Category Archives: Catholicism

Learning to Follow (A Reflection on “The Three Parts of Dance & the Trinity”)

I’m learning to dance. I’ve always loved to dance, even since I was the little girl in shiny gold shoes tearing it up at my uncle’s wedding. True story. I did tap and ballet for about a year when I was four. Since then, it’s been all about freestyle. I have rhythm, which helps a lot, and I make it up as I go. Even when I had a partner, dance never united us.

When I was in college, I had a great group of Catholic friends. One Saturday night, we took the Metro to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. for free salsa lessons at a nightclub. That was my first real experience of social/ballroom dance, and it was glorious. My moves finally had a purpose. I had a plan. Everything started to click.

A couple on the dance floor. The Theology of Dance connects a hobby with the union of the Holy Trinity.

Photo by Luke Addison at flickr.

Last fall, I participated in dance lessons hosted by Single Catholics Serving Central Texas. I’ve lived in Texas for almost five years, but that was my first introduction to two-step, believe it or not! I was also able to reignite the smoldering embers of my collegiate salsa fire and learn a few new salsa patterns. It was a particularly special experience though, because, now that I have several more years of an active Catholic life under my belt, I can see the connection between God and dance much more clearly.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Holy Saturday: The Day of Quiet

It has been a very quiet day. I went grocery shopping, did my laundry, and the dishwasher is on its second cycle today (once to clean dishes, once to clean the dishwasher), so there has been noise, but no music, and very little talking. That seems to be consistent with the character of this holy day, the day it is until the Easter Vigil begins in a few hours.

At Spirit & Truth on Monday, my friend Travis gave an overview of Holy Week. Most of it was a review for me (and most of us gathered there, I hope), but I learned a few interesting factoids

In particular, he pointed out that we think of Good Friday as the only day of the year when Mass is not celebrated, but strictly speaking, that applies to Holy Saturday, too. Just as Lent ends when the Holy Thursday Mass begins (launching us into this mini-season of the Triduum), Good Friday runs only from midnight to midnight. Holy Saturday ends when the Easter Vigil begins, and there is no daily Mass for Holy Saturday.

Thus, today is a day of liturgical quiet as well as a day of environmental quiet.

It is my tradition to pray the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours on this day. I only make an effort to do that today and All Souls’ Day (when I pray the Office for the Dead). It’s special to me because the non-Biblical reading is titled “An ancient homily on Holy Saturday.” It contains some of the most beautiful imagery of salvation I’ve ever encountered, and it moves me greatly every time. It’s later in the day that I hoped to post this, but I hope that if you read it after the Easter season has begun, you will still take time to reflect on the work of our Savior between his awful death and his triumphant Resurrection.

a stone angel with a garland of flowers in front of a cross

Something strange is happening. There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

God bless you! Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!

Best Confession Ever: 5 Things You Should Do Before Confession (and 5 While You’re In There)

I go to Confession. I am not always “in great need of Confession,” as a priest once phrased it, but I have found it to be good for me. I go once a month whether I really think I need to or not, and there is always a particular routine I follow. I like routines.

Even if you’re not as frequent a penitent as I am (or you go more often), Lent is a penitential season. The Church places a particular emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (popularly known as Confession) during this season, recommending it in her precepts. If you’ve been putting off Confession for a while, or even if you’ve already decided to go before Easter, here is some advice for having the Best Confession Ever.

1. Figure out how long it has been since your last Confession.

Maybe it’s been a while: several weeks, a few years, or since your last major sacrament. I was in those shoes once. I can tell you from experience that it gets significantly easier if you go more often. You have less time to get into trouble!

Isolating that time frame is also useful because the gravity of your sins can change depending on the passage of time. If you’ve told 6 lies and stolen things from work twice and drank too much 3 times, and your last Confession was 3 weeks ago, that’s a much bigger deal than if it was 3 months ago.

2. Review your life since your last Confession.

I start by looking at my calendar. That usually jogs my memory of my most recent poor choices. This is when my gratitude for the sacrament rises exponentially.

This is also the time to do an examination of conscience. I highly recommend doing that before you leave home if you are going to the church specifically for Confession. Should the line move quickly, you’ll be prepared. If you’re on a retreat or at a Reconciliation/Penance Service, there will probably be a designated time for your examination. My favorite is based on the Ten Commandments and focuses on specific actions I might have committed that break them. I have never made it through that list without spotting something familiar. That may or may not be a good thing.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Clothes On, Heart Full (Review: The Thrill of the Chaste, Catholic Edition)

In my happy journey through every book on chastity known to Christian man, I made a stop at The Thrill of the Chaste back in 2012. The book had been out for years; I tend to be a later adopter. My favorite aspects of that edition were Eden’s utterly realistic experience and her comments about the loss of innocence. Through the wonders of the Internet, Eden herself found my review, complimented me on it, and revealed that she had been working on a new book about healing from sexual wounds through the lives of the saints. By reaching out to me, she sparked the great relationship I have with her current publisher, Ave Maria Press. I have been edified by the books I have read since, and I hope you all, dear readers, have enjoyed my writing about them.

I knew Eden had entered the Catholic Church after publishing The Thrill, and I was delighted to see in My Peace I Give You that there was still more for her to share about finding peace and redemption through embracing a chaste lifestyle. And who doesn’t love saints?

"Living chastely is a bold challenge to modern culture, because it proves that people are not automatons but human beings with free will." —Dawn Eden

Imagine my delight to find that the very same Dawn Eden, chastity advocate and new(-ish) Catholic, had revised her initial reflections on converting to chastity in a new, Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste. It’s been some time and many books since I first encountered her story, and I am pleased to note that the infusion of Catholicism only enriches her witness.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Where Culture and Scripture Meet (Review: The African American Catholic Youth Bible)

Czestochowska

Image of Our Lady of Czestochowska, a.k.a. the Black Madonna. Public domain.

If I’m going to be honest as a reviewer, I have to say that I didn’t want to like this book. That’s a terrible thing. First of all, I generally prefer not to review books I don’t think I’ll like. I made an exception for Wild at Heart. It seemed like the natural follow-up to Captivating, even though I didn’t like that one very much either, and I felt as though my opinion as a Catholic reviewer would be useful.

So, continuing in honesty, I wasn’t sure I would like the newly-published African American Catholic Youth Bible, from St. Mary’s Press (AACYB). Yet I’m a black Catholic book reviewer. I have years of experience working with youth and young adults (in addition to my own experience being one). Although I do not observe it for reasons much too complex for this blog, it is Black History Month. How could I pass up the opportunity?

Now, having reviewed this particular edition of the Bible, I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, I did one thing that would change my life forever.

I went to church.

I had been to church before. I knew how it went. I’ve never been anything other than Catholic, but for a long time, I was nothing, really. My first boyfriend accused me of “paying lip service” to my Catholicism. I had to look that up; he was right, and I was offended because it was true. I prayed (for chastity, actually). I gave up sodas for Lent. That worked. I gave up chocolate another year, and that worked, too. (I now eat chocolate and drink soda.) Beyond that, I knew only enough to check the “Catholic” box. Literally, I checked the box next to “Roman Catholic” on the optional religious preference form during freshman orientation.

That was the extent of it. Up to a few weeks before that day, the last time I had set foot in a church was for my great-grandmother’s funeral. My mom bought me a suit. I did one of the readings. I’m good at reading. Then I went for Christmas, to see my little brother as a king in the children’s pageant. I don’t remember anything more about either of those days. Not the homily. Not what it was like to be in church after being gone for so long. Not whether I felt comfortable or uncomfortable.

I don’t even remember exactly when I made the decision to go back. (How is its own story.) I do know that I picked the day very carefully. Ash Wednesday is not a day of forgiveness. It’s not the Catholic version of Yom Kippur. We don’t really have a Catholic day of forgiveness. Yet Ash Wednesday is the one day when everyone comes out of the woodwork: more than Christmas, more than Easter, even more than Mother’s Day (the highest days of attendance, in order).

Something about Ash Wednesday says, “Come.” So I went.

I was a little afraid to go back that first time. I had never been to the Catholic Student Center. I knew it was within walking distance, and I didn’t have a car anyway, but I could read a map. (This was before I had a smartphone, so it was a real, giant paper campus map that I carried around in my giant purse.) In my fear, I asked a buddy to go with me. She had graduated from Catholic school with a healthy dose of skepticism but not so much that she wouldn’t go to church with me. We walked across campus together and found seats in the packed chapel.

No single homily has stuck with me more than the one I heard that day. Fr. Bill Byrne is a great preacher. Every day is a good day to preach a homily on forgiveness, and I owe my spiritual life to the one he gave to us college kids on Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2005. The central story went like this:

Imagine that, one day, your parents show up and bring you a brand new car. Lexus, Range Rover, whatever your dream car is. They tell you it is a special present just for you. It’s beautiful, and the license plate says “4PRECIOUS.” You love it! You drive it around campus, showing it off. It’s a great car. But one day, you get into a wreck, and the car is totaled. You’re ashamed and sad, and you finally get the courage to tell your parents about it. “No problem,” they say. “We’ll get you a new one.” And before you know it, you have another brand-new car, just like the old one. Same license plate and everything.

This time you’re way more careful, and you do everything you can to protect it, but it gets totaled again. You can’t even believe it, and when you tell your parents, they say, “No problem, sweetie. The new one’s already on the way.”

The love of God is like that. He gives you everything. You screw up. He gives it all back to you. All you have to do is ask. He loves you so much that he will never deny you forgiveness and will give all the grace back to you, every single time.

I needed to hear that. Oh, I’m sure that years of pastoral training and experience had taught Fr. Bill that most people in the pews need to hear Christ’s message of forgiveness. I’m not so arrogant as to think that he actually gave that homily just for me.

But it worked. Four days later, I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Sunday and walked halfway across campus to the larger Memorial Chapel for Mass. I sat toward the back (but not in the back; I was never that kid) and stumbled my way through the Creed. I nailed all the songs from the hymnal, though. I’m a pretty good sight-reader. I’m reasonably certain received Communion that day, and on Ash Wednesday, although I should not have. (I have since repented. Let’s not pretend that doesn’t happen.) And it was okay.

So I went back the next Sunday, and the next.

Soon, I cornered Fr. Bill for an ambush confession. (I don’t recommend the ambush.) It was face-to-face. He didn’t know me from Adam; what did I have to fear? I stuck with the big ones. He gave me four Hail Marys as penance: one for each year I’d been away from the Church.

When I went home for spring break, I went to Mass with my dad, who was preparing for baptism through RCIA. (That is not a coincidence.) I missed one Sunday by oversleeping when I got home for the summer, but that was the only one.

I don’t miss Mass anymore. At the peak, I went to Mass six days a week. You barely have to meet me to know that I’m in it for good.

ashtag2015

A solemn face, but a peace-filled one.

It all started that Ash Wednesday. It’s not obligatory, but it sure is popular. It’s not aimed at forgiveness so much as repentance, but sometimes it works.

I’m praying for those “sometimers” because one of them was me.

How I Became an Apostle of Prayer

In December 2014, I became an apostle. I’d thought about it before, but it was a while (years, actually) before I took the plunge. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I first discovered the Morning Offering when I was in college. My roommate and I slept in bunk beds before we got our own rooms. I have always been a top bunk kind of girl, so every morning, I would climb down the foot of our beds in the dark, like some kind of methodical monkey, to turn off my alarm. I purposely chose an annoying alarm on a real clock, and my roommate was a light sleeper, so I had plenty of motivation to get moving. Slumped in my desk chair after vanquishing the alarm, I turned on my desk lamp and squinted at two Post-its stuck to the edge of my desktop bookshelf.

One said this:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all of my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for all the intentions of our bishops, all the Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.

The other had two bullet points: one general (now “universal”) intention and one mission (now “evangelization”) intention. I found them online. I mumbled my way through the prayers and intentions, still about 60% asleep, and eventually convinced myself to move on with getting ready for the day.

Fast-forward to my second year of teaching. I found myself re-learning that offering prayer and reciting it at the beginning of the day, every day. It was part of the morning announcements at my school. Our theology department chair was on point. It was then that I realized the “apostles of prayer” were actual people. I had been praying for their intentions. Furthermore, this was a group I could join. So why didn’t I?

Moving on again, we find me just this past December. I don’t know what led me back to the website of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S., but I got there, and I registered, and now it’s official.

Lindsay Wilcox has pledged to make a daily offering of self to God for the salvation of all people, for the monthly prayer intentions of the pope, and for the intentions of all the Apostles of Prayer throughout the world. This pledge entitles one to membership in the Apostleship of Prayer.

I’m in good company. How’s St. Thérèse for a fellow member?

Before doing good on Earth from heaven, Therese joined the Apostleship of Prayer.

After I joined, I received a lovely booklet listing the pope’s intentions for the year. I keep it on top of my breviary, which I use nightly, so I see it all the time. I also get an email on the first day of the month reminding me of the new intentions and linking me to the reflections provided by the AOP staff.

It has been glorious.

A bit of history: The Apostleship of Prayer began in 1844 when Fr. Francis Gautrelet counseled his Jesuit students about how to console their missionary hearts. They wanted to evangelize in countries around the world, but they were stuck studying in heavily-Catholic France. By offering their whole day to God in union with the intentions of the Sacred Heart and Holy Father, they satisfied their desire to participate in the work of missionary evangelization even while buried under books in the library. The movement spread to 13 million members around the world in just forty years. Today, I am one of them.

The old international AOP website summarizes the purpose and benefits of joining. The Apostleship of Prayer:

  • proposes a way to sanctification
  • through the daily offering
  • that transforms our lives,
  • and unites us in a worldwide communion of prayer
  • through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts,
  • and arouses in us the desire to have the same sentiments that were in the heart of Christ,
  • so that, nourished and molded by him in the Eucharist
  • and reconciled with him in the sacrament of Reconciliation,
  • we become able to put ourselves totally and with all our heart at his disposition
  • and at the disposition of his Church,
  • following the example of Mary,
  • for the coming of his reign.

Do you want to do that? Join the Apostleship of Prayer! It’s free, and you can enroll online anytime. You can also donate to support the work of the AOP, including ministry tools for children and young adults, new media evangelization, and Ignatian retreats held around the country.

Pray with the Pope in the Apostleship of Prayer.

The first and primary duty of an Apostle of Prayer, however, is to pray for the intentions of the pope. This duty is pope-neutral, i.e. it doesn’t matter who is pope at any particular moment. When he asks for prayer, you pray. Even before I became a member, I prayed (and fasted) for peace with Syria. Did the U.S. go to war with Syria? Nope! That’s a pretty solid result in my book. I’m still praying for the actual “peace” part.

Secondary duties are to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, promote the Holy Father’s intentions, and invite others to join the AOP. It is also recommended to go to Mass as often as possible and pray the rosary daily. I’m still working on that, but I think I’ve neatly fulfilled promotion and invitation right here.

The mission of the Apostleship of Prayer is to encourage Christians to make a daily offering of themselves to the Lord for the coming of God’s Kingdom and for the Holy Father’s monthly intentions. This habit of prayer encourages a Eucharistic spirituality of solidarity with the Body of Christ and loving service to others. Nourishing this spiritual program is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (source)

If you’ve ever thought about joining a prayer group with no meetings, one membership requirement, and universal and eternal effect, join the Apostleship of Prayer. I’d love to have you with me.

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