Taking Up Our Cross

Taking Up Our Cross

The first followers of Jesus called their faith The Way. Living the Gospel is a journey and a way of life, one that was so strikingly different from their pagan neighbors that they stood out. It’s no different today. As my grandfather used to say, “We live one way, the world lives another.” Our faith is counter-cultural. To put it bluntly, if you truly live as a Christian, you will not fit in.

This can mean a number of things, and none of them are easy. It can mean going out of your way during a busy, stressful day to help someone, or being patient with a cranky call center rep. It can mean refusing to engage in gossip about a troublesome family member, and doing your best to love them as Jesus does. It can mean being the only one of your friends not to live together before marriage, because your faith teaches that marriage and sex are sacred. It can mean giving up an hour of your Sunday morning to get dressed and visit Jesus at Mass, even when you “don’t get anything out of it” because you know its the right thing to do.

It can mean any form of denying yourself and your wishes, even if they are natural, because you believe that there is a proper ordering of things, and you have the gift of free will.

A wise person once said, “Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism.” We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. It’s taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

Our society has indeed reached a new era of paganism. No, not too many people still believe in Zeus and Mars. The modern gods are Money, Conformity, Relativism and Desire, and the king of the gods, Self.

Everybody has a cross to bear, something that makes you say “I could be a perfect Catholic if that one teaching didn’t go against what I need in my life. It works for some people, but it won’t work for me because of x, y and z.” To live our faith, we need to abandon those thoughts. They are not from God. When Peter suggested that Jesus find a way out of his impending crucifixion, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” And yet we know the cross was hard for Jesus to accept. He sweat blood as he prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Accepting our cross is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. And we’re going to fall on occasion. But God knows this, and he loves us anyway. The beauty of our faith is that we know that if we leave the right path, our Good Shepherd loves us so much that he goes looking for us, eager to forgive us, bring us back, and help us follow the Way.

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When Necessary, Use Words.

When Necessary, Use Words.

Truth be told, I’m rather non-confrontational. I don’t seek out arguments. And if there’s one skill I learned at the auto body, it’s patience and calm under fire.

That being said, it seems rather ironic that I’ve always had an interest in Catholic apologetics- studying, explaining and defending the faith against misconceptions (and the occasional outright lie).

As Christians, we are called to evangelize. What does this mean? St. Francis of Assisi is famously quoted saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Our love should be the primary witness to Christ in our lives. No one likes a pushy door-to-door Bible salesman, or the people who confront you at the mall on Sundays when all you want is a new pair of jeans.

When Necessary, Use Words.

But what about those times when words really are necessary?

I usually don’t start discussions about differences in faith. My general philosophy is that no one is converted in an argument. If someone asks me questions about my Catholicism, I’m happy to answer. I love religious discussions. But I usually don’t go looking for debates.

Recently, thanks to social media, I’ve been involved in a few of these. The first was quite amicable. It was difficult, but everyone involved was respectful and polite. I truly believe that the participants were seeking the truth.

The second of these was markedly different. It was with a stranger: a professed atheist. He started poking me a little, but he seemed polite enough. It was civil, so I entertained him for a bit. But as the conversation wore on, he lost his cool. He started getting rude. And then he crossed the line: he referred to his atheism as “the way, the truth and the life.”

That’s when I knew who was talking. I said a prayer and ended the conversation.

So what’s the takeaway? How do we handle conversations about differences of faith? Do we never discuss religion at all, be friends with everyone, and go through life never making waves? But what about all the misinformation out there? Don’t we need to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel, and aren’t words necessary at times? How should we handle things like this?

+AMDG+

Constantinople’s Lament

Constantinople’s Lament

My mom still talks about a time when I was a toddler and wanted so badly to see the inside of a church I had spotted on the side of the road. Being an adventurous mom, she pulled over and took me inside. Next thing you know, little Connie Ann is running up and down the aisles from the front to the back, pointing at the cross and shouting gleefully, “Jesus!”

I’ve since learned to control my outbursts (mostly). But I still love, love, love churches. Today I want to talk about my experience visiting one of the world’s greatest, found in the city of my namesake. (Yes, my name is Constance, but when my mom was in a playful mood, she called me Constantinople. And this was before I became a lover of Church history.)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, August 2010, Evening

Dedicated on my birthday, December 27 (though in 537), the Hagia Sophia is a beautiful masterpiece of Byzantine culture as well as an engineering marvel. The ring of windows at the base of the dome amazed everyone who saw it. “What is holding the dome?” they wondered. It looks as though the dome is suspended on a ring of light.

If you squint, you can see the Theotokos on the wall in the back, behind me head.
Standing where the Empress Irene would sit. If you squint, you can see the Theotokos mosaic in the apse.

Apart from the columns, the marble, the dome, and the windows, this church was filled with the most ornate mosaics in the empire. Beautiful scenes filled every wall and alcove, designed to lift the viewer’s thoughts to the world above.

HagiaSophiaMary
Mary and the Child Jesus with Empress Irene and her son, Emperor Alexander.

Visiting this great wonder of the world was a dream come true, though it was also marked with sadness. You see, when Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1431, they converted our beautiful home into a mosque. The Christian artifacts were removed and the heavenly mosaics were covered in plaster. Islamic art and writings were hung over the images of our Lord and the Saints. The Glory of Christendom was forced to submit to the Muslims, guarded by four minarets.

In 1935, Mustafa Atatürk had the Hagia Sophia converted once again- this time to a museum. In an effort to honor both the Christian and Islamic history of the building, some of the mosaics were once again exposed, though many remain covered to this day.

Deesis
Deesis Mosaic: Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist.

This is our Constantinople, bound by the shackles of time. Being in this place, seeing what it was, and knowing what it has become created such a storm of emotions in my soul. They say you many not pray in the building- but they can say what they want.

What is there to say when one walks where such tragedy has occurred? What once was the beautiful house of God is beaten down and chained by years of wounds and disenchantment. Would anyone believe the glory it used to house? Will it ever again be what it truly is? How many souls are just like this temple, tragically fallen from grace and seemingly without hope? What glorious beauty hides beneath the whitewash of our conquerors? When will we break the shackles and accept who we were meant to be? Do we have the Faith and Hope to live for the One who built us?

I hope so. And yes, it will always be Constantinople to me.

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

We made it! I made it! Welcome to the third and final installment of my first series, “Radiating Fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality, Sacrifice,” where we explore what it means for a marriage to be fruitful, even for those of us not blessed with children. If you’re just joining us, feel free to check out Part 1: Radiating Charity and Part 2: Radiating Hospitality.

Radiating Sacrifice

Somehow that title doesn’t have the same ring as the last two. The word “sacrifice” doesn’t exactly fill us with warm fuzzies, does it? Still, the Catechism points to sacrifice as a way in which all marriages are fruitful. What does this mean?

Sacrifice means giving something of ourselves, offering something up, as a gift to God. Sacrifice is an act of love, and an exercise in trust. We know that we will be ok without these things, because God is our strength. Christ gave is own life as a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem us. We in turn take up our crosses daily, uniting our suffering to his.

We know that marriage comes with sacrifice. We vow to love and honor each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” Even in the good times, placing the needs of your spouse before yourself isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sanctification in marriage comes from a daily dying to yourself for the sake of the other. “No, I’m not going to stay at the office later than I have to, because I have a wife who needs me.” “Sorry, I’m going to have to cancel my plans to take care of my husband who’s not feeling well.” “Yes, I’ll hold my tongue in front of your mother.”

Those things are little, and yet we know there are bigger sacrifices that come with love.

“No, we’re not going to live together before marriage because we trust that God has a plan for us, and that sex belongs in marriage, period.”

And then, the struggle of the infertile:

“No, doctor/mom/dad/brother/cousin/myself, for the thousandth time, we refuse to engage in IVF. Yes, we know that that is our only chance for a biological child. Yes, we are suffering, more than you realize. But we trust that God has a plan for us, and that new life is sacred. We make this sacrifice because our souls are more important to us than the fulfillment of our dreams, because our greatest dream is the Kingdom of God.”

What good, truly, comes from these sacrifices? If we look with human eyes, we only see the pain. In the first instance- “My spouse is encroaching on my comfort.” In the second- “Quaint, archaic rules are getting in the way of how I want to live.” In the third- “Old men in Rome are dictating whether or not I can have children.”

If we look with eyes of faith, we see the Glory of God. When we sacrifice and die to ourselves, we open our hearts and become holier people, and that holiness radiates outward.

Like St. Therese’s “Little Way”, we are growing in holiness through small, everyday sacrifices. In the first instance, sacrificing your own comfort to tend to the needs of another bears witness to the love and patience of the Father.  In the second instance, bearing witness to the truth of sexuality goes so far against the grain that it angers those who can’t bear the light. While many won’t have to courage to say it out loud, more than one will be touched by this witness. And on a much more personal note, couples can attest to the many blessings and graces that flow after marriage as a result of this sacrifice.

In the third case, perhaps the witness is more silent. Perhaps not many will know that refusing IVF comes with an immense suffering on your part. But I promise, it is worth it. Graces flow from obedience. In the words of Our Lady of Lourdes, “I cannot promise you happiness in this world, only in the next.” Couples dealing with infertility are on the front lines of the culture wars. Our witness to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage matters. It is perhaps a still, small voice- but one that has the power to open eyes and change hearts.

 

We know that all love bears fruit. It is my hope that this series might be a small comfort to my brothers and sisters who are suffering in the throws of infertility. I promise you, your marriage has a purpose. God has a plan. I pray that all who read this will experience the healing touch of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that whether or not you have children, your marriage will bear much fruit, for his greater glory.

+AMDG+

 

RadiatingFruitfulness

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

This morning I was reading the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 7), and I came across the well-loved passage, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open to you.” Those are powerful words. We have a Father in Heaven who is all-powerful and WILLING to give us what we ask for.

Jesus goes on to say, “Who among you would give his son stone when he asks for bread, or a snake when he asks for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

So there we have it. God is our Father. He’s there to provide.

So why is it that sometimes we ask for something, and it never shows up? We ask for healing of a disease, and our loved one slips through our fingers. We ask for a baby, and a pregnancy never happens. Our dreams for our life, perfectly good and holy, never materialize.

How is it that God answers our prayers and gives us every good thing, when sometimes it seems we are surrounded by brokenness?

I honestly think that sometimes, when we ask God for bread, he gives us a power bar instead. It doesn’t taste as good, it looks smaller, it’s kind of strange, and it’s hard to chew. You look at it and wonder, “How can this little bar satisfy me like that yummy buttery piece of white bread toast?”

Sometimes we stare at that power bar for years without eating it. We’re angry at our Father for not giving us the bread we wanted. We’re like stubborn children that won’t eat their broccoli.

But at some point, if we are trusting enough, we’ll find the courage to take a bite. We eat that power bar. We might not like the taste. It might be hard to chew. But after a while, we realize something.

Our Father knows what He is doing. He gave us exactly what we needed for the journey ahead.

He takes the pieces of our broken dreams and with them He makes a new creation.

I don’t know why I have MRKH. I don’t know why my friends and family are dealing with so much of their own pain and suffering. Maybe I’ll never know. But I know that for me, I will Trust in my Father.

Today I choose to eat that power bar.

Finding Our Purpose

This morning on Pinterest, I was reminded of St. Catherine of Siena’s famous quote, “If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire.” Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose, the purpose of marriage, and the purpose of our marriage in particular.

Building the Kingdom. That doesn’t only mean co-creating children, necessarily. It means living to the fullest in your state of life. Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism. We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. Its taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

We want to adopt someday. We’ve visited several local agencies and are forming a plan of how to go about this. For some reason though, I don’t feel that now is the time to start this process. We’ve only been married for a year, we have some debts we’d like to pay, and some traveling we’d like to do. We’d like to be in a position where I could stay home with the baby at least two or three days a week.

I feel like God is calling us to something else right now. I just don’t know what it is. And yes, we still have major emotional breakdowns whenever someone we know announces a pregnancy, but that has more to do with grief and less to do with adoption. Does it makes sense to say we’re peaceful about our current childlessness, yet grieving our infertility?

And so we will keep praying, keep loving, keep being. We know that God has plans for us, and so far He has only led us to beautiful, beautiful things.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

What Lent Means to Me

Throughout my years growing up in a Catholic family, I always looked forward to Lent. Kind of weird, I know. But I think it was because of all the traditions. I liked going to Stations of the Cross on Fridays, and watching the priest and altar servers walk from station to station, praying, kneeling, and chanting the Stabat Mater. It was 7:30 on a friday night, and the church was packed. Then we’d have cheese pizza in the church basement afterwards.

Faith was important in my family, and Lent represented it all: the promise of redemption and the knowledge that, though we screw up sometimes, God loves us more than we could ever imagine. Lent was a chance to get more serious about spirituality, say more rosaries, go to Mass, go to Confession, and remember how much God loves us.

A wise priest once told me that truth is important, but not more important than love. Sure, you have plenty of people who know all the ins and outs of theology, philosophy, and church history, but without love they truly are, as St. Paul said, “a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal”. Then there’s the other extreme, people who are so open and accepting that they don’t have the will or the desire to speak the truth when necessary. As they say (and this applies to both extremes), “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We cannot lose sight of the truth, but we cannot lose sight of love either. We need both.

That is what Lent means to me. Yes, we screw up. Yes, we should be better. But God loves us anyways, and is always there to forgive us. It’s not about how many times you mess up, or how bad you’ve been. It’s about the fact that God loves us so much that he was willing to become one of us, and suffer an excruciating death for the chance that we might love him back.