“You Haven’t Written in a While…”

Dear Mary Jo,

I’ve noticed you haven’t written in a while. I hope all is well for you and your family. The events of the last several months have been tough on all of us. You don’t know me, but you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing your perspective on family life and faith and I hope you continue to write. Maybe you’ve just switched formats and I’m not aware. Either way, God bless you and your family.

Blessings,

Donna

As this thoughtful reader’s email aptly points out, I haven’t written in a while. Many of you are thinking, yeah, and so?… Well, at least Donna misses me!  First off, thank you for your sweet letter. To answer your welcome question, our skeletal staff of five here at “Late For Church,” (AKA the family) are faring remarkably well despite the roller coaster of events playing out across our country and world. Other than a nasty flu-like virus (COVID? possibly, but not definite)  which hit my son, daughter, and me at the beginning of March, we are all fine. I can readily speak to their physical health, however not so knowledgeably on their emotional, mental health. How is it that I cannot nail down my kids’ and husband’s moods when we’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time together, living on top of each other for months? I can barely grasp my own thoughts and feelings, let alone the rest of my family.

There are a whole slew of reasons I haven’t written, starting with the absence of coherent thoughts for many many weeks. Maybe some of you can appreciate this. My mind has raced more than a spry cat chasing a moth with a death wish. (Moths are on my mind as Colorado is in the middle of a seven year cycle of Miller moth infestation. They’re everywhere! Which doesn’t help dispel desperate feelings that we’re experiencing Biblical plagues.) Backwards and forwards my thoughts dart, jumping quickly here, then changing course mid-attack. My random thoughts taunt my brain, “Missed me again, SUCKA!” Honestly, I don’t know precisely how I feel about anything. I have strong thoughts about our our collective health, race problems, politics, the Church, and on and on, then not thirty minutes later, I’m arguing vociferously against those assertions in my schizophrenic brain. I often find things funny, until they are really really sad. “Ha-ha-haaaa! That’s so funny, I’m crying. Sniff sniff, WAAAA!” From laughter to ugly cry in under three minutes. Also, I have been very sensitive to all the heightened rhetoric being written in my social media feeds, and even in texts from friends. Many speak and write in black and white terms, “This is the ONLY way we will get out of this mess.” And, “How can people do/ think/ be THIS way! Liberals/Conservatives are so (fill in the blank with nasty term of choice.) A lot of these posts and texts are sent by people I admire and respect. Alas, everywhere I look—essays that make it sound as if there’s one simple solution. Then all will be fine and dandy, if only people would just hop on board. But everyone has opposing ideas. I have consciously avoided adding to the dissenting chatter. Besides, I can offer no solution. I’m not certain of much right now.

In addition to the above reasons, though we are living in what is ominously been termed over and over as “unprecedented times,” my daily life has become oh so far from unprecedented. Life consists of my very familiar home, husband, and kids, laundry, lunch, dinner, and dishes. Rinse and repeat and that’s a week. Before the pandemic, I drew inspiration from wandering explorations through a list of stores, or walks in places packed with people, and in face-to-face interactions with extended family, close friends, neighbors, and strangers, meetings, coffee dates. Now everything is so… sanitized. I’m not speaking of hand sanitizer, although we do use a lot around here. I am so much more calculated about my interactions and trips out. I map out a plan and act in all efficiency to complete each specified task. I used to meander the aisles or linger places, chatting with those I encountered along the way. We’re all wearing masks. It’s like trying to have a heart to heart in the operating room. I feel tethered by circumstances, but also by the admittedly self-imposed walls of fear, and occasional despair. I’ve lost the gift of spontaneity which is such an inspiration killer. 

Now in this season of COVID and cultural unrest, I find that my life is again meticulously planned and constrained by what I’m advised to do to protect my health and that of my loved ones. I feel constricted by how I am being told I am supposed to think about all that’s unraveling in the world. People impose their opinions about how I need to think and act as a good Christian and a good citizen. Again, no clear path as everyone seems to disagree what that looks like. I feel confused and stymied. Sadly, over the last months, I have lost sight of what inspires me—writing.

My break from writing hasn’t been all bad. I have tried, though not always succeeded, in being more present to my husband and kids. They are experiencing the same worldly tumult that can’t simply be shut out when we lock the doors at night. We’ve enjoyed slowing down together, though it was admittedly bumpy at first. I have also prayed more, A LOT more. Those are both really good things. But I’ve really missed tapping away on my keyboard or scratching excitedly in a fresh legal pad.

So, Donna that’s what’s  been going on. Thank you for encouraging me to write. God willing, there will be more to come. I hope we can all encourage one another to choose to continue to do things that inspire us. It’s not our surroundings or circumstances, which frankly are kinda bleak right now, but how we respond that makes all the difference. What inspires you? Are you doing it? If not, why?

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Hate This! Not That!

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Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”  The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…

Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.  Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!

Continue reading “Hate This! Not That!”

Feasting, Fasting & Perfection

What’s your take on fasting? If you’re a well-adjusted God-fearing, healthy individual, it’s always a good thing, right? Recently, God the Father surprised me by His answer.

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Why am I even thinking about fasting now?! According to the liturgical calendar, we are squarely in a season of feasting. Woohoo! Lemme at the goodies! Yesterday we marked the joyful feast of the Epiphany. Our family joined another family at a doughnut shop after Mass. And what says feasting better than greasy fried cakes covered with icing and sprinkles? Nothing in my book. While I did manage to refrain from partaking in the sugary treats this time, the truth is, ever since Christmas Eve I have taken to the feasting principle like a portly duck to buoyant waters. Who doesn’t enjoy all the great foods that accompany our jubilant holy days during the Christmas season? I single-handedly made enough pizzelles to supply the Italian World Cup soccer team for a good year. Santo Cielo!

Continue reading “Feasting, Fasting & Perfection”

Popping the Catholic Bubble

I am not a hugger. But I have a dear friend who is. She will “love-on” the most unsuspecting stranger with abandon. Often when I’ve introduced her to others I lead with, “Be prepared… she’s a hugger.” Then I stand back as she envelops them in a firestorm of affection. If the recipient of the hug is not particularly into it, they often glare at me over her shoulder, followed by a resigned eye-roll from within the folds of her exuberantly tight embrace. I just watch, both cringing and marveling at her expressive boldness.

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How to explain the hugger vs. the non-hugger? Well, my emotionally demonstrative friend has a much smaller personal space bubble than I. You’ve heard how different cultures have varying ideas of acceptable physical contact upon introductions. If you have a Mediterranean bubble, you’re more hands-on and more likely to touch, hug or even kiss someone you’ve just met. Picture the Italians’ cheek-to-cheek smooch, which is a standard greeting among new acquaintances. A person of German or British descent, however, might be more likely to give you a good bit of space and disdain any seemingly gratuitous touching with a person who is not a relative or friend. And a joyful, extroverted lady who hails from the heart of Iowa?—well, expect a big old midwestern uninhibited hug. (For the record, I do hug, but the aforementioned  requirements of relative or friend  must be met before I feel—to borrow from the cool kids’ vernacular— “getting all up into someone’s grille.”)

Continue reading “Popping the Catholic Bubble”

Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

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.

Continue reading “Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?”

Just Say “NO”

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Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “Every time we give in to selfishness and say “no” to God we spoil His loving plan for us.” Wise words indeed. But when we say “no” to someone in our community does that necessarily mean we are also saying “no” to God? This is a conundrum I think many earnest Christians grapple with, myself included. We try to banish the word “no” from our vocabulary. Or if we do say no, (SHOCKING!) we are racked with guilt. Is this healthy Christian thinking? And exactly how often are we required to say yes? Are there times when it is perfectly OK to say no? What’s at the source of this prejudice against no? Scripture has something to say about the concept of avoiding selfishness. Jesus has set the bar a teensy bit high.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.                                       —Philippians 2, 5-8

Then, He ratchets it up. 

This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.                                     —John 15, 12-13

It’s right there in black and white. He expects us to lay down our lives for our friends. With those seemingly incriminating scripture passages in mind, the panic sets in. As the thinking goes, if the Almighty wants us to be willing to martyr ourselves, what would He think of us saying “no” to helping out with some random Church ministry? It’s hard to even equate dying for someone, with contributing to the cleanup crew for a Lenten fish fry. Yet, this is the reality of the daily grind and if you’re human, which my husband regularly confirms I am, you have to say no occasionally, right? Before further investigation into the Land of NO, let’s consider its inverse territory, YES-ville. Continue reading “Just Say “NO””

Predicting the Future

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I often get antsy and impatient thinking about my future or my family’s future. When I have a really sick kid, when I go for a mammogram, when I’ve hit a rough patch with a friend or a family member, I desperately want to know what’s on the horizon. Maybe as the youngest of three children, I was ingrained with a deep suspicion that I was being left out of the plans, and woefully in the dark. I recall being the only one excluded from a shared “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” moment after I realized Santa always used a fireplace and yet, “Hey, wait a second! We don’t even HAVE a fireplace…”

“In those cases, he uses a magic key,” my mom assured. I remember the weird smiles plastered on everyone else’s faces. My instincts screamed there was a lot more to this story, but I just couldn’t grasp it. It drove me nuts! As an adult, I still have a strong desire to know how things are going to play out. And I’m just as frustrated when I don’t. What will things look like in 10 years? Where will I be? I find myself even getting impatient with God. I consider how nice it would be to be able to look into a crystal ball to have every answer laid out in front of me, just to get a quick glimpse of what to expect, what to not stress about, and what treacherous pitfalls to be prepared for. Continue reading “Predicting the Future”

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 skincare 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. 

Anatomy of a Catholic Snob

Do you regularly turn up your nose at other Catholics and Christians? Is your personal piety beyond reproach? Are you constantly flaunting your superior “Catholic cred”? You may be a Catholic Snob. Here are the ways to spot “if your nose is in the air and you just don’t care!” 

You may be a Catholic Snob if…

1. You have no funny bone.

In order to really appreciate our human condition as well as our Catholic faith, it’s important to be able to laugh, especially at ourselves. Laughing at our own foibles, but with a sincere and contrite heart is a small step towards sainthood. St. Francis de Sales remarked, “Humor is the foundation of reconciliation.” While St. Padre Pio is credited with saying, “serve the Lord with laughter,” the Catholic Snob finds very little funny. They can be severe and make many harsh judgments about others and themselves. If they are found laughing, often it is because they’ve met someone who prefers the guitar mass to Gregorian chant. Continue reading “Anatomy of a Catholic Snob”