Last year during Lent I wrote a series of “postcards” from the 4th-century celebration of Holy Week in Jerusalem. Thanks be to God, we have extant writings from two saints of that era – Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, and Egeria, a pilgrim visiting the Holy Land – both sets of which open a window onto the practices of the 4th-century Church. Interestingly, St. Egeria notes that the celebration of the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday as observed in Jerusalem some 350 years after the Resurrection were the same as those celebrated in her native place (France or Spain), lending credence to St. Irenaeus’ seemingly outrageous 2nd-century boast:


As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.


How different from the Christianity of today! In my town alone, we have Christians who have observed Lent and Christians who haven’t, Christians who are aware that yesterday was Palm Sunday and Christians whose pastor never made mention of the fact, Christians who will attend Maundy Thursday services and Christians who don’t even know what they are, and Christians who will mourn the death of the Savior on Good Friday while other Christians attend a baseball game. One Protestant church I used to attend actually held a fund-raising dinner after the Easter Sunday service (since everybody was there already….) Sadder still are the various doctrines being taught to explain why Jesus had to die to save us from our sins, with some denominations blasphemously implying that God the Father “damned Jesus to hell” or that He “forsook His Son when He died on the Cross.” The hallmark of heresy is its pestilent diversity, while one of the notes of orthodoxy is its constancy, holding to “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” It’s been nearly 2,000 years, and Catholics still walk through the events of Holy Week with the Lord, just as they did in Egeria’s time.


St. Egeria outlines the Lenten practices of the Church in Jerusalem, as well as the instruction given to the catechumens by the bishop, St. Cyril. She tells us, for example, what a patient, careful teacher the bishop was:


And as he [the bishop] explained the meaning of all the Scriptures, so does he explain the meaning of the Creed; each article first literally and then spiritually. By this means all the faithful in these parts follow the Scriptures when they are read in church.


Providentially, many of St. Cyril’s writings have survived. Back in those days when becoming Catholic could really cost you, the bishop (who spent his time in and out of exile because of his opposition to the Arian heresy) devoted himself unstintingly to the education of those entering the Church at the Easter Vigil. In his “Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures,” we read his moving address to the catechumens:


Already there is an odor of blessedness upon you, O you who are soon to be enlightened: already you are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already you have gathered round the vestibule of the King’s palace ; may you be led in also by the King! For blossoms now have appeared upon the trees; may the fruit also be found perfect! Thus far there has been an inscription of your names, and a call to service, and torches of the bridal train, and a longing for heavenly citizenship, and a good purpose, and hope attendant thereon. For he lies not who said, that to them that love God all things work together for good. God is lavish in beneficence, yet He waits for each man’s genuine will: therefore the Apostle added and said, to them that are called according to a purpose. The honesty of purpose makes you called: for if your body be here but not your mind, it profits you nothing.


St. Cyril must have left no doubt in the minds of his listeners how meaningful entrance into the body of Christ would be – an “odor of blessedness” wafts from those who are preparing for baptism! Yet entering the Church is not the be-all and end-all, Cyril hastened to assure them; it is just the beginning. Some excerpts:


See, I pray you, how great a dignity Jesus bestows on you. You were called a Catechumen, while the word echoed round you from without; hearing of hope, and knowing it not; hearing mysteries, and not understanding them; hearing Scriptures, and not knowing their depth. The echo is no longer around you, but within you; for the indwelling Spirit henceforth makes your mind a house of God. When you shall have heard what is written concerning the mysteries, then will you understand things which thou knew not. And think not that you receive a small thing: though a miserable man, you receive one of God’s titles. Hear St. Paul saying, God is faithful. Hear another Scripture saying, God is faithful and just. Foreseeing this, the Psalmist, because men are to receive a title of God, spoke thus in the person of God: I said, You are Gods, and are all sons of the Most High. But beware lest thou have the title of faithful, but the will of the faithless. You have entered into a contest, toil on through the race: another such opportunity you cannot have. Were it your wedding day before you, would you not have disregarded all else, and set about the preparation for the feast? And on the eve of consecrating your soul to the heavenly Bridegroom, will you not cease from carnal things, that you may win spiritual?


God has called, and His call is to you. Attend closely to the catechisings, and though we should prolong our discourse, let not your mind be wearied out. For you are receiving armor against the adverse power, armor against heresies, against Jews, and Samaritans , and Gentiles. You have many enemies; take to you many darts, for you have many to hurl them at: and you have need to learn how to strike down the Greek, how to contend against heretic, against Jew and Samaritan. And the armor is ready, and most ready the sword of the Spirit : but thou also must stretch forth your right hand with good resolution, that you may war the Lord’s warfare, and overcome adverse powers, and become invincible against every heretical attempt.


Even now, I beseech you, lift up the eye of the mind: even now imagine the choirs of Angels, and God the Lord of all there sitting, and His Only-begotten Son sitting with Him on His right hand, and the Spirit present with them; and Thrones and Dominions doing service, and every man of you and every woman receiving salvation. Even now let your ears ring, as it were, with that glorious sound, when over your salvation the angels shall chant, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered : when like stars of the Church you shall enter in, bright in the body and radiant in the soul.


Great is the Baptism that lies before you: a ransom to captives; a remission of offenses; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of Paradise; a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption!


The race is for our soul: our hope is of things eternal: and God, who knows your hearts, and observes who is sincere, and who is a hypocrite, is able both to guard the sincere, and to give faith to the hypocrite: for even to the unbeliever, if only he give his heart, God is able to give faith. So may He blot out the handwriting that is against you , and grant you forgiveness of your former trespasses; may He plant you into His Church, and enlist you in His own service, and put on you the armor of righteousness : may He fill you with the heavenly things of the New Covenant, and give you the seal of the Holy Spirit indelible throughout all ages, in Christ Jesus Our Lord: to whom be the glory for ever and ever!




Pray for those entering the Church this Saturday evening, and for those who will be reconciled to her. The race is for their souls….


On Monday of Holy Week


Deo omnis gloria!

Mankind has longed debated the pros and cons of immortality. The idea of possibly prolonging one’s period of influence on this earth seems somehow very tempting, and death, well, lacks charm. As we all know, youth is wasted on the young; it would be nice to be granted a do-over, or several, for that matter. Seems like you just get going and the buzzer goes off – time’s up! One of the prizes the explorers of the New World sought was a Fountain of Youth, a way to restore vigor and good health, and to simply grant a body a little more time on this earth. That “youth” part is of course a key detail – the ancient Greeks spun myths concerning creatures like Tithonus, a man granted the gift of immortality. Having neglected to procure eternal youth while he was at it (oops!), Tithonus became, after several hundred years, so wizened and shrunken that he was transformed into a cicada, crying out his wish to be allowed to die. Immortality, the Greeks were trying to tell us, can be a real mixed blessing….


The Christian belief system affirms this, for as we know, no one created by God will ever cease to exist. Not only will you and I exist forever, but our names will live forever as well. Take Pontius Pilate, for example: dead for 2,000 years, but his name will be mentioned more than once in the coming Holy Week. The name of Pontius Pilate will live forever; it crosses the lips of millions of people every single day as they recite the Creed:


He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died and was buried.

Of course, that’s not the kind of thing you would want your name to be associated with. Yet that is exactly the kind of thing the distressing number of human beings will be remembered for. Immortality is a reality – our souls will never die. At the Second Coming, our bodies will be reunited with those souls, either to eternal Life or to eternal death in Hell. One way or another, we will exist forever, and we will be remembered for our deeds.


What will you be remembered for? Trust me, it won’t be for your witty repartee or your devastating good looks. Whatever it is that you are remembered for, it will be in association with your relationship to Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by the above quote from the Creed: “HE WAS CRUCIFIED under Pontius Pilate.” Compare/contrast that with the billing given to the followers of the Lord in Luke 8:1-3:


[Jesus] went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the Twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.


Herod’s steward, Chuza, no doubt, was a man of influence in his day, a man who had made a name for himself, but 50 years after his death I doubt anyone knew he had ever lived. His wife Joanna, though, was immortalized in Scripture due to her relationship with the Savior. Jesus went about preaching and bringing the Good News of the Kingdom, and Joanna helped provide for Him. “The Twelve were with Him” – not a bad way to be remembered, either. A blessed number of us will be remembered simply like this:


For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.


That’s the goal. That’s what all of this Lenten practice has been leading up to. “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold.” Better than celebrity, better than good health, better than youth and opportunity, I might add. How will you be remembered?


It’s going to matter for a long, long time.



On the memorial of St. Erkembode de Thérouanne

Deo omnis gloria!

Hard to believe, but your long, hard Lenten slog is nearly at an end! Palm Sunday is fast approaching, and Lent will give way to the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. So, how’ve those Lenten resolutions been working for you? Thirty-some days ago I rashly vowed to give up complaining for Lent. No bellyaching, no derogatory remarks, no eye-rolling – that was the plan. How’d it turn out? Well, I’ve stopped personifying the quote “If I were to give up sarcasm, that would leave interpretive dance as my only means of communication,” but it has become clear to me that this project is far bigger than a mere 40-day Lenten endeavor. Facing my complaining head-on has forced me to reckon with the similarities between my life and that of one of the characters depicted in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. The condensed version of the story is that a saint in Heaven greets her husband who has come to visit. Her husband in this life-after-death is actually a dwarfish figure leading a tall, theatrical ghost, the “Tragedian,” on a chain. While the saint addresses herself to the dwarf, it is the Tragedian who does his talking for him. It becomes clear that this woman’s husband spent his life moaning and complaining, reveling in self-pity, and that now in death he is being progressively consumed by his self-obsession. His wife tries to free him so that he can join her in Heaven, with what Lewis calls “the invitation to all joy, singing out of her whole being like a bird’s song on an April evening, [which] seemed to me such that no creature could resist it.” Yet resist it the little man did, and dwindled away until he disappeared entirely, leaving only the Tragedian, the personification of his complaint, behind. Him the saintly wife ignored; he was but a ghastly caricature of the man she had loved.


Ending up a ghastly caricature has never really been my life’s goal. Believe me, I want to change, but I will be working on my complaining problem for the foreseeable future, as it is such a significant part of me. Massive infusions of faith are in order, as that seems to be the deficit that plays host to my chronic carping. You see, if I had the faith to trust in God’s beneficence, nothing “bad” would ever happen to me again – whatever happened, I would trust that it had come from God who loves me, and that it was His will for me at that moment. How can you curse a traffic jam when you know that’s where God wants you to be, and that you will remain there only as long as He wants you to? It is a blessing – you are “providentially jammed.” As things stand now, whenever something unexpected occurs, I simply lack the faith to look up to Heaven and thank God for what He is doing in my life. Turn that around, and the complaining should stop. Pretty simple, but not easy – a good sign, because nothing worth having ever really comes easy. The theme of the third and final Scrutiny last Sunday, if you recall, was “Life!” Jesus did the impossible – He resurrected a man dead for four days. Stuck in my complaining ways for well over forty years, there is still hope for me. Jesus came to give us new life.


So, if your Lenten resolution fizzled, learn from that. If what you resolved was worth practicing, resolve to take it up again next Lent, or better yet just take it up again right now. I personally have pinpointed a real flaw in my character, and I hope with God’s help to address it day in and day out as He gives the opportunity. No doubt there will be plenty of opportunities…


… like the next time I’m providentially jammed.



On the memorial of the Martyrs of Croyland


Deo omnis gloria!

People come to the Catholic Church by various routes. Some converts have no prior acquaintance with God, and some have been Christians ever since they can remember, or even before that. Some of the Protestant persuasion have experienced a gradual disillusionment with the Reformation tenets of sola fide and sola Scriptura, coming to the reluctant realization that the Bible teaches neither doctrine. For some, conversion is a long, slow process, for others it is accompanied by gut-wrenching, life-changing choices, and for still others conversion comes like a bolt out of the blue. I was a Baptist reading up on Catholicism so that I could explain to myself and others exactly where the Catholic Church went off the tracks. In a process that lasted less than 5 minutes, I realized to my horror that the standard Protestant explanations for Jesus’ “eat My Flesh/drink My Blood” discourse in John 6 amounted to nothing more than a stratagem contrived to allow the offspring of the Reformation to remain respectably estranged from the Church that Jesus Himself established. I looked up from my Bible and said to myself, “I have got to start attending a church that believes in the Real Presence” – probably a new world’s record for Protestant-to-Catholic conversion.


It doesn’t matter how it happened – one way or another, you were granted the grace to believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God. You were granted insight into the necessity of an authoritative Church. So, you want to convert to Catholicism?


It may be harder than it needs to be….


Mind you, I’m not complaining about the long period of initiation that converts undergo. Coming from an Evangelical background, I found that refreshing. The Protestant denominations I was familiar with basically urged folks to throw caution to the winds and make a practically instantaneous “decision for Christ,” lest the moment pass and be lost forever. In our fervor, it never occurred to us that we might in some cases be doing more harm than good in indiscriminately urging everyone to immediate conversion. It was when one member of our RCIA group opted not to continue because he could not in good conscience inscribe his name in the Book of the Elect that I, for the first time in my life, understood what Jesus was talking about in Luke 14:28-32.


For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.


No one on the RCIA team twisted the man’s arm or otherwise tried to coerce him as I might have done in a Protestant context, which shocked me at the time, but not now. I trust they prayed for him. It was 11 years ago, and I still pray for him.


No, I have nothing against the duration of the preparation that converts are put through. My gripe concerns the isolation converts often experience during that preparation. You’ve probably noticed that the catechumens are “sent forth” after the Liturgy of the Word while the rest of us celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the priest usually dismisses them with words like, “Be assured of our loving support and prayers for you.” Let’s home in on the word “support.” Catholics seem to have gotten the idea in their heads that converts are in some kind of “quarantine” with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. Who knows what goes on in RCIA? Best just leave those folks to incubate till Easter. After they’ve hatched, we can treat them the way we treat everybody else….


Except that some converts may not be there when Easter rolls around…. Many folks, particularly former Evangelicals, are appalled at the lack of fellowship in Catholic parishes – at least, the lack of fellowship that they experience. I know when I went through RCIA we remained pretty much segregated from the parish-at-large. I knew the RCIA team, and I knew my fellow candidates and catechumens. I knew the priest and the parish secretary. That was pretty much it. After 7 months in RCIA, that was a pretty skinny list of Catholics to whom I could turn with any questions or concerns should problems arise.


I do believe that there is really only one reason to become Catholic – because the Catholic Church is the church Jesus established, and her doctrine faithfully reflects His teaching. The fact that becoming Catholic put a crimp in my social life didn’t affect my decision to enter the Church one way or the other, but I have heard stories of people who decided that they simply could not persevere in an atmosphere that seemingly offered no social support whatsoever. When you leave a Protestant church where everyone knows you on a first-name basis and worries about you if you don’t show up to the Wednesday night service, and begin attending a Catholic parish where (seemingly) no one knows or cares if you ever come back again, well… it’s hard. In some cases, it may be the straw that breaks the convert’s back.


So whose problem is this? Well, actually, it’s yours. As a Catholic you are called upon to make welcome those seeking entrance into the Church. RCIA is fine for many purposes, but absolutely nothing can stand in for Christian charity and hospitality. Blogger Joseph Moore (he of “Yard Sale of the Mind” fame) recently made several practical suggestions for helping converts settle into parish life in what he called the ‘things I could just do’ category. As a convert I feel that any one of these would be grand. Joseph’s ideas are below; my comments are in italics:


– A regular Sunday afternoon tea for the RCIA candidates (and anyone else who wants to come), where discussions can be less formal? Also allow the candidates to get to know some people and find someone(s) they feel comfortable talking with. Invite some solid Catholics from the parish. Could do it at my house, for example.


(This sounds like the perfect combination to me – anything that might encourage the average parishioner to interact with those seeking to enter the Church would be a real blessing! His point about finding “someone they feel comfortable talking with” is very important. It’s wonderful when converts “click” with their sponsor, but that doesn’t always happen. Converts may have questions or concerns that go unaddressed because they simply don’t know an approachable Catholic willing to lend an ear.)


– Monthly pot luck dinners? Same concept, but a bit more work.


(We had potluck dinners in RCIA. They were very nice, but the attendees were the RCIA team and the converts. I believe the priest came to one once. A good time was had by all, but participation by other members of the parish would have opened up a whole new world to us.)


– Field trips. How about we take everybody over to some other parishes or the seminary or the Dominican School of Philosophy or the local Carmelite Monastery? Meet some Catholics doing their thing, see some faith in action.


(I would have loved this – anything to better acquaint myself with Catholic practice. In RCIA I just felt that I was in a box for such an extended period of time, almost like a shut-in.)


Joseph’s final suggestion concerned “deschooling RCIA.” Now, as someone who did very well in school, thank you, I have never been personally opposed to being taught in a classroom setting. That said, I couldn’t possibly agree more with this idea. Our RCIA consisted of a weekly lesson on a theological topic, at least at first. It later devolved into a quasi-Protestant “what did the homily mean to you?” session. I realize not everyone is into self-study, but I felt that I could have educated myself on theological topics much more effectively than by sitting through the one-size-fits-all lessons side-by-side with catechumens who had never had any previous Christian education. Although I would have loved watching Fr. Barron’s “Catholicism” as a general introduction, or perhaps the new “Symbolon” series, neither would have addressed my real problem. What I really could have used more of was simply being invited into the lives of faithful Catholics who modeled a relationship with Christ. What I was really in need of was an older Catholic sister in the Lord willing to do what family members do best – walk alongside me, thereby teaching me how to walk by myself. What I needed was a friend or two.


And that could be you – you could be the one a convert in your parish is waiting for. It’s not too late to say hi. Introduce yourself. Express an interest. Invite them over. Share your time. Offer them a ride. Tell them you’re praying for them. Let them know you’re there.


Be there.



On the memorial of St. Paul Le-Bao Tinh


Deo omnis gloria!

When I was a child, our family pulled up stakes and moved to the Great Unknown that was The West – Arizona, to be specific. Thereafter, visits to my grandparents’ home in upstate New York were few and far between, a not-uncommon phenomenon in the early 60’s when average people did not casually hop on a plane and fly off somewhere. One visit sticks in my mind. Grandma and Granddad were in their 70s, and their average day, I noticed, followed a predictable routine – a very predictable routine. The high point of their day was the arrival of the postman, not that they got anything exciting or even interesting in the mail, but the thought that they could have, and they might someday sustained them. At the age of 10 I decided that at all costs I would avoid the kind of life that left me shelling peas on the front porch, or sitting in the parlor, waiting for the doorbell to ring.


With my eyes on the prize of excitement, I fled the country upon graduation from college, moving to Germany where everything, everything was different from the way it was back home. Okay, maybe not everything – but certainly enough things that I could content myself with seemingly constant novelty. After five years, when things began to get a little stale, I moved even farther away from home to Asia, where not only did the people not speak English, but even the writing was inscrutable. For me, it was the opposite of culture shock; it was raw heaven. I had discovered the polar opposite of the Same Old.


Although not everyone moves to the other side of the world to avoid boredom, most of us do go to great lengths, and when we’re young, we’re generally pretty successful. Things usually just seem to be leading you onward and upward when you’re young. Possibilities swirl in your future, and you have that feeling that the Next Great Thing might at any moment tap you on the shoulder or call out your name. Then, as you get older, the field of opportunities, like your arteries, begins to narrow. You finally meet Mr. or Ms. Right, you marry, you have kids, and one day you look up from what seems to be the 96th load of laundry you’ve done this week and realize that that sound you hear is your brain cells screaming as they die. Boredom, with which you have up to that point in your life had only a passing acquaintance, has become a permanent house guest. It’s a shock and a half.


I think my grandparents handled monotony far better than we do. It never occurred to them to expect that life would be ceaselessly entertaining. We, on the other hand, have been promised great things, leaving many of us middle-aged suckers demanding our money back. We can end up feeling cheated somehow, as if our lives might have been perpetually thrilling if only we had or we hadn’t (fill in the blank). Our minds wander back to kindergarten, when the other kids used up all the glue and so the teacher said we couldn’t put glitter on our art project, but not to worry because it was very nice just the way it was. And we took our drawing home, and our mom told us that it was very nice just the way it was. And we knew that it wasn’t. It lacked sparkle. If only we could get some glitter into our lives….


I wonder sometimes if that doesn’t account for some of the attraction of the Protestant charismatic movement. Believing in God, having faith that He loves you, and counting on His beneficent providence is nice. Actually seeing someone healed right before your eyes, or hearing a prophecy of future events isn’t nice – it’s spine-tingling! Thrills are just what is lacking in most Christians’ spiritual experience, so a movement that promises them can be most appealing. As a teenager my mother introduced me to the charismatic movement, and when miracles weren’t forthcoming (in 30 years of charismatic affiliation, my mother – who believed to the bottom of her soul – never encountered one verifiable miracle), we remained undaunted – the thought that they could have, and they might some day sustained us. The idea that our God might not be opposed to allowing His people to suffer the monotony of faith was simply foreign to our doctrinal system. Yet in competing with the spirit of this age, we were bound to lose. Perpetual stimulation is a worldly goal. The tabloids of the 21st century have gone waaaay past shrill in their headlines: Gwyneth baby drama crisis SHOCKER!!!! They have had no choice – the clamor for excitement has driven them and all advertisers to scream hyperbolic prevarications at the top of their lungs. Understatement went out with 8-track tapes. The world is totally 24/7, beyond xtreme. Information overload is our mom, and hyperstimulation our stepmom.


No wonder Lent is a tough sell. It asks us to accompany Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days – 40 of the longest days in history, to hear some people tell it. They are being deprived of the Internet, or texting, or TV watching, so that they can sit around with Jesus, and He isn’t saying much. He isn’t doing much. He appears to be sitting on the front porch watching the world go by, like my grandparents at the end of a long, hard day of waiting for the mail. If He can hear our brain cells dying, He isn’t giving any indication.


Faith, hope and love are the front porch of the Christian life, and that is where Jesus is to be found. Lent is the Church’s attempt to reorient us to this fact, to call us back out of the shrieking world and invite us to sit at the feet of the Man Who believed He had nothing more important to do than to spend 40 days alone in prayer. Out of that extended retreat, we may recall, came miracles – real miracles, the kind seen in the Catholic Church to this day. Jesus never got out of the habit of retiring to be alone with His Father. Had His Dad required Him to spend 80 years in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth planing boards, He would have planed those boards with great love and contentment, because He had but one objective: to do His Father’s will.


Perpetual excitement is for weenies. Thrills are for wannabees. Sitting on the front porch with the Master is the real xtreme experience. Let’s pray we’re up to it.



On the memorial of St. Benjamin, deacon and martyr


Deo omnis gloria!

My friend Gina does not mince words. She asked a very pertinent question in the combox a few weeks ago. She was commenting on the lack of support many converts experience from Catholics ensconced in the pews. “What’s wrong with people??” she wondered plaintively.

Catholics who were blessed by God with being Baptized early in life, as infants, owe God the obligation to help others who are searching for Him and His Church. Holy Mother Church is really a warm and loving place, but I know it can be frightening to those for whom it is an entirely foreign experience. Those who are already Catholic should be God’s welcoming committee!

Well, nothing to argue with there. As a convert myself, I can second that emotion; I think a lot of converts can. Many Catholics who would never dream of missing Mass would also never dream of getting involved in the process of helping converts enter the Church. Perhaps it’s from a sense of inadequacy; they fear that they might say or do the wrong thing, that they might not have all the answers (who knows what a convert might ask??), that they just wouldn’t be up to snuff as a sponsor. Believe me, folks, you wouldn’t be the first sponsor or RCIA team member not to have all the answers. To your surprise, you might find that you are more orthodox and knowledgeable than some of the people who routinely serve in those capacities. If you wait till you have all the answers, we converts will have to wait till we get to Heaven to ask you….

I do think that I have part of the answer to the question Gina posed – what’s wrong with people (meaning “you and me”) is that we remain largely unconverted ourselves; hence, our lack of interest in bothering about the conversion of others. We live our lives in the state that Wilbur Rees so memorably described:

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,

but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk

or a snooze in the sunshine.

I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man

or pick beets with a migrant.

I want ecstasy, not transformation.

I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.

I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

So we get our $3 worth of God at Mass on Sunday, and we go forth to forget about the Lord for another six days. We congratulate ourselves on being members of the Church Jesus established, and we consider our spiritual condition to be pretty decent, all things considered. The Church has staff and procedures for helping those in various kinds of need, material and spiritual – thank God we belong to such a Church! We pew-sitters don’t need to worry about helping converts – the parish has got that all taken care of!

The dopeyness of this approach to Catholicism was brought home to me by Patrick Madrid’s “conversion story” in the epic Surprised by Truth series (best convert stories ever!!) The funny thing is, Patrick Madrid isn’t a convert to Catholicism, nor is he a revert. He was baptized and raised Catholic, and never left the Church. I was a little put out when I first discovered his putative “conversion story” in the book – seriously, what place does a “I never actually converted to Catholicism” story have in a book about Catholic converts?? After reading it, though, I felt it was one of the best conversion stories in the collection. The short version of Patrick’s tale is that God brought him to the realization that

I had allowed the “muscles” of my interior life – prayer, mortification, and recollection – to atrophy and wither. My spiritual “arteries” – which carry the love of Christ as the lifeblood of the soul – had hardened and constricted as a result of the lukewarm, halfhearted complacency into which I had settled. I think my situation wasn’t unlike that of many Catholics. We who are born into the Faith easily take it for granted, and we make the fatal mistake of assuming that conversion is for Protestants or Mormons or atheists who, being outside the Church, make their way into it. Many Catholics – I being a good example – lull themselves into a state of comfortable, “do not disturb” spiritual incapacitation. They make no real or consistent effort to grasp Christ with all their might and to work daily at keeping and strengthening that grasp, as His grace enables. Simply being Catholic isn’t enough. What is required by Christ is love, and true love means effort, work, and time spent in prayer – things that so often fall by the wayside in the daily lives of many Catholics. We call him Lord in our prayers, but so often we don’t live our lives as if He really is. Membership in the Church, even a strong conviction about things Catholic, is in itself no guarantee of a real friendship with Christ.

Conversion isn’t just for converts.

This Sunday the catechumens and candidates will undergo the First Scrutiny. The theme of the readings is Christ as the Living Water, as we read the story of the Samaritan women who meets Jesus at the well. In this story, the woman’s life is revealed to her by her encounter with Jesus. She faces for the first time the truth about herself, and she is converted. This story is not presented so that those scruffy catechumens will finally face the truth about their lives; it is presented so that each one of us will face the Truth, and change. As Articles 141 and 143 of the RCIA put it:

The Scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays and reinforced by an exorcism, are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The Scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the Scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.

Really, really listen these next three Sundays to the message of the Scrutinies as the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus all come face-to-face with God enfleshed. May we all, catechumens, candidates and cradle Catholics, be converted and carry out our decision to love God above all. And I’ve got a great idea on how to carry that decision out – should the Spirit so move, don’t hesitate to invite a convert to lunch!!


On the memorial of St. Darerca of Ireland

Deo omnis gloria!

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I recklessly announced at the beginning of Lent that I had decided to give up complaining as my Lenten sacrifice. So how’s that been working for you? you ask. Like the old footage of Orville and Wilbur trying to get their plane off the ground, I answer, and for pretty much the same reason – excess baggage.

At first things were going well. On the morning of Ash Wednesday I was actually congratulating myself that I had not yet uttered a complaint. Of course, it was 6 a.m., and I had not yet gotten out of bed, either. By about 7:30, the situation was deteriorating. I found that the outfit that I had been planning to wear to work wasn’t ready. “Great!” I mumbled sarcastically, and then deflated. My first Lenten complaint.

As the day progressed, I made a discouraging discovery – I complain when I’m frightened, I complain when I’m worried, I complain when I’m flustered, I complain when I’m out-of-sorts, I complain when I’m aggravated, and I complain about complaining. Interestingly enough, the biggest obstacle in my quest for a grumble-free existence has been to pinpoint exactly what constitutes grumbling. All my life I have just let it all hang out, as far as griping goes, and now I’m sorting through every thought that strays through my mind and every word that crosses my lips, trying to distinguish the good from the bad and the ugly. So far there’s been a lot more bad and ugly, it seems. But mostly I’m just confused by all the unaccustomed decision-making. What actually constitutes “complaining”?

  • I go to get gas in an early March blizzard, and a woman makes small talk with the question, “So, how ya liking the snow?” I answer, “I’m freezing to death!”

Was that a complaint? Should I have said, “What a brisk and beautiful way to start a fantastic day!!”? Should I just have smiled and said, “I’m fine; how are you?” Should I have burst into a chorus of “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!”??

  • I’m late for work, and a car pulls out in front of me which appears to have serious engine problems, because there’s no other explanation for the speed at which he’s driving. Of course it’s a one-lane road, and of course it’s the day of our monthly meeting at work, so I kind of need to be there on time today. The car ahead of me is going 20 in a 35; he gets up to 25, but the excessive speed scares him, and he slows back down. “Why me??” I whisper in desperation.

Was that a complaint?

  • The doctor asks me how I’m feeling. I tell him, “I feel lousy.” Well, it’s true. That’s why I’m at the doctor’s office, for Pete’s sake!

Is that complaining??

Words cannot convey to you how hard it’s been for me to think straight these past few days of Lent as I strive to assess every thought and emotion while simultaneously attempting to live and breathe. And that’s not a complaint.

Is it?

Aww, gee….

One thing I have conveniently overlooked all my life is that telling the honest truth is not always a virtue. I have blurted out all kinds of complaints in the name of full disclosure, thinking that it is right, always and everywhere, to complain heartily as long as the sentiments expressed are true, as in “I can’t tell you how much I loathe giving up an hour of sleep because of Daylight Savings Time,” for example. That’s true. That’s also a complaint; no doubt about it. The Catholic Church is slowly but surely teaching me that it is right, always and everywhere, to give Him thanks, for Daylight Savings Time and for everything else that crosses my path, whether said occurrence happens to tickle my selfish little fancy or not.

Pretty much overwhelmed by all the insights and choices forced upon me by my Lenten sacrifice, I turned to the Sacrament of Penance, hoping to obtain the grace to abandon the ways of sin, specifically, the sin of Complaint. Fortunately, I have a very handy aid to confession, and used that to arm myself with a few apt descriptions of my failings. In the confessional I accused myself of ingratitude, of a lack of trust in God, and of a lack of humility (since I seem to think that I should have things my own way in all things). I also accused myself of spreading gloom (ouch). I abstained from confessing that I have pretty much raised sarcasm to an art form; I figured Father was getting my drift. He, for his part, graciously abstained from engaging in sarcasm of his own, like, “Well, it’s about time, Renée!“, simply asking me to make an Act of Contrition, which I did wholeheartedly. I came away from the experience with grace, hopefully enough grace to hold me till confession next Saturday afternoon. I am committed, by God’s grace, to change my lifelong habit of “stewing my life in the juice of my complaints,” as the Holy Father so aptly puts it.

So, I’m learning, and I’m changing. I’ve never been Little Mary Sunshine. I’m concerned that if I change too quickly, my kids may get creeped out like the poor Asian dry cleaning guy in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the one who whispers “That not my wife!” Kids, I’m still your mom; I’m just better now.

Like I said, creepy.

I’ve made it my project to commit to memory the Magnificat, a passage that I as a Protestant never bothered with. Each time I complain, I try to stop short and pray as much of Mary’s Song as I’ve memorized so far:

My soul magnifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;

For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;

Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is His name;

And His mercy is from generation to generation

on those who fear Him.

He has shown might with His arm,

He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich He has sent away empty.

He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy

Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

Luke 1:46-55

It is my hope that the God the Holy Spirit will work in my heart to make the Blessed Virgin’s sentiments my own. As St. Ambrose put it, “Let Mary’s soul be in us to glorify the Lord; let her spirit be in us that we may rejoice in God our Savior.” Amen. If you think of it, you might offer up a prayer for this, my intention.

I wrote this post to try to explain what not complaining is not. Not complaining is not… easy. And that’s not a complaint.

Is it?

Aww, gee….


On the memorial of Bl. José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero

Deo omnis gloria!