A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Through social media alone, we have many choices of whom to follow: actors, athletes, politicians, reporters, and so on. We can choose to receive up-to-the-minute news on their thoughts, opinions, hopes and plans. We can tell the world we liked what we read and even share it with the click of a mouse.

But are we sure we want to model our life and work on those of another person? Are we sure we want to follow that person’s example?

At some point, we all have to choose the path we’ll follow.

Jesus’ disciples knew this well. When Jesus taught his followers, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48*), explaining that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56), many of his disciples walked away. And so Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave as well. But think about Simon Peter’s answer in John 6:68-69:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

We might admire others’ way of life, their good works, their values, but only Jesus has “the words of eternal life.” As Peter preached to the Council in Jerusalem, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Just as Joshua (see Joshua 24:14-28) and the prophet Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:20-40) asked the Israelites to choose whom they would follow, we have a choice to make: we can follow the path others have taken, or we can follow God and ask him to guide us in the way that we should go.

As we prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, I pray that we would commit ourselves once more to following the Lord.

“(B)ut as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

~ Joshua 24:15

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

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At special times—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, a wedding, the birth of a child—giving thanks seems natural. Surrounded by family and friends, we recognize just how blessed we are.

And then there are the other times—the times when we feel worn down by a tough work week or a family situation or even world events, and gratitude seems out of reach and blessings hard to count.

In Psalm 50:14-15, 23*, we read these words:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and pay your vows to the Most High;

and call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

 

“He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;

to him who orders his way aright

I will show the salvation of God!”

God knows we go through challenging times, and yet he still calls us to offer “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” and honour him because he promises to hold us up and carry us through it all when we call on him:

Cast your burden on the LORD,

and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

Even when we struggle and find it hard to be thankful, we are dear to him and he cares for us and longs for us to share with him what is in our hearts. Even when we feel broken and doubt our own abilities and worth, he never leaves us. He is always faithful, always merciful, always loving—and for that alone, he is always worthy of our praise and our thanks.

I pray that we would take time each day to give thanks for the blessings we’ve enjoyed, such as good health and the love of our family and friends, and the blessings of that day, no matter how small they might seem.

And blessed be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place

Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed be Your name

~ From “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman

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

Whether on a Pinterest board, on our Facebook wall, or through other social media such as Twitter or Instagram, sharing what we love with our friends and family—or the world at large—continues to be popular.

IMG_0153

Pixie and Skittles, my two cats, enjoying a sun patch. Clearly, I love photos of cute animals.

Perhaps we’re inspired by photos of beautifully plated food, stunning architecture, panoramic city views, fashionably decorated homes, or designer clothes and accessories. Or maybe we’re drawn to natural images: adorable young animals, snow-capped mountain peaks, cascading water, breathtaking sunrises or sunsets, or views of Earth (or even Pluto) from space.

We feel almost compelled to share something that makes us laugh, takes our breath away, or moves us in some way.

We might feel gratitude for all that God has done for us, renewed strength in receiving the Eucharist, and relief and lightness of spirit when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation; do we then feel compelled to share our faith?

I’m not saying we should all be evangelizing on street corners or writing faith-based blogs; not everyone feels called to these things. But we have options for sharing our faith in a low-key way:

  • caring for our neighbours, whether close by (such as by helping someone clear a snow-covered driveway) or not (by volunteering at a soup kitchen, for example)
  • inviting a relative, friend or neighbour to enjoy a pancake breakfast or multicultural dinner or to take part in a yard sale or craft fair held at our church
  • displaying religious art in our home and garden
  • wearing a cross or saint medal on a chain
  • inviting someone to join us for lunch or dinner “after Mass”
  • sending greeting cards that say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” instead of a seasonal message
  • offering to pray for someone experiencing illness or loss or struggling with a difficult decision

Not only might we quietly witness to those who haven’t received God into their hearts or haven’t heard the good news, we might also encourage fellow believers in their faith (see Romans 1:12*).

I pray that God would guide us in sharing our faith with others, whether we’re called to witness in a quiet or a not-so-quiet way.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”

~ Mark 16:15

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

heartI heard someone say today that she didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day because she could give her husband a card or chocolates or make him a special dinner any night of the week.

We could do those things anytime—but do we?

Isn’t it more likely that we’re too stressed out and tired from work or classes, child-rearing and chores to make the effort—let alone feel like making the effort—to let our spouse know that we love him or her so much more than we did on the day we got married? That we appreciate the ways our husband or wife cares for us? That we still find him or her attractive? Isn’t it more likely that we expect our spouse to make the effort to show and tell us how wonderful we are?

If both sides are waiting and neither makes a move, we have a time-tested recipe for the blues on Valentine’s Day. So why not take a little time to show that we still love and cherish our spouse, as we promised on our wedding day?

While ads would have us believe that the way to prove our love is to buy our loved one an expensive gift, the reality is that there are better ways to show our love on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year.

Every day for the ten days up to and including Valentine’s Day, I’ve been writing my husband a note that says two things I love about him, and every day I leave it in a different place. He can’t help but feel special when I take the time not only to say that I love him but also to share some things I love about him.

Here are a few other great ways to show we care:

  • Start and end each day with a kiss and an “I love you.”
  • If our spouse gives us gifts, show they’re appreciated by using them: wear the necklace, listen to the CD, or use the gift card.
  • Wear our wedding ring, and get it resized if it’s too small or too big.
  • Hold hands—in public!
  • Have pictures taken together (since one spouse is usually behind the camera) and frame some.
  • Plan regular dates, whether they’re for a favourite activity or something new.
  • Say positive things about our spouse to other people.
  • Make a card or a special dinner for Valentine’s Day. Why should our anniversary be the only day we celebrate our love?

If we truly appreciate the gift God has given us, we should make sure that our spouse feels loved on Valentine’s Day and all year long.

The school of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place…love will be the whole syllabus.

~ St. Robert Bellarmine, quoted in “Celebrate September 2015,” Catholic Digest, September 2015

 

Planning a wedding, celebrating a new job, welcoming a newborn or an adopted child into our family, moving into a new home? If so, the solemnity of Ash Wednesday might seem at odds with our mood.

Think about this reading from Joel 2:12-13*:

“Yet even now,” says the LORD,

“return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and tear your hearts and not your garments.”

Wedding 300dpi BW

My maternal grandparents on their wedding day

Who could think of fasting or weeping or mourning at a joyful time? And yet that is what we’re called to do.

We don’t have to draw on memories of sadder times to get into the spirit of Lent; instead, we need to look into our hearts to see where a change is in order:

  • Do we focus on appearances, or are we genuine?
  • Are we proud of what we have or thankful for our blessings?
  • Do we judge those who are less fortunate or give to those in need? Do we give donations or volunteer our time to gain attention or to serve?
  • Do we take our spouse and parents for granted, or are we grateful for their love and support? Do we care for them in turn?
  • Do we encourage our children or nag them? Do we push our expectations for their lives or encourage them in their God-given gifts? Do we notice and comment only on acting-out behaviour or give them credit for the good character they show in working hard at school, getting along with siblings, doing their chores and being kind?
  • Do we focus on others’ mistakes and refuse to acknowledge or ask forgiveness for our own?
  • Do we attend Mass and receive the sacraments only occasionally, or do we receive them regularly to strengthen us?

If we do a spiritual self-check and think everything looks fine, maybe we need to ask the Spirit to show us where we might be failing our families, our friends, our faith or ourselves. Then, even in a time of great joy, we can enter into the spirit of Lent and begin to prepare our hearts to welcome the risen Lord at Easter.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.”

~ Luke 3:4

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

 

 

I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

~ Philippians 4:13*

Ottawa residents know that winter weather doesn’t always line up with Winterlude, the big winter festival held in the nation’s capital from late January till the middle of February.

Some years, ice sculptures end up dripping in too-mild temperatures. Or snow has to be manufactured to create a winter playground. We’re hoping for the best when we check out the ice carvings on the weekend.

But, as they say, you can’t always get what you want.

When my in-laws visited us in Pickering at Christmastime a number of years ago, my niece hoped to build snowmen and snow forts and have a snowball fight, but we had no snow over the Christmas holidays that year.

Sometimes we have to deal with minor disappointments like these. And sometimes we have to deal with major disappointments: we interview for a dream job, but it doesn’t pan out; we’re up for an award colleagues feel we deserve, but we don’t win; we put in an offer on a house we love, but it’s rejected; we love someone, but they don’t return our feelings.

Wouldn’t it be easy to rail at the selection committee for the job or the award or fume at the homeowners’ choice or vow not to care for someone again?

God knows and hears us when we’re frustrated and discouraged:

You have kept count of my tossings;

put my tears in your bottle!

Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)

He will bring healing to our hearts if we call on him:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted,

and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

 

He heals the brokenhearted,

and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

And when we struggle to move past the disappointment or rejection, the Lord is there to strengthen us:

(F)ear not, for I am with you,

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

I pray that we would look to God to find the strength and courage to move forward, remembering his words in Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

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

Icon of the Holy Family

An icon of the Holy Family

When the shepherds came to see the baby Jesus and repeated what the angel of the Lord had told them about Jesus’ being the Christ, Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19*).

And when Mary and Joseph found Jesus in Jerusalem after Passover, and Jesus told them he had to be in his Father’s house, “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

Do we keep these things—God’s promises, God’s word—in our hearts?

When my son was younger, his Sunday school class had a memory verse to learn each week, one of which was Psalm 119:11:

I have laid up your word in my heart,

that I might not sin against you.

This psalm, about “The Glories of God’s Law,” praises God’s word and reminds that we need to spend time reading the scriptures so that they can guide us:

I will meditate on your precepts,

and fix my eyes on your ways.

I will delight in your statutes;

I will not forget your word. (15-16)

 

Your testimonies are my delight,

they are my counselors. (24)

 

Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light to my path. (105)

They remind us of God’s promise of salvation, giving us hope in tough times:

Let your mercy come to me, O LORD,

your salvation according to your promise;

then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me,

for I trust in your word. (41-42)

 

This is my comfort in my affliction

that your promise gives me life. (50)

 

I entreat your favor with all my heart;

be gracious to me according to your promise. (58)

 

You are my hiding place and my shield;

I hope in your word. (114)

 

Great peace have those who love your law;

nothing can make them stumble. (165)

And they remind us that God is almighty and always faithful:

For ever, O LORD, your word

is firmly fixed in the heavens.

Your faithfulness endures to all generations;

you have established the earth, and it stands fast. (89-90)

 

You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness

and in all faithfulness. (138)

We think of Lent as a time for taking up a spiritual discipline such as Bible study, but why not start now? If we don’t read God’s word regularly, here are a few easy ways to get started:

  • Read a psalm or two every day.
  • Read one of the Gospels.
  • Learn the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:2-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21) or the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
  • Join a parish Bible study group.

Bible-in-a-year guides (such as the Coming Home Network’s free downloadable guide) can also motivate us to read the scriptures more often. And we can learn more about God’s word through the Catechism.

No matter what our age or stage in life, no matter whether we’re going through a wonderful time in our lives or a challenging one, God’s word holds guidance and hope and reminders of his faithfulness that we can treasure up in our hearts.

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

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

We may not like everything others do, but when their words and actions generally show that they care for us and want the best for us, loving someone who loves us isn’t much of a challenge.

Loving our enemies, on the other hand…

We may have this idea that Christians love everyone. We’re supposed to, since all people—regardless of their faith (or lack of faith) or the fact that they may have done awful things in their lives—are children of God. But if we’re honest with ourselves, there are people we dislike. People whose attitudes rub us the wrong way. People who use us to move ahead in their careers or betray a confidence or lie, yet aren’t concerned about the effects of their actions.

Jesus told us to love them anyway:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45*)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

We might be tempted to lash out at those who hurt us by confronting them with angry words, speaking harshly about them to others, or looking for a way to make them “pay” for what they’ve done. But we’re called to move past those angry feelings, as the apostle Paul pointed out in Romans 12:19, 21:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”. . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We too have our moments when we’re selfish and ungrateful, when we don’t worry enough about the consequences of what we say and do, when we hurt others. If we would want them to show us mercy, shouldn’t we do the same? If the angry feelings linger, shouldn’t we pray to reach that point where we forgive those who hurt us? We won’t forget what happened, and we may struggle to trust them again, but we’re freed from being consumed by hate or bitterness or self-pity.

To move away from the anger and hurt and toward forgiveness and mercy, may we remember the fact that we’d want to be forgiven if we hurt others—and remember all that God has forgiven us.

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

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.)

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.)

 

 

 

 

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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