What does it mean to be a woman?

What does it mean to be a woman?

What does it mean to be a woman? Certainly there are a lot of conflicting responses to that question. Catholic women in particular have a rich history and wealth of tradition in the theology of femininity. A lot of what we talk about, though, has to do with motherhood – both physical motherhood and spiritual motherhood. But for women dealing with infertility, this can be a painful thing to think about.

Shortly after my diagnosis (in my late-teens) I went through a gender identity crisis. If I was born without a uterus – actually created by God, but without a womb – could I truly call myself a woman? I bought a copy of Alice von Hildebrand’s “The Privilege of Being a Woman”, hoping that it would give me some answers. When I got to the part near the end (maybe the 7th chapter?) where she begins, “Every woman has a womb…” my eyes welled up with tears and I threw the book in a rage. I cried and cried, and told my mom, “I just wish someone would write a book to tell me what it means to live and be a woman with this condition.” My mom is no theologian. She didn’t know how to answer. But she did say, “Maybe you’re the one who’s supposed to write the book.”

Maybe. Does this blog count?

It’s been over 13 years since I started this journey, and I’m finally at a place now where I can enthusiastically answer this question:

What does it mean to be a WOMAN who is a follower of Jesus Christ, a Catholic, a daughter of the Most High?

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples (who also, coincidentally, were not physically mothers).

St. Mary Magdalene

Contrary to Dan Brown novels, Mary Magdalene didn’t become the secret matriarch of a centuries-old bloodline. But she did have a unique relationship with Jesus.

Mary Magdalene was a woman who, in her desire to be loved, fell into sin and became broken. Jesus saw her in the midst of this, and had compassion on her. He lifted her from her life of sin, freeing her from seven demons and accepting her beautiful act of contrition and repentance saying, “Her sins are forgiven her, for she has loved much.” She understood what it meant to be loved and rescued by Jesus, and wanted nothing more than to sit at his feet and listen as he taught her. She was the first one whom he appeared to after his Resurrection.

Having finally known true love, she gave her whole heart to Jesus. She teaches us that to be a woman means to love deeply, to run and jump into our Savior’s arms, and never look back. She shows us that, as women, we have the privilege of having a special, deep love relationship with our Rescuer. A woman’s relationship with Jesus is a very different thing than a man’s relationship Jesus, something that is worth reflecting on further.

St. Joan of Arc

Jumping 13 centuries into the future, we find the most adventurous example of Catholic womanhood the world has ever seen. This peasant farmer’s daughter bravely gave her “yes” to God when she was asked to leave her home and lead the French army during the Hundred Year’s War.

What is perhaps most impressive about Joan is her profound courage and trust in the Lord. She went where he led her, even though it was unheard of for a woman (let alone a teenage peasant) to go before the future King of France and be given leadership of his army. She trusted in her Voices (Sts. Michael, Margaret, and Catherine) and not in herself. When she realized that she had been trusting too much in herself, she confessed the sin of pride. After that, she gave everything she had over to the Lord, even though it led to her death by burning at the stake. In her last moments, she asked that a crucifix be held level with her eyes, and as the flames roared around her, witnesses say she called out the name of Jesus.

Joan of Arc teaches us that to be a woman means to be brave. It take courage to give our full trust and reliance on Jesus, no matter the circumstances. Courage and bravery are things we typically associate with men, but Joan of Arc shows us that they belong just as much to women, and perhaps more so. Her unyielding loyalty and trust in the Lord are uniquely feminine as well.

St. Therese of Lisieux

Being a woman means being the Lord’s daughter, and no one understood that better that St. Therese. Jesus was her first and only love. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is full of sweet, simple thoughts about how a “little” soul like hers can reach the heights of sanctity simply by giving every little thought, word, and action over to the Lord. She writes that Jesus never showed himself to her in a vision, never even in a dream. But “weak” and “little” as she was, she knew that Jesus loved her, and would always carry her in his arms.

Therese shows us a uniquely feminine combination of gentleness, humility, and trust.  She fully embraces the Lord’s words, “Unless you become as little children…” No matter what happens, no matter what you do or do not achieve in this life, you are Jesus’ little girl, and nothing will ever change that.

 

 

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Things I Should Be Doing

Things I Should Be Doing

One of the common themes you find among groups of those suffering is the thought that there is something else that you should be doing, and would be doing, if it weren’t for this cross in your life.

For example, James and I have been married long enough that we could easily have a preschooler by now.

And many of our friends do.

Had we stuck with our adoption plans, we could easily have a baby by now.

And many of our friends do.

Last weekend, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a woman for the first time. Not a girl anymore.

I should be making cookies for my preschooler’s class.

But instead, I put on my best face and made cookies for the parish picnic.

More than one child at the picnic grabbed my leg for a moment and thought I was their mamma.

Lord, we have a lot to talk about, you and I.

He heard me.

When one of his children wants to talk with him, you can’t expect him to remain silent, can you?

Take courage, it is I.

For years now I’ve had this nagging, pulling feeling in my heart, that Jesus is calling me to something. I don’t really know what it is, but that feeling is real and it’s not going away.

Radical Trust.

What do these words even mean? They’re also there, repeating in my heart. It’s like he’s telling me that he wants me to abandon all of my plans and desires and wait to accept whatever he places in front of me. And so this is what I’m doing.

And it’s been bringing me so much joy.

The reason I’m putting it out there is because I want you, in whatever you’re going through to have hope.

Maybe Jesus is calling you to this radical trust too – this idea where we can see that yes, bad things have happened, or they loom on the horizon, but no matter what we know that Jesus is with us. The only reason he allows any of this to happen is because he wants your salvation. He wants you to be with him, to have eternal life, and the shortest way there is through the cross. All of our pain, confusion, grief, trials – it’s not the end of the story. The cross is just a gateway to the resurrection.

 

(As a little side note, as soon as I finished writing this post, I Googled “radical trust” and found this amazing post from Jennifer Fulwiler: The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God. I think you’ll like it!)

 

Called out of Barrenness

Called out of Barrenness

 

Years ago a priest told me “No one is called to infertility. You’re called to be fruitful.”

It took me a good long time to figure out what this means, but I think I’ve finally gotten there, thanks to Jesus. Let me explain.

For a good 12 years, I spent a lot of time crying over not having a uterus. Now, and really it has to be a miracle, my tears have changed into laughter. That’s not to say that I don’t still feel the pain of infertility (Mother’s Day Mass was very hard), but something else has been going on, and I want to tell you all about it.

About two years ago, someone told me that they received a vision of my children. They (my children) were in heaven, they were with Jesus, and they knew that they couldn’t be born to me and James, but they loved us very much. I wondered, “How can this be?” But now, I think I finally understand.

I’ve had this feeling lately that somehow, despite permanent infertility, I will have more children than my Nana—who had 10. These aren’t necessarily legally adopted or even actual children, but rather they are people of all ages. Just ordinary people with their own lives, and somehow I will be a mother to them. And someday, after I die, I’ll get to see all of them, and who I impacted, and how. I think about this, and it fills me up to a point where I just have to cry – but from joy.

A few months back, there was a moment when I received Jesus in Communion, talked to him about my parish, and he told me that my parish family (and all the Catholic faithful) are indeed real family that even shares the same blood – His. We are blood family. I can’t really explain why that hit me so deeply – perhaps years of feeling hopeless in that my family would never truly grow. But it will. And it’s already bigger than I think it is.

And following this realization, the Lord brought me several opportunities to act upon this, and be “fruitful” in a sense.

In May, I went to a meeting where the Lord used me to encourage and inspire people on my parish staff to go out on social media to meet the world. “Be not afraid of vicious comments.” “Christ has no Facebook page but yours.” What started as a strategizing meeting for these people to pick my brain turned into an occasion for the Holy Spirit. I was on FIRE. The Lord wasn’t just using my professional knowledge to help the parish – he was using ME – my personality, my joy, my enthusiasm. The next thing I knew, they had asked me to run it for them, and here I am finally with a real outlet to use my marketing skills for something I truly believe in.

Also in May, James and I hosted a dinner party at our house for my sister and mother’s birthdays. As usual when we’re hosting something, I told Jesus that it’s his house, his party, and his job to please take care of everything and make sure it goes well. Per usual, he was all in favor of this, and we had the most wonderful time. James and I could really see what the Catechism means when it mentions that couples without children can “radiate a fruitfulness of hospitality.” We’ve had at least two more dinner parties since then, and I’ve found that I am the most happy when I’m having people over for dinner.

We even happened to host several cousins, my sister, and a new priest-friend for dinner on the feast day of St. Martha – which was kind of hilariously ironic yet absolutely fabulous. My sister and I decided we might need to make that a tradition.

I find myself now, at the start of August, brimming with joy. Sure, there are plenty of stressful things going on, but for the first time in my life, I really feel like I’m using my talents for God, and that just makes me so very happy. I’m meeting new people, making new friends, and learning new skills. I feel so alive.

Thinking on all of these things now, I’m in awe of how much things have changed for me. Jesus doesn’t see me as “infertile” or “barren” and he doesn’t want me to see myself that way either. He loves me (and you!) just as we are and will use us in his own way to build up the kingdom. And those crosses that we carry – he’ll use those too, and through all of this, he’s creating something absolutely wonderful.

“Behold, I make all things new.” -Revelation 21:5

 

St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

Of all the saints who have ever helped me along my journey, I have yet to find one who writes as beautifully on the topic of infertility as St. Josemaria Escriva.

Josemaria

If you’re a St. Josemaria lover or an infertility junkie, you may have already seen his most well known quote on the subject:

“God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”

It’s a beautiful quote. I’ve seen it before. And I love it, I really do. You could meditate for hours on it and still not really reach the end of it. But this isn’t the only thing he’s ever said on the subject.

Recently, I was looking for this quote, and the magic of Google brought me to a larger passage of St. Josemaria’s. Someone had asked the question:

“The frustration caused by not being able to have children, leads, at times, to discord and misunderstanding. In your opinion, what meaning should Christian couples who are childless give to their married life?”

The Saint’s answer was brilliant. Here’s what I considered to be the highlights:

“Often God does not give children because He is asking them for something more. ….

There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures …..

If the married couple have interior life, they will understand that God is urging them to make their lives a generous Christian service, a different apostolate from the one they would have fulfilled with their children, but an equally marvelous one…

God, who always rewards, will fill with a deep joy those souls who have had the generous humility of not thinking of themselves.”

I read this, and I was stunned. Thrilled. Overjoyed. Finally, there was someone (a Saint even!) boldly proclaiming the truth:

Marriage is holy, in and of itself. Even if God doesn’t give you children.

(If you want, you can read the whole thing here. Scroll down to number 8.)

As Catholics, we often think that we are failures if our families don’t include many children, running around and singing in matching outfits on an Austrian hillside. That not having several children means that we are less loved by God. That our marriage is worthless. But that’s a lie.

God has a plan for marriage—and he even has a plan for YOUR marriage, in particular. And the particular number of children he gives you (even if it is zero) is not what’s important.

What matters is your daily living of your marriage vows— your daily “I do” to your spouse and to God. 

Marriage is a vocation, a call from God, and “the vocation to love is in fact a vocation to the gift of self, and this is a possibility that no physical condition can prevent.” (That’s Pope B-16 for the win, by the way).

“…a different apostolate… but an equally marvelous one.”

Marriage is a path to holiness. And guess what? Everyone’s path is going to be unique.

This is the message that I’ve felt in my heart for a while now (ever since we felt God asking us to set aside our adoption plans), but finally they come out of the mouth of a Saint.

If I had read these words two years ago, I would have hated them. I would have felt my chest and shoulders tightening up and my eyes getting blurry. I would have thrown my computer. I’ve done that before.

I was so wounded and full of grief that I couldn’t have recognized the Lord even if he stood in front of me.

21 Since my heart was embittered
    and my soul deeply wounded,
22 I was stupid and could not understand;
    I was like a brute beast in your presence

Psalm 73: 21-22

I’m still wounded. I still have grief. But it’s different now.

I have hope.

I’ve learned that I’m not bound to procure children at any cost. If God’s plan means I’m not going to be a mother, it’s ok, because it’s not about here – it’s about heaven.

 

But what if you’re not there yet?

I shared the passage from St. Josemaria with a secret Facebook group of Catholic women dealing with infertility, and while many were just as excited as I was, some of the members had a less favorable take:

“This quote would only be helpful if I knew for certain that I would never have a baby. Then I could pick up and move on.”

This really summarizes our initial gut reaction for most crosses, doesn’t it? “If I knew for sure what the outcome would be, then I could get on with my life.”

Have you ever found yourself saying something like that? I sure have. It’s understandable, for sure. After all, we’re all human. We crave stability and certainty. But here’s the thing about the cross:

There is no human certainty in it. There never is.

Jesus isn’t asking you or me to reach a point where we feel safe and sure, and THEN pick up our cross. It can’t work that way – it doesn’t make sense. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He wants us to trust him.

He’s not going to give us the details in advance. Maybe because it would make things too easy. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe if he let us see all of the pain up ahead before we’ve built up the soul-muscles to handle it, we’d quit before we even tried.

At the end of the day maybe faith is about learning to embrace the cross in the midst of all the uncertainty and instability and specters of hope. Maybe it’s about learning what “hope” truly means, and discovering that as much as we desperately want “x”, there is a wound in our souls even deeper, that requires something even more, that Jesus alone can satisfy.

And that’s where our certainty comes from, isn’t it?

That’s where our assurance lies: in Christ, who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and is always at our side.

“Do not focus so much on the path, but on the One who guides you, and to the heavenly home to which he is guiding you” – St. Padre Pio

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

A few years ago (November 2014), I thought of a story of a little bird who couldn’t fly. It was sad, and it was short, because I didn’t know any ending for it, other than the continual sadness of this little flightless bird. And so I put it out of my mind.

Then, over two years later (this past February) as I was praying, the story came flooding back to me, and suddenly there was an ending. I’ve sat on this for two months and, well, I think it’s time to share it. Here goes.

The Little Bird

Once upon a time, in a beautiful green meadow, lined with trees and bathed in sunshine, lived a flock of sparrows.

Free of cares and full of purpose, they spent their days flittering, fluttering, swooping and soaring in the glittering morning sun. It seemed they lived only for the enjoyment of a kind young man who lived in a little cottage at the edge of the field. Day after day, year after year, the birds lived this charmed life.

Yet in the midst of these sweeping, soaring, swooping sparrows, there was one little bird different from all the rest.

Something had happened to her wings, you see. As a baby bird, they seemed normal enough, but when her turn came to fly, something was wrong. She could flutter enough to hop onto a low-lying twig, but try as she might, she could not fly.

Day after day, year after year, she watched as all the other little birds took wing.

I don’t know if birds can cry, but it seems a tiny little tear dripped down her beak when another bird flew for the first time. She wished with all her heart that she could be like them.

The other birds weren’t quick to understand. You see, none of the other birds of the meadow had ever had this problem before, and so she was lonely.

Some birds had a harder time learning than others. And some even complained about the strain that flying put on their wings. “Flying isn’t such a big deal,” they said. “You’re lucky you don’t fly!” And all this did was make her feel more and more sorrowful, seeing as the some birds didn’t understand the gift they held.

Still others saw what a gift it was to fly. They knew that this is why they had been created. And each time a new little sparrow took wing, these birds got together to celebrate the occasion. “Be happy for your friends who can fly!” They said to our little flightless bird. “Why are you sad that our Creator has given other birds such a gift?” This pained her little heart even more. You see, she wasn’t sad because they could fly. She rejoiced that they could fly. She was only sad that she could not. All she wanted was to be like all of them, flying and singing and exploring the distant meadows beyond the trees.

Our little bird grew confused. She asked the wise old bird, “Why would our Creator make me a bird, yet not allow me to fly?” The wise old bird didn’t have an answer, but told her to be patient and wait, for surely the All-Knowing One had his reasons.

Her sorrow continued to grow.

The little birdie was so sad as she watched all the other birds soar and swoop and flitter around in the glorious sunshine. She stopped wondering what she was for, or why she was made, as no answer seemed to be coming. Her little heart grew numb with pain.

One day, as he was watching the birds, the man in the cottage noticed our little sparrow sitting on his porch all alone. He saw her watching the others, unable to join them.

His heart was moved for that little bird, so lonely and forlorn, hanging it’s head and uttering hopeless little distress chirps. He wanted to help somehow, and so he approached, quietly.

When our little bird saw the man come out onto the porch, she tilted her head and gave him an inquisitive look. He didn’t seem threatening. And “Oh,” she thought, “what does it matter, since I cannot fly like the others, if I would cease to exist at all.”

The man bent down and held out his hand, “Come here little birdie.” Our sad little bird took two hops closer, looked at the hand for a few moments, and hopped into his palm. The man gently picked her up and looked at her intently. “What’s the matter little birdie? Why are you so sad?”

He had a closer look at her wings. It didn’t look like there was much he could do, yet he didn’t want to leave the little sparrow alone. So he took the bird into his home and made it a bed out of a shoe box and some cloth, and gave it some water and seeds. “Sleep well little bird. I’ll take care of you.”

The little bird gingerly ate a few seeds and drank a little water. The she peeped out a soft little chirp of thanks and fell asleep.

The next day the bird awoke to a stream of glittering sunshine and the sound of running water coming from the kitchen. The man was cheerful, humming to himself as he came over with new water. “Good morning little bird! Did you sleep well? It’s a lovely morning, did you see?”

The sunshine only reminded her of the heights she could not reach. She let out a weak little tweet. Oh he was a nice man, but what could he understand about being a bird who cannot fly?

Days passed, and after a week our little bird began to look more closely at the man who was caring for her. He was sweet and kind, and every morning, he loved to sing as he moved about the house. What he was singing she didn’t fully understand, but it sounded sweet, like a happy little love song. The little birdie loved this song so much. One morning, without realizing it, she was chirping along!

The man stopped for a moment, and with a twinkle in his eye, he looked at the bird, his little bird, and said, “Little birdie, what a sweet voice you have! Would you like to sing?”

The little birdie tweeted a little more.

He put out his hand, and the little birdie hopped onto his finger.

He said other words to her, but being a bird she couldn’t really understand all of them. She was simply delighted to receive his attention, and tweeted right along  everything he said, as happy birds often do.

As the days passed our little bird became more and more confident in her song and her surroundings. She tweeted and chirped and warbled and sang, all for happiness and love for the sweet and gentle man who first sang to her.

Every morning he would smile and say (or rather, sing) to the little bird, “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one. Let me hear you, for your voice is sweet.” And the little bird sang. For with such practice and patience, it truly was a beautiful song.

As time went by, our little sparrow came to see that even though she could not fly, she could sing, and perhaps it was for this that she was made. She was delighted to perch near the Man and be his little songbird, bringing her songs to him every morning.

And even though she could still see the other sparrows flying up above, she was no longer in sorrow, for she was soaring in her little heart. She had a new life, a new purpose. She had finally found the reason for which she was made: to sing for the One who rescued her from her sadness, and filled her heart with song.

Jesus my savior, I cannot fly, but I can sing, and you have chosen me to live close to you and bring you joy with my songs of love. If I had wings, perhaps I never would have learned how sweet this is, how you truly are close to the brokenhearted. You have rescued me from my sadness and given me a new life as your beloved. You are the song within my heart, and it is your own song of love that I return to you.  

How not to be a baby about Lent

How not to be a baby about Lent

I don’t know about you, but I’m really bad at Lent.

I live in fear of those TWO DAYS A YEAR of fasting (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). This might be because I used to have a condition that made me extremely nauseous whenever I was hungry. It’s gone now (thanks to Whole 30!) but the association of fasting with throwing up (and the fear) remains.

And this fear… usually makes me forget all about Lent. Well… at least to the point where I put it off until the night before, and then panic about what it is that I’m going to give up.

That changes this year.

Several weeks before Lent, I started actually wanting Lent to start. “I can’t wait for fish fries and stations!” Oh boy. Can you say, “retreat high”? I haven’t even been on one in years but after the best Christmas season ever that was how I reacted.

In the last few weeks, my prayers went a little something like this:

“Hi Jesus. It’s me. I’m looking forward to our trip into the desert. What should I bring? You know I like to travel. Furthermore could you please tell me what it is that you’d like me to do during these forty days? Whatever you say is fine, I can’t decide.”

And you know what he said?

Fast.

Woa woa woa hold up.

No way. For real?

Commence fear and trembling (and not the kind the Lord wants to see). I continued to pray about this. “Ok Jesus. Maybe I can consider this. Are you sure? Like are you really sure? I mean this is kind of a big thing for me.”

I’m sure.

So now we’re at the start of Lent. My prayer has changed again. A little less trusting, a little more fearful, a little less laudable:

“Ok Lord. I’m ready. I mean not really ready. But I’m coming into the desert with you anyways. I promise I’ll try to be good and not complain. I’ll tell you right now that I do NOT have the patience, fortitude, strength, endurance or will power required for this. I need your help. You’re the best teacher there is, and I know you love me. Please help me and please hold my hand and please carry me if necessary and please please please be with me. I promise you won’t have to drag me kicking and screaming and I will suck it up and trust you and not be a baby about this.”

I’m pretty sure he saw through my wishful thinking and knows I’m going to fail at this.

I feel like a little kid whose parents are going to climb a mountain. I don’t have the legs to do this but I want to come with them. And like that little kid, I’m going to trust that at some point, my dad’s going to carry me when it gets to be too much.

I know all of this is true, intellectually. Now I just need to make my heart be still.

So… how about you? Are you ready to set out into the desert?

Comment below and let me know what you’re planning to do for Lent.

St. Gabriel – Not to be confused with the archangel.

St. Gabriel – Not to be confused with the archangel.

Today (February 27) is the feast of St. Gabriel Possenti, also know as St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. I actually have a fun personal story about this particular saint.

stgabriel

St. Gabriel Possenti was a Passionist, living in Abruzzo (the Italian region where my family is from) during the 19th century. He’s the patron of students, young people, and the Abruzzo region.

My great-grandmother had a special devotion to him, as she grew up right next door to the church that housed his incorrupt body. I always heard growing up that my she and her family used to take care of this body, and that our family was blessed because of this.

In my crazy, imaginative Catholic child brain (the same one that thought magical things would happen if you’d only apply a little holy water), I heard this story about “St. Gabriel’s body” and was perplexed. “How does an archangel have a body?”

Different Gabriel, kid.

But still, this question bothered me for years until the advent of Google and just goes to show how truly ridiculous my mind is.

A few years back, I started doing a little more research on this saint, and stumbled upon a link to a website about St. Gemma Galgani, who lived after Gabriel’s death, but had visions of him throughout her life. I was immediately taken with Gemma. Her diary is beautiful and has been a true help to me in the last few years. I really believe God sent Gemma to me right when I needed her, and used Gabriel to introduce us.

This is what is really amazing about the communion of saints. As Catholics we believe that when we pass from this world, we are not dead, but alive in Christ. We are all part of His body. And just as we ask our friends on earth to pray for us, we have friends in heaven that will also give us their love and their prayers. We have a family that loves us, and nothing can separate us from each other, not even death.

The story of St. Gabriel and his friendship with St. Gemma is a real testament to this. And in particular for me, it’s a reminder that saints aren’t always ancient people from distant, far-off lands.

They’re family.

 

What to do when Mass hurts

What to do when Mass hurts

Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried at Mass.

I don’t know for certain, but I get the sense this is a very common thing.

To be honest, I’m not sure why Mass is often so tear-inducing.

Sometimes it’s a manifestation of Jesus healing something deep within us, and your body manifests this in tears. Sometimes when you feel his presence that’s all you can do. A nun once told me that this is called the gift of tears, but I might not be remembering that correctly.

Other times, though, those tears aren’t about the beauty and the glory of God- not in the obvious sense, anyways.

Sometimes, they’re about pain.

Whenever one is dealing with grief (whether it’s infertility, a painful diagnosis, a death, etc.), it’s common knowledge that one of the absolute most painful places to be is at Mass, particularly on a Sunday.

Why is this?

God is Truth. And when you’re right there in the presence of absolute Truth, you can’t hide your wounds. You can’t cover them up and lie about them to yourself, and certainly not to Him. He brings all things into the light.

And when those wounds (loss, jealousy, confusion, a lack of faith, whatever it is) are exposed like this – it hurts. And it doesn’t take much to send you over the edge into full-blown sobbing.

The priest says something that makes zero sense to you in your situation. You hear a little one scream in the back. You notice a family with living children. Or you see an engaged couple when you’ve been praying for a spouse for years – and your heart just cannot bear it.

“God bless them,” you think. You wish them nothing but the best. But seeing them makes even more obvious the massive, throbbing wound in your own heart.

And you can literally feel the knife in your chest.

What, then, are you to do – besides pray like heck that no one notices your uncontrollable tears?

Trust me – it’s not fun (especially when you’re the cantor and you’re desperately trying to clean your face up before standing in front of EVERYONE and announcing the next hymn).

We could go on and on about why you should or shouldn’t feel what you’re feeling, but that’s besides the point.

That pain is real. So let’s you and me get real for a minute.

The next time you feel that happening – whether you’re hit with a surprise infant baptism after the homily, or an unbearably adorable family of seven, or a little old lady who reminds you of your grandmother you lost long ago, here’s what you do:

Look at him.

As the tears are streaming down your face, look at him. Stare intently at the Eucharist, and as that knife is twisting it’s way into your heart, let yourself feel it. Try to accept that actual, in-the-moment pain and offer it in union with Our Lord’s suffering on the cross, and in reparations to his Sacred Heart.

I know it can sound overly pious, but in a practical setting this is the way you get through this. Acknowledge the real, physical pain of your grief, and try to think about how wounded his heart is, and keep each other company that way. Even to the point of picturing yourself on the cross with him.

I remember several years ago when I had it out with a priest on the phone for something that he did during Mass that really upset me, and I said, “I don’t come to Mass to be crucified.” But in the years after I had said that, I realized, well yes, I do. I mean Jesus sure does. And we’ve been given this amazing opportunity to join him there. Even if it doesn’t feel amazing in the moment.

And sometimes, when you’re looking at him in that way, through the pain of your own crucifixion, you’ll feel him looking back at you as he says, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.”

Anima-Christi

 

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Poster

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Poster

Yesterday, I was listening to a recording of a clinical psychologist who was speaking to an audience of Catholics dealing with infertility. His talk covered a number of struggles that he had seen in his patients, and one that stood out the most was this experience of an existential crisis.

“If I’m not going to have children, either by birth or adoption, then what is the purpose of my life?”

So often in Catholic circles (and society at large, for that matter), we try to tie our purpose in life to a specific, tangible mission. In the case of the married, this means raising children.

And this thought is pervasive. I remember being a young teen standing in a driveway talking to my Dad, telling him about discerning my vocation and wondering what I was here for. He looked at me and said, “I used to wonder about that too. You know what my dad said to me? Your purpose is to get married and have kids.”

Picture the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “Get Married! Make Babies!” This Mediterranean style of fatherly pontification was not at all foreign to me- my dad and his dad before him were both Italian.

And while this simple, straightforward way of directing the young may have done well to keep our families in line for centuries, it glosses over one important truth: not everyone is called to domestic life, and not everyone who IS called to domesticity will have everything work out as they would wish.

So what then, when the plan doesn’t play out?

I’ve heard a few answers. I’ve heard of some who say that they found themselves called to adopt, or even to forgo adoption and consciously dedicate their lives to the Church. These are beautiful things, but they’re very specific. They work for these particular individuals, but they’re not always helpful for everyone facing these challenges.

What about the rest of us?

What is the purpose of our lives when they don’t fit the poster?

The answer, I think, is very simple. And it’s our propensity to ignore or overlook the simple that leads us into so much distress as we continue to suffer through the searching.

Now, I’m much too young for the Baltimore Catechism, but I am aware of it’s famous beginning. Pardon as I paraphrase from memory:

Who made me?

God made me.

Why did he make me?

To know, love, and serve Him.

There you go. 

It really is that simple. Your purpose, no matter who you are or what your state of life, is to know, love, and serve God.

“Ok,” I can hear some of you saying, “I get that. But when I got married I thought I would serve him by raising children.”

This is where we need to bring up a spiritual concept called “abandonment.” specifically this means giving up (abandoning) our own will and desires and trusting our Shepherd to lead us where He wishes. He knows the way home, and even though sometimes we think we know better, we don’t. We’re just little lambs.

Furthermore, not only are we just little lambs, but we’re not God. We’re His servants. And as the servant, our job isn’t to say, “Ok God. I’m going to serve you my way by doing this thing I want.” No- He’s the boss. He’s the Master. He’s going to show us how He wants us to serve. This is why, even though some of our desires are good, they are just not what He wants from us at the moment. Hence the need for this deeper abandonment.

I can think of a lot of examples of this from my life. You probably can too. The time I wanted to be a retreat leader in high school and the committee rejected me. The time I wanted to study theology to become a religion teacher but the classes left me feeling like something was missing in my life. The time I wanted to adopt but was left with a horrible pit in my stomach and just knew this wasn’t what He wanted from me at the time.

We have great ideas, great desires, great potential to do great things. But none of it will work and none of it will be any good until we learn to abandon all of this and let our Shepherd carry us where He wants to go.

I don’t know where your life will go, or what great mission the Lord has for you. I don’t even know what my own mission is. But I do know that He loves you, and has created you out of this great love. Your job, and mine, is to trust.

How Not to Hate Winter

I’ve always dreaded Januaries.

Maybe it’s because the post-Christmas solitude often feels empty and uncomfortable.

And it’s cold outside.

Instead of counting the days until Spring, I’ve decided this year to find ways to enjoy the long, dreary winter and live in the moment. I’m baking. I’m watching old movies. I’m visiting people. These are all things that you can do any time of year, of course, but somehow they seem like they belong to the winter.

And of course, celebrating post-Christmas winter traditions helps too. For example, we did out first ever Epiphany house blessing where we chalked the door.

20+C+M+B+17 stands for the names of the three magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and it also stands for Christ Bless this House in Latin.

The changes in the liturgical calendar really help to keep us centered. Ever since I started going to daily Mass, being aware of the different feast days and their associated traditions has really made my life feel more full. (Actually, if you’re interested in a really cool blog on liturgical living, check out Carrots for Michaelmas. I’m a big fan).

But of course, as with most things, there’s a deeper level of this “living in the moment” thing. I’ve been trying (for the last year) to step away from all my plans and dreams, and just exist. I’ve been trying to stop thinking about what I should be or what I would like to be and just be, well, me.

Specifically, I’m trying to just be God’s daughter.

Many years ago as I was talking to a priest at my high school, I told him, “You have no idea how much fun it is to be someone’s daughter.”

I was speaking in reference to my human parents, but I meant it in respect to God as well.

Being able to love someone as their daughter is a unique gift. I really believe this, and I think that is also why it hurts so much for people when their human parents are unable to allow their sons and daughters to love them.

And even if our earthly parents aren’t perfect, we have this opportunity to be in a love-filled relationship with our heavenly father.

What does this look like?

Jumping into his arms to hug him at the end of the day. Crawling into his lap when we’re sleepy or scared. Pouring out our hearts to him and listening as he does the same with us. Stopping by his house to say “hi” in the middle of a busy day.

It’s pretty simple, really. He’s Dad. I’m Connie Ann. And this is where I am right now – trying not to worry about the future, or whether or not there is anything else that I’m supposed to do or to be. If he wants me to do something for him he’ll let me know. For now, I’m just going to sit right here and be his little girl.