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.