Loving the Sinner…Halfway.

The emphasis these days on mercy–wow. It’s deeply, deeply needed. Families in our society have been decimated. It seems every single person in our culture has been touched by something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone–everyone–is broken now. We live in a world that needs mercy like never before.

As a Catholic, I’m constantly reminded of this. Before my reversion to the Faith, my sins and mistakes had left me a shambles in need of healing. There was almost nothing left of me, and the only thing that healed the pain was God’s mercy. And since I’ve returned to my Faith, it seems that the more I learn–the more light enters my life–the more I can see that I’m broken. Thank goodness God forgives us when we go to Him with sorrowful hearts asking, and thank goodness He keeps reminding us of His love for us.

I got to thinking about the depth of God’s mercy today, and it brought to mind the story of the woman caught in adultery and her conversation with Christ found in John 8. You remember–when the scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone her, Jesus outsmarted them by saying, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” At this, instead of stoning the woman, the crowd dwindled away, leaving her alone with Jesus. He asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “No one, sir,” and He offered her the fullness of His mercy–“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Now, today, as I was mulling this over, I got to thinking–

What would that have sounded like if Christ had left out the reference to the woman’s sin, so as not to offend her…as we are often encouraged to do today?

What if Christ, instead of saying, “Go, and sin no more,” had just said…”Go.”?

Would her life have changed? Without admonition and encouragement to do better from a God who loved her, would she have “sinned no more”…

Or would she have gone right back to the same broken, heart-wrenching lifestyle that had nearly led to her death in the first place?

Healing and recovery aren’t the result of someone making us “feel better” about the fact that we are living apart from God. Healing and recovery come about when we turn to Him and offer Him every part of our lives. That means turning away, with His help, from things He asks us not to do.

When we, as Catholics, talk about sin, it’s about so much more than “this is right, and that is wrong.”
It’s about dignity. It’s about a person’s value. It’s about what a person is worth.

Jesus Himself wanted that woman to know that she was worth more than the degrading life she was living. Sin breaks us. It tears a person apart.

Real love–real mercy–does not mean telling that torn, broken person that their sin is OK–because they’re drawn to it, or because it’s the modern thing to do, or because they can’t help it. Real love–real mercy–doesn’t just say, “Go.” That’s only half the mercy we are called to share. Real mercy shares Christ’s full message–“Go, and sin no more.”

In the end, it’s all about love. And, really, you can’t love someone if you don’t hate what brings them down.

In other words, we can’t really love the sinner unless we hate the sin.

Who Are the Richest People on Earth?

Did you see that homeless man on the corner?

The one who’d been there awhile.

The one who was hungry.

The one who, deep down, really didn’t expect that you’d give him anything today.

Is it possible that that homeless man could teach us how to grow rich?

For a while, a long time ago, we were a little hungry sometimes (not often). Not the ravenous “I need something–anything to eat!”–kind of hungry, but just the “Gee, hamburger meat would be soooo good…but it’ll have to wait ’til payday” kind of hungry. The kind where you really crave red meat sometimes but just can’t afford it (which, to most of the people in this world, wouldn’t really be considered hungry at all!)

Anyway, it was during that time that I drove my three small children into town one day, parked my car at the local grocery store, and picked a shopping basket out of the parking lot. As we were walking towards the entrance of the store, we passed a small, old, very clean pickup truck with a camper on the back. In the window was a cardboard sign: “Hungry. Will work for food.” Now, strange as it may seem, that sign wasn’t the thing that had the biggest effect on me. It was the camper itself.

See, that camper had windows. And in those windows, I could see that that camper held everything a person needed to live. Utensils, tools, engine oil, plates, a drinking cup, a razor, a toothbrush–everything most people would have in their bathrooms, garages, or kitchens, this man had in his camper. And everything–I mean everything–was neat as a pin. All lined up, on shelves, in the windows of his camper. With the sign in the back corner, telling the world that this camper WAS his home. This man cared. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying–goodness; he took better care of those little things in his camper than most of us take of our flat-screen TVs and X-Box games. But, still, even though he was obviously a diligent person, he was there. In the parking lot at Hitchcock’s. With a sign.

That really got through to me. So, out of the money that we had for groceries that week, while we were in the store, I bought him a big bag of apples and the biggest jar of peanut butter I could afford.

My goodness. You should have seen the look on his face. His cheeks were sunken in, but when I gave him the apples and peanut butter, it made him so happy–as happy as I would have been at that time if someone had given me free groceries for my family for life!
He said, “Thank you so much. God bless you, ma’am.” And he really, really meant it.
I said, “God bless you, too, sir–it’s no problem; that’s what we’re here for–to help each other.”
He nodded his head and looked down, and he said, “Yes, but some people don’t know it.”

I felt badly about that. Partially because of how he had been treated, and partially because I knew that the “some people” were sometimes…well, me.

It happened again, much the same, about two months ago. We had just finished getting some things we needed at our local Winn-Dixie. As we pulled out of the parking lot, there was traffic, so we were behind a line of cars. On the right, a man sat on the curb next to a bicycle with a basket on it. His cheeks were sunken in, and he was bone-thin and tanned from being outdoors with no shelter from our blazing Florida sun. He was unshaven, and he kept his head down. His shoulders were slumped. On his bicycle was a cardboard sign that said “Painter for hire”.

We got out of line and went back into the store. By this time, we were in a much better place financially (thank You, Lord!), so we were able to do more. My daughter and I tried to think of what someone who had to be outdoors all day in the summer in Florida would want. We bought some groceries, and I put some money in with them, and we took them out to him.

I’ve never seen a more grateful person in my life. He was so happy–he must have said, “Thank you,” at least ten times. And when he saw that there was a bag of oranges in one of the bags, he lit up like a little boy under a Christmas tree. He said, “Oh, I love these–but they’re just so goldarned expensive, I can’t get them!”

I remember thinking he was as grateful for those groceries as I would have been if I had hit the lottery.

Which brings me to my point. Who’s richer–the man who has very little, but is grateful for every little thing he has?

Or the one who seems to have everything–but who always wants more?

People teach us about who they are by their responses to charity, but they also teach us about who we are.

How happy would we be–how much richer would we be-if we were so grateful for apples and peanut butter that we smiled from ear to ear and exclaimed, “God bless you!” every time someone gave us some?

How much wealthier would we be if we considered a bag of fresh oranges a wonderful blessing and thanked God–really thanked Him–each time a bag of those oranges was placed before us?

We never know–it might be true that some people without homes are homeless because they spent money unwisely or developed bad habits, as we often assume.

But it’s also true that all of us make mistakes. And, when it comes to gratitude, sometimes the people we would call “poor” are really far richer than most of the rest of us.

Why Refusing to Serve a Gay Wedding Isn’t Always Discrimination

Wow. The Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States ignited a firestorm of conflict, even between people who normally wouldn’t be up-in-arms over anything. And for good reason! Pro-same-sex marriage people are giddy, while most conservatives are worried that their conscience rights will soon be stripped down to even barer bones than they are now. The arguments are loud, and often angry, from both sides. Most Facebook posts have a new profile image that looks like it could have come straight from an episode of “My Little Pony”–paired with text that definitely could not.

I get it. It’s sort of like a really big, reeeeaaally important football game that’s tied in overtime. Each push forward gets one side closer to victory, and each setback could spell defeat. Except in this competition, nearly every single person in our country is on one side or the other. And it’s far, far more important than any football game could ever be, because each side feels that if they lose, basic rights are at stake.

But it doesn’t mean we have to hate each other. People are still people, and, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” And, really, no matter how strong your argument is, if you have hate in your voice when you say it, no one listens, anyway.

That’s not to say that there’s no right and wrong–or that we shouldn’t have strong opinions. Of course, I’m Catholic (which is why my blog’s not called the Kitchen Table Seventh Day Adventist or the Kitchen Table Hindu–you get the idea :-)…), and I do believe that marriage is a sacrament that God intended to unite one man and one woman in free, total, faithful, and life-giving love. I believe He designed each of our bodies, out of His love, with a meaning and a purpose, and that each person’s outward body is a reflection of that purpose, even when his or her inner feelings might conflict with that outward reality. So I’m on the anti- gay marriage side…BUT I don’t hate anybody. Honestly. I can’t think of a single person in this whole world that I hate. (I’m grateful for that.) And, if a member of my family, or one of my close friends, “came out” to me, I would see that as a sign that they needed more love and support, more care, and more encouragement, because it would mean that he or she had a very heavy cross to carry and a very hard road to walk.

So I thought I’d try saying what I think about all of this–with love. I thought I’d try saying it the way I would explain it if a really close friend “came out” and asked me what I thought…and I wanted to start with the discrimination argument about Christian businesses who refuse to serve gay weddings.

Now, this might sound weird, but, the way I see it, that’s not necessarily discrimination. See, discrimination is when you 1) treat someone differently from others AND 2) do it because of who they are. So, if a Chinese man came into my bakery and asked for a birthday cake, and I said, “No, sir–I can’t sell you a birthday cake because you’re Chinese,” that would definitely be discrimination, because both elements are true–I treated him differently, and I did it because of who he was. That’s discrimination.

BUT, if you’re a gay couple who comes into my bakery and asks for a wedding cake, and I refuse, it’s not the same. See, the REASON I’m not providing the service is actually not because you’re gay. (Stay with me here…)

If you’re a gay man, and I know you’re gay, and you come in and order a cake for your daughter’s birthday, I’ll bake you the most beautiful birthday cake you’ve ever seen.

If you’re a lesbian woman, and I’m a Christian florist, and you come into my shop and order a Mother’s Day bouquet for your mom, I’ll put everything I have into making her something she’ll love. I’ll serve you gladly and gratefully. You’re not asking for anything I can’t do, and my job is to serve you. I’d do my very best and say, “Thank you for your business. I hope she likes it! Come back soon!” and mean it with all my heart.

But if I’m a Christian baker, and you’re a gay man, and you come in to order a wedding cake for yourself and the man you plan to marry, you’ve just asked me not to try to please God. See, my faith teaches that homosexual intimacy is a mortal sin (a sin which can keep a person out of Heaven and cut off ALL of God’s grace in his or her soul, which can lead one even deeper into sin), just as it teaches that heterosexual intimacy with anyone other than a person’s Church-married husband or wife is a mortal sin. Not only that, but knowingly cooperating with or supporting mortal sin (such as by baking a cake or doing flowers for a gay wedding)…is also a mortal sin.

So, really, what you’re asking is for me to commit a mortal sin.

That’s why I can’t bake the cake. That’s why, I’m sorry, but I can’t put your flowers together. It’s not because you’re gay. If a heterosexual man walked in and asked me to bake a cake and tried to pay me with money I knew he’d stolen, I couldn’t do that, either. I’d treat him the very same way I’d treat a homosexual couple asking me to bake their wedding cake. I’d tell him no. Not because he’s heterosexual, but just because my faith teaches me it would displease God. That’s all.

So, see, really, it’s not necessarily discrimination. I’m not treating you differently than I would treat anyone else asking me to commit a mortal sin, and I’m not telling you no because of who you are. I’m not asking you to live by my faith, but I would really, really appreciate it if you would allow me to, without taking me to court for trying. There are plenty of bakers. There are plenty of florists. Why choose a Christian one if they believe your marriage is wrong?

There’s so much more to say, but I think that would be best left for another post. Until then, many blessings to you all–no matter how you “identify”!

The Beauty of the Faith

God. He’s amazing! He’s majestic; He’s perfect; He’s mysterious; He’s above us. He tells us so in Isaiah 55, where it’s written, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” We can study. We can pray. We can try to be kind and good and love our neighbor. But no matter how hard we work, no matter how hard we try, He will always be a mystery we can never really quite grasp.

That’s one of the things I love about Him, and it’s one of the reasons I love my Faith.

You see, to me, the mystery of Catholicism–the fact that it’s just too much to ever really fully understand–the fact that we could study it all our lives, line every wall of our homes with bookshelves full of good Catholic books, actually read them, and still never really “get” it all–that’s just one more facet of Catholicism that reflects God’s heart so well that this millennia-old Faith could have only been crafted by God Himself. Catholicism is a perfectly mysterious reflection of a perfectly mysterious God–a God who lets us understand only as much as He deems good for us. A God who leaves the parts hidden that we couldn’t handle yet. A God we can never completely comprehend and whose love for us is beyond our reason.

So God’s majesty, His mystery, and the way He stays above us–those are things that always speak to me of His beauty and, because the Catholic Faith reflects that element of Him so well, they speak to me, too, of the fact that Catholicism is a wonderful gift from Him. The beautiful mystery of this Faith is like the wrapping paper He put around it when He gave it to us–both to hide the contents and to be His signature. To prove it’s from Him.

But there’s something else, too, that speaks to me of Catholicism being truth. It’s the exact opposite quality–the humility of it. God reaches down to us in whatever simple way we will understand…knowing that we are incapable of reaching all the way up to Him. He does it every single day, for all of us, in the Eucharist. Can you imagine–the greatest King ever known, actually hiding His glory so that we can look upon Him without being harmed by the sheer power of it? Can you imagine the One Who, with one word, calmed the seas– coming to us every single day under the appearance of common bread and wine so that even the poorest of the poor can share in His life? Wow.

Only Christ, with His heart for us, could come up with that! The humility of it all–it speaks so well of the humility of Christ Himself. It couldn’t come from anyone but Him…and we have it right there, in John 6: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Catholicism–both majesty AND humility!…or, in other words, Isaiah 55 and John 6, all wrapped up in one simple–yet incomprehensible–gift! Thank You, Lord!

*

Thank You, Soldier

So that we can spend our Thanksgiving in the warmth of candlelight, turkey on the table, surrounded by people who love us…

you have to give up Thanksgiving with your family and spend it, instead, in a desert on the other side of the world.

So that, every evening during Advent, we can light the candles in the wreath and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with our children…

You have to spend months–sometimes years–at a time away from your children. You miss their births, their first steps, and, yes, those holiday traditions that mean so much.

You miss memories with your children so that we might make them with ours.

And, this Christmas, you’ll sleep in a 25-degree night, on the other side of the world…

so that we might bundle our little ones up in coats, hats, and gloves, shoo them gently into the car, and drive them to the Church.

There, we’ll sing to celebrate Christ come to Earth.
We’ll sing loudly.
And we won’t be afraid.
Because you’re there.

You know, 2,000 years ago, Someone did something a little like what you’re doing now.

He gave up 33 years on the golden streets of Paradise…

So that we might see them someday.

He gave up that time in Heaven, beside His Father
And spent it, instead, in a hostile world…
So that we could be united with our families in Heaven forever.

And He put our lives
Ahead of His own…

Kinda’ like you.

Thank you, soldier.

To the Mom in Mass with Three Little Ones

I saw you.

You, the husband-less mom who rushed into Mass just after the entrance hymn and sat your three little ones down in the first empty seats you spotted.

You, with the still-damp hair, the fussy baby, the two-year-old little boy carrying his pet monkey, and the chubby-cheeked little girl whose hair you had carefully braided instead of drying your own.

I saw you come in with a diaper bag, your purse, and a “Big Bag o’ Stuff for the Kids to Do” all slung across one shoulder, bouncing off your hip with each step. You had to do it that way, because in your other arm was the baby.

You were herding the baby’s brother and sister into the pew with whispers that you knew we could all hear.

You were trying. You were mothering. You were leading your children, in those whispers you knew we could all hear, to God.

I saw the way you spent the whole hour coaching, teaching, comforting, refereeing, nursing, taking all three children to the potty for the sake of the one who really had to go, and never getting a solid minute alone with God. Instead, you were teaching your children to find Him.

And they’ll learn, from the way you’re planting these patient little seeds of faith in their hearts now, that God loves them…and that the Mass is the best place to go to draw closer to Him. They’ll be able to feel His deep love for them, largely because He helped you to show them your love, in His house…

…while you were picking up all the things and putting them back into the “Big Bag o’ Stuff to Do”…again.
…while you were taking all three to the potty for the sake of the one who really had to go…
…while you were shushing and nurturing and refereeing in whispers…
….while you were doing your best, amidst the struggles of an imperfect situation, to lead three little souls to God.

Faith Spoken Simply

In the nearly thirteen years since I’ve come home to my Faith–the Faith I wish I’d stayed with my whole life!–I’ve met some really, really great people. Quiet people (like me:-)), loud people, people who could easily emcee a New York dinner for someone reeeeaaally important, and people who preferred to just stay in their tiny little comfortable circles of friends. The thing that has made them all good friends, though, is that they took the time to sit and talk with me–and teach me about this Faith that’s two thousand years old. I’ve had the blessing of sitting at so many kitchen tables–across three counties here in our neck of the woods–and soaking in the great Catholic wisdom these wonderful people had hidden in their hearts. They’ve taught me about papal encyclicals, Scripture, the Catechism, Sacred Tradition, the saints, mercy, and love. They’ve prayed the Rosary with my children and me; they’ve held my crying babies so I could receive Communion; they’ve warned me away from sin. Four of them are priests; many of them are moms battling for their families deep in the trenches alongside me; some are parents with empty nests; some are elderly. All of them have a beautiful way of doing their best to live according to Church teaching. For thirteen years now, these wonderful people have poured out on me the greatest treasure they had–their deep Faith.

Now, I’d like to try to honor them–by sharing this Faith with you. So here I am, writing at my kitchen table, and I ask you to join me at yours. Grab a cup of coffee and a cookie or two, and pull up a chair. I’ll say a little prayer each time and then do my best to say these things right, hoping the way they come across will be a blessing to you. It’s faith spoken simply.

First Thing: You Are Loved

One of the things I love the most about the Catholic faith is the way it all seems to be connected. Everything is interwoven somehow with everything else.

Take the Bible, for instance. The elements in the Old Testament are somehow reflected in the New; the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old, and together, it all applies to us today. Learning about all the interconnections just gives me chills. It’s like looking at a beautifully woven tapestry–but only being able to see part of it. As you discover more, you get to see a few more images here and there, and, every time you learn a little something new, you get a new shade of meaning from the story in the tapestry…but this tapestry tells a story that is infinite. No matter how much you study, you’ll never understand everything in it. There will always be more of the tapestry left to uncover.

So, if we had to take the Catholic faith–something so complex that no one can ever understand it all–and distill it into one sentence that all the others could come from, what would it be?

God loves you.

That’s it.

It’s why you are here–because He loved you so much in the very beginning of time that He waited until just the right second, of just the right minute, of just the right day, of just the right year…and then breathed His life into you.

It’s why you have talents and gifts (and weaknesses)–because He–the same one who gave each glittering star its own place in the night sky–wanted you to do something special with your life, so He gave you the unique gifts (as well as the weaknesses) that would lead you to that.

It’s why you can go to Heaven–because He–the King of Kings and Lord of Lords–would rather give up thirty-three years on golden streets in Paradise, spend them suffering down here instead, and die a horrific, human death than to be without you for Eternity.

It’s why He gives us rules and laws–because they protect us from spiritual, emotional, mental, and sometimes physical harm.

It’s all because He loves us.   All of it. Everything about our Faith is a personal love letter to each one of us, given to us as a gift by the God who loved us enough to create us and give us unique abilities. Loved us enough to breathe life into us. Even loved us enough to die for us.

The Church is, and always has been, a gift–to each of us, from God…

because He loves us.