Filed under: Culture, Devotions, Feasts, Memorials, and Solemnities, John Paul II, Theology of the Body | Tags: Canonization, catholic, christian, John Paul II, saint
I am thinking today of our former Holy Father on his memorial. He was an inspiration to me as I converted. Earlier I described my conversion story, but what I didn’t mention then was that during my “searching” period in Italy, I actually saw Pope John Paul II. I was on one of my weekend jaunts to Rome, when I happened upon a very large crowd in St. Peter’s Square. After a bit I figured out that the Pope was speaking right there in the square! I couldn’t get close – he was barely a white speck to me – but he was a discernable white speck, even in the 35mm photograph I took and still have today.
To many in the world, I fear that John Paul II was just another historical figure, akin to a politician, one of those characters of the cold war who are only interesting because of the times they lived in. I fear they think the Church is canonizing him just because he was Pope, and that maybe they canonize anybody that was Pope. He was so much more.
He was a teacher. His books are marvelously accessible, and he broke such important theological ground, both in his work as a bishop and cardinal, particularly with respect to Vatican II, and as the Holy Father. He gave us a much more profound understanding of human sexuality, of our roles as male and female, and especially of the family.
He was a hero. This is a man who became a priest durin the Nazi occupation of Poland, a bishop during the communist regime. He risked his life on a daily basis to bring the faith to others. And once he had the world stage, he made the boldest statement of all. He could have stayed safely in the Vatican, out of controversy and out of harms way. But he went to Poland – almost forced himself there against the wishes of the communists. And he took them to task on their own turf. He gave the people of Poland – and the people of all Eastern Europe – a voice, and he was one of the great catalysts for the miraculous changes that seemed to take place overnight.
He was a Saint, no doubt about it. He met with and forgave the man who tried, and almost succeeded, to kill him. He suffered at the end of his life, in a very public way, showing the world that old age, that the slow decay of disease cannot and does not take away an ounce of a person’s humanity or value, and he stayed at his post until the most painful end.
I am so lucky to have lived during the lifetime of such a man. If only some fraction of his holiness might rub off on me I would be assured of finding my way to the feet of our Lord when my time comes.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!
Filed under: Consecration, Devotions, Mary, Pope Francis, St. Louis de Montfort | Tags: catholic, Consecration to Mary, Pope Francis, prayer
My wife and I were moved today to read of the Holy Father’s consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. According to Vatican Radio, over 100,000 people were in St. Peter’s Square to witness the consecration.
This was a renewal of the consecration originally performed by Pope John Paul II in 1981, in absentia due to his hospitalization due to the assassination attempt, and again in 1984. This was the consecration asked for by Our Lady during the Fatima apparitions early in the 20th century. It occurred in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which was visiting the Vatican.
I can’t help but wonder why the Holy Father chose to renew the consecration now, when so many years since the first consecration have passed. Mary asked for the consecration specifically to avoid Russia spreading her errors (communism) throughout the world. It was not long after that the Soviet Union fell, and with it communism lost its terrible grip on much of the world. I wonder if Pope Francis sees new errors, similar to communism, spreading again through the world. No doubt we need the prayers of our Blessed Mother. We need her, sitting at the feet of her son, pleading our case.
Just as importantly, all of us need to recognize ourselves as children of Mary, brothers and sisters of Christ. We are a part of the family, and we need to turn to our Mother in times of happiness and in times of need.
If you are reading this and you haven’t consecrated yourself to the Blessed Virgin, I urge you to consider it. I can promise you that if you give yourself over to it, it will be a life-changing decision. Go to http://www.myconsecration.org to learn more.
Filed under: Daily Life, Feasts, Memorials, and Solemnities, Joyful Christian, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Suffering | Tags: Catholic Church, Christianity, sacrifice, saints, St. Therese, Suffering
We often think of St. Thérèse in terms of simplicity of life, the life of a joyful young woman in a cloistered convent. She is the Little Flower, which almost has some kind of 60s flower-child connotation.
She was, indeed, a gentle soul, and she did, indeed, live a simple life. Her spiritual life was, however, built around the concept and practice of self-sacrifice.
“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies,” she wrote.
I find the concept of obscure sacrifice to be compelling. We all love to make sacrifices when we get noticed for it, don’t we? We all have “white martydom” syndrome. Do we hesitate to share with others how hard it is sometimes to raise kids? How many times, in an argument with our spouse, do we tell them just how much we have given up for them? When we give up desserts or alcohol or something else for Lent, do we make sure everyone at work knows about it? Do we make a big deal to people about not eating meat on Fridays?
But obscure sacrifices, hidden sacrifices. Aren’t those the sacrifices we are commanded to make? Didn’t Christ say that if we fast we are to wash our faces and not let anyone know we are fasting? Didn’t He tell us to not let the left hand know what the right is doing?
It doesn’t take much. St. Thérèse said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” We have to pick up those pins, and marriage and family life provides ample opportunity. Let’s not squander that opportunity by trumpeting our great self-sacrifice. A little humility would be in order on that front. We should remember that St. Thérèse performed her little hidden sacrifices when she was suffering from a tuberculosis which would take her life at the age of 24. We should remember that St. Thérèse went through a Dark Night of the Soul, herself, and was tormented by temptations and a grave crisis of faith. If she could persevere through that without complaint, we can persevere through our daily pains with a smile on our face.
Filed under: Daily Life, Prayers, Writing | Tags: Creative Writing, Momentum, Perseverance, prayer
I was thinking about this post on writing my novel, and I realized that incremental progress is only one of the advantages of daily writing and daily prayer.
When I write every day, I develop a momentum. The words I wrote today make the words I write tomorrow come easier and with more energy. If I miss a few days writing, I find it hard to get started again. I have to get my head back into the story, find my voice again, find out what happens next.
When I am writing daily, I am living in the story. What happens next is laid out in front of me, like the little arrows on Google Street View.
In physics, momentum is mass times velocity, or roughly equal to the heaviness of the object times its speed. In writing, the speed is how many words we are writing each day or better each week. The mass or heaviness is how important the writing is to us. The more important our writing is to us, and the more regularly we are writing it, the more momentum we’ll have, and the easier it will be to keep going.
Prayer is like that. The speed is the percentage of our time we spend in prayer. The heaviness is the intensity of the prayer. As we develop prayer momentum, prayer – which is characterized by our closeness to God and the graces he provides – becomes easier to keep going, and the graces multiply.
This, I think, is a concept for hope, because in the beginning both the writing and the prayer are hard. Sometimes they seem too hard; it seems like we try and try and only fail. We make so little progress in the beginning for the work we are doing.
Sitting in the dock, so massive, it takes an enormous effort to begin the motion, but once underway, momentum keeps it going forward, and soon it is speeding across the ocean.
Or think of the rocketship. It requires huge solid fuel boosters to be able to separate itself from the Earth. But in minutes those boosters are shed, and it powers ever upward, riding its momentum.
Don’t give up. Be patient. Let your momentum build.
Filed under: Children, Daily Life, Passing on the Faith, Prayers, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: catholic, children, christian, Fatherhood, parenting, prayer
What is a Prayer Warrior? When we moved to our new parish, we wanted to instill in our younger kids a more reverent attitude toward Mass and toward daily prayers. Our son Elijah is an accomplishment-oriented child. He loves competing in sports and games, and he loves earning trophies and medals. Even the medals from the summer reading program at the library are special to him. We thought that a trophy would be a suitable motivation for him to learn to really pay attention and participate at Mass, so we set up a Prayer Warrior program, taking advantage of the fact that the whole “spiritual warfare” concept would be appealing to a six-year-old boy.
We set up on the refrigerator a paper with ten blocks. Each day, if he paid attention and prayed out loud during our nightly prayers, he would get a star in the block for that week. Then on Sunday, if he had achieved six stars, and if he did a good job of sitting still and paying attention at Mass, he would earn a sticker for the block. As the weeks progressed, our expectations for his behavior at Mass and during prayers increased gradually. He knew that once he received ten stickers, we would send away for his Prayer Warrior trophy.
He did a great job, and his behavior at Mass has been transformed. It was never particularly bad behavior, not distracting to those around us, but he fidgeted and didn’t really pay attention as well as he should. Now he sits like an angel, faces forward, and participates as well as he can. It is inspiring our four-year-old as well, who can’t wait until she is old enough to be eligible for the Prayer Warrior program.
We’re thinking about extending his Prayer Warrior program further. Perhaps having medals akin to those achieved in Boy Scouts, perhaps having an “advanced level” trophy. He could achieve these levels through memorization of prayers, regular reading and/or memorization of scripture, saying the rosary on his own, and so forth. The biggest benefit is that he sees that prayer life is important to us, both our own prayer life and his prayer life. These little motivations help to instill a sense of that importance within him.
It was really easy to put together the “program”. All it took was a quick printout formatted in MSWord, and a trip to the local trophy shop for a $4 trophy. But it will be something that he remembers for a very long time.
Yes, I’m writing a novel, and that effort is telling me a lot about my faith and family life.
I wrote a novel once before. It took me 6 years to write, spans about 450 pages, and still sits in a file on my computer, untouched now for more years than I’d like to acknowledge. I’ve been told that it’s good, and I am finally doing the hard work to clean it up for publication, but my point is this: my novel is like the light under the bushel basket. Regardless of its merits, the book is no good to anyone sitting on the hard drive of my computer. For anything to be of value, it has to be shared.
Here’s the other thing: I wrote that book the way I cared for my spiritual life at the time, in fits and starts. I would set aside a Saturday and work feverishly for four or five hours and make tons of progress. Then I would let it sit for weeks, revisit it, and decided I needed to rewrite what I had done. As a result, progress was achingly slow. In the same way, I would pray. Sometimes. Some days I would forget to pray. Some days I would put it off. I would start a spiritual book, but never finish it. I would read scripture, and then I would put it down and not pick it back up again.
Now? I am writing every day in short bursts, two to four pages per day. It’s not a huge amount, but it is daily progress that adds up quickly. Shockingly quickly.
Another difference between then and now is that then, I fit the writing time around my otherwise worldly schedule. I couldn’t miss my TV time. After all, Xena Warrior Princess, or Star Trek might be on. I couldn’t sacrifice my football viewing or my other hobbies. I couldn’t sacrifice anything. I fit it in during weekends where I didn’t have much else to do, and so it dragged on, and I thought I would never finish.
With four kids, I no longer have time where there is not much else to do. My days are packed from waking to sleeping. And so I sacrifice. Each night, after the kids and my loving wife are sound asleep, I sit up for a half an hour or an hour, getting my time in. And I make progress.
That’s how a spiritual life should be too, making sacrifices to grow spiritually. We have to spend the time every day in prayer and in scripture and in spiritual reading. We have to sacrifice our other activities to make that happen every day. We have to take time at mealtime to say grace. We have to take time before we start a task to pray and offer it to God. We have to take time to start and end our day in prayer, especially in union with our family.
And then we have to take the fruits of our spiritual life, the graces we receive, and we have to share those with the world around us. We have to get that light out from under the bushel basket, just as I have to get that book off my hard drive.
Filed under: Children, Sin, Theology of the Body | Tags: fingernails, God, human body, morality, theology
Fingernails are one of the lesser-appreciated parts of the human body. We tend to treat them more like a tool than a body part. But we depend on our fingernails, and so our family decided to celebrate Fingernail Appreciation Day.
Our fingernails are not just for scratching an itch, but if you have ever had an itch you cannot scratch, you know that function is no minor matter. Our fingernails first and foremost protect our fingers. Without them, we would cut and scratch and bruise those fingertips on a regular basis. They also increase our dexterity, providing firm support when we pick up large objects, and acting as tweezers when we pick up small ones. And in our primitive stage, our fingernails acted as rudimentary utensils: tearing, cutting, and scraping our food as necessary.
When misused and abused, however, our fingernails can become a source of pain and suffering. If we chew them in nervousness, they become ragged and the fingers sore. If we fail to trim them, they can break and tear, and we can bleed. Bleeding or sore fingertips can keep us from doing what we need to do and can make even simple tasks painful. Finally, if we don’t keep them clean, they can harbor bugs and diseases.
Fingernails are like every other part of the human body. God designed them for a purpose, and when we abuse our bodies or use them in ways other than how God intended, we can and will suffer.
So Happy Fingernail Appreciation Day! Let’s take care of them and use them wisely.