Tales from the Valley

"Not all those who wander are lost"- J.R.R. Tolkien

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

 

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A Light in the Darkness

A Light in the Darkness

This year, James and I hosted our first Thanksgiving. My parents and sister came to our house, and everything was wonderful. We have so much to be thankful for: each other, our continued “newlywed” status (almost 3 years in), our home, our parents and siblings, our trip to England this year, and my new job, which is a total gift from God. After 6 years I am finally doing what I want to do, AND it’s right across the street from a cathedral where I can go to daily Mass on my lunch break. Wow. What a blessed year!

You’ll notice I left out the adoption stuff on our gratitude list. Not long after started the process, something began stirring in my soul. That something, I am convinced, was God. What we were doing (domestic infant adoption) just didn’t feel right. At least not now. I can’t help but feel that there’s something else he wants us to do, at least for now. Maybe we’re supposed to be foster parents. Maybe we’re supposed to wait a few years before adopting. Maybe we’re supposed to adopt internationally. Or maybe we’re supposed to do something radically different, like become missionaries for a while.

I don’t know what it is we’re supposed to do, but I know it’s not domestic infant adoption. At least not now. Every day I’m praying more than I ever have, and going to Mass. So far, the overwhelming message is “Wait.” I have no idea what he wants from me, but I keep asking. And waiting.

And it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating not knowing what to do next. Part of me wishes God gave us this message before we paid money to an adoption agency. But I know he has his reasons. Maybe I just wasn’t open before. It’s also frustrating being the only one without a baby… but also knowing that I cannot adopt simply just to “fit in.”

Yesterday, as per tradition, we put up our Christmas tree. Instantly, my heart breathed an overwhelming sigh of relief. Finally, it’s time to start getting ready for Christmas. And everything is better at Christmas, because having that tree in the living room reminds me that Jesus is here. It reminds me that God loved us so much that he became one of us, and he lives, and he is with us, and he is here in this home. And everything is going to be alright because nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.

The Couple in the Pew

The Couple in the Pew

This is my article that was published in the Catholic Standard a few months ago. I found it online today and thought you all would like to read it.

The couple in the pew: the impact of infertility

By Connie Poulos
Thursday, April 23, 2015 2:26 PM

There is a couple sitting in the pew on Sunday. You know they have been married at least one, two, three years now. No children yet.

If you’ve spotted me, or any of the thousands of local Catholics dealing with infertility, our childlessness is not by choice.

The desire for children is deeply rooted in our human nature. We see this in the excitement and hope of those trying to conceive. We see it most profoundly in the pain experienced by those for whom this desire is unfulfilled.

According to a recent study, one in six couples struggle with some form of infertility. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of trying, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Infertility can be primary (no living children) or secondary (unable to conceive or carry an additional child). Affecting men and women in equal numbers, infertility is a true medical condition and not the result of stress, “not doing it right” or “not relaxing.” Worse still, it is a real emotional and spiritual trauma that can potentially wreak havoc on a husband and wife.

The inability to achieve something so natural, so expected, so inherent to the dignity of marriage, cuts at the heart of our sense of self. Broken dreams serve as a painful reminder that children are indeed a gift; they cannot be created on demand. They cannot be earned. We are not the Author of Life, God is.

Emotionally, there is no way to “get over” infertility. It is a continual loss, day in and day out. Even years after acceptance, something unexpected can trigger uncontrollable tears. Baptisms, Mass readings mentioning pregnancy, pregnancy announcements and receiving a shower invitation are all situations that can re-open the wound. Holidays are hard. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Masses bring a unique degree of torture. Why should all these happy events cause such grief? Simply this: the wound is too deep. The weight is too much to bear.

Part of this cross, unique to Catholics, is choosing to put God above our own desires. With some forms of infertility, the only way to fulfill the good, natural, and burning desire for a biological child is through illicit treatments. Laying down our God-given desires and freely choosing to forgo these technologies (sometimes out of pure obedience) is a tremendous sacrifice. Many friends and family cannot understand why we choose this. Instead of supporting our faith, they act as though we are bringing pain upon ourselves, and plead with us to try IVF. What keeps us going? We trust that in his wisdom, God does not give us these rules to make us miserable, but because he knows what is ultimately going to make us happy.

Learning to live in an infertile reality is like climbing a mountain barefoot in a blizzard. First things first, hold tight to your spouse and to God. No matter what is causing infertility, the important thing to remember is that this suffering, this pain, was not given to you by God. Suffering is a reality of our fallen world, as unavoidable as earthquakes and hurricanes. As much as we cry over infertility, God cries more. He loves life; he loves babies! He cries for those who are unable to conceive or who lose a child. The beauty of our faith is that we believe that our suffering itself is fruitful. We have hope that God can and will use our suffering to create something glorious. “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Even in the cross, there are gifts to be explored. Infertility opens our eyes to the reality that fruitfulness in marriage takes many forms, and that our call to life and love is a daily occupation, regardless of our circumstances. Infertility, viewed from the cross, reminds us that the gift given in marriage involves a new life, even if it may not be expressed in the beautiful gift of children. All married love is fruitful. The light of Christ that comes out of the sacramental union shines forth into the darkness of our fallen world. “The vocation to love,” said Pope Benedict, “is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that cannot be impeded by any organic condition.”

When God calls us to marriage, he calls us to love and honor our spouse all the days of our lives. He calls us to be open to whatever life he has planned. Our vocation to marriage is as real and as serious as any other vocation. A family of two is no less a family. We are a visible sign of God’s love.

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, we would like to invite you to the upcoming Archdiocesan Morning of Hope and Healing, to be held on Saturday, April 25 at 10:00, at the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC. Planned with all types of infertility in mind, we welcome all those who carry this cross, along with their friends, families and supporters. There will be simultaneous translation into Spanish for our Hispanic faithful. For more information, please visit http://www.adw.org/event/mass-hope-healing/ or email or call Mary Hamm in the Office of Family Life at hammm@adw.org; or 301 853-4499.

(Connie Poulos is a local Catholic blogger at http://www.TalesfromtheValley.com . #Visible Sign is a column on marriage and family life produced by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office for Family Life. For more information, see http://www.adw.org/visiblesign.)

Anima Christi

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me; Passion of Christ, strengthen me; O good Jesus, hear me; within your wounds, hide me; let me never be separated from you; from the evil one, protect me; at the hour of my death, call me; and bid me to come to you; that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever. Amen.

Anima-Christi


When I was a child, I found this prayer in a book that I kept in my room. I would pray it over and over, completely mesmerized. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember having to pull out the dictionary for “inebriate”. Is it weird that whenever I hear that word, my thoughts immediately go to this prayer?

Within your wounds, hide me.

When I was a kid, I remember picturing being tiny and Jesus being like a giant, keeping me tucked in his pierced side and me being perfectly content, as close to him as possible. I never thought that was weird. Oh, the mind of a Catholic child.

Now that I’m an adult, this line has new meaning. We know that we are particularly close to Jesus in our suffering, for it was then that I carried you. Perhaps asking Jesus to hide us in his wounds means we are asking him to allow us to suffer with him. Perhaps it is about taking up our cross and joining him, uniting our wounds with his. Maybe it’s asking him to keep us close in suffering. This beautiful line makes me think of St. Thérèse and her desire to be small and insignificant. It makes me think of what St. Faustina learned from Jesus, that “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” It’s something I could spend the rest of my life contemplating and never quite understand. Perhaps that is what makes it so beautiful.

I don’t really know why, but this prayer always fills my with a strange and wonderful fire, like a burning peace, if that makes sense. It is so powerful. If you’ve never prayed it, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Does anyone else find the Anima Christi to be particularly moving? What is your favorite prayer? Is there one in particular that really speaks to you? I’m thinking about making prayer discussion a recurring topic here at TFTV.

The Crack

The Crack

I often cry at Mass, but I’ve never cried during a homily- until tonight. Tonight, I had tears streaming down my face the whole time. It was like God was using the priest to speak to directly to me.

This week’s gospel is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. I can’t really replicate this homily here, but I’ll try to summarize.

We all have these walls we put up, from our hurts, our sin, our wounds. We put them up to protect ourselves, so we won’t get hurt again. Though these walls may protect us, they also don’t let anyone in- not even God. And as long as those walls are up, we can’t heal.

The woman obviously had something wrong in her life. She was at the well in the middle of the day, rather than in the morning with everyone else. She clearly wanted to avoid seeing the other women in the village.

You can picture Jesus smiling knowingly when he said, “Go get your husband.” And you can picture the woman say, rather hard and defensive, “I don’t have a husband.” There. There’s the sore spot. And Jesus reaches in with, “I know. You’ve had 5 husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” There’s the wound. Clearly she must have been through some terrible things.

Later, she goes out to the very townspeople she had been avoiding and says, “This man told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be the Christ?”

The only way to heal is to let the walls crack enough to let Jesus in. And he is the only one who can heal you. And he’ll use that very thing, that wound, to transform you and bring you to him. That wound is how you are going to glorify him.

He knows everything you’ve ever done. Learning that your life was not what you thought it was, discovering that you would never be a “normal” person, realizing that you could never again look at things the same way, feeling like an outcast, knowing that there would be no one else in your life who would really “get it”-that’s exactly what he’s going after. He’s going to reach in with his healing touch and turn that around so it can be used for good, to bring others to him. He’s going to help you tear down those walls.

And it all starts with a crack.