Catholic Treasure Chest

The Need to Kneel

When I returned to the Catholic Church in 2013, it truly felt like a homecoming. I was back in the once-familiar sacred environment I hadn’t even realized I had missed. Back among the statues, the artwork, the stained glass windows, the choir music and all of the sacramentals that add layers of beauty and meaning and value to our faith. And it was as if I saw everything with a fresh set of eyes. I was drawn to the mystery of the tabernacle. I studied the face of Mary in the Pieta. I learned (for the first time?) that the mammoth stained glass windows in our church actually depict the mysteries of the rosary. And I filled a bottle with holy water to take home for my newly-purchased font, like I had when I was a kid (and which, btw, would often have a thin layer of ice on the top of it on the extra-cold winter mornings in my unheated upstairs bedroom!). None of these holy elements were present in the Protestant churches I had attended for 25 years. And my soul had missed them dearly. It puts a grateful lump in my throat just to write about it five years later.

But do you want to know the most surprising item in Church that I never knew I missed and craved and needed in my spiritual life all those years away?

The kneelers.

That’s right. When I came back to the Church, I also returned to the custom of kneeling on a regular basis: Kneeling during Mass. Kneeling during Adoration. And kneeling to pray every morning before the crucifix that hangs near my prayer chair.

I missed kneeling to worship my God. When I was a lukewarm cradle Catholic, using the kneelers was an automatic response to certain words and moments in the liturgy. I put no thought into it (other than when the kneelers would slip and make an embarrassingly loud crash on the marble floor!). I took it for granted. And the Protestant church we attended had no kneelers whatsoever, so the practice simply faded away.

But, oh, my dear friends, how we need to kneel.

That thought came rushing back to me this morning as I read Laura Kelly Fanucci’s reflection in the Blessed is She Advent Journal, “In the Beginning.” She was pondering the visit of the three wise men, and their instinct to fall down and worship the infant Christ Child when at last they found him. She surmised it was an overwhelming mixture of awe and wonder and joy that compelled them to fall to their knees.

I can name several times in my life when I fell to my knees, but it was not in awe and wonder and joy. It was in desperation: When my father-in-law coded after his heart surgery. When my dad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. When my first baby was lost to miscarriage. Those are times when we involuntarily kneel because we can no longer support ourselves and we need the arms of Jesus to hold us, lift us, carry us.

But now, in this holy season of Advent, as I consider anew the coming of the Savior of the World, I want to fall to my knees more often. In awe and wonder and joy. But also in utter thankfulness. And in surrender. When I am on my knees with my head bowed, it is a posture of humility and surrender and reminds me that this is what my Lord wants from me.

“All He wants is us—not our wealth, or achievements or status or power. Just the open gift of ourselves. We can give Him this. There is nothing to achieve this Advent. There is only ourselves to surrender. He only wants you,” says Laura in the journal. “Sink to your knees. Turn to wonder and worship. Bow your head and let your heart rest in His in joy.”

She knows it. The three wise men knew it. And after decades away, I figured it out too.

We need to kneel.

Sink to your knees–at your bedside, at Mass, during a walk in the woods–wherever!–and give yourself to your Savior this Advent. It’s the best gift you could give him.

Praying with a Pen

The Luxury of a Look-back

One of the true advantages and joys of prayer journaling is the ability to look back through your journal pages and see how God has been at work in your life. It’s a consolation, an encouragement and an inspiration to keep moving ahead with your spiritual life! By marking your lessons and insights and realizations (I call them Holy Whispers or even Holy Moly Moments) in your prayer journal, you can easily return to them and recall how God loved you through a difficult phase. Here’s how I (and others) explain it in Praying with a Pen:

“…Don’t let my excitement over Holy Whispers and Holy Moly Moments received in prayer journaling give you the impression that I get these experiences all the time, every day and with the same constant pace that dirty laundry piles up in the laundry room. I don’t. The examples I’ve shared in this book have come to me over the course of many years. I am not a mystic or a saint or even someone who feels extra close to God all day, every day. I am a passenger on the struggle bus, just like you. I am someone who has gotten much better at being quiet and listening, thanks to prayer journaling. But I have a long way to go. In fact, most of the time when I figure out something significant, I want to shake my head and say, Duh, Mary Beth! How could you have not realized this before? And I often go days or weeks without feeling I’m making any progress at all. But that’s another reason to prayer journal and mark your “moments”—when you feel like you are going through a time of spiritual dryness, you can open your past notebooks and smile and have renewed hope and faith. You will know that you are drawing nearer, daughter of a King, one page at a time.

St. Augustine is quoted, “God loves each of us as if there was only one of us.” This means the Holy Whispers you receive will be different from my Holy Whispers, and your Holy Moly Moments will be different from my Holy Moly Moments. God will speak to you in your own language. “If I sense something from the Lord, I write that down,” says Debbie Guardino. “The more you pray, the more comfortable you are in knowing whether it’s the Lord’s voice you hear. The Lord is never speaking above my head in prayer journaling.”

You will want to track those unique-to-you whispers and moments so you will be able to appreciate your steady spiritual growth and progress. I had always known God’s hand was at work in my life, but when I began to track my spiritual growth and insights through my journal pages, I was floored. I could clearly see that grace was changing me, that prayers were indeed answered, that I felt greater peace despite any upheaval that was going on in my life at the time.

Prayer journaling will help you see what God is doing in your life, too, if you learn to mark your moments. Adriene, Jackie and Debbie have all seen the benefits of tracking and reviewing their journal entries. “It is so wonderful to look back at past entries—I can see just what God was showing me during all seasons of my life,” said Adriene. “One of the best things about journaling is it allows me to trace God’s hand of faithfulness,” Jackie said. “When I feel like God isn’t hearing me, I can go back in my journal and see where God has been faithful even though he didn’t answer my prayers like I thought they should be answered (Ha—why do we think we know better than God?).” Debbie adds, “I rely on looking back on my previous prayer journaling experiences when things are difficult: ‘You did hear me and you answered!’”

My friends–mark your prayer journaling “AHA!” moments so you can have the luxury of a look-back!


Prayer Journal Pondering

Forward in Faith

Wowza, is this world a hot mess right now.  Violence in our schools, deadly mass shootings, incredible natural disasters, government scandals and corruption—and that’s just on the national scale. Every day it seems we are faced with some new challenge in our own little worlds too: Challenges to our belief in goodness, our belief in humanity, and even our belief in a loving, ever-present God.

In one week in October, we had two deaths in our family. One was a long life well-lived, yet still came as a surprise. The other was a life sadly cut short, but was anticipated after a five-year bout with cancer.  I’m the first to admit it’s hard to make sense of it all.

In times like these I turn to an encouraging phrase that came together for me one morning in prayer journaling.  After reading the day’s gospel about Peter who tries to walk across the water to meet Jesus and then takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to sink, I wrote, Move forward in faith. Not just move forward, passing through the tragedies and the illnesses and the unfortunate events we are forced to deal with. There are millions in this world who simply move forward. The trick is moving forward in faith.  Not turning away from God, or being paralyzed by fear, or losing hope, but letting Jesus accompany us through our grief and confusion, allowing him to fight our battles with the evil one, and inviting him in to tend to our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.  Moving forward in faith means keeping our eyes on Jesus as we attempt to sort out and sift through life’s chaos. It’ the only guarantee we have against outright sinking.

Forward in Faith has helped me hand off my adult son to God this year, when the mom in me was desperately trying to hang on to my role (can anyone else relate??).  Forward in Faith has helped me leave a close-to-my-heart, part-time job behind as I make room for better things. And Forward in Faith has helped me slog through the grieving process and comfort others along the way.

I wrote this a few pages later in my prayer journal:

Jesus, you tell me: “Take courage, It is I. Do not be afraid. I am with you. I love you and you are mine.” So… Forward in Faith we will go together. Help me to be unafraid and always willing to move forward in faith with you.

Don’t try to go it alone, girlfriends. Focus on Jesus and go Forward in Faith!


Prayer Journal Pondering

A Magnificat New Year

My palms were sweating like crazy. It was only my second attempt at the Sacrament of Reconciliation since returning to the Catholic Church after a 25-year hiatus. I stood in line at an unfamiliar church with unfamiliar people in order to sit across from an unfamiliar priest and confess my sins and struggles. Somehow I suppressed my overwhelming desire to turn tail and run, if only because I was concerned that my new boots would slip on the marble floor and I would end up doing ungainly splits in front of an imposing statue of Saint Joseph. This was not on my life bucket list. So I imagined myself breathing into a brown paper bag to calm down and I stepped into the confessional area.

Sisters, am I glad I did.

Read the rest of this post over at Catholic Sistas!

Tiny Revelations

Don’t Taste It!

Every once in a while, a television commercial truly entertains me. Instead of fast-forwarding past it (or, more accurately, having my hubby fast-forward past it), I want to watch and enjoy it. Mostly, it’s been the insurance company commercials that make me hit the pause button and giggle. The “Mayhem” commercials influenced me enough that I named our adopted hyperactive/unpredictable/destructive stray kitten after the character. The “Jake from State Farm” commercials spawned Halloween costumes for my husband and me—he being Jake with the red shirt, name tag and, of course, khakis, and me as the suspicious wife in my robe with a phone in my hand. And I cannot get enough of the synchronized swimming dogs in the Farmers Insurance commercials. They just crack me up.

My current pause-worthy commercial is from Geico. It features a bevy of raccoons feasting on leftovers in a dumpster and having a very human-like conversation about whatever is tickling—or terrorizing— their taste buds.  “Oh man, this is terrible. Try this. It’s awful,” one raccoon says to his buddy. “It’s like mango, chutney… and burnt hair.”

I laugh out loud every time.  Isn’t it so true that when we taste something bad, we want others to experience it too? I did it just the other day at a restaurant in a city known for its foul tap water. “Ugh! This water tastes like gravel,” I told my husband. “Taste it!” He didn’t fall for it. In fact, rarely does anyone over the age of 8 ever fall for this request. So why do we even bother asking?

I think it’s because we humans like shared experiences. We want affirmation, we want a co-experiencer, we want to pull someone else in so we can revel in mutual disgust! It’s much more fun to lament in a group than to complain or criticize in private.  And it’s harmless…as long as the subject matter is harmless. Bad water, spoiled food: harmless. Talking about people: not so much.

When the subject is people, girlfriends, that’s when we can get into trouble. It’s a slippery slope. We can be tempted to gossip, slander and tear down. Did we have a poor customer service experience in a store? We want to plaster it all over Facebook. Did someone disappoint us? We are drawn to tell others in our circle all about it. Did a co-worker make a mistake? We can’t wait to let others know about it at lunch. We want them to “taste it” too, whatever “it” is. This is a bad habit to get into–one that has eternal consequences. We can’t fall for it, friends! As Saint Paul warns the Ephesians in 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” When you are tempted, or when you are in a group that is giving in to the temptation to gossip, slander or tear down, take action: Say a prayer, tame your tongue, change the subject, walk away. Don’t taste it! It’s worse than gravel and burnt hair—it’s sin.

We (me included as a repeat offender) need to put a clamp on this kind of “sharing.” Proverbs 11:13 teaches us: “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered,” So…let’s not reveal secrets. Let’s be trustworthy. Let’s vow to keep a lid on the destructive talk. When the subject is a puzzled palate, go ahead—invite others to taste it! It’s all in fun. But when the subject is people, let’s keep it covered, build each other up and give only grace to those who hear!  Deal? Deal.

And we can all just keep on wondering what mango, chutney and burnt hair tastes like…

Praying with a Pen, Tiny Revelations

Praying for Little Things (or Die, Stupid Wind!)

The air was ten-degrees-below-crisp as I stretched my hamstring muscles and tried to get ready for a run/walk/trudge down the road. It was early morning but The Wind was already at an unfriendly level and I needed to give myself a pep talk. I can handle ten-degrees-below-crisp, but ladies I despise wind in my face. This is a problem because I live in the flatlands of rural America, you know, where “the winds come sweeping down the plains.” All day. Every day. When it’s not breezy, people around here are kinda spooked: “Nice calm day, isn’t it? For now?” I should be used to it, as I have lived 90% of my life in this area. But I am not. Like an angry old woman, I still shake my fist at The Wind when it makes me catch my breath, or nudges me off course, or blows my hair into rats-nest tangles.
In past winters, The Wind got the best of me on my daily walk attempts. I would high-tail it back to the house, not even making it to the end of the driveway if the wind was too strong for me. I gave up, admitted defeat, waved a white flag of surrender after about 3.6 seconds. Diet and fitness goals notwithstanding, I was not going out there to be battered about like one of those inflatable clown punching bags. I would retreat to the house, search out a chunk of a Ghirardelli Sea Salt Soiree candy bar (side note: a little bit of heaven on earth) and stew about my thwarted diet and fitness goals.
This winter I decided things were going to be different. I was going to ask my good friend the Holy Spirit for the extra fortitude I needed to take on my nemesis. Now friends, let’s get real here for a sec: Over the course of my lifetime I have had to ask the Holy Spirit for the fortitude to handle much more onerous tasks, believe me. On the scale of challenges for which I need Divine Assistance, wind in my face is not even on the radar. Still, I know God is interested in both the big and small obstacles in our lives, and I figured the fact that I liked to pray on my walks/runs would give this dilemma a little more weight with the Almighty. So I gave it a go. I prayed for resilience against The Wind.
Well, guess what. Outside of the few days when the temps dipped below humane levels, or the road was encrusted in death-defying layers of ice, I’ve been out there! In The Wind! Walking, jogging, wogging, whatever it is that I do. I’m feeling better, I’m getting outside, I have more energy and I’m keeping the winter blues at bay.
Granted, I bought thermal jogging pants, insulated sweatshirts, a hat with a pocket for those little warming blocks, fuzzy running gloves, head warmers, a hilarious fleece kerchief-type thing that goes over my mouth and nose and, yes– running goggles. People, I look like an escaping bank robber with bad eyes and a misshapen head coming down the road. But I’m out there, by golly, running against the wind just like Bob Seger wants me to do. With my uncoordinated yet highly effective attire and a prayer for strength before I leave the house, “The Wind” has been reduced to just “the wind.”
What have I learned? I pondered this in my prayer journal one morning this week. “God is truly invested in my day-to-day life,” I concluded. He is not just to be called on for the big honking problems I have. He wants to walk with me—and you–all throughout the day: through the highs and lows, the interruptions, the ordinary frustrations.
He wants to walk with us through the wind, the literal kind and the figurative kind. He wants to hold our hands and help us through it all, day by day, hour by hour, step by step.
I like this concept of walking through the wind of my daily life with Jesus.
And bonus—he doesn’t mind what I look like while we’re walking.