The first time I wore a mantilla…

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Rhoslyn Thomas wears a Di Clara Aubergine Mini Mantilla.

By Rhoslyn Thomas.

The first time it ever occurred to me that I might like to veil, I was 21 and walking home from Mass. I admitted to my friend that I was having thoughts about wearing a mantilla. We both laughed: What was happening to me?! This wasn’t ‘me’ at all. But we had both changed a lot in that last year and we were slowly getting used to the idea of letting God take the reins in our lives.

A few weeks later, I was living about 60km outside of Rome and attending, almost daily, an Old Rite Mass celebrated by the FSSP. I wanted so much to cover my head in Mass, not because anyone ever pressured me, but because I thought it was a beautiful gesture. However, I was very nervous and self-conscious.

Someone had once mentioned veiling to me on pilgrimage. She told me that our hair is our glory and that by covering it, we honor God while we are in His presence, i.e. in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I am ashamed to say that, before this short conversation, I actually thought that women who wore veils were a bit oppressed! As I began to become interested in veiling, I very quickly realized that this assumption could not be further from the truth (if only I could have seen myself now, how I would have laughed!).

The first time I finally worked up the courage to cover my hair during Mass, I was absolutely terrified. I wanted to do it so much, but in my mind I felt everyone was watching me. I sat at the back of the church in Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini in central Rome and tried to forget all my worries.

I actually felt different when I was wearing it. In a very short time, my mantilla came to be a great help to me in concentrating on the Mass and in helping me to differentiate between the outside world and God’s house, where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would take place and where I am in the presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

At home, the reaction to my mantilla is almost always overwhelmingly positive. People just realize somehow that it is a very beautiful reverent thing to do in a sacred place. Now it is second nature to me and I would not be without my veil.

For those who are just starting out with veiling, a mini-mantilla might just be the thing for you. It is not as big as a full size mantilla and is also really practical if you are dealing with young kids at Mass. I have promised myself an early Christmas present of a purple one I can wear during Advent!

Until you veil, it’s hard to describe what it will do for you. The best way to find out would be to just try it! If you are feeling nervous then just start wearing it at home while you pray, then you might want to wear it at adoration, and before you know it you will have the desire to wear it every time you step into the church!

Before long, you’ll come to see how much more a veil will be to you than just a piece of material.

For a full range of mantilla veils, I would recommend www.diclara.co.uk who offer flat rate shipping worldwide.

Scottish purple High Mass set.

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I’ve been extremely busy recently putting together this Gothic style High Mass set for the Latin Mass guys up in Scotland UK.

I’ve really enjoyed making this set – especially designing the embroidery.

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I decided to incorporate a celtic knot circle which traditionally represents eternity because there is no beginning or end to the knot or the circle. I also used thistles which are a national Scottish emblem, and by their thorny nature they are also an ancient symbol reminding us of our need for redemption. This large embroidery sits on the cope hood and also the back of the humeral veil:

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Back of the Cope.

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Back of the humeral veil.

I also added a practical aspect to the humeral veil of large inside pockets that are used to hide the Priest’s or Deacon’s hands while they carry the monstrance. This stops the issue of slipping and also means that the chance of the expensive material catching or wearing on the monstrance is lessened.

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Inside pockets on the sleeves of the humeral veil.

This particular set wanted 2 dalmatics with maniples, and one Deacon’s stole:

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In fact there were 3 maniples in total and one priest stole that looked rather nice if you put them all together like this…!

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Anyway here are the rest of the pics…

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Humeral veil, used when carrying the monstrance during adoration.

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Cope, used at anytime the priest is not offering Mass ie. Baptisms or Benediction.

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Gothic Chasuble, Stole (underneath Chasuble), Maniple (on wrist), Chalice veil (behind), and Burse.

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Priest Stole.

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If you’re interested in seeing some more of my vestments please visit www.diclara.co.uk  and like my Di Clara facebook page.

For enquires, please contact me through my website or email me direct at info@diclara.co.uk.

And if you haven’t told your priest about Di Clara yet, then perhaps it’s time you did 🙂

 

 

 

Fr Aidan Kieran: Why I find fasting so darn hard!

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Following my Little Way of Fasting article, Clare asked me if I would write a follow-up, to give an update on my progress, and all the graces that have poured into my life because of my fidelity to fasting.

Oh dear!

When I read the request, my face went the colour of Palm Sunday vestments!

The things is, I found it a struggle to do any fasting for a few months. My first reaction to the request was that it would be hypocritical of me to write such an article, having become a bit lax on the fasting front. But, for better or for worse, here is my reflection on my recent experience (or lack thereof) of fasting.

So what stopped me fasting? I can answer the question with one word: stress. I’ve been facing a couple of stressful situations in my life over the last few months. It became more difficult to pray, and it felt as if it was impossible to consider fasting. I just wanted to distract myself from the pain inside. The internet, sports on TV and food were my favourite distractions. In the middle of all this, I certainly had no appetite for depriving myself of even a cup of tea in the morning and offering it up to the Lord. I was being deprived of a large part of my sense of self-worth, so He wasn’t getting any more sacrifices from me. It was almost as if I was empty inside, and so had nothing to offer.

One thing I was managing to do, occasionally, was to expose the Blessed Sacrament in the church for a while after Mass and spend time with parishioners in adoration. However, when Lent drew near, I realised I had to make some effort to get back onto the wagon from which I had fallen. It was time to try fasting again.

And the truly amazing thing is that fasting began to work (little) miracles almost immediately. Almost as soon as I began doing without my morning cup of tea, I felt a little spiritual strength come back. I began to get a new perspective on the trials I was experiencing. I began to pray a little better, and I was a little stronger in the face of temptation to sin. It was as if even the minuscule sacrifice I was making was creating just enough room in my soul for the Holy Spirit to get to work. Remarkable! It was a most generous payback on what felt like such a small effort. It’s as if I had deposited some money in the bank, and received a lot of interest almost immediately.

It illustrates for me how generous Our Lord is to me, and to us all. Sometimes it feels like he asks to work long hours in the vineyard. But He rewards us so generously for the efforts we make for Him, even if they seem small to us. He can even use our half-hearted attempts as occasions of grace.

What I have learned in the last while is how we must draw from all the channels of grace in the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Reading the Word of God, Receiving and Adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Praying the Rosary, Going to Confession and Fasting are important channels through which grace can gush into our souls.

The Church encourages us to fast during Advent and Lent, and on Fridays throughout the year. What I have learned recently is that even the smallest effort of fasting, done with love and with prayer, is enough to open the endless channel of God’s grace into our lives. However many times I fail or give up, it doesn’t matter. Jesus is never going to give up on me, so I guess I will just keep joyfully trying in my little sacrifices, to show my love and gratitude for the big sacrifice He made for me on the cross.

We have just 1 week left before lent ends, so lets summon up all our strength and offer that one cup of tea, that one cigarette, that one biscuit. And lets offer it to God as little imperfect children would to a loving Father – with all the love we can find in our hearts.

Gunman attacks Priest, and then asks for Confession.

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I was shocked to hear the recent story of Fr John Hamlet. Fr Hamlet had been called out on an emergency hospital visit late at night on Ash Wednesday, but due to his car being currently in an unusable state he instead decided to catch a cab.

He managed to give the hospital patient the last rites and then after a short while started to make his way back home – this time on foot. He knew it was not advisable to be walking alone in that part of town late at night, but he did not have enough money to pay a second extortionate cab fare that evening – even though it was freezing cold.

As he turned into an alleyway that would shortcut 10 mins off his walk home, he suddenly realised he was being followed. He quickened his pace but soon realised that the end of the alleyway had been  blocked off by two dumpster bins. Before he knew it, Fr Hamlet was pushed into a doorway and a young man was holding a gun to his head.

“Give me your wallet” The young man shouted into his face. Terrified, Fr Hamlet agreed, and then indicated to the young man that he needed to unzip his coat to get his wallet from the inside pocket.

As he unzipped his coat the young man noticed his priestly collar and suddenly dropped the gun. “Oh I’m so sorry Father! I had no idea you were a priest – If I had known I never would have tried to rob you. I’m a terrible Catholic…” And the young man dropped to his knees and began to cry uncontrollably.

“That’s ok my son” said Fr Hamlet as he tried to console the young man. He asked the young man if he would like confession and the young gunman agreed. Feeling incredibly moved by the situation Fr Hamlet tried to make the young man feel better. “You know what – I don’t even have any money left in my wallet, but why don’t you take this packet of cigarettes instead? I know I could sure do with a smoke after tonight!”

“That is very kind of you Father” said the young man picking up his gun and placing it back in his trousers “But I’ve given up smoking for Lent!”

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Beautiful Lent.

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‘Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge’ – Monet.

How’s your Lent going?

Are you finding it easy? Then perhaps do a little something extra.

Are you struggling? Then perhaps ease off a bit and try something a little easier.

You see, it is not how much we are fasting, but with how much love we do it that charms the heart of Christ (St Therese of Lisieux). Sometimes the smallest things require the biggest effort. God sees all of this. It’s not an endurance test 🙂

I have been giving up my first cup of tea in the morning, and also trying my best to find a way of giving up worrying. My worry habit exposes my lack of trust in God and my reliance on myself. This is something that needs to be addressed, but it really is easier said than done. However, I have found one little thing that really has seemed to make a difference.

I was at my Mum’s house on Ash Wednesday and she handed me a CD. “You should listen to this – it’s really good!” (You know you are approaching middle age when your Mum recommends you music – and it IS actually really good!) It was a CD from Medjugorije made by the young men and women of the Cenacolo Community. It was basically a praise and worship CD – but she was right, it was REALLY good!

I found that listening to people who had allowed Christ to be in complete control of their lives, who were worshiping Him with such enthusiasm and openness really lifted my mood. The whole thing was just so good, so beautiful, that it seemed to remind me that there were things bigger than me and my problems.

I had the same experience today in the car when I accidently turned on Radio 3. They were playing Vaughan Williams and I don’t know what it was, but the sheer beauty of the music seemed to have the most profound calming effect on me. It was just so beautiful. I swear the medical profession should start using beauty as a treatment for all sorts of ailments. Yeah – beauty therapy! I guess that would make composers like Vaughan Williams and artists like Monet beauty therapists!!

I think beauty is extremely important during difficult times in our lives. Real beauty is an intensely spiritual thing that simply cannot be rationally explained. Beauty – I believe – is a purely human experience. I don’t think animals are touched in the same way by a piece of music or a beautiful sunset. I believe real beauty speaks directly to our immortal souls. It is God giving us a foretaste of the life to come. And that is perhaps what I find so calming about it – to know that this life’s problems are only temporary, and they will not exist in heaven.

I suppose you could look at beauty as being an incredible act of mercy – giving us hope and inspiring patience, forbearance and also creativity within us. It reminds us that God is bigger than us, and that He is good.

I found that my response to this beauty was not just awe and wonder, but incredible gratitude. And I feel that is a most appropriate feeling to dwell upon as we go further into Lent and head towards Holy Week.

The Litany of Humility.

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This is one of the best prayers I have ever come across. We cannot change without humility. Let us pray this Lent that we can let go, and let God change us where we need it. Take courage! Amen.

Litany of Humility.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (repeat after each line)
That others may be esteemed more than I ,
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.

I’m giving up worrying for Lent.

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I know this pose. The head in hands face to the floor pose. I am doing it all throughout the day at the moment.  My favourite place to do it is probably in the bathroom where no one can see me doing it, except God. I also like to do it in the car (when I’m parked!), in front of my sewing machine, during mass and in my bedroom in the dark.

It achieves nothing. It changes nothing.

I have a lot on my shoulders at the moment. I have become the major bread winner for the time being. I don’t earn enough to cover even half our bills even though I am working all the hours God sends. My husband has not been well at all this last month which I find extremely upsetting. The baby has stopped sleeping in the afternoon and has discovered the word ‘NO!’, which is hilarious but it is just another pressure I can’t cope with.
I don’t want to lose the house. I don’t want my kids to have to change schools. I don’t want my husband to be I’ll for the rest of his life.

I have a lot to worry about at the moment.

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Worry achieves nothing. It changes nothing. The only thing it does is rob me of God’s peace.

I wish I could be brave but I’m afraid I’m not brave at all. If I give the impression I’m coping then that is just God’s strength and grace covering the fact that I am in a constant state of fight or flight. Panick attacks are not fun.

But still… Worry achieves nothing. It changes nothing.

For Lent this year I am determined to let go and let God. I will take my dispair to confession. I will discipline myself to remain in the moment rather than worrying about things that might happen. And I will keep my gaze fixed on Christ crucified, and Christ resurrected.

Recently in prayer I have found it extremely comforting to place my doubting hands into His wounds, and to rest my worrying head upon His chest.
I hold my Mother’s hand as she sees her loved one suffer – knowing the is nothing she can do to ease His pain during His passion. I know how she feels as she carries out her role: to walk along side the one who suffers.

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I remember sometimes to offer my own suffering along with theirs to God for the conversion of sinners, and this brings purpose to what I am going through.

The point is that I’m afraid of suffering. I trust that God is in charge, but I also know that God does permit the worst kind of suffering. And I’m terrified. Satan wants to keep me in that frame of mind.

This lent, if I can manage to give up worrying, I feel it will be one of the biggest spiritual advances I will ever make in my life. But I can’t do it alone. I’m going to ask a local priest to direct me, and I’m going to be relying entirely on the prayers of the incredible Catholic community I am part of.

I’m really beginning to regret asking to be made worthy of sainthood 🙂

Please pray for me.

When God’s Love Hurts.

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Fulton, before the accident.

When God’s Love Hurts – By Cassandra Poppe

“On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses. . . . We have not the courage to carry our cross, and we are very much mistaken; for,whatever we do, the cross holds us tight — we cannot escape from it. What, then, have we to lose? Why not love our crosses and make use of them to take us to Heaven? But, on the contrary, most men turn their backs upon crosses, and fly before them. The more they run, the more the cross pursues them, the more it strikes and crushes them with burdens. . . . If you were wise, you would go to meet it like Saint Andrew, who said, when he saw the cross prepared for him and raised up into the air, “Hail O good cross! O admirable cross! O desirable cross! receive me into thine arms, withdraw me from among men, and restore me to my Master, who redeemed me through thee. “ — St John Vianney

Crosses. Suffering. The human race has been plagued with hardship ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve desired more than the goodness God had already given them. And from that point on, most viewed suffering as a punishment from God – until that first Good Friday when Our Lord transformed punishment into a blessing. It seems natural for us to try to alleviate hardships when they come. A painkiller, a massage, an adjustment to the thermostat. How many little things do we do each day, each hour, to tweak the comfort level around ourselves? As these first 2 paragraphs were written, I have already adjusted my posture, scratched an itch and taken a sip of my drink. All actions taken almost without thinking and all done to increase my comfort.

But what happens when our discomfort becomes full blown suffering? Suddenly our pleasure and comfort seeking instincts are challenged and no matter what remedies we try, our suffering is not eased. Cancer. The loss of a loved one. Crippling persecution. An accident. These crosses do not refine and perfect our souls in little ways, as the everyday annoyances in life can. No. These crosses are life changing, redirecting our souls directly towards Calvary, to bring about in us a profoundly holy transformation. But only if we are able to see the love that is hidden within the cross.

While we may not cheerfully embrace our crosses, our Catholic faith teaches us of the immense value in suffering. We have Crucifixes to remind us of Our Lord’s suffering and sacrifice, inspiring us to mortify ourselves for love of Him. We understand that suffering is a part of life and a tool we must use well for the sanctification of our soul. Others avoid suffering, seeing it as either a punishment or from Satan.

And while this view may be correct in certain circumstances, we must always remember that all suffering is allowed by Our Lord. If He allows it to happen, we must treat it as an invaluable opportunity to grow in holiness, and give glory to God. No matter what. I do not say this lightly, as it is indeed both a joy and a burden to be trusted by Our Lord. He requires much of those He loves – sometimes more than we think we can handle. But we may rest in the fact that as long as we remain firmly at His side and under the loving watch of Our Lady, all things are possible.

When Our Lord redirected our lives that fateful January morning, I felt it more than I heard it. That deep percussion-like boom one hears when a firework is sent skyward, before it explodes. This was immediately followed by my husband’s unintelligible cry. Flying to the kitchen window, I saw what will haunt me forever. My four year old little boy was slowly moving away from the burn barrel, completely engulfed in flames from his waist to his head. His hands were clenched at his sides, moving them up towards his face in slow motion, pieces of his fleece jacket peeling away and falling behind him.

What followed could rival the goriest scenes in a horror movie. Grey, cadaverous forehead. Deformed ears. Skin still bubbling from the heat trapped within. Long strands of flesh hanging from little hands and arms like a partially unwrapped mummy rising from its tomb. Shrieks of pain. Tears of terror. As my son was laid at my feet on the kitchen floor, I collapsed before him, unable to do anything for him before the ambulance arrived. And so I prayed. The two prayers that came to me were, “Mother of God, be with us,” and “Thy will be done.” And looking back, I understand why.

From that moment on, Our Sorrowful Mother took me as her child, showing me that sometime God’s love looks very ugly on the surface. I had gotten a taste of this truth before, when my husband and I struggled to make our marriage work, and again when I cared for my father in his home as he died of cancer. But this by far was the most crippling form of suffering I could have endured. I wanted to take on Fulton’s burns as my own. “Lord, let me suffer these pains for You!” I prayed. “He is too little!” But I see now how that would have been the easy route for me. I already understood redemptive suffering, binding physical pains to the wounds of Our Lord on the Cross as an offering of love. But I could not do that for my son. This emotional anguish was new – and so instead of suffering with Our Lord, I suffered at the foot of Fulton’s cross with Our Lady. If she saw the love hidden within the Our Lord’s Cross, surely I could find the love in Fulton’s suffering. And that is what I needed to find. Otherwise, his suffering made no sense. I did not want to be a bystander on Calvary, disgusted by the scene before me, or to be one to rage against God amid the pain.

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I have known far too many bitter souls in my life who, do not take the time to examine their crosses and embrace them for the gift they are. Help me find the gifts, Sweet Mary. Help me find the love! And what love there was! Just as word spread of Christ’s suffering and brought about conversions, so too did Fulton’s suffering inspire others to the faith. I received letters from people who have returning to a life of prayer because of Fulton’s powerful story. Some grasped for the first time what it means to ‘offer it up’ and embraced their own crosses with a new found love for God. They saw through Fulton’s and my experience, that love cannot be complete without some form of willing suffering or sacrifice, choosing to participate in God’s plan through the cross laid upon their shoulders, even when they could not yet see the love.

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Truly, His call to take up our crosses and follow Him was a call to suffer for Him that others may be saved. And for the first time I understood the words of St. Paul when he said, “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24) when hearts previously unmoved by Christ’s Passion were moved by the sufferings of a little boy. Praise God!

Two years after the accident, the love continues to reveal itself. Patients in the hospital are learning Fulton’s ‘brave breath’ techniques to help them get through the pain. His burn cards, a social reintegration solution we invented together, have given confidence to other burn patients who are struggling with re-entering society. And his mere presence in restaurants or the mall have brought people to tears, once they talk to him and see how strong he is. He has brought hope and healing to adults who suffered various crosses in silence, inspired for the first time to face their own past hurts. His scars show them their own woundedness, and come to realize their scars are proof of their strength, not their weakness.

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Fulton, through the cross he carries and the scars he bears, has touched far more souls than he ever could have before the accident. And only in Eternity will we know how many hearts he helped return to the Church and into the loving arms of Our Father. Please Lord, may I be numbered among them, for I have learned so much.

My trials have taught me that every crisis forces one to redirect his life. We are handed a cross, designed especially for us, and asked to choose. We cannot choose whether we will take the cross. No. The cross is ours to bear no matter what. But we can freely choose how we respond to it.

Do we accept that cross and prayerfully carry it to its completion? Do we give hope to others along the way? Or do we curse our cross as it grows in weight and model for others how to stumble and rage against the One who gifted us?

I have tried both responses to the carefully chosen crosses Our Lord has sent me in my life. I can assure you that while cursing those things in our lives that cause us to suffer may feel more natural, embracing our suffering is by far the easier response, for it is the only response that coincides with God’s will.

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My prayer for you this Holy Week is that you open your heart to the cross God has given you and cherish it as a priceless gift. Just as Christ’s Passion draws hearts to love Him more, may you draw others closer to Our Lord through your suffering. Praise His name through your pain. May God be glorified through you!

“Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. And Jesus hearing it, said to them: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” John 11:3-4

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Fulton’s next big surgery is coming up on April 14th 2015. Please pray for Fulton! Come and see his progress on his Facebook page ‘Pray For Fulton’

Cassandra Poppe’s blog is Let us kneel

From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

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Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

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An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

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The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

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For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

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My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

The Little Way of Fasting – A Mothers Perspective.

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My 3 beautiful kids often draw me pictures.

Alex 8, does some pretty good stuff now. He is Mr Logic, and doesn’t care much for creativity (bless him!) but he is pretty good at technical drawing and copying cartoon characters.

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Annabel 5, is the complete opposite and loves to draw emotional things like friendships and love and butterflies and princesses.

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Angelica 1, likes to do stuff like this:

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Now the thing is that when they come to show me their drawings their little faces all beam in exactly the same way! They draw stuff with great effort. And then they give it to me because they love me! My little darlings! I’m not sure what moves my heart more – seeing how hard they have tried, or their beautiful beaming faces as they give me all their hard work.

Now here’s a question:  Which picture do I value the most? I suppose that is as silly as asking which child do I love the most? I love them all the same, and all 3 pictures will be going up on the wall because each one of them is my favourite! Even though Angelica’s lovely scribble is just a mess on a page – I can see that she has put everything into that scribble, and at this point in her development I would not expect any more of her. She has given her all, and it is perfect.

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Isn’t this the exact same way our Mother Mary looks at us with our fasting and prayer?

Some of us are like Alex and can give a pretty good, neat, logical effort. Some of us are like Annabel and pray and fast emotionally and randomly. And some of us – most of us, are like little Angelica: doing our very best with the little skill we have. We are just babies in our spiritual development and we can’t manage too much just yet! But our Mother knows this and she delights in our messy, scribbley, prayerful fasting efforts! Whether we are fasting on bread and water for 40 days, or only giving up 1 cup of tea each day, she loves all our efforts the same, and is incredibly proud of each one of us.

I’m not sure what moves her heart more:  seeing how hard we have tried, or our beautiful beaming faces as we give her all our hard work. But I know this… A mother who loves her children, will cherish all these little things in her heart forever.

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