On the Front Page

Although she died in 1980, Dorothy Day made the front page of  The New York Times yesterday.   Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbiship of the New York Diocese, has been talking about this divorced mother, journalist and social activist.

How did a woman with a “bohemian” youth,  including an abortion, who rejected religion find her way to God? And possibly sainthood?

“She completely trusted God’s love for her and did not wallow in guilt over the mistakes of the past”. (Stephen J. Krupa, S.J., America Magazine)  Her path to God is one of joy and love, chronicled in her autobiography, From Union Square to Rome.

The birth of her daughter, Tamar Teresa, catapulted Day into God’s arms.

Day could think of nothing better to do with the gratitude that overwhelmed her than arrange Tamar’s baptism in the Catholic Church.  “I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a Church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic.”

(from A Biography of  Dorothy Day, by Jim Forest)

Day was already committed to causes of social justice, labor rights, and poverty.  This experience offered her another path into God.   Day so identified with the poor that she co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, and voluntarily spent her life in poverty, operating ‘houses of hospitality’ for the needy.

The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.” (Dorothy Day)

A post-election political angle was picked up by the NY Times.  Day is of interest to both poverty-motivated (left-wing) and right-to-life driven (right-wing) Catholics.  Cardinal Dolan calls her a “saint for our time”, and a woman whose journey inspires.

For us, her faith journey is very well documented, and an inspiration to those of us, who, like her, live in a modern world.  Her faith was the basis for her life, and her life is a testament to God.  

“Your love for God is only as great as the love you have for the person you love the least.”

Whether she ends up titled ‘Saint’, or not, Dorothy Day is a model of strength and justice, especially in this Year of Faith.   Most of us will never make the front page for our spiritual journey or charitable efforts.  No need to.  Our job is to keep God on the front page of our lives.

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Have a Better Day

In an effort to continue to deepen my faith I went to a weekday morning Mass.  Again, I find it is so worth it — like a 25 minute power nap, except it’s full of prayer and wisdom.

Two nuggets to share:

That’s what we do.

In doing good, and doing right, we are only doing what we are supposed to do.  Sometimes the world sees that as extraordinary and tremendous.  It’s not.  It’s the way the world should be.  As good people, people of God, etc. (describe yourself here) that’s just what we (try to) do.  See the Good Samaritan for a good example.

Don’t look for trumpets blaring and pats on your back.   Know that you did the right thing.  Know that God knows.  True heroes don’t stand and look for applause.  They almost always say “I just did what had to be done.”

See the gospel reading here.

Prayer Opens Your Heart

The more I pray, the more I want to pray.

I enjoy it more; I need it more.  I hear more and talk less.

Do good.  Pray.  You’ll have a better day. Promise.

Ways to Look for God

The thought bubbles up – this God thing.  Is it real?  How do I figure this out?

Talk to God.

Right now.  Say something like “God, I’m looking for you.  Here I am.  Please help me find you.”  If you’re a real skeptic, abandon your objections for just a moment and allow yourself to acknowlege that you might not know everything about the universe.

Keep in mind that God is already active in your life.  And he happily meets you wherever you are.  Anywhere.  You do not need be a saint, or a better person than you are.   He is always looking for you, sending out subtle, constant invitations.

So how do you hear him?  Sit quietly and listen.  Pray.  If you feel the urge to do something that will bring you closer to God, do it.

Try this very simple approach to prayer:

  1. Remind yourself that you are in God’s presence and ask for his help to pray.
  2. Think over the day and remember what you are grateful for.  Thank God.
  3. Scan the entire day: remember things that made you happy, stressed, confused, more loving, more selfish, etc.  Where was God’s present?  Where did you feel him?  Where did you turn away from him?
  4. Ask forgiveness from God for your wrongdoings. Consider reconciling with anyone you may have offended.
  5. Ask for the grace of God’s help tomorrow.  Remember God loves you no matter what.
  6. Close with a prayer.  Christians might like to say the Our Father (as St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended in his development of this approach).

Try this ‘examination of conscience’ every day for a few days.  It is often easier to see God at work in your life after it happens rather than as it happens.  You need to reflect on it.

Surprise yourself.  Read the Bible.

Read whatever you want; choose wherever the page lands, or start at the beginning of a Gospel and read it like a novel.  Reflect on it and listen to the persistent ideas that come to you from it.

(When a friend first advised me to do this, I thought, really?  Isn’t reading scripture for square, dorky Bible thumpers?  Or for those angry people who use quotes to condemn others? Or for televangelists who make money from preaching so they can buy big houses and have sordid affairs? You can see where my mind was…)

Turns out the Bible gets a bad rap.  The wisdom of that guy, Jesus, who lived such a loooonng time ago is still incredibly relevant, even thousands of years later.  How’d that happen, when people were writing on parchment with quill pens?

If you get motivated, take a Scripture study class – the history is fascinating and can really deepen your faith and understanding.

Do something kind and unselfish.

Note how you feel and how it affects others.  Live, for a while, as if God does exist, as if his love matters.  See how it opens your heart and your mind.

Know that faith and reason go together.   Keep learning.

Use your brain.  You were made in God’s image – you know that you yourself are more than just a random life-form here on an ant-like worker colony.  Emotion, relationships, love all point to something more about life that we yearn to understand and participate in.   Be open to the knowledge that yes, there is more to life.

But don’t be gullible.  You should be able to ask questions of religion and get reasonable answers from whoever is advising you. God seeks first and foremost to love each and every one of us on earth.  If it doesn’t feel that way, redirect yourself.

There are lots of resources out there to learn more about God, faith and religion.  A great place to start is a book called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Anything by Fr. Jim Martin.  It’s an incredibly honest perspective from a business school grad turned priest, as well as funny, insightful, and applicable to any person of any religion.

If you are a ‘lapsed’ or alienated Catholic, I get it.  But now’s a good time to look again.  There are very approachable priests and faith centers out there, offering open discussions about the state of the church and everything else.

 Continue to Pray. Often.

Finding and knowing God is not a one-off scavenger hunt event.  We are like little children who must grow through learning.  You can pray anytime — while driving, running, showering, washing dishes, walking the dog.  Faith is like other skills – it must be nurtured and practiced and honed one day at a time.

Beautiful Bells and an Imperfect Beginning

My year of faith is off to a beautiful, if imperfect start.

For three-minutes at noon on Oct. 11 (the first day of the Year of Faith), my children’s school rang bells and said the Angelus (a Catholic prayer of devotion to Mary and Jesus).  Every child in the school – about 400 students ages 4 to 12 – encircled the entrance standing in glorious sunshine along the stone steps of the church.  Together with our priest, teachers, and a few parents and parishioners, we recited the prayers.  Then, with most children having brought bells to school, the student body joyously joined the three minutes of church bells.  The deep resonance from the church tower echoed with sweet jingle bells, clanging teacher bells, petite dinner bells, and the giggles and jumping feet of children.  What a beautiful and inspiring few moments.  I can only imagine God smiling at the sight.

We were reminded that our symbolic celebration was connected to the start of the Vatican II council, in which bishops paraded in to St. Peter’s under the musical might of bells ringing in churches all over Rome.

In a less personally lifting experience later in the evening, my husband and I headed to a liturgy of Adoration.  We thought we’d go to the service first, then out for a quick drink to celebrate a big work success of my husband’s.

After struggling to settle our children, we arrived a few minutes late for the service.   We snuck in through a rear side entrance, and sat quietly. We couldn’t find the program (which everyone else seemed to have), and were not near enough to peek at anyone else’s.

The music was spiritual and beautiful, and my husband happily recognized one hymn from childhood.  However, we couldn’t join in the recitation of the unfamiliar prayers.  And as a creature of routine, not having a sense of the timing and process of the liturgy unsettled me, and I had trouble concentrating.

A brief moment of awe descended on me as the congregation knelt in silence, reverently praying and looking towards the Eucharist.  For a minute or two I could imagine God on the altar, here in the church, truly really with me and the power of that overwhelmed me.

And then I lost it.  Staring at an ornate golden structure, like a sun, on the altar (I have no idea of the proper name) I reflected that the service seemed very traditional, a bit ‘old-school’.  So while I enjoyed the service, it wasn’t as helpful for me as the bells.

Maybe I was distracted by my plans to go out afterwards.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been late.  Ah, well.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  I’ll keep you posted. Today I get my ‘Year of Faith guide’… Maybe that will help.

Have you done anything to strengthen your faith?  Has it helped?  Keep at it!

Let the Year of Faith Begin

Bamboo CathedralToday begins the Year of Faith, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI of the Catholic Church.  It is also the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, the event which prompted the Pope’s decision to call for a renewed commitment to faith.

This invitation does not apply to Catholics only.  Regardless of your religion, or what you might think of religion, God is real.  Faith is God’s gift to us – to see beyond the seen, to glimpse a world of purity, of beauty, perfection, and most of all love:  complete, total and unconditional love.   Personally I am taking the Year of Faith as a challenge and an opportunity.

So, what to do in the Year of Faith?

Keep a diary of your faith journey, or a prayer journal (just call it a diary if you are more comfortable with this).  When you look back week to week or month to month, you can more easily see what is often unseen:  where your faith has come, how your prayers may have been answered (heck, for me, I sometimes have to remember what I was praying for), and God at work in your life.

Pray.  Ask God for the gift of faith.  Ask him to strengthen and renew your faith and to lead you on the right path for your life.

  • If you are new to this, start simple.  Say the Glory Be. Or the Our Father.  Or the Hail Mary.  If you don’t know the words, make it up as you go along—God doesn’t mind.  He’s just happy to hear from you.
  • If you know and practice these prayers, take your prayer up a notch.  Try Grace before Meals (or a meal).  Check out the site Sacred Space.  Read and reflect on the Catholic Daily Devotions guide.  Join a prayer group that meets weekly or monthly.

Go to Church.

  • For newbies (or used-to-be’s) who might feel strange about this:  just go!  Catholic churches can be an easy start because they tend to be anonymous (for better and for worse – but you can always introduce yourself if you want.).  Go to Mass, sit and listen.  At a minimum, as you pass a church, pop inside for a quick prayer and look around.  Listen to your inner voice and try to hear God talking to you.  God is always talking to us, encouraging us.  And remember this:  God is never discouraging.  Never.
  • For all you church goers out there:  go more!  Are you a Sunday duty attender?  That’s okay, but to deepen your faith, find another Mass or service that calls to you.  It might be a weekday morning (they tend to be shorter – everyone is on their way to work.)  It might be an evening prayer liturgy, or the Catholic Adoration service.  You know.  It will come to you.  Just try it at least once, and see what gifts your receive.

Read the Scripture. Yes – the Bible.  It is the basis for Christian faith.  The wisdom from the words of this book are beyond compare.  The Bible is chock full of guidance and grounding.  It is also a history of our civilization, and the source of many phrases we commonly use today (‘Go the extra mile’, ‘for everything there is a season’, ‘labour of love’…).  And simply, the stories are great stories.

  • Personally I find the New Testament much easier to understand, so you might want to start here, with the life of Jesus.
  • To deepen your understanding, take a scripture study class.  These are becoming much more common in Catholic communities these days (check on-line or in the bulletin), and are often abundant in other Christian churches.

Do Service. Put perspective in your life, and reach out to those who have less, physically, materially, or spiritually.  This is as much for your good as for those you serve. Volunteer opportunities abound – do the one you’ve been thinking about.  Feel free to start small.

For me today, I am attending the Angelus at my children’s Catholic school this afternoon. (The Angelus is a short prayer honoring Jesus and Mary.)  The Church has been asked to ring their bells for three minutes to celebrate and witness our faith, our belief in God, and the beginning of this great year of renewal.

Our church is also celebrating with a liturgy and Adoration of the Eucharist this evening, which I plan on attending.  I have never been to Adoration before, find the name a little hard to get used to, and don’t quite know what I’m getting myself into.  But I am looking forward to it!  I always grow in my faith through these services, traditions and the Sacraments.  I love that about the Catholic Church.  Fear not – whether Catholic, lapsed, not Catholic, etc. you can renew your faith – just ask God to help you.