Friday, December 2, 2016

The (Passive) Pursuit of Happiness

I'm not happy.

I don't expect my religion to make me happy, either. That isn't the purpose of religion.

C.S. Lewis wrote once that he didn't become a Christian to become happy -- he always knew a bottle of Port would do that much for him. I can appreciate the sentiment. I know what will make me happy. Sex makes me happy. Being drunk makes me happy. Getting high off pills makes me happy. There are some things that make me happy. God isn't one of them.

But still, sex and drugs and drunkenness are things I've sworn off in order to form a right relationship with God. (Well, except that I still get pretty drunk on occasion. Whoops.) Because I love God, and that's what he expects from me. Not because he needs me to be a certain way. He doesn't need anything. He only wants what's best for me. And right now, what's best for me does not include my happiness.

It's hard. Most of my friends are doing things "the wrong way." I'm not saying that in judgment of them. It's more of a mental contrast I have. I try so hard to do things "the right way," the chaste way, the sober way. Plenty of my friends live with their significant others. Plenty of my friends have sex outside of marriage. Plenty of my friends regularly drink too much and party too hard and get too high and don't have a care in the world to show for it, it seems. I can't help but notice. And that's hard.

In every chastity talk I've ever heard, in every Come To Jesus testimony I've ever listened to, doing things the right way is supposed to make me happy. But it doesn't. And I'm not really afraid to say that; not anymore, anyway. I used to be. I used to be so afraid of contaminating my own witness to the Truth by telling the truth. That's dangerous. Jesus doesn't want us to lie for him. The truth is, I have given up a lot of things that made me happy for the Truth, and in turn, have sacrificed a lot of my own happiness. I have to learn how to be okay with that.

People tell me all the tired cliches: don't compare your life to others', don't expect so much out of life, don't do this, don't do that. Okay.

So I don't. Instead of looking at other people's lives, I try to take some time to look at mine, which looks nothing like I wanted it to look when I got to be the age I am now. And I'm not happy.

So I choose to expect nothing out of life. Which, by the way, is depressing. And I'm not happy. I offer a Rosary every day. I go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. I'm consecrated to Mary. I have a devotion to the Divine Mercy. I go to confession nearly every other week, if not every week. I am careful not to use God's name in vain. I don't have sex with my boyfriend. I don't live with him. I don't do drugs. I don't drink to excess except on the rare occasion that I forget to pace myself at a holiday party or other type of gathering. I try to be a good Catholic. I try hard.

And I'm not happy.

I am quite certain I am where God wants me to be in life right now. I think I'm observing his will. And I'm not happy. The tug-of-war that creates in my prayer life is between me and God, but most things are. I love him. I want to be his and be with him forever. I trust him, even when I don't feel like I do.

Maybe someday I'll be happy. I don't know. Maybe someday, I will feel the glorious delight of contentment and be okay.

For now, I'm not happy. God be praised in all things.

Monday, August 22, 2016


When I was a teenager I would walk up and down the streets of the neighborhood a few down from mine and smoke cigarettes. These walks were typically accompanied by conversations on the phone, or listening to music, or just watching the clouds pass slowly in the sky. I would usually leave the house within an hour or two of getting home from school and stay out until the sun started to set itself low across the trees. I soaked up the silence and the smell of a sort-of rural-suburbia, letting the sharp incense of a day too long flow slowly down my throat, burning. As I walked, the sky would change from a bright blue scattered with white fluff to a grim orange and purple, and sweat would roll down my neck as gently as I strolled along the pavement in my holey Chuck Taylors with loose, checkered laces. Click-click, inhale, hold, sigh. Repeat.

These walks were leisurely, if only for the fact that they were away. I didn't always get along with my parents, but even when I thought I hated them, I felt within me a deep eagerness to never disappoint them. And still, I disappointed them often, I think. I didn't care for school and I slept til 4PM in the summer and stayed up until 5 (AM, that is). I wore jeans with tears that revealed my sometimes-shaved legs to accompany the eyeliner that revealed nothing of my eyelids. I cussed. I didn't like church. I hung out with people who did drugs. My room was always a mess.

For everything my parents knew and disliked, I couldn't stand for them to know that I smoked cigarettes. There was a stigma against cigarettes in my home -- my grandfather had died of smoking-induced sickness and my father had to quit when his life was nearly threatened by his own body, too. It was a silent pact they knew nothing about -- I would smoke to relieve my stress, and they wouldn't know, to spare them anymore stress.

And so, there I found myself, every afternoon. Up and down the streets of a little lake community where everybody knew everybody. I was hidden, but hidden in plain sight. I somehow didn't mind this, though. I would pass by and wave an older couple with a dogwood tree in their front yard nearly every day. One little boy rode his bike back and forth along one of the streets I walked most frequently. Vehicles would come in and go out according to the same rhythm every day. No one ever said anything. Even if they had, I wouldn't have cared. They weren't my parents.

I lay on my bed tonight staring up at an image of the Sacred Heart that hangs above my pillow, remembering those scattered ashes in the wind that carried my cares behind me and away, until finally nothing remained of my antidote but the spongey filter at the end. I would toss them on the ground and watch them burn, with my hands in my pockets. After a few moments, if they didn't die out on their own, I'd twist my foot over them, checking again to make sure the delicious orange glow had stifled into a black, ashy scuff. Sooner than later, cigarettes burn out, and then the next one, and then the next four, and then the whole pack. And you have to go home and hope no one passes by too closely as you make your way to the bathroom to spray on way too much perfume, your palms nervous with sweat and your forehead burning.

The image of the Sacred Heart which hangs above my bed now hung in my room at my parents' house during those times that I would leave and come back hours later faking innocence. It belonged to my grandpa, and for years before it was my own it overlooked my cousins and me as we made a mess of the playroom at Grandma's. His face is serious, but soft; his eyes are piercing, but not threatening. He holds up two fingers on one hand while the other points to his heart, which is burning.

He watches me now as he watched me then -- and I'm afraid my imagination hasn't gone too far away. I still play pretend before his very eyes -- I still fake innocence and act dumb as I pass him by, day and night. I lay my head to rest under his watchful care, all the while pressing away the thought of how much he sees and how much he knows.

I can't cover the scent of my sins and I can't stomp out the blazing ashes I heap on my own head when I inhale the empty yet deadly promises of the world. There is no walking away from the Almighty -- but, praise God, he also never walks away from me.

So maybe I'll keep up this pattern, or maybe I won't. I pray for the grace to be alert and vigilant, and to stand back and let God fight off the temptations I struggle with. But I can't guarantee that the next chance I get, I won't find myself mindlessly wandering away, to burn up some of my soul in exchange for a few moments of feeling alright. I can try. But I can't know.

I can only hope that when I return home, and try to make my way to the shelter of my Savior, that the Light will still be burning.

Friday, July 29, 2016


When I was in high school, every student was required to meet regularly with a guidance counselor to make sure they were staying on track and making the best decisions for their academic career. Your guidance counselor your freshman year would be the same guidance counselor all four years of high school, so that the one who helped you adjust to high school life would also help you adjust to leaving it behind.

Unfortunately for my guidance counselor, I had a lot of issues that stretched well beyond my schoolwork. Fortunately for me, she had a degree in helping crazy people like myself live life.

I don't remember exactly when, or how, but at some point, it stopped being about how messed up I was (a term, of course, she never used), and started being about Jesus. I still remember how confused I felt when she held up a holy card depicting Jesus knocking on a door, and told me that he wanted me to let him into my life. I stared blankly and wondered why this was being discussed. I thought I had far more pressing issues than a lack of religiosity.

At some point, my guidance counselor gave me her Bible from a retreat she had gone to, and told me to keep it. I did. It came to me in almost perfect condition -- with the singular exception of "MEG - Tec 128" written in blue sharpie on the bottom and right sides. It didn't stay that way for long.

It gave me something to do in class besides daydream. Its pages are lined with doodles; the front cover and title page are filled with notes of homework assignments I didn't want to forget scrambled in alongside the name of a lover written over and over (I apologize for being a teenager at one point). The O's of the printed lettering of the title page are filled in with black pen, and a red squiggle makes its way across the bottom right corner.

At some point, I stopped doodling and started reading.

The Gospel of John is marked sporadically with red and black ink; entire Psalms are highlighted. There are notes in the margins and tabs marking the start of different books. Some corners are folded and some pages are ripped. It has been used and loved in a way that other religious books I own have never been. Religion fascinated me; the Bible drew me in.

This Bible which once accompanied me to all my classes and to sleepovers and even to events and situations that were in stark contrast to its commandments now sits on my bookshelf, one Bible among several. The binding is held together by purple duct tape. Some of the ratty edges of the cover have been replaced with clear tape. Some of the pages are wearied by a spilled Dr. Pepper. It isn't pretty, and wouldn't be taken by any thrift store anywhere.

I took it down tonight to see if I could go back. Back to a time when my soul was lost, but searching -- before it was found, and lazy. When my mind was dark, but hungry -- before it was busy, and tired. When my heart was blind, but open, reaching into the night and searching with eager arms for the course hairs of a face matted with blood spilled for me; for the strong arms outstretched and the feet as dusty as the road and the face -- the real face -- of the God of the ages. When I didn't see Jesus, but I knew him, and I wanted to feel him near me. Unlike now, when I know where to find him, and I turn my face away for "more important" things.

This Bible tells a story -- a love story. Of course, every Bible tells "the" story -- of God and man and salvation. But only this Bible tells this story: the story of a battered and broken me finding a battered and broken God in the wreckage of my life. Of the word of God which would tolerate a few minutes of misuse in exchange for a few minutes of teaching. Of the Spirit of God which patiently rested between the pages while I drank or smoked or hooked up or whatever. Of an interest which became a passion.

I have forgotten that this is where much of today began. I have lost the habit of studying the Scriptures for the purpose of knowing God, rather than the purpose of writing a paper. Where the door to my heart was once left propped open, it is not only shut, but the curtains are closed.

And someone is knocking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Precious Daughter

God is good at surprising me. I always expect one thing from him, or maybe another, or maybe even this thing, but in the end, whatever he does comes so far out of left field I know he's the one behind it -- because it wasn't even the last thing I expected; it wasn't even on the list.

It was this subtle comfort I took with me as I began a 33 day preparation period at the end of which I will consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary. I have learned through the years that when faith and fear collide, only God will remain standing at the end, and because my Father stands, I remain on his shoulders. It is not as though I have nothing to fear; it is more that I have a lot to fear, but I am learning to trust even in the dark.

And so, throwing caution to the wind and letting that be what pressed the sails of my tiny ship, I set out on this journey. The first few days were expectedly trying: I learned that consecration to Mary meant belonging to Mary, and that by consecrating myself I would be surrendering completely my right to determine who receives the graces from my prayers and sacrifices. I thought of my family members, my friends, the unborn, the poor, the lost, and everyone else I take to prayer with such a weighted heart. I would be giving them up, it seemed, to follow this call I have heard for so long to let Mary take hold of my life. I didn't know it would be this extreme; I didn't know it would cost this much.

But I kept going. One of the first things I learned at the dawn of my reversion to Catholicism was Mother Teresa's way of doing it anyway. I take no credit for this grace in my life. It was wholly inspired by her and remains entirely the work of Jesus. When I don't want to go to confession, I don't want to amend my life, I don't want to go to Mass, I try my best to do it anyway. (If only I could carry this over to daily prayer and the Rosary -- Jesus help me).

And so, I pressed on, reminding myself that commitment wouldn't come until day 34, and I should at least try to do it anyway. I am so glad I did. After learning that consecration to Mary meant such a life of surrender and what felt like loss, I learned that what I receive in turn is well worth it: in exchange for my graces, I receive Mary's; in exchange for my heart, I receive hers; in exchange for my devotion to her and God's will in her, she devotes herself to me and my concerns.

I don't have to worry about the people I pray for who will not receive graces from my prayers at my will anymore -- instead, they will receive help from the Mother of God, whose child I am and who will never brush my heart aside. Even so, I can still pray for them, and simply trust Mary to do as she pleases with the graces that come. This sounded much scarier before I knew how much she loves me.

One of the biggest hurdles in my spiritual life is the constant nagging feeling that I can't be myself. I read the lives of the Saints and, while inspired by them, can't find it in me to do the same things they did. I don't feel the sort of person to abandon all and start a religious order, or to strip naked before my family and take on a life of utter poverty, or lead an army, or spend hours in the confessional. The Saints are extraordinary. The Saints aren't me.

But Mary...I can try to be like Mary. What is there at the heart of her life but to say yes to God and take him into my life? Obviously, there is so much more, but I can start there. I can strive to be more like Mary, who in turn will show me how to be more like Jesus. And it turns out, this doesn't mean I have to veil and cover my arms and resign to a shack in Nazareth doing laundry and cooking all day. It means I will become more like me.

When I first started the process of preparing to consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary, one of my fears was that I would have to change so much about who I am. To my delight and surprise, instead, as I near the end of this 33 day journey, I find that I have never been more comfortable, never felt more affirmed, listening to the music I like and taking naps and watching Netflix even when my scruples tell me I'm a heathen for it.

I also know exactly what I want, and where I want, my next tattoo to be. Would you believe it is Marian?

I realized this shift yesterday. The guilt I feel about being myself is beginning to pale, and I have been learning, without even knowing it, how much God loves me. As soon as I realized it, I began to reflect on it. All this time I thought God wanted me to focus on what is wrong in my life, what needs to change, and how soon. Could it be that he wants me, at this time, to know what is right about me?

And at this thought, I felt a quiet but gripping reassurance from the depths of my heart: God wants me to know who I am, and to embrace it, because if I don't start there, nothing else he asks of me will make sense.

And so, here I am, in all my pink-haired, tattooed, loud, obnoxious glory -- a beloved daughter of God, not in spite of who I am, but because of it. And also, a daughter of Mary, who has already shown and given me so much, before my consecration day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I've struggled with whether or not I should say anything about this. I am deeply uncomfortable criticizing priests or bishops without explicitly just reason (blatant heresy, or abuse of persons, for example), and even then, I hesitate. I have such a deep respect for the clergy, and the office they hold and the Person they make present in our midst. And that, ultimately, is why I feel this must be said. The more I think about the reasons I respect the clergy, the more it hurts.

I realize that priests are busy. I also realize that they are human -- and that humans forget. We are clumsy and wayward and all of us are just trying to feel our way through this dark world.

My world, and the world for so many others, was very dark on Sunday with the loss of nearly fifty lives, and the impact on countless more whose lives will never be the same, at the now well-known shooting in an Orlando gay bar. Tragedy drags my heart down often, regardless of who the victim or victims may be, but this one struck home. These were my brothers and sisters in the gay community -- targeted specifically because they were gay.

Writing this still now puts knots in my stomach. The youngest victim was 18, and had only recently graduated high school. Several of the deceased died with their partners, and one of the deceased was not herself gay -- she was the straight mother of a gay son, and she had beaten cancer twice and had ten other children (her son survived, by the way). Many were college students. Some were full fledged adults. All are loved by God.

Each of these people had a story -- one that was still being written, which was far from seeming over. Each was created in the image and likeness of God, and each was on Jesus' mind and in his heart as he hung on the cross. They loved and were loved. They had hopes, they had dreams, and they had plans for the next day.

This attack has been ceaselessly named the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. And yet, somehow, I have lost count of the LGBT people I know, in small towns and huge cities, who went to Mass or a non-Catholic church service on Sunday seeking solace from the fear and sadness only to hear no mention of the shooting -- let alone that the victims were targeted for being gay.

I know and understand that several Catholic and other Christian public figures have decried the massacre, and condemned violence. This is wonderful. And yet, it seems that I have heard very little from Christian circles -- be it clergy or laypeople -- specifically mentioning that this was a crime against gay people because they were gay.

Certain public figures -- whom I will not name -- insist on avoiding referring to the victims as gay or belonging to the LGBT community, opting instead to call them "Americans" and to state that they are mourning as Americans who have lost Americans.

This is all well and good. But why is this shooting unique from other shootings? What makes these victims Americans who need no other designation while victims of other mass shootings are referred to as students, black churchgoers, children?

Perhaps it is that people genuinely think they are doing the LGBT community some sort of service by not referring to their being members of the LGBT community. This is possible, especially in a Christian climate that fears the word "gay" and fears even more its implications.

But please -- please -- don't mute our existence. LGBT people -- my people -- were targeted by the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Not because we are American. Not because we are people. The victims in Orlando were targeted and killed because they were gay.

To say so is not politicizing. It is stating a fact. It isn't succumbing to liberal ideologies. It's recognizing the reality before us. Again:

The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history targeted LGBT people because they were LGBT people.

It is more than okay to say so. God is not offended by the truth. Please, I beg you, say so. And once you've said so, condemn it. Condemn homophobia. Condemn violence against gay people . Condemn violence in the name of God and proclaim for all to hear that God loves gay people.

If you haven't, please do. Please don't be afraid to talk about it. Please don't be afraid to say the victims weren't "just gays" as a friend of mine was told by his grandfather. Please don't be afraid to confront this mess with the love of Jesus Christ and the compassion and mercy which the Gospel requires of us.

And lastly, if you have gay friends or family members, ask how they're doing. They'll more than likely be relieved to know you care.

Friday, April 29, 2016

I am useless

I tend to accidentally stumble into nihilism when it comes to my thinking, and accidentally into utilitarianism when it comes to my choices. I'm constantly exhausted and depressed from doing so many things for what feels like no reason.

At the root of this issue is the fact that I see myself as useless, and therefore, worthless. I feel inadequate and my internalized response is to be excessively adequate. And then I feel it doesn't matter, it serves no real purpose, and it is all in vain.

Last night, I was at my friends' house holding their new baby girl. She's pretty cute, and holding her was my chosen method of therapy after the horrible day I had.

Watching her mommy hold her, though, became a sort-of therapy in itself. This child does nothing practical, personally, for her parents. She has taken much from them and has only been able to return it to them in the form of dirty diapers. Her favorite things to do are sleep, eat, and stare into space. And she does all these things fairly well. Apart from that, she contributes nothing materially valuable. She doesn't work, she doesn't provide, and she certainly doesn't clean up after herself.

But her parents do not see her this way. My friend, pictured, is clearly (sorry) exhausted. She's getting used to an irregular sleep cycle centered wholly on the needs of a days-old infant who is entirely dependent on her for food, which she needs every couple of hours, at least. Still, her joy hasn't faded. In fact, I would say, it has only increased, a hundred fold, with each day that has passed since the day she learned that her child existed.

And that, y'all, is this sweet baby's claim to fame. Joy. By her very existence, she gives meaning and purpose to the actions her parents take and creates a whole new and exciting dimension in their lives. She offers them no material benefit. She costs them money, time, and energy.

But she is so worthy, so precious to them, simply because she exists, that her parents are willing to give all this and more for no greater purpose than for her own sake. She exists, and this is reason enough to love her.

Her parents don't need her to do anything for them -- because by simply existing, she is already enough. More than enough. She exists, in these moments, as a perfect image of what it is to simply "be loved."

Her existence itself is meaningful -- speaking such long-forgotten truths as "love creates" and "love ignites" and "love begets love." We call babies "adorable," and by it we mean "cute." But the adoration in her mother's eyes, and her father's eyes, since they first saw her sweet little face and perfect poofy cheeks, is real. It is more than finding her cute; she inspires a deep awe in them, not for any marvelous capacity she may eventually possess, or because of any usefulness (or lack of) she poses, but simply because she is.

How much more, then, can a God who is totally self-sustaining and never tired love us whom he loved into existence? We are the physical embodiment of his love, made in his own precious image, receiving from him at all times a longing, loving gaze. He adores us, even while we offer nothing of any use to him. He is in awe of us, simply because we are.

I exist -- and that is enough to bring joy to my Father's heart. By the simple fact that I am, his world is somehow enriched, though he was lacking nothing before me and gains nothing for himself from me. I add nothing to his existence, but he would not think to call me worthless. For all he has given me, all I can return to him are my sins and my failures and sorrows. And his love and his gaze remain the same. God loves me for my own sake -- and nothing I can or can't do has ever been able to change that.

To put all that in very few words -- I am utterly useless to God, and his heart is filled with joy simply because he brought me into existence. He did not create me to be "useful." He thought of me and willed me into being, to be and to be loved.

This is more than enough for him. When will it be enough for me?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Peter's Faith -- Alternatively Titled: The Future Of That Freak With Pink Hair

I dread being asked what I'm studying in college, because I know that as soon as I say "theology," I'll be met with a curious and pitying glance, followed quickly by, "Oh. What do you plan to do with that?"

And the honest-to-God truth is: I don't know. I have no idea.

For three years, off and on, I prayed about what I should do with my life. And this program at this school kept coming back to me. In 2014, I finally committed to it, and got started. I've enjoyed most of my classes so far, and my experience with the staff has been nothing short of delightful. And still, I'm tired.

I never planned to go to college growing up. It simply wasn't something I ever saw myself doing -- I hated school, and once I was out of high school, I relished in the freedom of work, having my own money, and free evenings.

And now, there's homework. Endless homework. Due to financial aid requirements based on my circumstances, I can't take a "break" without losing my aid. I finish one semester, and pick the next one up as soon as the following month begins. I don't get summer breaks. I don't get Christmas breaks. I don't get spring break. I don't have the option. I'll be following this pattern for the next four and a half least.

So, when people ask, "Oh. What do you plan to do with that?" My response is dressed in a half-hearted smile, a shrug, and drenched in exhaustion: "Whatever God wants me to do, I guess."

It feels childish -- unbecoming of an adult, especially one so typically vested in planning and scheduling and organizing. It is unusual for me to hope, to dream, or to wonder (unless the wonder is the result of worry).

We hear sometimes that Peter's falling while attempting to walk on water to Jesus when He called was the direct result of his turning his gaze from the Christ and focusing instead on the waves. It seems like a clear-cut story: we look to Jesus, and we'll rise above; we look to the storm, and we'll sink.

But are those the only two possibilities? Faith and failure? Is it possible to look to Christ rather than focusing on the storm, and still feel the wind and the rain as they buffet against us, pressing us against our doubt and our clumsiness and the gravity which demands our submission?

Is it possible to keep your eyes on Christ and still feel so, so tired? Anxious? Drenched from the rain even if not swallowed up by the sea?

My answer is so typical of me: I don't know. Maybe I'm not supposed to know. Maybe it's not my job. Or maybe, Peter, being the coward he was that I so easily relate to, would not have even stepped out of the boat if he saw his denial of Christ, the responsibility he would have for the Church at its dawning, and his eventual execution under the sinister Emperor Nero.

Perhaps faith's only goal was not to keep Peter from looking around him; perhaps it was to keep him from looking too far ahead -- not only away from Christ, but beyond him, behind him. Even Christ, from a distance, appeared as a ghost, and the Apostles were afraid (Luke 24:37). Peter couldn't see into the distance -- not the distance of that stormy night, and not the distance of his life on earth.

What would Peter have said if asked what he planned to do when he made it to Jesus on the water? Maybe the same as me: "I don't know."

"What's out there?"
"I don't know."

"What's happening?"
"I don't know."

"What will you do if--"
"I don't know."

And yet, his Master beckoned. He calls to all of us the same. We don't always know what the future holds, or what we'll do if this, or if that. We can't always say what will happen if we step out and go to where Christ calls.

But, God-willing, we can echo Peter's sentiment toward his Master:

Where else would we go?

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Two statements from Holy Thursday stir up an existential awe in my heart:

"You will never wash my feet," and "Do you realize what I have done for you?"

Like the Pharisees who saw Jesus dining with sinners and showing kindness to "wicked" women, and like the disciples who pushed back crowds and guarded Jesus from children, it is easy for those of us who hold God in high regard to be disturbed at the implication that he be made unclean or that he should associate with anything less than riches and honor and favor. We know in our humanity that sin and God are eternally in opposition to one another; to pursue the appetites and desires we have for one is to spit in the face of the other.

From the first moments of the unfolding of the fall, Adam and Eve felt ashamed. Their shame was in knowing -- not in having some sort of intellectual knowledge gained from academics or valuable experiences -- but in knowing, with a deep intimacy, the dividing factors between good and evil. They hid themselves with whatever they could retrieve from the world around them, dreading what they now knew was not merely nakedness, but vulnerability.

As soon as sin had taken root in our human nature, so did the anxious "knowing" that we are not good enough for God, that being searched by him or known by him or found by him might mean our ultimate end. Their anxieties in these moments were not too far off the mark -- we are told that no one can see the face of God and live (Exodus 33:20) and that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31)

We sense this distinctness between our nature and God's innately, and it gives us a certain a hesitancy toward the sacred. We don't want to make God dirty. We don't want to profane him. We don't want to offend him (though we often do). Imagine Peter's horror, then, as Jesus, taking a towel, wrapped it around his waist and proceeded to lower himself to wash Peter's feet.

But Jesus is unrestrained by our anxieties. He sees our needs and nothing in him is hindered by sin. The hesitancy we have toward God is not one he has toward us. We see a holy God and withhold ourselves, just as Peter did when he first took Jesus out in his boat. "Depart from me; I am a sinful man." But Jesus sees a hurting and fallen people, and withholds nothing of himself.

Jesus knows that if he withholds himself, it will only be to our peril. "Unless I wash you, you can have no part in me." Jesus has no fear of our feet that have trudged through the dirt and the mud of this dying world. Jesus gets down in the dirt himself, and with weary hands and dirty fingernails and sweat caked to his brow, he performs the work of a servant. The arms which will bear the weight of the world's sin first bear the sorrow and soreness we bear from holding ourselves up for so long.

Knowing who would betray him, who would deny him, and who would follow him to the death, Jesus does not partake in any sort of preferentialism. He tends to the tiredness and the wounds of the sinner and the saint.

Jesus gazes into the human condition, seeing our shame and our sense of unworthiness, searching the darkened corners of our hearts where we hide ourselves with whatever we've found in the world around us, and lovingly pleads with us: "Do you realize what I have done for you?"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Saint of Darkness

The Vatican has officially announced that Mother Teresa will be canonized a Saint on September 4, later this year. This is incredibly joyous and meaningful news for me; the woman many see as a servant of the poor first and a powerful, albeit small, world changer second is for me an example of what it means to live the faith and love Jesus when all spiritual consolations and feelings of happiness are stripped from us in this life.
Several years after her death, Mother Teresa's private letters and writings became accessible to the public, and people were astonished at what they read. Where they expected to find reflections on loving Jesus and caring for him in the poorest of the poor -- which they did, of course, find -- they also found admissions of a dreadful and decades-long Dark Night of the Soul. It was revealed that Mother Teresa not only labored in love, but labored in the silence and darkness of a soul which felt torn from grace.
In a letter from 1961, the soon-to-be-Saint wrote: "Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can't explain."
Mother Teresa's crumbling joy and apparently constant wrestling with believing have dubbed her, for some, an atheist, but a closer reading of her letters, bearing in mind the struggles we all -- believers, that is -- so often face depicts a separate story. Where skeptics and agnostics find in her words the familiarity of doubt, believers who struggle with depression, with spiritual dryness, or other emotional, psychological, or spiritual calamities find the familiar face of anguish -- of longing for God and, in the absence of his felt presence and response, a certain bitterness, and not only a bitterness in attitude, but in taste and in feeling. It is a sour thing, we sense, for God to allow us to feel abandoned, and it is a sour thing for the soul to feel abandoned.
She once wrote of her experiences: "I did not know that love could make one suffer so much . . . of pain human but caused by the divine. The more I want him, the less I am wanted. I want to love him as he has not been loved, and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God. They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God . . . In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing. That terrible longing keeps growing, and I feel as if something will break in me one day. Heaven from every side is closed. I feel like refusing God. Pray for me that I may not turn a Judas to Jesus in this painful darkness."
As Christians, we know that bad things happen, and bad people exist, in spite of God's goodness. It can often seem to us that God permits these things to spite his own goodness, and occasionally -- or, for some of us, frequently -- that these things happen not in spite of or to spite God's goodness, but as what tastes to our souls and our hearts like the spite of God himself.
Few people understand this feeling so well as Mother Teresa did. Every morning, she trudged into the streets of Calcutta, dampened by tears and darkened by death. She witnessed firsthand what longing looks like; she understood the poverties of the soul like a second language -- a language she translated to others from the poverty of the body she buried herself in for her whole life.
There are those who may die and meet God face-to-face and find their souls plunged, headfirst, into the hell they prefer to him and his glory. And there are those who may die and meet God face-to-face and feel the weight of glory press upon them with increasing joy, until their joy is completed, as promised by Jesus.
And then, there are souls like Mother Teresa, who have spent their earthly life struggling, sick, and dying on the sidewalks and in the alleyways of human suffering, longing for healing that never seems to come, until Someone comes along, bends down, and picks them up off the side of the road, carries them home, and binds their wounds with love.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


"I thirst," he pleads, from the altar of the cross. He thirsts for love, for my love, for the devotion of my heart. Day in and day out, from the altar which brings the same Calvary forward again and again -- the death of God which happened once, yet happened for all. The sacrifice which happened once in history but is all the same present at every Mass upon the altar. Jesus, slain on the altar, begs our love in few words and many drops of precious blood. Blood poured out into a chalice, held high for all to see. "Take this, and drink."

The Word of God intended to go forth and accomplish the work of salvation overflows from the cross as Lamb and from the altar as bread. Broken Jesus, who thirsts for my soul, come into the tomb of my heart. Draw near to the heart which you cause to beat, moment by moment. This empty place, darkened by the shadows of doubt and dampened by the tears of worry; this tomb of my body, my fallen humanity. Come into the tomb of this humanity which was buried with you in baptism, swept up into your death as rain is swallowed up by the ocean. This grave where I am drowning in my brokenness and misery. Come and meet me here, and if I find my heart has died let it at least have died with you.

Come to live in me so that I can live in you. This bread which is you crucified is one and the same as you who has overcome. The same God slain on the altar is alive on the other side of my sin and my doubt and my frustration and limitedness. Resurrect this wasteland you've encountered; roll away the stones of doubt and show the light of your radiant dawning over the shadows it casts. Let this blood in my veins which keeps me alive be united to the blood from your side which moves me to live.

Bring your resurrection to me. Let my life be your life. Become the rhythm in this heart and breathe your Spirit into these lungs. Let this death worth dying mean that there is life worth living. Come to live in me.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Real Jesus And The Greasy Pink Mop

A lot of people think I'm a model Catholic. A lot of people, on that note, think I'm a terrible Catholic. I'm too "conservative" for some, and too "liberal" for others. People like me, and that's okay. People hate me, and that's okay. I'm certainly not a good Catholic, and I'm not exactly a bad Catholic. I'm just a Catholic who needs all the help I can get.

I hesitate to write a lot for this blog. I started this blog at the incessant prompting of friends who insisted I have something important to say, that I'm a good writer, that people need to hear me. My writing, though, is often therapeutic. I write to get my thoughts out of my head and in front of me, so I can see them and put them together like the puzzle they are. I'm a Catholic struggling with mental illness who needs an outlet.

This past week, I've been near crippled by horrible thoughts. I won't divulge the details here, though. What I will say is that by Sunday morning, it was all I could do to get myself out of bed. Which was important -- I had plans to go to Mass with my godson and his mother. I woke up two hours early to get ready, and those two hours slowly devolved into watching YouTube and listening to a friend's testimony about alcoholism colliding with the joy of the Gospel. His story was amazing -- inspiring, and sobering (no pun intended). It was impossible not to think how much "better" a Catholic than I am he is, and how desperately I wanted a relationship with Jesus like he has. Jesus spoke to me, nonetheless, through his words and his story, and it was the first time I'd felt Jesus' love in weeks. I sent my friend a quick message of appreciation, grabbed some Cheerios to occupy my godson, and headed out for Mass.

Since the athletic shorts I slept in were undoubtedly inappropriate attire for Mass, I parked down the street and pulled some yoga pants out of a bag in the back of my car. I walked up the street with my tshirt and my yoga pants and just knew the sweet old man in the suit walking in was probably judging me. A bad Catholic, if she's a Catholic at all. Fear of what others would think quickly consumed my thoughts as I approached the steps to the great wooden door of this huge, old, beautiful church. I slid my black beanie off my head and revealed to God and the world the oily pink mess that waited underneath. Good Catholics dress up for Mass. Bad Catholics don't even go. And then there's my hot mess. #TheWorst.

Later that day a friend expressed grief over the fact that he struggles with his faith but is involved in a catechetical ministry. He spoke of needing to go "act like he had his shit together" and "pretending," and I wanted to tell him how much his honesty helps me. It is important to my faith to know that others are struggling, to know that others don't have it all together, to know that someone needs Jesus as much as I do. It's easy to see how Jesus is the God who commands and the God who demands and the God who heals and the God who approves for so many. It's almost a foreign language to me, though, sometimes. I need to know that Jesus is also a God who will get down in the dirt and pick me up and take me the way I am for -- if I dare to even dream -- the simple reality of who I am. Is Jesus a God who can love me like that?

Or is Jesus a God who looks out from the tabernacle and sees me somehow in one of the front rows of an architecturally magnificent building and scoffs at my yoga pants and slicked back pink mop, a toddler in one arm and a plastic bowl of Cheerios in the other?

Is Jesus a God who, from a distance, sees that I've once again opted to skip morning prayer to hide in bed because I want to hurt myself, but I can't because so many -- especially Jesus -- would be so disappointed?

Is Jesus a God who sees my heart screaming into the dark abyss of my human essence and hopes someone will pass on a devotional about the importance of interior silence in the Christian life?

There is this memory inside of me somewhere that Jesus is personable, intimately aware of my struggles and wants to love me through them. The same Jesus I'm often told is not "the real Jesus" because he isn't strict enough, stoic enough. He involves my feelings in my relationship with him, where "the real Jesus" has nothing to do with feelings. He offers gentle caresses when "the real Jesus" is harsh about mortal sins and dreadful habits. "The real Jesus" isn't kind like we think of kindness -- human kindness is different than that of "the real Jesus," whose kindness always involves reproach for sinners like me. "The real Jesus" is waiting for my thoughts and habits to change so he can be a part of my life again.

And still, this tiny, urgent memory of the Jesus I knew once comes to me. It brings peace and light and no ulterior motive besides to make sure I'm okay.  Like a song stuck in my head, or the ticking of the clock I can't shake from my OCD brain, I hear it repeatedly:

"Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them to feed them." Hosea 11:3-4

Jesus is a God who sees a need and wants to fill it. He is a God who is gentle and kind -- even resorting at times to "human kindness." He is a God who adores us as a mother adores her infant, pressing us to his face and laughing at our sloppy, Cheerios-scented kisses.

And, if I am permitted to think so, that extends to me. Me in my yoga pants with my greasy pink hair and my tired face and worried eyes and thoughts of hurting myself and thoughts that are worse. Jesus sees my desperation and hopelessness, and wants to fill it, not condemn it. Jesus sees my aching and my occasional desire to give up on him, to "go be happy," and he hopes I remember how miserable I was before him. Jesus sees me roll out of bed at 11:45AM and hopes I'll pray today just as he hopes I'll remember to take my anxiety medicine.

Jesus wants me to be okay. I am allowed to think that. Jesus wants me to be happy. I am allowed to think that.

And, since I'm feeling daring today ... Maybe the real Jesus doesn't care if I'm a good Catholic or a bad Catholic, as much as he cares that I know I'm a Catholic whose only eternal hope is in him, and whose hope today lies in hearing his invitation to let him love me.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Sobering

"And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, he spoke also this parable:
Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.
I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O god, be merciful to me a sinner.
I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather that the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted."
Luke 18:9-14

I'm reminded of this parable often -- when I find myself passing judgment and, ironically, when I notice others passing judgment.

But recently, I've begun to see it in a new light. I think I might be the Pharisee, and I think the tax collector ("publican") might be me. (No, you didn't read that wrong.)

I've noticed in myself lately a dastardly and dangerous mindset: that I am less in need of God's help than I was four, five, eight, ten years ago. The impression has only recently surfaced in a tangible way, but I wonder how long I have carried it unconsciously, how much it has impacted my prayer life, and how much it has affected my relationship with my Father.

I find myself thinking, "Well, I may have sinned this way, but at least I don't sin like that anymore." What would, for a good and saintly person, be a point of thanksgiving and reflection and prayer, becomes for me a way of self-consoling, a few pats on the back. "You suck, but at least you don't suck as hard as you did back then."

Don't get me wrong -- it is good, and I am glad, that I am not like the person I used to be. What worries me isn't that I've noticed. What worries me is that I see it as a reason to relax, as a reason I don't need to pray as hard or as often.

In my unconscious mind I stand at the front of the temple of my heart, but unlike the Pharisee, who at very least prayed, I sit in the front pew and organize my schedules, my plans, my finances, and occasionally look up to say, "Jesus help this person," or "Jesus bless that person," all the while neglecting to notice how desperately I need Jesus in the matters directly in front of me, let alone, in myself.

And sometimes, for whatever reason, I look to the back, to the years behind me, and see myself struggling, searching, unrecognizable. Whether it's prompted by greeting an old friend or teacher who compliments me, "You've changed," or scrolling through my Facebook memories, cringing as often as I laugh -- whatever it is, I look back, and I don't think, "Thank you, God, for not giving up on me and for helping me and for being with me now." I think, "Good for me. Thank you, God, that I'm not like that. Okay, back to me."

See, in addition to my years of struggling emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically, searching for happiness and for God and for peace of mind, I was a sinner, just like I am today, but in different and more extreme, more externally manifest ways. It is easy, now, for me to look back and scoff at the person I was -- the precious and beloved daughter of God trying and failing and trying and failing -- and think I'm so much better now that I fail and say sorry and fail and say sorry and fail and say sorry. "At least," I think, "I don't do that." "At least I'm over that." "At least I was able to pull myself out of that one."

Until in a sobering moment I fear, if God could have his pick between me then and me now, I'll bet he'd prefer the sincere one, the one who loves him for his own sake, the one who wants to belong to him but feels weighed down by sin, rather than the one who wants to belong to this and that but feels, occasionally, weighed down by religion.

But, reality maintains: God wants me. He's always, only ever wanted me, and for me to want him back. And that's the problem.

The me in the back of my life, some short years ago, wants God's mercy. The me in the last few weeks expects God's mercy, and further, expects to get by in life, even the spiritual life, without God's help.

Four, five, eight, ten years ago, I was fighting for sobriety from so many things which ruled my life. Today, I am in constant need of the sobering reminder that I need God. I need God's help to free me from the sins I think aren't as bad in comparison to those of my past. I need God's forgiveness for times I've been insincere and lax and unloving and unkind. I need God to show me, in the plain light of Christ, why the sins I quietly commit in my heart will kill my soul until it's just as dead as it would have been had he not intervened to save me from the sins I committed in the visible world.

And God knows that need. And he wants to meet that need. Once more, as always, I am an undeserving sinner before a mighty God -- whether I be in the front with my pride or the back with my anguish.

But at least God remains forgiving.