Wed., April 17: Doggone It

On my way out of church today, a woman walked in with her dog. This was not a service dog; it was an every day energetic spaniel mix on a basic leash. The woman had obviously been on a walk with the dog — the blue poop bag in her left hand (which appeared to be empty at the moment) was a good clue — and decided to stop into the cathedral.

At first, I was going to do my sideways, middle-aged glance as a mild form of contempt. Throwing a bit of shade, as it were. Then I thought, so what? Who cares if this woman was out for a stroll with her dog and decided it would be great if they both went inside? Maybe the dog was sick and its owner wanted to say a quick healing prayer. Perhaps she had a sick relative or a pressing concern and this was the only time she could step inside the church to pray. Maybe she just felt like walking in with her dog because, why not?

I’m sure St. Francis had animals wandering in and out of his monastery. If you visited an ancient church in a faraway village, you might see a dog or a goat pad down the aisle. Why not in downtown Cleveland? Instead of looking askance, I gave the woman a smile. Peace be with you, and with your little dog, too.

Wed., March 10th: Good Deeds

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I would have been annoyed about having to put aside my own activity to help someone else. But recently I read a blog post on some Catholic site (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one) that encouraged readers to think of these disturbances as a chance to grow and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Fast forward to this morning. Someone in the house forgot an important item needed later in the day, and I immediately volunteered to deliver it in the afternoon. As soon as I agreed to this deal, I realized that meant I couldn’t go to church today, and for a second, I was pretty annoyed (mostly with myself since I volunteered to deliver the item). Then, I remembered that blog post I had read, and I realized that delivering this item to a teenager who otherwise would have been stressed out counts as a type of church activity. It’s not just about listening to a homily and receiving communion — as significant as those might be. Using what you learn in the pew is the perfect complement to attending Mass. And so I happily delivered the item to the grateful child and drove back to work. Sounds so simple, but it didn’t feel that way to me.

From today’s Gospel: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Mon., April 8th: Oh, Susanna!

I believe I found the very first recorded instance of #metoo in today’s first reading.

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim,
who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna,
the daughter of Hilkiah;
her pious parents had trained their daughter
according to the law of Moses.
Joakim was very rich;
he had a garden near his house,
and the Jews had recourse to him often
because he was the most respected of them all.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges,
of whom the Lord said, “Wickedness has come out of Babylon:
from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.”
These men, to whom all brought their cases,
frequented the house of Joakim.
When the people left at noon,
Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk.
When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk,
they began to lust for her.
They suppressed their consciences;
they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven,
and did not keep in mind just judgments.

One day, while they were waiting for the right moment,
she entered the garden as usual, with two maids only.
She decided to bathe, for the weather was warm.
Nobody else was there except the two elders,
who had hidden themselves and were watching her.
“Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids,
“and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

As soon as the maids had left,
the two old men got up and hurried to her.
“Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us;
give in to our desire, and lie with us.
If you refuse, we will testify against you
that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.”

I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned.
“If I yield, it will be my death;
if I refuse, I cannot escape your power.
Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt
than to sin before the Lord.”
Then Susanna shrieked, and the old men also shouted at her,
as one of them ran to open the garden doors.
When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden,
they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her.
At the accusations by the old men,
the servants felt very much ashamed,
for never had any such thing been said about Susanna.

When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day,
the two wicked elders also came,
fully determined to put Susanna to death.
Before all the people they ordered:
“Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah,
the wife of Joakim.”
When she was sent for,
she came with her parents, children and all her relatives.
All her relatives and the onlookers were weeping.

In the midst of the people the two elders rose up
and laid their hands on her head.
Through tears she looked up to heaven,
for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.
The elders made this accusation:
“As we were walking in the garden alone,
this woman entered with two girls
and shut the doors of the garden, dismissing the girls.
A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her.
When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this crime,
we ran toward them.
We saw them lying together,
but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we;
he opened the doors and ran off.
Then we seized her and asked who the young man was,
but she refused to tell us.
We testify to this.”
The assembly believed them,
since they were elders and judges of the people,
and they condemned her to death.

But Susanna cried aloud:
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden
and are aware of all things before they come to be:
you know that they have testified falsely against me. 
Here I am about to die,
though I have done none of the things
with which these wicked men have charged me.”

The Lord heard her prayer.
As she was being led to execution,
God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel,
and he cried aloud:
“I will have no part in the death of this woman.”
All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?”
He stood in their midst and continued,
“Are you such fools, O children of Israel! 
To condemn a woman of Israel without examination
and without clear evidence?
Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

Then all the people returned in haste.
To Daniel the elders said,
“Come, sit with us and inform us,
since God has given you the prestige of old age.”
But he replied,
“Separate these two far from each other that I may examine them.”

After they were separated one from the other,
he called one of them and said:
“How you have grown evil with age!
Now have your past sins come to term:
passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent,
and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says,
‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’
Now, then, if you were a witness,
tell me under what tree you saw them together.”
“Under a mastic tree,” he answered.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you your head,
for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him
and split you in two.”
Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought.
Daniel said to him,
“Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you,
lust has subverted your conscience.
This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel,
and in their fear they yielded to you;
but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.
Now, then, tell
me under what tree you surprised them together.”
“Under an oak,” he said.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you also your head,
for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two
so as to make an end of you both.”

The whole assembly cried aloud,
blessing God who saves those who hope in him.
They rose up against the two elders,
for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury.
According to the law of Moses,
they inflicted on them
the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor:
they put them to death.
Thus was innocent blood spared that day.
— Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 

Tuesday, April 2: Name That Saint

Did you know there are nearly 11,000 saints in the Catholic Church? Neither did I. It seems to me that we hear about the same 30 or 40 saints over and over, and the other 10,960 or so go unnoticed.

For instance, today is the feast day of St. Francis of Paola. He lived in Italy in the 1400s, preferring the life of a hermit. By the time he was 20, he had followers who wanted to emulate his way of life. In the late 1400s, Francis founded a hermetic community that he called the Minims, or the least, because he wanted to be seen as the least among God’s people. Now there’s a guy with no ego.

Even though he liked solitude, Francis knew that God wanted him to help other people. He became an advocate for the poor, and he traveled to France to help Louis XI prepare for his death. Francis himself died while he was in France. Although Francis of Paola is not as well known as other saints, he seems to have lived a notable religious life.

While I was searching for information about the life of today’s saint, I read about the large number of saints recognized by the Church throughout the centuries. Some of their stories are something of a legend. Christopher and Valentine, for example, have a bit of fantasy around their life stories.

Then there are the saints who were more of local heroes. The most bizarre one I found was St. Guinefort, who apparently earned his sainthood because he saved his master’s child from a deadly snakebite. Guinefort was a dog living in rural France in the 13th century. I happen to believe that dogs were created to bring happiness to humans, but I’m not so sure they should reach the level of sainthood.

Modern-day saints have a relatable story, even if their faith seems light years beyond our own. One of the most intriguing saints of this century, in my opinion, is Gianna Molla. She was an Italian physician and mother who seemed to live a routine life based on faith. During her sixth pregnancy, Gianna was diagnosed with a tumor. She had the tumor removed, but she refused to lose the child. A week after giving birth to a healthy baby, Gianna died. Talk about putting the life of another above your own.

We can always learn something from a saint, even if it’s a dog. Be kind to others, put yourself last, take out a snake when you have to.

Monday, April 1: Who you callin’ fool, fool?

The first of April is one of those days that you either love or hate. When I was a kid, I loved it. I remember one time I woke up very early to spread bright blue toothpaste on the inside of our bathroom sink. Now that was funny. As I got older, I realized that some of the stuff I thought was hilarious was actually kind of dumb and immature. And then I was horrified to find that some adults still thought they were funny.

The truth is, I am terrified of looking like a fool, so I am especially careful not to try to fool anyone else. In other words, I am no fun when it comes to practical jokes.

The patron saint for today doesn’t seem like he messed around either. St. Hugh of Grenoble lived in the late 1000s and early 1100s. He served as a bishop in France for just two years before he got fed up and tried fading into a monastery. But the pope had other plans for him.

At the time, the Church was a bit of a mess. As Franciscan Media tells it, “Corruption seemed to loom in every direction: the buying and selling of Church offices, violations of clerical celibacy, lay control of Church property, religious indifference and/or ignorance.” Does any of this sound familiar?

The pope entrusted Hugh to fix up some of the problems. “Hugh was reasonably effective in the role of reformer—surely because of his devotion to the Church but also because of his strong character,” Franciscan Media notes. For his work, Hugh was canonized a saint just two years after his death in 1132.

Reading about St. Hugh, a couple of things come to mind. First of all, why aren’t we praying 24/7 to this guy? He appears to have lived through a time that, morally, was similar to ours, and he remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Second of all, why does the Church seem to get out of whack every so often? I know what you may be thinking: If a woman was running this outfit, we wouldn’t have so much trouble. That may very well be true. But the fact of the matter is that anyone who is running Christ’s church should be doing it honorably.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But maybe St. Hugh does.

March 29: That was fast.

Weeks go by slowly if you’re bored or doing something you don’t like. That’s why weeks go by slowly when you’re in school, unless you’re one of those overbearing kids who gleefully ran to school every morning.

Conversely, when you’re really enjoying something, time typically flies. I’m finding that the time I spend in church, especially during the week, goes by really fast. That’s noteworthy, since not all that long ago I spent a lot of my time in church thinking about what I was going to make for dinner that night or having a partial anxiety attack over all the things I hadn’t accomplished over the weekend.

My newfound joy in attending Mass may have something to do with going more often, or it could just be coincidence. Whatever the reason, I’m happy about it.

Here’s a good quote from today’s gospel reading to keep in mind heading into the weekend:

The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Mark 12:31

This is the second greatest commandment, according to Jesus, and it’s a good one to keep in mind, even if you’re not a believer. There’s nothing wrong with loving people, right? Happy Fri-yay!

Tuesday, March 26th: 77 Times

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:22-35

Sometimes Jesus says stuff that can really bug you. You mean to tell me that I have to forgive someone a bazillion times, even if they are not sorry? This does not sit well with my ability to hold a grudge! Strong words for today, and something to think about in this day and age when we can be so easily hurt.

Sunday, March 24: Burning

1Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Mid’ian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  2And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

Exodus 3:1-2

Why did God stop showing up in bushes? Wouldn’t we have a better chance of listening to Him if He set a shrub on fire and started talking to us? I know I’d pay attention.

These kinds of questions are natural to have. If we hear about God talking directly to people from the past, we have to wonder why we don’t hear about such occurrences now. One reason could be that God was talking to the early people to show them the way. And then we were supposed to understand that way, thanks to those who’ve gone before us. Another idea might be that God does talk to people today, but we don’t listen.

Lately, I’ve had a recurring thought: What if Mary wasn’t the first person God asked to have a son? What if He asked Sue and Jane and Tammy first, and they were too scared and freaked out to agree? And so what if God set bushes on fire in front of other people besides Moses, but Moses was the first one to actually look?

This theory might go against what we have been taught. We learn that there were certain people whom God chose to lead His flock. Isn’t it possible, though, that God had some other people in mind, but they turned Him down? Doesn’t God sometimes call us to do things, and we pretend we don’t hear? Am I the only one that has happened to?

Or maybe God keeps trying. Maybe He was throwing signs at Moses for a while. A burning bush here, a sudden bolt of lightning there. Maybe Moses thought, “If I just keep tending this flock and mind my own business, this will go away.” But God had other plans for him. Maybe God is doing that with us today. Lots of signs, lots of looking the other way. And then finally, hopefully, the one fiery bush that makes us take notice.


Wed., March 20th: Oh Dear

It is Wednesday, and I haven’t been to a Mass since Sunday. I’ve read the readings on my own for each day, but I have not attended church in person or listened to a service on the radio. I stink. I really do.

I was lamenting to my husband that I wasn’t able to go to Mass for the feast of St. Joseph yesterday. Work has been super-busy, I mentioned, and then there are the usual challenges of cooking, cleaning, taking care of the dogs, and the like. It felt lame to say that, but his response was, “Well, it sounds like you’re working hard, just like St. Joseph.

I needed to hear that!