Saturday, March 29, 2014

Article I wrote for "The Fountain" Magazine, the Graduation/Ordination edition for St. Paul's National Major Seminary

Globally, Our Catholic priests are the leaders of all those things in life that make life matter. A priest infuses a community with purpose and meaning, brings people closer together in relationship to each other and to Jesus Christ, our Lord. A priest is a facilitator for the deepest encounters we human beings can have with our holy, mighty and infinite God.

He feeds us with the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Savior, allowing the Word the universe was created through to become one with who we are. He helps clean us from the dirt of our sin, heal us from the effects of our sin and He reunites us with God, with each other and with our Mother Church. 

These actions the priest takes secure the lives of our soul for eternity. Jesus Christ is active in the life of his children more through the priest than any other human beings. He calls our priests and chooses them to bring us, His flock, more in union with Himself. While being a priest is the most important job a man can have, a priest must realize the person he once was isn't needed anymore. He must decrease so that Jesus can increase, so to be a priest is actually, paradoxically, the most humbling job a man can have.

In today's world, issues of “spiritual warfare” are more important than those affecting physical welfare or survival of God's people on Earth. What good is it to live in an economically advantaged area if more souls are being lost? A quality life is made up of our connections and relationships, our families and our faith. 

Uganda is also one of the poorest nations in the world. For a young man to grow up in a region riddled with deadly diseases eradicated in other areas of the world, with lack of medical care, unsafe water, and difficulty accessing quality education, graduating seminary to become a priest is a profound accomplishment. 

Uganda is also one of the richest nation in the world spiritually. Uganda, a country about the size of the United States state of Arizona, has produced twenty-four saints. 42% of Ugandans are Catholic, whereas only about 22% of Americans are. Over the past few months, I have shared many conversations with seminarians who are more peaceful and joyous than Americans I know here in America. They write to me about the love in their communities, villages and at seminary. I've learned how people see themselves as being part of a team, or a larger whole, with a sense of belonging and purpose in the lives of all. 

In a country like America, we are connected well technologically, but we have forgotten how to be a part of a real community. It is easy to see ourselves as isolated individuals, to feel disconnected and alone. More economically “successful” countries have become morally bankrupt, but from what I have experienced through getting to know several seminarians, Uganda is rich in happiness, spirit and soul and has far more to offer the world than people realize.

I'm a convert. I tried every “spiritual path” considered “cool” by secular culture until I was left miserable, empty and in despair. So almost every day, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for all the Church has given me- and that would be, everything important to me and my soul, now and forever. 

I am deeply grateful for the priests (in America and elsewhere) who have helped bring me nearer in my relationship to God. Who they have been is not as important as who they have led me to love- Christ, all holy, great and infinite and without whom we have no life, here or in the world to come. I am very grateful for the many seminarians in Uganda I have come to know and love- not only as scholars but as soul mates in our journey together towards God. You are my family. I desire to serve the Lord as much as I possibly can, because of the inspiration you offer me. When my life gets “tough” by “first world” standards, I only need to remember what a day in your life is like to let my complaining go. No matter how many material comforts I may accumulate, I am usually still not as happy as you! 

I want to say thank you to you, the seminarians in my life who keep me going on difficult days. You send me Bible verses. You give me your prayers. You encourage me. You brighten my days. Some of you have had masses said for me and my family. When my spirits start to droop, you lift them back up. You are my "dream team" of friends and I love you all very much. I'm beginning to wonder what I did without you and you know, I am your greatest fan. So, if anyone thinks I am trying to help the poor, pathetic people of Africa, you couldn't be more wrong. You are brilliant. You are deserving. You have worked harder than most of us have had to work for anything in our lives and you dedicate it all to God. I want to honor some of you by at least listing your names- Godwin, Jimmy M, Jimmy L, Okodi, Leonary, Salvin and Deacon Mathias. (These are men from several different seminarians I have come to know.) I love you all dearly. I pray for you all day long.

Seminarians of Uganda, thank you for all the joy you have given my heart. I love you and celebrate this occasion of your ordination with great enthusiasm and respect. Thank you. You are truly my heroes.

Laura Paxton, M.A., OCDS,
President, Carmel Heart Media

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Something Woke Me Up Yesterday- and it wasn't about me.

I learned something great at the Carmelite Monastery yesterday, just as I was dozing off. It was right after our thirty minutes of quiet prayer time and I was groggy.

I'm not sure how or why this came up, but we have been doing Lectio Divina with the encyclical Apostolicam Actuositatem for months now and yesterday, we spent about forty minutes on number 20. I hadn't found this document to be thrilling reading, and it wasn't exactly jarring me out of my stupor.

We were contemplating how the laity is to participate in the work of the Church, because all Secular Carmelites are required to have some sort of lay apostalate, and so we need to understand what that means as well as we can.

Somehow, in our discussion, this verse from Paul came up, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." [Colossians 1:24]

The person who brought up the question that served as my "alarm clock," is a pre-aspirant. She is also a convert, such as I am. She had a question I've often had myself. She wanted to know how anything could be lacking in the sacrifice of Christ. In response, I remember becoming suddenly alert, excited that I knew the answer. I rattled off some sort of response I had heard that technically might have been considered right, when actually I did not fully understand the verse myself. So, my response confused her.

I listened for a while and I heard some really profound and eye-opening things from my sisters in Carmel, people who have seriously contemplated this verse for decades. 

For one thing, we don't actually pray. The Holy Spirit prays within us, for us. For another thing, we don't actually produce any good actions in the world. Only God can do this through us. It's not just that in humility, we give God credit for everything. It's that in reality, He really is the only one who HAS credit for anything. This is the only thing that is actually true.

As Christians, we are not ourselves, or who we were. We are the Body of Christ. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we are becoming one with Him and with each other. So, it is Jesus who sees through our eyes, speaks through our mouths, thinks through our brains and suffers in our bodies. So, Jesus is still here on earth, continuing His joys and afflictions through us. We are the vessels and witnesses of His greatness. Christ's work of redemption is complete, yet we must do our share to continue His work on earth, to complete the work that is "lacking" or still needs to be done in the world.

Apostolicam Actuositatem seems really dry at first. I wondered, how do you contemplate something that keeps talking about our personal relation to "the hierarchy." Well it's really about our personal relationship to the Body of Christ, and the hierarchy is just a term for the way that is structured. There's not a word in it about "me," the individual. It's about "they" and about "acting together." If we look more closely at the verse by Paul, it reads, "I do my share," implying he does his part of the group. It doesn't say, "I, on my own, because I am uber-super Catholic girl, do what Jesus couldn't finish doing." It says, we continue to do His work on earth.

The reason Apostolicam Actuositatem seemed so boring to me for the past few months is that I wasn't hearing things about me, me, me. I wasn't hearing what "resonates with me," or that I can "apply to my personal life." I was hearing about how to be a part of something larger than myself, to continue, through my share in the body of Christ, to make Christ's presence more known here on earth.

Well, I'm not sure if I understood all of this correctly or if it was even explained correctly, but it woke me up. (I was literally nodding off before my friend asked this question and I woke up quickly, seizing that opportunity to attempt to say something brilliant to impress everyone-- which thankfully, did not happen, because the group, as a whole, had a wider message.)

I'm not sure we can read the Bible as individuals with individual interpretation as our guide. I'm not sure it was intended to be read that way. In fact, I'm confident that it's not. The  Body of Christ is not the fragments of Christ, after all. 

It was interesting that our President, Chris Hart, talked about how common it is for people to just give all their energy and work towards what they think is serving God, only to find themselves depleted and exhausted. In that weakened state, God actually has someone there to work with to accomplish His true aims. If we think we're serving Him, we're not. I stand convicted- all the way. I started to ponder what it actually means to let Him accomplish His work through us. There's a profound passivity involved that isn't easy to learn.

Well, I can't hit the snooze button on that.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Starving for God and on Diet Pills? Why?

I spent almost my whole life starving for God, although I didn't realize that I was. Imagine that you're ravishingly hungry, but you find a way to turn off your "appetite switch," so that you no longer look for food or eat food. A dieter's dream!

Well, that's not so great when it comes to God. I was truly wasting away inside. 

Years of my life were spent searching for something, but I never quite knew what it is. Yet then, there was the time I stopped searching. I didn't think there was anything out there to find.

There's a way to turn off your natural appetite for God, and that is turning off your "God switch." You see, when you suppress feelings of guilt, fear and weakness, you can become convinced you no longer have a need for God. Your appetite for God is suppressed along with those very natural human feelings.

It's like taking diet pills. And, it works. When you don't believe you need God, your "religion" becomes "personal empowerment" and "manifesting abundance" and feeling good and free to do whatever it is you want.

Most people I know are taking those diet pills. You may be happy, but so are people taking speed so they won't want to eat. I promise you, you're starving.

It was hard to give up spiritual appetite suppressants. Coming to terms not only with my past, but also with the truth of the human state of being sinners, was the hardest thing I ever did. I didn't want to look at it. I didn't want to admit defeat, that following my own will had led me nowhere or into dangerous ground.

Little did I realize, when you take that terrifying leap into repentance, you do really break into pieces, but it doesn't matter. Your fall is cushioned in the greatest peace and the deepest love you've ever known. Your soul is really satisfied. And, the real you may get up off the ground for the first time.