Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Truth Shines Through

This Josh Wilson song is really speaking to me today.  He has experienced the battle of panic attacks, too.  Thanks, Josh, for putting to music the words my desperate heart has cried so many times.

Check out the story behind this song on Josh's website.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What About Mary? (Or, who are those Catholics worshipping, anyway?)

One of the biggest hurdles I had to "jump" when we were considering becoming Catholic was the issue of Mary.  I had always been told Catholics worshiped Mary.  I knew that wasn't right.  The Scriptures are very clear that only God is to be worshiped.  The night we studied Marian devotion in our RCIA class, I was so determined that this was wrong, wrong, wrong.  I sat back with my arms crossed (and probably a scowl on my face!).  However, as the night progressed, we were told that some things about Mary are "dogma" (simply put, things you must believe to be true to the faith), and some are not.  That set my mind at ease.

Over the past year or so, I have spent a lot of time reading about apparitions of Mary, visions, and saints who were devoted to her.  I have talked to many people, asked a lot of questions, studied a lot, and have prayed even more.

First, let me state clearly that the Catholic Church does NOT teach worship of Mary.  If you know anyone who does that or believes that, they are definitely wrong.  Mary is to be honored as the Mother of Jesus.  She is to be honored for her "fiat" (YES! to God) and her willingness to be used by God to bear His Son.  Her response of:  "be it done unto me according to Thy will" is the most clear example of being surrendered to God.

Second, we do believe she lived a sinless life, because she was "full of grace" and because God allowed His sinless Son to reside in her womb.  God would not allow His Son to receive His humanness from a sinful person.  But it was only by His grace that she was so.  It was only by looking forward to the redemption her Son would earn that she could remain so.

Okay, so what about this "praying to Mary" stuff?  Let's take a look at this.  The Catholic Church has clung to the old term "pray" as it was used back in the times of kings and lords.  When a person had a request, he would say, "I pray thee..." followed by his request.  It was asking the person a favor, not praying TO that person.  If you've read my previous post, you know we believe in the communion of the saints.  That is, when someone dies, they do not cease to exist.  Their soul lives on.  Those in heaven are in the presence of God, and can intercede for us just as our Christian friends on this earth can.

When we say we're "praying to Mary," it is simply our way of saying, "I am asking Mary to intercede for me."  The example of the wedding at Cana is so beautiful.  She saw there was a need, so she went to her Son.  She was interceding for the hosts of the wedding.

And what about this "Mother of God" stuff?  What?  How can God have a mother???  The Church started using this term several centuries ago.  In fact, Elizabeth used a derivative of this name in Luke 1:42-43.  And, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, they addressed this issue.  A man named Nestorius, who was an archbishop, was teaching that using this title was incorrect, because Jesus "was merely the temple of the Word, and if Mary is the Mother of God she has been made a goddess." The decision of the Council was to find Nestorius a heretic, and they reiterated that "Jesus Christ was NOT a mere man on whom the Word descended in some way or to whom the Word was united but distinct, rather He was the Divine eternal Person of the Word, who in time assumed a human nature of Mary, but  remained the Word, the One Christ, 2nd Person of the Trinity, uniting in Himself His Divine Nature and His Incarnate Human Nature."  It's not about her.  It's about Him.  To question this title for Mary is to question Christ's divinity. (For a more complete explanation, go to this link.)

So what about those visions people have?  What's up with that?!  Mary told the servants at the wedding to "do whatever He tells you."  This is the true test of anyone who says they've had a vision of her:  What is the message she gave them?  To whom does she point the visionary?  Because if that is truly Mary, she will be pointing them to her Son.  EVERY TIME.  Mary never wanted anyone to worship her.  She was never trying to draw any attention to herself.  Her desire was for everyone to know who Jesus was/is, and to worship Him alone.  If she appears to anyone at any time, that will be her message.  Most often, the messages have been this:  Repent. Pray.  Know that God loves you and wants you to draw closer to Him.

Okay, so here's the big one.  What about the rosary?  The prayers of the rosary are reflections on the life of Christ--His birth, death, resurrection, ascension, etc.  These prayers are to be a time of meditating on Christ and all He has done for us. We call these "mysteries" simply because it is the ultimate mystery that God became Man, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again...for us!  By taking time to roll these over in our mind, we are continually reminded of His great love and sacrifice.  Any references to Mary in the rosary are still pointing toward Christ.  There is no worship of Mary involved in any way.

There is a set of prayers known as the "Seven Sorrows of Mary".  I've recently become acquainted with these, and would like to share them with you.  They are:  the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the temple, Mary meets Jesus on the way to the cross, Jesus dies on the cross, Mary receives the dead body of her Son, and Jesus is laid in the tomb.  (For Scripture references, click on the link above.)  I cannot tell you what it does to my heart to reflect on these sorrows.  As a mother, I just can't fathom what it did to Mary to experience each of these events.  Raising the Son of God would be so intimidating!  And yet, through it all, she knew that this was God's will, and submitted herself to that will, knowing it must be, in order for us to have salvation.

And truly, would God have chosen anyone who would do otherwise?  Would He have entrusted His Son to someone who would want the glory for themselves?  Someone who would say, "Yes, He's the Son.  But I'm His mother!  A little recognition here!"  No, He chose a simple, humble maiden.  Someone who allowed God's will to be paramount.  Her own suffering as a mother had to be set aside, in deference to the eternal plan of salvation.  Wow.
To me, Mary is the best example of what a disciple of Christ should be.  Humble, and totally devoted to God's grand design for setting sinners free.   And the best example of what a mother should be:  giving her child to God, totally and without hesitation.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 22, 2013

In memory of Dr. King, and in prayer for an end to abortion, on this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why I Am Pro-Life

I recently read an article, written for a "progressive" (read "liberal") website.  The author was very antagonistic against the pro-life movement.  She referred to the upcoming March for Life as the "Fetuspalooza", and spoke of the attendees as “terrorists dressed up like sweet little grandmothers”.  In her eyes, all pro-life people are terrorists, just waiting to shoot an abortion clinic doctor in his church (Dr. Tiller), or bomb a clinic, or attack some defenseless young woman entering a clinic.

First, let me say, this woman has obviously never met a pro-life person.

Second, let me say, she has a right to her opinion, however misguided that may be.

Third, I have a right to my opinion.  My blog.  My say.  :o)

Growing up, I wouldn't say I was pro-life.  I wasn't pro-abortion, either.  Honestly, if someone had told me about abortion, I would have been appalled.  I knew NOTHING about it.  Roe v. Wade was a decision made while I was a young child.  Abortion was not a word in my vocabulary.

When I was in high school, our pastor's wife made me aware of an article regarding children who were the product of botched abortions (in LEGAL clinics), whose bodies were simply put into dumpsters.  Photographs accompanied the article.  I was sickened, and at first thought, "This cannot be happening.  This can't be true." 

Fast forward several years.  My husband and I had been married almost 6 years.  We wanted children so desperately, but had been unable to conceive.  Mother's Day was such a painful experience for me that year.  I was living in Michigan; my mother, in Kansas.  And no child of my own.  About a month later, my husband and I were at a training weekend (for ministers preparing for ordination).  One of the gentlemen sitting at our table was telling of his involvement in the pro-life movement.  He did a lot of "sidewalk counseling".  I was intrigued.

As he continued, he spoke of how many couples there were who would be willing to adopt these unplanned children.  He described the joy of convincing a young woman of the beauty of the life in her womb, and ways their ministry helped these young women through their pregnancies, deliveries, and the adoption process (or resources they had for those who chose to keep their babies).  I was amazed.

Yet, also added to the conversation was a comment by another gentleman.  "People who can't have babies need to stop complaining and get on their faces before God."  I know it was an off-the-cuff remark, made in total ignorance of our situation.  Yet it felt as if he had stabbed me in the chest.  I made a quick escape to the ladies' room, where I sobbed until I thought my heart would indeed literally break.  After I calmed down a bit, my husband and I took a walk.

The talk we had was not one of defeat, but of surrender.  Keith said we needed to release this to God.  We could accept our childlessness and live that way, or we could look into adopting.  That day, we surrendered our pain and sense of loss to God.

Less than two weeks later, we got the news:  I was pregnant with our first son.  The date was June 17, 1995--our 6th anniversary.  Three and a half years later, we got the amazing news that son number 2 was on the way.

These are three of my best reasons for being pro-life

Now, I know there are many couples who do not have this answer to their prayers.  They are wonderful, amazing, godly people who live with the pain of being infertile.  Some of these couples are able to adopt.  Some are not.  I wish I had the answer to this situation.  It makes me ache so much, as I remember the years of sorrow that were mine.

But what I do know is this:  Life is precious.  We must never, never take it for granted.  Many will want to debate with me that women who are raped or molested should have the right to abort their "fetuses".  Though the rate of conception caused in such situations is quite low, and the VAST majority of abortions are on young, college-aged women who are living promiscuous lives, the rape/molestation issue is a hard one to deal with.  I totally get that.  I have many friends who went through years of abuse.  But don't my disputants understand what abortion is?

Though Planned Parenthood calls this a "gentle procedure", I must completely disagree with that statement.  There is nothing gentle about suctioning the contents of a womb out, then going in and scraping the "remaining tissue".  For more accurate information, I submit this link.  The truth of the matter is this:  If a woman has been raped, the abortion procedure will only traumatize her more.  No woman I know will tell you that a cervical exam is pleasant, desirable, or in any way a procedure she looks forward to.  That exam is a walk in the park compared to abortion.  There is no comparison, really.

On top of that, there is the emotional issue.  When a woman becomes pregnant by any sexual act, whether consensual or forced, the same hormones begin working to sustain the new life within her.  Those hormones are there to help her body adjust as well.  This adjustment is supposed to last for 9 months, as the hormones surge and change with the growth of the baby.  If that process is abruptly ended by a miscarriage or abortion, the woman's hormones go crazy.  This causes emotional upheaval, depression, and even feelings of suicide in some women.  If the woman has already been through the horrible, indescribable emotions associated with rape, then the abortion is only multiplying her trauma.

I am very passionate about this issue, because of its importance.  Hubert Humphrey said, "It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. "  It is unclear where the original quote is from, but it stands true.

A better quote is from Jesus:  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (For the complete passage, see Matthew 25.)

I could go on and on, giving you links to YouTube videos of people who have had abortions, survived abortions, etc.  But the bottom line is this:  Life is precious.  Every life.  The life of the young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, the life of the young man whose girl friend is unexpectedly pregnant, and the life of the baby are all precious.  If we are truly pro-life, we will do our best to speak life to all we meet.  They need hope.

And as an aside, I do have insight into the abortion issue.  I have friends who have been through this.  I speak from their experience.

Friday, January 18, 2013

When the Bar Is Too High...

I love to read the stories of saints' lives.  They inspire me so much.  The situations and circumstances they faced often seemed insurmountable.  Yet they didn't let those things pull them away from Christ.  In fact, they allowed Christ to use their hard times to mold them more into His image.  Many of them died horrible deaths, but still held fast to their faith.  And often, others were converted by witnessing their martyrdom.  I am so amazed, and yet...

When I read of the holiness of those who lived in biblical times, or the incredible holiness of the martyrs and saints who have lived since then, I am scared!  I mean, who can live up to that standard?  The Bible tells us to be "holy as He [God] is holy" and they did that.  But me?  Are you kidding?  I find myself confessing the same sins over and over.  I continually say and do things I know are displeasing to God.  I pray prayers that seem to bounce back to me from the ceiling.  I allow the trials and tribulations of life to beat me down.  I know the woman in the mirror, and she is far from holy.

Recently, in realizing how scary it is to know I'm so far from His holiness and how scared I am to try to measure up to the saints, I also realized the truth of the matter:  holiness is a grace, and grace is nothing to be scared of.  Grace is a gift.  Gifts are not scary.  They're exciting!

If we read Romans 7, we see that even the great apostle, St. Paul, struggled with holiness.  "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good."  (vs. 15-16).  Yet who would ever say he was not a holy man?  He wrote most of the New Testament!

The reality is, we live in a sinful world.  God knows that.  He knows we fall to sin.  And yes, He does have a high standard.  But when we truly desire to live for Him, He gives the grace we need to be holy.  He doesn't ask the impossible of us, without making the way for it to be possible!

What wondrous love is this???

Friday, January 11, 2013

Birthday Reflections

As I reach another milestone, I like to reminisce.  I enjoy pondering the ghosts of "birthdays past".  I need to take stock of life.  Having a birthday this close to Jan. 1st can be tricky!

A lot has happened in the past year.  One of the most life-changing events was my husband's acceptance into the aspirancy program of the diaconate.

Things in our household have remained pretty much the same.  I mean, the kids still go to school.  I still teach piano lessons.  My husband still goes to work every day.  We're still very involved in our church.

Things in our household have changed a lot, though.  My husband and I spend 4 hours every week on the drive to/from the seminary, and an additional 2 1/2 or more hours in classes.  Of course, he has studying to do, papers to write, books to get the picture.

Nietzsche has been quoted as saying, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger."  I'm no Nietzsche fan, but it is true.  (Romans 5:3 says, "And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;  and perseverance, character; and character, hope."  So Nietzsche wasn't as original as he would have liked to think.)

This has been a year of tribulations for our family.  Each of us has faced many situations which have tested our faith.  It has been a time of battles, for sure.  Of course, the coward in me wants to say, "God, please, just take it away!"  And, of course, God wants me to pray for strength and perseverance

I have heard the story of two trees.  One was well-cared for and pampered.  Planted in a private garden, it seemed to be strong and healthy.  The other was planted on a high, lonely hill.  It received moisture when there was rain.  Other than that, it simply stood on the hill, bearing the brunt of the changing seasons. While shorter and more gnarled than the other tree, it still grew.

One day, a strong storm came.  The winds blew fiercely, and the flooding rains poured.  The garden tree bent and broke, then washed away.  It's strength was not enough to hold it fast.  The tree on the hill, however, stood firm.  It bent and swayed, but its roots held it to the hillside.  It had faced storms before, which had made it strong.

I pray that our storms have done this for us.  I know only time will tell.  We have a long road ahead of us.  If accepted into the full diaconate program, my husband will have four more years of seminary.  By the time he finishes, our youngest son will be a senior in high school!  If he is not accepted, we will have more time of praying for direction.

Only God knows the road ahead.  May the next year be one of growing, learning, and being ever-strengthened by Him.

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-13

Monday, January 07, 2013

St. Thomas a Kempis

One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said: “Oh if I but knew whether I should persevere to the end!” Instantly he heard within the divine answer: “If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then and you will be quite secure.” Immediately consoled and comforted, he resigned himself to the divine will and the anxious uncertainty ceased. His curiosity no longer sought to know what the future held for him, and he tried instead to find the perfect, the acceptable will of God in the beginning and end of every good work. 

“Trust thou in the Lord and do good,” says the Prophet; “dwell in the land and thou shalt feed on its riches."

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Epiphany...

You've probably heard the word "epiphany".  We use that word when we're referring to someone suddenly having great insight--that "light bulb" or "Aha!" moment when the light comes on, and they suddenly "get it". 

As Catholics, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.  This day is a day to celebrate when God revealed Himself, through Jesus, to the Magi.  Led by a bright star, they made their way from the East to Bethlehem, a very small, unknown town in Israel.  What did they find under that shining star?  A baby.  And yet, somehow, they knew this was no average baby.  This baby was "God-with-us".  They were having an "aha" moment.  They were becoming aware of who this little One truly was.

We celebrate today this "WOW!" moment and long for such moments ourselves, when God reveals Himself to us, and we respond by going where He leads.  Those moments when we come face-to-face with God.  Jesus revealed to all mankind.

Happy Feast of Epiphany!

If you would like to know more about Epiphany, this is a great article by our pastor, Fr. Joseph Labak.