The First Pancake

I just completed my very first lesson on my YouTube channel, also titled Scattering Agates. I am so excited about this new adventure and also so nervous. As I type these words, I am still shaking from the recording session I just did.

I compare this first episode to that first pancake (pictured above: an actual first pancake). You know, the one no one wants because the first pancake is usually a little burnt, or not cooked enough, or a wonky shape.  Eventually, it gets eaten and it tastes just as good as the others even though it is not perfect. In fact, with pancakes as with other creations, there rarely is a perfect production. Listening to one of my favorite musical artists the other day, I thought about how they have a lot of good songs, but only a handful of great songs. Artists of all types produce great works because they do it. If I stopped making pancakes because the first one turned out bad, or worse, not at all out of fear they could turn out bad and my kids might refuse to eat, people would starve!

I've noticed my kids, who are hardly great at anything (yet) because they are young, have moments of bravery and inspiration only to slink back into themselves out of fear of failure and rejection. Fear stops people from doing a lot of things, but it seems that fear of failure and rejection are barriors we don't readily recognize in ourselves or others. For instance, I might tell someone I would never jump out of an airplane because I'm afraid of heights, but I would not tell someone I am afraid to teach religion lessons on a YouTube channel because I might fail or be rejected. Well, I actually would tell someone that, but normally people don't divulge these types of fears, and often don't realize that's what stops them in the first place, at least this has been my own experience.

Coupled with fear of failure and rejection is the expectation of perfection. My jaw practically falls to the floor any time one of my children gets upset that they can't do something right the first time. I remember when one of my kids refused to do his school work when he messed up once. It was a new subject!! I tried not get mad because it was so utterly ridiculous. I began to repeat this question to him: "Are you God?" He'd say he wasn't and then I'd tell him, "That's right, because only God is perfect." Another tactic I use with my kids to help them to persevere is to point out how often babies fall down when learning to walk. It takes time and practice to do anything well.

All this has got me wondering how many times have I been stuck because of fear? How many exciting projects and creations have I missed out on, or others did not get to benefit from, because of fear of failure, rejection and not doing it perfectly? Too many! That is why I am going ahead with this YouTube channel idea. Instead of allowing fear to stop me, I am just plodding ahead. I'm not sure how it will be received or where it will end up, but for now I'm ignoring fear.

Here is a link to the Scattering Agates YouTube channel. My first video is up. It's a little burnt, and has a wonky shape, but you can just eat it anyway! I don't want you to starve!


Purple & White, Darkness & Light

Welcome to the season of Advent! The season of joy, hope, and expectation has arrived. This year it came very quickly after Thanksgiving. I had to hurry to eat the last piece of pumpkin pie to make room for the Christmas cookies.

So, what are you giving up for Advent? 

But wait, you might ask. I'm supposed to give something up?  Isn't that what we do for Lent? I thought Advent was a time of preparation for Christmas? Isn't it supposed to be a joyful and hopeful season? A season where we light the three purple candles and the one pink to prepare for the coming of Christ, the light of the world?

You are correct in assuming this about Advent because it is that too, but let's reflect on those purple candles we will light until Christmas.

The Church has assigned a color to each season of the liturgical year. The seasons of Advent and Lent were given the color purple. Purple is not only a color of natural depth and beauty, its traditional symbolism is also rich with meaning. It represents royalty, agony and penance.

In ancient times purple was the color of royalty because of its scarcity. In John's gospel, it is a royal robe of purple the Roman soldiers place on Jesus, when they also crown him with thorns and mock him, calling him King of the Jews.
"And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him." (John 19:2).

Another meaning for purple is sorrow or agony. In the Church of All Nations, which sits in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, the very rock Christ prayed in anguish over the night before he died is exposed. Here is how one online travel guide describes it:
"An atmosphere of sorrowful reverence pervades the Church of All Nations. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, evoked the night-time of the Agony by leaving the interior in semi-darkness, relieved only by subdued natural light filtered through violet-blue alabaster windows."
Those violet-blue (I'd call them purple) alabaster windows made a lasting impression on me when I visited this church in the late 1990's. I remember as I roamed around this church by myself, I could imagine how alone Christ must have felt in those long hours before His arrest. Whenever I am feeling desperate or alone, I recall those deep purple windows and Christ bowed over that rock.

Lastly, and most importantly, purple in the liturgical year represents penance. Penance is defined in the Modern Catholic Dictionary as, "[t]he virtue or disposition of heart by which one repents of one's own sins and is converted to God."  Penance is clearing out the things that keep our hearts closed off to the Divine, such as sin and disordered attachments, sort of like I had to clear out the pumpkin pie to make room for the cookies! The liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent give us time the time and space to prepare our hearts for the important feasts to come: Christmas and Easter.

That is why I began by asking what you gave up for Advent. We can give things up that we are strongly attached to that make us too comfortable or too distracted get rid of the gunk that has piled up in our hearts. Many of the activities we occupy ourselves with are just avoidance techniques. We don't like to face our sins and our wounds. It's not fun. But, just as we prepare our houses for special guests by clearing off the counters and scrubbing the dirt and dust from behind the canisters of flour, so we give our souls a good cleaning, or more accurately, allow Christ to clean our souls by God's grace (sacraments, especially confession, are where we receive the grace we need for this necessary task).

Once we clear the soul of sin and attachments, we can then fill the extra time and space with prayer, spiritual reflection and quiet. The purple peace can then penetrate our lives and wrap around our hearts to heal and sooth our weary souls. It is then that the great feasts of Christmas and Easter can be celebrated with gusto as we throw off the dark purple and embrace the light white (the liturgical color for feast days).

Enjoy Scattering Agates: Episode 5 all about Advent:


Scattering Agates: Phase 2

In a dream I had one night, I walked down a hallway with my children. There were windows on each side. On one side was a bright room full of trinkets and treasures: dream catchers, crystals, lotus flowers, statues of strange gods, and yoga mats. The room on the other side was not near as enchanting. This room was half-lit with a plain wood cross on the back wall. It was obvious to me that a choice was set before my children. They could choose between an acceptable spirituality that was crowded with enticements, or a bland room with a bare wood cross. My thought was how unfair this choice seemed. Thankfully, my dream ended before my children could choose.

The problem with this dream is that it is not really the choice my children have. This is the choice they are presented with, but it is a false choice because it is a untrue presentation of Christianity. This faux, flat Christianity is often portrayed in movies, songs, Instagram posts and sadly, dare I say, most especially the Catholic Church itself. 

For instance, the unique and timely treasures of the Catholic faith found in her beautiful church buildings have been gutted since the 1960's after the great changes made during Vatican II. Statues, stained glass windows, ornately decorated high altars and even the gorgeous golden tabernacles have all been moved out and replaced with trendy decor that loses its appeal after just a couple years (and then no one wants spend the money to replace it).

Not only have most of our buildings been stripped like Christ was stripped during his Passion, but so have our teachings and devotions. In my own religious education I hardly heard a word about the Saints or the beautiful devotions passed down for generations, even from the very beginnings of Christianity. For example, at my First Holy Communion, among a few other gifts, I received a plastic rosary and scapular. I knew what the rosary was, although I don't really remember ever praying with it, and I was clueless about the scapular. These were just relics of a old religion I did not really know.

What it comes down to is that many of us have grown up in a Catholic Church that looks and feels like that dimly lit room with an empty cross. It is no wonder so many are leaving the Church! Bland Catholicism is boring. But, there is hope! If you crack open a dusty old Catholic book, most likely printed before 1962, or tear at the wallpaper of your local remodeled church, you will discover something amazing! A tradition that is so rich and deep that the cheap trinkets of that room across the hall lose their appeal.

The problem we face now is the 50 years of shallow modern religious education for both children and adults, where words are thrown around and changed around so that the meaning is lost in an attempt to jazz things up and make it relevant (and don't even get me started on the lack of good education from our public schools). Couple this with confusing and awkwardly painful Sunday Masses where the poor priest pours his heart into a forgettable homily and the choir sings disjointed and once trendy hymns (and often un-singable) and what you get are fruitless attempts to fill the empty spaces left behind from the post-Vatican II pillaging.

So what now? Well, there are many working to bring back the beauty and grandeur of the Catholic Tradition. If you are one of the ones left standing in this empty room like I am, it is by the grace of God you are here, and it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work as well. We've got some re-building to do! Thanks be to God and Mother Mary, we have not lost the essentials, but, in my humble opinion, the next generation will if don't begin in earnest NOW!

"Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

For my part, I plan to tackle the teaching. I am going to start a Scattering Agates YouTube channel sometime after Christmas. I plan to teach the old, timeless stuff, specifically the Baltimore Catechism. I discovered, by accident really, how important these teachings are after teaching my own children. I learned as I taught and found afterwards, that the writings of the Saints and even the Bible were not so complicated. I was able digest what I was reading more easily. The same thing happened with the Mass. The meaning of the words and actions made so much more sense and my prayer at Mass was brought to a whole new level. Warning: knowing more has also made some of the newer adaptations since Vatican II hard to swallow. I'm confident that in time those modifications will blow away like chaff, especially if I do my part and you do yours. 

Keep in mind, we were made for, "such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).

Below you will find a sample teaching I've done on YouTube. This channel I'm sharing will become private after I start my Scattering Agates YouTube channel, so if you can't view it that may be why.


Wounded Hearts

After Holy Communion one Sunday, I rested my head in my hands, my fingers lightly touched my temples and I expected to feel pimples. They weren't there. I am in my forties and there should not be any pimples on my face, so them not being there was no surprise. The surprise was that I expected them to be.

Back in my high school years I had pretty bad acne. What was interesting about this Sunday worship was that I had just spent the time forgiving a friend from those high school days. A particular moment had come to mind. My friend and I sat on the hard, wooden, gym floor in our basketball uniforms waiting for our game to start, when she said something very hurtful to me. Our friendship, already on the rocks, ended there.

For all these years without realizing it, I have carried her hurtful words, and that moment of rejection, in my in my heart. It has hovered around every friendship and relationship since. A quiet, insidious presumption lingered and I believed that any new friendship would end badly, like many others before, because, somehow, I am was not lovable.

This wound, like most emotional wounds, lodged like a thorn in my heart. The pain from the initial hurt got stuck and any incidents that resembled that first pain got caught on that thorn and also stuck in that spot. The barb became a nice hook to hang more hurts on until I gathered enough to identify myself by that wound. This may be true of all emotional wounds. We can sort of become our hurts, "I am annoying," or "I am a loser," or "I am unlovable." Then, like a well-worn path, many of our life choices and how we respond to new situations are dictated by these past hurts.

When I study the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I find  consolation for my own wounded heart. The images above are the pictures that hang in my dining room and in many Catholic homes around the world. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, is crowned with the thorns of his passion, and drips the blood from the wounds of His crucifixion. Mary's Immaculate Heart, although only crowned with flowers in the picture I have (above), is often pictured with a sword piercing through it as well. This brings to the viewers mind Simeon's prophecy when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be presented in the temple, "and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35).

The month of September is devoted to Our Lady of Sorrows which draws on the same theme. Images of the Sorrowful Mother can be shocking because her heart is pierced, not just with one sword, but with seven. Each sword represents her Seven Sorrows. These sorrows are the hard things Mary suffered during her life, including the horrific death of her only son.

It strikes me that the pure hearts of Jesus and Mary did not deserve to be wounded as mine did (and still does). I was not innocent on that gym floor when those cruel words pierced my own heart. There had been many times before, and many more since, that my own sins have wounded others' hearts and further damaged my own. But, in these images there is also fire. The flames that  leap out of the tops of Jesus' and Mary's hearts represent their burning love for me, and for every person. They endured undeserved suffering out of love. Their suffering and their wounded hearts are a total gift of selfless love. My own wounds, sins, and weaknesses can be consumed by the fire of Divine Love if I have the courage allow it.

What can I do now but weep for my own sins and for the wounds I've created in others' hearts and in my own. My only response is to seek forgiveness from those I've hurt and from the Divine whose heart burns for love of me. Then, I too must learn to practice selfless love of God and others, to put others before myself, to sit at the lowest seat at the table, be a servant to all. Like a child learning to talk, or walk or read, progress in selfless love can be slow and frustrating. But, these two hearts, wounded for me and burning with love for me give me the courage to carry on.


In the middle of writing this a friend sent me a link to a novena to Our Lady of Sorrows that starts today. Join me in praying this novena that our wounded hearts will be healed and we will draw closer to the Divine Physician.