The Zoom Zone

Our lives for the last year have had to incorporate a whole new level of unanticipated online activity including gatherings, meetings, classes, weddings, funerals, and grocery shopping, to name a few. It has required that we learn a new language and crazy computer skills which I personally did not previously have. Truth be told, I am not sure I remember anything longer than the actual moment I need the acquired skill. I don’t want to clog up my arteries with useless data or blow up my brain cells when I already have so few left at my disposal. What was I writing about again?

Take last Saturday, we virtually co-lead one of the required marriage preparation classes. Mind you it is seven hours long. That is a long time to do a ‘dog and pony show’ on a small screen attempting to engage someone. Thank goodness we were not the lead couple and had to assume all the duties associated with it.

Give me the good old days, (2019) when I only had to move furniture, prepare breakfast, set-up the mic system and hope the projector would link up with my power point.

Now I need to send out links or be invited, or not accidently delete that email, then spend an hour looking for said email, and finally cut my losses and embarrassingly ask for the link to be resent because, “I must not have received it.” All the while the moderator is trying to start the meeting and deal with all the other dinosaur brains like myself. Welcome to the Zoom Zone. About the time I begin to grasp how to ‘share my screen’ and get comfortable with the web meeting program, I am thrust into using another. “How do I make you the presenter again?”  I don’t know if you have had similar frustrations. I am sure we could all commiserate about the various new-fangled jargon and comical things we have seen when the camera was rolling and someone in the background who was unaware, gave us something to talk about for months.

I have learned the critical importance of muting my audio when not speaking, or everyone gets to freely eavesdrop on conversations unintended for their ears. It is like awkwardly overhearing someone’s confession. You can’t unhear it. I was gesturing wildly to Mark when the audio was on and he kept asking mundane questions not necessarily pertinent to the topic. “Oh, sorry, is the mic on?” “Nope, I am just making these faces and gestures, ‘cause I have an itch.”

Of course, there are those who are extremely adept at the ever changing technological and virtual gadgetry, who quickly adapt and hone new skills. Anyone under forty comes to mind. I am not suggesting that anyone over forty does not possess these mad skills, it however seems to come easier to younger minds. “Grandma, do you need me to change the channel for you again?” There are some of us more seasoned folks who have wandered the planet longer, who are just getting further and further behind. We absolutely must keep that in mind as we go forward.

I think for me it started a few decades ago when each device came with its own remote, but then there was also a universal remote that worked with some of the stuff some of the time. When Mark (remote guru) was away on a trip, I could not even figure out how to get a DVD to play or what input to select. I would finally beg one of the kids to show me. “Just give it to me, I’ll do it” they would say. And they would, but not before tossing one of those pathetic ignoramus looks my way. Suffice it to say, I didn’t watch many movies.

I had to laugh out loud a few times early on as we were introducing the couples attending the class. One of the couples had only half of one of their faces visible. The host asked if they might move the computer a bit to capture both of them. The next screen shot was of their ceiling and just the tops of their heads. “Can you sit closer together maybe and move your screen down a little” asked the moderator. More adjustments were made and eventually we saw their sweet faces. Once the class started some couples immediately muted their mics and shut off the video feed. We were not altogether sure if they were in the same room or anywhere near the computer. Oh well, their loss. Although I don’t know if that was worse or if seeing their bored unengaged, or disinterested body language. We appreciate those who did engage and participate and tossed us a bone now and then, so we did not speak into 30 black holes.

I get that it is a better option than a total shut down of information. On the other hand, it is never a substitute for in-person human contact and relationship building. Frankly, when we are doing the virtual thing, it feels like I am just talking to myself in the mirror trying not to hyper-focus on what’s going on with my funky hair, or how wildly I gesture when I speak. I find myself wondering if I really look like that when I am teaching. Clearly the camera doesn’t lie. It takes superhuman strength to not look at myself at all, but it’s hard not to with those wild flailing arms going at full speed.

There is never a substitute for in-person human contact and relationship building.

I for one hope this virtual business meeting stuff is over soon or I’m going to have to go to the virtual hairdresser, orthodontist, and Botox specialist. Yikes. I don’t think we were meant to spend that much time in front of the lens. I hear that cosmetic surgery is on the up tic since so many people are having to spend so much virtual time in front of the screen. “Oh vanity of vanities…” perhaps he was speaking of this time.

I met recently with an international women’s group whom I had never met before. It was funny all the considerations that went into my decision of where to sit, what I wore at least from the waist up, and what background I wanted. Silly, I know. But don’t tell me I am the only one making these decisions before entering the Zoom Zone. What I do love about this technology was having such ease in meeting women on the other side of the globe, and realizing we have so very much in common. What a blessing.

With all good things, there will be a downside of course. My hope is that as “retro” becomes popular again, I can get just the basic on/off button and a dial. Then perhaps I will get caught up on some of the movies I missed so many years ago.

Do You Reject Satan…

Many of us do not remember the Baptismal promises that were stated at our own Baptism. We relied solely on our parents and godparents to speak on our behalf. This weekend and several times throughout the Church year we are given the opportunity to speak for ourselves. I recommend that we pay full attention to what we say “I do” to as, you can stake your life on the fact, that God does. He takes our “I do” very seriously in these cases, including the ones said at the altar on our wedding day. God takes us at our word because we can take Him at His Word. “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matt 5:37)

Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Our firm “I do” is only possible with the help of God. On our own, we are too easily swayed when temptation and cultural norms cause us to rethink these promises. I do sometimes… when I agree, and then I do not… when I disagree.

Is our word trustworthy? What does it stand or fall for? When are we silent so as not to rock the boat, stand out or seem too harsh? Not speaking, is speaking. That silence is deafening. Not acting toward the good, is allowing evil to advance. Not knowing our faith and all that the Church teaches for our salvation, easily leads us to be persuaded in directions that muddle or oppose the faith.

After a couple of thousand years of dubious I do’s, opposition, and redirection, we find ourselves at this moment in history. I continue to hear from those who are frustrated and despairing. “How did all this happen?”

In these tumultuous times when all of us have had our world rocked by the pandemic, never imagined events and foul behaviors within our own borders, and seemingly endless deceit by those we should be able to trust, the question I am hearing the most is, “Where is God in all this? We prayed so hard and I feel so discouraged.”

Many of us “old farts,” of which I am now a delegate, can look back over our sixty or more years and think, “what the hell has happened to our country?” I use the word “hell” on purpose because that is exactly what is at play here. We are in an epic spiritual battle the likes of which we cannot imagine nor comprehend. We however get glimpses of its’ effects and how it impacts everyone and everything we once held dear; from the integrity of our clergy and religious from the top down, to the demise of “One Nation Under God.”

We could assume wrongly that God no longer loves or cares for His children.

If you have ever taken the time to do a Bible Study or have read Sacred Scripture you will no doubt recall the wanton history of the Israelites, God’s hand-chosen people. In Deuteronomy chapter five, God bestows to them the Ten Commandments. These were not merely suggestions, but keys that lead to happiness, prosperity, and holiness. In chapter six, God continues to exhort them to follow the commandments and to teach their children.

“Know, then, that the LORD, your God, is God: the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments, but who repays with destruction those who hate him; he does not delay with those who hate him but makes them pay for it. Therefore, carefully observe the commandment, the statutes and the ordinances  which I command you today.” (Dt 7:9-11)

“Be careful to observe this whole commandment that I enjoin on you today, that you may live and increase, and may enter in and possess the land which the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Therefore, keep the commandments of the Lord, your God by walking in His ways and fearing him.” (Deut 8:1,6)

Then He continues to remind us over and again through the centuries, and finally through His Son Jesus

“Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 19:17-19)

I dare say we failed to learn from their mistakes and have shamelessly repeated them to a greater degree. You might think, this is not the same at all. Read them again my friend and you will see that we brazenly did the same and much worse. What is that saying?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana

What is a good and loving Father supposed to do to save his children? As a parent myself, I get it. Sometimes we only learn by making mistakes and suffering the consequences. While it is sometimes difficult to watch this process, saving our progeny from learning from their mistakes leads them to never learn the lessons.

We think we are different than the early peoples. We think we are more advanced technically and intellectually. Yet we continue to repeat the same mistakes, cutting out God, making our own fluid rules, disfiguring the human person made in His Image and likeness.

God did not abandon them, and He does not abandon us. He will give us the time to learn, repent and turn back to His waiting arms. I pray we realize the error of our ways quicker than those before us. “Four hundred years” seems to be a reoccurring number before humanity got their heads and hearts in right relationship with their Maker.

In the words of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”

Never lose hope. Turn to God, grow in love and faithfulness to the Church Christ left to aid us, and trust God has a plan bigger than this current conundrum.

Hindsight is 2020

It is appropriate to take stock of 2020. Like every year before it, there were aspects out of our control. However, there were and continue to be much that is firmly within our power. Some questions we should ponder deeply are:

  1. Where did I grow and improve this past year physically and spiritually?
  2. Where did I draw strength in difficult situations and struggles?
  3. Am I more firmly grounded in my hope and faith in God, and if not, what needs to change?

 After all, as Catholic Christians we must weigh everything with an eternal perspective. Matthew Kelly reminds us in his newest book, Dig the Well, Before You Get Thirsty” of this important point.

“Our quest for ease and comfort is killing us, body and soul. Life is difficult. Anybody who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted.”

Matthew Kelly

I am currently reading the book. Like most things, it came at the perfect time that I needed it. This book is a unique combination of inspiration, motivation, prayer journal, and a method of discernment. It is an easy read. You may instantly think, “I don’t like to journal so it’s not for me.” Consider this, when we take time to journal, we are better able to discern various patterns over time which help us identify our values and character. Additionally, we can look back and note any progress or pitfalls. It is simply a means of measurement, so do not let that dissuade your desire to move forward to rediscover yourself and the habits that either help or hurt your progress. The real effort comes in the required work that is necessary to discover the best version of ourselves. Included is a section called, “Twenty-one Questions” designed to get us thinking. For example, “What needs to be on your not-to-do list?” Or “How do you want your life to be different one year from now?” Or, my favorite, “What is on-hold in your life, and how would addressing it change your life?” In the step-by-step discernment process, you will learn how to listen more attentively to God and to discern His Will for your life.

“When we lose our connection with the Divine, we go mad.”

Matthew Kelly

I highly recommend it, especially as we close out 2020, but more importantly as we begin each new moment of the rest of our lives.

Matthew Kelly is fond of saying, “Our lives change when our habits change.” This could not be truer, and I think we realize this at our very core. Breaking bad habits and forming good healthy ones takes time, discipline, and effort.

What does it take to move from a mediocre version of ourselves, one that trudges through life, neither hot nor cold about anything, not unhappy, but not passionately on fire either; to becoming someone that naturally exudes a positive energy and faith, joyful, self-motivated, and possessing an inner peace- despite outside circumstances to the contrary? I believe we all want to be the best version of ourselves but often settle or “feel like” we are too busy, too tired, too lazy, or too distracted, to even consider it. Perhaps it is easier to think we were not dealt a great hand, rather than to become all that God desires and equips us to be. Look at our Blessed Mother Mary as a example of a human like ourselves who allowed God to form her into her best self which continues to bear incredible fruit that impacts humanity for all time.

Is there a mystery to becoming the best version of ourselves? Is there a secret map or formula required which is only available to some people? No. It is obtainable to all of us. I read somewhere that when you are not sure what to do next, simply take “the next right step.” We are all capable of that. If we are spending too much time with friends who bring us down or lead us into negative behaviors, the next right step is to lessen or end that relationship for our own well-being. That may seem harsh, but what are we willing to do to become our best self? What needs to go or to change for that to happen?

Either we think we are worth the effort and deserve to become all that we were meant and created to be, or we simply settle for a third-rate version of our self.

God is always speaking to us through various means, are we listening or paying attention? We let so many distractions drown out the voice of our Creator. “Learning to hear God’s voice in our life throughout the day is like having the ultimate friend, coach, consultant, advisor, and teacher always at your side.” There is no wiser, more inspiring, or all-knowing friend than the One who brought us into existence.

I wonder if we are sometimes fearful at times of what God might ask of us. We need not be. That is the whisper of the evil one, and fear is one of his greatest weapons. God would not ask anything of us that would not bring us great joy and happiness. This I know first-hand and He continues to equip me to do things I never imagined. Matthew Kelly further asks us to ponder a deeper meaning and God’s voice through questions like these, “What is God saying to you today…through other people, or the emotions you are experiencing?”

We can have mixed feelings when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. We are not limited to the beginning of each calendar year to start anew and intentionally move in a direction toward an improved physical and spiritual well-being.

Each new day is a new beginning to either stay on the same mediocre path or to seek excellence.

Don’t be afraid to take the next right step in becoming the best version of yourself so that six months from now you will see a notable difference in yourself, in your relationship with God and others, and you will have the satisfaction of making positive strides towards the best you ever.

With God’s help, I will strive to become the best me possible. This path ultimately leads us to becoming a saint which is our goal after all. God will bless any efforts we make as we move closer to that amazing destination.

Naughty or Nice

Naughty or nice is our choice after all

Even when life throws us a curveball.

No one can make us kind or sweet, not in life, nor in a Tweet.

Our mothers tried to do their best may their efforts be forever blessed.

For us to choose rightly is their bequest.

We are big kids now, our own paths we must plough, and all things naughty, disavow.

Today is a bright new opportunity, to shed all that lowers and causes disunity.

If germs can be passed and we acquire immunity, so does love and joy, build community.

There is no mask that can save us from eternal impunity.

Do it now, make the decision, have a beautiful world vision.

Hate, impatience, and distrust; only brings division.

A lazy cow you are not. You have a mind, heart, and brain,

Live each day to the fullest and not in vain.

So, start this moment to be the best YOU, and no regrets if this you do.

A Blessed Christmas to one and all

Christ is here when we call, and does not count all the times we fall.

Why not invite Him into your life, and he’ll show you the best way once and for all.

Pain is Gain

Working at a Catholic Church feels like I am right there in the vineyard of the Lord at times. It certainly does not imply that only those who work in churches are knee deep in grape juice. No, the world is the vineyard and opportunities abound in every corner of it. Specifically speaking, it is the part of the vineyard where broken and wounded souls wander when they are finally ready to actively seek the Master.  Perhaps they have tried to fix matters on their own through various means good and bad and have come as a last resort hoping to find within her walls, answers that have eluded them. In other words, I occasionally am honored to be a bridge along the pathway that leads to the Shepherd.

Youth ministry was my initial passageway into church work, but for years now, I work with adults preparing for marriage, or have challenges therein.

Age is of no matter, hurting souls need a listening ear and sometimes clarifying tongue. It is hard especially now, to find someone who will speak Christ’s truth and light into the darkness. I never know what someone will need to talk about when they come to my office. My prayer is always just to be God’s instrument and voice. I know I have my own thoughts and experiences which God uses to assist someone in a similar situation. Ultimately, although each person is unique, most situations are common and require the person to speak out loud as they process. Most of us know what we need to do in our hearts but lack encouragement to follow through. Listening will always be a big part of what I do. When we are all willing to hear the various narratives that are part of the human journey it benefits us all. 

There was a time that I gaged everything I did according to tangible, measurable work. It was how I determined if I was productive that day or not. Some days I would be frustrated because I felt I had “not gotten anything done.” I imagine I am not alone in this thinking. We ask our spouses, friends, and neighbors the same thing when they return home from work or at Happy Hours. We are more akin at times, to be human doings rather than human beings.  

A few years back I read, Katrina Zeno’s book, “Every Woman’s Journey.” It was instrumental in helping me understand and define my time, and I believe it is helpful for both women and men.  In fact, it gave me a whole new outlook on a different kind of productivity that cannot be measured, fruitfulness.  Let me explain. When I take time to listen to someone who needs advice, encouragement, or loving support, I am being fruitful. Willingly entering into another’s deepest pain is sharing the raw reality of the human experience. It is an honored place where trust in God, empathy, and love, are the tools that help navigate the darkness and confusion bringing light and hope.

Some days are very fruitful, but cannot be measured on a spreadsheet, or in a tangible detectable way. It is not something I seek out. There is nothing to tabulate, ship, or shelve.  Its effects may never be known nor bear fruit for decades. Yet its worth is incalculable. God knows, God sees, and God magnifies the little work we do in this area producing efficacious results.

An amazing consequence I finally discovered was that in all those things of life that often make us crazy, leave us questioning why, or the suffering we encounter- are just more sources we can use in fruitful work. I cannot tell you the number of experiences in my life that at the time, I begged God to take away or to lessen, which turned out to be the very salve necessary to help bring comfort to someone else’s wounds. It is a miraculous gift to behold what God accomplishes when we share our stories and afflictions.   I don’t have to buy it, make it up, or search the world for it. “It” is our own real experiences and God’s pure and free gift for us to share with our brothers and sisters. I would have never guessed that many of my own painful experiences would be useful later to help another. What a generous and perfect present. So personal, so real, yet it cannot be wrapped, purchased, or cloned. Our painful moments can be a source of healing and strength for another.

We are one week away from Christmas in the year we all wish would go away. It is easy to be caught up in gift buying and preparations for our facemask-clad celebrations. Do not underestimate this gift of 2020 wrapped up in corona paper. It is something universal, much like Catholicism.  Rather than simply commiserate and complain, try instead to reach out and share wisdom and hope through the eyes of faith during your holiday. That gift may be the priceless present someone dear to you desperately needed to receive.

So, when we encounter someone in the midst of confusion, doubt, despair, and hopelessness or are there ourselves, receding into self is not the answer; reach out. We are here to help one another, and we have the balm of the Good News and the salve of hope that soothes.

May you and your family laugh and be filled with joy this Christmas season and upcoming year. In the words of Fr. Edward, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”

Never forget that.