Think about those times in your life when you have felt inspired to something really great. Where does that inspiration come from?
The Holy Spirit. God inspires us to do great things with our lives.
----Matthew Kelly

Welcome to The Not So Perfect Catholic!

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, just a Catholic empty-nester trying to figure it all out. The views on this blog are my own.

When God Says No

 

I prayed. I prayed hard for the latest test to come back with no new information. God would do that for me, right? He has given me a fairly easy life with no major catastrophes. He has answered every prayer and has taken care of me. Surely He would answer this one, too and we could continue on with our original plan. Except this time, the answer was "no". 

How does someone without faith get through this? Is my faith being shaken? Definitely. I was so sure that everything was going to come back the way I wanted it to. These results really threw me for a loop. Over the past month, I've been strong. Sure, some tears have been shed, but I haven't "ugly cried". That is, until yesterday. 

I spent some time in the Adoration Chapel after work, just looking at the faces of Jesus on the Cross, the Divine Mercy, and Mary. Searching their faces for some kind of answer, some reason why I was told no. I actually felt the arms of my parents around me, telling me I was going to be alright, that I'm strong and I have my Faith. I was also reminded that Mary lost Joseph before Jesus went into His public ministry and was put to death. She relied heavily on her Faith. My thought was, yeah, but God was the Father of her Son, so she had that going for her. I suppose she still could have been angry with Him for putting her through all of that, but she knew it wasn't about her. Maybe, just maybe, this isn't about me.

I was also reminded of an aunt, the sister to whom my mom was the closest. She took care of my grandmother for years, and then took care of her husband who eventually succumbed to cancer. She is a saint in my eyes. I wonder if she ever asked God why she was told no, or if she understood. It's times like these when I feel so completely lost without having my parents to lean on. To not have the wisdom of my aunt to guide me through this journey that I don't want to be on. 

As I gazed at Jesus crucified, I saw the tears in His eyes. I thought I saw the blood dripping from His lanced side; His blood washing over me in His mercy. When I looked into His eyes as the Divine Mercy, I saw compassion and kindness. And the tears came and wouldn't stop. They continued as I prayed the Stations of the Cross. That night when I went to bed, I had more tears. So now I can move on since I got that "ugly cry" out of the way.

A very wise friend told me that God didn't tell me no, rather, He gave that answer to my husband. But in doing so, He also told me "no". I have to keep hoping. I have to not only keep my Faith but strengthen it. This scripture verse has been in the Mass over the last week or two: 

In an acceptable time, I heard you, 
and on the day of salvation I helped you. 
Behold, now is a very acceptable time: behold, now is the day of salvation.
-2 Corinthians 6:2

I believe in miracles. I have to hold on to the hope that we will see one. In a prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas, I am reminded to ask for the grace to be able to be "obedient without complaint, poor without regret, patient without murmur, humble without pretense, joyous without frivolity, and truthful without disguise." (from The Way of the Cross: Praying the Psalms with Jesus by Fr. Mark Toups-Ascension Press)

Even though I feel that God told us "no", I think maybe He is telling us "yes" to something else...something bigger that we just can't fathom right now. I have to thank Him for the life He gave me and the strength to accept the grace that He will bestow on me in the future. Even if He says no to what I want, He has a plan made just for me. I have to have the grace to accept it.

Thanking God For My Brokenness

Scripture verse with greenery in the bottom left corner
Image courtesy of SundaySocial.tv via The Bible App from YouVersion 

 As I reflected on Mark 2:17 (Jesus heard this and said to them that, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.") I had the thought that I should thank God for my brokenness...for my sinfulness. Wait...what??? Thank Him for my imperfections? I'm striving to be the person He wants/expects me to be...why would I thank Him for my failures?

Here are my thoughts: Yes, God wants us to strive to be who He made us to be. He also knows our weaknesses and He challenges us to grow closer to Him through exposing them. If we achieve perfection, would we need Him? We might need Him to maintain the perfectness, but if we are truly perfect there would be no need for Reconciliation. 

Only 2 people on this earth were perfect: Jesus & Mary. Even though Jesus is God, He still prayed to God. And you know Mary kept in close contact with Him. God made us with our weaknesses...with our brokenness. He gives us free will to come to Him or not. 

I find such humility in my weakness. When I feel like I'm doing well with living as He wants me to, something happens. It may be a word from my husband or one of my children that reels back into reality. It might be that I let my guard down and say or do something incredibly stupid. I'm reminded that I have such a long way to go, but I'm also reminded how much He loves me. How He allows me to be a sinner and to be broken so I will continue to search for Him. How He teaches me that in my sinfulness He blesses me with His Grace. 

In his book Broken + Blessed, Fr. Josh Johnson relays a vision (if you will) about Jesus coming to his house. When Jesus first knocks on the door, Fr. Josh is reluctant to let Him in. Then, when he allows Him in, he only shows Jesus the "good" rooms; the places in his life where he fed the hungry, clothed the naked and welcomed strangers. When Jesus asked to go into the other rooms, He was told that they were messy, filled with all of the sins of his life. Jesus wants to be invited to those rooms, too. He wants to have a chance to tell us that no matter what we've done and no matter how we'll sin in the future, He still loves us.

We all need to be reminded that we are loved...by our spouse, children, friends. In revealing our brokenness, we are reminded that Jesus loves us and will always love us...especially in our sinfulness. What mercy and compassion He shows us! 

The next time you are humbled by your brokenness/sinfulness, thank God. Yes, thank Him. Thank Him for those messy rooms in your life that allow you to crawl back to Him in shame and humility. Thank Him for not being perfect, for it is in those times you seek Him. Thank Him for your brokenness.

Finding Joy before Christmas Day

 

Usually, before Advent, I have a "dry season". Then, while I am reflecting on the Daily Readings or using a Bible Study, something clicks and I exit that season. This usually happens somewhere in the middle of Advent. This year was different. I didn't "snap out of it" until the week before December 25. Last year, I used Bishop Baron's Advent Reflections and Fr. Mark Toups Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Joseph. This year I again used the reflections from Bishop Baron and used the Rejoice! Advent Meditations with the Holy Family. Last year's meditations grabbed me from the get-go so I was expecting the same thing this year. Only it didn't happen. Maybe I pushed myself into expecting to be instantly transformed into the glow of Advent. I just couldn't get into the Holy Family. As I reflected, I realized why: it was making me take a hard look at my marriage and to see where I'm failing in my relationship. On the flip-side, it also made me see how I can make my marriage better. I realized I'm not giving myself as I should. Wouldn't we all love to have a marriage like Mary & Joseph's? 

The closer we got to Christmas, the more joy I felt. I played my flute for the 5:00 pm Christmas Eve Mass. When I arrived, snow was falling and just beginning to stick. (This is East Tennessee...a white Christmas is virtually unheard of!) The snow fell all during Mass and I left to this beautiful scene:
Church at night with Christmas Snow
It was 6:00 pm, so the Angelus Bells were ringing, it was still snowing, and most of the people were gone so it was quiet. I was reminded of a Christmas of my youth when it snowed on Christmas Eve. The excitement of the snow and Christmas was incredible. I don't know how else to describe it...pretty indescribable. I felt joy that I hadn't felt in years...not since my mother passed away. I felt such comfort thinking about that Christmas. 
On my way home, I drove past the tree in the park next to our house. We don't get to see this very often (because...East TN!)
I made my way home and this sight greeted me:
Candles on a wall in front of a house in snow
My youngest son (who is 26) had no idea I hadn't felt joy during Advent. I came home to these candles on the wall and dinner ready (except for 1 thing that I had to do). My heart was exploding at that point! My middle son ended up surprising us by flying in from Louisiana later that evening. I was able to see all 3 of my boys on Christmas Day. I can't believe I didn't take a single picture of them, though!

 My mother passed away 6 1/2 years ago. Her birthday was on Christmas Day and she spent a good part of her life as the organist at church, so our Advents & Christmases were filled with music and the hustle and bustle of the liturgical season. My father passed away almost 4 years ago. It's only been the past couple of years that I even wanted to acknowledge Christmas. This Christmas will definitely go down in my book as one of, if not the best, ever. I definitely felt the joy of Christmas this year!



Is the Evil One Upping His Game?

Does anyone else feel like the evil one is upping his game? I do. I think he's becoming desperate, especially in the past few months. Look back even farther than that with the priest sex scandals. That didn't destroy the Church. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates (from a "survey-based estimate) that adult converts to the Faith have remained fairly constant over the past 30 years. There was a huge spike in 2010 with 6.1 million conversions, but overall the mean from their estimates is 4.7 million every 5 years. Their last estimate from 2019 was 4.4 million.

Round 2

More recently, COVID forced many Catholic Churches to close their doors to the public and to cease Public Masses. Thanks to technology, many people continued to worship in their homes, thus bringing God back into homes and families.
Not being able to receive the Eucharist was really difficult; the Spiritual Communion, while inviting Jesus into our hearts, to me is not the same. I needed to feel Jesus on my tongue and taste Him. Well, at least where I live, the Churches have opened up for Masses (with regulations) and Adoration is occurring.

No one can destroy Jesus

Which brings me to what is happening as I write this. There have been attacks on Catholic Churches in the U.S. I'm not going to go into specifics because honestly, those people who are doing this need our prayers, not publicity for their ignorance. These people need Jesus, especially when the evil one has hold of them. The thoughts I have had on this during my daily reflection of the Readings boil down to this:
...something greater than the temple is here. (Matthew 12:6)
Is it horrible that these things are happening? No doubt. But the statues are not Jesus. They are not The Church. Even the church building is not The Church. We are the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church. Jesus is the temple and no one can destroy Him or our faith in Him.

U.S. martyrs?

Fr. Josh Johnson, in a podcast, mentioned that he believes the time is coming when we will see U.S. martyrs. I really believe that is about to happen. Am I scared? I am more scared of denying Jesus than I am of dying. The evil one is desperate. He is trying his best to get in our heads through social media to make the faithful nervous, anxious, and ready to denounce our faith so we will live. But if we denounce our faith, we will not live. Yes, the devil is upping his game and it may seem that he is winning and that God is nowhere to be found.
...But you do see,
you take note of every misery and sorrow;
you take the matter in hand.
Psalms 10:14
May we all stay in God's embrace and find safety and protection from satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. (Prayer of St. Michael) Feel free to copy/print the prayer by clicking below.



Draw in my Bible???

Do you ever draw in your Bible? I'm not talking about graffiti-style drawings, but drawings that speak to you through Scripture. 

Before I say anything else, let me say that I am definitely artistically challenged. So much so that when my SIL & I go to a wine & paint place, I have to indulge because it terribly stresses me out. My paintings end up looking more like one of Picasso's abstracts, and not in a good way. When I was in 3rd Grade we had to draw a bird in art. I had the most beautiful bird in my mind but just couldn't get it to paper. I'm the boy in the back of the book "The Dot" (Peter Reynolds) who says he can't draw a straight line with a ruler. Get the picture?

A friend introduced me to Bible Journaling. I don't know how long it's been around, but I just recently caught the bug. On second thought...the Book of Kells has been around since the 6th Century! My guess is that the modern Bible Journaling began with non-Catholics. Honestly, sometimes they have the best ideas when it comes to praying and reflecting on the Scriptures! Sometimes I'm a bit jealous of some of the "cool stuff" they have. There was definitely a Protestant Journaling Bible long before there was a Catholic one. And now there are 2 Catholic Journaling Bibles! Both of them contain an Imprimatur; it just depends on your preference.

The Catholic Journaling Bible (the one I have) is a joint venture between Blessed is She and Our Sunday Visitor.  (New American Bible Revised Edition)There are some pages with verses, but most of the pages have wide empty margins for you to write in. Inspire is the other one. (New Living Translation) There are more than 450 illustrations already included. The downside, though, you don't have a choice of what verses to reflect on. I like that I decide what to write/draw/color in my Bible.
From the Blessed is She/OSV The Catholic Journaling Bible
You have your Bible...now what? The first time I drew in mine, I was a tad bit nervous. We aren't brought up to write in our Bibles! I was brought up that you don't even highlight in your Bible! But you know what? It's okay because it's a reflection method! My friend told me that there's no right or wrong way. It's your Bible so do what you feel is right to spend time with God. 
My first "solo" art journaling picture
I use the Bible Study Evangelista's LOVE the Word method. If you're interested in this, I would highly suggest reading her book How to Pray Like Mary. I previously tried this method but obviously had no idea what I was doing. Or, if you're more of an auditory learner, she has talks at the bottom of the page. The book really helped me understand the method. Sonja suggests trying the method for 40 days. As I write this, I'm on day 22 and am already feeling the benefits. LOVE the Word is an easier way to do Lectio Divina. It is for me, anyway.

After I do my LOVE the Word journaling (writing and meditating on the verse that stuck out for me) for the day, if I feel like it I'll get out my Journaling Bible. I don't do it every day but I'm trying to at least art journal on Sundays. Then again, if I'm not inspired, I don't do it. It shouldn't be a chore or something you feel like you have to do.  Here's an example of a very simple one I did:
Remember I told you I'm artistically challenged? I spend some time looking through some printables that I found online. Some are free, some are from ETSY. I also look through the clipart that I already have. (I did buy an LED light pad to make tracing easier.) While I'm looking around for a picture to trace, I'm thinking about the verse and my "take away" from it. 
I just wrote out the 1st 2 words on paper before I attempted to free-hand, used washi tape, a "Faith" sticker, and a stencil for the flower. 
The hard part for me is to not compare my entries with others'. My friend is very talented; she can free-hand her illustration and her writings. I have to rely heavily on tracing (even letters) and stickers. Coloring books help, too. There's this thing called "tip-ins"; it's basically just a paper you stick in your Bible. I think you're actually supposed to glue it in, which I did, but just didn't put enough glue on it! 
From Mysteries of the Rosary: A Catholic Coloring Devotional by Drawn to Faith
I will say that I've spent probably too much money; I get sucked in that way! All you really need is coloring pencils...and I'm talking Crayola, not the expensive kind that you'll see in the blogs. Crayola has these really cool coloring pencils that sharpen themselves! They actually feel more like crayons on the papers, but they are pencils. 
I used clipart for the water & boat on this one. Washi Tape quickly adds a little color. 
I'm just at the beginning of my Bible Journal journey. I like that I can pair it with my LOVE the Word take away and spend more time reflecting on what message God is sending me that day. Are they perfect? You can see for yourself that they are not. Are they pleasing to the eye? If you like Picasso's abstracts then you'll probably think mine are okay. But that's not why I'm doing it, and that's not why I'm sharing. If you think it's something you might be interested in but you're saying, "My pictures will never be as pretty as (insert name in here)", so what??? It's what you get out of it that matters. 
I found some pictures of the yoke in ETSY (Beautiful Good News). I printed out on a full-page clear label sheet and cut out.
So, go on and draw in your Bible! Write notes in it, add postcards...whatever you feel like doing that will bring the Word of God to you and will make it stick!

If you're interested in drawing in your Bible, my friend started a new Facebook Group: Catholic Art & Bible Journaling. Even though it has the word "Catholic" in the title, we all know that "catholic" means universal. People of all faiths are invited! The group is private, but just leave a note that you saw the group through this blog post & we'll le you in!

Resources for learning how to Bible Journal:


It's Difficult To Be a Believer!

Being a Christian isn't so easy at times. Looking at the Mass Readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we can see that it was difficult to be a believer in God even during Old Testament times.

Jeremiah 20:10-13 tells of his pain. After reading it before Mass and then listening to it during Mass, I went back and read the whole chapter. Pashhur, the priest, didn't like what Jeremiah was saying was going to happen, so he beat him and put him in the stocks. When he was released, he told Pashhur that God renamed him "Terror on every side" (Jeremiah 20: 3) to indicate what was going to happen to Jerusalem. The Reading during Mass is part of Jeremiah kind of complaining (for lack of a better word!) that he tried to get away from prophesying but the Lord would have none of it. He didn't want to be ridiculed for believing in God and prophesying but the Lord kept on him until he continued. So now, those who he called "friends" are watching him like a hawk to see what's going to happen to him. They're waiting for him to make mistakes. How stressful would that be?
Fast forward to today: How many times do we feel like people are just waiting for us to make a mistake so they can say, "See? They aren't perfect. They aren't acting like a Christian would." Or, how many times do we watch people and think the same thing? I know I'm guilty of it. But now, just as in Jeremiah's time, "...the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion..." (Jeremiah 20: 11) Will we be made fun of for our beliefs? Yep. Will people take offense when we're in a restaurant and we make the sign of the cross and say the blessing before we eat? You betcha. God's got our backs, though, and we have to pray for those people who mock us and tells us they're offended.  Those are the people who need Jesus in their lives. Our country wouldn't be in the state it's in if people had Him in their lives.  But...that's another post for another day!

Psalm 69 is the Responsorial Psalm. I pulled out my Bible and read the Psalm from there instead of just the bits and pieces that were said during Mass. Once again, here are some complaints that believing in God isn't all unicorns and rainbows. Like the end of Jeremiah 20, the psalmist is also asking that God allow him to see what vengeance God will take on those who are mocking and just being mean. Verse 9 reads: I have become an outcast to my kindred, a stranger to my mother's children. Because zeal for Your house has consumed me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.  Even within our own family, there may be members who get all fired up because of your beliefs. With my siblings, we try to adhere to not talking politics or religion. The exception is if we're talking with a sibling we know share beliefs in either of those things. But...sometimes heated discussions occur because of the disagreements. Feelings get hurt. Quite honestly, it's very difficult to not talk about religion when it is such an important and key part of your life. Again, prayers need to be offered for a return to the Church. And, silent prayers to know when to be quiet need to be sent up when someone says something about your faith.

In Romans 5:12-15, Paul reminds us that we are all sinners. We all will experience death. We are no better than the people who mock us because we are Christians and we openly show our faith. Jesus died for all of us, not just those of us who accept Him. I struggled a bit with the part about transgression not being like the gift. As I understand it, (reminder: I'm not a theologian so I may have this all wrong!) Adam is the transgressor. He's the one who handed sin and death to us in the Garden of Eden. ("transgression of the one" Romans 5: 15) The gift is for everybody. God's grace is for us all. Even for those who mock us.

In the Gospel of Matthew (10:26-33), Jesus is prepping the apostles to continue His ministry. He's warning them of persecutions that will come their way and is preparing them for martyrdom. He's telling them not to worry; God will take care of them. Just prior to this passage is the verse ...do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. (Matthew 10:19) One of the Deacons in my parish said that the grave is not our final destination. Heaven is our ultimate goal. Jesus gives a pretty strong warning at the end of today's Gospel Reading: If you deny Him, He will deny you. So, you're going to get what you give, in other words. Looking back over my life, it was so easy to joke around about Jesus when someone else was doing it; just to get a laugh. Even today there are times when I may make an off-handed remark at His expense. But, man! This hits home. Hopefully, that will make me think twice about saying something.
This passage also contains the verse about God accounting for every hair on our head. When you think about how many people are on, how many people have walked on, and how many will walk on this earth, it's unfathomable. That I matter that much to Him is just incredible. All He asks is that we acknowledge Jesus and don't deny Him. I'm all in!

Yes, being a Believer can be difficult. It's easy to surround myself with other Catholics and other Christians, but how many non-believers do we come into contact with every day? That person in the grocery store, the person in the car that we pass, the person we pass on our walks. There are many people we come across who we just don't know if they're believers or not. But we can make sure everyone knows we believe and don't deny Jesus by our actions and our words. Be kind to one another!




How Different Is This Easter?

Photo Credit
This Easter is like no other that any of us has experienced before. There is no Chrism Mass, no washing of the feet, no Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. With the Corona Virus Pandemic, Public Masses have ceased and Churches have locked their doors in an effort to keep people home.

The Adoration Chapel at my Parish was open until the Priest felt it necessary to close for our safety. Honestly, it felt like one more blow we took. First, no Precious Blood at Communion. Then, no Public Mass. Finally, no Eucharistic Adoration. It just isn't the same streaming Adoration over an electronic device. I was going by Church every morning to stream Mass and to say a Rosary to get away from distractions at home: the dogs, a snoring husband, and knowing my laptop was there waiting for me. I realize that Jesus is begging for us to give Him attention in our homes...not just in our Churches.

Easter is going to be so very quiet this year. The thought hit me like a brick a few weeks ago as I was at my Adoration Hour: How quiet was the first Easter? How close to that first Easter will this one mimic? Think about it: Once it was discovered that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, there was no celebrating in the streets. There were no ecstatic gatherings. No, the apostles hunkered down in a locked room by themselves. They were scared about what was going to happen next. Sound familiar? So many people are scared right now, not knowing what's going to happen next, not knowing how life is going to change.

My Parish Priest discussed the scripture that tells us how to pray: But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:6) Unfortunately, that is somewhat what we are doing now; however, groups are gathering through social media and other platforms, out in the open. What a beautiful thing that is, that people are finding a way around not being allowed in the Church to worship and grow in faith!

I see good things coming out of this pandemic: families are spending time together. I live next to a park, and don't recall ever seeing so many families taking advantage of the trails, fields, and benches. Not only that, but Jesus is coming into homes. The family is the domestic church, and we're being reminded of that.

When I look back over this Lent, I see how different this season turned out than what I thought it would be like. In the beginning, I asked God to give me a new heart, a new spirit that would allow Him to find me. I wanted to be able to not just say that I love God but to really mean it. I stream Mass to find my eyes filled with tears during the Consecration and I know that my heart has completely opened to Him. And I realize that my journey to Him is beginning.