The Mighty Oak, Symbol of Incorruptible Faith

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The oak is a long lived tree, often exceeding 500 years. With a trunk and limbs that are thick and sturdy, it’s rarely damaged by storms—the leaves are marcescent in the north, not dropping until spring, and hold snow loads of impressive weights! Wind shears have been known to strip the tree bare, leaving the branches intact. About the only feat of nature to regularly damage an oak is lightning—of all the tree species struck by lightening, the oak is most frequently hit.

Because of its endurance this tree came to symbolize the profound and unyielding strength and steadfastness of Christians’ faith in the face of adversity. St. Sebastian is depicted as being lashed to an oak.

San_Sebastian_El_Greco

(San Sebastian, El Greco, image public domain)

With its nearly incorruptible wood it came to connote salvation, and is symbolic of physical and moral vigor. And this explains its association to the Virgin Mary.

Madonna of the Oaks Wikimedia(The Holy Family of the Oak Tree, Raphael Sanzio, image public domain)

According to legend, the Christianization of heathen druidic tribes in Germany by Saint Boniface was marked by his felling of an oak, where upon a fir tree immediately grew and whose triangular shape symbolizes the Trinity—more on the fir in another column.

In the Bible, Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:18). Later we read that Joshua erects a large stone under an oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24:26). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.

And now you know that an image of a saint with an oak alludes to the saint’s firm incorruptible faith.

'St__Paul_the_Hermit_Fed_by_the_Raven',_after_Il_Guercino,_Dayton_Art_Institute

 (St. Paul the Hermit fed by the Raven, II Guercino, image public domain.)

Image by Rafixx from Pixabay

 

For the Love of a God I hated, I remain Catholic

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These days being asked why remain Catholic is more a challenge than a question. Friends and peers have responded with personal stories of commitment rooted in the theology and beauty of our Church. Their speed of thought and brilliance in writing is astounding!

I’m a bit slower, and struggled in prayer to find words to fit the depth of my love for all our Church offers. My story for why I remain Catholic began with rage.

At ten I stormed through a darkened church, past the communion rail and, standing in the sanctuary, yelled at the crucifix “I hate you!” Four years later lost and hopeless, I became an emancipated child in the 1960s.

My only remaining connection with the Church (and my family) was my maternal grandmother. Because of my love for her, I did whatever she asked. As a teenager, that included accompanying her to Mass. I would often stop at the narthex’s massive doors and glare at the crucifix as Grandmother dipped worn calloused fingers into the holy water font.

“I’m not here for you,” was the snark I offered the Trinity. “I’m here for her.”

Standing up straight, I would proudly walk the length of the nave beside my grandmother to a pew near the front—she was under five feet tall—and sing with her from a shared cardboard hymnal. I still have that sheet, yellowed and permanently imbued with incense.

My wedding was to be a Catholic affair; the matriarchs would have nothing less. I wanted a garden wedding with a crown of flowers and veil of ribbons, a small reception with tea and cake. At age eighteen, with fourteen attendants, a priest-cousin flown in from Texas, hundreds of strangers filling the church, and several thousand dollars later, the wedding was had. It was a beautiful ceremony but not what I wanted—in a Catholic church.

The marriage ended three years later when my husband ran off with my brother’s wife.

Overly social and profoundly isolated, I found nothing to fill the massive gaping wounds to my heart. There was no family, no spouse, no children. I continued my solitary rage at God—a gnat flinging spit—and planned for a doctorate, financial independence, to be a feminist in full control. Then one day it all stopped. My rage, and my desires and drive to continue stopped, never, I intended, to begin again. I fully disconnected from the life I had constructed.

Somewhere from the recesses of a mind gone insane were the words of a catechism Nun—and I believed what she taught—that my eternity would be much worse than what was now my miserable life. And I hated God for leaving me without an option, hated His plan of free will, knew that, as a good parent will want to do, He’d tough-loved me until I turned around.

I did the only thing I knew to do and went to a Catholic church. I couldn’t bring myself to touch the holy water and don’t recall genuflecting or from where the rosary in my hand had come. I was on my knees in a pew, silent, angry, hurt, adrift and hopeless. Tears ran down the back of the pew in front of me. For an hour or more, without words, I emptied myself.

In that time, alone in the dark with only the glow from the dimly lit crucifix, I asked and owned the phrase from John’s Gospel. “Lord, to whom shall [I] go?”  And in asking realized how personal hate can be; I could not hate something that didn’t exist.

The conflict since childhood had always been between the brutality of men and the joy of nature, both God’s creation. Nature was the only place where I consistently found peace, where my longing to be loved—by whom I hated—escaped my control. When I experienced the beauty of mountains, wilderness, gardens, and oceans my soul would soar.  Now, thirty-some years later, my soul soars in that same way—in a way that I now find in Adoration, at Mass, and occasionally in the oratory when conversing with Jesus.

The intimacy with which I had hated God, has in time as intensely become love. And it has taken time—as water unto rock to wear away the edges.

My coming home to the Catholic Church has been incremental. With guidance, I began to grasp the beauty of our signs and symbols, the freeing nature of our catechism, the liberation of surrendering to God. And all in all, I found in our Church the lessons of fortitude in forgiveness and with that an intimacy with God beyond human expression.

Why do I remain a Catholic? When you find true love, when you find a truth and a joy ever present and easily held, there is a greater insanity in turning away.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay .

(2015)

Burning with Faith, Thursday’s Prayer for Priests

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O Jesus, our great High Priest, hear my humble prayers on behalf of your priests. Give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope, and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of their priestly lives.

In their loneliness, comfort them. In their sorrows, strengthen them. In their frustrations, point out to them that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show them that they are needed by the Church, they are needed by souls, they are needed for the work of redemption.

O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your sons who are close to you because of their priestly ordination, and because of the power which they have received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs them so much. Be their comfort, be their joy, be their strength, and especially help them to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.

Amen.

Image by Tama66 at pixabay.com.

Tendrils of Faith

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“As we extend the tendrils of our faith above and through the walls of our resistance, our lives become green, verdant, affirming… As we cling to our conscious optimism, finding footholds of faith despite opposition, our lives become rooted in the soil of grace. We are nurtured, prospered, and blessed.”

~Julia Cameron, Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartfelt Life (New York:  Tarcher Perigee, 1998) p. xii.

Image by StockSnap 27562 at pixabay.com.