Sunday, June 4, 2017

Foundational Catechetical Certification
PRAYER & SPIRITUALITY
St. Raphael Parish, Instructor Tanya Hielke
BY: LISA STADTMUELLER

Rosary, Prayer, Pray, Red,

Introduction

Today I learned a new word, after reading an essay by our parish priest Fr. Edward Looney about his recent visit to the Pilgrimage of Mercy, in which the relics of St. Maria Goretti are traveling throughout the United States. That word is venerate. I am familiar with the word, but never have I looked up its definition. It seemed fitting to do so, since I am writing this essay about one form of Catholic spirituality and its founding saint, to complete the requirements of the Green Bay Diocese Prayer & Spirituality class.
So, I Googled it:
ven·er·ate
ˈvenəˌrāt/
verb
  1. regard with great respect; revere.
  2. "Mother Teresa is venerated as a saint"
  1. synonyms:


  • revere, regard highly, reverence, worship, hallow, hold sacred, exalt, vaunt, adore, honor, respect, esteem More
  • revered, respected, esteemed, honored;
  • hallowed, holy, sacred
  • It bothered me that I didn’t have a firm grasp on what the word meant, this venerating business - particularly because my walk with the Catholic faith hasn’t always been a priority and I know I have some gaps to fill.
    Indeed I say my walk with the Catholic faith because it truly has been a journey for me to be able to even use the word Catholic to describe my life, or to have a word like venerate in my vocabulary.
    You see, back in my late teens, much to my mother's chagrin, I fell away from my faith and stayed away for many years. I had dutifully made all the proper Sacraments up through Confirmation, at which point I decided I had “graduated” and was now free to roam about the world, liberated from the shackles of my “don’t do that or you’ll go to hell” upbringing.
    Looking back now, I realize that was my way of reconciling how my life ran pretty much contrary to everything it meant to be Catholic. I stopped attending Sunday mass for instance. Who had time for such things, busy college student that I was? My roommate from Long Island took me to visit New York City. I had arrived in the world. I had seen “The City” - in other words, I was too grown up for my old faith.
    It was about that time I become a fan of Zen Buddhism. After reading some books I decided that the Catholic faith was a sham, based on emotion and fear. Whereas Zen would free me from my Catholic Guilt and liberate me. Or so the book said...
    So for a time I actually told people that Zen Buddhism was “my religion” and never again did I mention the word “Catholic” -- unless it was to laugh about how silly I had been to be so afraid to live my life as I saw fit. No longer would I answer to a higher being; I would follow my own personal whims at any given moment. It was so freeing. I was so happy!
    Or was I?
    No matter how much I drank at those college parties, I always felt that true happiness was somehow eluding me. Oh I had fun all right, but the fun never lasted long. It was so annoying! And like a dog chasing its tail, round and round I went in an ever more frantic effort to feel joy.


    Reality Sucks

    Well as it turned out, all that spinning left me dizzy, depressed and desperate to find some lasting happiness. So at age 30, after moving across country to attend law school: New York to Ohio, and then on to California and ultra-hipness, I found myself moving to Weyauwega, Wisconsin of all places.

    When people asked “How on earth did you end up moving from Southern California [spoiler alert!! where I attended Loyola Law School in Los Angeles for the final year of my Juris Doctorate (law) degree] to Wisconsin!?” my old response was: Now that’s a drinking story” which was shorthand for “It’s way too long and insanely stupid a story for me to simply admit to in a sober state, so if we ever get drunk together, remind me to enlighten you”.....

    But nowadays my standard response is “I moved here for a job at a law firm [that shall remain nameless] and to get married”.....which is the exact truth, after my best guy friend and I made a pact in our 20s (before the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding by the way) that if we both found ourselves single at age 30, we would marry each other. Seriously I am not making that up. Makes you wish I was telling you this story in person right now, over cocktails, doesn’t it? Oh the stories I could tell.
    So when our class was introduced to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whom I learned started his young adulthood by studying law, my ears perked up. I even asked our instructor Tanya Hielke to repeat herself: “Wait - did you say before he became a saint he studied law?”
    Now I could make a few lawyer jokes here that would probably be inappropriate….suffice it to say I was shocked to hear that it’s possible for any lawyer to become an actual saint….but I digress.
    What did immediately strike me was the coincidence that the law school I attended was named in honor of a saint we were now studying. And trust me if I knew that was how my Alma mater got its name, I had long since forgotten or it wouldn't have even been on my radar screen.
    Ignatius in armorI was a horrible human being. There I said it. While working in law firms, I became enmeshed in that corporate culture - and adopted the most loathsome moral compass you can possibly imagine. Nothing was sacred. Nothing was venerated. If anything, I was determined to venerate nothing and no one. We defended insurance companies to deny money to little old ladies who were injured. We sued good doctors for malpractice. We even came up against a very famous “Women's Rights attorney” (if you Google the phrase, her name is the top result) and won, all while I was still a law clerk (sort of like an apprentice before you pass the Bar). I even had a deposition in her swanky....oh but I digress. Humility is my new cloak, bragging was my old way.


    Saint Ignatius of Loyola

    I really identify with Saint Ignatius. I love how he was described as a young aristocrat with a "love of martial exercises and a vainglorious desire for fame". Reminds me of me in my old days.
    I learned how as a young man Ignatius fought in many battles without injury. But on May 20, 1521, after a cannonball wounded one of his legs and broke the other, he underwent several surgical operations, which must have been very painful in the days before anesthetics.
    As Ignatius was forced to rethink his life after his injuries rendered him unable to continue, I can relate to how this led to his spiritual transformation. At age 28 I had a car accident on the 10 Freeway in right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles rush house. After taking law school exams all day then trying to drive home on an empty stomach, I rear-ended a pickup truck while driving about 40 mph and totaled my Chevy Cavalier and ended up with lingering injuries. Pain was (and is) my constant companion and I’ve filled many a Chiropractor’s bank accounts.
    I lived my life on the edge for many years. I struggled with debilitating depression and a basic pessimistic outlook on life. I met a few devout friends along the way who could clearly recognize how my sinfulness and lack of faith was ruining my life. They encouraged me to go to church but I always found excuses to stay away.


    Pursuit of Redemption

    Child at Prayer, c. 1873When I got to the point that I wanted to stop living and the only relief was to remind myself “someday I will be dead and this pain will be over,” I found my way back to prayer. I had no idea how to pray as an adult, since I never had. So I returned to my ways as a child, kneeling at the foot of my bed nightly, and with clasped hands and bowed head uttered the only prayer I remembered: “Our Father, who Art in Heaven, Hallowed by Thy Name....”
    I even dug out the old Bible I’d received for my First Communion, that had somehow managed to survive decades of address changes. I observed how it listed various states of the human condition like depression, with references to corresponding Bible passages. I broke out my old highlighters from college and started reading.
    And something miraculous happened. I found myself unable to continue my old life. I was compelled to cut off all my social activities and friends. Having lived in Oshkosh for over 6 years, with a “tavern on every corner” this was no small feat! I would unplug my phone for hours, even days at a time, screening my calls to avoid anyone who might lead me back to sin.
    One of my “church-y” coworkers told me what I was experiencing was called “God’s grace.” And being “convicted”.... I was convicted all right, I felt so guilty I didn’t even think I was welcome to go show my face in church.

    It wasn’t until my late 30's when my then Fiance Kurt insisted that we "get married in a church” that we joined a local Catholic parish and started attending Sunday mass. I remember the first time I walked in, only half jokingly wondering if a bolt of lightening was going to strike me dead before I made it to the pew, and thinking everyone could tell I didn’t belong there, terrified of doing the wrong thing, sitting when I should kneel, not remembering to genuflect, to basically fit in. Could they tell? I had to constantly remind myself to “breathe Lisa, breathe” and to stop stealing glances around me to study to expressions of others, to adopt their motions.
    When I began this class on Prayer & Spirituality, I wrote the first day of class what I hoped to gain: the ability to “become more discerning” as to what God was telling me, to be able to distinguish from my own thoughts from the Holy Spirit.
    So when I learned that Saint Ignatius specialized in this area, writing Rules for Discernment, I knew I had found my favorite saint/spirituality.
    I realized that during my own transformation I adopted a bit of Saint Ignatius’s Ascetic lifestyle, with its abstinence from worldly pleasures and frugality: I decided the only way to dig myself out of the hole spiritually and financially (I had a mountain of student loan debt to pay off!) was to unplug from the world outside of work, and to not spend money unless it was absolutely necessary for survival. For years, everyone at work teased me about my daily “10 cent lunches” (a cheap burrito from a big multi-pack).
    While I was slowly digging myself out of debt I realized the value in being Catholic. If I strayed, I felt wrong immediately and came back. The miracles that flow from simply following the Ten Commandments is awe-inspiring: the release of guilt, finding new friends and a happy life. I have truly been made new.


    2nd-Corinthians-5-17.jpg
    I’ll never forget taking a walk in the park one early spring day and suddenly feeling such joy and peace I’d never known. The colors seemed so much brighter - the grass, the flowers, the bright blue sky.

    I found myself laughingly exclaiming to Kurt “what a wonderful planet you have here” because the at that moment to be so happy struck me like I was an alien visiting from outer space.
    "What?” he said with a puzzled look.
    I tried to explain how I’d never been so happy but I realized it was just a moment between me and God.
    It is a constant struggle to not sin and live a faith filled life. But I rest secure in the knowledge that God is always with me.
    I’m a person who needs to read instructions first, so I love the idea of step by step meditation in Spiritual Exercises, by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. I am drawn to the idea of guided contemplations to deepen my relationship with God. For now I think I’ll start with An Ignatian Prayer Adventure -- an online adapted version of the Spiritual Exercises. Who knows, maybe someday I might even pay a visit to the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh.
    Study, Read, Book, Bible,


    Stranger things have happened.


    No really, they have. Remind me to tell you sometime about the angel who visited me on my lunch hour and set my life back on the right path. God truly is good. All the time.
    And all the time --

    God is good.

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