Monday, 18 February 2013

Tuesday # 11: Pancake Tuesday / Keeping Love in Lent

"I am participating in the Keeping LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013, 
hosted by
Raising (& Teaching) Little Saints, Truly Rich Mom, and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We share different ways, tips, stories, an real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE. Please scroll to the end of the post to see the list of link-up entries."

Although I was raised in a Catholic household, this is my first Lent in spirit. As a child, Lent meant no meat on Fridays, supposedly giving something nice up (not that I  ever did), and being sad (no swimming, no laughing, no telly) from 3pm Good Friday until Easter Sunday. The past year or so, I have been gradually waking up to God. (Or rather, He has been ever gently but firmly waking me from a deep deep sleep.) And as I look around me, I realize how ignorant I am of so much about being Catholic. It was only in the recent weeks that I realized that St Paul wrote most of the Letters that are part of the 2nd Readings in the Mass, and that there are Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible. I had asked my teacher V for advice on how to read the Bible, and he told me to pay attention to the footnotes. “What footnotes?” I asked. Hmm. Perhaps it was time to buy a grown-up Bible. I was still using my Precious Moments Children’s Bible that I had purchased when I was 16, the one with cartoon pictures instead of footnotes. (I never actually read much of it. Back then, it was an accessory for hanging out with my best friend, who had one crush after another on Korean boys from various born-again Christian churches. We spent plenty a Friday night fellowship-hopping.) In any case, despite having promised myself about two weeks ago to forgo buying any more books on amazon until April, I bought a “grown-up” Bible and a second-hand copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After these purchases, I will really not buy any more books on amazon until April. (Really.) I’m also trying to fast on the weekdays. I used to think that fasting was not eating at all. But our parish priest recently brought up that fasting meant 1 normal meal, and 2 small meals (together not making up a full meal) a day. Now I understand how Moses, Jesus, and the saints could fast for 40 days. (Even though I am aware that fasting is not about dieting, I can't help but think that that’s more food in a day than one gets on the Slimfast plan!) It’s doable. Or at least, that’s what I tend to think in the morning. By 5pm, I am very hungry and lightheaded, and I allow myself to have a few pieces of Darvita to tide me over to dinner (my full meal). Darvita is salted cardboard marketed as a healthy high-fiber snack cracker in Switzerland. Willingly eating Darvita should definitely count as a Lenten penance. I am also trying to be more patient with the children and raise my voice less. (This is by far the hardest part, and where I fail consistently.)

Our HGU session this week fell on Pancake Tuesday. I handed the children their Kinderofper (Children’s Offering) bags. For Lent, the children are to donate some money that they’ve earned (for instance, by doing small chores for their parents) or pocket money that they’ve saved, for helping the poor. It is true that you don’t really learn something until you have to teach it. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to talk with the kids about what Lent is all about, why the 40 days, why we give something up. Then I realized that I didn’t actually know. I had some vague idea that parts of it had to do with sharing in Jesus’ suffering, but couldn’t coherently explain these whys. My ignorance astounds me. It is the blind leading the blind. Anyway, thank goodness for answers that can be found on the Internet.

Frivolity and attempts to elicit chuckles from my readers aside, my Lenten season is about repenting for my errant ways, and cleaving ever closer to Him in love. Jesus Himself reminded me that Repentance allows for a closer and deeper love. A few weeks ago, during our holiday in India, we planned a day trip to Old Goa to visit its famous churches. On the bus ride over, a self-congratulating thought drifted into my head. “When I think of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I now only see Love.” Oh, how evolved I now am, how far I’ve come in the last while, I thought, mentally patting myself on the back. It was as if Jesus heard me, and set about to correct me, reminding me Himself that Repentance was the other side of the coin. Less than half an hour after I entertained this thought, as we exited the chapel housing St. Francis Xavier’s relics in the Cathedral of Bom Jesus, I was confronted with the most painful depiction of the Crucifixion I have ever seen. A life-sized figure of Christ is hung on the Cross, dying. He is raw red bleeding flesh, with only a few thin strips of skin that have not been torn away by the scourging. Ross left to find the others in our group. I leaned against a pillar, suddenly weak at the knees with remorse. In shame, I wanted to turn away from this sight, and yet I could not tear my eyes away. What monstrosities did we do when Pure Love chose to manifest Himself as one of us. How, in our sins and in our pride, we inflicted such suffering upon Him, and how He loved us so fully nonetheless. If this is what we are capable of doing with our Free Will, I wanted none of it. It felt wrong to take a picture. The searing memory of this scene in my mind’s eye is more than enough a reminder. Ross found the rest of our group and we moved on. I said nothing to the others about this experience*.  

In reflecting upon this Lenten season, I come to realize that Free Will is a two-edged sword. With it, mankind caused Jesus’ suffering. And yet, it is also that which gives our love for Him, our return to Him, its meaning and value. For so long, I have had my back turned to God. In the next weeks, of my own Free Will, I consciously turn away from the distractions of the world, set my heart towards Him, and follow His steps on the Way home that He so lovingly cleared for all of us.  

*This experience is one of many I've had this past year that convince me that God is a Personal God who intervenes in our daily lives, who knows our thoughts and our hearts, and who hears and answers our prayers!

my (wintry) way home

Check out the Lent reflections participating in the Keep LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013! We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories, and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeps, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE.

Discover new Catholic Blogs to follow!

This post also links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets. Thanks again for hosting, RAnn!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Tuesday # 9: “Friede machen” (making peace with one another) / in Noah’s shoes / the real secret

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets. Thanks again for hosting, RAnn!

Noah's Ark Floating, Dove With Olive Branch
by Illustrator of the Speculum Humanae Salvationsis

For this week’s lesson, our HGU curriculum recommended a story about a Goose and a Goat. I didn’t quite understand it, so I told the kids about Noah and the Ark instead. Even after our Tuesday afternoon session, the story stayed with me. I tried to imagine what it was like to be in Noah’s shoes when God first gave him His instructions. “Could You say that again, please, God? I didn’t quite get it… You want me to build a big boat?” “Gopherwood lined with pitch, You said? 300 cubits long, 40.. oh sorry, I didn’t hear that right. Did You say 40 or 50? Alright, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high… Two of each animal and enough food…slow down, please, I’m writing this down…” I wonder, did God give Noah these instructions in one psychedelic session all at once, or did His instructions trickle through over weeks or months or years? Did Noah decide to obey right away, or did he ponder about whether it made sense or not? Did he from the start think, “These are divine instructions from God”, or was it more like “Are those mushrooms we roasted for supper doing funny things to my brain?” Did God communicate with His people differently in days? I just think of my daily life, and how discerning the Will of God is not always so easy.  (Perhaps God was indeed more ostentatious back then, going about in burning bushes and talking clouds and such.) I can imagine the obstacles Noah faced. It is one step for Noah to decide that, yes, God is telling me to build a floating zoo. It is another to have to start telling people about it. When Noah tells his wife about what he thinks he heard from God, is she immediately in on the plan, or does she bring a hand to his brow to check for a fever, “Are you well, Noah? That sounds absolutely crazy.” That’s certainly what the neighbors said, when Noah goes about telling them to mend their ways or face God’s wrathful flood. This whole enterprise would’ve made him the laughing stock of the region. Perhaps he became a bit of a tourist attraction. “What shall we do this weekend?” asks a bored shepherd. “I heard that there is a crazy old dude building an enormous boat on the other side of the forest,” says his friend. “A boat? That’s pretty mental. Where’s he going to use it? We’re tens of parasangs away from any water…” “I hear his three sons are going around collecting animals to put in the boat. What a bunch of lunatics. Let’s check it out and have a laugh…” (No, I didn’t actually share these particular musings on Noah with the children.)

What struck me most was that Noah took around 60 or 70 years to build the Ark. That’s a really long time of striving towards a goal that seems preposterous and insane to everyone else, a really long time of facing mocking, ridicule, and disdain from the people around him. What stellar example of a steady, sustained faith, backed up with persistence and action!

And see how abundantly God rewards him in the end. Because of his faith and obedience, God makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants, that He would never send such a flood again. Lucky us! 

In a previous post, I had alluded to a particular afternoon that had gone badly with the class, and was wondering where I had gone wrong. Anyway, just to let you know, I eventually figured it out. I had allowed all that worrying and fretting about the unruly behavior to steal my joy. I fell into the trap of thinking that it was something completely under my control. That is, if I just acquired the “secret” combination of props (scouring the city like a madwoman in search of a Tibetan singing bowl, some yoga breathing exercises, mandalas), I could solve my “problem”. What I forgot was that, from the beginning, this task was always bigger than me. (What was I thinking when I agreed to teach 10 first grade kids in German?) However, from the beginning, He had promised that He would bridge the gap between what I could do and what needed to be done with His Grace. Except, His Grace cannot flow into a situation when I don’t offer it up to Him first. Offering something up to Him is like making room for Him to stand beside and help me. And in my “busyness”, that’s the crucial step I had forgotten.   

So, before this week’s lesson, I spent some time in my prayer room (closet is more accurate), offering up the afternoon to Him. I am but His humble servant. I offer my hands and my feet, my voice and time, all my being, for Him to use. When I offer my efforts up to Him, my joy returns. In His eyes, it is the act of offering it up that counts, not the result itself, since the result comes from Him anyway. Offering our actions up to Him is a form of surrendering to His will.

Surrendering is not the same as giving up and losing hope. I’m still doing all I can on the practical side of things, trying to improve how the weekly catechism afternoon goes. Next week, I’ll bring in some music, perhaps from St. Hildegard of Bingen. Perhaps I’ll invite the parents of the unruly kids to help out, to have an extra adult in the room to keep order. I’ll continue to do my best with the practical stuff. When I “finish” it off (like the pitch that keeps the Ark waterproof) with my “secret” ingredient of offering it up to God, I know I can handle whatever comes joyfully. Whatever happens, (and by now, I’m no longer just thinking of the challenge of keeping unruly kids to calm down, but all the other types of challenges, large and small, that we encounter in our daily lives), I know that "it's all good” (to be said home-boy style). In St Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Now, if only I can remember that the next time I find myself in a bind!