Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Heavenly Handbag

I'm going to take Holy Week off to spend time praying, meditating and preparing for Easter as well as to focus on my primary vocation as wife and mother. 

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this article I wrote for Catholic Exchange.  (BTW, the "handbag" in the photo is available on Cafe Press-- it's on my wish list!)

The Heavenly Handbag

I recently walked into a local store and was enthusiastically greeted by a teenaged employee who admired the bag I was carrying. We chatted for a few minutes, our twenty-five year age difference overcome by our common interest in a woman’s most important accessory. Not surprising really, as the search for the perfect bag begins early in life.

Even a toddler realizes that a purse reflects who she is as she debates which Disney princess should be featured on her starter bag. After all, the right bag says “I’ve arrived! I’m stylish! I’m somebody!” No wonder so many women splurge on designer handbags that cost more than their mortgage payment.

If a handbag reflects who a woman is, then the things she carries inside are tools for her success -- a matching wallet filled with credit cards, lipstick in the current color palette, the must-have smart phone, a stack of business cards, perfect designer sunglasses, and keys to a luxury car. Handbag contents are even the subject of celebrity interviews. My favorite fashion magazine asks the cover model, “What’s in your bag?” as if its contents will somehow reveal the secret to her fame and fortune. Gullible readers rush out to purchase the same products, hoping for similar results.

There is one event in a woman’s life that will forever alter her choice of handbags -- motherhood. Suddenly the designer label is not as important as the function of the bag. It must be easy to clean, have lots of pockets and compartments, and not fall apart when chewed by teething babies. The contents also reveal a shift away from self. I’ve seen women pull band-aids, bibs, juice boxes, miniature cars, sunscreen, and even portable DVD players out of enormous purses.

Like all earthly treasures, the allure of the perfect handbag fades over time. It gets soiled, the stitches come undone, or it is simply no longer in vogue. It must be cast aside and replaced. Likewise, as a woman matures, she realizes that her words, actions and accomplishments better reflect who she is than her handbag. Its contents, or tools for her success, change as well. They are more practical – a coupon organizer, a pack of tissues, hand sanitizer, and keys to a minivan.

My own handbag and the things I carry in it have gradually changed to reveal the person I have become. I still like to carry a stylish bag, but the contents have evolved to emphasize my inner beauty rather than my outward appearance. My handbag is merely an earthly treasure, but it can carry the tools to help me store up treasures in heaven. In the pocket next to my lipstick is a small container of holy water. A zippered compartment holds a prayer book, an assortment of holy cards and a booklet to examine my conscience before Confession. My rose-scented Rosary is neatly contained in a case with a picture of St. Therese of Lisieux. A Sunday bulletin is stuffed in a side compartment. Even my keychain proclaims my faith with the Sacred Heart Auto League logo and a request to call a priest in the event of an accident.

With these tools at my disposal, I can use those idle moments in my day to direct my focus toward heaven, where I hope to some day shout with joy, “I’ve arrived!”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feast of the Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.  Note that on today's date, March 25, there are exactly nine months until Christmas.

The details of this event are related in just one small paragraph in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:26-35; I prefer the Douay-Rheims version), yet it is one of the most pivotal events in human and salvation history. 

The Annunciation can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3:15 (again I prefer the text of the Douay-Rheims Bible).  Mary is indeed that Woman who crushes the head of Satan.  That is why she is often depicted in art with a snake under her foot. 

To aid my Rosary meditation, I often like to find interesting and beautiful works of art that depict the various mysteries.  Since my family travels frequently, I often take the time to visit art museums, and I particularly enjoy looking at religious art. 

I came across this painting of the Annunciation (above) by George Hitchcock in the Art Institute of Chicago.  I was immediately drawn to its simple beauty, and I liked that it was different from so many other typical paintings of this mystery,which usually show an angel presenting Mary with a single lily.  Here, she is surrounded by lilies, the symbol of purity and virginity.  Mary, "full of grace," is the new Eve, depicted in a garden of lilies, reversing the disobedience of the old Eve in that long-ago garden of Paradise.  Her fiat, or yes, will allow us to re-enter that garden.

I could spend the rest of my life meditating on this one mystery of the Rosary and never fully grasp its depth and beauty.  Today, I will reflect on Mary's words, "May it be done to me according to thy word."  I hope and pray that I can find the strength to do what God wills of me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wretched Census People!

This is a departure from my usual blog entries, but I thought a little humor was in order this week.  A little background:  My family has spent the last four years traveling in an RV while we homeschooled our children.  (My husband was a part-time Reserve Air Force pilot.)  Just recently, we decided to settle down for awhile, and we have started looking for a house in a charming small town in rural North Carolina.  We are blessed to have our comfortable, roomy RV to live in as we take our time finding the right place to live.  We're staying in a very nice wooded campground, and our site overlooks a pond where Canadian geese stop during migration, and deer often run through the surrounding hills.  Even so, there are some people who don't quite "get" why we would do this, thus the following (true) story, which does have a spiritual theme (wait for it...):

I woke up this morning feeling exhausted and beset by a bad case of those middle-age hormones. After getting everyone off to school, I sat down to tackle the first item on the list: calling the military health care "customer service" for the 10th time, regarding their inept handling of our transfer to a new region. After that stimulating call, I was ready to get some exercise and sun on my face, so I opened the door to get a feel for the weather and how I should dress for my much-anticipated bike ride.

To my surprise, there were two badly dressed men approaching the RV, wearing some sort of badges and carrying clipboards. They shouted, "We're from the census department. We need to ask you a few questions." The poor things really had no idea who they were about to deal with.

I tried to remain calm. "Sorry. I'm just about to run out."

Undaunted, one of them called out, "How long have you been living here?"

I snapped, "Don't you people mail out forms?"

They looked surprised. "Oh, you have a PO Box?"

(No. I get my mail from the Pony Express.) "Yes, of course."

"Have you received your questionnaire yet?"

"No, but I'm sure it will arrive soon. Good day."

They still refuse to leave. "We have to go through all the campgrounds and find the transient people who are living there."

Now they have gone too far. Don't they realize that this is a custom RV with real cherry cabinets and a dishwasher? I am no TRANSIENT, even if I look the part at this moment, with no make-up, hair in a ponytail, wearing a sweatsuit (my best Nike one, however).

I narrow my eyes and beam out death rays, "If you want to ask me any questions, you can make an appointment at a time that is convenient for me."

They STILL don't give up. One shouts, "Do you live here with your husband?"

(No. I raise snakes and train them to strike at wretched census people.) "I will not answer your questions until you make an appointment. I have to go."

I close the door as they shout, "Someone will just come back tomorrow."

I take a deep breath. Since it's Lent, I pray for them. They'll probably need it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Transfiguration, Part 4

According to The Transfiguration narrative of St. Luke, the three Apostles were overcome by sleep.  This ties in with Sunday's First Reading from Genesis: Abraham, like the three Apostles, falls asleep and awakens to hear an important message directly from the voice of God.

The three chosen men awaken to find Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah about His upcoming "exodus" in Jerusalem.  Of course, we know that Jesus will suffer, die and rise from the dead, but the use of the word "exodus" again recalls the Old Testament and the search for the Promised Land. 

To aid your meditation, take some time to read the book of Exodus.  As you read, think of the parallels in the Gospels.  For example, Moses begins the journey to the Promised Land by leading the Israelites through water.  Likewise, we begin our journey to heaven (the new Promised Land) through Baptism, the sacrament that Jesus initiated in the River Jordan.

Now wide awake, Peter, at first, displays insight as to his role in this event: "It is good that we are here." However, in typical pre-Pentecost Peter fashion, he goes on to put his foot in his mouth and shows that he really just doesn't get it: "Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." St. Luke makes his mistake obvious: "But he did not know what he was saying."

In my next post, I'll explain why, but today let us think about the words, "It is good that we are here." I often recall St. Peter's words when I am at daily Mass, Stations of the Cross, or in a situation where I can do some good deed or offer a kind word. God gives us many opportunities to become instruments of His Divine Will. Keep this in mind when any time you think, "It is good that I am here".

Rosary Workout note:  Yesterday, I prayed the Luminous Mysteries as I ran on a treadmill at the gym.  While meditating on The Transfiguration, I imagined that I was running up Mount Tabor, seeing Jesus and the three Apostles, curious to find out what was happening.  I sometimes find that if I incorporate my workout into the scene of the mystery, it helps to focus my meditation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Transfiguration, Part 3

In the next scene of St. Luke's Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus.

The appearance of these two key figures from the Old Testament is very interesting. Elijah never died, according to the Old Testament. Instead he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11). (I'll discuss this in more depth when I write about the fourth Glorious Mystery, The Assumption.) Moses, however, did die and never saw the Promised Land. So is Moses a ghost? Here's a link to an article about the Catholic Church's stand on ghosts. (Important caveat: Catholics should never try to "conjure" up any ghosts, attend seances or consult a medium or other "ghost expert". The Old Testament story of Saul and the Witch of Endor gives us a great example about the consequences of such actions.)

Finally, according to Catholic theologians, the presence of Moses and Elijah is not a coincidence. Moses symbolizes "The Law" and Elijah symbolizes "The Prophets". It will all tie in together in the final scene of the Transfiguration. More tomorrow...

In the meantime, read the other Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration: Matthew 17:1-9 and Mark 9:1-8