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!

March 11-16: So Much to Say

What a great week for the Gospels. All week, Jesus is giving some of his greatest advice to those who will listen. Nothing here for me to add.

Monday, March 11:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him. 
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you? 
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

Tuesday, March 12:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Matthew 6:7-15

Wednesday, March 13:

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah. 
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment 
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation 
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here. 
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Luke 11:29-32

Thursday, March 14:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. 
This is the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 7:7-12

Friday, March 15:

Jesus said to his disciples: 
“I tell you, 
unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, 
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:20-26

Sunday, March 10: Find Your Way Back

Today is the annual Mother-Son Mass & Brunch at St. Ignatius! Just a quick note here to say how happy I am that I can share Mass with my son and several hundred other students and parents.

I like to live the fantasy that a lot of parents do, the one where they assume their kids will be faithful churchgoers even after they don’t live under your roof. Considering I was a lapsed Catholic from my late-20s to my early-30s, this seems totally unrealistic. I like to think, however naively, that my kids have a more solid foundation of faith than I did. I can’t say for sure that’s true, and even if they do, does that guarantee they’ll remain Catholic?

Maybe the better thing to wish for is that, should they decide to leave, they eventually find their way back.

Thursday, March 7: St. Paul Shrine

Today I am at the Conversion of St. Paul Shrine in Cleveland. It’s the home of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, an order of nuns that dates back to the 13th century. The nuns living at the St. Paul Shrine are devoted to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; that is why you can attend Eucharistic Adoration there weekdays from 9:30 to 2:30 (except during the noon Mass).

So what is Eucharistic Adoration? It is a time when the Blessed Sacrament–the consecrated host, the body of Christ– is placed in the monstrance (an ornate vessel) and displayed in a church or chapel. The Blessed Sacrament is not supposed to be alone, so there is always someone in the space praying.

To anyone outside the Catholic Church, this can seem like a rather lame ritual, maybe even a little creepy. The church is completely quiet; people gaze at the host or bow their heads in prayer. No music. No talking. No nothing.

What could anyone possibly get out of this exercise? A lot.

I’m not sure what it is about Eucharistic Adoration. No, actually, I do know. It’s that there is a real presence in that space. Catholics believe that a consecrated host becomes the body of Jesus Christ. Even after all these years, that still sounds a little crazy to say. But any time I doubt it, I go to Eucharistic Adoration, and it’s apparent to me that it’s true. You can actually talk to this presence — Jesus — and feel like you’re communicating with someone.

Call me crazy. I don’t care. It is a powerful feeling that I wish would last longer.

After Mass at St. Paul, I stayed around a bit for adoration. The Poor Sisters of St. Clare were there as well, along with a few Franciscan monks and about 12 lay people. I wonder if we were all experiencing the same thing. I wonder if someone who wasn’t Catholic and who walked into the church during Eucharistic Adoration would have a similar feeling.

If you are interested, the Conversion of St. Paul Shrine is at 4108 Euclid Ave.

An example of a monstrance.
St. Clare of Assisi followed St. Francis’ example of monastic prayer.

Wed., March 6: Ashes to Ashes

Okay, here we go. Lent starts today, and for 40 days I am committed to going to Mass inside a church and posting afterward. This was supposed to have been the challenge for the whole year, so I shouldn’t complain. In February, I got caught up in life and spent a lot of time listening to church in the car, which is fine. But being there really makes a difference.

So here’s to 40 days of giving and giving up, and hopefully to learning new ways to grow in faith.

Sun., March 3: Katharine Drexel

Oh, the irony. We traveled to Philadelphia to take a look at Drexel University, and as we entered the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Center City, we discovered it was the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel. And St. Katharine’s remains just happen to be inside the basilica. (I learned after our visit that they were moved from a site in Bensalem, Pennsylvania to a tomb within the basilica last year.)

This presented a great chance to learn about Katharine Drexel because, truthfully, I did not know much about her. Katharine was born into a well-to-do Philadelphia family in the 1850s, but eventually took a vow of poverty and became a nun. In 1891, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and she devoted the rest of her life to helping Native Americans and African Americans. Among her contributions to education, Katharine established Xavier University of Louisiana, the first African American Catholic university.

What can we learn from Katharine Drexel? When you believe in helping others, you can make great things happen. Not all of us are able to devote our entire life to a cause. And how many of us would actually do so if we had the time? I guess if we all just have a portion of the goodness of people like Katharine, we could make a positive impact in this world.

By the way, Drexel is a really cool school.

Feeling Spacey

Honestly, I am too lazy and tired at this moment to go back and count the days since my last post. How pathetic is that? Pretty pathetic.

Most of the weekdays have had me listening to Mass in the car or on my phone at work (at lunchtime; I’m not shirking my workday responsibilities!) As always, these do not have the same oomph as being at an actual Mass. With Lent coming next week, part of my “sacrifice” will be to get to as many Masses in person as possible.

While I always seem to find something inspirational in the daily readings or the homilies, I received my greatest dose of happiness this week not from a Mass but from a BBC news story I was listening to on the radio. The story was about the first Apollo mission; more specifically, it centered around the crew members’ Christmas Eve broadcast.

The astronauts knew that this would be a momentous occasion, and they spent a lot of time thinking about the best words to capture the moment and what they were feeling. On December 24, 1968, this is what they said:

William Anders:

For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you”. 

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell:

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Frank Borman:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

This reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the late John Glenn:

“But to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is, to me, impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”

It’s interesting to note that the founder of American Atheists sued the U.S. government over the words said by the Apollo 8 crew. She was unsuccessful. I can only imagine how amazing space must be to strengthen the faith of those who travel there. Perhaps if the American Atheists founder had been invited on a mission, she might have found religion.

Day 53: I Think

This is the first day this week (except for Sunday) that I actually went to church in a church. Logistics have made it difficult, impossible actually, to make it to lunchtime Mass. And so it has been church on wheels, listening to EWTN on the way to work.

As convenient as it is, listening to Mass on the radio can be off-putting. First, there’s the obvious fact that you can’t receive communion. It seems illogical as a Catholic to attend Mass and not take the Eucharist. So there’s that. Secondly, and I apologize a thousand times for being so petty, but if the priest’s radio voice is raspy or nasally or just somehow off, my feathers get completely ruffled. “Oh my, please Father, please don’t talk like that,” I find myself saying out loud. Then I turn the volume down a bit and tell God I’m sorry for having to miss part of the service, but it feels like someone is running fingernails down a chalkboard in my head.

Needless to say, today I am thrilled to be back at the Cathedral in Cleveland. I take a seat near the middle and wait for Mass to start. The organ music is beautiful. The priest is energetic. It all feels really good.

And then the lector starts the first reading.

It took me just a couple of seconds to realize who her voice reminded me of: Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is.” If you’ve never heard the song, Peggy talks through part of it as she reminisces about sad moments in the past.

“I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, is that all there is to a fire? Is that all there is?”

It’s not an uplifting song! But Peggy roars through it in a throaty, dramatic tone, and it’s hard not to at least be intrigued. And so, instead of concentrating on the first reading and the responsorial psalm, I keep wondering if this is how Peggy Lee would sound if she was the lector, and of course if she was still alive.

The point is, it’s unfortunately not all that hard to be distracted in church, even when you’re in an actual church. And when you finally catch yourself and snap back into the present, you feel kind of bad that you’ve wasted time and not paid attention.

As always, God has put people in place within His church who are not perfect and who still inspire us to be good people. Today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, commemorating the moment that Jesus told Peter that he would one day lead the mission.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Keep in mind that this is the same Peter who later on will deny knowing Jesus. And yet Jesus wants him to be in charge, warts and all. My thinking has always been that if Peter could let Jesus down like that and still be allowed into His graces, there is hope for me and everyone else! It’s not that we’re supposed to be perfect — we can’t be — but that we shouldn’t let our mistakes completely throw us off course. We can always get back to how we’re supposed to be living.

Now, let’s talk for a moment about members of the clergy who were supposed to be leading the faithful but who chose to take advantage of their position. The sexual abuse scandal continues to cloud the name of Catholicism around the world. I’m fairly certain that most priests keep their vows, and I know for a fact that other faiths have battled their own scandals. (The recent news about sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Church is one example.) Still, it can be downright disheartening to think that these men, supposedly with a calling from God, could do something evil.

I think about the story of Peter denying Jesus three times, and Peter eventually hanging his head in shame. He knew what he had done was wrong, and he was sorry for it. I would give anything for just one priest to admit what he had done and to apologize for the suffering caused. The chances are slim. Many of the priests who have been accused over the last 15 or so years have died. For those who are still alive, it is probably not encouraged to admit guilt. It would be refreshing, though, if at least one of them did. A confession would never take away the hurt that victims endured, but it would signal to the laity of the Church that even in the midst of horrible sins, forgiveness is possible. I guess I won’t hold my breath, but I remain hopeful.