Follow Him

The pastor is boring and his homilies put you to sleep.  The only time he gets excited is when he’s asking for money for some project or other.  The choir director chooses songs that no one can sing and that would sound better sung around a campfire than during Mass around the altar of God.  There’s a clique of women in the church who control everything that goes on and make it their duty to discourage any new ideas.  The youth program spends more time raising money for parties and trips than it does teaching the Gospel.  The church building is ugly and in need of repairs and don’t even ask about the parking lot mess!  The men’s group is great at arranging golf dates but that’s about all they do.  There’s no place to put the crying babies during Mass.  The social hall is a crowded and delapidated cavern where no one cleans up after themselves.  The audio system is terrible, the carpet needs replacing and the whole place could use a new paint job.  And the people in the pews?  They sit stone-faced and unsmiling, like they’re next in line at the dentist’s office.  Most of them seem spiritually asleep, or worse.


Sound familiar?  Maybe you’ve been a member of a parish where some of these comments were true.  Or maybe they’re true of the church you attend right now.  One thing you can be sure of:  there’s no such thing as a perfect parish.  Every faith family is like our earthly family, made up of imperfect, flawed people who love God and each other in our own imperfect and flawed ways.  We struggle with doubt and unbelief.  We hang on to past hurts and grievances.  We’re impatient and demanding at times, unkind and hurtful at others.  We don’t love consistently or very well.  We’re selfish and short-sighted and rarely forgive the trespasses of others.  In short, we’re sinners.


And yet God always says to us, “Follow Me.”  You.  Yes, you.  That sinner in the fourth pew, aisle seat on the lefthand side of the church.  “You.  Follow Me.”  Because it’s not about the pastor or the music or the parking lot.  It’s not about the men’s group or the ladies’ group or the youth group.  The size of the church doesn’t matter.  What matters is what you do in response to His call to follow Him.  You can worship in a grand cathedral with marble and gold everywhere and if you don’t have a love relationship with Jesus Christ, your heart will be as dry as dust.  Because we’re sinners, sometimes we focus on what’s not so important and let those inconvenient details of parish life distract us from Whom we come together to worship.  Mass isn’t something the Church invented to keep us entertained.  Mass is the celebration of His sacrifice that Jesus gave to His Church at the Last Supper.  More than that, the Mass is the very same sacrifice of Christ on His Holy Cross.  When you’re in the pew next Sunday, you’re answering part of Jesus’ call to love and to know Him.  Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the most important relationship you’ll ever have.  Follow Him with your whole heart.  Love Him with your whole life.  Let Him share His life with you.  Let your life bear the fruit of Christ in your parish.  Follow Him and let your light shine.


“The best argument against Christianity is…..Christians.” 

                                   — G.K. Chesterton

The “Symbol” of the Eucharist

As a convert to Catholicism I don’t share many of the “growing up Catholic” memories of many of my friends. I wasn’t taught by nuns. I didn’t go to Catholic school. I didn’t grow up getting into trouble at Mass or choir practice. I didn’t get to wear the adorable little white dress and gloves for my first Holy Communion. I don’t miss those great old Latin hymns or women wearing chapel veils. Although I do LOVE the old Latin hymns and women wearing chapel veils. I came into the Church in 1977 at the height of guitar Masses and liturgical “experiments.”  The music and practices of “my” Catholic Church have kind of always been a hot mess. I even know all the words to “Lord of the Dance.”  Unfortunately. So when other Catholics reminisce about the “good old days” before Vatican II, I think: meh. I didn’t become Catholic because of the beautiful architecture or music or liturgy of bygone years, though I LOVE all these aspects of our worship. I became Catholic because of the Holy Eucharist. And throughout the decades of bad music, ugly vestments, school closings and scandals, the reason I remain Catholic is the Holy Eucharist.

The Church teaches us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (Catechism, para. 1324). Jesus teaches us this same truth in the beautiful “Bread of Life” discourse in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. As our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “Without the Eucharist, the Church simply does not exist.” Nothing could be truer. God gives us the most precious gift of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to nourish and sustain us on our earthly journey. The Eucharist is literally the beating heart of our Catholic faith and our loving Savior. Yet every Sunday only about 25% of Catholics attend Mass to meet Him there. And you want to know why? Because of what was found by a recent Pew Research Center poll that questioned Catholics about their faith. It revealed that almost half of American Catholics believe that the bread and wine we receive in Holy Communion is a SYMBOL of Jesus’ Body and Blood. A symbol. Granted, I don’t know if the Catholics they questioned were practicing Catholics. But honestly, I wouldn’t  be at Mass myself if I thought the Eucharist was a mere remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. There’s a famous Flannery O’Connor anecdote that beautifully sums up my thoughts and feelings. At a New York dinner party where Miss O’Connor found herself the token Catholic, she sat quietly listening to the erudite conversation of the other guests. At one point a lady turned the conversation to the Catholic faith. Among the thoughts she shared was that the Eucharist was a “pretty good” symbol. This prompted Flannery to remark at once, “We’ll, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it!”  I couldn’t agree more, Miss O’Connor.

Why would anyone want to be Catholic if not for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist?  It would be lots easier to be Episcopalian where you could enjoy beautiful music and liturgy without the “restrictions” of Catholic teaching on contraception, an all-male celibate priesthood, and same- sex “marriage.” Or how about one of those generic Christian mega-churches where the building is fitted out like an IMAX theater, the charismatic young pastor dresses like a rock star and you can enjoy a latte in your comfy theater chair while the music blasts to a hallelujah crescendo? No worries about going to confession or divorce and remarriage, just a free and easy Christian “lifestyle.”

Because of the Eucharist, the Catholic Church continues to exist in spite of every reason it shouldn’t still be around. And without the Eucharist, like Pope Benedict said, the Church would cease to be. And I’d be among the first out the door.  So it’s no wonder so many Catholics don’t attend Mass on Sundays or have left the Church altogether. They aren’t being taught the Truth of the Eucharist. If 45% of Catholics believe the Eucharist is just a symbol, they may as well sleep in on Sunday morning. I would. So no matter how you feel about your parish’s choir or vestments or pastor or youth programs or parish council, remember this: Jesus Christ waits for you at every Mass. In person. He longs to meet you intimately in Holy Communion and to share His eternal life with you. This is the greatest gift of our Catholic faith. We must hear this truth preached in our Sunday homilies and see reverence for the Blessed Sacrament shown by our priests and deacons. We need Adoration Hours in every parish and adult catechesis on this most central belief of our Church. We must be reminded that the God we worship is there on the altar before us, truly and wholly present in the Sacrament of Holy  Communion. People leave the Church when they believe the Eucharist is a “pretty good” symbol of Jesus. If they knew the Truth as Christ taught, we wouldn’t be able to build enough new churches and schools to keep up. Christ gave the keys to the Kingdom to St. Peter, our first Pope (Matthew 16:18) and that same key is in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church in the world—“Jesus, my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

“Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him.”

                          —John 6:57

The Grace in a Good Book

I love to read. I guess that’s not much of a surprise since I also love to write. I can’t remember NOT knowing how to read. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on my daddy’s lap when he’d come in at the end of his workday. We’d read the newspaper together. When I started school, I remember my first grade teacher announcing that we were going to learn to read. I walked to her desk, convinced there’d been some kind of grave mistake and I asked if I could go on home, since I already knew how to read. That didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped. Thankfully the world of books has never let me down. And the more I read, the more I know what I like.

Two of my favorite authors reward me with characters and stories that engage me on many levels, challenge what I think and believe and make me take a new look at myself. Dean Koontz is known as a writer of suspense thrillers. I love his stories because he’s so adept at describing our suffering in this broken world and the grace that we’re offered to get us through and transcend it. His characters are sometimes weird and strange but then, so am I. There’s always hope and redemption in a Koontz book. Plus, he creates great dog characters which is always the mark of a good writer, in my opinion. I mean if you can understand dogs, you must have a great world-view.

My other favorite writer is Flannery O’Connor. As far as I’m concerned, she’s in a class of her own. So much has been written already about the characters and themes in her stories. I relate to her on a very personal level. She’s a fellow Georgian, a fellow Catholic (as is Dean Koontz) and a fellow odd-duck. Or maybe I should say “peacock” since she raised those birds on her family farm in Milledgeville. She suffered from lupus for many years before eventually dying from it. I watched my own mother battle the same disease for the last decade of her life. So Flannery and I share some things in common.

Every time I read her stories or letters she surprises me. She never fails to make me laugh, too. I love her understanding of human nature and how even in our most sinful moments, the possibility of supernatural grace never leaves us. The presence of Christ permeates us and the world and nothing can separate us from that. And there’s the real rub, isn’t it? If Christ really is the Son of God and He really did die on the Cross and rise from the dead to save us, then EVERYTHING is changed by Him. O’Connor seizes on that “supposition” and shocks us with her crazy Southern (is that redundant?) characters. No sinner is beyond God’s redemptive love, not even the most lost of us. And if Christ isn’t God and He didn’t suffer and die to save us from getting what we all deserve—-then nothing matters. Go and do what you want and live as hard and as fast as you can because your only goal is pleasure before it’s lights out.

Koontz and O’Connor are just two examples of Catholic writers who reveal God to me. Through using their gifts and talents, I can see the actions of grace in unexpected people and situations. Both writers use the grotesque and bizarre, the misbegotten and the twisted to shock us out of our everydayness. They don’t tapdance around sin or redemption: they shout it out loud and point with grand gestures just to make sure we don’t miss it. They highlight the worst in us so that the Light of Christ shines all the brighter. And that’s what we’re all called to do in our lives. We can’t all be gifted writers like these two, but we can use our own talents and vocations to let Christ shine through us.

If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw everything away and follow Him.”
–from “A Good Man Is Hard To
Find” by Flannery O’Connor

“Evil is no faceless stranger, living in a distant neighborhood. Evil has a wholesome, hometown face with merry eyes and an open smile. Evil walks among us, wearing a mask which looks like all our faces.”

–from “The Mask” by Dean Koont

Looking Towards Home

The older I become, the more time I spend thinking of my past. I guess middle age has that effect on some of us. My grandparents did it and my parents did it and now it’s my turn. I can be driving down the highway reviewing my plans for the day when a song comes on the radio and instantly, I’m seventeen again without a care in the world. Or I smell a distinctive aftershave and I’m immediately a little girl, sitting in my daddy’s lap as he works on the newspaper crossword puzzle. Memories. The veil that separates today from all those yesterdays seems to be getting thinner and thinner. I think a lot about my childhood home. I hear the cows mooing in the backyard pasture. I taste a salted tomato, still warm from the sun. I see my mom cooking our supper or my brother tossing his football.

These kinds of memories are often called “nostalgia.” This is a Greek word that means “longing for home.” That rings true for me, as I was blessed to come from a loving home. Maybe for others, that nostalgia may be for whatever time or place in their lives that represents a safe and accepting place to them. Memories like this are often most aching when we experience the death of someone we love. Standing at my mother’s graveside, the past, the present and the future are all together in that one spot. I remember her from the past. I miss her now. And I anticipate seeing her again in heaven. I am nostalgic for that moment. God has designed us to have that homesickness for heaven because that’s why we were created. I suppose I’m thinking of heaven more these days because as I age, more and more of my family and friends have already made the journey. Sorting through my mother’s things after she died, I came across her address book. Most of the names in it were crossed out. As we lose the ones we’ve loved in this life, our eyes and our hearts turn ever more often to those distant hills that shelter our forever home.

I think the saints are consumed with that yearning for heaven. Their lives are extraordinarily fixed on the eternal presence of the Lord. Like St. Paul, they feel that powerful pull to the home they’ve never seen. He wrote about the Jewish saints like Sarah and Abraham and Noah saying, “…they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one”(Hebrews 11:16). But so many of us have an impoverished idea of the reality of paradise. Who among us longs for an eternity of playing harps on fluffy clouds? Surely the earliest Christians did not die as martyrs for this boring reward. No, we can see what they imagined heaven to be from the paintings they left for us on the walls of the catacombs. Their heaven was a beautiful garden, filled with children and animals playing together, with parties and banquets and feasting and singing. It was a real, living Garden of Eden. Heaven was their home and they were willing to lay down their lives to go there. In St. John’s Revelation, we can see what the Lord showed to His beloved disciple. “I saw an angel standing in the sun. He cried out in a loud voice to all the birds flying overhead, ‘Come! Gather for the great banquet of God’ “(Rev. 19:17). It’s a party alright. One filled beyond our knowing with an over-abundance of joy and love: with our Lord. We’ll be with our loved ones and with new friends, with the angels and the choirs. And there’ll be surprises, because our God is a god of surprises, after all. We’ll be free of sin, which is everything that has limited us on earth. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, “Jesus is our best indicator of Heaven.” What a wonderful place to live! No wonder we long for it so deeply. He is our beginning and our end, our Alpha and our Omega. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together”(Colossians 1:17). That includes you and me. As we journey through Lent this year, let’s focus less on giving something up and more on loving and serving Jesus and the people in our lives. Let’s keep our hearts moving to our heavenly home, with joy and gratitude.

“Oh my delight, Lord of all created things and my God! How long must I wait to see You?”

—St. Teresa of Avila