religion, Unschooling

Getting to Know the Saints

Going for a walk. A fitness walk. I reach the beginning-to-get-tired-and-breathless stage. I look at my watch. I think of how much further I have to go…distance-wise, time-wise.

I look ahead. Ah, at the top of the hill is a tree. Keep your eyes on that tree, Leonie. Move ahead, you can do it, you can make it up that oh so steep hill. Think only about the tree, the point in front.
This helps. This point of focus becomes my encourager. I keep going, focused on what is ahead, that shining beacon if you like. And the steep hill does not seem quite so steep after all.
My life is a little bit like that. Sometimes, a focus on what is ahead helps make the here and now easier, more pleasant, more do-able.
For me, some of those beacons of light are the saints.
Just like that tree, that point of hope, the stories of the lives of the saints, the writings of the saints, give me hope.
Just like that walker or runner a little ahead of me, he who is keeping faithful to the walk, who is not quitting and who, by his example, encourages me, urges me on, urges me to pace myself, who gives me inspiration to know I can do it, if he can I can, no, too, the saints, in their lives, and their intercession, give me help, encouragement, inspiration.
The saints are models of a Christ-like life. They are models of what our lives could be…yes, models for me, that busy working and homeschooling mum, for my friend who works nights to support his family, for the lady from work who has worries about the care of her elderly mother, for that child who leads a full life, for that teen with his questions…
But even more than that, the saints can be friends.
Okay, right now, you are thinking…That’s weird. Dead people as friends?
Well, yes. Just like when I read an excellent novel or series of novels (Laura and the statements of Ma from Little House on the Prairie will always stay with me) , watch a haunting spell binding movie ( I can never forget Meryl Streep as that nun in Doubt) , get enthralled by the television series Battlestar Galactica ( is there a bit of that troubled, female flyer Starbuck within me?)..just as I get involved in these characters, their language, their thoughts, so too I can get to know the saints, their writings, their thoughts, their struggles, their admonishments, their friendship.
Someone says something, and I think “Oh, like St Bonaventure.” I feel like I know the saint, just a little, but a knowing nonetheless, from his writings.
So, I feel the friendship of the saints. They do not just serve a function in my life (St Jude , pray for me, St Anthony help me find that book)…they are people I come to know. The more one gets to know the saints, the more one feels that these men and women who are enjoying life with God are there for us, praying for us, wanting us to be sanctified, to live out our vocations.
However, as with any friend, one does not view the a saint from purely utilitarian viewpoint. In other words, we shouldn’t see the saints just as intercessors, only as models and examples, just as someone who exists solely to encourage us as Christians.
By reading about the saints, by reading what the saints wrote and said, by praying to the saints, we can come to celebrate their lives. Celebrate their stories of their life on earth, their gift to God and to the Church. We can celebrate their diversity and the variety of gifts and lives they reveal in the kingdom of God.
That cloud of witnesses described by St Paul in Hebrews.
This has come to me gradually, this realization of the friendship of the saints, of the celebration of their lives, of how the saints were people like me, striving for holiness and being who they were.
Families, be who you are. Pope John Paul II.
I tend to think that I have to be someone else, that sainthood means being a certain kind of person. Well, it does…but it is a certain kind of person loving God and thus others and living this out in my own life and where God has put me in this world. Today. And tomorrow.

Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone’s duty: yours and mine. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa.
When the alarm on my mobile phone goes off in the early morning (beep..beep, shut up!), I often start the day weary. I love my life (am I addicted to doing too much?) but I am sometimes just weary. Weary of the to do list, of trying to be a better wife and mother and friend and always failing miserably, weary of me.
I have two choices. I can continue to be weary and discouraged and realize that I will never be Mother Teresa. Or I can turn to Our Lord, in the Morning Prayer, in Mass, in my every day life. I can experience the presence of God in the Holy Eucharist, and in my life… Sometimes this might mean doing those big things in my life with love…. raising teenagers, serving my husband however bad at that I may be, being patient at home, in my vocation, for example. Sometimes, this might mean doing little things with love….biting my tongue, doing my jobs with a smile.
I am called to emulate those friends of mine, the saints. I am called to emulate Our Lord . I can discover paths to holiness, with the sacraments and on my journey to sanctity. But I have to do these things within my own unique vocation (Ouch!).
That is what the lives of the saints have taught me.
How gloriously different are the saints! C. S. Lewis.
How gloriously different. And, in my case, how weak. But it is in my weakness (do I have to finish that hill walk today?) that, with the power of Christ, I can be strong. I can look at the saints and their weaknesses, too, and like St Paul say that I am content, for whenever I am weak on my own, in human terms, then with Christ I am strong.
During this Christmas season, I have been doing fun workouts…dance, hi-low aerobics, singing my heart out while
working out ( Rio, Like A Virgin, Pump It). The music is like a grace that helps me to keep on working out, makes working out fun.
During Christmas, too, I have pondered the lives of the saints and particularly of Mary, Our Blessed Mother. A perfect example for a Catholic unschooling mother. She has become a friend, if you like, a mother. Knowing she is there, having a relationship with Our Mother, does make the daily life, well , I hesitate to say fun as in workout fun but more grace-filled. I see how Our Lady responded to God’s invitation. I see how she lived in faith, how she persevered, how she loved.
How she loves.
How she helps us on our paths to sanctity, in our vocations.
Life with the saints. Never quitting.

A vocation to holiness

The priest, according to the magnificent definition given by St. Paul is indeed a man Ex hominibus assumptus, “taken from amongst men,” yet pro hominibus constituitur in his quae sunt ad Deum, “ordained for men in the things that appertain to God”: his office is not for human things, and things that pass away, however lofty and valuable these may seem; but for things divine and enduring. Ad Catholici Sacerdotii , Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the Catholic Priesthood

Everyone in the Church, precisely because they are members, receive and thereby share in the common vocation to holiness. In the fullness of this title and on equal par with all other members of the Church, the lay faithful are called to holiness: “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity”. “All of Christ’s followers are invited and bound to pursue holiness and the perfect fulfillment of their own state of life.” Christifideles Laici , Pope John Paul II on the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World.

And so I read these statements, back to back. Compare and contrast, in my English teacher terms.

Ultimately, we are all called to holiness, aren’t we? Lay people, even those of us very busy with temporal concerns. Priests, with their service, with the many demands made of each one, with their giving, with their humility, with their office for things divine and enduring.

But, as Hamlet would say, there’s the rub.

For all of us, priests and laity alike, can be so taken up with the temporal society that we forget the spiritual realm. That we forget the call to holiness.

Parish life, family life, these are each a microcosm of the greater society. We bring ourselves to our parishes, to our families, don’t we?

But the call for holiness means that though we may bring ourselves, we don’t remain ourselves. We pray, we listen to Gods call, we use our hearts and our minds to reach out, to follow Mary and her fiat..and thus leave ourselves and our problems behind, as we serve Our Lord with love and humility.

This is especially important for we lay people, in our parish work and in our family life. Do we serve out of love or for personal gratification…or worse, for a sense of power?

Over biscuits and coffee this morning, I listened to a generous hearted woman. She shared her thoughts, her concerns, about parish life.

She serves. She serves well. She serves with love. And she does not seek public acknowledgement.

The same could not be said of some others in her parish.

And how much worse is it when a priest serves his parish, not with humility and not with a servant’s heart but with a sense of his own assumed power, of jealousy, of almost political career advancement.

Harsh words indeed. Yet, if we are all called to holiness, we as lay people have a responsibility to pray and to work out our salvation, to paraphrase St Paul. But we also have a right to be assisted in this by our priests.

Now, each and every priest needs our prayers, needs our help. Each priest, too, is on a path to holiness.

But with this comes their responsibility to the faithful. For the parish is not the priest’s own, he has not the right to follow his own inclinations. He has, instead, a responsibility to follow Church teaching, to administer his duties with love and concern and as a father with correction of the faithful as needed, to not create cliques and inner circles, to not run things for his own good and his own tastes.

For temporal things are temporal, are here today and gone tomorrow. Parish priests, really, are often here today and gone another parish, another obligation. The faithful remain in the parish, praying, striving for holiness, praying for priests…hopefully,with the assistance and not the hindrance of the priest.

We priests have been consecrated in the Church for this specific ministry. We are called in various ways, to contribute, wherever Providence puts us, to the formation of the community of God’s People. Our task …is to tend the flock God entrusted to us, not by constraint but willingly, not as domineering over those in our charge, but by setting them an example (cf. 1 Pt 5: 2-3). (…) This is our way of holiness, which leads us to our ultimate meeting with the “supreme shepherd” in whose hands is the “crown of glory” (1 Pt 5: 4). This is our mission at the service of the Christian people. The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community, Congregation for the Clergy, 2002.

To serve. In a vocation of holiness.

Not by domineering.

And lay people, not by seeking to take on the substance of the ordained priesthood.


Advent contradictions

“At the beginning of a new yearly cycle, the liturgy invites the Church to renew her proclamation to all the peoples and sums it up in two words ‘God comes.’ These words, so concise, contain an ever new evocative power.The one true God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,’ is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history, but he is the-God-who-comes. He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us. …God comes to save us.” Pope Benedict XVI

In Advent as we prepare for Christmas, as we read of St John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah, we hear…what? Reflections on prayer? Reflections on how to prepare to remember Christ’s coming as a little child and to remember that He will come again, for we know not when the hour is at hand? Reflections on drawing closer to Our Lord in Advent, in preparation for Christmas, in preparation for His second coming, in preparation for a renewal of faith and love and hope?

Well, yes, we do hear of preparing ourselves for Our Lord, we do hear of spiritual preparation and of sharing His Love with others.

Pope John Paul II in an address in Advent 2002 said, “The liturgy of Advent…helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.”

We hear how we should prepare, in Advent, through prayer and through living a quiet, hidden life, centred on God.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has presented St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, as a model of recollection. St Joseph’s silence in the Gospel, the Holy Father said, “does not demonstrate an empty interior, but rather the fullness of faith that he carries in his heart. Let’s allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph!”

Silence “is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favourable to recollection and listening to the voice of God,” Pope Benedict XVI said. “In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior recollection so as to receive and keep Jesus in our lives.”

The Holy Father has suggested that the faithful establish in these days “a kind of spiritual dialogue with St. Joseph so that he helps us live to the fullest this mystery of faith.”

Advent, then, is a time for recollection, for prayer, for penance, for rejoicing, for preparation, for being with Our Lord and sharing this joy with others…family, friends, strangers.

On the other hand, we also hear voices of contradiction, voices calling us not to more prayer but to social action. Alone. Voices even denigrating spiritual preparation during Advent.

From secular sources, you say?

Or from some within the Church?

We hear that, when St John the Baptist sent his followers to Jesus, to discover the identity of Jesus, to establish to others that Jesus was the Messiah , Jesus’ reply was about helping the blind see, the lepers be cleansed and so forth and that Jesus ” did not say a word about people praying more..or making God the centre of their lives…The age of the Messiah does not concern religion in the traditional sense of the word. One knows that the Messiah has come because a real change has taken place in society, a change that involves a liberation of those who have always been cut off from the main branch of society.”

And no, I didn’t read this at heresy dotcom ( to steal a quote from a friend!).

I read this in what should be a reliable source for the faithful in our parishes..

And it is wrong.

Christ did indeed promise liberation, and at first His disciples thought He was to provide societal or temporal liberation, the liberation of revolutionaries. Instead, Christ brought about spiritual liberation..a transforming of self, a call to follow Him and Our God, a call for interioral and then exterioral change.

Christ’s words echo the prophesies of Isaiah, words that gave the Israelites hope that their Messiah would come, words that showed without doubt that He was the much awaited Messiah. Prayer was not excluded. Prayer and adoration and transformation of self were givens.These words were signs of His identity, signs that should make those awaiting their Messiah, signs that should make us, fall on our knees and pray in adoration.

Christ comes.

The real change is that by His coming, we are given hope and life. We experience true, unconditional love ( He emptied himself, taking the form of a man) . We are transformed interiorly and this spiritual transformation effects a change in society, as we share His love with others.

The Holy Father, in reflecting on Advent said “With the angel’s greeting to Mary —‘kaire’ in the Greek, which means ‘be joyful’—the New Testament begins.We could say that the first word of the New Testament is ‘be joyful,’ ‘be happy,’ in other words, ‘joy.’ This is the true meaning of Christmas: God is near us, so near that He became a child.”

The Holy Father then points out how “we realize that today’s world, where God is absent, is dominated by fear, by uncertainty.” Nonetheless, ” the words ‘be joyful because God is with you and with us,’ truly open a new time.”

“Joy is the true gift of Christmas… We can communicate this joy simply: with a smile, a kind gesture, a little help, forgiveness. .…Let us pray that this presence of the liberating joy of God shines forth in our lives.”

And yet we hear contradiction again. In that should-be but now shown to be not-so-reliable source.

“Jesus is the Messiah because those who are blind, crippled, diseased, and poor have been liberated from the things which make them the victims of injustice.” Hmm, the Church states unequivocally that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity… and not because He was solely an agent of social justice.

Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man “who came down from heaven”, and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross. Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 440.

The CCC states that Christ was and is the long awaited Messiah, He is the anointed One.Yet we find contradiction again, in that local Catholic source..“We can turn the statement around to say that if the dregs of society do not experience liberation, then Jesus is not the Messiah.”

No, we can’t, I’m sorry. Not even metaphorically or for a literary, dramatic touch. Not when we are sharing Sunday Reflections for the faithful. If anything, these reflections need to be clear and unambiguous. The arena for theoretical and philosophical ruminations, for literary technique and analysis, is not a parish bulletin. It is the stuff of journals, of papers, of discussion forums.

Or even of blogs.

In Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, we should prepare.

Pray. Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Do penance. Do some extra spiritual reading. Celebrate and live the liturgical year.
Be faithful.
Love and share this love with others.

The message is simple.

Living the life is not so simple, in an often secularised world. And we, the faithful are helped to live the hidden life of adoring and serving Our Lord, where we are, by the sacraments, by God’s Grace and by good teaching. And not by contradictions in what should be reliable Catholic sources.


A Recalcitrant Mother’s Prayer

Have you been indifferent to a choice?

I don’t mean this in a negative way ( a who could care less way) but say it with a positive tone.

In praying about some recent events in our lives, I came to feel an indifference towards the result. Indifferent as in experiencing the inner, well, freedom I guess you would call it, to be open to God’s will and wherever that may lead. To not put all my cares and wishes and hopes in one option. To say… Okay, God, I am happy with either choice, whatever is your will.

In Ignatian spirituality, to be indifferent means to choose the will of God rather than my own. To choose what will bring me closer to God.

Now, this indifference over a few recent situations doesn’t mean that I am perfect spiritually. Or that I feel this indifference over everything. Far from it.

It shows, instead, the power and graces of prayer.

And of devotion to our Blessed Mother.

We are taught to love and say the Rosary with great devotion; let us be faithful to this our first love – for it will bring us closer to our Heavenly Mother…..Cling to the Rosary as the creeper clings to the tree… Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, her private writings.

I am finding that persistence in prayer slowly, gradually, changes me …and my natural inclinations to be not-so-nice.

Well, I am sure that is obvious to most people but I have had to learn it the long way. To persevere in prayer regardless of feeling. To pray, even if prayer seems a penance, even if I would rather just get up and chat and talk. Or cry.

Prayer with perseverance means that I learn self control. Our Lady brings me to Her Son, but it comes with a cost. A little bit of dying to self. Of doing what I don’t want. Of being nice when I don’t want to be. Of being uncomfortable. Of praying through pain.

I want to smile at Jesus and so hide if possible the pain and darkness of my soul even to Him. Mother Teresa again.

Praying the Rosary, clinging to the Rosary, takes the focus off me and off what I want in a situation. Takes the focus off even my own prayer intentions. Gives me a vehicle to forget about me ( Deo Gratias) and to just be, with Our Lord and His Mother, in prayer. To offer this prayer, and the other Morning and Evening Prayers of the Divine Office, for others. And not for me.

It is not all about me. A real revelation.

The Divine Office, that and praying the Rosary, reminds me of this fact. These prayers unite my prayers with the community of believers. They are a discipline and a grace.

The Divine Office (or the Liturgy of the Hours) is the public, daily prayer of the Church. Jesus said to “Pray continually and never lose heart.” ( Luke 18:1)
So, the Divine Office is the Church’s response of praying unceasingly throughout the day.
When I pray the Divine Office, I join with the Church in prayer. I participate in the prayer of Christ, in His prayer for the salvation of souls. I am not praying for myself and for my day but for the needs of others, of the family, of the world.
There are days when the psalms I pray might be expressing an emotion different from that which I am experiencing. But the prayers of the Divine Office, the intention of praying this, and of praying the Rosary, keep in my mind the thought that I, that we, are praying as a Church. As I pray, in communion with others praying these prayers throughout the world, the exact same prayers, not me-centred petitions or a shopping list of wishes, I am given the grace of truly praying in communion, of offering up the prayer of someone else who might be in great pain and sorrow, or of someone who might be giving praise to God.
So, perseverance in prayer has helped me, is helping me. And helps my family, for a mother and wife’s prayer life is closely interwoven with the life and heart of the family.
I heard one writer, a mother, refer to praying the Divine Office as a “safety net” – the prayers catch you when you feel you are sinking, are falling, when things in the family are going right, when things in the family are less than right. Praying the Divine Office lets you fall, safely, in prayer, into the arms of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. With the rhythm of the prayers and of the liturgical seasons. With the familiarity of the Psalms. With perseverance and imperfection and with love.
I don ‘t always pray perfectly. I don’t usually reach that point of (Jesuit described) indifference. I am often self centred. I have not reached spiritual perfection.
But prayer is teaching me many things. Is giving God’s grace to my family. Is showing me Christ. Is uniting me with the Church, her liturgy, her prayers. Me, an often too busy, too sarcastic wife and mother. Who fails to think before she speaks and acts and then regrets her choice. Who is brought to her knees in prayer.
If prayer and perseverance in prayer can teach the recalcitrant me oh so many things, imagine how it helps my family, my friends, those other, more gentle mothering souls.
I am ready to accept whatever He gives and to give whatever He takes with a big smile. Mother Teresa.