Friday, 26 February 2016

The Lent Project #3: Daily Mass for Lazy Bums

I have never been a consistent daily Mass-goer. Which is fairly shocking, considering that I've been a Catholic volunteer for the past five years. That doesn't mean I've never gone for daily Mass, or for weekday Mass, just never seven days a week. But it's usually once or twice a week (apart from Sunday Mass), if that.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. I am a lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined slacker sometimes am tempted to behave like a lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined slacker.

2. I have a horrible time with early mornings, which is usually the most convenient weekday Mass option, and am sluggish and unproductive the rest of the day when I have a too early morning. (Too early for me = anything before 7 am)

3. I used to teach tuition in the slum in the evenings when the daily evening Mass was held. (But don't any more.)

4. I'm scared to make commitments that I think I'm going to break. (My thought is, 'I won't make an official commitment, I'll just start doing it, and see how it goes.')  But if I don't make the commitment, I don't do it at all. Catch 22.

5. I swing between feeling guilty about everything and being totally slack about everything- being too hard on myself and being too soft on myself. So in order to avoid feeling guilty all the time, I avoid expecting anything of myself. An unhealthy cycle.

6. It's not obligatory, like Sunday Mass, or like my commitment to daily personal prayer, so it's not like it's that bad that I'm missing yet another opportunity for grace.. right? Right?

7. I am super good at making excuses for things that require any kind of effort or sacrifice.

Why (and how) I am actually making a commitment to going to daily Mass:

1. I am a full-time single Catholic volunteer! I have NO real excuse for not going... like oh, I was up all night with the baby, or oh, I have a nine hour office job plus two hour commuting every day, so I'm exhausted. In fact, some of those people still make it to weekday Mass.

2. I am surrounded by a team of holy, Catholic women who make it to daily Mass which makes me compare myself and feel guilty which I choose to accept as an inspiring gift from the Lord to help this weak sinner on the way to holiness.

3. I just moved to the beautiful largely Catholic state of Goa, and daily Mass is a beautiful 10 minute walk (or 2 minute bike ride) away from my new home at 7 am.

 Why, yes, this is where I live now.

4. I just read this scripture:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit. 

 Surprisingly this not a random internet picture of a tree, but one that I saw in Mexico

To be this green, fruitful tree, to find peace when I'm prone to anxiety, to respond to the unexpected circumstances and changes and people in my life with grace, to be holy instead of just talking about holiness, to grow in Christian maturity, to go deeper still, further into God's heart... I need to sip of the Living Water, yes, through contemplative prayer, but also through chewing on the Way-Bread. (Yes, two food analogies in one sentence.)

5.  I sometimes am tempted to behave like a lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined slacker... and I need grace, the undeserved shot of Christ-life, to be different.

6. I need to start things, commit to things, even if I'm scared I won't complete them, because not starting the race is the surest way not to complete it, and there is at least a chance of getting somewhere if I start walking. Plus think about all the free doses of humility when I screw up!

7. Every time I force myself out of bed, and actually go meet Jesus in the Eucharist, my heart rejoices, my spirit sings. There is a sweetness in the little yeses.

Lenten challenge: Ask someone to accompany you to daily Mass this Lent. If I can do it, you can do it! If you already go for daily Mass, pray for me!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Lent Project #2: Brainwashed Cradle Catholics

 "You know you're allowed to believe something different than your parents, right?" I was once asked by a friend who assumed the only reason I'd be a weird religious person was because of the brainwashing of my youth. Kinda like this meme:

It's an understandable assumption. In so many ways, we are a product of our environment, from whether we think bright pink silk bridesmaids' dresses are gorgeous or hideous, to whether feeling like aunties commenting on your weight as soon as they meet you is perfectly normal, or freakishly insensitive, to whether we consider arranged marriages a reasonable way to find a spouse, or an archaic unthinkable tradition. It's obvious that the religion, and values, and even prejudices of our family are often our default position, especially if we're intellectually lazy, or we are emotionally very attached to our families (love me, love my beliefs).  It could feel almost disloyal to believe anything different.

 Hideous or gorgeous?

But there are a lot of faulty assumptions connected with this belief:

That the religion of your childhood MUST be untrue, simply BECAUSE it is the religion of your childhood: If objective truth exists, then something must be true. Whether atheism, Christianity, or Islam, or any one of the many conflicting systems of belief. So it's very possible SOMEONE has got it right, and has raised their children to be predisposed to accept this true belief. In fact if you continue to follow the belief system of your family, it might even be that it has produced good fruit in your family that has made its truth more convincing to you.

That only religious people influence their children's beliefs: As if growing up in an atheist or agnostic household makes you a blank slate, and leaves you free to 'decide for yourself what you want to believe' as an adult. Believe it or not, the idea that every belief is as valid or true as any other (all gods are one) is itself a particular belief... which a parent can teach their child. Maybe it's influencing them to believe that you should help the poor, not be unkind to people, not be cruel to animals, value education, assume religious people are narrow-minded, to value independence and autonomy, to eat healthy... parents and teachers are constantly teaching kids SOMETHING.

That all religious people are only religious because tradition/childhood brainwashing: Though that may be true for many, many people, it can't be true for all, because of conversions. As adults many, many people re-evaluate their beliefs, and re-align themselves either to what makes more sense to them, or what sounds more socially acceptable, or what suits their lifestyle or position. If baptized-as-babies Christians haven't been convinced or touched in an experiential way by the truth of the Person of Jesus, they will very likely choose the agnostic label.  I've heard of Christians becoming Muslims, Catholics switching to a non-denomination church, evangelical seminarians becoming Catholic, Muslims becoming Catholic, fundamentalists becoming atheists, etc.

So the real question is, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS TRUE?

The easiest position is to say everything is true, or no one can know, or it doesn't matter. But that too is a belief.. based on what? Intellectual laziness? Convenience? Societal norms? Even if you say that, you probably don't really believe it. If no one can say what is true or morally good, then who can tell rapists or adulterers or pedophiles they are in the wrong? Is everything permissible? You do believe something, but perhaps you haven't looked deeply into why you believe it.

What I have done in my own life as I grew from a child to a teenager surrounded by the Catholic Charismatic world, is learned what the Church taught, and then tested those beliefs against reality. Not always consciously, but I'm an INTJ. It has to make sense!

(This doesn't work if you just test what you THINK the Church believes. Like, all non-Catholics are going to hell. Or that Catholics are obligated to hate or fear gay people. Or that Catholics must be anti-science. None of these are true. Thankfully we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church that tells you exactly and poetically what the Church DOES believe. so you know what to test, and what to challenge.)

But where to even begin? There are so many beliefs encompassed by the Church. G.K Chesterton says, "The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that…” As, for instance, (1) It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior; in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth; as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man; even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside; working through wills and not laws; and so on."[Read the rest here.]

So many angles from which to approach. Let's pick one. How about the big one-  
That God is PERSON who cares about providing for my needs, and is someone I can be in relationship with, as a child with a Father. That is fairly easily testable, right?

Today's first reading from Mass, was an excerpt from the book of Esther- a fascinating story, oh the drama. In it, we see Queen Esther-

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD. She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O LORD, my God."

Like Esther, I had heard from others that this Jesus was not just a name, a historical figure, a power, but a Person, a God who hears and answers, a God who does not wait for me to ascend to a certain state of consciousness to know Him, but who enters into my troubled human situation to come to my aid in a very real way when I call out to Him. But I could only KNOW this if I tried it, if I asked this Person to reveal Himself, and answer my prayers.

And I did. Many different times, different ways, different stages of my life. At a young age, I started praying for many couples who had been unable to conceive for years, and asked my family for prayers. It was my special responsibility to pray for them. And almost all of them conceived within a year of our prayer.

At 17, I wanted to do a teacher's training course, but realized my parents didn't have the money to pay for it. They told me, "Don't worry, if God is calling you to do it, He will provide." And out of the blue, a great-uncle sent my family a large gift of money that was more than enough to pay for it.

My fellow-volunteers and I prayed for healing for a woman suffering from a stomach ulcer, and she was healed- no sign of it when she returned to the hospital. A close friend had a lump on her breast that eventually needed surgery... and we prayed, and when she returned to the doctor months later, the doctor said, "This is a miracle- it has shrunk, and doesn't need surgery." A friend and his wife had no money to pay for food one day. They had a newfound faith in a Father God who could provide.. so they asked, and the same day the husband was invited to join a talent contest.. which he won, and received a cash prize for, that was enough not only for their own needs, but to share with others too.

Sounds very shock and awe types, right? Can't believe you hear an INTJ saying such things? (Actually I just realized that I had already shared some of these stories here.)

What about the less spectacular, but even harder-to-answer prayers- like for people to change, family relationships to be restored, bitterness to be washed away, patterns of years and even generations to be undone? I've seen it! In me, in people close to me. Situations that seemed impossible to change... changed.

Again and again I have seen, in my life and others', like Queen Esther, that those who ask for what they need with childlike simplicity and humility and faith and persistence, receive what they need... and more.

It's almost as if Jesus meant it when he said, "Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. knock and the door will be opened to you... If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.'

So, Lenten challenge: Whether you're a Christian or not, growing lukewarm in faith, or not at all sure if any of this stuff is true... Take a risk. Open the door.

Say "Jesus, you say God is a Father who cares about my needs. Dada God, if this is all true, (and I'm not just talking to myself) I need some help. I really need ____________. (A solution for a complicated situation/ X amount of money for a real need/ a job/ healing in this relationship/ the strength to do this hard thing/a real experience of your love/ to know if you are for real/ meaningful friendships/ the strength to overcome this disgusting sin/ peace in my troubled, anxious, neurotic heart/ physical, emotional or spiritual healing/ a way out of this unjust or abusive situation) If some attitude is blocking me from knowing You and experiencing You, show me what it is. I'm opening the door, if You are out there, come on in."

You aren't losing anything if nothing happens. And you are gaining EVERYTHING if something does.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Lent Project #1: Running With The Saints

How do lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined people like myself do Lent? How do I 'live a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called?' Some people seem to be naturally motivated, they are always running towards something. Pre-conversion, it's often something like academic excellence, or successful careers, or fitness and healthy lifestyles, or pursuing their dreams, or having adventures, or learning new skills. Post-conversion, they turn all that drive towards pursuing God. They devour the Word of God, read about the saints, go to daily Mass, study apologetics, go to Adoration, volunteer, and serve the poor. Those spiritual muscles are kept in good shape!

I, on the other hand, am one of the laziest people I know. I can sit for hours doing nothing but thinking, or watching youtube videos or playing 2048 or reading blogs, or watching too many episodes of Lost or Downton or The Mentalist... and quite happily do not move a spiritual, physical or intellectual muscle for hours on end. (I don't count critiquing the media I consume, because that doesn't involve any intellectual discipline at all.) Sometimes I won't even do something I WANT to, like napping, because it involves a small effort of will, like not watching another movie trailer.

I realized many years ago that at the root of most of my sins is SLOTH.

Yup, one of the more boring deadly sins. In his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon defined sloth as "sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer." (more here about the sin of sloth).

So what is the solution? I KNOW my sin, but talking about it and even accepting it, is not exactly as effective as it seems in the moment. I can be aware that I am yet again drowning in indiscipline, feel bad about it, and still not change.

I have found the one major thing that has helped me change and grow has been intentionally placing myself in relationship with other Christians who spur me on to follow Christ, to deny myself, put to death the life-sucking sloth, and live a new life that prioritizes LOVE of God and neighbour.

In Peter Herbeck’s book ‘When the Spirit comes in Power’, he writes that one of the keys to cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit is to ‘Run with the saints’.
'In addition to the saints who have already gone home to the Lord, we will taste more of the life of the Spirit if we run with the saints that are still on earth. To learn to move more fully and deeply in the life of the Spirit, it is important to share one's life with others who desire to live the same way. If we are docile to the Spirit, he will lead us to deeper fellowship with others who are serious about following Jesus. One of the central things the Spirit is doing in our day is bringing his people into a deeper experience of communion, in concrete expressions of various forms of community life.’
A few years ago I joined a Catholic volunteer organization, and through it, God had provided SAINTS for me to run with.  I remember before joining this organization, I read some of the blogs and articles and thought – ‘Wow…these people are so holy. I wish I could be a little like that. I am so far from that kind of holiness and love.' Five years later, praise God, I am a little like that!

Our director recently quoted a homily he heard – ‘Saints make saints.’ I not only work with my community members, but live with them, and it is in lived Christian community, that I am transformed. When I am tempted to be lazy, I see others pouring themselves out, and I find myself doing the same. I see the bible come alive. When I'm not feeling like praying, I see others up earlier than me having their personal prayer time, or at the chapel, and something in me says "Yes! Prayer!"

When I am tempted to treat the poor with indifference, I see my community members deep in conversation with a chance beggar, and I am shamed, and challenged.. and the next time I engage a beggar in conversation too. I am tempted to grow slack in my faith and just murmur sympathetic nothing-sayings to people when they share a struggle, and then I see my community members offer to pray with that same someone. And the next time I am the one doing it.

We are all still works in progress- we sometimes feel and act impatient, judgemental, thoughtless, or fail to go the extra mile. We sometimes forget ourselves and complain, or get lazy with prayer. We act out of our woundedness, or our fear, or our selfishness. But we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, and begin again.

When I run with the saints I get called on by the words and example of my companions. It’s called ‘positive peer pressure’. (Not to mention accountability.) When I see people tirelessly serving each other, being quick to serve or sacrifice, speaking words of encouragement, pouring out their hearts in praise, being honest about their struggles and need for God’s mercy, I think ‘I can do that too!’ And I can!

If you are longing to grow closer to the Lord, become more of who you are called to be, and are not sure how, allow the Spirit to guide you to the people open to Himself, and jump in. Find some saints, and run with them.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Lent Project

If you're Catholic (and think that matters), the question of the week, and maybe of the past month is "What am I giving up for Lent?" Of course the discussion of this question is complicated by the fact that it's easy to get caught up in either spiritual pride, or comparison, or hopelessness.

'You're giving up sweets? Commonplace. I'M praying the Hail Mary and doing an ab crunch for every word. I'll be holy AND hot by Easter! (I am of course inspired by THIS weird list).'


'Wow. Everyone around me is doing daily Holy Hours, walking barefoot everywhere AND reading the Imitation of Christ.. I couldn't even pray every day last Lent. Why bother?'

Also, even when the decision itself is made in humility and prayer, it's sometimes hard to decide whether to share with others one's decision, or to keep it to oneself. Such conflicts arise as- I'm inspired when I hear about other people's Lenten sacrifices. But if I share mine with others, am I showing off? If other people know, they can help keep me accountable... but humility demands that I speak as little possible about myself. Then again pride often makes us self-sufficient and unwilling to open ourselves to others.

Obviously INTJ Catholics like all other INTJs over-analyze.

 But the question everyone should face is- WHY? Why Lent? Why give up anything? Is it just a cool spiritual practice? A way to get healthy, like a 'cleanse', or just a test of your own willpower?

It's more than that. First of all, Lent is not just about fasting- it's about PRAYER, FASTING and ALMS-GIVING. It's about re-aligning our hearts to God's heart.

'Catholic aren't Puritans- we like the pleasures of the body, we think they're good, they're God-given. BUT when they become dominant, they become the Lord of your life, then your deepest desire for God isn't realized. And these desires are so pressing, they're like little kids- "I want it, I want it, I want it", "Now, now, now!", and if you allow them to dominate you, they will take over your life.'  Fr. Robert Barron

Lent is a chance to create space in our hearts and our priorities for the Lord, in a very practical way.

One of my favourite quotes is- 'Discipline is remembering what you want.' But really it should be 'Discipline is remembering WHOM you want.' To allow my restless heart to rest in Him, I need to take a breath from chasing after the things that's don't fully satisfy. To allow His light in as I dust off the mirror.

This year I thought I would share one thing that I feel called to do. I'm going to post 12 blog posts over the course of the next six weeks of Lent. But I will only write about His priorities, the things He is saying and doing in my heart and life. No randomness, romance, INTJ obsessing or snarky commentaries until after Easter. It's going to be good, though!

Walk with me on this journey through Lent. I'll be praying for all those who are reading.

P.S. I'll be off Facebook, so I'll ask someone to share new blog posts on the blog FB page. So if you read my blog and want to be updated when I post, go ahead and like the page.