90 Day Challenge: Day 36 – Superior Ideal

“As a man must be born before he can begin to lead his physical life, so he must be born to lead a Divine Life. That birth occurs in the Sacrament of Baptism. To survive, he must be nourished by Divine Life; that is done in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

For many years before I joined the Church, I spent my Saturday nights attending the Vigil Mass with my elderly friend, Vera.

She was like another mother to me and had come to live with me and my son in our home as he began attending college.

I was already a “generic” Protestant Christian; but I did not have a home church at the time.  I had been baptized, had my “born again” and several other “evangelical” experiences.

Secure I was already “saved,” it did not bother me to take her to weekly Mass, from which we would usually venture out to dinner ( Red Lobster was her favorite) and a movie or some shopping.  It was all in a Saturday night.

But a strange thing happened to me as I sat in the back, on the right side of the St. Pius X sanctuary on those Saturday nights.  I began to develop a great longing to join the line of people going to the altar for Communion.

Every week that passed, the desire grew stronger and stronger.

I had always especially enjoyed the times in Protestant churches when a version of Communion was celebrated, usually at Easter.

But the more Masses I attended, the more I came to believe those times were too infrequent and pale fruit juice and cracker imitations of true Communion.

I could tell there was something deeper and more reverent occurring in those Mass Communions than I had ever experienced…and I wanted whatever “it” was.

When I finally was confirmed a Catholic in 2008 after nearly a year of required study and preparation, I found  “it” to be an intimacy with Jesus I had not experienced before.

Partaking of the consecrated Host and wine was to literally take Jesus within me, sharing his lifeblood with my own, incorporating his body into mine.

I came to realize it is the closest I could be to him and still be here on earth.

Later study would bring me to a greater appreciation of the transformative moment on the altar when the priest lifts the Host and wine, intoning the words “Through him, and with him and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.”

Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, refers to this as “supercommunio,” or the high point of the Mass.  It is a “supercharged” moment in his writings, where heaven and earth come together through the invocation of the priest so that Christ becomes bodily available to us – the moment just before his real presence comes to us through celebration of Communion.

As I said, that is a moment of intimacy for me unlike any other I experience. It is the concentrated and consecrated Christ in us.

I do not think, when he broke bread and wine and gave it to his disciples at the Last Supper, that Jesus ever meant us to partake in the occasional, fruit juice pale imitation of remembering him.

I believe he wanted us to remember him with the fullness of faith and the fullness of his presence, in that moment and all the moments in between.

This is the Mass. This is The Eucharist. This is the Superior Ideal.

“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.”

 

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90 Day Challenge: Day 35 -Catch Excellence

Coach Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” (Excerpt from Church Militant Field Manual).

I think I have striven to be perfect my entire life.  It is a. Exhausting and b. As Vince Lombardi is quoted above, unattainable.

 

Part of that desire to be perfect stems from feeling like I was so “imperfect” compared to those around me.

 

I didn’t have the traditional family background.  I tended toward the chubby.  My hair was mousey brown, as was my eye color. The prettiest girls had blonde hair and blue eyes, were slender, made cheerleader, twirled or tapped.

 

I could do none of that. I was a good reader and quite the little ham when I could pretend to be someone other than myself.  I was considered a “smarty-pants” sometimes because I was so eager to show the teacher I knew the answer.

 

How else could I prove I was perfect. ( It was actually excruciating for me to sit in silence waiting for someone else to answer when I knew what it was – that seemed like a dumb waste of time to me!)

 

But If I shone in the classroom, I truly flunked recess – always the last picked for a team.  Be it dodge ball, kick ball or soft ball, I was never “on the ball” when it came to athletics.

 

The fact I couldn’t run without losing a bit of urine was highly embarrassing. Oh how I hated that stupid blue, one piece gym suit we were forced to wear! Oh how hard I prayed that no one noticed how imperfect my bladder control was! ( We did not have panty liners in the 60s – Kotex was for your period, period.)

 

Have I ever even felt I was excellent at anything?  I have felt I was a very good employee.  No matter the job I held, I usually received awards and kudos for it.

 

But that isn’t the perfection for which I now strive.  Rather, my desire is to know God now as perfectly as I can while I am on earth so that hopefully my knowledge of him in heaven will be the greater and come to me a bit sooner.

 

(Full confession here:  the Protestant in me still struggles with the idea of Purgatory.  I keep coming back to the argument that Jesus died once and for all for my sins or his crucifixion would be a waste.  But the Catechism says I must burnish myself of all my attachments before I can stand in God’s presence, so I accept what doesn’t make perfect sense, on faith.)

 

Still, how I long to be like Peter, James and John, looking on in Jesus’ transfiguring moment as he talks with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop.  To hear the voice of God say “This is my beloved son; in him I am well-pleased.”

 

To have Jesus turn then to me and say “well done, my disciple” – for me that would be perfection.

 

I pray I can at least attain excellence.

 

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.    (1 Peter 5:10)

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90 Day Challenge: Days 33 & 34 Unity of Truth Or A House Divided

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
We are living in an era where facts and expertise are being increasingly disregarded.
We are living in a country where one political party is relying in faith on a man who claims “I alone can do it” while feeding us a daily diet of falsity.
Ironically, this is the political party to which Evangelicals and “conservative” Christians tend to gravitate. (Full truth disclosure: until 2016, I was among them.)
That they place such blind allegiance in any human being is idolatry.  That they would think someone who says “I alone can do it” is operating in a state of truth and grace is delusional.
The truth is we are a “body” politic, just as we, as Christians, are the “body” of Christ.
In their wisdom, the Founding Fathers made us a federation of states who are supposed to come together for the common good of ALL – not to stack the deck in favor of the privileged few.
It is the same discipleship principle we are to use as followers of Christ.
Just as we as believers give ourselves to Christ, we as citizens give ourselves to the nation – not to the Oval Office holder. He is not God
The purpose of the Executive Branch of government is to ensure the administration of the laws enacted by Congress, and to secure the nation from outside threat to its existence.
But even the President cannot declare war without the advice and consent of Congress.  It was meant to be this way.
We are a representative government, not the tool of an autocrat to secure his power and wealth, to dictate how this country should or shouldn’t be defined – by its borders, inclusivity or toleration.
For those of us who believe in Christ, there truly was only “one man” who could save us.
And he has already done it.
Any other person who comes along and claims to be “savior” is either a false prophet or worse.
We have had one too many of those recently, imho.
And we have him because somewhere in the course of our country’s history, we slowly gave too much of ourselves to other Presidents before him.
It is time to return to the roots of what representative government truly means.
That can’t come from the fringes or the dark web conspiracy theorists. The blood of the body is not pumped from the fingertips, but from the center, where the heart resides.
We must go back in order to move forward.  We must remember what it is like to agree on the common good.  Yes, that takes that dirtiest of political words – compromise.
But we will be better off as a nation for it.
Because, as Lincoln so famously intoned:  “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”
Either we re-learn how to stand together – or it all comes crashing down.  It is our choice.
We alone can make.
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90 Day Challenge: Day 32 – State of Grace

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
So that Christ’s power may rest on me.
When that happens, we are blessed with a state of grace that goes beyond the natural laws of the universe to explain.
Miraculous healing.  Escape from calamity.  Answered prayer.  All of these are things that the sciences – as formidable as they have become – cannot explain.
We know how the universe was formed – but we don’t know what came before it.  We know the human body in its genetic combinations in ways that lead to new, more targeted designs for medicines.  But we still can’t explain exactly what the appendix did/does. We can see father into space than Galileo ever imagined.  But we can’t see into a black hole, only conjecture it’s existence.
And the more we know, the more we learn how much we don’t know.
Because as St. Paul so cogently noted, now we see “through  a glass, darkly. But then we shall see, face to face.” 1 Corinthians 13:12)
Fr. Richard Heilman posits that the devil loves to do anything he can to disrupt our being in a state of God’s grace.  If he can convince us that we know it all, then there is no room left for Godly mystery.
It was the whole point of his ploy to get Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: to convince us we have no need for God or his power in our lives.
His success at this is greatest when we are convinced there is no God at all, because that cuts us off entirely from the power of God’s supernatural grace.
Again, it is “supernatural” because we cannot see it, or explain it.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned having mystical experiences.  They are not things I talk about easily; I have shared them with very few people.
Today I am going to share freely one of those times.
It was in the 80’s.  I was then living with my elementary-aged son on the Monterey peninsula, a single mother, working in public relations for a major corporation.
I had a grueling round of surgeries that meant I would never be able to have more children.  I was at home, recovering without benefit of family, few friends and no Church support as I was then an unaffiliated Christian.
Feeling alone in my misery, I lay in bed one night looking at a thick fog clouding the sky.  I couldn’t answer the question of why this was happening to me.
“God, if you are there, please, show me a sky full of stars,” I asked.
Suddenly the fog lifted, and there they were – a sky full of stars.  I looked at them in wonder for a few minutes before the fog rolled back in.
Now a meteorologist might have been able to give me an explanation for this phenomena.
All I know is I said a prayer, and, from the observable data, it was answered.  And my emotional healing began.
Fr. Heilman writes that “St. Peter warns us to be fortes in fide, strong in faith, because the devil prowls around like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8-9). Lions size up a herd to find the weakest and easiest target. Once we are detached from God and his supernatural grace, we are powerless to defend ourselves from the tactics of the devil.
Our ancestors and all of the saints knew all about this supernatural power and strength and that being in a state of grace was the armor of God that was to be treasured and protected at all cost. Like the scriptural images for the kingdom of God, this Divine Life in God (state of grace) is the “hidden treasure” and the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:44-46). (excerpt from Church Militant Field Manual).”
But sometimes, if we are especially graced, God will show us this pearl.
While the lion may prowl and roar, the pearl still gleams.
If we would stay in a state of grace and lucky enough to live with the pearl’s gleam, we should hold onto this treasure with all our might.
And not be afraid to call it “supernatural.”
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90 Day Challenge: Day 31 – Recon

“You cannot win a war if you are unwilling to admit we are even at war or you don’t know who your enemy is or you don’t know what strategy your enemy is using.”  –    Dr. Peter Kreeft

Recon is short for “reconnaissance,” the process of intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination of that collected information to troops to help their leaders to make a battle plan and them to follow it.

In the case of the Christian, the “enemy,” of course, is Satan, or evil more generally.

This is where this 90 Day Challenge makes me a bit uncomfortable in pursuing it.

It is not that I don’t recognize there is such a thing as pure evil in the world.  Certainly I would say the Holocaust is one such example, as is the genocide of any people because of their race or religious beliefs – anything about them that makes them uniquely identifiable, threatening to another group and by extension, worthy of extinguishment in the minds of the threatened group.

But my Catholic focus has – especially these past several years – been on God’s Divine Mercy and his unending grace. Yes, I believe in the mystical experiences that revealed the message of Divine Mercy to St. Faustina Kowalska.

Perhaps that is easy for me because I have had positive mystical experiences of my own.

But I have also had three experiences where I saw what could only be described as the demonic.  So I know evil is real. (And no, it did not involve any of “The Exorcist” style of levitating, head-spinning, pea soup-looking projectile vomiting. It is much more subtle than that – but it leaves you cold inside. And you ask yourself if you really saw what you saw, and the answer is indisputably “yes.”)

Still, I think it is rare to come upon instances like this.  It is certainly something I don’t go in deliberate search of finding.

Yet now I find myself at a stage of this “challenge” where I am being called upon to “take up arms” against evil and become a “spiritual warrior.”

I do not know that I am a willing combatant. But then again, Narnia was a fairy land, but evil was at work, and the children in the tale did become warriors and Aslan a blood sacrifice.

Perhaps there is no way to Paradise unless you actively fight for it.

What’s the old saying?  Anything worth having is worth fighting for?

If prayer be a sword, then I am willing to fight.  If the Church be “militant,” then I am among them.  If Mary needs a “militia,” I am part of it.

It may be time for the armor of God after all.

So why has the devil been so effective? What is his strategy? To better understand the tactics of the devil, it is important to understand his names: “diabolos” means “he who places division or separation,” and “daio,” the root of “demon,” means “to divide.” These names identify the two great tactical campaigns the enemy has deployed, especially in recent decades: 1) Cut us off from our (supernatural) supply lines and 2) Divide and conquer. (Excerpt from Church Militant Field Manual). Fr. Richard Heilman 

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90 Day Challenge: Day 30 – Sanctification

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” St. Francis of Assisi 

Sanctification:

  1. to make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate. (Dictionary.com)

Each day before I begin my prayers, I “consecrate” myself to Mother Mary.  Using a modified and modern formula of devotion begun centuries ago by St. Louis Marie de Montford, I give to Mary permission to use my prayers, graces and merits as she sees fit to “bring the greatest possible glory to God.”

If I do this faithfully and with true intent, it means that one day I shall stand before God with nothing to recommend myself, reliant only upon the fact that I did my best to come to Jesus through Mary, to console him on his cross and to present myself in judgement in the hope that God’s Divine Mercy reigns.

Doing this daily will perhaps not make me a saint.  But not doing it means that I will have failed to set apart my time of communion with God through prayer and reflection with the sacred reverence it deserves.

In my home I have a personal prayer altar. Among other things, upon it sits a Divine Mercy image of Jesus, a devotional candle, and my rosary and chaplet box.  My favorite Marian statue sits adjacent on a bookshelf. The chair across has above it my Great-Aunt Mickey’s gold Corpus, while other crosses emblazoned with words of prayer hang beside it.

Above all that is Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” Painted between 1907 and 1908, it is one of the Viennese painter’s most popular works.

Created in styles reflective of both Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts periods, it is seen as an intimate moment between two lovers that borders on the erotic because of its use of gold and silver leaf overlays and because of the paintings that had just proceeded it, his “Vienna Ceiling” series.

But what if rather than a profane moment of lust and love, Klimt were painting a sacred one? What if – instead of the mythological story of Apollo and Daphne, wherein she spurns his lover’s advances to turn into a laurel tree – “The Kiss” represented something more scriptural?

What if it is more “Song of Songs” rather than “Bullfinch’s Mythology?”

At any rate, it is interesting to note that shortly before he painted it, Klimt had visited the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, and took his inspiration from the use of gold and silver leaf overlay from the early Byzantine mosaics he saw there.*

Its reverence for art is one of the things I love about the Catholic Church. It is reflective of its many intricacies and the 2,000 and more years of its history.

But sanctification has been part of the Church from its earliest practices.  It is in the Eucharist, the Mass, Adoration and other myriad practices that make the Church original, holy and unique.

It is a religion of sacred spaces found in great cathedrals and adobe California missions, on the Altar at Church or in the places we create them in our homes.

But most of all it is a place we create within our hearts to honor Christ, his redemptive sacrifice and our devotion to it.

Perhaps we will not all live up to the ideal of sainthood.

But we all can be sanctified.

Photos by Cheryle Johnson

* Information on Gustav Klimt From Wikipedia

90 Day Challenge: Day 29 – Courage

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Who is “them?” For the Israelites, in this passage “they” were the people occupying the Promised Land the Lord was about to give them on the other side of the Jordan. Moses is exhorting the Israelites – and especially Joshua – not to fear the coming battles they would fight to gain what the Lord had promised.

In our own lives, “they” can be the daily battles and struggles we must face.  For many of us, “they” can be an addiction to things like alcohol or drugs which harm us in body, mind and spirit. Or “they” can be our defects in character that we work to tame so we do not hurt others with our spite, jealousy or sharp, gossipy tongues.

For some “they” are life circumstances to overcome, be it poverty, prejudice, illness or loneliness.

There is always a “they” with which we must do battle.  Everyone is a foot soldier in life somehow.

But the good news that first Moses and then Jesus after him proclaimed is that God is with us in these battles.  When we call upon him in our needs, he will not leave us or forsake us.

Often we forget to bring God into battle with us.  Even taking them into the Promised Land, God knew his people would in future turn away from him and forget to call upon him.

In a culture that encourages us to be “self-actualized,” we can easily think that we create our own reality and are masters of our own fate.

But at some point for everyone this philosophy breaks down. We all will one day meet a trial or tribulation that we just can’t power through alone.

Good news: we don’t have to.  God will be there for us, in the midst of our greatest fights. All we need do is remember and ask for his help.

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Psalms 31:25)

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