Saturday, December 27, 2008

Attitude of Gratitude

Driving to visit relatives yesterday, I flipped through the radio stations to hear some Christmas carols. To my disappointment, I found the same theme present as when I was looking for some holiday cheer on television: ingratitude. Now we live in a rural area, and we don't watch TV at home, and rarely listen to the radio, so I'm not up on all the current trends. But it seems to me that complaining about someone's thinking enough about you to give you a token of their affection at this time of year is a sad and sorry thing. And to bombard ourselves with the reinforcement of this type of thinking is not healthy for our own spiritual growth. I know it takes me alot of practice to have an attitude of gratitude. I need to guard my eyes with what I allow them to read and view, and my ears with what I allow them to listen to. It is easy to follow the ways of the world and just let the media dictate how I act and feel. I have fought too hard to pry myself away from that. At times like this I am grateful and reenergized by my choice to limit the media's access to me. Sometimes it is harder to pick up a book, or play a board game or imagination game with my family than it is to turn on the TV. But it can and has become a habit with us. I also am grateful for this choice when I watch my 5 year old son interact with his friends and cousins. Instead of reenacting media promoted attitudes, I see him holding his own practicing the disciplines and attitudes we have been working hard to teach him. I hope and pray this will continue as he grows and faces the challenges of protecting his own purity, guarding his eyes and his ears from what may lead him astray.

It is not easy to stand constant guard over my senses, to keep them from dragging me into ingratitude and depression and restlessness. It is much easier, while visiting, to sit and watch objectionable shows with the rest of the crew, or join in with the gossip, than it is to get up and leave the room to go read my book elsewhere. And it's alot harder to stand up for my son's innocence and purity in front of others who mock my "prudishness". But with practice it gets easier. And when I see the positive results in my son, my resolve strengthens. The strange thing about it, is that sometimes they seem to even respect me for it. Even if they don't, this is what I believe is right. I've been down the road of temptation and spiritual laziness, and I know how cunning, baffling and powerful those forces are, always lying in wait for me. To quote Buddha, "We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." Others have said much the same thing: You are what you think about all the time. Garbage in, garbage out. There's alot of good, positive, uplifting stuff out there to choose from. We just have to seek it out. Fill our minds with the good stuff, walk away from the negative. Change the channel. Or turn it off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, came and it was decided it was too cold "for the little ones" to have our procession through town. So we had our mass and rosary in the church, and the children put on a play in the hall afterwards, followed by a delicious feast. It is interesting to note, that on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother Mary on Monday of the same week, a Holy Day of Obligation (Immaculate Conception is also patroness of the Americas), Mass was attended by a very few. And although the church was packed for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, not a Holy Day of Obligation, a very few went to communion. Our Lady's purpose in each of her apparitions has been to draw us closer to her Son. Yet of those attending the mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe, a very few showed up on Sunday for Mass.

Where is our teaching going wrong? Somehow we've got them coming for the cake and passing on the meat and potatoes. We pass out Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation like it's an inherent right, not an outward sign of inwardly embracing the faith. We try to "collect" as many people as possibe, but then we don't continue to welcome and feed them once they're here. Is this the fault of our clergy?

Much as I would like to evade responsibility, I think the fault resides in ourselves as Christ's body. Here's my take on it. Priests say mass and dispense the sacraments. They guide and direct us. Nuns pray for all and teach, or whatever their particular ministry includes. We, the church, are the teachers. We are the ones responsible for reaching our brothers and sisters in the faith, in their daily lives, through our daily lives. It is our responsibility to seek them out and care for them. Especially the ones that only show up on Christmas and Easter. Not to preach at them, but by including them in our daily lives, to be able to witness by our very lives what joy there is in living our Catholic faith. To share the grace and healing we receive in the Sacrament of Penance. To show our joy and inspiration from worshipping at mass. To shamelessly turn to Jesus in prayer, to Our Blessed Mother and all the saints in intercession, through all our joys and sorrows, hardships, confusion and prosperity. And only in this way to get them back to Sunday Mass, confession and Holy Communion.

Now having said that, I can think of one friend in particular, that I have neglected because she has stopped going to church. Sure, I don't want to slide back down the path of worldly temptations, but it's not like I have to be her shadow. Just call and chat once in awhile, maybe get together for a playdate with the kids. Just the reaching out to touch those God puts in our paths occasionally. We are not one person's saviour. Jesus was that for all of us. But we are called to love, and as Mother Theresa so sensibly explained it, some of the poorest of the poor are the very rich, for they are dying from lack of love.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Veterans Day

I went to Catholic schools for ten years. Right after daily Mass we would line up for assembly and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by prayers and announcements. Sometimes we would sing the National Anthem. Devotion to country was placed right after devotion to God. Maybe that's why I choke up when I sing the Star Spangled Banner and blink through tears when I think about the sacrifices that have bought my freedom to be complacent. Like the sacrifice that bought my hope for entry into heaven.

My jaw drops when I encounter people who were born and educated in this country who do not know the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem. They are so entwined with the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father in my psyche, that I cannot comprehend the level of ignorance and arrogance this represents. My five year old son recites the Pledge, the Sign of the Cross and Our Father daily. He sings his own rendition of Star Spangled, which inexplicitly contains some reference to "Obama's red light". He is homeschooled. It seems to me that now that we've taken God out of our public schools, our devotion to our country is failing as well. On that point I am glad to be proved wrong.

The American Legion Post is the hub of activity in our small town. This year they organized our 1st Annual Veteran's Day parade. While bigger cities were closing off main thoroughfares for large, well attended events, our boys lined the town's two one-way streets with American Flags, then lined up at the Legion for the trek around town. Our vets led the parade, proudly carrying the flags, followed by the high school cheerleading squad, the historical society and the county sheriff. The only thing missing was the high school band, but that's because we don't currently have one. The country folk drove in and honked and hooted as the parade passed by, and the town people stood in their front yards waving and cheering. Children delighted in the candy thrown by the Historical Society and the Sheriff. Afterwards, everyone gathered at the Post for coffee and donuts.

The great thing about a small town is that when we get together for something like this, prejudices and fueds fall away in the interest of something bigger. It doesn't take a natural disaster to bring people together and nurture unity - if only we would do this more often.

Our little Catholic mission is also planning some public processions for the Christmas season. Sometimes it seems like we're two factions - the whites and the hispanics. But when we come together, to process around town, singing and carrying the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, we will be united. We will celebrate the Mass and share a dinner in the hall. We will watch the children reenact the scene with Our Lady and Juan Diego. We will be one church - if only we would do this more often...

Friday, October 24, 2008

What is Pilgrimage?

"A journey to a holy place, undertaken for religious reasons; a journey to a place with special significance."

To the above definition, which was taken from the dictionary, we might add, "to reunite a person with their center of being and help to restore their relationship with their Creator."

Sometimes just getting out of the routine for a few days or a few weeks can help us re-center and kindle or rekindle the fire of a passionate life devoted to love. Catholic Traveller's mission is to inspire busy people to take time out now and then for retreat and pilgrimage - to allow the Spirit to enter and heal and renew us, so that we return to our everyday lives better able to see and serve Jesus and Mary in all those around us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


September 17, 2008

Summer has flown by and I have not been a very consistent blogger. I shall blame a lovely two week train vacation on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, from Los Angeles, CA to Tacoma, WA and back, and also the start of a new homeschooling year. But really we all know it's just my own lack of organization. There's always an excuse. The truth is, I have to stop on a regular basis and clear out the clutter in my life. I have always been one to try to overachieve, and with that comes the inevitable burnout and lack of achieving anything. I find myself stopping in the middle of doing something these days and asking, "how important is this? Is this just busywork that I've created for myself, or am I in some way contributing toward my livelihood and the work God has for me to do today?"

Which begs the question, "What is the work God has for me to do today?" The best I have been able to come up with is to do what's in front of me with love. Take care of what God has graciously given me - my family, home, animals. Help and share in the community in which I live. Try to attract others to Him by the way I live - there's the rub. Smile, speak in a positive and uplifting way. Dress modestly and behave modestly. Softly admonish the child who is poking along when we're late for an appointment and I really feel like screaming. Don't kick and cuss at the cow who broke through the fence - again. It's a tall order. I can do it for a short while, but as the little frustrations pile up, it gets harder and harder. If I haven't already done so, this is when I need to turn it all over to God. It's His show anyway. I'm just an extra. Hope I can keep doing my part.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are You Paying Attention?

July 15, 2008

This last Sunday's gospel focused on being receptive to Jesus word. How often do I try to impart some amazing truth, only to have my listener question me moments later, as though I had never said anything at all? I will review the day's schedule with my son at breakfast, only to have him respond with shock and amazement when I inform him that he cannot play his game now, as we have an appointment to keep. I will absentmindedly carry on a conversation with my son, only to look up and find him staring at me, and admonishing me for not listening. We have ears but do not hear.

What causes us to behave in this manner? If we are so preoccupied with the "cares of the world" that we are unable to give our family and friends our full loving attention, how much less so Jesus, who only wants to show us how to overcome those cares and live abundantly and fully. Today I am going to take a few minutes somewhere to be fully attentive to Jesus. Whether it be in a few moments of prayer or contemplation, or the reading of a few short verses in the Bible. And I am going to take that out into the world with me - to the post office, the neighbor who calls at an inconvenient time, the client who needs to vent about frustrations in his life, the friend who lives out of the way who needs a little help with her animals, and my son, who is now paging me from the bathtub.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

So Little Time...

June 11, 2008

Busy, busy, busy. So with Tball, swim camp, summer school, running a business (or three), tending to farm chores, blah, blah, blah, how do we make any time at all for prayer and meditation? Sometimes it seems that after moving to the country and working from home I have become busier than when I had a "real" job and lived in the city. Technically I'm not, but it's a matter of perspective. My priorities are different. I want my house to be a peaceful environment and it cannot be that way with all kinds of clutter, dirty dishes, and clothes stacked everywhere. So I need time to clean house and clean out the clutter. I want time to run my farm and benefit financially and physically from the homegrown produce, meat and dairy. This means I cannot be rushing off to every activity available to me or my son. Yet, I do want him to have social contact and enjoy activities with friends of all ages. So we try to limit activities to two days a week, besides Sundays.

Still, where do I fit prayer time into all of this? I have made a habit of beginning my day with prayer. This time is precious to me. I am thankful for working at home, because often, with a "job", this time gets lost to me because of oversleeping and then rushing to get to work on time. I am grateful for homeschooling, because I can work to encourage this habit in my son, instead of rushing to school, etc. And yet, I still crave more. I want to stop during the day and read my Bible or say the Rosary, but frequently I feel there is too much to do, and I cannot take the 15 or 20 minute break. Not to mention that in saying the Rosary I tend to meditate myself to sleep, so it takes much longer. These are all excuses. When I take 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a day to take a prayer and meditation break, my work seems to go easier and better, my priorities become clearer. Hmmm...why can't I get it through my head?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Which Way?

May 28, 2008

We went to see Prince Caspian the other day. What a fantastic rendition of the book. I have to admit, the actors that get cast in the roles of my favorite characters are rarely as I imagined them, but when the movie is well made, that little distraction passes, and I end up captivated. I read a review on the movie later which delved deeply into the spiritual issues that C.S. Lewis was dealing with in this book, namely pride. Although much of the reviewer's analysis escaped me, I did grasp certain points of the movie. Namely, that when I try to "do it myself" I frequently fail, sometimes miserably. If we could do Spiritual Direction ourselves, we wouldn't need the Ten Commandments, the Gospels, religious leaders, retreats, pilgrimage or the Church. Like Peter, carrying out an attack on King Miraz' fortress himself, rather than seeking out Aslan and his advice and direction first, I bumble through one misadventure after another, leaving behind a trail of destruction and tears. Without a spiritual guide, it is difficult at times to resist the glamour of evil, as when the White Witch offers power and prestige in exchange for one drop of Peter or Caspian's blood. Edmund, who remembers his humiliation at the hands of the White Witch and Aslan's subsequent mercy and sacrifice, shatters the illusion and saves Narnia from that possible disaster.

Spiritual Direction requires submission. I am a proud, vain person. I like the feeling of being recognized for something "I've done myself". But in truth, anything I've ever done well, I've had lots of help with. In music, I've had years of lessons, encouragement, criticism, and investment by my parents. In running my businesses there has been a network of people, offering advice, experience and assisstance. So in my spiritual life, why is it so hard to figure out who to turn to? Submission requires trust. Our parish priest is busy, yes, with all the administrative details of running a "business". But when approached with spiritual questions and issues, his demeanor changes. He takes on a new enthusiasm, and answers with care and compassion. This is his real vocation. Our local bishop is laden with responsibility in running a large diocese which has been deeply hurt by scandal and in which immigration is a very present issue. Yet when he offers Mass, and preaches on Jesus word and how very applicable it is in our lives right this minute, you feel his holiness, his closeness to Jesus, his sincerity and devotion to us, his people. He is approachable, and very easy to converse with.

Spiritual Direction is not a do-it-yourself project. I have to ask for help, trust in the helper, and do what is suggested. How do I know if it's working? I have to look at my relationships. Am I at peace, or fighting everyone and everything? Am I at peace in my living situation? Am I at peace with my work? Am I in constant communication with my Lord? These are my goals in seeking Spiritual Direction.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just a Little Bit

May 21, 2008

Spiritual Direction. A friend and I were discussing religious life the other day. Sometimes she thinks about entering a monastery to become a contemplative nun. I encouraged her desire (against my own selfish wish to keep her here as my friend) to take several weeks or months at a Benedictine monastery where she is an oblate to discern this vocation. After arguing with God about why He would give me such a gift in friendship and then take it away, I realized that in this particular case, knowing my friend's devotion to her elderly uncle, her daughter and her grandson, she was probably just experiencing a need for some Spiritual Direction. In days past this was achieved by frequent confession with one's parish priest. Now, with fewer priests, and the ones we have being pulled in so many directions, it is sometimes a challenge to even have the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Confession.

This has also been a theme in my life today. Unlike my friend, I do not have quite as much freedom or finance to travel to the nearest monastery for a few days of personal retreat and guidance from the holy people there. I try to get to confession frequently, which right now is every few months. I try to absorb the message of the homily during Mass. Here in our rural community, we have Mass on Sundays and Thursdays. Our pastor lives 20 miles away and serves 3 churches and helps with a fourth over an 80 mile radius. We have no deacon or assistant pastor at this time. Where to turn for more frequent direction?

Some days it's as simple as reading a few verses from the Gospel of Matthew over breakfast with my son. We read from the parts where Jesus is speaking. Only a few lines, as just keeping a 5 year old's attention to bless the food is a challenge. The words will stay with me for at least a few minutes, and I can contemplate them in between planning the day's work, chasing the dog off the porch where we're enjoying the early morning sun with our meal, and calling the child back from fighting off Captain Hook in Neverland to finish his oatmeal. And sometimes it's just enough to bless the rest of my day.