On Celibate and Married Priests

A friend shared an article on facebook today, written by a married Catholic priest in Dallas, Texas, discussing priestly ministry and the debate of celibacy versus married life for the priest.  It’s an article well worth reading, as he gently puts forward the pros and cons of each lifestyle while emphasizing the centrality of the teaching of the Church on this topic. It’s also an article that spoke to many areas that I’ve been quietly pondering since my entry into the Catholic church almost three years ago, after growing up the daughter of a Protestant pastor.

The first time I ever sat down to meet with a Catholic priest, to discuss beginning the process of entry into the church, somehow we came around to the topic of priestly celibacy, and in typical Lisa fashion, without particularly considering that this priest didn’t know me well enough to know when my tongue was partially in my cheek, blurted out, “growing up as a pastor’s kid is a pretty good argument for priestly celibacy if you ask me.” I don’t remember what that gracious pastor replied, but I do remember his stunned look, followed by slightly nervous laughter! The more distance I have from my childhood, the more I appreciate my dad’s vocation to the ministry, and now the vocation that my brother has also followed.  There were great gifts, and great sacrifices to that life, and I am thankful for the former and still work at times to be grateful rather than resentful of the latter.

In response to my friend’s post of the article, I commented the following:

I have so many thoughts about this after growing up the daughter of a pastor. This writer stated it well – there are advantages and disadvantages to a married priesthood – I think perhaps the best case scenario might be a mixture in parishes, that includes priests in both states of life, giving a more full experience to the clergy, but also minimizing the sometimes overwhelming (and at times damaging) impact that the life of the clergyman can have on his wife and children.
I would add that the sacrifices that the clergy (whether married or celibate) are very real, and that your pastor’s (protestant or Catholic, married or celibate) need your prayers, and if you happen to be praying for a married pastor, pray for his wife and children as well.

I’ve been thinking lately about the way many Catholics I know treat male and female religious as something truly extraordinary – as those who have somehow partaken in “the best” sacrament.  I’ve been thinking too, about how if we actually believe that marriage is a sacrament, we don’t act like it as Catholics – those who choose a married life get far less kudos for their choices than those who choose the religious life.

And of all that has me thinking about the seventh chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he discusses some of this very topic. I particularly appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation of this chapter in The Message, for the clarity of language it brings to St. Paul’s comments. It’s well worth going taking the time to read the entirety of the chapter, rather than just the few excerpts I’m going to share here.
And so, let me leave you with a few of St. Paul’s words on both marriage and celibacy. He celebrates marriage, but also points out (much like the author of the article that inspired this post) the advantages that the celibate have with their time and energy. They are challenging me all over again, in the life I lead as a single woman, not called to the religious life, and as I pray for my friends in the religious life and priesthood, and my married friends and family living out a vocation to the ministry of Christ in the protestant world.
vs. 7: Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me – a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.
vs. 29-31: I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you know it is on it’s way out.
vs. 32-35: I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you’re unmarried, you’re free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God. I’m trying to be helpful and make it as easy as possible for you, not make things harder. All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions.
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The Good Moments

I show up in this space a lot and talk about the hard things and the things I’m wrestling through.  It’s in my nature.  I comfortably (or less comfortably depending on the day) embrace labels such as introverted, over-thinker, highly sensitive person, and empathic.  I’ve lived with depression and an anxiety disorder for almost half of my life now, and I’m well aware that all the above listed labels tend to drive me towards the melancholic.  It’s easy to talk about the wrestles, because they make up large portions of my day-to-day life, and this last week and month have held more wrestles than many recent days.

But today, I want to talk about the good moments. Because today there were good moments.

Today, for the first time in a month, I didn’t spend large portions of the day wanting to scratch my skin off due to itching caused by a health condition I’ve been dealing with, and that lack of itching feels like a major victory – like something that brings hope for an end where even yesterday one didn’t exist

Today, a homily spoke to my heart in a way I needed to hear.

Today I spent several hours with my sister-in-law and nephew.  My sister-in-law and I have had the greatest conversations since my nephew was born two months ago.  His arrival has deepened our relationship in ways I didn’t expect and am deeply thankful for, to one where we’ve spent hours talking about all sorts of major and minor things while I hold my nephew to give her arms a break.

Today my nephew is officially two months old, and since he naps best during the day while being held and gets cranky in the evening, and my brother was working the evening shift, I spent a wonderful few hours chatting with his mama while I rocked him to sleep and then let him sleep on my chest, nuzzling his little head deeper into the crook of my neck.

Hanging out with my little man on his two month birthday

Today my heart needed the sort of peace that descends when you settle in a rocking chair and a little person sleeps, breathing evenly against your chest, his ear nestled near your heart. Those moments of chatting quietly with my sister-in-law while this sweet little man slept on me were healing.

Today my heart needed an hour of driving towards the mountains at dusk, with no particular destination in mind, and a favorite worship album playing songs filled with messages of mercy.

Today my heart needed the gifts that all of these things brought.

Today I want to remember the good moments and store them up within me.

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All Manner of Things Shall be Well – On Julian of Norwich and Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day began early for me this morning.  I found myself sitting in the waiting area of a local medical laboratory just after 7am, waiting for my name to be called so that a technician could siphon off 4 or 5 tubes of blood.  It’s a strange feeling to start Mother’s Day sitting alone in a waiting room surrounded by strangers, waiting to get blood work drawn related to ongoing health issues that bring the reality into my life that it may quite difficult for me to conceive children should I ever marry. But the blood work needed to be drawn on a specific day to be accurate, and that date happened to fall on Mother’s Day.

I’ve seen a lot of social media and blog posts about Mother’s Day this week – the hard things, and the beautiful things. Posts from the people who have broken relationships with their mothers, and posts from the people who love their children dearly. Posts from those who have children waiting for them in heaven and posts from those who long to be mothers but have for one reason or another had that reality denied them.

I have mostly positive feelings about this day – my mom has modelled a life of following christ, through all sorts of circumstances, and I have no question that she loves me, even at the moments when our relationship, like all relationships at times, is tense.  I have two wonderful sisters-in-law who have made me an aunt to three special little people, and who are working out day by day what it means to love Jesus well in motherhood.  And there are a myriad of friends who have made me honorary auntie to their littles and who inspire me as they wrestle with life and faith and as they begin to teach their children to do the same.

That said, I have people who are dear to me who fall in each of those other multitude of categories that make Mother’s Day sting, and sometimes fall into more than one of those categories. And this morning, as I considered the reality of some of my health issues, I felt that sting just a little.  Not a sting that negates me from celebrating my own mom and those other dear mothers in my life, but one that turns me towards Jesus, asking, waiting, begging, questioning, wondering what it is that He has for me in this are where I feel deep and still unfulfilled desires.

I left the lab this morning and was sitting in my car, waiting for my next commitment of the day, and was browsing Facebook on my phone when I came across a post that reminded me that today is not only Mother’s Day, but also the feast day for Julian of Norwich.

According to Wikipedia (give me a break, I may have a church history degree, but it’s Sunday evening and Wikipedia will do just fine in the research department despite the horrified echoes of history professors of my past!) Julian was a late 14th century/early 15th century English anchoress and mystic, who had a profound encounter with Christ via a crucifix and had a series of visions.  From those visions she penned the first version of her “Revelations of Divine Love” which is believed to be the oldest surviving book in the English language that was written by a woman.

None of that is what caught me as I sat in my car this morning though. What caught me was that the person posting on Facebook about Julian’s feast day posted several of the most famous lines from “Revelations of Divine Love”.

They read:

God of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me.
And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory.
And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want,
for only in you have I all.

All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.

I had part of the second stanza tattooed on the inside of my left wrist last summer. I put it there as a permanent reminder of my ongoing belief that in Christ all things are made whole and perfect – and thus “all shall be well.”

It’s more striking to me now, today, as I stumbled again across the lines in context, and considered the harder reality I was pondering.

“God of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me…” I went on this morning to attend mass after the lab appointment, and found myself praying those words of Julian’s as I knelt after receiving the Eucharist.  I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know what my health holds. I don’t know if motherhood will be a possibility for me. There are many unknowns.  But today, in this moment, I am reminded that “…for only in Christ have I all.”  I’m going to hold on to that. As I navigate the way forward, and as I wait for test results, and as I ask Christ for the privilege of being a wife and mother someday, I pray that the words that I had indelibly inked on my wrist last August will serve as a constant reminder that He is enough, and only in Him have I all.

 

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Easter Us

It seems crazy that I haven’t showed up in this space since January, but that is how life seems to flow these days. One day runs into the next in the push to fit in all. the. things.  Work and church and family and friends and home and spiritual life and social life and introvert time and housework. all. the. things.  And so, in this moment, because it is Easter, and because Easter is important, I wanted to share a couple things others have written in this space.  I don’t have profundity in me tonight, but thankfully I read a lot, and there are others who do.

First, I wanted to share this line from the Easter proclamation at the Easter Vigil.  It catches my attention each time I hear it:  “a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light”.  How beautiful is the image that conjures? Divided but never dimmed. Spreading and only growing.  Yes and amen.

And then there is this: as I perused facebook over the course of this weekend, I noted many who spoke of living in an Easter Saturday sort of place.  I know that feeling – that waiting and longing for life that never quite seems to come.  That holding on to the faith of others in a resurrection that seems to have continually passed over you.  I lived that life for so many years. I live it occasionally now.  And so I offer this – a prayer from Walter Bruggemann’s beautiful volume “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth” that speaks to this place, that calls forth the Easter.  The prayer shares the same title with this post and was penned March 29, 1994, after Bruggemann read and prepared to teach on Psalm 77.

You God who terrified the waters,
who crashed your thunder,
who shook the earth and
scared the wits out of chaos.
You God who with strong arm saved your people
by miracle and wonder and majestic act.
You are the same God to whom we turn,
we turn in our days of trouble,
and in our weary nights;
we look for steadfast love and are dismayed,
we wait for your promises, but wait in fatigue,
we ponder your forgetfulness and lack of compassion,
and we grow silent.
Our lives, addressed to you,
have this bitter-sweet taste of
loud-clashing miracles and weak-kneed doubt.
So we come in our bewilderment and wonderment,
deeply trusting, almost afraid to trust much,
passionately insisting, too timid to insist much,
fervently hoping, exhausted for hoping too much.
Look upon us in our deep need,
mark the wounds of our brothers and sisters just here,
notice the turmoil in our lives, and the lives of our families,
credit the incongruity of the rich and the poor in our very city,
and the staggering injustices abroad in our land,
tend to the rage our of control, rage justified by displacement,
rage gone crazy by absence, silence, and deprivation,
measure the suffering,
count the sufferers,
number the wounds.
You tamer of chaos and mender of all tears in the canvas of creation,
we ponder your suffering,
your crown of thorns,
your garment taken in lottery,
your mocked life,
and now we throw upon your suffering humiliation,
the suffering of the world.
You defeater of death, whose power could not hold you,
come in your Easter,
come in your sweeping victory,
come in your glorious new life.
Easter us,
salve wounds,
break injustice,
bring peace,
guarantee neighbor,
Easter us in joy and strength.
Be our God, be your true self, lord of life,
massively turn our life toward your life
and away from our anti-neighbor, anti-self deathliness.
Hear our thankful, grateful, unashamed Hallelujah! Amen.

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A Word for the Year

It’s a new year, y’all.  Actually, we’re two weeks into a new year.  Crazy.

I welcomed the new year at work, cradling a miserable tiny human.  Said tiny human had good reasons to be miserable, and was pretty alone in the world. Cradling that little one moved me in ways I’m still thinking about.

Generally I show up on my blog on the first of the new year with a declaration of my “one word” for the year.  It’s a practice I started quite some time ago, and one that continues to mold and shape me each year.  Most years God and I have a conversation on New Year’s Eve, after I’ve tossed words around in my thoughts for a week or two, and together we settle on the word that will be my guide for the year.  This year wasn’t quite like that.

Somewhere around late summer a word started coming up a lot as I was praying and contemplating next steps in various areas of my life.  It was a word I didn’t like, so I rather pointedly ignored it. Apparently that word was important, because starting in early November it seemed that Jesus was shouting it at me every time I prayed, every time I had a conversation with a friend, every time I stopped to ponder what the next things in my life were going to look like.  He was making certain that I couldn’t keep ignoring it, and more than that, basically made it clear that I should feel free to kick off this new word with the beginning of the church year and the advent season at the end of November, rather than waiting for the new calendar year.  Feel free. Ha.  (Insert wry face of experience here – knowing that ignoring Jesus’ suggestions is a bad idea doesn’t make for much of choice on those rare occasions that he forcefully suggest something.)

The word he gave me was “discipline.” Discipline, y’all. I honestly cannot think of a word I would have been less impressed to hear as a guide post for the year.

I have a long history with the word, and a lot of personal baggage that goes with it.  For me it’s always been a sort of dirty word – a word that certain people in my life threw around as a reason for various failures – as in “if you’d just been disciplined”.  It symbolizes all the things I didn’t really want in my life, and always seemed to me to only be in lives devoid of fun.

Discipline wasn’t exactly a welcome word, but it wasn’t one I could deny the need for either.

I kicked off the advent season with a strong discipline game.  It lasted about a week, and since then I’ve been mostly cataloging the areas where I’m failing at discipline.

I’m succeeding in a couple of areas:

  • I’ve managed to do a spanish lesson on the duolingo app for something like 35 straight days now.
  • I’m all caught up (after getting a slow start) on a “read through the bible in a year” reading plan
  • I’m ahead of the game on a goal of reading at least 100 books this year.
  • I made the really hard decision to put some disciplined choices in my finances ahead of traveling to be with heart friends this month.
  • I’m making it to mass on a regular basis even with my crazy work schedule (every weekend, plus usually one or two daily masses a week)
  • I’m reading some good sources about discipline
  • I’ve started making daily thankfulness lists again, and managed to keep up the habit for a couple straight weeks

I identified three key areas of life that needed to be addressed with discipline: diet, exercise, finances.  So far I’ve had some success with one (and occasionally two) of those three.  So there’s lots of room to grow.

And I’m also learning about the ways discipline impacts my spiritual life.  I had to laugh when my acupuncturist asked if I do the new year’s resolution thing and I explained that I choose a word for the year and that this year’s word was kicking my butt.  After hearing the word she was excited “but you can’t make any progress on any spiritual path without discipline!”  Right.  Okay Lord, when even my acupuncturist points this out, I’m inclined to stop and listen.

When I went to confession during Advent, the priest I met with gave me a helpful image – the idea of discipline being a bank account.  He suggested making regular deposits in the small areas of discipline, so that when the need to be disciplined in a large area arises, there are “funds” to draw on.  This has been helpful for me, especially as I’ve only seen discipline success in small areas thus far.  I’m reminding myself that by making small deposits, I’m building something to draw on as I begin to push into the larger areas of discipline that I’m needing to focus on.

My sister-in-law commented the other day that it will be interesting to see how my relationship with this word changes over the course of the year.  That’s also a helpful thought for me – to think that the wounds of discipline may be replaced by joys from seeing resulting growth in my life.

So, here’s (slightly grudgingly) to a year of discipline, and all that it carries with it!

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The Grace and Impatience to Wait

I lit the first candle in my Advent wreath tonight, the winding up of a day spent in various forms of preparation – at Mass, preparing my heart, at home, cleaning and cooking to prepare myself and my house for another week.  I’m caught this year by the apocalyptic readings that the lectionary contains as Advent begins – by the dual longing for the birth of Christ and for Him to come again in glory.  And as I pondered that dual meaning, I came across another prayer from Walter Bruggemann, an Old Testament theologian who has penned a powerful collection of prayers titled “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.”  The prayer that catches me tonight is the one that this volume dedicates to Advent.  It shares a title with this post, and captures for me the the duality of waiting that I’m experiencing this year.

The grace and the impatience to wait

In our secret yearnings

we wait for your coming,

and in our grinding despair

we doubt that you will.

And in this privileged place

we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we

and by those who despair more deeply than do we.

Look upon your church and its pastors

in this season of hope

which runs to quickly to fatigue

and this season of yearning

which becomes so easily quarrelsome.

Give us the grace and the impatience

to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,

to the edges of our finger tips.

We do not want our several worlds to end.

Come in your power

and come in your weakness

in any case

and make all things new.

Amen.

the first candle lit as I ponder the duality of the wait

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For Abigail on her first birthday

Today was my youngest niece’s first birthday.  We celebrated her last weekend with a party and cake, and I spent this morning with her and her mom and sister, doing a little bit of girl bonding while shopping.  When I came home, though, I found myself thinking of a profound God moment that happened shortly after Abby’s birth, and in which she played a special role.  I wrote her a letter this afternoon to capture that sentiment, and with her parent’s permission, I wanted to share it here.

For Abigail May on her first birthday.

Abby-May,

You were born one year ago today, and I remember smiling as I got the text telling me of your arrival.  I was so excited to welcome another niece into my heart and family, and couldn’t wait to hold you, to snuggle, to enjoy watching you grow.  It’s been a year full of all of those blessings, and you are a cute, funny, active little girl, crawling all over the place and hinting that soon you’ll start trying to walk.  You love your parents and your big sister, and your smiles, though sometimes hard-won, light up your face.

But I’m not really thinking about those things today, Abby girl.  Instead I’m thinking about a moment that came less than two months after you entered this world.  It was a sacred and holy moment, one I’ve returned to often during the upheaval this last year has brought in my life.

One night in January of 2015, though you were too little to know it, you kept vigil with your mama and I as we sat next to the hospital bed where your great grandma was dying.

IMG_5696

a photo of the photo – Grandma in Ghana with an alligator

Your great grandma was an interesting lady, Abby.  I lived with her for the last five years of her life, and I saw her foibles and her gifts more closely than most.  She was spunky and friendly, never without a greeting, and her memory for dates and people, even in her last years of life never failed.  There wasn’t a person in the family who had a birthday or an anniversary who didn’t get a call from her on that date each year.  My favorite picture of your great grandma is hanging on the wall in my kitchen.  She’s wearing a dress and a funny straw hat with a bow, and straddling a giant alligator, nearly sitting on it’s back!  That was your her, Abby-May – all primness and spunk, straddling generations, but willing to step out, and so, when she was 75, she got a passport and joined your grandpa and your daddy and your great-aunt Cheryl and great-uncle Brian and went on a mission trip to Ghana, where she ended up looking just a bit Mary Poppinesque while straddling an enormous alligator.

She was one of the first in the family to see you, Abby.  She got to visit with you in the hospital – you were born in the same hospital that she was in for the last few months of her life. Someone printed out pictures of this newest great-granddaughter and tacked them to the wall across from her bed, and she pointed them out to everyone – she was always telling the nurses and doctors and really whoever would listen to her about her beloved family members.

That night, the last night she spent on earth, your mommy and I took a shift together at the hospital, keeping vigil with her, and you joined us.  It was a moment of sacred sweetness, Abby.  I arrived at the hospital before you and your mama, and I remember thinking that it would be so lovely if your mama would sing to grandma – how much grandma would appreciate that. When your mama arrived, we were on the same page – Jesus had given her the same thought, and she showed up, handed you to me, and pulled out a songbook.  For the next few hours your mom and I held grandma’s hands, we sang to her, and read her scriptures and song lyrics, and we prayed for her. Grandma wasn’t really conscious anymore – her eyes flicked open every so often, and she was starting to struggle with breathing, but I think she knew we were there.

The nurses came in and out, alternately talking with us, and giving us space – doing as much to care for those of us who gathered around your great-grandma’s bed as they were doing to care for her in those moments.  They were wonderful, Abby, and made me proud to be a nurse.  Several came in, too, because they’d heard we had a baby with us.  They were excited to see you, Abby, and they told us how Grandma would talk about you and your sister, pointing out your picture on the wall.  “Oh! This is the baby in the picture,” several said.

What I can’t explain to you, Abby, is how much your presence in that hospital room that night was a gift from Jesus.  I have a picture that I’ll treasure forever, of you sleeping at the foot of grandma’s hospital bed.  A life just beginning, and a life ending, both resting in the same bed. That hospital room was what the Celts called a “thin place” that night Abby,  a place where heaven and earth are nearly touching and you can feel it – and you being there was a part of that.  There was something deeply healing and holy for your mom and I in having you there – in seeing your new life juxtaposed against grandma’s waning life.  I don’t have a lot of words for that, but I wanted you to know how special it was that you were there.  That your presence was special, and that in being there, you were present for a holy moment – one that was filled with sorrow, but also immense joy and peace.  As your mom and I walked back to our cars that night, we just looked at each other – neither of us had words for those few hours, but we knew that we’d been gifted with the peace of Christ in that space, and that somehow, you being there was important for us to see. And so, Abby-May, this is your first birthday, and I’ve just spent several hundred words describing a moment you’ll not remember.  But I pray this for you, as you grow, sweet girl.  I pray that you will have many more moments that are as sacred as that one.  I pray that you will grow to know within you the peace of Christ that your mama and I experienced that night.  I pray that you will love family deeply and fully the way your great-grandma did, and that you will know Christ’s mercy and forgiveness in the ways she did too.  And I pray that you’ll have even a little bit of her spunk – that you’ll take chances wisely and seek to deeply enjoy life – that you’ll laugh, and maybe one day you’ll be the old lady who looks just a bit like Mary Poppins, straddling an alligator.

I love you sweet girl.  Happy Birthday.

Love always,

Auntie Lisa

with my Abby-May, only a day old.

 

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