I Love Being Catholic

“I love being Catholic the way Noah loved being on the Ark when the flood came. Like the Ark, the Catholic Church is not perfect. It’s not tidy, clean, and odor-free. It has plenty of problems and challenges and unruly passengers, but it’s still the ‘ark of salvation’ given to us by God and I love that I get to be on board. I love the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teachings, its Liturgy, art, architecture, music, and wisdom. I love the Catholic Church because it is ‘ever ancient, ever new.’ I love tracing its existence back 2000 years to Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and I get to be part of that. I love being Catholic because of its richness and diversity. It’s a big hospital for sick people – sinners like you and me. I love being Catholic because I can have the most personal relationship with Jesus Christ possible, by receiving Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.”

-Patrick Madrid

 

Related: Is There Really “No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church?”

 


Well, this is it.

I’ve been reading The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, which I understand has helped change many lives for the better since 1948 when it was published. Add to it the fact that my life is already in the process of change, and it can come as no surprise that as I’ve been reading Merton’s book I’ve given serious thought to a lot of things in my life.

I wouldn’t necessarily just recommend that people read The Seven Storey Mountain, as it probably requires a certain understanding, or at least a patient willingness to ponder Catholic subjects, which for me is quite natural these days. For some this book could be life-changing, and for others it might seem like a waste of time. So I won’t attempt to talk you into reading it. But I bring it up because it tells a story that’s similar to my own but on a much grander scale.

My family and I are being accepted into the Catholic Church this month, and as we rejoice I’m still sad that more people aren’t discovering the amazing things that we have been blessed to find. But Merton’s story, at a deeper level than many of the conversion stories I’ve read, is helping me to see that this sort of thing really is a long journey for most people, even if my own journey was rather efficient.

I’ve stepped back long enough to get a glimpse of what I can be doing better. First of all, my ability to influence people is understandably pitiful, so I can literally be doing more harm than good by explaining Catholicism when not asked. Secondly, I can see how quiet, everyday Catholics understand that regardless of the ideas of this century or any century, the Church remains, preserved and waiting for people, and God often works in the lives of individuals in ways that we don’t see. When I get to the point where prayer is “all I can do” for someone, it’s there that I’ve finally become useful.

So I don’t know how much writing I should be doing for awhile. The things I would most love to write are the things that should involve careful reflection by my future self. The things I find to write that people need to hear are taught more effectively in books already written. The things I share for fun might just add unnecessary clutter to lives that are already too busy and distracted. As the saints inspire me toward a life of righteousness and love for others, I’m noticing that it is very difficult to write on meaningful subjects without any negativity arising, which I understand is sometimes necessary, but best handled by people more knowledgeable than me. In short, as long as there are books like The Seven Storey Mountain out there for people to read, there’s no reason for me to write in a way that might aspire to be as good but simply isn’t.

The more I learn, the more I realize I haven’t learned. I’m only beginning to understand the wonderful necessity of the Sacraments, and how praying the Rosary can make more of a difference in people’s lives and in the world than any efforts of mine.

As I enter into the next chapter of my life, I’ll be trying to live a Catholic life by the grace of my Lord Jesus. And a Catholic life is not something that can be adequately recorded. It is something that is done with a certain quietness, which some of you know is not easy for me, but I see a need for it.

God leaves enough bread crumbs for us to find the Truth by our own freewill if we really wish to pursue it. I need to trust that people can do it without my constant encouragement.

I am truly thankful for the support of those who have been reading my blog for the nearly two years that I’ve had it going. We’ve had some great conversations. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope I’ve been able to inspire people toward good things. I’ve been blessed by some really good people on the blogosphere. Dale and bgpery are two people I’m especially glad to have met. And, of course I must thank all of the friends and relatives who have followed my blog over the months mostly via email. You know who you are. Thanks.

May God bless you, and hopefully I’ll be seeing you.

-Ben 12/8/14


Limited Access: Writing for Posterity

I’m having the internet turned off at my house, not for any particular reason, although the internet company does seem to think I’m fine with paying whatever rates they decide. I know it’s a brave new world and all, but it’s good to shuffle out of the chains now and then. I also think it’s a healthy thing in life to be able to step back and take a look at things, and sometimes you find that you can invest yourself better in other ways, such as in your kids. I’m the sort of person that if the internet is there, I’ll “hop on real quick” to check email, and 45 minutes later I’m still clicking around. Without the internet I tend to pay more attention to the real world.

My blog has basically become a place where I can recommend resources, or offer insufficient and seemingly random insights into my learning process, or just bring up things that serve as a diversion from the heavier subjects. Because of my respect for writing, and having the privilege of reading some really great writers from an age before computers, I’ve been re-examining what I expect to accomplish with my own writing aside from the blogging format.

The “Backspace” key has affected my life. Knowing that I can write anything, look at it, erase it, try saying it differently, and ultimately never know for sure if I said something more or less perfectly can drive me a bit batty after awhile. Plus I’ve noticed a somewhat humorous tendency in myself to “Backspace” my way through conversations. I’ll attempt to explain something, and if I get a blank look, then I’ll back up and attempt to explain myself a different way, and on and on it goes. If the person naturally has a blank look then we can be there all day.

I need to learn how to express myself in a way that lets people take it or leave it.

I’ve come to realize that if I want to cross a threshold in my writing, and develop a healthy reticence in my speech, then I need to take up pen and paper. I’ve bought myself a new notebook and a nice pen… and they are waiting for me to work up the courage to write something that I cannot delete. And no spell check too! Talk about navigating treacherous waters.

I was thinking of recording my testimony, leading up to and including my conversion to Catholicism. After that… who knows? I have much more to learn, and not much to add to the world that hasn’t already been said better by someone else. Sometimes I wish I were a poet or a painter, but alas. However, I think that maybe my kids or my future grand kids might like to read my writings someday, so I think I will write to them about the things I’ve learned, and my observations on life. There’s no rush, and if someday I’m inspired and educated enough to write to a greater audience, then maybe I will try.

Oh, I’ll still be dropping by. I have what I hope is a healthy obsession with keeping my “Recommended Reading” page up-to-date. I’ll probably still post stuff now and then, and feedback is appreciated, but if your comments are awaiting approval please don’t feel bad because I might just be at home.

Blessings to you, my friends.

-Ben 11/24/14


Beginning to Understand Mary’s Important Role

It was one of those glass-shattering moments for me when I really began to understand the significance of the wedding feast at Cana, as seen in John’s Gospel. It is the first recorded miracle performed by Jesus, when He turned water into wine, but Mary’s role in this event offers us an important lesson for our lives today.

Here’s the story:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. -John 2:1-11

Jesus referred to his mother as “woman”. This seems strange to us at first glance. We know that Jesus would not have broken the 4th commandment and disrespected His mother. His phrasing recalls the prophecy in Genesis 3:15. Satan had been in the garden of Eden in the form of something like a serpent or dragon, tempting Eve to sin. And God said to him,

…I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.” -Genesis 3:15

Jesus’ reference to Mary as “woman” is significant, as she is understood to be the new Eve… the woman who would have a role in redeeming mankind from sin, which makes sense, as the original Eve had a role in bringing mankind into sin.

But let’s return to Cana. Here is the main question that strikes me regarding Jesus’ miracle there:

Would Jesus have turned the water into wine for the wedding guests if Mary had not interceded on their behalf?

John indicates Jesus was unwilling, and Mary’s influence seemed to make all the difference. This helps to explain why Christians so often turn to Mary when there is a need. It’s not always clear if Jesus is willing, but either way it can be a good idea to hope His mother might intercede with Him on our behalf.

It’s also noteworthy that John says that Jesus “revealed his glory” through this miracle, which shows us how Mary’s intercession ultimately brings glory to God.

Part of my spiritual development has been a deeper realization of why various things were recorded in the Gospels… especially John’s Gospel, which was written around 60 years after the events. We’re not talking about some old guy writing down his memoirs for the heck of it, saying “Oh, yeah… and there was this one time…” These stories carry specific lessons for Christians. One lesson we can glean from the story of the wedding at Cana is this:

Mary is observant, and she has a feminine concern for people who need help. If she felt sympathy in her heart for the problem at the wedding, imagine how much she would be concerned for people who are in serious crisis.

How does this apply to us today?

Well, Mary’s concern and ability to intercede is in no way diminished. On the contrary, she’s actually in a greater position to help more people, especially those loyal to her Son:

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. -Rev. 12:1,17

There’s John referring to the “woman” again. But this time he’s given us a glimpse of her in a beautiful place of honor and power, as the mother of Christians.

John, as Christ’s loyal disciple, had a special understanding of Mary’s motherly role, as He was there with Mary at the foot of the cross and heard Jesus pronounce the words:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. -John 19:26,27

As I strive to be loyal to Christ, I want Mary to know she is welcome in my home and I am happy to see God glorified through her intercession on behalf of us, her adopted children.

Scripture does not offer the whole picture of Mary’s significance, but we can definitely see enough to get us started in understanding her better.

-Ben 11/22/14

Queenship-of-Mary


The Parable of the Talents

Especially considering that it’s the Gospel reading for today, I wanted to share this video of Fr. Robert Barron’s insight into Jesus’ parable of the talents. Since it can be somewhat confusing to us reading it at first glance, it’s good to hear it explained. The lesson starts out a little vague, but by the end the great message becomes clear. Watch and enjoy! It’s quite short.

God bless!

-Ben 11/16/14


Attention Catholics

Word-on-Fire-Sermon-logo_1_I want to make sure you’re aware of Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire ministry. It’s an amazingly helpful resource to those who want to better understand our Catholic faith. I’ve become rather addicted to his YouTube channel which can be great to watch while on lunch breaks or while doing dishes.

But make sure not to miss out on Fr. Barron’s downloadable homilies on the Word on Fire website. I started listening to them at work on my MP3 player and have been very impressed by the effort that goes into these short weekly lessons. They are each a quality production and packed full of substance even at only about 15 minutes each.

Fr. Larry Richards’ homilies are also great, and can be downloaded at his website. Anybody know of any others that are worth recommending?

One of the cool aspects of this is that I get to hear my own priest’s weekly homily (which is quite good!) along with the homilies and thoughts of other priests from far away… all regarding the same Scripture readings. The Catholic Church rocks.

These resources are not only great, they’re totally free.

Years ago, I had training in public speaking and as a Protestant I long wondered why pastors so often insist on exceeding the average attention span with their sermons by large amounts of time, even when their points could have been made much more efficiently. In becoming Catholic, I couldn’t help but notice that it’s fairly normal for a Catholic homily to be shorter than 15 minutes, yet still give a great lesson. Don’t take this for granted, Catholics… appreciate it. It doesn’t take much time out of your life to listen to Fr. Barron’s homilies, and yet you can learn so much (kind of like reading 2 pages of the Catechism per day).

-Ben 11/11/14


More Beard Success: Advice from Experience

viking

My “Beard Success!” post from last year has turned out to be one of my most popular. Because I’ve learned more since then while maintaining my beard over the past year, I’d like to pass along some more insights that might be helpful…

Although there have been weeks where I let my beard grow out longer, I still maintain a reasonably short beard (I know I know… to some this may be tragic, but I do boldly retain the right to grow my beard longer if ever the mood strikes). As I mentioned in my previous post, I trim it off at the neck line, not the jaw line. This makes it so that whenever I don’t feel like doing anything, it can naturally grow out longer without looking weird, and requires little maintenance. Itchiness may be a problem at first, but it doesn’t last.

When my beard is shorter, I just keep my neck and upper cheeks looking tidy with clippers. The longer the beard grows, the less I worry about neck and cheek hair because it becomes less noticeable next to the beard. I have personally found a longer beard more difficult to deal with in everyday life, partially because I need to make a point of sleeping on my back (to avoid waking up with bed beard) and because the wash/rinse process of showering can become tediously long. Then of course there’s always the preferences of my wife, who likes me with a beard, but finds the mountain man version to be a bit much.

I’ve experimented with all kinds of beard trimming routines. I can say that practice leads to skill and confidence over time, which means that the first few months of nervousness goes away and you become more efficient. I will say, however, that I still have not gotten the hang of trimming my whole beard evenly with scissors. It would probably work fine at a very long length, but at a shorter length I’m very thankful for electric clippers. For awhile, I worked with various length attachments, but eventually just settled on what I could call the “reset”. When I get a haircut, I have the sides tapered down to a 6mm length, and then I go fluff up my beard, slap the 6mm attachment on the clippers, and trim my whole beard down to a 6mm length (Be advised: this is quite short! But I’ve found the 6mm to be short enough so that no tapering is necessary, but long enough to still look like a good beard and grow back out evenly). Then I trim the mustache down a bit to match, tidy up the neck and I’m good to go for another month or two. Super easy. I will say that the mustache and neck hair require a trim every week or so for awhile, but you can get pretty efficient at it.

This is about as long as my beard got this year.

This is about as long as my beard got this year.

Mustache trimming tips: Scissors are needed to keep the mustache in order, unless you are fine with chewing on it, which I have not gotten used to, or if you want to braid it into the sides of your beard, like Gimli. (On a related cautionary note: one does not simply rinse out the smell of hot wing sauce.) If you trim along the bottom of the mustache with scissors, then you end up with a ridge that protrudes out further than a shorter beard allows for, proportionally speaking. I like to trim the ridge back a bit, and use somewhat random snips with the scissors held tips-upward in order to get a nice rounded look that is proportional to the rest of the beard. Also, even though you have a beard it’s no excuse to let nose hairs get out of control. We must appear civilized, gentlemen.

Speaking of civilized, sometimes the most efficient way to clean up the sink in the bathroom is to just drag in the vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment. Your wife will probably thank you. Thoughtfulness along with a nicely trimmed beard… that could be a recipe for success. Also, a small mirror used in concert with the wall mirror can be very helpful in seeing how your beard will look from different angles and getting the neck line even.

I still advocate the good habits I mentioned in my other post, but I want to pass along some particular advice that has made a noticeable difference for me over the past year. First of all, even though I gave up on the boar-bristle brush after awhile (it’s not as effective when the beard is longer and tends to collect dust), I have been using my Kent comb on a daily basis for a year, and I could hardly imagine having a decent beard without running the comb through it at least a couple times a day. Secondly, I mentioned Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap in the other post, and I can still say it’s worth the money. I’ve had moderate success with other soaps, for beard balminstance from our local farmer’s market, but a bar of Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap is still the best in my opinion. Thirdly, I experimented with Honest Amish Beard Balm and it makes a huge difference when applied after a shower. I can get my wet beard to be merely “damp” by running my fingers against the grain, which lightly flicks most of the water out before I get out of the shower… perfect for the balm. Whatever’s left of the balm on my finger tips after rubbing it into my beard goes into my hair and serves to keep my hair from laying flat onto my forehead the next day, without noticeable residue or stiffness. A little can of that beard balm goes a long way, and provides protection, softness, and pretty much eliminates itching. I don’t profit at all by sharing these brands with you. I’m just sharing what I’ve found to work. I’d be happy to try other products that people recommend.

I started out with the unscented Honest Amish beard balm, but for my second order I took a risk and got the original, which smells a bit like black licorice, but not in a bad way. To give you an idea, I don’t really care for black licorice, but I like the beard balm smell just fine. The scent might seem strong at first, but it’s not really noticeable after a short while. I’m confident that my wife’s reactions (or lack thereof) are a fairly accurate gauge of this.

I’d be curious to hear any advice from other bearded dudes, or observations from the ladies.

-Ben 11/8/14

 


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