Dear Mary

My sons were confirmed this May. So, newly sealed and ignited by the Holy Spirit they followed in the apostles’ perilous footsteps by taking on the arduous task of… er, sending out handwritten thank you notes. What an exasperating mission for two perfectly capable, literate, bright students, ages nine and eleven, respectively. And if you think it was tough on their end—

“What?! We have to address the envelope TOO?! My hand is killing me!”— you should know it was no picnic for me either.

“Did you like the gift that Aunt “so-n-so” gave you? Well, your sketch of a smiling… slug?… is AMAZING, but does NOT qualify as a thank you note. You must incorporate actual WORDS. This is not a suggestion. DO. IT. NOW!”

“FINE. But anyone can tell it’s a DOVE!” Harrumph!

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As they stamped their last few envelopes, my letter-writing challenged boys wondered why anyone would ever go to all the trouble of sending boring old mail. They remarked that e-mail and texting were downright hassle-free in comparison. And while I agree with my sons, who were born AFTER the advent of the iPhone, sending snail-mail isn’t without its own challenges—heck, I can barely manage a few sentences without loads of mistakes in chicken scratch masquerading as penmanship—I also realize that so-called effortless electronic communication: tweets, FB posts, texts, email and the like, present their own set of pitfalls. In fact, I would argue that these newer forms of communication are way more tricky, to get right anyway. Continue reading “Dear Mary”

Look to the Light

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There’s a time in the late afternoon when the spectacular Denver sun streams through the windows of my kitchen, casting an illuminating beam across the expanse of floors and countertops. The light hits at such a precise angle as to expose a blanket of crumbs lurking near the toaster, the layers of dust hidden in a corner under a cabinet and the otherwise invisible stains near the base of our wastebasket. It’s as if nature’s very own high-powered S.W.A.T. searchlight pours into the shadows, revealing the hidden, dirty underbelly of the kitchen. Once in a while, I delight in the chance to wipe out a smattering of crumbs or rub out the trail of sticky spots on my laminate floor.

Continue reading “Look to the Light”

I Don’t Need Anything

“I don’t need anything.” That was the standard response my dad would supply every year when asked what he wanted for Christmas. If I was insistent, “C’mon, Dad!” He’d usually follow up with, “Just love one another…” No doubt he truly desired that my brothers and I got along, but he just wasn’t getting it. For goodness sake, I was looking for something to spend my money on. I was a successful babysitter with cash burning a hole in my Jordache jeans pocket. I wanted to feel a part of the whirring consumer machine at the mall like everybody else. I planned to prove my love for family with a dazzling gadget or name brand clothing item. As much as I’d like to blame it on being a silly 15-year-old who coveted her subscription to Seventeen Magazine more than her Catholic school education, I still feel that pull to commercialize Christmas today. More than 3 decades later it’s just as strong—that allure to buy the perfect hostess gift that will make everyone at the party oooh and aaah, or find the greatest new anti-aging skin care product for a friend which makes me more influential than Oprah.

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Continue reading “I Don’t Need Anything”

Are You a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

If you doubt me, just head to your neighborhood parish where on any given Sunday, you can see the parade of Zombie Catholics. I can spot ‘em from a mile away… because I was a Zombie Catholic. After years, maybe decades of having a deadened look in my eye through the whole celebration of the Holy Mass, by the grace of God, the scales have fallen away. So, from someone who’s managed to escape the dreaded Zombie Zone, here’s how you can spot the signs and combat this haunting inclination. Beware!

SIGNS YOU’RE A ZOMBIE CATHOLIC

1.) Your seating choice is decided by how best to make a subtle, late entrance and a discreet, speedy exit. You park in one of the last pews, a mere side-step and you’re swimming in the baptismal font. Back here, you keep a Jackie O low-profile. And if you nod off during a long homily, no big whoop. No one’s making eye contact this far back. You actually scoff at the poor saps who sit up front. Why do you need to see anything? You’ve only been through the mass 5 million-gajillion times! Nothing. New. Here.

2.) The last time you willingly sang a church hymn with abandon, you were three. It’s probably been many years since you even cracked the music issue. If you do sing with gusto, perchance, it’s only because your Catholic autopilot kicks in from time to time. “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on Earth…” You have to admit it’s a catchy tune. I used to cringe when people around me sang too loudly, probably because they were jarring me out of my self-involved daydream. “How dare she shake me from my own thoughts with her exuberant, joyful singing!” 

3.) You approach the Holy Eucharist in the same way you would waiting in line for a prescription at the pharmacy. No awe or reverence before the real presence. Just disengaged resignation. You’ve been told you need this, but you’re not exactly sure why. You appear spaced-out as you shuffle along in line. Your posture belies boredom and impatience. In your mind, this signifies the end of mass, so let’s get this show on the road, already. I want my medicine so I can high-tail it outta here. 

4.) Your idea of fellowship after mass is grudgingly giving the old lady in the parking lot the right of way as she totters through the crosswalk. She nods and you nod back. Then you accelerate and get on with your Sunday plans. You’ve officially checked the duty box for the day.

If any of this sounds familiar, don’t lose heart. There’s hope for fighting off the march of the Zombies. Here are some tips that helped me battle my way out of it.

WEAPONS TO FIGHT THE ZOMBIE CATHOLIC

1.) Make a trip to confession even before you attend mass again. Do some serious soul searching to uncover the sin that may be creating a barrier to your intimacy with God. There’s nothing that will intensify your desire for the Eucharist and the mass than an encounter with the loving embrace of God’s mercy. It wasn’t until I finally got serious about confession that I started to dial into God’s voice during the mass. 

2.) Take a quiet moment in your car even before entering the church to say a quick prayer asking Christ to engage your mind and heart for mass. Ask him to quiet the noise in your brain so you may hear Him. Ask the Lord to speak to you.

3.) Turn off all media. Don’t just silence! Truly unplug for the hour you’re there. If your phone starts buzzing, it’s an invitation for your mind to wander. So-called smartphones can numb our brains, leading us quickly into the zombie trance.

4.) Sit closer to the action. For those of you who’ve never done this, it can be daunting at first, but there’s no Q & A where you’ll be quizzed on the words to the Nicene Creed, so take a seat up front and follow along. It’s amazing how much more you notice. This even works with my kids. You might even sing a little. Challenge yourself to truly pay attention especially during the consecration. You don’t need to understand it all, but get engaged in what’s going on. God will lead you. In Scott Hahn’s book, “The Lamb’s Supper,” which I highly recommend, he describes the supernatural drama that surrounds us during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He explains that Pope St. John Paul II described the mass as “Heaven on Earth.” Consider getting a book about the mass. Knowledge is a powerful weapon in defeating the Zombie Catholic.

5.) Consider offering up your Eucharist for the needs of a friend or loved one who is suffering. When you lose focus, consider that person’s trials. As you approach the Blessed Sacrament, remember you are offering up the graces received in Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity for your friend or loved one. This can heighten the magnitude of Christ’s gift in the Eucharist and be a tangible reminder of the solemnity of the occasion.

And above all, keep at it! A Zombie Catholic has stopped trying and is just going through the motions. Once you exert a small bit of effort God will reciprocate in a big way. You’ll soon banish that morbid, pasty-faced Zombie—and in its place become a new creation in Christ. Praise God! Because it happened to this former Zombie Catholic. 

Top 5 Must-Have School Supplies for any Catholic Kid

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I bought the very last thing on my three kids’ exhaustive list of school supplies. I feel like it should end in a day of feasting and celebration. This year, it just happened to coincide with the Feast of the Assumption, so our parish ice cream social after mass served a dual purpose. “Yay” for Mary’s triumphant heavenly entrance and “yay” (with a little y) for me finishing this seemingly endless task. Each year, the last months of summer become a crazy odyssey through various office supply and big box stores trying to narrow down just the right plastic-covered, teal, college-ruled stenographer-style notebook, with medium grade weight paper, designed by multi-cultural children of Eastern African countries. Huh? Okay at the end I digressed into a bit of hyperbole. But you get the drift here. It got me to thinking about all this effort we expend on this “necessary” list of school “essentials.” As Catholics what’s the real essential list? What do our kids truly need as we send them out into the world, whether the public-school system or parochial? Have we equipped our kids with the real essentials? Here’s my list for my kids. I hope it will be a help to you. Continue reading “Top 5 Must-Have School Supplies for any Catholic Kid”