The Woman of Revelation 12

This Friday Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. The Assumption of Mary is a very difficult doctrine to accept let alone grasp without having first taken hold of the more basic Marian doctrines. Why was she sinless? Why do Catholics venerate her? Where do you find any of the Marian nonsense in the Bible?

One place we find the Marian nonsense is in the book of Revelation. Revelation is not an easy book to understand and Biblical scholars from all different denominations have hundreds of ways of interpreting the book. The whole book is highly symbolic, but there are portions of it that more clearly represent the people and things than other more obscure passages. The passage I am highlighting today is certainly symbolic, but it also has a plain meaning that is easily recognized by the average reader. Revelation 12:1 reads, “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and crying out in birth pains and the agongy of giving birth.”

The rest of Revelation 12 is amazing! I remember the first time I read it – the apologist Tim Staples had recommended it to me after I asked a question about the Immaculate Conception on Catholic Answers Live. I sat there in bewilderment – it describes an evil dragon, who John names as Satan, who pursues the pregnant woman and tries to devour her child. Verse 5 says, “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and his throne.”

This woman is a symbol of the Church, but even more clearly she is Mary, the mother of God. From this passage we see that Mary is crowned and that she is the mother of all of us – verse 17 says, “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” We, as believers, are those who hold to the testimony of Jesus, and this verse says that we are the offspring of the woman – Mary.

Many Sola Scriptura Christians argue that if Mary is everything the Catholic Church says she is, then she would be mentioned as such in Scripture. This is a good point. Cardinal Newman spoke to this – “It is sometimes asked, why do not the sacred writers mention our Lady’s greatness? I answer, she was, or may have been alive, when the apostles and evangelists wrote; there was just one book of Scripture certainly written after her death and that book does (so to say) canonize and crown her.” The book of Revelation was the last book of Scripture written and it honors Mary as clearly as can be done in an apocalyptic book.

So, so, so much more to say! Alas, enough for now.

I encourage you to read the entire chapter on your own and let me know your thoughts. Here is Mary and Jesus portrayed fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis 3:16. Here is Mary, clothed with the sun. Here is Mary, our mother.

*A wonderful book on Mary from whence I learned most of what I wrote today is “Hail Holy Queen – The Mother of God in the Word of God” by Scott Hahn. Check it out.

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Mass Reading Reflections

The Mass readings today really touched me in a profound way.

What gets me about the liturgy of the Word is that the Word of God is allowed to speak for itself. Oftentimes in Protestant churches I attended the Word of God was only read when it was a passage that was to be interpreted by the pastor that day. They would read the reading and then expound upon it. Of course at a Mass the priest often gives a homily, but he does not usually touch upon each Scripture read. At daily mass there are two readings and a psalm and on Sundays there are three readings and a psalm.  Most of the liturgy of the Word is not expounded upon.

Granted, this is not objectively a good thing because many Catholics do not have a firm grasp on Scripture and the time periods of the various prophets, etc. But what is so powerful to me about the liturgy of the Word is that it recognizes that the Word of God is powerful enough to touch the hearts of the faithful just as it is. Simply Scripture can speak to us. Protestants believe this as well even more so some would say, but I wish the non-mainline denominations would adopt the idea of having set readings from the Old and New Testaments and a Gospel because it is just so beautiful.

And don’t even get me started on how every Catholic in the entire world heard the same readings as I did today… Mind blowing.

Today the first reading was from Isaiah 55:1-3 – here’s an excerpt:

“You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.”

Part of the responsorial psalm said:

“The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Psalm 145:15-16

Finally the Gospel reading was from when Jesus fed the 5,000 from Matthew 14. 

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied…” 

I love that the Gospel said “they all ate and were satisfied”. Here in Matthew 14 we see a clear prefigurement of the Eucharist. Really in all the readings we see it, but in Matthew’s gospel even the language nearly identical to the institution narrative. What we see from this is that only Jesus can satisfy our hunger.  

God speaks to us corporeally through what we can see, hear, taste, feel, etc. This is clearly seen in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Our daily bread must be the Word of God. And thanks be to God that he has provided us such a clear representation of this through what we learn from the Eucharist. 

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Worldly Desires

It’s been six months now that I’ve been a Catholic.  After my confirmation I took a hiatus from the blog as I felt I had so little to contribute and so much to learn.  I have not learned it all, nor will I ever, thanks be to God. A lifetime of learning sounds like something I’m up for!

Tonight a local church men’s prayer group hosted a special worship night, what Catholics would call a holy hour. I think the concept of a holy hour comes from Jesus’s words to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).  We kneeled before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus himself, and sang out our hearts in worship.  The room was packed with young adults from Northern NJ.  I felt touched by God’s love as I know so many others did as well.

I’ve been working in New York City (long story, but just know that the Lord provided me with a job at another pregnancy center!!!) and I have been getting all caught up in worldly desires. If you know me at all you know that I have never been one for brand names and fancy clothes, but all of a sudden I am finding myself wanting a Michael Kors bag and stylish clothes.  It makes me angry that I have any desire for these things – it’s a temptation because I would rather spend my money elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with those things in themselves, but why do I want them?

I realized tonight in Adoration that I want them because I have been viewing myself through the eyes of others and not through the eyes of God.  I’ve been thinking about dating and living the fast life in NYC and forgetting that the most important thing in my life is Jesus. I can try to be pretty to attract nice men and receive compliments from friends, but even on days that I stay in sweats and put my hair up Jesus calls me beautiful. And I can try and work hard to ensure that I can be financially secure and have what I want, but I must remember that Jesus will always carry me even if I “fail” in the eyes of the world. If I had no money and no job and no beauty Jesus would still love me and he would take me by the hand and lead me.  Already he has provided so many many good gifts to me and I can only be thankful.

It’s surprising how the past few weeks I felt really “blah”… I know that it is because I lost sight of what really matters. And spending an hour in worship is an amazing way to place oneself in a posture of listening before the Lord. When I listen to Him I feel uplifted and joyful!  I want to give myself more structured prayer times to ensure I don’t get swept away again. That is my desire.

You see, God takes the worldly desires we bring to Him and gives us heavenly desires.

 

Moving the Magic Bread (aka the Eucharist, aka Jesus)

  Lent and Easter were really beautiful seasons for me to experience this year. I am settling into life as a Catholic and I love it! I wanted to give you some highlights of the Easter Tridium liturgies (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil Mass).

            First, Holy Thursday. I am almost stupefied that my whole Christian life never once did my church have a Holy Thursday service. “But what’s so special about Holy Thursday?” Good question – let me tell you. On Holy Thursday we remember Christ’s last supper in the upper room with his disciples. It was there that he instituted the Eucharist, it was there that Jesus began to be betrayed by Judas, it was that night that Jesus cried tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you are Protestant and you only celebrate two sacraments (communion and baptism), then you would think that this night would be remembered. You would think.

            The Holy Thursday mass is absolutely beautiful. During the mass the priests wash the feet of twelve people (they can be anyone – Pope Francis washed the feet of the disabled at a nursing home. At St. Paul’s they washed the feet of people in the congregation) in imitation of our Lord. This echoes the gospel reading, John 13:1-17, which comes directly before the washing of the feet in the mass. It is such a powerful thing to hear the Word of God and then see if acted out. A grand sermon is not needed, no one needs to proclaim “Amen!”, the simple example of our priests suffices to say, “Look, this is the gospel.”

            Gosh, I want to write so much more, but now I realize that it’s really quite useless. Only by the Holy Spirit can one be moved through the liturgy so that it raises the eyes of the soul heavenwards…. so then, I suppose I can tell you how I felt and perhaps that will help some.

            After the mass on Holy Thursday the Eucharist is reposed in a different part of the church. This means that in every Church the Tabernacle is empty (the tabernacle is where the Eucharist is normally kept). This symbolizes Christ’s descent into the grave. It’s eerie to walk into the church on Good Friday and see the tabernacle door open with an empty interior and not see the candle which burns when the Eucharist is present. I felt like there something missing – almost like I wasn’t in church at all but just a room they use for church sometimes…

            “Jen, let me get this straight – you are telling me they moved the magic bread to a different room in the church? Whoop-de-doo.”

            When one enters into the liturgy ones heart feels the pain of the disciples as they mourned the death of Jesus unaware that he was to return. I wish that I could have felt that sadness yet more deeply (it’s hard to forget that he comes back after all!) and known the sorrow with which the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the other women experienced. Moving the Eucharist out of the tabernacle helps one to enter into the events that transpired two thousand years ago. All these traditions and rituals are meant to usher the individual joined into communion with the Church into the sacred mysteries of our faith. They all serve a purpose.

            The hymn that is sang when the Eucharist is reposed is “Pange Lingua”. Funnily enough I used to sing that song at St. John’s College (a liberal school, not Catholic whatsoever) in freshman chorus, but I never knew what the Latin really meant because I didn’t care. The song is sung in chant and late on Thursday night with the lights off and the rooms lit by candles we walked through the church entering into an ancient rite. It connected me to St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote those words and to all the saints since his time who sang them. I want to be connected to the past. I want to be connected to all the members of Christ’s church, living and dead. One day we will be with them in heaven, but what I failed to realize as a Protestant is that I am already connected with them here.

            To be continued: up next – Good Friday and the Easter Vigil!

Mass and Scripture

            I received my Bachelors in Religious Studies from Liberty University – don’t let the name fool you.  The religious studies degree is basically a Bible degree masked with a more neutral name to help the students be more marketable after graduation.  That being said, I took classes on John, Romans, Daniel and Revelation, Genesis, Systematic Theology I and II, and on and on.  I am blessed to say I have a pretty firm grasp on the content of Scripture (and a pretty lousy degree for making myself a career…).

            Anyone who has a good grasp on Scripture will notice that the Mass is filled with Scripture.  It brings it to life and brings it into the present moment as we participate in the words written by the Apostles many years ago.  I wanted to highlight a few of them and tell you about where they come from in Scripture, what their implications are, and my little thoughts about them. 

            1. The “Our Father”

            When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray he provided for them a beautiful prayer that continues to be powerful in the lives of Christians throughout the world.  At every Mass we pray this prayer, the same prayer that has been prayed for two millennia by millions and millions of saints, martyrs, and simple believers. It has the power to transform us inwardly – Thy will be done, give us our daily bread (remembering to stay in the present), forgive us our debts (remembering that we are sinners), as we forgive our debtors (remembering to show others mercy).  It also unifies us as we pray Our Father not My Father – we must remember that to love God is to be part of a huge, crazy family.

            Oddly enough, Catholics are some of the only Christians who pray this prayer the way Jesus taught it.  When Jesus taught this prayer it ended with, “…but deliver us from evil. Amen.”  The early Church added on the doxology – “For the kingdom and the power and the glory is yours now and forever. Amen.”  Most Protestants pray the Our Father with the added doxology without thinking about the fact that it doesn’t read that way in their Bibles*.  Catholics in their recitation of the prayer end it the way Jesus did, though the doxology is recited in the Mass, but not as a part of Lord’s Prayer.  It seems that sacred tradition may have seeped into Protestant circles without them realizing…

            *I want to leave it at that… but I cannot because you, the reader, must have the full information on this.  Some manuscripts have the doxology added to Matthew 6, but most of the earliest ones do not. King James Version advocates say that this doxology is from the original inspired Scriptures and they include it in their Bibles, though the scholars who contributed to translating most modern translations used in most Protestant churches (NIV, ESV, NASB) omit the doxology as a later addition to the original texts by the early church.

            2. The Sanctus

“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest”

            This ancient hymn is rich, filled with words found in Scripture. Before the Sanctus is sung by all present at the Mass the priest says, “And so with choirs of angels, with all the heavenly host, we proclaim your glory and join their unending song of praise.”

            The first two lines of the Sanctus draw from Revelation 4:8 and Isaiah 6:3. In both of these passages the Apostle John and the prophet Isaiah have a vision in which they see angelic creatures in heaven praising God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)  So when we sing this in the Mass we are literally joining with the songs of praise being sung in heaven right now!  In fact, in Revelation it states that these living creatures never cease to praise the Lord, day and night. It’s a powerful way to unite ourselves to the saints and angels in heaven and to foreshadow our future hope of joining with them in their song after we take leave from this earth.

            The next lines draw from the Psalms and the Gospels.  When Jesus was entering Jerusalem the week of his Passion the crowds gathered along the road that ran down into the city and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). They were quoting Psalm 118:26 which also says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  If you read Psalm 118 in its entirety you will see how fitting it was for the crowds to quote Psalm 118 before the Lord’s passion.  In Psalm 118 the writer expresses his joy and thankfulness to God for rescuing him from the hand of his enemy, but he also continues to say, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” (v. 25).  We do the same as we celebrate the redemption Christ has given us through his death and resurrection and as we eagerly await his return and the coming of heaven on earth.

            Honestly, until writing this post today I had never saw the rich meaning in the crowds quoting Psalm 118 to Jesus and I am so excited that I have this to think on and meditate on the next few weeks or months every time I say the Sanctus in Mass! A lot of people do not find this depth in Mass and a lot of Protestants think that written prayers and set words lack passion.  I would say to them that you get what you put in. I am guilty of daydreaming during Mass or letting my mind wander, but when I realize this is happening I try to redirect my focus to what is happening. I try to let the words being said sink into my soul and I exert my will in applying meaning to the words I say in the Mass.  Which brings us to the next and last phrase I want to bring up.

            3. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

            This comes directly from Matthew 8:8 where a centurion comes to Jesus asking that he would heal his servant who was sick and dying at his house.  Jesus consents to come and heal his servant but the centurion stops him and says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  Somehow this Roman soldier understood that Jesus had way more power than people were giving him credit for! Even Jesus was astounded at the centurion’s faith and marveled at it.

            These words in the Mass have meant different things for me at different times.  While waiting to be received into the Church they meant, “Lord, I know you can work in my heart powerfully even though I am not receiving you in the Eucharist.” Now that I partake they remind me that the Eucharist is a gift that I am not worthy of.  I am nothing, but God has made me his beloved daughter and given me himself through Christ.

            As I read today and mulled over this passage a new meaning struck me that I look forward to thinking about more. The centurion recognized that Jesus had authority over everything and that if he could heal people in person he could also heal them from afar. In the same way, the Catholic Church believes that at the Last Supper our Lord instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist and now we have faith that by the power of the Holy Spirit he can continue to transform bread and wine into his body and blood.  What he did when physically present he can also do from afar. We draw from the faith of the centurion when we say these words.

            If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with this post. My prayer is that this may help you experience the Mass in a new, fresh way or if you have not been to a Mass that this may help you to understand the high view of Scripture that is held by Catholics. I am so thankful that God continues to teach us new things throughout our lives. Just as how I learned new things and new ways to think about the words of the Mass today by writing this, I hope to continue to learn new things and new ways to think about our Lord as I grow in faith, hope, and charity.  God is good all the time!

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast

            I don’t know about you, but I’m a rusher.  By nature, I rush into things full steam ahead and only afterwards look back and think “Gee, maybe I should have given this some more thought.”  Fortunately God is not like a human who says things like, “I told you so,” or “Why didn’t you ask my opinion?  I would have informed you that your idea was stupid then!”  No, God is not like that at all.  God is the father from the parable of the prodigal son who embraces us when we turn to him, even before we say “I screwed up.”  And not only does he still love and accept us, but he uses the dumb stuff we did to bring about good.

            Just chew on that for a second because it’s kind of amazing.

            James 1:5 says that if we lack wisdom all we have to do is ask God for some and he will give us some.  God has been teaching me how to wait on him.  When I thought about writing this post I looked back at this past year and realized that God taught me a lot about patience. When I first started realizing that the Church had a very real claim to the truth through apostolic succession, I was ready to become Catholic.  If I was not at First Choice where my conversion put my job in jeopardy, I probably would have converted right away and maybe later I would have felt some doubts.  But I had to wait.  I had to wait because I committed to work at First Choice for a year and I wasn’t 100% convinced yet.  As a result the Holy Spirit tilled the soil of my heart for months until it was ready to be sown.

            When I decided to convert, a seed was planted. In my mind it was more of a transplant – I had read stories of Protestants who worked in ministry converting to Catholicism and a lot of them were confirmed very quickly. I wanted to be Catholic yesterday and participate in the Mass. But the leaders at St. Paul’s where I attend Mass were not in a rush as I was.

            At first I was a little frustrated that they wanted me to wait until Easter. After all, I believed everything the Church taught because what swayed me in the first place was its’ authority. I had already done my research on the topics that caused me hesitation – justification, Marian dogmas, merit, purgatory. Thankfully, I did not voice my frustration because I knew that I was wrong to want to hurry, but I wanted it nonetheless.

            The Church is rarely ever in a hurry.  Catechumens in the early church would go through catechesis for three years before they received the sacraments! And here I was thinking that I had to wait a long time… God’s grace abounds and as the time progressed I realized that even though I was not receiving the Eucharist at Mass, I was still participating. The words, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” became my mantra. Those words helped me to realize that I was benefiting immensely from being in the Lord’s presence even without receiving him bodily. The seed of Christ was receiving nutrients and water in the soil of my heart.

            I came to relish my time of preparation and saw the incredible value in it. I was inspired by Saint Therese of Liseaux from her autobiography  –“…even though I had been thinking for so long about my First Communion, I had to renew my ardor and fill my heart with freshly gathered flowers. So every day, I made many sacrifices and acts of love, which were transformed into flowers; some were violets and roses, others cornflowers and daisies or forget-me-nots. I wanted all the flowers on earth to cradle Jesus in my heart.” She felt that way as a child and I was learning to much from her innocent desire for God.

            So I steadily prepared my heart. The seed sprouted and a glimmer of green was evident in the soil. God has taught me so much about waiting…

            Yet after my confirmation, after the seed began to grow, I was quickly consumed with thoughts of “what next?” and the urge to rush into something – anything (terribly reckless if you ask me…). Fortunately I knew my urge to rush was akin to a puppy who gets terribly excited and jumps up and down and does back-flips but just needs to relax and snuggle with his master. My master wants me to be quiet, to wait for his cue. The Church has much wisdom in not rushing, for when we rush we make blunders.  In the Army they always say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Moving slowly helps to avoid error, which in turn makes the whole process faster.

            This post is entirely for my soul – my soul is often restless because I am a dreamer and have an insatiable thirst for adventure. But, in the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, this is the great adventure! I can find adventure in the throes of everyday life. In the stillness of my soul and the quiet of my heart I can soar on the wings of eagles. Learning to wait on the Lord is more challenging than climbing a high, majestic mountain, and more rewarding. I am learning to love to wait. Pray for me that I will remember what I have written.

Pride and humility

            One reason I was fearful of converting for a good while was that I thought there were no “true believers” in the Catholic Church.  Most Protestant churches have a number of ex-Catholics who are open to share that they did not understand their faith nor the core tenants of the gospel as a Catholic.  They also felt a lot of guilt and worried about being good enough.

            These are valid points and the Catholic Church is working to address them, but just because there are people who don’t understand does not mean that there are not people who understand.  It was in my silly, prideful head that I was being called to take up my cross and follow Jesus into the abyss of the Catholic Church where I would be one of the few who loved him and could share that love with others. I was called to be a light in the darkness of the truth. I was to be an evangelist to the unevangelized.

            I was wrong.

            I’m terribly grateful that I was wrong about all this (and ashamed at my inordinate amount of uncalled for pride… Lord, have mercy).  I was wrong in so many ways.  Looking back on this past week I can think of many, many people who have sown gospel seeds of love into my life over lunch, sitting on couches, and at church.  I’ve met people who love God in radical ways (quick shout out to thank all the men and women in religious life!) and people who love God as they work and raise families. 

            I do not think I am being naïve… I know that many parishes are fizzling and struggling and may not have a ton of people who are excited about God.  But I think even at those churches a remnant remains.  And even if a remnant does not remain and you are called to attend a church like that, you always have the saints to look to, and the Holy Father and Bishops (you can follow the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Facebook – they post tons of encouraging stuff)!  There are tons of great ministries that promote the gospel (Check out Catholic Answers).

            A lot of Protestants are surprised to know that there are lots of Catholics who are “on fire” for God. Part of that is just proximity – the devout Catholics on fire for God do not normally attend Protestant functions and so many Protestants do not encounter them frequently.  I don’t encounter people born in China frequently – but there’s a lot of them!

            I am so grateful I was wrong!!! 

Confirmation Day Confusion

            So, yesterday was the big day!  I am now a confirmed Catholic.  I was so blessed to be surrounded by my friends and family and to rejoice in the Lord’s goodness with them.  Someone asked me if it was everything I expected.  I didn’t know how to answer that in the moment, so I made up some sort of gibberish, but today I think I know the answer.  No, it was not what I expected. 

            The mass yesterday was a little chaotic.  I had watched a documentary Friday night that follows Carmelite nuns in the heart of London (No Greater Love – check it out!) and I think somehow I got a bit infatuated with the notion of silence and forgot how loud this world can be.  Our small chapel at St. Paul’s Inside the Walls was literally packed solid – they had to get extra folding chairs to accommodate everyone!  Now, this was not all my doing.  The campus ministry mass joined with ours so all the college kids added to our numbers. Anyway, this caused some commotion. My sponsor’s daughter screamed through most of the rites because her mother was not with her. We had candles that dripped on our hands, clothes, and the floor. It was loud.  But I knew God wanted to tell me something through all of that.

            In receiving my confirmation and the holy Eucharist I was affirming my faith in Christ and I became united with Him in a deeper way than I had been before.  This journey of life we are on is filled with noise and chaos.  There are demands on our time, marketing to sway our affections, and daily routine that can easily drown out our eternal call.  But Jesus came to bring life to the full (John 10:10) and to usher in the kingdom of God which brings with it God’s Shalom – peace. 

            Right now, as I write this, I realize that God meant for me to be prepared for all this by the Gospel reading from Saturday.  It comes from Mark 4:35-41 and it tells of a time when Jesus and the disciples were sailing across the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus was sleeping in the stern of the boat while a fierce storm came upon them and the boat began to take in water.  The disciples, many of whom were experienced sailors, started freaking out and they woke up Jesus saying, “Jesus! Wake up! We’re going to die and you are there just sleeping!!!  Hurry, get up!” (I embellished, but only a little J)

            Jesus got up, I imagine rather slowly, and told the waves and wind and rain to knock it off.  Then he said, “Why are you scared? Don’t you have faith in me by now?” (once again, I look some liberties here).  God knows that we live in the midst of storms – He lived in the midst of them!  But when Jesus encountered storms, he rested in the peace of the Holy Trinity.

            God offers us this peace! When life gets crazy we can rest in peace.  When the storms come we know that Jesus has it under control.  That is the beautiful lesson God taught me during the Mass yesterday.

            Now, on to my internal struggle from yesterday.  After Mass I greeted people and thanked them for coming and I really was so happy that everyone could witness this day!  But I also felt really strange, because I did not know how I felt.  Last week I was overflowing with joy in a way I that I think I never had before.  I couldn’t help but praise God.  It was all building up to Sunday, and then on Sunday … well, I didn’t feel the same.  And I didn’t feel even more joyful, which I had expected.  I thought I was going to feel so full of joy that I would die, but I didn’t.  A few people asked me, “So, how does it feel now?” and I had to answer honestly. “I’m not sure.  I don’t know.”

            We ate, we talked, we feasted and praised God in doing so.  After things died down and I began to drive home I started to think more.  “What is going on?  Why am I not joyful?” I was frustrated and slightly taken aback by my confusion over my feelings.  I was looking forward to a nap, but before I could I needed to figure this out.  Praise God, there is an adoration chapel five minutes from my house, so I headed there to have some peace and quiet and to let Jesus help me figure this all out. God has a sense of humor though, because some of the other adorers who were there were the type who like to pray under their breath, so the silence I was looking for wasn’t there either… I had to laugh because I know he looks at them with love and he wants to teach me a lesson about life, noise, and peace. (But it was much quieter there still!)

            So I began to pray and I began to write in my journal and God gave me the insight I needed, as He so often graciously does.  I felt confused because my identity changed so fast.  You see, for the past six months I had been a woman converting to Catholicism.  I was studying and digging deep as I prepared to receive the sacraments. 

            Then all of a sudden, I wasn’t.  I was Catholic.  I was done converting.  I think that is what caused my confusion about how to feel.  I needed time to process what happened, and I thank God that he helped me begin to work through this yesterday.  I know what I would say to someone feeling this way – “Yes, now you are Catholic.  But your conversion never ends – we must die to ourselves daily and take up our cross.  You will continue to grow and learn as you are nourished by the bread of life.  Don’t stop studying, don’t stop growing!” 

            All that is true, and I tell myself that, but the weird thing is that it doesn’t always change how you feel.  Identity changes just take time to sink into our souls.

            Today I feel a little less confused and clearer.  I am immensely grateful for what I experienced yesterday – every moment of it!  God is always good to us when we seek Him.  I also realize the beauty and the challenge of faith.  You see, faith is not dependent on how you feel.  Faith goes beyond feelings and emotions to the truth.  The truth is that yesterday what happened was so joyful in itself, without me feeling it.  If my intellect had emotions, I would be ecstatic because I know that something totally amazing, totally supernatural happened to me yesterday.  I wish my emotions would follow my intellect… but they aren’t right now.  And that’s okay.  Sometimes God blesses us with challenges to stretch us and grow us, and my lack of desired emotion is not a terrible struggle in any way, but it is a little struggle. 

Maybe it’s a mustard seed of a struggle?  Maybe it’s not. Maybe I should buckle my seatbelt…  God is good all the time!

Image

My parents, Father Derek, and I after Mass

            

Supernatural experiences

            Just last week I found out that rather than be welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil I will be welcomed this Sunday!  As a result I have been preparing for my reception of the sacraments.  Something out of this world, wonderful, and supernatural happened to me – I received my first sacrament (since my baptism)! 

            Today I am new, holy, righteous, partaking of the divine nature (1 Peter 1:4).  Tuesday I went to my first confession.  A lot of people are intimidated my confession and dislike it.  I understand that feeling as I was also apprehensive, though excited because I believe in the power that this sacrament holds. But really, why confess your sins to a priest?  He is just another man.

            Yes, he is. But this sacrament has a Scriptural foundation in John 20:21-22, when Jesus was with the disciples after his resurrection – “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”  I was reading a bit of Protestant commentary on these verses.  They of course do not believe that Christ gave them authority to forgive sins in his name.  It’s complicated, because the Bible seems to be contradictory it places and it is difficult to fit all the verses together to make a unified whole.  That’s why I am thankful that Jesus did not leave us without a structure, a Church, to help us. 

            So, confession. I had prepared a list of my sins that I could remember.  It’s strange that throughout a lifetime of sin I could not remember specifically as many as I thought I would.  Mostly I remembered having a rotten heart… As I sat down with the priest and prepared for this in my mind I realized the feeling I had in that moment was the feeling I get when I sit down in the dentist chair.  I almost feel guilty saying that because I really hate the dentist.  But I go on occasion because I know it is good for me.  Now, this analogy does not run to far because it was not intended to be an analogy, but it’s literally what came to my mind as I sat there. Some of you may be wondering why on earth I am raving about confession if it made me feel apprehensive and embarrassed. 

            Well, Jesus was fully God and fully man. He still is fully man as he sits at the right hand of God the Father.  When we confess our sins to God in prayer we feel free to share our faults with Him, as we know that He already knows them.  I know sometimes I wouldn’t even name my sin in prayer because God already knew.  This is great and wonderful that we can speak to God in this way!  But, when we do not take the time to confess our sins out loud we lose out on truly experiencing and feeling the severity of our sins and the deepness of our sorrow. 

            Imagine this: you are sitting across the table from Jesus, the Son of God, and you have to tell him your sins – your sins that put him on the cross; that directly offend him.  How would you feel? 

            On my way driving to confession I felt apprehensive and embarrassed.  It was humbling to recall how much of a sinner I truly am – not just conceptually but the nitty gritty of it.  I am so thankful for those feelings!  I want to feel the weight of my sin and I want to feel how it would feel to confess them to my Lord.  And the priest, although just a man, is acting in the role of Christ in the sacrament of Confession.  In the United States Catholic Catechism is says, “In confession, by naming our sins before the priest, who represents Christ, we face our failings more honestly and accept responsibility for our sins.”  Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  In confession we are living in the truth, honestly admitting our faults and expressing our sorrow and remorse for having offended God.

            Another reason this is good and necessary is that sin is not just a personal matter.  In our culture we are taught that what happens in my personal life is mine and it’s none of your business.  Look at the whole Clinton scandal!  Back to the US Catechism – “Sin should never be understood as a private or personal matter, because it harms out relationship with others and may even break our loving communion with the Church.”  Our sins oftentimes have direct consequences that others experience that we may be completely oblivious to.  Confession brings our sin into the heart of the Church and repairs our relationship.

           Oh, but it gets better!  Guess what happens at the end of confession?  Forgiveness!  Woohoo!  God is eager to forgive our sins like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son.  When we walk out of confession we know that all our sins are gone – they are gone, not just covered.  We truly are new creations in Christ and when we deliberately chose to sin we chose our old selves.  The sacrament of reconciliation is a beautiful way to get back to our new selves and strive to sin no more. 

My list of sins burning in the morning

            I want to make a caveat – I don’t think everyone who has not gone to confession is not going to be forgiven.  What I believe is that this is the means of forgiveness that Christ gave the Church and it behooves all men to embrace the truth found in the Church, but men who through no fault of their own or deliberate disobedience to God have found themselves outside the Church may still be forgiven and rejoice with us in Heaven.  But if God gave us a Church, a beautiful, amazing Church with beautiful, amazing sacraments, who would want to be outside of it?

Full of grace

As a child growing up in North Jersey I always envied Catholics.  My friend Ashley who lived across the street used to tell me all about how she got dressed up and helped the priest at Mass and how she had a big party for her first communion and what she thought she would pick as her saint name at her confirmation.  I think my envy mostly came from the stories of the gifts she received at her first communion and my selfish, materialistic desire for presents.

The first time I ever attended a Mass was a funeral Mass for my Aunt Pat (not blood family, but close enough to call an Aunt).  I really don’t remember a lot from that day – there was the foreignness of it all, the incense and the vestments and the kneelers and of course the sorrow.  I was unfamiliar with these things and unfamiliar with the differences between Catholics and Protestants.  One thing I specifically remember was that my father told me and my sister that we were not to kneel when everyone else did because Catholics pray to Mary and that is idolatry.  I felt strange sitting in the pew whilst everyone else knelt like we were taking a stand for what is right.

I can’t blame my father for sticking to what he understood to be true – worshipping Mary is certainly idolatry and any faithful Catholic would tell you so.  Yes, Mary gets a lot of attention in the Catholic Church, but there is good reason for that.  Just think on this for one moment – Jesus is one third of the Holy Trinity. In Him all things have their being.  He is the image of the invisible God.  Now look at your stomach and think about having God in there!  Mary carried Jesus in her womb and nursed him at her breast and loved him not only as the creature loves their creator but as a mother loves her son.  I want to touch on some Marian dogmas today and maybe help clear up some misconceptions.

“From now on all generations shall call me blessed.” Luke 1:48

All believers should call Mary blessed and honor her.  It’s easy to see why we need to honor her.  Look at the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.”  We know Jesus perfectly obeyed every commandment.  He honored his mother.  We don’t have a lot of glimpses into their relationship nor do we even see Mary as much as we would like in the Gospels, but wherever she appears it is powerful.  On the cross Jesus made sure to take care of her, giving her to the Apostle John and through that action to all of us (an argument for her perpetual virginity as well.  If Mary had other children then they would of course care for her and Jesus would not have given her to John).  If we desire to imitate Christ, then we too are called to honor his mother.

“Well, I will honor her, but what about this nonsense that she was without sin?  The Bible says that ‘all men have sinned’”.  Good point!  But what if I told you that there are millions of people who have never sinned?

GASP

What about infants, children who die in the womb, and severely mentally handicapped people?  These people do not have the capacity to sin, so we can see that the Bible verse “all men have sinned” has exceptions.  I can think of another big exception… Jesus.  He was fully man, so if this verse has no exceptions, then it would lead us to call Jesus a sinner.

Here’s the thing – Mary needed a savior just as much as anyone.  God saved her from sinning because of her role as the mother of God.  It was a special grace of God bestowed on her that allowed her to be conceived without original sin.  “That’s not in the Bible!” I hear.  Neither is the trinity soooo…

But if you want some Bible evidence, I will oblige you.  Jesus is the new Adam, right?  Sin entered the world through one man’s disobedience (Romans 5:18).  Well, we know from Genesis that Eve was really the first one to disobey and eat the fruit.  She said “No” to God.  Mary on the other hand said “Yes” to God.  She is the new Eve and just as Eve was created without original sin, so was Mary because she surpassed Eve.  St. Ireneaus penned this idea which was already prevalent while he was alive (and he died in 202 AD, so this is within a generation or two from Christ) – “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. The knot of which the virgin Eve tied by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary opened by her belief.”

You know what?  I apologize, but I’m kind of tired of writing right now, probably because there is so much to say on this topic!  (I also have to go to the gym)  I’ll have to do a part two which gets a lot deeper.  What I really want to drill in right now though is that Mary needed a Savior and that she was fully human, but God provided her with special graces through Christ for the role she played and continues to play as Theotokos, God-bearer, mother of God.

Next post – Mary as the ark of the Covenant and how Mary helps us today!