Monday, September 1, 2014

September

I'm starting out this month with some writing goals.  Hopefully that will mean more posts here!

This morning I began the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible's Commentary on Exodus.  The introduction, commentary, and notes are by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch.  Both are respected Biblical Scholars.  Dr. Hahn is a discretionary lay consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, among other things.  

I mention this because I was reminded this morning of the diversity of opinion regarding some aspects of the Bible I rarely hear when I attend Mass.  I frequently hear more modern ideas regarding authorship and date of many books of the Bible, explained in such a way one would think that was the only position available.  This is not the case.  For instance, when hearing about Exodus, one might hear that the book was not written by Moses; that it was compiled by a variety of authors over a vast amount of time.  The introduction to the ICSB Exodus notes:

The Catholic Church takes no definitive stance on the authorship and date of the Pentateuch.  A range of views regarding the birth and development of these books is permissible so long as the Church's teaching on biblical inspiration is maintained and nothing contrary to the faith is promoted.  That said, it is noteworthy that the Pontifical Biblical Commission examined the origin of the Pentateuch in the early twentieth century and concluded that modern theories of compilation (such as the Documentary Hypothesis) were not sufficiently strong to render the tradition of Mosaic authorship unlikely.

Why does this matter?  It may not if you're less interested in the history of the documents and have faith God did it, regardless of how we hear it was compiled.  If you're like me and get hung up on such details, then it is good to know that what you hear may not always reflect the "official" viewpoint of the Church.

I'm fascinated by the Bible and the history and everything about God's plan for our salvation.  Reading the Bible has deepened my faith and allowed me to see the big picture a lot more easily, though certainly not as clearly as I'd like. It also has helped at Mass, where knowing the context of the readings compared to the whole story is a huge help.  The first two studies here would help anyone understand the bigger picture.  I also really like A Father Who Keeps His Promises.  JP Catholic has Biblical Theology Certificates online, which I've recommended before, as well as Pillars of Catholicism for a free short video course on what we believe.  Take some time and open up your understanding of the Scriptures!

Friday, July 4, 2014

God's Peace vs My Will

I've often heard we don't get grace in our daydreams.  The things we think up that might happen or how we would respond do not include what the Holy Spirit might do.  I've often thought about this when reading of martyrs, going almost happily to torture and death.  Don't get me wrong - I would have every intention of dying for my faith if necessary.  I just think I'd be anxious and freak out and would not end up in any encouraging story about martyrdom.  My vision of that possibility doesn't include the Holy Spirit though.

This year I've had the opportunity to contrast some responses with God to some responses that were not quite as dependent upon Him.  There have been two distinct times I was absolutely certain my response was all God and not Julie.  The first came when a close friend told me she was pregnant.  That's usually a source of joy, but she's a young single woman.  That situation is obviously fraught with drama and problems and this has been no different.  At the time she told me though, I felt completely at peace in reaction.  I felt like I had a purpose in this story, like a divine mission.  I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do but I felt confident I could help.  Moments in life that prepared me for such a task came to mind even as we spoke.  I don't often feel confident I know what God wants me to do, but in this case I felt empowered and my overall immediate reaction was "Lets do this thing."

The second time I felt like this was just a few weeks ago.  I had prepared for months to take and pass a physical test I'd failed twice last summer.  I was certain I'd be successful.  The only thing I was nervous about was how well I'd do versus the standard.  I wanted to crush it!  Inexplicably, I got worse on the third attempt and failed yet again.  I don't really do well with failing, so it was with some shock I found myself completely fine with the outcome.  I'd been praying for guidance about my future, and this simply seemed like God was saying "No" to that particular path.  Within moments of failing, I had a list in my mind of all the positive things that had come from last year's failures and this year's preparation.  I wasn't sad or upset about failing but immensely thankful.  In fact, the only thing I cried over that day was the feelings I had when all my new friends were so supportive.  Nobody who knows me would have anticipated this response.  I sure did not.

In both cases I felt entirely at peace with the circumstances and outcome.  I was not worried about the future.  My focus was on God and all the positive things.

It would take less than a day for that feeling to change.  A day after my friend told me she was pregnant, I had a near panic attack at CrossFit in the middle of the workout.  It suddenly occurred to me I didn't actually know what I was doing.  How was I supposed to help her?  God clearly didn't see I wasn't qualified.  He had assigned the wrong person to this task.  The only thing on my mind was the future and what I was supposed to do in the weeks and months ahead.  I could only see disaster for my friend and her baby.  Instead of focusing on God and the positives, all I could think about were the negatives.  

A day after I failed that test, I still felt mostly okay about the "No" I felt I'd received, but was excessively anxious about what else I was supposed to do with my life.  If I wasn't supposed to go down that path, which path was I supposed to take?  Clearly I need a life goal at all times, and I didn't have one.  I was no longer sure what I'd be doing in three years and I was convinced that was a significant problem.  Waiting on God seemed like a terrifying idea that would only lead to more failure.  Fear supplanted thankfulness.

I stopped feeling at peace, I stopped feeling empowered, and all I could see was bad things in the future.  Instead of being in the moment I was daydreaming ahead, and I didn't take God with me.  It just didn't take long at all for me to try and yank back control and fear the future.

The moral of these experiences seems clear - trust God with the future and have peace.  Try to control the future and have anxiety.  Knowing is half the battle!  Of course the other half is pretty difficult, the part where I put it in practice.

 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Will this matter later?

I heard an excellent sermon once about sex.  Sex is always an exciting topic, isn't it?  I wonder if I'd get more visits to the blog if I wrote the word sex more in my posts!  Sex, sex, sex.

Anyway, the preacher was advocating against sex before marriage.  He brought up the fact a lot of young people think they're going to miss out on something.  He noted that even if we died without ever having sex, it isn't like we'd miss it in Heaven.  We won't spend eternity sitting around thinking, "man, I really wish I would have done that one thing I wasn't supposed to do at the time."

This is true for sex, but I've found it true for a lot of other things.  For instance, if I never get married, I'm not going to spend eternity thinking, "Wow, everything would have been better if only I'd been married."  There is no "better" than Heaven.  The same holds for anything else in life.  If I don't get the job I want, it won't matter in eternity.  if I never get new carpet for my house, it won't matter in eternity.  If I never write a novel, it won't matter in eternity.  My bucket list won't matter once I'm dead.

Of course there's nothing wrong with me getting married, changing jobs, buying new carpet, or writing a novel.  Those are all perfectly moral things.  Marriage is a sacrament even!  But I shouldn't waste all my energy here worrying about them if they don't happen.  What does matter, now and later, is following, serving, obeying, and loving God.  Am I doing those things when I get married?  Am I doing those things when I look at jobs?  Am I don't those things when buying a carpet?  (And yes, buying a carpet can involve God; we're just stewards of all of His goods.  Including the carpet.)  Am I doing those things when I write?  

I've often heard this referred to as an eternal perspective.  Now is a very tiny blip on the timeline of eternity.  Our lives here are so very short in comparison.  

The above examples are all positive things, but the same logic can go the other way.  Do I have time to be angry with others?  Will whatever offense they've committed matter for eternity?  There are times when the answer to this is yes of course, and we certainly should do something about moral causes. But I'm talking about the guy that cut me off on the way to work today, not a nation committing genocide.  Which one of those do we tend to get more angry at anyway?  It isn't the one with the actual murders, by and large.  No, we waste time being angry with a complete stranger who probably just wasn't paying attention and had no ill will.   This is seriously lacking in an eternal perspective.  What about jealousy?  Greed?  Which of the deadly sins do we each pick out to spend our time on here, instead of thinking about the big picture?

This all makes perfectly good sense writing this here, and maybe you think it makes sense reading it.  I find it is so hard to remember when I'm not actively thinking of it though, when I'm mad at the other driver or worried about my carpet or longing to get married.  it is in those moments the eternal perspective gets chucked out the window and I focus on the right now and on me, instead of eternity and on God.  Seems kinda selfish in those terms, right?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Peace

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I think most sane people desire peace.  We'd all like to lead lives free of conflict, personally and in the world at large.  I know I spend a lot of time worrying about suffering and trying to figure out ways to avoid it for both me and my loved ones.  Suffering is inevitable though, and while we do (and should) strive for peace, we know it will not be entirely possible in this world.  Yet we long for this peace that nothing in this world can quite satisfy perfectly.

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There is a place where peace is possible and a reality, however.  In Heaven, we will be free from disturbances and have tranquility.  We will be free from war and violence.  I try to remember this when faced with suffering.
 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ~Romans 8:18

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wrath

Every morning I try to take in the daily Mass readings via my Logos software.  It has been hit or miss, but I know the day starts off better when I do it.

After I'm done reading that, I also try to read that day's entry in the Pictorial Lives of the Saints.  This daily devotional by John Shea from 1887 has a few paragraphs on a different saint each day of the year.  This has also been both educational and enjoyable.  

A few Fridays ago, this was the reflection of the day for St. Gregory Nazianzen: “We must overcome our enemies,” said St. Gregory, “by gentleness; win them over by forbearance. Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by our wrath. Let us not at once wither the fig-tree, from which a more skilful gardener may yet entice fruit.”

That was really annoying and not at all what I wanted to hear that morning.  Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by my wrath?  Seriously?  I was annoyed with someone and really wanted to tell them off.  I'm sure you know the feeling.  And of course we're just certain telling them off will make us feel better, will fix whatever problem they are having, and in general make the world a better place.  It is rough to get reminded before seven in the morning that you're wrong.  It is even rougher realizing that you're wrong about something eternal.  Nobody I know actively wants to mess that kind of thing up!

I sat on it all weekend and eventually did post it to my Facebook, more as a reminder to myself than anyone else.  Within a week or so another friend posted this picture and the following verses.

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And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:32

See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. ~1 Thessalonians 5:15

Recompense to no man evil for evil. ~Romans 12:17

Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. ~1 Peter 3:8

It is so easy to be mad with others.  We forget that we're not perfect either - we're all sinners.  We forget God loves that other person and wants for them to know Him and be with HIm forever, regardless of what we happen to think of them at the time.  We forget everyone has their own lives, issues, feelings, and problems that may cause them to act the way they do and then we forget to have compassion on them.  Sometimes it is good to be reminded of what we forget.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Oops. Let's do it again.

So Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David; and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land had rest for ten years.  And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God.  He took away the foreign altars and the high places, and broke down the pillars and hewed down the Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.  He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him.  ~2 Chr 1-5

In my last entry I wrote about how much I find in the Old Testament.  Reading about Asa is another example of an Old Testament story with applications to life right now.  King Asa was doing a great job when he starts off here, destroying the foreign altars and commanding the people to worship God.  He offers sacrifices to God and even dethrones his own mother (the king's mother was a big deal in the kingdom) for worshiping idols.    During his reign, he was attacked by the Ethiopians.  He called out to God and his army was delivered from the stronger force.  Everything seems to be going great for Asa before Chapter 16.

In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying,  “Let there be a league between me and you, as between my father and your father; behold, I am sending to you silver and gold; go, break your league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.”  And Ben-hadad hearkened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali.  And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and let his work cease.  Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand.  For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show his might in behalf of those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.” Then Asa was angry with the seer, and put him in the stocks, in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.

The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.  In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.  And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign.  They buried him in the tomb which he had hewn out for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier which had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art; and they made a very great fire in his honor.

~2 Chr 16

So, Asa goofs.  People do that sometimes.  When confronted, Asa threw the seer in the stocks instead of repenting.  It appears from this story he started being cruel to the people at the same time.  When he fell ill later, Asa refused to return to God and instead continued to rely on others.  The situation clearly went from bad to worse for Asa based entirely on his own response.

How often do we make a situation go bad to worse?  Maybe we don't actively go out and build idols to worship, but once we're on a roll we just let go of what we know is right.  I do it all the time.  Perhaps I'm not getting along with a friend and we've exchanged some snappy words.  I could stop and change the subject, but instead I may bring it up again just to get in a witty remark.  Maybe I've realized I'm on the gossip train and ought to get off, but instead decide to stay on it because I've already screwed up and this information seems awfully interesting.  Or a friend will correct me for doing something I shouldn't be doing, and instead of being thankful for the reminder I get annoyed and prideful.  These aren't all that uncommon - all three have happened this week.

It is perfectly acceptable to bail from bad behavior once we've realized we're there, no matter how long it takes us to realize it.  We can't take back what we've already done, but we can take charge of the next moment and ask that God give us the strength to do what is necessary.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Counsel from the Old Testament

I've been reading 2 Chronicles lately.  I know a lot of people find the Old Testament boring, but I'm not one of them.  Once I understood the basic outline of the story and began to see the connections to the New Testament, the Old Testament became a joy to read.  It is also full of lessons for life.

Look at what happened to Solomon's son, for instance.  Rehoboam inherited a significant kingdom following the death of his father.  All the tribes of Israel were under his rule.  It didn't take long for the young king to falter though:

And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke upon us, and we will serve you.”  He said to them, “Come to me again in three days.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be kind to this people and please them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants for ever.” But he forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put upon us’?” And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to the people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but do you lighten it for us’; thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins.  And now, whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.’” ~ 2 Chr 10:3-11

When the old men who had helped his father didn't provide an answer that satisfied his ego, Rehoboam went to his younger friends.  Following their advice led to the permanent split between the ten northern tribes of Israel and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  Let's let that sink in for a moment.

This isn't to say the advice of our peers isn't valuable, but when we ignore the tested advice of those we know to be wise, we are asking for trouble.  It is so easy to fall in line with our peers and to do as they do or as they say.  We call this "peer pressure" to kids, but we are not immune as adults.  We can also find this in a much larger setting; namely whatever the current societal trend of the day is for the world compared to centuries of wisdom from the church and/or especially what we know from God.  How often do we see things as old fashioned or out of touch, just because they are old and no longer seem to meet our fancy?  As much as we hate to admit it, there is often wisdom in age.

This isn't the only time a king takes bad counsel.  In Chapter 24, Joash the king does fine so long as a faithful priest is there to help him.

Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beer-sheba.  And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest. ~ 2 Chr 24:1-2

He does quite well "all the days of Jehoiada," collecting the proper taxes and rebuilding the temple.  But what happens when the priest dies?

Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king hearkened to them. And they forsook the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt.  Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD; these testified against them, but they would not give heed. ~ 2 Chr 24:17-19

That's a pretty epic change to go from building up the temple and the proper worship of God to outright idolatry, all on account of some suck ups.  The prophets from God even warned them, but to no avail.  The desire for the riches and praises of this world proved too much.

Perhaps it is easy to dismiss these stories as a bunch of idiots that lived way before us, thus falling into the same trap of ignoring the old just because it is old.  These aren't stories from long ago that have no parallel in our lives.  This kind of thing happens all the time and is an ever-present danger to those who would seek the Lord now.  Egos still exist.  We still crave the praises of others.  

So what are we to do to avoid this same path?  I'd say start with prayer, though of course I find myself lacking in that area daily.  We are also blessed with an abundance of wisdom if we're Catholic as the Church already has all those silly "rules" and pieces of wisdom we like to dismiss so casually if we don't understand them.  They're pretty safe to follow even if we can't explain them fully (though do make sure it is a general guideline and not something wacky one theologian came up with).  And we should take the time to find out why Christians have done something a particular way or believed something for 2000 years instead of throwing it into the trash as soon as MTV tells us it is wrong.  There's no need to reinvent the wheel here.  Know your values, why you have them, and how to apply them in everyday decisions.  Identify the people in your life who give good advice and those who don't.  Rely on God.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Interesting links

I recently found three, totally unrelated interesting links you might find useful.

First, Glenn Packiam's Blog had some information on Atonement Theories with a video of N.T. Wright.  I'd never had any idea there were different theories and then I found myself overwhelmed with trying to pick one.  I liked how this approached it.

Here's a response to Sarah Palin's suggested use of water boarding to baptize terrorists at the Deacon's Bench.  Did you know the Catholic Church teaches torture is intrinsically evil?  No matter how badly we want to torture the bad guys, it is wrong.  And also not cool to compare to a sacrament.  

How do we know the Gospels are historical?  This is at the Catholic Education Resource Center. I heard a similar question to this just the other day.  Do you have an answer?

Another question from that conversation, from a different person, was about the Catholic view of salvation.  Here's some interesting food for thought, as well as a link to an excellent summary written by a non-Catholic (at the time; he's since converted).

From today, an article about Pope Francis' homily: The Church is more than 'a university of religion,' Pope Insists.  “Let us ask: How is my witness? Am I a Christian who witnesses to Jesus or are a simple numerary in this sect? Am I fruitful because I bear witness, or sterile because (I am) unable to let the Holy Spirit lead me forward in my Christian vocation?”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Let's talk conflict

If you tell me you truly believe that 2 + 2 = 5, I will tell you I truly believe you are wrong.  If you persist in believing this equation to be true, I'll probably continue to hang out with you and go to the movies with you and be your friend.  You'll just be wrong about math and I probably won't want you to be in charge of teaching it to any children.  I'll be sad about your incorrect math skills.  But life would go on and at no point would we hate each other over this disagreement.

That's a simplistic view of conflict over deeply held beliefs that does not end in fear and hatred.  I'm not sure why we can't apply it to other things.  For instance, I believe abortion is wrong.  The act itself is intrinsically evil, which means it can never be justified.  However, this does not mean I hate women.  It does not mean I hate women who have had an abortion.  Identifying something as a sin should not actually lead to hate and fear of the person.  As we're called to bring Jesus to people and Jesus came to save sinners (like us), we should continue to love these people.  This brings about the "hate the sin and love the sinner" catchphrase that is often thrown around but oftentimes not understood or put into practice.  

Of course, some might argue the analogy to math isn't valid as we know math to be true.  Some would argue we don't know that about God and morals.  I'm an engineer, I like math.  I trust math.  However, I believe in God more than I believe in math.  "Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but 'the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives'"  (Catechism of the Catholic Church 157, quoting St Aquinas).  The analogy is valid for a believer.

Now let's go back to the math.  Let's say you were trying to write laws that allowed the teaching of your 2 + 2 = 5 equation.  I would oppose your laws.  I don't think it will bring good order to society to teach such things.  I'll probably invest money in the campaigns against your campaign and put a sign out in my yard.  However, this still would not prevent me from hanging out with you, assuming we could remain civil.  It is always harder to remain civil with politics, but that would be a goal.

So when there are laws in favor of abortion, I must also oppose them.  Naturally if I believe in God and think He's opposed to such actions, I wouldn't want to support laws that allow them.  I'd want to invest in campaigns that are opposed to these laws and hopefully participate in educating people as to why abortion is wrong while providing other alternatives.  Again, this does not mean I hate women.  It does not mean I hate women who have had an abortion.  I don't sit around at night wondering how I can make life harder for another woman while laughing maniacally.  

When the Catholic Church or others identify behaviors as sinful and when they fight policies that promote sinful actions, they are not also hating on their opponents.  In fact, in many cases you'll find these churches have ministries to reach out and assist the very people they supposedly "hate."  No doubt there are some groups and people who truly hate other individual people, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they're doing it wrong.

Does this setup cause conflict?  Yes.  In the math example, the other "side" clearly believes they are right.  In the conversations we have with others and the battles we must wage politically, the opposing "side" believes just as heartily as we they are indeed correct.  Disagreement is inevitable.  But let's get over the idea we have to hate each other, personally, in the process.  "Remember who the real enemy is."  For Christians, that enemy is satan.  It is okay to hate him.  But everyone else is called to a life with God, even if they don't know that, and we should remember it and treat them accordingly.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Buffet of Devotions

I am acting as a sponsor for a candidate in RCIA.  She'll be joining the church in just a few days, and it truly has been wonderful helping her through this process.  A few weeks ago she pulled me aside with a question.  Apparently, we had failed to explain all the devotions that we talk about (Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Adoration) are optional.  She was feeling a bit overwhelmed and wanted to know what to do!  We ended up coming up with an analogy that helps explain all these great things we have available as Catholics.  It is like we have a buffet of devotions!  You have to take a tray and a plate and silverware, which could represent Jesus and the Sacraments. But then you get to pick from the huge variety of devotions the people of the Church have developed over 2000 years.  They are all wonderful of course, but different people may enjoy different ones.  And that's okay!  We have the blessing of having many options with which to explore and deepen our faith.

When was the last time you checked out something Catholic other than Sunday Mass and Sacraments?  There's a short little article here that might give you some ideas and explains some of the more common ones.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Growth through Suffering

If you want to become stronger, you have to lift heavier things.  I know this from CrossFit.  The workouts aren't easy and people can't understand why I volunteer for such suffering, but I see tremendous improvement in all areas since I started.  I'm stronger, faster, and have more endurance.  

We often pray for patience or humility or something else along the lines of becoming better people.  We want God to reach down and turn us into a better version of ourselves.  He can, of course, do that, and does in many ways.  Prayer, the sacraments, and other devotions are used to form us.  But sometimes, we grow through suffering.  When I have to fight myself to be patient with someone, I'm becoming a more patient person.  It is a lot like lifting weights.  Every time I suffer through something difficult, I become a better person.  That doesn't sound awesome though.  At CrossFit when I suffer, I can see the results immediately.  I get a much hotter body and feel much better about myself.  Generic suffering otherwise just seems so… painful.  It is difficult to remember that suffering has a purpose and that God can (and does) use it for good in us.

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~James 1:2-4

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. ~Rom 5:3-5

This of course makes perfect sense as I write this blog, but nobody likes suffering and it is hard to keep it in mind when I'm suffering or when others are!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Zombies Don't Share the Gospel

I like to stay busy.  It keeps me out of trouble!  We aren't supposed to be idle and we're called to use our time wisely for God.  So far in 2014, I've been actively involved in RCIA, I tutor algebra once or twice a week, and I've been taking the excellent Certificate of Theology courses from JP Catholic.  I've been doing CrossFit three times a week, ran three times a week as part of a Couch to 3.1 group, and began a morning exercise program twice a week at the start of March.  I like to visit my Dad on weekends I'm free, hang out with my friends as much as possible, read novels, and write here or elsewhere.  Oh, and there's work too.  I'd not given much thought to this hectic schedule until this month.

The week I began the morning exercise program, I started noticing mild physical symptoms.  I'd just finished an added-sugar fast in February so I assumed they were from the re-introduction of sugar.  As the weeks went by though, they kept getting worse and worse.  Things got really bad when I stopped being able to go to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning if I'd worked out that day.  I love my sleep!  I grew more stressed and irritable.  One night (morning) I was still awake at 2:00 and finally decided to throw some research into what might be causing me all of these problems.  Every single result on Google indicated I was WAY too busy and was having a textbook response to too much stress.  I didn't feel stressed before the symptoms appeared, but apparently my body didn't care how I felt.

I was reminded of a few posts Jennifer Fulwiler has made at Conversion Diary regarding scheduling and being overwhelmed.  I'm not a mom with that many kids, but the signs and solutions seemed obvious in my life once I'd re-read her posts.  

I'm in between classes at JP Catholic, so I talked to them about withdrawing from the program for awhile.  They were very supportive.  I also dropped the morning exercise program I'd started at the beginning of the month and skipped a 5k I was signed up for over the weekend.  Just as she experienced a lot of results by making some changes, I've noticed huge improvements as well.  I'm sleeping better which is amazing.  I feel like I have time to do things in my house, like clean the dishes.  I'm in a better mood in general, and I feel like I'm more prepared to tackle the day.

We are supposed to keep away from idleness and serve God with our time, but we can't be so busy that we fail at being joyful communicators of the Good News.  We don't set a good example if we're cranky all the time or too tired to help with anything not on our schedule.   Nobody wants to hear about Jesus from a zombie.