17 September 2009

The (second) Greatest Sacrament

Last night, I attended our Catholic Youth Ministry Scripture study as a young adult helper. We started the evening with Matthew West's video for his song "The Motions," a song about going through the motions of being a Christian without fully following Christ. Living a Christian life without following Christ the way in which he calls us. From that point, our Director of Youth Ministry, lead the group into Sacred Scripture to the Gospel of St. Matthew.

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter,
and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him."
Matthew 4:18-20

Jesus simply said, "Come, Follow me," and the apostles left everything that they had to follow Christ. Listening to our youth ponder what are the "nets" in their lives that Christ asks them to drop in order to follow him more fully and more completely forced me to ask myself that same question.

What is Christ calling me to cast off in order fulfill the life Christ wants me to lead? While thinking upon this question, I came to a conclusion: We all of us, no matter how closely we follow Christ have imperfections. Imperfections which lead us to worry, anxiety, mistrust, and lack of faith. These are part of our human nature. Christ does not admonish us for the times in which we stray or lack faith but grants us mercy and pardon when we ask his forgiveness. For this reason, the Church gives us the most beautiful sacrament, second to the Eucharist: the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Through reconciliation, the priest acts in persona Christi, where, Christ acts through the priest hearing the confession and it is He who forgives our sins, not the priest. The priest is there to act as a medium through which Christ can act in the flesh. We do not believe that the priest is Christ, nor do we believe that the priest is God, which would be idolatry, since he is neither.

Many non-Catholics misunderstand our faith, especially when it comes to the sacraments. I've had the question asked of me "What makes a priest so special? How can one man have the power to make bread become the body of Christ or forgive sins?" When you look at what the Church teaches, you see that Christ gave the apostles the power to forgive sins in his name and only in his name. In essence, Christ gave the apostles the power to act in persona Christi with the following statement:
"Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"
Matthew 16:17-19
Christ did not say "You have the power to forgive sins at your will" but he gave them the power to forgive in the name of Christ. Because only God has the power to forgive sins, Christ says to this through this passage "ask in My name, and I will forgive them their sins, but through you, as I will be in heaven with the Father."

Also in this passage, Christ established the Church, with St. Peter as the head of the Church, against which hell will not prevail, despite St. Peter's repeated lack of faith and even denial of Christ during Christ's passion. Christ gave him this power in spite of Peter's failings, in spite of the fact that He knew that Peter would deny Him. Christ installed St. Peter as the first head of the Church because of his great mercy, and it is through Reconciliation, that we ourselves experience this mercy and forgiveness.

Through St. Peter, the Church was established through Apostolic Succession, wherein the laying on of hands is performed at each ordination so that those powers given to protect the Church and uphold the truths of the Church given from Christ himself can be passed on to all priests, bishops, and popes who have followed St. Peter.
"At once (Jesus) spoke to them, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.' Peter said to him in reply, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'"
Matthew 14:27-31
I think at points in our lives, we begin much like Peter--we hear the Lord call us, and we intend to follow him, and we are strong and full of faith and grace when we keep our eyes on the Lord. It is only when we begin to notice the distractions of daily lives, and start to go through the motions that we begin to sink. However, Christ does not leave when we begin to sink. Instead he looks at us and reaches out to us when we call "Lord, save me!" He reaches out through the din of distractions and sin and holds firmly onto us and pulls us from our deaths, no matter how many times we begin to sink.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is the way in which we, as Catholics, reach out to Christ asking His mercy and forgiveness. Through this act of sincere sorrow and repentance for our sins, we are able to reach for Christ and focus on him, allowing him to save us from the demise and eternal punishment which we have inflicted upon ourselves through sin and lack of faith. It is this sacrament which allows us to remove the distractions which have so greatly caused us to lose sight of Christ and raise our eyes back to Him so that we may follow him more fully and completely.

11 September 2009

Remembering 11 September 2001

It was a day that had begun the same as many others had before. I woke up, I brushed my teeth, rode to school with my friends, and arrived to class right before the second bell, preventing a tardy. School had been open for barely a month, and I was a Senior at the local high school. It was a time of celebrating, worrying about what college I was going to get into and whether I would make Valedictorian. When I walked into Physics that day, worried about whether our first test would be hard, I had no idea that my entire world as I knew it would be forever changed.

After our morning announcements, Pledge of Allegiance, and moment of silence, we had just started to settle down for the daily grind. Then someone rushed in and said, "Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center in New York City." I remember thinking, "What? How could that happen? There must have been something wrong with that plane, or the pilot or something." Shortly thereafter, we heard that a second plane had hit the second tower.

Immediately, the television in the room went on and we saw it. Two billowing, smokey remnants of what, only moments before, had been planes could be seen on both towers. When, shortly thereafter, the towers began to collapse--first one, then the other--something hit me, and I knew from then on that I would be different, though I wasn't sure how.

I and the rest of the school continued on in a fog, as, I'm sure, did most of the country. No class work was done that day, but the televisions were on and we watched for the remainder of the day. We prayed for those in New York City, for their friends and their families, and the country, and later for the forgiveness of those who perpetrated such crimes against the innocent. We banded together, and for a short moment, we were united as a school, a country, a family. We watched as people lined up to donate blood and help in any way they could.

My whole little world ceased to be about me and my family and the petty little things that didn't matter: the way people dressed, what people looked like, the colour of their skin, what car they drove. I ceased to function on selfish principles. In other words, I grew up. In the blink of an eye, I was able to look outside myself and see that the world is so much bigger than I. I was able to think outside of myself to the greater needs of my country. From watching those people who lined up to help in any way possible, I saw the country as a whole go through the same thing I had. We put aside our differences and united as a people of the United States of America.

As we put aside our differences of opinion, beliefs, and politics to band together as one nation, we showed the world what the people of the United States truly are. We are a people of all faiths and beliefs, of all colours and shapes, of all political ideologies, but we are also a people of compassion, integrity, and generosity. When times get tough, when our freedom is threatened, we can come together in such a way that those who hate us tremble in fear and remember why we are the greatest country in the world. The reason for our resilience is the same ideal that makes us unique: freedom. Freedom from tyranny, and freedom from fear.

We aren't perfect, and we often walk fine lines where freedom is concerned. Having freedom makes us all the more responsible to protect it where and when it is threatened. We have a responsibility to ensure that our freedoms are not infringed upon by our government. We have a responsibility to have an opinion, to defy apathy, and to take a stand for what we believe is right.

That is why we need to be in the know on what our government is doing and take action when we feel they are no longer working for the people. For a government established for the people and by the people that no longer works for freedom no longer works for the people of the United States.

It's time to say enough is enough. It's time to remember 11 September 2001 and all those who fell either working hard to earn a living for their families, saving lives, or merely walking by as innocent bystanders minding their own business. Most of all, it's a time to remember all the times in history when the people of the United States have shown their character when it has mattered most. Let us look outside of ourselves and remember. Let us show our true character. Let us believe we can make a difference because we can. That is the beauty of the United States.

For those who have fallen on 11 September and in the service of this country:
"Eternal rest grant unto them o, Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May all the souls of the faithful departed in the Mercy of God rest in peace. Amen"

For the families of the fallen and all those who dwell beneath the freedoms of the United States of America:
"May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he make his face to shine upon you. May the Lord look kindly and graciously, and may the Lord give you his peace. Amen"

02 September 2009

The Second Go-Round...

We've all been there, and we've all thought we needed to know the answer right away. It seems that now, high school graduates are supposed to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives well before the time they graduate. By the time they enter as freshmen in high school, it appears they're expected to have a whole course mapped out for their future lives. My question is how can they possibly know how they will want to spend the rest of their lives? They don't even know themselves well enough by the end of high school to know the answer to that.

I must admit that there are a small number of children who, apparently, emerge from the womb knowing what God's plan is for them, but I'm not one of those people, though I thought I was for a very long time. There's no denying that a great number of high school graduates believe that they know what they want to do. They want to change the world, they want to be a teacher, they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist. It seems, however, that all too often, we hear of those great aspirations turning to a life of mediocrity and discontentment.

Then, there are those people who happily sacrifice aspiring careers to have a less exerting career for their families. Those who do this are brave and wonderful people who are willing to accept those sacrifices in order to spend time watching their children grow and spending those all-too-important formative years with them. To those who choose this, I applaud. That life is not a life of mediocrity, as any mother or father who has raised a family can vouch for.

How is it, though, that we can know by the time we are 18 years old, only barely old enough to cast a vote, how we will spend that time between graduation, college, and family until we do eventually find the right person with whom to begin a family life, and what do we do after for those of us wanting to be working parents? I thought for a very long time that I knew the answer to that question. I thought I should know and had to know and DID know what it was I wanted to do to support not only myself, but also my future (and existing) family.

I wanted to be an astrophysicist. From the time I was in 9th grade, I wanted to study the stars and the celestial beings in the sky! Naivety is suiting for a high-school student, but for an entering freshman at Louisiana State University (who is prepared to take a heavy load of classes to attain that goal, I might add), it isn't such a good trait.

I began my trek into physics and astronomy at LSU the fall of 2002 sauntering into my first Astronomy class full of self-importance and confidence, thinking I was starting on the path to my brilliant career in astrophysics. Wow, was I ever wrong and ill-prepared for what I was getting into. I did extremely well in all my classes, but the lab was a killer. Inputting data into an excel spreadsheet in order to make advanced calculations that would probably take an hour manually, I realized, "This is not for me!!!!"

All at once, it came crashing down upon me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do now! I had spent the past 4 years planning my life around being an astrophysicist. How on Earth was I going to choose something else? Then, an epiphany! I'm going to be a child psychologist! That's the ticket! I'll do that, and get to study the brain and processes of thought and function and all these good things that you learn in psychology, and then people will pay me to help fix their problems! Yeah...

Long story short, I spent the following 3 and a half years taking Psychology courses, enjoying them fully, planning for a history minor and Italian minor. It was wonderful. Until my final semester. I don't want to go to graduate school for child psychology! All the education and time and financial aid came flying through my head. Oh, we'll make this work, alright. I'm graduating in 4 years...I'm not going to waste all of this money my parents spent, all the time and effort and energy I put into school for the past 4 years. I'm going to USE this degree darnit if it's the last thing I do!! So I chose Marriage and Family Therapy! I'll help families stay together, that's what I'll do!

Despite my excellent GPA and decent GRE score, I didn't get into LSU's Marriage and Family Therapy graduate program due to an oversight. So I did the next thing...I got a job. This job, I loved! I became a Polysomnographic technician at Louisiana Sleep Foundation. I worked with great people, I got to work at night (to which I was already accostomed, what with being at a party school for the past 4 years), and I got to work with patients in a hospital setting. I watched EKG's and EEG's all night watching the varying stages of sleep and watching as someone finally is able to get a decent night's sleep because their sleep apnea is "cured" so to speak because of a CPAP or BiPAP.

After a short six months there, I got into the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's School of Social Work. I was excited! I was moving out on my own and was going to get to experience life in another state, get another perspective AND get my MSW so that I could become a marriage and family therapist! Wouldn't this be great!!! Sure, right...since I still had absolutely no idea if that was what I should be doing or not.

Needless to say, after a year in the program, I decided that Social Work wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be. I was quite disappointed in the lack of empiricism involved in Social Work, and, though it is a great career for those who want to help others, it just wansn't for me. I was trained for four years in the empirical method. Evidence-based Social Work, just doesn't come up to par when the "Scientific Method" has been drilled into your head for over 8 years.

I, thankfully, had a wonderful little job that I enjoyed. I had great bosses and fellow employees, but it just wasn't where I needed to be. However much I enjoyed working there, my soul knew I was made for more...I knew that allowing that to be my stopping point was selling myself short in the long run, despite the loyalty for and obligation to the company for whom I worked. It was a job to help me on my way to wherever it was I was headed. I learned invaluable lessons having worked there and made wonderful, life-long friends there as well.

Fast-forward to today. I am now twenty-five (and a half), working for my cousin, which I love, but I still know that settling here in this job will be settling for mediocrity. After some soul-searching, getting lost, being found again, and lots of thinking, I've finally decided on the correct path for me. It's something I've often thought about over the past fifteen-years or so, but something I never thought would be either plausible or practical. Lo and behold, I've found out that it is not only plausible AND practical, but also attainable!

Looking back now, I was completely and totally unprepared for graduate school the first time around. I should have stayed where I was until I had made a final decision on what it was I wanted to do and should do, instead of just jumping out at the next thing that I thought I HAD to be doing. I have a sort of history of rash behaviour, the details into which I will NOT delve.

Despite the misdirection and rash decisions, I don't regret that decision I made almost three years ago, now. Had I not decided to move here and attend school, I would never have met the wonderful friends and family I have here in Little Rock nor would I have found out just exactly what I'm supposed to be and just who is supposed to be with me on the journey to that point and all points thereafter.

After all, it is in making mistakes that we learn, in loving the wrong people that we appreciate the right ones when they come along (or never left), and in weakness that we truly find our strength.

Thank God for rash decisions. Thank God for second chances. And thank God for the everyday problems we find that bring us closer to Him and each other.

This time, I'm prepared. I'll do it much better this second go-round.

01 September 2009

"When in the Course of Human Events...

it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

So begins the document that started it all: The Declaration of Independence. Our forefathers wrote this document with the hopes of breaking away from the tyranny and despotism to which they felt the English government was subjecting them. This was the then-colonists' way of telling the English government they had had enough. If the English weren't going to listen to them now, then they never would and they'd never get a say in what the people who spoke for them without representing them. "Taxation without representation." The whole cause of the American Revolution lay there in those three words.

Our forefather's fought for the rights that we have today. Many men and women, young and old, fought through difficult times, war, famine, disease, thirst to bring us those freedoms that we take so much for granted, so much so that we've allowed ourselves and our country to begin to leech those freedoms from us. We've taken all our forefathers fought for 236 years ago and since for granted so much so that we've allowed our government to no longer work for us. We've allowed our great country to become a leech, feeding off of what we work so hard for, allowing them to tell us all that we DESERVE to have, and neither fulfilling their promises nor holding them accountable for those promises which they have yet to fulfill.

Instead of letting our government work for us, it's worked against us...only seeking self-serving purposes, increasing their pay, while we work 80-plus hours a week trying to feed our families and pay our bills. Then first throwing paper at companies like AIG, GM, Bank of America, carelessly and hurriedly then condemning those CEO's for doing the same things that they've done for years and telling them how much money they can make and how much money they can spend.

Don't get me wrong, I think we should call a spade a spade, but if we do such things, we should first check for the beam in our own eye before pointing out the splinter in our brother's.

Some of us want to give up hope, and start looking elsewhere for a place to live. I, however, still have hope. I was not brought up to desert anyone in their time of need, least of all my country. Some of us would say to cut and run, to give up, because we can't enact change. That is the beauty of America, that is what our forefathers, our military men and women, have fought to preserve for the past 236 years....are we just going to bail out now, when the going gets tough?

I was not brought up to leave when things got rough. My ancestors came in horrible conditions to get to this country, to escape from their former lives for a better life here, where they were free to live their lives according to God's plan, not according to the monarch's plan. Some of my ancestors were forced onto reservations, some were forced to leave the land they worked so hard to till and plant and harvest because they refused to conform to a faith in which they did not believe, and a government to which they had no allegiance. Those ancestors found refuge in Louisiana, and, eventually, a home in the United States of America. I'm not about to leave that home simply because things are difficult and probably will get worse before they get better.

I'm tired of sitting silently, complaining about my government not working for me. The time has come to make a choice. To whom do we have allegiance, the United States of America and the Republic for which it stands, or to the same partisan politics which have acted as a diversion for the American people to slowly have our freedoms leeched from us by those same government officials who were put there by us to speak for and on behalf of us, the voters, the people of the United States of America?

The time has come to put aside our differences and come together under the common cause of freedom, a freedom that our forefathers believed in so much so that they would commit an act of treason to attain it. We must remember, that with the exception of a small number, those people in Washington don't care about us. It's time that we remind them for whom they work, who had the power to put them there, and who has the power to change that.

Big things are coming. It's our decision to make what those things will be and whether or not we will sit by and watch them pass. It's not too late to do something. All I hear is people talking. Where are those who will put into action what is being said? Where are those who will stand up and fight for American rights and freedoms? Where are those who are strong enough to say enough is enough and DO something about it? Where are those who will take a stand and not let our greedy politicians lead America to her ruin?

Where are they? They are here. We are the people. We hold the power of change. We hold the power. The government is only as powerful as we let them be. If we all come together and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, the government will be forced to listen. We are only as weak as we allow ourselves to be. The people have been asleep for far too long. It's time for us to wake up and take matters into our own hands.

Hold your Congressmen and women accountable. Ask them ONE simple question..."Do you agree to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America." If they say yes, then see if their records agree with that statement. If they refuse to answer, that in and of itself is answer enough. Don't re-elect them.

Let's make our Senators and Representatives MEAN what they say and SAY what they MEAN! Let's hold them accountable. Let's show them with whom the power lies. We are the Republic FOR the people and BY the people. Let's make that mean something again.

After all the sacrifice that went into creating and maintaining this great Republic, it seems un-American to lie back and watch while our Republic is laid to waste by the very men and women who vowed to protect and preserve her. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is not only un-American, it's weak.

Has our pride and honour disintegrated so far that we can no longer think of the collective people of the United States? Have we become bottom dwellers, with our hands out expecting others to provide for us rather than seeking to provide for and care for others? Has our failure to cooperate as a functioning society despite religion, race, sex, or ethnicity affected us so greatly that we can no longer aspire to rise above those differences? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then we have lost...we have become a despondent, vain, and selfish people who deserve to reap what we have sown.

On the other hand, if we answer "no" to those questions, then we can see that there is still hope. I am one of the eternal optimists who believe that there never is a reason to lose hope, at least, not when the people of the United States are involved. Our country has overcome so much, and we know that when times get difficult, we band together, we become stronger. Imagine how much stronger we can be if we just stop focusing on our selves for one small minute and begin to focus on something bigger: the preservation of the free world. If we allow our Republic to dissolve, our Republic, the greatest defender of the causes of liberty and freedom from tyranny and oppression. If we ourselves succumb to these forces, who will be left to stand?

Things are going to get worse, and finding GOOD people to represent us and uphold the Republic will take time and effort, but it's not impossible. It takes time and energy to SPEAK UP and voice your opinions. I think the time is now, if we are ready, willing and able to take the challenge, which as Americans, I believe we are. We never give up hope. We will show all in our path that we will NOT be silenced, either by government or fear.

Let us be examples to all: let us show that we will fight the good fight, and we will arise victors for the United State of America and the cause of freedom.

God bless America.