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.

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

Everyone who knows me in real life knows I’ve had a life-long obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My dad still tells the story of how when I was a toddler, I would say, “Daddy, tell me about Ariel,” and he had no idea who she was. (Crazy, right? That’s because this was circa 1989-1990 and movie was still new.)

I’ve always identified with her. I had that feeling of being different, wanting something more, wanting to experience the world. I loved to sing (still do), and I even had reddish¬†hair (I was strawberry blonde as a little kid, though my hair turned golden blonde when I got older). As a kid, I spent all summer swimming underwater in my grandparents’ pool, pretending to be her. I still know all the words to “Part of Your World”, which basically was my theme song as I was going off to college.

I basically am¬†Ariel. But putting that aside…

Something about the story in the Disney version had stood out to me recently, and it relates to infertility, but it really applies to any cross that one could carry.

It’s about trusting in God’s goodness.

Ariel had a dream. She wanted to be human. In fact, you could say that she was called to be a human. She loved everything about humanity, and was in love with one human in particular. She knew this was where she belonged. But she had one big obstacle- no legs.

She wanted legs¬†so badly that she was tempted to make a deal with the sea witch. The sea witch gave her those legs- but only temporarily (three days) and at a tremendous cost- her voice, as well and her freedom. Next thing you know, she finds herself changed into a human, but in danger of drowning, trying to swim to the surface. She has legs, but no voice, no clothes, and no way to win the prince’s heart before her time is up and the sea witch takes her captive.

How much is that like sin? We want something so badly, sometimes we fall into sin to get it. Generations ago, they called this “making a deal with the devil”- because that’s what it is. He’ll give us what we want, sort of, temporarily, at the cost of our freedom in this life and our soul in the next. It’s a rotten deal. You can’t really get what you want: peace, happiness, love, and fulfillment.

Ariel fails. She loses that deal with the devil. She’s turned back into a mermaid and taken captive by the sea witch. All seems lost.

Until her father, the king, steps in.

The deal was made. He can’t break it. So out of love for his daughter, he steps in an¬†takes her place. (Sound familiar?)

The battle happens. The sea witch is defeated. The captives are set free.

And there we see Ariel, the little mermaid, still without legs, still longing to be human and be where she belongs. Her father sees this, and his heart is moved.

He uses his power to make her human. And she gets to keep her voice. And instead of leaving her underwater and without clothes, her transformation leaves her on the beach, clothed in a gorgeous sparkly dress, and in the arms of the prince she loves.

Of course, they live happily ever after.

Ariel messed up. But her dad loved her anyway. And he made her dream come true.

Sometimes we have dreams, or even vocations, that seem impossible. Unbelievable, even. But here’s the thing- just like Ariel, we have a Father who loves us. We need to believe that. He really is full of goodness, and he can and will take care of us in his love.

All we need to do is trust.

Romans 8:28 ‚̧

 

 

 

 

You Are Mine

You Are Mine

Pslam 139:13-14

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

“For you created my inmost being…”

I was born without a uterus. And though I never consciously¬†blamed God for this, of course he allowed it to happen‚ÄĒand that is something that needs reconciling.

While I never knowingly¬†said, “How could you, Jesus?” I know that deep down, part of me used to think that maybe this disease was a result of neglect on his part. I have thought, many times, “God forgot to give me a uterus.” I know that others, in their situations, have thought similar things: “Maybe God forgot to make a plan for me,” or “maybe God forgot to keep an eye on me, and that’s why this happened.”

The truth is that he never turned his eyes away. He never neglected me (or you) for even a second. He made us,¬†on purpose.¬†He did, actually and truly “knit me together in my¬†mother’s womb.” And you are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He created you‚ÄĒevery part of you‚ÄĒand you were never a mistake. You are his child, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine.

“Littleness”

“Littleness”

Any time we go through grief or suffering of any kind, we have good days and bad days. Sometimes we have good minutes and bad minutes. The other night I was having a bad hour (after a very good day, no less) and an image came to mind of ¬†“the poor little MRKH girl,” like “the poor little match girl” but without the dying part. And it made me think.

Perhaps it is in the carrying of our cross that we become all the more special to our Heavenly Father. Maybe it is our greatest pain that endears us to him. Maybe seeing us in our most trying agony moves his heart and makes him want to hold us. Like the way Tiny Tim was special to his father Bob Cratchet, maybe it’s the same with God. Maybe the littler we become and the more we recognize how desperately we need God, the more he yearns to give.

Feeling “little” isn’t a bad thing. Christ himself said that we must become like little children. The greatest saints all recognized their own helplessness and need for their Savior. Maybe that’s why children and poverty are such a popular theme in Christmas stories. Jesus came into the world as a helpless infant, and we are meant to recognize how small we really are. That’s why he taught us to call God “Abba”-the equivalent of “Daddy”. It’s only when we are comfortable in our littleness that we can reach our arms up to heaven and call for our daddy to pick us up.

tiny-tim-120305

Blessed are the Invisible

Blessed are the Invisible

You know that dream, the one where you’re screaming for help but no sound escapes your lips? It’s terrifying. You desperately need help, but no one sees your plight. You are invisible.

Many of us feel this way in our suffering, especially if that suffering is infertility, singleness, or difficult marriages. We have a hard time finding spiritual support, and we feel completely alone in our journeys. We feel like we are forgotten by our fellow Catholics. Why?

The Church is made of humans, and humans fall into judgement. Humans beings make assumptions¬†like, “The more children you have, the better Catholic you are,” and “Anyone without a happy marriage and several children must be in a state of sin.”Amidst these assumptions, those who suddenly find themselves single or without children tend to shrink back and hide. They’re ashamed and embarrassed, though they did¬†nothing wrong. And you know what happens when good people are ashamed for no reason? They keep their mouths shut. They’re afraid to be outed as a misfit. They accept their invisibility, and the shroud of secrecy is allowed to grow. When the secrecy grows, the judgmental stay ignorant, and the stereotypes continue. This is not what God wants.

JesusNeverSaid

I’m here today¬†to tell you, all of you who are¬†invisible,¬†to have¬†hope. Rejoice in your invisibility. Yes, it is awful to be one of the misfits, the different, the hidden people on the margin. But we have a God who sees what is hidden. Ours is¬†a God of¬†the marginalized.

Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry saying over and over again that those who are smallest are the most precious to him. He lifted up the powerless: women, children, and backwater fishermen. He ministered to the lepers, the sinners, and the poor. His message wasn’t for those with perfect lives. It was for you.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” You¬†are suffering, you have a problem, you are powerless, you need God. Therefore you are blessed, because he has promised you his kingdom.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”¬†I’m sure you’ve done your share or mourning. You will find comfort, even if it’s not in the way that you would expect.

And when people judge your cross, remember this:

‚ÄúBlessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Each of us is called to something different. God¬†wants us to live our lives for him, whatever that entails. If your life doesn’t fit the mold, live it anyway. He loves you just as much. In fact, he has a soft spot for you.

Jesus always roots for the underdog. ‚̧

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. Th√©r√®se 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.

A Letter From the Girl in the Pew

A Letter From the Girl in the Pew

Hi, it’s me. Can we talk? Remember that homily you preached at that wedding about a year ago? You know, the one where you said in a booming voice from the pulpit,

“The purpose of marriage, really, is children.”

Yes, that’s the one. Remember how you went on and on backing up that point?¬†Remember how at the reception later, people were telling you how great it was, how true, how important? Remember how I stood there in that circle and nodded, agreeing that you have a gift for wedding homilies?

I lied.

Yes, I lied to a priest. To spare your feelings, of course.

I hated your homily that day. It wasn’t even my wedding, so why should I care?

Because it Hurt. Like. Hell.

You knew I was in the pew. You knew that I have MRKH. You knew that my husband and I will never be able to conceive.¬†Was it your intention to say that our marriage has no purpose? That¬†our marriage is useless? Or ¬†that maybe it’s just second class? Were you¬†trying to make us feel unwelcome and unneeded?

It may not seem like much to you, but to me it was a complete betrayal. You’ve told us to “be happy for others” but do you realize what you’re saying?

When Jesus carried his cross,¬†he didn’t do it with a smile. And I’ll bet that when he fell, his comfort was not in the Romans yelling at him to get up and keep moving. You wouldn’t tell Jesus to quit saying¬†“Why have you abandoned me?”¬†and just be happy for those people who get to not be crucified today, would you?

Now of course, I’m not Jesus. I don’t claim to be. But like him (and like you), I have a cross. We all do.

You wouldn’t tell an amputee with phantom pain to be happy for everyone who still has all of their limbs. When your friend suffers an abusive relationship, you don’t tell them to be happy for everyone whose heart was never broken. No, no one would say that because it misses the point and ignores the wounds that these people carry. We all deserve compassion and understanding. We all deserve to be loved.

We love you very much. Perhaps that is why this hurts so much.

And in case you would like a little reminder, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (paragraph 1660) that marriage has TWO purposes: (1) the good of the spouses and (2) the generation and education of children. These are both true, and we cannot overemphasize and ignore one or the other. If children were all that mattered, then my marriage wouldn’t be valid, and IVF would be encouraged. If the spouses were all that mattered, then we wouldn’t have to be “open to life”. Both matter. Both are important.

Otherwise, our struggle is in vain.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11

One of the greatest consolations in the world is getting a glimpse of God making lemonade out of your lemons (or limoncello, paisan).

I finally know¬†why I have MRKH/infertility. It’s because of the Fall of Man and the general evil and sin existing in the world from the beginning. That’s it. That’s all. That’s why.

What has recently become therapeutic for me is exploring the what now.

I’ve been dealt a lemon, thanks to the existing evil in the natural world. How am I going to give this lemon to God and let Him create something beautiful with it?

I’m coming to believe that this is what “hope” means for those dealing with suffering or grief. We get so hung up on “hope” meaning waiting for a baby, a miraculous cure, or whatever kind of candy we can get from the miracle store. But that’s not how it works. Hope means believing that there will be something beautiful to come. God¬†will turn our lemons to lemonade, and our limes into Key Lime Pie. If we place our hope in Him, God¬†will make sure that our suffering is used to create¬†a greater good.

The best part is when you being to sense the wonderful things coming from His kitchen.

He Cried More

He Cried More

Last night I went to my first healing service. I never would have gone on my own, but my mother-in-law has been inviting me for a few months now, so I went. Knock long enough and the door opens.

At one point in the night, I went to confession to a priest I’ve never met, and I told him about the trauma of learning at age 16 that I was¬†born without a uterus. I told him that I didn’t even feel like I belong at a “women’s night” when I’m missing something that is so central to what we perceive womanhood to be. Little girls play with baby dolls, and as Christians we hold a deep love and admiration for the mother of Jesus. I didn’t even know if I would be allowed to be married. I didn’t know how a potential husband would take the news. Pregnancies and talk of “starting a family” bring up a host of traumatic memories and wounds so deep that many will never understand. We talked about that for a long time. And he said something to me that no one has ever said before.

“As much as you’ve cried over this, since age 16, God cried more.”

The priest continued, “He loves life, He loves babies! He didn’t plan for this to happen to you. He is right there with you.”

I have never “blamed” God for MRKH, but I always just kind of assumed that he must be ok with it, since he allowed it. But there is evil in the world as a result of sin, and it has nothing to do with the paradise that God originally planned. There is physical evil, like Ebola and cancer and the common cold, and there is natural evil, like hurricanes and tornadoes… and being born without a uterus. He didn’t want this to happen. It wasn’t part of the plan. It grieves him too.

He cried more.