Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bishop Sheen -- He Always Has Something To Say To Me

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen as I remember him best ...

A heckler asked Bishop Sheen a question about someone who had died.
The Bishop replied, "I will ask him when I get to Heaven.:
The heckler replied, "What if he isn't in Heaven?"
The Bishop replied, "Well then you ask him."

JMJ   Sometimes it takes an Irishman to appreciate the dark humor of another Irishman. I've always loved Bishop Sheen's sharp wit and banter because of that shared heritage.  However, he was able to make just about everybody laugh at the jokes and anecdotes he shared on his primetime show in the 50's and 60's.  As is so often said of him, people of all beliefs would ask for his blessing on them and their children when he was among them.  I know he was made an Archbishop, but I can never think of him as anything but Bishop Sheen, as I knew him when I watched his show growing up.  In the near future, I plan to do a piece on Bishop Sheen's amazing body of work as a writer and a devout Catholic priest.  

For now, I'd like to ask for his help.  I am one who prays for the canonization of this wonderful man.  He has attained the status of Venerable, one step on the way to sainthood.  I believe that asking him for his intercession with a need that I have will be a powerful aid -- his prayers along with mine could make a formidable noise to the heavens.

Sickness and pain can drive people to despair.  Despair is Satan's favorite emotion.  It leaves a big hole in the spirit into which he can enter and spread doubt and distance from God.  I can feel that struggle in myself as I deal with illness.  I decided to look through some of Bishop Sheen's books to find what he had to say about it.  Frankly, I got tired of leafing through them, and, like any 21st century blogger, I decided to go to the computer.  What I found I seem to remember, at least I think so, as if I had heard it or read it many years ago: 

"As we cross God's will by sin, He crosses our will by love to make us perfect."   "Sometimes he sends mental crosses like worries, fears or anxieties to make us feel his absence, and sometimes He sends physical crosses like sufferings to make us feel his presence. For sickness and physical pain forcibly draw us away from the world and its pleasures and makes us realize that the scarred hands of Christ cannot touch us without leaving wounds."  

These words are rather unnerving.  Bishop Sheen is telling us that God's pure focus is the state of our souls, not our earthly pains.  I guess I'd rather hear that God will take away the suffering -- instead, the suffering may continue for the purpose of oneness with Christ.  That isn't a new tenet of faith to me.  The Sisters always told us the path to Heaven was to walk with Jesus through his life, passion, death and resurrection.  I always loved attending the Stations of the Cross during Lent.  And one of the greatest writers I've ever read, Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote a book about St. Francis of Assisi, in which Francis described the journey to God as a rough, stony road, split by a great abyss which required a terrifying leap of faith to cross.

I always begin my articles with JMJ because the Sisters had us do that on our school papers, to honor the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, to remind us that God comes first in everything.  Bishop Sheen always did that on his chalkboard too before he began to write on it during his talks.  I suppose those little acts of humility and love began the training for the parts of life much harder than writing a school essay. Bishop Sheen said many things about sickness, but this is the one that caught my eye and my heart.  It gives me the feeling that he is speaking to me because I asked, and that even if the answer is hard, that's the one I got.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night

JMJ    I feel very close to the heavens tonight.  It's always a blessing to experience the wonderful connection to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and angels, all of the joys of Christmas.  To celebrate this beautiful day, I've picked out a favorite piece of Nativity art to share with you.

Terracotta Nativity by Giuseppe Sanmartino

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts On Modern Changes In The Church

 A Sister of Providence wearing the traditional habit in the 1950's.
That little girl on the right could have been me!
JMJ    Catholicism has always been known for its beauty of worship.  Our churches here in America, the most beautiful having been built in the past two centuries with the labor of dedicated parishioners ... our devotion through singular Catholic music .... all of the traditions of ritual and dress from long ago ... they are the outward signs of inward worship.  It has been a great sorrow to me to see so many of them change during my lifetime, and I miss them deeply.

I am speaking here of two issues that are of particular sadness to me, both of which have changed the landscape of daily Catholic life.  First, I miss seeing the Sisters in their habits.  The nuns are an essential part of the Faith -- they have educated generations of children, nursed the sick, countless other services, all without personal gain and with utmost dedication.  I miss being able to recognize them.  I never felt any objection to the habits being modernized ... the long flowing skirts and some of the larger coifs limit movement and side-vision, and are certainly not conducive to driving or other modern activities that did not exist when the style of dress of another era was worn.  But why were they discarded altogether?  Every piece of a nun's habit symbolized something about the life and love of Christ.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to nuns today ... they are just as dedicated and holy as their elder sisters, but it is sad that you can't tell a nun from any other woman on the street, to say "Good morning, Sister" and feel that simple reminder of service to God.  Some orders of enclosed nuns do wear the habit, but we do not see them unless we go to their monasteries.  Most active orders of nuns wear completely secular dress, with only a small cross to identify them.  I too wear a small cross, as do many other Catholic women, and we are not Sisters.  That is a sadly lacking type of identification for nuns.

Traditional habits of different orders of nuns:

The traditional habit
of the Dominican Sisters
This is St. Bernadette Soubirous
in the habit of the Sisters of Nev'ers
The traditional, ancient cornett that used
to be worn by the Daughters of Charity

Newer habits that retain the look of a nun, but with modern features -- great idea:

Nursing nuns with modern habits
which identify them but allow complete
freedom of movement for their daily work

Modern habit  just right for a hot climate!

The old and the new -- I love this sweet picture

The second change is one that I personally feel removed an important part of Catholic identity.  Mass is still Mass, and always will be, but I miss the beauty and distinction of the Latin language that was part of Catholic worship for centuries.  Latin was the great equalizer.  You could go into any Catholic Church in any part of the world and Mass was the same there as at home.  You knew just what was being said and were comfortable.  Now, what was meant to be a decision that would make everyone feel easy in their own language, has really split us apart.  For instance, most parishes here in Indianapolis have Masses in English and in Spanish.  It sounds nice, but it seems to me that it results in what is essentially two parish families, with too little cross-over in community life.  With the Latin Mass, we all went to Mass together, whatever personal language we spoke. Gathering after mass, we would have a chance to get to know one another, to learn to communicate by putting ourselves out, become educated enough to start with simple hellos and go from there.  Perhaps I have an optimistic viewpoint about that, but after all, it is a Christian's duty to be open to friendship within a parish, surely a better system than we have now.

In its understandable desire for the sake of ecumenical unity with other Christians, I believe that the Church has discarded essental aspects, kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  There are other ways to practice unity without losing our Catholic identity.  To my mind, our Sisters as a recognizable human quotient of the Church, and the ancient language of the Mass, are two definitive aspects of Catholicism, the loss of which is a great loss for us.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sometimes You Have To Start From Scratch

"Thith ith dethpicable!  I don't feel like mythelf at all!

JMJ     I guess you can tell I love Warner Brothers' cartoons -- I linked to a wonderful Bugs Bunny cartoon on my sidebar and this picture is from Duck Amuck, my favorite Daffy Duck piece.  I thought of this cartoon as I sat down to write about striving to be a good Catholic and how sometimes things get confused.  The really fine-quality cartoons are a strangely accurate and funny mirror of our human traits.  Like poor Daffy, sometimes the inside of my mind looks like he does ... a crazy-quilt of contradiction and things that just don't belong there.  Right now, it's my faith as a Catholic.  Let's say that I want something that the Church says I can't have ... I truly believe I can't have it, but I wish I didn't believe ... I love my faith, but I don't always want to walk the walk.  I've been thinking lately about the way Christianity is described in our time ... as a thing of love, which it is, like a soft pillow upon which to lay your head, which it is.  But there is more to it than that, and so many of us don't want to think about the religious aspects of obedience and fear of God anymore.  God gave us laws, which also means there are consequences for breaking those laws.  I believe in the warning of Jesus that only God may judge others.  However, I think we forget that we are supposed to judge ourselves.

Daily examination of conscience is a method Catholics have used for a long time to stay on the right track.  The Sisters in school stressed this action so that the conscience would grow from a weak whisper to a vital functioning organ of thought.  It's not easy, it can be embarrassing and cause personal anger to face and acknowledge our sins, even just to ourselves.  Conscience tells us when we are doing wrong -- it's like a gut reaction to any situation.  You can ignore it and go ahead with what you want to do.  But you can't go back again ... you can't say anymore that you didn't think of it.  That's where free will comes in.  God won't stop me if I decide to do wrong.  He gave me the opportunity to make up my own mind.  If I want to be one with Him, that is a very scary freedom to have.  A priest once told me that you cannot go backward ...once you have been enlightened, you cannot ever pretend you don't know what's what.  Rats! ... no loopholes.

I think my conscience has been screaming at me about some issues, and in my reluctance to act, I have tried to patch and paste, fix this and that, without just going to the source of the problems, make one complete act of contrition and make myself whole.  That is the only way to get all the parts back into place.  Pray for me.

"Thith ith more like it!"

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blessed Mother, Pray For Us

JMJ     So many loved ones in my family are experiencing sorrows in life, illness, spiritual searching ... if it were not for the rosary, I would find it difficult to handle it all.  After all, the rosary's central theme is meditation upon the total life of Jesus, and we ask the Blessed Mother to pray for us as we try to follow Him each day.   With all that has happened, I have been feeling frozen in the spirit, and I need my spiritual home, St. John the Evangelist, my parish.  I need the Eucharist most of all.  My sister Laura said that I should  participate in the Mass when EWTN, the Catholic network, celebrates it every day. My parish priest suggested that I have Communion brought to me here at home when I am unable to come to Mass.  Without the Eucharist, our spiritual selves become confused and empty.  Thank you, dear Laura, and thanks to you too, Fr. Rick, for helping me figure out how to fill my spirit.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Favorite Litany ... Prayer For Today

JMJ    I have always felt a special love for devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I ask to be taken in and enfolded in His all-encompassing love, and when I do I really experience a feeling of warmth and protection.  It's a great feeling, and I usually ask Him to enfold not just me, but all of my family, in our struggles to live in this difficult culture.  I went to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) website and found this, my favorite litany.  It is a wonderful prayer of meditation.  


In 1899 Pope Leo XIII approved this Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ... This litany is actually a synthesis of several other litanies dating back to the 17th century.  It consists of a total of 33 invocations, one for each year of life of our Lord Jesus Christ. A partial indulgence is attached to this litany.

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy

Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us,  (said after each invocation)
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God, the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, One God,
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God,
Heart of Jesus, of Infinite Majesty,
Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God,
Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High,
Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven,
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts,
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased,
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke Thee,
Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium,
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses,
Heart of Jesus, obedient to death,
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, our peace and our reconciliation,
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in Thee,
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee,
Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints,

Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.Let us pray;

Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of Thy most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers Thee in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Thy mercy, in Thy great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee forever and ever. Amen.


Did you notice that this litany offers a partial indulgence?  One of these days I'd like to talk about indulgences ... fascinating concept, usually misunderstood.  I'll do some research to educate myself about them, and not just rely on my childhood understanding.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In The Beginning ...

Don't you just love this painting of Archangel Michael with his foot on Satan's neck?
The saints and their stories in art and oral tradition are part of the joy of being Catholic

JMJ     I am a life-long Catholic, a lover of bad 50's sci-fi movies, great classic films, literature, scary stories and classical music, including classic rock.  I write another blog called ClassicBecky's Brain Food, dedicated to the great old movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Of late, I feel the desire to write about my Faith Trek, " ... to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, ... to boldly go where no man has gone before."  Yes, it says "man" ... language isn't perfect and never will be.  Sometimes the desire to make language politically correct can have unintentionally funny consequences.  A priest I knew told of an experience he had with a very liberal order of nuns.  He said Mass for them, and during the readings one of the Sisters made a significant change to Paul's gospel, 1 Corinthians:  "When I was a child, I spake as a child ... but when I became a woman I put away childish things."  Considering that Paul, who was speaking about himself, was a man, the priest told me that this must be the first example of a transgender situation in the Bible.  Gave me a good laugh ...

I'm not always to be found at Mass on Sunday -- often I am unable to make it, and sometimes I'm just lazy, for which I always feel guilty.  I'm not particularly social, like the women who participate in pancake breakfasts or festivals.  Those things are great, and I admire people who are able to create that kind of parish fellowship, but I'm not one of them.  My devotion is sort of like that of contemplative nuns -- I sure don't have the calling to live the extraordinary sacrificial life that they do, but I love that type of prayer and try to emulate it.  The rosary is my favorite meditation on the life of Christ, and I try to pray it regularly.  I have doubts and sorrows regarding the failings of the people of the Church, myself included, but no matter how hard it can be sometimes to be a faithful Catholic, I just can't get away from it.    I can't do without the Eucharist -- it's as simple as that.  When I don't receive Communion, I feel empty and alone.  No matter what happens with the human factor that causes such distress, I believe that Christ is present in every way in the Mass, which is after all the fundamental point of  being Catholic.

Writing about walking the faith is a good way for me to think through life and faith, and if you are interested, it might do the same thing for you.  Welcome to my little corner of the cyber-world.