Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you’re having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable? [Read more…]

Because Time Passes

Guest post by Allison 
For the past few weeks, as the snow fell relentlessly in our corner of New Jersey, I’ve been hosting a private pity party, wondering what I am supposed to do with all the hours on my hands. My life has felt suspended in time. It’s not that I’m without purpose. I teach one class a week at a community college, and I am prepping to take a professional exam to launch a full-time career teaching English. I am involved in coordinating our parish youth group and am singing in the choir.  But my husband works very full days and is coaching rec basketball; our sons keep busy with school, sports, and music. Their own busyness has given me plenty of time to brood.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a conversation with our eldest son that shook me out of my sulking. Our eighth grader returned home from school and told me with a smile:  (1) he has been recruited for the freshman football team and (2) he’d like to take a certain girl to the eighth-grade dance and (3) he’d like to save up for an electric bass guitar.

I had become accustomed to thinking of our eldest as a boy who shunned sports, played upright bass in a chamber orchestra, and was content to observe life from the comfort of his thoughts and books. Now, a better description would be: my son is a self-assured  young man. Here was a remarkable reminder that time passes.

Half a lifetime ago, I mourned the passage of time. Now, thanks to my faith, I treasure every moment. I see God revealing Himself through just about everything, including the unfolding of our son’s life.

For some reason, our son’s announcements dislodged a memory of myself as a depressed and maudlin twenty-something. In the years immediately following college, I moved a lot for my newspaper reporting career. Whenever I would pack up for yet another career move, I would rifle through boxes of old photos and letters, mulling what to keep and what to toss. My mind would fixate on the notion that  time never stands still and that what happens today will be a memory tomorrow, and forgotten in 10 or 100 years. I’d weep over this.

When I was 25, I landed my first job after graduate school as a reporter at a suburban Boston newspaper. I remember a day off walking alone, exploring my Dorchester neighborhood. I walked past a cemetery. I remember thinking: if I were to die today, say, get hit by a car, where would I be buried? Who would care that I had lived? Who would mourn my passing? Who will even know of my existence in 10 or 20 years? Who, in 100 years, will even remember anyone who is alive now? (Did I mention the day was gray? )

I’ve believed in God my whole life. And if you’d asked me during that walk where my death would take me, I would have told you straight to heaven. But God then for me was a distant figure, someone who set the Universe into motion and then sat back, way back, observing our transient lives, disinterested in their vagaries. I would need to wait until I died to encounter God, I thought. 

Since that bleak walk through Dorchester, I met and married my true love and gave birth to two glorious sons. My husband and I have settled into the same town for the past 15 years. Through time, we have grown more orthodox in our beliefs about God, closer to our Catholic faith and, more consistent  in our  practice of it.

Once, I feared time. In and through the gift of time, however, I now find comfort in understanding God exists both in and beyond time.

My faith in God, which answers my questions about the meaning of my own existence, did not settle into me on a certain day and time. I didn’t have an altar call or fall off a horse. But now I am able to see the hand of God in the life of the son who soon will have to look down to look me in the eye.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 7

This week we read Book 4, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version of Mere Christianity this week, you’re out of luck. I’m basically turning it all over to you guys. A chapter-by-chapter breakdown? Not in the cards. Besides, I don’t think it’s necessary.

The five chapters we read this week really could have been one chapter, don’t you think? Jack could have called it “Theology,” just not “Theology for Dummies.” Not that everything there was way over our heads; it’s just written for an adult audience. Jack points out things that we read before in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy—and also there in GKC’s essay “Why I Am A Catholic”—albeit a little differently.

Jack’s descriptions and explanations of the differences between making and begetting, his geometric explanation of the Trinity are very well done, in my opinion. What do you think? His explanation of God being outside time, although He came into time as a man—starting as it were a good infection that has stood the test of earth time like no other religion—set my mind’s eye spinning in a good way. And since He became truly human and an example for us, He provides us the way to become children of God, rather than stay obstinate toy soldiers. Or mere sterotypical statues, as all created things really are. Keeping in mind (it’s Lent, after all) that we are dust, we very well may stay dust, or be damned if we don’t decide otherwise and get with the program. Our Lord gives us a picture in today’s Gospel reading.

A great set of chapters, uplifting even. Jack scuttles back quickly to Scriptures and counsels us to do likewise throughout. For to stray too far is to fall off a cliff. I like his disclaimer on God being out of our time stream, and I’ll paraphrase, it’s not Biblical, but it’s Christian. Let’s hear it for the Zoe’s! Thank God for the work of the Apostolic Fathers!

My favorite passage from this week’s reading? Right here—

because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, “killed,” He (Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ) chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn-poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the Police, and execution by torture. And then, after being thus killed-killed every day in a sense-the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier-real tin, just like the rest-had come fully and splendidly alive.

Thanks be to God! Now I’m gonna hog the cheese dip and listen to you all get the comment ball rolling. Ferris Bueller was out sick last week, not this week!

Next week we read Book 4: Chapters, 6, 7, and 8.

Thanks to the Quakers

Guest post by Allison
My husband and I spent the past five years connected with peaceful, loving Quaker educators when our sons attended Princeton Friends School (left). The experience, which immersed us in Quaker values, also helped draw me deeper into my own faith tradition of Catholicism.

Greg and I both are products of public school systems and public universities. Both of our mothers worked as public school teachers. So we  never considered private schools—religious or independent—as an option for our sons. When we bought a house in New Jersey in 1997, we chose a town with a reputation for strong public schools and willingly paid high property taxes for a small house so our boys could attend public schools.

But our lives veered on Sept. 11, 2001, when Greg narrowly survived the attack on the World Trade Center, escaping from the 68th floor of Tower 1 eleven minutes before it fell. The attack happened one day before our older son Gabriel’s fifth birthday and just days into his kindergarten year.

While we did everything to shield Gabriel from the effects of the attacks, he was profoundly affected by the loss of his father’s workplace and dozens of his father’s colleagues and friends. By second grade, it was obvious Gabriel needed a smaller, more nurturing school. We were delighted to discover Princeton Friends School, which as part of its mission “recognize and nurture the spirit in each child within a community of learners.”

When the school offered both our sons scholarships, we jumped at the opportunity. And a great opportunity it proved to be for us.

The Quaker religion is relatively new. A little more than three hundred years ago, Englishman George Fox, the son of devout Anglicans,  founded the sect because he was disenchanted with the ritualism of the Church of England.

I admire Quakers’ moral courage. Historically, followers have been in the forefront of promoting equal rights for women and abolishing slavery in the United States. Prominent Quaker women include Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony. Quakers coordinated the Underground Railroad, helping black slaves find their way to freedom in Canada. They also have been in the forefront of prison reform, treatment of the mentally ill, and abolition of the death penalty, all social justice issues dear to my Catholic heart.

At the Princeton Friends School, the community focuses heavily on serving one another, and the larger community. Children are trained to shake hands, look adults in the eye, say good morning, and hold open doors to others. Monthly, all children, teachers, and administrators engage in community service. Here, our sons were blessed to witness faith in action.

The school is small, deliberately so. About 125 students attend from nursery school to eighth grade. This means no one—not faculty, parents, or students—has the luxury of not getting along with anyone else. My children learned, as did my husband and I, that one could not push another person away.

I carried that lesson back to my own life and parish. It’s all too easy for us Americans to switch jobs, switch neighborhoods, heck, even switch spouses when things aren’t going our way. I learned from the Quakers the value of figuring out how to get along with others, trying to find common ground even when it appeared there is none.

While the school doesn’t teach classes on religion or spirituality, it does set aside time and space for worship. Every Friday, the entire school community gathers in an 18th-century meetinghouse for Settling In, which is modeled after the Quaker Meeting for Worship. It was moving for me to see children and adults gather, largely in silence, with one voice or another every now and then speaking of insights gained from this meditation.

Thus, I learned from the Quakers to cherish even more the Catholic value of silence.  No spiritual experience for me  compares to being in the silence of a sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament resides.

While I grew to love and respect the Quaker faith, being immersed in it also helped me to clarify my own faith.

Most Quaker communities eschew both clergy and creed. The followers I know are  more focused on social action and pacificism than on theology and formal worship.

For me, the Church’s authority is a way to mitigate the potential for cults of personalty around a particular leader or the sense we can create Eden here on earth through our own kind actions. The Nicene Creed, along with the Beatitudes, grounds my beliefs and guides me daily.

My family will be forever grateful to Princeton Friends School, a community of peaceful, loving learners, for sheltering us during a difficult time. I also am grateful the Quakers we met helped me feel even more at home in my own faith.

Quick Question: How Do You Teach the Beatitudes to 4th-Graders?

I need your help. Tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 pm, I begin teaching the Beatitudes to fifteen ten-year-olds, beginning with arguably the toughest one of all: “Blessed (or Happy) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” How do you teach that to a fourth-grader? What does poor in spirit mean to you, and what can it possibly mean to a child? Our textbook is all about teaching the children that we should not be attached to material possessions, what we wear, the toys we have. But is that all there is to it? Anyone have any good ideas? I’m scratching my head here.

Thanks to Danielle Rose

Guest post by Allison 
A few weeks ago, my friend Andy introduced me to Guido D’Arezzo, the Benedictine monk who invented modern musical notation by creating the four-line staff.Then Andy, who founded our parish’s Chant Club and has a master’s degree in medieval literature from the University of Notre Dame, read my post about Guido, including my dismissive remarks on the theologically suspect, “folksy religious songs of my Catholic childhood.” And Andy had another lesson for me.

He and his wife are nearly two decades younger than Greg and I. We are products of the well-meaning and sometimes misguided reforms of Vatican II and I call their generation the “JP2 babies”—unafraid of orthodoxy, unabashed in their faith.

Andy told me he believed folk music can have a place in Catholic worship—if its lyrics reflect orthodoxy. He told me about a folk musician he and his wife had known when they were students at Notre Dame: Danielle Skorich, whose professional name was Danielle Rose.

Last month he placed a Danielle Rose’s CD, called “Mysteries,” on top of our TV in the family room. There it sat, unplayed until Sunday night.

Sunday afternoon at Chant Club, Andy yet again mentioned the two-album CD, which is a series of musical reflections on each of the rosary mysteries. He encouraged me to at least listen to the song on the Transfiguration, given that it was Transfiguration Sunday.

I spent late Transfiguration Sunday evening listening to Danielle Rose’s album on my laptop. In her liner notes, Danielle Rose says she was inspired to produce the album in response to Pope John Paul II’s October 2002 letter introducing the Luminous Mysteries to the rosary. The album, in a wide range of musical styles, reflects on all 20 mysteries of the rosary.

As someone who spent endless hours as a teen alone in my bedroom listening to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez records, I was transfixed—yes, that is the word—by the soulful, soaring, dare I say sensuous, tunes of Danielle Rose. Her music incorporates a range of styles, including folk, chant, gospel, rock and bluegrass. She tells the story of each mystery from the perspective of Biblical characters.

In “Listen to Him,” she relates the Transfiguration, the fourth Luminous Mystery, from Peter’s perspective: I hear the voice of every generation listen to Him. Time stands still when I behold your Transfiguration.

A cradle Catholic, Danielle Rose grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. Her father is an eye surgeon who volunteered his talents in India for 25 years. Both parents encouraged her to a life of service. Danielle Rose’s faith deepened in college, when she began attending daily mass and reflecting on the Real Presence. She graduated from Notre Dame in 2002 with degrees in both music and theology. Her first album, “Defining Beauty,” was released by World Library Publications before she graduated.

Danielle Rose went on to travel the world as what she called a “music missionary,” hoping to bring her musical gifts to a spiritually impoverished world. She was the 2005 United Catholic Music and Video Association (UCMVA) Unity Award Winner for Female Vocalist of the Year.

When Andy loaned me the CD of her work, he mentioned that Danielle Rose’s website and her MySpace page are out of date and he wasn’t sure if she was writing and performing anymore.

“Maybe she got married,” I responded. In fact, she did.

In August 2007, Danielle Rose Skorich entered a Charismatic and Franciscan community near Amarillo, Texas, called the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. In August of the next year, she was accepted as a novice and received the religious name Sister Rose Therese.

“He revealed the desire of His heart for my life, and thus transformed my heart from the one being pursued by Christ, to the one in pursuit of Christ. ‘I want to be your spouse,’” Sister Rose Therese, DLJC, wrote.

Ten days before Sister Rose Therese entered the convent, she created her final mainstream album called “Pursue Me” about her discernment journey. All royalties from the sales go to promoting vocations to both the priesthood and religious life.

In a 2007 concert in Duluth, before taking her vows, Danielle Rose said she would not say farewell to her loved ones even though—other than her family—she could no longer call or email them. “See you in the Eucharist,” she sang.

I’m still quite fond of Guido. But now I’m also a Catholic thanks to Sister Rose Therese.

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Because of CL and BXVI

To follow up on my post about Mass with Cardinal Seán O’Malley at the Cathedral in Boston last Monday— The Cardinal ran a piece about the Mass in his blog post for February 26. In it, our archbishop confirmed something I had only heard—and converts are the last to hear, you know, but like elephants, we never forget! In his post, Cardinal O’Malley lays out a close connection between Pope Benedict and the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation (CL). It’s inspiring to know that when our School of Community is discussing Fr. Giussani on charity at our weekly School of Community, so is BXVI.

Here’s the Cardinal’s report:

On Monday, I celebrated Mass for Communion and Liberation at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It was a memorial Mass marking the anniversary of the death of their founder, Father Luigi Giussani. We celebrated it actually on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

Father Giussani was a high school religion teacher in Italy who began a youth movement that has grown into a very important reality in the life of the Church. CL now not only has lay people but priests in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo who are in the archdiocese now, as well as consecrated members — men and women who make vows, live in the community, and pursue their secular professions.

In fact, last Saturday I had a nice visit with a community of the Memores Domini — the consecrated members — who are living in the North End. They came to tell me they are expecting more members to come to be part of their community, so their presence will be permanent here in Boston. I was very pleased to hear that news.

They happen to be Italians, so it’s a great blessing to have them in the Italian neighborhood there where there are many other immigrants.

The Holy Father has a group of Memores Domini who run the papal household. Traditionally, that was a task that was performed by religious women, but Pope Benedict has invited women from Communion and Liberation to be the ones who run his household for him. And, he participates in their weekly meeting, which is called the “School of Community.”

So we had the Mass at the Cathedral, and afterwards there was a dinner. There were testimonies and singing.

Because You Don’t Have to be a Young Earth Creationist to Believe in Salvation History

There’s a wonderful settling-in process that occurs when you convert to the Catholic Church. For example, two years ago, at my first Easter Vigil I sat in the dark, literally and figuratively, wondering what all those long readings were for. Last year, I had a better idea that they were about Salvation History, and I was one of the readers. This year, my daughter will be received into the Catholic Church in North Carolina, and I will be a listener again.

While I will dearly miss singing my first Gloria in seven weeks alongside my friends in choir, I’m sure I will sing with gusto when the lights come on at the Newman Center in Chapel Hill, maybe with tears. And I will listen even closer to the readings.

All of this came into focus for me this morning as I read the Office and the prescribed scripture reading for today—the single most spectacular scene ever filmed, the parting of the Red Sea!

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I’m not sure whether Cecil and Charlton did God a favor with their great film. As EPG has said, and I paraphrase, there’s nothing that looks hokier than something that was contemporary 20 years ago. “The Ten Commandments’’ was made over 50 years ago, and shows it. But I thought I’d lighten up this post with that trailer.

Salvation History really is “the greatest adventure story ever hurled from any book.” And each year it becomes truer for me. You don’t have to believe that the Earth was made in literally seven days, or that the Earth is thousands of years old, not millions, as the Young Earthers do.

You have to believe two things only: God created the Earth. God sent Jesus Christ to save us. That’s Salvation History in a nutshell. Though you have to admit, that’s a great beard on Charlton Heston.

Thanks to Sorta Religious Rock ’n Roll (Music for Mondays)

A couple of male bloggers have to have some fun, even during Lent, right? And since the Jesuits, at least, say that the trick is to see God in everything, let’s see if you can spot God in these guys: Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton, J. J. Cale, Buddy Guy, and Mark Knopfler.

Gentlemen, the YIMC stage is all yours—

Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love? Hardly.  This past week, we’ve been writing about love here, here, here, and even here. Christianity—It’s a “Love Revolution”!

There’s nothing you can’t do and that’s no lie
You were designed to use your mind
To move what you can’t see so don’t be blind
’Cause there is a Love
That won’t let you down and it always holds ground
Wear your crown
This love will never leave you
This love will never let you go

Oops. That video is gone. That’s okay, we can make do with “God Gave Me Everything” instead. Roll clip,

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One of Eric Clapton’s first songs for the group Blind Faith was Presence of the Lord. Frank bets you did not know that. Have a listen.

I have finally found a place to live
Just like I never could before
And I know I don’t have much to give
But soon I’ll open any door

Everybody knows the secret
Everybody knows the score
I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord
In the presence of the Lord

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Let’s stick with Clapton and add in a little J. J. Cale, for “Call Me the Breeze.” Frank remembers the Lynyrd Skynyrd version of this tune from down south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Webster’s not really sure this is even sorta religious, but he likes it, he really likes it.

They call me the breeze, I keep blowing down the road
They call me the breeze, I keep blowing down the road
I ain’t got me nobody, I ain’t carrying me no load
Ain’t no change in the weather, ain’t no change in me
Ain’t no change in the weather, ain’t no change in me
I ain’t hidin’ from nobody, ain’t nobody hidin’ from me
I got that green light, babe, I got to keep moving on
I got that green light, babe, I got to keep moving on
I might go out to California, might go down to Georgia, might stay home

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Time to move Eric Clapton off stage. (You’ll see him watching from the wings.) Don’t need no lyrics. It’s Buddy Guy’s version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Virgin Mary? Lamb of God? Probably not.

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Finally, “Speedway at Nazareth,” a song about car racing, but at least it has Nazareth in the title and the best finger-pickin’ guitarist ever to come out of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Oh, yeah, and it’s Webster’s favorite Mark Knopfler tune. So it qualifies.

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Because Love Comes from God, Not from Me

When I was an child, I loved as child. Now that I am a man, I wish to love as a man. CS Lewis offers advice about this in his book Mere Christianity. Msgr. Luigi Giussani (left) does more than offer advice, he shows the way, in his three-volume work Is It Possible to Live This Way? The third volume, Charity, is currently the focus of Communion and Liberation’s Schools of Community worldwide.

In Book III, chapter 9 of Mere Christianity, part of our YIMC Book Club reading this week, “Jack” Lewis draws the distinction between love as a feeling and love as an act of will. His simple advice is, Don’t wait to feel love for your neighbor, and for heaven’s sake, don’t sit around trying to pump up love for your enemy. Act as if  you love your neighbor and your enemy, and eventually you will love them.

This is good advice, of course. Try smiling when you don’t feel like it. Force your face muscles into a grin and hold it for a while. You will feel better. Lewis adds one grace note to this thought at the very end of the chapter:

The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, [God’s] love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

It’s a beautiful thought. Don Giussani goes much further.

Here’s a contrast: In Mere Christianity, Lewis discusses the three theological virtues, Charity, Hope, and Faith in that order. In the famous passage from 1st Corinthians, 13, St. Paul speaks of them as Faith, Hope, and Charity, and so does Don Giussani. Better, Giussani explains why.

Over the past two years, Schools of Community have read the first two volumes of Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Faith and Hope. Faith, Giussani writes, is founded not on a leap (of faith) but quite reasonably on a fact—the fact of Christ’s presence in the world. Hope is a completely reasonable extension of this fact into the future, our own future, where our destiny lies.

While so far we are only about 30 pages into volume 3, Charity (slow readers seem to predominate in CL!), it is clear where all this is leading. Because already Giussani is writing of charity not alone as an act of will but as a sharing in God’s gratuitous love for us. Without faith and hope, without the certainty that God exists, that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, in his Church, and in the companionship of those who share with us in this Presence, there can be no true charity. Lewis’s act of will is worthy, but how can it be whole?

I would quote Giussani at length, but his Italian-translated-to-English is an acquired taste, and I encourage you to learn more on your own, by checking out the CL Web site. But here are a couple of small bites of Giussani on charity:

Charity . . . indicates the deepest content, discovers intimacy, discovers the heart of the Presence that faith recognizes. 

Note that charity hinges on faith. And here:

The most intimate content of the supreme reality exists in experience, because it is felt, and, when followed, it produces an effect, it changes things. 

So love or charity does begin with a feeling—or it begins with faith, which prompts a feeling. A feeling that arises from the statement “He exists.” From that certainty, everything else follows.

Which is to say that love comes from God—as Giussani writes later, from God’s “gratuitous love” for us—and not from an act of human will alone, and certainly not from me. Sorry, Jack, but I’m afraid Don Giuss has got you covered on this one. Although to give you credit, Jack, I think you really might have loved School of Community.