Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reflections on Following the Message

About a year ago my church started putting a "Question of the Week" in the bulletin. They titled it "Following the Message: Reflections on the Weekly Gospel." The idea behind it was that it would give families, church committees, small faith sharing groups, and even individuals, a means for starting conversation and/or further reflection on the Gospel passage heard at Mass that Sunday. Sometimes they even provide an alternate question for kids.

I haven't really reflected on the question much at all, but recently decided that I should try to do so and try to post some of my thoughts on the blog. This way others can see the questions, read the Gospel, and comment as well.

Today's Gospel was from the Gospel of Mark 4:35-41. To sum up, it is the passage where Jesus and the disciples cross the sea to the other side, a storm pops up and the disciples are frightened. Jesus is sound asleep, they wake him, he chides them for not having faith, then calms the seas. The questions for reflection are:

When have I felt that my faith was being tested?

And alternately, for kids:
Do I ask Jesus for help when I'm scared?

When I looked at this question, one situation in my life (very recently actually) immediately popped into my mind. I didn't lose my faith, but I do think it was certainly a test of my faith.

In January of this year, I was 22 weeks pregnant when my water broke and my husband and I rushed to the hospital. We had been planning on going anyway, because I had been very uncomfortable (I was having contractions, but didn't know it) and was getting concerned, but we left quite quickly when my water broke. That was a Saturday morning. After a thorough exam the baby was still alive, but I was admitted as a precaution (chance of infection was great, etc., etc.). My husband and I sat in that hospital room waiting anxiously for any test results, waiting for each time my vitals and those of the baby were checked, each time holding our breath until we found that the baby still had a heartbeat. It was a scary situation, but we were pretty optimistic throughout that day.

During that ordeal I remember telling my husband that we had a fighter. Despite having lost the amniotic fluid, that baby was still alive. We prayed that he would continue to keep going, that the sac would heal itself, and that fluid would eventually return. We called our families and asked for prayers. My siblings called me to tell me about all the people they had talked to who were praying for us. It was a tough day, and yet all those prayers made me feel better. Saturday night before going to sleep, we said a rosary together, thinking about our baby the whole time.

Sunday morning my husband went to Church. While he was gone my vitals were checked again and the baby's heartbeat was now gone. The nurse called Chris and he came right back. That was one of the toughest days.

That situation was one where I could have easily lost faith in God. It was a test of the utmost proportions. Someone asked me during that next week if I was ever angry at God after our son died on that Sunday. Honestly I wasn't. I had brief moments when I wondered how something like this could happen, how God could let something like this happen. But the answer is no, I was never angry. Hurt, yes; confused, yes; grief-stricken, absolutely.

The temptation to be angry, or to wonder where God is was great. But although that temptation was there (and that's the test), I didn't surrender to it. I held onto my faith. But I also realize now that I needed the faith of those around me as well. We are not alone in our lives, none of us are. We have family, friends, our church community, and even strangers. All praying for us, whether we know it or not, and all sharing in our trials, our pains, and our heartbreaks.

I think that's one of the beauties of our faith. We aren't going at it alone. After the death of our son this past January when I started learning how many people had been praying for us, I was overwhelmed. We received tons of emails, cards, flowers, a few gifts, and lots of prayers through online message boards, Facebook, and who knows where else. God's goodness was in all those prayers. So even though I don't have my son with me, I have faith, and thus know, that he is with God in heaven, he is with Mary and all the saints, and he is with Christ.

So has my faith ever been tested? Yes, I think it has. And I hope that I passed that test. I feel like my faith is actually stronger now having gone through the pain of losing not only my little Zachary in January, but also a child before that as well. Our faith helps us to understand that our children are now saints, that they are now living with Christ in heaven, and they can be intercessors for us. That too is a blessing!

Feel free to share your own reflections on these questions or try the kids' question out with your children and let me know how the conversation went. I suggest reading the Gospel passage again before starting. Next weekend I'll be out of town, but hopefully will be able to grab a bulletin on Monday to try this again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Proper Pro-Life Speak

Ever since the unfortunate murder of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, by a very misguided man who obviously doesn't understand what being Pro-LIFE actually means, I have been watching and reading various news stories about this tragedy and about abortion. It has made me start contemplating the terminology that we use, or should be using, in the Pro-Life Movement.

In particular, I think we need to be consistent about what we call the child in the womb. I have heard fetus, the unborn, and once I did hear the term preborn. The term Fetus is used a lot. It seems to be the term of choice for the news casts I watch. My guess is that it seems the most neutral term. But the question here is, is it a good term for us to use as people who stand up for the rights of ALL humans?

I went to and found this definition:
the young of an animal in the womb or egg, esp. in the later stages of development when the body structures are in the recognizable form of its kind, in humans after the end of the second month of gestation

This is the scientific term. What is interesting to me is that the fetus is in recognizable human form after the second month of gestation, which the definition also calls a "later stage of development." That's at the end of about 8 weeks!! Eight Weeks!! Some women don't even know that they are pregnant before about 8 weeks; there are roughly 32 more weeks to go. Most abortions happen after the 8th week of gestation. But I digress ...

Fetus is definitely an accurate term to use. But does it work well when discussing pro-life issues with someone who is pro-choice? Ask them if a fetus has any rights and they will tell you that it's about the mother's health. Yes, they are avoiding the question (I know, I used to be in this camp), but I think the word fetus is so familiar to everyone that it can be easily forgotten that it is, in fact, a baby.

So how about the term "unborn?" Until recently I thought this was a great term to use. It makes me realize that the "thing" we are talking about is a human that has not yet been born. And that's the idea! But I started reconsidering my thoughts on this recently. What does the prefix "un-" really mean? Well, the prefix "un-" has two meanings:
1. a prefix meaning “not,” freely used as an English formative, giving negative or opposite force in adjectives and their derivative adverbs and nouns (unfair; unfairly; unfairness; unfelt; unseen; unfitting; unformed; unheard-of; un-get-at-able), and less freely used in certain other nouns (unrest; unemployment).
2. a prefix freely used in English to form verbs expressing a reversal of some action or state, or removal, deprivation, release, etc. (unbend; uncork; unfasten; etc.), or to intensify the force of a verb already having such a meaning (unloose).

There is a lot of negativity in this prefix, at least in my mind. So "unborn" is the opposite of born, it is the removal or deprivation of the state of being born. This really doesn't help Pro-Lifers. I keep looking at this word and keep thinking that it doesn't lend itself well to advocating for the birth of a so-called "unwanted" child (no child is unwanted). And the definitions above make me this even less of this term. Again, it's a term we can use and we would be accurate, but does it help our case??

I have been hearing the term preborn used more and more. It's still a pretty infrequently used term, but I think it's one which has the most power behind it. Again, the actual definition of the prefix "pre-" is:
a prefix occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, where it meant “before” (preclude; prevent); applied freely as a prefix, with the meanings “prior to,” “in advance of,” “early,” “beforehand,” “before,” “in front of,” and with other figurative meanings (preschool; prewar; prepay: preoral; prefrontal).

The dictionary actually listed 6 varying definitions, but the one thing they all had in common was the concept of something happening "before." Preborn, therefore, would imply that we are talking about a human that is to be born, thus in the "before birth" state. For me, "preborn" is a much more positive, forward-thinking term, therefore, having a lot more power behind it.

We were all created and became human from the moment of our conception. From that moment we had all our DNA. From that moment we are human. This is scientific fact, not a religious belief. And if we believe that every human being is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity no matter what their stage of life (young, old, sick, etc.), then we have to realize that the most vulnerable humans are those that are preborn. And those preborn human beings deserve that same right to life that we all have.

To bring this back to where I started, the murder of Dr. Tiller was a horrible tragedy. He too deserved his right to life. No matter what our disagreements, those of us who fight for the rights of the preborn advocate for peaceful dissent keeping within the law. Murder goes against the very foundation of being Pro-Life.

That being said, I hope that this issue is discussed more and everyone can have an open mind to really understand what we are talking about when we talk about abortion. Those preborn babies have as much right to life as all of us. Remember, they are just innocent humans who happen to be in a stage of life "before" birth.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The True Presence in the Catholic Church

This past Sunday was Corpus Christi Sunday, also called the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Many Catholic Churches on this past Sunday celebrated by having street processions led by the Eucharist carried in a monstrance and followed by the people usually singing an appropriate song. At my church the street processions happened after the 5:00pm Mass on Sunday evening. We didn't go, but we've been in the past.

The Eucharist is very special in the Catholic Church. For us, it IS the body and blood of Christ. We believe in transubstantiation, meaning that when the priest says the words of consecration it becomes the body and blood at that moment and remains that way, it can't change. Some churches believe in consubstantiation, which is similar but relies on the belief of individuals, so if you believe it's the body of Christ it is, but if you don't, then it isn't. In the Catholic Church, once it is consecrated it is the Body and Blood and whether you believe or not does not change what it is.

So the "Question of the Week" from my church this week was, of course, about the Eucharist. The Question was, "How do I experience intimate communion with the Lord in the Eucharist?" This afternoon the local Catholic radio station discussed this question and I found the conversation very interesting. In particular I was interested in their discussion of those who are not able to participate in our Communion celebration within the Catholic Church.

First, the deacon that was the guest on the show is very involved in an inter-religious group in our city. Once a year, a group of people from another Christian faith attends our Mass (and a group from our Church attends the church service at the other church). The deacon said that he confronts this issue a lot when he has to explain that non-Catholics are not to receive the Eucharist but can go up during communion for a blessing.

Now, for those who don't know, because the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith, only those who are in good standing within the Catholic Church (and thus a member of the Church either through baptism or confirmation, plus there are other requirements) are allowed to receive. The reason being is that by taking the Eucharist we are professing our belief in the Catholic Church. It is not to leave people out. We very much would love to accept all Christians to our communal table. The deacon, when talking about discussing this teaching with our Protestant brothers and sisters, noted that many feel offended by this teaching. This is understandable.

But, he went on to say, he is amazed to see how they respect our teachings, often go up for a blessing, and then later tell him how special they could feel that moment was. The deacon said that many of them seemed to have a much better appreciation for our Eucharistic celebration after being a part of it and all seemed to no longer feel offended by not being able to receive. There is suddenly an amazing understanding for how special this moment is for us and why they can't fully participate. He said it is a beautiful thing to see.

The host on this radio show is a convert to the faith; he was raised in the Baptist church. He said he remembers feeling offended that he could not fully participate in the Eucharistic Celebration in the Catholic Church when he attended with his then girlfriend (now wife). He said he even refused to come forward for a blessing back then. Now however, he sees the beauty in the Catholic Church's teachings on this and understands how special that moment is. He also commented that he is now a Eucharistic minister and he is amazed at how excited people often are to be receiving the body and blood of Christ. He finds it very moving.

For me, I love this teaching! We get to meet Christ every week in the Eucharist, what could be better than that. To actually be able to consume him, you can't get much more intimate than that. I love the passage in the Gospel of John (about the second half of chapter 6) where Jesus gives us this teaching and many of the disciples walk away because they find this teaching so difficult.

The Eucharist is very special to us. And without our priests we wouldn't have the Eucharist. We need our priests, because we need the Eucharist!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Updating Part Three: Vacation

I haven't been very good at posting lately. I had promised an update on our vacation in May and while I have a few minutes I thought I would do a quick post. And this will be quick.

In May we went to Charlottesville, VA. It was really nice. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast where we could walk to both downtown and the university quite easily. Our room was called the Sleeping Porch and it literally was a porch. Very nice, but we had a few incidents of flying insects coming in when we left the windows open (no screens).

While we were there, we visited Monticello, saw the Rotunda at UVA, walked around campus, walked through the pedestrian mall, did a wine tasting, hiked up to Humpback Rock just off the Blueridge Parkway, and had lunch at the famous tavern near Monticello whose name I can not currently think of (I should have posted this back when it was all fresh in my mind). Each day we would end up back at the B&B around 4pm for wine and cheese (and other treats) where we could chat with one of the owners, others guests, and review the various menus they had to help us decide where to do dinner.

Check out our pictures here: May 2009 Vacation. The pictures are on my Facebook page, but this link should make them viewable to anyone, whether you are on FB or not.

Next trip on our agenda: Chris' 20 year High School reunion in Little Rock, Ark.