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Being Catholic

Affirmation:  I love being a Catholic
During this month, October 2014, the Catholic Church has been front-page news.  It’s not unusual for the Church to be in the headlines.  It seems to me it’s an easy target for criticism, especially in this day and time.  This time the initial news being reported was more positive.  Pope Francis called a synod, a group of bishops from around the world, and the discussion that came from that meeting was highly publicized.  It’s unclear if everything that was written about the meeting was true but that’s nothing new for the media.  The initial bent of the stories would lead most people to believe that the Catholic Church has decided to become more liberal. 
At St. Benedict’s Church in Linville, NC Father Christopher Gober’s homily revolved around the procedures that are required before the Church, or what I would prefer to refer to as the hierarchy, makes any changes in Church doctrine.  “It will take years.”  Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.  The two thousand year old church has never been quick to make any changes.  It took them several hundred years to forgive Galileo who they excommunicated because he claimed the earth revolved around the sun.  With a history like that those of us, which includes me, who are ever hopeful that our church will become more open and accepting are not holding our breath.  But, there are some signs that our Church, the people who make up the foundation of our parishes may see a greater shift towards compassion and inclusion that hasn’t appeared to be the main focus until lately.
Before the synod ever began I was listening to a Tapestry podcast with Mary Hines called, Liars, Cheats and Sinners and the writer she was interviewing, described as a Roman Catholic thinker, Mary Gordon, said she didn’t expect anything would be discussed that would make a difference for the laity.  She, however, I am pleased to say, was wrong.  Even if the doctrines are the same and it takes years, if ever, to make changes, Pope Francis seems to bring a whole different flavor to the meaning of our faith.  When the leader of an institution calls for compassion and inclusion, when a leader in an institution is humble and deferential and when a leader of an institution leads by example and not simply with words, the institution will reflect those qualities and that, it seems to me is Pope Francis.
I may be grasping at straws here, hoping that he will bring our church to a place where many times people feel as if they simply can’t ever get it right, where many people just find it too difficult to be part of such a restrictive environment.  I know in many ways the Catholic Church is a liberal institution if you compare it to many other fundamental faiths of the world but in my opinion some of the stands it takes on issues which affect so many of it’s faithful are just wrong.  My hope is Pope Francis will lead these men to a place of compassion and openness so that the fastest growing religion in the United States today is not “former Catholics.”
Our Church has so much to offer and because of all the bad publicity some of which is very justified, we aren’t recognized for all our Church has done and continues to do to make this world a better place.  For example, the Catholic Church feeds, educates and tends to the health of tens of thousands of people a day.  The people they serve aren’t asked about their belief system or about their religion, they are simply helped.  Why isn’t that ever written about in the news? 
I once had someone tell me she was an Protestant because unlike Catholics she didn’t have to leave her brain at the church door.  I can’t even imagine why someone would think it was all right to say that to anyone but trust me that’s not true. I have carefully considered whether or not I want to continue to be a Catholic.  I’ve headed out many times; I’ve studied many faiths; I’ve read many different theologies.  I finally had to recognize that I was always called back to Catholicism. That’s my home.  Maybe, just by being who I am I can make a difference in the way the church responds to some of these controversial issuers.  Certainly, I have a better chance than if I walked away, if I simply quit. 
I had one very powerful experience of asking God in prayer what path I should follow.  I didn’t’ know how the answer would come but I believe in answered prayer and I did expect an answer.  The answer came in a dream.  Jesus floated down, He wasn’t very clear but I was pretty sure a white floating being was divine and He said, “Jean, I am the answer for you.”  I believed it then and I still believe it now.  I have a dear friend who has told me for years, “I don’t let the Church interfere with my relationship with God.”  That’s not good enough for me.  My Church needs practices and rituals that enhance and strengthen my relationship with God and with that, my relationships with my family, friends and even my enemies and it does provide those practices.  Unfortunately, the emphasis on Jesus’ message of love and compassion gets clouded and our beautiful faith gets tied up in the rules and regulations.  
I love the Catholic Church.  I love being a Catholic.  Yes, I know it has zits and dysfunction.  What family doesn’t?  I have chosen to stay in this family, this place where the people I interact with are more often than not, kind, generous, compassionate and loving. I’m still a Catholic because of my belief in the sanctity of the Eucharist and the rituals of the Mass and our seven sacraments and because it has led me to this relationship with Christ that sustains me in all things.

The last headline I saw about the synod before I wrote this said, “Pope Francis: ‘God is not afraid of new things.'”  Yes, I believe we are presently in the hands and heart of a loving, compassionate person who will bring our church to a place of more acceptance and kindness; who will help our parishes become places of refuge and hope; who will guide the hierarchy towards being less rule oriented and more people oriented.  I’m not too hopeful about changes with the perception of women’s roles but that’s a whole other blog.  I do believe, however, that our Pope Francis hasn’t left his brain or his heart at the door and I don’t believe he expects us to live our faith and our lives without deep thought and commitment. 

Affirmation:  I fully recognize and appreciate the gift of living in a free country and having the right to make my choices known.

“Our passions are the winds that propel our vessel. Our reason is the pilot that steers her. Without winds the vessel would not move and without a pilot she would be lost.“  Proverbs

Have you ever watched a political convention?   Politics is not my favorite subject, to say the least.  I am a moderate, a middle of the road citizen.  I can usually see both sides of an issue and that can leave me very confused about for whom I should vote.  I don’t have a very successful record either.  If a friend or family members favors someone for office they would be wise to encourage me to vote for the opponent.  I can’t ever remember voting for the winner in a major election.  But, I always vote.  I may not always be as well informed as I’d like to be, but I always go and cast my vote.  I try, I really do try to gather as much information as possible.  I read about the different people, sometimes I go to meet them but I’ve never been so impressed or enamored by a candidate that I was sure I was making the best decision.  The best decision for whom; for me, for my country, for the world?

When I vote I feel like that in itself is the best decision, the decision to exercise my right to vote.  When I read about and listen to the sacrifices our ancestors have made and the oppression that exists in so many countries today, I fully recognize the gift I have been given with the opportunity to choose those I want to represent me, my city, state and country.

I pray daily for wisdom for our world leaders.  There seems to be so many politicians whose only concern is their power and their prestige.  Perhaps, that’s why I’m not very passionate about politics.  I don’t have much faith in the people who chose to be politicians.  I can’t imagine what drives so many of them to put themselves so far out into the public’s eye.  I wonder, so often, if it’s not simply a grand ego trip.  I want to believe that a person who is running for office is more concerned about me, his or her constituent, than he or she is about themselves. 

When I watch the conventions, the men and women who present themselves with passion about their concerns and about their desires to uplift and empower us, their represented, I am almost relieved, relieved that someone comes across with what I think is a genuine spirit.  But, it’s the people, the audience with whom I am so fascinated.  I am sure there is a selection process for those attendees.  I’m sure some have been going for years; maybe it’s a family tradition.  I know in many ways it’s a fun experience.  I’ve been to several business conventions.  The energy generated by a group of people with a common goal is always palpable. 

In 2010 my husband, Sandy, was a keynote speaker for Toastmasters International in Las Vegas.  It’s an amazing organization and we were very excited to be there.  There were over 2000 people there from all over the world.  We met people from Africa, Asia, Australia and places that began with many other letters besides “A.”  It was 3 days of high energy, lots of stories and shared visions.  I would imagine being at a political convention would be similar.

Passion is the world that comes to mind when I watch the people in attendance.  Passion!  They must truly love and care about the process we have here in the United States to decide our own destiny and they must believe completely in that process.  They have devoted time, energy and talent to participate in the process.  I find it inspiring.  I believe we all need passion in our lives.

Passion is that quality of life that keeps our hearts beating and our spirits soaring.  I believe being passionate about our country, even with its zits, is a worthy pursuit, a just passion.  I am proud to be an American.  I am grateful to live in a land of peace and freedom.  I believe the United States is a place where dreams can come true.  I am grateful to be a woman living here in the United States rather than in some oppressive regime.  I believe in our compassion as a people and a nation.  I value the sacrifices so many Americans have made and continue to make to help others both here and throughout the world.

Vote?  For whom will I vote?  That’s not as important as if I will vote.  That choice, no that obligation, is one thing about which I am passionate.  There once was an article in USA Today stating that thousands of Americans don’t vote. They simply don’t care or they don’t believe it can make a difference.  Men and women have died, are dying, punished and even imprisoned because they want, they demand, the right to have a voice in their destiny.  Yes, I will not let this gift, this opportunity go unused, unappreciated, The United States of America is the greatest country in the world.  And, I for one, will exercise my privilege and hope and pray that I am casting a vote for someone with passion who will work and lead my country and perhaps our world towards the highest and best we can possibly be.  I hope you will join me.

Claiming Courage

Affirmations:  I am
courageous.


“I learned that courage is not the absence of fear,
but the triumph over it.  The brave man
is not the one who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Nelson Mandela
It seems lately the topic of conversation has often turned to the
concept of courage.  Partly because my
Women of Faith study group is reading The Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To
by Anthony DeStephano. One of the prayers is, “God grant me
courage.”  I loved the chapter of
this topic.  I thought his presentation
was clear and comprehensive and for me, just what I needed to “hear”
at this time.
I know I have at least two positive affirmations that have
bolstered my confidence over the years. 
They are, I am a bold adventuress and I am audacious.  I say, “yes I can.”  They have worked quite well for
me.  Many times I’ve jumped into
situations, well OK maybe I simply walked into them, which I was not sure
about.  I’d usually come out the other
side excited about what had taken place and exhilarated that I’d overcome my
fear and anxiety.  It was always a very
empowering experience. 
While those affirmations have been good, most of my days are
fairly uneventful or at least not adventurous and yet I can carry with me a
sense of concern; concern about my finances, my health or that of my loved
ones, my relationships and especially about the future. 
Part of Anthony’s premise was that we need to practice being
courageous.  We need to pick up the
quality, the gift every day.  At first we
should start with small things and as our strength grows and our courage muscle
becomes stronger, we will be able to be courageous at more challenging
times.  They are a coming!  Or, perhaps they are already here.  The words were for me, filling a need.  His advice was exactly what I seemed to need
at this particular time in my life.
I believe I am still grieving the death of my mother and her
blessed but very difficult last several years of her life.  I know I will heal but for now the memory
lingers and weighs on me and leaves me wondering about my future, my old age
and my death. 
Think about the brave people you know?  Think about the brave people you have read
about?  The first group that always comes
to my mind are our service people.  I
know for some they discovered courage in situations they never imagined they
could endure.  Our veterans are some of
our most remarkable heroes.  Then, our
fire fighters come to mind.  My dad,
Frank Grolimund, was a captain with the New York City volunteer fire
fighters.  I vividly remember being with
him as he ran into a burning building to help with whatever was necessary.  I believe he was very brave, if not a little
crazy.  I think too of all the fire
fighters who ran towards the dangers of the World Trade Center on 911. The
memory still brings tears to my eyes. Then, there are all those people fighting
cancer or some other life threatening illness. 
I am here to tell you it takes an enormous amount of courage to continue
that fight and sometimes even more, to allow yourself or a loved one, to let
go.
The greatest example of courage for me, however, is that of Jesus
Christ.  When I mediate on his time in
the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) I cannot imagine the courage it
must have taken for him to give himself completely over to His Father and get
up and walk out to what he knew, he knew in every excruciating detail what he
was to experience!  He must have asked
His Father for courage that evening and it was obviously granted. 
Now, I have learned that God will also grant me courage if I only
ask.  It will be one more answered prayer
and I don’t have to wait, I can claim it now. 
I can claim it daily in all things, small and with practice, large.  “God grant me courage.”  I am asking and I believe in answered prayer
and with that comes a new affirmation, I am courageous.
How about you? Want to overcome fear and become brave?  Want more courage?  Join me. 
Ask!

Being a Victim

Affirmation:  I rest in the inquiry. I stand in my
power
.
The young woman named Dina (She
was one of our tour directors.) was giving the description about Austria and
she was clever and quite funny.  She came
from Vienna and because of that I felt very comfortable when she described a
“typical” Austrian.  “We
are a people who always feel like we are being victimized.  Tell me a tale about one of your problems and
I will tell you one about myself that is worse than yours.  We have a black cloud always hovering above
us.  The good news is we don’t take
ourselves too seriously, so we can laugh at our problems.”  I was fascinated.  I wondered why the Austrian people had this
impression about their lives.  Was it
nature or nurture?  Certainly they had
been through some terrible times.  The
tales we heard about the experiences of the people of Eastern Europe were
beyond sad and extremely disturbing.  I
wondered if all the people in countries that had experienced horrible
historical eras had the same general sense of being victims?  What about Russia, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary,
Poland, North Korea or Japan?  How about
Vietnam?  What about the mid-east or some
parts of Africa?  Do the people in all of
these areas of the world feel like victims. 
I don’t like to classify an entire
population into one category but certain characteristics do seem more prevalent
in some cultures than in others.  For
instance when my husband, Sandy and I traveled through Ireland, we discovered
the Irish people love to help lost travelers. 
They certainly loved helping us. 
We were always lost and they couldn’t do enough to get us back on the
right road.  We stopped to talk to one
fellow out in the county side who stopped mowing his lawn to give us directions
and just about invited us in for tea. 
I’m sure if I named a nationality, you would come up with an adjective
or two that you believe described them. 
How about the Italians, the Japanese, the Germans, or the Latinos?  Did a couple of words pop up for you?
There have been times in my life
when I could have felt like a victim.  I
remember people asking me if I wondered why I had developed breast cancer.  Did I rail at God, “Why me,
Lord?”  No, I did not.  It never occurred to me to even ask that
question. Dr. Mark Graham told me it wasn’t anything I did or did not do; it was a “random act of violence.”  That might have made me feel even more

vulnerable, but
for some reason it may have brought me a sense of peace. The thought came to me
after listening to our guide that I probably don’t have any Austrian blood in
me.  I couldn’t imagine living a life
where I always went around feeling victimized. 
How would that improve the quality of my life?  I think I’d be a real grump and a very
unhappy person.  It certainly wouldn’t
fit in with my concept of creating an intentional life, a life of peace and
love, joy, compassion and gratitude. However, upon more careful consideration,
I realized there have been many times in my life when I found myself feeling
powerless, small and insignificant.  At
those moments I did not step up and out. 
I did not claim my power and even in the midst of “random
acts” we still have choices.  We
still have the opportunity to decide how we perceive our situation and what we
are going to do or not do.   

I asked Dina, sometimes referred
to as “Dina Marie” and her coworker, Scott, whose home is in China, if
in their travels they had noticed this victimization attitude in other
countries where the people had experienced years of suffering and
repression.  They said they hadn’t really
thought about it.  The documentary The
Singing Revolution
takes place in Estonia. 
It was an excellent film depicting life in Estonia through the last
hundred years and it presented a people who even though they were suffering,
decided to continue their ancient tradition of a mass sing-along.  It presented a picture of hope and positive
behavior even during these more than difficult times.  
I’ve read and watched a lot of stories about
WW I and WW II and about man’s inhumanity towards man, especially about the
horrors committed against the Jewish people. 
As we traveled through Eastern Europe and listened to the guides
describe the situations which caused the deaths of so many people, thousands
upon thousands, or through which they lived, I began to understand why the
people in these countries would still feel a sense of travesty and
powerlessness. To be completely honest,

however, I know, with a capital
“K” that I have never experienced the repression and torment that so
many in the world have in the past or are presently experiencing.  I probably cannot even imagine the horrors
that are taking place.  On our last
evening of this trip, Scott, also affectionately know as “Scotty Boy”
left us all with this advice, “Now that you have traveled this part of the
world, maybe the next time you see or hear of something distressing that they
are experiencing, you will feel a deeper connection, a greater sense of
compassion.”  He mentioned that one
way to break down the barriers of prejudice and hatred is to be exposed to another’s
culture.  I am hoping that faced with such
struggle, I could muster enough strength perhaps because of my relationship
with my God, that I would not perceive my situation as hopeless.

The lesson here for me is that we
always have a choice about how we want to perceive our situation. The more I
thought about this feeling of being a victim, the more I realized it is not
unusual for people to perceive themselves as victims even if they have never
lived in a war torn country.  As far as
the people I know most have lived in the US and are part of the blessed
minority like myself who have not gone through the horrors of war and
oppression.  The people I’ve met who perceive
themselves as victims, are the people who believe that whatever happens to them
is totally beyond their control; there in nothing they can do about it.  They don’t or can’t recognize that even in
the most dire of situations we can choose to believe that we at some point can
affect change.  Our sense of purpose and
power lies within us, not beyond our control. 
Daily we are called up to look at our attitudes and to examine our
beliefs and then to rise up and to claim our power.  If we practice daily, in the smaller things
of life, perhaps if and when we are faced with the larger, more daunting events
we will be able to “rest in the inquiry and stand in our power.”