Thursday, October 1, 2015

Be Happy! Don't Sit In the Seat Of Scoffers!

It has been a little while since I have blogged. I have been doing a lot of ministry lately and felt the need to retreat to make sure I am remaining centered in Christ. I think that is always a good thing for us to do. There should be an ebb and flow in the spiritual life; time spent alone with the Lord in silence and times of being active in service to others. There needs to be a balance between being and doing, otherwise one risks the temptation of becoming puffed up, prideful and losing one's way themselves.

In retreating, one Psalm from scripture I have felt led to reflect on is Psalm 1. I have always been a little baffled by Psalm 1. It seemed a little Pharisaical to me and like putting oneself up on a pedestal. It says we shouldn't sit in the seat of scoffers but Jesus sat with sinners. I knew I must not have the right understanding if I saw it that way. After all, God's Word is true so I began to seek understanding. 

After much reflection and reading it daily, through the  Holy Spirit's help, I think I am understanding it better. 

Psalm 1:1-3 says, 
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
I believe there is a difference between someone who is wicked and a scoffer and someone who is struggling with sin. The definition of a scoffer is someone who mocks, jeers, doubts and speaks derisively which means to express contempt and ridicule. The definition of wicked is - immoral, iniquitous, corrupt, vile, nasty, and capable of harming someone. I have witnessed this with non-believers and ironically people who call themselves Christian. The "Christian" scoffers can be the worst scoffers of all! They go to church every Sunday but they won't let go of their pride and let Christ's love into their heart. They often don't believe in prayer or that God is alive and still works miracles today. They also scoff at the suggestion of it and when they hear stories of God's intervention in the lives of his people they roll their eyes and sneer (2 Timothy 3:5).

The most prevalent scoffing I have encountered among Christians and non-Christians has been in regards to Tom and I being open to life in our marriage and also being pro-life. This seems to be pretty typical in our society today as people can not see beyond the temporal and material world.

Psalm 1 says we will be happy if we do not follow the advice of the wicked, take the same path of sinners, or even sit in the seat of scoffers. The first two suggestions are self explanatory even though it is not always easy to reject the advice of the world and the same path that everyone else is taking. I have always wondered however what it means to sit in the seat of scoffers. I believe one way we do this is by getting into heated discussions with scoffers. You often see this being done on social media. Occasionally it may be necessary to speak the truth in these situations for the sake of others who may be listening and observing, but for the most part, it is useless to get into debates with these people because they are not interested in the truth. Their hearts are prideful and they are not open to any other opinion other than their own. They are also not open to change. They just want to mock, jeer, show contempt and sow doubt and discord. Taking the time to get into a debate with such persons will only distract, sow division and rob us of joy and peace. Also, we risk becoming what we hate and becoming a scoffer ourselves.

We are called to meditate on God's law day and night. The most important law that also sums up all the other laws is to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves. It is hard to do that and distracting if instead we are trying to prove our cause and get into arguments with scoffers and wicked people.

When Jesus was confronted with such people, he usually turned the tables by asking them a question (Mark 12:16), or he chose to be silent (Matthew 26:63) but he did not get into back and forth heated arguments. He knew who he was and he was confident in that. He didn't need people to follow him, believe in him or understand him. He kept his eyes on his Father and the mission his Father had for him.

Yes, Jesus did sit with sinners however. He sat with those who were broken, dejected and struggling with sin. Often because of their struggles they were able to recognize their need for a savior. They were humble and open to God in their lives. They realized they were sinners. Because they recognized their need for him, they were open to the truth and Jesus was able to transform them from sinners into saints! 

If we avoid negative discourse with the wicked and scoffers, stay focused on the Lord and drink in the stream of his goodness, like Psalm 1 talks about, eventually we will bear great fruit in our lives. The fruit of love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control will then be evident to others. If people are going to be attracted to Christ through us and His truth, it will be only then! If you are looking for a good modern day example, I would say Pope Francis is a pretty good one!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Thing About Fasting

So, I haven't always understood or been a big fan of fasting. Hence the name of my blog - Beautiful thorns. When given the choice, I usually choose comfort. The Lord in his goodness and mercy however has lovingly given me "thorns" so I can progress in my spiritual life and be more transformed into his image. I am learning however that it is better to fall on the rock and be broken than have the rock fall on us and be crushed - Luke 20:18.

I am starting to get the whole notion and importance of fasting as I am trying to be more obedient to a life of penance I believe the Lord is calling me to. Let me tell you though, fasting is not for the faint of heart! It causes all the junk and impurities in our heart to come to the surface more quickly, things you didn't even know were there! Satan likes to then play on those weaknesses and try to get us to lose heart. Should we be surprised at this - Jesus was even tempted in the desert - Matthew 4:1-11. If we persevere however, I think we come out ahead.

I guess that explains why I have been in a funk lately...Tom and I have been doing a 40 day fast for Tom's job situation and for us to come into the things God has for us. I believe it is the fasting that has caused all kinds of emotions, doubts, insecurities, and fears to rise up in my own heart. I know however that if I can persevere through it, I will grow in my spiritual walk with the Lord and it will be fruitful. I think being aware of what is going on is half the battle. I also think this is causing me to be a fan of fasting. I am finally getting it!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Funks of Life

I don't know if anyone else can relate, but sometimes I find myself in a funk. I usually try to avoid giving into negative thoughts but this week the negativity has gotten the best of me. 

It has been really hard for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I am having a hard time seeing how God is going to fulfill the desires of our heart, especially as my body is wracked with pain and fatigue, causing me to be irritable with my children. My thoughts say, "Gosh, I can't even be faithful in the little things!" We also have some very pressing financial needs and Tom for the past 10 years has been driving a 3 to 4 hour a day commute to a very stressful job that he doesn't exactly enjoy and causes him to miss out on a lot of family time. I probably need to be thankful that at least his job mostly pays the bills.

One thing that has brought me out of the funks in the past and is working to bring me out of the current funk is the thought that, "I am going to feel really silly when the Lord finally comes through for us!". I am trying very hard to keep my eyes on Jesus and believe in his promises. I would love to hear from my readers! Please share some faith building stories of how you have persevered through tough times and the Lord was faithful to his promises...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I have often been bewildered by different extremes you find in society. You see it in religious circles and in the world. You see it among Catholics and Protestants. 

In Catholic circles, one extreme group of people is called the "rad trads". The "rad trads" are ultra-traditionalists who are more Catholic than the Pope. They believe in following rules and regulations, the letter of the law but often miss the mark and forget about love. Oftentimes they do not have a correct understanding of the true nature of God and what He is really like.

The other extreme Catholic group are the liberals who reject church doctrine. This group throws themselves into social justice and the plight of the poor but they often fail to believe in moral absolutes. They also miss the mark when it comes to giving people Jesus because they haven't learned the art of being still and receiving his love for themselves before going out and serving others.

In Protestant circles, you have the Fundamentalists who are like the Catholic "rad trads". They are very legalistic and take everything in scripture literally even if it is not meant to be taken literally. They tend to take a stand on insignificant details that don't matter to faith but forget about love. 

The other extreme group Protestants fall into is the "cheap grace" group. This term was coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This group of Protestants focus on a form of grace, but a grace that is separate from the Cross of Christ. A grace without repentance. A grace where everything is accepted in the name of "love". They often view people striving to be obedient to God as foolish and legalistic. The type of "grace" they have bought into however isn't true grace and it isn't true love.

In the world you often see these extremes in politics. There are the "progressives" and the "conservatives". 

These extremes try to separate justice from mercy and mercy from justice. However, you can not have one without the other. Both extremes are missing it. They are two sides of the same coin and they are not founded on the Cross of Jesus or rooted in true love! The different extremes try to separate sacrifice from love but true love requires sacrifice and true sacrifice is founded in love.

This tendency to go from one extreme to another is human nature. It all started with the Fall of Adam. Through the Fall, we lost our center and our souls became fragmented. We lost our focus on God and became distracted. This is when people started to choose the good over the best. They started to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of eating from the tree of life in the middle of the garden. We started to do things our way, apart from God. We also lost control over our passions. Paul says we do what we don't want to do and we don't do what we want to do (Romans 7:15-20). In order to justify our passions, we now try to separate truth from love and love from truth and we find ourselves opposing God. 

So, the question is, how do we get back to our original state, the way we were originally intended to be? How do we keep from extremes and become fully integrated, fully human, and once again focused on God? Our only hope is Jesus!

Jesus set the example. He is the way and he showed us the way. He was always centered on God the Father. He carried his cross and laid down his life. Through him, truth and love kissed. 

We are also called to center our lives on God through the cross of Christ and be willing to lay our lives down out of love for Him. 

The way we can center our lives on Christ is by growing in intimacy with him. The ways we grow in intimacy with him is to learn to rest and abide in him (John 15:4); seek his face (Psalm 105); and eat from the tree of life which is Jesus himself (John 6:51).  When we do these things and allow him to consume us, we realize we can do nothing apart from him. We recognize more fully that we need him! He is the true bread that came down from heaven. We discover that Jesus alone can satisfy the longing in our hearts, integrate us and transform us into his image. Once we realize this, it is easier to keep Him at the center of our being. 

Only Jesus can keep us from seeking extremes which are not rooted in anything real.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Another Radio Interview

I had the opportunity to be on Real Life Radio yesterday. I talked a little about conversion, a Eucharistic miracle I witnessed in college, my leaving and coming back to the Catholic Church, spiritual warfare, and homeschooling. Here is the link for the podcast: Real Life Radio

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Nature of Intimacy

People often ask me how it is that Tom and I left the Catholic Church for ten years, especially after I had a dramatic conversion experience through the Eucharist, witnessed a Eucharistic Miracle, and started a women's household devoted to the Eucharist. I do not have an easy answer to that, except obviously I didn't get it.

I think often times we unknowing keep God at arm's length and we hold things back from him. Often, we think we want more of God but really what we are seeking is a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. If we are just seeking a feeling, well, we can feel his love and his presence in other places other than a Catholic Mass.

If we are truly seeking intimacy with the Lord, there is no greater intimacy that we can have with Him a part from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Some Protestants however put Catholics to shame in this area and are able to have deep, intimate relationships with the Lord without having the Eucharist.

True intimacy requires sacrifice. To receive all the graces available through the Eucharist, we need to be willing to give it all, just as Jesus gave it all. Not only did he die for us, but he gives us his flesh to eat! We are called to surrender our whole selves back to Jesus and not withhold anything. The Eucharist is not meant to be one-sided. Soon after I left the Catholic Church, the Lord began to work with me in the area of intimacy. Through difficult circumstances, the Lord began to teach me to be still and rest in Him; to surrender all.

After coming back to the Catholic Church, I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; often receiving him would even bring me to tears as I contemplated the intimacy available by receiving him. When I go up to receive him, I often pray that he will enter all the hidden, dark chambers of my heart that have not yet seen his light.

It could take a lifetime to comprehend, but it wasn't until I had a miscarriage a few years ago that I really started to "get" it. After my miscarriage, I realized that I had the opportunity, like St. Thomas the Apostle, to touch the wounds of Christ and join my wounds to his wounds.

I also love the metaphor of the pelican. If the baby of a mother pelican does not have anything to eat, the mother will rip at her own flesh in order to feed it. In a sense, that is what Jesus does for us! He knows that it is only himself, the Living bread come down from heaven, that will truly satisfy our souls (John 6:51)! He gives us all of himself, holding nothing back!

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!