Fonticulus Fides

Thursday, May 29, 2003

John over at Disputations was kind enough to comment on the whole patron saint feast day yesterday. He suggests some great ideas for St. Blog's Cookbook.


Ascension Day -- another awesome moment to remember and reflect on.

Mass today was awesome. We're in the downtown parish, and I ducked in for the noon Mass. It was packed -- they had to open the choir loft because folks were left standing in the back. The sanctuary itself seats about 600, but so many downtown workers stop in on Holy Days of Obligation, there's not quite enough room for everybody. I love it when church is full. All the parts that the people say just boom out, and I start to feel like I should, that I'm standing in worship with millions of people around the globe and throughout heaven, praising our Lord and Maker. Perfect!


Wow, I got some great feedback on observing patron saints' feast days. Thanks to everybody who has written so far. Pretty much everybody suggested going to Mass, but there were lots of other good ideas, too.

Jeff explained to me that, "There is nothing specifically recommended by the Church," so I guess that's why I haven’t been able to come up with much information on my own. Jeff sent some great suggestions: "Start a Novena to your patron saint prior to the feast day. Fast the day before. Do some reading on this saint in preparation."

Tom said, "I look forward to my saint's feast days first by being conscious of the date and looking forward to it a few days or week in advance…And of course I pray to my patron saint on his/her day. I also try to read some of the actual words of the saint on that - a sermon or some writings of some sort. It brings you into greater intimacy to read their actual words."

Alicia offered this insight: "In European Catholic culture, one's name day (Feast day of the patron st) was celebrated much as secular culture celebrates birthdays -- with a party, cake, and gifts... [M]aking a donation to the priest who says the mass (In honor of the saint) is also appropriate. Some would give a donation to some cause appropriate to the saint -- for example, a foundation helping the mentally ill for St Dymphna."

Another reader, Theresa, noted her family's European heritage, too: "We called those 'feast days' and the family had special dessert (no Jello). We were supposed to be able to stand up and say something about our patron." As an adult, Theresa commemorates her patron’s feast day in a similar fashion: "I treat her to some deliberate spiritual reading and praiseful prayer, and myself with an actual treat! Why change a good thing?" She also said, "I think treating ourselves and others on feast days is just another example God's love for us in a sensible and visible way. The Church is very good about recognizing that we are spirit and flesh united and we worship with all of it."

Alicia closed her note to me with this comment: "Isn't it tough to try to incorporate small t tradition into things? Not having been raised in Catholocism, it is the culture that is hard to grasp. The theology I got, and right away, but I am still stumbling over culture!" Ain't that the truth!!

Well, the first patron to appear on the calendar for our family is my husband’s, St. Columcille, June 9. I found these poems written by St. Columcille, and on this site (scroll down), a prayer to use for a novena the nine days leading up to the feast day. I also unearthed a story that St. Columcille was "fed a cake filled with letters of the alphabet" as a small boy, and that might have been what led him to surreptitiously copy the Vulgate so he could personally own a copy of Scripture. So now I'm trying to figure out how to pull off a "cake filled with letters" that my husband can take to work on June 9 for treating his co-workers.

So far, the best I've come up with is to make rice crispy treats with Alpha Bits cereal. (Do they even sell Alpha Bits any more?) But even though my husband is reasonably fond of rice crispy treats, I think I will have to try to do better than that.

Not that rice crispy treats are bad or anything. Hey, I'm a mom – I've found them to be about the most flexible treat out there. I've made them with cornflakes, dying the marshmallow stuff green & shaping them into Christmas wreaths. I’ve dyed the marshmallow stuff pastel colors and shaped them into Easter eggs. And during Zooey's volcano phase, I made them with Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Crispies and pressed them into a funnel, then used red fruit leather for the hot lava. (My husband thought those were a disaster, but Zooey and his friends got a kick out of them).

Hmmm…I was just moaning to my husband about how much I'd like to write a book, but I didn’t think I had anything to say. Maybe I can put out a pamphlet on the magic of marshmallows and cereal.

Just kidding. If you have more tips on patron saint feast days, or a recipe for a cake involving letters some how (alphabet noodles?), please send it to me at sparki777(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Okay, friends, help a new Catholic person out, will you?

Exactly what are one's options regarding one's patron saint's feast day? How are we to honor our patron saints on those particular days? Does one go to Mass? Make a special monetary offering? Try to do something the patron saint would have done if still languishing here on earth? Bake a "birthday" cake?

Seems like it would be a pity to do nothing but I'm not finding any sort of guidelines for what a person is to do. I'm sure somebody out there has some suggestions. Please e-mail them to me at sparki777 (at) yahoo (dot) com. I want to post them here in case there are other neophytes who are as hopelessly lost on the issue as I am.

Thanks in advance.


Friday, May 23, 2003

A little story about my 3-yr-old son, Zooey (rhymes with Huey, Dewey and Louie).

The other day, he was corrected for taking a toy away from the baby and instructed to wait until she gave it to him voluntarily. Being 3.5, this was not an easy thing for him. He attempted to say please, but the baby just smiled up at him and continued sucking on the item without a bit of concern for his eagerness. He tried to negotiate for my interference, thinking I could take the toy away if he couldn't, but I refused. That triggered some tears, and he threw himself on his bed, covered his head with his pillow and sobbed, "I don't want to cry! I don't want to be sad!"

Since I want him to face these little difficulties calmly, I started to say, "I don't want you to be sad, either..." But Zooey popped up on his knees and glowered at me, "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to God!" Then he dove under his pillow again to finish wrestling it out.

I was so pleased that Zooey thinks enough of God to want to turn to Him when he is feeling bad, I decided to help him out. As soon as he sat up again, I found another intriguing toy and made it dance on the floor until the baby dropped the one Zooey wanted and crawled over to give mine a taste. Then Zooey swept up the coveted toy and everybody was happy again.

The process of teaching Zooey to wait his turn cheerfully is far from over, but seems like he's already learning that God cares about him, and I'm so glad for that. It's something I never had as a child.


I recently heard from Becky, another new convert, regarding prayer:

What you said about prayer today really resonated with me. As a Lutheran, I found that "free-form" prayer quickly turned into "whenever I feel like it" prayer, which rapidly degenerated into practically nothing. … Now that I'm in the Catholic Church, I'm learning to pray parts of the Liturgy of the Hours, and I find it very helpful, both because it gives me a firm structure and because I know I'm praying with the Church all over the world."

This is so interesting to me, because so many people I know who have become Catholic after being Protestant say the same thing about relying on the structure. I haven't looked into the Liturgy of Hours yet myself. I have a Russian Orthodox prayer book and an Anglican Book of Common Prayer -- I imagine it's high time I invested in a Catholic version. If anybody has any recommendations, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks for writing, Becky!


Okay, back to some of the topics I've been wanting to talk about…

Davey's Mommy was kind enough to drop me a line last Sunday regarding my post about holiness and point me toward this informative site about St. Therese of Lisieux. I haven't yet studied the lives of many saints, including the more well-known ones like St. Therese, so I am very appreciative of the direction.

As Davey’'s Mommy pointed out to me, there's a great quote on that page that directly ties into what I was mulling over:

"St Therese translated 'the little way' in terms of a commitment to the tasks and to the people we meet in our everyday lives. She took her assignments in the convent of Lisieux as ways of manifesting her love for God and for others. She worked as a sacristan by taking care of the altar and the chapel; she served in the refectory and in the laundry room; she wrote plays for the entertainment of the community."

Then Davey's Mommy noted, 'It's like as a nun she really did become a 'spiritual [and sort of temporal!] mother' to those around her."

It sure does. And this was a big help for me. I find my attitude about the mundane and sometimes icky parts of motherhood is improving a bit. I hope that's a permanent trend. I want my kids to remember me as a happy and loving mom, not one who grumbled her way through a diaper change or sighed every time she was asked to do something only a 3-year-old would consider fun...

Thanks, Davey's Mommy, for the great input.


Thursday, May 22, 2003

I have so much I want to blog about and so little time these days!

Thank you so much to all who have been praying for me. I have been so much calmer as the challenge I mentioned earlier has manifested into a sure thing, rather than a possibility. But it's going to be great, and I wanted you all to know that the attitude change I was seeking has happened.

Something else, as briefly as I can. I have been saying, "I believe in...the communion of Saints..." for a while now, but I was saying that "on faith" as they would put it in pentecostal circles. Meaning that I wanted to believe it and I was operating on the assumption that it was true, but I knew my feelings/opinions/experience still were pretty unformed on that particular issue.

While facing the situation I'm in right now, I have particularly sought the prayers of a number of Saints, including the Holy Mother and St. Joseph. This is a new thing for me, and like I said, my feelings about it have been pretty nebulous. But I felt like it was an allowable privilege for me to seek the intercession of these Saints, and I needed all the help I could get, so I did it.

I think I had this notion of, for example, Mary in Heaven praying something like, "Help all the people with X problem...all the women with Y problem...all the people seeking Z..." and so on. Like praying for us in categories, you know? And then, last night I had this sense of...well, it's kind of hard to describe. It was almost like somewhere in my peripheral vision I could sort of see a door to Heaven open, and the Glory streaming out. And there in the doorway was Mary and Joseph and two of the other Saints I was praying to, and I knew that they were praying for me, but exactly me, not just me in a category with a whole bunch of other people who are facing the same sort of thing.

Please don’t think I'm a nutcase or some freak who has illusions of becoming some sort of mystic. I only phrased things this way because it was the best way to explain the experience -- it's not exactly how it was, but I ca'’t come up with any other way to describe it.

I accept this event, whatever it was, as a gift. I think it helped resolve a main misconception I had about what the intercession of Saints really means. It's hard to fathom a Saintly person in heaven actually caring or having time enough to pray for me and my little struggles specifically, but now I really believe they do. It's brought me an enormous sense of comfort and relief, and it was really the catalyst that helped me see that I was being helped to the attitude I knew was correct. I am full of joy and thanksgiving today because of it.

I'm sorry, I really must sign off right now. I'll be back as soon as I can.


Tuesday, May 20, 2003

More thoughts on holiness to come soon, plus excellent reader insight, as soon as I have time.

I was up between about 4-5:30 a.m. today, agonizing in prayer about a pending challenge. I know I should look at the situation as a blessing, but I'm having trouble feeling that way. And then when I got up & was praying my Rosary this a.m., of course it was the Sorrowful Mysteries today and I was sitting there thinking, no matter how much I "agonized" in prayer during the wee hours, it was nothing compared to how Christ agonized in the Garden. No matter how I feel beaten down by the circumstances of my life, it was nothing compared to what Christ went through as He was scourged at the pillar. And so on. Sure makes it hard to feel sorry for yourself when you face the Christ and His sacrifice on a constant basis. I guess I should meditate on these things more.

I'll try to find time for more blogging today. In the mean time, if you're reading this, please pray for me regarding this challenge, which I honestly think I can't handle right now, even though I know that God never gives us more than we can bear.


Sunday, May 18, 2003

A week ago, on Mother's Day, a Texas woman called 911 and reported that she'd just killed her children. Stories like this just break your heart...

But there was something especially sinister about this particular case. The woman said she'd murdered her two beautiful boys, ages 8 and 6 (and seriously injured her 14-month-old son) because "God told her to."

As soon as I heard this, I couldn't breathe for a few seconds. Because I had a feeling this woman was part of the same circle of churches I used to belong to, the ones I've blogged about before that are involved in a "spiritual movement" that is highly suspect. And today, when I read about the funeral of those little boys, it was confirmed -- same denomination.

Oh, it's entirely possible that her particular fellowship had rejected the "movement" I recounted here. But I tend to doubt it. In the first place, God just doesn't tell women to stone their babies. In the second, you have to be quite bewildered to confuse a voice saying, "Kill your children," with the one who said, "Take, eat, this is My Body..." But that's the kind of thing that happens when you are taught to turn off that "still small voice" within that's raising a red flag, when you are encouraged to open yourself up to "anything."

This woman needs deliverance. And probably so do a whole lot of other people who were sharing her spiritual pursuit. Pray, please pray for these misguided souls. And for all three boys, the one who remains in critical condition, and the two that died at the hands of the woman they loved and trusted more than any other person on earth.


Friday, May 16, 2003

Holiness seems to be the theme of the week.

I managed to get to noon Mass yesterday, and Fr. Kubat's brief message was all about holiness. He reminded us that holiness isn't simply the pursuit of saints and those in religious orders. We're all called to holiness. In fact, Fr. Kubat noted, "God wills that all of us be saints."

I've been thinking about that a lot. As I returned to the pew, feeling the Bread of Life melting into me, there was an almost tangible surge of...of...well, I don’t know exactly how to describe it. Hope, maybe, is the best word. Hope that the Lord is changing me through this Sacrament. Hope that I am on my way to becoming the person He intended me to be all along.

It can be discouraging to compare my life as it is today to what I imagine it ought to be -- as far as exhibiting the "fruits of the Spirit" (Galations 5:22) and being a good example of Christ to others. I always have to remind myself to take stock in how far I've come already. Knowing Christ these 14 years has worked a profound change in me already. So even though I'm a long way from holiness, I just have to accept the fact I just had a really, really, really long way to go when I got started.

Many times, it's hard to see how the life I am living is any sort of holy vocation. Vocation -- that's a word I've been mulling over, and I'm not entirely sure I understand it in a Catholic context. I know that there are religious vocations, like the priesthood. I know that marriage and parenthood are vocations, so both of those would apply to me. It's just kind of strange sometimes to think how the mundane minutes of my existence could be a vocation at all. To me, it's just wiping up droplets of juice from the floor, sweeping up Cheerios® from the four corners of the universe, reminding my son for the 4,362nd time not to push his Tonka® dump truck through the kitchen at breakneck speeds, and taking way too much time to write stuff that pretty much sounds like incoherent mumbling when it's all said and done.

In fact, sometimes the tasks that take up most of my time seem far too annoyingto be holy at all! I was pulling a load of bibs, placemats and napkins out of the dryer the other day. The Velcro® on the bibs had come undone in the wash -- like it always does -- causing everything to attach itself to everything else in a big haphazard mess, and my first thought was that Velcro must have been invented simply to tempt people to curse. But then this ridiculous image popped in my head of a little red creature with a pitchfork hopping around, sprinkling Velco over the earth and grunting, "Take that, you disgusting mortals!" I laughed and soothed my frustration with the memory that Velcro was actually invented by a regular guy, and it's not his fault that cheaper versions are stitched onto baby bibs.

See what I mean about the mundane stuff not looking very much like a vocation? Well, more to think about there. But to get back to the issue of holiness itself...

I have to say that pursuing holiness seems to be easier in the Catholic faith than it ever was when I was Protestant. The Eucharist is a big one -- you have this conscious sense that it's Jesus, really Jesus, the Risen Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer coming into your person. That is so much more powerful than helping yourself to a hunk of bread and a few sips of grape juice, as mere symbols of the Last Supper and Christ's Sacrifice for us.

Prayer is completely different for me, too. In the Protestant church I first attended, you were supposed to "wing it" with your prayers, being careful not to fall into "vain repetition" by repeating somebody else, or even yourself (at least, that's what I thought for a long time. I figured out later that everybody repeated themselves all the time).

I was often at a complete loss of words, knowing I should pray but not knowing quite how. I've found the Rosary to alleviate that anxiety entirely. Also various prayers that you use in the Catholic life, like the Act of Contrition. I may not know how to pray in every possible way, but at least I have these structured and comprehensive prayers to rely on. It's such a comfort to me.

Well, as always, I know there is much more to these issues. So much to learn! Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I know, I know, I still haven't got comments capability. I just haven't had the time to pursue it. My apologies. But please feel free to write me at sparki777 (at) yahoo (dot) com. I'll post comments here as they apply (with your permission, of course).


It occurred to me that much of what I wrote yesterday about turning away from original sin and pursuing holiness are themes on my husband's 1999 album, Sol. You can listen to "My Old Man" and "Deepness" for free here. And the song "Absolution" is good, too -- just remember it was written during our pre-Catholic years.


Monday, May 12, 2003

Regarding my long post from last Thursday, Jeff wrote:

"Especially interesting was your insight that even though more people were attending there were less people in service to others.

This of course also happens in the Catholic Church where people go chasing after alleged apparitions and not to the protection of life or the service of the poor."

I agreed immediately as soon as I read this. And it got me wondering, what is it that makes people operate like this? What happened at that church I used to go to seven years ago that made people crazy for what I would call an injection of false power? Why is it that some of their Catholic counterparts neglect the basic obligations of the faith in favor of things that only offer the semblance of holiness?

Jeff speculates, "There might be a doubting Thomas element of people trying to prove their faith through the personal observance of the miraculous."

I can see that. I think, indeed, in some cases, people are more susceptible to these sorts of things. Can't you just picture them saying, "If only I witnessed a miracle, then I would never doubt again." Or, "If only I felt a touch from God, my life would be changed forever and I would never have trouble living out my faith again."

But that begets another question. Aren't these people just on a quest for holiness? They want more faith, they want more of God's influence on their lives. That's what I want, too. I want to shrug the "old man" and live a pure and holy life. That's what the Saints wanted, too. And isn't the Holy Spirit constantly calling us to greater holiness?

The quest for holiness in and of itself can't be wrong. So why does it go wrong for some people?

I can't speak for the Catholic folks Jeff mentioned, who "chase after alleged apparitions." I don't know any Catholics like that right now. All I can do is testify as to what I witnessed in that protestant church-gone-haywire I blogged about. And in that particular situation, the prevailing sense you got from people was, "Me, me, me!"

Back there, people would have done anything to "get the power." They crowded into the church building every day a service was offered. They stood in long lines at the altar. Some went through all the motions of having received "the blessing," willing it to be true even if it wasn't in the hopes of making it happen somehow. As the emotional frenzy heightened (carefully orchestrated, I might add, through choice of music, increased volume and what not), they became more and more desperate. Sometimes, people would push others out of the way as they clamored for a touch from whoever was leading the service. An unwritten hierarchy formed, with the people who had received supernatural signs elevated to the top, and that led to what I can only call a competition among the congregation. People starting judging others based on how much, how often the "blessing" had been evident in that person's life. You started to hear people saying, "If he was touched that way, then I'm long overdue." And, "I'm getting it today. I'm not leaving without receiving the 'blessing'."

I believe these poor, frantic people started opening themselves up to "Anything." And "Anything" can have sinister consequences.

But that didn't matter to them. They needed the power. They needed something magnificent to happen to them, and they no longer cared where it came from. "Me, me, me!" they begged.

They wanted all the power without any the personal sacrifice. And certainly no submission to God. They wanted to command the Holy Spirit where and when to operate. They wanted to have the power to heal, the power to impart faith, the power to see the future and prophesy. They wanted to be equal to God.

Just like Eve. Just like Adam.

Original sin still dogs us all. If we don't turn our backs on original sin, we can't pursue holiness -- it's just impossible. If you try to gain holiness without turning away from original sin, you get a twisted falsehood.

God calls us to holiness. Christ died to make it possible. The Holy Spirit indwells us to guide and protect us. And the key between true holiness and the false bastardization of it is always to humble ourselves and to serve God and our fellow human beings. To make ourselves nothing like Christ made Himself nothing by taking on all our sin at Calvary.

Siiiigh. I have a really long way to go.


Drought Update

My husband thinks I'm starting to sound like Wendell Berry on all this, but I guess that's not such a bad thing. Anyway, for anybody who is interested, I talked drought over drought conditions with my father-in-law yesterday.

He said the recent rains were really helpful, and the top part of the soil is back to normal. It's just the depths that are still hurting. He'd uprooted something or other, and he said the top two-thirds of the rootball were moist, but the bottom third is dry. I asked him how much moisture we'd need to wet the ground deep enough for the corn to do well (3 feet minimum), and he estimated at least 24 inches of rain on top of what would be normal for the year -- you have to take into account evaporation and what the seedlings are using up, of course. And that 24 inches has to come slowly. If it all came at once, there would be a flood and lots of run-off and it wouldn't soak into the ground the way it needs to. So we still need rain, slow rain, and I hope anybody reading this will kindly say a prayer regarding that important issue.

P.S. I'm adding a weather pixie to keep track of the weather around here. I couldn't find a pixie that looked like me (what -- no mom-types with chin-length brown curly hair??), but I did find one that kinda looks like what I would want to look like, if I was still single & childless in my 20s. Good thing those days are over!

Sunday, May 11 -- Mother's Day

Mother's Day greetings and blessings to all those moms out there!

My own Mother's Day coincided with, unfortunately, a grumpy baby who is working on another tooth, a husband with a migraine, laundry to do, and the biennial ant infestation in my kitchen.

Two years ago when the ants showed up, I thought it was due to my clumsy housekeeping skills, being a new homeowner with lots more to keep track of than I was used to. Then the issue made the six o'clock news. Turns out when conditions are just so (rainy spring after drought year), these little black creepies start invading people's homes. So it's not just me -- almost everybody who lives around here is dealing with the same problem.

They first reared their ugly heads on Saturday. We bought some ant bait ("Kills the queen!") and my husband helped me clean out the cupboard under the sink where we think the buggers are coming from and thoroughly scrub everything down with bleach. Then we set the traps and went about our business. The stuff is supposed to start working "in 24 hours!"

I should know better than to trust anything written by some marketing guru. I came down Sunday morning and killed a bunch of ants who must have chosen to ignore the traps. But then, it hadn't been 24 hours yet, so I thought I should give it a little more time. I was really only worried about it because I had a cake to bake -- Monday is my sponsor's birthday, and I wanted to send something nice over to her family. But working in an anty kitchen -- bleh!

After Mass, we were going to head out to the farm to see my husband's folks, but the poor man started coming down with a migraine. He took some medicine and tried to lie still while I got the gift, the children, and the dog ready to go. Then he huddled in the passenger seat, trying to block out the sun while I drove. He was a lot better by the time we got there (it's about an hour drive), and an hour after that he was back to normal. Good thing he took the meds early on -- it wasn't so bad this time.

We had a little lunch and gave Grandma the garden bell I'd helped the kids make -- decorated with butterfly wings made out of their footprints, and thumbprint bumblebees. We didn't stay long, but it was a nice visit. The dog ran around chasing pigeons and squirrels, and we all got some fresh air.

My husband and children gave me a sweet Mother's Day card and Michael Dubriel's book, Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Fulton J. Sheen. It looks really good -- I can't wait to read it.

After dinner, the ant problem seemed to have diminished enough for me to work on the birthday cake, so I started on that. But the sobbing teething baby wanted to be held, and she wanted to be held only by me. So it was a juggling act between the mixer, my 3-yr-old's insistence on "helping," comforting the baby, comforting my husband as he tried to comfort the baby so I could work on the cake, and washing dishes as I went along so as not to attract more ants. Oh, and running down to the basement to tend to laundry every now and then.

Typical mom things, I guess. Just what a Mother's Day should be. :-)


Friday, May 09, 2003

Giving the Friday Five a shot:

1. Would you consider yourself an organized person? Why or why not? Semi-organized. I have things organized in my head, but I don't have consistent systems for everything. For example, my kitchen cupboards are well-organized, but my pantry is not. My husband would say my clothes aren't organized at all, but they are in my head.

2. Do you keep some type of planner, organizer, calendar, etc. with you, and do you use it regularly? It's not with me at all times, but I do keep a planning calander & track lots of things with it. Not as well as I would like to, but well enough.

3. Would you say that your desk is organized right now?Not even close. Too busy to keep up on it these days.

4. Do you alphabetize CDs, books, and DVDs, or does it not matter?If it were only up to me, I'd alphabetize. But my husband groups things by category, and even though we've been married for almost 9 years, I've yet to master his categories. I have to hunt for stuff, or ask him. He almost always knows exactly where the books & CDs are.

5. What's the hardest thing you've ever had to organize?My cleaning schedule. Still not very good at it, and since I've been particularly busy lately, I have lost a lot of ground. Other than that, I used to work for this very nice lady at our local performing arts hall. She sold ads in the programme, and she had all her files set up according to who she went to high school with, who had been friends with her husband, who was battling a chronic illness, etc. I could never find files when I needed them, so I alphabetized everything, and she was astonished -- she'd never thought of doing such a thing!

Will try to get on and blog a bit tomorrow, but I may not get back until Monday. Stuff swimming around in my head, trying to work itself out...

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, May 08, 2003

Just saw this lovely prayer over at HMS Blog, one that is recommended to say during consecration of the Eucharist. It is perfectly appropriate and devine, and I intend to commit it to memory.

I wish, my Lord, to receive You
With the purity, humility and devotion
With which Your most holy mother received You,
With the spirit and fervor of the saints.

That's it exactly!


Okay -- the post that is immediately below this one is not meant to offend anybody. I put it up because it's part of the life I've lived. If you are offended, please, please, please let me know and I'll scale it back. Just drop me a line at sparki777 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

So, back to the "fun" church I attended when I first came to believe in God. This is my take on it, and it is very likely too narrow of a point-of-view to be completely accurate. But for what it's worth…

Like I said before, I honestly believe that this was the place I needed to be in the beginning. I learned something about worship and prayer and Bible study (although I have to say I gained more on that last point by participating in the inter-denominational Bible Study Fellowship program). I learned the need to serve the church. And I met and married my husband. All that was good. And then something terrible happened.

Actually, a series of terrible things happened. First, the pastor's wife died after suffering a very painful form of cancer for 13 years. Losing her did not shake my faith, or that of most of the other people who went to the church. But it was a big loss for our pastor, who had relied on his wife's perspective to a great extent as he lead the congregation. Simultaneously, a new assistant pastor was hired, one who had left a flashy corporate job to become a preacher…but unfortunately hadn't left behind his ambitious nature. He had plans for the church, big plans. And then, after a time, the widowed senior pastor met a very nice widowed lady and they were married. But the second wife didn't have quite the same goals for the church as the first. The second wife had big plans for her new husband. And gradually, the prevailing attitude of the church shifted from humble, "y'all welcome" to "Look how great this church is, and look how great the senior pastor is."

The new assistant pastor started new programs designed to increase the number of people who would attend the church. Loans were taken out to put the church "on the cutting edge" -- and previously, the church had been debt-free. They started talking about building a new sanctuary that was more "user friendly." The new wife started talking about having a men's clothing store provide suits for the pastor, with appropriate acknowledgement in the church bulletin, of course.

The senior pastor started writing articles that were published in denominational magazines. He was elected to the executive presbytery of the denomination, just about the highest-ranking position available to him. He stopped doing weddings and funerals and personal counseling sessions because he was too busy. More staff was hired to take on the load.

Then another factor came into play.

There was a movement within the denomination to which this church belonged. Reports came from the south that it was like the old revival days. People were being overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit. People were being healed. People were being saved in record numbers. Crime rates were dropping in the area around one particular church where the phenomenon was taking place.

As one of the executive presbyters, our senior pastor had to investigate. Enthralled, he brought the movement back to the church. The first time I remember him speaking of it during a Sunday service, his comments were frequently interrupted by people laughing. Not laughing at him -- this was supposed to be "holy laughter" from the Holy Spirit. It was distracting to say the least. Two visitors to the church were sitting near us, and they got up and left. My husband and I looked at each other in wonder.

The church started hosting nightly services from Wednesday through Sunday, where people could learn about and receive the "blessing." People from all over the city turned out for it.

I was interested. I went to every service I could attend. I saw people fall on the floor, laugh uncontrollably. They moved all the chairs out of the way so there was more room for people to fall down "under the power." Some folks would lay there for hours, saying their bodies felt so heavy, they couldn't move. It was chaos.

And there was something else fishy about all of this. You would have had to be on staff to know all of it, and I was. More people were coming to the church, yes, but fewer people were serving. I walked into the church nursery one evening during one of those services and found one person trying to keep track of more than a dozen babies and toddlers, many of whom were crying. Their parents had been paged but hadn't shown up. I pitched in to help, wondering what had happened to the long list of volunteers we usually relied on.

They were all in the sanctuary, trying to get the power. Along with the parents, who forgot to bring enough food and diapers for their children and didn't care how long their babies stayed in the care of others.

I never got "the power." I was willing -- I told God sincerely that whatever He wanted for me, I would accept. But no laughter, no falling down, none of that stuff ever happened to me. I even went to a special prayer gathering for women to meet a speaker from Australia. The "blessing" apparently flowed out of this woman into every person she touched. She put her hands on either side of my head and started praying...then commanding me to fall down. But my knees weren't weak, and I didn't feel any move of the Holy Spirit putting me on the floor. I waited and prayed, telling God I was willing. The speaker persisted, tilting my head back, back, back, trying to get me off balance enough to fall. I didn't fall. I was still steady, although it was hard to breathe. I finally shook my head away from her grip and tilted it upright again. She didn't know what to say, but, stammering, she told me to keep seeking "It."

It never happened. My husband and I grew increasingly suspicious. We searched the Scriptures. We prayed, we studied. I looked the whole "blessing" thing up on the Internet and was aghast at some of the things I read. "...laughter gave way to animal sounds until the sanctuary sounded like a petting zoo...women going through the pains of childbirth, their modesty protected only by the crowd of women who stood around them as spiritual midwives...marriages breaking up...children confused and teenagers turning to Satan worship..."

Of course, I couldn't imagine things getting so bad at my church that this sort of stuff would occur. And then...and then, it started to happen. A man took the worship leader's microphone and started singing about pigs. A woman received a "prophecy" that bald men would grow hair. Another woman delivered a "prophecy" on her tambourine, which nobody could interpret. A man encouraged people to growl like lions. A young woman standing near me collapsed on the floor and started going through the pains of childbirth -- and she wasn't pregnant.

Worst of all was one particular sermon that my husband and I will never forget. The senior pastor went up to the podium and said, "If you hear a small voice inside telling you that these things are not right, you need to turn that voice off."

A pastor of a Charismatic denomination, telling people not to listen to that still small voice within, the one we had been taught was the voice of the Holy Spirit Himself!

We agonized. We studied. We prayed. We sat down with the pastor to talk and ended the conversation still unconvinced. And finally, we left.

At that point, we were not in very good shape. We second-guessed everything. We felt comfortable no where. We didn’t trust anybody.

Thank God for liturgy!

In liturgy, we had the comfort of hearing the Word of God read from the Bible, and we knew it was the Word of God because there had been many, many centuries of Christianity to prove that these words bore "good fruit" -- the one test we had left that we felt we could count on.

In liturgy, we had the comfort of knowing that millions of other people had gathered to hear the same words, delivered in the same way, ever since the beginning of Christianity. There wasn't any "new work" going on -- it was the same, wonderful, holy Work that Christ had wrought on the Cross so long ago.

We attended an English-speaking Russian Orthodox church for a while, but that didn't seem to be a good fit for us. We landed in an Anglican church -- a small group of people, all "refugees" from various denominations. The priest was a former Southern Baptist. The deacon came from Evangelical Lutherans. We took our seats among former Episcopalians who saw their church take on a politically left agenda, former Methodists who wanted something more than the "feel good" sermons they had been getting, and so on. We learned a whole new way to worship the Lord that felt safe and holy. And we waited for God to show us what would be the next thing.


Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Alicia has blogged some great thoughts for moms today and yesterday. Please take a look, whether you're a mom or not.

--Sparki seemed like everybody else in St. Blog's was taking this quiz, so I figured I'd give it a shot, too.

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Extreme
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful)Moderate
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Very Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Moderate
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Very Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Monday, May 05, 2003

I talked to an old friend of mine this afternoon, a fundamentalist Christian. She's been out of the country for six months, and when she asked what was new, I told her that my husband and I had joined the Catholic Church.

I'm sure I surprised her. There really wasn't any way for her to have known how close we were to doing this before she left last fall. But she's well-practiced at evangelizing Catholics, so after a little hemming and hawing while she collected her thoughts, she brought out a couple of the arguments she has with the Church.

"Well, you don't believe all that about Mary, do you?"

I wasn't quite sure how to answer that, so I said, "What do you mean? I think we both agree that she gave birth to Jesus."

"Yes, but you don't believe that whole 'Mother of God' thing, do you?"

"I believe that Jesus is God, don't you?"


"Well...Jesus has a mother."

She changed the subject, bringing up transubstantiation. I was a little surprised myself how passionately I feel about this one. I told her that I totally believed in transubstantiantion, and that receiving the True Body and Blood was already a life-changing experience. "The Bread of Life," I exclaimed. "Really, spiritual life!"

She ended this part of the conversation by saying that she really did believe there would be a whole lot of Catholics in heaven, and citing a few Catholic people she knew whom she considered really good Christians, including my sponsor.

It made me smile. Because I remember saying things like that, too. And also becaue I'd been dreading telling this particular person, and all in all, it went quite well.

A while back, I blogged a little about the "fun" Protestant church I used to attend when I first realized that God was real. It was situated in one of those pre-fab steel buildings, and the sanctuary was a large room with grey indoor-outdoor carpeting and movable dais units that they stacked up to make an altar on Sunday. There was a quilt on the wall behind the altar that had a plain, geometric cross worked into it, and there were five banners on either side, hanging from the exposed rafters. No pews, but there were hundreds of molded plastic chairs, which could be either set up in a semi-circle for Sunday services, or stacked and stowed away so that the area could be used for carnivals, youth sleep-ins, and other functions.

In other words, it was a significantly casual environment. In fact, the name of the church even had a "Joe's Bar and Grill" feel to it. I used to work in the office on Saturdays, and every once in a great while, somebody would wander in, thinking it was a restaurant, or maybe a dance hall.

This was all by design, of course. The pastor and his wife, when they founded the church in the 1970s, wanted people to feel that Christ was perfectly accessible to them. They cultivated a "come as you are" vibe in an effort to show people that they didn’t have to shape up in order to become Christians -- Jesus would meet them as they were, "warts and all." Which brings to mind an old Scottish hymn that Julie Miller sang on one of her earlier albums:

Come ye weary, heavy laden
Bruised and mangled by the Fall
If you tarry till you're better
You will never come at all.

In my early days as a Christian, I felt that this was the only way to go. The atmosphere made one feel comfortable right away. There were few occasions to feel awkward -- you walked in, found a chair, and the band started to play. Maybe you sat and listened, maybe you stood and clapped along with the crowd. Maybe you swayed and sang at the top of your lungs (it was so loud in there, it's not like anybody would notice if you were a little off). There were no prayers to memorize, no prescribed times to kneel, no ancient gestures to make. You didn't even have to follow along in a hymnal or prayer book -- the words to the songs were shown on a big movie screen via overhead projector. It took very little effort to join in the worship services at this church, and you certainly didn't have to become something other than what you already were to participate.

Even now, having journeyed to the Catholic faith, I look back on those days and I think, yes, that was exactly the place I needed to be at that time. If Christianity had included rules and regulations and behaving just so, I would have given up in short order. After years of thinking there was no God, no eternity, no help and no hope, I was only capable of grasping one truth at a time. And the first Truth that God made sure would be cemented in my mind from that point on was that He loved me, He wanted me and He had sent Christ to die for me in order to bring me to Him.

Maybe for a person who has grown up always knowing this, it seems ridiculous that a grown woman (I was 24 at the time) would need such simple assurance. But it's not unlike the experience that deaf or hearing impaired people go through when they receive a cochlear implant that enables them to hear. They return home and discover that refrigerator hums or that the pipes whistle when they first turn on the shower, and they almost can't make sense of it. They have to return to that sound, over and over again until their brain can accept the truth of it.

And that's what learning about God was like for me in the beginning. So I'm really grateful that out of all the places He could have brought me to in those early days, He led me to the "Come As You Are" church. He knew there was time for me to learn more later.

Now I stand as if in the entryway to a huge mansion, the Catholic Church. I've had a quick tour, but I know there are a great many things yet to explore. The richness to this Faith is more than I had ever thought possible, and I am alternately eager to see what's next and contented with just getting to know the basics better. Either way, I trust God that I'll be in a good place.


Friday, May 02, 2003

Yawwwwwn. Is there a patron saint for mothers of sleepless babies? Or sleepless babies themselves?

The baby is in one of those odd can't-sleep stages that happen every now and again. Usually in connection with some sort of developmental advancement. She's so busy climbing stairs and cruising furniture and trying to vocalize, she doesn't want to rest. Naps are fitful and short. And my little cuddle-bug who stayed down for a good 9 or 10 hours straight at night can no longer bear to sleep for more than two before she wakes up bucking and kicking and raring to go. I don't let her get up and play because I'm trying to encourage quiet and rest all night long, but she needs a little nursing or back massage or something like that until she dozes off again. Otherwise, she'd wake everybody up instead of just me.

Three nights in a row now...or is it four? It can't last much longer, these things rarely do.

I remember when she was only three months old, and she was going through a growth spurt and nursing every hour and a half or two hours, day and night. That was much worse for me than this. I was downtown running a couple errands one of those days, and I thought a little sugar rush would give me an energy boost, so I stopped in a cookie shop for an oatmeal scotchie. On the way out, I couldn’t open the door, which was clearly labled PUSH. "I am pushing!" I stormed...all the while pulling on the door. Boy, was I tired!

Well, it will change again soon, I know. Just when I've adjusted to taking a series of naps all night instead of sleeping straight through. She's worth it, so I really don't mind all that much.

I hope God feels the same way about me when I'm in one of my needy states!


Thursday, May 01, 2003

It's the first day of May, which is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. And that brings up two different issues for me as a new Catholic.

The first is the different -- I don't know what you call it! Personalities of Saints, maybe? Like the way there are different feast days or iconographic representations of the same Saint. I remember asking my sponsor about this seven or eight years ago, long before I considered the possibility of conversion. Why isn-t it always just Saint Mary? Why is there also Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Perpetual Help and more titles, and why are each one of these titles for Mary so definitive, it's almost like there are multiple people we're talking about.

My sponsor did her best to explain, but I still have trouble grasping this concept. I can understand how I am mother to my kids, wife to my husband, daughter to my parents, etc., and how each one of these relationships brings forth different aspects of my personality. But I'm still a mom when I'm talking to my mom -- I'm not just a daughter in that context. And in some ways, it seems like Saints are so much more in heaven that they would have even less definition between the different aspects of their personalities.

But maybe that's the point. Maybe the different representations of Mary and other saints are a way of showing how much more they have become in the very Presence of God?

Oh, I just don’t know enough words to explain all this very well. If I'm not making myself clear on that issue, feel free to ignore me.

On to the second item, which is prayers to Saints (again – I promise I won't always return to this issue, but remember, I come from a fundamentalist Protestant thing so it's still very new to me.)

Because St. Joseph is also the patron saint of fathers and because of the whole "Worker" part of today's feast day, I have been trying to pray for my husband more than usual today, and – awkward as it is – seeking St. Joseph's intercession on his behalf. You see, for multiple reasons, my husband would very much like a different job. And it seems like a good day to be asking for these things in particular. Or are you supposed to give Saints a "day off" on their feast days and not ask for anything? Hmmm. Hadn't thought about that until this very second.

Well, faux pas or not, that's what I’ve been doing today. I went to this site yesterday to get a couple prayers to St. Joseph regarding working and vocations, and I’ve prayed them on behalf of my husband. Still feels awkward. I just don’t know if I’m doing this right or not, or overstepping the bounds of my privilege or what.

I try to have faith that my prayers will be answered. It’s not that I don’t think I’m being heard. It’s more a matter of wondering if what I am praying for is within God’s Will. Because I don’t think that God answers prayers in any way other than within His Will.

Last year, when we were just beginning the process to join the Catholic Church, my husband’s brother had been out of work for some time. It occurred to me then that he could use some saintly intercession, so I took it upon myself to ask for some. I looked up saints who are patrons of workers and the unemployed and thought it best to seek the prayers of St. Joseph (fathers and workers) and St. Cajetan (unemployed people). My brother-in-law had very specific career goals in mind, so I asked that these two Saints pray for him, that he would get the particular kind of job he wanted.

His phone rang the very next day. I am not kidding. And it was the employer that he really wanted to work for. And it was the job he wanted.

Pretty cool, huh? I was all excited and getting ready to tell my somewhat-anti-Catholic brother-in-law about this, but I decided to wait until the final negotiations were complete and the job was his.

And then things got complicated. The end of the year came and the prospective employer somehow decided he didn’t have funding to hire my brother-in-law after all.

My initial reaction was, "Whew, good thing I never said anything about the intercession of Saints!" And then I thought that maybe this wasn’t the right job for my brother-in-law, and there was something better for him out there.

Days dragged into weeks, then months. And like any other person with next to no patience, I cut back on my prayers for intercession, from daily to just once a week during Mass.

Some weeks ago, my brother-in-law’s phone finally rang again. Same employer, still eager to hire him. This time, it was for a lesser position, but it came with the promise that he’d move up as soon as it was possible. My brother-in-law has been happily employed now for about six weeks.

So, do I tell him about my asking St. Joseph and St. Cajetan to pray for him? Is there an explanation for why it didn’t happen right away? Would I be better off keeping my mouth shut?

Siiiiiiigh. At least my husband is Catholic now. So I know he’s not going to mind me asking for St. Joseph’s intercession for him one little bit.