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Until very recently, worry and anxiety have not been challenges for me.  I have the kind of mind that just doesn’t hold on the those kinds of things.  Unlike my husband, who is consumed with worry pretty much all the time, making him miserable, I have always been able to put problems aside to deal with whatever is right in front of me.

Lately, I’ve suffered from anxiety of the free-floating variety.  Because it isn’t rational, it doesn’t respond to rational techniques.  I tend to treat it by whiffing essential oils or going outside to sit in the sun.  What’s worse is when it attaches itself to legitimate areas of worry that I would have been able to put out of my mind in the past.  When that happens, and chanting my usual mantra (Cast your cares on God; that anchor holds.) isn’t working, there is one Scripture passage I turn to.

You know the jokes about Catholics–we don’t read our Bibles and we can’t quote chapter and verse like our Protestant brethren.  Of course that’s not true of all Catholics, and the fact is that most of us are exposed to a lot of Scripture via the Mass readings.  According to this source, a Catholic who attends Mass on Sundays and major feasts will hear about 41% of the New Testament and 4% of the Old (that doesn’t count the Psalms), even if they never crack open a Bible at home or in a study group.

So I know lots of Scripture, even if I don’t always know exactly where to find it.  But I always remember that the passage about anxiety is in the book of Matthew, Chapter 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Even if I have trouble believing it right in the moment, I know that if Jesus said it, it must be true.  Even if I can’t see how, I know He is working all things out for my good.  Even though I can’t always manage it, I want to live as though I really, REALLY believe these words all the time.

And thanks to a new prayer practice I adopted this Lent, I am growing in this area.  More than once, after I have shared my anxieties with God in my prayer journal, insight, answers, and comfort have followed within days.  I find my thoughts turning toward journaling when I am facing a knotty problem in my life or when I am overcome with worries and anxiety.  I find myself really trusting that it is all in God’s hands.

 

This post is part of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network Blog Hop.  For more articles on faith and worry, click below.

How My Faith Helps Me Worry Less

 

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Picture of IC that looks like a painting

I’m blessed to still be a member of the very parish in which I was baptized as an infant.  Most of the past nearly 50 years of Sundays have found me sitting (standing and kneeling) in a pew at Immaculate Conception Church.  And like most Catholics, I’m usually in the same pew–or as close to the same pew as I can get.

Our church is an old one and when I was a little girl there were still some names written on the pew cards–names of folks already long gone by then.  We most often sat in the former pew of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. O’Brien.  It was about two-thirds of the way back on the left side of the main aisle.

Today I still sit on the left side of the main aisle.  When some crowded event like First Communion or Christmas forces me over to the right side, everything looks new and strange and uncomfortable.  Even the people sitting around me aren’t the people I’m used to!  But I no longer sit two-thirds of the way back.  Instead, my family and I for years now have occupied the second or third pew when available.

You know why? Coats.

When I think back to the Sundays of my childhood, I don’t remember anything much about what was going on up on the altar.  It was too far away and my view was blocked by a bunch of grownups.  All I could see was the back of their coats, which no one took off during Mass during winter because the radiators we had then didn’t do the best job of keeping the church warm.  Sometimes (with permission) I would stand on the kneeler to try to get a better view, but mostly I looked at the people in the nearby pews and waited for Mass to end.

The Masses I do remember quite well were at Saint Joseph School, and I don’t think it’s just because we went daily.  No, I think it’s because we First Graders got to sit in the very first row, where we could hear and see everything Father Henkel was doing.  I can still recall his exact intonations, and I remember clearly the way he tidied up the altar after Communion.  I could see, and so I paid attention.

Nervous about public breastfeeding and a baby who might disturb people with her cries, John and I sat closer to the back on the side aisle when we were new parents.  Early on, though, having read that kids would behave better if they could see what was going on, we made the move the the front and that’s all my kids have ever known.

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Lorelei waiting for Christmas Eve Mass in one of the front pews

This Passion Sunday, we arrived on the hilltop right at 11:30 to see crowds milling about on the sidewalk where no crowd should still have been at that time.  Then I recognized the Bishop in the crowd and realized Confirmation was being celebrated.  The candidates would be in our favorite pew, and their parents and other relatives would have come early to grab the other choice seats.

Sure enough, we ended up (on the left side, thankfully!) in one of the very last pews.

It was a strange experience.  We couldn’t hear the Bishop (who is rather soft-spoken).  Lorelei couldn’t see at all.  William, at 6’2″, fared better, but still opined, “That was dreadful!” Both he and Lorelei said later that they couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to sit back there on purpose.

As for me, I spent most of the time watching the cute little kids around me, because apparently their parents keep them near the back in order to be able to escape with them quickly should they make noise.  And likely because they cannot see anything and are bored and tired, they do make noise.

Sitting so far back, I didn’t feel like a full participant in the Mass.  I felt like a spectator.  “It was like being at a concert,” I said later.  You know the kind–where the performer on stage could almost be anyone if there were no Jumbotron to display closeups.

Funnily enough, because it doesn’t happen often, I had tickets to an actual concert the following week.  Kenny Rogers is on his farewell tour, and my sister Betsy had given tickets to my mother, Anne, and I for Christmas so we could all experience The Gambler’s Last Deal together.

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It was an incredible evening.  Not only were we treated to a behind-the-scenes chat with Kenny’s tour manager (Gene Roy, who’s been with him for 38 years), we got to go up on stage and get our pictures taken in Kenny’s chair, and then later we each exchanged a few words with Kenny before posing for commemorative photos with him.

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And perhaps best of all, we were seated right in front of the stage for the performance.  It was intimate.  It was personal.  When Kenny wanted to make eye contact with his audience, he was looking right at us.  It wasn’t like being at a concert; it was almost like having a conversation.

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We were sitting in the third row.

My sister paid extra for those up-close-and-personal seats.  But you know what?  The front pews are free on Sunday.  They are free of charge, and most likely they are free of occupants.

Maybe sitting way in the back of church is your thing.  Maybe you feel connected and can participate and pray just fine back there.  I’m not here to tell you what to do.

But if you have little kids, I will GUARANTEE you that they don’t feel like a part of things when all they can see is the backs of grownups and while they are distracted by all the other kids in the last few pews doing what kids do when they are bored.

If you want your kids to be spectators at church, longing for Mass to be over so they can get their doughnuts, then stay in the back row.  If you want them to be engaged in a relationship, come on down to the front.

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So today’s post is brought to you courtesy of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network.  It’s part of our monthly blog hop and I totally would not be writing it if it weren’t.

Because here’s where I peek out from under my somewhat ill-fitting Catholic blogger hat and admit that my true feelings about Confession are a mixture of guilt and discomfort.  I hate that but it’s the truth.

I wrote the whole story here if you want to read it.  When did I write it?  A little over four years ago, which is the last time I went to Confession.

I can’t tell you how I long for the days when we were marched regularly into the cafeteria of St. Joseph School, with no advance warning or choice in the matter, and told that we were going to confession in the dark little closet where Father Henkel waited.  I’d stand in a red plaid line, leaning against the radiator for warmth and secretly wondering about how long certain people were taking.  Before I knew it I was all finished, back on the hard wooden kneeler saying two Our Fathers and one Hail Mary, and my soul was white as snow.

Clearly this is the Lent of hard things for me with lessons to be learned, and if I am really paying attention it would seem that this is one of them.  Will I go to our parish’s upcoming Lenten penance service and find a friendly priest in the basement to hear my uncomfortable and unprofessional recitation of sins? Only time will tell.

To read more reflections on the Sacrament of Confession, click the image below.

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I’m grateful that I’m committed to contributing a post to the Catholic Women Bloggers Network bloghop today, because the truth is  our family has been needing to reevaluate “how we Lent.”  What was once a pretty intense observance has in recent years become fairly cursory and my husband and I are not happy about that.

Why did this happen?  I’m going to blame a combination of factors–our move five years ago to a house half an hour away from our parish church,  no current affiliation with a Catholic school (after 14 years), and having less and less of an inclination to leave home for church events or any other events (caused probably by burnout after years of extreme involvement).

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I often feel out of place when wearing my Catholic blogging hat because (as you will no doubt see if you–as you should!–read the rest of the posts in this hop) the majority of Catholic mom bloggers seem to be living faith-filled lives and setting great examples for their little kids and basically being all Catholic all the time better than I’ve ever been able to manage.  But maybe I am not the only one out there who feels this way and so I’m going to go public as Catholic slacker blogger to encourage all the rest of you to do better this Lent.

Now I am tempted to say, “We are so bad and sinful and we have been doing Lent all wrong! We are going to be so holy for forty days!  We will do all the Lent things there are!”  But I kind of feel like that is a recipe for disaster.  For several years I prided myself on my extremely strict Lenten fasting:  No meat at all–even fish–for forty days (except at the Friday fish fry).  No eating between meals.  No food at all on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.  Nothing but liquids until supper on every Friday.  And no Sundays off!  I stopped doing that a few years ago and I am not going to do it again.  Honestly, I think that strictness is part of what triggered my “failure” in subsequent Lents.

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So here is what we ARE going to do (insofar as we have planned at this point).  We will all make some form of Lenten sacrifice; we will follow all rules regarding fasting and abstinence; we will go to the Stations of the Cross EVERY Friday; I am going to participate in an online book club; and at least some of us are going to take part in this Lenten meditation.  We may do more, but that will be icing on the cake (presuming no one gives up cake!).

For more ideas for Lent observances, please visit the other posts in the hop by clicking the picture below.

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How do you “do Lent” in your family?  If you want, you can tell me in the comments!

 

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You might remember a little over a year ago when I reviewed–very favorably–Page Zaplendam’s Order of the Blood.  I encourage you to click over and read my first review, which also includes an interview with the author.

I enjoyed this far from typical vampire novel very much and so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of the sequel, The Egyptian Elixir.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

From the book jacket:  When John Grissom and Van Helsing find themselves witnesses to an assassination attempt on the Marquis of Wellesley, they discover London’s most notorious purveyor of stolen goods at the bottom of it.  But his ability to influence people is odd to say the least.  The vampire and the hunter investigate, but the Egyptian elixir may prove the undoing of them both.

John Grissom is a Catholic, and doctor, and a gentleman, who also happens to be a vampire.  Van Helsing (not THAT one, but rather his ancestor) is a vampire hunter.  They form an unlikely crime-fighting duo in Regency-era England.  Throw in some English aristocrats, a dimwitted giant, and a mysterious Egyptian pharmacist and you’ve got a fast-moving and engaging tale.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that what I enjoyed the most about this installment of the Unofficial Chronicles was the budding friendship between Van Helsing and Grissom.  Henrietta Isherwood, Grissom’s erstwhile assistant and potential love interest, is physically absent from this installment but obviously remains on Grissom’s mind.  She returns in the next book but her absence here allows the author to focus on the “bromance,” a good choice for this volume.

Now THIS is exciting.  To celebrate the release of the new book, you can get a free Kindle edition of Order of the Blood right here.  After you read it I promise you will want to buy the new book, which is available at a very reasonable price here.

If you want to learn more about Page’s work, and keep an eye out for her future stories (hint: there’s another book coming soon!), you can find her website here.

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Lorelei and I had the opportunity this week to join in a local march in support of refugees and immigrants.  This peaceful and patriotic event began in Market Square–Knoxville’s downtown gathering spot–with a silent vigil.  Then all of us–over 1,100 people, in the middle of a weekday!–marched to the City-County Building for a brief rally before a delegation carried letters opposing the President’s Executive Order to the lawmakers within.

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As we made the 25-minute drive from our home to downtown Knoxville, I made sure Lorelei understood what we were marching about.  We talked about the signs she had made and what they meant.  We talked about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount.  I told her that when we turn away immigrants and refugees, we are turning away Christ.

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But we didn’t just talk about religion–we had a civics lesson too.  We talked about the principles our country is founded on, and how it isn’t unpatriotic to try to hold the country to those values.  We talked about the importance of letting our representatives know our position on this and other issues, and on how people coming together can bring about change.  I told her about Yassin Terou, a Syrian refugee who found success here as a restaurateur and has made it a point to give back to his adopted community.  We talked about the message on the Statue of Liberty and about the American dream.

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This wasn’t Lorelei’s first protest–she has taken part in many a March for Life–but this is the first time she knew what she was protesting.  She’s 12 years old, with little patience for or experience with being silent, but she made me proud.  She remained quiet, paid attention, liked pointing out all the signs (she was our sign-maker), and enjoyed the chanting we did at the end of the march.

Lorelei carried this sign:

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It was inspired by the lyrics of the Marty Haugen song.  It’s slightly heretical for singing in church in my opinion, but some of the words seemed tailor-made for this occasion:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live . . .
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place . . . 
Let us build a house where hands will reach
beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

My favorite part of the gathering happened almost at the end, when we recited The New Colossus together.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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I can’t recite that under the most ordinary of circumstances without crying, and those were not ordinary circumstances.

After that, much of the crowd dispersed, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” And it is.

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That’s what a Facebook friend of mine asked the other day.  It’s no secret that there are lots of liberal Christians but in recent years they’ve been loath to use the Bible to make political points.  The reasons are many, ranging from a strong belief in the separation of Church and State all the way to simply being on the side of an issue that Scripture doesn’t support (which is why faith should transcend party for Catholics, just saying).

But in the present heady moment the “liberals” have all the Scripture on their side, and pretty explicitly too.  Conservative Christians suddenly find themselves in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar position of being targeted by the very pointed words of Christ when they try to defend the recent Executive Order.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’  Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’” ~ Matthew 25:41-45

So perhaps it’s very natural that religious folks who lean liberal politically are excited to be able to demonstrate that they read the Bible too, and that they’ve taken these parts of it to heart.  Many American religious leaders have been quick to speak out against the Executive Order, which actually violates the religious freedom of American Christians who are called to welcome the stranger and are being prevented from doing so.

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