Over at Mother of Mercy, my preferred venue for confessions, I wrapped up a list of weightier sins with, “. . . and losing patience with other people’s shortcomings, which I know is ridiculous, but there it is.”
Fr. A* was still thinking after the act of contrition. “For your penance, um . . .” when he does this, you know you’re in trouble, because it’s the sound he makes when he’s fitting the punishment to the crime, “. . . pray for anyone you may have lost your patience with–”
–maybe I can work with this–
“–in thought or in . . .”
Oh for crying out loud, Father! Even if I kept my mouth shut?! Really??
So did I pray for you? If you take a long time in the confessional, or you give evidence that you are unclear on why your car’s gas pedal is also called the “accelerator”? Then yes, I definitely prayed for you.
Postcard of the Basilica of Our Mother of Mercy, via Wikimedia (public domain).
*A is for Anonymous. I have no idea who’s behind the screen. That’s what I like about the place.
Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.
However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.
The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.
This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger. Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.
Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.
What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.
That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.
So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.
And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.
Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.
Wednesdays are traditionally the glorious mysteries. I finally got back to praying the Rosary today after a gaping hiatus caused by a succession illness (it is a physical act, and thus requires one or another physical abilities), chaos, and inertia.
What was on my mind as I prayed was my inability to accomplish certain tasks before me, and thus my reliance on God to take care of them. This is a good problem, because relying on me is not the wisest course, and in any case the tasks are God’s.
Here is a miracle, to give you an idea of the scope of the whole thing: I made a craft. Not just any craft; one that required both bright colors and straight lines. Also, I had to do it with supplies that I didn’t have spares of, which meant everything had to be done exactly right the first time. No sane person assigns me a job like this. Just never.
So anyway, I get around to the fourth glorious mystery, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Do you know what our Lady did during that mystery?
Just laid there. Didn’t lift a finger.
God did it.
This seems to be the way it works. Want me to conceive the Messiah? I can’t do that Lord, but however you want to handle this go ahead. Out of wine? Son, could you take care of this please? So you’re saying the plan is that you’re going to die on that cross–? I’m just gonna stand here, and you figure out what the system is.
It’s not that Mary does nothing. It’s that she does only the part she can do, and lets God worry about the rest.
Request: If you have a charism for bringing empty jars to the attention of our Lord, please consider joining the newly-formed Catholic Evangelization and Discipleship Intercessory Prayer Team group on Facebook. It’s a closed group, but any member can add new members. If you are in the work of discipleship or evangelization and would like people to pray for your mission, please join and post your requests. (Also: Introduce yourself and I’ll add you to the pinned post of who’s who at the top.) Thank you!
If you found the title of this post a bit off-putting, then there’s a very good chance this post will resonate with you. (If you didn’t find a problem with it, you probably either decided not to read any further, or are looking for something provocative or titillating. I will gratuitously play along, and we’ll see if you find that which you seek.)
Apologies are hard. They strike at our pride and spotlight our need to grow further in virtue. That’s painful. Sometimes, it’s too much to bear. First, let me make a distinction. In our personal relationships, we should be liberal and sincere with our apologies. If I have an argument with my wife, and I’m even 1% at fault (though it’s usually well over 50% – okay, well over 90%), then I should apologize. I should do so quickly, sincerely, and without reservation or qualification. (We’ll look at examples in a few moments.)
As a management instructor, though, I’ve seen an abuse of apologies in the business world that render them wholly ineffective, sometimes even creating an unnecessary liability. For example, if a business engages in a well-thought-out decision to make a change in policy or process or product, then they should stand by it and offer the ‘why’ to the customer. Help the customer understand why this is a good thing and point out “what’s in it for you” to the customer. If a business just briefly mentions the change and ends with, “We apologize for any inconvenience,” they’re implying they did something wrong, and that it was not their best move. If it was a sound business decision, stand by it. If there is regret, either don’t do it or fully own up to it and make it right with the customer. To do anything ‘in between’ simply frustrates the customer and leaves the employees embarrassed about having to meekly address complaints. In some cases, a ‘feel-good’ apology in business could even be used against the company in court, as evidence of admitting fault or negligence.
On the other hand, in personal relationships (and when a public apology is necessary), there’s a right way and a wrong way to apologize. After the famous “wardrobe malfunction” during his and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago, this is what Justin Timberlake came up with: “What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.” Sound familiar? Sadly, millions seem to be under the impression that this qualifies as an ‘apology’. It doesn’t (and I’m sorry if you’re offended by that). The underlying message here is, “Something went wrong, I take no ownership of it, but I am obligated to say SOMETHING, so if you’re offended by this then really it’s YOU who has the problem.” Classy. You make a mistake and blame others who noticed. “Apology” isn’t the right word here. “Cowardice” or “arrogance” would be far more suitable.
Instead, such unfortunate events could be seen as opportunities for developing virtue. If I play any role in something I regret (like saying some things I wished I hadn’t, which I’ve been known to do a time or a thousand), I can take complete ownership of it and grow in humility in the process. (That’s a good thing, by the way. It is the antidote for selfish pride. ‘Cause, you know, it goeth before a fall…and stuff.) “I said some deeply hurtful things to you (about such and such) and I’m ashamed of myself. You deserve better from me. Can you please forgive me?” A sincere apology doesn’t always have to follow these criteria, but it helps:
1) Identify the offense
2) Take ownership
3) Acknowledge the dignity of the other person
4) Ask for forgiveness
5) Offer no qualifiers or expectations of a reciprocal apology
That 4th item – asking for forgiveness – is often forgotten in apologies, but it’s important. And, when someone asks for forgiveness, give them that. Say out loud (and sincerely – harboring that grudge or ill will harms you, not them), “I forgive you.” (A hug might be a good touch then, depending on the relationship.) And that last item is the hardest. You’ll be a better, more mature person every time you successfully make an apology with that in mind, though, and you’ll strengthen your relationship with the other person.
Maybe there’s something you’ve done a long time ago for which you still have regret? Maybe there’s a relationship that is in need of repair? Perfect timing. It’s still Lent, after all. So, what are you waiting for?
Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
Ashes have worn off, can’t remember where my sackcloth got to, and I’m now in that phase of Lent where even ordinary-time decent behavior seems to have scooted off and left Wretched Sinner to reign.
Lent will do this to you. There’s nothing like trying to be a better person to make it clear how much worse things are than you’d been lulled into believing.
I am fortunate because, by complete accident of state-of-life and no smart planning ahead on my part, I picked an intermittent personal penance. You know the type — get to Adoration once a week, or say a Chaplet on Fridays, or some extra odd or end that you couldn’t do every day if you wanted to, because your life is like that, but which you could manage once a week or on certain days.
Serendipitous help: When that day of the week comes around, you’ve got a built-in ‘reset’ button. If you’ve fallen into Apathetic Christian Mode, the ridiculousness of performing some superlative act when you can’t even hold together normal Christian life will, perhaps, slap a little remorse and repentance into you.
Lenten Implosion Syndrome is not a bug, it’s a feature. Lent prepares us for Easter, and Easter is not the day when we saved ourselves.
Photo by Diego Delso, of course. Guessed that as soon as I saw it on Image of the Day. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Click through and scroll down for the brief but enlightening description + implicit exhortation.
The difficulty is that I got three new purple shirts last fall, and they are my favorite shirts. If I’m going to wear a shirt that is not stained or faded or both, it’s 50-50 on the odds that shirt might be purple. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I like my purple shirts as much as I like my black shirts. They match my purple watch and my purple glasses (which I updated for black glasses, heh) and my purple book and everything. I like purple.
It is not my fault that the Church likes purple, too.
So I decided Sunday morning that I’d get over my irrational aversion and just wear the purple turtleneck and suck it up. I was very hoping no one would notice, but obviously someone did.
There is no deep spiritual meaning to any of this. Some things that happen in Lent have no deep meaning, they just are.
PS: My link above to my 2015 discussion of this issue includes some comments on penance on St. Patrick’s day. As this year’s feast does fall on a Friday, you’ll have to consult your bishop to find out your options. There’s not one single answer for the whole US, let alone the whole world.
Photo:By Moose School Productions (http://peteralsop.com/gallery/peters-headshots) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons. I have no idea whether you should like Peter Alsop or not. I know that I liked his purple shirt photo best, of all the viable choices on Wikimedia.
That is the rationale behind our resolution to eliminate extraneous sugar from the family diet. We theorize, but aren’t certain, that at least one of our children would benefit from a diet with relatively less sugar and relatively more fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates; we suspect that making that transition will improve the mental health of everyone, directly and indirectly; thus it’s a switch that, we think, will make it easier for all of us to become more like the people God created us to be.
That’s the hypothesis. We’re testing it during Lent because honestly it’s hard to make yourself give up something good, easy, and pleasant when you aren’t even sure it matters.
With that in mind, SuperHusband went to Costco.
“Please don’t bring home more of those yogurt things,” I asked him before he left. Yogurt in itself is not a problem food, but the individual servings of flavored yogurts the kids devour like starved goatherds come with a piles of extra sugar.
“But [certain child with low appetite] loves them, and they’re mostly healthy,” SuperHusband observed.
“Well, just look at the nutrition information and do the best you can,” I said.
So he and our reluctant eater went off to Costco and came home with . . . cheesecake.
Um, darling? Lent?
Outside of the penitential seasons, we always get some kind of good treat for Sundays. But during Advent and Lent I tend to scale back — not a hard and fast rule, mind you, but let’s just say that a giant tray of cheesecake is more Easter-Christmas-Birthday than Sackcloth-and-Ashes.
SuperHusband explained: “I looked at all the nutritional information, and this one had the best fat-to-sugar ratio of just about anything. A bazillion times better than those yogurts.”
I believe him. We’d acquired this particular cheesecake a few weeks ago for a birthday party, and it was noticably better than typical, and it was not overly-sweet at all. Very much in the real-food category of convenience items.
Okay, then. My goal isn’t to satisfy some preconceived image of what is and is not “penitential” enough to satisfy the St. Joneses. My goal is to meet the unusual but pressing nutritional needs of one of our children. Cheesecake to fulfill our Lenten resolution it is.
SuperHusband prays morning and night prayer per iBreviary, and when I’m around I pray along with him. Usually he does the bulk of the reading and I get the responses, but this morning he is hoarse with a wicked sore throat, so I was the reader.
It’s a different experience. When he reads, I get to sit back and listen and my thoughts can range over the psalms as they come my way. As the person responsible for pronouncing all the words, in contrast, there’s no time for anything but quick thoughts. Unlike lectoring, especially for a big event, where you take time ahead to pray over the readings and practice them a bit, morning prayer is dashed off on the spot. Unlike praying one of the hours by yourself in silence, when there’s someone else waiting on you, you can’t just stop and ponder at will.
You get one shot at the reading, cold, no stops.
Another difference is that when an idea strikes you, it strikes and sticks and there’s no considering just how apt it is, because you’ve got to keep moving. But the imagery can be quite vivid. For example: Chickens.
The verse that got me was this:
Though the wicked spring up like grass and all who do evil thrive:
they are doomed to be eternally destroyed.
Our Lent down South takes place during true spring. Plum trees are in blossom, azaleas are working on it, the camellias of winter are fading away and the daffodils are long since awakened. The early grasses are bright and vigorous and lush, though they’ll give way in a few months to the stubbornly invasive weed-grasses of summer. All year long, the various grasses take their turns at conquest.
But they cannot withstand the ravages of the chicken.
If a chicken decides she wants a square of dirt, that square of dirt she will have, and everything in it. The chicken does not care what your plans are. The chicken landscapes as she will, and if you wish to make her cooperate with your plans, you’d best set firm boundaries delineating which earth is hers and which is yours.
And so, reading this morning, I could not help, of course, to imagine the Avenging Angel as a chicken. They’re both winged. They are both, to their prey, a fearsome specter. If ever a great chicken comes to destroy you, be afraid.
I’d never even heard of the Legion of Mary. But this lady was fast. She had my name on those forms in an instant. There’s the x for your signature, here’s a copy of your prayers to say every day, and don’t worry, it’s not a mortal sin if you miss a day, but do keep up with it.
“But I don’t go to this parish,” I told her.
They weren’t picky.
I signed. And then I had to go home and explain this to my poor husband, a protestant who believed in neither the Blessed Sacrament nor prayers to Mary. Oops. Luckily he recognized the swift hand of God in answering my prayers for a better prayer life, and if it made no sense to him personally, who was he to argue with God?
And who am I to argue either?
That was all great until, as I wrote in 2015, things began to get complicated. It is difficult to pray the Rosary (or any other talking-prayer) when you get light-headed when you talk. The hagiographers won’t have any work to do with me, because I’m not one of those saints with heroic perseverance. After a long period of trial and error I finally decided to sub out the Office of Readings if I couldn’t reasonably pray the Rosary, since that’s far easier to pray along with silently. It’s reading. They put the word reading right there in the name of it.
(I thought about making myself a rosary to read. Like a slide show or something. But then I didn’t. I guess I should do that. And yes, I tried apps and things, but nothing suited.)
So then, as I wrote the other day, I got better again! Woohoo! Which means that I transitioned, slightly unaware, from World’s Worst Auxillary Member of the Legion, But She Has an Excuse to WWAML, No Excuse. I had forgot I could do this thing again.
But you know what? God didn’t forget, and neither did this other guy.
Enter Rosary, Stage Left; Saint, Stage Right
Two big things happened in the last weeks of December. I can’t remember which happened first. One was that in the course of cleaning out the house, I came across the stunningly beautiful rosary that a friend had given me as a gift some years ago. I used to pull it out for the Easter and Christmas seasons, but I’ve been slack about keeping up with liturgically-timed theme-changes lately, and honestly I had sort of, I’m mortified to admit this, forgotten it. But it pushed its way in front of my nose before Christmas, you betcha.
Then I forgot it again, because it was still Advent. I know! But it gets worse!
Meanwhile, my boss here at the Conspiracy posts that she got St. Andrew for her 2017 saint. He’s well-used among Conspirators, but still in good shape. So naturally I had to go compulsively find out who my 2017 saint would be, even though it was still firmly 2016, but you know, Facebook. Must click the link.
So I go, and I pray briefly, hit the button, get to the screen which tells you to pray, and I pray again. A Hail Mary this time. Hit the second button:
If you are in the Legion of Mary, you are now laughing manically and thinking about wiping up the coffee you just spewed all over your screen. Sorry about that, maybe you should read the blogs of more reputable members.
The Case of the Unblessed Rosary
So I was officially put on notice. No shirking in 2017, not for me.
Meanwhile, I again discovered that gorgeous rosary I’d re-forgotten, but had cleverly put on a shelf where I’d stumble across it more reliably. The second time, I remembered something else: I’d never gone and gotten that rosary blessed.
There are two reasons for its heretofore unblessed state:
(1) My friend who gave it to me is not a Catholic, she’s just an extremely thoughtful and generous person who had this beautiful thing she knew I’d treasure made for me.
(2) At the time I received it, I had no idea rosary-blessing was even a thing. No one tells you anything when you’re Catholic. You can go years and years not knowing all kinds of stuff “everyone knows.” Problem I might rant about another day, but for now, on to the happy ending.
So I’ve got St. Louis M. breathing down my back, a forlorn rosary dying to be put to its proper use, and hey, the year begins with the feast of Mary, Mother of God.
So yes, even though Father was miserable with a cold today at Mass and it pained me to ask him to say one more thing with that throat of his, I totally hauled that rosary out and had it blessed. And then I went home and used it. 1 down, 364 to go.
If you read this blog via e-mail or feed reader, or if you have Ad Block ensabled on your browser, FYI: Among our sponsors here at the Catholic Conspiracy are people who make and sell rosaries. If you’re in the market for Catholic or Christian-friendly goods and services, do kindly see if any of our sponsors are offering what you’d hoped to find. Thanks!
This is a post that sounds like satire but is not. This is a post about cold, hard, liturgical reality: The best Catholics are the slackers.
That’s right friends. You agonize every year about whether you’re doing Advent, or Christmas, or Lent, or Easter just right, and you have the pictures on Pinterest to prove it. Dear, dear one, lose your life and you’ll find it. The best way to be liturgically on the ball is to drag through life barely holding your head above water.
Here are five proofs hidden in the couch cushions at the home of that friend who never invites you over because her life is such a trainwreck. Not kidding. This works. Especially #2.
#1 No new music.
New music is for people who have time to learn things. Now mind you, I don’t object to the odd innovator. But nothing says in step with the season like singing last millennium’s music. Or the millennium before that. If it was good enough for Advent 1016, it’s good enough for me.
#2 No gratuitous shopping trips.
Christmas is so commercial! they weep. Not if you don’t have the time, money, or energy to go the store, it’s not. You don’t have to be poor in the spirit, just poor in something that keeps you out of the mall. I’ve tried it both ways. Not shopping is better.
#3 No decorating and entertaining excess.
Yes love, we’ve heard all about how so very tired you are from all the time and energy you spend getting your house (and office, and wardrobe) just so for the holiday season, and how much work it was to put on your fabulous collection of carefully tailored parties (one for clients, one for employees, one for the neighbors, one for the close friends, one for the other friends, one for the friends who can’t be with the other friends . . .). Sweetie pie, if you were really tired? You wouldn’t be doing all that stuff.
You know how tired people entertain? By sleeping. That’s how. It’s very entertaining, try it sometime.
Liturgical tip: Start the season utterly exhausted, and you’ll never, ever have to wonder if you’re losing the “real meaning of Christmas” amid all your busyness.
#4 Your Christmas tree will always go up at exactly the right time.
This is the great thing about trees: They look great anywhere. Your Christmas tree might be sojourning in the forest all winter this year — that’s very contemplative, you know. But imagine for a moment that you mustered the wherewithal to drag a tree, or some inventive product that reminds the casual viewer of a tree, into your home this holiday season.
Some Catholics, under those circumstances, would have to worry: Have I done this too early? Too late? When exactly is the tree supposed to enter the home?
Not you, exhausted slacker friend! If it arrives early, it’s an Advent tree, or else it’s you managing to get something done ahead of a time for a change. If it comes in the 24th, hey, perfect!
But what if, say, you pull it off the neighbor’s curb on the 26th? You’re a shining example of good stewardship, both financial and environmental. Rejoice — you’ve been heralded in a century-and-change of papal encyclicals. Woohoo!
#5 No skimping on the fullness of the season.
What’s the big rush in taking down the Christmas decorations?
Would it really be the feast of the Presentation if there weren’t a few reminders of the Nativity artfully displayed about your home? What about the Annunciation, huh? Are you so spiritually adrift on the tides of the seasons that you’ve never noticed the parallel between the manger and the tomb? It might be easier to catch those connections if you weren’t so keen to whisk away your baby Jesus to His summer home in the attic.
And of course there would have been no Easter if we hadn’t had Christmas first. Leaving out your past-due decorations is like living every day of your life in a dusty, slightly dented, but arguably beatific living Gospel.
While organized, industrious people pack up their holiday spirit in order to bustle onto the next big source of ennui, we slackers bask in the glow of eternity, our living-rooms perpetually witness to timeless truths.
Happy Advent! And other seasons, too, while we’re at it.