Lent in the Legislature

GreatSeal Next week and the week after, I will become less and less accessible, more and more grumpy, and if you push me, downright mean.

These next two weeks are “deadline” weeks in the Oklahoma legislature, or, as we affectionately think of them, living hell.

We have to vote on every bill that every House member managed to author, get out of the various committees and onto the House agenda. That means long days, longer nights, endless debate and mind-numbing exhaustion. I finish deadline weeks feeling like I’ve been drug by a runaway horse. So does everybody else. By the end of this two weeks we’ll hate our jobs and we’ll probably all hate each other, as well.

That’s how legislators do Lent in Oklahoma.

Once, years ago, I tried to give up swearing for Lent. If Lent happened when the legislature wasn’t in session I would have had a fighting chance. But after the third or fourth time I had to go to confession because I’d broken my penance, my pastor got exasperated and told me, “I want you to forget this and pick something you can do.”

I jokingly said, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody. Can I count that as giving up something for Lent?”

He was not amused.

Ever since then, I’ve tried to come up with Lenten practices that fit into my job. You know; things I can do while driving my car to work or when I’m standing in an elevator. That sort of idle time activity. I literally do not have time to pray during deadline week. When I try to pray before I go to bed, I fall asleep. When I try to pray in the mornings, I’m late for work. If I try to pray while I’m driving … well, I’m already tired and distracted, so that’s not the best plan.

WebJESUS Prayer

One prayer I’ve found that I can actually do is called the Jesus Prayer. It goes: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. 

That’s an excellent prayer for deadline week. If you reflect on it, it’s sort of a mini Gospel in a few words. Anytime you’re in a pinch for time, or at a loss for words, I recommend the Jesus Prayer. It says everything you have to say in one profound sentence.

Another one sentence prayer I pray a lot during deadline week comes from Scripture: May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, my God and my Redeemer.

I pray that a lot before debate.

Then, there’s the Hail Mary: Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for me, a sinner, now and at the hour of my death.

The Hail Mary is a cry for help and an act of worship, both at once. It, like the other short prayers I use during deadline week, covers all the ground you have to cover to talk to God.

These quick prayers save my soul (literally) during times like deadline week. But there is another prayer that I’ve learned through the years. This one doesn’t have words, and yet it is perhaps the most eloquent. There are many days when my work is my prayer. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve learned that this can be the most profound prayer and act of worship any of us can do.

What I mean by that is that I am convinced that the most profound act of worship is simply doing what God tells you to do. If I can do my work in a manner that follows what God wants, then I am giving Him obedience, which is profound worship and prayer with feet.

I learned this during a time when I was getting blasted and battered in an ugly and personal way for passing pro life bills. (This was the time when I tried to convince my pastor that the simple fact that I hadn’t killed anybody should count as giving up something for Lent.) It was tough for me as a person and as a woman. But with God’s grace I was able to persevere, and in the persevering I experienced the Lord’s presence in a way that taught me an enormous amount about what prayer and worship truly are.

The best worship is doing what God tells you to do. The most profound prayer is obedience to God from the heart. 

All the other worship we do — the retreats, meditations, hymn-singing, scripture reading, long reflective silences — are simply exercises to get us to that state where we can do what He tells us to do with willing obedience from the heart.

Lent

I am looking forward to a real Lent one day. I think it would be most edifying to have time for prayer, reflection and long hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

But this week is deadline week, and my Lenten practice may very well be once again, not killing any of my colleagues. I think that’s a fine goal for a pro life legislator.

Up to Our Earlobes in Alligators: Marriage, Religious Freedom and Fiscal Cliffs, Oh My!

Alligators

We are up to our ears in alligators folks

Trying to respond to all the challenges to faith, sanity and the future of Western Civilization these days is like playing a game of whackamole on speed. 

But there are things you can do. Pick one and do it. Then tomorrow, pick another and do that. 

Here are a few ideas. If you have others, please add them in the comments section.

 

 

Marriage

Now that the president has come out swinging for gay marriage, and Britain and France have heads of state who are doing the same, we appear to be in a losing battle on this one. States are passing gay marriage referendums, poll numbers keep piling up in favor of redefining marriage essentially out of existence, and in Britain and other places where they are further along with this than the USA, the refuse from this change is already piling up.

Christians are losing their jobs, being sued and excluded from public life in those countries because they will not compromise on the Gospels. I’ve been told that Britain is talking about doing away with the legal notion that marriage has anything to do with sexual fidelity, since, (I guess) they think that somehow tracks with gay marriage.

So, what are we to do?

First of all, we are to stay the course. We are to stand our ground. Do not quit on the Gospels of Christ because polls tell you that other people are doing that. Do not ever make following Jesus a matter of what is popular or trendy. 

Second, we need to take good care of our own marriages. Love your spouse. Raise your children. Be there, at home with your family as a true husband or wife; father or mother.

Third, we can pray/fast and offer our concerns about the future of marriage up to the Lord, uniting them with His sufferings. Kathy Schiffer, who blogs at Seasons of Grace, published a post about a suggestion from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is what part of what she said:

The U.S. Bishops have an idea:  With the Supreme Court about to hear an important case on the rights of homosexuals to marry, the bishops invite you to fast today.  Dedicate your penance, they urge, for the intention of marriage:

For the justices of the Supreme Court, that when they consider two marriage-related cases later this month, they would uphold the authentic meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, a good in itself and for all of society.

This is a good idea.  Just publishing their flyer today, on the day of fast, is NOT such a good idea—I’d have told you (and told myself!) yesterday, had I seen anything in the news about it.  (Of course, it may have been pushed aside due to the dramatic news yesterday, namely, the resignation of our Holy Father.) 

Nonetheless, late is better than not at all; so if you’ve already had breakfast and lunch and some snacks (as I have), consider sacrificing in whatever way you can today:  have dinner an hour late; skip the dessert; don’t eat between meals.  Let us join together to offer our minor mortifications in defense of the sacred institution of marriage.

As Kathy notes, it’s too late to skip eating between meals today. But it’s not too late to engage in another simple type of penance. I am going to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and offer that up. I’m sure you can think of something that will work for you. 

Fourth: We can go to Washington to participate in the March for Marriage on March 26, 2013. We are having our annual Oklahoma March for Life on the 25th, so I don’t know if I can manage to go, but I am looking into it. A reader asked me a couple of weeks ago if I knew how we could manage to communicate with the Supreme Court. I didn’t answer her, because I wasn’t sure what to say. Now I know of one way, and this march is it. 

You can find details at the March for Marriage website here. The March for Marriage Facebook page is here

Frank Weathers, who blogs at Why I am Catholic, has also written about this march. You can check it out here. I got this great logo from Frank’s blog:

Marriage March



Religious Freedom

I already gave you a “to do” for this one. You need to call or email your United States Senator or Congressperson and ask them to make the repeal of the HHS Mandate their bargaining point in the Fiscal Cliff/Sequester fight. You can find who they are and how to contact them here

You might also drop a note to the National Democratic and Republican Parties, letting them know that you oppose the HHS Mandate and support religious freedom. 

You can email the Republican National Committee here.

You can email the Democratic National Committee here.

Do not underestimate the power of these national parties where issues like this are concerned. In a Congress of Puppet People, they are often the ones who ultimately pull the strings. 

Cross flag

Archbishop Coakley: Pray for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty

This letter from Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City was read in the churches in the archdiocese this weekend.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The year 2013 promises to be one of great consequence on many fronts for our Church and our Nation. With the looming threat to our religious liberty posed by the HHS mandate, the rapid erosion of respect for human life and the unprecedented assault on the institution of marriage taking hold in our nation we bishops of the United States are issuing a Call to Prayer.

St. Thomas Becket, whom the Church honors as I write this letter, was a martyr for the sake of justice. As Archbishop of Canterbury he steadfastly defended the rights of the Church against the unjust interference of his king. He wrote, “If we who are called bishops desire to understand the meaning of our calling and to be worthy of it, we must strive to keep our eyes on him whom God appointed high priest forever, and to follow in his footsteps.” In a similar spirit during our November Plenary Assembly we bishops of the United States determined that it is our duty as shepherds to mobilize the entire Church against the threats against people of faith in our day.

Consequently, we have issued a Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty. I want to join my voice to that of my fellow bishops in summoning the faithful, clergy and religious of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to embrace this coordinated spiritual effort to combat these looming challenges to the free and public exercise of our faith. We ought to understand this spiritual effort in conjunction with the Year of Faith, inasmuch as we are defending concerns that are integral to our faith as its public consequences. These threats call for a public witness and a concerted spiritual effort.

There are many ways to participate as individuals, families, parishes and schools. Here are five key components to this Call to Prayer.

Beginning now and continuing through Christ the King Sunday on November 24, 2013, cathedrals and parishes are urged to have a monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.
Families and individuals are encouraged to pray the daily Rosary, especially for the preservation of Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty in our nation.
At Sunday and daily Masses, we encourage that the Prayers of the Faithful include special intentions for respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life and the preservation of religious liberty both in our nation and abroad.
Recognizing the importance of spiritual and bodily sacrifice in the life of the Church, we encourage abstinence from meat and fasting on Fridays for the intention of the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty.
There will be another national Fortnight of Freedom at the end of June and beginning of July 2013. This Fortnight effort will emphasize marriage in a particular way in the face of the potential Supreme Court rulings expected during this time. It will also emphasize the need for conscience protection in view of the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate. It will emphasize religious freedom concerns in other areas, such as immigration, adoption and humanitarian services as well. The focus will be on the God-given nature of religious freedom and the right to publicly witness to our faith in the public square as well as the rights of individuals and institutions to conduct their professional lives in accord with their religious convictions.
A website with the plan for the Call to Prayer and many additional resources is available at www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty. I urge you to participate in this important Call to Prayer for our Nation and our Church. With prayerful best wishes for you and yours during this New Year, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley
Archbishop of Oklahoma City

Penance, Meatless Fridays and True Conversion from the Heart

I’m a strong believer in penance, but not so much in assigned penances.

As a convert I think it’s highly likely that I just don’t “get” penance in the Catholic sense. Whatever the priest tells me to do as a penance in confession, I do. I don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. If the American Bishops decide that we should return to meatless Fridays all year round, I’ll do that, too.

But so far as I’m concerned, penance is an adjunct to conversion, not the cause of it. What I mean is that penance comes about almost naturally from a changed life, and a changed life is the inevitable result of genuine conversion from the heart. Is it a more signatory penance to eat a grilled cheese sandwich rather than a roast beef sandwich on Fridays or to give up your friends who cannot accept your stands on moral issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage?

I can tell you from personal experience that losing the people you love because they will not accept you as your conversion to Christ has made you is enduring and genuine grief. It hurts all the way through and the pain does not stop in a day or an hour or even, perhaps, a lifetime. The grilled cheese sandwich, on the other hand, does not even sting. It is, at most, a discipline.

If the bishops decide that such discipline is necessary and useful, I not only will follow it, I will trust that they know what they are doing and that it is, indeed, salutary. But it seems to me that such penances are only really effective if they lead to a deeper and more absolute conversion of the heart.

Jesus doesn’t just ask that we follow the rules, although He never abrogated following the rules. He asks that we live a life-giving Gospel of light, love and fidelity, and that we live it to the death, if need be.

Christians today must decide who they will follow. Will they follow the ever-expanding nihilism of the larger culture, or will they follow Christ? This is no longer a hypothetical for most Christians. It is the pressing reality of their walk of faith.  It can cut to the core of who you are. It asks you to follow Jesus even if your friends turn on you and become your enemies for doing so. It asks you to stay the course of true discipleship no matter where it leads you or what it costs.

It is my theory that following Jesus in this hostile world will send you enough penance to scour you clean if you can just accept it. The trouble is that these conversion-caused penances are painful almost beyond enduring. Everyone wants to run away from them. I certainly did and I certainly have. We all would like to slide by and live out a discipleship without cost.

But the devil will always make you choose. Those who do not follow Christ will turn on you and attack you and refuse to accept you. They will rip and tear at the fabric of friendships that have withstood decades, all in the name of pushing you to choose either them or Christ.

I’ve tried to find a way out of it, but I no longer believe there is one. You must, ultimately, decide who you will follow. And you must pay the penance that choosing Christ exacts of you.

To the extent that meatless Fridays prepares us for the greater penances we must pay for choosing Christ in this increasingly pagan world, it is a wonderful discipline. But if we do it mindlessly and resentfully, it will not build the strength in us that we will need to stand for Jesus in the coming days. Discipline of this type is always a practice for the real penances of life that can not be avoided and which, if we try to shoulder them alone, will break us.

On the other hand, if we are willing to accept the love and help God offers us in the face of the deep hurt of lost friendships, the pain and the isolation will make us stronger, more committed Christians. In time, it may allow God to fashion us into someone He can actually use to play a small part in His redemptive work in this world.

 

 

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