Mardi Gras… womp womp.

The Resurrection from Grünewald's Isenheim Alt...

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So, whatcha doin for Lent?

That’s been a pretty standard question I’ve been asking many of my Catholic friends in the past couple days.  Whatcha doin for Lent? Because ready or not kids, it’s that time of year again… the time when the deadness of winter disappears and spring breathes new life into the northern hemisphere, and we Catholics acknowledge this paschal mystery in our 40 day journey toward the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have a lot of things that I do not like about being Catholic, but one thing I do like is the 40-day Spiritual Olympics we call Lent.  It’s glorious.  It makes Easter more about the fact that Jesus saved our sorry behinds that one fateful day 1978 years ago (right? Am I embarrassing myself with my poor math skills?), and less about that fluffy bunny that bounces around and gives us chocolate and/or money (seriously. where did we get the Easter bunny from, anyway?).  Lent forces us to step outside of ourselves and figure out what is really important… like forgiving those who have hurt us (yikes), forgiving ourselves for hurting others (yikes yikes), and finding hope in all the shit we find ourselves knee-deep in.  I would hate to not be Catholic during this time… because we Catholics got it goin ON.  We are so hardcore.  We give up chocolate/coffee/TV/etc like a BOSS.  We torture ourselves for 40 days for the LORD.  And then, on that 41st day, we celebrate. We know what it’s like to lose something and then get it back.  Just like the disciples obviously felt when they lost Jesus and then found Him again.  We tapped into that like a maple tree.

Our 40-day Spiritual Olympics is obviously more than just suffering.  We fast in order to grow closer to God, we pray, and we give alms.  We live the paschal mystery every day in preparation for the actual death and resurrection of Christ.  We live, we die, we rise again.  We pray, we fast, we give back.  It’s beauteous.

So what are you doing for Lent?

What am I doing for Lent?  At the risk of sounding like I am broadcasting my Lenten promise for the soul purpose of getting everyone to think I’m this overly-pious weirdo, I am going to tell you because I am probably going to need someone to hold me accountable.

First, I am giving up listening to music in the car.  The only reason I will listen to music in the car is if I am not the driver… because well, that’s fair.  But I realize that between driving a bus and driving to and from the bus garage, I spend a lot of time driving around with the radio cranked, and that time could be used to grow closer to God. So. Silence it is.

Secondly, I am going to add a new blog post every day.  Writing has always been something thats made me feel connected to God, and I should do more of it.  At the very least, I want to post something I am thankful for every day.  The more the better.  But every day. I am horrible at these “every day” projects.   But now that I have said it… hopefully I won’t make myself feel like an idiot because I don’t post. So. Every day you can expect something from me. Even if it’s just a sentence.  A beautifully well-written sentence, of course.

Thirdly, I picked up an Operation Rice Bowl at church to start putting my spare change in to feed the starving children in Africa, or wherever the heck it’s going to go to.  That’s all I have to say for that. Pretty self explanatory.

 

Cool. So those are my Lenten promises… all out there for the internet world to read.  See ya tomorrow!

The Road Not Taken

Today I found God in the most unlikely of places.

I work as a receptionist at my parish and just got off the phone with an 85-year-old woman who was trying to find her way to church.  She was heading northwest on Northwest Highway, but she missed the exit for 68, where she would then find herself on the correct part of Ela Road she needed to be on in order to get to church.  Ela Road is funny, because it splits in such a way that if you are on the part of Ela heading toward Lake County, you have to take NW Highway to get onto 68 to get back onto Ela (I know, totally screwy… obviously designed by men).

So this woman overshot the exit for 68, and she was stuck at a gas station on NW Highway and Ela (the wrong Ela).  She was calling me confused because she knew she had to turn onto Ela to get to Palatine, but the Ela she was going on was not going to go in that direction.  So I was trying to explain to her that she needed to go back and turn left onto NW Highway, then take the ramp up to turn right onto 68, then turn left on the other Ela.  However, she just wasn’t getting it. 

“M’am, look in front of you, what do you see”

“Northwest Highway.”

“Look to your left. What do you see?”

“Ela Road.”

“Okay, you need to turn right onto Ela Road and turn left at the light at Northwest Highway.”

“What? You want me to go left on Ela Road?”

“No m’am. Go right on Ela. Go left on NW Highway.”

“But you said to left on Ela.”

And so it went.  On and on. 10 minutes. All she had to do was open her eyes, look to her left, and see that there was a light she had to turn left at. I know it’s there. I’ve traveled that road many times before. But she just wasn’t getting it.

“Okay, so when I turn on NW Highway, what am I supposed to do?”

“You need to get in the right lane and take the ramp up to 68, and go right.”

“What ramp? What are you talking about?”

“It’s right there, there is a sign that says “Ramp to Ela Road South.””

“But you said I had to go right on Ela already.”

“I know, m’am, but Ela Road will continue from 68.”

“Okay so I go right on 68. Then what?”

“Then you have to go left on Ela.”

“But you told me to go right on Ela. I can’t hear you. I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!! Speak up!!”

And so on. And so on.  I told her she needed to just do it in order to see what I am talking about. But she didn’t trust me. She started crying and saying that she was too old and stupid (her words, not mine). I told her she could do it, she just had to trust me. But she said she would figure it out and hung up on me. And I hung up and exhaled.  I felt so much frustration because this woman just would NOT listen to me.  She was making life so much harder for herself because she kept putting herself down and she refused to open her eyes and notice her surroundings.

And I thought of how many times I’ve done that.  Now. How many times I’ve let those voices tell me that I am worthless, that I have no purpose, that no one likes me much at all.  I give in to those voices because I am stuck at the proverbial gas station, trying to figure my way around after missing my exit.  I just graduated, my life isn’t going the way I expected it to, and I feel lost. I’m not living as authentically, I let my depression get the best of me, and all of this is the result of just not listening to God. But God is obviously on the phone with me, trying to direct me where to go, and I just won’t have anything of it. 

“You’re telling me to open up to my friends, Lord? What are you, crazy? You don’t think they’re all just going to leave me eventually?  Lord you told me to guard my heart… what the heck makes you think I am just going to let everyone take a good looksee at it?  Lord you told me to study theology and be a youth minister… why don’t I have that job yet? What do you mean, bus driving is a ministry? Seriously? I studied theology to be a bus driver? That can’t be it. Are you there? I can’t hear you, can you speak up? Am I stupid?”

But maybe the paths of life aren’t so easy.  Maybe it’s a big screwed up old Ela Road. Maybe in order to get somewhere, I have to make a few turns down streets that don’t make sense. Maybe it will all make sense in the end. Maybe I should just stop thinking, start driving, and trust that God will tell me when I am supposed to turn.

On the phone today with this woman… I knew exactly where she was, I knew exactly where she had to go.  I know that if she had just trusted me, she would have gotten there.

So maybe God knows, too.

Why Bother with the Church?

Last night I went to a backyard Mass at an old friend’s house.  I think that backyard Mass should be almost exactly how regular Sunday Mass should be.

For starters, we were all there because we were personally invited.  The atmosphere was cozy and laid back… there was no pomp and circumstance where pomp and circumstance was not due.  We were at home (literally), surrounded by trees and unexpected guests (raccoons!!).  The people there were neighbors to the most literal sense.  I saw a lot of faces that I haven’t seen in quite some times.  Not everyone there was Catholic.  The homily was open to the community to take part in (which was kind of awkward, and I wished Fr. would have given some kind of structure to it, but oh well).  Nobody sat in the front row… which was funny and oh-so-Catholic.  The entire event was a celebration.  We had name tags to make introductions less awkward (like if I should have known someone because they’ve been my neighbor since I was 5, but naturally, since I never interacted with them, I have no idea who they are, but they know who I am, the name tag helped), there was lots of casual conversation beforehand between everyone, and there was food and drink after and more casual conversation.

It felt like a big family reunion.

And that’s how Mass should be every week.  Even down to the simplicity of the backyard.  Mass doesn’t need to be a Hollywood production.  It needs to be real.  And that… that backyard Mass was the most real Mass I’ve experienced since the days I celebrated daily Mass with the monks at St. John’s.

The topic of the homily revolved around us sharing our experiences with the Church… why we’ve stayed, and why we haven’t, and what drew us back, and what is pushing us away.  I wanted to share, but chickened out because there were just so many people there who know me or who don’t really know me but think they do.

So why have I stuck with the Church?  I almost left the Church a couple times.  It was ultimately guilt that made me go to Mass every Sunday.  I’ve gone to Masses at school sometimes where I felt so suffocated by my questions that I had to leave and be with God out under the stars or near the lake.  I figured as a Theology major, I would grow closer to God (which I’m not denying… I have grown closer to God).  I just never expected such a hard journey with my questions.  The more I learned about the Bible and about my religion, the more unsure I became about what I believed.  I sought confirmation and found more questions.  Ultimately, I realized that I ain’t no quitter, and I made a promise at my confirmation to stick with God through thick and thin, and I made a promise to question and seek real answers and to never give up on the fight.  I stick with the Church because that’s where I belong… that’s where my family is.  I know God is still God even when I don’t think God exists.  I have told God that I don’t think he exists.  I’ve always been proven wrong… whether it’s through my family or my friends, or a book I’m reading or a TV show I’m watching or whatever it is that I’m doing daily.  I bother with the Church because it bothers me.

Do you bother with the Church?  Why? Why not?  If you don’t bother with the Church, what *do* you bother with?