Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pray, Pray, Pray is the Answer to Every Question

Notre Dame de Medjugorje from

I know the official Church word is still out on the appearance of the Blessed Virgin at Medjugorje, in part because the Church typically doesn't rule on apparitions until they have ended, but the message coming from the Mother of God is one that we should be able to follow in good conscience whether we believe in the apparition or not; whether we believe in the intercessory power of Mary or not.

She has been appearing there since 1981, and she consistently tells us:

Pray, Pray, Pray

It's difficult not to get depressed or worried by the slaughter of Christians, the sexualization of children, the objectification of women, the attacks on Church teachings by our own government and other alleged Catholics in power, and the general descent of our culture into hedonistic, anti-Christian paganism.

We have been warned, time and time again, about what's happening in our society and what's to come, and we've ignored those warnings, justified our wrong-doings, and relieved ourselves of the responsibility of speaking the truth.

The answer to all of it?  Keep on praying. Trust in Jesus.

In the message from the August 2, 2014 appearance, Mary said, "To follow me means to love my Son above everything, to love Him in every person without making differences.  I call you anew to renunciation, prayer and fasting. I am calling you for the Eucharist to be the life of your soul. I am calling you to be my apostles of light who will spread love and mercy through the world."

I have a particular aversion to fasting because, quite simply, I'm undisciplined. I want what I want when I want it, and that attitude has played a big part in our descent from principled children of God to little piggies rolling around in the mud.

Jesus had mercy on us even though we didn't deserve it. He died for our sins whether we loved Him or not, whether we had abortions or murdered someone or treated another with detestable smugness or racism. He died for us whether we beat our spouses and children or drank away our lives or treated our bodies like trash, having sex with any available partner under the guise of a "good time."

If He can do that for us, can't we hold our tongue when someone insults us?  Be kind to that stranger who smells funny? Skip that third latte and give the money to the poor?  

He's not asking much, but the reward will be great. Mary also said,"When you come before my Son, in your hearts he will see how much love you had."

Not how many toys. Not how successful a career. Not how many witty comments you made in His name.

How much love you had.

What can you do to increase that love today?  Here's a good place to start:


Monday, August 18, 2014

My Good Friday Talk on the Seven Last Words of Jesus

On Good Friday, 2014, St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church had a reflection on the "Seven Last Words" that Jesus Spoke from the Cross.  I was asked to reflect on the words "It is finished."  I've had enough people ask me about my talk that I'm posting it here:   

There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”

Our Lady of Good Counsel, where I grew up.
Picture from their web page.
It is finished. I might have spoken these words to Jesus as I wandered away from the Catholic Church. I had been raised in the 70's, and though I went to Catholic grade school and high school, it was a time when children weren't being catechized in the Rockford Diocese, with the thought that it would be above their heads and should wait until they were older, but older was too late.  When I began to drift away from the Church in my teens, I had nothing to hold onto, no foundation.  

Yet, even though my belief was waning, there was some part of me that still understood the importance of the Sacraments. I remember meeting with a teacher and crying because I didn't want to be confirmed. It would be wrong, because I just didn't believe. If I really hadn't believed, I would have waltzed through, no problem. I didn't catch the irony, that Jesus was reaching out to me in the hope that I might not leave Him.

I eventually stopped going to Mass at all. When I left the Church, there were plenty of people--plenty of ideologies--ready to jump in and fill the gap. We're made for worship, and if we're not worshiping God, we'll worship something else, whether it be money, work, good times, or, quite often, the self.

So I took the way of Eve. I know better than God. What does the
St. Therese of Lixieux, Doctor of the Church
Picture from EWTN
Catholic Church have to offer me? Sure, they have Doctors of the Church like St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila. They have tradition that dates back 2,000 years and scholars and laymen and religious who have been studying and proclaiming and leading the way since the very beginning. What did they know compared to the latest pop psychologist or celebrity on television? So I went on ignoring God, or even worse, dismissing Him in a Star Wars mentality. The force is in everything. I was getting my religion from science fiction films.

I might have been finished with God, but He wasn't finished with me. He'd pop up every once in a while, in a pang of conscience or a warm childhood memory of Midnight Mass or the thought of the warm and generous priests and nuns I had known, but I'd push Him aside and go MY way.

I finally heard Him calling me back to Him and His Church a few years ago, but this time I listened. It was subtle. I missed the sense of community I'd grown up with, the social aspect of belonging to a group of people who believed in something greater than the thrill of the job or the excitement of the latest toy. Something greater than themselves. Something not of this world. And I missed that glorious way the beauty of the Sacraments and the traditions of the Church lifted my eyes up to God. 

I wanted to experience that again, so I made a half-hearted attempt to attend Mass. Infrequently. When I found time, because I was a very busy girl. Busy with stuff.  I had tried a few denominations, but they didn't feel right. I went to OLPH. I tried Saint Kateri, but you were too happy for me, and I was wary of emotionalism without foundation, or spirituality. I'd seen enough "spirituality" in the New Age practices when I lived in Los Angeles.

The final knock on the head was a copy of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that I'd had on the shelf for years. I finally read it.  It's a series of letters written by the demon Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, giving him advice on how to secure the damnation of an ordinary young man.  One passage caught my eye.

"Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that suits him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches." 

Ouch!  He was talking about me.  Unfortunately, there were many other references in that book that were applicable to my relationship with God, and since this book was essentially a manual on how to get to Hell, I thought I better make a sincere effort to get back on the right path.

I made the decision that I would come back, not when I felt like it, but with a 100% commitment. And I would get to know, really get to know the Church and her teachings.  I started coming to Mass every week at St. Kateri because it was close and I'd have no excuse not to make it.  I learned that St. Kateri had Bible studies, and I joined.  I delved into the teachings of the Church, actually cracked open my Catechism of the Catholic Church, and I ate up those wonderful Lighthouse CD's--the ones we have on the welcome cart-- like they were candy.  

And I was amazed by what I learned.  That Jesus' yes to God in the Garden of Gethsemane--"Let your will be done."--was a reversal of Adam's no to God in the Garden of Eden. That Mary was the new Arc of the Covenant.

I learned that every single one of us will live forever, but we get to choose where we will spend it.  I learned that when Jesus died on that cross, that he knew every sin I had ever committed, every sin I will ever commit, and he still loved me enough to die for me so that I could be with Him for eternity. He died for me, personally.

I was amazed, but I was more than a little irritated, too.  Why hadn't I known all this stuff? Why didn't 12 years of religious education even touch on these amazing facts, and tidbits, and traditions?  And why hadn't anyone explained that I could have a personal relationship with God? That I could  talk to God, and that He would answer?

I also learned, through an incredible spiritual director, how to discern if it was God who was talking or the Enemy. For example,  I remember when I first began to attend daily Mass, I was embarrassed. These were REAL Catholics who were faithful, and they probably knew that I was an impostor. They'll think I'm arrogant or trying to be holier-than-though, or that I think I'm special because I'm here every morning. That would be the voice of the enemy, because of course God wants you to be at Mass if you can. 

The Enemy, however, will pop into your head for all he's worth to keep you away from God, and there's really only one way around that.

I began to develop a relationship with God, and in His infinite mercy, He timed it so that by the time my husband had a serious work accident that required emergency brain surgery and a long recover, I already had that relationship with Him.  Jesus and Mary were there to support me through the entire ordeal. It wasn't an easy time, but He actually gave me grace and, yes, joy during those rough times. And I reached that point in our relationship by talking to God, by spending those 10 minutes a day with Jesus that Father Albert mentions occasionally.  Those ten minutes will change your life.

I didn't come back to Christ and His Church because I was brilliant and figured out some equation to better living. I came back because He called and guided me back. I came back because, even though I thought I was finished with Him, Jesus wasn't finished with me. He still isn't.

I think that when He said "It is finished", He was referring to His time on earth showing us how to be his disciples, through examples, so that when He rose from the dead to conquer sin and death and eventually returned to the right hand of His Father, we would be prepared to carry on with his work, with His guidance and that of the Holy Spirit.

I couldn't find the artist attribute,
but this is one of my favorite paintings.
When Jesus told Peter to walk on the water, He showed us to always keep our eyes on Him.

When the woman was cured of the hemorrhage, he showed us we should always trust and have faith, no matter what the trial or how long it lasted.

When He called Zacchaeus the tax collector down from the tree and had dinner at his house, He showed us not to separate ourselves from sinners like the Pharisees, but to love them.

And when He said, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone" He showed us we were ALL sinners, that we should NEVER judge, but forgive, just as He forgives us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It is finished.

Christ's time on earth as man is finished, but His role in your life is not, if you will only invite Him in.

Take the next minute to reflect on that one thing that's keeping you from having a personal relationship with Christ. Your worries, your fears, that vice, that strained relationship, that past sin that YOU think He can't forgive. Hand it over to Him. Let Him in, because Jesus isn't finished with you.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Facilitating Trust in God with Author Connie Rossini

Connie Rossini is a wife and homeschooling mother to four boys.  She writes a spirituality column for  The Prairie Catholic, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. She's the author of several books on spirituality and trust in God, and I am very happy to have her here on Bad Martha.

Welcome, Connie!

I first heard about your writing when I came across a copy of your book, "Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That will Change Your Life."  Change your life?  Of course I grabbed a copy!  How do you hope that reader's lives will be changed by reading your book?

Two of those lessons have been life-changing for me: the absolute necessity of daily prayer, and the importance of trust. I think we all have "aha" moments in life when we make huge changes in our outlook and habits. I tried to put together a list of some of the typical insights that help people change. And with each lesson, I gave one or two concrete suggestions for people who already know these things, but have not been practicing them faithfully.
 Carmelites are contemplative.  As someone who was pursuing the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites (the 3rd order for lay people), were you surprised when your path led you to the decidedly public and active route of writing a book?  And what prompted you to write it?

 Not really. I've always been a writer, and I've been writing a spirituality column for the local diocese on and off for a decade. But there have been times when I've been tempted to quit, because I feel unworthy. I have a long way to go in my own spiritual life. My husband has encouraged me not to let that stop me.

I originally envisioned the book as a gift to my blog readers, a thank-you for subscribing. But once I put it on Amazon (as a favor to a reader who asked for a Kindle copy), it began to reach a much wider audience. That part did surprise me!
Your book, though bite-sized, actually includes more content than it first appears, because you have links to blogs you've written.   For writers who consider this a great idea,  did you write the blogs based on the ideas mentioned in the book, or include the ideas based on blogs you had written?

I wrote the posts first. I find it helpful to be really focused on my blog. It takes some months of blogging, I think, before a person is sure what his blog is really about. The Five Lessons book actually helped me to sharpen that focus. I want people who read it to know that if they come to my blog they're going to find a similar focus and perspective.

Your blog, Contemplative Homeschool, focuses on raising contemplative kids. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to homeschool their children in an environment they can control. What tips do you have for parents whose children are exposed to the secular school environment every day?

 Great question! Even though many parents put their children in a traditional school, it's still their responsibility to see that their children learn to live for Christ. The first thing we should all do is model the behavior we want to see in our children. That means finding time for daily mental prayer and making sure our children know it's our top priority. We also need to cultivate openness--openness to life, to the teachings of the Church, to God's grace, and to the needs of those around us.

We need to spend time with our children and limit their exposure to the bad things in the culture. I severely limit my kids' use of electronic media, because I want them to spend more time relating with me and each other. I also don't want them encountering threats to their faith at an age where they can't handle them.

We need to strive for a genuine love for God, humility, and a selfless love for our spouse and children. Then we can trust God to watch over our children's souls.

You have a new book that was just released, "Trusting God with St. Therese".  Readers can get the story behind the book here, but could you give us a brief account of why this topic is so personal for you?

 Trust has been an issue for me my whole life. Some of that's due to my temperament, but there were also some incidents in my childhood that hampered my ability to trust. The biggest was my sister's death in a car accident when I was six. I was sitting next to her before the accident. She had prayed for a safe trip that morning. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized how much that affected me. When I had my own kids, I feared that our prayers for safety were meaningless, because we could experience tragedy anyway. Frustration with my lack of spiritual growth also caused me to question God.

For those who aren't familiar with St. Therese of Lisieux's  little way, could you explain it?

 After doing the research for this book, I see that the little way is all about trust. St. Therese did not perform extraordinary deeds. She didn't have the strength. She began to see that great trust and love could take the place of great deeds. She performed little acts, not to gain merit for herself, but simply to please God and to offer for others. She believed we should remain humble, always relating to God as little children relate to their loving Father. A father is delighted with his children's efforts, even when the children are too little to do a job perfectly. He readily forgives their faults. Therese rejoiced at her littleness, because a very little child can be carried more easily than a big one. We need to let God carry us, rather than relying on our strength to make us holy.

What do you hope readers will gain when they read "Trusting God"?

I hope that they will recognize how very good God is, how loving, how merciful. God is not looking for a reason to punish us. I hope that readers will feel God lifting their burdens off their shoulders. I want to help them surrender their fears, doubts, and frustrations to Him, so that they can become the people God created them to be.

I love how you include action steps at the end of each chapter in "5 Lessons".  Do you do the same in "Trusting God"?

 Yes! Each chapter ends with questions for reflection and practical suggestions. I always try to give readers specific help.

What's next for you?

I'm working on a small booklet for parents called A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child. I hope to do a booklet for each of the four temperaments. I will include templates, book lists, projects, and memory verses, so parents can create a tailored plan of spiritual growth for each child.

Thank you, Connie!  Find out more about Connie on her website

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Lord's Prayer and the 10 Commandments

I realized as I was praying The Lord's Prayer one morning that it is really a call to follow the 10 Commandments.  Here is how it came at me:

"Our Father, Who art in Heaven"

1st Commandment -  I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.

Right from the beginning of this prayer, He tells us who to worship. We have one Father, one God, albeit a Triune God. He is in Heaven, not here on earth in the form of a celebrity or money or fame or fortune.  Whatever your focus is on, that is what you worship. Where is your focus? Another way to put it is What's the one thing that you can't let go of? If it's not God, it's getting the way of your relationship with God.

"Hallowed be thy Name"

2nd Commandment -  Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Most people think this commandment is just about swearing.  There's plenty of that going on in movies, television, and coming out of the mouths of teenagers (which probably means they heard it at home.)  It's more than that, though. It's about respect.

In the times of the Old Testament, if you uttered the name of God aloud, in any context, it was a death sentence. When you say, "Oh, my God!" or "I swear to God!" you are using His name loosely, without reverence. This is a big deal. Repeated use makes His name casual. Since when you say God you are calling on Him, you better have a better reason than you lost the reservations at your favorite restaurant.

If using His name casually should cause us concern, then using it to swear is even worse, and it's a habit we must break.

According to Our Lady, who appeared in 1846 at La Salette, France, she was struggling to hold back Jesus' arm for two reasons.  The first was because of the offenses against His Holy Name.

"If my people will not obey, I shall be compelled to loose my Son's arm. It is so heavy, so pressing, that I can no longer restrain it...The cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son's name.  These (using Jesus'name in vain and not honoring the Sabbath) are the two things that make my Son's arm so burdensome." 

Here are some substations:  Good gad! Oh, my stars! My word! Better still, get clever. Liz Lemon of 30 Rock used to say, "What the what!" Not offensive at all, and kind of funny.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."

So, what is His will?

3rd Commandment -  Thou keep holy the Sabbath day.

Another offense against God--the second half of Our Lady's message at La Salette, from Jesus.

"I have appointed you six days for working. The seventh I have reserved for myself. And no one will give it to me. 

In Egypt, the Pharaoh learned the hard way--through seven plagues--that God was serious about letting His people have the seventh day for worship. Dr. Tim Gray gives an excellent talk about this that makes it crystal clear what we should be doing on Sunday. He mentions that his family turns off the internet access on the Sabbath. I've been doing this as well, and it really helps keep my mind focused on what's important.

4th Commandment - Honor thy father and thy mother.

He gave us our parents. They aren't perfect, but it's His to judge, not ours.

5th Commandment -  Thou shalt not kill.

We don't have the right to take a life that God has given, including that of an unborn child, but it's more than that.

Words in anger can kill the spirit. Ask any child who's been verbally bullied or mocked.

VI  Thou Shalt not commit adultery.

Adultery kills a marriage. Casual sex kills the soul, slowly but surely. It objectifies the people involved, making them mere tools for sexual pleasure. Objectifying people is one of the favorite tactics of the enemy. Look at Communism.

"Give us this day our daily bread"

VII  Thou shalt not steal.

God gives us what we need. When we steal, it is a direct slap in the face to God. That includes stealing time from your employer by searching the internet and posting to Facebook when you should be working.

You can steal the glory that belongs to God by claiming it for yourself.

"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

VIII  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbors.

Gossip kills reputations. I can't imagine angels gathered around the celestial water cooler, gossiping about another angel. Yet we gossip and kill people's reputations loudly on Facebook. Why do we do it? Because we feel our opinion is justified. We need to smear this human being or politician (yes, they are separate species) in order to right a wrong. We feel they've given us offense by their words, their position, or their actions. And along the way, we fill in the details with conjecture instead of facts, make assumptions, and assign motives.

And of course there are lies.  The lies we tell about others to make ourselves seem more important. The lies we tell to revenge ourselves.  The lies we tell to get people to believe something that's not true to get their vote, to batter the opponent, to gain financially.

"And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil."

IX  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.

X Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.

Quite often, we envy because we have our eyes on someone else's blessings and not our own.  Adam and Eve had almost everything, but they wanted the one thing that wasn't theirs to have, and so they tossed away all that God had given them, and in the process, lost everything.  That's what we do when we covet what doesn't belong to us.

Isn't it amazing how Jesus gave us everything we needed in order to follow Him?  The Lord's Prayer is a simple prayer, one many people know, and it's a path straight to Heaven, if we follow the instructions.