Full Circle

It has been a very busy couple of weeks for me.   My Secular Franciscan fraternity and friars of my parish were planning and preparing our celebration of the Transitus of St. Francis.  It was the most solemn celebration I can recall in recent memory.  As part of our service, we had six characters who encountered Francis speak about their relationship.  I went first, speaking in the person of St. Clare–the first woman to follow his simple way and whose community is the Poor Clare nuns.  I feel that I really bonded with her last year–even taking a book with me to Rome last October that I’d begun and couldn’t put down.  Her encounter with Francis was life changing to her and I have a feeling she approached things one day at a time.  When she first heard his preaching in the piazza near her home, I don’t think she could have imagined how it would all play out in the end.  I don’t know that she saw her days lived out in a cloister.  Francis’ way of life — for a woman — was unheard of in that day.   At the end, Francis told his brothers that “I have done what was mine to do.  Now you do what is yours to do.”  Clare went the way that was hers to go–cloistered at San Damiano–the church most special to Francis as it is the first church he repaired — where the Cross spoke to him.

Then, there is Lady “Brother” Jacoba, a widow who lived Francis’ way of life of the Secular Order.  Besides the Blessed Mother Mary and is own mother, Lady Pica — Clare and Brother Jacoba are probably the two most important women of his poor little way.  Brother Jacoba delivered the items needed for burial — a new habit, candles, incense, and her own special almond cookies that Francis loved.  Brother Jacoba is recorded to be there when he died — Clare was not.  Poor Clare.  But, Clare did see him one last time as the brothers brought his body by San Damiano.   Surely there are facts and there are legends — but it is written there, as we read our character accounts at our Transitus — St. Clare and Lady “Brother” Jaboba.  We venerated a first class relic and shared bread — bread that I gave away since I just found out I am wheat intolerant.  We had a wonderful reception following the Transitus.  I went home to begin again early on Sunday, October 4th……

I feel that I came full circle in my faith life — the Feast of St. Francis on Sunday, October 4th coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Baptist church where I grew up.  I began the morning at 9:00Am Mass and stayed through the 10:45Am Mass homily — I wanted to hear both on the Feast of St. Francis.  Being a Franciscan parish, we had permission to celebrate the Feast at all the Sunday Masses.  After that,  I did what I had not done in ten years — I headed up to the Baptist church to join in the anniversary celebration.  I saw people I had not seen in over ten years.

One of my old youth group members is now a pastor.  He delivered a sermon that asked, “Jesus paid a great price on the cross for our salvation — when Jesus bought you, did he get a lemon?”  He went on to describe the ways in which professed Christians become “lemons” — wanting it all for no effort of their own.  I’ll remember that little analogy for a long time.  Lemons want great church programs but do not want to participate when they are provided.  Lemons want a beautiful sanctuary but do not tithe.  Lemons think the homeless should be fed but do not want to ladle the soup.  All the lemons expect to be in heaven one day.

The day was nearly over before one person — only one person the whole afternoon — sidled up next to me and whispered, “I hear you are Catholic?” Yes. ” What is it about the Catholic Church?”  I had mere nanoseconds to respond that it is the celebration of Mass — Jesus is not just a symbol.  I told him that a Catholic friend had helped me with some questions and suggested I go to a Mass.  It was the one Mass I attended and knew I wanted that Communion.  Jesus is not just a symbol — and — we do predate the Protestant Reformation.  That is as good as my nanoseconds allowed for a semi-thoughtful response.

So, at the end of the day, I’d heard two homilies and two and a half sermons and avoided wheat at the buffet lunch.   I saw three eras of youth ministers, my prom date, and a couple other crushes from my teens.  I’ve kind of lived my life one day at a time.  I never would have expected to be where I am today.  I live more on the interior than the exterior.  God has illumined my path one step at a time.  I have been to amazing places and seen great things — especially in the last ten years.  At the end of the day, I was very happy with my life.

I began this year writing about Mary and how Secular Franciscans should “express their ardent love for the Virgin Mary” (The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 9) My fraternity received a precious gift this year — the gift of a beautiful — and large — statue of Mary.  We brought her to our Fall retreat at the Monastery in Conyers.  We brought her to our fraternity meeting yesterday.  We decided that she will go home with a different person every month along with a prayer journal — kind of like the Elijah Cup for priestly vocations.  I got her this month and set her up in my bedroom.  I wonder if she will talk to me like she talked to St. Therese of Lisieux?

Mary

Bringing Mary home

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Love Has Come

I’ve still been thinking about Rich Mullins and the quote that I used in my last article.

“… My openness to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don’t even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me.” — — Rich Mullins:  An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, p. 46

I kept thinking about how I could relate to this observation.  The church I grew up in — where I was baptised — was very simple and unadorned.  The baptismal is behind the choir loft — there is a big mural of a river and trees.   There is the pulpit and the “remembrance table.”  Were it not for the baptismal pool, remembrance table and church pews, it could have been any court house or music hall.  My childhood Bible had a page that showed pictures of all different kinds of Christian symbols.  The crosses — Coptic, Maltese, budded, anchor, Peter, — Peter, wow.  I’m looking at it now.  I do have the cross of Peter — upside down with keys.  There is no cross of crucifixion — the one associated with Catholic churches. When we celebrated the Lord’s Supper and heard the words, “This is my body….. This is my blood,” I imagined being at the crucifixion.

My first encounter with the body of Christ, on the cross, was the first time I entered a Catholic church.  I wrote about that in my reflection on Sacred Heart.   My next encounters were a few years later on my first trip to Italy.  After that, it was in my own parish where I attended my first Mass.  I’ve heard it said that the “empty cross” is the cross of the resurrection.  We celebrate Christ is risen.  I’ve seen the cross of the resurrection in Catholic churches — Jesus is still on it — a resurrected figure of Christ.  I am fully convinced that you cannot celebrate the resurrection without first meditating on the suffering and crucifixion.   Many of the things that once seemed foreign to me are now a source of great comfort — reminders of God’s love for me.

I have posted a Rich Mullins tribute video by Caedmon’s Call.  They perform his song Hope to Carry On. The song begins with “I can see Jesus — hanging on the cross,  I can see Jesus — hanging on the cross, I can see Jesus — hanging on the cross — He came looking for the lost — and Love has come — Love has come — And he’s given me hope to carry on.”  The video is interspersed with images of the band with Rich and concludes with their reflections on how he inspired them.

10th Catholic Anniversary Reflections

So, I have not blogged since Easter Sunday.  I’ve had a lot of time to reflect over the last ten years — I’ve been Catholic now for ten years.  I’ve not been disappointed, or ever doubted my calling — the way in which I ran into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church.  There is no other way to come in — when you already believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  At least I already believed enough in order to seek the rest of the story.  This year my Easter Vigil was extra special — knowing the Elect and Candidates through my participation on the OCIA team this year.  Ah.. Easter Vigil — I come for the smells — the bon fire, incense, and Chrism oil.  I come for the baptismal water and a renewal of promises.  I even come to hear a large portion of Bible read — from Creation to Resurrection.  It makes it all so real for me again — something the Catholic Church does well — making things real again.   I feel that my spiritual life was rescued the day I sat in my first Inquiry session and said, “I want to be Catholic.”   I was very hungry — starving — raised in a tradition that lacked vital nutrients.  Every day I fall more in love with heaven — my heaven has more people in it now that I can talk too. <grin>  Where ever I’m at, I can pause, close my eyes, I can literally taste the heavenly meal — the Eucharist. 

In the last ten years,  I attended World Youth Day in Toronto, made two pilgrimmages to Italy and one to the Holy Land.  I made two trips to Assisi.  I completed a year of Pastoral Ministry Formation  and then went on to finish my bachelor’s degree in Management.  I became a professed Secular Franciscan — that to which I was asked if I was moving too quickly, to be so new in the Catholic Church and then into a religious order.   To that I can only say, “You are saying I cannot live the Gospel life?”  I do understand the questioning — it is a serious life long commitment — a religious profession.  Being a Franciscan is not simply about the Gospel — it is about being in relationship with a community of people — Franciscan family.  Every one who aspires to St. Francis’ spirituality is not meant to spend several years becoming a professed Franciscan.  My whole Christian experience from age 9 forward has been about discovering what Jesus has said in His Gospel.  In my own Southern Baptist experience, I learned nothing of Saints.  Having been brought into the Catholic Church in a Franciscan parish, I was bound to learn about Saint Francis of Assisi.  He was the exclamation point for all that I’d read and studied — the Gospel lived according to Jesus — indeed.  Sometimes, you have to join the family to continue in conversion.  I saw that in him — a model of continuing conversion.  The Christian life is a narrow road.  What does Jesus mean when He says, “Follow me?”  It is a different calling to each of us — you must listen and He will speak.

I feel I should say something profound about my future expectations.  I’m looking forward to the Archdiocese of Atlanta Eucharistic Congress in June.  I’m excited to see Greg and Jennifer Willits will be official speakers.  There is something else I’m looking forward to as well — as God so wills it —  but — I’ll save that for much later.

Immaculate Mary & a Franciscan Anniversary

I hardly know where to start when I think of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I will begin with my first catechism of the subject.  I think back to December of 1998 — when I was going through OCIA to join the Catholic Church.  The first 33 years of my life were formed in the Southern Baptist tradition.  I was accustomed to Mary coming out with the Christmas creche and quickly being put away again soon after Christmas.  We might mention Mary at the foot of the cross at Easter.  In December of 1998, I was asked to consider something new — that Mary was conceived without Original Sin — the sin that Adam and Eve brought upon their offspring and for all generations to follow.  I was already raised in the belief that Mary was a Virgin and Jesus was Virgin born.  It really seems simple when you ponder the perfection of God.  He doesn’t leave things half done.  Jesus was to be born without sin and we know he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit — divine — of God.  This points to a sinless Mother.  From Genesis and the fall of man, God laid out his plan of redemption.  It is only logical that God prepares the perfect vessel — a perfect Mother for a perfect Son.  Could Jesus have been born free of sin if his mother was not born free of sin?  It was no leap for me to understand and believe it so — Mary, born without sin.  In my OCIA class, we were asked to write a few lines of verse, poem, or story that would be my description of Mary.  I wrote the first four lines in class and completed the poem later.

          

Mary

 

 

                     I

Blessed Mary, the new Eve.

In your womb, you would conceive

God’s most precious gift to mankind.

Born of a Virgin, His own Son,

most divine.

 

                    II

Blessed Mary, Full of Grace.

When you kissed the baby Jesus’ face,

A mother’s love kissed us all.

Adopted children of God, we answered

His call.

 

                   III

Blessed Mary, handmaid of the Lord.

Arms that once cradled the tiny baby Jesus,

Now cradle His body, broken, and pierced

by a sword.

Reflect upon your girlhood vow

“May it be done according to Your Word.”

 

                    IV

Holy Mary, Mother of the Church.

Pray for us, adopted children seeking

God’s favor.

Please cradle our prayers close  to your heart

And place them at the feet of our Savior.

 

“Stfrancisgirl”

 

Dec. 9, 1998

 

 

 In the Summer if 1999, I was researching Franciscan vocations and found myself looking into life as a Third Order Secular Franciscan.  I began attending meetings at the Immaculate Conception Fraternity which was meeting monthly at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Atlanta.  Okay.  If you read my reflection on Sacred Heart, you will know this is the first Catholic church I ever walked into back in June 1989.  This was also the church where our Neophyte Mass was held after I’d joined the Catholic church.  God has such a sense of humor.  So what if the Baptist publication house didn’t want to publish my reflection on Sacred Heart.  My perspective is much better now from the inside looking out rather than the outside looking in.  Back to the Secular Franciscan (SFO) story — I had approached the fraternity for inquiry and before long there were twelve of us.  We eventually moved our fraternity home to St. Philip Benizi in Jonesboro.  After a little over two years in formation, our group was ready to make our permanent professions.  December 8th, 2002 fell on a Sunday and we were professed at the 5PM Life Teen Mass.

So, we each said with our own name —

 

I, “Stfrancisgirl”, by the grace of God, renew my baptismal promises

and consecrate myself to the service of his Kingdom.

Therefore, in my secular state, I promise to live all the days of my life

the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order

by observing its rule of life.

May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary

and our holy father St. Francis, and the fraternal bonds of community

always be my help,

so that I may reach the goal of perfect Christian love.

–from the Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order

 

And so, on this December 8, 2008, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is the 6th Anniversary of my profession in the Secular Franciscan Order — with the Immaculate Conception Fraternity.  Our parish was also decorated for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Mary is everywhere…  I hope you are having a very thoughtful and prayerful Advent season. 

 

SFO Profession Dec. 8, 2002

SFO Profession Dec. 8, 2002

Related articles on my blog…. 
Reflection on Sacred Heart
Why I’m a Secular Franciscan
My Catholic Conversion story
Check my blog roll for Franciscan web sites
More instruction on the Immaculate Conception from the Catholic Encyclopedia

The Real Meal Deal & Why I Am Catholic

As a Baptist, my baptism at the age of nine allowed me to begin participating in the Lord’s Supper.  We observed this ordinance once a quarter and it was always at a Sunday evening candlelight worship service.  The Pastor would say things at the beginning I did not understand.  He would begin by saying some version of, “We do not believe the bread and juice mysteriously turn into the body and blood of Christ.”  Alternatively, he would say a few words to emphasize that the bread and juice are only seen as symbols.  A few minutes later, he would read from the Bible where Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  The tray would pass with the tiny Tic Tac sized bits of unleavened bread.  I’d quickly scan the tray for the largest bit.  I took mine and passed it on.  Here would always begin my meditation.   I closed my eyes to vision the crucifixion and the torn body of Christ.  “Eat of my flesh” Jesus says and I would imagine the bread as His body.  “Take and eat” the Pastor says and we all eat the bread.  I take my cup of juice from the tray.  “This is my blood” and I hold it into the candlelight and will myself to see real blood.   “Take and drink” the Pastor says and we all drink the juice.  It was not until I was older that I pondered the introductory statement made by my Pastor regarding symbolism.  Telling me that we do not believe this to be true has the effect of telling me someone else does.   Why don’t we take Jesus to mean exactly what he said in the scripture?  I continued this deep meditation of body and blood at the Lord’s Supper throughout my young life and into my adulthood.  I don’t even think I was aware that I believed something different from those around me.  I just know that I was striving to reach as deep into Communion as I could get.

In the late 80’s, I entered a Catholic church for the first time.  It was to attend the memorial service of a co-worker.  I walked from my office to Sacred Heart in Atlanta.  While waiting for the service to begin, I was impacted by the ornate decor of the sanctuary.  It was the first time I was confronted by a near life size crucifix with Jesus on the cross.  The image sent me into the same “Lord’s Supper” meditation of the body and blood of Christ.  I wrote a short reflection of the experience and tried to submit it to a Baptist publication house for their Singles’ magazine.  It was rejected.

In Nov 1995, I made my first International trip to Italy.  The Italy by rail trip took me to Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Milan.   I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about by Christian heritage.  I saw the Roman Catholic Church as something of God’s preservation foundation.  I couldn’t gloss over the fact that St. Peter’s Basilica was over the tomb of the Peter from my Bible.  I returned home with more questions and a growing dissatisfaction with the church of my childhood.

It wasn’t too long after this that my career took me in a new direction.  I changed departments and ended up on a project team with an evangelical Catholic.  He was perhaps the first Catholic I knew who seemed joyful about it.  I don’t believe I ever had a full understanding of the separation between Protestant and Catholic.  I had no ill feelings toward Catholicism.  In fact, I already held a healthy admiration and respect for Pope John Paul II.  When I detailed my Lord’s Supper meditation to my friend and proclaimed that the scripture must be true – I meant literally true – my friend was amazed.  He gently – not too pushy – explained the Real Presence and transubstantiation.  So, my pastor was talking about the Catholics then.   Wow.  Nevertheless, the Bible says… I continued to say.  If Jesus’ followers didn’t take him literally, why did a lot of them leave?  My friend said I should be Catholic if I believed in the Real Presence.  He suggested I visit a Catholic Mass to see for myself.  I did just that.  I contacted another Catholic friend and asked her if I could come with her one Sunday.  It only took one Mass at St. Philip Benizi to open my eyes wide to what I’d been missing.  This was the real meal deal.  Super size me please….

 My first Mass is an experience I will never forget.  I was first transfixed on the massive Crucifix.  No church should be without this image.  I was captured by the formality and absolute grandeur of the service.  I heard scripture and the homily touched me. I followed along with my friend for the appropriate times to kneel and she whispered explanations to what I was seeing.  I felt the Holy Spirit moving.  I had heard nothing that contradicted what I thought to be solid Bible teaching.  Better still, the Homily was a “pure message.”  There was no preacher putting his own interpreting spin on the scripture.  It was plain and simple.  I was already feeling emotional when the Liturgy of the Eucharist began.   I recognized many phrases and responses by the Priest and congregation as coming straight from scripture. As the Host was held up, I felt the veil falling from my mind and I was totally opened to what God was showing me.  Never had I seen the body of Christ given such honor and respect.  Everything on the altar table was cherished and handled with great respect.  It was so holy and I thought of the cardboard box containing the Lord’s Supper supplies shoved into the closet of my church. 

As the Lamb of God was sung, the knot in my throat was choking back tears.  I could see John the Baptist standing by the banks of the Jordan pointing at his cousin, Jesus, shouting, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  I bet John reeled from that moment.  “Jesus, my cousin, the Messiah?”, he could have thought.   I don’t think he had a clue before the Holy Spirit had suddenly revealed it to him.  John was born for that very moment and he had prepared the people for the “one who was to come after him.”  This was his moment to point the way.   It brings me back to my Nativity reflections.  The mothers – Elizabeth, an older barren women, and Mary, a young virgin.  John, a wilderness nut, crying for the people to repent and be baptized.   Jesus, crying the Kingdom of God is at hand.  John, born to point the way and die.   Jesus, born to be the Way and die.  

I wanted to fall down in front of God at that moment and weep.  I was a child again who would close her eyes tightly during the Lord’s Supper and trying to imagine being at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.  I remembered holding the tiny bread and thinking of Jesus’ torn body and the little cup of grape juice trying to see blood.  The difference here was that, if I closed my eyes, I might miss something.   This was a visual feast and the scriptures were coming alive in front of me.  At that moment, I knew this was the Communion I was destined to receive.  This is where I’ve been trying to get to all my life.  This is the first time I ever felt as though I were at the original last supper table.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the people as they came forward to take the bread.  I went for a blessing – the first of many.   I remember returning to work on Monday and asking my friend how an adult Protestant becomes Catholic. All the Catholics I knew were raised in Catholic families.  He explained the next step is the Inquiry class.  Being Catholic isn’t like being born Jewish — I can become a Catholic. 

Afterwards, I was compelled to return each week to hear the homily and receive a blessing.  I quickly found the Inquiry class by calling a phone number in the parish bulletin.  Once I began attending Inquiry classes, I realized there are many people who come from other religious faiths.  We were asked to introduce ourselves and make a statement about what brought us to the Inquiry class.  From the first night, I said, “I want to be Catholic.”   So, I began the classes in the summer of 1998 and was received at the Easter Vigil in April 1999.  So, I now enjoy the full meal deal as often as I receive it.