February 18th, 2015 by Karen
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is probably one of my most favorite of the Catholic Holy Days because every year, we get to hear Matthew 6. Something about this particular chapter has always rung with supreme truth for me. It’s a road map for every day living.
Don’t act holier than thou just to attract attention in public.
Give charitably, but do it in secret. No one else needs to know what you do for others.
Pray in the quiet of your heart, privately as a close conversation with a loved one.
Prayer is not for babbling on and on in order to try to sound important or holy.
Forgiveness is a two way street.
Fasting should be done in secret and without complaint.
Worry less about material goods and more about those intangible gifts of the spirit.
You cannot follow both God and money.
Worrying will not prolong your life or bring you material goods.
Concern yourself only with today’s worries, tomorrow will come in its own time.
I’ve always been kind of a wallflower, and maybe that’s why I latched onto this Bible chapter as a child. This is the first time I heard “it’s ok to not be the center of attention”. As a shy kid with a speech impediment, I would much rather quietly observe and participate in activities and that carries through to this day. I still struggle with being noticed…whether it’s speaking in public or receiving a compliment, I often find it very uncomfortable. Also I admit, I worry too much about a vast variety of things and probably too little about some things that should be more cause for concern, but my propensity for worry is something that I recognize as a challenge to undertake. I’m a work in progress.
Now that I’m an adult though, the biggest meaningful part of this excerpt for me concerns charity. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4 My discomfort at being noticed likely dovetails into this a bit, but I truly do prefer to give something to someone quietly, quickly and without recompense. I’ve always found that small things mean so much more than something impersonal. Could I write a check and make a donation somewhere? Sure. However, a loaf of homemade bread will feed someone physically and spiritually today. A couple of bags of hand-me-down clothes will take care of my friends’ child and ease her worry over where she’ll find the budget to buy new things for her growing child. A hand made hat or scarf will keep someone warm, not just today, but next year and the year after that. A cup of coffee bought for the person next in line at the drive-through will brighten their day and hopefully they in turn will pass that joy on to another person in their life. These are things given with thought and with love, privately and without need for fanfare.
Does this mean that charity should never be public? No, of course not. When a community rallies to a cause that is crucial to the well being of the community at large, that camaraderie is important in that it supports all involved. There is nothing wrong with participation…it’s when we twist it to glorify ourselves individually and our individual contributions that we go astray. Charity should be undertaken simply because it is the right thing to do.
Last year, I was blessed to have been able to attend the Bar Mitzvah for the son of a wonderful friend of mine. As someone who had never had the opportunity before, I found the Temple services stunning. Catholic Mass follows so closely to its predecessor (remember, Jesus and the disciples were all Jewish!) that I was nearly brought to tears several times. It was a beautiful experience. During one of the services, the Rabbi brought up the Jewish tradition of tzedakah, the concept that righteousness and fairness is an actual obligation. We are obligated as followers of God to aid those in need, despite our own financial standing, and to do it without being asked. This is why in Luke 21, Christ points out the donation of the Jewish widow at the Temple: “When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
No one asked the widow to donate to the Temple. No one was standing there enforcing a 10% tithe of her income. No one was standing there keeping track of who gave money to the treasury or withholding services if they did not give. Despite her poverty, the widow was still called to donate what she could to help others in the community who were less fortunate. She simply did what she felt was necessary. This is the true meaning of charity; giving what you are called to give in support of those who are in need.
One other aspect of tzedakah that the Rabbi mentioned was that it is also an obligation of the giver to ensure that funds entrusted to an organization for the good of the community are properly managed and spent effectively and wisely. How often do we just give blindly because “eh, it’s for charity” or “it’s a good tax write off”. This sort of blasé indifference is something we all fall into from time to time. It can be a difficult question to ask, but finding out just where your donations are going can be a real surprise. You may find that while you thought a donation was going to feed the poor, it in fact was used to buy a sign. Or that you believed you were helping cancer patients, but in fact you essentially lined the pocket of some CEO. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give at all, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s an admonishment to give fully but that you should do your homework first so what you give is used properly. Being informed makes us all better stewards of the resources available in our communities and ensures that help is given to those who need it most.
On Ash Wednesday, it’s traditional to “give up something for Lent”. I’ve always thought that was rather odd…as kids we were encouraged to give up sweets, or soda, or television, but I never found that spiritually satisfying. How does my giving up chocolate glorify God? (Side note, giving up cake when your birthday always falls during Lent is a real drag. Only made that mistake once.) For the past several years, rather than giving something up and refraining from something, I’ve made the conscious choice to give something UP…to try to do something every day that glorifies God.
I’m not going to tell you what it is; that defeats the purpose. I would however encourage those who are reflecting on this season to find a fulfilling way to mark this period of penitence with something with spiritual meaning.
February 5th, 2015 by Karen
Warning: Rant ahead. You’ve been warned.
I am angry.
No. I am downright furious.
What makes you think that you have any right to demand of me a written permission slip stating that I am an active member of my faith?
Do you come to my house and see that we say grace before our meals?
Or that every day of Advent we read a Bible verse as a family pertaining to the names of Jesus and then discussed what each verse meant and how we can better live our lives as Jesus taught and then decorated our Christmas tree with those names?
Do you know the worry that plagues me every time my children altar serve for you that they won’t make a mistake and you won’t look at them with that horrid thin-lipped cross look you give?
Do you know that my eldest child attended the ‘training’ you gave and immediately afterword informed me that they would no longer altar serve because they felt they wouldn’t be serving the altar anymore but you personally?
Do you even realize that your disapproval has a profound effect on children and can make them fall AWAY from their faith?
Do you know how much it pains me that for the last year and a half I have been physically unable to fully kneel during Mass?
Do you understand what it’s like to live with crippling depression and that sometimes just getting out of bed is a blessing and benediction in and of itself?
Do you know that one of my most prized possessions is an inherited communion set that was brought from Europe when they immigrated and squirreled away by relatives through the years “just in case”?
Do you understand what sort of devotion this taught me from people who once were terrified of openly professing their faith?
Do you have any idea what our school was like just 2 years ago when I had a child that was falling apart at the seams because of a teacher that the administration REFUSED to deal with?
Can you even see the good that our school does now and just how damn hard the parents work to keep it going?
Do you see the amazing things that the current principal has done and how hard she works or are you only capable of criticizing her work?
Do you realize that I finished my 40 “required” volunteer hours in the first 3 weeks of the school year?
Do you have any remote inkling of the kind of financial sacrifice we have made for the last 12 years so our children could have a Catholic education?
I am a baptized Catholic.
I was an altar server for many years and one of the first girls to altar serve at the Cathedral.
I am a confirmed Catholic.
I am a married Catholic.
My children are baptized Catholic.
The eldest is confirmed Catholic.
By the grace of God, I will die Catholic.
At 17, in a town meeting of approximately 100 people at our parish, most of whom I knew as they were Knights of Columbus, I respectfully objected to moving our thriving youth ministry from a useful and large location in the parish hall to a tiny 10×15 room that we would be unable to meet in. I detailed the reasons I thought it should be kept where it was and, if it couldn’t, why the new location was unsuitable. I was told TO MY FACE by our parish priest that because I was a girl and a teenager, my opinion didn’t matter one bit (his exact words) and to sit down. When I took offense, I was SHOUTED AT to get out. Only one adult in the entire meeting came to my defense and I will never forget the look of shame on the faces of the other adults in the room as he chastised them. I was still humiliated.
That was not the last time a priest told me I was worthless because of my sex or my age.
I’m sure it will happen again.
However, I’ve made damn sure that my children know the opposite is true. I am the one in power here. I am the one teaching the next generation of Catholics. I am the one who taught them their prayers at bedtime, the one that listened to them countlessly stumble over the words as they learned the creed, the one that sang “This little light of mine” a billion times in the car until my ears bled. I’m the one that answers the hard questions about death, abortion, and rape. I’m the one who nudges their busy bodies to a modicum of respectfulness in Mass and takes the time to explain why we do the things that we do and the meaning behind each and every little thing in the sanctuary. They see me try to offer up my own faith, such as it is, in the best way that I can.
On the other hand, you speak at them, not to them. You refuse to answer their questions. You demand respect rather than earning it. You talk incessantly of vocation, yet show little of it and never discuss that parenthood is also a vocation.
You want to know why there aren’t enough boys becoming priests? It’s because you belittle their mothers.
News flash. Faith is not a once a week obligation. It is not money in an envelope. It’s not so a bunch of people can come listen to you jabber away about how much the parish needs to donate or how we should come to Mass every week. (Pro tip: That’s called preaching to the choir…the choir is already at Mass. You don’t need to tell them to come.)
You want donations to increase through punishment and punitive measures, but that’s not how donations work. Even the concept of ‘tithing’ 10% is outdated and is an Old Testament obligation under the Laws of Moses. It doesn’t free modern Catholics from the obligation to help the church, but there is no set dollar amount here.
As Paul states in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15:
For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality. As it is written: “Whoever had much did not have more,and whoever had little did not have less.”
I have nothing left monetary to give you that I haven’t already given to the school. I have also given my time and my talents above and beyond what I have been requested to do. This well is dry and you will have to make do with the blood, sweat and tears I have already given to you.
I’ll fill out your damnable and offensive permission slip because I’m like the woman with ten silver coins who has lost one. I’m going to search and find every last cent I can to care for my family.
I still think you’re a small minded bigoted bureaucrat paper pusher with a Napoleonic ego.
Oh, and since we’re picking nits here, you did promise to be a presence on campus this year.
According to the jr. high student, you’ve been to their classroom once and that was last week. According to the elementary student, you’ve never even been to their classroom.
Might want to take that log out of your eye first there, sport.
Posted in Family | Comments Off on Flipping Tables
February 5th, 2015 by Karen
So I’ve started on a new business venture with a friend.
I’ve done this three times already and each time, not only was I personally disappointed, but it affected our family financially and broke my trust.
I’ve been understandably nervous about it, but this time, the pieces just seemed to fall into place. My strengths are their weakness and my weakness is their strength and of course neither of us can do any of what Joel does. It’s a good complimentary set of skills and I think it really helped that we eased into things over the past couple of months. It really set a lot of my fears to rest.
The entire new team attended a conference in January together and we received fantastic feedback and congratulations from friends and colleagues and I think that was the final shot in the arm. I’m super stoked about this upcoming year professionally and I’m actually excited about work every morning again.
Great way to start off the year!