology/ hematology, my doctors forbade me from answering their questions with, “okay.”

9.) “Today is a good day.”:

Photo Credit: Enchanted
Photo Credit: Enchanted

Break out the party hats and plan a fiesta, because this is a rare response that may actually indicate what is entailed.

10.) “I feel bad,” or “I don’t feel well.”

Photo credit: Lord of the Rings
Photo credit: Lord of the Rings

A rare glimpse of honesty that smacks of sheer concern or desperation. Be prepared for a long day that usually involves a change of plans anywhere from calling 911 to increased medication for coping with concerning symptoms or canceling that dinner reservation . . .

Some individuals are better at expressing their emotions and state of being, but many people with chronic health conditions learn to cope by shutting down or minimizing our struggles. We assume, “Who wants to talk about that day after day,” or “What is the point?” Usually, we will risk expressing certain concerns or frustrations, and react with surprise when a person interacts with sincere empathy and compassion. If you are just going through the motions and don’t care, we can tell and vice versa. We prefer discussing others’ health and well-being versus our own. And tend to be acutely attuned to the suffering around us, especially those silently suffering. So I ask, “How are you today?”