Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Exert, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power and come, and succour us by thy great might:  that by the assistance of thy grace, thy indulgent mercy may hasten what is delayed by our sins.
                       Collect from the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Lord is merciful, and will come to dwell with the children of men, even though we are yet sinful.  The time of preparation is nearly complete, and yet we realize that we are not ready because we are not pure.  We need the assistance of God's grace to complete our journey to Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Conversion Story Part 11: Friends

Sometime in early October I reached a certainty that the Catholic Church was the one true church, that I must become a Catholic, that I was in a state of mortal sin, and that I needed that sacrament of Confession.  Because I was painfully shy, I could go no further on my own.  I simply didn't have it in me to approach a priest, explain my situation, and ask where to go from here.  So I started dropping oblique hints to people I knew were Catholic.  One person saw me at Mass and asked later if I was Catholic.  I expressed uncertainty, and he let it slide.  Another person was in a couple of classes with me, including choir, and we had a concert at the protestant church which I had attended off and on.  The building was labyrinthine, and I had never really learned my way around it, and as we were winding from one part of the building to another, I made a comment to that effect.  My friend asked if I belong to that particular denomination, and I replied "I don't know what I am anymore."

This friend made a point to come back and ask me about that comment after the concert was over, and we talked for hours.  He introduced me to a friend of his who was a transitional deacon at the time, who then instructed me in the Faith.  He also took me to a little chapel where the Extraordinary Form was celebrated (before the current Pope coined the term), which was an apostolate of the Fraternity of St. Peter.  Three months later, I was received into the Catholic Church (the Rite was that in use in 1962) and I went to Mass at that same church for the next several years, met my husband there, and was married in the same church.

That's the end of the story.  Based on a few comments from friends, I suspect that I have told it badly.  Some people seem to think this story shows my intelligence, that I was clever to figure out the truth.  Not so.  It is the story of grace, and it humbles me exceedingly that I took nine whole years to respond to the grace which is so abundantly present in every chapter of my story.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Conversion Story Part 10: Catechism

Having felt utterly lost and out of place at Mass, I decided to do something about it.  In the basement of the university library, I found a catechism by Fr. Hardon.  During the next week, (which was the first week of classes, so I had more than the usual amount of free time) I read it cover to cover.  I'm pretty sure my roommates thought I was nuts.  Incidentally, the catechism helped not in the least with knowing what responses to make at Mass.  However, I learned an enormous amount about the Catholic Faith.
I was more than ever convinced that there was nothing in the Catholic Faith that I could find an objection to.  Still searching for what it was that I, as a Protestant, was supposed to believe that was different from the Catholic Faith, I looked to the reformers.  I wanted to know if they had a compelling argument that would justify the break with the Catholic Church.  I read Luther and Calvin in their own words (in translation).  I found nothing compelling.  In Luther, I found a man lacking the humility to admit that those who criticized him were correct, and thus driven farther and farther from the truth.  Calvin just made me angry.  And so I failed to find anything that would justify remaining as I was, outside the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Conversion Story Part 9: Mass

When I went back to school in the fall, I decided that I was never going to be able to sort out my religious questions without going to Mass.  I looked up the Mass times offered at the chapel on campus, figured out how to get there, got in my car, and went.  I nearly chickened out.  I got to the driveway, panicked, and drove on by.  Then I thought a little more and figured that since I'd already come this far, I might as well go ahead and attend Mass.  I drove around the block and turned in to the parking lot on the second try.

I felt utterly lost.  I didn't know how to behave, didn't know the responses to make or where to find them, didn't know when to sit, stand, kneel ...  So I watched and copied the people around me.  When I genuflected for the first time upon leaving (I didn't know to genuflect when I arrived, but I saw people do so as they came into church and as they left) I nearly fell over.

At the same time, however, I knew I was in the right place.  The very first sermon I heard in a Catholic Church was on the Real Presence.  It lined up with what I thought I understood about the Catholic Faith.  While I nearly didn't go that first time, there was never any question about going back.  I went to Mass every Sunday after that.  For a while I continued to sing in a choir in a protestant church, so after Mass I would drive to another church and sing in the choir there.  And I was still carrying my homemade Rosary in my pocket.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Conversion Story Part 8: Scripture

I was already fairly familiar with Scripture.  That is one of the strengths of protestant denominations:  Scripture is taught and emphasized.  I knew the stories pretty well.  Sometime during that summer Catholicism became more than an academic question.  I knew that I was going to need to make a judgment about the truth of various claims about Christianity.  I was eventually going to need to make a decision.

I read the Bible.  I didn't read all of it, but I read a lot.  I read fast, sometimes a whole book in a single day.  I wanted to make sure I knew Scripture in order to make a good judgment about what other people wrote.  I also started keeping a running bibliographic record of what I read; I wanted to be able to show, if I had to explain my decision, that is was a researched, thought-out decision, not some romantic notion.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Conversion Story Part 7: Rosary

After reading about St. Thomas Aquinas, I became curious about something I had seen mentioned often in the Fr. Greeley novels I had been reading:  the rosary.  What is a rosary?  A google search quickly answered that question.  The rosary is a prayer, combining repetitive vocal prayers and meditating on the life of Christ.  It's also the Divine Office for the poor and uneducated; the 150 recitations of the "Hail Mary" correspond to the 150 psalms.

I was intrigued.  I wanted one.  But how to get one?  I could have easily ordered one online, but that would have necessitated the use of my credit card, and my parents at least had the ability to look at my bill (I doubt they ever really did; they're just not like that), and because I was still uncertain where all this was going, I didn't want to be answering any questions about what I bought from some Catholic company online.  I didn't know that there was a Catholic bookstore in town, or I'd have been there in a heartbeat.  I didn't even know such things existed.

My solution?  I found instructions to make a knotted rosary online (at Rosary Army).  I found the twine at Walmart and a crucifix at Hobby Lobby.  My first attempt was pretty sad looking.  My second attempt was much improved -- the knots were much closer together and uniformly spaced.  I carried it in my pocket all the time for the next several months, so it spent a lot of time as a tangled mess.  I even prayed it a few times, but not often, because I couldn't remember all the prayers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent

Bend thine ear, O Lord, we beseech thee, to our prayers; and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of thy visitation.
          Collect from the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Men have dwelt in the darkness of sin since Adam fell, but the day is coming, and is now at hand, when God Himself will come and bring a new light into the hearts and minds of men.  The Light of the World is near and is growing day by day; let us clear away the clutter in our minds and our hearts, so that His brightness may shine into every corner when He comes.

Conversion Story Part 6: Summer School

In the spring of my second year of college I changed my major, which necessitated a summer semester, which I did immediately.  I found summer school to be different from the regular school year.  There were fewer demands on my time, and I found myself with a fair amount of leisure time.  I was also taking a speech class that semester, which involved very open-ended assignments, like "Give a seven minute speech on any topic."  I hate open-ended assignments; I spend more time deciding on a topic than doing the assignment itself.  I found myself sitting in my dorm room at the beginning of the semester trying to think of a speech topic.  My eyes settled on my roommate's shelf of books, which included St. Thomas Aquinas on Ethics, and I remembered my professor saying that the writing of St. Thomas is a good summary of Catholic belief.

I checked about eight books out of the library on St. Thomas, and spent several days just reading.  When I was almost out of time, I finally settled down and wrote the speech.  I found nothing in the books I read on St. Thomas that I would have any difficulty believing.  I began to wonder, "What is it that I am supposed to believe that's so different from this?"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Conversion Story Part 5: History Lesson

After I went off to college (almost a thousand miles away from my parents) I joined a local church choir.  This made sense, because I was studying music.  This went along swimmingly for a while, and then the choir director quit/was fired/I'm not exactly clear what happened but it seemed a little wonky.  I became friendly with the next choir director, who was a graduate student at the same university I was attending, but I didn't really like the way he ran things; he never practiced music more than a week in advance.  I felt that this was limiting what the choir could sing.  His response was that he picked the music after his weekly meeting with the pastor, at which she told him what the sermon would be about, and added that the sermon was the most important thing that happened at church on Sunday.  I vehemently disagreed with that, but didn't have a ready response as to what I thought was most important.  That got me thinking, "What is the most important thing?"

This second choir director didn't last long, and was fired for reasons even wonkier than the first, and I ended up thoroughly disgusted with the whole situation.  I started traveling a somewhat longer distance to a church where one of my professors was the music director.  He taught a Sunday School class on the history of the Church, going all the way back to the early Fathers.  Despite being a Calvinist, he painted a pretty clear picture.  It all made sense to me until we got to Luther, who seemed to me to be on the wrong side of his argument.  Probably the most important thing I took away from that class was a single statement:  "The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas are a good summary of what the Catholic Church still believes."

Sometime during this time I started wondering what exactly it means to be Catholic.  I discovered the Catholic encyclopedia at, and attempted to gain a picture of Catholicism by reading a whole lot of articles there.  Needless to say, it was a doomed attempt, and I got nowhere.

Friday, December 10, 2010

7Quick Takes (vol. 7)

I've been writing a series of posts about the story of my conversion to Catholicism.  They are written in bite size chunks, partly because that was the way it happened -- a little at a time --and partly because I have a short attention span.  If you are interested, you can read the beginning of the story here.

Because I'm in conversion mode, here are 7 reasons the Catholic Church is attractive:

1.  The Catholic Church is the only church which upholds the Gospel teaching on divorce and remarraige.  How can anyone claim to teach the Gospel faith who does not uphold something Christ made so abundantly clear?

2.  The Communion of the Saints.  Who wouldn't want all the holy men and women who have gone before us and who now stand before the throne of God to pray for them?

3.  The Catholic Church is not afraid of having things involved in prayer (pictures, rosaries, statues, chaplets, crucifixes) which is a great help to someone with a wandering mind (and a wiggling infant).

4.  In a similar vein:  Catholic churches are decorated with many things to look at, all of which are designed to draw the mind and heart to God.  I cannot imagine trying to entertain an infant in a whitewashed box.  My baby loves the statues.

5.  History makes it pretty clear that the Catholic Church is the only one which dates from the time of Christ.  All other Christian denominations point to a founder.  The Catholic Church points only to Christ and his Apostles.

6.  Confession.  We're all sinners.  Having a representative of Christ with the authority to forgive sins with the certainty of a Sacrament is pretty awesome.

7.  Diversity.  There is a place for everyone within the Catholic Church.  There are devotions, saints, and manuals of prayer to suit every type of personality and every level of education.  

7 Quick Takes hosted at Conversion Diary

Conversion Story Part 4: High school

In high school, all of my religious questions were shelved.  I was uncertain of my faith, uncertain of God, and enamored of science.  I had friends who were Catholic and I remember them talking about Confirmation classes, and Lent and fasting before Holy Communion.  I became peripherally aware of various Catholic practices.

Sometime around my high school graduation my mother introduced me to two different series of novels by Fr. Andrew Greeley.  Let me be very clear:  I do not recommend these.  Fr. Greeley has an agenda.  He's right about a great many things, and wrong about a few, and his novels have the potential to give scandal.  I saw this agenda and said, "Hello agenda.  I do not agree with you, agenda.  Goodbye, agenda," and went on my merry way.  So why do I mention these novels which I do not recommend?  They were, for me, a first glimpse into the Catholic world.  These novels were the first edges of the beginning of an answer to the question, "What does it mean to be Catholic?"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Small Successes (Vol. 3)

1.  I am within about a half-hour's work of finishing all the Christmas ornaments I am making for Christmas gifts this year.  I should be able to finish them today.

2.  Baby and I made it through Mass yesterday without deciding that the back of a more than usually crowded church was a the perfect place for blowing raspberries.  When she gets started on the raspberries, there's very little I can do to stop it.  For someone who skipped her morning nap and then stayed awake all the way through Mass, she was astonishingly good and didn't fuss at all.

3.  Umm...  Well, my kitchen is a mess and the laundry is overflowing... but I made cookies!

Now to go take care of that kitchen and laundry.


Conversion Story Part 3: Unity

The denomination of which I was a part has a particular love for the ideal of a unified Church.  I thought it ironic that someone thought it a good idea to found a new Christian denomination in order to contribute to the unity of the Church.  And then I kept thinking.  If the Church is already splintered into thousands of factions, then how could I best contribute to making those many factions closer to one.  Would it make sense to create a new faction, hoping that everyone else would join me?  But I can only control my own actions, and furthermore the creation of a new faction increases the disunity of the Church.  That would be the wrong direction.  However, if I were to join the largest denomination, then my joining would make that fraction of the Church larger, and therefore closer to one.  The largest Christian denomination is the Catholic Church.

I don't know when I began thinking along these lines.  I believe it was in my early teenage years, but it might have been earlier than that.  I had, as yet, no idea what the Catholic Church actually believes and teaches.  I did know that until the "reformation" all of Europe was Catholic, and that the Catholic Church was still the largest of the Christian Churches.  I also had no notion yet of the Catholic Church being the true Church, although realizing that it was the oldest, I was 90% of the way there.  This was the first time I was explicitly attracted to the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Conversion Story Part 2: Communion

Communion was also an issue to me as a child.  It was the custom of the church I attended that unbaptized children did not generally receive communion, except on Christmas.  It was clear to me that there was an issue of worthiness; the unbaptized had not been made worthy to partake of something so holy (the exception on Christmas makes no sense, but it actually served to heighten my perception).

The church I attended also always used the Gospel narrative of the last supper at the communion service, so I heard, often, the words of Jesus, "This is my Body.  This is my Blood."  While my family, and the church we attended, did not teach the doctrine Real Presence, I believed.  When God said, "Let there be light," there was light.  When God said, "Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed after its kind upon the earth," it was so.  Why, when God says of bread, "This is my Body," should that not be so at His word also?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Please Pray

For little Rose.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us.

Conversion Story Part 1: Confession

There are a great many episodes to the story of my conversion, so I will post the story here in small chunks.  That's the way it happed, so that's the way I'll tell the story.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was to be baptized at the age of twelve.  She had been told and understood that baptism washes away all the sins of one's whole life.  She did not understand, and never asked, why baptism should take place now, before the treacherous teenage years, before all the temptations of adulthood.  Why have all my sins washed away now, if it can only be done once, rather than wait until I am old and about to die?  But it was the custom of her church to baptize at the age of twelve, and so it was done.

That little girl was me.  I was a Protestant.  This was the first of many questions.  This was the beginning.

Monday, December 6, 2010

No Christmas Tree!

At least, not yet!
First, a disclaimer:  this is in no way a condemnation of those of you who do something different.  It is what works for us.

I have a short attention span.  If I celebrated Christmas from the day after Thanksgiving, as the retailers would have us do, I would be tired of Christmas before the day ever arrived (specifically about December 9 this year.  I have about 14 days of Christmas in me, so 12 days of Christmas are just about right). Consequently, I need Advent to be Advent, and not Christmas.   There are no Christmas decorations out in our house right now, and there will not be until December 17, when the waiting, empty stable will first make it's appearance. 

We will decorate the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  We have an artificial tree, so there is no ordeal of picking out the perfect tree, bringing it home, setting it up, and watering it.  We just get it out, fluff, and decorate. If we used a real tree, then we would probably have to modify this routine.  The tree would probably be like the manger scene:  empty and waiting.

We have Advent decorations out right now.  There is an Advent wreath by the dinner table and a Jesse tree tapestry on the wall.  We don't watch TV and avoid listening to radio stations that play non-stop Christmas music.  Is this against the culture we live in?  Yes.  Does it take a monumental effort?  Not really.  We just let Advent be Advent and save Christmas for Christmas.

St. Nicholas Daybook

Today the Church Celebrates ...
St. Nicholas.  There will be some surprise chocolate coins after dinner tonight to commemorate the three bags of gold that St. Nicholas gave (according to legend) to save the three girls.

I am thinking ...
That I should go take a shower before my baby wakes up and I lose the opportunity.

We are praying ...
Vespers each evening as we light the advent wreath.  When the baby is older, this may have to be abbreviated or adjusted to suit her attention span, but for the moment, as long as mama is holding her, she's happy.  And she likes to look at the candles.

I am wearing ...
Pajamas.  Until I go shower.

I am creating ...
Ornaments for Christmas gifts.

I am reading ...
Not much lately, except for the Bible readings to go with our new Jesse Tree.  My husband, who didn't seem so sure about it when I started work on it, is now enjoying it.

I am going ...
to take a walk later.  I'm hoping it'll make me feel better.  I think I've been neglecting to exercise for too long and it makes me achy.

Outside my window ...
It's cold!

I am listening to ...
Silence.  That baby is still sleeping.

I am grateful for ...
our Pastor, who is going to have an Extraordinary Form Mass on Wednesday, since it's a Holy Day.  I'm also grateful that my husband has a job that's flexible enough that he can go to a noon Mass.

From the kitchen ...
Not much.  And it's a mess.  Gotta go clean it up.  After that shower.

One of my favorite things ...
packages from Amazon ...  and getting my Christmas shopping done without leaving the house.

A picture thought I am sharing ...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent

Stir up, O Lord, our hearts to prepare the ways of thy only-begotten Son: that by his coming we may be enabled to serve thee with a pure minds.
           -- Collect from the Second Sunday of Advent

Advent is a time of preparation, and as this collect suggests, a time of purification.  Traditionally, Advent was a time of fasting and penance.  For our eastern rite bretheren, it still is.  Vigils (the day before an important, high-ranking feast day -- not the feast itself celebrated on the day before) were days of fasting, so that each of the major feast days of the year was preceded by a day of fasting.  While these fasts are no longer required by Canon Law, let us strive to keep the penetential character of this season.  After all, the message of John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for Christ, was "Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Also seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?" (from the Douay-Rheims version, Matt. 3:2 and 7).

We are preparing for the coming of Christ, not only as an infant king in the stable in Bethlehem, but also his coming at the end of the world, on that day of ire, When the world shall melt in fire ... As the Judge through gleaming rift Comes each soul to closely sift (Dies Irae, translation from The New Roman Missal by Father Lasance).  We are preparing for the coming of the King and Judge, and our house ought to be swept and clean.  Our souls ought to be clean.  A sacramental confession, then, would be a good preparation.

May we not be too blinded by the bright lights and colors and shining tinsel and glaring advertisements, nor too deafened by the blaring "Holiday music," to see and hear the still, quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of their King.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holy Water

We have a holy water font next to our front door.  I have had a holy water font since shortly after my conversion.  While I was still living in the dorm in college, I had a plastic font attached to one side of my desk with command strips (little adhesive strips that come off without damaging surfaces or leaving a sticky residue).  In other places it was hung near the door of my bedroom.

Holy water is a reminder of baptism.  In the old liturgical books, holy water was used in blessings of objects and many blessings of people.  I see mentioned in many places (I have not been able to find an authoritative source -- if anyone knows where to look, please leave me a comment) that holy water has the power to remit venial sins.

Whenever we leave the house we make the sign of the Cross with holy water.  Do you have a holy water font in your home?  I highly reccommend the practice.

Friday, December 3, 2010

7 Quick Takes

7 Quick Favorite Recipes

1.  Lentil Soup
   1 onion, chopped
   1 cup lentils
   1/2 lb. sausage
   1 can Italian tomatoes
   3 cups water
   1 cube (or equivalent) beef bouillon
Use a large deep skillet.  If your sausage is raw, brown that first.  Saute the onion in a small amount of oil. Add water, lentils, sausage, tomatoes and bouillon.  Simmer about 40 minutes.

2.  Best Chocolate Cake Ever
   2 cups flour
   1 3/4 cups sugar
   1/2 cup cocoa
   1 tbs. baking soda
   2/3 cup oil
   1 cup buttermilk
   1 cup strong coffee
Mix dry ingredients.  Add oil and buttermilk.  Stir in hot coffee.  Mixture will be soupy.  Bake in a 9 by 13 pan at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes.

   1/2 cup butter
   2 tbs. cocoa
   1/4 cup milk
   3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
   1 tsp. vanilla
In a saucepan, combine butter, milk, and cocoa.  Heat to boiling, stirring.  Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla, stirring until frosting is smooth.  Pour warm frosting over cake as soon as it comes out of the oven.
3.  Curried Orange Chicken
   2 chicken breasts
   1 tbs. curry powder
   1/2 cup orange juice
   2 tbs. honey
   1 tbs. mustard
Combine last four ingredients, pour over chicken in a crock pot.  Cook on low 4-6 hours or on high 2-3 hours.  I serve this with hot rice and pour the liquid over the rice. 

4.  Spinach Frittata
   1 cup frozen spinach
   1 small onion
   7 eggs, beaten
   salt and pepper to taste
   1/2 tsp. minced garlic
Saute spinach, garlic and onion in an oven-safe skillet in a small amount of oil. Preheat oven to 350.  Let most of the excess moisture in the spinach boil away.   Add eggs, salt and pepper.  Scramble eggs until about half the eggs are cooked.  Smooth mixture in pan, and put into the oven.  Bake about 5 minutes, until eggs are set (time will depend on how much moisture was left in the spinach and how done your eggs were before you put them in the oven).  While the eggs are baking, slice some cheese to put on top (you could also grate it, but I find grating overrated).  When eggs are set, arrange cheese on top of the frittata.  Return to oven long enough to melt the cheese.

5.  Mexican Rice and Beans
   1 cup white rice
   2 cups water
   2 cups beans
   1 small can tomatoes and green chilies
   1 can crushed tomatoes
   1 tsp. minced garlic
   2 tsp. oregano
   2 tsp. cumin
   1 onion, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a large skillet.  Simmer, uncovered, until rice is done, about 20 minutes.

6.  Oatmeal Bread
   1 1/4 cups water
   1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
   1 1/2 cups bread flour
   1/2 cup oatmeal
   2 tbs. dry milk
   3 tbs. brown sugar
   2 tbs. oil
   1 tbs. wheat gluten
   1 1/4 tsp. salt
   2 tsp. bread machine yeast
Combine all ingredients in a bread machine on the regular cycle.  I make this bread twice a week, and almost never buy bread.

7.  Grits and Sausage Gravy
   1/2 lb. bulk pork sausage
   1 small onion, chopped
   2 tbs. flour
   1 tsp. thyme
   1 cup milk
   1 can diced tomatoes
   grits prepared according to package directions
In a large skillet, brown the sausage, add onion and saute until translucent.  Add flour and thyme, and cook until brown.  Add milk and cook stirring until gravy begins to thicken.  Add tomatoes and cook until thickened.  Serve gravy over grits (or anything else you like gravy on).

More Quick Takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Small Successes (vol. 2)

1.  I managed to finish my Jesse tree and ornaments in time for the First Sunday of Advent.  It was a little close (I was still working on ornaments on Saturday), but I made it.

2.  I have made real progress today on the ornaments I am making for Christmas gifts this year.  If I keep it up, I might actually manage to get everything finished before Christmas.  Next year I'm starting earlier.

3.  I taught my sister-in-law to crochet yesterday.  We had a lovely morning.