Monday, March 24, 2008

Ancient Offerings

I am reading in my Stewardship book about the different types of offerings made by the Jews to Yahweh, as chronicled in the Old Testament.

It seems to our modern sensibilities entirely wasteful. Whenever a building was consecrated, or someone committed a trespass against their neighbor, or whenever a prayer was answered, they would bring an animal to the Temple and burn it. All of it. The cooked meat wasn't given to the poor or anything, the hide wasn't used, nor the hair, the horns or hooves. Everything was given to God.

It's amazing to me to consider that level of worship. It's the equivalent of taking five hundred dollars and burning it in your fireplace. That's it. Gone. Like you never had it. The money goes nowhere, it simply disappears from the world.

Not only does it require a level of trust in God to replace what we've just given, but it illustrates in a very tangible way the profound faith the Hebrews had that God was real: He existed as surely as the offering did.

In some ways, I think it's easy to give to charity, especially when you give to a reputable organization that operates programs you believe in. You know for a fact that your money is going to good use. You can think about it helping someone and feel a sense of pride and solidarity that you yourself, personally, have helped someone. In a sense it's buying a service, -- even if you're not the direct beneficiary, you're controlling how the money is spent.

Burning a ram on God's altar doesn't return that sense of pride. It doesn't feel like you're doing anything concrete.

It's one of the most humbling forms of sacrifice and worship I can imagine, and I don't know what the modern equivalent could be. There's nothing in my life that I give back to God in the way the Hebrews gave holocaust to Yahweh.

I am humbled and astounded by their fidelity to their Covenant.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


After the Mass of the Lord's Supper Thursday night they had adoration of the Blessed Eucharist until midnight. Considering that I spent half the Mass walking the hallway with my 18 month old and the other half fighting annoyance and biting my tongue, I figured I needed to go back and actually pray for a bit.

I had some trouble finding it, and embarrassed myself fully at one point by walking into St. Francis Hall where I heard music and saw what looked like a monstrance only to find a group of teenagers reenacting the washing of feet beneath a large mounted cross. Under their confused stares, I walked along the back wall as though I just came in to check the room out and scurried through the other door. Asking a person in the hall didn't help me, either.

So I finally found it in the Church gym and knelt down to pray. The Host had an honor guard of Knights of Columbus (I love those guys. They're so great.) that changed every 15 minutes and lent an air of formality and ceremony that made the experience that much better.

I definitely had to expend active energy to stay awake and keep my focus on Christ, but unsurprisingly it was much easier to feel God's presence when I was sitting right in front of Him than it is when I'm in my living room at home. For the first time in a very long time, I was able to hear God's voice. And I received an important insight:

God placed me here intentionally. Sometimes I feel like life would be easier if I had (pick one of the following: married a Catholic, become a nun, gone into the Peace Corps) and that my current crosses are in large part my own making. I have to remind myself that I would still have crosses in any other vocation; they would just be different crosses. I would still have to carry them. I would still probably whine and resent that life isn't all roses and strawberry cupcakes.

God reminded me last night that this path, the one I'm on, THAT'S my path. He has chosen these crosses for me specifically to grow my soul in the direction it needs to go. He has always placed me directly in the path of temptation. I can only imagine He does this because He wants me to grow stronger. I'm not meant to run from my problems and challenges. I'm meant to face them.

I once read that Ghandi used to sleep with young virgins as a test of his willpower. Those without faith might roll their eyes and say "Sure...and he was sleeping the whole night." But I believe God does similar things in our lives. It's easy to get discouraged by constant temptation or the omnipresence of obstacles, but without these things our will cannot strengthen.

On that note, we've had another sewage backup in the basement. *sigh* This one wasn't as bad because my parents are staying with us and they were able to alert us almost immediately. The professionals got it unblocked and then I went downstairs with Lysol, paper towels, two sponges and a plastic garbage bag to rectify the situation.

The plumbers should be coming to fix our pipes this week. We're just waiting on one more estimate and the check from the insurance company (we're not sure how much it is and for some reason they won't tell us over the phone) to see what our options are.

I don't think it's coincidence that this happened right as my parents were visiting, on the very day my sister and her boyfriend arrived, and on Good Friday to boot. The stresses on my soul this weekend have been pretty high.

Adoration on Thursday helped me cope with them, I'm positive. Not that I was perfect or anything, but the knowledge that God was not allowing all this to hit me at once in order to destroy me, but to temper me by fire, bolstered by efforts to work with Him instead of giving in to despair.

It's only through carrying our cross and being crucified upon it that we will come to our own Easter.

The Lord is risen, Alleluia!

Picture credit.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Peanut Butter Blues

I've been volunteering on Thursday mornings with Catholic Charities in my area. I like the work; I'm tutoring an immigrant woman from Sudan and visiting with an elderly lady (and trying to help her son find a job.) It's nothing earth shattering, but I like the people and I'm glad to be doing something concrete for others.

On my way home I always pass the same intersection, where there is usually a homeless man with a sign: "Anything will help, even a smile!"

I used to see homeless people all the time. My college town was full of them, as were the cities I lived in after graduating. It was common for me to pass three or four homeless people on my way to work every morning, and the same ones again when I went out to lunch or on my way home. So I got used to carrying dollars in my pocket and handing out leftovers after lunch. If I had nothing, I gave them at least the dignity of eye contact and a smile or a wave.

It bothers me exceedingly that I can give nothing to this homeless man. The first time I drove by him and saw the sign I had a bag of apples that one of the people I help had given me. So I rolled down the window and handed it to him. The second time I saw him, I had nothing but a smile, so I gave that and he waved and smiled back.

Well, last Thursday morning I was determined to give him something substantial, even though I couldn't give him any money. So I made him a lunch. I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, put in an apple, some carrot sticks, a piece of chocolate and a bottle of water. I even put a little encouraging note in the bag and set it on the front seat in preparation for quick handing out the passenger window.

He wasn't there.

I even circled around the block and went into a store to make sure I wasn't just early and had missed him. Nope, no one. Empty corner.

I could have cried, not only because I wanted to do something for him and had been thwarted, but because the incident served to highlight once again that I am operating under severe limitations. I am not free to help people when I see them. I have to be prepared to do good, I have to find creative ways to give, and, as in this case, it often means I can do nothing.

The crux of my problem, though, is a bit more personal. I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I only made one because it's the only kind of sandwich filling we had in the house. I never buy cold cuts (meat only twice a week doesn't allow for that, not to mention the expense and presence of preservatives.) But here I was, driving home utterly disappointed with this sack lunch that would go to waste if I didn't eat it. The sandwich wouldn't keep for a week, and I'd used the wrong kind of jam to serve it to my son (those of you with children will understand. "Mommy! This jelly has lumps!" and it's summarily rejected.)

So I had to eat it. Have I mentioned how I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I had to swallow past my gag reflex a couple times and disguise the taste with the carrot sticks. Let me confess to you how stupid I felt offering up my difficulty eating it for the homeless man, who was likely sitting hungry somewhere at that very moment. But it really was a sacrifice for me to eat it.

And now I'm torn. Do I make another sack lunch for him next week? If I don't and I see him, I'll be kicking myself for days that I missed the opportunity to do something for him. But if I do and he's not there...I just REALLY don't want to eat another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I should make him a lunch. Cardinal George eats sandwiches he doesn't like. St. Therese of Lisieux would probably go so far as to eat a PB&J every day just as she did the leftover food the other nuns rejected.

Meh. I really wish I could just hand him $5. If nothing else, I think this is why God has put this obstacle in my path. It's a hard lesson to learn, but the truth is that handing over a 5 spot won't do as much for my soul as choking down a sandwich I despise will.

Still, I really hope he's there next week.

Picture credit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Back in the Saddle

We've had a major financial setback, in the form of raw sewage inundating our basement. Apparently, there are two points in our main sewer line that aren't moving water as they ought. Our pipes backed up last week and we didn't notice it until a ten foot area of our finished basement was soaked.

Needless to say, we don't have the money lying around that it's going to take to fix this. I figure this should increase our debt by about 50%, perhaps more.

But I'm surprisingly untroubled about it. After the initial shock and horror of finding such a thing in our basement, my first thought was how much time this was going to add before we were able to give to charity, tithe, and adopt (my three main goals for our family.) I fretted about it for a day and God spoke very clearly into my heart.

We're never going to eliminate our debt. But that doesn't matter, because God's going to change my husband's heart so he's open to tithing, giving to charity, and adoption even WITH debt.

So I don't really care. The house could burn down around us and it'd be a HUGE pain, but we'll figure it out somehow. My poor husband, on the other hand, is having trouble eating and sleeping because he's so worried about how we're going to find the money. I figure we'll just take out a loan if we have to. It's not like we have no assets. It's not like we're living paycheck to paycheck without any cushion or credit.

We'll be okay.

I would be very, very, happy, though, if I never saw raw sewage again. YUCK.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ORDER! Order in the home!

As Lents go, this one has been a bit of a flop. It bothers me because I'm usually GREAT at Lent. I pick really hard sacrifices, like giving up TV or secular music, and then I'm rabid about adhering to it. I began dating my husband in college shortly after Lent began that year, and I remember distinctly sitting on the couch with him one Friday evening trying to come up with something to do. Movies and any sort of TV were out. Dinner, drinks or dessert were out because I was fasting. As a good Catholic girl, I wasn't about to sit there making out with him to pass the time, and we'd been talking for hours and were over that. I remember his roommate came into the room and asked what we were doing, and when we explained our restrictions he just kind of looked at us and left. It's a moment I'm particularly proud of.

But this year I've been all over the place. I think my mistake was not setting a firmer sacrifice. Giving up "laziness" is too nebulous for any real success. Part of the problem is that there's ALWAYS something that needs to be done. So even when the kitchen was clean, the kids in bed, and my Rosary said, I felt guilty taking an hour to watch TV because I could be doing Spanish homework, mapping apartments for my volunteer work, reading/studying Scripture, etc etc etc.

In some ways, too, I feel like my industriousness got in the way of my deeper goal: to get closer to God. I had imagined if I gave up internet surfing I'd have all this time to read important books and pray for people, but I just ended up doing more sweeping, organizing and laundry. A clean house is nice -- very nice -- but not really my Lenten objective. Additionally, I used cleaning the kitchen as a catalyst to keep myself away from the computer or TV. It worked for the most part, but by constantly cleaning the kitchen I removed the one chore that my husband usually does to help out around the house. He's been telling everyone this is the "best Lent ever!" but I think our relationship has been hurt by it. Without this act of sacrifice to say he loves me, I've been looking around at the coat rack I bought in December that he still hasn't hung and thinking, "Doesn't he love me?"

It came home to me in a big way as I was reading "A Mother's Rule of Life," by Holly Pierlot, which a friend has lent me. I've heard it highly recommended elsewhere in the blogosphere as well, and for some time I've been pondering the idea of setting a real schedule for myself that puts a priority on time for prayer and orders my days a bit better. Really, if I have spare time, it's far too easy to waste it on something frivolous, and when Lent is over I won't have any reason not to.

When the author spoke about the chaos of her life and feeling as though she were always three steps behind, I thought about Et Tu, Jen?'s series of posts on praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and how implementing hard stops has helped her be LESS busy even without removing any of her responsibilities. And when Holly Pierlot ordered the 5 P's of marriage (Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider) I realized how skewed my priorities were. My current life is something like Provider, Parent, Partner, Person, Prayer. You'll notice that's EXACTLY the opposite of what it ought to be. I feel I should clean the kitchen and THEN read to my kids. I all too often watch TV instead of reading Scripture. At the moment, I'm putting my youngest's needs in front of my husband's, though I'm continuing to work with her in hopes this is a temporary situation.

Given how strongly drawn I am toward homeschooling, I think a reordering of my life is rapidly becoming a MUST DO rather than a "might be nice." My inclination as a procrastinator is to wait till after Easter, especially since I have so much to do before then, but I think I've already learned that the more I have to do, the more important it is to prioritize and work out a schedule that realistically takes into account the amount of time I have.

My whole family will be here in 10 days. I've also invited my husband's side for Easter lunch. I am already overwhelmed by my mental list (clean and paint playroom, move bed upstairs, buy 6 pounds lamb and figure out how to cook it, sort through summer clothes and set aside for warm days, buy my daughter a pink bow to match her Easter dress, get a mattress for the top bunk, plan the weekend's meals...) half of which I probably don't really need to do before they get here, but I want to do because I'm afraid they will comment on it. My mother is the consummate host, so I feel all this internal pressure to make things perfect.

It can so easily get out of hand. I don't want to spend this trip arguing with my mother about my lifestyle choices, biting my tongue at my sister's impatience with my kids and obsessing over small details that should not matter. It will be Holy Week. I want the focus on God, not on whether my parents will like the salmon I bought for our Lenten supper or whether my sister will be annoyed when we all leave for Mass.

So I want to pray about this for a few days and see if I can come up with a schedule that puts my home, my heart, my priorities and my life in order. The back of Holly's book asks "Are you desperate, yet?"

I think I'm desperate.