What Being Present This Lent Smells Like

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By Katie Morroni

I prayed about what to take on or give up for nearly 2 weeks ahead of Lent, but didn’t hear an obvious answer. Instead, the more I prayed about it, the more overwhelmed I felt by all I could and should improve in my life to better serve God and His people. And I know well my track record when I try to do ALL THE THINGS. So I walked into Mass on Ash Wednesday and asked once more: “What do you want to do during Lent?” This time, the answer came swiftly: Pay attention. Be present. Be intentional. Focus on the gospel.

Yes! Direction! This I can work with.

The church was filled with a standing-room-only crowd, and yet never seemed quieter or more still. We interrupted that soon, as my daughter worked out some, err… we’ll call it bathroom progress, and everyone in the surrounding pews giggled at her loud sounds. I made the sign of the cross as Mass began, and then excused myself to address the situation. I worked as quickly as I could, but felt like molasses. Twenty minutes and a couple diapers and wardrobe adjustments later, wondering if I would finish in time to receive ashes and the Eucharist, I already felt defeated. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t focused. I was missing it.

My thoughts quickly shifted: No. I wasn’t missing anything. This is the holiest thing I could be doing right now. I’m living my vocation, and I’m present where I need to be present at this particular moment. This is what God has called me to, and continues to call me to. Dirty diapers (and the clothes, blankets, and other items that stand in their way) are not the extent of my vocation as a wife and mother of course, but right now, they are certainly part of it.

I should add so it’s abundantly clear: I’m not complaining. My daughter has opened up a new depth of love in my heart and I knew (as much as one can know) what I was signing up for. Every day, I wake up excited about the joy and adventures that lie ahead for her! It’s just that I would have liked to hear a favorite priest give (what I later heard was) a beautiful, inspired homily; that was the kind of presence and intention I had in mind when I first received the answer to my prayers. But that wasn’t for me this Ash Wednesday. God called me to stop doing ALL THE THINGS and, n this moment, just do this one.

I did catch the last 2 minutes of the homily (and, to be honest, not much of Mass after), enough to hear the priest quote the Second Reading: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” Is it cliche to say I looked at the diaper bag and now saw its potential as a tool for that very task? Probably, but it’s true. This is where I am 8 weeks into motherhood, and this is what being present and focusing on the gospel looked like for me on Ash Wednesday. Here’s to however it looks (and smells) tomorrow.

Happy Weekend: 10 Links Worth Clicking, 1st Week of Lent Edition

Here’s a few links from the last week or so that you may enjoy:

1. Can’t get to DC for the exhibition “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts? Me neither. But there’s an online exhibit! Bonus: it was created by art history majors from The Catholic University of America, alma mater to yours truly and other CatholicHow contributors. Swoon.

2. In an upcoming Salt and Light interview, Archbishop Chaput asserts: “Pope Francis is never going to be tamed, nor should he be.” Boom.

3. As Emily Zanotti put it, “If you’ve ever thought that Nutella’s existence was proof that God loved us and wanted us to be happy, you were mostly right.” Here’s why.

4. A reflection centered on this important reminder from The Screwtape Letters: “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one.”

5. Here’s what blogger Sarah Reinhard WON’T be doing for Lent

6. This tweet, and the blog post it points to:

7. For those of us who can get “trapped by the externals of Lent,” read this.

8. Worth a reflection: Would you die for your ashes? Cardinal reflects on modern Christian martyrs

9. I hope this is fruitful — and if so, that its fruits extend beyond our community here in Denver: Conference to address challenges ’99 percent’ of parishes experience

10. And finally, this tweet from our Catholic How founder and editor in chief:

Happy Monday: 10 Links Worth Clicking (Almost-Lent edition)

By Katie Morroni

In his homily last week, a priest in residence at my parish said that the most important thing any of us can do for Lent is to pray about it, asking how we should spend the time — what we might give up or take on to draw closer to God. Some of us have had the experience, perhaps, of giving something up that didn’t do much for our spiritual growth. Or forgetting why exactly we took on what we did. But if we pray about what to do, and listen to how we’re being called individually to spend this time, how could we be disappointed with the results?

As we begin reflecting on and praying about what we should do this season, here are some links and resources that may aid our efforts.

What will you be taking on or giving up this Lent? What other online resources have helped you in the past? Post a comment here, or join our conversation on Twitter by mentioning @CatholicHow.

1. A beautiful idea to consider from my friend Mary from high school on her blog, Finding Joy in All Things: 40 letters in 40 days

2. Worth reading: Why I’m not giving anything up for Lent

3. I’ll admit, the Stations of the Cross is a tradition that I’ve never really embraced. That is, until last year when I was lovingly nudged into it by a penance. But more on that in another post. For now, even reluctant participants like me might find this scriptural version fruitful.

Continue reading Happy Monday: 10 Links Worth Clicking (Almost-Lent edition)

A Liturgically-Minded Poet

by Patrick Angiolillo

Among my favorite poets is the little known, but tremendously talented twentieth century Jewish American poet Samuel Menashe. His was something of a late-bloomer in the literary community, at least in terms of his recognition. Indeed, late in his life, he won the Poetry Foundation’s Neglected Masters Award, receiving it in the first year of its presentation. But his poetry, regardless of it’s critical review, is some of the most concise expression of the deep and profound matters of life and faith.

The English Movement poet Donald Davie described Menashe’s verse as “liturgical”; indeed, he classifies Menashe’s poetry as expressly “un-literary.” Rather, Menashe’s is a “very insistently linguistic” poetry. As an educated American Jew, Menashe grew up with Yiddish, but learned English early on, and has acquired French by his teenage years. And, knowing his story, I would guess he was not unfamiliar with Hebrew and Italian, as well, if not even more languages than those.

Menashe was a words man. Continue reading A Liturgically-Minded Poet

Smooth Transitions: Teresa of Avila’s Focus on Prayer

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By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Have you ever heard about people who give birth to babies in bathtubs – on purpose?  What’s up with that?  The American Pregnancy Association describes water births as occurring in large tubs of warm water, carefully supervised by qualified healthcare providers.  “The theory behind water birth is that since the baby has already been in the amniotic fluid sac for nine months, birthing into a similar environment is gentler for the baby and less stressful for the mother.”  Well, that seems like a fair thought to me.  But I’ll leave it to my doctor friends to argue about the benefits and risks of water births; it was the idea of making the transition from one stage of life to another smoother, easier, more familiar that interested me.  For a theology student (or maybe just for me) the transition INTO the world almost always makes you think of the transition OUT of it as well.  Smooth births got me thinking about smooth deaths.

This is what I was thinking about during class the other day.  We were talking about The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila when, towards the end of class, our professor asked us, “So, why talk about prayer so much at all?  Why does it matter?  What is this discussion of prayer doing for the reader besides just learning how to pray?  What does learning how to pray serve?”  My answer (and that’s just the opinion of a casual Teresa reader) is that learning how to pray helps with the transition from one stage of life to another, from life through death to eternal life. Continue reading Smooth Transitions: Teresa of Avila’s Focus on Prayer

Happy Friday: 10 Links Worth Clicking

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By Katie Morroni

Happy Friday, friends. Now that our daughter is 6 weeks old and I’ve mostly recovered from labor and delivery, things are beginning to settle down and life is getting back to normal. Of course, “normal” here doesn’t look anything like it used to, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s surprised me most so far, amidst the newness of it all, is the overwhelming sense that she has always been a part of our family. God set her apart, and it has always been His plan for her to live and learn and grow and love as a member of our family. And His. What a gift.

As part of getting back to normal, I’m dusting off my computer to begin this new weekly series, Links Worth Clicking, featuring news, prayer resources, tweets, event announcements, and more. Here’s a few links from the last week or so that you may enjoy:

1. Good news (and yes, that’s a gospel pun) via The Catholic Register:

The Vatican will offer homeless people in Rome not only showers but also haircuts and shaves when new facilities open next month, the head of Pope Francis’ charity office said.

… [Bishop Konrad] Krajewski came up with the idea of building showers in St. Peter’s Square last year after a homeless person told him that while it was relatively easy to find places to eat at Rome charities, it was difficult to find places to wash.

2. Looking to revitalize your prayer life? Pope Francis gave a short lesson on contemplative prayer this week during a daily Mass homily.

3. This tweet:

4. Mark your calendars: PrayMoreNovenas.com, a favorite online prayer resource, is leading a novena to St. Michael beginning February 10th. Follow this link to sign up, and you’ll receive the short, daily prayer in your inbox each morning. I love the reminders to keep my on schedule.

5. Shopping for a Valentine’s Day gift that makes an impact? A Valentine’s Day Bundle (a necklace and pair of earrings) from Amazima Ministries provides 128 meals to children and provides sustainable income to the women who make the jewelry. (NOTE: Orders must be placed by 2/6 for Valentine’s Day arrival.)

6. Fellow mammas, check out this upcoming *free* event, The Catholic Conference for Moms (via Praying with Grace).

7. I highly recommend signing up for Fr. Robert Barron’s daily Lent reflections. (Stay tuned for more Lent resources in next week’s Links Worth Clicking post.)

8. In honor of the Year of Consecrated Life, the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles are leading a prayer drive to get 10,000 people praying for vocations to the consecrated religious life. You can join their effort and track their progress on their Facebook page.

9. Do yourself a favor: click through this slideshow of couples who have been married 50+ years and read their insights on lasting love. What a breath of fresh air. I can’t wait until this book is available in America.

10. And finally, this tweet:

Remember the Blood

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently
than that of Abel.

One of my favorite passages of the letter to the Hebrews compares the blood of the innocent Abel to the innocent Christ. The author is, in fact, referring to the passage in the book of Genesis where the Lord questions Cain after the murder of his brother.  Cain attempts to push off the Lord’s questioning; the Lord responds to by saying that Abel’s blood cries out to God from the earth.  Abel’s blood is, in reality, testimony against Cain, and, quite frankly, all violence, all blood, and all death.

What better time, then, to hear this passage from Hebrews, because at any moment when flipping on the television, radio, or a favorite web browser, we see the blood of the innocent crying out. Yet, as Christians, there is something greater than the blood of Abel active in the world.  We know of the blood of the Innocent One, Christ Jesus, who is both the priest and the sacrifice who has poured out his blood so that we may be washed cleaned.

And this is, perhaps more than anything else that we will hear today, Good News.  The reason is that if we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit that we havespilled blood. We’ve all hurt the reputations of others, we have all failed to show mercy, and we have all failed to be compassionate to our neighbors (and if we are to take the Gospel seriously, we have failed to show it to our enemies as well.)

But, as a wise friar once said to me, “remember the blood”.

In other words, it is not the blood that we have spilled which has the final word. The blood of Christ, in fact, is more than simple testimony. The blood that we have spelled, though it testifies against us, does not have the power to condemn. Instead, it is Christ’s blood that poured from his side on the cross which overwhelms any condemnation we deserve.

We have seen much blood in these past days: it belongs to the victims of ISIS, to the shattered lives of commuters in New York, and in the garden-variety indignities experienced in our cities or towns in our homes.  In all these moments,  we are called to remember the blood. We must remember, however, not only the blood that we have spilled, but also the blood that cleanses, that gives life, the blood of the one true high priest, Jesus the Christ, Who  lives and reigns in unity with the Holy Spirit,  one God forever and ever, Amen!

 

There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

by Patrick Angiolillo

Earlier in January, the story broke that the popular book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,  written by Alex Malarkey and his father, is a hoax. The book, which details Alex’s journeys to and from heaven while  suffering a coma after an unfortunate car accident as a child, was all fabricated by the boy in order to garner attention. He publicly admitted to this fact in an open letter.

This story finds itself as one of the latest installments in a somewhat new (although, actually quite old) phenomenon known as “heavenly tourism.” This sub-genre of Christian literature (perhaps equally to be called a sub-culture of Christian culture) is probably not as familiar to Catholics as it is to some Protestants. But either way, it is a movement within the Christian faith in which people claim to have experienced a journey to and back from heaven in their lives. Another example than Alex Malarkey’s is  Todd Burpo’s. His is a similar story, in which Burpo experienced heaven while undergoing an emergency surgery as a young boy. The details are recounted in his co-authored book, Heaven is for Real, the veracity of which has been maintained by author and publisher.

Whether or not we believe folks today who say they have had visions, or out-of-body experiences, or other kinds of journeys to heaven is not really a doctrinal matter.  Nothing in their stories makes absolute claims on the Christian faith. We can, if we please, ignore their tales and go on professing the Creed in perfect peace…

But we are curious, aren’t we? We’d just like to know, wouldn’t we? Continue reading There and Back Again: Glimpsing Heaven

Who Are You Trusting?

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By Claire McGrath

Much of our human experience depends on our ability to trust. I’ve come to realize that the things that are most important to me, like faith and relationships, are built primarily on trust. Trusting is one of the most challenging things to do, because it requires us to take a risk; we must be courageous and bold enough to have faith in something that we cannot control. When we trust other people, we are open and vulnerable with them because we believe that they will love and value us despite our weaknesses. We allow ourselves to be guided by others because we believe that they will lead us to goodness and joy, even though we may not know for sure. When we trust, we reveal to others our true selves, with our gifts and weaknesses, our suffering and our joy, allowing us to forge strong and authentic relationships. When we do this, we are taking an enormous risk, because we may not know for sure whether the other person will still love us when we are being vulnerable and weak; we may not know for sure that they will lead us down the right path or reveal the truth to us. These are things that we believe because have faith in another.

To trust is one of the boldest things that we can do because, as I mentioned, it means that we must relinquish some of our control, and be willing to follow where another is leading us even when we cannot see the path. Sometimes this will require us to do or believe things that we may not understand, or things that may cause us fear. When I visualize trust, I think of walking through the dark, guided by a voice, and believing that this voice is leading you to the light, even though you cannot see the path before you. Sometimes we end up trusting in the wrong things—things that will only lead us deeper and deeper into darkness instead of toward light. If we are to overcome challenges, to grow into who we are meant to be, and to find our way when we get lost, then we must learn to trust the correct voices. This is a lesson that I have learned slowly, after some time wandering and straying from the path.

Continue reading Who Are You Trusting?

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