Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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United to the Cross

I love to pray in silence. Like St. Ignatius of Antioch, I love to use my imagination to enter into meditative prayer. Full disclaimer… I’m awful at it. I’m so ADD that I can’t hardly focus for more than a few moments. But I love it nonetheless. When I do go to meditate, my favorite place to go (in my heart) is to a little garden patch, no bigger than 20’x20′ and in the middle is my Mama. I love Mama Mary! She’s sitting on a park bench and I usually walk over to her, sit down beside her and snuggle in close, like one of my kids do with me.

In this place I experience peace, joy, and hope. The comfort I encounter in these moments is unmatched by most any consolations I’ve experienced. It’s not always like that, but when its not, I still find peace. In those moments she whispers to my heart things I need to hear, not that I always want to hear them: challenges to my brokenness, comfort in my shame, hope and trust and confidence in her Son.

This morning was different; in my prayer time I went to this place of peace and it was closed to me. It was there, off in the distance and unobtainable. My heart broke, because, if I’m being honest I’ve been in a rough place lately, trying my best to humbly trust in God, but needing His consoling grace all the more than usual.

Now, before you go sending me consoling notes, thank you, but its not necessary. I “know” all the right answers, and I believe in them too. But I don’t share this for my sake. I share it for those who may find themselves experiencing something similar. St. Teresa of Calcutta experienced much the same throughout her own life (not that my darkness is anything remotely close to her experience). Perhaps God is testing me and calling me into a deeper relationship with Himself (not perhaps, He definitely is); perhaps, through my own brokenness and bad choices I’ve cut myself off from His face (though He’s still there waiting for me to simply turn around); perhaps it’s a simple emotional exhaustion because I’m stressed and anxious about a great many things; perhaps its something else entirely or all of the above converging together into a gloriously painful experience.

What I know for certain, what is not simply a “perhaps” is this… God’s grace is sufficient. God, the Gentleman, who knows how to break us so beautifully, never takes away something precious to us without giving us something even more precious in return. In my prayer this morning I experienced these moments of desolate longing for the comfort of my Mama but experienced nothing but rejection. I began praying a favorite prayer of mine, “Jesus, I trust in You.” I then heard my Mama’s words in my heart, “I will return; until then remain here.” And my heart was brought to another favorite place of mine, kneeling before the foot of the Cross, akin to the one we see in the movie “The Passion”, but different also. It’s a desolate, lonely, darkened and red place; a place of hopeful grief.

Mama placed me very close to the foot of the Cross, closer than I normally am, and repeated her words, “Remain here. Remain here.” Then she seemed to leave me. I gazed upon the foot of the Cross and saw His feet, pierced and fastened to it and a deep dark blood run down the wood. And I embraced the wood, wrapped my arms around the splintered, blood soaked wood and wept, pouring out my failures, doubts, sins and hurts. I grieved over my life and sins, and wept. I then recalled Christ’s words as He hung dying on the Cross, “I thirst.” and the Spirit within me groaned in reply, “I thirst.”

This is something I have not experienced before and is difficult to put into words. But I have hope that my Mama is doing exactly what she wants to do for all of us, to lead us into a deeper union with her Son, with the Merciful thirst of our beloved Savior.

Your pain is not purposeless. It is not in vain. United to the Cross it becomes something beautiful and hopeful (at least that’s what I know and believe, even if I struggle to live it out). As I sit here and ponder this at the end of the day, I think to myself about this hope. I typically strive to keep my eyes fixed on the time ahead, when the suffering is done; I hope for an end to the suffering and try not to live in it. But I’m beginning to think that that’s not what the hope of the Cross is about.

What if it’s about fully embracing the suffering now, looking at it square in the face, not trying to look beyond, but looking through. Because I know there are sometimes when I can’t see beyond and everything gets all the darker. What if Christ wants us to look through the suffering, to see it fully for what it is and say, “Hello. I see you and accept you and embrace you. In fact, I love you because you are going to help me love my Savior even more than I do now. So thank you.”

So here I find myself, closed off from snuggling into my Mama, instead embracing the blood soaked Cross where my tears mingle with His blood and my thirst encounters God’s.

Jesus, I trust in You.


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Where Was God?!

Abandoned-Andrew_Amistad

Photo by Andrew Amistad

Where was God last Sunday night in Las Vegas? Why didn’t he stop the bullets? Why didn’t he stop the gunman, give him a heart attack or stroke, or somehow alert the authorities? If God was so good, so loving and tender, where in the heck was he?! Doesn’t that prove that God doesn’t exist, or even worse, that he doesn’t care?

It’s natural to ask questions like these in the face of tragedy. And we could extend it even further, where was God when Hugh Hefner got Playboy started? Why didn’t he stop him from doing so much to destroy our culture and the countless lives of women, men and families? Where was God each time a baby is destroyed in its mother’s womb? Where was God when the hurricanes were destroying the Caribbean? If God so loved the world, then why in the heck does he allow such pain and suffering?! What kind of God does that?

These are impossibly difficult and painful questions to answer, but there is an answer, and no, it’s not a comfortable one either. Sure, there are the unhelpful answers that God gave us free will and loves us too much to take that free will away. Thanks, but not much comfort there. Well then, God was there because look at how some people are turning their hearts to him now. Again, nice thoughts and probably true but not a whole lot of comfort. Fine. Then how about God was there in the heroic choices people made to give their lives for others. Yeah, that’s great, tremendous and beautiful, but still, wouldn’t he be more loving to stop the bullets in the first place?

Well, no, because I believe that God calls each of us home when we are most likely to get into heaven. You see, God loves us so much and he knows that this earth is not our final destination but just the desert in our own personal exodus. Heaven is our home and he desires that all be saved! And so he’ll do whatever he needs, he call us home whenever we are most likely to make it. OK, that’s a little comforting, but still, it hurts too much to make sense!

I have one final answer for you then. Let me tell you a story about a young teen who had no friends, he was constantly mocked and ridiculed and laughed at, even by some of his own family. He was neglected and alone. His mom loved him certainly, but that was about it, and she worked so hard to support the family that she was hardly there. And so the only other being in existence he knew loved him was his dog, Max. He’d come home every day from school and rush to his dog and hug him thightly, and his dog would jump up and down and run around so happy to see his friend. But his dog got sick, he got arthritis and eventually couldn’t get up to go pee. He’d just lie there all day and when his best friend arrived home his tail would slap the floor with all the energy of a healthy dog and he’d pant with excitement; and the boy was loved.

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Photo by Meta Zahren

But one day the boy arrived home and Max couldn’t be found anywhere. He was gone. “I’m sorry honey, we took Max to the vet. We put him to sleep.” This boy’s only friend in the world was gone, and he was alone. Have you ever hurt so deeply, mourned so deeply that it physically hurt? This boy began heaving, feeling like he was going to throw up. His heart literally hurt… betrayed, abandoned, alone. I ask you, where was God in that moment?! Let me tell you, it felt like there was no God, but in fact the God of the universe was right there, his heart aching with every torturous beat of that young man’s heart. He was there in the nights filled with tears, in the dark, in the loneliness and hopelessness. He was there as the young man wrote a letter saying goodbye to the world. He was there as he contemplated throwing everything away and ending the pain. He was there, weeping with his hands nailed to a tree, pouring out his abandoned, broken, and pierced heart.

That young man couldn’t see it, he couldn’t feel it, but he wasn’t alone. He was held in the hands of the Father. Caressed with the kisses of angels and his heart slowly healed and day by day he found peace and hope and light again; not through the passage of time. It wasn’t the simple fading memory of the pain that healed him. It was the love of the Father poured out through the pierced heart of the Son and given with the breath of God that healed his soul. And that my friends is the only real answer that can be given, the only answer that truly satisfies. It is the Face of Christ, the bloodied, bruised and broken Face of Christ in which we find peace and hope.

Where was God on Sunday night? He was there with his blood being poured out like a libation, just as he is in every abortion clinic and every school hallway and every lonely kids darkened room, pouring out his love, often unseen, but always and unfailingly there; transforming broken lives and broken hearts into gloriously new creations.

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Photo by Pablo Heimplatz