Saturday, January 26, 2013

Starting the day off right

I don't always make it to daily Mass. But I do try every day to set aside about 20 minutes of my morning for prayer and the daily Mass readings. If I don't make time in the morning, my entire day somehow feels off: I'm grumpier, shorter of temper, more susceptible to things like office gossip and just more easily distracted in general.

Even first thing in the morning, I can feel the pull and tugs of distractions trying to keep me from morning prayer, of those little demons trying to find an in by casting my thoughts in a different direction. I've become more intuned to them as I've gotten older and deepened my prayer life. And they're so small, almost meaningless things, like: "Oh, let me just go make some coffee first," "I just want to read a few more pages of my novel," or "let me just hop on my computer real quick to check Facebook." Then all of a sudden I haven't had breakfast and still need to take a shower and clearly haven't prayed, but only have 20 minutes before I need to get out the door and on my way.

On those days I'll grab my prayer books and copy of Magnificat on the way out the door and cram them into my purse or computer bag, thinking I'll have a chance to catch some prayer time at lunch. But more often than not, the day gets busy, I eat lunch at my desk while continuing to work, and the afternoon flies by. Sometimes, I'll leave the office, hit the gym, come home, shower and make dinner and then all of a sudden it's 9 o'clock and -- aside from a couple of hurried prayers over meals and crossing myself as I pass a church along my route to work -- I realize I haven't prayed all day.

A couple of times, trying to circumvent the lack of prayer time in the morning, I would actually read the morning prayers from Magnificat while I drove to work, reading a few verses of the Psalm or the daily intentions here and there as I drove. I very fortunately never got in an accident while I did this. Regardless of how much God wants me to give Him some of my time, I'm pretty sure He doesn't want me to crash my car in the attempt, so I wouldn't recommend this for anyone's commute, unless of course you take a bus or Metro to school or the office.

So these days I'm setting my alarm a little bit earlier to make sure I get in that all important prayer time. There are still days I miss, but I'm getting better. And I can tell the difference. I'm more open to seeing God's hand in things, more at peace, more patient.

Now I just need to work on waiting until I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open to do my evening prayer and examination of conscience...

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Wedding at Cana

Yesterday's gospel reading recounted the Wedding Feast at Cana, site of Christ's first public miracle and the beginning of his path to the Cross. While the changing of the water into fine wine is absolutely miraculous, and reflective of God's generosity, something that has always struck me about this passage from John's gospel is the way Jesus seems to speak to the Blessed Mother. When she points out to him that "They have no wine," his response is "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." It almost seems rude, or even petulant.

Maybe it's my Southern upbringing. My mom was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. Both her parents hailed from the state as well, so it should come as no surprise that manners and respect for elders were instilled in my younger brothers and me, especially -- being raised to act as a lady --  from a young age. And, because my mom, not easily riled (she teaches middle school students, so generally has the patience of a saint) usually is such a slow burn when it comes to outbursts of temper, the one time I called her "Woman" in a moment of teenage angst is one I won't forget, probably because I was so surprised by it. While I don't remember why I addressed her as such, I can still hear her response: "I am NOT a woman!" she said -- this not being an appropriate time to point out her gender, I stayed silent. "I am your mother, and you will address me as such."

This now long-past exchange between myself and my mom typically flashes through my head whenever this reading is proclaimed at Mass. But maybe I'm just reading too much -- or too little? -- into it. Perhaps (and this is the more likely scenario), not being a Biblical scholar, there is more to it than I am even aware of.

Back in September of last year, Mark Shea wrote about this exact thing in his blog for the National Catholic Register. He talks about how some see Jesus' response as a rebuke of Mary, or think that Mary was trying to "show off" her son. But neither of those is correct. And since Mark Shea is clearly more knowledgeable than me, I'm going to let him speak for himself. Here's an excerpt:

"A Catholic reading would urge us away from the assumption that Jesus and Mary are in conflict at all. ... What we’re seeing here is not Jesus the Teenage Messiah hagridden by mom and her neurotic need to impress the ladies from the Women’s Auxiliary with “My son, the Miracle Worker.” ... We’re seeing a piece of conversation—almost banter— between two people who are both acutely aware of who Jesus is and what he is called to do. Mary, after all, is no fool. She knows her Bible. She knows the meaning of the mission of Israel. And most of all, she knows her Son. ... Every word both Jesus and Mary speak is spoken in light of their shared awareness of that messianic mission and of the words of the prophets who taught Israel to await his coming. With all that as the backdrop of their conversation, Mary is revealed to be using language laden with double meaning to lovingly call Jesus to get on with his mission, not to impress the neighbors with a special effect or publicity stunt. Her point is not simply that the wedding guests have no wine. It’s that the whole nation has no wine."

So instead of getting stuck on specific words, the point here is to instead see the way Christ acts in response to his mother's prompting.  

Shea continues: "So Jesus acknowledges Mary’s messianic expectation by replying that his “hour” has not yet come (a reply that makes no sense unless he knows Mary is calling him to begin his messianic mission). More subtly still, he acknowledges his messianic mission by calling her “Woman.” This is more than simply a polite address. It is, like all the rest of their exchange, as allusive to larger Old Testament prophetic realities as Mary’s request is. For in addressing her so, he is reminding us of another woman and the promise she and her seed were given long ago (Gen. 3:15) to “crush the serpent’s head.” The whole conversation makes it clear that Mary believes it’s time for Jesus to announce his identity as Messiah and inaugurate the final decisive battle ... with “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9); that Jesus knows perfectly well this is what she means; and that she knows he knows it. Rather than some inane request for drinks all round followed by a meaningless “rebuke,” what we’re really looking at here is a profound conversation in which Jesus and Mary know and understand each other perfectly."

Jesus says it's not yet his time, that this isn't how he planned to begin his life of public ministry, but he does what the Blessed Mother suggests anyway. He is an obedient son, not a snarky one. Just as she tells the waiters to "Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you," Jesus does as his mother suggests "and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him."

You can read Mark Shea's whole post on the Wedding at Cana here:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Listening to God's voice

For Christmas, my mother gave me a daily devotional book entitled "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young. It was a book my mom had found particularly uplifting, so she wanted to share. The devotions in it, each paired with a Bible verse or two, stem from Young truly endeavoring to listen to what God was trying to say to her during her daily prayer time, and writing those messages from the Lord down in her journal as if he was speaking to her directly. She decided to give it a shot because, despite knowing God spoke through Scripture, she was yearning for more of Him (although not Catholic, something tells me Young might get a lot out of Adoration).

The wife of a Christian missionary, Young writes in the introduction to her book that stilling herself enough to actually hear what God was trying to tell her was difficult, and that she felt awkward at first writing down these messages she heard from Him. Through practice, though, it eventually became easier to discern what God wanted her to hear.

If you've never tried writing a letter to yourself, written as if God was talking to you directly, you might want to give it a shot. In college at Florida State, the campus ministers at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More were members of the Brotherhood of Hope, based out of Boston. We would have retreats each semester and, on the last day, when we weren't in small group time, or listening to a talk or watching a skit, we were charged to go off individually, find a quiet space, and write a letter to ourselves from God. It never seemed like an odd thing to do. After they were written, we would put them in a provided envelope and turn them in. The Brothers would mail them to us sometime later, and they would arrive, unexpectedly, about a month or so after the retreat, maybe, a reminder of time spent away from the pressures of school and the "real" world, simply being in the Lord's presence.

I think many of us have that problem sometimes, not just in finding time for quiet prayer, away from work and the world around us, but especially when discerning what God wants to say to us, as opposed to our own voices. I know I do sometimes.

I still have all of those letters I wrote to myself, from God. Now and again, as I'm going through a wayward box, I'll stumble upon one mixed in with old movies stubs (why on earth do I keep those, anyway?), term papers and birthday cards. The funny thing is, they contain, along with Bible passages I found moving at the time, reminders of things I still need to hear from Him today: Trust in His plan. Don't be in too much of a hurry. Know that you are loved beyond all telling. Be patient.

Whether the Lord speaks to us in letters or simply in prayer time, though, being open to His voice is a challenge. While He sometimes roars at us, more often, as with the Prophet Elijah, it is in a "still, small voice."

Oh, God, help us to listen!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Consolation in friendship

Welcome to the late (really late!) Thursday edition of Monday Musings. Forgive me for not posting earlier this week, but I was traveling, without my computer over the weekend, and didn't get home until late Monday night. And from there, the week just got away from me!

As some of you (several of whom I've now had the pleasure of finally meeting in person) know, I live in Florida. But I was up in D.C. for a long weekend recently to attend (and proclaim one of the readings at ) the wedding of Good Girls Founder Jessica Balile (formerly Lanza) and her husband, Sean. I was honored to read the second reading and privileged to share in their joy. It was a wonderful celebration, and a great party. The weekend also offered me an opportunity for a little bit of spiritual renewal and the chance to catch up with my cousin, who I hadn't seen in more than two years.

You might find it odd to think that a four-day weekend not spent on retreat could provide any sort of spiritual renewal, but let me try to explain it this way: I have a faith community, they're just not where I live.

When you're blessed enough to spend time in a thriving faith community, be it a great high school youth group, an active Catholic campus ministry in college or a parish where there are activities geared toward parishioners of all ages, you often don't consider what it's like to not have that community available.

In college, I had that community at the Catholic Student Union at Florida State University. It was my second home, and where I made many long-term friends. But when college ended, many of us went to work, scattered across the country in places where parishes were geared toward families, or retirees (there are lots of those in Florida!), and active community became harder to come by or practically non-existent. And it can sometimes be a stark wake-up call when you try to make it on your own without that familial presence immediately at hand; when none of the friends you have are people of faith and therefore don't understand why anyone would say a month-long novena or want to voluntarily read books written by (or about) saints, much less attend church regularly.

Of course, having friends at the other end of the phone (or keyboard!) is an immense help, but no substitute for sitting at a table over a meal with friends -- some you'd never met before, but can instantly connect with, because you have that faith base -- seamlessly weaving through conversation topics as varied as possible (or utterly ridiculous) saints names for children, current movie selections and Natural Family Planning.  Something as simple as trading dating stories and discussing prayer lives on a long walk, or spending time hanging out at church all Sunday morning, post Mass, to learn more deeply about your faith, can be a huge blessing when it is something you don't experience very often any more.

This trip offered me that: a small taste of the community that I remember, as well as a renewal of God's presence in groups gathered in His name that I don't often get when I'm at home. And as my long weekend drew to a close, the two words that kept running through my head were refreshment and, somewhat surprisingly, consolation.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines consolation as an "alleviation of sorrow or mental distress; the act of being consoled" or as "a fact (or) event that serves to console." Console itself is a verb which means "to comfort in disappointment or distress."

Now, I would hardly call myself sorrowful, or even mentally distressed (except in moments of hormonally-induced fits of self-pity), but I do feel comforted, and somehow more content in myself, now that I'm home again. In my journal, while I somewhat lamented the fact that I had to go back to my everyday life, I also praised God for the strengthening and encouragement I received, merely by being present with other Catholics.

In "An Introduction to the Devout Life," St. Francis de Sales says of true friendship: "If your bond ... be charity, devotion and Christian perfection, then indeed will your friendship be precious; precious because it has its origins in God, because it is maintained in God, and because it will endure forever in Him. ... It is needful for those who are in the world, and (who) seek after virtue, to bind themselves together in a holy and sacred friendship, by means of which they encourage, stimulate, and forward one another in doing good. ... Those who are in the world need them, to aid and succor one another in the many evils and dangers in which they encounter."

So I thank you, ladies, for your friendship and prayers, and for those of you I laughed and prayed with this past weekend. May we all continue to cherish, support and encourage one another in faith as we journey through this life!

And I promise my musing will be back on track again this coming Monday. :)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Joyful New Year!

I think we all make New Year's resolutions. Whether or not we keep them, well that's another story.

Last year around this time, I vowed to exercise more (didn't happen), write more creatively (I did ok, but I can do better) and to clean out my refrigerator. The only reason I think I actually accomplished that last one completely is because I moved from my old apartment.

The one resolution I kept perfectly, oddly enough, was keeping track of the books I read in 2012. I read so quickly that most of the time (although many do stand out) I can't remember all the books I read in a year, so I decided to record each of them in a spare journal. I was so good about it, in fact, that even when I didn't have the journal with me, I would jot down the start date of a book on a piece of scrap paper and then use it as a bookmark, recording it dutifully in the journal once I got home. The answer is 61, by the way, the number of books I read (two I haven't finished and will carry over into 2013). Some were fantastic. Others went immediately into the donation bag. But now at least I'll remember them all.

Anyway, 2012 wasn't one of those years that will go down on the record books for me as being completely phenomenal. I worked a lot. In fact, I probably worked more than I did anything else. There's something to try and change for 2013: finding more balance so work doesn't consume my life.

So while I wouldn't call 2012 the most fabulous year of my life, it was far from the worst. I got to spend time with family and friends, I took a lovely vacation to Georgia and North Carolina (a state I'd never done more than drive through before October), and I got a new roommate after years of living by myself. But as I sat here trying to recall some of the year's higher points (beyond those I've already noted), I was kind of drawing a blank. I'm sure there were many moments that I've forgotten. I should start journaling again in 2013...

But even if I don't journal more, I think I might have found an alternative. On Facebook yesterday, one of my friends posted a good New Year's idea (as with many things on Facebook, she'd shared it from someone else's wall, so I can't take any credit for it): every time something joyful happens -- big or small -- write it down on a piece of paper and put it in an empty jar. That way, at the end of 2013, you can open the jar, read the notes and be reminded.

So I think I'm going to do it. The writing things down worked so well with the books, why not try it with joyful events? Besides, I always have scrap paper handy, and I already have a jar. :)

"In thanksgiving for the time that has been, in hope for the time that is to come,"
Happy New Year!