Sunday, 20 December 2020

INSPIRE2020: Why I Am Catholic

I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'Why I Am Catholic'. Also, follow Desi Catholics on Insta and FB!

I am Catholic because my parents chose to have me baptized. But I am a faithful, believing Catholic instead of an agnostic or atheist because of a combination of many factors:

A consistent life ethic 
The litany of the saints 
Truth, Beauty, Goodness 
The Eucharistic Jesus 
Adoration chapels 
The grace of Confession 
Theology of the Body 
Mother Teresa 
Saint John Paul II
The call to holiness 
Holy balance 
A place for every culture and nation 
A place for the little ones 
A commitment to social justice 
Redemptive suffering 
A place for the misfits and outcasts 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 
The Emergency Novena 
Consecration to Jesus through Mary 
Travelling Rosaries 
Mary’s maternal care 
Spiritual warfare and sacramentals 
The St. Michael prayer 
Guardian angels 
Reason and faith 
The Church of Peter 
The promise of Jesus
The early Church Fathers 
Authority given by Jesus to dispense the sacraments 
Faithfulness to the truth entrusted by Jesus 
The Charismatic renewal 
The living saints 
An openness to renewal and re-examining ways of doing things 
Vatican 2 
Catholic communities focussing on discipleship and evangelization 
Catholic Twitter 
The fellowship of wise and holy Catholic brothers and sisters 

I’m Catholic in spite of 

The abuse scandals 
The hypocrisy of many leaders 
The polarised political American Catholic Church 
The lack of clarity and unity in communication and teaching from most Catholic leaders 
A failure to live by the Spirit 
Lack of fellowship and accountability in most Catholic parishes 
Parish politics 
My Catholic convent school 
My parish youth group
My parish culture
Many loud Catholic celebrities and speakers 
A failure to evangelise even our own flock 
The lies and half-truths coming out of many seminaries 
A culture of authoritarianism and clericalism 
Horrible Church music 
New Ages practices promoted by Indian Catholic priests
Pauline bookstores
Action songs 

“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.” (G.K. Chesterton, Why I Am A Catholic)

I wrote a more detailed post here: When I Get Tired of Being Catholic

Saturday, 5 December 2020

INSPIRE2020: Tough Topics - Love is Love... Or Is It?

I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'Tough Topics'.

Although the Church's stance on same-sex marriage is not the central or most important teaching of the Church, it is one of the more controversial ones, and one that seems to be a hot-topic online. I'm writing about it because I know it can be a confusing issue especially for young Catholics who care passionately about social justice issues, equality, and human rights, and if Catholics don't explain it well it could easily alienate them from the Church.

First of all the reason this is such a tough topic to broach is that social justice issues seem to be presented as package deal. If you care about women's rights, you are supposed to fight for abortion rights. If you care about LGBTQ struggles, you should be fighting for their right to marry and adopt. And if you do NOT accept everything, most people assume you're on the same page as 'Gays go to hell', 'Women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen' kind of extremists.

Let’s clear up a few beliefs that I as an orthodox Catholic have: 

- I do NOT believe it’s a sin to ‘be gay’ or to be attracted to the same sex. Neither is a person with such an orientation a mistake or an accident. 

- Self-identifying as LGBTQ is not the same as a statement of someone's sexual activity.

- I do not believe that people who choose to call themselves ‘gay’ or LGBTQ (instead of ‘struggling with SSA, etc) is a terrible thing, and definitely not a sin. Your sexual orientation is obviously not your whole identity, but it is an important part of your identity which has consciously or subconsciously influenced your relationships, your perspective on the world, your idea of your own value, the way people have treated you, the confusion you may have faced as a teenager, etc. It’s fairly easy to see how big an influence it is when we listen to any real life stories or experiences of LGBTQ people. Naming that experience or struggle can help you feel you’re not alone. (There are some who disagree with me.)

- I think the representatives of the local Catholic Church need to do much better at talking about these struggles instead of ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist.

- I believe homosexual activity should be decriminalised. Not every sin is a criminal matter. We need to stop acting as if other people’s sins are far more repulsive than our own. LGBTQ sexual activity is on the same level as all other sexual sin - premarital or extramarital sex, masturbation, pornography, contraceptive sex or pretty much any sexual activity outside of God’s design - free, total, faithful and fruitful sex between a man and woman committed to each other for life. 

- I think we need to do far more to help LGBTQ people especially with creating safe spaces where bullying is not tolerated, and with addressing the high rate of depression, self harm and suicide found among them. 

- I think there are so-called Christians who have done a great deal of harm to our witness to the LGBTQ community- from parents kicking out their children who come out to them, to the crazies with their ‘God hates fags’ posters, or those obsessed with narrowly defining true masculinity or femininity, or  those whose hackles rise as soon as the label LGBTQ is used. 

- I think our first response to someone who comes out as LGBTQ to us should be acceptance and love, not immediately checking whether they are chaste or not. That conversation can happen if and when the Spirit prompts. Lead with love, as always.

Most of the beliefs I’ve stated above are not very controversial on social media. But being Catholic means being willing to hold on to and talk about the unpopular aspects of our faith too. 

As a Catholic, I believe- 

- God’s design for marriage was between a man and a woman, for life. Our bodies are created in such a way that even in a world marred by sin and dysfunction, it’s fairly easy to see the original design and plan for human sexual relationships. 

- The healthiest and most secure place for a child to grow is with a mother and a father who are faithful to each other and who emulate the love of God to their children. Of course there are many who have not had that privilege due to death, abuse, divorce or other factors out of their control, and God is able to bring healing and provide what is lacking. But that doesn’t change His original design and plan. (The polygamy of the OT was part of the dysfunction of a world twisted by original sin, but Jesus came to restore God’s original plan.) 

- If I really love and care for an LGBTQ person, I cannot cheer them on in a relationship that cuts them off from God’s good plan for their lives. However I can and should love them and find other ways to build that relationship (apart from getting excited about their love life).

- If I really love an LGBTQ person, I will help them find healing* from any abuse or trauma they have suffered rather than just affirming and celebrating their sexual orientation. (Obviously this is not the situation for all LGBTQ people, but it is not uncommon.)

The reason Catholic beliefs about homosexuality are so hard to swallow is because they have been presented as an opposition to the overly simple phrase - Love is love. 

This is how it is articulated- love is love, whether it’s between a man and a woman, or between two men, or between two women. We don’t choose who we love. Everyone deserves to be in a loving relationship/to find love. These thoughts are always presented alongside a picture of a cute affectionate same sex couple. 

It is so much easier to go with the flow and think “Well yeah, everyone DOES deserve love.. so what if they love in a different way than I do? They’re so cute. I can’t imagine the God of love would have a problem with this.’ Who could fight with it when you put it like that? So Catholics either ignore the inconvenient teachings of the Church, or try not to think about them, or choose to hope the Church will eventually ‘get with the times’. 

What DOES the Church say about this? Here's part of the Catechism's section on chastity:

2357 Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. 

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. 

And here are some of my thoughts about the ‘love is love’ statement: 

Love is love, whether it’s between two men, or between two women. 

What about between three people - two women and a man? Sounds a little weird? Well, polyamory has already become socially acceptable in many circles. What about between an adult and a child? Or between siblings? If you call it ‘love’ and take cute pics, does it somehow become acceptable? We need to be wary of the ways we are being emotionally manipulated to accept lies as truth.

People used to be against interracial marriage or inter caste marriage or inter-religious marriage. This is the same thing. 

No it’s not. The colour of our skin and our beliefs or family backgrounds are very different from our basic biological make up. Our bodies are not just our shells, but who we are. We are embodied spirits, not just souls knocking about in an outer casing. 

We don’t choose who we love. 

We don’t choose who we are attracted to, but attraction is not the same as love. The same rationale is used to allow people to cheat on their spouses. Love is willing the good of the other, doing what is best for them. If you truly love someone, you help them follow God’s plan for their lives and find a deeper peace and a clear conscience, even if it includes self-denial and sacrifice. 

Everyone deserves to be in a loving relationship/to find love. 

This is true! But marriage is not the only loving relationship we should have. We have made an idol of marriage or romantic relationships, acting as if that is the only path to fulfillment and love. No wonder single people feel such pressure not to land up ‘alone, with cats’. Not all are called to marriage for different reasons. It’s our job to encourage and build up holy relationships and communities so all can find a home, a community where they feel accepted and loved.

There is obviously a LOT more to discuss and think about and say on this topic. But most importantly, let's remember - As Catholics, we have to accept the uncomfortable position of not fully belonging to any camps, but following faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus who is love AND truth**. We are called to speak for truth, whether those particular truths are popular or unpopular. We are called to act with love whether it feels comfortable or uncomfortable. 

*There's a really nice podcast that addresses a lot of these issues sensitively. It's called Restore the Glory.

**I have been blessed to follow some Catholics who get this on Catholic Twitter. It's very freeing to know you don't have to accept the bad beliefs of either side, and that you can and should call out the problems you see on 'your own side'.

Related Links 

The Very Touchy Topic of the Christian Perspective on Homosexuality

A conversation with my gay friend by Jennifer Fulwiler

And this video:


The Third Way from Blackstone Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

#INSPIRE2020: Moments with Mary

I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'Mama Mary'. If you are an Indian Catholic, and would like to participate, sign up here:  

Although I grew up very Catholic, I didn’t always relate well to Mother Mary. I must have played her in several Nativity plays in Sunday School, prayed many Hail Marys over the years, could explain and describe all the mysteries of the Rosary and had a picture of her up next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our home. I even wrote an essay biblically defending her role as Mother of all Christians in my Catechism class in the ninth standard (which I remember with much pride because I got full marks). 

And yet... she remained a distant figure. As my faith and intimacy with Jesus grew as a teenager, I began to feel irritated by the way many Catholics seemed to relate to her. It was as if SHE was the approachable, gracious Queen, and Jesus was the distant unapproachable King. I knew Catholics who were far more likely to turn to her, than to Jesus. And then of course, I saw many treat her like a goddess, almost indistinguishable from the way Hindus treat their idols - a giant statue at home at which flowers and garlands and incense were placed, no sign of Jesus anywhere, many Rosaries piously mumbled (at top speed, with no reflection on the mysteries), and a focus on miracles granted by Mother Mary, with little or no reference to Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit.

The statues of Mary didn’t help. She always seemed so perfect, so emotionless, or maybe a little sad. She didn’t seem very human. 

I remember wrestling with her place and role in my life. Obviously I knew that Jesus WAS approachable, tender, easy to turn to, and that He desired a close intimate relationship with me. Then what was all the hullabaloo about His Mother? Could I just be inspired by her yes without necessarily being in a relationship with her? What was the will of Jesus in all this? 

There were a few things that convinced me that I DID need her too. 

- I had a relationship with Jesus for many years, and still often struggled with sin, darkness, lukewarmness, etc. I began to realize that while my relationship with Christ was foundational, He loved me enough to give me additional ways or tools to bind myself more closely to Him, and aid me in my Christian life. His own Mother was a gift from Him, not to take His place, but to draw me closer to Him. I began to see her as a belt that would bind me more closely to Christ. 

- This view was strengthened when I read a book about Saint John Paul II, who obviously had a close and personal relationship with Jesus... and a strong love and devotion to Mary. Because of his witness, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary a few years ago (using the reflections from the book 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Michael E. Gaitley). 

- Some years ago I had a few experiences which I felt were spiritually oppressive. It only happened a few times, usually just before I was about to make some major life change. It would start with a (normal) nightmare and then turn into a strong sense of oppressive evil that I couldn’t escape from, a sense of abandonment, being cut off from God. In those moments, I called out to Jesus... and to Mary, and I felt a strong sense of her presence and protection. Catholics have often held that Mary has been given a special role in spiritual warfare. 

- In the past two months, I have felt a special connection to Mary as a mother. On the nights when Baby is crying in pain, I’m exhausted and near tears myself, I call out to her and to her cousin Elizabeth (after whom our baby is named). ‘You know what it’s like to care for a baby! Your babies probably struggled with gas pain and reflux. Babies through the ages have had the same struggles. PLEASE come and babysit for me so I can get some rest!’ And I believe they do come, and help me. Jesus loves me enough that He gave me not only Himself, but a whole bunch of heavenly (and earthly) friends and intercessors to accompany me and aid me in my struggles. 

I still feel that there are many Catholics who do not have a Christ-centred devotion to or understanding of Mary. But I also believe that we are missing out if we refuse the gift Jesus gave us - a relationship with His Mother, who is known as the Star of Evangelization, because her mission is to draw us closer to Christ. 

Related Articles

If My Friends and I Were Mary and Elizabeth at the Visitation… 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

#INSPIRE2020: The Time I Searched for Jesus in Delhi

I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'The Eucharist'. If you are an Indian Catholic, and would like to participate, sign up here:  

Like most Catholics, I grew up with Sunday Mass being a regular, unquestioned part of life. I didn’t like or dislike it, it just WAS. I do remember feeling like it was VERY long, one hour can seem like an eternity to a child. I don’t think I thought much about God during Mass. It was more fun to look at people’s shoes and clothes as they walked up to receive Communion. 

When I was about sixteen, I saw some visiting foreign missionaries genuflect with great reverence as they entered the church. ‘There must be more to the Eucharist than I thought’ was my subconscious thought. I began to make an effort to focus more on Jesus at Mass. I would shut my eyes tight after receiving Communion (those shoes and outfits remained a temptation) and remain kneeling to talk to Jesus even though everyone else was sitting and staring at the choir as if they were at a concert. 

As my own faith grew stronger, and I invited the Holy Spirit to draw me closer to Jesus, my experience of Mass began to change too. I actually began to hear the readings, instead of zoning out as I used to do. At every Mass, I would hear something God was saying specifically to me. But to a large extent I still took the Eucharist and its availability for granted till a little incident in Delhi when I was 24 years old. 

I was visiting my Protestant aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks, and I wanted to make sure I found a Catholic Mass on Sunday. I looked up Catholic Churches and masses online, and it turned out all the masses that Sunday were cancelled except for one big Mass outside the city because it was Christ the King Sunday. No problem, I thought, I’ll just find a Saturday evening Mass. 

I was used to my home city where we have several Catholic Churches within a few kilometres of each other, and plenty of options for Sunday mass timings. But it turned out that the north of India did not have such a high concentration of Catholic Churches. 

Finally I located one on the map which didn’t seem too far, and together with one of my (Catholic) cousins who was working in Delhi then, we ventured out in search of Saturday evening Mass. 

To my dismay, it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. There was no church when we arrived at the location. We asked some locals, and no one seemed to have heard of it or any other Catholic Church. Finally someone responded positively- “Ah yes, the church!” and gave us some directions... which we followed into a residential area, and found ourselves at a small Protestant church. 

Meanwhile I was getting more and more distressed. I resigned myself to arriving late to Mass, but by this time I was obviously not going to make it at all. I was in a strange, unfamiliar city, and the more we searched, the more desperate I began to feel for Jesus in the Eucharist. “I just want to meet you, Lord! Please! I miss you!” 

I called up my mum, close to tears. She reassured me, reminding me about spiritual communion, the ability to receive Jesus almost as intimately, when it was not possible to receive Him sacramentally. That was a consolation, but I still longed for the Eucharist. 

The Lord answered my prayer- my mum managed to contact a religious sister she knew who was posted in Delhi, and she told us about a Mass that was being celebrated for Catholics in the different foreign consulates. We ventured into the very beautiful consular area of Delhi that Sunday morning and to my great joy, participated in the Mass in a school hall along with a bunch of foreigners. It was the Feast of Christ, the Universal King. 

That day I experienced ‘my soul thirsting for God, as a deer pants for water’. Over the years, especially as I left home and spent time in the US and the Philippines as a full-timer, I found joy, consolation and familiarity in many Adoration chapels and Masses in various churches and languages. Since March 2020, public Masses in India have been suspended. I have the familiarity of my own home and husband, and what with going through the discomforts of pregnancy and now the demands of caring for a small baby, I’m grateful not to have any social obligations including long Masses to attend. So it hasn’t been as intense an ache or longing. It’s like I’ve become satisfied with a long-distance relationship instead of meeting my Beloved in person. 

I got the chance just once two months ago to receive the Eucharist (we made a special request to a priest we knew because I was going to be giving birth soon). There was no big dramatic experience as I received Him, but I was just so happy and grateful. 

I am looking forward to meeting Jesus once again in His Eucharistic presence. I hope I will not let that love and longing fade away or be forgotten. Maybe this deprivation will give me and others a greater appreciation for this gift. I hope so anyway. 

Reawaken my desire for You, O Lord. Increase my love and longing. You are the only One who can truly satisfy my soul. Please make a way for Your people to meet you in Your Eucharistic presence soon.

Friday, 28 August 2020

How I Have Experienced the Love of God

I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is 'Experiencing the Love of God'. If you are an Indian Catholic, and would like to participate, sign up here:  

I’m not the most touchy-feely, emotional kind of person, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog. I’m more likely to analyse feelings of love than to just feel them. I wouldn’t say ‘I love you’ to my now-husband until I did some more research and reading and thinking about what it really meant to ‘love’ someone. Part of this was personality, and part of it was growing up in a family that didn’t easily express verbal or physical affection. Verbal sparring and witty comebacks were more common than saying ‘I love you’ or hugging. 

In many ways, this analytical approach to life has made it a little more difficult to experience God. God is love, at the core of the Christian faith is a relationship, not just a set of beliefs. But for some of us, moving from the head to the heart is a challenge. 

I grew up in the charismatic renewal which often seems to prize and prioritize experiences, so I often felt disappointed and cheated when everybody else was having experiences except for me. ‘What about me, God?’ I would cry out as yet another friend would share some amazing experience of feeling loved.  
But little by little I let go of the desperate need for that experience. I had enough reasons to believe. I had read a lot of apologetics, I had come across enough rational believers, I had seen many answered prayers, and read about many changed lives. CS Lewis says ‘Faith is the art of holding on to what your reason has accepted in spite of your changing moods.’ So that’s how I approached my faith. 

As I let go, as I surrendered myself more honestly and sincerely, letting go of long-held sins, as I prioritized prayer, sacraments and obedience to His promptings, something began to change. There was healing and growth in my family relationships, and a door opened in my heart to God too. I let myself be found.

‘Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.’ 

I began to experience the tender love of the Father, who was not impatient with my mistakes and sins, not demanding instant perfection, and who was willing to help me get up again and again and again. Reading the book ‘Searching for and Maintaining Peace’ by Father Jacques Philippe was one of the healing tools God sent into my life. I once went on a two day personal silent retreat without any specific plan of what I would do there. I landed up just reading and meditating on that book, and it was immensely healing. God showed me that He wanted to heal my heart of its lack of hope. 

‘A God who delights in me with singing’ 

I began to learn how to receive His love and delight in me, His unconditional love, not dependent on what I could do for him, or what I had accomplished. He first sent my little nieces into my life to teach me that lesson, and then my husband, and now my own little daughter. Sometimes my husband asks me, “Why do you love me?” And I always answer, “Because you are mine.” And as I learn to receive and give this kind of love on a human level, God shows me that THIS is how He loves me too - just because I am His. 

‘A God who hears and answers’ 

 When I was five years old, my dad was supposed to pick me up from kindergarten. But when I came out of the classroom, there were a lot of people and no sight of my father. I burst into tears. But I remembered my mum telling me that if I was ever scared, to close my eyes and talk to Jesus. So I did. I closed my eyes and said, “Dear Jesus, please send my Dada.” And I opened my eyes, and there he was. Obviously this made a big enough impression on me that I remembered it years later. But I knew something very profound then- that our dear Lord loves to be approached with confidence and trust, and that He can and will show is His love and presence in very practical ways if we are willing to ask Him to. I’ve seen this to be true again and again through my life. He’s not a vending machine or an ATM, nor are we guaranteed that all suffering will go away (He never promised that anyway, quite the contrary). But He has shown me His love through His provision innumerable times, usually only when I’ve asked. 

How do I continue to tap into His love? It’s easy to let my heart grow cold, to doubt, to forget, to become cynical. But His love remains accessible. Like my relationship with my own husband, I have to allow him to hold me and love me, instead of getting wrapped up in my own world. 

So some of the channels of God’s love for me, ways and places and times that I experience His love are- 

Listening to or worshipping with Bethel music 
Sitting in an Adoration chapel (haven’t been able to do this in a long time) 
Reading certain passages from the bible, and certain spiritual books like He and I by Gabrielle Bossis or anything by Fr. Jacques Philippe. 
Writing down and rereading past encounters in my prayer journal or blog (I have such a short memory)
Going on good retreats (not all retreats are equal) 
Asking Him for big and little miracles for myself and others- then giving Him credit and acknowledging His loving providence when He grants them 
Asking others to share their own testimonies and encounters with God- it’s always so edifying 
Daily personal prayer, honest conversations and crying out to Him in the midst of rough days 
Spending time and building relationships with people who reflect His love to me, whose faces reveal Jesus 

God’s love isn’t meant to be just a theory, a belief, a theme for hymns or inspirational posters. It is something He desires even the most cold-hearted or cynical of us to experience. It may not happen immediately. But if you really desire it, and ask Him, and make yourself available to Him, as you allow Him to heal you... He will reveal it to you, as He did to me.

Related Posts

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Ten Typical Temptations in the Battle of Prayer

I am participating in the six-month #INSPIRE2020 challenge, in which Indian Catholic content creators write about a particular topic every month. This month's topic is The Battle of Prayer, a section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you are an Indian Catholic, and would like to participate, sign up here:  

Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. CCC 2725

You'd have thought after about twenty years of attempting to follow Jesus and prioritize prayer, I would have this down. I should have been a prayer expert by now- effortlessly awaking at dawn to spend a few hours in joyful communion with my Creator. Right? Wrong. I still struggle! Some seasons of life are easier than others, but more often than not, I am still tempted to compromise on my prayer time.

What are the typical lies and temptations I face?

1. If it was meant to be, it would be easier: This is just a general lazy principle of life, a lie I subconsciously tell myself, allowing me to take the easier path, to do what I feel like rather than what I know I should do, choosing instant gratification over long-term fruit. It's so much easier to just go with the flow and ride with the tide, but usually the flow doesn't take me into consistent personal prayer.

2. I'm not in the right state of mind: I tell myself that I can't present myself to God just yet, because I'm distracted, tired, not really in a 'spiritual frame of mind', and that when I'm in the right mood, of course, I'll come to prayer. What an easy way to forget that God wants me AS I AM, and not as I think I should be. He embraced the prodigal son while he was still dirty, dusty, smelly, sinful... and then HE cleaned him up.

3. I have many more productive things I should be doing: Somehow prayer doesn't give me the adrenaline shot of feeling like I've ACCOMPLISHED THINGS. So I'll wander around the house doing laundry, putting away dishes, writing schedules on my whiteboard, and I'll feel really good about myself... but I haven't prayed. It's the lie that achieving things makes me valuable, and valued, that my life has meaning because of what I achieve. Because it's so much harder to accept the truth that I don't have to be useful to be loved.
Others overly prize production and profit; thus prayer, being unproductive, is useless. CCC 2727

4. I am just not good at prayer: There are probably some people out there who pray easily, who have focussed, calm, holy minds. Unlike me - my mind is constantly jumping from one thing to another, I am distracted, pulled in so many different directions, more likely to start thinking of a blog about prayer instead of actually praying. Minds like mine aren't contemplative... so why even try?
Some people view prayer as a simple psychological activity, others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void. CCC 2726

5. It's really my own fault that I can't pray, the guilt and shame and embarrassment keep me from trying: I know I'm making excuses. I know I have allowed habits of laziness and indiscipline to grow and take control of my life. I know I COULD try harder. Why am I like this? If I was God, I would be so done with all these stupid excuses. I make God like me, impatient, unforgiving, demanding, instead of recognizing that He is ready to receive me EVEN when it's my own fault that it's so late, so second best. A contrite spirit He will not spurn.
Another temptation, to which presumption opens the gate, is acedia. The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." The greater the height, the harder the fall...The humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy.

6. I just don't love God enough: If I really loved Him, wouldn't prayer always be a sweet and easy experience? Wouldn't I desire His presence above all things? Why then do I return to social media, to the accomplishment of tasks, to my phone games, to anything except Him? Obviously my love is weak, or at best, fluctuating. But I forget - love comes down to the will, the choice. And the desire to love Him is of value to Him.
When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love?

7. It's too late now: I should have developed holier habits decades ago. I should have picked up my cross daily years ago. But now I am so far behind. I should have started praying earlier this morning. I should have never wasted those two hours. It's already night, it's too late to pray now. But the truth is - it's never too late. I have the choice to BEGIN AGAIN right now, the moment the thought comes to my mind. Even if it's ten minutes instead of an hour, Jesus would rather have ten minutes of my attention than a continued cold shoulder.

8. I'm never going to get better at this: I am going to get old and gray and still be struggling to have fruitful times of prayer. I am always going to have a head full of distracted thoughts, I am never going to learn to pray before looking at my phone, I am always going to be behind in this area. 
This is the lie of despair and hopelessness. In Jesus, there is ALWAYS hope. Things change. People change. I can change. There ARE some sins of the past I don't struggle with now. Why not this? Can I visualize a more rooted, prayerful me? It is possible.

9. Prayer feels like an obligation, a necessary but annoying task: This perspective leaves out the truth that prayer is about relationship, and that it is a PERSON waiting to meet me and love me, not a taskmaster, with crossed arms and a tapping foot demanding why I haven't prayed YET. That perspective can change everything. No wonder Satan tries to distort our idea of God. 

10. Prayer has to happen all inside my head: I so often forget the helpfulness of singing aloud, or speaking aloud, of praising God aloud, of reading His word aloud. It seems as if it's just me and my distracted thoughts having a conversation when I'm 'in prayer'. Using my voice, my body, writing in a journal, and reading the Word helps me escape the prison of my own thoughts. 

'Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father's plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us.' CCC 2745

It shouldn't surprise us that the Liar and Accuser works extra hard when it comes to separating us from prayer. This is a battle, but the first step in winning it is recognizing it AS a battle, and identifying attacks and lies and traps. Next, we need to figure out how to defend ourselves with weapons of truth.

Coming Up: Ten Simple Truths to Hold on to in the Battle of Prayer

Related Links: 

Basics of Personal Prayer (Youtube video interview with my mum)

Hearing from God in Prayer (Youtube video interview with my mum)

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Pregnant Thoughts - Part Two

Some years ago a friend serving in the Philippines was telling another friend and me how she had helped a poor mother give birth to twins in her bamboo shack in a squatters’ hilly settlement. “We delivered the twins, but we had to take them to the hospital, so we just wrapped them up, didn’t even cut the cord, and climbed the narrow hilly paths, babies in arms, to get to the main road.”

My friend and I gaped in astonishment. How did that even work? Where was the mother? We visualized the babies and mother attached by the cord wandering up and down the hills. That was the moment when we both found out we had the misconception that the umbilical cord of the baby was attached directly to the mother’s uterus, instead of the placenta, and neither of us had any idea that the placenta or ‘afterbirth’ got detached from the uterus and was delivered after the babies were.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit my ignorance, and yet I realize that I probably have a lot more basic knowledge about childbirth JUST from all the books I’ve read through the years, and there are probably many women who have far less idea of the details of pregnancy and childbirth, and how it all works. I guess most just get a hodgepodge of guidance and information from the older women of their families, fact and experience mixed with superstition and tradition (for example, I was told not to cross my legs during pregnancy).

I’m grateful for apps like Ovia pregnancy which gave me week by week updates on the baby’s development, and my own expected physical and hormonal changes. I also was lent a book called ‘Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth’ which among other things gives a detailed description of what exactly happens during childbirth. One of the things the author talks about is how a woman’s body is made to nurture life, even without our conscious participation, which was a relief to hear because I kept thinking I didn't know what the heck I was doing, and feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared.

I remember thinking during the first trimester how uncomfortable and weird I felt, not like myself at all, and how even though I had grown up with the understanding and celebration of the fact that marriage, sex, pregnancy and babies all naturally were supposed to go together, that I could understand why so many women think of pregnancy as some kind of cruel trick of nature, an unpleasant aspect of being a woman, and spend most of their lives trying to avoid pregnancy.

The other extreme were women who told me, “This (pregnancy) is the best time of your life! Enjoy it!” Really? Constant acidity and indigestion, exhaustion, depression, inability to get anything done, needing to pee all the time, my body changing and becoming unfamiliar, and a host of other uncomfortable symptoms- this was supposed to be the best time of my life?

I think we need to prepare young women (and men) from an early age to think of pregnancy and childbirth as a normal part of life, not something weird or icky or horrible or to be avoided at all costs. In fact, a beautiful (if painful) gift, a kind of fruitful suffering that we can embrace instead of resent. But such a perspective works when we fit it into a larger worldview that doesn’t see comfort and avoidance of suffering as the ultimate good. It also comes from being educated about our own bodies and fertility, and seeing our bodies as GOOD.

On the whole, I’ve experienced Indian culture to be very supportive of pregnant women- people keep offering to bring me food (unfortunately COVID lockdowns has prevented them from being able to do so), most people seem very excited to hear that I’m having a baby, traffic stops for me on the street, and my husband gets asked more about me than about himself by people I don’t even know.

I wonder though whether that support and approval is because it’s a first baby, and whether disapproval would take its place if it was my fourth or fifth baby. But mums probably need even more help and care with multiple kids. The number doesn’t decrease the value and importance of each child. I often think in awe of my mum who had five, my aunt who had seven, and the many years they spent pregnant. In the midst of first trimester horribleness, I could easily imagine saying “Ugh, never again.” And much more so during the actual delivery. And yet they said yes again and again, and my siblings and cousins and I are grateful for the gift of our lives.

Different families have different situations - many would have had more kids if they could, there are probably many who couldn’t afford to have more than two. But there are also probably many who never thought that maybe God had another precious gift to entrust to them, if only they were willing to receive it. I am so impressed by someone I know here in my new city who had three kids aged 15 to 23, and then unexpectedly conceived another child. She and her husband and family welcomed the baby with joy. Life with God is a wonderful adventure, with twists and turns, and surprises around every corner... if only we will trust Him and let go of our plans and control.

Anyway, that’s a lot of deep thoughts that comes with third trimester insomnia (wrote this at 4 am last night). Here are some more practical tips and thoughts-

Pregnancy pillow - hadn’t ever heard of it, until my sister-in-law lent it to me, but it has been a game-changer after many uncomfortable nights as my tummy got bigger and I just couldn’t get comfortable. The more pillows, the better! Invest in or borrow a pregnancy pillow! They’re so comfortable, even my husband wants one now 😄

When you're up with pregnancy insomnia at 3 am, look up 'pregnancy memes', nothing like stifling giggles so your husband doesn't wake up as you realize you're not the only one.

Pregnancy brain and clumsiness is a thing, so cut yourself some slack. I started bumping into things and breaking things for the first time since childhood (when, fun fact, I used to be known as Calamity Jane because I couldn't put my hand in a glass cabinet without breaking something). I dropped a glass of juice, it shattered, and I burst into tears, so my husband told me to stand back as he cleared it up and comforted me. Now he tells me to be careful every time he sees me holding a knife. And the next time he found a broken glass, he asked me, "Did you cry?" :-D

Don’t drink alcohol even if you MAY get pregnant. No one told me this, but apparently even a little bit of alcohol at conception or early pregnancy could hurt the baby’s development, and I had a nice glass of Bailey’s a few days before I realized I was pregnant, and beat myself up about it for a while. The baby seems fine though, but I wish I had known that before. And if you smoke, you’ll need to quit months before you conceive.

An app I highly recommend for all women, married or single, is FEMM, which basically helps you keep track of your menstrual cycle, and know when you’re fertile. My sister convinced me to start using it long before I was married or even dating, and I’m glad she did! I’m surprised at how many women don’t know how their body works. I read somewhere about a woman who would not have sex with her husband on her fertile days, because she thought the mucus was a sign of an infection... and then she wondered why they weren’t getting pregnant! The app is also very helpful in practising Natural Family Planning, if you need to delay a pregnancy by avoiding sex on fertile days.

Get tested for infections before you get married. Even if you’ve never been sexually active, there are other infections that you can easily pick up without realizing it that can harm your unborn baby. I had never heard of any of these until I was already pregnant, and was sent to do various tests. If you do have an active infection, avoid pregnancy until it clears up.

Even if your baby IS at risk for physical or mental disabilities does NOT mean you need to abort! Apparently many doctors present this as an obvious choice or recommendation, as if you are shopping for a product and have to discard potentially ‘defective’ products. That baby already exists, already belongs to you, is a part of you, and God will give you the grace to love and care for your baby, even with special needs. It’s probably a good idea to talk about those possibilities with your spouse... even before you get married.

We have often referred to the pregnancy as 'our pregnancy'or 'when WE got pregnant'. That's because we see it as a joint effort. Talk to your husbands about how you need them to support you during this time, because their involvement, empathy and support can make a huge difference to a peaceful pregnancy.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1: 5

Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. Isaiah 49: 1

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Pregnant Thoughts - Part 1

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