Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lenten Renewal Project

Lent is a time for renewal of purpose, and so I am renewing my commitment to this blog! It has been quite some time, but my journey remains constant.

I am trying to read the Bible everyday, but with a different attitude. My goal for so many years was to "get something out of" reading the Bible. Now I understand it's not a self-help book (although I guess it kind of is when you really think about it). When you look at it as THE WAY, then it's got nothing to do with my personal feelings or needs, but everything to do with how the world should be. That's almost too enormous for me to deal with at this moment!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Taking a Vacation From Prayer?

What a relaxing week at the beach! The weather could not have been more pleasant: low 80s everyday and not a cloud in the sky. I greeted each day early, savoring the opportunity to go for a long walk or bike ride while the rest of my vacation mates slumbered. At the beach, I read a whole novel, and at night I walked along the boardwalk with my family. Sheer harmony.

But when I got back home, I realized something: I had pretty much forgotten to pray throughout the whole vacation! Sure, there were moments, especially in the morning, when I thanked God for the sunshine, the ocean, the chance to be with close family. But did I ever get down on my knees--or even lie down in bed--to say an Our Father, a Hail Mary or to ask for blessings for others? Nope. I didn't even consider it.

What happened? Did I get so relaxed that I let go of my faith as well as my cares and worries? And why didn't I immediately feel guilty about the gaffe?

I'm hoping that God understands. Whatever tribulations had been on my mind before vacation trickled out of my head while at the beach, which means I'm able to concentrate better now that I'm back. (Well, I've only been back for two days, but so far so good!) Perhaps that was the spiritual as well as the emotional getaway I needed: to remove myself from the daily grind and to focus on the simplicity of nature. Now perhaps, with my batteries recharged, I can move ahead with prayer in a more relaxed and earnest fashion, instead of the speed and fury with which I'd been doing it before I left.

Nevertheless, praying on vacation would have been nice and should have been done. Now I'm praying that the next time I go on vacation, I remember to count my blessings and share them with God everyday.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bragging Rights

I had the opportunity to do something wrong the other day. Something that I had managed to rationalize as not being really wrong, but more like temporarily incorrect. Because I would be able to right this wrong, fairly quickly, and everything would be okay.

But something--I guess it was my conscience--made me stop short. I didn't need to convince myself that what I planned to do wasn't right; I simply said to myself, "You can't do this."

And that was that. I never looked back. And it felt really good. So good, in fact, that I was practically patting myself on the back, praising myself for doing the right thing (or not doing the wrong thing). Honestly, I almost started skipping down the street as I thought about it yesterday.

Then I asked myself: Is this really something to be self-congratulatory about? Can you really brag about being very, very close to committing a sin and deciding at the last minute not to follow through?

I was convinced that I had no reason to be pleased with myself. Instead, I should be upset with myself for even considering doing something wrong!

But in church today, when we got to the part where we ask God for forgiveness "for what I have done and what I have failed to do," I realized something: If my conscience hadn't stepped in and told me to do the right thing, I would have had that sin on my mind. I would have had to confess that I had "sinned through my own fault." Instead, I was able to thank God for giving me a conscience and the good sense to pay attention to it.

It may not have been a reason to brag, but it was definitely a moment to realize that doing what's right feels a whole lot better than feeling guilty about choosing the wrong path.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Martha, Martha, Martha!

"As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.' The Lord said to her in reply, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.'" (Luke 10:38-42)

Do you ever find yourself relating very well to someone in the Bible? I am so totally a Martha!

Putting our kids to bed has always been a long, arduous process. First, there's the chase to get everyone dressed and have them brush their teeth. Then there are the individual rituals. One child wants to read out loud to you. The other wants you to read out loud to her and then lie down with her for a few minutes. The third one simply wants you to give up the rest of your evening and cuddle with her until the sun rises.

My husband conveniently has other things to do at this time of the day, which leaves me completely frustrated. I love my kids, and I love helping them settle into bed, but the process takes up most of my evening, some of which I try desperately to use to clean up or work.

The other night, the bedtime ritual was taking longer than usual, and I'd had it. My husband came up for one brief moment to kiss everyone good night; then, he fled to the basement to iron his shirts and watch sports. I was livid! I raced downstairs and made huffy noises until I got his attention. "Clearly, I need some help putting the kids to bed!" I shouted. He didn't say a word, and went back to his ironing. We've been through this before. I always get huffy, and then it passes. Nothing new.

The next morning, I sat down to read the Bible, and to what story did the pages fall? The story of Martha and Mary. I have always been fascinated by this story because both of these women clearly loved Jesus, although they took different paths to show their love.

Initially, you think, "Aren't we supposed to serve God? Martha's the one in the right, and Mary should get with the program!" But Jesus doesn't see it that way. He knows that his time on earth is short, and that Mary has chosen to spend her moments with Jesus enjoying his company and learning from him. Martha, meanwhile, is no doubt in the kitchen grumbling under her breath while she prepares some appetizers. She's missing all the joy of the moment!

How often do I miss the joy of the moment? Too often, I fear. There are so many demands: house, work, kids, husband, dog, cat, chores, appointments, etc. There is never enough time in the day, and when I do try to carve out time, it is consumed by something else I didn't have planned. How much more peaceful and meaningful the evening would be if I devoted it to my kids! The time will come soon enough when they'll put themselves to bed and won't even want to cuddle with Mom.

This doesn't mean I should leave the kitchen a mess or blow off my work, but it does mean I should recognize the precious, memorable moments in life and savor them. How wonderful it would be to think, "Diane has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Need a Prayer to Help Me Remember to Pray

Why do I find it so hard to remember to pray at the end of the day? You would think that after 44 years, it would be as natural as brushing my teeth. I pray with my kids every night, so I guess that counts. But there are other things that I need to say to God. I need to look back on the day and realize what I did well and what I could have done better.

Something often seems to get in the way. Either I fall asleep with one of the children, or I fall asleep reading, or who knows what. Ideally, I should be praying before I cuddle with the kids or pick up a book, but the thought sadly doesn't usually cross my mind.

Why is prayer at night so important, anyway? If I pray in the morning, asking for help and for the well being of those around me, do I really need to pray again? Certainly I could pray for strength in areas where I failed on a particular day, for good health for someone who got sick or for forgiveness for a misdeed. How long could it take, and wouldn't I feel better afterward?

Think about how many times holy people pray--five, six, maybe ten times a day? Imagine if I carved out that many time slots to talk to God and read the Bible. That would be something!

My goal is much more modest: twice a day. Is that too much for God to ask? Certainly not. So I'm praying that I'll remember to pray tonight and every night. Is there a special prayer for that?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Is God Dead... Again?

Every few decades, there is a need to declare that we have become a godless society. In the 1960s, for example, the term "Godless Christianity" came into being. Now Newsweek is announcing to us that fewer people consider themselves Christians and that we might be entering a "post-Christian" era in the United States .

In the case of Newsweek, this has been declared as a great thing because, FINALLY, we can separate church and state. Naturally, it's easy to separate church and state if no one believes in church anymore!

I was about to get upset about this article, but then I realized that I simply don't care. You are never going to completely remove Christianity or any other religion from our society. It just won't happen.

Why? Because there are enough people out there who will remind us that George Washington, the first president of our country, never failed to mention God when he spoke to this young nation. Religion is too tightly woven into the fabric of our country, no matter how hard some may try to remove it.

Even Jon Meacham, the author of the Newsweek article, agrees with this notion:

America, then, is not a post-religious society—and cannot be as long as there are people in it, for faith is an intrinsic human impulse. The belief in an order or a reality beyond time and space is ancient and enduring. "All men," said Homer, "need the gods." The essential political and cultural question is to what extent those gods—or, more accurately, a particular generation's understanding of those gods—should determine the nature of life in a given time and place.

If you read the last line carefully, you'll see the reason for all this hubub on religion. Quite a few people are afraid or angry that religious views are too influential in our culture and our politics. More specifically, issues such as abortion, stem cell research and homosexual marriage can too easily be seen through what is considered the narrow lens of some religions. Religious people--Christians in particular--are holding back progress, for heaven sake!

This, of course, is not true. We are a nation of many religions and many ideals. We are all given the chance to make decisions and have opinions, and those may not gel with what the current culture dictates. There will always be debates, then, and one side will have to lose now and again. But the fact that we are permitted in this great country to have our faith and our ideals and not suppress how we feel because of our culture or our nation's leaders is a wonderful thing. Instead of rolling our eyes at people with religious convictions or views different from our own, we should be thankful we live in a place where we are free to have our own minds.

On this Good Friday morning, my children decorate Easter eggs and put on puppet shows. Later today, we'll turn off the TV, put on our nice clothes and go to church to remember what this day signifies. It is part of our history and our faith, and no one should take that away from us. Thank God we still live in a country where no one will.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I Must Confess...

Today is the first Saturday of the month, which in the world of Catholicism means time for Confession.

Confession, or Reconciliation, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. A person humbles himself before God and man by admitting his sins, asking for forgiveness and declaring that he wholeheartedly desires to sin no more. The priest then absolves the person of his sins, provides a penance, and blesses him before sending him on his way. Reconciliation can and should be a very liberating and deeply emotional experience.

I must admit that I've always had a love-hate relationship with Confession. Early on, after I'd made my First Confession in second grade, I looked forward to the opportunity of saying what I'd done wrong and asking for forgiveness. I vividly remember begging my mother to take me to Confession one Saturday afternoon. I simply couldn't receive Holy Eucharist the next day if I didn't confess that I'd missed Mass the week before.

Father Palermo, the founder of the church where I grew up, was a no-fuss, sometimes stern sort of priest. He wanted you to get to the point about what you did wrong and why you chose to do it. Even at the age of seven or eight, I'd feel myself sweating under the collar. Why did I choose to disobey my parents, anyway?

You could imagine how nervous I was to tell Father Palermo that I had committed one of the biggies--missing Mass! I felt that even if he were gracious enough to absolve me of this sin, I still may have the chance of landing in you-know-where.

As I knelt down in the confessional, I asked God to help me give a good Confession. Then, the door behind the small mesh screen slid open, and I could see Father Palermo's outline. Time to own up to what I'd done.

"I missed Mass last week, Father."
Father Palermo wasn't one to let you get off with just saying that. He needed to know what had possessed you to skip church.
"So, you just didn't feel like going to Mass?" he probed.
"No, father!" I said in a pleading way. "I really wanted to go."
Father Palermo pursued. He was going to find out exactly what demonic urge I'd had last Sunday!
"So then, your parents couldn't take you and you were too lazy to try to find a ride?"
"No, father! My parents went to Mass, and they would have taken me."
"Why, then, didn't you go to Mass last Sunday?" You could hear Father Palermo's frustration at not being able to solve this riddle.
"I was sick."
There was a brief pause, after which Father Palermo kind of yelled, "That's not a sin! If you're too sick to go to Mass, you don't have to confess that!"

Boy was my face red. Not only had I not committed a sin, I'd wasted the priest's time by trying to confess this! I can't remember what he said after that. I just know that I was feeling quite goofy for having confessed a non-sin.

A few years later, when I was in parochial school, we had to go to confession every first Friday of the month. At the age of nine or ten, if you're any kind of a decent kid, you don't do too much sinning. As much as I wanted to confess my sins, I was always a little disappointed that I couldn't come up with a nice list every month. I mean, you can't just confess one sin! (Look what happened when I tried to confess the sin of not going to Mass, which turned out to be perfectly non-sinful. I wasn't armed with any backup sins, and so the priest was completely baffled about why I was kneeling in the confessional.)

So I kind of cheated on my sins. Crazy, I know, but it seemed the right thing to do at the time. After all, the idea is that we should be reflecting on our lives, discovering our shortcomings and constantly improving ourselves. So I basically came up with the same three sins that I committed each month (even if I didn't actually commit one of them within a 30-day period), and I always switched them around in case the priest started to catch on to me.

Here's the problem with that approach: If we are supposed to leave confession promising to try to do better, it doesn't look too good if you come back a month later and confess the same three sins!

By this time, I had gotten myself so riled up about Confession, I would get a nervous stomach before school, and my palms would sweat profusely as I waited in church for my turn. Relief was the emotion I felt when I walked out of the confessional. Whew, made it through another one!

As I got older, Confession became more of what it was supposed to be: a very cleansing spiritual act. But fast-forward to adulthood, and Confession became nothing more than a waste of time. "Why should I confess my sins to another human being when I can talk directly to God?"

Now, I find my attitude changing yet again. I realize the wonderful power of Reconciliation, and I understand bringing your faults before a priest, who is given the power by God to forgive you. Nevertheless, I often find myself steering clear of the confessional for months at a time before finally realizing that I need to go. Then I either spend a half-hour memorizing my sins like I'm going to recite the Gettysburg address verbatim, or I just wing it, dashing into the confessional to blurt out my wrong-doings as they pop into my head.

Both of these methods appear to be incorrect. There's nothing natural or thoughtful about memorization, and doing it on the fly often leads to omission.

Today, I am working on reflection to experience Confession in a meaningful way. Looking over the Ten Commandments is a great starting point. I'm also searching for guidelines on how to make a good act of Confession. American Catholic, a website created by St. Anthony Messenger Press and Franciscan Communications, is a nice resource. There is a thorough section on the seven sacraments and articles on what's necessary to make a good Confession. See

If you have any other resources, please share. Here's to rediscovering the true meaning of Reconciliation.