The Church of Weed 

No. That joint you’re smoking isn’t a sacrament. 

You may have seen some recent news reports about a self-described group of “nuns” in Merced, California who call themselves the “Sisters of the Valley.” Pictures of them show the women wearing a kind of dark blue habit with a while veil while they tend marijuana plants. Let’s be clear, these women are not Catholic and they are not nuns. In fact, the seven women say they are “against religions.” They were founded in 2014 and they raise and process marijuana for medicinal use in balms and ointments. They claim that the hemp plant is their “Holy Trinity” and soon plan to move their operations to Canada.  

Other cannabis “churches” have been founded around the country in several states over the last few years. Indiana, Florida, and Ohio also have communities whose “worship” centers around smoking weed. Just this past week, the “International Church of Cannabis” opened in Denver. Cloaked in many of the symbols of traditional Christian worship, they use words like “sacrament,” “priest,” “ministry,” and “spirit.” At this point, the legal entanglements of mixing worship and weed are still being worked out, even in pot-friendly Colorado. Right now, the church is regulated as a private club and is only open to registered members. But that will probably change over time. All sorts of crazy “religions” have popped up over the centuries and that trend shows no signs of slowing down.

People yearn for God. They seek out Beauty, Truth, and the Eternal. They invent ways in which to experience Him. They reject His Church because it makes demands of them. It asks them to confess their sins, repent, and sin no more. It asks them to follow God’s commandments and submit their will to the will of Jesus Christ. But that’s hard and means self-denial. It’s lots easier to dress like a nun (without any sense of true religious vocation), call yourself “Sister” (without any true commitment to community), and claim that hemp is your “Holy Trinity” (without any understanding of what is holy or god-like). It’s like children playing a make-believe game without any mature understanding of what they’re doing. But, unlike the innocent play of children, this sort of imitation is hollow and sad. 

It’s sad because they long for an experience of God but they reject the grace that He longs to give them through the Sacraments of His Church. They seek self, not a relationship with their Savior. Each of our souls was created to be nourished by the grace of Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. Nothing short of these will satisfy the spiritual hunger which the Lord created within us. As more communities embrace the legal use of marijuana, the number and variation of these sorts of “churches” and communities will probably continue to grow. Just as we see so many seeking God in the things of the world, they need our prayers as well as our living example of loving forgiveness and mercy. How many of us have wandered down the wrong road before we were led to Jesus Christ? We pray for them as we do any brother or sister who is lost, that they may find the Truth of His salvation.

“One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness.”

                ——-C.S. Lewis. 

Risk Your Life

Easter is the ultimate truth of the universe. Every other truth is dependent on the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again. He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all our sins. Through His death and resurrection, we have been given eternal life. Everything has changed. Everything has been made new (Revelation 21:5). Everything. Including you and me and how we live our lives. This isn’t a philosophy. It’s not a theory. Our salvation is a Person. A real, historical Person. He has transformed the world and all that it’s in it. The power of Easter is utterly and completely and shatteringly true. Easter is the power of creation itself given to each of us as a gift from God. Yet so often we fail to accept it. We trudge along with downcast eyes, burdened by life, acting as if Jesus never defeated death. We don’t realize that He has set us free.  

A free life is one that reflects the truth, the love, and the power of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter morning. It’s a life lived without fear of the tomb. And it’s amazing. Interested?

Love your family. Lay down your life for them. Celebrate the worthiness of your beloved by uniting with them in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Don’t be fooled by the world’s attempts to lure you into living with someone, or being satisfied with some other imitation of marriage. Live the Sacrament. Be open to the gift of life. Allow the Lord to involve you in creating your family in His timing, which is always perfect. Raise your children in the faith of His Church. Pray for them and with them every day. Let them see you welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, visit the imprisoned and give without counting the cost.  

Treat your neighbors as members of your family. Be honest and straightforward in your business dealings. Pay others a living wage. Involve yourself in the life of your community. Teach your children to respect the laws of our country and how to serve others in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and true, even if it is unpopular. Share your faith in the public square. Work hard to support your family and let your children see the value of a job well done. Give of your time, talent and treasure to support the Church. Teach your children to do the same. Be joyful in all that you do. Let your children see that even our suffering can be a blessing when it is offered to the Lord. Life can be hard and it’s often unfair, but we are just passing through this world on the way to our true home. Help your family keep their eyes fixed on Jesus by watching you follow Him.  

Never be afraid of loving. Be kind to everyone. Show mercy. Pray for the people who cause you pain. Give people second chances. Be content in silence. Put down your phone and talk. Teach your children to pray the Rosary. Make time for art and music. Seek beauty and teach your children to know true beauty. When we seek beauty, we seek God. Life your life in the joy of Easter morning, every day. Christ has freed us from the chains of sin and death. He gave us a Church to lead us to heaven. That same Church gave us the Bible, which is His holy word. Rejoice in the gift of His love and embrace a life lived in faith. Allow Him to love you as He created you to be loved. Easter changes everything.

Are you capable of risking your life for someone? Do it for Christ.”

                      —St. John Paul II 

Hidden Treasures 

Recently I’ve been sorting through some of my late mother’s things. I always kidded her about being a pack rat, but now I know how unfair that was to the rats. She saved everything. Things you might expect, like photos and letters, and things that might surprise you, like a plastic bag of prescription bottle caps. Going through the boxes of her things made me laugh and made me cry. I saw what she had treasured and mostly, that was her family. She loved us so much. And while I’d dreaded going through all those boxes, in the end, it was a wonderful blessing.  

That’s kind of how my Lent has gone this year. Usually I’m excited about Lent. I like the discipline of it and the way that I’m drawn into the readings and prayers as the entire Church journeys toward Easter. But, for some reason, I dreaded Lent this year. I dragged along with a sour face and an unwilling spirit on most days. My prayer life seemed as dry as dust. I was the worst example of a joyous Christian. Instead of accompanying our Savior, I shuffled along in the back of the crowds and complained about all the walking. I resented the joy that I saw among His friends. I judged. I mumbled. I just wanted a nap. And now Lent is almost over and everyone around me has grown in holiness and reverence and charity. I’m about as holy as that bag of bottle caps I found in my mom’s collected stuff. I’m still the same old selfish, prideful self that I was back on Ash Wednesday. I’m a total failure at Lent.  

Thanks be to God, our Lord doesn’t keep score. We can be total flops at Lent and He still loves us. We don’t have to ‘do” anything or “be” anything other than the completely undeserving sinner that we are for His love to save us. I’m good at that. In fact, being an undeserving sinner comes naturally to me. The blessing He’s given me this Lent is the gift of knowing with assurance that there’s nothing I can do to earn His love and there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me less.

Over the days of Holy Week, I’m going to be with Jesus as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. I’ll be waving a palm frond and shouting,”Hosanna!” I’ll be there as He gives us the priesthood and the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. I’ll be the first one to fall asleep in the Garden but I’ll be there in the crowd to shout, “Crucify Him!” I’ll hide while He’s nearly beaten to death. I’ll walk up the hill to Golgotha where they’ll nail Him to the Cross. I’ll watch His Blessed Mother as her heart is pierced with sorrow. I’ll see Him die. For me. For this undeserving sinner.  

Just as sorting through my mother’s things was a chore that ended in a blessing, so has this Lenten season been for me. In each, I found a treasure of love, freely given. I wasn’t the best daughter and I’m very far from a Saint, but I know that I am loved. My Easter prayer for each of us is that we can embrace the love of Christ and share it with the people in our lives.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; HisMercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

        —-Lamentations 3:22-23 

The Noise of the World 

“There are days when you just don’t think you can go on. You’re exhausted but there’s no end to what you have to do. Each day is like a treadmill that’s running on high speed and it’s all you can do to keep up. If you could only have some time to rest, to recover, and to catch your breath. You don’t think you can make it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You feel so bad that it had happened–that you had done it. What had you been thinking? It makes you feel so guilty and you hate remembering it. Who could ever love you if they knew about it? You hate yourself for it. There’s nothing you could do to make things right again. It’s like a terrible weight that you’re forced to carry all by yourself.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“She’s one of your closest friends, so you have to help her out with this. She needs your support. She says it would wreck her career right now. After all, it won’t be her first one. The whole thing will be over in just a few hours. You can drive her to her appointment and be home in time for dinner. It’s her body. And, after all, everyone says it’s just a clump of cells.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You just can’t stand to listen to him anymore. He stands for everything you can’t and won’t tolerate. He believes his opinions are the only correct ones. This past election season was horrible because he disagreed with everything you said to him. How can anybody be that stupid? This friendship just isn’t worth it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“What a sexist pig! He must think that the only reason women exist in the world is for his pleasure. He could never view a woman as his intellectual equal. He won’t even have dinner alone with a woman, except for his wife. What a disrespectful attitude to women!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“She’s there every day on the sidewalk outside. Filthy, dirty, and smelling so bad it’s almost unbearable. There are shelters for people like her, so why won’t she go to one? You never put any money in her old coffee can. She’d probably just use it to buy a cheap bottle of wine. You wish she’d move to a different spot so you wouldn’t have to see her every day. What a waste!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

How often do we listen to the voice of the world rather than to the words of our loving Savior? Perhaps because we allow the world to drone in through television and social media. We run from the silence in which we need to dwell in order to hear the whisper of God. But the Lord is always near us, longing to be heard and to listen; longing to reassure us of His love and forgiveness. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less; nothing we need fear from going to Him in repentance. He invites us to forgive others, to see and to support the poor among us, to stand up for life and for marriage. Only God can give us the peace and the rest that we’re looking for. Easter is the promise of His love fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sound of the stone rolling away from the tomb can silence the clamor and noise of the world, if we allow it. Listen for the His voice especially during these last days of our Easter preparation. He is peace. He is love.  

“…in the world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world.”

          —John 16:33 

The Women Who Pray

They live their lives in a building with very limited access to the outside world. They dress in a simple habit and crucifix. They wear sandals, plain leather shoes, or they go barefoot. They only go outside to receive medical care. They vote by absentee ballot. Their families can visit them twice a year and then only through a metal grate which separates them. Their groceries and other supplies are brought to them by volunteers who place the items in a turntable in the wall so that they can be retrieved without direct contact. Daily life inside is a rhythm of prayer and work in community and in private. There is very little talking, but a frequent sound heard is the ringing of a bell which signifies time for prayer, work, meals, sleeping and waking up. There are no radios or televisions, no computers or tablets, only the sound of footsteps on tile floors. All in all, it’s an atmosphere of peace and quiet. 

This is a very general description of what you might find in any one of the thousands of religious houses throughout the world. Catholic women enter different orders of sisters whose lives are dedicated to prayer. There are differences among the orders, but in general each sister lives in a very small and simple room, called a “cell.” It’s usually furnished with a bed, desk, chair and crucifix. The day begins at 12:30 a.m. when the bell rings for matins, or morning prayer. It will ring again for the six other times of prayer which comprise the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. After about an hour of prayer, the sisters return to sleep until 5 a.m. when they begin their day. They attend morning Mass and then eat a simple breakfast, like toast and coffee. This meal is usually eaten in silence, and while standing. After more prayer, the sisters begin their work day. Some orders may sew vestments while others bake communion waferss to bring in money for their support. Others have no regular labor other than to pray. Of course every house has to provide for its own household needs such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, and sewing, etc. For all these sisters, their work is also prayer. 

Lunch is usually the largest meal, with homemade breads and soups and perhaps fruit for dessert. Meat is rarely if ever eaten. Then it’s back to work and prayer until vespers which is usually at 4 p.m. A light meal might be eaten afterwards while someone reads aloud from a selection of poems, news articles or books. Recreation follows where the sisters can play games, practice musical instruments and talk. Then they gather again in the chapel for Compline, which is the final prayer of the Church’s day. They retire to their cell where they might read and pray until lights out at 8:45.  

This way of life may seem extreme, but for the women who are called to live this vocation, it is a foretaste of what they imagine heaven will be. They care for one another, work together for the common good and offer every waking moment to the Lord. They pray for our world and for all our needs and requests. They pray for peace and for the Church. In their enclosed gardens, the fruit of prayer is a gift to the outside world. I believe these cloisters are like precious gems whose value is beyond our knowing. What a treasure we have in them and in their vocation of love.  

And He said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many ties more in this time, and in the one to come eternal life.”

       —-Luke 15:29-30 

Give and Trust God

Several weeks ago, Pope Francis said in an interview that Christians are obliged to help beggars on the street by giving them money. Even if we know that they may buy alcohol with it or otherwise spend it in ways that might not be the most prudent. Further, Pope Francis says that we shouldn’t just toss coins into their cup, but that we should take the time to look the person in the eyes and make a respectful and compassionate connection with them. This teaching is consistent with what the Pope did as an Archbishop in Argentina. He would “sneak out” of his residence at night to give money to the street people in Buenos Aires. Many of his efforts as Pope have been aimed at helping the poor and encouraging all of us to do the same.  

For some reason, though, the idea of giving money to beggars has been met with grumbling. And I think this may be born of pride. It’s as if we know what’s “best” for folks and so we don’t want to see our hard-earned money go towards a can of beer or a pack of cigarettes. We feel better when we know we’re helping by dropping off.a hamburger or a pair of socks and gloves. And these are fine, of course. But these gifts are our ideas of what’s best for the person. We make a decision that isn’t ours to make, even if we make it with the best of intentions. Does that make sense?

We’ve all probably heard of the “blessing bags” that folks carry in their cars to share with folks living rough. They’re plastic bags that have been filled with grooming and toiletry items, small snacks, tissues and other things. The point is that all those “blessings” that some kind person has gathered together in charity are the donor’s idea of what they want and need—not the recipient’s. 

Would we want to be told what would make us happy? I know I wouldn’t. As Pope Francis said, “(What) if a glass of wine is his only happiness in life?” Sometimes this will mean that the money we give may indeed be spent on alcohol or tobacco or something else we might think is wasteful or harmful. But that’s really none of our business. Just as that chocolate fudge cake we love isn’t good for us either, but it makes us happy for a few minutes. Or that ever-present bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge, which we don’t need but which tastes so good at the end of a long day. We get to make those choices for ourselves, but we don’t want to give that same freedom to the poorest among us.  

Certainly our support for the homeless should go much further than our occasional cash gifts on the streets. Our charitable gifts are a part of our Christian vocation. Our churches should actively provide support and assistance with food, housing, and employment. Local and state programs and agencies must help the poor as well. but the one-on-one, person-to-person help we can provide is also a human encounter that can do much more to provide dignity than a food voucher from a county office. When we give our money, we say,”You’re a human person like me and your choices give you dignity like mine do for me.” Maybe my $10 will go for wine or something else. I trust in the Lord to take my small gift and to help it bear good fruit. The giving is my part. I’ll leave the rest up to God.  

“In the shoes of the other, we learn to have a great capacity for understanding, for getting to know difficult situations.”

                  —Pope Francis. 

Breakfast With God

Many of my childhood mornings began with a breakfast of oatmeal. Warm and buttery, it was a comfort on cold days. And often, sitting on the bar where we had our breakfast, was the oatmeal carton. The Quaker Oats man was an old friend, with his rosy cheeks and wide smile. I’d sit and eat my oatmeal and look at his face. Because, in my child’s mind, this was the face of God.

I knew what Jesus looked like already. My grandmother had given me a framed picture of Him like the one in the front of my Bible. He had long brown hair and blue eyes because this was the 1960’s and that’s what Jesus looked like back then. And I kind of thought that the Holy Spirit looked like a dove (of all things) or maybe a flame (even stranger). But God the Father must surely look like the Quaker Oats man. This kindly, welcoming face was who I thought of whenever God’s name was mention in prayer. He was “Father.”

My relationship with my own father was a complicated one. He was a caring man, but was often emotionally distant and difficult for me to connect with. Daddy was a hard worker who was proud of his years of military service. He seemed most animated when he shared stories of those years overseas. I never doubted his love for me, although I rarely heard him tell me that in words. My mother was the one who lavished us with “I love you’s.”. As I grew older, I learned that my dad’s father had committed suicide many years before I was born. Daddy would never talk to me about that, but I knew it was his life’s deep and abiding wound.

As my child’s mind was trying to imagine how God was my father, I couldn’t reconcile my own distant and somehow sad earthly father with my loving Father in heaven. I know that, for several years, my prayers generally went out to a happy-looking Quaker gentleman. I’m telling you my story because I think many of us create God in an image that’s acceptable and understandable to us. And when we do that, things can get murky.  

For starters, our limited human minds can never truly grasp the splendor and majesty of God. As St. Augustine wrote, “…if you think you understand, then it isn’t God.” And this from one of the Lord’s closest friends. Our words (like “father”) limit our capacity to imagine the depth and grandeur of our Creator’s nature. We have a terrible time even trying to understand the Trinity as one God in three Persons. Remember how St. Patrick used the shamrock for this? We’re like little children, crawling around on the floor of a great library—trying to understand what’s in all the books around us without even being able to read.  

And that’s fine with God. He gave us Holy Scripture which is His love story for us. He sent us His only Son to reveal His face and His love. He gives us His Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith and guide us in holiness. We don’t have to be theologians to love and serve the Lord, however. Remember that He calls us to become like little children (Matthew 18:3-4) in our relationships with Him. We trust and obey and know that He will always be there with us through everything. Our understanding of a father’s love may be limited and colored by our earthly relationships. Lent is a season of invitation—a time to deepen our Scriptural reading, our time in prayer, and our service to others. Each Lent is an opportunity to repent and renew our relationship with the Father’s love for us.  

When you say to God, ‘Our Father,’ He has His ear right next to your lips.”

       —-St. Andre Besette

              (1845-1937) 

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