This is a bit late, but it’s never too late to celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi. I have to say, I was a little taken aback by the Canticle of the Creatures, Francis’ famous poem that, shamefully, I don’t remember reading until last week. Take a glimpse, and at first it seems like Francis is worshiping nature:
Praised be you, my Lord with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, who is the day through whom you bring us light.
And he is lovely, shining with great splendor, for he heralds you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars. In heaven you have formed them, lightsome and precious and fair.
And so it goes, on and on praising our “siblings” of nature. How strange to equate ourselves with the earth, wind and fire. (Sorry, didn’t mean to bring up a 1970’s R&B group.) But then I read this in an article from Franciscan Media:
Through his life in Christ, Francis came to see that Christ cannot be limited to a single human person; rather, Christ encompasses the whole creation. Nowhere is this more evident than in his Canticle of the Creatures. By entering into the heart of Christ, Francis found Christ at the heart of the world. The life of Francis indicates to us that to be a Christian is to find Christ in every person and living creature, and to be in union with Christ is to experience God’s goodness throughout creation, not just in a church. Christ, the risen incarnate Word of God, encompasses the whole creation.
Well, duh, if God created everything, including people, then we’re all part of God’s creation. We may be on different levels in many ways, but we all have one thing in common: God. Unless, of course, we discount Creationism and focus on the Big Bang Theory. But even then, there is a common sense of creation and evolution that unites us.
I have been thinking about this since Francis’ feast day on October 4. Francis had a deep connection with all of creation, not just with the dogs, sheep and other animals with which he’s often pictured. He seems even cooler to me than he did before, and he makes the world seem that much more amazing.
At any rate, how long have I been in this Church and only today do I read the gospel and find that Jesus had two apostles named Judas? Can you imagine being the other Judas? “Oh, no, I’m not the one who took the coins. I’m the good Judas.” You might have a hard time shaking off the perceived reputation of being a traitor.
Today’s gospel tells the story of how Jesus came down from prayer and named the twelve. I would love to know how each of them made the cut. Were there several rounds, like a draft? Were some of the also-ran disciples annoyed? “That Simon Peter is such a kiss-up. He gets picked for everything.” Or perhaps, “I think that Judas Iscariot is a bad choice. I never trusted him.”
Well, everything works out for a reason, including everything related to the story of Jesus.
I look forward all year to a few of my favorite gospel passages. Imagine my joy this past Sunday when the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary was featured.
Modern interpretation: Jesus goes to visit sisters Martha and Mary (Lazarus is their brother), and Martha is slaving over a hot kettle while Mary is sitting cross-legged listening to Jesus just like a little kid at story time. Martha is perturbed. “Jesus,” she basically whines, “look at me working so hard to make you a wonderful meal. Tell my lazy sister Mary to get up and help me!”
Jesus, not one to coddle complainers, tells her very nicely, “Thank you for your hospitality, Martha, but you’re always worked up about something, while your sister is calmly learning from me.”
As a true Italian-American, I always imagine Martha, short and stocky with cherubic cheeks, standing in front of a cauldron of boiling hot water as she stirs limp spaghetti strands. Never mind that pasta would not have been on the menu; it helps me to better understand the scripture if I can picture a little old Italian lady worrying more about spaghetti and meatballs than what the guest has come to share.
Mary, of course, is the thinner, more classically beautiful sister, often dismissed as lazy or simple-minded but really she is just totally in tune with her spirituality. She is soaking up her time with the Lord and enjoying what he has to say. That doesn’t make Martha a bad person. If she didn’t stir the sauce and knead the dough, who would feed this man? It’s just that Mary has the opportunity to take full advantage of why Jesus is there: not necessarily to eat but rather to reveal his wisdom.
Martha could have been paying attention to Jesus while she was preparing the meal, just like I could be strengthening myself spiritually while I’m doing laundry or making dinner for my family. Why does it often seem easier to take the woe-is-me attitude? In all honesty, no one really cares. You’re cooking for Jesus? That’s fantastic! You should be so proud. You’re doing 11 loads of laundry? You’re so fortunate to have a family! Sadly, it’s hard to think of your good fortune when you’re busy feeling sorry for yourself.
Martha’s sister Mary doesn’t feel sorry for herself — or for Martha, for that matter. Jesus isn’t throwing Martha a pity party either. As he tells her, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Yesterday’s gospel featured yet another Mary; this time it’s Mary Magdalene. News flash for Catholics who have been out of the loop for some time: Mary Magdalene is no longer considered to have been a prostitute. Apparently, that was a story grown out of the preaching of a long-ago pope. In fact, Mary Magdalene is right up there with all of the apostles.
She is the one present at the resurrection of Jesus. As one of his most ardent disciples, Mary Magdalene rushes to the tomb to find the stone has been rolled away. And what transpires next is nothing short of awe-inspiring:
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo’ni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Mag’dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
As magnificent as this story is, we are left with questions, the most obvious being: Since Mary Magdalene was so important to Jesus and followed him so closely, why isn’t she traditionally considered among the apostles? Why doesn’t she have the same clout as, say, Peter? (And, hello? Peter denied Jesus 3 times the night before he died. You don’t hear of Mary doing that.)
My only guess is that, as much as early Christians embraced the teachings of Jesus, they were either unable or unwilling to give equal billing to a woman. We don’t hear about Mary going out and proclaiming the gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection; yet, she is now getting more and more attention as someone who helped found the early Church.
As a notoriously old-fashioned Catholic, I’m hesitant to rework the history of the Church; however, as a fellow female, I like the idea of Mary Magdalene being right up there with Peter, James, Timothy and the rest. (We will save the discussion of whether this means women should be priests for another time.) At the same time, I rather enjoy the idea of women being the unsung heroes in the Bible. It may seem like men are doing all the work, but in the background are women carrying a lot of the heavy lifting.
Here’s to the Marys of the Bible for carrying the faith. And let’s not forget the Marthas, who are always making sure that no one preaches on an empty stomach.
Instead of the intended promise (to myself, at least) of posting every day, I’m cutting myself (and, thus, the reader) some slack and writing a weekly update. I may throw in an extra post now and then for special occasions.
Without further ado, here is the first installment of the week in review and a glimpse of the week ahead.
We came back from an amazing vacation at the Jersey Shore last Saturday, all rested and relaxed–so relaxed, apparently, that all 5 of us were nodding off during Sunday’s 8 AM Latin Mass. Now, it can be especially easy to drift asleep during the Latin Rite because the Mass moves in a melodic pattern of words from a “dead” language. If you’ve been sunning yourself and stuffing your face for the past seven days, it’s even easier.
We were in various stages of semi-consciousness, when the priest suddenly (or maybe it just seemed suddenly) began belting out a fire-and-brimstone homily. The homily, by the way, is always in English at the Latin Mass (thank goodness). The priest was probably about halfway through his sermon when his voiced raised to a dramatic pitch, and he began to remind us what being Catholic should be all about.
It certainly felt like the priest was doing this for our benefit — wake up, sleeping sinners! — but it’s more likely that he was just trying to get his point across. His stern admonitions certainly set the tone for the rest of the week.
This leads me to a confession: I don’t physically go to Mass every single day. I had every intention of doing so. Sometimes, though, your circumstances just won’t allow it, so you look for alternatives. Two of the easiest for me have been 1.) listening to morning Mass on my way to work, courtesy of EWTN radio on Sirius XM, and 2.) reading the scriptures for the day via Bishop Robert Barron. While neither of these offers the ultimate benefit of receiving the Eucharist, I can at least have some daily time with God and scripture.
With that in mind, I listened to Mass on my way to work last Monday. On Tuesday, I visited the Poor Clares Monastery in Cleveland for Eucharistic Adoration and a special treat: the chance to reconnect with a friend from grade school. Not high school or college. Grade school. As in, we lost touch after 8th grade. There were a lot of years to catch up on, and we probably made it through about half of them over lunch. Before that, we had an opportunity to visit the beautiful little chapel. It was a lovely day.
Wednesday brought another day of Mass on the road, while Thursday and Friday led me to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I lit candles in front of St. Teresa of Calcutta (for the ability to unselfishly help others) and St. Anthony (praying in advance to help me find things I’ll lose in the future).
Yesterday, the gospel was about the Good Samaritan. I could dive into political waters at this point, discussing what is and isn’t our obligation as Good Samaritans, but let’s leave it here: Any time there is an opportunity to help someone in need, we should take it. The gesture can be as small as holding the door open for someone or as large as donating a kidney to a stranger. The Good Samaritan doesn’t stop to think about what the consequences might be for him/her; the focus is always on how to help the other person.
The most important part about being a Good Samaritan is taking action, not just thinking about how important it is to treat others with kindness. So this week, the emphasis for me is on really helping others rather than pointing out the inaction of others. I’m also going to take a shot at helping others (especially my family members) without complaining. Wish me luck.
I hope I make it to church today because I need a good spiritual cleansing. This morning, as I often do, I was saying the rosary while driving. It’s usually very calming and keeps me from listening to talk radio shows that give me heartburn. Sometimes, though, I forget that I’m supposed to be in a state of holiness because, well, some people are really bad drivers.
In the middle of my first decade, right when I should be focusing on prayer and meditation, a car — no two cars — pulled out from a side street and proceeded to drive slowly across four lanes of traffic to land in front of my car. Here’s the thing: If you are going to pull out of a side street and get in front of me, do it fast. I have major respect for drivers who nearly cut someone off but immediately drive 40 miles an hour to avoid any issues. If you pull in front of me and you’re driving 15 miles an hour, though, you incur my wrath.
Which is why as soon as the second car pulled out and proceeded to drive at a snail’s pace in front of me, I lost all sense of grace.
“You JACK ASS,” I yelled to no one except myself. Then I laid on the horn because that’s as far as my road rage escalates.
As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to chop them into little pieces and throw them in the nearest trash can. Like, in the middle of a Hail Mary, I’m yelling “jack ass.” Who’s not feeling the spirit this morning? That would be me.
In these instances, I really think (hope) that God has a sense of humor. I mean, it’s a pretty clever piece of irony that I’m supposed to be focusing on prayer and I’m instead swearing at drivers. That’s funny, right? Right, God?
This is when your personal interpretation of the supreme being becomes particularly helpful. Who wants to think of a god that would be miffed because you chewed out a driver while praying? Maybe Jesus would have been annoyed in a similar way, although, let’s be honest, probably not. He would, of course forgive me, and that’s a good thing.
So two important musings on this sunny Friday:
It’s okay to get mad at someone’s bad driving and forgive yourself for doing so.
Maybe saying the rosary behind the wheel has its drawbacks.
Today is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, a man who needs no introduction, especially if you know me. I have relied on this saint to find everything from my car keys to my car. He helped my daughter find her purse last winter and my son to find his spelling book when he was in third grade. Of all the saints who can make you believe that there is a God and that they have a direct connection to Him, St. Anthony is one of the greats. I could go on and on, but instead I’ll let you read this nifty article about him. And I encourage you, Catholic or not, to call on him the next time you’re lost or you lose something.
P.S. He is also really good at finding lost souls.
First, a confession. Every single time I go to church, I count the number of “minorities” in the space. I am always disappointed that the majority of attendees are white; sometimes, they are all white. I grew up in a diverse community, but I didn’t know a single black person who attended a Catholic church. When the Hispanic Catholic church in town was asked to merge with our Italian-American parish, it at first caused quite a stir. Why are we not integrated in our faith, I keep asking myself.
One day on NPR, I heard a deacon speak. His name is Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers. He is black and he wrote a book about Fr. Augustine Tolton, a former slave who became the first black priest in the United States. Why hadn’t I heard of either of these men before? Now that I finally had, I couldn’t stop thinking about either of them and their challenges within the Church.
Imagine my surprise and joy this morning when I read that Pope Francis is advancing Fr. Tolton for sainthood. From the article:
Despite rampant racism and discrimination, he became one of the city’s most popular pastors, attracting members of both white and black Catholic communities. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics and worked tirelessly for his congregation in Chicago, even to the point of exhaustion. On July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke on a Chicago street at the age of 43.
He was known for persevering against all odds in pursuit of his calling and quietly devoted himself to his people, despite great difficulties and setbacks.
Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
You can read more about Fr. Tolton in the article and in the deacon’s book. God bless Fr. Tolton, hopefully soon to be St. Tolton!
While I did not attend Mass in a church today (listened to it on the radio), I fondly recalled my wedding Mass 20 years ago on this date. It was a windy, overcast day; my father had accidentally dropped my wedding gown on the floor; and my mother was recovering from the removal of some sort of killer corn that clearly was more painful than anything ever experienced by another human being. Still, nothing could cloud the beauty of my wedding day.
To be honest, my parents were nervous, although I don’t understand why. By the time I got married I was 34, so you think they’d have been ready to push me up the aisle. But that’s how my family rolls. And so they had to be forgiven for their clumsy hands and corn complaints. As I recall, absolutely everything else about that day was perfect.
I wish I could remember the words Monsignor Ashton said during his homily. It’s a shame that I don’t, but I do remember kneeling at the foot of Mary’s statue while the organist sang “Ave Maria,” and I remember that our communion song was “One Bread, One Body.” I distinctly remember telling my bridesmaids that they could cut the long black dresses I’d asked them to wear so they could reuse them — a huge lie told by many a bride and one that I had sworn I’d never tell. Getting married makes you do crazy things.
It has been a wild 20 years, and I can honestly say I haven’t been bored for a minute. It’s because of my husband that I’ve chosen to reconsider my faith and what it means to me, and because of him that I’ve gone back to Mass on a regular basis. I’ve also lost the “Catholic guilt” that I carried around for a few decades, while increasing my appreciation of what it means to be a Catholic. At the same time, every Mass I attend or listen to on the radio makes me think about the faults of the Church, especially of the abuse that went on (and possibly still goes on).
If I had the short-sighted faith I once I had, I would have left the Church for good in 2002. Even now, it’s hard to look at a priest and not wonder if he was hurting others. What has made me go on is realizing that the Church is really God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They put mortals in charge of it, and mortals have a tendency to screw up. It’s unfortunate, especially when the problems are so severe and so hurtful to many.
It’s very flawed. And so is marriage, to be honest. So is just about any situation you encounter with another human being. You get angry, become self-involved, hurt someone else, let others hurt you. It’s messy. We don’t expect that kind of a mess when it comes to the Church. Then again, I wasn’t expecting some of the messy moments during my marriage.
If you’re lucky, you learn from the mistakes and move on. That’s what my husband and I have done. It’s what the Church is trying to do, but it’s hard when new stories emerge on a fairly consistent basis. I feel like I got a do-over more than once in my marriage, and it helped a lot. I demand a do-over for the Church. It’s the only chance of saving the relationship.