Tag Archive: catholicism


A New Direction

important_announcement

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 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.

The Wine of the Mass.

 

wine

“Take me away with you–let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!”– Song of Songs 1:4

 

When confronted with the mystery of the altar, the presence of God dwelling there, one is overcome by awe. Words escape some while others long to open their mouths in praise. In both cases, the heart groans silently. Have you ever taken time to notice all of the postures and gestures used during Mass? When the priest speaks a certain verse, we say a certain response. He kneels before the consecrated Eucharist, he whispers certain prayers and holds out his hands. When crossing the altar, we bow and starting the Mass, we make the sign of the cross. These actions are really just a hundred tiny ways we say “Lord, I love you.”

This disposition of reverence is the wine of the Mass. Our chanting, our vigils, our candles brightly burning are all signs of a people enamored by God’s presence. These things all serve to foster a union with God. They help us understand who God is and how we respond to Him. Reverence is the song of the wedding feast.

We behave differently at Mass than in the outside world. Feeling a sense of the sacred, our minds cease their restless churning. The structure and solemnity of the Holy Mass brings peace. It conveys a respect for the Lord’s house. In order to drink more deeply of the sacraments, we must lower ourselves, be humble and meek. It is then we hear what God is trying to tell us. Before approaching Holy Communion, we drink the cup of reverence which prepares us to drink the Saving Cup. Our palates are softened to receive the Living God.

To some, reverence is foolish, the dusty remnants of an old religion that lacks contemporary value. But nothing is further from the truth. Amidst materialism, reverence points to something higher. In a world of darkness, reverence sows light. We exert ourselves in charity, feeding the hungry caring for the sick, ministering to the sinner. Having drunk our fill, we may even give our very lives. Capable of so profoundly moving us with love of God and neighbor, wine is corresponds to the end of the Mass, which is adoration.

Wine is intoxicating, like the powerful, just and merciful presence of God, who loves us beyond measure. Our minds reel at such a love! Running and warm, it also becomes the precious Body and Blood of Christ, who intoxicated by love for us, gave up his life on the cross. Enlivened by this spirit, let us run to the King and Bridegroom of our souls!

The Honey of the Mass.

honey

 

“Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” – Proverbs 24:14

There are some things about the Mass that we can just savor. In a sacred place, praying silently, folding our hands, perhaps whispering, we are comforted. Eyes closed, hearing a gentle hymn about the mercy of God, we are given hope. Seeking him, we know he seeks us. This is the honey of the Mass: God’s peace, which the world cannot give. The soft prayers, small gestures and mumblings of the priest are soothing to watch and hear.  A pilgrim people, we are nestled in the arms of God, and there, tell our many petitions.

Honey shows our special relationship with God. Our liturgical gestures reveal a people conversant with God, knowing him as both friend and lover. Every movement is charged with meaning, every word profound. Listening to the Gospel, let us remember that His word is like a honeycomb, beckoning us closer. As the priest recites prayers we may not be able to hear, remember that Jesus often went alone to pray. It reminds us to watch and pray.

You may notice that the words said at Mass have a set text. They are moreso echoed in every Catholic Church around the world. These petitions, handed down in the Church’s wisdom, are the prayer of the universal people of God who intercede for the world.  We don’t just recite these prayers, but enter into them, learning their meaning as we hear them again and again.

And how sweet the words of Jesus that flow from our mouths when we say: “Our Father, who art in heaven”? Our prayers join with those of the whole Church and Christ, who is the Head of the Body, prays with us. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, God becomes our humble guest. In silence, we talk to him, tell him our many needs and the needs of others. At this time, we might say private prayers in our hearts.  Because it is savored so long in the heart, honey characterizes the end of the Mass which is petition.

In our desert lives, it is necessary to seek refreshment. The sweetness of the Mass gives us energy to confront a world that is seldom peaceful. Jesus came to give us peace, to bring good tidings to all men. He taught us how to pray and united with him, we worship the Father. Our lasting union with him, is supreme happiness. In him, is our hope and the Mass reminds us of this time and time again. In his body, he died, rose and ascended. Knowing that Our Lord and God endured the hardships of life, gives us courage to face our own trials. Honey sweetens the vinegar of suffering.

 

The Oil of the Mass.

oil

 

“I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him” – Psalm 89:20

We each bring our own offering before God in the Holy Mass. In union with the priest, we lift up our hearts. The oil of the Mass, is our hearts, our prayerfulness, our awareness of who we are, the priestly people of God and what we are doing, offering sacrifice. It is also the crowning delight of the Mass, namely, God working through the priest. In our commingled offerings, a pungent fragrance is released. Spreading upward on our prayers and petitions, it fills the house of God.

A priestly people, we are anointed by God’s presence in the sacraments. In the Mass, our oil runs over. It exalts, it strengthens, heals and saves. This is most apparent in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist where a broken, sinful man calls down all the powers of heaven and cradles Christ in his hands. How awesome, the calling given to us, that we may share this incomprehensible blessing! In union with the priest, we offer the greatest sacrifice!

A zealous priest, in love with this sacrament of sacraments, gives forth finest oil. He has given everything, laid down his life and bursts with joy at being made a sweet oblation. The proper disposition we should carry during the Mass, is of self-sacrifice, being conformed to the salvific sacrifice of Christ. We continually apply the oil to ourselves that we may be healed and brought closer to our original dignity, that of our first parents before the fall. Thus, oil corresponds to the end of the Mass which is atonement for sins. The name “Christ” means “anointed one” and we bear his name as Christians. On our foreheads, is the seal of his kingship.

Oil spreads by virtue of its thick, moist consistency. Therefore, as a community, our oil is gathered and lavished upon others. Our anointing doesn’t run out as soon as we leave the church but rather must be spread onto the entire world. Oil is also a fuel. Filling our lamps with it, we burn brightly. This means that instead of hiding under a basket, we teach the truth. And if our lamps should run dry, we are invited to return to the most holy Eucharist and be refilled. The oil of Christ never lacks. His priesthood, and thus our priesthood, lasts forever.

 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most-perfect gift in which God gives himself to man, and man gives himself to God. When we go to Mass, a banquet is spread before us full of splendor, richness, sweetness and praise. God’s goodness overflows.  As a Protestant, I couldn’t really see God’s love for me, nor touch or taste it. God was an abstract person, far from us, that the preacher only talked about. Yes, he did tell us to “accept Jesus into our hearts” but this sort of prayer seemed like an intellectual exercise. When I finally discovered the Catholic Mass, I was able to say, here is truly the outward manifestation of God’s love for us! In the act of receiving communion, believed to be the actual body and blood of Jesus, “accepting Jesus into your heart” became more than just an idea but a real, concrete thing.

The Mass is our “Mysterium Tremendum”. It is the kingly, priestly and prophetic prayer of the entire people of God. Both a banquet and a sacrifice, it reopens every grace bestowed to us by Jesus on the cross of Calvary. In a lifetime, it would be impossible to understand all that happens at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or count all its gifts. Before such a tremendous mystery, we can only reflect on bits and pieces until the whole is revealed in heaven, where at the altar not made of human hands, we will worship for all eternity. The following gifts I now reflect on are just a foretaste of what God prepares for us, that which eye has not seen and ear has not heard.

 

The Gold of the Mass:

gold

“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” – Malachi 3:3

When the sweet smell of incense rises in smoky curls, the organ thunders and heavenly strains of Gregorian chant hit your ears as you see the priest process by wearing vestments that shimmer like fire, you are experiencing the gold of the Mass. These are the outward treasures of the church proudly displayed. While such beauty may consist of expensive materials, they speak of the treasures of heaven rather than earth. We do not count the cost of this perfume poured out in devotion, for God is master of all things.

Some may deem beauteous things as mere externals however, we know their true purpose: our senses, sight, smell, sound, touch, are guided to heavenly realities. Mysteries are brought low, so that man may taste and see. We see before us, entrance into that paradise lost and a foretaste of eternal delight. A lavish wedding feast calls our attention, our minds and hearts.

The gold of the Mass is the priceless adornment of the temple of God, which should match the adornment in our heart. Since we cannot see the hearts of others, we are shown something to strive for, the adornment of virtue, faith, hope, charity. It is also a reminder of God’s greatest gift to us, His Only begotten Son, who was incarnated of the Virgin Mary and became man. The Lord of all creation became poor so we may be rich. He became human so we could become divine. Gold was presented to the newborn babe in Bethlehem, placed before the manger of the King of Kings. Now, chalices and plates of gold are a fitting throne for Him. From a gold vessel we receive something infinitely more precious than gold. We receive the price of our redemption: the blood of Jesus Christ!

The beauty of the Mass summons our collective memory as ransomed people of God, no longer slaves but friends and servants of the most high. A royal priesthood, whose bonds have been loosed, we stand and give thanks to God, carrying our gold, singing our song of victory. Thus the gold corresponds to the end of the Mass which is thanksgiving.

Instead of being a pompous parade of human accomplishments, fine vestments and solemn chant sing of God’s accomplishments. He shed all the glories of heaven and while still Lord of Lords, died on a barren cross for our sins. He wore the sorrowful vestments of death so we could wear the glittering garments of resurrection. Being tried in fire, gold is living. Pressed in the crucible, it emerges stronger. It is also a very pure element, mirroring pure worship. Therefore, being given an inheritance that never fades away, we echo the words: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me.”

 

 

Credo

What is this Catholic faith of ours? What does it mean to be Catholic? It is history, beauty and majesty. It is a love story between God and man. It is not the mundane entertainment of the world nor is it some abstract concept of our intellect. It is a real covenant relationship, a way of life lived to the fullest. It isn’t the way of death, some sterile, modern standard that is pressed upon us day in and day out, no it is life- defying death. Jesus spoke of this saying:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” -John 10:10.

Too many people look at our faith as a set of rules and doctrines. They don’t realize that these rules and doctrines are actually a deposit of rich treasure, lovingly passed down by the apostles, and those saints and martyrs before us, originating from Christ’s undying love for us. Our doctrines and expressions are a gift, a sweet yoke. Not like the yoke of the world which burdens and destroys us. We must cast that yoke off and leave it behind. Then we can truly understand the Church’s wisdom, which is as a fount from heaven.

We worship in a liturgy because creation is liturgy, love is a liturgy. It is an act of giving and receiving and then giving again. It is speaking and being spoken to. God has always spoken to us in the law of gift. Moved by love, He spoke and all things in the universe were made and He pronounced them good. Each person, created in God’s image is a gift to be given. Christ offers us the gift of His very flesh and blood. He makes His life our own and we, enraptured by this act of love, can do nothing but adore and cry out “Amen!!”

Catholicism is a wedding, lasting throughout the ages. It is a lush garden where souls are planted and tended, where men become saints. God’s only son, the loving Bridegroom leapt down from heaven and became flesh to rescue us, to deliver us from sin and death. He gave all he had, his very life, for us. When water and blood poured from the side of the crucified Christ, a bride was taken and many sons and daughters were born anew from this union. We become God’s own sons and daughters. Because of this new identity:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” –Psalm 92-12

In this family of the Catholic Church, we have a foretaste of our promised inheritance. As a wedding gift, He bestowed the Holy Ghost, the spirit of God, so that in a spirit of hope, charity and self-sacrifice, we may show others this Kingdom of God. The husband and wife reveal God’s covenant with man, made from the beginning. The priest’s celibacy shows his mystical marriage with the Church, the chosen Bride. Nothing like this has ever happened! Through the sacraments, which are seven jewels of great price, God makes us partakers in His Divine Life. Everything that belongs to God now belongs to His people.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” – Song of Solomon 6:3

What we see in the visible Church points to a wondrous, unseen reality. Our communion here on earth is united to a greater communion in heaven, those who have fought and loved before us. Out of their sacrifices, modeled after the One Sacrifice of Christ, comes our power and strength. We are weak and have nothing in this world for our treasure is elsewhere.

The Catholic faith proclaims the forgiveness of sins, that when Jesus climbed up on that rugged cross, He undid the sin of Adam and reopened the gates of paradise. And how immense is God’s love that when a priest says “I absolve you from your sins” that through the blood of Christ, we are washed clean. Our faith is one that believes second chances are possible!

“Love covers a multitude of sins” – 1 Peter 4:8

This is our faith, why add or take anything away from it? Why not love and cherish it as Christ loved and cherished us? Catholicism is the pure water in which we have been reborn. It is the Precious Blood we drink. It is God’s Holy Spirit moving and breathing within us. It is the anticipation of life and resurrection and of every good thing in the world to come.

mother of priests

 

It was my fault. I asked for it. Yes, some years ago, I asked that the Lord would make me the spiritual mother of a priest. In His greatness, He chose first to show me exactly what that meant. You see I thought this vocation entailed nice theological discussions, gentle mentoring, sending packages with cookies, crying at ordinations, joyously partaking of the altar and assisting with advice. My vision of sunshine and roses was shattered in the month of May, 2013. God showed me a way laden with pain and sorrow, which was not a flowery image but an echo of Calvary.

Without divulging the events of the past month,  I will tell you that after pleading so long, it was finally shown to me the requirements needed to be the spiritual mother of a priest. The mother of a priest lives in uncertainty, trusting everything to God who sees beyond the human realm. She is not Pollyanna- but Mary who hears a prophecy of arrows, tends a poor and bruised child, hated from birth, walks with him to the rugged cross and sees him buried in the cold tomb. She who would be mother to a priest must feel the pains of the mother of Christ. She must lose him for three days, find him in the temple, declaring independence from earthly things, must watch him be scorned, rejected and despised, stripped of everything so that he even cries “My God why hast thou forsaken me?”

Priesthood is a bloody, painful affair, fraught with dark nights, the sweat of Gethsemane, the agony of Calvary. Brave enough, a man must give himself up, but as Christ died completely, in body, soul and spirit, upon the cross, so a man must utterly die. More sorrowful still, the mother of that man who must witness it all.

In a short time, compared to the whole span of life, I relived Mary’s seven sorrows. I lost something that was cherished immensely and buried it in the earth. I said goodbye to my dreams and desires, to my complacence and happiness. In turn however, I gained a trust in God, a closeness to Blessed Mary and a promise of future resurrection. We live the gloom of Good Friday and wait through the emptiness of Holy Saturday so we may rejoice at Easter Sunday. It is always darkest before dawn and so the darkest eve of despair gives way to glorious, golden sunrise.

I also know now that the devil ruthlessly attacks those destined for the seminary door, before they have even stepped foot in it. God taught me how to put up defense, asking for the shelter of his angels. The fragile, sheet-metal casing of my heart, He hammered into shining, iron armor. With the ore of my soft, pampered hands, He chiseled a broadsword. And with that sword I will slash the devil. I will not forget but fight, my every prayer forming a fortress for our future priests. The sorrowful mother is wounded- and allows herself to be so. She lets the serpent bite at her heel so she may savor even more the moment when he is crushed. She endures crucifixion so her face may shine even more radiantly at the resurrection.

And when the mother of a priest kneels before the altar, wearied by that battle, the copious blood of Christ washes over her. The sweet, Eucharistic chalice is balm to her wounds, polish upon her sword, fire within her heart and the pledge of forsworn victory.

 

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Companion at the Cross, Ewe of God’s Lamb, Light of Confessors, Queen of Apostles, Mother of Priests,  pray for us.