trust

There's Something to be Said About Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

We all have our worst fears. And if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to obsess about them and let them dominate my life. It’s all too easy to instantly become negative and allow fears, worries and anxieties overpower our faith in the Lord’s plans for our lives. Or, even worse, we begin to suspect or blame God in the supposed unfolding of these problems that might not have even happened yet.

Fear is a human aspect and is something characters throughout salvation history have struggled with. Even when the Lord reaches out His hand and does amazing deeds, humanity is all too quick to forget God’s goodness, or become disillusioned and bitter. This plays out multiple times in the books of Exodus and Numbers, where the Israelites complain about the food the Lord has given them, about what they left behind in Egypt (besides slavery) and where the Lord is taking them.

When Moses leads the Israelites to the land “flowing with milk and honey,” they become consumed with fear because they’re afraid of the current inhabitants of the land, completely forgetting the extraordinary miracles that brought them out of slavery and sustained them on their journey:

“All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, the whole community saying to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt, or that here in the desert we were dead! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to have us fall by the sword? Our wives and little ones will be taken as booty. Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?…Let us appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14: 2-4)

In response, the Lord allows exactly what they feared to happen, because they wouldn’t make space in their lives for God and because they refused to trust in Him. He withdraws and without God, their worst fears indeed take place:

“The Lord also said to Moses and Aaron: ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me?… By my life, says the Lord, I will do to you just what I have heard you say. Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall….Your little ones, however, who you said would be taken as booty, I will bring in, and they shall appreciate the land you spurned. But as for you, your bodies shall fall here in the desert, here where your children must wander for forty years, suffering your faithlessness, till the last of you lies dead in the desert.” (Numbers 14: 26-29, 31-33)

The Israelites became victims to a self-fulfilling prophecy and their own fears indeed came into being because they refused to believe in the Lord, and the Lord allowed those fears to become actualized. It’s easy to look at this ancient example and scoff at their faithlessness, but the reality is that we make the same mistakes in our own lives time and time again. We also refuse to trust in the Lord because our fears seem more substantial than trusting that the Lord has our best interests in mind. When we encounter the unknown, we shy away and want to turn back to the familiar past, even when we bemoaned the tribulations of what we endured in the past. By making our fears tantamount, we push the Lord aside and sometimes invite what we feared to come into being.  At the same time, it can be incredibly difficult to trust in the Lord, especially when He’s calling us into the unknown, but a life without trust in the Lord as Christians is not a Christian life at all.

But, as the Lord has also done throughout salvation history, He’s always ready to reward faith and renew His promises, as we make our way through this desert of life to the Promised Land waiting for our souls at the end of our earthly days. As long as we hope, we can prevent these dark omens of the unknown from become dismal self-fulfilled prophecies.

Invitations.

Truth be told, I love an invitation to celebrate with anyone who is seeking to join the church. As a cradle Catholic, sometimes I envy the experience of those who have an impactful, dramatic conversion story—at least one in which they played a role. I am an emotional mess at Easter Vigil as I witness the humility and desire on the faces and in the posture of the elect who are actively responding to their invitation (even more so, if I have been lucky enough to learn about that journey in some way).

On the other hand, I treasure the fact that I was claimed for Christ long before I was able to do it for myself. I am grateful for the grace, the guides I’ve been given, and the foundation ‘ever ancient, ever new’ that lays too-big a framework, one that necessitates growing into. Being on the lookout for the Reign of God which is already present and not yet come is a lot to ask of anyone—infant or otherwise. The two baptismal experiences are distinct, one no better than another, yet we each have a conversion that is constantly at work within us whether we have grown up in a church or have been ignited with new zeal.

***

Matthew’s Gospel today is also about timing and not knowing what (or whom) is coming. St. Matthew urges his audience to ‘stay awake’ through the not knowing, when we will be called upon to welcome the Christ— in hopes that we might be found attending diligently to both the invitations we have received and the vocations we have been called to. Sometimes this means the less glamorous long-haul, other times it means immediate readiness.

Today is the day I was baptized 33 years ago. I remember nothing of it, and feel a little disappointed about that. I have of course heard stories about it and have been to the church since then. To my delight and amusement, my dear college friend (and once fellow environmental studies major), is now the Pastor of that parish.

But that was before I honestly came to terms with the gifts I had been given and the course load I should be taking, and how perhaps I was meant to be engaging with more people—fewer trees. Before my heart had been broken by folks living on the margins, and before I worked in young adult ministry or began writing, or raising babies.

Aren’t these sorts of discoveries exactly what is meant by the phrase: “God draws straight with crooked lines?”  My priest friend is a campout-leading, bee-keeping pastor in the North woods—two charisms, one fiat. Seemingly dormant seeds planted, geminate right on time. (Whether or not we are aware). These are the details or our stories, and all of them are laden with significance.

We know it isn’t about whose got great stories; only how we live the stories we have been given. The Christian person should be in a continual state of conversion, or we run the risk of becoming stale, irrelevant. Sometimes the most intriguing stories of conversion are of those who have been plodding along faithfully and have come to a different/deeper/more specific place of living than the one from which they began.

Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

***

Tonight over dinner I will re-light the candle, the light of Christ, given to me to be kept burning; a practice I’ve only recently begun. I will marvel with the knowledge that I have been claimed and that my participation in this faith story is asked of me as actively today as it was 33 years ago. There is no passivity in this invitation—there never was.

What Kind of a Catholic are You?

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I notice that many attendees and Catholics become preoccupied with this question, “What kind of Catholic are you?  Where do you go to mass?”  Sometimes, we ask these question to understand what kind of spirituality another person might have.  Other times we might wonder what kind of liturgy he/she prefers traditional/charismatic/somewhere in between.  However, more often than not, I have noticed that this question takes on different meaning depending upon who is asking the question.  On the “right” side of the aisle, believers usually ask each other if we believe in Catholic teaching regarding contraception/marriage/homosexuality.  On the “left” side of the aisle, believers might ask each other about their beliefs regarding illegal immigration/care for the poor/racism.  Sometimes, I feel like we use this question to gauge our ability to befriend or to date others (disclaimer…CBC is not a dating service!!!). 

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I cannot help but struggle with these questions.  Why do we ask them?  Why are we so preoccupied with sorting each other into these two groups?  How can we better accept each other, create genuine friendships, will the best for each other, and accomplish all of this without judging each other for what we struggle with personally?  Sometimes, I feel like I cannot do all of this.  I feel like I cannot appease both crowds, and at different times in my life I struggle with both sides of the aisle. 

            What type of Catholic am I?  When I am asked this question, I balk, squirm, and try to avoid it.  My Jesuit education taught me to prioritize caring for the poor and vulnerable.  However, there are times when I am not as compassionate to the poor as I should be.  These days might include driving past that homeless person holding a sign on the free way, spending money on frivolous things, or choosing to sleep in on the weekend instead of volunteering in my community.  On those days, I feel like a “lazy Catholic,” “in a hurry Catholic,” or sometimes even a “selfish Catholic.”  Sometimes, my prayer life goes well, but often times I forget to pray.  I become a “forgetful Catholic” or an “ungrateful Catholic.”  Sometimes, I believe I am doing really well, and I am a “prideful” Catholic, at which point I bring more harm than good to the world.  However, lately I have learned much about the right relationships with others/theology of the body, but there are times when I struggle to perfect these ideals and nights when fighting for them leaves me full of anxiety more than anything else.  I am a “sinful Catholic” who has made mistakes.  Some days I am a “faithful Catholic” ready to fight the good fight.  Other days, I am a “doubting Catholic,” who struggles to see God’s love in a world full of sadness and cannot see the wisdom behind the Church’s teachings.  In these days of doubt, I am a “trying to understand Catholic.”  I am a “dependent upon the Mercy of God Catholic,” who knows that all these struggles are watched and tended to by a God who loves her profoundly.

            I have to believe, though we may feel differently and struggle with issues throughout our lives, that we can all relate to the adjectives above.  Sometimes we are all, “lazy, in a hurry, selfish, sinful, faithful, forgetful, ungrateful, prideful, and doubting.”  All the while, we are all “trying to understand and dependent upon the Mercy of a loving God.”  We all have our battles.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have all doubted, struggled, and fallen into the arms of a God who will always welcome us home.  So, I think it is important that as CBC, we welcome each other.  Though our beliefs are important and sharing them is worthwhile, it is most important that we open our arms and hold each other in our lives, in whatever state we may be at that moment.  When all is said and done, we are all profoundly loved.  We are loved by the Lord, who gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  This profound love, more than anything else, is what makes us Catholic.  So, the next time you are asked, “What kind of Catholic are you?”…I hope that you respond, “I am the kind who is LOVED.”

This Saying is Hard

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’

                                                            -John 6:60

At moments in my life, I’ve struggled to reconcile myself with the teachings of my beloved Catholic faith. These moments usually come right before periods of new growth in my life and sometimes that growth is painful. Sometimes it’s almost excruciating to subjugate my will to the demands of my faith, particularly in regard to suffering and family planning.  Sometimes, like my battle with the Catholic teaching on family planning, I have to grapple with skepticism and ongoing fear and place my life in the hands of the Lord. For example, although I understand the beautiful teachings behind the Theology of the Body and I want to incorporate them into my life, Natural Family Planning pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone because I love to be in control of my own life and I often lay out meticulous plans on how my life should be, or ought to be. Instead of entrusting my future to the God who knows and loves me best, it’s very easy for me to be overwhelmed with fear that God is going to ruin my life If He doesn’t exactly follow the plans I’ve made for myself. It’s far too easy for me to try to edge God out of my life and close myself to any of his possibilities. In addition, I am easily cowed by secular world’s judgmental stance on not using contraception, the view that children are burdensome, and am often blinded by the world’s empty promises of fulfillment through self-reliance and pleasure seeking. Sometimes I feel a little jealous because maintaining the Lord’s laws puts a damper on being “carefree” and “fun.” During my weak moments, I feel like retreating from what God demands of me because the Church’s teachings are so radically different than the world’s and I don’t want to accept those teachings.

It’s not always easy to be a Christian and Catholicism is often called out for the boundaries that it places on human selfishness. But Christians struggling with Christ’s word dates back to the time of Christ Himself. In John 6:60, after Christ reveals the radical and very physical truth of the Eucharist, many disciples say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” When the teachings are hard to accept, the results are the same: people either walk away, back to the world, or people hunker down and experience the creative burn of new growth and truth. Christ invites us to intimately join Him and trust Him, to devote our futures and trust in Him even when it seems risky. He invites us to make room in our futures, to make space in our hearts, to exercise the muscles of our faith. Christ’s teachings are rooted in wisdom and self-sacrifice with a foundation that has lasted thousands of years. Christianity’s teachings are considered conservative, they’re truly radical in how different they are from the wisdom of the world, both in the modern world and 2,000 years ago.

However, as Christians, we know we are not alone and walk hand in hand with the apostles and saints that came before us, who also struggled to reconcile their lives and their minds with teachings that are hard to accept. No matter what you struggle with, be it the real presence in the Eucharist, the Church’s stance on homosexuality or contraceptives, we need to take the time to research what challenges us, take the time to digest it, and accept that it may take time to fully accept the teachings and that it may be difficult to live radically by their wisdom. God is not afraid of us and invites us to struggle with Him, to argue with Him, so we truly know what we believe in. Through difficult teachings, God calls us to a deeper understanding and deeper relationship to Him. Don’t be one of the ones who walks away when the going gets rough and join the community that has struggled and yet grown closer to God.

 

 

I Ran Out of Excuses

I ran out of excuses.  If one were to ask me why I decided to discern my vocation with the Benedictines, in a nutshell that is my answer: I ran out of excuses.  After forty years of life, of serving my country in the United States Marine Corps, of serving the Church as a parish musician for many years, of discerning my vocation for the diocesan priesthood, of teaching children with special needs, of working in the foreign exchange market while teaching English and Spanish as second languages, I, myself, needed what . . . ?  In May of 2008, while looking for an answer, and to “get [the idea of religious life] out of my system,” I was on an extended visit to St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC where I found myself entering into the prayer life of monks who had been praying in our nation’s capital since 1924.  The daily routine of prayer begins at 5:20 a.m. and is returned to four more times throughout the day.  The monk’s steadily chanted prayer life brought a peace to the depths of my soul – a peace that had long been missing.  Even more than the prayer, the opportunity to be still before the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour each day in anticipation of Vespers gave me a sense of what I had longed for and had missed since leaving the seminary.   But my experience also made me afraid, for my contemplation made me to think about the rich young man who asked Jesus what one must do to gain eternal life.  After Our Lord’s reply, the man said, “I do all that already!  What still is missing?”  Then came the difficult call of Jesus that sent the young man walking away “because he had many possessions.”  

Don’t get me wrong – I knew the call of Jesus is surely a joyful call, one that unites the person all the more to Him.  Everything of value has a cost, however, and the more valuable the item, the higher the cost.  Religious life is neither for wimps nor for the fool-hearty.  This is why it takes years of discernment before one finally makes solemn profession.  Back to the rich young man – I didn’t want to be that guy.  I didn’t want to walk away from Jesus.  I knew in my heart He was calling me to a more disciplined way of seeking and finding Him.  Compared with others, I may not have had many possessions, but still, what I had was mine.  Most of all, I had my freedom to come and go as I pleased, and to pray or not pray whenever I wanted.  In this life before entering the monastery, I had all I needed and some of what I wanted, but I knew something was still missing.  I was longing for a more direct connection to Our Lord.  That is what I was to find in consecrated religious life.  

The excuses I gave to God were many, all beginning with the question, “yes, but what about . . . ?”  “Let me worry about that” was His reply.  “If you are seeking Me, let that go.”  Again and again, with one objection after the other came the same reply.  “Let me worry about that.  If you are seeking Me, let that go.”  Oh how easy it was to hold onto the things of this world and not of this world – things that brought me security and uncertainty, happiness and dejection, joy and frustration, contentment and emptiness.  But above all was an intangible longing for something more.  The monastic life, I have learned, has all that and much more as well.  There is security in the structured way we live, but also uncertainty about the monastery’s future.  I get to do what I love by teaching in the Abbey School, and yes, there can be much frustration living in such close proximity with my brothers (who by the way, continue to put up with me!).  And although there is a genuine happiness in the monastery, at times here, too, there is an emptiness – when the sea of Our Lord’s grace leaves me at “low tide” and all is exposed.   But then the tide returns and I am no longer at the water’s edge, but am now submerged in a merciful and grace-filled ocean where nothing matters but Him.

No longer do I have to wonder what God wants from me – I am living it daily, and sometimes failing miserably at it, but I am nonetheless supported by His merciful love and grace.  I now have the fraternity and acceptance of others who have answered a similar call by God to seek and encounter Him in the consecrated religious life.  Monastic life continues to provide a deep peace in the depths of my soul – a peace that “surpasses all understanding,” and that grows deeper as each day passes.

Why am I writing all this to you?  To share a bit of the joy I have come to experience by deciding to at last stay with Jesus, and not to walk away from Him.  No more excuses.  By submitting my will to His through the vowed religious life, I am able to see how my monastic vocation is His gift, for which I daily say, “thank you.”  To be able to do so sincerely makes all the difference.  

Please pray for all who have been called to this life, and for those whom Our Lord is calling even now.  By your prayers, please help us to hear Our Lord’s voice that trumps all excuses.  Help us hear Him when he says, “let Me worry about that; if you are seeking Me, let that go.”

It's Always the Nice Ones

She was so pleasant when I met her.  She laughed politely in bed and stated that she, “Didn’t want to come to the ER, but the vomiting and dizziness had become so bad over the last two months that I had to come here.”  I asked her a few more questions. Her vomiting was worse when she moved from sitting to standing positions and with any kind of motion…maybe she just had vertigo?  She was also dizzy, which further pointed me in the direction of this benign diagnosis.  Her bowel movements were regular.  However, her history also included profuse right quadrant tenderness and night sweats.  She had lost over 40 lbs over the last three months.  She attributed the weight loss to her inability to keep food down and was actually pleased with the results.  Aside from confirming the existence of profuse upper right quadrant tenderness she had already reported, the patient’s complete physical exam revealed no clues to her condition.

I hoped her condition would be benign.  However, her symptoms affected almost every system.  Over the course of the evening, my preceptor ordered labs, an ultrasound of the patient’s abdomen, and a CT scan of her abdomen.  Things happen quickly in the emergency room, but they also happen slowly.  The process of ordering and interpreting all her blood work and resulting imaging took 4-6 hours.  She was quite sick, so I needed to check on her several times through my shift.  She was always positive and became a vibrant presence for most of my shift.  She was 60, with a daughter who was 27 who had just graduated from nursing school. 

Her CT scan came back showing masses consistent with cancer that had metastasized to her liver, lungs, spine, and bones. When my preceptor saw the CT scan, he asked me, “Was she nice?”  I responded, “yes.”  “It’s always the nice ones,” he replied.  I’ll never forget his question or his response.  He did not express disappointment that such a bad thing could happen to someone so good.  He said, “It’s always the nice ones.”  He continued, “I swear anytime someone nice comes in, they have cancer.”

After receiving her diagnosis, my patient asked for some chap stick and a blanket.  As a student I had the time to bring them to her.  When I brought them to her, she smiled sadly and told me her 27 year old daughter would be devastated by the news.  Then, she started describing her cross necklace that she wore daily.  She talked about how it encouraged her to be kind to other people and reminded her of the importance of God in her life.  She said that she forgot to wear it today, but that when she heard my name, “Christian,” she felt immediately comforted.  She laughed and wished me luck in my future.  She thanked me for caring for her that night.  How could she be grateful?  She had just discovered that she had cancer. 

Bad things happen to good people.  Life is not fair, but that night this patient reminded me that we have a choice to react joyfully to even those dark moments of our lives with kindness, joy, and laughter. 

Rethinking Fraternal Correction

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another
— Proverbs 27:17

These words have inspired countless groups of friends to band together for the sake of accountability, to help each other grow in virtue, and to root out vice.  Speech has always played a key part in this process.  St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of this type of speech, labeling it fraternal correction.  It is the process of honing a friend through difficult conversations, pointing out their flaws/sins with the purpose of finding a solution to help them build up that weakened area, all through the lens of charity. Fraternal correction also has a reciprocal nature.  When one friends offers a correction, he is opening himself up to correction from his friend in return.  And in part through that exchange, each friend helps the other become more united to the person of Christ.  At least that’s the ideal.

But in the messy world of fallen human relationships, the best things can be twisted into occasions of sin, and our speech is an exceptional example of that.  “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:7-9).

I want to take a more serious tone with this article as I address that and offer some suggestions for how we can improve our approach to fraternal correction.  It’s a fine art.  We’ve all done it well and we’ve all done it poorly.  I’m certain that past experiences of both are running through your head as you read this, bringing a smile to you face or redness to your cheeks.

Let us turn to St. Thomas for some advice in how to offer fraternal correction. You can follow this link to read the text of the Summa on the topic.  This article is just a summary and some practical applications of his writing, given to me by a friend and spiritual director.  

First, here are some general guidelines:

  1. Phariseeism is a dangerous vice.  It comes across as well-intentioned, but deep down there is a temptation for us to look down our noses at others.  To keep this vice at bay in us lay folk St. Thomas distinguishes between two types of correction.  (1) A formal correction comes from the prelates of the Church, the bishops.  They are handed the burden of safeguarding the faith.  Think of the bishops writing letters to politicians, clarifying the faith in councils and addressing heresy.  It is an authoritarian correction from the heart of a shepherd.  (2) An informal correction or a friendly reminder (literally what he calls it, but in Latin) or a horizontal correction.  This is the correction proper to us.  We’re reminding a friend, not handing down some type of punishment.

  2. Prudence needs to dictate our conversations.  They need to be done at the right time and place so that they are well-received and fruitful.  We also need to exercise prudence in our own intentions, making sure that they are holy and worthy.  We’ve all waded into a “correction out of love” with someone that was just a veiled form of verbal abuse.  Prudence and discretion helps us avoid this.

  3. The person has to be wrong, AKA moral matter is involved.  A friend is caught in pattern of sin and we desire to pull that from the darkness out into the light.  Wits this consideration, we have to keep in mind that many people aren’t well-catechized.  Sometimes a good catechesis is needed from someone with the heart of a teacher instead of a correction.  Also, make sure that you are discerning whether someone is headed the wrong way rather than just not doing things your way.  

  4. There needs to be a reasonable chance of success.  You’re not bound to offer a correction that won’t be received well.  But we also have to vigilant that we are bold enough to offer a correction when needed and not use this piece of advice as a way out when it’s warranted.  Remember our prayers go further than our words.  Pray always for your friends and enemies, correct only when it is beneficial to do so.

  5. Don’t be a hypocrite.  If you are going to correct someone for something, it better not be something you are guilty of yourself.  Instead you can bring your own struggle to your friend, or pray that the Lord help heal you from that struggle and applies the grace of that suffering to your friend who struggles too.

  6. Always give correction gently.  It’s a friendly reminder, folks, and oftentimes your friend already knows it’s a struggle.  Verbal lashing will usually cause a recoil, which will add sin to sin and make the situation worse.  A gentle but firm tongue is vital in these crucial conversations.

Now on top of this fraternal correction we have an airing of grievances.  These are things that aren’t serious matter, but for the sake of your friendship, are worth bringing up.  It’s actually healing to tell you messy spouse or roommate that they’re a slob (in a gentle tone of course) and to invite those around you to air their grievances as weLl from time to time.  It’s all part of being in relationship. This type of conversation gets a bad wrap, but when people are elbow to elbow, up in each others’ business, it gets messy sometimes.  Let the mess out a bit.  Not all the time, but when appropriate.

Three more quick notes:

Kill the sarcasm.  Sarcasm means “tearing of flesh”.  It is a weak, hurtful form of verbal abuse when we don’t have enough charity in our hearts to be vulnerable and empathetic.  It exists to wound others when it’s employed in this type of conversation.  

Second, talk to each other rather than about each other.  We’ve all been a part of so many conversations that we have about people who aren’t present “out of love” for that person.  That’s backbiting (check out this convicting little treatise if you want to know more about that), and it is a form of murder- assassination of character and reputation.  Fr. Belet says that “[b]ackbiting is eminently destructive, for it robs a man of what is most precious to him: his reputation.”  “A good name is more desirable than riches” (Prov 22:1).  Never say anything about anyone that you haven’t said or don’t intend to say to their face, but instead do everything you can to hold up others’ reputations without regard for your own.

Lastly there is venting.  Sometimes we need to vent and get some correction ourselves or guidance for how we should say something to someone (I.e “This is driving me nuts and I don’t know what to do about it”).  The subject of our venting should be us:  how we’re feeling, what is bothering me and why I think it’s rubbing me the wrong way, etc.  That can be legitimate, but use it sparingly.  I frequently end up in the confessional when I’m not careful with this one.

In summary:

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29)
Friendship is messy but filled with grace, and our conversations often are the exact same way.  But with hearts intent on imparting grace (and a readiness to apologize when we don’t quite hit that aim) we should feel more emboldened to wade into the messiness of an authentic conversation with a friend and truly let our friendships and speech become like iron honing iron.

Eyes on Heaven

As a general principle:  Keep your eyes on Heaven, not on Hell.

 

This is some great advice that I received from a good priest friend of mine.  In a world with Hell on full display (let’s be honest in a mirror with at least a good deal of Hell on display) we could use a whopping portion of Heaven.  Sin still exists when we look at Heaven.  The devil is still prowling and evil is still operative, but it doesn’t matter nearly so much.  Because God is operating too in a grander, more eternal, and vastly more interesting way.  Yes we have wounds and faults, but Christ has situated His cross in front of us and implored us to gaze on Love Incarnate.  I think that is a better view than my woundedness any day.  Sure I need to look at those wounds from time to time in order to fully appreciate the grandeur of the Lord’s revelation, but generally God should get my attention.  And this doesn’t only apply to our personal lives, but has societal ramifications as well.  

 

We bemoan “The Culture” (which we apparently have no part in building since calling it “The Culture” anthropomorphised it as some living super-villain entity living and operating outside of ourselves) and is responsible for everything ruining our lives.  We can attach any face to “The Culture” that we want- morphing from that one politician that we think is the Antichrist into that one scandalous pop artist.  It’s all “The Culture” and it's destroying us all and ruining everything.  EVEN CHRISTMAS!


We just ended the Christmas season with all of its incredible graces and revelations and celebrations, but once again “The Culture” has come to soil this immaculate feast.  At least we have our “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers to ward it off.  But did we ward it off or are we be tricked once again in some inception-esque, mind-swirling rouge of the evil one?  

I know I’ve been hood-winked year after year into the joy-stealing, hope-smashing spiral of Hell-gazing when the Church is presenting me with a season meant to bring me to a place of awe and wonder.  Materialism and consumerism has taken over Christmas- even to the point of binding those who furiously run to avoid it in its snares.  This tendency to look towards Hell causes us to miss the grace of Christ.  Christmas is literally the only season where the general population of the western world appreciates Christian culture.  Charitable giving and service go through the roof!  Inexplicable grace and joy are raining down into the hearts of the baptized (even the hard-hearted) just as it did on the night of the Nativity.  And what is a consumerist culture to do in the face of such love? Try to love others through consumerism!  And no one is there to show them the root of the warmth Christ is trying to cultivate in our icy, icy hearts because we’re hum-bugging with our Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow about how terribly materialistic and superfluous the Christmas season is becoming.  We’re looking at Hell and Heaven is moving powerfully.


Father Raneiro Cantalamessa (if you haven’t checked him out, you should promptly set about reading everything he’s ever written) wrote a letter reflecting on the conversion of St. Francis of Assisi.  He wrote about the gaze of God our Father and how that gaze would finally break through all of the distraction of sin and worldly shams when the saved finally reach Paradise and are face to face with Him.  He wrote about when St. Francis’s  father, friends and relatives rejected him and he was left without the clothes on his back or even the comfort of a good reputation.  He was just a radical buffoon who retreated into a cave.  But Fr. Cantalamessa reflected on what happened when St. Francis went into that cave in the midst of all the turmoil boiling around him.  Fr. Cantalamessa surmised that St. Francis met that gaze of love in a profound way, in a way that is usually reserved for that moment in Paradise.  And he couldn’t take his eyes off the Face of God for a single second for the rest of eternity.  And when he came out of that cave, still rejected and alone, other people started to admire what they saw and joyfully joined in on his radical buffoonery.

God give me the gaze of St. Francis!

Yes, Hell is weaving its lies into the fabric of the human psyche and Santa Claus is trying to budge Jesus out of His place in the manger of our hearts during the Yuletide season.  But God is gazing at us!  And His gaze is magnetic.  I have this vision in my mind of a coop full of chickens, stupidly gazing up as the rain is falling on their heads.  You know the scene.  What buffoonery.  But only God can make that somehow a beautiful scene of grace.  Only God can make us stoney-hearted consumerists care about our fellow man (even if for some that’s even only for a month out of the year).  And only God can pull our eyes away from the distractions through a mere glance.

 

Why I Struggled to be Open to Life

A Note from the Editor: Merry Christmas!!! We hope you have a blessed and joyful Christmas season, filled with family and friends, and a renewed hope in the Christ Child! Today's post is perfect for starting the celebration of the Christmas season as we all welcome God as Babe into our hearts! We are so grateful for everyone who has supported CBC and the CBC Times and can't wait to keep growing with you! -The CBC Team


Recently, I’ve been challenged to practice what I preach.

My husband and I have always proclaimed ourselves “prolife” and that we are open to children in our new marriage. All my life I’ve worked well with children. In fact, I loved children so much I initially entered college intending to be an elementary school teacher and worked as a tutor and teaching aid before I switched my major.  However, as I graduated from college, I began to take my career more seriously and slowly the feeling that children were poisonous to my personal goals –a feeling shared by many in my generation- began to creep into my mind. Then, a stressful stint as an au pair abroad in Spain the summer after graduation with a difficult family made me feel that having children was indeed distasteful. I wanted to do so much with my life: start my career, enjoy leisurely time with my new husband and, most importantly, live life on MY terms. I didn’t want to take care of anyone’s needs but my own. Unconsciously, I began to believe that children would get in the way of all of that.

As someone who faces life changes with resistance and trepidation, I easily buy into the mentality of “enlightened” millenials which is constantly bombard with the rhetoric of “choice” and “success,” yet which shies away from commitment in everything except career choices.

So, despite my proclaimed beliefs on being open to life, when I discovered I was pregnant, I feared that my life was being disrupted forever, and that like popular culture proclaims, my own life would not have room for me anymore. My future was out of my control, and I was dismayed.  And I felt ashamed at my initial reaction, which made me feel even worse. To make things worse, many people around me made it clear that they thought I was destroying my future by having a child. It was easy to buy into their words.

The following months of pregnancy I grappled not only with physical changes, but with internal changes as well. I struggled with my own innate selfishness. I had to admit that I was afraid of not being the only important person in my life and in my husband’s eyes. I had to face my insecurities on having to switch the career path that I had envisioned for myself. I feared sacrificing myself through the physical discomforts and pains of pregnancy and childbirth and the sacrifices in the years that would follow as I raised my little boy and any other children that would follow. These fears contrasted my belief that children bring innocence, joy and hope, and that raising them would better me as a person and give me the privilege of seeing life grow.

After cycling through cynicism and happiness during my pregnancy, I had to sit down and really ask myself: am I truly open to life? Why was I buying into the belief that this child will only cause loss in my life?

Around the time Mother Teresa was being canonized, I stumbled upon an article about Mother Teresa and her stance on abortion and her interactions with Hilary Clinton. I was struck by a quote by Mother Teresa.

“But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,” Mother Teresa said, “Because Jesus said, ‘If you receive a little child, you receive me.’ So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus, the neglect of receiving Jesus.”

Through this quote I realized that the Lord was telling me that not accepting this pregnancy was the same as not accepting Him in my life. As a believer in Christ, I was struggling with the most fundamental task: accepting life, and therefore, accepting Christ in my life in a way that I couldn’t 100% control. This pregnancy taught me empathy as well. I had plenty of resources and support and still struggled with my pregnancy; how much more frightening is it for women to keep children when they don’t have any support or resources! Now, instead of judging women who contemplate having abortions, I feel much more empathetic and am now determined to support those organizations that provide support and resources for women struggling with pregnancy.

Several months later, I welcomed my child into this world in what was the most painful and yet one of the most amazing moments in my life.  As I held my child, I wanted to weep that I had been dismayed at this beautiful gift that was already regarding me with such innocence and trust. Yes, my life as I knew it ended when I had a child; but by no means did it end. My life- and this new life- is just beginning. And I want to live my life in testament to that.

 

 

 

On Receiving Love

        There's nothing more awkward than a "backpack hug good-bye."  Backpack hugs good-bye happen at airports and other places, when for whatever reason, we don't have time to set down whatever we have in our hands.  The physical dynamics never quite work from any direction.  The hugs are lame at best.  As a single woman, I carry lots of luggage (thus increasing opportunities for awkward backpack hugs).  On a daily basis, I carry a backpack full of books, a medical bag full of equipment, a yoga matt, gym shoes, a mug of coffee, a water bottle, and a lunch box.  I look like I'm going camping for a week just walking into clinic.  When I travel, I fit everything in a carry-on duffle and backpack.  I pack responsibly, never carrying more than I can alone.
        Carrying my own bags, full of the things I need for adventures, makes me feel strong and ready to take on the world.  It's a symbol...dehydration...I've got water for that.  Late night...I'm armed with espresso.  15 minutes without a patient...I'm prepared with material to study for my boards.  Mass murderer on the loose?  I can outrun them with my gym shoes.  As Americans, we sometimes pride ourselves in how much we can carry (physically and emotionally) and how strong we are, but stubbornly carrying heavy loads out of fear does not prepare us to receive love from other people.
        For example, on the last night of one of my adventures, I stood at the base of a steep stair case, holding my duffle bag and backpack.  A friend tapped my shoulder and offered to help me carry my luggage up that last flight of stairs to my room.  I looked at him quietly and said sadly, "I have to carry everything on my own starting tomorrow.  I might as well start now."
        Why wouldn't I allow him to help me?  It could be argued that my refusal stemmed from pride, but more honestly, it came from fear that help might cause me to carry more than I could handle alone later...from fear that allowing someone to help me carry my load would make me weaker...from fear that if someone knew what I was carrying in my heart they might run away or drop it...because I need so much more than just someone to carry my stuff around for me.  It's as if because kind gestures will not perfectly, infinitely, and adequately to fix my situation, I refuse any form of help.  It isn't logical.  I desire infinite help and relief (everyone does), but this type of love only comes from God.
        I wish I could say this refusal was a one time occurrence, but the truth is, I'm not very good at receiving small acts kindness from other people in general.  I've walked home from the ER after a severe allergic reaction instead of calling my roommate to pick me up, wrestled crockpots full of chicken that were too heavy up flights of stairs, taken cabs late at night home from airports instead of asking for rides, and wobbled across the street with crutches to class the day after major orthopedic surgery.  I'm good at giving time and energy to other people, but I am not good at receiving kindness.  Christ teaches not just to give love to other people, but also to receive love as it is, in all its imperfections.  Even during His crucifixion, Christ allowed Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross and Veronica to wipe his face.  He did this even though he knew their help would not change the weight of his cross or prevent his death.  Allowing Simon and Veronica to help him provided no lasting solution to his situation, but it did change his journey.  It made Him more human and bettered the lives of those who carried his cross with him.
        A few weeks ago, I went back to Creighton for a wedding.  I planned to sleep on the floor that night, but when I arrived, Megan insisted on giving up her bed for me.  I resisted several times.  Calmly, she placed her hands on my shoulders and said, "Christian, let me love you in this way.  Go to sleep."  We all have our "backpacks."  They're heavy, and they make it hard to let other people love us physically and emotionally.  So sometimes, I think we are called to set them down so we can hug that person good-bye the way we mean to, so that others can temporarily help us carry our load.  Sometimes as Megan said, we must let ourselves be loved.  Setting down our "backpacks" may not lighten our loads or required sacrifices, but it will change our journey.  It will allow us to become more human while bettering the lives of those around us, and that is worth everything.