love

The Annoying "Yes" Lady at Mass

Pentecostal WomanDue to many scheduling conflicts a few Sundays back, I went to Mass by myself without the wife and kids. Over the past month or so we began to notice a curious and regular disruption at the 9:30 a.m. Mass. The weird part was, I began to take a strange pleasure in it. It went something like this:

Priest prays out loud, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your ha-"

"YES LORD," interjects the affirmation from what sounds like an old African-American woman somewhere in the pews to the far back and right.

And it continues...

"For the praise and glory of your name..."

"YES LORD."

"For our-"

"YES."

"-good and the good-"

"YES."

"-of all our Church."

"YES LORD."

And it goes on and on like that, with the older lady interceding between every ten or so words from the Priest. Heads everywhere are trying to make clandestine surveillance of the pews around them without making it obvious that they are clearly distracted and pissed off.

Now I'm not going to lie, the first time my wife and I heard the Yes Lady we did what every other couple did. We looked at each other with faces of smirky inconvenience and gossiped after Mass about how obnoxious and distracting this woman was being, resolving that SOMEONE had to do SOMETHING.

I mean holy righteous anger batman! We are trying to PRAY here!

But this Sunday was different. Right around the Eucharistic prayer I noticed a small but steaming pile of self-righteous indignation in my pew. Curious, I kicked it up under the pew in front of me and listened again to the Yes Lady.

"Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."

"YES."

A quick burst of willful naivete shot through my brain and I asked a question based on giving the Yes Lady the benefit of the doubt:

What if she really believes she is doing something important?

Suddenly I felt angry. I was angry at anyone who was angry at the Yes Lady. I was angry at the 59% of U.S. Catholics who don't attend Mass weekly. I was angry at the 62% of U.S. Catholics who don't claim a strong religious identity. I was angry at the 29% of U.S. Catholics who don't believe in a personal God. But most of the anger was aimed at myself, because I suddenly became ashamed that I felt so entitled to a distraction free Mass.

What do Catholics who leave the Church to join a Protestant denomination say one of their biggest reasons for leaving is? "My spiritual needs are not being met."

DISCLAIMER: There is a big conversation we could have about the discrepancy between a person's perception of not being spiritually fed, and the actual reality of the depth of spiritual fullness made available in the Catholic Church. And I could fill a hard drive with reasons why I don't think anyone should be constantly giving their public verbal consent to the Eucharistic Prayer. I'm not saying active participation must be busy participation.

But do we, who know the sublime reality of Mass, worship like we are being spiritually fed?

As I honestly examined my frustration with the Yes Lady, I realized I was really just frustrated by the notion of anything "happening" at Mass.

I watched the Priest raising up our gifts and the work of our hands - the bread, the wine, and all intentions we lay at the altar - but part of me didn't really expect God to accept them. I heard the Priest calling the Holy Spirit down on the altar with the conviction of Elijah, but part of me would have been inconvenienced by a rush of wind and tongues of fire. I heard the Priest imploring the help and intercession of an army of Saints, but part of me didn't really want them to show up. I cried aloud telling the Lord I'm not worthy for him to enter under my roof, begging Him to only say the word and heal me, but part of me didn't believe He could actually deny me. I waited mere minutes as we shuffled to the front of the Church to hold the endless, to consume the unconsumable, to swallow the sea, to insert infinite love into my size 34 waist, like a candle trying to hold the Sun, but part of me would be impatient if anyone took longer than seconds to take their wafer and move on.

Who is really being inconvenienced here anyways? Me? The guy who wanted a woman with expectant faith to shutup so I could go back to thinking my own thoughts during Mass?

Or God, who sits through Mass revealing Himself lovingly through His Son, humbly through bread and wine, vulnerably through His death on a Cross, and intimately through bodily communion, only for people like me to look on with blank stares like we're checking email? I've sent prayers to God soaked in tears asking Him to stop being so distant, and the next day been so impatient with a Priest who fumbled slowly through the Mass you would have thought if God himself showed up I'd tell Him to keep His homily short.

Thank God for the Yes Lady. I think only Yes Ladies get healed by Jesus. I think Yes Ladies walk out to Jesus on the water. I think the upper room was full of Yes Ladies at Pentecost. I think Yes Ladies' prayers heal the sick. I think Yes Ladies convert cities. I think only Yes Ladies can be tortured and martyred for Christ.

Is this a call for everyone to go all Southern Baptist this Sunday at their local parish? No. Please no.

But lets smile at the Yes Lady.

Because thanks to her, I pray more often for God to show up.

I pray more often for liturgical inconveniences.

(Photo by Cameron Zohoori)

Is Christ Ugly?

Scars

Last summer I heard a Priest tell this story during his homily of a time he visited a sick man in the hospital.  He went to the hospital multiple times and would sit and talk for an hour or so with the man to keep him company.  In the room with this sick man was another man, a burn victim, who was severely disfigured from head to foot.  Most of his face had been burned off.  The Priest recounted how he tried to avoid looking at this burned man, because of how severely and grossly burned he was.  One day, the sick man who the Priest was visiting asked the Priest if the burned man made him uncomfortable.

"You know," said the Priest, "I am ashamed to say it, but yes.  I do not like looking at that man and his wounds are very disgusting."

"Would you like to know what happened to him?" asked the sick man.  "Sure" replied the Priest.

"Him and his wife lived in a house nearby with their four children.  One night the house caught fire and the whole family quickly ran outside to escape the fire.  The father of the house gathered his family together in the front lawn, but noticed that their youngest daughter, only about two years old, was missing.  Frantically, the father ran back into the burning house.

No one knew that the youngest daughter was in the house next door.  When the fire started and everyone ran out the front door, the young girl went out the back door.  The next door neighbor, wanting to protect the child and not seeing the rest of the family, brought the girl inside as she called 911.

The father, not finding the daughter, stayed in the house looking for her.  And he stayed in there.  And he stayed in there. And he stayed in there longer.  Eventually the roof collapsed on top of him.

When the firefighters found him he was so badly burned they thought he was dead. The doctors said it was a miracle that he lived."

sacred-heart

I Got a Picture of Jesus

The picture of Jesus above is also available as a poster, which hangs above my desk in my office.  My office is in a middle school, so lots of kids pass by and see the image.  I also use the image often with our high school youth group.  The reactions it causes vary from a concerned "Wow" to straight up disgust.  One day an adult came to meet me in my office and was causally talking until she noticed the image.

"So when are we going to get--OH! EW!"

There seems to have been a movement among Christians to remake Jesus as more human, accessible, and happy.  The crucifixion, you could hear them say, is too ugly and inaccessible.  It is too morbid and graphic and bloody and gross.  Are they right?

Glorious Wounds of Love

I dare anyone to try to tell that young girl that her father's burn wounds are hideous and disgusting.  After growing up and learning the significance of the scars, she will forever look upon her father and see not ugliness but the glory of a total and selfless love.  The wounds have been incarnated into pure corporal love and self gift.

Why did Jesus' resurrected body still have the five wounds?  Don't we receive a new, perfect body in the resurrection?  Aren't wounds gross and disgusting, not worthy of a perfect, glorified, and heaven-bound body?

"The scars that remained in Christ’s body belong neither to corruption nor defect, but to the greater increase of glory, inasmuch as they are the trophies of His power; and a special comeliness will appear in the places scarred by the wounds... the greater beauty of glory compensates for all this, so that the body is not less entire, but more perfected."  St. Thomas Aquinas (STh., III q.54 a.4)

Christ's crucifixion, and His wounds, might be disgusting on their own.  But when you understand Jesus as a Father who runs into the burning house of our sin, and stays there until it attempts to destroy Him, the cross begins to look quite different.  When I look at that poster of Jesus, I see this glorious love in those wounds.  I see a God who felt the weight of my sins crash down on Him as He stayed there to save me.

Jesus' wounds and crucifixion are beautiful.  In fact, they are the summit of all beauty; nothing could be more beautiful.

And maybe when we get to heaven God's martyrs will share in this transforming of wounds into glory and badges of love.

"Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body." St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei XXII)

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Photo at top by Sam Beebe

New Evangelization Must Be Cheese

The New Evangelization has been called many things, but cheesy is not one of them, and this is a shame.  If the New Evangelization is to accomplish the task of re-evangelizing the cultures and communities of today, then the New Evangelization should be more like good cheese.

“In each inn the cheese was good; and in each inn it was different.” 

G.K. Chesterton wrote some interesting things about cheese after a trip giving lectures around England.  During his travels he lunched in several roadside inns across England that offered nothing but bread and cheese.  He found in these cheeses a quality he describes as “the very soul of song.”

Chesterton saw in the cheeses two things:

1)  Each cheese was local and therefore diverse, taking on the flavor of the surrounding culture.

The “noble” cheese of Wensleydale was a different happy expression of cheese than that of the cheese of Cheshire, or the cheese in Yorkshire, or the cheese in any of the inns.  Chesterton believes that universal truths are best expressed through customs and civilizations when they are living, varying, and diverse.  The cheese becomes exquisite because it communicates truth and beauty in a way that is in touch with reality and its local surroundings.  The divine and universal idea of cheese takes on the human nature of the town and the people that labored to lovingly produce the cheese.

“Bad customs are universal and rigid, like modern militarism. Good customs are universal and varied, like native chivalry and self-defence… But a good civilization spreads over us freely like a tree, varying and yielding because it is alive. A bad civilization stands up and sticks out above us like an umbrella - artificial, mathematical in shape; not merely universal, but uniform.”

2)  Each cheese was the object of a loving art, and therefore was very high quality.

"Now, it is just here that true poetic civilization differs from that paltry and mechanical civilization that holds us all in bondage."  Chesterton noticed that industrial cheese found in a large city, much like soap that is mass produced and sent all around the world, did not have the same eclectic and local flavors of the cheese he encountered at the inns and was not very good either.

Not only did the cheeses of the city lack an exquisite taste, but the people that served the city cheese took no pride nor showed any reverence toward their cheese. Chesterton laments about a waiter that served him cheese on what was basically a cracker.  After dining on the magnificent cheese of the inns served with what most likely was hearty breads, Chesterton was more than a little upset to get a bland cheese on a lifeless cracker.

“I addressed the waiter in warm and moving terms… I asked him if, when he said his prayers, he was so supercilious as to pray for his daily biscuits. He gave me generally to understand that he was only obeying a custom of Modern Society. I have therefore resolved to raise my voice, not against the waiter, but against Modern Society, for this huge and unparalleled modern wrong.”

Industrialized Ministry

For too long we have been searching for an answer to the task of evangelization that is more like a microwave dinner than well made cheese.  We want to take it out of the box, plug it into the parish, let it run, and reap the rewards of a vibrant ministry.  We want a one-size-fits-all answer to evangelization that requires little thinking, no volunteers, and little effort.

There is a place for these resources, and they are a gift to the Church, but they should not be used as crutches or be the primary thrust of a parish's evangelization efforts.

Good Old New Evangelization Cheese

1.) Evangelization should be local and therefore diverse, taking on the flavor of the surrounding culture.

Christ was one man, and yet he finds infinitely varied and true expressions in the lives of the Saints. From the poor St. Francis to the richer St. Thomas Moore.  From the silent and anonymous Benedictines hidden from the world in monasteries, to the preaching Domincans.

People want to encounter a living and active faith, not one that is recorded on dvd's and mass produced somewhere in Spain and shipped all over the world.  These resources are great to supplement a parish, but they should not be the sole expression of a living and evangelizing culture of a parish.

We need to make each of our Churches a Saint.  Our parish community should become a unique expression of Jesus Christ lived out in a life-giving and profoundly beautiful way.  Our individual parishes need to engage and transform the surrounding culture into something sacred, something worth attracting the attention of modern man who is so jaded by industrialized, commercialized, and mass produced ideas.

Where have all the local celebrations and popular devotions gone?  Most parishes are named after a Saint, but that is as far as the Saint's influence goes.  Where is the loving expression of unique devotion?  We have lost our culture, we have begun to mass produce our cheese. Where is the St. Francis Parish making fools for Christ?  Where is St. Joseph's Parish devoted to producing holy fathers?  Where is St. Stephen's Parish celebrating martyrs all year long and lighting a fire of zeal in its parishoners who would rather be stoned than betray their Lord?

What happened to Corpus Christi processions at Corpus Christi parishes?  Why doesn't the Church in the country become the greenhouse of holy farmers?  Why doesn't the Church in the city produce another Mother Teresa?  Do you have a lot of doctors and nurses in the area? Why not start traditions and devotions to St. Gianna?

How often do we address the unique needs and capacities of our community members before trying to figure out how to minister to them?  Do we send out surveys asking what they desire to learn more about, or what questions or problems the parish as a whole are facing?

2.) Evangelization should be the object of a loving art, and therefore high quality.

If we have the boldness to believe that we are involved in the sacred and holy task of transmitting Christ to others, we need to really reevaluate how we are accomplishing this.  Do not make bad cheese, and do not serve Christ up on a cracker.

We need to have a more profound and deep reverence for what it is we are doing when we attempt to evangelize.  Jesus Christ deserves much more than a clip art presentation thrown together at the back of the social hall.

We need authentic and beautiful culture.  Why not encourage local art at our parish? Why not devote time and energy into fostering local spirituality: a spirituality of the fields, of the hills, of the city, of the farmer, of the rich, of the poor, of the community in your specific area that is more than just a thrown together prayer service, but is the work of a loving art?

The methods and modes we use to evangelize should be crafted and perfected - the object of a loving art.  The way we speak, write, and advertise should all be approached with a awed humility.  We are announcing the Most High, we should remember that we share this task with angels.

Prudence and Zeal

I won’t shy away from saying these things, even though some will read this and think “Yes, we need banjos in Mass and a kid with a streamer to dance during Father’s homily, and clowns, lots of clowns!”  I am not advocating for the type of unique expression that is a mutilation of the truths of the faith.  Zeal for authenticity and vibrancy must not mean the sacrifice of orthodoxy and universality.

I will leave you with the cheesy words of the Church:

From the Conclusion of the recent Synod on the New Evangelization

No one person or group in the Church has exclusive right to the work of evangelization. It is the work of ecclesial communities as such, where one has access to all the means for encountering Jesus: the Word, the sacraments, fraternal communion, charitable service, mission.

In this perspective, the role of the parish emerges above all as the presence of the Church where men and women live, “the village fountain”, as John XXIII loved to call it, from which all can drink, finding in it the freshness of the Gospel. It cannot be abandoned, even though changes can require of it either to be made up of small Christian communities or to forge bonds of collaboration within larger pastoral contexts. We exhort our parishes to join the new forms of mission required by the new evangelization to the traditional pastoral care of God's people. These must also permeate the various important expressions of popular piety.

From Evangelii Nuntiandi

40. The obvious importance of the content of evangelization must not overshadow the importance of the ways and means. This question of "how to evangelize" is permanently relevant, because the methods of evangelizing vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation.

63. The question is undoubtedly a delicate one. Evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addresses, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life. But on the other hand, evangelization risks losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it

+JMJ

"Say What?" Monday Catechism Series #1

Introducing a new series on this blog: each Monday I'll be posting a gem from our Catechism of the Catholic Church that is interesting or remarkable.  This week's Interesting Catechism is about discrimination against those with homosexual tendencies.  It may come as a shocker, but the Church actually does believe that homosexuals should be accepted and loved.  But this paragraph is followed by another that explains that acceptance does not mean honoring or promoting same-sex marriage, nor is the Church saying that those with homosexual tendencies should act on them.  Persons with homosexual tendencies are called to chastity and Christian perfection.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

+JMJ

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Mother Teresa and God's Thirst

15 years ago today Blessed Mother Teresa died, but the impact of her life still echoes throughout the darkness of our world.  In honor of this saint's relentless mission to embody the love of Christ to the poor and needy, I wanted to share her guided meditation on God's intense love for us that might only be described as a thirst.  In every chapel of the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, the words “I thirst” can be found next to the crucifix.  Take some time in front of a crucifix to pray through this letter from God's heart and realize God's infinite thirst - for you.

I Thirst for You

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock… (Rev. 3, 20)

It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter.

And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come – always, without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension – a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father ("As much as the Father has loved me, I have loved you…" (Jn. 15:10) I come - longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul.

I know you through and through. I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.

I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? "Come to Me all you who thirst…" (Jn. 7: 37). I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you.

I Thirst for You. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.

Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment? Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life. – and I will. I promise you before My Father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest.

Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My Kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you, or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you gave Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal; so come now, and unburden your soul.

No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life; there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change. I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day – standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood My cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there – for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: "I THIRST…"(Jn 19: 28). Yes, I thirst for you – as the rest of the psalm – verse I was praying says of Me: "I looked for love, and I found none…" (Ps. 69: 20). All your life I have been looking for your love – I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.

Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit. "No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU…"


"Jesus is God, therefore His love, His Thirst, is infinite. He the creator of the universe, asked for the love of His creatures. He thirsts for our love… These words: ‘I Thirst’ – Do they echo in our souls?”

Mother Teresa

Imprimatur Mons. G. Sergio De la Cerda Z. Vicar General Tijuana, B. C. México.