I Left the Legislature a Year Ago and Nothing Has Gone as Planned.

A year ago tomorrow, I cast my last vote …

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

… and walked out of the Oklahoma legislature forever.

I can honestly say that I have not missed getting up and going out there to do the people’s business in the year since. Not once. I have no nostalgia about the place, zero desire to go back out there and make those decisions, sit through those meetings, debates, wranglings and negotiations.

I can also honestly say that, while I’m loving my new life, I’m still working to get a handle on it. I didn’t stop being a Rep until the first of December. That’s when my true life of freedom began.

During that time, my mother’s dementia went from difficult to impossible to a living nightmare. Now, thanks to powerful meds, it’s moved back to a barely livable point somewhere between difficult and impossible. Taking care of her is just possible … just. If one brick falls out of the carefully-balanced wall between getting by and utter chaos, we go back in the impossible soup again.

Taking care of her has taught me something I didn’t know about before: The physical limits of me. I have found the break point in my own physical stamina, and I hate the thing. It’s not just the work of caring for her, though that is a mountain. It’s the stress and worry, the grief and guilt. Of all these, I would say that the grief is the worst. I miss my Mama, miss her with an ache that’s like a broken tooth in my soul.

In the meanwhile of my time, I’ve been trying to put together a writing life. If caring for Mama is the meat and potatoes of my life, writing is the gravy.

I don’t mean “gravy” in the slang use of the word to mean money. I mean gravy as in the fat, the seasoning, the oh-so-good part of the tough-to-chew-and-swallow that’s underneath.

There are days when I’m too tired to write. My brain is too mushy, my anxiety and worry readings too far off the chart, for me to make my brain work. Those are days when the physical/emotional limits I was talking about earlier have kicked in.

But most of the time, writing is a gift. I feel that God has gifted me with this work at this time. I thought at one point — as my ego-saturated little brain usually does — that I was the gift, that my experiences and insider’s knowledge gave me a message worth sharing. Now I realize that the gift was given to me, not the other way around.

Productive work that God has put in your hands for His purposes is always challenging and difficult. Or, at least it has always been such for me. It is also always a blessing.

The most important and most challenging work He ever gave me was raising my children. That truly is eternity work. It is also the hardest and scariest work I’ve ever done.

Now, I have the twin blessings of writing and seeing Mama home. He has taken me to a place where my ability to trust Him is challenged in ways I never encountered before. I had to re-learn about letting Him handle things with Mama, about trusting Him even when the road is going down, down, down.

My not-so-saintly self always wants to take charge and do everything. I want to be in control. I want to figure a way out of every corner, plan a path and set out on it. I am not a follower. Followership runs against my rebellious nature.

And yet my life is built around followership. I follow Jesus Christ, and often as not, I have to follow Him like a blind woman, hanging onto a rope. He teaches me this lesson. He taught it to me when I was a legislator. He taught it to me when I was raising my kids. Now He has to teach it to me all over again.

Writer’s block, which I’ve had a bit, is nothing more than an internal editor trying to run the show out of pace with the work. Putting the work in His hands does away with that.

The anxieties I’ve felt over Mama are just another dish of the same stuff.

It’s a trick, using all my existing skills and minting new ones to help her, and at the same time, leaving everything in Jesus’ hands. It’s even more of of a trick, minting entirely new skills to live a writer’s life and giving that work, like all the others, to Him entire.

On the surface, it sounds a bit like running a race while sitting in place; an unsolvable conundrum. But it’s not. Here’s what I learned as a legislator, a work that is nothing but unsolvable conundrums heaped on one another.

Get yourself prayed up, then go out there and fight with all you’ve got. Trust that He will be there and He will take care of you. It’s a matter of stepping out on the ice, ever single day.

It also works. If you pray and you trust and you just do your best In Him, the ice holds. You never fall through. And He will guard you in your ways.

Now, I re-learning that same way of living, only in a different manner. I’m not the saint who just does these things. I have to re-learn in every new situation how to work and trust, how to be the child of God that I am.

The key to all this is prayer, and the mass and Scripture. My way of getting through the legislature was simple. I prayed the Rosary every day. Read through the Bible every 15 months or so, and went to mass as often as I could. This held me together when I was a legislator and it is where I go now that I’m a caregiver/writer. Different problems: Same God.

Writing is the same as every gift that God gives. It is a gift, wrapped in a challenge, and it makes me a gift to others.

I think that is the meaning of vocation. Vocation is God, making us a gift to others.

God has gifted me with changing vocations as my life’s seasons change. He has given me every gift imaginable; life, love, health, family, home and work. But the greatest gift of all is that He has given me Himself. He gave me the great gift of His presence, His love, His Spirit, walking through life with me.

Every time God gives me a new task, which I think of as my vocation for my present season, it is a challenge. It is a gift with thorns, a velvet cross wrapped in eternal love.

I have not missed the legislature for one moment. The reason is probably because my life has been so full, the work in front of me so immediate, that my cup runneth over with wine that is both bitter and sweet.

I am seeing Mama home, seeing my young adult children into their lives (a parent’s work is never done) loving my wonderful husband and writing, writing, writing.

Eternity work. It’s all eternity work.

I had envisioned a much more leisurely time of it. I was going to write, travel, drink pina coladas and take up new hobbies. I planned on losing weight, getting in shape, joining the local camera club, taking up golf, maybe buying a horse, going on great trips and living the good ‘ole life.

Instead, I’m changing Mama’s diapers. I’m taking care of her because she’s my new baby. I’m also involved in my kid’s lives (their choice) in fruitful, loving and anxiety-making ways that I never anticipated.

It turns out that my grown kids want me around. They want to be with me, talk to me, share their joys and pains with me on a daily basis.

It’s all a gift, and a challenge. God has gifted me with so much that I’m worn out from it.

It’s been a year since I cast my last legislative vote. I had all sorts of things planned for my next life. But, as usual God had other plans. Harder plans. More important plans.

A dear friend of mine tells me that if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans.

I gave up planning a long time ago, because I learned that it does no good. Life has its own immediacies. Then, when I left the legislature, I forgot that lesson and made a caboodle of sweet and soft plans, marshmallow pillows all of them, for my glorious life of unending vacationing.

Silly me.

 

 

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From Hitler to the BTK Killer, How Do You Forgive a Monster?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tony Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tony Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer. Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom’s story was pivotal in my growth as a Christian.

My conversion to Christ happened when I was alone, driving my car. No other person, no church or clergy, participated in it. It was literally Jesus, reaching out to me and filing me with His love.

I knew that what I had experienced was real. I knew that I had encountered Another, and that this Being bore no resemblance to the poisoned descriptions of Him that had been used as a club against me so many times in my life.

This was a Being of ecstatic love and joy.

I was changed by the experience, changed further by the on-going relationship with this Being, who I later came to understand was the Holy Spirit. However, even though this direct encounter and relationship with the Divine gave me an understanding of His nature, I had no parallel understanding of Christianity itself.

I did not hate Christianity with the frothing at the mouth propagandized carry-on of today’s Christian bashers. But I had experienced cruelty and dishonesty at the hands of Christians. I had also drunk deeply at the cultural well of Christianity deconstruction. I honestly believed many of the lies I had been told about Christian history.

One of my first encounters with positive Christian witness was when I picked up a book called “The Hiding Place” at a used book sale. I don’t know why I paid the fifteen cents to buy that book. I only know that it was the first time I’d read or heard anything about Christians who had stood against the evils of the Nazis based on their faith in Christ.

Every bit of information on the subject of Christianity and the Nazis that I had seen, read or heard up until that time had been a version of the many Christian bashing tropes that are circulated today. Nobody told me that Christians had worked against the Nazis to their great personal peril and had been themselves been persecuted and murdered for their defiance of the evils of that time.

Corrie Ten Boom was a saint of World War II and the years after. She was an unmarried watchmaker’s daughter and a highly skilled watchmaker herself when the Nazis invaded Holland. She was a woman in her fifties who lived a quiet life with her family, in the home where she had grown up.

She was also a devoted follower of Jesus Christ in a family of devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid many Jews from the Nazis. They were betrayed by a man they had helped and sent to the concentration camps themselves. Corrie’s father, brother and beloved sister died at the hands of the Nazis.

Her sister Betsy was Corey Ten Boom’s best friend, companion and solace in the nightmare of the camps. After the war, Corey encountered the guard who beat Betsy and whose cruelty probably contributed to her death.

This past week has given me the opportunity to reflect on Corrie’s life. I originally intended to pray for the grace of forgiveness during Lent. But other things got in the way. Then last week I got clipped by some sort of flu-like illness. This bug has forced solitude on me. It has freed me to do what I should have been doing all along.

I have prayed deeply about issues of forgiveness in my own life. I’ve also watched more television this past week than I have in the entire year before it. Among other things, I watched a documentary about a man whose family was murdered by the BTK killer in Wichita Kansas. I also watched a documentary about Corrie Ten Boom.

The difference in how these two people responded to the horrific things that had been done to them was stark. I understand the man’s reaction. I’m not in any way condemning or criticizing him. I see a lot of myself in him.

He was a young person with a casual faith. He did not have the underpinning of years of walking with the Lord that Corrie had when tragedy overtook her. He was unable to look at the savage murder of the people he loved from an eternal perspective.

He did not have the sustaining relationship with God that upheld and sustained her even when she was, as she put it, in the pit. He was much like I was when bad things happened to me early in my life.

His life was savaged by the murder of his family. Hers was magnified. Corrie Ten Boom survived the camps and went on to become a great international speaker and evangelist for Christ.

She wrote books and traveled the globe, speaking to people everywhere about the power of forgiveness. “There is no pit so deep that His love is not deeper still,” she told people, and they believed her because she had been in the deepest pit of human devising.

The young man whose family was murdered spent time in prison. He fathered a son he did not raise and has spent his days trying to paste the shattered pieces of himself back together again.

The difference between these two people is faith and the grace of God. It is also the grace of forgiveness.

God used Corrie Ten Boom, but He did not give her an easy life. Not only did she endure personal suffering in the concentration camps, she lost the people she loved there. As if that wasn’t enough, God sent the man who had beaten her sister to her to ask for forgiveness.

This forgiveness was the decisive cleansing of Corrie Ten Boom. It was the surrender she had to make in order to be useful to Him and His purposes. If you pray to become a saint, pray carefully. God asks all of you.

This video is Corrie’s account of her post war encounter with the concentration camp guard who had tortured her sister. It describes the healing power of the Cross, which gives peace that passes all understanding.

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Go Look in the Mirror. That is the Only God You’ll Ever See.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by EvelynGiggles https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by EvelynGiggles https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/

Decades ago, not long after my conversion, I had a discussion with an atheist friend of mine.

This friend was from the time when just about all of my friends — including me — evinced a militant disregard for things Christian.

I didn’t know it at first, but that conversion to Christ was going to change everything in my life, including my relationship with people who had been as close to me as family. One by one and despite everything I could do to avoid it, I would lose them all. Worse, the same friends that I loved, truly loved, would become my worst enemies. They would do everything they could to destroy me.

This particular friend didn’t do that. But the friendship, the easy, warm trust between us, was gone almost as soon as I began to follow Christ. I tried my best to keep my new faith low key. I did everything I could to continue to blend in with my old crowd.

But … you’ve changed, this friend said one day.

It was an accusation, and I cringed inside, not understanding this “change” that he saw, even when I was doing my best to hide it. I did not realize in that moment that he had just unwittingly given me the greatest compliment he could.

He saw Christ in me. Despite everything I could do to pretend that nothing had happened and hang onto all my old friendships, I was changed. And this man saw it.

That comment began the slow unraveling of my old life as an unbeliever. I do not mean that it began my conversion. That had already happened. It was the start of the end of previous relationships with people who lived in the world of unbelief.

I fought it. I wanted to keep these people as friends. I wanted to hold onto the good times we’d shared.

But … you’ve changed, he said. And it was true.

This change began to resound in all these relationships with my old crowd. I never preached to them. I didn’t even talk about Christ to them. But I had changed on a fundamental level, and they were like ring wraiths sniffing me out.

This particular friend was the only one to address the change directly and then to lay into me at the root of that change. He knew, without my telling him, that I was now a Christian. And he began a program of reconversion.

Once, in one of our many arguments, he spat out a couple of sentences that I will never forget.

Go look in the mirror, he said. That is the only God you will ever see.

That comment was the apex of his arguing, and the end of our togetherness as people. It wasn’t the comment itself  that did it. It was the unbridgeable gap between us.

We never formally stopped being friends, but we did stop spending time with one another. It was too fraught, too uncomfortable. We had the memory of a friendship, nothing more.

He died of a heart attack a few years later. There were jokes about his vehement unbelief in the many eulogies at his memorial service. This was a man who understood friendship. The memorial service was a crowded event, the building filled to overflowing.

I walked out, gripping my husband’s hand, hoping that in those last extremities my old friend had finally turned to God.

Did he go to hell? 

I said it aloud when we got back to the car. Was he dead, really, eternally dead and gone to hell? My passionate, crazy friend — had he doomed himself to eternal death?

My husband was silent for a moment. Then, he reached out and squeezed my hand.

Probably, he said.

I changed again after that. My friend’s death shook me out of my somnambulance. I realized that being quiet about Jesus was the cruelest thing I could do to the people around me. I called quite a number of my old friends and told them directly that I did not want them to go to hell. I pleaded with them to change.

One of them changed, began following Christ and follows Him to this day. Otherwise, those calls had no effect.

You just don’t worry about me, one of them said, summing up the reaction from all of the rest.

A few years later, someone I knew and had crossed swords with was dying of cancer. This person and I barely spoke and when we did, it was barbed.

I picked up the phone and called him. Are you right with God? I asked him.

My friend’s death has taught me that there is never a wrong time to try to tell someone about Jesus, and there is never a right time to let another person slide into eternal death while you stand politely by and say nothing.

I read a headline before I began writing this post saying that 7.5 million Americans have abandoned their faith in Christ in the last year. I didn’t read the story, but I would assume that it was based on statistics from a survey of some sort.

There are a lot of reasons for the rising apostasy, but I think that the heresy of salvation through politics is one of the primary factors.

Many Christians have become besotted with a political Christianity where voting right and joining the correct political party has replaced following Christ. They have removed Jesus from Lordship of their lives and replaced him with an angry and unthinking devotion to their political party.

The Holy Spirit will not honor this kind of fallen Christianity. This Christless Christianity without a cross will not produce the fruit of the Kingdom because it is not of the Kingdom.

Go look in the mirror. That is the only God you will ever see. 

Seven point five million Americans evidently decided to turn their backs on eternal life and plunge themselves into eternal death while we were barking at one another over whether or not the priest wears a stole when he hears confessions and is the Church too “feminized” and which political party is the right one for Christians.

Let me tell you something. If Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of your life, it does not matter which political party you are in or whether or not the mass or church service you attend is sufficiently to your liking.

It does not matter because wherever you are, you will do His will. If people aren’t looking at you accusingly and saying You’ve changed, then something is wrong with your relationship with Christ.

If you fit comfortably in this world, then you are not going to fit comfortably in heaven. If you sit idly by and watch people trot themselves off to eternal hell and do nothing, say nothing to stop them, then you are the most cruel of people.

Let me turn my friend’s comment around. When you look in the mirror, do you see your God?

Sin is one thing. We all sin. This is why we have confession. But if you are one of those many people who are trying to cut your faith to fit your politics, if you are trying to shear the teachings of Christ down to slip them nicely into the folder where you keep your political handouts, then you are, no matter how often you go to Church or how much you proclaim yourself a Christian, in rebellion against God.

If you do not accept the Lordship of Christ in all matters, then you are not following Christ. If you do accept the Lordship of Christ, then it does not matter where you are or what people you associate with, you will be His witness in that place.

Bearing witness to the Gospel with our lives is the universal Christian vocation.

But it doesn’t end there.

We are also called to bear witness to Christ with our words.

Ask yourself this: Have people abandoned the Church because of you? Have you driven them away with your peculiar and particular insistence on a vengeful reliance on your version of what a Christian should be? Has your unbending self-righteousness made them feel that the Church is the last place on earth they would go for love and forgiveness?

Or …

Have people come to Christ because of you? Have they felt safe to tell you of their failings, to share their doubts, to trust you with their darkest secrets? Have they experienced the love of Christ in you and begun to follow Him because you allowed yourself to be a conduit of His grace in their lives?

What fruit have you born with your followership of Christ?

When you stand before God, will lost souls point at you in accusation and say He or she never told me about Jesus.

Or worse, will they say, He or she was so angry and so self-righteous that I thought their Jesus was the devil?

How many souls will point to you and say He or she was the spark that led me to Christ?

The answer to those questions begins with another one. When you look in the mirror, do you see a beloved child of God who can trust His love to forgive their sins? Do you see a sinner who does not need to be afraid before God; someone who is forgiven and who is grateful for that forgiveness?

Or …

Do you look in the mirror and see the true lord of your life and the only god you will ever know?

 

 

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Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Duncan Harris https://www.flickr.com/photos/duncanh1/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Duncan Harris https://www.flickr.com/photos/duncanh1/

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

A Novena is a nine-day prayer. The idea behind a nine-day prayer comes from the prayers of the Disciples, along with Our Lady, before Pentecost. It is also based on the Jesus’ many admonitions in the Gospels to pray to God the Father for our needs without ceasing.

It sometimes sounds in the Scriptures as if Jesus is telling us to nag God. His parables about the man who will not stop asking his neighbor to get up and give him bread and the reluctant judge tell us frankly that God responds to our repeated requests.

Another example in Scripture is Abraham, interceding for Sodom and Gomorra. He repeatedly asked God to spare the city if a certain number of righteous people were found there. Each time, God granted Abraham’s request, and each time Abraham asked again, this time with a lower number of righteous people. He finally received the promise that God would spare the cities if only 10 righteous people were found in them.

Sadly, there were not even that many.

However, the principle of praying repeatedly is well established in scripture.

The position that St Michael the Archangel occupies in the heavenly host is also well established. He is God’s warrior, the defender against Satan. I quoted one scripture about Michael above. But there are others scattered throughout scripture. Daniel refers to him several times in ways that show quite clearly that St Michael is our defender against the devil, as well as heaven’s.

Pope Leo XIII composed a powerful prayer to St Michael the Archangel that begins St Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle after he was given a vision of the evils to come in the 20th Century.

It appears that these 20th Century evils have taken root in human society and are expanding and bearing much evil fruit after their kind in the 21st Century, as well. Among these are the increasing and widespread violent persecution of Christians. Our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer every indignity possible in this life, including martyrdom.

This is happening today, right now.

In this Lenten season, let’s commit ourselves to a Nine Day Novena for our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffering and dying for His name. It seems the least we can do.

I chose the Novena to St Michael the Archangel because he is our protector against the devil. These attacks against Christians and Christianity are coming straight from Satan. As usually happens, he is not sending an army of demonic creatures to do his bidding. His army on this earth is almost always sin-sick human beings who are following the darkness rather than the light.

Most of these people don’t know who they are following. It is not necessary to give knowing assent to follow Satan. All you have to do to follow him is do his work and speak for his desires in this world.

The prayer that Pope Leo XIII composed has always seemed like a kind of exorcism to me; an exorcism that we all can access by simply asking St Michael to do the exorcising for us.

The Novena I’ve chosen for us to pray is the Novena to St Michael. It is almost eerie in the way it fits the persecution Christians are facing today.

I will post it every morning, beginning today, for nine days. Please pray it with the rest of us faithfully.

I took the liberty of choosing an intention for all of us. I pray for the conversion of the world, that from pole to pole, dateline to dateline, all with call out Jesus’ name.

Here is the Novena to St Michael.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
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What is the Most Perfect Prayer?

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Created by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue. https://www.flickr.com/photos/titobalangue/

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Created by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue. https://www.flickr.com/photos/titobalangue/

In keeping with my longstanding tradition of kicking over hornet’s nests, I’m going to ask a question.

What is the most perfect prayer?

Over on the Facebook page of a friend of mine, a commenter who identified himself as a priest said that the Holy Mass is the “most perfect prayer.” A Deacon of the Church responded that yes, it was.

I’ve been rolling that one around in my mind ever since I read it.

Mass is, from beginning to end, one long prayer. It is also the sacrifice of Calvary, brought into our daily lives. More than that, it brings that Sacrifice and the Lord Himself into a reliable, supremely accessible form under the guise of bread and wine.

As we would say in Oklahoma, that’s pretty stout.

But is it the most perfect prayer? Is there such a thing as a perfect prayer?

I can’t answer that, even though I raised the question myself. Instead, I will tell you what I know and why I ask the question in the first place.

I know that my personal conversion experience was a sort of eucharist. Let me describe it and explain what I mean.

I was driving in my car, on my way to make a speech. I was deeply troubled and sore at heart because of a sin I had committed against another person. Almost from nowhere, I said aloud, “Forgive me.”

The moment I said that, I felt the long years of sinfulness lift off me. It as an actual physical sensation. I also felt this Other, a Being, respond with such joy and love that words fail to describe it. In the same moment, I felt this joy and love, filling me up.

What was all this? I didn’t know at the time. It was a while into the future before I figured out that the Being I met that day and Who has never left me since was the Holy Spirit.

I never, until I read that exchange on Facebook, considered the possibility that in that moment, I became a form of Eucharist. What I mean by that is that I now believe without doubt that what I experienced was what Protestants call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and what I’ve seen described in other places as the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, even though I didn’t know it when it happened to me, Scripture has quite a lot to say about the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us. That Scripture is not describing a theological concept. It is talking about an absolute reality of Christian life. I suppose that what I am also describing might be what Catholics call “a state of grace.”

All I know is that God reached down into that car and loved me back to life in an instant, He came to live within me and me with Him and He has walked with me since that moment. All this happened because of a two-word prayer that I didn’t know was a prayer: “Forgive me.”

I read the comment that the mass is the most perfect prayer, and I agreed with it. But I also know that God can and does create individual Eucharists in people’s hearts every day. I was not unusual or even especially blessed by what happened to me. The reason is that God answers sincere prayers. And He can make a Eucharist, a communion, of any person, at any time.

I know of a young woman who was kidnapped off the street on her way to school. She was put in a brothel and sold over and over as a victim of human trafficking. She lived in India. She had never heard the name of Jesus, knew nothing about Him.

One day, He came to her in the tiny room where she was held when she was not being sold. She saw a light, then a vision of a man. “I am Jesus,” He told her. “I will take care of you.” This young woman now attends a Christian university here in Oklahoma in preparation for returning to India to work among trafficked women.

Her prayer was no prayer at all, at least not as we normally understand it. Her prayer was the desperation and suffering of a young girl, sold into sex slavery. It was the wounded cry of one of His children, reaching up to heaven. Her prayer was not of her own initiative. Her prayer was His love, and it came from Him to her, not the other way around.

And that is the crux of it.

I did not deserve forgiveness. I did not deserve the love and joy that He gave to me.

The goodness was all His. The need and unworthiness was all mine.

The young girl, held prisoner in a brothel, did not even know His name; she did not call to Him because she did not know Him. He came to her. Because He loved her.

I have a friend who spent years trapped in the sins of prostitution, drug dealing,  alcoholism and addiction. For a long time, she would visit one of our Catholic churches here in Oklahoma City. She didn’t go there during mass. She sat at the back of the sanctuary alone, when it was empty. Her reason for being there was that Christ in the Eucharist was calling her to Him. She went there because He called her to Himself.

Her prayer was shame and a sense of unworthiness. It was isolation and alienation and aloneness. It was believing that the good people of the parish would never have her there, but knowing, because He called her, that she had to be there. With Him.

The perfect prayer is a mother, sitting up at night in a steamy bathroom with a croupy baby. The perfect prayer is a father, going to a job he hates and taking all manner of humiliation in order to support his family. It is the rape victim who chooses life for her baby and the cop who follows the evidence rather than just cooking up a case against the most likely.

The perfect prayer is to look at insurmountable problems and terrible insults, to stare in the face of your deepest terror and say, “Lord Jesus, I trust You.”

The mass is a gift, but it is not a gift we give to Him. It, along with the Church, is a gift that He gives to us. The Eucharist is a gift, a covenant, a bond and a promise that He is, as St Paul said, able to keep that which we have entrusted to Him against that day.

The Eucharist heals, gives life, and assures us that at the other end of this earthly passage, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

The Eucharist comes from Him, to us. Not the other way around. In like manner the perfect prayer is always His prayer in us. The mass is prayer. A simple forgive me is prayer. Desperation and fear are prayers. Shame and sin sickness are prayers. Love, fidelity, courage are prayers.

Grace is a gift. Mercy is a gift. Salvation is a gift. The Eucharist is a gift. Life is a gift.

They are gifts to us from Him.

The only gift we have to give Him is our love. Everything else, including obedience, comes from that.

What is the most perfect prayer? I think it is to take the whole of our selves, including the pits and stains, welts and scars, lay them down in peace, and say with the confidence of a child talking to her Daddy, “Lord Jesus, I trust in you.”

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The Beauty of the Catholic Church


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Advent: Come Lord Jesus

 

The Bible ends with a poignant verse.

Come Lord Jesus, cries in a voice that resounds in the heart of every Christian.

Two thousand years ago, the conquered children of Israel looked forward to Him, even though they didn’t fully understand Who He was, and they certainly misunderstood what He would do.

The prophecies of the Christ begin in Genesis when God tells the serpent He will set enmity between the serpent and the Woman, that she would crush his head, and he would strike at her heel. This was not, note, a prophecy of Eve’s life, but of Mary, the New Eve whose quiet birth, unmarked as it was by the larger world, was the door opening on our salvation.

With Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the primal hope of the garden before the fall reawakened in human existence. It was given back to us as a free and totally unmerited gift by God. It set the stage for the coming of His Son, the long hoped-for Messiah.

Prophecies of Jesus began at the beginning, in the Garden, and are woven throughout the many thousands of years of history that tell the tales of His family in the book we call the Old Testament. It is the story of God, raising up a people by first calling one man to leave his home and go out into the wilderness.

It began, as these things always do, with a family; in Abraham’s case, a troubled and often sinful family that nevertheless trusted God. Not everything Abraham did was right, but he believed the Lord’s promises, and Scripture tells us that God “reckoned that to him as righteousness.”

There is a message in this for all of us. That message is simply that we need to trust God and follow Him without placing the unreachable burden of perfection on ourselves. Righteousness is found in trying to do God’s will and trusting our lives and our salvation to His mercy. Whatever we lack in ourselves and our efforts, He will supply. All we need to do is trust Him and do our best.

But how does God supply the lacks? How does He reach across the unfathomable gulf between our finiteness and His infinite transcendence? He did it by doing the unthinkable, by taking on human flesh, being born of a young woman and living, suffering and dying as one of us. Jesus was foretold over and over again throughout the Old Testament, but, as Steve Jobs famously said, it’s impossible to connect the dots going forward; you can only connect them looking back.

In the case of the many prophecies of Jesus the Christ, the prophecies of His second coming are intertwined with those of His first coming. The triumphant Lord of all history is foretold alongside the Suffering Servant of Calvary. Connecting those dots going forward was as confounding to the people of that day as connecting the dots of the Second Coming are to us. Theories and theology abound, and all of them are, to a great extent, educated guesses.

People of Jesus’ day skipped over the Suffering Servant prophecies and misinterpreted the salvation prophecies to weave together an interpretation of a warrior king who would make the nation of Israel into the dominant world power. They tried to connect the dots going forward and came up with a political interpretation which, while it comforted them in their sufferings as a conquered people who occupied the bottom rung on a significant trade route for the Roman Empire — The trade route mattered to the Romans. The people who lived there, not so much. — was wildly inaccurate.

They took comfort in the promised messiah of their own interpreting who would place his foot on the back of the Roman neck and make the Israelites the rulers of the world. Although this inaccurate interpretation comforted them in their daily problems, it led them into the mistake of missing the real Messiah when He actually came to them.

Nothing in their grandiose imaginings came close to the lowly carpenter’s son, born of a virgin in a stable and then forced to flee into exile soon afterwards. They were unprepared for parables and stories urging them to love and care for one another and talking about a Kingdom that would grow like a tiny mustard seed or the leaven in bread into something they could not fathom.

The idea that the Messiah would be executed like a common criminal and then rise from the dead only to leave the whole enterprise of Kingdom building in the hands of 12 men chosen from ordinary fishermen and tax collectors made no sense according to the false interpretation they had believed for so long.

And so the cornerstone of the new Kingdom became the stumbling block for God’s chosen ones. They, the apple of God’s eye, the ones from whom salvation comes, turned aside from their own salvation while the prostitutes and sinners, the rabble and riff-raff of outsiders, walked right in.

Advent is the season we set aside to consider these things. We know about the first coming of Christ. The dots are in our past, where we can see the pathway they form with clarity. We have the Church to explain these things to us, and we have 2,000 years of Christian teaching to make them clear.

So long as we confine our Advent meditations to mulling over the First Coming of Christ and think about our personal piety and our need for repentance and conversion, we are on fairly solid ground. We know what is expected of us as His followers. We know the story of God made man for our salvation.

But we are not at the end of the story. We still await the fulfillment of the prophecies. We are somewhere along the long row of dots that connect the planting of the mustard seed and the final harvest. We are, all of us, awaiting the day when He comes again.

Perhaps more to the point, we are traveling along our own road of life, journeying from birth to grave. We know — know — that our end of time is always imminent. One day our souls will be required of us, and none of us knows the day or the hour that will happen. That will be our end of time, when we go to Him, even if He has not yet returned to us.

Advent is the prophetic pot, simmering. It is a few weeks set aside for us to contemplate the mystery and the majesty of Christ coming. We have the history of His First Coming and the probably seriously misunderstood promises of His Second Coming, all intertwined with the certainty of our departing and going to Him.

We can’t — any of us — connect the dots looking forward. But we don’t have to. All we have to do is follow in the footsteps of Abraham, or Mary or Stephen or Priscilla or Paul or the woman with the hemorrhage or the blind man who would not deny Him and was put out of the Temple for his fealty. All we have to do is just believe Him and follow Him and trust that, even if the dots don’t connect in meaningful ways for us looking forward, they will be form a pattern of salvation when we look back.

Advent is a good great time to consecrate however much of our lives we have left to His Mercy. Trust and obey the old hymn says. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus. 

Truer words were never spoken.

Spend a few minutes this advent contemplating the dots going forward into your eternity as well as those going back to the Immaculate Conception and to the stable. Are we living in the End Times? Perhaps. But in truth, it doesn’t much matter if we are.

Each and every one of us is living in his or her “end times” every single day. There is absolutely nothing to fear in this if you trust and obey. God’s mercy, which was poured out on all humanity from the wounded side of Jesus, is greater than our weakness, stronger than our failures, more loving than all our fears.

Just put your hand in His and let Him lead you Home. There is no other way.

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Christian Missions in China: From Underground Churches to a Thriving Community

jesus-the-light-of-the-world

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God from the beginning and through Him all things were made … in Him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can not overcome it. 

The vicious tyranny of Communist atheism in China has proven to be fertile ground for Christian conversion. Jesus is the Light, shining in the darkness of this hopeless, dehumanizing philosophy.

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Raising Kids with a Super Spiritual Foundation

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The Crazy People File

 

Note: I published this post a few years’ back. It seemed apt to republish it today. 

 

“Crazy People”

The folder with this name sits on my hard drive.

Whenever I get an email that merits the title, I drag it into the “Crazy People” file. After 16 years in public office, the file has swollen to gigs of nutty emails that most likely would embarrass their senders if they read them today.

I have a theory that people don’t know how they sound in the emails they send to elected officials. They forget that other people are on the opposite end of these nasty diatribes; that they read them, react to them and file them away.

Several years ago, members of the Oklahoma House were spending what seemed like an endless day on the House floor. We were hearing one bill after another. Since it was close to the end of session, we’d voted on all these bills many times before; in committee, in the full House the first time, then again in the full House when they came back from the Senate, and now, in the full House again after they came out of conference committee.

We spend a lot of time together in the House of Representatives, kind of like people locked on a ship that’s adrift at sea. We’d heard each other’s speeches on these bills until we could all recite them together.

On that day, we were tired, over-stimulated and stressed; all combined with an almost numbing boredom. It gets like that late in every legislative session.

Mainly due to the boredom, we started talking about the emails we get. Now there are certain people who evidently get up every morning and fire off a nasty email to all the members of the legislature before breakfast, kind of like some people go to daily mass and others run on their treadmill. Their names and the names they call us become familiar to all of us. We started trying to figure out whose district these emailers were from.

Finally, I emailed the one who we all felt was the most flamboyant and asked what part of the state he lived in. Nobody answers these kinds of emails, and I think it was the first time any of us had clicked “reply” on one of his. The person responded and asked why I wanted to know. I said that we’d been talking about him and were wondering whose district he lived in.

If it’s possible to sound abashed in an email, this person did. I really don’t think he realized that people read the stuff he was sending. In all the years since, he has never sent another blanket email to the Oklahoma House.

Of course, this person, hateful and goofy-sounding as his emails were, did not rise to the level that gets someone into the “Crazy People” file. It takes a special kind of venom, and usually a couple of threats, to land there.

The point I’m making is if you’re writing your legislator in support of Christian values, remember that someone will read what you send. Do your best to sound like a follower of Christ and not an escapee from a wingnut radio talk show. You can make your point just as well without calling people names or attacking their intelligence, beliefs, children, parentage or appearance.

Remember: When you say your are a Christian, other people judge Christ by you. Don’t be a negative witness for Christ just because you think it’s clever and witty to degrade other people with your speech. Civility will not only make you a better witness for Christ, it will make you more persuasive about the positions you are advocating.

It can also keep you out of the “Crazy People” file.

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