Sunday, August 2, 2020

What Do You Need (A Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, August 2, 2020, via our parish blog.

I usually think of myself as Jesus when I read the Gospel: the one who's always right, who intuitively knows everyone's motivations, whose righteous anger is always justified.

In this week's Gospel reading, Jesus is trying to get some time alone: 

"...he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns." (Matthew 14:13) 

Poor Jesus. The clamoring crowds won't leave him alone! Poor Jesus. Poor me. Poor Jesus. Poor me. 

It wasn't until Wally and I read through all of the Scriptures for this Sunday that I realized, oh, Charlene, you've got it wrong. You are not Jesus. You are not the Eternally Patient One who is thrilled to see people chasing you into your solitude. (Just ask my kids.)

I'm the crowd that seems to ever pester Jesus, audaciously showing up whenever I please with an armful of questions, hurts, and concerns: Jesus, why is this happening? Jesus, what should I do? Jesus, where is the justice? Jesus, my friend needs healing. Jesus, I'm hungry. 

While it sounds annoying, we can see repeatedly in this Sunday's Scriptures that God loves it when we show up unannounced, honest, and empty-handed: 

"The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth." (Psalm 145:18)

"Come to the water! … Come, receive grain and eat… Come, without paying and without cost… Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life." (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Jesus doesn't want to be left alone. He welcomes our clamoring, reaching, calling out at all hours:

"What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? ...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature..." (Romans 8:35-39)

And what does Jesus do for the crowd that chases after him into his solitude? 

"...his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick." (Matthew 14:14)

Jesus' disciples suggest he send them away:

"...it is already late; dismiss the crowds…" (Matthew 14:15)

But no, Jesus invites the crowd to stay with him into the night. He tells them to sit down in the grass and get comfortable. Then He miraculously multiplies what little they have—2 loaves and 5 fish—and feeds more than 5,000 people like it's Thanksgiving dinner.

Whether we're thirsty, fearful, poor, hopeless, hungry, or dissatisfied—all needs that are mentioned in this Sunday's readings—may the Responsorial Psalm bring us hope:

"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs." (Psalm 145:16)

What do you need from Jesus? Chase him into solitude; He welcomes you.

"Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life." (Isaiah 55:3)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Listen, Imagine, Pray: A Review of Beheld Media's Time With Jesus

My kids know about God… but do they know God? Why do they sometimes dread family prayer time? (Why do I sometimes dread family prayer time?) 


When Beheld Media introduced an innovative prayer resource for kids to CatholicMom, it resonated with a need in my own family. I hoped it would be as good as it sounded:


Time With Jesus (TWJ) is a collection of 13 Bible readings and corresponding meditations, in which scenes from the Bible are brought to life with natural sound effects and music. By listening to Scripture and then using their imagination, children are led to an encounter with Jesus.


My kids, ages 4-10, love the prayer experience of TWJ. Each night for the past two weeks, after tucking them in bed and turning out the light, I've played one of the tracks from my phone. Each night, they've begged to hear another. 


"I helped Jesus pull the boat onto the sand!" declared my 4-year-old after an immersive story of Jesus calming a storm.


After the same guided reflection, my 8-year-old shared, "You know how I get worried a lot? I think Jesus was telling me that He can handle all the stuff that worries me."


Each TWJ contemplation is 5-7 minutes long. The word choice and story format are perfect for kids of any age. The music is calming. The sound effects are an integral part of the story, not distracting or overbearing. 


Catholics will recognize TWJ as a modern-day, kid-friendly experience of lectio divina, an ancient prayer tradition of Scripture meditation that "engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2708) 


"I helped Jesus find a lost sheep!" one of my 5-year-olds shared after listening to a parable.


"And we are the sheep!" his twin interjected. "We are Jesus' sheep! He wants to comfort us."


Time With Jesus isn't preachy. In fact, there's no preaching at all. And yet, through each guided, open-ended conversation with Jesus, the Holy Spirit stirred differently in each of my kids—and in me. While listening to TWJ, God impressed on my heart a friendship I needed to reconcile. This is an approach to prayer that's engaging and effective for every age, even adults. 


Several of the Bible stories in TWJ are also mysteries of the rosary: The Visitation, Jesus' Birth, Baptism, Transfiguration, and Resurrection, and The Coming of the Holy Spirit. After listening to the Scripture of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, children are invited to talk with Mary about how excited she is to be Jesus' mother and how much she wants everyone to know her Son. 


Cate Kensey, creator of Time With Jesus, explains: 


"​TWJ is the fruit of my own faith journey. My own relationship with God was transformed when, in 2003, I was introduced to a community of missionary women whose vocation is to show people how they can meet Jesus personally and be changed by His love, through prayerful contemplation on the Word of God. I have continued to pray in this way and it is what sustains my daily walk with Jesus." 


While there's a notable Aussie accent—Beheld Media is an Australian company—my kids didn't even notice. (TWJ could be a simple introduction for American kids about the universality of faith: Christians around the world read the same Scripture in different languages with different accents).


"I like imagining the details of the Bible stories," my 10-year-old shared after listening to his favorite track, The Coming of the Holy Spirit. "It makes it easier for me to talk to God."


"Jesus was talking to me!" my 4-year-old declared in a run-on sentence of excitement after listening to The Resurrection. "I was pretending like I was running to get to Jesus, and when I turned, somebody was right in front of me, and I know it was Jesus, and He said, 'I am alive.' And I said, 'How did you get off the cross?!' And He said, 'I am alive.'" 


TWJ offers a creative way for kids to know God, to encounter Jesus personally, as they engage meaningfully and joyfully in prayer.


You can listen to The Transfiguration as a free sample track and purchase Time With Jesus as a CD or mp3 download at Beheld Media's website (www.beheldmedia.com).


*Also published July 2020 at CatholicMom.com




Monday, July 20, 2020

She Laughs at the Future

I ran a Catholic homeschool co-op with 4 kids under 6 while pregnant with #5. 
"What an impossible job!" another mom said. 
I laughed smartly.

I emailed in my letter of resignation at midnight while changing buckets during a family stomach bug.
"What a time to quit!" my boss said.
I laughed tiredly. 

I made pizza with tomatoes and basil from our garden while teaching my children to make homemade crust.
"What a good dinner!" the kids said. 
I laughed proudly.

I served 5 bags of extra butter microwave popcorn to my children while letting them watch TV.
"What a good dinner!" the kids said.
I laughed gratefully.

I brought 5 kids to Parent Night while pulling 2 preschoolers in a wagon with a toddler on my back.
"What a fun family!" the principal said. 
I laughed appreciatively.

I brought 5 kids to an Author Celebration while their heads were unknowingly but visibly crawling with lice.
"It happens! Don't worry about it!" the school nurse said. 
I laughed self-consciously.

My child told his whole class about Jesus while reading his story at Show & Tell.
"What a good writer!" the teacher said.
I laughed agreeably. 

My child told his whole class about how loudly I yell at home while reading his story at Show & Tell.
"What vivid description!" the teacher said.
I laughed awkwardly.

My kid brought his Bible to read while waiting for a chair at the orthodontist. 
"What a big book!" the assistant said. 
I laughed reverently.

My kid brought Captain Underpants and The Attack of the Talking Toilets to read while waiting in line for Confession. 
"What an… interesting book!" the secretary said. 
I laughed sheepishly.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come. 
- Proverbs 31:25


*Also published July 2020 at CatholicMom.com

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Can You Hold Me? (A Reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, July 5, 2020, via our parish blog.


"Can you hold me?"


Our 4-year-old gets overwhelmed easily. Especially these past few months, he doesn't understand why our busy household  work, school, parish life, extracurricular activities  stopped with little warning back in March. Almost hourly each day, he finds us, reaches up, and asks, "Can you hold me?" 
"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones."1
As parents, we carry similar anxiety, wanting to control circumstances beyond our expertise and understanding, frustrated when things don't go the way we think they should, feeling pressured to count ourselves among "the wise and the learned" instead of the "little ones." 

Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 

A few years ago, we were cutting down a large dead tree in our yard. One wrong estimation, and we'd have a 30-foot tree across the road, in our kitchen window, or worse, on top of one of us. The sound of a chainsaw called our neighbors to their driveways to watch.

After several cuts, we began talking anxiously under the precarious tree. Had we cut far enough through the trunk? Why wasn't the tree falling? The YouTube video showed you cut this way and then that way and then it comes down. 

We finally swallowed our pride and called over our neighbor for help. Within minutes, he pulled the ropes and directed the tree in a perfect crash onto our yard. 

A job that was causing great anxiety became instantly simpler with the presence of a caring, competent friend. 
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."2
Am I receiving the comfort and rest of God's presence? Or am I trying to carry heavy burdens alone? Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves."3 
"Take my yoke upon you," Jesus offers in this Sunday's Gospel (emphasis added).

Am I carrying Jesus' yoke  with his help  or am I carrying burdens alone? Things become so complicated when we push forward alone. Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 
"...For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."4 
Lord, please transform the worry of my daily work and the overwhelming concerns around me with the peace of your presence. Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 


2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.

Friday, June 12, 2020

A Catechist Learns to Embrace Diversity

"You haven't heard of the pope?!" 

Only 30 minutes into teaching 4th grade religious education, my mind generated one assumption after another about my new students: How have these kids been Catholic for 10 years? They couldn't pray the "Our Father" at the start of class. Their "My Faith" worksheets are still mostly blank. They don't know who the pope is. Have their parents taught them nothing?

I inwardly groaned and patted myself on the back for volunteering to teach. 

20 confused, young faces stared up at me.

Across the room, our teaching assistant, Mrs. Fatima, interjected: "Papa Francisco, niños?" 

"PAPA FRANCISCO!!" they all cheered in unison, breaking into excited chatter. 

I suddenly realized I'd been pushing on a door that said "pull." Worse than that, my first instinct, when the door wouldn't open, was to assume everyone else in the room was dumb.

"Papa Francisco!" I exclaimed with them, scouring my brain for any recollection of college Spanish. "Lo siento! My Spanish is not good!" 

The most effective catechists teach as much through relationship as through coursework. But if I kept mistaking language barriers as ignorance, how could I even begin to form positive connections with my students? I asked the Holy Spirit to make me sensitive and humble in our classroom.

"Open your Bibles to the book of Acts, please. Cómo se dice Acts? I need your help! How do I say Acts en español?" All of a sudden I didn't look so smart, scrambling through a Bible in an unfamiliar language. Thankfully, the kids didn't judge me as I had misjudged them. 

"Hechos!" Several students yelled, proudly holding up their Bibles to the book of Acts. 

At the beginning of the year, as I introduced incentives for their achievements—memorized prayers, verses, sacraments, bringing their Bibles and Catechisms—several students asked, uncomfortably, if it was OK if they brought their Spanish Bibles.

I'm embarrassed to admit I paused before answering. Should the faith they learn at home in their mother tongue be only accessible in English at church? 

After too long a wait, I finally responded: "Yes, yes, of course, bring your Spanish Bibles! Cómo se dice Bible en español? Bring las Biblias!" 

The kids laughed appreciatively at my good-faith efforts in Spanglish. It freed them to search for English words without embarrassment. 

When I called on someone to read during class, I never knew if we'd hear the scriptures in English or Spanish. Each week immersed us in the truth of Pentecost: the Word of God is the same in every language. 

What a joyful class we created. But the year also brought constant lessons in humility. Open Wide Our Hearts, a pastoral letter from the USCCB, describes my interior struggle, realizing how often I jump to negative assumptions about other cultures: "When one culture meets another, lack of awareness and understanding often leads to… attitudes of superiority."1

One time, I asked my class about a part of the Mass. "You know when everyone says, 'Lord, hear our prayer' in the middle of Mass?" 

They squinted back at me, unsure and quiet. 

"What's Mass?" One of the bolder students asked on behalf of everyone.

My Lord, they don't know what Mass is? They're not familiar with the prayers of the faithful? Are their parents not taking them to Mass?! My judgments rolled on. 

"The place we go on Sundays with our families—we hear the Bible, we sing songs, we receive Communion?" Why are their parents keeping them from this fundamental cornerstone of our faith?

"Wait, wait, wait—you mean la Misa!" they responded, nearly in unison. 

"LA MISA! Yes, I mean la Misa!"

Why had my mind so quickly—so automatically, so easily—assumed something negative of my students and their families, instead of recognizing a simple failure to communicate? 

"Racism can often be found in our hearts—in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture," our bishops reflect in Open Wide Our Hearts.2

So much of my own faith formation has occurred—and to be honest, as an adult, still occurs—among white, middle- and upper-class Christians. I'm sure this affects my teaching as a catechist in a diverse parish. Looking back, I think of ways I could have done better. Looking forward, I know I will do better.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit met us in that 4th-grade classroom; God's Spirit faithfully connected our hearts and our cultures, and deepened our appreciation for a universal church. 

As catechists—but more importantly, as Catholics—may we listen to the challenge of our pastors, to courageously look inward and examine our hearts for "thoughts and actions that we do not even see as racist, but nonetheless flow from the same prejudicial root...Each of us should adopt the words of Pope Francis as our own: let no one 'think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.' All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion."3

Lord, where have I allowed the sin of racism, a lack of awareness, an attitude of superiority, to take root in my life? Change my heart, O God. 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Also published June 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and CatholicMom.com

1 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism, 2018.
2 ibid.
3 ibid.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Screwtape Screws With Moms: Operation COVID-19

FROM: Screwtape74@juno.com
TO: Wormwood02@juno.com
DATE: May 1, 2020, 9:37 PM
SUBJECT: READ THIS NOW!

Wormwood:

I don't believe I've had the opportunity to properly welcome you to our America Team in the Motherhood Department of the Logistics Division of Hell. Welcome! 

Perhaps you missed the memo, but prior to any fieldwork, novice demons are required to attend our "Intro to American Mothers" seminar on best practices for modern-day torment"Your Job Is To Make Everyone Happy," "Childbirth: You're Doing It Wrong," "Working Mom Guilt," "SAHM Guilt," and the catch-all classic, "You Just Aren't Good Enough."

Given the unanticipated success of your "Caretakers: Overwhelm-Vex-Isolate-Destroy" (C:OVID) Program, and the interest it's attracted from management, I've transferred all of your work to the Screwtape Drive and added my name with editing permissions to each file. (It's probably best if management believes a project of this scale came from the top of our Motherhood Department. Moving forward, you'll continue with the legwork, of course.)

Finally, to maximize C:OVID objectives in the coming weeks, review the bullet points below: 

Dismiss solidarity. 

As long as a mother believes she's abandoned in her need, she'll undoubtedly despair. Intensify her isolation with inflexible employers and clueless spouses. Even better, let them gaslight her into thinking she's the real problem. Why did she have kids at all if she couldn't single-handedly meet their every need for the next 18 years? And isn't this the life she said she wanted? Mothers, such strange creaturesso intuitive with others, so blind with themselvesever ready to self-incriminate at just the slightest suggestion of, even fabricated, failure. 

Cooking, cleaning, planning, sorting, teaching, washing, shopping, earning, hugging, bathing, feeding, driving, calling, texting, scheduling, comforting, catechizing, exercising… convince her she is solely responsible for all of it. Then stand back and watch her collapse under the weight of the world. 

Be aware, however, if a mother has a spouse who prioritizes solidarity over gender norms or an employer who asks how they can help, our mission might fail. 

Discredit the village narrative. 

Convince the mothers, despite all evidence, that parenting in isolation is biologically, theologically, historically, philosophically, 100% completely normal (and therefore, possible to do well). Even if their rational minds know otherwise, our sham of unachievable normalcy will easily deceive even the strongest parents into failure and despair.

And yet, Wormwood, be aware: should a woman recall the countless positive role models influential in her upbringingcoaches, teachers, priests, grandparents, youth group volunteers, doctors, ballet instructors, babysitters, catechists, friends' parents, neighborswe risk losing everything. Do not let her recognize the extremity of Earth's current circumstances or she'll cut herself some slack as a mother. And that's the last thing we need. 

Insist pride is a virtue and prudence a vice.

We must convince the mothers that every potential good is, instead, an absolute good. The educational games, Bible crafts, STEM activities, kid-friendly cooking lessons, virtual museum tours, family gardens, KonMari'd closets, online book clubs, live-streamed prayers at dawn, noon, and dusk: she must say "yes" to all of it! 

Remember, Wormwood: if a mother, realizing her limits, offers a prudent "no" rather than a tired "yes," she'll put our whole Department out of business. What good is existential torment to a woman who, having discerned the good, shrugs off the rest? 

And then, we simply let societytheir families, their communities, even their churchesconvince these mothers to wholeheartedly pursue unholy martyrdom: to chase exhaustion and death as God-given goalposts of motherhood well-lived. Once they overcommit to every potential good except their own health and well-being, our Department will ensure they're too fearful of judgment to expect or ask for help. 

Let faith bring no comfort. 

If we can convince a mother that the heaviness in her life is a yoke the Creator intended, her experience of faith will only bring rejection and judgment. 

For the sake of our mission, Wormwood, a mother cannot consider anger with God acceptable. She must never hear the words of St. John Paul II affirming the dignity and diversity of women. She must never interpret Scripture as freeing for women.

Stifled, unquestioning, rigid, heartless, inaccessible, irrelevant, punitive… we must define her faith experience by these words.

Destroy solitude.

To my previous point, a mother must never experience true solitude. If we fail in this, Wormwood, if she ever finds herself alone in calm silence, she will hear the voice of her Creator. And then, we've lost everything. 

Make the noise and distractions endless: important call, hungry kid, dirty floor, delayed email, messy room, confusing schoolwork, muddy kid, empty pantry, broken toy, crappy internet, crying child, missed assignment, doctor visit, breakfast dishes, spilled drink, bored teen, smelly trash, Zoom meeting… 

Tease a mother with only scattered moments alonepicking up groceries, quick morning shower, a distracted hour while toddlers napjust enough to convince her it's sufficient, convince her that asking for more would be selfish, unnecessary, indulgent. 

Who the paradise would have thought you'd be so successful at despairing families and collapsing an empire, Wormwood? Don't mess this up. Too often these pandemics lead to accidental personal awakenings on a global scale. But it seems you've stirred things just right. The confusion! The guilt! The isolation! Your C:OVID project makes easy work of our torment.

Moving forward, please outline all future plans in gif-stocked PowerPoint presentations for our team's 7:00 AM daily strategic meetings (starting tomorrow), submit paper approval forms in triplicate to me, the Pandemics Department, and the Global Committee (as well as PDF copies via email with subject line: COVID Approval / Wormwood / America Team / Motherhood Dept / Logistics Division / Hell / ATT), and plan to attend the "Intro to American Mothers" seminar at its next available offering.

Welcome to the Team.

Best regards, 

Screwtape

Please read the rest over at... FemCatholic


Friday, June 5, 2020

Come Along In Our Company: A Reflection for Holy Trinity Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, June 7, 2020, via our parish blog.

What goes through your mind before a new friend stops by? 

Our house is a mess! Why is the dog acting so weird? Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all… 

Do you nervously text a warning to your visitor? 

Sorry -- my family is extra crazy today!

Moses had a similar encounter in this Sunday's Old Testament reading. He invites God to visit the Israelites: 

"...O Lord, do come along in our company…" 1

But then, perhaps some of the craziness back home comes to mind, and Moses quickly pads the invitation with a caveat:

"This is indeed a stiff-necked people…" 2 

Sometimes, when we recognize our shortcomings, we might think God wouldn't want any kind of relationship with us. If we're really honest, most of us would have to admit, we are indeed a stiff-necked people. 

And yet, the readings for this Holy Trinity Sunday reassure us that God wants to meet with us, whoever we are, and journey with us, wherever we are.

Moses asks the Lord to stay close, despite their shortcomings:

"… yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own." 3

How can I, like Moses, invite God to stay close to me? 

Our Responsorial is from the book of Daniel. Three young men -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego -- are thrown into a searing furnace to be burned alive, but God meets them in the fire and saves them. This Sunday, we echo their prayer from the furnace:

"Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the cherubim,
Praiseworthy and exalted above all forever." 4 

How can I, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ask God to be with me in the depths, in the hardest places of my life? 

In our New Testament reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians how to enjoy God's presence in their relationships: 

"Mend your ways, encourage one another
Agree with one another, live in peace,
And the God of love and peace will be with you." 5 

How can I, like the early Christians, live more in peace with others, so God will be present in my relationships? 

Our reading from the Gospel of John reveals God's great desire to be with us, so much that He came as a human to live among us: 

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." 6 

Do I think God wants to condemn everyone? Or do I, like St. John, believe that God loves us so immensely, that He sacrificed a part of himself, his own Son, to be with us? 

This week, may we invite God to meet with us, in our hearts, in our hard places, in our relationships. Acknowledging our shortcomings -- we are indeed a stiff-necked people -- let's still ask the Lord, in the ancient words of Moses, to come along in our company.




*Also published June 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.


1 Holy Trinity Sunday Readings: June 7, 2020.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.