Two Beautiful Gifts

Tomorrow, Mother Church gives her children an amazing gift, two amazing gifts really. Tomorrow, Sunday, April 27, we will receive the gifts of the canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. And I, for one, am extremely grateful and extremely excited.

“I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” 

John Paul II was the Pope of my childhood. He became Pope about ten years before I was born, and he passed away about three months before my seventeenth birthday. I am the only member of my immediate family to have never seen him in person. He was an accepted fact of my Catholic upbringing. He was just always there.

And I loved him. As a child, I didn’t understand him yet, but I loved him. At first, I loved him because he was the Pope and that was the thing you were supposed to do as a good Catholic kid. And as I grew older and could understand his message, I loved him for who he was rather than what he was. I don’t know that there were specific things that he said that stuck out to me, but I remember being struck by his travels and by the love that I saw in his actions.

In 2002, my older brother went to World Youth Day in Toronto. Back at home, we occasionally saw bits about WYD on the news, and I was struck by how happy John Paul II looked when he was with his “dear young people.” These people loved him, and he loved them. He wanted to be with them.

The thing that I remember most clearly, however, is the end of his life. Even as he was dying, John Paul II, our Papa, wanted to be with his people. Even when he couldn’t speak, he still wanted to see his people and encourage them by his presence. He was dying. It was Holy Week. And he was showing us by his example how to love others-and in that, he was showing us both how to live and how to die.

And on the Saturday after Easter, April 2, 2005, he left us. He went home to the house of the Father. But he left us an amazing legacy. He traveled to the ends of the earth to see his people. He canonized 110 Saints. He gave us 14 encyclicals. And he loved us.

For me, looking back, his two greatest lessons are his love of people and his constant reminder to us to BE NOT AFRAID. Above all, that is his legacy in my eyes.

Prayer is the raising of the mind to God.
We must always remember this.
The actual words matter less.

Pope John XXIII died more than twenty years before I was born. In my life, his primary legacy is the Second Vatican Council. I’ve only read one of his encyclicals, but I know that I need to change that. From what I know of him, I know that I am grateful to see him formally canonized tomorrow.

I am excited to see these two Princes of the Church honored tomorrow. And I am so grateful to God for giving them to His Church and to Mother Church for honoring them.

To Veil or Not to Veil

“Every man praying or prophesying with anything down over his head dishonors his head, but every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be shorn! But since it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” (I Cor. 11: 4-6)

It was about this time of year four years ago that I made the choice to wear a chapel veil, or mantilla, during the Liturgy. In large part, I was motivated by the verse I quoted at the top of the post. I was also motivated in a very personal way by reverence for the Eucharist and for the Liturgy as a whole. As I have said to many people over the past four years, if the Eucharist (and thereby the Liturgy) are what we say that they are, then we ought to approach it with fear and trembling. It’s the Eucharist. It’s Jesus Christ, physically present to us. To me, that is something that requires incredible reverence and respect. And for me, that reverence and respect meant that I should cover my head during Liturgy.

However, I believe that this is my choice. Yes, it is guided by Scripture and Church teaching/tradition. But ultimately, this was my choice. I believe that I have been called to do this as a reflection of my own relationship with Christ. While it is something that I do in public, it is a personal decision, a personal call, and a reflection of a personal relationship. I came to this decision on my own through prayer and reflection, and as such, I do not wish to impose this on others. I don’t know if I’ll expect my (maybe possibly someday) daughters to veil-and I have been asked that before.

But as I said, it is my choice. I veil because I made that decision for myself. And I don’t want to force that decision on others. I don’t wish to make other people make the same choice that I have unless it is what they feel that they have been called to.

I say this because I have been asked by various people about my choice to veil. Most people accept it as my choice and move on. However, several months ago, a man said to me that he liked that I veiled and he wished that he could get his wife to do the same.

And that comment is what led to the writing of this blog post. He wished he could “get” his wife to do the same. Now, I won’t get into the gender roles and such involved in that statement because that’s not my point here.

Right or wrong, veiling has fallen out of common practice in the Catholic Church over the past fifty years. Now, I have several friends who veil, and I both respect and admire them for that choice. However, it is their choice. While St. Paul would like all Catholic women to veil, I believe that veiling is a personal decision. I think it is something that a women needs to explore at an individual level rather than having it imposed on her. (Goodness, I sound like a product of the early twenty-first century, don’t I?) I see veiling as a call. I see it as something that reflects, as I said earlier, my relationship with Christ. Therefore, it is something that I had to discern on my own, and I believe that every woman needs to go through her own discernment process. Does the veil fit her relationship with the Lord? If she believes that it doesn’t, then it is not for her.

One Thing Needed

Last year, I wrote my “End of Lent” reflection on the topic of why I am Catholic. I focused on how the events of Holy Week have inspired, confirmed, and upheld my faith in Christ.

This year, I’m focusing it on a “trouble area” I’ve noticed in all of my Lenten blogging. I keep talking about what I can DO. What I can do.

And sitting here on Palm Sunday, I have come to a realization that this isn’t about me. It never was. It isn’t about what actions I can take. It isn’t about getting up earlier or reading a better book or going to church more. Ultimately, while all of that is good, that is not the point here. Ultimately, the point lies in me taking up my cross and denying myself.

Ultimately, all of my Lenten devotions-and really all of my life-should be about me surrendering myself into the hands of the Master. As I was out for a walk this evening and reflecting on my Lenten experiences for 2013, a clue by four came to me. I was thinking about all of the things that I didn’t do and all of the changes that I didn’t make. And then, I was reminded of something. Only one thing is needed.

““Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42)

Only one thing is needed. Put your life in God’s hands and stop trying to run your own life. Give God everything. That’s all that I need to do. Everything else will come from that-the prayer, the change in attitude. It will all come if I put my life, myself into God’s hands every day, and live my life for him.

Now, that’s an easy thing to say, but it’s not an easy thing to live. I’m going to need loads and loads of grace to do it. And I’m going to need humility to do it.

But that’s all that I need to do. All I need to do is swallow my pride, look at the Cross, and say, “I need you.” God will do the rest.

I’m Bad at Lent

Tomorrow is somehow the fourth Sunday of Lent. I’m relatively certain that Lent actually only started yesterday, but that doesn’t make sense because yesterday was a Friday and Lent doesn’t start on a Friday for anyone.

So tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of Lent. And I still haven’t managed to stop swearing.

I’m trying to pray more. I’m reading The Imitation of Christ. (It’s great.) I’m pretty much not buying coffee on my way home from work-except this one time when it was either drink coffee or fall asleep at the wheel and I was relatively certain that God would understand. Since I haven’t been struck by lightning yet, I think we’re okay.

But I still swear. It’s not constant. But it’s still happening. It’s mostly in my head, but that doesn’t actually make it any better. It’s still wrong. It’s still something that I shouldn’t be doing. And I need grace to stop doing it. I need grace to find a different reaction in those moments when the f-word is dancing through my thoughts.

I have realized that swearing is my reaction to stress or frustration. And now I need a counter-reaction to those moments. I need to do something other than swear. Several years ago, I gave up swearing while a friend’s friend’s father was deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq, and every time that I wanted to swear, I prayed for this man and his family instead. I need something like that to do again.

And I need grace.

Right now, I’m thinking that I ought to pray for my students when I want to swear. And I need to ask for grace.

But I still feel like I’m bad at Lent. I should be becoming better. And I don’t feel like I’m changing. I need to go to Confession and I keep “forgetting.” (The forgetting is actually real. I would go to Confession on Saturday afternoons and I either find myself overbooked or overwhelmed by work. But there’s a communal penance service in nine days that I’m going to attend. This is a Plan.) Regardless, I feel like I need to be doing more and becoming more so that I’m better prepared for Easter.

And I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to become more or how to be more or how to do more. I keep asking God to take my heart from me and to give me His heart. I ask him to be my peace, my patience, and my joy. But I can’t get over the swearing thing. My parents gave up meat for Lent; I didn’t because I don’t feel that it means anything substantial to me. I don’t feel like it reflects real change to me right now. I want to stop wearing. But while the Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

And I somehow just keep feeling like I’m doing Lent wrong.

In Gratitude

My dearest Papa Benedetto,

We have never met face-to-face and yet I love you so much. I have seen you a few times in my life-during the 2005 World Youth Day in your beloved Germany and on the feast of Christ the King in 2008 in Rome. I have prayed for you every Monday for the past three years-and on countless other occasions over the years.

I remember the day you were elected Pope. I’m sure that it made me happier than it did you. That “Habemus Papam,” the first of my life , filled me with such joy. You had comforted us so beautifully at the funeral of our beloved John Paul II when you reminded us of JPII’s constant refrain “Be not afraid.” And you have been the Papa of the Catholic Church for eight beautiful but difficult years. You have taught us about love and truth in difficult times. The name Benedict, the blessed one, has become incredibly important to me.

And today, you announced that you are resigning the Papacy effective February 28. You are stepping down for reasons that are good. I understand. And I pray that only the best will come to you. I pray for your successor, for the College of Cardinals who must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit to choose your successor. I wish you well.

But I will miss you, your strong but gentle fatherly presence as our Papa. Blessed John Paul II was the Papa of my childhood. You are the Papa of my young adulthood, the Papa who educated me and led me into a fuller understanding of the faith. Your encyclicals strengthened and encouraged me. Your faith in Christ and your devotion to the people have inspired me. You have blessed me in so many ways.

You have been open to the work of God in your life. You have followed the Lord wherever he has led you. You have lived a life that is not the life you would have chosen for yourself because it is the life that God chose for you. You have shown us how to live humbly and how to follow the will of the Father. You have blessed us by your example and your willingness to follow the Lord.

Your name, Benedict, means the “blessed one,” but in truth we, the Catholic Church you have served with your life, we are the blessed ones. We have been blessed by your service, by your prayers, by your faith, by your wisdom, by your love. We have been so incredibly blessed by you-by your priesthood, by your years as a professor, by your time as a bishop, by your time as Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith, by your Papacy. You were called to be the Servant of the servants. You were called to serve. And you have served. You continue to serve. Knowing you, you will continue to serve until the day you are called home to the Father’s side.

God has used you to bless so many people. And we are so grateful both to him and to you for your openness to God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thank you. Thank you for everything. Papa Benedetto, on behalf of a grateful Church, thank you for your fidelity and your service. We love you and we will continue to pray for you. Pray for us.

And Father God, thank you for the gift and blessing of your servant, Benedict. Thank you all you have done in him and through him.

And Papa Benedetto, well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you for everything. We love you. We will continue to pray for you.

Be not afraid. Today is a happy day for you and for the Church. Once again, I must say the only thing I can say to you. Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you for eight beautiful years. May you have many blessed years. Pray for us, Papa Benedetto. We will continue to pray for you.

With sincere love and gratitude,

Cecilia

To the greater glory of Christ and his Church

Pre-Lenten Panic? Alleviated!

In my last blog post, dear blogophiles, I dealt with all of my panic related to my desperate search for a book to read for my morning meditations during Lent.

And then, this evening, I was listening to a talk when the speaker mentioned Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ (Penguin Classics) and I immediately felt that this was the book that I was supposed to read during Lent. So upon my arrival home, I went online and bought myself a copy. I also bought myself a copy of Papa Benedetto’s Holy Women to read if/when I finish the Imitation before the end of Lent.

Praise God for a swift resolution to my panic!

The Pre-Lenten Panic

Dudes. We have a Problem. We have Trouble right here in (not) River City and it starts with an L and rhymes with Lent.

Lent starts in seven days for Eastern Christians following the Gregorian calendar and in nine days for Western Christians following that same calendar. Lent starts in seven days for me.

Cue the panic.

See, here’s the thing. Lent snuck up on me this year. Easter is “early” this year…although I feel weird saying that because it makes it seem like Jesus is rising from the dead earlier than previously planned/scheduled. But I digress.

Lent is beginning a mere nine days after the official end of the Christmas season. And while I’ve done some tentative thinking about what I want to do with my Lent this year, I’m not really certain what I want to do.

I know that I want to give up swearing. It’s become a real problem in my life, and it’s something I need to walk away from. However, it’s become a habit, and I need some serious grace to walk away from it. So, I know that I want to give up swearing. Now I have to figure out how to replace the swearing.

I also know that I want to pray for my students. And I think that this is (God willing) a way for me to replace the swearing. When I’m tempted to swear, I want to try to offer up a prayer either for all of my students or for a particular student who needs extra prayer.

However, I know that won’t totally get rid of the swearing, so I’m also looking for way to replace the shocked (pain/upset/shock) swearing. I’m looking at finding random words (like ash nazg…) to train myself to use.

But all of this will take grace.

The other sacrifice I want to make this Lent is giving up buying coffee/lattes/hot chocolate outside of the house. It’s a money drain. I did this during Advent, and it seemed to be good for me. In the end, I decided to donate the money I would have spent on lattes to my church. I’d like to do this again. It’s not a big sacrifice, but it’s a good one for me to make.

So those are my planned “big” sacrifices. I’ll continue with traditional fasting and abstinence as well as attending weekly Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts at my church. I might also look into making some sacrifices in my musical listening during Lent, but that’s not set in stone yet.

But my other annual Lenten pursuit is a book to read during Lent. I started this maybe four or five years ago. I picked a special book to read for my morning devotional that would help me to draw closer to Christ during Lent. I’ve read St. Francis DeSales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Elisabeth Elliot’s Path of Loneliness, The: Finding Your Way Through the Wilderness to God, Papa Benedetto’s Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection.

But this year, I don’t know what to read. I already own Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, but it doesn’t seem like a very Lenten book to me. I’ve considered looking for something by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or St. Francis DeSales. But nothing is really sticking out to me. And with seven days until Lent, I’m starting to panic about what book(s) I ought to read during Lent. Maybe I ought to read something about peace?

Please leave any and all Lenten book recommendations in the comments. Additionally, please feel free to comment about your own personal Lenten traditions.