Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The nativity of John the Baptist

Yesterday the Church celebrated the nativity of John the Baptist.  This day feels significant to me, since John (and his mother, Elizabeth) are my confirmation saints.

I remember the first time I read the depiction in the Gospel of Luke of the day that the Virgin Mary came to visit her elderly aunt, Elizabeth.  I was sitting in the living room of a friend on Rochambeau Avenue in Providence.  It was late fall.  She had made pumpkin muffins and hot apple cider for a bible study we were holding.  None of the participants were Christians.  They were all from the Unitarian Universalist church I attended at the time.  Only our host, Katherine, professed to be Christian.  If I remember correctly, I wasn't even Christian yet...

We sat together and began reading from Luke.  And there, in the dim light, I began to read of Mary's visit to Elizabeth... and how John leaped in his mother's womb when Mary entered the room.  And somehow, inexplicably, I began to cry.  Great, huge tears rolled down my cheeks for no reason at all, except that maybe, in that moment, I too was recognizing the truth of Jesus and who he was.  Mary, at 3 months along, wasn't even showing yet.

Scripture says nothing of whether Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant.  For all she knew, her younger cousin was simply showing up to help her older aunt through the last few months of pregnancy.  And yet the moment Mary walks in the door, Elizabeth and the baby John in her womb, know exactly who she is carrying inside her.

Scientific American recently published an article about research that shows that when mothers are carrying their babies in the womb, some of the fetus' cells actually cross the placenta and implant in the mother.  Years and even decades later, they have found cells with Y chromosomes in the brains of women who carried male children.  By her third month of pregnancy, Mary already had Christ's cells in her body.  How could she not have been affected by that?  The actual cells of Jesus Christ were already a part of her, and Elizabeth and John, by a miracle of God's grace, knew.

I was a latecomer to Jesus.  I spent the first 38 years of my life in darkness, searching for a light, but not understanding what or WHO that light was.  Finally, at 38, I surrendered and accepted that Jesus is the light of the world.  From that day, my life has been totally different.

So maybe, on that dark, cold night in December, with pumpkin muffins and hot cider, I was yearning for what John and Elizabeth had.  Jesus was in their midst, as he is for all of us.  And they recognized him for who he is.  And leaped for joy.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Body of Christ, The Bride of Christ

In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul says that the Church is the body of Christ.  Christ acts in the world through the members of the body.

I never understood this until becoming a Catholic.  But now, I am beginning to feel a sense of Christ's presence in a way I never have before.  

It isn't that I haven't felt his presence before.  Jesus has been an almost constant companion since before my baptism 10 years ago.  I have felt the Holy Spirit in many churches, many venues, many situations.

But this is something completely different.  I suspect it all hinges on the Eucharist, but I am not really sure about that.  What I have been feeling for the last couple of days is a kind of quiet conviction that Christ in the Church is living out the incarnation in an extraordinary way.  It is a deeply trinitarian reality that Jesus is alive in the world through his Church.  

From the outside of the faith, it would be hard, if not impossible, to perceive this.  Go to a normal Mass and you might find a bunch of lukewarm Christians going through the motions.  There are scandals and brokenness, corruption and power.  From the outside, it doesn't seem possible that Christ is truly inhabiting the Catholic Church.  But I am more and more convinced that Christ is in the world through His Church... and that in this broken mess, he is present in a very real way.  A unique way.  

There is no real explanation for why I have come to believe this.  I haven't read about it in a book.  It isn't being preached at Mass.  It is just a sense that there is present, in the Church, the second person of the Trinity, living and breathing, present.  Really Present.  The body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Disciples of all nations

As I was driving home from Mass today, I was pondering the purpose of the church.  What did Jesus ask his apostles to do?

This is what he said to his apostles, who went on to become the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church:

Jesus came and said to them, "...Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."  Matthew 28:18-20

For me, discipleship is about a relationship.  Jesus is asking his apostles to help people become students of Jesus, practitioners of his ways.  Disciple and discipline are from the same root. Both speak of learning, of practice.  The Catholic Religious might call it a 'rule of life' that centers on the relationship with Christ.  There is rhythm to it.  Just as a student at a university has to show up for class in order to learn anything, so a disciple of Christ has to spiritually 'show up'.  In my case, that means reading scripture every day, attending Mass, daily prayer.  For me, discipleship is only possible by being in deep relationship with him.  Jesus promises that for his disciples, he will be with them until the end of the age.  And so far, I am finding that sacraments, the liturgy, the rhythms of the church seasons have indeed been deepening my love for him, strengthening my relationship with him and giving me the discipline of keeping him first and foremost in my day to day life.  All of this is by his Grace alone.  He promises he is with us, and that is HOW we are going to be disciples and make disciples of all nations.  

Why I am a Catholic Pt. 1

About 3 weeks after joining the Catholic Church, someone asked if my journey thus far was filled with grace.  At that point, I had to answer, frankly, no.  It was instead, filled with much anxiety, some fear, some sadness.  I was coming face to face with the reality that many people have huge antipathy for the church.  People that I care about were reacting badly.  I was being challenged and grilled.  There were some who simply could not conceive that God would lead me to the Catholic faith.

I cannot pretend to know God.  But I have spent the last 10 years earnestly seeking to do his will.  That desire has led me to places I would never have ventured if I was following my own will.  I stayed at Grace Church because God called me there.  I began working for CareNet because I discerned that God was asking me to.  Frankly, I have stayed at CareNet because of that, too.  And I stayed at Grace for 8 years because that is where I felt God wanted me to be.

Until it wasn't.

Until one day I sensed that something profound had changed.  I sat in a dark church in Weston, MA and felt the presence of Christ in deep and real way and realized that he WAS present in the Blessed Sacrament behind the altar.  And I heard, deep in my heart, the words that have changed my life so profoundly.

It is true.

And suddenly I was flooded with a profound sense that this moment was going to be a demarcation point for my life.  This moment was the one I was converted.  This moment, I was going to remember forever as the one in which I accepted not just Jesus... but the church HE established.  The church through which he works in the world.

It is true.

And as those words resonated in my heart, I understood that if the Blessed Sacrament is true, then so is everything else the Church says about herself.

The moment of conversion took place in the dark church.  Actually living it out will take a lifetime.  I am finding that Catholicism is deeply challenging and more joyful than I could ever have imagined.  It is HUGE.  Polarizing.  Yet encompasses profound polarities.  I am utterly alone in the walk, yet part of something that has spanned centuries and actively involves billions of souls, living and dead.  It is rigorous and challenging, demanding much and giving everything.  It is a rhythm of life that opens me up to something so vast, so profound, so beautiful I can only grasp a tiny bit.  Yet it is like the entirety of the church exists in the Eucharist at St. Catherine's Church on a Tuesday morning.  That sweet, simple, spare event that transcends time and place... 25 folks who worship together and participate in something so grand, so massive it is impossible to conceive of it.

I am Catholic because I am a Christian who seeks to follow Jesus.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Love Fest

Yesterday I went to a meeting at which most of the people were Catholics.  Some knew of my recent conversion and were very encouraging.  A co-worker from many years ago was there.  She was a nun in a former life and is still active in the church.  She remembers me when I was unmarried, wore a stud in my nose and had no use for religion whatsoever.  Though even then I was fascinated with people who led religious lives, especially nuns and monks. 

I leaned over at one point and whispered into her ear.... C, I was confirmed in the Catholic Church last month.

She was amazed, of course.  And happy.  And when she found out who my priest is, she confided that she thought he was wonderful and that I was very lucky that God brought me to his parish.  (I couldn't agree more....)

It was wonderful to be surrounded by Catholics.  But even so, I have to confess, I have found a certain amount of isolation in this journey.  Lifelong Catholics love their faith, but don't really understand the conversion experience.  And non-Catholics can't even begin to know what this is like.  The fear and doubt which is slowly giving way to a level of joy I can't even begin to describe.  Tears may be the only way to express it, frankly.

Every day I wake up thanking God that I am a member of His Church. Every day.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


At my little parish, Wednesdays are our priest's day off.  Well deserved, of course.  He works the other 6 days a week, so I can hardly begrudge him the time away.

For me, though, this creates a little dilemma.  Most Wednesdays, sleeping late wins.  It is the day I start work at 12:00, so it is a luxurious morning of doing nothing.  On those weeks, it is usually the only day during the week when I am not in church.

Some days, though, I get up and head to another local parish for Mass.  There is a church right down the street with Mass at 9.

In either case, I start the day with scripture and prayer, reflecting on the Grace that God has given me.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Like a storm

When I was a kid we used to summer on my grandmother's island in Georgian Bay, Ontario.  It was a beautiful place, all rocks and moss and stunted trees deformed by the west wind.  There was a beach of garnet red sand and little wooden cabins with chemical toilets.  (Read buckets filled with pine sol).

On many summer afternoons, storms would roll in from across the lake.  We could see them coming from miles away, fierce gray bands moving ever closer.  The air would crackle with electricity.  Lightening would start to flash.  Once we saw a whole bank of clouds rolling sideways like an ocean wave in the sky.  And one year a tornado hit like a freight train and knocked down a third of the trees on the island.

The weather could be frightening.  But it was also thrilling.  We would stand, as kids, in the pouring rain, laughing when the hail drove us back inside... or daring each other to jump in the lake in the middle of the downpours, getting called back out by our concerned parents when the lightening got too close.

My conversion to Catholicism has been a little like that.  A summer storm in the midst of what is usually a peaceful spiritual landscape.  I am both excited, thrilled, and a little afraid.  I stood and watched the spiritual storm coming from miles away... and as it got closer, there were moments when I wanted to run in fear, but more moments when I wanted to stand in the pouring rain and sing and shout for joy.  Laughing and splashing and shouting for joy.


You have come into my life like a storm.  I am soaked to the bone.  Sometimes I want to run and hide.  But mostly I want to shout for joy.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Corpus Christi

On Saturday I went to St. Catherine's and we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi.  It is the celebration of the Eucharist.  I told Nguyen that the homily was the best I have yet heard at St. C's.  Nguyen laughed and said that I say that every week.

Perhaps.  This time, however, it might just be true.

Fr. Friedrichs was somehow able to capture the awe inspiring mystery, the great blessing, the incredible gift that the Eucharist is for us.  Christ gives himself to us with nothing held back.  It is almost more than we can bear to think of.  More than we can fathom.

I sat and wept through the whole homily.

I am just over a month in as a Catholic and I can tell you, it still amazes me that I can take communion in the Catholic Church.  Every day I think "Oh, good!  I get to go to church tomorrow!"  And every day I go to church and nearly have to pinch myself because I can't believe it is true.

It was the Eucharist that called me to Catholicism.  It was the deep mystery of Christ's presence that beckoned.  And as Fr. Friederichs says, I am unable to wrap my head around the stunning truth that Christ gives himself to us so completely.

Nothing held back.

Lord, sweet, sweet Christ. Jesus.  I pray that I, too, will hold nothing back from you.  I pray that I will give everything to you.  I thank you for the glorious gift you have given us in the Eucharist.