October 25, 2016

Catholic Prayer Hacks

I'm not what most people would call holy, but I do hope to become so.  I'll need a lot of grace and prayers for it to happen.  We're all essentially lazy.  Well, some of us are.  Okay, I am, at least.  I'm lazy.  And I know it.  So, I like to look for short cuts, easier ways.  I like to figure out how to get the most bang for my buck (spiritually speaking); to make the system to work for me!

The intercessory prayers of others is crucial in this endeavor.  Why would I place the job of sanctification on my own lousy shoulders?  Wouldn't that be the heresy of Jansenism?  So far, so good.  Got out of that one!  And, if I just pray a lot myself, well, that's like burying my small savings rather than putting it somewhere to gain interest, right?  I have it on good authority (Matt 25:14 - 30) that this would be foolish.  So, I aim to maximize the effectiveness of my prayers all I can.  I have wangled a few ways to do this and I'll share some of them with you in case you're as lazy as I am!

1.  Pray a Morning Offering.  First thing in the morning, or whenever you think of it, pray one of the many Morning Offering prayers (here's the one I happen to like).  You're basically offering all your prayers, works, joys and sufferings of that day for Our Lord's purposes, so everything you do or is done to you is a prayer!!!  That's like one of those matching gifts some companies make when you give a donation.  From the moment you pray this, it's double prayer points!!!

2.  Ask others to pray for your intentions.  You can ask as many people as you want!  You can ask friends, strangers, prayer groups, priests, a convent full of religious sisters!  Ask anyone you think might pray.  And with today's social media, this has never been easier!!  You can ask hundreds of people at once on Facebook!  If they are particularly sympathetic to your intentions, they may even ask hundreds of their Facebook Friends to pray for you!  Not only that - think of this: God loves to hear our prayers.  So, the more people you ask to pray for your intentions, the more people are praying.  Through one small prayer request, you could be responsible for getting hundreds of people saying prayers they otherwise wouldn't have said!  There's got to be a bonus in that, right?

3.  Ask for the intercession of that "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.  These would be those who are already sanctified - the Saints.  They are standing before the throne of God eternally loving Him and being loved, but, since they are technically outside of time, it's not going to inconvenience them any to put in a good word for you, too.  If you're someone who happens to  follow the traditions of one of the newer Christian sects (i.e. those that developed after 1517), please refer to this site to understand this constant practise of all Christians until recent times, as I'm in the line of entertainment, rather than apologetics.  Again, When you ask someone holy to pray for your intentions, you increase your prayer exponentially!

4.  Get to know your Guardian Angel.  In addition to all the saints in heaven and holy (and not so holy yet) people on earth, you really need to put your Guardian Angel to work.  Now, I don't mean you should live more dangerously.  I mean you need to know that you have an angel assigned just to you since the moment your existence began, who is there to help you get to heaven!  Obviously this angel is praying for you already.  Why not put it on the specific jobs you have in mind!  Send it on errands.  I ask mine to meet up with the angel of someone I'm trying to find in a large crowded place to help us find each other.  Are you about to have a confrontation with someone or need to negotiate a difficult situation?  Send your angel ahead to meet with that of the other person to smooth the way to a peaceful conversation and solution!  I have always heard when you fall asleep praying the Rosary, your angel will finish it for you!  (I find this comforting, but I hesitate to plan to do it that way and count it as actually praying the Rosary).  Ask your angel to pray for your needs while you're sleeping.  There's eight hours of prayer gained right there!

5.  Join other people's Novenas.  I used to be pretty good at praying novenas (nine days of prayer for an intention), but lately, I can't seem to remember beyond the first couple of days.  I love the novenas that lead up to a special saint's day.  The best thing about them in this era of social media is that friends post them on Facebook with an invitation to join in.  Knowing that my intention to join in usually lacks the perseverance necessary to make it to the end, I have found it helpful to safeguard my intentions by asking the friend who is obviously planning to pray the novena to also remember my intentions!  I still try to pray it, but this is a good back-up.

6.  Make your request stand out.  When applying for a job, it is suggested that you make your resume stand out among all the others.  When I come across a friend going off to Mass or to pray at the adoration chapel, I always ask them to pray for me.  I want to ensure that I'm not just lumped into that "and all the people who asked me to pray for them" group.  I suspect it's better when one is prayed for specifically.  So, I make my request specific in order for it to stand out.  Me: "Pray for me while you're there!"  Them: "Okay!"  Me: "By name!"

 7.  Remember the souls in Purgatory.  Don't just remember them; pray for them!  Did you know that they're counting on us to help complete their purgation?  We already pray for them at Mass.  Many pray for them at grace before meals.  And that's not all you can do!   Pray for departed loved ones whenever you think of them.  Pray for them when you pass a cemetery.  Since Protestants have rejected the ancient practise of praying for the dead, we may be the only ones praying for their deceased relatives!!  They are going to be really grateful to us when they are admitted through those pearly gates.  See how my frend, Carol, is utilizing this feature to become really popular in heaven!  And, did you know that they'll then be praying for us??  You see where I'm going with this by now.  So, the small investment we put into effective prayers for the people in purgatory yields an eternal cornucopia of saintly prayers!  That's what I call a good return on investment!  So here's my hack (remember, I'm pretty lazy).  I like to pray one Hail Mary for that soul that needs only one Hail Mary to be released from Purgatory.  That's what I call economy!  A more generous, but less immediately effective, trick is to pray for those people I would have hated if I had known them in life.  They were probably rather unlovable and not many people want to pray for them, so, they're going to love me!  And, since I never knew them, it's not even very hard to do!  Cha-ching!

8.  Bundle devotions.   Say you're going to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Did you notice that the last two mysteries (Jesus carries His cross and Jesus is crucified) are basically the Stations of the Cross?  Well, I did.  So, why not meditate on one station for each of the Hail Marys?  You'll need to add a few more meditations to make it work out.  You could throw in some of the Seven Last Words or any aspect that really helps your meditation.  Voila!  Two prayers in one!!  You can even go one step further.  Let's say you want to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Simply meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries - using the Stations of the Cross for the final two mysteries as above.  Triple Word Score!!  You win!

9. The piece de resistance of prayer hacks.  Pray for God's will.

Call it cheating - or call it efficiency.  I'm working to put my fault of laziness to work for the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant!  And I'm not going to do it alone!

October 22, 2016

The Inexplicably Low Success Rate of Involuntary Drivers Training

Have you ever attended Involuntary Drivers Training?  Perhaps you're an instructor?  I don't expect you to admit it if you are.  I think we've all been students, though, one time or another.

You don't enroll.  The anonymous instructors enroll you on an "as needed" basis.  When they see the "need", they just teach you that lesson!  It's like a public service!  And it's mobile; they come to you!

Here's an example of how it works.  If you should happen to misjudge the timing while turning left onto a road - resulting in an instructor having to slow down a bit - he will jump into action and respond to that "teachable moment."  Obviously what you have done is unsafe and rude.  You ought to have better judged his excess speed and waited for him to pass before turning out.  Silly you!  But since the best way to learn not to do something is to nearly die from of doing it, the instructor will help contrive the best learning conditions for you (in the absence of any actual danger of dying having existed).  Usually, this will take the form of him not applying his brakes until the very last moment that it will be effective and then to do so dramatically.  He'll teach you!!  (He is a public servant, after all).

Did you change lanes in front of someone who wanted to be in that space?  Well, a good Involuntary Drivers Training instructor will provide an enthusiastic lecture (even if you can't actually hear him) and may illustrate the serious danger of your actions by dramatically slamming on his brakes and then following you closely.  He may even gesticulate wildly in order to draw your attention to your errors.  To help you become a better driver.

Perhaps you have forgotten to use your turn signal.  You managed to survive as did everyone around you?  But, you really ought to use that signal every time and, if you check your rear view mirror, there is probably an Involuntary Drivers Training instructor behind you generously offering a colorful lecture for your education and edification!

You really have to hand it to those instructors; they're tireless, they're everywhere and they're always on the ready!

It's curious, though, that the success rate of Involuntary Drivers Training in rehabilitating dangerous drivers is so low.

October 21, 2016

What's So Great About The Grass On The Other Side Of The Fence Anyway?

   They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  Sometimes the grass is actually greener there because they used a different kind of grass seed and take care of it really well.  Probably they retain a gardener or are retired.  But, that lush, green, inviting carpet of grass is just an illusion.  And I don't mean just by way of analogy.  It's not just that other people whose lives seem so lovely really do have hidden problems we don't know about.  I mean the actual grass, once we get closer, is not going to be the perfect pic-nic spot we were counting on.

    First of all, grass grows out of soil.  Soil is often damp.  After sitting a spell, your pants are going to be damp upon arising.  The grass is never so thick that the soil doesn't show through.  Sure it looked like a smooth span of impenetrable green from a distance, but just walk over and look directly down at it.  You can see through it like a comb-over.  What's more, bugs live in that soil.  And they are not going to take it lying down when you spread your repast upon their family estate.  Some of the more amiable bug folk, like spiders, will take it to be a newly opened restaurant and place their orders.  Wasps, you will discover, are notoriously bad tippers.  Fire ants, are belligerent little buggers who will stop at nothing to evict you.  And they'll succeed.

    Walking on the grass itself is no picnic either.  Unless it's that super fine, soft grass cared for by retirees and Oxford University colleges.  But they won't stand for you standing on it!  The blades would break.  Why are they called blades?  Perhaps the belligerent fire ants wield them in the second wave of battle - but I've never stuck around to find out.

So, how are we supposed to enjoy the grass, be it on our side of the fence or someone else's???  What's it for, anyway?  Good question!  Why do we have lawns?  Being too lazy to do any research, I'll just tell you what I think.  I think it's a form of leisure and prestige, like art kept by a private collector.  A lush green lawn is pleasant to look at and it does bring a feeling of peace to walk in the coolness of a well manicured garden.  But, is it really necessary for everyone in the neighborhood to have their swath of lawn?  Does it really make sense?

Unfortunately, after a dry summer, the grass on the other side of my fence (the chicken pen) isn't very green, either!  The chickens can't wait to get out there never-the-less!

    At a time when small-scale agriculture kept the world going, it was probably a sign of wealth (and, therefor power) to be able to use huge tracts of land for other than growing food.  Only the nobles could afford the luxury of non-productive land - land used only for their enjoyment.  They could surround their homes with large, manicured parks of grass not used primarily for food.  So, a lawn is a sign of prosperity.  It says to all who see it, "I can afford to not spend my own effort growing my food.  I have people who do that for me.  Somewhere else."  Without thinking about it, we have bought into this idea as a matter of habit.  When a new house is built, landscaping (with grass) is just one of the things that is done before it's considered finished.  What if some one decided instead to sow hay on their little quarter acre lot and graze sheep? There are often laws against that.  There have even been cases of people planting their front yards with vegetable gardens and been stopped by the long arm of the law.  So, what makes grass so special?  What even makes uniformity of neighborhood yards so special?

There are some bright spots in the world neighborhood, however.  Some people are doing things a little differently, planting food in unlikely places, getting hands-on with the soil, giving from the bounty to others in need.  Here is just one example.  Paul Quinn College has transformed its football field into a garden where students learn the skill of growing food, the food benefits people in the community and the whole project helped the college to not close its doors!

Next time you go out to your lawn to engage in that endless cycle of water to make it grow/mow to keep it short/water to make it grow/mow to keep it short, give some thought to why you have chosen to become a butler to your grass.  Maybe it would be better for the grass to be greener on someone else's side of the fence!

October 18, 2016

Would You Put Your Life On the Line??

Image result for yellow road line picture

I put my life on the line almost daily.  In all likelyhood, you do, too!  Literally on the line (and I know what that word means!).  It's that yellow line down the middle of the road.

Think about it.  Driving is so weird.  Imagine a long, straight two-lane road.  Now, if you remove the surroundings and that yellow line that separates the traffic coming and going, it would look like a really scary jousting match.  In cars.  At high speed.  Near miss after near miss.  It's crazy to pass other cars going in the opposite direction that closely!!!!

We trust these lines.  Paint!  We place our safety and our very lives in the "hands" a few kilderkins of yellow paint!  Again, think of a curvy mountain road.  Now, imagine driving on it without the lines - and without what the lines mean to us.  Every curve is potential death.  It's Russian Roulette.  We're nuts.

Now, I know it's not just the line we trust.  We trust every other person on the road to abide by The Line.  These are total strangers - and worse.  These are the people we disagree with on important matters, people who vote for the other side - for stupid reasons, people who bag our groceries wrong, people who would make fun of us for something (if we weren't passing each other at speed).  I can't believe we can trust them with something as important as staying on their side of the road!!  Don't you remember when you couldn't even trust your brother to stay on his side of the back seat??  And don't say that lives weren't at risk then, because you knew your dad would kill you both if you didn't knock off that bickering - if he could only reach far enough back (while driving at speed, spared from a head-on collision by a swath of yellow paint).

But even this life-saving miracle had a beginning.  A center line was first used in the US in 1911 in Michigan!  (Thank you, Google)  It's amazing we survived without it!  Considering, however, that cars only became common in the first few decades of the twentieth century, it wasn't really that long.

Next time you're on a two-lane road Just try it .  Imagine it's a desert playa - no road, no lines.  The competitors are instructed to start driving toward the car that will start two miles away, aiming to pass each other at about arm's length without slowing down.  Would you do it at 60 mph?  Would you do it at 40mph?  Would you do it at all?  Well, you do it every time you drive!!

You're nuts.

October 16, 2016

Everone Needs an Ethel

I love Lucy.  Everyone does, right?  But you know who I also love?  I love Ethel.  Because without Ethel, Lucy wouldn't have been able to devise or execute quite so many hair-brained schemes.  Lucy needed Ethel - and who doesn't?  Everyone needs an Ethel!  Everyone needs an accomplice in fun, in worry, in difficult projects.  It would be handy if I could just step out on the fire escape and shout for her! But I can't.  My Ethel lives in Texas.  And I don't.  We haven't lived near each other since shortly after grad school.  It may have saved us (and our husbands) a lot of trouble, but I think the trouble may have been worth it!

It's not that I'm Lucy; I'm her Ethel - because, everyone needs an Ethel!  During gradschool we attended and hosted many a wonderful get together, for instance the famous New Liturgical Year semi-formal party on the eve of Advent with our Franciscan University friends, and the more elite "Turnover Party" we held in my car the night my odometer was due to turn over to 100,000 miles.  I made the apple turnovers, she put together the soundtrack tape (Sentimental Journey, I Love a Rainy Night, Driving My Life Away, etc.).  Getting lost on an outing to Amish Country, we both realized at the same moment, looking at the map, that we had turned the wrong way on a road, but thought it was the right direction because we had both though East when we read West - and both said at the exact same time, "Oh, WEST!".  Let me just say, you don't want to play the game Taboo against us!

We have encouraged each other in our Faith, in whiling away the years waiting for our spouses, in living the catholic liturgical year with our families.  She introduced me to Maria Trapp's book, Around the Year With the Trapp Family!!  We have discussed a great many other books.  She taught me the "Carol P. Just Get It Done Method" - which have yet to perfect.  We both married and had our fist children in the same year as each other.  While I have been blessed with many good friends, acquaintances and groups of friends over the years, it is a gift to have someone with whom I share  history, Faith and humor.

"Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them.”

-Sirach 6:14-16 NRSV

Friendship is sweet.  If you lack an Ethel in your life, I suggest you have a word with St. John the Evangelist (the Apostle).  He is the patron saint of friendship.  He was able, while at the Last Supper to lean on Our Lord's Heart and referred to himself as "the beloved disciple".  His faithful, long life was surely rewarded with the opportunity to be close to Our Lord in heaven, where he can recommend your request to the Author of Love.  Ask for a faithful friend, an Ethel!  You will find your prayer answered in time.

You can go look at my Ethel's blog if you'd like to see what she's up to.  Her name is Carol, though.  She writes (not often enough) at Strangers and Exiles.  As you might have surmised, she writes thoughtfully on the Catholic Faith, the liturgical year, family, books (she reads a lot), films - and she always welcomes friendly comments.

Image result for i love lucy and ethel

October 9, 2016

My Book Report: Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto

Sometimes I come up with an idea I think is good - and then I learn that someone really smart said it first!!!  Moments like that are so exciting for me, because, you know, they make me feel smart!  Well, this happened recently when I discovered John Taylor Gatto's book, Weapons of Mass Instruction.  

First, I'll tell you about another little book that introduced me to Mr. Gatto.  It's called Your Children Can Change the World, by Ginny Seuffert.  It is a tiny book written for Catholic homeschoolers that presents the 14 principles Gatto identified that distinguish the elite, expensive education sold to "future leaders" from that proffered, free of charge, by the U.S. government to the worker/consumer class (i.e. the rest of us).  Seuffert explains their value and suggests how they can be implemented in a homeschool setting.  I recommend book - because it's good, practical, encouraging and takes little time to read.  And, it will make you want to know more about John Taylor Gatto and his ideas.  He even wrote the complimentary introduction.

In Weapons of Mass Instruction, Gatto shows that not only have we been sold a way of thinking that doesn't get us anywhere, but that it has been done deliberately.  Most of us went to school and were reminded that we should get good grades so that we can get into a good college.  We should get into a good college so that we can get a good job.  We should get a good job so that we can buy a house, a car and all the stuff, send our kids to college and retire.  It's a conveyor belt toward virtual slavery to invisible others.  When we "get a job," we work for someone else who is probably making more than we are through our efforts - our daily, weekly, yearly efforts.  What we do take home, we put into a house - that really belongs more to a bank(er) than it does to us - for thirty years.  During our evenings and weekends off, we relax by watching TV shows, in themselves of mixed value, and told during the commercial breaks what we ought to buy!  So we do!  However much I might love my job, I am replaceable.  Should I leave, "Human Resources" will just go out to the conveyor belt and get another cog that will just as easily fit into the gears as I do.

Fresh out of college I did some substitute teaching.  Being on the other side of the desk for the first time, I observed that what scools largely do is to teach kids not to take initiative, nor to be creative and curious.  They must raise their hand to ask permission to do the most basic tasks (like sharpening the pencil they need to use to finish thier assignment and even use the bathroom).  I know, I know, classroom order.  I don't think it's necessary.  When Britney raised her hand to let me know she had finished the quiet assignment they were all working on and what should she do now, it was immediately apparent that, she wanted the class to know she had finished it before anyone else and that she needed permission to move on to the next task.  She even knew that the obvious things to do were to work on her homework or read quietly when I asked her what she thought would be an appropriate thing to do.  I got my first lesson in what classrooms across America are really all about - control of the student (future citizen workers).  Even teachers are not really aware of this, as they are a low part of the system - and many of them are doing a fine job to undermine it by really teaching kids to learn, as John Taylor Gatto did while he was still teaching in the government schools in New York City.

Gatto's book is well written (at least it came across as intelligent and cogent in an audio format) and gripping.  He presents anecdotes from his own experience teaching in New York city public schools, of others' successes without schooling, documentary and historical evidence that the dumbing down of the American citizenry has been intentionally orchestrated since about the time of the Civil War!  I'd probably add a quote from the book at this point - but I listened to it, so you'll just have to take my word for it!

Whether you're homeschooling your own children, trying to offer your classroom students the best shot at life or are a conspiracy theorist, you'll find something to love and something to learn in Weapons of Mass Instruction.

You can find Ginny Seuffert's book, Your Children Can Change the World here
and John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction here

October 7, 2016

Punctuality: An Extreme Sport!

I have seen some quite unflattering, uncharitable articles and Facebook memes that suggest people who are regularly late are fit only for hell.  They (We) are considered inexcusably rude, selfish and likely to blow up orphanages.  I take exception to these!!

I begin my defense with a quote from the 1954 film, Three Coins In The Fountain: "Punctuality is the Vice of Virtuous Women."  Rather than focus on the fact that those article writers who have thus discharged their vitriol are also lacking in a virtue, namely charity, I wish to offer them a different perspective that may help them to understand the struggle, encourage and, maybe even root for some hard working athletes trying to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness!

It may not have occurred to some of you - for whom punctuality comes easily - that it is not universally easy.  For me, it's like a sport, an extreme sport - and I've never before been much of an athlete.  In order to get there (anywhere) on time, I have to overcome some difficult obstacles and I am severely lacking in the necessary specialized skills.  I have to know how long it takes to get there, know how to get there and not turn the wrong way, remember what I need to take the first (or second) time I get into the car, get my children into the car (the margin of error on this one can span from five to twenty minutes).  There are other small variables that may, but usually don't happen as well, like one of my children escaping the seat belt, requiring pulling over.  This is a feat that requires concentration, and yet, I have to contend with questions, whining, lessons being read aloud.  Even before I start the car, intense planning is necessary: in what order must I approach the course obstacles in order to arrive at that one on time?

I participate in this sport not to lose, but to win.  I want to win!!  I want to arrive on time!  Oh, sure, I could just go the day before and camp out with my kids in order not to give you an opportunity to practise patience, charity and mercy.  But that seems a little unreasonable to me.  Besides, I want to hone my skills.

This is a solitary sport, like rock climbing, parachuting, deep freediving.  When I accept your invitation to be somewhere at a particular time, I am virtually signing up to be a contestant on American Ninja Warrior.  I know it will be tough.  I know people will be judging me.  I know there will be unexpected obstacles.  But I believe it will be worth it - to spend time with you.  I believe that I will emerge a successful contestant: a winner - or a better person for giving it my all!  And that you will be at the finish line (before me) cheering me on!

Image result for extreme downhill unicycling
feels like this to me!
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What feels like this to you . . .

October 6, 2016

Saints Preserve Us!! The Irish Fest Fiasco

I'm not sure how to say this nicely.  Some events bring out the goofs.  St. Patrick's Day in America is one of those events.  As they say, everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day!  Well, of course, this is simply ridiculous.  I have actual Irish heritage, by which I mean my mother immigrated from Ireland as an adult, so I'm clearly more Irish than anyone else!  I'll give way only to people who have genuine Irish accents.  (Nevermind that I have never been to the old country myself)

When I attend an Irish festival, you understand why I look down my nose at those goofs celebrating the great Saint's feast by the wearing of the green - donning their best "Irish" attire.  You've seen them too, I'm sure.  Beer in hand (or hands), they have a shamrock painted on their cheek.  Yes, a few have on a Claddagh ring, but more are sporting a Kelly Green feather boa, University of Norte Dame T-shirt emblazoned with the "Fighting Irish" mascot, a fuzzy green Cat-In-The-Hat style hat.  You'll see vaguely pagan maiden costumes, Leprechaun shoes, shamrock shaped antennae headbands - you know, Irish attire.  Like everyone in Ireland always wears!

Image result for irish festival pictures

Last time I witnessed such a preposterous display, I thought to myself, "What a bunch of maroons, goofing off, looking ridiculous, dancing . . . having fun.  Having fun!  Having more fun than I am, in fact."  And then, in a life shaking epiphany, it occurred to me, "Why don't I just enjoy seeing people having fun differently than me?  They're bringing joy to the world."

And so, I have laid down the burden of judging those who are harmlessly enjoying life differently than I do.  It's tempting to pick it up again at every opportunity, but my disinclination to do more work than necessary kicks in and lets them just have fun.