At Play in God’s Creation

61vivvvjcil-_sy498_bo1204203200_I recently had the opportunity to review At Play in God’s Creation: an illuminating coloring book by Tara M. Owens and illustrated by Daniel W. Sorenson, and I am profoundly grateful for the experience. Spending an evening reading and coloring instead of mindlessly scanning Facebook and reading the news brought two things to my attention: 1) I’ve been spending too much time mindlessly scanning Facebook and reading the news and 2) God would like to have a little more of my attention.

As I sat in Starbucks on my night off from putting the children to bed I slowly filled in the intricate design of a flowering tree, having underlined part of a quote from Mother Theresa above:

We cannot find God in noise or agitation. In nature we find silence-the trees, flowers, and grass grow in silence. The stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence. Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere-in the closing of a door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, in the animals.

I’d underlined “in the person who needs you”. I really hadn’t been able to see God that particular day or even week in my little children who seemed to need me constantly. The wear of having dealt with them with so little love hung heavy on my heart. I colored and felt the frustrations of encountering the same bad behavior in all of us with seemingly no change bubble up and dissipate.

I also noticed the initial stress of sitting down to color such an intricate design–I was never going to finish! I caught my distress, had a little chuckle at myself, and wondered what else in my day I was rushing through to simply get done. There were a million little jobs at home that I could’ve done today. Maybe they were like these flowers? I seemed to rush through my whole day-had I done any of my work well? Maybe like this page God didn’t expect me to finish it all. I colored some more, admiring the symmetry of the picture.

Oo, I spotted a cluster of grapes. There some hidden pictures scattered throughout the book, and I’d have to look up what those meant later. One little rounded flower stumped me. I wondered what color would look best with it…and I wondered why I kept making the same mistakes at home. For instance, the toddler and three-year-old seemed totally incapable of either playing together nicely or entertaining themselves even for a little bit during the day so that I could get some things done, and they were truly driving me mad. I looked for all the little rounded flowers and remembered that when their older sister was their age, I’d made her a schedule for each day so that she knew what to expect. We both appreciated the shared understanding of what the day would look like, a day complete with activities and times that we both looked forward to, if not always the same ones: why I hadn’t I done that for them? I realized that I’d solved this problem before and resolved to do draw up a plan for tomorrow so that we didn’t run into the same issues as we had today.

I relaxed and eventually finished the top part of the page, satisfied with my progress and encouraged by the author who had written some helpful guidelines for using the book, including the missive to resist feeling like one had to complete an entire page in a sitting. I peeked at the next page and admired the quality of the paper as none of the marker ink had bled through despite my having colored on the page for an hour.

I packed up my things, already looking forward to the next time when I could get out my markers. I felt lighter, happier, more prepared for the next day, so little like how I feel after having wasted a bunch of time online. I felt like God noticed that I’d set some time aside for Him and He joined me, even if it was just to color.

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Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer 

 

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Marriage and the Eucharist: What We Believe and Problems with Amoris Laetitia

Marriage

When we say “I do” at the altar, the Church out of respect for our ability to freely choose our vocation, takes us at our word. When we promise before family, friends, and God that we want to enter into marriage “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” we actually create a bond so strong that only death itself can dissolve it.

We believe that marriage is life-long and also that contraception has no place in the marital relationship. Without the possibility of “help” from contraception and divorce, marriage can appear to our modern eyes as an untenable reality. However, because of the grace available to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have been given the strength to remain faithful to our promise to God and our spouse, come what may. Christ’s ultimate gift of himself to us in turn allows us to give ourselves to others. His sacrifice on Calvary has restored the original meaning of marriage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning: permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of a man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it: “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. [In fact the disciples who heard this teaching were surprised and taken aback by it (Mt 19:10).] However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy—heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life (CCC 1614-15).

The Eucharist

We also believe that at every Mass, the bread and wine are turned into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, to be consumed by us in order to strengthen our love for Him and others. Our reception of the Eucharist signifies our communion with God and His Church. Because we are uniting ourselves to Him in such a radical way, we need to be in a state of grace—free from mortal sin—in order to not “eat and drink judgment” upon ourselves (1 Cor 11).

The Catechism says:

As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him:

Since Christ died for us out of love, when we celebrate the memorial of his death at the moment of sacrifice we ask that love may be granted to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We humbly pray that in the strength of this love by which Christ willed to die for us, we, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, may be able to consider the world as crucified for us, and to be ourselves as crucified to the world…Having received the gift of love, let us die to sin and live for God.”

By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin. The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins—that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church (CCC 1394-1395).

Amoris Laetitia

Last month Amoris Laetitia was released, in which the Holy Father suggests that the divorced and remarried can receive the help of the sacraments. In Chapter VIII, paragraph 305 the Holy Father writes:

“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”

Because the Church’s teaching on marriage and the Eucharist cannot change as it was given to us by Christ himself and reiterated infallibly by the Council of Trent, we must read the Holy Father’s words in light of our faith and Tradition. But first, it is important to note that while divorce “introduces disorder into the family and into society” and often “brings grave harm to the deserted spouse [and]to children traumatized by the separation of their parents,” the Church recognizes that separation and even civil divorce might be necessary in some cases (CCC 2383-2385). However, the fact of divorce alone does not render one unable to receive Holy Communion—as some people mistakenly think. Rather, only when one enters into a manifestly invalid second marriage must they be refused Holy Communion (canon 915).

Therefore, returning to the words of Amoris Laetitia, someone who is in an ongoing and objectively sinful relationship (remarriage), could only receive the help of the sacraments if he or she is in a state of grace. This would be the case, for instance, if he or she has confessed the sin of adultery in the sacrament of Confession and is now living in a continent relationship with the second partner (abstaining from those acts proper to married couples) or if he or she is not morally culpable of individual sexual acts with a second spouse because of having been forced to engage in those acts. Those who have freely chosen to remarry and are freely choosing to engage in sexual acts with a second partner, however, are not free to pursue this pastoral solution to readmittance to the sacrament due to their continued intention to violate the sixth commandment.

In Familiaris Consortio, Saint John Paul II explains the eminently pastoral nature of this discipline of the Church:

However the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who … are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that … they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples (FC 84).

Any Catholic can receive the Holy Eucharist today if he or she only makes a good confession and firmly resolves to sin no more. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that not only does he freely offer the gift of his forgiveness to those who repent, confess their sins, and intend to sin no more, but he also promises us the grace to live out this original meaning of marriage!

For an excellent commentary on Amoris Laetitia and the confusion it’s created, I strongly recommend to you this statement from Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

Photo by Robson Freitas (2015) via Morguefile

“For the Glory!”: Jorgito Wants to be Holy

51YMbry0AbL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I’d like to introduce you to a friend of a friend, Monica C. Ars, a powerhouse of a mom of five from Spain who’s fighting to raise her children in a faith no longer shared by many of her fellow countrymen. Her experiences with priests more concerned about modernity than holiness will resonate with many, as well as the difficulties she encounters in raising a family so different from the others at school who are not intentionally trying to bring their children up in the faith. Her situation feels similar to raising a Catholic family amidst our country’s waning Christianity but also more difficult: I can’t imagine that there are many Walmarts or passenger vans around Spain to make caring for a big family a little easier.

Monica’s written Jorgito Wants to be Holy–translated into English by my friend Carrie–a tale of a strong little boy from a devout family who takes his call to holiness seriously, as does the rest of his family. Jorgito often finds himself at odds with teachers who misunderstand or fear his faith (why was he dressed as St. Michael the Archangel on Halloween and chasing the kids dressed as devils around the playground?) or with classmates who can’t understand why he doesn’t act like the other kids (why was Jorgito kneeling quietly in front of the tabernacle instead of playing—was he being punished?) Jorgito and his family persevere in their mission of uniting their work and suffering to Christ for their sanctification and others’ despite the many pressures from the outside world to give up or give in.

What is truly exceptional about this book is the attitude of Jorgito’s mom and dad, which I’m certain is shared by Monica and her husband. When their children challenge them on their house rules or faith, the parents calmly and with great confidence give their kids the reasons why they are making the decisions that they are or defend the more difficult facets of our faith. For example, when Jorgito learns of a classmate’s loss, that his parents had decided to abort his younger sibling due to a birth defect, Jorgito comes running home to his mom in great pain. He tells her what happened, knowing that it was wrong, and his mother gestures to the nativity scene, showing Jorgito that Christ’s birth and passion proves to us that God loves us despite our many sins and that He offers us forgiveness for even the greatest of them so long as we only ask. Later, Jorgito confesses that he is still very upset by the news, so much so that it hurts him when he breathes. His mom tells him:

“That’s the sign of a Christian, Jorgito. We are bound to the suffering of the cross. The day that you don’t feel pain is the day that you have put down your cross. On that day, you should worry!”

That grates against American ears, doesn’t it? We have the tendency to tell them that doing the right thing feels good and so that’s why we should do it, implying that our faith ought to make us feel good instead of making Jesus happy. Monica’s book is filled with examples of this kind of clear, sensible advice for kids (and parents) on what real Christianity is about: self-sacrificial love and union with Christ in heaven; not doing all that we can to be happy on this earth.

If you are looking for new ideas for how to present our faith to your kids, I really recommend that you read Jorgito. Sometimes we get trapped into simply trying to get our kids to be nice or happy, forgetting that we ought to be teaching them to be holy. Monica’s book might give you some new ideas for how to approach the challenge of raising our kids Catholic with courage, confidence, and enthusiasm. I know it did for me.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

The Immutability of God

Let nothing disturb you,


Let nothing frighten you,


All things are passing away:


God never changes.


Patience obtains all things


Whoever has God lacks nothing;


God alone suffices.


-St. Teresa of Avila

God is perfect. If we want to join Him in heaven one day then we are the ones who must change, we must become like Him. And who is He? He is Love Eternal. And what is love, we often have to ask ourselves, when our daily experience reminds us that love is not simply an emotion. Paul tells us in First Corinthians:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love]is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Love, Paul tells us, is not pompous. It does not bend the truth to make daily life more tolerable by justifying our own bad behavior. The great saints of our time: Blessed Mother Theresa, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Therese of Lisieux, to name a few, are held up as living examples of Christ’s love for us. In their very different life experiences they embraced the wholeness of truth, the fullness of our faith and the sometimes extremely difficult demands that Love made on their lives.

Blessed Mother Theresa was sent to care for Jesus in the poor and she devoted her life to doing so, even becoming as poor as the people she served in order to fully show her love for Jesus in them. She, for example, could have glossed over the truth or emphasized a more acceptable part of our faith in order to raise more money for her order or her people, but she did not.

Pope St. John Paul II gave himself body and soul to his call to the papacy. When Parkinson’s Disease relentlessly overran his body, John Paul II did not hide himself from view but instead courageously continued his public duties even as his once-athletic body became visibly frail, encouraging countless others to carry the cross of their diseases with courage and confidence in their inherent dignity.

When the pressure of common life with her religious sisters felt overwhelming, St. Therese bravely embraced those opportunities to shower love on those who repulsed or angered her, laying aside her pride in obedience to Jesus’s call to love everyone to such a degree as to make those unlovable sisters wonder why St. Therese loved them so much.

These ordinary people became saints because they yielded to God’s love for them instead of their own self-love. Instead of trying to shape the world around them to their own liking, they embraced the opportunity to give themselves away for the sake of Christ’s truth. Their example invites us to reflect on our own sinfulness: where in my life am I insisting on my own truth instead of Christ’s? What sins am I justifying out of fear of change? What demands does my faith place on me that feel overwhelming today?

In prayer we can bring to Our Lord through the intercession of Our Lady our fears and weaknesses, the things that love demands and which fill us with loathing. Instead of hiding from Him or insisting that we’re doing the best that we can, we can instead run to Christ who can begin the sanctifying work of conforming us to His will. He is waiting for us with expansive patience and tenderness, He who was crucified for us. The same love that kept Him in torment for us is still there, unchanged, waiting to change us into beauty and light.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer
Photo: “God-sky” by Plume (2014) via Morguefile

Hazelnuts in the Drawer: St. Zelie’s Method for Helping a Child Overcome a Bad Mood

41JtLGa0kuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I came across some parenting wisdom that was both simple and surprising in a letter from St. Zelie Martin to her teenaged daughter Pauline in A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus 1863-1885.

Talking about Pauline’s younger sister Leonie, St. Zelie writes,

“Yesterday she had an awful day. At noon I told her to make some sacrifices to conquer her bad mood, and that, for each victory, she should put a hazelnut in a drawer I pointed out to her, and we would count them that evening” (p.275).

It took me a little while to think through what was surprising to me about St. Zelie’s method, but then it came to me: St. Zelie recognized that bad moods (ordinary, of course, not clinical) are often caused by our own sinful will and that only the child himself can correct that through conquering his will by self-sacrifice. We know that’s true in our own lives. Happiness isn’t the result of the free exercise of our will but the free exercise of our will to do what’s right: God’s will.

A quick internet search on helping a child overcome a bad mood revealed that St. Zelie’s advice runs counter to what current childhood websites offer for solutions: making sure the child isn’t overtired, hungry, over-scheduled, helping the parent understand that hormones are a difficult thing to manage, etc. In other words, these websites presented plenty of ways to help soothe a child’s body and lots of excuses for a child’s bad behavior, but offered nothing in way of correcting what most likely was the cause: a selfish will, which is a spiritual problem.

We’re often inundated with the messages that if children only have the right environment, the right school, and the right experiences, they’ll turn out just fine. But we’ve been collectively forgetting that children are more than just bodies, they’re souls, too, and unlike plants, they need more than just the right atmosphere in order to flourish.

Good behavior—virtue—is a result of the gradual conforming of our will to God’s. Whether it’s our own bad mood that needs taming or our child’s, St. Zelie helps us remember that nothing beats a little self-sacrifice to help bring back the sunshine.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

The Hidden Power of Kindness

415Rn3KRtnL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Don’t let the little blue butterfly on the front cover fool you. This is one seriously difficult book.

Written by Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik in 1962, The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time is a heavy-hitting guide to help you train yourself to be kinder, even in the most difficult circumstances. Fr. Lovasik, whose life goal was “to make God more known and loved” through his writing, exhorts us to take up the discipline of kindness in order that we may act in the image of God here on earth and reap the benefits now of living that kind of love. We ought to be kind, he writes, because the very nature of God and His love for us is kind.

“Kindness in God,” writes Fr. Lovasik, “is the act of creation and the constant preservation of the world in existence. From divine kindness flow, as from a fountain, the powers and the blessings of all created kindness” (p.5). The very nature of love is to be endlessly self-giving, in a word, total. God pours out His constant care and concern for us in every moment and He invites us to do the same for our brothers and sisters.

Kindness, notes Fr. Lovasik, means coming to the aid of our neighbor when we can. In doing so, we imitate God who is always making up for our faults and weaknesses. It means willfully conforming ourselves to Christ. When we do, says Fr. Lovasik, “sharpness, bitterness, and sarcasm” disappear. How free we would all feel without the oppressive weight of snarky thoughts and words on our hearts! Fr. Lovasik shows us that the only way to counteract those tendencies is with a determined heart to be kind to all we meet.

And he does mean “all”. We shouldn’t be tempted to only show kindness to those who make us happy or who seem to deserve our good graces. Kindness, he insists, should be shown to everybody. “Not only is kindness due to everyone, ” he writes, “but a special kindness is due to everyone. Kindness is not kindness unless it is special. Its charm consists in its fitness, its timeliness, and its individual application” (6). The Hidden Power of Kindness is replete with examples of this special kindness and helps the reader recognize opportunities for kindness and temptations against it in everyday life.

In this upcoming season of new life in Easter, Fr. Lovasik’s book is a practical and challenging tool for helping us live a new life in Christ, wrapped in the sweetness of His lovingkindness. What a gift we could give ourselves and to those around us: to be kind.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

Keys to Suffering Well from Jeff Cavins

when-you-suffer-1-257x400Reading about how to suffer well is always so timely, isn’t it? No one can ever say, “Suffering? I’ve got that in the bag.” Or “Suffering? I haven’t done that in quite some time.” That’s why it was such a pleasure to read the very practical When You Suffer: Biblical Keys for Hope and Understanding by Jeff Cavins. Suffering is ever-present here in our temporary home on earth, and there’s always more to learn about how to unite our troubles with Christ’s in order to participate in His redemptive work.

Cavins’s book, born from an excruciating experience of a harrowing neck injury, examines the origins of suffering—original sin in the Garden; the purposes of suffering—punitive, probative, and disciplinary; and what we can learn from the life of Christ about how to suffer well. Below are a few tips from When You Suffer about how we can transform our suffering today:

Don’t Downplay Your Suffering! Remember that Jesus Purchased All of You on the Cross

We know that Christ gave Himself for us on the cross for our salvation. What Cavins reminds us, though, is that He died for us, body and soul, including our suffering. Our suffering, then, which was redeemed by Christ’s passion, becomes infinitely valuable, no matter how small or petty it can seem to us. Cavins writes:

It was the precious blood of the Lamb of God that purchased you…all of you! When Christ redeemed you he received you back to himself. What God has purchased becomes very valuable and should not be looked upon as common or inconsequential. Therefore, your suffering is not inconsequential; it is extremely valuable in the economy of God (p. 73).

In modern America, we sometimes don’t let ourselves acknowledge that we are indeed suffering because we know that we have so much more than other people in the world. The hashtag #firstworldproblems comes to mind. But we are fallen creatures in a fallen world and suffering is all around us, though it may come in different forms. Cavins encourages us to acknowledge our suffering in order that we may unite it with Christ’s. We can’t do that if we pressure ourselves into thinking that everything’s fine or that we don’t get to suffer due to our circumstances. Maybe a perfect woman wouldn’t be pained that there are toys scattered in the living room, seeing it as a sign of great material blessing. But for the weaker among us, we are encouraged to recognize that yes, that is a source of pain to us at the moment and Jesus cares about how we are hurt by it. We follow the lead of St. Therese who never pretended that the annoyances of communal life didn’t bother her, but confessed simply to God that they did and then did her best to present them to Christ with a simple heart.

Bring Your Suffering to Mass

Another tip for suffering well that Cavins offers is to bring your suffering to Mass and lay it at the foot of the Redeemer during the Offertory. Cavins describes our tendency to suffer all week and then go blank during the Offertory at Mass. Then, he writes, is the perfect time to think of all that you’ve suffered during the week and lay it at Jesus’s feet as a treasure. In doing so, we can unite our pain with Christ’s as well as our brothers and sisters. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he talks about how we share both in Christ’s suffering as well as His comfort. Cavin writes:

In Paul’s remarkable message to the Corinthians, he points out that we, as the Church, share in both Christ’s sufferings and his comfort. Paul goes on to explain that there is a real sharing in both suffering and comfort among the members of the Church. Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians by saying that they “share” in the suffering of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:7). The word share is the Greek word koinnos. The same root, koinon, describes the “communion” or “participation” we experience with Christ in the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 10:16) (77).

By participating in the Mass, we join our passion, our suffering, here on earth with Christ’s in order that we can participate in the resurrection, in the redemption, of our lives and join in Christ’s mission of salvation of souls. We are truly one with Him in the Eucharist.

Offering It Up: Suffering without Sinning

Jeff Cavins does a great job of explaining what offering it up means. This favorite phrase of Catholic parents for the last two thousand years can leave fuzzy ideas in children of what that actually means. By explaining first that our suffering has great worth and that we are able to give it to Christ for His mission, Cavins then encourages us to just do it. To offer it up, all our pain, small and big, to our Lord. When we offer it up, we place our desire for the suffering to end and the temptation to either lash out or self-medicate or somehow escape the pain immorally into Our Father’s hands and then…continue to do good. Cavins writes:

When Jesus suffered, he trusted himself to his Father. Peter, following Jesus’s pattern, said, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19)

That is the kind of life that Jesus offers to us, that we could continue to do right, live right, be virtuous in the midst of pain. Cavins explains that in coming to earth and living among us, Jesus teaches us not just how to live well but how to suffer well.

Suffering presents us with two options: we can turn away from God and flee the pain unsuccessfully in any number of ways or we can join ourselves to God and have Him work through our pain to bring life to this earth. The options are not for the faint of heart but neither is our faith. Jeff Cavins does a great service in encouraging his brothers and sisters to keep the faith by suffering well.

 

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer