The Saints and the Cross Episode 7: St. Joan of Arc

Happy Third Sunday of Easter! Today I talk about the next saint in my series: St. Joan of Arc. This one is for my daughter who loves the martyr saints. St. Joan of Arc is a wonderful example to us of how to follow God’s will even when those around us do not understand it fully. She was tasked with doing extraordinary things in the face of extreme odds, but her faithfulness to God, led her to accomplish all that He asked of her. She eventually gave her life for Christ as a martyr when she was burned at the stake. May we all use this time to prayerfully discern where Christ is calling us to serve Him for the salvation of souls.

Catholic Exchange: Put Your Faith in Christ, Not in Feelings

Rather frequently, I hear people make arguments about aspects of the spiritual life, the Church, morality, or relationships that are predicated upon a particular individual’s feelings. Some will complain that the Mass doesn’t make them “feel” good or the Church’s teaching doesn’t cause a flood of the emotions they are looking for in their lives. I’ve had friends tell me that their relationship with Jesus requires them to “feel good” on some level.

The problem is, our emotions or “feelings” — as we call them colloquially — are an unruly taskmaster and a dangerous guide in the spiritual life. It is true that our emotions are an aspect of being a human person, but they are in no way meant to overrule our intellect or our will. It is not uncommon for our emotions to lead us into temptation and take us down paths that are destructive.

When an individual tells me how essential it is for them to “feel” the presence of God or to experience Him subjectively in the Mass or in prayer, I tend to ask them some questions. First, I ask them how many times a day they experience an emotion? Do those emotions always comport with what is going on in reality? Do our bodies impact our emotional state e.g. level of sleep, stress, even what we’ve eaten? Is God our emotions? Does God cease to love us if we don’t “feel” good on a given day? What about the very real dark night experiences of some of the holiest souls in our Tradition? Can our emotions be impacted by our encounters with other people? There are a lot of other questions that should and can be considered when it comes to deciphering how much our emotions can impede our ability to understand reality, love and serve God properly, love our neighbor as we ought, and progress in holiness.

Part of the spiritual life is learning to temper, control, or discard our emotional states. We can’t always control our emotions, so at times we are called to endure until an emotional state passes. Much of the time an emotion we experience in a given situation is irrelevant to what is actually happening outside of ourselves. The Mass is a good example.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: On the Conversion of St. Peter

Today is the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Two men who shaped the Early Church and whose contribution to the Faith can still be seen and felt 2000 years later. One was the first Pope and the other proclaimed the Good News to the Gentiles, after St. Peter helped move the Church from just the Jews, to the whole world. Due to the fact that both of these men loom so large in the Church, I have chosen to meditate on the conversion of Saint Peter. Saint Paul would require an entire article of his own, in fact both men have books upon books written about them.

St. Peter

In the Gospel of Matthew we see that Simon, who is now called Peter, was among the first disciples to be called to follow Jesus.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them.
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus did not go to the Temple in Jerusalem for his disciples at first. He did not seek out the learned and the powerful first. No, he went to the Sea of Galilee and summoned two fisherman to be his first disciples. When Peter abandoned his nets to follow Christ, he had no idea of the place he would play in the mission of bring the world to Christ. Notice, however, that Peter’s decision to follow Christ was immediate. He left his very livelihood and went down a path he did not fully understand at the time.

Peter’s conversion was a slow going process. He stayed with Jesus and followed Him as He proclaimed the Good News, but there are moments in Scripture where it is quite evident that Peter did not understand what he was a part of. The revelation of Jesus as the Son of God was a slow going process. The disciples did not understand immediately that He was the God-Man. In fact, it would take the Paschal Mystery for the Apostles to understand who Jesus truly was, so that explains why Peter understood slowly.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Preparing for Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope

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Growing up in my family home, we were ready to celebrate Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, just like the rest of America.  Advent was something we  did at Mass on Sunday with the lighting of the Advent wreath.  It was not something that we did at home.  It was not something we lived.  Then I got married 3.5 years ago, and I began meeting godly women who try to live out the liturgical year over the secular calendar.  I started to pay attention to the movements and rhythms of the Church and discovered what I had been missing.

Advent makes us give up instant gratification.  It is a season of waiting in joyful hope.  As Catholics we wait for two things: First the Incarnation on Christmas and Second, we are still waiting for the Second Coming of Our Lord.  Look at it is this way.  The Jews waited 4000 years for the Messiah.  I can wait a month to jump into Christmas in order to fully live out Advent.  My husband and I go shopping for our Christmas Tree on Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent).  If we did not travel at Christmas, we would wait until Christmas Eve.  The Church does not start celebrating Christmas until Christmas Eve Vigil.
Waiting can be hard.  We are surrounded by Christmas carols, trees, decorated houses and stores, and holiday food.  It is hard to not partake.  Perhaps slowly work Advent into your family’s traditions this year.  Get an Advent wreath and light it each night.  Imagine what the Jews felt like as they waited for the promised Messiah.  Truly think about what it means to wait for the Second Coming.  Are we all ready?
Here are some suggestions for living out Advent more fully:
*If you have not done so already, push back buying your tree a week or two.  Or wait until Gaudete Sunday like us.
*Wait to turn your Christmas lights on outside until Christmas Eve and then keep them up during the liturgical Christmas season that can go well into January depending on when you decide to stop.  Some cultures celebrate Christmas until the Presentation of Our Lord and others until his Baptism, and some until Epiphany.
*Do a Jesse Tree with your family.  My friend Christine over at Domestic Vocation has a full guide to doing a Jesse Tree.
*Light the Advent wreath during dinner.
*Light the Advent wreath and do a prayer reflection with your family.  End singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel
*Postpone Christmas music at least until Gaudete Sunday. Now this one is hard in our culture.  You may have to bring CDs or your iPod in your car.
*If you are not ready to jump fully into Advent, perhaps just make Sundays a Christmas free time that focuses on the beatiful season of Advent.
Remember we are a joyful people.  We know that Christ is coming and that is why we wait in joyful hope.  Advent can teach us a lot about the spiritual life.  Sometimes we must be patient and wait for joy, but God uses that waiting to shape us.
How can you bring Advent into your home? Do you have Advent traditions that you do in your family? Share them in the comments section.

Jesus Christ Leading Us Into the Deep

” Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,* he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I;* do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith,* why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Matthew 14:22-33

A lot of the spiritual life is about being led out into the deep.  I was thinking about St. Peter walking out on the waves as I prayed my Rosary Sunday evening.  I was thinking about it because I lack the courage to step out of the boat a lot of the time.  To be led deeper into God, towards God. It takes great courage.  It is something that a lot of us intentionally avoid.

St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking.  He and I are so similar that way.
St. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts sinking. He and I are so similar that way.

We all like to be comfortable.  We want to feel good in our spiritual life, but faith is  not about feelings.  In fact, the journey to holiness requires us to get out of the boat and serve others outside of our comfort zone.  I am learning this by doing the ministries I have been called to.  Being a Eucharistic Minister to the sick, was not my doing.  Our Lord called me there to minister to his faithful who are on, or carrying their Cross.  It is deeply uncomfortable.  Why?  Well, I struggle with fears of death, I have to walk into strangers’ rooms where they are suffering greatly (haven’t done that since 9-11), I am a deeply empathetic person, so it is really hard for me to see people suffering.  Even with my struggles, He blesses me as I bring Him to those in need.  In doing this ministry I am serving “the least of these” in His name.  I am actually walking into the deep.
I am also teaching junior high religious education this year.  Teaching is a gift God has given me.  I have taught for years.  It just happens that I believe junior high is the hardest age group to teach.  It is a difficult time.  I hated junior high.  It is an awkward time period.  I really like my students.  They don’t know it, but I offer up Masses, Rosaries, and prayers for them weekly.  But, more than anything, I want them to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ.  That is my prayer for them.  All I can do is give them the tools, they have to choose to answer His call.
Being a catechist to this age group requires great patience on my part.  I can have a tendency to be too theological at times and that is not what this group needs from me.  I can save that for Lay Dominicans.  What they need is to see the joy that stems from the Christian life.  They need to know that Our Lord loves them and is calling them to follow Him.  They need to know what a gift the Church is to us.  What an incredible gift we have in the Sacraments.  The world does not understand us, in fact, it is hostile to Christ and His Church.  It has been that way since the beginning.  We need to give these kids the tools to help them live out the mission.  I have had to acknowledge my own limitations.  I am not these kids’ parents.  It is their parents’ job to teach and raise them in the faith.  Something that is sorely lacking and that is why I pray so much for them.

Christ the King of the Universe.  Is it bad that I told our students that is is not Obama?
Christ the King of the Universe. Is it bad that I told our students that it is not Obama?

When Christ calls us to serve, He is calling us into the deep.  We are to keep our eyes on Him and trust that He will lead us.  St. Peter could walk on water, until he took his eyes off of Jesus.  I know it is the end of the liturgical year and we just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe, but trust and a deeper relationship with God were on my mind.  Probably because no title reminds of God’s awe-inspiring Creation, power, and authority than Christ the King of the Universe.  It reminds me of how truly small I am.
To be quite honest, ministry is much easier for me than deepening my spiritual life through prayer.  Yes, I pray Lauds and Vespers, as well as a Rosary every day as I prepare for a secondary vocation as a Lay Dominican.  When I enter into deeper prayer, I get the feeling like I need to catch my breath.  Like I am not ready for the deep end of the pool.  I can only describe it as a sense of the Numinous that CS Lewis writes about.  I get a sense of awe that is accompanied by dread.  Going deeper into the heart of God is not easy.  Look at the Saints.  It comes with joy, but also great trial and suffering.

This monk is not running from the Numinous.
This monk is not running from the Numinous.

My tendency is to want to stay in my comfort prayer zone.  I do my prayers, I read the Scripture often, I read theological books, but I tend to turn and run from anything resembling contemplative prayer.  When I read the mystical prayer experiences of many of the Saints my first thought is, that is just not for me Lord. Okay, so I won’t be levitating anytime soon and that is not what I am afraid of.  It is more a fear of the unknown.  Part of it is the darkness of sin that I see on me, which is why I go to regular Confession.  There is nothing in this life that will remind us of our sinful nature like prayer and Confession.  I feel I am not worthy of a deep encounter with God.  I have to get over this and be humble, but not self-pitying.  Part of it is fear of the unknown, especially the Numinous.  Some of it is my fear of suffering.

The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.
The Crucifixion must come before the Resurrection.

The great paradox of joy is that it only comes from God.  It is not happiness.  It  is something so much deeper and more profound.  I have experienced real joy only a few times in my life: during the reception of Sacraments to include my wedding day, the day my daughter was born, and the day she was Baptized.  But joy only comes when we are fully open to it.  It also seems to come to us once we are in our vocation, receive a Sacrament, or some other grace.  That is my personal experience.  In order to more fully receive joy, we must free ourselves to God’s call in our lives, including that call to follow him into the deep,  and that inevitably means the Cross.  There is no Resurrection without the Cross.  I know this and that is why I struggle with moving forward at times.  I long for God, but I allow my own fear to win out sometimes.  I know the Cross is conquered, but I still have to go through my own Cross (I carry it daily) and death some day.

Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor.  Her countenance? JOY
Gave up her life to serve the poorest of the poor. Her countenance? JOY

Lived under the Communists.  Became Pope.  JOY.
Lived under the Communists. Became Pope. JOY.

I have to wonder if that is why we distract ourselves so much these days.  We do everything we can to block God out.  We have TVs, computers, radios, tablets, cell phones, etc on constantly.  It’s as though we do not want to hear that still small voice calling to us.  It makes us uncomfortable.  He requires change from us.  He requires we give our all to Him.  He calls us on the path to Sainthood.  That is the meaning of life: to be a saint.
How many of us stay in our comfort zones in how we serve Christ?  How many of us push back against a deeper encounter with God in our prayer life?  How many of us rely on good feelings rather than a genuine faith in God?  Do we really want joy?  Will we give up everything to attain joy?

Two men who radiate Christ's joy now.
Two men who radiate Christ’s joy now.