Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reading Glasses and Tears

This past weekend, Ken picked up some reading glasses and I cried. Not because he looked awful ~ quite the opposite! ~ but because it hit me harder than usual that we really are growing old together. I wondered if he would be sad or grumpy or have existential angst at the solid proof that his body is doing weird, old things, but he didn't seem to be anything other than thrilled that reading was much easier.

Now I believe him more when he tells me that he thinks my graying hair is pretty and that my laugh lines and concentrating wrinkles warm his heart. We're coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary full of happiness, glasses and gray notwithstanding! I still cry, but it's all right.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Give Drink to the Thirsty

Our Frontiersman newspaper printed this article of mine last Tuesday and I've been thinking about it for days. You see, I've never actually done what I've written that we could do (Give drink to the thirsty and give food to the hungry). I'm sort of afraid of homeless people asking for food, money, and jobs. I'm also sort of mad at them. I know that it doesn't matter, that mercy given is mercy given, period. So I've added "case of bottled water" and "huge box of granola bars" to my husband's weekly Sam's Club list. I'm going to try. 

“Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick or in prison and come to You? And the King will say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’.” (Matthew 25:3-40)
Although enlivened by God’s love, dignified by prayer, and sanctified by Jesus’ spiritual presence, these corporal works of mercy are raw, earthy and physical. Easing the bodily distress of another human being can be discomfiting, but we dare not shrink from solidarity with our sisters and brothers on the journey.
Jesus visited with mean, messy and mixed-up people. He dried tears, shared meals, addressed problems, and performed miracles.
He was grabbed, sat upon, leaned on and questioned. He gave and gave and gave. His love had active hands. We are to follow him, offering up our hands as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1) as we reach out to others with tangible mercy.
Human mercy is an expression of divine mercy and is demonstrated by compassion and patience. At every Mass we pray, “Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.” And we are to extend that mercy to others not as holier-than-thou, but as fellow receivers of mercy.
We’ve been discussing and memorizing the corporal works of mercy with our children, and all but one seem obvious: give drink to the thirsty. Why is this one separate from giving food to the hungry? Is it just poetry? Who needs water today? A brief peek at the UN's informational page can answer that with shocking clarity.
Give drink to the thirsty. How can we practice this? In our country, water is free and so accessible that we play in it, take it for granted, and sadly, even waste it.
It is pumped directly into our homes into two or more receptacles. There is neither a shortage of water nor of corporate competitors marketing different brands of water to us. We have sophisticated filtration systems and storage facilities and more bodies of water than we can count.
We do not have to repair and refit community wells; we do not have to erect dams and filtration systems for filthy rivers; we do not have to live with warring tribes that deny their enemies access to water. We do not have to send our women and children to fill buckets.
Recalling a poignant scene from Ben Hur, we will never have the opportunity to give drinks to political slaves being marched across the desert to the ocean where they will be chained to a ship’s galley. But, we can cheerfully give drinks to our children. We can generously invite people to our home to drink; even a tight budget can probably manage a friendly cup of tea.
We can keep a case of bottled water (and packaged snacks to feed the hungry) in our vehicles to pass out to the homeless or hard-up with a smile. If there’s more money, we can give more cases of bottled water to our local food banks. We can reach beyond our town and country and donate to international charities that focus on clean water, thus having a real hand in helping those community wells and filthy rivers.
We have our votes, as well. We can get informed about the state’s and country’s bills, charities and actions involving clean water and warring tribes. We can take a minute to type a few words of thanks and support for those charitable initiatives that make the world kinder and safer with a touch of Jesus’ loving hands.
The Scriptures are full of stories and sacraments involving water, from creation to Noah, from the Red Sea to the Jordan River, from Jesus’ thirst to our baptisms, and to heaven’s crystal-clear river. Our bodies are mostly water; we cannot live long without water. It is a simple, powerful gift and not one to be taken lightly.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need’.” (Section 2444)
“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” (Section 2446)
King David sang in Psalm 42:1-2; “As the deer pants for brooks of water, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
When we quench our spiritual thirst with the living God, we can then, in the words of the Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and “be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).”

That day is best wherein we give
A thought to others’ sorrows;
Forgetting self, we learn to live,
And blessings born of kindly deeds
Make golden our tomorrows.
(Sir Alfred Tennyson)

Yes, Lord, I will love and serve You. I will give a thought to others’ sorrows. I will give drink to the thirsty.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Was the Eucharist Ever a Little Snack?

A Facebook friend recently joked, "-slippery slope! The Eucharist started out as 'snack time' for the Catholics and look where that went!"

I'm not sure he knows how a slippery slope works.

The Eucharist is a Christian teaching that has remained constant for 2000 years. That is no slippery slope. The real slide is on the protestant side, slipping away from His Church (John 16:13; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 28:16-20) with thousands of competing denominations all claiming to be "Bible only." The Eucharist has been the pinnacle of our services since Acts; they are the ones who have slid into little snacks. I don't care if he doesn't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but I do care when Church teaching is misrepresented.

For the Eucharist has never been "snack time." About an hour of reading the first Christian writers (If one can stop after only an hour; we couldn't!), beginning with the Gospels and epistles, then onward 300 years until the New Testament was codified (and on and on ...) makes it crystal clear that these men believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine. And these were the same men who picked and prayed our New Testament into life.

The apostles were Jews. They knew about manna from heaven. They knew what the Passover was ~ the sacrifice of the innocent lamb whose blood saved them from death. They ate their lamb. They watched Jesus bless food, break it, and feed 5000. He told them to eat His flesh in John 6. When some left out of horror, Our Lord said again that they had to eat His flesh.  At the Last Supper, when He lifted up the Passover bread and wine and said, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," they were floored. They got it. After the resurrection, with some disciples in Emmaus, He was known in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-32). Paul told the Corinthians that they would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord if they came unworthily (I Corinthians 11:27-29).

The Didache, a catechism written in the 90's (yes, the 90's!), directs Christians to confess their sins before partaking in the Eucharist so that the sacrifice would be pure. *Since the sacrifice of Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, what He did 2000 years ago is  just as effecacious now. He is our perfect sacrifice for sin!

Ignatious of Antioch, writing in the year AD 110, said that he desired the Eucharist, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Justin the Martyr, AD 100-165, wrote, "For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which, our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus."

And on and on they wrote of the Real Presence of Jesus in the bread and wine, long before the New Testament was even bound and called sacred by Church councils. Men like Irenaus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen, Clement, Augustine, and the council of Nicaea. The first Church council was in Jerusalem, BTW, and recorded in Acts 15, when the question of circumcision was hashed out by Church leaders, then explained to the people. *We believe what Jesus said to the Twelve in John 16, that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. He still does. And we still follow.

So I encourage my non-Catholic friends as they insult the Church, to at least make sure the facts are straight. When you falsely say that the Eucharist began as a little snack, your entire witticism falls apart. We joke our own Church very well anyway!

To know what the Catholic Church teaches, go to its catechism online or pick up a print copy. Parroting what protestants say Catholicism teaches is shoddy scholarship and those of us who love the Church will call it out. At least then your jokes will be better!


Saturday, April 4, 2015

This is the Night

We have five sons that play with plastic figures all the time and make boy noises when they play. You know what this is, right? Even when big teens play with little brothers, they, too, make boy noises. Recently, a smaller son had a situation in the wood pile involving army guys and dinosaurs. He was happily moving things around and knocking things down when an older brother popped in and scanned the room. He brightened up when he noticed the wood pile drama and slid into place. “What’s going on?” he asked

He needed that knowledge before participating.  He had to ask the one who'd invented the 
Whole Thing.  Once the story was told, he was good. He could jump in. He could play hard. He could, as Saint Paul said, fight the good fight and run the race to completion. Sometimes the bad guys were avoided; sometimes they were engaged. Sometimes the good guys messed up; sometimes they behaved perfectly. They made happy sounds and agonizing sounds. Just like real life. We need to know the story, too. Whom do we ask?  Who created the Whole Thing?

Saturday evening, we will hear at our church's Great Easter Vigil Mass, seven Scripture readings and seven sung psalms chronicling salvation history ~ God's plans for the game. It is the Story of stories and the Feast of feasts; it fills the liturgical year with brilliance. It is ours to celebrate after the preparatory wilderness of Lent and the sorrows of Good Friday and Sad Saturday (our family name). Some highlights:

It begins outside as we gather around a fire to pray and sing.

“Light of Christ; thanks be to God.”
“May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”

We light candles from the fire and move into the candle-lit church to proclaim,

“This is the night when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.

O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly blessed night when things of heaven are wed to those of earth and divine to human.”

We hear the creation story from Genesis 1, “God said it was good” and sing Psalm 104, “Bless the Lord O my soul.”

We hear of Abraham sacrificing Isaac from Genesis 22, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy” and sing Psalm 16, “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices.”

We hear of Moses and the Red Sea, “Stretch out your hand over the sea,” and sing the psalm of Miriam from Exodus 14-15, “I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously.”

We hear Isaiah’s prophesy from chapter 54, “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,” and sing Psalm 30, “Oh Lord, be my helper.”

We hear God’s love for His people from Ezekiel 36, “I will give you a new heart,” and sing Psalm 51, “A clean heart create in me.”

At this point, the bells begin ringing, the lights come back on, and we sing the Gloria, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will. Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, You take away the sins of the world.” A usual part of the Mass, it is not sung during Lent. It has been missed and sung loudly now
Then we hear passages from the New Testament.

We hear that Jesus dies no more from Romans 6, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus and sing Psalm 118, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever.”

And finally, the point of the Whole Thing, we hear of our Lord’s resurrection from Mark 16, “He is not here!”

Our first priest, when we came into the Catholic Church, timed it so that it was midnight by this resurrection reading and actually Easter morning. We loved it.

Then the baptisms begin, for this is also the night that those who have been preparing to enter the Church receive their sacraments. The huge stone cistern in the sanctuary sees a steady stream of people immersed or sprinkled. When our family came in, the priest had our three children, aged two, six, and nine in the pool together. The oldest boys did fine, under the water three times for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But when my feisty girl came up the first time and caught her breath, she hollered, “Get me out of here!” Our solemn priest cracked a smile and waited for the chuckling congregation to quiet down. He continued, “And in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” by cupping his hands and pouring water on her head.

The Mass continues with Communion and Confirmations for the new Catholics and ends as usual with music and prayers. It is truly the most beautiful liturgy of the year, as it should be.

“Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in Your praise!”

Easter vigil, 2004, when the Howells became Catholic.

The happiest of Easter celebrations, friends!
Love, Allison

(Also printed by the Frontiersman.)