When Grace Flows Down

As is the case for many, many people, 2016when has been an extremely difficult year for us. Between taking in my niece through CPS back in January, a move, a car accident, several financial hardships, and enough family drama to rival a daytime soap opera, we walked into the Christmas season feeling completely defeated. My husband and I knew that we wouldn’t be able to provide a decent Christmas for our children without taking away from bills and other necessities, and so we decided to reach out for help.

Through the kindness of complete strangers, our children were able to have presents beneath the tree this year. Through the kindness of complete strangers, CPS was able to provide extra presents to my niece this year. Because of gift cards we received from friends and loved ones (and a certain “secret Santa”), my husband and I were able to purchase items needed to make some small repairs around the house.

And though it takes a lot for me to admit these things–prideful creature that I am–I want you to see first-hand what it looks like when grace flows down.

These people–friends and strangers, alike–took the time and effort from their own lives, from their own stresses and worries, to help us. They took the blessings that Christ has given to them and poured them out onto us. For all the blows we were dealt in 2016, it absolutely pales in comparison to the love we’ve been shown, and not just in the way of presents and monetary gifts, but for all the prayers offered on our behalf, for all the messages and phone calls asking if we need anything, or if we just need to talk for a bit.

While I understand that Christmas is not about the material things, it’s the charity and love behind what we’ve been blessed with that stands out the most. I see the selflessness of the gifts. I see the hands and feet of Christ at work. I see the kindness that the world feels is so lacking.

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank those who reached out to us, who helped give our children a good Christmas. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank everyone who has been praying for us. Thank you for taking the time and effort to sacrifice what you have for someone else. Thank you for being the examples of Christ that the world needs, especially now. ❤

 

 

Conversion and Surrender

Becoming Catholic was one of the scariest things I have ever done in life. Since childhood I’d been taught that the Catholic Church was a crooked, greedy, abusive, and judgemental institution where you paid your way into Heaven and only priests were allowed to speak to God. do-not-be-conformed-to-this-world-but-be-transformed-by-the-renewal-of-your-mind-that-you-may-prove-what-is-the-will-of-god-what-is-good-and-acceptable-and-perfect

My conversion to Catholicism didn’t begin with a blinding light and me falling off my proverbial horse like St. Paul. I guess you could say that God and the Church had pursued me my entire life until, at the urging of my soon-to-be mother-in-law, and in order to appease my husband’s family, I agreed to attend RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).

In retrospect, I basically imagine that God clapped his hands and said, “Whelp, that’s that. She’s mine now!” the moment I walked into the RCIA classroom.

Over the next few months, everything that I thought I’d known about the Church and her teachings was stripped away. I began to see the Church for what it was and not for what my poorly catechized family members taught me as a child, or what secular media showed me on television. I asked questions and they were answered. I brought up issues that have long plagued the Church and they were explained, sometimes to the benefit of the Church, and sometimes to its detriment.

My sacramental conversion began when I wanted my husband’s family to like me. I was tired of not knowing that meal-time prayer they all prayed together. I was tired of hearing words like “Holy See” and “Ecclesiastical” and “Pontificate” and not knowing what in the world they were talking about. I was tired of not understand the sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, “Amen” in Mass.

My true conversion began when Father Paul asked me if becoming Catholic was really what I wanted to do. He explained that I was free to choose whether or not to become Catholic. I was free to walk away if I didn’t feel it was for me. I sat there in that chair, at this small wooden table, staring at a priest whom I’m pretty sure has the gift to read souls, and realized that I wanted this because I wanted it. Not because of my husband or my soon-to-be in-laws. I wanted to become Catholic because over those many months, I’d fallen in love with the Church, with Christ.

There have been far more profound “yeses” to God in the history of our faith, but mine at that moment felt pretty flipping profound. Why? Because I knew from that moment on I would have to surrender everything to God.

You see, conversion is synonymous with total and utter surrender. You cannot become Catholic without surrendering the former self to Christ. You take your most deep-seated philosophies on life, your most ingrained behaviors and habits, and you surrender them wholly. You empty yourself of who and what you are so that you may be filled with Christ’s love and mercy and grace to become an entirely different creature.

At least, that’s how it goes in theory. But you have people like me who cling desperately to facets of the former self, who battle with God over who’s will will be done. You have people like myself who are afraid to trust in God and step out of their comfort zone in order to achieve the change we need to grow. And so you wake up every morning and you surrender again and again and again, until the issue is resolved and God reveals another part of you that could be better, holier, and you start all over.

As Bishop Robert Barron says, in essence, having a relationship with Christ is like taking a piece of glass, which in darkness can appear perfect, unblemished, and turning it toward the light where suddenly you can see the flaws, the imperfections. And the beautiful part about it is that we’re given the tools to wipe the glass clean, to mend the fractures and see clearly. When we smudge the glass again, we’re given the tools necessary to wipe it clean, if only we’re willing to first accept that there is a blemish, and then accept that we need the help to mend it.

I wasn’t simply converting from one belief or faith to another (I was a polytheistic Pagan before my conversion), I was converting my entire existence to center around one Truth, and that Truth called for me to make radical, necessary changes. And I didn’t look at these things and think “wow, the Church is so oppressive and doesn’t want you to have fun!” For the first time I saw that these guidelines for the Church were no different than my having expectations of behavior from my children, of giving them a bedtime and helping them to establish healthy life habits. It was no different than my wanting the absolute best for my children, for them to be good, honest people, and doing my best–as their parent–to set them on the right path, to teach them the right things, and to implement discipline where necessary.

Any parent who truly cares for and loves their child is going to have rules and regulations to keep them from hurting themselves or others. They place rules not to keep the child silent and still, but to ensure that they can LIVE and live WELL. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But that’s a different conversation for a different time.

I’ve been Catholic for five-and-a-half years now, and I can tell you that every day I go through small conversions, and every day I must renew my surrender to God. It’s a lifelong process. Even Mother Teresa spent hours in the confessional, surrendering her cotton-ball sins to Christ. Even up to our dying breath, we must surrender to His will.

 

Dear “Catholics” For Choice,

I am not here to debate on the legality dear_catholics_-for-choiceor morality of abortion. Let’s put that card on the table right from the start. I am not here to fling the hot-button words and mantras of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements. I have my beliefs, and in them I stand firm, but that is not why I am here in this moment.

Today I am here to plead with you to stop calling yourself a “Catholic” organization. Perhaps you are a group of individually proclaimed Catholics who believe that abortion is acceptable in the eyes of God when done ‘in good faith’, but you are not a Catholic organization. What you individually choose to believe is between you and God. Once, however, you bring the name of “Catholic” into your stance, once you begin to speak lies to the world under the guise that these lies are sanctioned by the Holy Catholic Church, then you have opened the doors to public admonition. And as this is still the Year of Mercy, consider this as our admonishing the sinners and instructing the ignorant.

To call yourselves Catholic–as a whole–is misleading. More so than this, it is damaging to those truly seeking to know the Catholic Church and her teachings; who wish to accept all that she teaches where you, apparently, have chosen to conveniently disregard one of the most sacred teachings of the Church, of Christ.

You see, our world is ripe with Christians who love nothing more than to cherry-pick from the Bible to support their own skewed agendas. You see this in individuals as well as in entire denominations of “Christianity”. If you need an example, may I introduce you to Westboro Baptist Church and all of the hate-spewing they commit under the pretense that their actions are fully justified in Scripture? You have people and congregations that, to this day, believe the story of Cain is proof that God meant for black people to be treated as less than the white man. They use it as an excuse to promote racism and genocide and bigotry.

Anyone can pick up a Bible and make it mean what they want it to mean. This is why Sola Scriptura is a dangerous practice. Maybe Bob sincerely thought that the Holy Spirit was revealing to him the meaning of Scripture, but then again Bob also needs an excuse to hate and persecute anyone who is LGBTQ. Insert: an erroneous self-teaching on the book of Deuteronomy. To be Catholic means that you believe what the Catholic Church professes as Truth; you believe that Christ alone handed down to His Church, our Church, the revealed Truth, and that it is non-negotiable.

As Catholics you must know that the Church is not a democracy. We are a Theocracy. We don’t get to cast ballots on teachings. We don’t get to  pander on the technicalities of what God meant by “thou shalt not kill”. We don’t get to amend the Fifth Commandment with our own convenient clauses as we do with our American Constitution.

However it is that you justify abortion, please do not do so while claiming yourselves to be Catholic. To do so is called “heresy”. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it’s strict definition as outlined in the second-most Catholic-y book only to the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth* which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same;

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089

(asterisk added)

* some truth, in this case, being the truth about abortion as also defined in the CCC. If you’re willing to look into this, you can find it HERE in the CCC, beginning at 2258, and more specifically 2270.

According to Canon Law:

“a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.

Code of Canon Law, 1398

This also applies to formal conspirators related to the abortion. I.e. “Catholics for Choice”.

This is all considering that you truly do consider yourself a “Catholic” organization, or a “Catholic” movement. If this is the case, then you are breaking Canon Law. You are breaking communion with the Church. If, then, you are not Catholic, and do not hold yourself to Canon Law or to the Roman Pontiff, then logically you cannot call yourselves Catholic in this regard, either. Simple as that. However you wish to view it, proclaim it, or hold it, to call yourselves “Catholics” for Choice, is a lie.

To end my plea to you, whether you heed it or not, I offer you the words of Mary Beth Bonacci in her book “We’re On a Mission From God”:

“Sure, we can decide for ourselves what to believe…. But to be Catholic means to choose to believe this–that Jesus Christ is God, that He died for our sins, and that He left an infallible Church that protects and transmits His teaching and His love to all generations. Either we believe that the Catholic Church teaches with the authority of Christ, or we don’t. If we do, it would be absurd to pick and choose which Church teachings to believe. That would be deciding to disagree with Christ. If we don’t believe that the Church teaches with the authority of Christ, why bother? We’ve rejected the defining tenet of Catholicism. We’re not Catholic.”

(emphasis added)

And there you have it. In a nutshell. Cut and dry. You cannot and should not call yourselves Catholic.

 

Let Us Not Become Weary In Doing Good…

I used to wonder why it was so difficult for Let us not become wearyin doing good,for at the proper timewe will reap a harvestif we do not give up.people to just be good. What was so hard about being a decent person?

The short answer: sometimes, being good hurts. Sometimes, doing the right thing takes us out of our comfort zone; it makes us confront issues that we would rather not confront. Sometimes, doing good means putting ourselves in situations that call us out upon the water, if you will.

I struggle every day against doing what feels good, what makes me comfortable, versus what I know is right. For example, I know that keeping my niece is the right thing to do. I know that probably sounds extremely cold and callous, but hear me out.

This hasn’t been an easy journey, as I’ve mentioned before. I thought that after seven months, things would get easier. I thought that we would have gotten used to having five children, and that the children would have gotten used to having a new “sibling” in the house. I thought that after seven months, my niece would have better acclimated to our household. Obviously, I thought a lot of things and have made several erroneous assumptions.

There have been many times, in the middle of yet another day of screaming and other drama, when I wanted to throw my hands in the air. Yes, there have been times when I wanted to call the caseworker and say, “I can’t do this anymore!” I wanted to put my own comfort above the needs of my niece. I wanted to be comfortable and less-stressed more than I wanted to do the right thing.

Again, I know this probably makes me sound like an awful, selfish person, but I’d rather be candid in these difficulties than put on a front. Parents get tired. We get cranky and frustrated. We’re human; imperfect humans trying to raise up tiny humans whom we hope will one day be better humans than us.

Everyday I strive to be better; I strive to yell less, to sigh and say “what the actual ___” under my breath less. And everyday, when my niece is having difficulties with her behavior that go beyond simple two-year-old tantrums (which I’ve been through three times now and little phases me), I remind myself that this isn’t about me, or my comfort. My niece needs us. God gave us the capability to take her in, cleared the way and opened the door to not having to go into foster care, and all we had to do was say “yes”. Well, we said “yes”, and now it’s just a matter of remembering that everyday we must continue to say “yes” to God, and “yes” to my niece.

What we’ve been called to do isn’t easy. The situation we’ve been called to handle is a slippery slope, at best. We’ve grown weary in doing good, but as Galatians states:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

– Galatians 6:9

What harvest will we reap from this? Watching our niece/cousin blossom into a beautiful young woman who is full of potential, who got to be raised by her family, where so many children don’t get that opportunity. We’ll get to watch her accomplish all the goals she sets for herself, and then some, God-willing. At the end of the day, we get to know that the struggle wasn’t for naught.

Americanizing the Church

I never realized there was this much

division within the Church when I became Catholic a little over five years ago. We belonged to a relatively small parish, a parish that was tight-knit, humble, and devout. We had an amazing shepherd who didn’t take any crap; none of that flip-flops and shorts in Mass, or loosey-goosey posturing when receiving the Eucharist. He tended his flock with purpose, and he did so diligently and with great love. From where I stood, we had a parish that, even with its many different ministries and callings, had a very simple purpose: to act as the sheepfold. And this is what we did. Each called to our own purpose through Christ, we came together as Catholics to celebrate our Lord and to spread the Gospel in our daily lives.

            Sure, there were differences. Some women wore veils during Mass, others did not. Some people held hands during the Our Father, some did not. While most would receive the Eucharist on their tongues, others would receive in their hands. No biggie, right? These can be differences in how we were raised, or how we were Catechized; sometimes it’s simply a matter of personal estimation.

            For me, the Church has always remained as a constant—the last stronghold of pure tradition and Truth in a time when we’ve all but lost these things here in the west. The Church presented the road map, as Dr. Peter Kreeft would put it, in a world that would rather find its own way and then complain about being lost and in the dark. No matter where we’ve moved, or what parish we’ve attended, this has always been the truth for me.

            There has been division within the Church since the beginning, I get that. While some of the apostles wanted to force circumcision on the older converts, others did not. They had to make decisions on topics that Christ hadn’t exactly been black or white about. They had to set aside their personal qualms and let the Holy Spirit do his work, to build the foundation of the Church that we know and love today.

Even knowing this, I can’t help but feel this sense of dread as I watch the darkness creeping deeper into the Church. Even seeing the millions and millions who went to WYD to see Papa Francis, and to celebrate together as Catholics, I feel this dread. I have enough division in my country, I don’t want it in my Church. I don’t want it amongst the clergy. I don’t want it amongst the lay persons. I certainly don’t want it in my family. And when division is there—which I am not so naïve as to believe there will ever be a time without it—I want us to handle it like Catholics, like Christians. None of this Americanized way of dealing with our issues: just make a few Memes, slap a “haha jk” on it, throw some vague Bible verses in there, and call it a day. Because that’s how we deal with things in this country, with poor humor, insults, and quotes from the Constitution or the founding fathers.

The Church is a church for all peoples. In my few, five short years as a Catholic, I have personally witnessed why it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. I’ve met people with so many different callings from Christ, with so many different backgrounds and crosses to bear, but who bear them gladly, and who all proudly call themselves Catholics.

I remember seeing a man waiting for the confessional who was completely sleeved (tattooed) on both arms. I’ve met women who go against the “dainty-feminine-flower-Jesus’-princess” archetypes well-known in the Protestant community, but who are no less in love with Christ and their faith, who are mothers and wives, and ROCK at it. I’ve met Catholic men who are gay, and who–GASP—haven’t been chased out of the church by pitchfork-wielding mobs who think their very presence will turn their children gay, too.

And then I’ve seen the more “conservative” side of the Church; the people who don’t agree with having tattoos, or dressing a certain way for Mass. I’ve met people who think it’s quite a scandal to hold hands during the Our Father, or to even watch television outside of EWTN.

These differences are part of what make our faith beautiful. Catholicism is not some exclusive entity: “only people who are already holy and ready for canonization can join”. The Church is not AMERICA; it’s not a democracy, it’s a Theocracy. We don’t force you to come, and we aren’t going to force you to stay. You can’t write your local bishop and demand changes in teachings. But we’ll take you as you are, if only you’re willing to let Christ take you where you need to be. It’s all up to you.

Stop, stop, stop, Americanizing the Church. Much like we try to dissect and make the constitution work for certain agendas within our country, I’ve noticed the same thing in the Church with Canon Law and the Bible.

Is this to say that we shouldn’t have opinions? That we shouldn’t raise issues when its needed? No. This is to say that the way we handle these things has gotten all wrong. Again, we’ve Americanized the way we deal with conflicts within the Church. We’ve stopped listening, we’ve stopped using words to create positive changes and instead use them to hurt others when we don’t get our way, or when we don’t feel “heard enough”, like children. We fight over language; whether certain sects of the pro-life movement are too caustic, while others are far too “nice”, and shouldn’t even call themselves pro-life. We fight over who is more Catholic because of A, B, and C. If you believe in Christ, and you believe that He gave absolute authority to the Church as He gave to Peter and the apostles, and you choose to go against what the Church teaches, then you are telling Christ He is wrong and that you know better than Him. If you DON’T believe that He gave the Church absolute authority, then you can’t really call yourself Catholic. It’s as simple as that. Take it or leave it. Stop cherry-picking your faith. It’s not a buffet. Stop bickering with each other over holding hands during the Our Father or wearing a veil to Mass. Stop crying because Susan down the street acts too pious with her homeschooling and not having a TV. Stop crying because Martha down the street acts so flamboyant with letting her kids watch Spongebob and go to public school.

Stop turning the Church into this circus ring of parties that we have in America, republican vs. democrat, liberal vs. conservative. This isn’t black vs. white, male vs. female, old school vs. new age. This is the Church. This is home away from home, and I don’t want confrontational division in my home.

God and Sh***y People

A friend of mine on Facebook (which accounts for about13320958_1325899117437697_8767415371397857641_o 83% of my daily entertainment) shared this tweet a few days back. Now, this person and myself are quite amicable though we stand on polar ends of the religious spectrum. In saying this I mean that he is not religious, and I’m Catholic, which–next to being Muslim or an Orthodox Jew–is about as religious as they come.

I found this little tweet pretty humorous, to be honest. I try to take things in stride. I also try to be understanding in the regards that not everyone digs being a Christian, or a “religious” person in any shape or form. That’s cool. Whatever.

But I do have a comment on this and it begins with a very honest disclosure:

I am a shitty person.

Bottom line.

There are times when I want to punch people in the face. Sometimes I want to punch everyone I meet on a particular day, in the face. Sometimes I want to get out of my car and tell the lady who just honked at me .003 seconds after the light turned green to go ___ herself. (That actually happened today)

I think bad things. All the time. I don’t say that out of some misplaced sense of piousness. And I don’t say this to gain pity or for my friends to say, “omgosh but you’re so nice!”

Yes, I am nice. On the outside.

I’ve always been a brash person. Ask my dad. I insulted his girlfriend when I was like 9 by telling her, “it’s okay, ___, you’ll get boobs like mine one day!” Or something to that effect. You’d think that it was just my youth that had no filter… no, that’s just me to my very atoms. Thanks, dad. Mom says I get that from you.

Anyways. You see, since I started on my journey to becoming Catholic through the RCIA program, I’ve really tried hard not to be a mean person; not to be a back-stabbing a-hole to my friends, to not say hurtful things, to not cuss out people who look at me sideways when I’m having a bad day. And this didn’t and doesn’t stem from my fear of Hell, but rather, from my love for Christ.

Sometimes mean things just pop into my head. Sometimes my anger flares up out of nowhere. These things can’t be helped. What I can help, however, is how I react to these emotions, to these thoughts. Just because something pops into my head, doesn’t mean I have to spit it out of my mouth. As an adult, I have a little more control over those precious micro-seconds between anger and action, or rather REaction.

I do get it, though. Maybe the author behind the tweet feels that people should be nice for kindness’s sake, not because you’ll gain something (or lose something) from it. Which I totally understand, and I agree.

But there are those days when it’s the hardest effing thing not to go Fight-Club-Brad-Pitt style on people. And on these days is when I really do need my love for Christ to carry me through the moment, to help me keep my mouth shut, or to keep my fists at my side–and more importantly, my fingers OFF the keyboard. Because I love Christ, and Christ tells me to love others sans qualifiers, I try to let that love flow through and on to others. Even when I don’t think they deserve it, and even when I think they better deserve my foot up their….

Honestly, at the end of the day, I would rather someone use their love of Christ, or their fear of Hell, to continue striving to be a good person–even if just on the outside–than for them to just be a jack-wagon. Because really, how many people out there keep themselves from murdering someone plainly out of fear of the legal ramifications?