Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Oh Happy Day?

This morning was absolutely horrible. Do you know the kind of day I'm talking about? Where everything seems like it's out to get you and even the furniture is on the attack? It all began with a nice alarm blaring in my ear... apparently for over 30 minutes. As I groggily hit the snooze button I happened to glance up and see that it was closer to 7 than it was to 6. Oh no, the kids aren't up! So I quickly rush down the hallway knocking on doors as I go, and move in to wake up Moira who still needs help getting ready. No one seems to be moving. Another round of knocking 3 minutes later as I look for breakfast, snacks, getting together my clothes, planning my shower etc.

Finally after 3 tries I hear movement in the rooms and Moira is stirring enough to start getting dressed. I run downstairs to find the clean clothes I had washed the night before, pull out my outfit and a shirt for Mo and back up the stairs I go. (by run I mean a fast hectic walk that reminds the stair well that if it moves up an inch, it can stub my toe with the best of them.) So here I am stumbling with a toe that's sure to be broken, trying not to drop the clothes, when a magical lego appears out of no where and embeds itself into my flesh. Score 2 for the inanimate invaders and nothing for the dad who is running late.

My head begins to overwhelm me as I remember all things I'm supposed to do today. I need to get Moira ready, I need to get her to the bus stop, I need a shower, the dog needs to be walked before I leave, the clothes need to be put into the washer, the dishes need to be started, I need to help Butch at the church rewire some lights, it's almost time for Mass, then the prayer group, then I need to work on some homework for class, a meeting tonight for the building and grounds... we gotta get moving I remind them in a voice that's entirely too loud, entirely too angry.

Sarah and Hannah run out the door, their bus is running in less than a minute. Moira points to the basket and says "uh oh, Sarah forgot her project." Another thing in my head, a new object crams it's way into things to do... How am I going to get that to her at school? Someone is blowing their horn in the driveway, and I call back (by call I mean yell irritatingly that someone has invaded my introverted space again) 'Your ride is here!' This is followed by a slowly shuffling teenager who takes her time and calls out as if they can hear through the closed door 'I'm coming.' I begin to get irritated and mention that she should hurry, which is followed by a 'I am' as the shuffling sloth like creature begins to put on her shoes.

It all begins to bubble over as she has left and I look to see where Moira is.. and she's in the bathroom. So I knock and remind, we gotta go your bus is going to run. Followed by another 3 knocks in what seems like 10 minutes of time.. when actually it was probably about 10 seconds apart. Finally she opens the door and I notice in horror she doesn't even have her shoes on, her hairs not brushed, and I have less than a minute for the bus to run. I tell her "MOVE!" and she does, she runs into the living room, dancing around in all four cardinal directions as if she was a compass out of control, trying to find her shoes. Dear God help me, she doesn't even know where they are! So we frantically look, and my phone rings. My wife is on the other end reminding me that 'Sarah needs her project for school she left it.' I snap at her, she doesn't deserve that. I hear the air break release on the bus.. we missed it.

Ah, how wonderful a day eh? You may think I'm complaining, and maybe in a way I am. Actually, this morning was beautiful. I didn't realize that when I woke up. When my toe was throbbing I was angry. When my kids weren't moving fast enough, I was irritated to no end.   When my phone rang and sang 'Oh Happy Day' to me, I was angry that it interrupted my space. When the horn beeped in the driveway I was irritated for the occupants in the vehicle who kept beeping every few seconds to remind someone they were here. How do we miss all the things in there that are from God? As I was 'stomping' my way on foot to take Moira to school, a small wind blew through my mind and God reminded me in that still small voice "It's not about YOU."

Dumbfounded. That's the word I would describe me as I stopped mid track.   As I stood there on the sidewalk and Moira caught up to me and I realized I had made my day all about me. I apologized to her for being frazzled and we walked together and she began to talk to me. She began to point out this house or that, this flower or that, this bus and where it was going, etc. I realized she hadn't been talking.. how could she? We were walking at the fastest pace my broken body can handle, and I wasn't really giving her a chance to see anything.

I took her to school, and we got there before the bell rang and I began to walk on towards the other school to drop off the project. At this point I'm not in a hurry anymore. A friend stops and asks if I need a ride, my mind for a second says 'you can still make it to mass, you can make it to work on the lights, forget the project, get in and go!'  I realize quickly that in doing that my friend who is lector for daily mass today would miss it if she gave me a ride. Thanks, but I'm gonna be a while I say, and tell her to go on. It's not about me.  It's now about God.  I need to spend more time listening. So I walk on.

So I open my eyes around me. The barking dogs yapping at me, the squirrels and their nuts, the trees and their blossoms and fading flowers, the elderly gentleman walking his pup, the birds in the trees, and the wind in the leaves. I walk on and back home, all the while thinking what a blessing I had this morning. The bible warns us in sacred scripture that our tongue has the power to curse and bless, and it should only be blessing. Jesus also reminds us that what comes out of our heart is what makes a man unclean. With that in mind, our thoughts can be a blessing and a curse too, they can take a moment in which we can see the finger prints of God... and instead we see only the dust. (Think of a CSI show, how they dust the surfaces to find finger prints.. our lives are dust... but if we look at where the ashes fall, we can find the finger prints of God on the surface.)

Curse: I woke up this morning to a blaring alarm clock.
Blessing: I woke up.

Curse: No one is up yet.
Blessing: Everyone was soundly asleep and resting.

Curse: having to get clean clothes from downstairs
Blessing: we have clothes.

Curse: Moira doesn't have her shoes on.
Blessing: We get to walk together and chat this morning.

Curse: Sarah forgot her project.
Blessing: I get to serve my family by living my vocation, I can take it to her.

Curse: the phone rings interrupting me
Blessing: the phone serenades me with 'Oh Happy Day' followed by the melodic beauty of my wife's voice.

We forget that everyday life sanctifies us. Living our vocation, our calling, can be the most holy thing we can do.. if we allow it to be such. We parents are called to serve. We often think of service as only when we go to church to wire a light, clean a floor, or lector at the Ambo. But service includes those at home as well. We often treat them worse than we would a complete stranger. We are hypocrites. Everyone of us. But we can do better. We can do it one day at a time. One blessing at a time. One walk at a time.

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where am I now?

During the process of my conversion, I was uninterested in the Catholic faith. Coming from the particular protestant background that I was raised in, the Catholic faith was not only foreign, but looked down upon if not looked at with outright contempt. My wife and I had married with the understanding that we were of different faiths, but after a while I began to seek to convert her to my own protestant stance. I was convinced that the Catholic faith was wrong and I set out to prove that to her.  As time went by I would approach her with more and more questions, I guess more accurately described as confrontations. “Why do you believe this?” “Why do you Catholics do that!?” To which she would always reply, “find out.”  She refused to argue with me, which of course infuriated me!

At this point I was really fooling myself, because my heart was not really into finding answers. I would do some reading of course online, mostly from protestant and Anti-Catholic websites to try and find answers.  Then a major event happened in our lives: the baptism of our biological daughter, Moira.  As the time drew closer, my wife informed me that we were baptizing our daughter Catholic. We really didn't discuss it further other than when, where, which priest would baptize her, etc.  As a protestant I didn't really care what religion she was baptized into, as long as she was baptized.

As the day finally arrived I stood with every person in the congregation of the church at St. Mary's in Sycamore Illinois.  The priest walked us through the process, renewing our baptismal promises and then asked us if we would raise our daughter according to the Catholic faith. I responded in the affirmative and as I did, it dawned on me that in order to teach her what the Catholics believed I would have to know myself!   I could no longer simply dance around the issue, I had to actually delve into this so that I could teach her as I had just given my word before God and man that I would do so.

I began to search earnestly for answers, not just reading the protestant side of things but going to Catholic sites, speaking to Catholic apologists online, and even spending a great deal of time talking to the priest at our home Parish in Genoa.  I had many questions and someone eventually suggested that I join the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program at our parish.  I was ensured there would be no commitment required and I could go there and find answers to all of these questions that I had.  I signed up and began to attend, but I must admit that this first trip through RCIA was one filled with a bad attitude and hostility.   I wanted answers, but not for the right reason. I came to class to argue, or to find ways to prove to my wife and eventually my daughter that the Catholic faith was wrong.

The sweet lady who taught the class would look at me sometimes and simply say, “It's part of the mystery.” Then she'd move on to another topic or further into the topic we were discussing.  This made me so angry at the time. I had been taught my entire life that there is no mystery! Every answer you want or need was supposed to be right there in the Bible.  I eventually quit going to RCIA and simply studied on my own, convinced that the teacher simply didn't know enough about scripture to be able to answer me.  I was so convinced that I had already known God and his Word that I knew there was no mystery to him.

As time went on I found answers to many of my questions. An astonishing thing happened along the way, I began to find that every single time I found the answer I was looking for, I found a new question. Another astonishing thing happened as well, I began to find answers that weren't in scripture, but were in writings from the early church fathers, documents from the Church itself, even in just talking to other members of the Catholic faith. My beliefs about God were not really changing, but my understanding of God was growing in a way that began to show me that not only did my beliefs fit in with the Catholic faith, but that the faith was so deep that it really was a mystery, because God himself was beyond our understanding. The word that had so exasperated me in the beginning, became a word that I embraced and clung to as I again enrolled in the RCIA program.  This time not to argue or look for ways to convince others of how wrong the Catholic faith was, but to help me understand just how right it was.  Not just for them, not just for my daughter, but for me.

The amazing thing that I am finding is that despite all of this journey that I have been on for many years, from the days when I sat beside my grandfather in the pews of a Baptist church, to the day when I went forward and confessed my love for God at an altar call, through the days of my baptism, prayer services, and eventually my confirmation in the Catholic faith; I never noticed the pattern of repeating that was going on in my life. Even when I began to read this wonderful document about the six stages of development my mind wanted to compartmentalize it into single stages, as if we could graduate from one into another.

Throughout life we have been taught that each event is a stage to move to another, and that eventually we will get where we are going. Working a job leads to a promotion, after which you no longer have to do the things before.  My approach to this document was very similar in that in attempting to analyze where I am in those stages, I quickly began to quantify if I had moved through one stage to the next.  I checked off my list through imagination, quickly moving past literal, to group faith, into personal, and hoping that I might actually be able to write myself down as someone who had gotten to the mystical stage.

As we discussed this in our small groups, many of the others did the same with their analysis of themselves.  We each found ourselves hovering between stage 4, Personal Faith, and stage 5, Mystical faith. In fact, I felt a little ashamed as if I was failing because I could see that I didn't stay in the Mystical area.  I saw parts of my life where I felt I had achieved that for a time, where I had acted in those ways, even from time to time I could honestly say I had achieved the Sacrificial faith that I so desire to have at all times.  Yet, when I was honest with myself; I wasn't there all the time. I felt as if I was failing God and even was concerned about coming to class, that maybe I was the only one who wasn't able to stay in 'the zone'.

Then we began to discuss it at length and the light began to dawn on each of us, more especially when our teacher began to talk about the cyclical nature of faith, that we were walking along that normal path. My eyes began to open to a new understanding of the imaginative faith. Where as before I saw it as something that only children do, even having clever anecdotes prepared in my head of how my nephew talked about God's mom, aka Mrs. God,  or how that my daughter had once thought that God put on a costume so he could look like a ghost; to where I now see that we each have to reach the stage of imagination in order to move forward and learn. That once we grasp on to a concept, some part of the mystery, we must begin to delve it in our mind before we can begin to ask questions. We must imagine what God is like, because he is beyond us. That once we reach a point where we have begun to even glimpse the mystical aspect of the truth that is being revealed to us, another question appears.  We then begin to use our imagination again to try to fathom this new truth, and the cycle begins anew.

How relieving it was to find that simple eye opening truth, that all of this time that I had been seeking answers and only finding more questions, that I had been truly following the nature of revelation and faith. God was calling, and I was responding. I wasn't failing, but I was growing in faith. I still hope that some day, I can be in the stage of sacrificial faith at all times; until then I will be content in knowing that I can glimpse those moments without trepidation but simply realizing that when I do have a moment of pure sacrificial giving, a moment in which I am no longer concerned with my self at all but only with 'other', that in that moment, I will have opened another stage of the mystery.  That in opening another stage of the mystery I will have drawn that much closer to God.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger

The book of James is quick to remind us that part of our Christian duty is to listen to another.  It's strange though to think that the average thought of what it means to listen, is not to hear what they have to say.. but to quickly find out their problem, and fix it.

We so often sit hearing another person without actually listening to them. Our mind is often filled with our own preoccupation of what it is that they are speaking about and we wait with some sort of anticipation to interject what we agree with or what we disagree with, or even to say 'here is the answer' to their dilemma.  I was reading a very interesting book and in it there was this astounding thought to me, when my listening becomes a point where I am going to interject something of my own experience, to tell them here is what I agree with of what you said.. or here is what I disagree with.. we have made it no longer about them, but about me.

How much more powerful and resulting would a conversation be if we spent that time actually listening, putting ourselves in their shoes, and attempting to understand fully what they are conveying?  Not simply looking for where they are wrong, or where we are right, or trying to scientifically categorize an answer to their problem;  but simply listening and making sure they know we are listening.  Not systematically dissecting the situation with questions, but simply commenting on their feelings "You were feeling quite betrayed by their actions.  That makes it very hard to trust them again."   Is much more about them than "I'd never talk to them again!" which as become about you.

So do we have it in us? To listen? Not just to hear, but to listen.. unconditionally?  Or are we stuck as a society that is about the I, and not the you?