Awkward Catholic

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


4 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

The Lonely Little Boy

The other day I spent time with a 2nd grade little boy, about 7 years old. He was brought into my office at the church because he’d told his religion teacher that he wanted to kill himself. The boy is in SECOND GRADE!! He had no friends and was being bullied. He felt isolated and completely alone. I know that feeling well. I was severely bullied throughout my childhood, alone, lost and without hope.

Mother Teresa once said that the greatest suffering is loneliness; of those familiar with suffering, few I think understood it as Lonely Mandeeply as Mother Teresa. Her life was poured out in walking with others in their suffering and most painful moments. I believe that she saw clearly into the heart of the modern world where we have become isolated and lonely. Our lives have become filled with isolation and selfishness, or rather, they have been emptied of all that is good and beautiful. We have sterilized our lives behind the facade of social media and disavowed any need for the other in our pursuit of the empty fulfillment of fame, fortune and immortality. And this has been done intentionally.

Our beloved Pope Francis has recently stated that we must not forget that the devil is real and actively seeking to destroy us. This is nothing new and has been proclaimed by countless saints throughout the ages. The devil is real and operating in the world with an evil intent… to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to isolate us from God and each other. And not only do we let him, we most often willingly cooperate with him! In war, when is a person most vulnerable? When he’s separated from his platoon. When is a quarterback most vulnerable? When his offensive line collapses around him and he’s left alone.

We have become isolated through our selfishness, laziness, greed and fear. And we isolate others because then, we’re not alone in our isolation. The problem is… everything we are, our body, mind and soul is designed for one simple purpose… communion. We exist to be the “thou” to someone else’s “I”. The way we live our lives can give purpose, meaning and hope to others; or it can take it away.

Every sin is a sin against communion because every sin is a sin of selfishness. Mother Teresa knew this well and sought out the most unapproachable, ignored, rejected, isolated Untouchable, who was being eaten by worms as he lay in the sewer awaiting death. She picked him up and carried him to her home, tended to his wounds (both spiritual and physical) and loved him into heaven. His was a life of loneliness and isolation. His was a death of beauty and love. Why? Because Blessed Mother Teresa entered into his suffering and walked with him to the steps of heaven.  She then repeated this act for the rest of her life with each person she met.

Deer Thirsts 2

What motivated her to do this? Mere knowledge couldn’t. Any person with a brain could figure out that we’re made for communion. Nor was it vein hope, desire for fame or blind faith. It was an encounter with the thirst of the One “I” to whom all others are “thou”; the thirst of the living God. Mother wrote the following in a letter to her fellow sisters:

Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes – to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you… That is so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that he loves you, but even more – He longs for you…. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes – He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe- you are precious to Him… Why does Jesus say, “I thirst”? What does it mean? “I thirst” is something much deeper than Jesus saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.[1]

When we encounter the thirst of Jesus we know, in the depths of our being who we are and who He wants to be for us. We enter into a real communion… our destiny. I have yet to experience this in its fullness. I trust in the testimony of the blessed who have gone before me. I also trust in the promises of Christ himself who will bring me to this himself.

I no longer suffer from loneliness, most of the time. I’ve been blessed with a loving wife, children and friends, but old habits die hard. Rather, I suffer the pains of loneliness in the teens, children and parents who pass through my office on a daily basis. There are so many hurting, lonely souls in the world. Our modern society, with all of its “conveniences” has turned us into lonely, isolated individuals… and we must rage against this machine! We must rage against this tidal wave of evil that is trying to scatter and separate us so as to overwhelm us. We “rage” by quietly letting go of our selfishness and simply engage those around us. We stand up for the kid being bullied, we put down our technology and talk face to face, we turn off the T.V. and talk to our family members, we sacrifice and give for those around us, we help others carry their crosses and we pray. We reach out to the person being bullied and we pray. We smile at those we pass in the hall or on the street and we pray. We do the chores and duties of our family members out of love and we pray. We hold the hand of the person (friend, stranger, enemy) that his suffering and we pray.

Ultimately, we do nothing of our own accord. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” We choose to cooperate with the grace of God rather than the lies of Satan. It is the love of God, our communion with him that will redeem the world. Therein lay our hope and our strength.

Mother Theresa

 

P.S., I have hope for the young boy I met with last week. He is dearly loved by his mother and knows now that he has a safe place at his church. He has been enfolded in prayer, he is not alone and through the grace of God will know that some day soon.

 

 

[1] Mother Teresa’s letter to the Missionaries of Charity family, 25th March, 1993 as found in 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. Marian Press, Sotckbridge, MA. 2011.