Saturday, October 24, 2009

The rules and the reason

In my opinion, one of the questions that plagues our society the most today in regards to the Church is that of rules. What do they do? Why do we have them? As a former lapsed Catholic, I know this question very well - seeing the Church as putting forth a set of "guidelines" that I can't ever possibly follow, or somehow think I can subvert those rules by "holiness," etc. Yet, people do not stop to consider the implications of dangerous assumptions such as these, and instead make them without another thought. That's a big no-no. God's love is so all-encompassing that sometimes we find ourselves unable to even conceive of it. Yet, Mary's Immaculate Conception did just that - conceived, in quite a literal sense, the love of God.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have people in the Church who take pride in following all the rules and regulations to the letter, and condemning those who do not. They attend daily Mass every day, donate to charitable organizations, and are in a prayer group. Yet, they find it appalling that people don't make the same effort that they do. They are the Pharisees, the laborers in the vineyard who had been working since the beginning of the day and are given the same wage as those who come along later, the Prodigal Son's older BROTHER.

I have found myself somewhere in-between these two groups of people, both as the Catholic unable to conceive of Christ's love and mercy and the indignant Catholic acting as a Pharisee, condemning and judging others. Where is the in-between? Where is Jesus in all of this?

When we think to the rules of the Church, people often laugh incredulously when they are told that they are "freeing." "How can rules that are so 'restrictive' be so freeing?," one might ask. "How can I be expected to attend daily Mass when I have a family to feed and work to do? How can I not work on a Sunday if the only time I can get a job so that I can put food on the table for my family is on a Sunday? What about my situation, God? Why would you give me this cross if the Church already created a rule against what I am doing now?"

The answer is simple, and we can find it in Scripture: Christ came not to enforce the laws already in place but to establish a new law of love. This does NOT invalidate the rules of the Church, but rather increases their importance, and here's why.

We are fickle human beings. We say one thing, and do another. We are flakes. We cancel appointments, we always acquit ourselves of sins committed. By creating a set of rules and opportunities for grace, the Church provides us with the framework upon which to build our trust in God. We don't NEED to attend Daily Mass EVERY DAY, but it provides us with graces in the Eucharist that we would not be able to get anywhere else!

Is it possible to get to Heaven without being Catholic and having the graces of the Church? Yes. Is it likely? No.

The rules of the Church give us incentive to maintain a schedule so that we are free to LOVE GOD, and this is the ultimate aim of our lives: TO LOVE GOD and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. When we are obedient and follow the framework set out by the Church, we are free within that framework to LOVE GOD and ONE ANOTHER fully and wholly. We don't have to worry about designing our own "plan to achieve holiness," so to speak - the legwork has already been done! All we need to do is focus on loving Christ, the true work of our salvation. All the other setup and preparation has been taken care of.

One who sets off to find his own path to salvation is like a child who takes up a toy hammer and a crayon drawing he made of a house in order to build a dwelling-place. They could have the faith and spirit of good land, a good location to build, but they quite probably won't get anywhere. Maybe they'll build a cardboard box, or a lopsided, doghouse-sized wooden structure, or make a tent by throwing a sheet over a piece of rope strung up between trees. But it will never be a strong house. It will be good land used as a child's play area, and when the rain, snow, and wind come, that child will be left out in the cold with a faulty structure, the self-consolation of his "good intention" on his mind, and a wet crayon drawing in his hand.

As for those who follow all the rules without question, we often get so caught up in maintaining the framework that we forget the reason why we build the house. It is like a building manager who builds a house exactly according to the blueprints, but discovers that he has built his house in the middle of a desert, where it will soon be covered in sand. Nobody will ever inhabit that house because it cannot support life, and the manager himself will soon be faced with the temptation to despair in knowing that his life's work, this beautiful house made exactly to proportion, is worth nothing because it cannot stand, even when made correctly, according to perfect plans, because of the impossible climate.

So, what is the solution? To be the rock upon which the Church is built. To be the good land and use the perfect blueprints given to us by Christ to build His Church, His Dwelling-Place, a place for Him and His People. We have to acknowledge that sometimes, we do not have the nail we need, or the hammer, or we can't find our worktools. We move on, knowing that we will, with God's grace, find the tools tomorrow and continue working. We sometimes get scared that this building is so incomplete, that we'll NEVER finish it on time, and that when we die it will still be incomplete - God reassures us that He'll never leave our worksite, and we take heart and continue working. We sometimes think to ourself, I should cut this corner and make this part of the house out of a cheaper material. Think of Noah - that DOES NOT fly when rough weather comes and that part of the house is broken off, but God assures us that He'll help us rebuild that corner stronger than it was before.

We have an awesome, loving, and caring work manager on-site who promises to never leave us, even when we fail, even when we think we know better, even when our project is imperfect. He is the Master Builder who trusts us with the blueprints to build a house, and allows us to fail in making it, then comes in and fixes up all that we did wrong. What a God who loves us, that He allows us to make mistakes and build this house "on our own," like a child whose parent lets them get dressed "all by themselves." Then, when we finally have the humility to ask for help, God steps in and fixes everything. Sometimes, we say, "HEY! I wanted a BAY window there, not a BATHROOM!," and then we find out later how useful it is to have a bathroom in the house. Sometimes we think we didn't have to wait so long to let that faulty part of the house be blown away and then rebuilt, but we discover that had that part of the house not blown away in a storm, we would not have been able to build a larger addition in its place. Sometimes, we find we don't have hammers, and are so insistent on keeping with the exact letter of the blueprints and sticking to using the tools that we know that we stop building entirely, and God gently takes the paper out of our hands and whispers, "trust me, I know what I'm doing" to us. And, after a bit of whimpering, we pick up the electric screwdriver (side note: I'm scared to death of shooting myself with a nailgun or sawing off my finger with an electric saw, so this analogy especially applies to my fear of powertools) and God teaches us how to be safe with those tools. He guides our hands so that, although we don't know how to use the tools, somehow He teaches us how. And He keeps us unharmed and safe.

In the end, we have a house built according to blueprints that we have stumbled many times in making; that we have abandoned the blueprints sometimes and adhered too strictly to them other times. But every time, God smiles upon us, His little children, knowing that this house is something that we played a part in creating, something that God let us build out of His Goodness and Mercy. And we have confidence not in our own building abilities but in those of God, by whose Goodness the house stands at all. By whose Goodness the tools exist. By whose Goodness we are forgiven and loved, and made for eternal joy with Him forever in Heaven.

In Christ through Mary,
Christina :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

From another blog... AMAZING

This reflection on St. Francis is SO beautiful and REAL, I had to copy it and paste it here. It reminds us of the fragility, the brokenness, the humanness of the saints - in a way that the retelling of their lives has glazed over. The saints too often become to us these figures of unattainable perfection, yet their lives were lived in the same way that ours are - in darkness, in suffering, and in the joy of Christ.

Perhaps we should all endeavor to read the autobiographies of the saints (especially St. Therese, of course!), so that we see the real nitty-gritty behind the end result. The happy ending doesn't encompass all the agony of life, all of the work and effort that goes into the end result, and thus makes it seem easy, happy and effortless. Yet, while we are caught up in the midst of suffering, it is much more difficult to see how God will ever make anything of us. But let us trust that He will, because He has told us that He wills eternal life for each of us. :)


There you stand, O prophet of God
Placid in the sun-drenched garden
And never in the cold dank cave
Or bleeding amidst the thorns.

There you stand, poised and sanitized
Air-brushed with the birds
Who once opened their beaks to praise their Maker
And then stood silent to hear His Holy Word.

Why do you too stay silent
Exiled to sacred niche and abandoned
Upon some plaster pillar?
You who glowed naked ashen upon the barren earth
Now need vigil light and fresh white linen?

What is the weak reason everyone loves you?
And who are you, you little wounded man
That everyone crowns your weary wet head with gold?
Are you not a lion now made mascot or lapdog?

Your bitter life has been made palatable
And burlap garb soft to the touch.
Marketed for the masses
You stand sweet and surreal upon the tattered page.

How do you feel being everyone's plastic saint?
Pulled this way and that
Like puddy shaped
and shoved into the mold of many little minds.

Everyone: old-timers and new-agers,
Left wing liberals and right wing Republicans,
Industrious Amish and lazy agnostics,
Catholic school kids and Protestant preachers;

Yes, the whole lot of us who make up life;
Communists, ecologists, vegetarian, veterinarians, silver-haired hippies and bow tied bankers,

Everyone owns you as no one knows you.

Yet God knows you, you broken tiny man.
And you know Him, do you not?
Resting in crib or burning on a cross,
Hidden behind wafer and wine and Holy Word.

So, as you now stand, pale and listless
so too my poor soul,
far from the sharp thorns and the bright snow
Where you found your Christ.

Yes, you who stumbled along Assisi's stone streets,
And wept while staggering like a drunken man,
Speak to me, a sinner, who feasts on rich fare.
Speak to me of the poor God - of GOD!

Will the real Saint Francis please kneel down?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weakness and strength

What a weak bunch we all are as human beings! We can make all the plans we want, feign competence all we want, yet we always end up flat on our faces! And what a blessing, too, because it's only when our nose hits the ground that we realize how little and weak we are!

The important thing to remember when we're lying prostrate is that Christ is behind us, tapping us on the shoulder and telling us to get back up. HE is our only strength, our only joy, our only hope for forgiveness, mercy, and kindness. What a gift!!

And yet, we are not to remain down in this position! We are called to get up, after having fallen, to be brought back to fulfillment in Him who died for us! We are not to be denied the richness, vibrancy, joy, and love of our lives, but rather to fall so that we realize how precious those gifts are! We are to be encouraged all the more to get up so that Christ can again bless us with everything He has given us - a new gift, all over again!

Think of priestly ordination. As a part of the ceremony, they lie prostrate on the ground, in complete submission to God and His Will, recognizing their weakness on their own, and their strength in Christ. And then, GET THIS, they become OTHER CHRISTS when the ceremony is done! What a difference between total weakness and total strength! What an amazing conversion from nothingness to everything!!!

In our lives, when we stumble and fall, when we hit the ground face-first and our pride cries out "OWWWW THAT HURT!," let us remember that the fall is an opportunity to rise, as Jesus Christ himself did, from the Hell of our fallen and broken nature to new life in Christ! Let us see our falling down as an opportunity to arise anew in His strength, love and truth! Let us allow ourselves to rediscover the gifts He has given us from our birth, and go forth renewed by His Spirit, all the stronger for having been healed!!

God allows us to fall for one reason: so that we can arise with Him and know Him by His love! Let us learn from our falls and accept His mercy, free from the shackles of sin and death by His grace! Free to be vibrant, joyful, and full of life, able to come to the fullness of His love and truth with pure hearts!!

In Christ through Mary,
Christina :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A rainy day analogy for you all :)

As I was walking along on my way to class today, the sun was shining bright, but it was still a little drizzly, and the pavement was wet. I was wearing flip-flops, and my feet kept slipping on the cobblestones. Then I noticed a rough patch of concrete, and I thought, "YES! I won't slip on this!" Then I laughed, because I had just thought of the meaning that has for our lives.

We have a sinful nature, and when we are met with easy times, we slip and fall. We can get by tightrope walking our way to class, but it's tough.

Yet, when we have that rough patch, it becomes SO much easier to stay upright! We have something that the soles of our feet can really GRIP to, something to hold onto, and althought it might be an eyesore in contrast with the pretty Cambridge cobblestones, I would prefer that rough patch any day to a completely smooth street.

The same goes for our lives. Gold is truly tested in fire, so the more that we encounter rough patches, the more we should praise God, for He truly is looking out for us!! He provides us with a place to stand when the rest of the street is a danger zone by giving us a safe area. And yes, in the eyes of the world, it's an eyesore, but in God's eyes, it's a life preserver, saving grace. And who wouldn't want that? :)

In Christ through Mary,
Christina :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

I am edging my way slowly back into regular posting

Just wanted to share a quick thing that happened to me today in class.

Professor: Who thinks that learning the language should be required of new immigrants?
Students: (Most students except a few raise their hands, including me. One or two students raise their hands to indicate "no.")

Professor: Who thinks that gaining citizenship should be encouraged among new immigrants?
Students: (Most students except a few raise their hands, including me. One or two students raise their hands to indicate "no.")

Professor: Who thinks that the Christian religion should be encouraged, as it has been historically, among new immigrants?
Students: (I am the only one with a hand raised. There are quiet sniggers and whispers as people realize I am the only one with a hand up. Everyone else raises their hand afterward to indicate "no.")

Why is it that in a room full of what are most likely Christians, people feel the need to allow political correctness to trump truthfulness? I feel like a poll of the room asking if "under God" should be in the Pledge of Allegiance would find that several INDIVIDUAL students prefer to say that phrase, although they would NEVER "impose their views on anyone else."

We are a Christian nation, and it's time that we realized it. If we did not have the religious culture that we do, a LOT would change in the US - national politics, international relations, college policies on sex... :

The only reason why we have remained the strong nation that we have diplomatically is because of our unique foreign policy objectives, which include the spread of democracy and providing millions of dollars in aid to other countries. Internally, we struggle over issues of free speech and providing equality to all. Yet, there is a constant contrast between this culture of "democracy" and a culture of "truth" - one which asserts FACTS that are painful but true.

Our culture upholds the politically correct, but casts down the view that there is ONE truth, ONE God, ONE ultimate goal. When our goals become muddied, we emerge with public funding for abortion, removing mention of God from the Constitution of a clearly Christian nation, and a living wage that isn't actually feasibly for your average unskilled worker.

Imagine what our nation would be without the Christian NGOs, the people who fight for the things like HUMANITY that get lost in the battle of politics!!! Imagine a nation filled up with people who don't care about these things - then what happens to the homeless, the undocumented immigrants, the mentally ill?!?!?!

Think through why you raise your hands against encouraging Christianity in the United States before you do so, because "political correctness" is not the be-all and end-all of our reasons for doing things.

In Christ through Mary,