Category: spiritual life


I once heard an astute (if snarky) remark to the effect that “conservatives believe the heart of the Constitution resides in the Second Amendment, while liberals believe that the heart of the Constitution resides in Roe v. Wade“; I am reminded of this by the laughably out-of-all-proportion remarks like:

“The best intentions of those recent popes who have presumed to dispose of these precious gifts [papal tiara and other honorific articles] do nothing to mitigate the nature of their offense. While one may wish to see a Church that is arguably more accessible to the common man, no one, not even a pope, has the right to render the Church impoverished.”

and

“The anguish that this breathtaking episode [of the Pope blessing journalists without invoking the Trinity or making the Sign of the Cross] engenders in the faithful Catholic defies description, and yet, I have discovered that many among us have grown so numb to such unthinkable acts of disregard for Our Blessed Lord that the mere retelling of this event is often treated as little more than an invitation to shoot the messenger.”

I can take fancy papal vestments or simple episcopal vestments, I can take the Sign of the Cross or a simple “God bless you,” but what I cannot take is Catholics caterwauling like Chicken Little over a holy shepherd whose tastes and prudential judgment simply differ from their own (“Horrors!” to quote the disgusting and unapologetic anti-papal Rorate Caeli site, which I will not link to), but whose theology and charity seem rock-solid and worthy of emulation.

It amazes me that any of us, struggling even to cultivate our little square foot of the vineyard, has the audacity to crack-open a papal history text, sit behind the computer, and easy-peasy tell the Pope how he should oversee the vast vineyard — and that all it takes is a puff of incense here and a verse of Latin there to right the wrongs! There’s a place for all these deeply-meaningful “little t” traditions, but it is demonstrably silly and highly inappropriate to spew forth everywhere about how awful Pope Francis is because he — with one week of experience! — doesn’t wear this and doesn’t chant that like his predecessors did; our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict did all these things and so much more, yet there is more work to be done. Let’s watch what Pope Francis’ husbandry will do for God’s Vineyard and not presume to virtually plop the papal tiara on our own heads or, as one blogger recently put-it, : “don’t you dare ‘give Pope Francis a chance’!”

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My requirements for my children’s First Confession and First Communion prep are above and beyond whatever the parish will require (first “victim”/guinea pig: AH, this coming Spring). I’m using as guideposts the many things that I wish that someone had taught me — or at least introduced me to — at that stage in my spiritual life, the many things that Catholics often get wrong as they mature, and — quite frankly — what Catholic children used to be taught before the mass confusion set-in. I’m finding it a satisfying exercise, but my husband took one look at my list before masking a grin, wrapping his arms around me, and telling me not to put too much pressure on myself. 🙂 No, I don’t expect to turn my smart, funny, sweet 7 1/2 year-old into a zealous 35-year-old Catholic woman by this summer — Heaven forbid! — but I do hope and pray that she will at least know the essentials, know what she doesn’t yet know, and know where to find it when she’s ready.

Here’s my first stab at it:

First Confession/First Communion Preparation

My child must recite and/or understand before his/her First Confession:

•    the definition of sin
•    mortal v. venial sin, especially as relates to the state of grace
•    why sin – even venial sin – is bad
•    The Ten Commandments
•    The Great Commandment
•    the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy
•    summary of the precepts of the Church
•    daily habits (examen, particular examen)
•    how to do an examination of conscience from memory
•    why and how to find good examinations of conscience
•    the importance of Confession
•    the rite of Confession (what to expect of the priest and what to say)
•    the penance, reparation and resolutions
•    handling forgotten sins and other problems
•    frequency of Confession
•    how to explain Confession

My child must recite and/or understand before his/her First Holy Communion:

•    Who we receive in Communion
•    why we receive Holy Communion and its benefits
•    the importance of being in a state of grace/when not to receive Our Lord
•    the source of the words of Consecration and of the Holy Mass
•    how to participate reverently at Holy Mass
•    preparation and thanksgiving for each Holy Communion (and examples of appropriate prayers)
•    how to receive the Body (and the Blood) reverently
•    what to do if the Host falls or if you observe something potentially sacrilegious
•    frequency of Holy Communion
•    Spiritual Communion
•    how to explain Holy Communion

My child must have general and at least some practical knowledge of:

•    the Trinity
•    the Bible, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Tradition
•    basic events in salvation history (the Fall, Israel’s sin and repentance cycle, prophecies of the Messiah, etc.) and the life of Jesus (especially the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary)
•    the types of prayer (ACTS)
•    devotions (the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration, meditation, lectio divina, etc.)
•    the name and importance of the seven sacraments
•    the saints and patronage
•    the basic structure of the Church
•    how to select good reading/reliable sources

“… To think my greatest enemies my best friends,
for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good
with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred. …”

If we really took to heart this prayer (given in its entirety below) — particularly this fragment of it — it could change our lives; it could help to keep us off of the endless (futile?) quest to drug — perhaps even to heal — the wounds life inevitably inflicts on us and brings to mind, and onto our real journey Home.

Of course, St. Thomas (the long-imprisoned-and-finally-martyred true friend of Henry VIII) was referring to the patriarch Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-45), not St. Joseph the foster-father of Jesus. What does he mean? Perhaps, he means that if we were always to live surrounded by comfort and the support of family and friends, earthly as we are, we would feel no need of seeking what truly matters — the Kingdom of God — or union with Him and its attendant guidance, consolation, etc. We would have little reason to long for our true Home in Heaven and every reason to want to stay here below as long as we can. We then might not reach Home at all at the end of our days! St. Thomas’ prayer is not a natural way of thinking at all; it is supernatural!

I also think that you can tell a lot about a person by his prayers. Here, we see that St. Thomas More was grounded in the ultimate reality — God — and that he was a humble, courageous man:

Give me Thy grace, good Lord
to set the world at nought;

To set my mind fast upon Thee,
and not to hang upon the blast of men’s mouths;

To be content to be solitary,
not to long for worldly company;

Little by little utterly to cast off the world,
and rid my mind of all the business thereof;

Not to long to hear of any worldly things,
but that the hearing of worldly phantasies may be to me unpleasant;

Gladly to be thinking of thee,
piteously to call for thy help;

To lean unto the comfort of thee,
busily to labor to love You;

To know my own vileness and wretchedness,
to be humble and meeken myself under the mighty hand of God;

To bewail my sins passed,
for the purging of them patiently to suffer adversity;

Gladly to bear my purgatory here,
to be joyful of tribulations;

To walk the narrow way that leads to life,
to bear the cross with Christ;

To have the last thing in remembrance,
to have ever before my eye my death that is ever at hand;

To make death no stranger to me,
to foresee and consider the everlasting fire of hell;

To pray for pardon before the Judge come,
to have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me;

For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks,
to buy the time again that I before have lost;

To abstain from vain conversations,
to eschew light foolish mirth and gladness;

Recreations not necessary to cut off,
of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss as nothing
for the winning of Christ;

To think my greatest enemies my best friends,
for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good
with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

Give me the grace so to spend my life,
that when the day of my death shall come,

though I may feel pain in my body,
I may feel comfort in soul;

and with faithful hope in thy mercy,
in due love towards thee
and charity towards the world,

I may, through thy grace,
part hence into thy glory.
Amen.

St. Thomas More, pray for us.

P.S. I originally came across this prayer in a gem of a prayerbook: Fr. Hardon’s Catholic Prayer Book. Hardon, of course, was a Jesuit. His book also includes some maxims of St. Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuits), one of which is:

If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.

P.P.S. I’ve been on quite a prayerbook kick lately. Here’s another excellent one, available for free online (as are several of Fr. Lasance’s books): With God.

As the self-declared religious, political, and moral enemies of the Faith and or Christians become more hateful and violent towards us (examples could be multiplied almost to infinity), leaving aside any pretense of respect or even tolerance, the question becomes less theoretical and historical, and more practically-pressing:

What should a Christian’s response to persecution look like?

Though by no means a conclusive essay, here are a few conclusions I’ve come to, based on some reflection on the Scriptures and the lives of the saints. I welcome you to share yours in the combox below.

1. We are indeed called to “turn the other cheek” and be willing to “lay down [our lives] for a friend,” but we are not to sell ourselves cheaply; we do not shove our cheeks against others’ hands, or wear a sign that says “Crucify me!” We should fight to preserve our lives, our families, and our rights as fully as possible, for as long as we can. After all, if we are silenced or dead, we are unable to press the vital spiritual battle in any earthly sense.

2. In fighting to preserve our lives, our families, and our rights, we need to be careful not to put ourselves in the way of justice. In other words, if we’re writing/speaking or acting in a way that draws others’ attention almost solely to ourselves and not to, say, the Faith, or the lives of the preborn, or the defense of the family, we are doing it wrong. One way that we make this mistake is by letting ourselves get overtaken by the very natural human emotion of anger that swells when we — or our children! — are unjustly attacked. The antidote to this is supernatural: mercy, particularly the Divine Mercy devotion.

Many times, Jesus slipped-away from those seeking to kill Him because it was not yet His “hour.” St. Maximilian Kolbe published against the Nazis and suffered in a concentration camp for it, but he only put himself forth for martyrdom when necessary to save the life of a father with small children. The early Christians hid in homes and catacombs for Mass — they didn’t set-up an altar in the town square — but when the persecutors came for them, they refused to sacrifice to idols, and they prayed and shared the Faith as they were being tortured and killed for it. None of these called-down the wrath of God to smite their enemies. Jesus famously prayed on the Cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Many saints have used these exact same words on their own crosses, whatever shape they took. Many times, the very men and women who were perpetrating or encouraging the persecution were themselves converted by this example, and persecuted themselves for following it!

3. Some specific strategies that we might follow include:

+ strengthening ourselves spiritually (praying frequently and frequenting the Sacraments, studying the Scriptures/saints/spiritual writings, continuously practicing the virtues — especially humility!, connecting with others who are trying to bone-up, too, etc.).

+ doing what we can practically and legally to protect our families and our legal rights (keeping our children from those trying to take their innocence for malicious ends, having as little as possible to do with government agencies/”mandatory reporters” [doctors, teachers, social workers, etc., who often act like overzealous busybodies] and “keeping our noses clean,” being ready and able to use legal processes when our rights are violated, etc.).

+ spreading, via social networks and conversation, news of injustices and inviting even those opposed to our message to consider what they are really supporting. Are there people who have rendered themselves beyond reaching by willful ignorance and hatred? Sure. But, most people are reachable somehow, sometime! Do this across as many lines as possible (religious, political, class, race, sin-proclivity, etc.).

+ forgiving our enemies, realizing that our battle is not truly against them, but against Satan and his army of fallen angels, and praying for the ongoing conversion of all people, including ourselves.

+ asking the intercession of our fellow Christians and of the Church Triumphant in Heaven, including our Guardian Angels and the Archangels.

+ taking what is intended for evil and turning it to good. For example, if a legislator’s idea of a rip-roarin’ good time/counter-punch to a pro-life bill is to read “The V***** Monologues” on the Capitol steps (see the “hateful” link above), adults can turn-out nearby to silently pray a Rosary, holding non-graphic signs about the dignity of all human life and the help that is available to women in need.

+ having a sense of humor, especially about ourselves. One of the most famous examples is St. Lawrence, who was burned to death on gridiron. At one point, he told his torturers to turn him over because he was cooked on that side!

+ voting — and voting only for those who are worthy of office, even if that means sitting some elections out. Don’t take your party’s word for it; do your own candidate and proposition research!

+ standing our ground, with grace, when the battle is finally brought to our front doors.

Diane at Te Deum laudamus has done a thorough job of researching and — in my opinion — debunking the “Marian apparitions” at Medjugorje.

I don’t see the need to add much commentary. I will simply say that I do not believe that a spirituality based largely on any apparition (and belief in these is left to the discretion of the individual Catholic) is healthy; it is far more sound to ground one’s prayer life and apostolate on the certain teachings of the Church and the examples of Her saints. And, in the particular case of Medjugorie, there is enough weighing against the legitimacy of the “apparitions” to make devotion to it especially unsound — rebellion against the local bishop, the unedifying lifestyle of the “seers,” faulty predictions, endless “visions,” etc. If one has a devotion to Our Lady — and I do — why not supplement it with study on Fatima, Lourdes, and other Church-approved apparitions, instead of stubbornly grasping this dubious one?!

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners!

Gut check

On my (inevitable) death bed, what will I treasure and enjoy the company of more:

a lucrative and prominent career, or a game/hobby, or my time online — or a fab body — or whatever I chose to put first in my daily life

OR the people (God, family, and friends) I loved first and foremost every day?

Not every good interest can be the top priority.

Beyond the non-stop health care “news” (much of which is conflicting and confusing), I’d like to link to a brief selection of the best of today’s least-talked-about — but important — reflections:

  • The Anchoress reminds us of the usefulness — and proper focus — of our prayers:

Got this from reader Alexandra, and thought it was such incredibly simple (but profound) advice, that I had to share it. It really humbled and instructed me:

. . .when the Bush-Gore recount battle was going on, I asked my parish priest, a very wise man who loves Christ, how to discern God’s will. I wasn’t asking so much for his opinion on the politics of the day but when I am in one of these political battles and a religious person, can I discern God’s will in the course of trying to decide whether I should write letters, call my Congressperson, or whatever?

His simple answer was “God’s will will always be for the salvation of the individual involved.”

So I try every day now to pray for the salvation of the president, all members of Congress, and the American people. I cast my cares upon the Lord.

We are in a deeper battle here, which you well know . . . I also think in the end this all has to do with the salvation of souls, including the souls of our president and these politicians who deign to rule over the rest of us. I think we who believe must hold fast to Christ, the True Center, and bring as many along with us as possible.

I fear that ominous signs indicate a likely terrible defeat for us today. The Politico reports some disturbing news:

THE ATMOSPHERE: The difference between today and November’s vote is stark. On the night before the House vote last fall, the Speaker’s office was a beehive of activity. Last night, the speaker was gone by 9 p.m. and most of her staff seemed to filter out within the hour. And the Capitol itself was surprisingly quiet. Even most reporters had gone home…

ABORTION: Anti-abortion Democrats met with White House officials last night on how to word an executive order by Obama that will satisfy their concerns. Leadership needs to peel off some of those lawmakers to get to 216.

The major pro-life organizations have all made it clear that an Executive Order can’t negate the bill, as pointed out by Kathryn Lopez. Anyone who supports this bill CANNOT be supported by pro-lifers in coming elections.

  • On a related note, even Thomas Jefferson said: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” (posted by a Facebook friend)

Finally, as I posted earlier on Facebook: Watching CSPAN/Fox/CNN today is like watching a wreck in very, very slow motion. So, I’m trying to turn it off and pray instead — far more useful, plus the kids seem to enjoy Little Bear reruns on Nick Jr. more than politics. Are these really MY kids?! 🙂

This weekend, my family is attending Sunday evening Mass. It looks like 5:30 Pacific time might be right about the time the final vote takes place. I know what my intention for Mass will be. Miracles still happen!

Happy St. Paddy’s Day and, most importantly, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

What I mean by this is that sometimes, amidst all the St. Patty’s Day partying (which is generally fine, of course), we forget that today is chiefly the memorial of a saint, Patrick.

So, perhaps before we start-in on the green beer and corned beef and cabbage, we can honor this saint by thanking him for his holy example and intercession, and by trying our best to imitate him, particularly his manifest forgiveness and love towards those who enslaved him. Here’s a much more detailed biography.

Briefly put, when he was young, Patrick was kidnapped from what is now England and taken as a slave to Ireland. He eventually escaped and, rather than seeking revenge or avoiding Ireland altogether, he chose to return and — with great difficulty — try to help the pagans there find their way into Christ’s Church.

Maybe today would be a good day for all of us to pray blessings on our enemies, to pray for the grace to forgive them, and if possible, show love to them in a practical way.

  • I urge everyone to pray for Democrat Representative Bart Stupak and his allies, that they hold firm in their promise not to vote for health care reform in its current bad form, for they may be all that is standing between us and a health bill that will ruin not only health care, but the economy in our nation — and take many innocent lives, too. And, how would you like to go to jail for choosing not to/being unable to purchase health insurance?! Sometimes, doing something is WORSE than doing nothing, and this is one of those times. Let’s hold-out for REAL reform of our nation’s health care! (March 4, 2010)
  • I am thrilled that one of my all-time favorite saints will be discussed in Phoenix Bishop Olmsted’s latest series of columns for The Catholic Sun. I have most of St. Francis de Sales‘ writings (Introduction to the Devout Life, and his homilies on Prayer, on Mary, on Advent, on Lent, etc.) and would recommend them to anyone: helpful and not too scholarly. (March 4, 2010)
  • I am more upset than I thought I would be at learning that searchers have found the body of Poway High student Chelsea King. At least her family will now be able to lay her body to rest with respect and, hopefully, there will be enough evidence to help the three (?!) families put this rapist/murderer away for the rest of his life. Why was this unrepentant convicted child rapist given a short sentence in the first place?! And, please Ladies (especially) think of your safety when in remote/dark areas — no run is worth your life!
    I’ll be at St. Michael’s in spirit tonight as her candlelight vigil turns into a memorial. (March 2, 2010)//Our society needs to stop thinking of these crimes as “just” child molestation or “just” rape, and realize that not only are these devestating crimes, but they are also gateway crimes to other violence and murder! Please join this group, and let’s not forget this issue when we go to the ballot box! (March 3, 2010)
  • I returned home a few minutes ago after seeing Rwandan genocide-survivor Immaculee (http://immaculee.com/) in Visalia, thanks to a last-minute invitation from a friend. Her insight and humor were amazing; she held our attention for almost two hours straight. What a gift she is! Now, I definitely have to read her books! 🙂 And become a fan (http://www.facebook.com/immaculee?ref=ts) …
  • This book arrived this weekend as part of my modest Lenten reading goal and, though I’m just starting into the guts of it, I’ve already found some meaningful insights. Hopefully I’ll get through the main part by Easter (the supplemental material is almost half the book, so I’ll have to tackle it later). (Feb. 23, 2010)
  • While I’m making essential blog reading recommendations (like the Archbold brothers at CMR in the previous status), even though I’m trying (and mostly failing) to limit my online time during Lent, I still make sure to at least glance at all blog posts by Liz Scalia (aka The Anchoress) — insightful Catholic spirituality and some social commentary (http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/), Jennifer Fulwiler (http://www.conversiondiary.com/) — amazingly perceptive and prolific Catholic mother of four little ones, Thomas Peters (aka American Papist) — news and comment on the Church and American politics (http://www.catholicvoteaction.org/americanpapist/index.php), and Mark Shea — edgier Catholic commentary (http://markshea.blogspot.com/). (Feb. 21, 2010)
  • My take is that basically, like many mentally ill people, the Austin bomber convinced himself for years that the whole world had formed a coalition against him: organized religion (particularly the Catholic Church), the government, insurance companies, businesses and unions, accountants and the IRS (of course!) etc. — and that these groups, not individuals (namely himself and perhaps his friends), were responsible for his personal failures (repeated financial wipe-outs, divorce, etc.). He also tacks-on quite a martyr (or perhaps patriot)-complex, looking for trouble and finding it, first playing some sort of game with tax laws that apply to churches, getting caught, and paying a high price. Then, he began agitating unsuccessfully against tax laws that he believed harmed his chosen profession of engineering. His manifesto ends with him offering himself as a holocaust, followed by a casual positive reference to communism. It seems to me that this man needed mental help for a long time and failed to get it, and that he could just have easily have flown his plane into any business highrise, government building, or even a church — if he had found a way to obtain and fly multiple planes at the same time. I thank God that he could not, and that he failed to kill his wife, daughter, and any more than the one poor victim in the building! May God have mercy on his soul and that of his victim, and may his wife and daughter find healing. (Feb. 19, 2010)
  • Another awesome idea for Lent is to use this link that I just found today to start to pray at least one of the seven daily offices of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). It is second in importance only to the Mass in our Catholic tradition. You will find both free mp3s and text without some of the complexities that usually overwhelm one at first. God bless you! (Feb. 16, 2010)
  • Lent (several weeks of spiritual preparation for Easter) begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. For those who may be looking for daily bite-sized meditations doubling as an intro to St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, I’ve heard good things about what the Jesuits linked here have prepared. May we all have a blessed Lent and emerge better than we were when we entered! (Feb. 16, 2010)

This Lent, one of my key resolutions is to avoid harboring resentments and (often related) complaining, particularly about some particular people in my life. As this has become an entrenched habit over several years, it’s not surprising that I’ve had very mixed results with this resolution. But, I keep trying, which is bound to please our Merciful God and yield more success than giving-up! 🙂

On a related note, I’ve been troubled for some time that another resident of my diocese regularly comments on several wildly-popular Catholic blogs, spreading complaints about our bishop and diocese wherever s/he goes, whether it’s relevant to the original post or not. Worse still, this commenter only uses a geographical handle that doesn’t identify gender, let alone first name, so there is no good way to address the person privately. Though I tend to agree — generally and quietly — with this person’s concerns about our diocese, his/her response of griping all over the Net not only violates the basic charity we owe to all and the respect we owe to our shepherds particularly, but unnecessarily shames our diocese before readers from all over the world.

And, griping campaigns — this person’s loud one and my quiet ones — are ultimately weak tools for addressing our concerns with others. Prayer is not only a stronger tool, but a more charitable one, with ample precedent in 2,000 years of Church history.

Today, I read two valuable reminders about how praying for those who bother us is better than griping about them, privately or publicly.

You don’t have to like him but love him. Pray for him. Or this whole thing falls apart.

This latter statement (“or this whole thing falls apart”) makes another good point. Really, gripe campaigns often fail to even touch the one at whom they are directed — and if they do, it is not in a positive, corrective way, but in a negative, destructive way. Instead, they rather do great harm, especially spiritually and emotionally, to those who engage in them. If one is spending his time going around to blogs and making the same bitter comments everywhere, then how much of his life outside of the Internet must be eaten by the bitterness?!

So, if there must be a campaign, let it be like Rosary for the Bishop! Or for whomever.

I picked-up several more excellent ideas for responding charitably to those who bother us during a recent spiritual talk:

  • Don’t judge the person rashly, as this then becomes a sin on your part.
  • Remember your own sinfulness and quirks.
  • Fight the urge to disassociate from the person and befriend him instead.
  • Have no enemies and write no one off.
  • Let go of anything that is unimportant or a matter of opinion — and not just in your words, but even in your thoughts, as fascades always fail eventually.
  • Ask “Does it offend God?” If the answer is “Yes,” then you are obligated, as a work of mercy, to correct the wrongdoing.
  • When you must correct, do it with prayer, privately, positively (as advice and not a reprimand), at the right time (not when the person is distracted or under pressure).
  • Be patient in waiting for results, as change often takes longer than we might expect.
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