Holidays, Mass, and Memories

The holidays are here and that means it’s time for me to write about my most favorite subject ever – My mama! ūüôā

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So holidays for my Mom and my family were simply the best. My Mom could be described as “Festive to the Extreme.” To give you an idea, she decorated our house for Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Labor Day with little flags everywhere. I mean, lets face it, most people will celebrate by enjoying the day off work but my Mom would get out her flags and put them in the potted plants outside and in the yard, she’d get on her Flag sweatshirt and grab her Flag Tote bag and would just LIVE for stuff like that.

Christmas was always a bit over the top, and Mom just made it really special. Her last Christmas was no exception. In fact, we considered it a miracle (and looking back, I think Mom just WILLED herself to get enough of her strength back) to be released from the hospital in time to celebrate Christmas.

One of my last memories of that final Christmas was walking down the stairs to the kitchen and stopping on the landing halfway, to just take in the smell of baked cookies and her famous sweet bread baking in the oven and thinking, “This is the last time this house will smell like this. It won’t be the same anymore. I’ll never hear her fiddling in the kitchen, I’ll never hear her playing her favorite Christmas CD’s, I’ll never see her smiling to present her bread.” And I don’t remember crying or anything, but I remember just inhaling that smell before I walked all the way downstairs into the kitchen. And just saying to myself,

“Damn. That was it. This won’t ever¬†be this¬†again.”

And you know what? That first Christmas was really rough. I won’t say it was awful but it was really hard. We tried to decorate the house like she would have but I had zero desire to even put up the tree or anything.

One day in the fall of the year that she passed, I think around Thanksgiving, I just decided to pick up her digital camera and see what was on it.

And the first picture I see is of the interior of our house…at Christmas…the year before. And then another. And another. And another. She took about 20 photos of the entire house with the Christmas decorations because she knew we wouldn’t know how to decorate quite like her. It was basically a Tutorial of How To Do Christmas Like Mom.

I pretty much lost it and called my sister to tell her about Mom’s picture-by-picture guide and she came over and we began to unpack the boxes and started to decorate the house.

And we found a note in one of them. I can’t recall what it said, but something like “Take care of each other.” Mom wrote it apparently when she was feeling well, in remission. We thought “How neat! Mom left us notes!”

We kinda forgot about it until Christmas time and started to unpack those decorations and found..you guessed it – more notes! (I wrote about this whole thing in greater detail in a blog post here). <—Get the Kleenex ready if you start to read that one.

My point with today’s post was to give some sort of solidarity to those who are about to experience their “first” holiday post-loss of a loved one. The first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day/Fathers Day, etc are not really…enjoyable.

I mean, let’s just be real¬† – they suck.

I hate that word, but it’s just so true. You’re always thinking about THEIR last holiday and how they looked, what they said, what they wore, what they made, where you went with them. And it’s just not the same. Nothing is ever the same.

And people will always try their hardest to make you feel better by saying, “Their memory lives on forever.”

Gag me.

That’s straight out of a Hallmark Channel Movie! So lame. Yeah yeah, their memory lives on. In our minds. Yes.

But that’s not good enough – we want our loved ones here in the flesh. I want to be able to hug my Mom right now, ya know? I can’t hug a memory. (I had the BEST dream about her the other day where I DID hug her and it was so great!)

I want to smell that bread again (IT’S THAT GOOD okay? Trust me, everyone RAVED about my Mom’s sweet bread. Thank God my sister bakes it now and it’s just as good although she’ll read this and say “No, it’s not as good as Mom’s. No one made it like Mom.”)

I want to hear her play her favorite Christmas music and hear her wrapping gifts and complaining that she had to scour the internet looking for that one obscure rare gift my brother always asked for every year, and couldn’t find (but she always found it! Sometimes at the last minute, but she did.)

I want to see her, in her recliner, reading her little devotional books, ask her how she’s feeling, and hear her voice and talk to her.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation but All Souls Day is not. I feel like they both should be obligatory.¬† All Saints Day mass was exactly what I needed. The incense, the chanting, the lighting…it was incredible. All Souls Day had the same feel and although it’s a solemn mass and lots of tears are shed, the homily filled me with hope.

I LOVE going to the mass and feeling my Mom there with me.

After all, mass itself is heaven on earth. It’s where we encounter Jesus and it’s where we pray to the Saints and to Mary and it’s where I feel closest to my Mom and all of my relatives and friends who have passed on. They are where I want to be someday (hopefully not soon) but I know it’s where I’ll see her again and hear her laugh and see her smile and give her the biggest hug ever!

And when I’m on my knees in prayer after the Sanctus (the Holy Holy Holy…) I really try to envision all of the saints right there and my Mom too, hovered around the altar, kneeling with us before God on His throne.

I know it can be a chore and really tough to picture this when you’re at mass where there’s crying babies, fidgeting kids, people’s cell phones going off (come on people, it’s been 10 years can we please learn how to turn them off!?) or an off-key singer in the choir or just distracted by your random thoughts, but if you shut your eyes and just listen to the priest, you CAN do this.

Even if it’s just 10 seconds of being truly present at mass, it’s a game-changer. It may be the most peaceful moment you’ll have that day. And if you keep experiencing that peace, I would be willing to bet you’ll want to keep coming back to get those peaceful experiences again.

My prayers are with all of my friends and family members who are experiencing their “first” holidays without your favorite person in your life there with you this year. But you’ll see them again.¬†And it won’t be from a memory.

It’ll be real.¬†

Can’t wait to see you again, Mom! Save a slice of that bread for me will ya? ūüėČ

Love Thy Neighbor or Mind Thy Own Business?

no-access-71233_1280You know how people usually compare ¬†the journey of dieting and losing weight to the journey of faith? ¬†Maybe it’s just me since I seem to have an ear for this sort of thing and my ears perk up when I hear anything related to food. But¬†I swear ever since I started reading more about the saints and listening to Catholic speakers and reading Catholic books,¬†it seems like desire and sin are always compared with our desire for food, and the ¬†journey to sainthood¬†and heaven is always linked to a weight loss goal. ¬†It’s fascinating because, truthfully, it’s spot on!

Don’t believe me? Read on.

So I have a spiritual director (Hello Fr. Adam!) and what I’ve discovered is that SD’s are similar to Personal Trainers in a lot of ways (similar to any coach/counselor).

We give instruction, we give guidance, we ask questions. But ultimately, we can’t force you to lose weight/get stronger etc. That’s something you have to do on your own. My SD can’t force me to do anything but he does provide guidance, instruction, asks probing questions (that I sometimes hate to answer). “Did you workout like you planned?” similar to “Have you prayed using Lectio Divina?” to which I usually answer, “I plead the fifth Father!”

Most personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches¬†will ask their client to record their workouts and their food intake in a journal. It’s more about self-reflection than anything else. Same is true for anyone seeking the “more” to life. I’ve always journaled but I go through periods of lulls where I just don’t feel like writing anything. And I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve attempted to log my food and kept failing because of laziness. ¬†It’s an ongoing struggle.

And then there’s the gym. Clearly, the most obvious similarity is that to a Church, with the congregation being fellow gym-goers.

But I would say watching people work out is not like sitting in the pews. That’s probably more comparable to every day activity.

For example – I see people at the gym doing exercises improperly at least once or twice at each visit. Of course, no one is going to be perfect all of the time, but that’s why we have gyms – so people can exercise and work their way to their own version of the “perfect” body. (A whole other blog post)

But what about these gym people who seem to have terrible form and their breathing is off and they look like they might drop a dumbbell on their foot (or face!) any minute now?

Do I have an obligation to go up to them to tell them what they are doing is wrong and that they might hurt themselves? If the potential to hurt themselves is imminent, I do and I have. (A dumbbell to the face is no something I would like to watch!) But usually, they’re just going to hurt themselves over time. Not right away.

Keep in mind these¬†are people I have seen repeatedly throughout the week. It’s usually something as simple as improper form. Will it kill them? No. Will it hurt them? Most likely, over time.¬†Will it be an injury they can’t recover from? No idea. But most likely not.

Do I now have an obligation to help them or to say something? What if I wasn’t a PT and just a regular knowledgable gym-goer? Do I interrupt their workout and say something or just let them figure it out on their own? I could just wait until they learn from someone else more qualified. But then, won’t they feel kind of silly or stupid for doing it “their way” for so long? Will they wonder – “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Why is it so hard for me to work up the nerve to say something, and offer a better way for them to achieve their exercise goal at that moment?


Won’t You Be My Nosy Neighbor?

As you ponder that, let’s take the guy out of the gym and put him in a real-life scenario. Let’s say it’s a neighbor. Like, literally, your next door neighbor.

You know he’s married with a kid. You’ve met his wife and daughter. They go to your church. But you don’t know them that well. Just well enough to wave hello and once in a while borrow a cup of sugar or something. (Does anyone do that anymore?)

Let’s say over a period of time, you notice this guy talks down to his wife and daughter. But he seems to verbally abuse the wife more than the kid. You only notice this when you can overhear them if they’re outside. But let’s say it starts to become more frequent.¬†And let’s say he starts to do it while you’re hanging out with him and his family at a cookout or something. Or at a church function.

Do you wait and not say anything? Do you pull her aside and say something? I mean, these people go to your church. But it’s not like he’s sinning right? He’s not hitting her because you’d be able to tell, right? You could always assume he’ll learn how to be a better communicator eventually from someone more qualified than you. You’re just a neighbor and you should probably just mind your own business…right?

The big dilemma is this: At what point do we go from casual observer to intervener?

Because I think that’s what’s happening in the world today but it’s being misinterpreted as being nosy and injecting your self into someone else’s life. Or the most popular argument: “You’re forcing your beliefs onto me!”

No, actually, no one can force you to believe anything. I can’t force you to lose weight, I can’t be forced to lose weight and I can’t force you or anyone to become a saint.

The Christian and Correct Response

It comes back to what I said in the beginning: We can guide. We can offer assistance. We can start the conversation.

And one thing I’d love for people to know, especially those who don’t quite get us Christians, is that we want to help people. I know some Christians are better at this than others. Some yell and scream (not good, seriously can we stop that please?) some calmly approach (better) and some literally offer to accompany and walk with that person on their journey (best). But even this approach may come across as hurting someone, because we are telling them bluntly, that they are hurting themselves by whatever sin they are committing. But even if we tell them the truth in love, I promise we really have their best interests at heart.

When we see someone living their life a certain way that we believe to be wrong and that will hurt them, we have a moral obligation and a duty to help that person the best way we can. But, and this goes to my fellow Christians, once you try to help someone, you have to get out of the way and drop it. No amount of coercion or yelling or degrading will ever get anyone to change their ways.

So I end with a question, for myself and for you, to think about: If you see someone, your neighbor, your fellow parishioner, your friend, doing harm to their soul, will you work up the courage to provide a better way?  Or will you just walk on by? Is minding your own business really the loving thing to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Remaining Silent…When You Really Want to Scream

No one is so good and devout as not to encounter some worries and troubles in life. When you face tribulation and are sorrowful in heart, you are with Jesus on the Cross. And again, when through the grace of the Holy Spirit you enjoy consolation in prayer, you rise, as it were, with Christ from the dead and the tomb, and with a jubilant heart you celebrate Easter with Jesus in the newness of life.

 

When someone directs harsh and unkind words against you, you are given to drink of the chalice of the Lord as medicine for your soul. Remain silent and drink of the cup of salvation without complaint, for the Lord will be your protection in nothing more admirable than to remain silent and patient, for in this way you curb the mouth of him who utters evil against you, and at the same time, you follow the example of Christ, who remained silent before Pilate, though much false testimony had been brought against Him. You are no better than God, who, for your sake, endured scourging, ridicule, and death at the hands of the wicked.

Thomas à Kempis, Bountiful Goodness, pp 36-37

God’s timing is always perfect, isn’t it?¬† I read this passage a couple days ago, just when I was seeking some answers about a recent encounter with someone who had some harsh words for me. This person said some pretty nasty things to me that aren’t worth repeating, but it was made clear to me, they had no idea just how rude they were being.

My initial response was silence, mainly due to shock that someone would disrespect me so much, but also because I have never felt it beneficial to respond to hate with hate (or in this case, disrespect with disrespect, as her comments weren’t really hateful as much as they were just downright rude and nasty).

Only one thought went thru my mind as she lashed out at me, and that was “Hurt people hurt people.” So I stayed silent, said little, and finished up my work with her. She is no longer in my life (she was a client) and this was her final session with me. My mind was racing after she walked out thinking, “Why would she say such awful things to someone she barely knows? What did I do to deserve such a beating? Where was this anger coming from?”

I even went so far as to reverse the situation and ask myself, “When was I this nasty to someone? When have I lashed out at someone trying to help me?” I was seeking the lesson here, and I admit, I struggled to find it. I am by no means perfect but I don’t recall in recent memory reacting in a similar way this woman did with me.¬† I got an answer though, and that was: “This isn’t about you. She’s struggling with someone/something that has nothing to do with you.”

Still, I was feeling conflicted and completely out of sorts.

These questions were still on my mind as I went on a retreat for the entire weekend. I felt bad because this woman was still on my mind as I was trying to enjoy myself and get into the “spirit” of the weekend. It’s a retreat, for crying out loud! You’d think of all places this was my best medicine.

In the end, I eventually got the bad taste of this client out of my mouth and my mind. I was inspired by the young ones I spoke to and their fire for the Lord. The answer to my questions maybe didn’t come directly to me that weekend but I did find comfort and a welcome distraction in the many people I encountered. Many of them had some amazing witness stories which definitely put my problems into perspective.

I came home Sunday evening to find this book, Bountiful Goodness, at my doorstep, almost forgetting that I had ordered it.

And this reflection on “Divine Consolation and Tribulations” was one of the first ones I read.

Remain silent and drink of the cup of salvation without complaint…

So for those who have been hurt by the unkind and harsh words of another person, I’m right there with you. As much as we want to react and fight back, sometimes it’s best to just remain silent and let that person go. I think that’s showing mercy, isn’t it? Pope Francis would probably agree in this Jubilee Year of Mercy that this is the right thing to do.

A prayer for them will probably serve them better than our own spiteful remarks and reactions.

And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a prayer for EVERYTHING out there! I found one specifically for our “Enemies” although I don’t consider her a true enemy. She’s probably not a friend though…maybe one day though!

Almighty God, have mercy on N. and on all that bear me evil will and would do me harm, and on their faults and mine together, by such easy, tender, merciful means, as Thine infinite wisdom best can devise; vouchsafe to amend and redress and make us saved souls in heaven together, where we may ever live and love together with thee and they blessed saints. O glorious Trinity, for the bitter passion of our sweet Savior, Christ. Amen.

– St. Thomas More

 

 

Year In Review – A Yearly Examen

Catholic blogger Philip Kosloski wrote a cool little article about making a Yearly Examen. Most people are familiar with the Daily Examen which is a part of Ignatian Spirituality.  I try to make an effort to do a nightly examen but I admit, I fail a lot at this.

But a Yearly Examen – Brilliant and doable. As much as we are inclined to make New Years Resolutions, how often do we actually review the year that was in order to learn how we can improve ourselves for the coming year?

Here’s Kosloski’s adaptation for his Yearly Examen:

  1. First, give thanks to God for all the many blessings received over the past year. Go through each month, dwelling upon the good and thanking God for it.
  2. Second, ask for the grace to know your sins and failings and renounce them. Go through each month and do this. 
  3. Third, review your year again, month-by-month, and recognize your feelings, thoughts and movements of the heart. There will be certain people and events that strike a chord (for good or for ill). Bring those people or events to God and ask Him why they stand out. Ask God for the grace to see His providence in all things. Nothing happens by chance.
  4. Fourth, ask pardon of God for any sins. Also, do not only ask God for forgiveness, but also ask God for the grace to forgive yourself.
  5. Fifth, look forward to the next year and ask God for the grace to amend your life.

While 2015 is still fresh in your mind, you should make a point to do your own yearly examen. It looks a little daunting but it shouldn’t take you too long.¬† In the meantime, here are my own little thoughts on this exercise:

As for me, personally, Step number 1 is the easiest part. I made a point this past year to try and remain positive and always be grateful for the littlest things. Someone got me a “Grateful Journal”¬† where you write something every day that you’re thankful for/something good that happened to you. or an answered prayer for someone else. When you read that every day, it’s hard to remain bitter and depressed.

The second step – A little difficult, I mean who wants to face their sins and failings head on like that? But, I understand why it’s a necessary step. We aren’t perfect, as much as we try to be.

The third step – By far my favorite step. Certain events that “struck a chord” for good were plentiful this year. Pretty sure TOB is at the top of the list. But there were a few that still make me feel sick to my stomach every time I think about them (friendships ending, death of loved ones, betrayal of people I trusted).

The most difficult step though, for me, has to be the 4th. The grace to forgive yourself is far more difficult, I think, than asking God for forgiveness.¬† Pretty sure this has a lot to do with my self-deprecating humor I adopted a few years ago. It’s easier to make fun of yourself and downplay your successes than to actually believe you’re good at something or are a good person. And when that happens you tend to dwell on your faults a lot more than give yourself some credit for your improvements. Sigh…

The fifth step – Hallelujah!¬† I AM looking forward to a new year, especially since I have thing for even numbers. 2015 always sounded strange to me. Twenty-sixeteen has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? ūüėČ

Living In The Ache

The mystic is the one who allows himself to feel the deepest depths of human desire and chooses to “stay in the pain” of wanting more than this life has to offer. For the mystic, the true pleasures of the world are a welcome but only dim foreshadowing of the ecstasy that awaits him in the life to come. He can live within that “ache” (what the mystical tradition calls “the wound of love”) because of his living hope that his “soul¬†shall be satisfied as with a banquet” (Ps 63:5), a banquet that lasts forever and will fulfill his every desire beyond all earthly imaginings.

The truth is, we’re all called to be “mystics.” ¬†– Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

I guess I’m a little crazy because, I for one, am longing to live in the ache. As soon as I heard it and read about it, I decided “This is ME! This is for me. This is what I am called to do.”

I didn’t always feel this way of course. I never even believed we are all called to holiness. I thought that sounded like a bunch of garbage and just something “really holy people” say to us sinners to trick us into going to confession. So when my buddy Dan got up to speak in front of bunch of us at a retreat and said that God calls us all to holiness, I started to think, “But how? How are you people attaining all this holiness?! What makes you so special?”

Turns out, most people don’t know this truth because they were raised as either stoics or addicts. Probably not 100% true stoics or true addicts in the sense that you’re probably thinking. But stoics as people who were told that their desires or urges were bad and they should be repressed and shoved down into the depths and never spoke about or felt. Addicts were taught that you only live once so you might as well act on those urges and desires as much as you can. But by the way, this doesn’t guarantee happiness. It rarely does, actually.

So where’s the middle ground? Mystics. We need to aim to be more like them. The mystics directed their desires to God. Away from earthly things and towards the heavens. It may seem impossible, but I would offer myself as living proof that the power of prayer makes all things possible.

Desire is the faculty that not only pines after the divine gift, but also receives it when it is given, so the wider our desire, the more capable we are of receiving. Christ wants us to be as wide open to his gift as possible, stretched in our desire unto infinity, because that’s what he has to offer us: the wild ecstasy of infinite bliss. – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

Wild ecstasy of infinite bliss? Now that’s some good news.

Do You Desire Holiness?

This is an excerpt taken from Patty Schneier’s talk “Prove it, God…and He did!”

Do I desire holiness? Do I even want it? Do I search for holiness in my life?

Do you search for holiness like a mother would search for her missing child?

Do you struggle for holiness as if your head were being held underwater, how that person would struggle and fight to come up for air with every ounce of his being? Do you struggle for holiness like that?

Holiness is being nothing more than what God intended me to be in my everyday life.

How can one become more holy in their day to day life? It starts with prayer.

A day without quiet, reflective, meditative prayer time everyday makes you spiritually dead.

Just take the daily readings of the church and unite your prayer time with Catholics all over the world and ask yourself “What does God want to say to me today?”

Holiness begins right here and right now. That’s your challenge. Not, “When my kids are grown or starting school.” Not, “As soon as we move into our new house.” or not “next year or next week.” You start your quest for holiness NOW.

Get a reflection or guidebook to help explain these readings so you’re not just guessing at their meaning.

Make a resolution – Pick one thing to think about, pray about, or do each day that will take you one step closer to living a holy life.

As busy as you may be, there is always time to pray. How much time a day do you dedicate to God? Is 30 minutes a day too much to ask?

Fit in Your Faith Today: Your challenge is the same as what was presented to Patty – Daily reflective meditative prayer is key to becoming closer to God. Without prayer, we are “spiritually dead.” Instill in your life this quiet time everyday. You’ll be surprised at how much your life will change after just a few weeks of this routine. If you already pray everyday, there is still no such things as praying too much. ūüôā Adoration, praying the rosary, reading spiritual literature, praying the Examen, bible studies, evangelizing, etc are more ways to seek a closer relationship with God as well.