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.

Follow MeI’d like you to take a minute at the beginning of this blog and get a little bit self-reflective. Think about your personal faith life. Are you happy with your faith? Would you say that you have a strong faith? Is it a steady faith? It it alive, active? Are you comfortable with your faith?

If you answered yes to all the above questions except the last one, then kudos to you. But if you claimed to be comfortable with your faith, then prepare to be uncomfortable. Because our faith should never make us comfortable; comforting yes, comfortable, no. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, 38 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword…. whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” This sword of division is one meant to divide that which is good from that which is bad, including within our own selves. And believe me, this is not a comfortable experience.

Really though, simply pray over the Beatitudes (the most excellent summary of the Gospel) to see what I’m talking about. “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” Our faith is fully alive, blessed, when we weep and mourn in compassionate communion with those who are mourning and weeping, when we give comfort and love to others. This is rarely a comfortable thing to do, to enter into another’s pain and suffer with them.

Being a peacemaker means placing yourself in the middle of conflict like the priests in the Ukraine and loving those on both sides, a particularly uncomfortable place to be. Being meek means to not claim your right to defend yourself against another’s calumny, but to trust in god to justify you. Being poor in spirit does not mean lacking faith but humility, to not claim anything as your own (except your brokenness) and to depend on God for all things, to give him the glory in all. These are particularly uncomfortable ways to live.
ukraine priest

To see this even more clearly, actually lived out, meditate on the Passion of our Lord: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter or the sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth,”(1) “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,”(2) “it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured… upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed,”(3) “making peace through the blood of his cross.”(4)

Are you uncomfortable yet? If you’re anything like me you are because I love being comfortable, of taking the path of least resistance. And lately I’ve been getting the nagging feeling that I’m happy and comfortable with where my faith is. It’s a good thing Lent is coming! This Lent I intend to get uncomfortable because I want to end up looking just like my Savior, my Beloved and I can’t do that from my armchair.

I’m going to fast because I hate fasting.

I’m going to exercise because I hate exercising.

I’m going to pray before I “relax” in the evenings because I hate missing out on my relaxation time.

I’m going to reach out to others in their suffering because I hate going out of my comfortable little bubble.

I’m going to do these things I hate because I desperately need to. I need this much more than I realize. What about you? What are you planning on doing for Lent to stretch your faith and make yourself uncomfortable? How are you going to pick up your cross and follow your Savior?

Father, I trust in you to give me the grace and strength I need to move out of my comfort zone and onto my rightful place, on my cross next to you. Amen.

1. Isaiah 53:7
2. Phil. 2:7, 8
3. Isaiah 53:4, 5
4. Col. 1:20