Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Finding the Way - Part 2

   When you love somebody very much, oftentimes you will do things for them for no other reason than because you want to manifest that love to them. You wish to show them just how much they mean to you by going the extra mile (or step) to lighten their burdens. Well, just as we do this for one another in everyday relationships, a convert who is deeply in love with Christ wants to discover all the ways in which we can help Him carry the cross!

   Although our Savior is victorious, reigning in heaven as King, He tells us, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40). In our own spiritual lives we can either whip Him and spit on Him through our words and actions to others, or we can help Him carry His cross. We can do this when we help a neighbor in need, when we praise him, and when we love our families. There are many things we can do that are pleasing to the Lord. 

    As I studied more, I found that Catholicism offered me the best 'spiritual tools' to serve our God. There are 7 Sacraments in the Catholic Church, but I'm only going to briefly mention my three personal favorites that are the most useful to me personally in day-to-day life. For those who don't know, in the Catholic Tradition a Sacrament is an outward sign of an inner grace, granted by God (and participated in by man with particular "matter and form" -i.e. water and the Trinitarian formula for Baptism).

   One of my main vocations is marriage. In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, I am blessed to have the opportunity to serve Christ through someone who is with me basically 24/7: my husband. Oh yes... at times, it is impossible to see Jesus in him. But He is there, I have faith! Other times, I can see Christ so clearly in him that I feel slightly ashamed for not being a perfect wife, who he really deserves! Through my marriage, I learn to submit to another's will which is meant to sanctify me and help me to be better at submitting to the will of God, as Mary did. That is how we get to heaven - by living according to God's Holy Will which is Love. In turn, my husband is my charge, just as I am his. My goal should be to choose what is eternally best for him in all things, to help perfect him for the Lord.
Of course, there is much more to marriage than this. The rest of my blog will be focused on it... more or less.
  • Quick side note: How do we know if we are really "Loving" someone? Look to the cross. Love is willing the ultimate good of another (in Christ's instance - the good of all others), even if it leads to my - your - rejection, pain, or even death.

   In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we respect Christ's establishment of authority in Peter and the other Disciples to forgive sins. We believe Jesus when he said “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:21-23)Since Catholics believe in the unbroken succession of Popes since Peter, we believe that all Popes, Bishops, and priests (through the Sacrament of Holy Orders) are conferred with this authority and ability. When I enter the confessional, I speak through the priest to Jesus, and I tell Jesus everything I've done wrong since my last confession. I tell Jesus how sorry I am, while at the same time accepting Jesus's establishment of authority in His disciples. 
  • Another side note: People always say, "why not just talk to Jesus on your own? Why do you need a priest?". Well I have a few ideas. 1) Because Jesus must have had a reason to give his disciples authority... 2) Because saying our sins out loud, to another person, is extremely humbling. 3) Because if we just say it in our heads, we aren't always sure of our forgiveness. For example, I can think in my head that I'm really sorry and Jesus surely must have forgiven me... But do I really know if I'm actually 100% sorry and truly forgiven, objectively? In my experience, the answer is no. Nothing is more healing than hearing the words of absolution, "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  These words are efficacious, which means that the words themselves confer the desired effect - through Christ who is the Word of God.

   The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Catholic faith. All doctrine, seemingly arbitrary rules, beliefs, etc, derive from our belief in the Resurrection of Christ and his establishment of a unified Church - our Church - on earth. Our belief is that at the moment of consecration, the bread and wine before the priest truly become the body and blood of Christ. The bread and wine maintain their accidents (or, the appearances), but the substance is transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This is a great mystery which we take on faith. That having been said, there are a few well documented Eucharistic miracles which can affirm that faith. It's important to mention that no Catholic is required to believe any miracle, and miracles should not define our faith.

   My favorite one is the miracle of Lanciano. In summary, a priest who was struggling with doubt in the Real Presence experienced the bread and wine transform both in accident and substance... The host turned into observable flesh and blood which have been documented and scientifically investigated. You can view a summary of the results here: To further lend credibility, I found this quote:
In 1973, the World Health Organization (WHO) appointed its own scientific commission to scrutinize Dr. Linoli’s findings. During a 15-month period, over 500 tests were conducted, all of which supported the conclusions listed above. WHO’s scientific research was published in New York and Geneva in 1976, confirming “science’s failure to explain the Miracle.”
The flesh was determined to be myocardial (heart) tissue, and the blood type is AB. Here's a picture of the transformed host:

   We receive the living flesh of Christ into our very bodies, and we become the vehicles of Christ's love in the world. The Church is literally the Body of Christ; He is the head of the Church. As St. Teresa of Avila once stated, "Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which He looks Compassion on this world..." When we receive Christ into ourselves, we recognize our call as Christians to die for our neighbors, our family, our friends, and our husbands. This might not necessarily mean a physical death of course, but it may mean a simple momentary death. By giving up your will for another's, you glorify God. For example, if you want to have enchiladas for dinner but your spouse wants to have spaghetti...  Take the hit! That's what Christ wants from us, little things. St. Therese of Lisieux is a wonderful exemplar of this, and she developed her "little way". She insisted that she was not able do much, but she could do little things in day-to-day life to glorify Christ and show her love for Him.

Let no one doubt:
"52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:52-58)

   I will probably wind up doing an entire blog post about the Eucharist at one point. For without the Eucharist, our hope would be in vain. Without the Christ with us, all is for naught. I would not be Catholic if the doctrine of the Real Presence was untrue. My entire devotion rests in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

So there you have it. A few of the 1,000,000 reasons why I chose to become Catholic. It is very hard, yes. Very hard indeed. Jesus never promised us that following Him to eternal Life would be easy.

Please pray for me, and I will pray for you.

Next blog post: I'm not sure! Something Catholic

*If you ever want to know more about any of the things I mention in my blog posts, please feel free to contact me. I would love to go more in depth with you, but I can also direct you to sources that might help as well.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Finding the Way - Part 1

"The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true." - G.K. Chesterton
   It took me awhile to warm up to the idea of Catholicism. Although my boyfriend was Catholic, I don't think he received a world-shaking catechesis. Even if he did, at one point in our relationship we were both very wary of Catholicism - mostly because we found a place in some Protestant circles. They had convictions about Catholics that we had to wrestle with ourselves, such as "Catholics place too much emphasis on Saints, angels, and Mary". For me, and I'm sure for him too, it did not make sense to idolize anyone or anything other than Jesus. It wasn't until I read a book, written for Catholics about how to defend themselves against Protestant misconceptions (The Essential Catholic Survival Guide by Catholic Answers), that I finally understood the reasoning behind this and other questions I had.*

   Let me make something clear. Although most of my struggles in coming into the Catholic Church were intellectual in nature, what truly brought me home was not the answers. The answers to my questions were the doorway that opened my heart to the grace of the Holy Spirit. The more I learned, the more receptive I became to the Love of God. I let down my guard. Our Blessed Mother drew me to her Son.

   Yes, one of the turning points in my spiritual life happened on vacation. My fiance (we got engaged earlier that year) took me to Lourdes, France. In Lourdes, through the year 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous a total of 18 times, and revealed her identity as the "Immaculate Conception". If you're interested, here is a link with a succinct explanation of the apparitions:

   As you hopefully can see by the picture collage that I put together, Lourdes is a very beautiful place. There was such a feeling of serenity and healing that permeated the entire town that I fell in love. All of the strangers were in perfect accord, and treated one another as family members! It was June or July, so the weather was absolutely perfect. Honestly, I remember thinking "this must be heaven on earth". I participated in all the processions that my fiance led me to, and I even began to pray the rosary, something I hadn't done since I'd been at the Catholic school. 

   I remember one day we decided to go to Eucharistic Adoration. Adoration is a practice by which Catholics sit or kneel and pray before a consecrated Host, which is enshrined in a vessel (called a Monstrance). I don't know that I had ever been to Adoration before. But I opened myself to Christ, despite the fact that I wasn't sure if I believed he was truly present or not. Guess what happened... I cried. I realized a lot of the mistakes I hadn't forgiven myself for yet, and I experienced the merciful grace of Jesus at a deeper level than I ever had before. I felt the burden become lighter and I found healing for wounds I didn't even know I had. It was a very moving experience, and I went away with all of my doubts put to rest. They had just slipped away before the Presence of our Lord and I felt no need to yank them back. What a liberating feeling!

   Lourdes wasn't the only thing that drew me into the mantle of Holy Mother Church. It was only one piece of the puzzle! Everyone is called in different ways, and that is the beauty of the spiritual journey. For me personally, the Lord oftentimes  gets through in more experiential ways. I like to inform my conscious according to proper theology, and so whenever I get an "aha!" moment, I only take it seriously if it fits in with Catholic teaching. So many times I have been blessed with insights that I know I'm not clever enough to have come up with on my own... thank you Holy Spirit! be continued...

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Next blog post: Finding the Way Part 2 - a practical perspective. Expect this to be posted in a few days' time

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Power of the Deceiver... The Saving Grace of Christ

I would like to share something that I wrote immediately before (and after) Jesus took hold of my heart. They were written in October and December of 2011.

I lost control of my own life… Somehow, I let myself become so absorbed in my own thoughts and desires that I lost sight of our Lord. I fell deeper into this black pit of vanity and self-obsession. My relationships suffered, the only person I truly love with all of my heart was becoming distant, I was severing our ties of trust and unconditional love. He might have left me, I know now that instead, he prayed for me. Every thought became dark, and I thought I would never know of God again. Hope was eliminated from my heart. I knew that I was lost, and there was no way to return to the light of Love. I panicked. I wanted to die at times, I wanted an end to my anguish and hopelessness. I wanted to be back in God’s good graces, but somehow I could not find the motivation to do something, to seek Him out and ask forgiveness.
In a way, something inside me did not want forgiveness. He felt so far away, further than He ever was before in my life. I was starting to hate. True hatred, pure black venom of loathing towards anyone and anything. Happiness was not possible, not with the vile thoughts coursing through my brain. Satan was taking my soul. Oh the patience of that abhorrent grand master of treachery and deceit! He saw my weakness, and slowly picked at the threads of my faith; placing false theologies in my path at every turn so that I may accept it and be taken from the path of righteousness. Every day I slipped further into the abyss.......
Darkness and despair seem to multiply upon themselves as they fester in your soul. Negative thoughts lead to even more loathing and pity. You keep following these thoughts to the end, until left with the inevitable question… What is the point? I am going to die, I have accomplished nothing, and I will never accomplish anything worthwhile. Perhaps I should die to end this pain I feel. And the worst thing is that you know your pain is unjustified. You have anything you could ever want, yet you are overcome by this void. It pulls you down in every waking second.
This is not you. You can feel in your soul that there is something dysfunctioning. I think we have all been here before. And we all handle it differently. I coped by burdening my boyfriend with all of my self-loathing thoughts, my desperate attempts to feel valuable. He was steadfast and although I put him through hell (literally, I might argue) he always waited out the storm and never failed to say that he loved me still. This wasn’t enough to pull me out of the darkness.
One day I decided to finally read “Heaven is for Real”. I don’t know why I picked it up. I guess I was just sick of lying around feeling sorry for myself. Or perhaps I was just searching for an escape from reality. Whatever the case, after I picked the book up, I could not put it down. I finished it in about 2 or 3 days. And when I did, I felt restored and renewed. I found what I was searching for! And although I’m typically very critical and skeptical of investing my “faith” in anything, everything in that book rang true with me. Christ is REAL! God is REAL! He actually LOVES me no matter how far I have distanced myself from Him!
It all hit me and made perfect sense all at the same time. I felt an intense urge to rush outside, and did so. I knelt on the ground and began weeping and laughing like a crazy person. I felt such joy and relief knowing that I will be okay. I don’t have words to express how I felt in that moment, but it was one of the most intense ones of my life. I decided in that moment to offer my life to Christ. I wanted to align myself with His will. It was the absolute least I could do for a God who loved me so unconditionally! And as I thought this, I knew, we try so hard to earn God’s love but it is unnecessary because he loves us all infinitely. We don’t have to earn His Love, we need only to accept it in our hearts!
I felt reborn and renewed. All of my past mistakes were thrown in a new life and I realized that they all led me to this point. For all the perceived “hardships” I had been through, without each of them I likely wouldn't have come to this beautiful moment full of joy and hope. And this lends credibility to the idea that God has eternal patience. We think that our life can’t get much worse, but we have not an inkling of what God has in store for us down the road. This thought keeps me going [every] time I feel discouraged for my life path.
After discovering the power of Love through Jesus Christ, my life radically changed. Life is so beautiful, how blessed I am to go through it all. I began praying regularly, and I scarcely ever had an unanswered prayer (I can’t actually think of one). How wonderful it was to know that my God was really listening and communicating with me!

In the beginning of this story, note that despite my philosophizing and reasoning at the time, I still had an empty void inside. Rationally, I was agnostic but hopeful that there was a loving God out there. Note... the moment I let my guard down and dropped the skepticism - from prideful to humble - the Lord showed me His face! 

I remember that the night I encountered the Love of God, I took up a beautiful freshwater pearl rosary that I had never used before, and draped it around my neck before going out to dinner with family. I was in the clouds... I remember hardly being able to concentrate on anything anyone said because I was still in awe!

Since writing this, my spiritual life has been refined and honed by the Holy Spirit, and have been blessed beyond my wildest imaginings. The love that God has for me has permeated every facet of my life, and I am no longer blind to it. Not only does He answer my prayers in the most just way possible, but he also blesses me with gifts I never would have expected! A surprise check when I'm running out of money, a kind gesture from a stranger when I'm feeling antisocial... all of these little things are manifestations of Love. I do not believe in coincidence, and I'm in the process of banning the word "luck" from my vocabulary.

God works to bring us to Him in the most extraordinary ways. As I look back on my life, I realize that if I had not rebelled and gotten lost, I would never have seen the value of returning to our Father. Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), we will be welcomed home with open arms and great rejoicing.

"...this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

Next blog post: Why I chose Catholicism over all the other (arguably "easier") denominations