Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Creating a Domestic Monastery

When I was in college I actually spent time discerning the religious life. I visited several convents and even spent 10 days during Lent, leading up to Easter with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr, St. George

That time with the Franciscan sisters was one of the most powerful spiritual encounters with the Lord I have ever had. The Lord was very tangible there and it seemed like he was physically walking around the convent. When I was in their Eucharistic adoration chapel praying, it felt as though I was floating off the ground. Those ten days of monastic living wasn't easy however. There were lots of sacrifices made, especially in the area of sleep as we would start morning prayer at 5:30 am followed by mass, but those acts of mortification proved to be very fruitful and I definitely grew in my relationship with the Lord. I came close to joining but in the end I told the Lord I needed him in the flesh and he asked me, "What about marriage?" Soon after, he brought Tom into my life and the rest is history.

Even though I didn't join a convent, the seed and longing for monasticism had been planted through my time at the Franciscan University and the convents I had visited.

Don't even ask me how we detoured and left the Catholic Church for ten years because I'm not sure, except that we were impatient and wanted more doors to open for us in ministry and we were longing for community. What drew us back however was a longing for a "sense of the sacred" as well as the Eucharist and other Sacraments. The time away produced in us a deeper appreciation for the Catholic Church.

Soon after we came back to the Church, we came in contact with a member of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic expression. We were familiar with this community, started by John Michael Talbot from our time at the Franciscan University but we did not know they also had a Domestic expression. We only knew about the Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas. Our hearts burned within us when we found out you could belong to the community and not have to move to Arkansas! Everything they offered, we had a longing for. Their spirituality was Franciscan and Benedictine, charismatic and contemplative. They were monastic, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and practicing simplicity. Through them, we saw that monastic life was possible even in the world with a family. Right away, we knew it was right for us! We contacted the regional minister, checked out the community and soon after, started our formation with them. We have now been a part of the community for five years. This past weekend we went on our annual regional retreat. Every year that we go, it reinforces this idea of  living simply, being in the world but not of it, and practicing monasticism, even with a family. The community has definitely been an instrument in helping us deepen our relationship with the Lord and grow in intimacy with him and with his people.

Practicing Monasticism in the world, especially with little children, can prove challenging but it can be done.

Here are some ways we try to practice it in our home:

Create a Sacred Space
We have a room that we try to keep clean and uncluttered. The kids are not allowed to have toys in there. We mainly use this room for prayer, individually and as a family. We have religious art on the walls, candles, and we usually burn incense when we are in the room. Sometimes when in there, we read and play sacred music. 

Keep it Simple
We try to limit the number of toys, especially "junk" toys that we have in our house. We try to purge our clothes often and get rid of anything we do not need or wear.  We also do our best to live within our means.

Sacred Music
We often have sacred music like Gregorian chants or contemporary worship music playing in the background throughout the day.

We commit ourselves to morning and evening prayer, both individually and as a family. For Tom and I this usually includes the Liturgy of the Hours. We have been pleasantly surprised how much our children like praying the Liturgy of the Hours with us. We usually start with a couple worship songs. When we are not able to pray it as a family, our children miss it and ask when we will be able to do it again.

Religious Art
We have religious art and crucifixes in almost every room in our house. Religious art and symbols can be wonderful tools to draw our attention upward and is especially important for children.

Limit Electronics
This can be one of the hardest disciplines to follow. Sometimes it is easier for us busy moms to just turn cartoons on for our little ones to keep them out of trouble. I am still working on this one but we do try to limit TV and computer time.

Limit Activities Outside the Home
Busyness is usually a big obstacle for hearing from and drawing close to the Lord. We try to limit how many activities we and our children do outside the home.

Make Everything an Act of Prayer
Sometimes it is hard to find Christ in the mundane and ordinary but he is there. One way I try to be mindful of him throughout my day, while doing dishes and folding laundry is to say the Jesus prayer in my mind and picture myself leaning back in him.

Of course this is not an all encompassing list but I think it is a good place to start!

Audio of a Eucharistic Miracle Story

On the feast of Corpus Christi, I posted a link on my Facebook page to a radio interview I did but forgot to post it on my actual blog. So, for those of you who don't get my Facebook messages, here is an audio story of a Eucharistic miracle I got to experience in college. It is the June 2 podcast and starts around 12 minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Let Me Off!

The Lord has truly blessed Tom and I with an amazing church community. There are so many good people at our church who love the Lord and desire to draw closer to him. If we had found a community like this 18 years ago, we never would have left the Catholic Church for ten years.

One way we try to build community is to have what we call "Pasta and Praise" once a month. We rotate who hosts and then we have a simple meal, fellowship and worship. The last one we had was last Saturday and our theme was Pentecost. The Lord was very gracious to us and his Holy Spirit was so sweet and manifest in the house where we were worshiping! His presence was very tangible!

While in worship an image came to my mind. The image was of children on a park merry-go-round. I'm not sure if these are still around but I remember them from when I was a kid. You would get on and then hold on for dear life as another child would spin the merry-go-round as fast as they could. 

In my image the children were laughing and thoroughly enjoying this amusement. What came to me however is that an adult in the same situation would not necessarily enjoy it. Vertigo would set in and an adult might lose their lunch and want to get off. 

Life can often feel like a merry-go-round. When you are a kid you might enjoy the thrill but the older you get, the responsibility of life sets in and daily life can sometimes feel more like drudgery than fun. We can lose our sense of wonder, awe and excitement, especially if we have experienced suffering.

The sense I had was the Lord wants to renew and restore a sense of wonder and the faith of a child. I don't think this just applied to our little group but something the Lord would like to do for all his people. Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Indulge Me

I have been Catholic most of my life however the topic of Indulgences is something I never really thought much about. Until this year, the topic of indulgences never really came up. The only time that I thought about indulgences in the past was after reading through one of my grandma's Pre-Vatican II prayer books. After each prayer, it would say how many indulgences a person would receive after saying the said prayer. I thought that was a little odd! After all, shouldn't we be doing spiritual acts out of love for God and not just to gain an indulgence?!

This year, the topic of indulgences has come up multiple times among Protestants I know, who are considering Catholicism. Also, a group I belong to at my church had a discussion about indulgences recently. These things have provided an opportunity for me to look into the topic more closely.

The Catholic Church teaches that we can repent and ask for forgiveness of our sins but often the effect of the sin on our soul is still there and we need to be purified. It is not too hard to comprehend when you think about the emotional wounds we receive when we sin or when someone sins against us. When we receive purification we also receive healing. 

Another example or analogy would be if you stole something, you can ask for forgiveness but you still should give the item you stole back. Spiritual acts or acts of penance can help purify us of the effects of sin here on earth or for someone else who is in Purgatory. The official definition of an indulgence according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is:
The remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven. A properly disposed member of the Christian faithful can obtain an indulgence under prescribed conditions through the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority of the treasure of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial if it removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary if it removes all punishment (1471).
One reason people have a problem with indulgences is because there were abuses in the middle ages concerning them. Corrupt members of the clergy would sell indulgences, however the Church ended up condemning this act. One stipulation for even receiving an indulgence is that you have to have the right heart attitude. So, I was correct in thinking that you should not be doing a certain spiritual act just to receive an indulgence but primarily out of love for God and to draw closer to him.

It is ironic that some people have a problem with indulgences the Church offers but they have no problem being indulged by the things of the world. It is getting harder and harder to even tell the Christians from the unbelievers because so many Christians have given in to indulging the spirit of this age. Some Christians have no problem indulging in greed, excessive technology, premarital and homosexual acts, abortion, and consumerism to name a few. It is becoming harder and harder to even be an integral part of society without agreeing or partaking in these and other worldly things. 

The spirit of this age is pervasive! It is nearly impossible to function in society without the latest technology. It is becoming harder and harder to buy anything without supporting abortion or slave labor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for businesses to sell goods without agreeing with gay marriage or providing abortificient drugs. It is nearly impossible to buy food that hasn't been stripped of it's nutrients and contaminated by pesticides because of unconcerned corporations. (It reminds me of Revelations 13:17.)

The good news however is there is another way! God is calling and even beckoning us..."Come away with me, my beloved! Leave this world behind! I know you like to be indulged! Here, accept my indulgences! I offer you life and life abundantly! All you have to do is take up your cross and follow me! My cross will bring you peace and joy overflowing! You are worth more than all this world has to offer! There is nothing you could give up, that I won't make up for 100 fold in the age to come!"

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Get Ready for Rain!

It is easy to look at the state of the world and get discouraged and distracted. It would seem as if the devil is triumphing. It is often easier to lose faith and just focus on circumstances. However, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more - Romans 5:12. I believe God would have us look beyond the evil forces at work around us and focus on him, his beauty, grace and goodness.

Imagine it is a beautiful, clear day. The sun is shining, there is a soft, cool breeze and you are canoeing along a beautiful river. You are taking in the beauty of God's creation and through this experience, you encounter him. This encounter brings you much joy. Then out of the corner of your eye you start to notice an alligator on the bank. Then you notice a couple more in the water. Instead of losing peace and getting distracted, you decide to continue to focus on God's beautiful creation and abide in joy. Ultimately that is what God is asking us to do in our everyday life and in this hour. Even though the storms of life rage, the waves are coming up over the boat and the world seems to be overrun by evil, we are called to abide and even rest in him.

This past Sunday's Gospel reading was from John 15 about the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine and we are called to be branches that bear fruit. The fruit we bear is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We bear this fruit when we stay connected to and focus on Jesus.

We are currently in a season of preparation. God is preparing his people for the times that are coming. He wants us to be able to stand even in the midst of adversity. He is preparing us to help bring in a harvest of souls when chaos ensues upon the earth. People are going to be looking for answers and we need to be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us - 1 Peter 3:15.

Knowing the signs of the times
In 1998, while in prayer, I saw an image of Paddington Bear. He had his little raincoat, rain hat, and rain boots on and I felt like the Lord said, "Get ready for rain!" This was his way of telling me that he had plans to pour out his Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way! I do not think it is a coincidence that a new Paddington Bear movie was released the beginning of this year. I believe it is going to happen soon!

Currently we are in a season where Jesus is calling us to himself and leading all his "sheep" through the sheep gate. 
"But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice." - John 10:2-4
Jesus entered through the gate and is holding the gate open for his people to go through. Once this process is complete, he will walk in front and there will be a lot more clarity and Kingdom manifestations. It will be a lot easier to know what he is doing and to hear his voice. Miracles will be more prevalent!

Here is another analogy to describe the season we are currently in:  Imagine you are standing in ankle deep water. The sun is behind you, reflecting on the water. You see something shiny on the bottom but because the sun is behind you, you can not tell what it is, due to the reflection and sun rays bouncing off the water.

These are exciting times! We are about to enter a season where there is going to be a lot more clarity because the Son will be out in front so to speak. What we will see, others in the past have longed to see! Now is the time to get ready!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Purgatory Might Be Like

Last night a group of us that meets at our church was discussing Purgatory. The Catholic Church teaches that this is a state of being purified after death for those who are already saved, before entering heaven. This got me thinking about what it might be like. People always talk about the pain and suffering that people experience in Purgatory. I think that pain is due to the fact that they are closer to God than they were here on earth. Our God is an all consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He purifies us with the fire of his love that burns away the impurities in our heart. 

Here on earth we can have the tendency to try and "hide" from God like Adam did in the garden. When impurities (fear, sinful thoughts and tendencies, wounds, shame, unforgiveness, and disturbing memories) come to the forefront of our mind and heart, we often have the natural inclination to stuff it down and escape. We drown out those thoughts and feelings by using our phones, turning on the television, sitting at the computer, busyness, etc.

I believe the pain of Purgatory is that we no longer have those idols to escape to. We are closer to God, his eyes are on us, our hearts are laid bare, we have nowhere to run, and we must receive his purifying love! The amount of time it takes for this to happen in the afterlife depends on how much we surrendered to this process and his love here on earth. He desires to perfect us in his love and transform us into his image!

One way I view Purgatory is based on an experience I had several years ago. I saw an image of the Lord's eyes.  They were periwinkle blue and see through like glass. They were beautiful beyond description and when he looked at me they seemed to pierce right through me and my heart was laid bare. I asked him how to back up my experience with scripture because the only scripture I knew of that described his eyes was from Revelation 1:14 - "His eyes were like blazing fire." He lovingly asked, "Can't you just take things at face value?" but then he answered my question and asked, "What is the hottest part of the flame?" I then realized that the hottest part of the flame was the bottom of the flame which is periwinkle blue. 

The next several weeks proved rather challenging and were bittersweet as memories from my past started coming to the surface and the Lord came into those memories with his purifying work. In much the same way as gold is purified in the fire, the dross in my heart came to the surface and needed to be skimmed off. This is not necessarily a fun process but necessary to become more like Jesus and become brighter so his glory can shine through us. 

I hope that I can get to the point where I am able to fully surrender to this process here on earth and some day people will be able to look in my eyes and see the love of Christ looking back at them!

Hebrews 4:12 - "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Few Random Thoughts

The Grace of the Resurrection

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Easter and had a blessed Lent! One year I was feeling sad at Easter because I felt like I could have done a better job taking advantage of the grace available during
Lent. The Lord encouraged me however and told me, "There is even more grace available with the Resurrection!" So, if you are one of those persons who could have taken advantage of more of grace during Lent, you have another chance during this Easter season!

Divine Mercy Sunday
I had an interesting thing happen this past Sunday. Right after Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, we stopped at our local grocery store to pick up some lunch food. I was at the deli counter and right in front of me a fight almost broke out. There was a man in line but he did not get a number. Another man came along, got a number and right after, his number was called. Well the guy that did not get a number was ticked because he was there first. He started calling the other man, who by the way was elderly, all kinds of names and told him he deserved a punch in the face and he even aggressively rubbed up against him. I was very impressed at how the elderly man handled himself. He just kind of smiled at the other man and didn't try defend himself or fight back. Meanwhile, I was right in back of them with tears welling up in my eyes. I had just left Mass, was very moved when I received Jesus in the Eucharist and then encountered this unsettling scene. That was just a small glimpse into the sins people commit everyday. Further proof that the mercy of God is a bottomless ocean since he sees everything and doesn't decide to annihilate us all!

Faith Alone
I have picked up on the fact that there seems to be an overwhelming presumption among many Protestants that Catholics think they are saved by their works. Some of these Protestants feel that it is their duty to clarify to Catholics that "It is by grace through faith alone that we are saved and is a free gift!", as they quote Ephesians 2:8.  First of all, I do not see the word "alone" when I read that passage. Secondly, I find this very ironic because often times these same Protestants believe that children are not "saved" and can not be baptized until they can vocally profess faith in Christ. If it is by grace and a free gift, then wouldn't it make sense to allow even a baby who can not do anything to have it too?! Instead that child has to do something, like say, walk down an aisle as they respond to an altar call to get it? Also, how do these same Protestants reconcile passages like James 2 that talks about faith without works is dead and Acts 16 that says your whole household will be saved? And for those of the "once saved, always saved" camp, how do they interpret Philippians 2 that says we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?