Monday, July 07, 2014

Life in a Catholic parish

We have a new priest at St. Catherine's.  His name is Fr. Plante and he seems like a good guy.  That isn't really all that remarkable.  What has been remarkable for me, as a new Catholic, is the way that the new priest was installed.

In my old Episcopal Church, when the priest retired, it was nearly a two year process to replace him.  There was a 'self study' conducted that took months.  Surveys, meetings, ongoing conversations.  An interim priest was assigned (two actually) to shephard the congregation through the process.  A hiring committee spend months gathering resumes, conducting interviews, talking to references.  Finally, a team flew all the way to Paris to listen to the final candidate preach.

In my Catholic parish, it went like this:

My priest asked the Bishop's permission to retire.  The Bishop assigned a new priest to the parish.  On the day after my priest's retirement, the new guy was saying Mass.  That's it.

Here's the amazing thing: This process, for the most part, works just fine.  Yesterday was the first Sunday for the new priest.  I sat in the pew and felt such a sense of love and welcome.  The folks in the pews were a little excited and nervous.  We are, understandably, a bit concerned about how this new priest will work out, especially since he is going to be pastoring two parishes now.  But the overall sense was one of warmth and expectation.  Love and encouragement.  We want to love this guy.

I was very moved, to be honest.  Here, in action, there was a sense of trust in God.  There was the implicit belief that God has brought this new priest to us and we are going to have open hearts and open minds.  There is a humilty in that.  There is grace in that.

It made me grateful to be a Catholic.

The deepest truth about me....

is my faith in Jesus Christ.  It is the thing that drives everything.  It is the thing that has taught me to love you unconditionally.  The thing that draws me to try and do good in the world.  The thing that helps me ask forgiveness when I screw up.  The thing that has helped me raise two stunningly wonderful young men.  The thing that keeps me coming back, even when it is painful or challenging.  I know this truth is uncomfortable.  It has been challenging for some of the people in my life to come to grips with it.   To you, I say, I will not take my toys and walk away angry.  I am right here, loving you.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

out of the darkness

I have been struggling for most of the last year with desolation.  It has been a dark time for me.  It has been very hard.

Fortunately, through all of it, I never really lost the sense of God's presence.  I felt him there, quietly egging me on, inviting me to plumb the depths of my soul, inviting me to trust him.

In desolation it is easy to second guess every decision, question every inspiration, regret everything.  It feels like a deep spiritual depression. And oppression.

A few weeks ago, the desolation began to lift.  I could see tiny cracks of light peeping through.  I could feel a shift in my spirit.  I began to feel a clearer sense of God's reassuring presence.  I have moved towards consolation and it is such a relief.

In consolation, the word is trust.  I trust the decisions that God lead me through.  I trust him to take care of my tender and weak soul.  I trust that I don't have to be in charge of everything.... just let him draw me towards him.  In consolation I am not alone.

This year, for Lent, I gave up desolation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hey Jesus, got a minute?

I knew this was going to be hard.  I had glimpses of how much of a challenge this was going to be.  But Jesus, I didn't know it was going to be this hard.  This painful.  I had no idea how agonizing it was going to be to feel this isolated.  This is one heck of a cup, this chalice of yours.  Never, since following you, have I struggled so much.

Jesus.  I wonder if I had known, would I have still converted?  I honestly don't know the answer to that.  I think it would have been impossible for me to understand what I was in for.  It is like trying to explain to someone what childbirth is like.  It is like nothing else, so how can you describe it?  So it is with conversion.  If I could speak with my past soul, what would I say?  Would I tell her to ignore the Call?  Would I suggest she run away, hide, drown herself in distractions?  Would I encourage her to deny the groundswell that was rising beneath her, drawing, pushing, dragging her towards the Church?  And if I did... would she have listened?  I think back to that time, not so long ago, when the longing for the sacraments was so powerful, so overwhelming, I couldn't imagine any other alternative.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The desert time

Given the many things I was worried about as I considered joining the Catholic church, isolation never really came up.  I had no idea how alone this was going to feel.  I never realized how hard it was going to be to always be going to Mass alone.  How it was going to be to essentially be in the closet with my faith at work.  In a weird way, my experience mirrors that of my Christian business leader colleagues who struggle with sharing their faith at work.  In my case, I am blessed to have a staff I can be honest with and pray with, but otherwise my faith is mostly unspoken, hidden.  It is heavy.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Baptism of the Lord

...instead of feeling guilty that I am not going to church with my kids and husband, maybe I could take a moment to relish the quiet emptiness of my house.  The sound of the birds.  The feel of the black leather bound copy of the Liturgy of the Hours in my hands.  The gentle gnaw of hunger in my stomach, reminding me that I am fasting in preparation for the most Holy of Holy things... Communion with my sweet Friend.

Maybe for just today, instead of pangs of guilt, I can accept the silence of my house as a gift from my Father, who wants all good things for me.  Who has given me the gift of his Church.  Who has invited me to step into his waiting arms and cherish with him the Mass... that taste of Heaven on earth.

Today is the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.  It is a day for me to reflect on the beauty of baptism.  As the readings this week have said, because Jesus once stood in a river in Palestine, now and forever, ALL water is Holy.  The Jordan flows to the sea, the water evaporates and falls as rain.  Nothing will ever be the same.

 'Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God' [John 3:5]

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Good Christian

Recently a Christian acquaintance made a distinction between a Catholic and an Evangelical, stating that the Evangelical is a 'good' Christian and clearly implying that the Catholic is not.  (She wasn't aware of my conversion.)

I did not respond except to laugh and say that I suspected there is no such thing as a 'good' Christian.  We all are mediocre at best.  We strive to live lives that reflect Jesus.  We stumble.  Regularly.  And I think if anyone thinks they fall into the category of a 'good' anything, they are probably in for a rude awakening.  Even Jesus himself said "Why do you call me good?  Only the Father is good."  (Luke 18:19)

I was hurt by her comments.  I find it painful when people say such things about the Catholic faith.  But I did not feel a sense of fear, which has been my response in the past.  Fear of what, I am not sure.  That I won't be loved anymore when they learn the truth?  That it will cause harm to the ministry I run?  That volunteers, donors, friends will run in the other direction and pull their support because they think I am now unqualified to run the place?

Maybe I still harbor fears around all of that, to some degree.  But the other day, all I felt was hurt, plain and simple.

Sunday, January 05, 2014


My priest chose Epiphany to share he is retiring in 6 months due to health reasons.  He told me yesterday after I made confession. To be honest, I was a little bit at a loss for words.  I said something about praying for him and gave him a quick hug.  Oddly, I wished him a happy new year.  Perhaps it doesn't feel particularly happy.

This morning, our associate priest joined Fr. as the celebrant.  I understood immediately that this was a way to reassure the congregation that all will be ok.  Fr. shared about his retirement and health concerns as part of a beautiful homily on the light that Christ brings into the world... and how Jesus is with us despite life's difficulties.  I wept through the whole thing.  Once the announcement was made, I could hear others sniffling and blowing noses.  This is a parish that LOVES their priest.  During the peace, many around me were in tears.

I have learned in my life that brevity in a relationship is not necessarily relevant to it's intensity.  In this last year, I have been deeply touched by the pastoral care and guidance I have received from Fr.  both in and out of the confessional.  We met weekly for some months leading up to my confirmation.  He has been a gentle teacher.  In just the last few months, he confirmed me, officiated my church wedding with Nguyen, heard my confessions and taught me how to use the breviary. He was there through all the grueling and painful aspects of my conversion, and for all the joy and wonder, too.  And most of all, he has fed me the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

I am sad that he is leaving the parish, and doubly so for his health situation, but I am sure that his ministry will not be over.  He is a man who has much to give.  In some way, I hope that this retirement will offer him the opportunity to follow his ministerial bliss, so to speak.  I suspect teaching and spiritual direction will figure prominently.  And I trust that we will stay in touch in one way or another.  In the mean time, I will be praying for him.  And thanking God that he invited me into his church shepherded by Fr. Friedrichs.