May 8: Anniversary blessings

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.

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.

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.

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.

Days 44-45: Happy V-Day

Not much is known about St. Valentine. He apparently lived in Rome during the third century and was martyred. The Catholic Church celebrated his feast day on February 14 until 1969, when he was replaced with Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Can you imagine if we bought cards and wished people “Happy Saints Cyril and Methodius Day”? It doesn’t roll off the tongue.

For the secular world, Valentine’s Day is still a thing. We buy chocolate, make cut-out hearts and, if we’re lucky enough to have one, swoon over our significant other. I’ve heard some really wonderful stories today that had nothing to do with the romantic aspect of Valentine’s Day, although they had a lot to do with love.

One of my Facebook friends leaves the house on February 14 with a bunch of Valentine’s Day cards in her purse. She hands them out to random people. Today, she gave one to a woman at the hair salon, who cried and was so appreciative because her loved one was deceased. This evening, I read about Valentine’s Day cards that had been left at a shelter. They were given to children who have been facing homelessness.

These two stories are so heartwarming, and yet they make me a little bit upset with myself. I think about all the years when I didn’t have someone with whom I could celebrate Valentine’s Day. What did I do? I probably went to a bar and drowned my sorrows or stayed at hom and sulked while watching “Wheel of Fortune.”

Think about what I could have been doing all that time. I could have been handing out valentines to strangers, visiting sick kids in the hospital, giving Hershey kisses to people at nursing homes. Instead, I spent probably 10 Valentine’s Days consumed with self-pity. Stupid hindsight.

Well, there’s no way to redo those years so I’ll have to move forward. Maybe next February 14, I can think about other people who might need a heart and a hug more than I do. Maybe I can wish them a “Happy Saints Cyril and Methodius Day” and bring extra happiness into their lives.