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A New Direction

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It has been a wonderful adventure posting on Catholic With A vengeance, getting fired up for the faith and defending her to the last. The support of my readers has been a gift of encouragement and strength to me. Sharing my views and insights has been an incredible joy. It is with a heavy heart I inform you that Catholic W/ Vengeance will be ending.

For a while now, I’ve noticed a gradual move into a new direction, away from apologetics and more towards more contemplative, spiritual and biographical writings. In order to retain the purity of the goal of Catholic W/ Vengeance, I’ve created an entirely new blog. I’m not going away- only moving! Catholic W/ Vengeance will not be deleted. It is here to stay. Forever. There will just not be any new content added.

Here is the address for my new blog:

http://drawmeafter.wordpress.com/

Trahe Me Post Te, is Latin for “Draw me after you.” taken from the Song of Songs 1:4 and a perfect description of God’s relentless quest for my love. You will notice that some older posts from Catholic W/ Vengeance have been moved there. This is because they fit the new blog better than this one. There is a more interior side of my faith that God is calling me to explore, a deeper aspect of my relationship with Him. I desire to share with you and it’s my sincere hope you will accompany me on this new journey. God is working on me and making inroads into my steely cold heart. Please be companions with me along this process, this arduous and long road to sainthood.

Returning from Mass around 5:30 in the evening, I set down my car-keys and checked the mailbox. Nothing was there. A sinking feeling came into my heart as I realized it wouldn’t be until Monday that my newly ordered, 4 volume set of breviaries arrived. Not that the wait particularly bothered me as I currently had an old crinkled volume IV from the church’s library in my custody. Still, anticipation boiled within me. I longed to feel the weight of each volume in my hands and smell the newly printed pages while chanting the psalms. 

All day, I believed that my breviaries awaited me on Monday. I made dinner, said my Legion of Mary prayers and began surfing the internet. Finally a thought came to mind. I forgot to feed that cats! My mother entrusted me with this duty before embarking on a trip with her sisters. The poor babies were probably starving by now. Curse my negligence! Stealing into my mother’s empty room, I turned the light on and saw a rectangular cardboard box sitting on her bed, two envelopes on top of it.
Excitement surged forth as I read “Amazon.com” on the sides and saw the curved arrow on the logo. I cried out “It’s them! They’re here!” Like a child on Christmas morning who just sited the biggest shiniest gift box with their name on it, I seized the box. My brother, Kevin came in the room wondering what all the shouting was about. All I said was “My books are here! They’re here!”


My fingers trembled as I retrieved a pair of scissors yet Kevin easily tore the box’s lid with his finger. He pulled out a smaller, white box, paused for a moment, then handed it to me saying, “You should be the one to open it.”
In black letters, the words were written across the white box: “Liturgy of the Hours” Without a doubt, they had arrived! Blue, red, brown and green, they lined up inside the box, waiting to be freed by my anxious hands. Carefully, so as not to hurt them, I turned them to the side and let them slide out onto the couch. One by one, I investigated them. They were perfect! At once, I felt unified with the entire Church, enrolled in the camaraderie of countless priests, seminarians, monks, nuns and lay people. God’s hand was in my hand. He gently led me to a piece of tilled land, the fruit of which I was yet to discover.

(By the way, I later discovered that my father fed the cats at 5:30.)

The glistening tabernacle silently greeted me, sending forth an arch of gold, yellow and bronze light. I sat down and opened my book of hours. Nothing could be heard, no birdsong outside nor distant lawnmowers roaring,-not even the shuffle of feet as others entered the church. Periodically I glanced up at the abode of my Lord, perhaps nervously but more likely, full of thoughts. Sally, one of our sacristans, approached. Her neatly cropped hair and white shirt shone like silver beneath the bluish stained-glass window. Seeing me paused, with the open book, she said:
“Sing.”
And so I began chanting as she slowly opened the tabernacle, retrieved a golden container of already consecrated hosts. Beside it, was placed a small silver monstrance holding a larger, exposed host. She knelt down in reverence before closing the tabernacle and bringing the container to the sacristy. Immediately, I realized that a priest wasn’t available to say Mass today, that we would be holding a communion service led by the deacon instead. Anxiety gripped my heart as I thought of our parish priest and the sickness in his family that kept him away at this time. Ringing out the psalms, I asked God to watch over him. A thought suddenly came to mind. I stopped chanting and turned to Sally who now sat behind me. My heart thudded. The odd request lingered on my lips. Nervously, I asked:
“If it is allowed, can you open the tabernacle so that we can adore the host?”

~ ~ ~

“We can do that as long as I’m here,” Sally answered.
I didn’t check the expression on her face, whether it was joyful, eager- or baffled but gladly knelt down when the heavy metal doors were opened again, revealing the silent little host in its silver casing. Feelings of littleness and aggravation at my sins hit me full force. I really was no one and nothing compared to Our Almighty God who deigned to descend from heaven and dwell with us. I finished my prayers and remained kneeling on the floor for several minutes as love gently emanated from the small host, washing over everything like the sunlight, making cold places grow warm again. And at that moment, love was enough. He was enough.
Shuffling emerged behind us and glancing over my shoulder, I saw a man with sparse hair, glasses over his bright eyes and a white collar. Slung over his arm was a long, white garment. A priest! Rather flustered, he asked about the time of the Mass, explaining he got lost on the way to the church. Sally instantly sprang up to help him and followed him down the aisle. Hurriedly, not considering propriety, I closed the tabernacle, dropped upon one knee and said farewell to my Jesus, knowing I would see him again in just a few moments. My mind leaped and ran in circles as I absentmindedly followed them into the sacristy.
“Is there anything I can do?” I blurted out.
The priest was already throwing on vestments and I eyed the floor, worried I’d interrupted him somehow. I always worried about this. However, relief flooded my heart as Sally answered,
“Yes, you can take these hosts, put them in the tabernacle, lock it and bring me the key.”
As she placed the round, golden container in my outstretched hands, I bowed down and closed my eyes like a samurai receiving his sword in some epic movie. I walked gingerly, like a chemist carrying concentrated acid. I shivered expectantly, like a young, virgin girl pregnant with the Savior of the world. The thing in my hands was infinitely more precious than gold, jewels, the finest spices, more weighty than the universe. Every instinct in me wanted to loudly start singing: “Pange lingua gloriosi.” I sang it in my heart instead.

ciborium

The School Building

The school building filled with the sounds of raucous youth and footsteps running in the hallway. Peacefully I fiddled with the ribbons in an old, cracked, green breviary marked “volume IV”. His eyes bright and inquiring, James spoke to me from across the library table. Our conversation was animated and filled with jokes. Every once in awhile, I stopped to be sure the right color thread marked the proper place: Thursday: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer… His fingers worked adroitly at tying together a pink and black rosary. My failed bunch of knots and poorly-gaped beads lay on the table between us. It was something we agreed not to mention.

Later on, bored, we strolled through the building, peering in each classroom. Stumbling upon an empty room standing with all the lights on, we wandered in. The chalkboard showed the large words: Trinity. Adam and Eve. Garden of Eden. My hands found a brown, untitled book which described the Mass in Latin and English, published right after the Second Vatican Council which so many assumed removed Latin from our timeless sacrifice. But right there, in bold red and black, the ancient words flowed, marked with illustrations of a priest in typical 60’s vestments. The book captured James’s interest as I explained to him the parts in Latin.

I grabbed a stubby piece of chalk then scribbled on the chalkboard: “In nomine Patris, Filli et Spiritus Sancti.” It felt so natural, working the letters, speaking and teaching their meaning, like I was made for this!
James began laughing and pointing. “Look at where you wrote that,” he said. I stepped back and viewed the chalkboard. Above what I had written, was the large word: Trinity. How apt… A big smile crept across my lips followed by laughter. God is good.

The church seemed all but empty. Lined up like sentries, the pulpit and candlesticks kept silent watch. I knelt at the wooden altar rail before the tabernacle, my nostrils took in lingering, sweet incense and my eyes fell upon the wooden high-altar, where our sacrifice was just offered. Jesus truly was in this place. I felt in my very bones. He gazed upon me as I gazed at Him. No, this was not my parish church but oddly enough, it seemed more like home than the parish church. So different, yet oddly familiar. Here amidst silence, the carved wood, the tall candlesticks and lace, remembering a simple, beautiful liturgy marked with chanting, bowing and many signs of the cross, I felt I finally belonged. Moreso, I felt fed, heavy with the fat things of the earth, lavished by the gifts of heaven.


Something moved from behind me and I caught sight of a figure in a sweeping, black cassock.

“Father,” I called out, “When you have a chance, may you please bless my scapulars?”

Wasting no time, he took the three, blue scapulars from me, strode to the altar and set them down. He faced the crucifix, speaking prayers under his breath. Immediately, the memory of him, up there in flashing, red vestments, burned through my mind. He who offered the greatest sacrifice for me, now said this small blessing. He who entered the heavenly courts now did what seemed, a very earthly thing, tracing a cross in the air and sprinkling holy water.


Returning to me, he set the scapulars down on the altar rail, put an arm on my shoulder and said, “Try to imagine that you are like the Israelites in exile. I know that it’s hard being where you are, where your soul doesn’t feel fed, where at times it’s debilitating, but He will pull you through this.”
This priest and I weren’t strangers. Every time my friend Leo brought me to this church in Orlando, a good hour away, I’d told him about my parish. I mentioned how barren and dead it indeed seemed compared to this lively place of wood, candle-wax, reverent song, of silk, linen, lace and black. Yet I didn’t need to say anything today. The tears in my eyes during the Mass said enough. My trembling as I approached the altar showed the pining of my heart.


“Thank you, Father,” I replied, looking directly at him.
A twinkle showed in his eye. Here was a man who knew what he was talking about, who perhaps tasted bitter exile himself. On his way from the sanctuary he passed the crucifix. I stared at the heavy beams, carrying their sweetest burden, suspended between heaven and earth.

PopeJohnPaulIId

She was the perfect image of a quaint old church lady, with brown curly hair, gentle winkles on her face, round cheeks and bright blue eyes, bending over a prayer book. Coming into the chapel, I immediately spotted her and drawn like a moth to light, sat next to her. I set my leather-bound Christian prayer book on the seat between us, where her well-used Magnificat rested. Curiously peering, I realized she was praying the Breviary. She prayed the prayer that I had just prayed, said the very same words I said less than five minutes ago. The beauty and timelessness of such united prayers made my heart soar!

Staring forward at the clean, barren altar, I tried minding my own business but another book on the seat between us caught my eye. On the cover, against a sky blue background, was a picture of Pope John Paul II leaning against his silver staff, eyes closed in a meditative gesture. The title read “Saint John Paul the Great” Instantly, I picked it up. The old lady finally noticed me, holding the book in my hand. I felt a tinge of fear yet did not stop smiling at the beautiful cover. She leaned over and whispered, “You may have it.” “Thank you!” I whispered back.

What seemed to be a random act of kindness however, ran deeper. I remembered earlier that night, at work, starting into the blackness of the night sky that so aptly described my life at this point and asking if anyone heard my prayers. Heaven felt very empty that night. Running down the list, I asked Jesus, Mary, Joseph, then lastly I said “John Paul II, please help me! I don’t feel like anyone is there so if you hear this, please help me.”
After Mass, I introduced myself to the lady, thanked her again and told her that I had just been asking John Paul II to intercede for me. “He must be your special protector,” she replied. Indeed those words were so truthful for throughout this week, I had noticed a protective presence watching over me. Now I know who it was. And now I know who, when I called out last night, heard and answered.

Mass ended. Joy still flooded over me. I had been smiling so much, my face almost hurt. Feeling well-fed and recharged, I finally met the one who I’d been longing to meet.
“Father, you said Mass so beautifully”
He thanked me and shook my hand as I kept talking,
“The chanting was beautiful. This was a breath of fresh air.”

Finally I shrank away, worried I’d talked too much. A young man approached, shook his hand and asked to have his rosary blessed. I suddenly remembered a rosary in my purse, which my non-Catholic brother gave me, and quickly had this blessed as well. Watching him sprinkle holy water on the rosaries, the smiles started up again. Joy bursted from within me. I headed for the main church to say my thanksgiving and yet, found the priest there again, preparing to hear someone’s confession, removing his chasuble.
“Father let me take that,” I said.

“Here, take the stole too,” he replied, handing the precious vestments to me.
A most awkward march to the sacristy ensued. In my joyful stupor, overwhelmed by what seemed to be Christ’s garments wrapped around my arms, I had no clue what to do. The sacristans darted in and out, shooting odd glances, wanting me out of their territory. I folded the stole nearly perfect, as I’ve seen them done before. With the chasuble, I had notably less luck. It was like folding a fitted sheet. No matter what I did, it wadded up, so I wadded it the best I could.
Seeing the note I’d left for him yesterday morning, I swiftly grabbed it, put it on top of the folded vestments and retreated out of there. The sacristy is unpleasant. It’s an overwhelming place of sweat and tears, altogether like the garden of Gethsemane.

Emerging into the church’s vestibule, I crossed paths with the priest. I informed him that I folded his vestments the best I could. He said it was fine. Inadvertently, I followed him, wanting to hear a critique of the folding, hoping to see how it was correctly done. I halted at the sacristy door.
“Father, I left you a letter, thank you for everything.”
I couldn’t leave the church yet for there was one last thing to do. Alone, at last with my Lord, I knelt down before the tabernacle and out-poured thanksgiving. My praises mixed with a most-foolish joy, with tiredness and awkwardness, the entire placed in Jesus’s loving hands. Images of the Mass flickered in my mind, of the host held so peacefully in the priest’s hands. The voice of his chant still rang in my ears. My gaze turned to the sanctuary lamp, burning bright red, a pillar of fire in the darkness.

I thanked Jesus for the gift of Himself, and for his other self back in the sacristy, probably reading the letter and scratching his head…and for his other, other self, who was getting some much-deserved rest. It was after all, the parish priest’s suggestion that the visiting priest said Mass this morning and at this moment, I believed he did it just for me. Everything seemed like love- for I was intoxicated with love.
After five minutes, I stood up and made ways towards the church’s front exit. I glanced around and straitened anything that needed straitening, closing doors, shutting off lights. The priest emerged. He said, “Thank you for the note.” Eyeing him a last time, the white flash of his collar and the glow in his face, I replied, “You are welcome Father, have a great morning.”
Then, I closed the heavy church door, saying a silent farewell to both of my Christs. How fortunate indeed am I, who is relentlessly pursued by God.

This morning, before Mass, I went into the main church to chant lauds. There was older gentleman in black, up by the tabernacle and I hoped it didn’t bother him. Anyway, after I finished I went up to the tabernacle and discovered it was a priest! I felt so bad for subjecting him to my horrible Latin. But I felt even more glad to see him there, praying by himself before Our Eucharistic Lord. In his clericals too! The Eucharist is sadly, not a big deal at our parish. Jesus is shoved into a corner and mostly ignored.

But here was a priest, silently adoring Him. On the chair in front of him, lay a beaten-up, well-loved breviary, while the Christian prayer books in our church are brand new, barely used. Seeing this intensity of devotion, which is so rare, moved me so greatly, I could barely keep it together during Mass. He was a visiting priest. He didn’t say the morning Mass but rather, I heard, he was going to say his own private Mass later in the day. Again, I was moved beyond belief. I suddenly longed to find this man, this perfect image of the priesthood, hug him and tell him what a badly-needed exemplar he was. Yet, after Mass, he disappeared.
Our parish priest bolted out the door. Catching his attention for one moment, I said “Father, I care a lot about you.” Thanking me with a quick gesture, he continued his flight from the church. The one I sought was nowhere to be found. I remained in the church, speaking with Our Lord, beseeching him on behalf of these two souls, my gaze constant upon the red, sanctuary lamp’s lonely flicker.

Drawn after the Lord, I went to Mass again this morning. I prayed in front of the tabernacle, remembering the mysterious, visiting priest who’d been there the morning before. I chanted lauds quietly, wondering in the back of my mind if I would ever meet him again.
Time for Mass drew closer and I whisked away into the chapel, where lo and behold, preparing the altar, was the visiting priest! From his movements around the sacred altar, bowing here and there, I could tell what sort a priest this was. This was a priest who took great care with the liturgy, who would give me something new. For the Mass, we celebrated the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My heart sang and rejoiced! He chanted the Kyrie in Greek and several other of the prayers were chanted as well. He handled the consecrated Eucharist: the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord, with such care and love- as one would handle a tiny, newborn babe.

I walked up to receive communion as the priest softly said “Corpus Christi”. I couldn’t believe it. My ears rejoiced at hearing Latin, what seemed my native language! He placed the Lord Jesus gently on my tongue then continued to softly speak the Latin words to others who approached. Beneath this living image of Jesus, who diligently feeds his flock, a feeling of safety, joy and peace filled the room. Everything seemed frozen, wrapped in bright light, white and fresh. My head sunk into my hands, I closed my eyes, and rested in God.

“Thus saith the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will send spirit into you, and you shall live.” – Ezekiel 37:5

The Priest

christ the priest

 

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

The Milk of the Mass.

milk

 

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” – Isaiah 55:1

The Mass is comprised of two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which provide nourishment and strength for our souls. We “feed” on the Word and then on the Eucharist. Their source is in Christ, the true life of the Church. What the Holy Scripture speaks of in figure, prophecy and the words of Christ, the Eucharist fulfils. We learn of the true manna from heaven, sit at his feet, and then feed upon Him. This is the milk of the Mass, which flows freely from Christ and is a supreme gift to all who believe.

All of the other gifts pass through and originate from these two teats by which the Holy Church feeds her hungry children. This is why we refer to the universal Church as “Mother Church” because she embraces and feeds people of all nations, helping them to grow into saints. Through the liturgy of the Mass, something divine descends upon us, making our hearts grow bigger, stronger and able to make more room for God’s love. As we become mature Catholics, we will draw from the ample fount of the church’s milk time and time again. Listening to the Gospel, we digest the message, letting certain words come to us and as Mary, ponder the meaning in our hearts. In such sweet instruction, we learn to become a holy people, in stinging rebuke, we notice areas that must be improved. This is the milk working in us, to bring about Christ in us.

Ingesting the Eucharist unites us with Christ. Scripture says: “A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife- and they shall become one flesh”. At the moment of consecration, Our Lord leaps down from heaven’s height and takes shelter in the hands of the priest. As the canopy of love is raised over us, Christ comes forth. The one true Savior, concealed under the appearance of bread and wine, dwells in one flesh with his people, his bride. With each reception of Holy Communion, we grow more and more like Christ, our Divine Spouse. In essence, we become what we eat. What makes this mystery even more beautiful is that it is God’s work, not our own. This is the paradox of Christianity, the Living God who did not deign equality with God but became a slave. We are the truly poor ones but he becomes a poor one, ground by our teeth, totally annihilated out of love. That which is high is made low and that which is low is made high for from our feeble, sinful lays, we are called to partake in his riches.

When Scripture says, “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that passes from your mouth,” we hear a reference to this sublime milk, offered in both the Gospel reading and the Holy Eucharist. For God’s word speaks to us in holy writ and it is the word of God, uttered through the priest that transforms mere bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. At the powerful word of God, every gift of the Mas springs to life. In a new creation, this life throbs, flows and covers the earth. It is important that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is prayed, lived and absorbed into our very being. How rich and blessed are we to be partakers in such choice, divine foods!

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