Co-Workers

Co-Workers

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink. (Preparation of the Gifts Prayer)

I’ve been to Mass thousands of times, but I don’t believe these words ever stood out to me before.  Yet as Father said these words, I was struck by the beautiful interplay between God and man.  It is through the Lord providing the sun, rain, and nutrients that we have the grapes of the vine.  But the work does not all fall on God.  We tend to the vines, we harvest the grapes, we change them from simple fruit into wine.  Then we offer it back to the Lord and He transforms it into something far beyond us. Continue reading “Co-Workers”

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Intimately Universal

Intimately Universal

There is a coziness found in daily Mass.  Slipping into a pew on a weekday morning, I like to think I am a member of an intimate family.  It isn’t terribly early, but it feels like it is.  The elderly are out in typical force, holding up the Church with their prayers and sacrifices.  But there are also some younger people present: a couple moms with babies or children and a smattering of us who fall in the in-between, not very young or very old. Continue reading “Intimately Universal”

Why I Am a Catholic

For the last couple days of class for the semester (before preparation for finals), I decided to try something new.  It was an idea I had a while ago, but it just seemed to work to implement it this year.  The section is dubbed, “Why I Am a Catholic.”  After weeks of (hopefully) learning Apologetics, I wanted to have them consider why they are Catholic.  I challenged them to find something beautiful, compelling, or desirable within the Church, even if they struggle with different facets of the faith.

I listed off for them Peter Kreeft’s seven reasons why he is a Catholic.  I read a line from G.K. Chesterton’s “Why I Am a Catholic” essay.  Then, because I wanted this to be real for them, I told them my reason for being Catholic.

In all actuality, it cannot be boiled down to one reason that I am Catholic.  Yet, for the sake of simplicity, I picked what was central to my faith and declared that it was the reason why I was Catholic.  What I didn’t expect, though, was that I would nearly cry in every Apologetics class as I told my story.

Honestly, I was a little annoyed with myself.  “Really, Trish, get it together!  It isn’t as though you have never talked about this before.”  I’m still a little confused, but I think the primary reason is that I was opening my heart to them.

I’ve shared with my students different experiences I’ve had, places I have traveled to, and stories I have heard.  As a Theology teacher, I am daily speaking of persons and ideas that are very close to my heart.  But to open my heart, to share part of “my story,” and to point to something so personal, in a classroom setting, is difficult.

I told them that I am Catholic because of the Eucharist.  Yet I had to give a bit of a back story for why the Eucharist is so pivotal personally, not just theologically.  So I had to go to the beginning of my faith hitting the pavement, nearly the beginning of a heart that aches yet keeps it all tucked away within.

Naturally, it was a story about my sisters.

My two older sisters, specifically.  And my throat became scratchy and I prayed that Jesus would just let me get through these stories without crying.  The feelings I was portraying aren’t ones I typically feel now, but ones that were jettisoned across time from nearly 12 years ago.

When I was in 8th grade, my older sister entered a Carmelite cloister.  She was the one who seemed to know me.  As an introverted melancholic, I’ve always ached to be known.  While she was still my sister, our relationship was dramatically altered.  I could pour out my heart to her in writing, but then I would need to wait months for any sort of response.  I became angry and bitter, yet still had to present a happy exterior, because that was expected of one with a nun for a sister.  When I was a junior in high school, my other older sister joined a different convent about twenty-four hours from home by car.  The feelings of bitterness and anger were once again kindled.

I was teaching myself something that is untrue about God.  Internally, I was learning that God will take from you that which you hold dearest.  Whatever you don’t want to do, He will ask it of you.  I was learning the sacrificial part of Catholicism without the love or joy that must accompany it.

As I’m telling my little stories, I am looking into their eyes.  For once, the classroom is mostly silent and their eyes are on me.  I’m wondering, as my insides quake a little and my hands shake, if they can see that I’m opening up part of my heart to them.  I’m hoping that even though their story is different, that they are open to discovering the beauty of Catholicism, too.

So how do my sisters entering the convent make the Eucharist the reason I am Catholic?  When my sister was entering the cloister, she turned around and said, “I’ll see you in the Eucharist.”  Eighth grade me wasn’t impressed.  That’s nice….but how about you see me on my birthday and at Christmas?  How about you hold my children and are answering the phone when I want to talk?  Despite the minimal impact it made initially, it eventually became a central point of my personal spirituality.

When we go to Mass and receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Body of Christ.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  When I receive the Eucharist, I receive the entire universal Church, the Church inside and outside of space and time.  As I missed my sisters, I would receive the Eucharist and know that this union that I tangibly experienced in Holy Communion was the deepest union I would have with them.  It was comforting when I went off to college eighteen hours away and I missed my family.  The Eucharist bound me to all my loved ones.  Moving from college back home and being separated from beautiful friends, I found solace in the ties of the Eucharist, bonds that even death cannot break.

Why I am a Catholic cannot be simplified to only one reason for me.  There are many factors and influences, but the central point is the Eucharist, God Himself.

“The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”    -G.K. Chesterton 

Communal Meals

There we were.  Gathered around a long table, laden with food and wine, surrounded by a small sampling of the globe.  Simple food was passed around, abundant and filling.  Joy was passed down the row of people, the seasoning that was added to the top of each bowl of stew that was consumed.  It was warm–or perhaps it was the wine and the intoxicating blend of languages and cultures, a beautiful spin on the Tower of Babel with English being a common reference point for many.

Some say this is what the Camino is–this is the ultimate Camino experience.  The communal meals shared in random albergues around Spain to an eclectic gathering of people.  We are from the US, Canada, Brazil, India, Germany, France, Spain, and beyond.  We speak a smattering of languages but we are sharing our stories and bonding, even though this may be the only moment we are ever together.  This part of the day was one of my favorites and the memories are poignant.

Despite the beauty of those moments, they simply made me feel like I was remembering something rather than experiencing it for the first time.  Of course this was my first time walking the Camino and sharing in those lovely communal dining experiences.  But I had shared a common meal with people of varying backgrounds and motivations.  I had felt the warm embrace of belonging to a community.  All of this was simply pointing to our membership in the Body of Christ.  I belong to Him and, through Him, am united to so many others.  Although we seem so different, we are very similar.  We are all searching for truth and goodness and beauty.  We all desire friendship and companionship and love.  We are longing for fulfillment and something to transcend this fragile life on earth.

The communal meals along the Camino were the physical nourishment for the road that stretched in front of us, the difficult, beautiful road leading to Santiago.  The Eucharist is the spiritual nourishment that prepares us for the road that stretched on, the road strewn with thistles and roses that meanders to the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.  Both are shared with others and both point to something even more.

And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.”  And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.                              -1 Kings 19:7-8

No Greater Love Meditation

No Greater Love
My hands are clenched, uselessly grasping at the stones and dust beneath them.  My face is buried in my arms, tears streaming down, body trembling.  I do not feel the sharp rocks that I kneel on or the beating sun rays on my cloaked back.  I feel only anguish and sorrow.  The tears are all wept and I remain crouched, afraid to look up and see.  Everything seems to happen quickly but the moment drags on in agony.
            I thirst.  My heart clenches at the sound of His voice.  It is both loving and tortured.  Although dreading the sight, I slowly raise my head.  He is looking at me, peering into my eyes, reading my soul.  I feel terror at all He can see there—my sins, my shortcomings, my foolishness.  Yet His eyes remain soft and tender despite the overall appearance of pain around Him.  I glance to the ground where my hands are unconsciously reaching into the dust, sifting through pebbles.  When I return my gaze to Him, He is still studying me.
            I thirst.  My lip trembles uncontrollably and a tear courses down my cheek, over the dust of the day’s trials.  He looks as though He wanted to caress the tear away but His hands were unable to reach.  A man reaches up a sponge on a hyssop branch with wine on it.  He tastes it but turns back to me.  In His eyes I can see He was not satisfied.
            ‘What do You thirst for?’ I pondered to myself.  His eyes pierce my heart.
            ‘I thirst for you, my beloved.’  I am taken back.  His lips are dry from no water and heavy exertions, His back bleeding from whips, His hands and feet pierced by nails.
            ‘You thirst for me?’  I ask silently, willing Him to hear me.
            ‘Yes, I thirst for your love.  I desire to be loved completely by you.  Will you not give it?’ His eyes are pleading.
            ‘What can it mean to You?  I am so little.”  He looks away briefly, but returns His gaze, His eyes brimming with tears.
            ‘It means everything, little one.’  Weeping, I close my eyes.
            ‘Yes.  You have all my love.’  Opening my eyes, I see the joy in His. 
            It is finished.

            ‘Hardly, it is just beginning.’  He looks approvingly at me.  I press my face into my arms again, weeping.  When I quiet, I sit up and lovingly gaze at my Eucharistic Jesus, crucified in a monstrance for love of me.

The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition : A Book Review

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith.  As such, it is perfectly fitting that Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina would co-write a book to teach the faithful about this crucial aspect of their faith.  Published near the time of the implementation of the new Mass translation, it guides the reader through the Mass step-by-step.

The first half of the book seeks to help the reader grow in greater knowledge about the history of the Mass, the different names for the Mass, the people involved, and the different materials used in the celebration of a typical Mass.  By covering this aspect first, they are setting the stage for the Mass to be understood in a new way.  Pictures are included to help the reader visualize the specific vessels used in Mass or the way different parts of the Mass would actually look.

Once the stage is set, the materials are identified, and the faithful are equipped with the necessary background knowledge, the authors launch into a thorough walk through of the Mass.  Each aspect of the Mass, from the simple opening prayer to the purification of the vessels after Communion, is explained and presented in a way that is both easy to grasp and yet provides knowledge that helps deepen one’s spirituality.  After reading through what the prayers mean, it is difficult to view the Mass in the same way.  I will find myself at Mass hearing a specific line in a prayer or watching the priest do something and will recall the greater significance from the book.

If the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith, it is necessary to understand it as fully as possible.  Reading this book ensures that you will be able to grasp more fully the nourishment that is being offered to you through the saving Bread of Life that is Jesus Christ.  The book ends with sending you out to actually live out the Eucharist and to live out the closing words of the Mass: “Go forth, the Mass is ended!”

**I received this book free through “Blogging for Books.”

The Warmth of Church in Winter

The wind is chilling as it caresses my cheek with a frigid wisp of air.  Walk quickly, breath in the exhilarating fresh air, and scrunch my shoulders to my ears to keep in the warmth.  Of all the things I do, this is one of the things that makes me feel most like an adult.  I am hurrying from work to a little chapel, tucked away in a hospital.  My feet will lead me out of the wintry cold and into the warmth of a chapel.  I will be united with the universal Church in prayer and receiving the Eucharist.  I will rest in the pews and hear the readings proclaimed.  While I like going to Mass during the school day, I feel most adult-like when I am trudging through the snow on my way to Mass.  Something seems so beautiful about that prospect.  In college it was typical for people to go to daily Mass often.  There were multiple Mass times on campus but it was only when I would go to Mass off-campus, surrounded by people who had come from work or brought the young children from home, that I felt a strong interior gladness.  It was as though college was an artificial world and stepping off the campus and into the town I was stepping into reality.  I was taking my place among the adults of the world and showing the importance of the Eucharist.  The fact that I wasn’t going because it was so accessible or expected, but because I desired to, my heart longed to go.

I love Mass regardless of the season or location.  But there is a special beauty found in going to Mass when it is cold outside and the church embraces you like you were in your mother’s womb.  The outside world might be cold and hostile, but Mother Church will always take you in, nourish you, and send you back out to fight the good fight.

I’ll see you in the Eucharist

It was March 19th, 2004.  Emotions ran high as we prepared to watch my 19 year old sister enter a Carmelite cloister.  The morning hours were spent with the knowledge that these would be some of the last moments when we could have physical contact with her.  Postulant garb was laid out in one of the bedrooms and we helped my sister assemble her outfit.  There were no instructions and we weren’t extremely skilled in habits, but it did provide some amusement.  We gathered to take our final pictures together and we were doing so well until my emotions got in the way.  Each of my other sisters managed to smile and have beautiful pictures but with me, I just began to weep.  These emotions were re-echoed on the faces of everyone else in the room.  Even my dad returned with reddened eyes and I had only once seen him cry at this point.  Eventually I pulled it together for a terrible picture and we proceeded to the chapel. 

In the chapel we prayed a prayer together as a family.  Then we said our goodbyes and it was a funeral of sorts.  With a twinkle in her eye, joy evidenced by the peace in her countenance, my sister glanced back at us and spoke her last words to us before entering the cloister:

I’ll see you in the Eucharist.

My sister was instructed to knock on the door with the strength of the banging on the door being equal to how long she desired to stay.  The door was lucky to remain unscathed.  Cloistered sisters with long veils lined the inside of the hallway once the door opened.  A small sister, the Reverend Mother, stepped forward and instructed my sister to kiss the cross and then kiss the floor.  All too soon, my sister was swept inside, the door closed, and the singing of the sisters faded and we were left only with aching hearts and wet faces. 

At that time, the words she spoke did not resonate in my heart or bring me any consolation.  Instead, I almost felt more of a sting from them.  What was that to me when what I wanted was my sister present to me in her humanity, in her voice a phone call away, in her embrace when I was crying, in her presence at Christmas?  I wanted her physical presence not simply a spiritual connection.

Over nine years have passed since this blessed day and the Lord has worked wonders in this heart of mine.  Yes, I do still desire the presence of my sister when I think of getting married or having children.  Of course I would want her to visit my house or hold my children.  But I have come to understand this mystery of the presence of the Church in the Eucharist.

This past semester I taught the New Testament and I realized the profound beauty that is found in the book of Acts.  We were covering the part where Saul encounters Christ on the road to Damascus.  Saul hears this Voice ask, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  One of my favorite lessons was talking to my students about how Christ associated Himself with His apostles and that to persecute the Church was to persecute Christ.  This lead to talking about how if the Church is the Body of Christ, then when we receive the Eucharist we receive Jesus and the universal Church.  Of course they began to wonder how we can be eating each other, but I stressed that when we receive the Eucharist we are united to the entire Church–the Church Triumphant, Suffering, and Militant.  And then I shared with them the story of my cloistered sister and how this beautiful mystery of the Eucharist is what helps me endure our separation.

The beauty of receiving the Eucharist is of course found in the reality of receiving Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Yet I think Our Lord reveals His deep goodness in that by receiving Jesus we are intimately linked to one another.  When I receive Our Lord I am connected with my sisters in religious life, with my friends scattered across the country, with my grandparents hopefully in Heaven, and with the saints who have gone before me.  I’ve come to understand this unifying aspect of the Eucharist through my travels to Europe as I encountered the beauty of Christ in basilicas, shrines, and places of martyrdom.  I deepened this understanding as I met the Church in Honduras and realized that we are one body, that though I may never see them again we are united through Christ, but tangibly through the Eucharist.

Each Catholic has their own special devotions but mine is to Our Lord in the Eucharist.  I love priests–because of their kindness and holiness but primarily because they make Our Lord present to me.  They make tangible Christ’s love by giving me the Body of Christ.  They make tangible Christ’s forgiveness as they absolve me from my sins through the ministry of the Church.  I remember sitting in Honduras with the pyx in my hands that held Our Lord and wanting to just rest forever.  I’ve heard stories of people being martyred for the Eucharist and I desire the same.  A group of sisters came and spoke at my college one time and they said their fourth vow was defense of the Eucharist with their lives.  I found that incredibly attractive.  At times I’ve thought that my love for the Eucharist should lead to me being an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion but I nearly shake when I think of holding Jesus and giving Him to others–I’m not certain I could remain calm throughout that.

On this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I encourage you to renew again your love for Our Lord and to remember that each time you receive the Eucharist it is a personal encounter with the living God.  Yes, the consecrated host tastes the same as bread but He is truly present.  A student of mine argued with me that Jesus was spiritually present but not physically present.  Not so.  He is physically present albeit in a different way than the physical body we have.  It is a mystery of the Church.  Christ understands humanity through and through.  He knows that we need Him and that we desire a physical presence.  Deo gratias!  He gives us that presence by leaving His very self.

Wherever you are—regardless of the time difference, physical distance, or culture–we are united through the power of the Eucharist. 

I’ll see you in the Eucharist.

Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, take me into your very self and open my heart to the love that surpasses all understanding. 

Sometimes God speaks to me through….me

I love to write.  Another close favorite is reading.  My main writing over the past few years, apart from scholastic writing, has been in the form of prayer journals.  At different, random points in my life, I enjoy going back and reading what I have written.  It allows me to remember what that time period was like, whether it was beautiful or painful, and to see how far I have come.  Recently, different changes in life have caused me to go back and read and, surprisingly, learn from myself.  The moments of epiphany are too often neglected until I read them again and am, once again, enlightened and encouraged to persevere.

I have decided to share a lengthy portion of one journal entry that I wrote because I found myself edified simply by reading something I had penned.  While this could be due to a hardy dose of narcissism or pride, I believe that some of it may be beneficial for others.  Altogether, I believe it was inspired by Someone far wiser than I who, for a brief window of time, was able to use this unwieldy instrument for something good.
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March 31, 2013 –Easter Sunday

Jesus,

You overwhelm me with joy.  Last night I sat in a darkened Cathedral nave eagerly anticipating Your resurrection.  I was filled with a light-hearted joy.  The Scripture readings painted a picture of how God has loved humanity throughout time.  You have given me several moments in my life where I internally declare that this is Church.  Last night as I watch a woman be baptized and confirmed, as I glimpsed the joy on the face of Bishop…, as I inhaled the incense, as I helped fill the darkened Cathedral with light and persons, as I exchanged a greeting of peace–this is the embrace of the universal Church, this is my home.  I received You–Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity–in a manner that pre-dates the foundations of this country, in a way that countless saints have, from the hands of the Bishop ordained through an unbroken line of apostolic succession.  The beauty of the Church is striking and my heart finds itself being pressed to widen her chambers to make room for the Beauty that aches to overflow in her….

There are so many times when I think that I understand You and then I am reawakened to the fact that I comprehend so little.  What a beautiful mystery it is!  The rich depths of the Catholic faith cannot be plumbed.  You died for me and rose again.  The wounds You had were glorified.  You breath into my heart a joy beyond measure and You inscribe “Alleluia!” on my tongue.  From outside of time You pursue my heart, meeting me at the timeless table of the Eucharistic feast.  You know the workings of the universe–and my fierce and delicate heart.  You will for our wills to collide in an eruption of sanctification.  You are the perfect picture of patient love as You hang on the cross.  You recklessly call me to place my hand in Your side, calling me to believe more in Your triumph than my failings.

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The Lord desires something great for each one of us.  It may not be my personal idea of “greatness” or the type of greatness that I would like.  Yet each of us is called to be a saint.  We are called to be great in mercy, love, patience, kindness, generosity, and forgiveness.  We are called to place our will at the service of His will.  To accept that God has a better plan for ourselves than we do.  To realize that He desires to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts…perhaps just in a different way than we are asking Him to do so. 

And Our Lord hasn’t forgotten you.  He hasn’t forgotten me. 

He hasn’t forgotten you. 

“Let me hear in the morning of your merciful love, for in you I put my trust.  Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”  –Psalm 143:8