A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

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During his homily yesterday morning, the priest filling in for our pastor told the story of a woman given the compliment that she had lovely hands—hands she’d always found unattractive. Over time, as she observed all that her hands had done and could do, she discovered their beauty.

Reading David’s words in Psalm 139:14*, we know on some level that we, too, are “wondrously made,” but do we accept the truth of these words?

We zoom in on things about our appearance that make it hard to look in the mirror—extra weight, greying hair, the appearance of wrinkles, maybe the nose we’ve never loved the shape of—and we overlook the amazing abilities of the body God knitted together (see Psalm 139:13).

I’m as guilty of that as anyone. I used to wish that I had brown hair and brown eyes and that I was just a few inches taller; I still wish that I could stay thin easily and be less clumsy.

makingcards_140802

Making a greeting card at my craft desk

I thought about all this after yesterday’s homily. And I realized that my blue eyes are the ones that looked into my husband’s eyes on our wedding day. With this body, I carried our child and brought him into the world. With these hands, I’ve made treats for school bake sales, folded laundry and cleaned the house, made cards and wrapped gifts for birthdays and Christmas, tended to my family and pets when they were sick, and explored my faith in writing this blog over the past three years.

Should we try to stay in good shape for our health and keep a neat appearance? Absolutely. But we shouldn’t focus on how we look and dismiss all the things, great and mundane, that our bodies can do; God focusses not on our appearance but on our heart and on the way we use the gifts he’s given us.

When Saul turned out to be less than an ideal king, the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king. Samuel, seeing the first of Jesse’s sons, thought this had to be the one God had chosen, but he was mistaken, as we read in 1 Samuel 16:7:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Instead of looking at ourselves and seeing physical flaws, maybe it’s time that we, like David, thank God that we are “wondrously made” and take a moment to notice and appreciate what we have done and are able to do just as we are.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

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Remember the story of Sisyphus from Greek mythology? As a punishment for his lying and trickery, he was forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down—over and over again for eternity.

Sometimes we might feel like we’re pushing that boulder, trying to deal with a huge problem that we don’t think we’ll conquer before we run out of steam—our children’s acting-out behaviour, the struggle to find a good job, relationship problems, or even a bad habit that we just can’t break.

We can start to feel discouraged, defeated, even broken.

We won’t find our strength in other people, although we may welcome their active listening and support. We won’t find it in hobbies or physical activity, although they may help us relax. And we won’t find it in comfort food or cigarettes or caffeine or alcohol or compulsive rituals.

But as followers of Christ, we have a faithful source of strength to draw on to help us keep going, as we read in Isaiah 40:28-29*:

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary,

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

When my son was a little boy, he was full of energy and ready to push boundaries and test rules. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, and so I was learning as I went along—and I was tired. Often, at the end of the day, I would ask God to give me strength and help me be a good parent. As I look back, I can see that God has never failed to strengthen me to take on the next day’s parenting challenges.

Whatever obstacles we may be facing in our lives, we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord:

  • When Sarah doubted she would be able to have a child, the Lord asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) And in their old age, Sarah and Abraham had a son (see Genesis 21:1-7).
  • When Jeremiah wondered how he could be sure that the people of Israel would return from exile, God asked him, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) And Israel returned from exile, as we read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • When those who heard it would be difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God wondered who could be saved, Jesus told them, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

May we always remember that no challenge is too great for God to walk through with us and that he will hold us up when we are weak.

(T)hey who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

~ Isaiah 40:31

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

 

 

 

We all struggle at one time or another. Maybe it’s because of stress at work or the loss of our job, financial concerns, the illness or death of a loved one, worry about our aging parents or the choices our children make, or challenges in our relationship with our boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse.

Forty-Part Motet

Part of Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada.

Whatever the cause, we all face moments when we’d welcome a light in the darkness–a light to shine the way forward, to give us the courage and strength to keep going, to show us that we aren’t alone.

Can we let God be that light?

Today I read these words of David in Psalm 18:28*:

Yes, you light my lamp;

the LORD my God lightens my darkness.

Similarly, in Psalm 119:105–a meditation on “The Glories of God’s Law,” as the psalm is titled in the Revised Standard Version–we read this about God’s word:

Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light to my path.

In reading God’s word and spending time in his presence, we can find the light we seek: the comfort and strength we lack in difficult times:

I love you, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Yes, by you I can crush a troop;

and by my God I can leap over a wall.

This God–his way is perfect;

the promise of the LORD proves true;

he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:1-2, 29-30)

If we call on God, we’ll find that he is the rock that can’t be moved; he is the safe place for us to unburden our hearts; he is the one whose strength we can draw on and who can heal us.

Jesus told the disciples of John, when they asked if he was the Messiah, that “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). If we turn toward God’s light, we can see more clearly the road before us, begin to take steps to move forward, be cleansed of our sins and made new, hear his voice guiding us, start to change our lives for the better, and feel his Spirit at work in our lives.

And maybe, one day, we’ll be able to share that light with someone else searching for a light in the darkness.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:16

(Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

Some say that love is a feeling and others, that it’s a decision. A case can be made for both points of view.

We love our parents, spouse, children, and other relatives and our close friends almost without thinking about it—we just know that we love them. If asked why, we could probably list some good reasons.

But when our family or friends prove to be only human, hurting us through their words or actions, love may become a choice.

In our society, so much seems disposable—plates and cutlery, cameras, cell phones, and even relationships. It’s easier to cut ties than to make an effort to find out why others acted as they did and to work at forgiving them and moving forward. It’s easier to forget that we, too, are only human and make mistakes we’d want others to forgive.

Think about these words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7*:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Before we decide to end a friendship, distance ourselves from relatives, or close the book on a marriage, we could ask ourselves whether we’ve lived up to this standard. Have we always been patient and kind? Have we been irritable or resentful? Have we tried to make amends for our mistakes or reconcile with others, or have we decided the effort or possible pain wasn’t worth it?

Young children form and end friendships easily and often, but as adults, we can model for our children and youth just what forgiveness and love could look like.

When we think about loving our neighbour as ourselves, we may think about giving to charities that help strangers here and abroad. Maybe it’s time that, when we think of our neighbour, we think about the cousin we stopped talking to; the friend we might unfriend on Facebook; or the sibling, parent or spouse whose actions left us hurt—and remember that we’re called to “Make love [our] aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1). We can choose to forgive and to love.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Looking at last week’s flyers, it’s easy to tell that the top three New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, quit smoking, and get organized. I couldn’t count the number of pieces of fitness equipment, nicotine patches, and storage totes advertised.

I often make New Year’s resolutions. Not because I enjoy the prospect of failure—experts tell us at the start of each new year that, by the middle of January, many of us give up on keeping them—but because I like having goals to work toward. For example, some of my goals for 2016 include taking another cooking class and trying the weaving kit I bought last year.

We know that goals need to be specific, measurable, and time-limited, not to mention realistic. There’s no point in saying we want to be healthier without pinpointing how much weight we want to lose, how many points we want our blood pressure to come down, or how many times we’ll exercise each week and outlining the steps we’ll take to make it happen.

If we focus only on health-related or clutter-clearing goals, though, we could be missing out on other areas of our lives where God wants us to make changes.

Maybe this is the year that we learn to put down the PDA, laptop or cell phone and look at our spouse when we’re having a conversation. Or that we have regular family game or movie nights so that we do more as a family than rush from one activity to the next. Or that we work harder to keep in touch with friends—or to make new ones.

Maybe this year we could also try to grow in our faith. We could plan to take a few minutes each day to read the Bible or pray, to volunteer to serve on our parish’s social action or maintenance committee, to sign up for pre-authorized giving, or to plan our giving for the year.

Maybe 2016 is the year we ask God to show us what changes we need to make and focus on those instead of the changes we think we should make—the year we take to heart these words of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:9-11*:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Maybe it’s because I’m the daughter of a pilot, or maybe it’s just that I’m a nervous flyer, but I always look at the safety brochure on a plane and listen to the explanation about where the exits are and what to do if the oxygen masks drop down during the flight.

We know it’s important to put on our own oxygen mask so that we’re able to take care of others, yet in our day-to-day lives, how many of us fail to meet our need for a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, or even medical care because someone else in the family might need something—and we have to be the one to meet that need?

Some readers might be nodding, thinking, “Yes, I practically have to beg my spouse to go to the doctor or take time off to rest.” At the same time, others might be wondering why their spouse makes time to take care of their family but not their own health.

Maybe we feel virtuous if we don’t slow down or if we try always to put others first. If that sounds familiar, read these words from Sirach 18:19*:

Before you speak, learn,

and before you fall ill, take care of your health.

If we work ourselves to exhaustion, whether inside or outside the home, what good will we be to our family? If we don’t eat properly, exercise, get enough rest, and see the doctor when we need to, will we enjoy a healthy retirement? Will we make it to our retirement years? Will we have the energy to fulfill our work or volunteer commitments, let alone appreciate our leisure time?

We may tell ourselves that we’ll have time to rest and be rejuvenated on the weekend, on our vacation, during our retirement, or (grimly) when we die. But if our to-do list doesn’t include self-care—dental, medical and eye doctor visits; healthy meals; some kind of fitness routine—we won’t be in any kind of shape to enjoy that downtime. And we need to remember that we aren’t guaranteed any tomorrows; God alone knows when this life will end:

Do not boast about tomorrow,

for you do not know what a day may bring forth.

~ Proverbs 27:1

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.”

~ James 4:14-15

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

My son has always enjoyed playing sports. As he’s gotten older, the training has become more intense: four days a week for a couple of hours each day when he played football last year and three days or more each week, several kilometres a day, for cross-country this year, for example.

running to catch the ball

My son at practice before a football game last fall

Athletes know it’s important to train their mind and muscles to respond quickly and their team to work as a unit. We see the results of their dedication and hard work on the ice, the court, the soccer pitch, the track, and so on.

We know we need training to face athletic challenges, but do we give much thought to our training as people of faith? Consider these words in 1 Timothy 4:7-9*:

Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.

When our children are of the age to receive First Eucharist or be confirmed, they don’t simply show up at Mass; they learn first what it means to receive the host, and they learn what it means to stand up and say, “This is my faith.” Engaged couples learn through Pre-Cana classes what it means to be a married couple in the Church. And each week, as we listen to the homily, take part in the Mass and get involved in our parish and community, we learn what it means to be Catholics who try to live out their faith.

With the influence of our culture and peers, we can’t take it for granted that our children will instinctively know the right path to follow—or that we will. We need to read the Scriptures and the Catechism, regularly take part in the Mass, follow the RCIA program if we’re new to the Church or we didn’t go through the confirmation process, pray for knowledge and guidance and wisdom, and seek opportunities to learn more about our faith—whether we were raised as Catholics or came to the faith later in life.

May we never assume we know all there is to know about God or his plans or the faith but keep our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds, open to being trained in godliness.

Put off the old man that belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

~ Ephesians 4:22-24

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

I don’t think my parents realized how much trouble people would have saying my name, Lise.

My name is pronounced Leeza but often mispronounced as Lise (the French name), Liza, Lisa, LisLiz, and even (by automated voice message systems) lies.

At school, my classmates would snicker when the teacher first took attendance and I had to correct his or her pronunciation of my first name. Even today, I have to say my name several times before people get it. Sometimes, despite my efforts, they still say it wrong and then introduce me to others that way, putting me in the awkward position of having to correct them.

When I was younger, I wished I had a name no one would struggle with; now, I realize it has forced me to speak up for myself—something many of us struggle with. We might be very comfortable advocating for those in need who may not have a strong voice in society, but when it comes to speaking up for ourselves, we develop a kind of laryngitis.

Because of the person doing the asking or the worthiness of the cause, we may find it hard to say no when we’re asked to take on tasks such as these:

  • collecting workplace donations for charity
  • organizing a bake sale, a yard sale or another fundraiser for our children’s school or one of their teams
  • serving in a parish ministry
  • planning a social event at work, at church, or for family or friends

But answering every call doesn’t make us a better Christian, or even a better person. What it makes us is stressed, tired, and drained. Instead of focussing our energy in a few places where we could be effective, we spread ourselves too thin. And what suffers? Time with our family, our health, and the tasks we’re already committed to.

Before we automatically say yes to another request, we need to consider whether saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else. Whether our priorities are out of order. Whether God wants us to be spending our time and using our talents there or somewhere else—and whether he has someone else in mind for a particular job.

Flexing our “no muscle” takes practice, especially if people aren’t used to hearing anything but yes when they ask us to help. But we need to remember that we won’t have the energy to serve our family, our parish and our community if we take on too much and don’t build in time for rest. And we need to ask God to guide us when we’re considering major additions to our to-do list.

Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be

the fruits of my hours

and I shall walk in the pace of my Lord,

and dwell in his house for ever.

~ From “Psalm 23 For Busy People” by Toki Miyashina in Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers

We may lose a loved one, a friendship, our job, or money. We may suffer illness. Our spouse may be unfaithful. When life brings sad moments, some people convince themselves that God must hate them.

As we read in Wisdom 11:24-26*, they couldn’t be more wrong:

For you love all things that exist,

and you loathe none of the things which you have made,

for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.

How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?

Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?

You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord who love the living.

In our culture, there seems to be a belief that, if we follow Jesus, we’ll never have to face challenges or loss or hardship—that, if we’re “good Christians,” we’ll know only blessings. But God doesn’t promise us that, as just a few examples from the Bible show us:

  • Sarah and Abraham (Genesis 21:1-7), Hannah and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:1-20) and Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25) waited years to have a child.
  • Jacob’s wife Rachel died in childbirth (Genesis 35:16-20).
  • Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:12-36).
  • The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt (Exodus 1:8-14).
  • Except for John, who died in exile, all the apostles were martyred, beginning with James (Acts 12:2).

In fact, Jesus tells that we may face challenges because we follow him (Matthew 5:10-12):

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

What Jesus does promise us is that he will be with us:

“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

“Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

When we struggle with the challenges life brings, I pray that we would take comfort in remembering just how much God loves us and draw strength from the truth that he will always be with us.

(*Scripture quotes and references taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

In 1990, Sinéad O’Connor released an album called I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

So many items could fill our list of things we want—some of them universal, such as an end to war or racism, a better life for our children, or an opportunity to make a difference in our community. If we take a good look at that mental list, though, things we could do without fill a number of the slots. And too often we don’t want what we do have.

We see a professionally remodelled house on TV and wish ours looked like something out of a decorating magazine, forgetting that our less-than-spotless place is home to a young, active family and that a little mess goes with the territory.

We wish our spouse were more handy or more social or more something, forgetting that he is kind and generous, can barbecue anything and plays a mean game of street hockey with the kids or that she has a great sense of humour, keeps track of everyone’s activities and can balance the chequebook.

We wish our children listened more and were more diligent about their schoolwork, overlooking the fact that they’re healthy and strong when so many children are not and that they’re growing up to be people of character and strong faith.

If we realized that the grass only seems greener in that new gated community we drive by on the way to work, we’d be a lot more content with our lives.

It’s easy to say we’re more focussed on our wants these days when many of us can satisfy our basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, but a glance at Ecclesiastes 6:9* confirms this is no modern problem:

Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire; this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Maybe we need to pause for a moment each day and look at all that we have to be grateful for: our senses, our health, food and shelter, the love of our family, our talents and good qualities, the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy, and so on.

graduation

At the top of the list of things I’m grateful for…

As the Rolling Stones reminded us, “You can’t always get what you want.” God doesn’t always give us what we want because he’s a loving father and he knows that having our every wish fulfilled wouldn’t be good for us.

May we stop to notice and appreciate what we have and thank God for the ways he has blessed and continues to bless us.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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