In the Face of Suffering, We Live in Hope

When it comes to miracles, I’m kind of a skeptic. By which I mean that if you’ve got half a dozen atheist doctors who swear your healing was a miracle, I’ll consider it. But one marvelous thing about our Church is that it’s skeptical the same way. So when the Church declares something a miracle, you’d better believe there’s no other explanation. As an apologist, I find these miracles encouraging. But as a human being, they break my heart.

Judith 9:11-12, one of the most impassioned pleas I've ever read.

Judith 9:11-12, one of the most impassioned pleas I’ve ever read.

It’s not the miracles that break my heart, I suppose. It’s the many, many others that don’t happen. The stillborn babies who stay dead. The kids in car accidents who never recover. The people who got on that plane, the girls stolen from their school, the children sent away as refugees. In a world where innocents are being slaughtered in Gaza and Syria and Ukraine and Iraq and Chicago, how can we claim that our healing or safety or raffle ticket was foreordained? Are we really so arrogant as to believe that God cares more about us than he does about the thousands, the millions he doesn’t save?

This is what miracles seem to imply. If God saves some, he chooses not to save others. It’s an ugly idea, one we’re generally more comfortable ignoring as we pacify ourselves with platitudes about how “everything happens for a reason” and “God will provide.” Tell that to the mother fleeing Mosul rather than convert at the point of the sword. Tell that to the father sending his 9-year-old thousands of miles to the north, trekking through the most dangerous areas on the planet alone in the hopes that there will be safety at the other end. Tell that to the woman who lost her husband on that flight, to the little boy whose sisters still haven’t been brought back. Tell it to the victims of rape and torture who cried out to a silent God. It’s not enough.

It’s not enough because it’s not true. God is not your fairy godmother. He’s not your personal assistant or your oncologist. He doesn’t send angels to surround you to make sure you’re happy all the time. God doesn’t care at all if you’re happy all the time. Because he’s not your babysitter. He’s your Father. And fathers love their children too much to give them everything they want.

Our problem is that we’ve confused providence with luck. We see good things happening to people and assume the universe is on their side. Bad things, of course, mean the opposite. There’s no rhyme or reason to it all beyond a vague feeling that God prefers some people to others or has “a special plan” for them, which never seems to involve much more than occasional volunteering for a few years after their miracle. And the millions left to languish? Well, let’s not think about them.

I refuse to worship that god. The god who plays favorites, who saves some while abandoning others, is no god worthy of the name. He’s certainly not the God who died on the Cross, the God who desires that all men be saved.1 He’s a petty magician, an idol for the privileged who want to validate their comfortable lives in the face of the suffering masses.

What delivers me from the Baal of Miracles? Perspective.

If this life were all there was, it would be impossible to love God. Even acknowledging how much suffering is entirely the result of sin, there is too much pain to believe in a good God. How can a good God allow cancer and tsunamis and famines on top of rape and genocide and brainwashing? How can we say that God is love? How can we cry that he is good when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

Because the meaning of this life is not this life.

We can’t understand what God is doing any more than an infant can understand what his mother is doing–less so. We see the now, or even the 50 years from now. We see the splash. God sees the ripples. And not just the ripples on our lives but the ripples on the lives of those we love and those we hate and those we’ve never bothered to notice. God sees the ripples on eternity. God knows which miraculous cure will bring conversion and which painful death will draw hearts to him. He doesn’t give you cancer because you need to learn how to be a better person, but if he lets you suffer through it, he is working. This is the God who took the greatest evil of all time, the torture and deicide of Good Friday, and turned it into the greatest good for the human race. There is nothing he cannot turn to good.2

This is what gives me hope. Not that God might work a miracle for me but that he is working miracles, daily miracles. This is providence, that for me in my comfortable life and for those suffering and abandoned, for every last person on this planet God is working miracles. He is holding them close and drawing them closer, even when they seem most alone. Because he knows what they need. This is the Christian answer to the problem of evil: God knows better than I. And he is working.

Lamentations 3:21-24

So what can I say to the mothers with empty arms, the broken victims of abuse and neglect, the refugees and hospice patients and orphans and addicts?

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know that he is doing something. I don’t know what good will come of this, but I know that good will come. I know this the way I know how to breathe or which way is down: not because I can prove or explain it but because everything in my life cries out this truth. You are loved in your suffering. God weeps with you, hanging on the Cross for you. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what he’s doing. But I know who he is. He is good. He is love. He is for you. And there will come a day when all is made clear, when you’re welcomed into the embrace of the God who has been waiting for you since before there was time and you see just how all things worked for good. But until then, I will stand with you in the unknowing. Together we will hope and love and suffer. And we will trust in a God who is so much bigger than our pain.”

Miracles seem arbitrary and unfair because our vision is so short. But we worship an eternal God who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.3 There is nothing he will not do for us. Ours is to trust that when we lie broken amidst the rubble of our lives, even then he is working. Even then we are protected. Even then we are loved by a Father who wills our greatest good, though it may be a long time coming. Wait in hope, my friends. My God will not disappoint.

My favorite prayer, by Dag Hammarskjold

My favorite prayer, by Dag Hammarskjold

  1. I Tim 2:4 []
  2. Rom 8:28 []
  3. Rom 8:32 []

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A Fly on the Wall

I got to spend a few weeks in June around my sister‘s awesome kids. I thought y’all might enjoy some of the theological conversations we had. And before you ask why they’re so awesome, here’s the best I can tell: the adults they know talk frequently and very enthusiastically about holy things–to them and to each other–and they’ve picked up on it.

Playing the Annunciation. Because what else would you do?

Playing the Annunciation. Because what else would you do?

Cecilia (3 1/2): How can you be a saint and a nun?
Me: Oh, lots of Saints were nuns. St. Therese, St. Teresa, St. Catherine Laboure, St. Claire…. To be a saint, you just have to love God and try your best to do what he wants you to do.
John Paul (almost 5): And I like St. Cecilia.
Cecilia: Saint Cecilia? Am I a saint already?!?
Me: Not yet, honey.
Cecilia: Why not?
Me: Well, because you’re not dead yet.
Cecilia: And why not?
Me: I guess because God has work he still wants you to do.
Cecilia: And if I die when I’m a child, I can still be a saint.
John Paul: Like Blessed Imelda!

How to get your kids excited about Saints: read them lots of Saint books, get them Saint costumes to play dress-up in, and suggest with wild excitement that we pretend to be Saints. You should see how excited they are when I ask if they want to play the martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Cecilia (rather upset that Jesus has ascended): Why doesn’t Jesus come back down from heaven?
Me: I don’t know, Cecilia. Do you wish he would?
Cecilia: YES!
Me: Well there’s a great prayer for that. Maranatha. It means, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Cecilia and John Paul: MARANATHA!!

I’m with them. Come back, dear Jesus, and heal our broken world!

All dressed up for the ordination.

All dressed up for the ordination.

John Paul, an hour in to a 3 hour ordination: It’s the prayer of ordination! (a few minutes later) AND NOW THEY ARE PRIESTS!! My turn!
(tries to push past me toward the aisle)
Me: No, buddy, you can’t be a priest yet.
John Paul, beginning to cry: Why not?
Me: Because you’re not old enough.
John Paul: I AM old enough!
Me: How about when we get home I’ll show you in the Code of Canon Law? Would that make you feel better? In Latin and English?
John Paul, sniffling: Yeah.

It runs in the family. I was once so upset after a football game that the only thing that could cheer me up was stopping at the library to read through a commentary on the Code.

Look at the awe in his face!

Look at how excited he is for his blessing!

Me, during the same ordination: John Paul, the bishop is getting Fr. Chris’s blessing. And after Mass, you will be able to get Fr. Chris’s blessing! And then you will hold out your hands and he will put his hands in them and you will kiss them.
John Paul: Why?
Me: Because they aren’t his hands anymore. They’re Jesus’ hands.
John Paul: Jesus’ hands!! Why are they Jesus’ hands?
Me: Because they were consecrated to celebrate the Sacraments. To say Mass and give absolution and anoint people.
John Paul: And to consecrate the Eucharist.
(later, holding Fr. Chris’ hands) *Gasp* These are Jesus’ hands! (Kisses them reverently)

Many new priests don’t expect you to kiss their hands, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful traditions in our Church. In any other circumstances, it would be wildly inappropriate for me to kiss a priest, but here I’m humbling myself in reverence to the God who works through his priests.

John Paul (reading the back of my shirt): I’m a Catholic. Ask me a question!
Me (playing along and asking him one of the most common): Okay, why do you have to go to Mass every Sunday?
John Paul (clearly distraught): Oh! Because I love Jesus!

It really is that simple. Maybe I should stop with commandments and canon law and go with this: we go to Mass because we love him and we’re trying to love him better.

Lady Victory standing on a corpse saying: Thus always to tyrants! Virginia is so BA.

Lady Victory standing on a corpse saying: “Thus always to tyrants!” Virginia is so BA.

Me, explaining the intense Virginia flag and, thus, what a tyrant is: A tyrant is someone who takes away your freedom. And the greatest tyrant is Satan because he tricks you into becoming a slave to sin.
Cecilia (disdainfully): Um, Satan has no power now.
Me: Why not?
Cecilia (a little condescendingly): Because Jesus died to save us from our sins!

I had to think about this one. I think she’s wrong that he has no power, but the nature of the power he has is different. Before the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, he had power by the very nature of things. Now he only has the power that we give him by our sin. I think. Is it ridiculous that her theological conclusions have given me so much to think about?

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Something to Consider

I wonder if there was ever a Saint in the history of the world who was able to attend daily Mass and simply chose not to.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Not a guilt trip, just an invitation to reconsider your priorities. If the purpose of your life is to be a saint, what’s stopping you? Maybe daily Mass is impossible for you. But if it’s just that you’re lazy or busy or easily bored…think about that.

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How to Name Catholic Twins

I do a lot of Googling. Sometimes it’s just because I randomly and passionately want to know everything about rumspringa. Other times, it’s because somebody asked a question that I didn’t know the answer to and my know-it-all heart couldn’t handle it. So I search and search and search and send an email and then nobody else gets to reap the fruit of all my hard work.

But I have a blog. Which means I can share my research with the whole world!

Elizabeth Anna on the Left and Mary Claire on the right.

Elizabeth Anna on the Left and Mary Claire on the right.

So I know this is super random, but if you’ve talked to me in the last year and a half, you are abundantly aware that my sister has twins. And when she found out she was having twins, I had to find all the possible Saint pairings to name the babies after. My nephew, 3 at the time, was adamant that they would be named Ezra and Nehemiah.1 When he finally accepted that they were girls, he suggested Mary Salome and Mary The Mother of God. His parents weren’t too keen on “The Mother of God” as a middle name, so we turned to the internet.

Turns out not a lot of people have compiled lists of Catholic twin names (Although this post gave me some inspiration), so I figured I’d share my research for those among you who are having twins. First of all, congratulations! Twins are awesome! And eventually you’ll sleep again. Before you’re totally sleep-deprived, let’s get to know some Saint pairings so you can name your little ones after holy besties.

Two Boys.

  • Cosmas and Damian. Think they were identical?

    Cosmas and Damian. Think they were identical?

    Cosmas and Damian were actually twins, but I don’t know about naming a baby Cosmas.2 Cyril and Methodius might give you the same problem.

  • Ignatius and Francis Xavier were two of the first Jesuits and two of the most amazing men in the history of ever. Peter Faber was one of their companions, too, in case you’re having triplets.
  • David and Jonathan had one of the most selfless friendships of all time.3
  • For our Eastern friends, Gregory Nazianzen and Basil were such great friends–like two bodies with a single spirit, Gregory tells us–that they share a feast day despite having died fifteen years apart.
  • Ambrose was the teacher of the inimitable Augustine. It might be hard not to feel that you’re playing favorites when the student so far surpassed the teacher, but Ambrose himself was no slouch.
  • Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas might leave you in a similar bind, but Albert was an esteemed scholar in all disciplines, which might balance out Thomas being the greatest mind the world has ever known.4
Historians differ as to whether or not Francis and Dominic met in person, but Fra Angelico thinks they did and his testimony is good enough for me.

Historians differ as to whether or not Francis and Dominic met in person, but Fra Angelico thinks they did and his testimony is good enough for me.

  • Francis of Assisi and Dominic5 founded the two great mendicant orders.
  • If you’ve got British ancestry, you might like the sound of Edmund and Henry. Henry Walpole was converted when Edmund Campion’s blood spattered on him and went on to be ordained and martyred in England, just like Edmund.
  • John Bosco was Dominic Savio’s teacher and the author of his biography. As with so many in this list, they clearly made each other saints.
  • Miguel Pro and Jose Luis were both killed during the Cristero Wars, both crying out “Viva Cristo Rey!” as their last words.
  • Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf are my favorite of the North American martyrs, but you could choose any combination of them or of the martyrs of England.
  • Thomas More and John Fisher were both martyred for clinging to their faith during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • If you’re a hardcore Chestertonian, Gilbert and Keith would be a great duo in anticipation of his canonization.6
  • Obviously, any pair of Apostles or Prophets will work here. James and John were sons of Zebedee and Simon Peter and Andrew were brothers as well. Thomas even means twin! Then you could do Moses and Aaron, Isaac and Jacob, or Samuel and Elijah. Timothy and Titus were both converted by St. Paul, who would himself be a great brother to a little Peter.

A Boy and a Girl

  • teresa y juan

    John and Teresa–something to aspire to.

    Benedict and Scholastica are the obvious ones here–our other set of canonized twins.

  • Francis and Claire of Assisi worked together to found the women’s branch of the Franciscans, now called the Poor Clares.
  • Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross reformed the Carmelites together and inspired one another as only mystics can. A power couple if ever there was one.
  • Jordan and Diana (both Blessed) were early Dominicans whose correspondence is a true example of holy friendship.
  • Francis de Sales founded the Visitation Sisters with Jane de Chantal and served as her spiritual director, a role Vincent de Paul later took over.
  • Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity with Louise de Marillac, whose previous spiritual director was also Francis de Sales. So if you somehow end up with quadruplets, how about Vincent, Francis, Louise, and Jane?
  • Motherr Marianne beside the corpse of Fr. Damien.

    Mother Marianne beside the corpse of Fr. Damien.

    Damien of Molokai and Mother Marianne worked together to serve the lepers of Hawaii.

  • St. Dominic’s mother, Bl. Jane of Aza, played an enormous role in his sanctity.
  • Then there’s Monica who is said to have (metaphorically) baptized her son Augustine with her tears.
  • Louis and Zelie Martin were married (And the parents of St. Therese.) Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi were also married. Is it too creepy to name siblings after Saints who were married to each other? Other than Mary and Joseph, of course.7
  • Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres were Peruvian Dominicans and close friends.
  • Raymond of Capua was Catherine of Siena’s spiritual director and biographer.
  • John Bosco and Maria Mazzarello founded the Salesians together.
  • Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima were siblings and visionaries at one of the world’s greatest apparitions.
  • I published this post at 3 and saw this window at 5. Perfect.

    I published this post at 3 and saw this window at 5. Perfect.

    Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) were both killed by the Nazis.

  • John Paul and Mother Teresa fought for the Gospel of Life.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego–great names if you’ve got some Hispanic blood (or just wish you did).
  • St. Patrick reportedly baptized St. Brigid’s parents and became her good friend. Between the two of them, they seem to have converted most of Ireland.
  • Then of course there’s John and Mary (at the foot of the Cross), Elizabeth and John (the Baptist), and various Old Testament couples.

Two Girls

  • Perpetua FelicityPerpetua and Felicity were martyred together at the very beginning of the third century. The account of their martyrdom is profoundly inspiring.
  • Claire and Agnes of Assisi were biological sisters as well as sisters in religion.
  • Bridget of Sweden was the mother of Catherine of Sweden, who also entered the order her mother founded (the Brigittines).
  • Nunilo and Alodia were daughters of a Muslim father and a Christian mother who were martyred for following Christ. Maybe for middle names?
  • Mary and Martha, but be prepared for Mary to taunt Martha with having chosen the better part. I certainly would have.
  • Mary and Elizabeth, like my nieces! And then their feast day can be the Visitation. Or Mary and Anne after the Blessed mother and her mom. Mary and Madeleine after Mary Magdalene–basically pair anyone in the New Testament with Mary and you’re good.
  • Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena were for years the only two female doctors of the Church.8 (Therese and Hildegard have since joined them, but Therese and Teresa might be a bit much and Hildegard….)
  • Joan of Arc had locutions from Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret. Mary appeared to Bernadette–and Catherine and Jacinta.
  • Judith, Ruth, and Esther all have books of the Bible written about them. Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi.
  • Any of them virgin martyrs–Cecilia, Agnes, Agatha, Lucy, Anastasia, Catherine (of Alexandria), Philomena….
  • Or you could nae them both after Mary in some way–Maria and Sophia, ((Our Lady Seat of Wisdom–Sophia) or Stella and Marissa. More on Marian names later.

Of course, you could just pick two who weren’t contemporaries but belonged to the same religious order. Or two doctors of the Church or perhaps two people who had the same mission or similar martyrdoms. Then there’s the meaning of the names to consider–what about Cora (meaning heart) and her sister Arianna (which apparently means sacred)? I’ll leave you to research all that on your own.

If you still aren’t satisfied, check out this book on Saints who were connected to each other. I haven’t read it, but it certainly sounds promising!

What other combinations would you add? What did you name your twins? Share in the comments!

And a more recent picture with big brother John Paul.

And a more recent picture with big brother John Paul.

  1. What can I say? Kid’s precocious. []
  2. Unless you’ve already done that, in which case, cool! Props to you. []
  3. In the Bible. Now you remember. []
  4. Or name kids Aquinas and Augustine–call them Quinn and Gus–and watch your theologian friends pick a favorite and fight over which kid is better! []
  5. de Guzman, but when you say St. Dominic you don’t really have to differentiate. []
  6. Of course, first people in the Vatican have to read everything he ever wrote, which might take till your little boys are old and gray. []
  7. For obvious reasons. []
  8. Come to think of it, you could totally get away with naming one Siena and one Catherine or even one Avila and one Teresa. []

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How to Pray: Start Shallow

There’s one piece of advice that I probably give more than any other. In fact, I usually give it as homework when I speak to a group:

Spend fifteen minutes in silence with the Lord every day. No music, no rosary, no Bible, just you and Jesus and the awkwardness of silence.

In my experience, Catholics aren’t often encouraged just to have quiet time with the Lord, although I can’t imagine there are any Saints who didn’t do that on a daily basis. But silence means vulnerability and dealing with our issues and letting God into our mess and listening to him and isn’t it easier just to dash off a half-hearted rosary and call yourself good?

Now the rosary is a beautiful prayer and y’all know I love the Bible and the Mass and every other Catholic devotion. But there is no substitute for silent time with the Lord. It’s easy to use the beautiful prayers of our tradition to keep God at arm’s length. Not so easy when it’s just you and him and a whole lot of nothing else.

So I tell people to make a commitment to silent prayer, which is all well and good but most of us don’t know how to pray. The response I hear most often is, “I don’t know what to say.”

"I was there. I took pictures. Shut up about the playground already!" #parentingfail #youneedanapMax

“I was there. I took pictures. Shut up about the playground already!” #parentingfail #youneedanapMax

Here’s how you start: just talk. God just wants to hear your voice. Tell him about your day. “But he already knows all that!” Yes, but he wants to hear you say it. Just like you enjoy hearing your three-year-old tell you about story time even though you were there with him, God likes listening to you talk. And when you start talking, he starts showing you what was really going on.

One of the most important elements of my prayer life is my nightly chat with the Lord. I start off talking to him about the big things that are weighing on my heart and then go through my day from the very beginning. I don’t take it minute by minute, but I hit the highlights. It gives me a chance to deal with some of my unresolved thoughts about the day. And the more I talk to him (and, especially, the more I’m steeped in Scripture and the liturgy) the more my reflections on the day turn to praise or contrition or thanksgiving or supplication. I start off shallow, but the Spirit starts to move and my lame rundown of the day’s events becomes so much more. Then I end by choosing the best and worst moments of the day and praying over those and then asking a particular grace for the next day.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s what my prayer looked like tonight. I took out some of the more personal parts and condensed some of the stuff that got long, but this is pretty much what I’m talking about. Enjoy your visit inside my head.

Ooh, it was hard to wake up this morning. Which is probably because I was an idiot last night and stayed up way too late reading. Lord, will you make me more prudent and help me to get some sleep? But I made it through the whole day without coffee, so that was kind of great. Save the good stuff for when I really need it.

Then I went to Mass, which was…I don’t really remember much about it. I know I wasn’t falling asleep. I just wasn’t really paying attention. Because I mostly don’t pay attention at Mass. I guess I forget Mass is prayer and just think of it as something I have to do. I’m not sure really how to fix that. Get there earlier? Just be more present? In any event, help me to pray the Mass instead of just showing up.

John Paul Cecilia selfieI came back and helped get the kids ready. God, I love those kids! Thank you so much that I get to be their aunt and that I get to spend time with them this summer. Help me love them well. And you know what? The car ride wasn’t bad! I mean, Mary Claire was kind of a disaster. But Elizabeth slept, so thanks for that. And Mary Claire mostly wailed quietly. Plus we prayed a Rosary. Well, we said a Rosary. I was pretty wildly distracted, but darling, it’s just the best I can do today. I love that you’re okay with even my feeble attempts. But do make me holy.

And we got to Grandmother’s house and John Paul wasn’t a disaster. I don’t think he broke a single thing! Well, the pool noodle, but all told, it was pretty impressive. Thanks for how he’s growing and figuring out how to interact with people and the world. I’d say he’s getting more normal, but that will never happen–and thank you for that! Just let him be a force for you, love.

Chick Fil-A was awesome. Man, I love that place. Thanks for the Solemnity so I could have chicken nuggets and a milkshake on Friday! Oh, I guess also thanks for the Solemnity because it’s a beautiful celebration. The Sacred Heart–Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.1 What a grace it is to rest in you, Lord. Thank you for holding me close, for just seeing the mess I am and loving me and wanting me and even using me. I just want to be all yours, love, to give myself for the salvation of sinners and the glory of your name. Yeah, that’s what today was about. But also, thanks for the milkshake.

And that thing Grandmother said–that was so kind of her! Help me to be the person she thinks I am, to deserve such a compliment. Ugh, and help me not to judge people so much. I’m just such a jerk. But you’re teaching me, aren’t you? I’m sorry. Oh, heal me!

Great-Grandmother John Paul CeciliaShe is something else, Grandmother. 94 years old and she suggests that we take a walk down to the river! I mean, I want to die young because I’m lazy, but if I have to live a long life (and I’m sure I do), could I age like that? Healthy and active and lucid? Your will, though. If I need to suffer, let it be done unto me. Just…help me endure it.

But I love watching her with the kids. And they really did such a great job! Even on the car ride home–well, until the end, but that wasn’t so bad, all things considered. And dinner was crazy but not too bad. Thank you that Elizabeth wanted to go to bed early so she wasn’t in the mix when Mary Claire had her disaster. You sure know what we can handle. And thank you that I was here at all! Poor Rosie might have been overcome with all that tonight, and pregnant to boot. Thank you that they’re so open to life and to letting me love their little ones.

And then I went to the library and it was closed, which is really frustrating. But, in retrospect, probably a good thing. Maybe this way I’ll get to bed at a reasonable hour, since I won’t have a book to read. I’ll just have to pretend the internet doesn’t exist. Oh, Buzzfeed. If I were a Saint, I probably wouldn’t care so much about which P.G. Wodehouse character I am or why Fred and George are the best characters in Harry Potter. (28 reasons!) Maybe it’s legitimate leisure. After all, when do I really get to chill during the day? But I should probably balance leisure with sleep….

Man it’s cold in here. But it’s June so maybe I should stop whining and ask you to bless people who can’t afford air conditioning instead. God, help the poor. And show me how you want me to help them. I feel like my heart is so drawn to evangelization that there isn’t anything left for serving the poor, but Pope Francis might not be on board with that.

Oh, and then finally I got my chapel time. And I don’t know what you’re doing, Lord, but I’m in. I’m going to try to keep my heart more open and just be more aware of where you’re leading and we’ll just see where we end up. Thank you that I was totally conscious for the whole meditation. And I think getting back to On the Incarnation after so many years is going to be really good. The Sheed book is starting to drag a little.

Okay, so I need to start sending emails about July and August and tomorrow I’m just going to need you to teach me to be selfless. When I’m on baby duty, time for us doesn’t always happen when I want it to. It’s a grace that I usually get to live on your time, but help me not to be resentful tomorrow.

Best part of today? Honestly, probably sitting with you tonight. But I also just love being with those kids. Oh, no–when Elizabeth saw me this morning and I asked for a kiss and she lit up and ran to me. Help me to love better.

Worst part? Definitely when Mary Claire pooped on Cecilia and then we were cleaning that up and Rosie knocked over my coffee and then when we were cleaning that up Mary Claire peed on the rug. Oy, what a mess! But we were both pretty chill, which was an absolute grace. She’s such a good mom. Make her a saint. And thanks for letting me watch her grow. It’s pretty amazing to see.

Jesus, I love you. Teach me, draw me, forgive me, heal me. Make me holy. Amen.

Shallow in parts, intense in parts. Yours doesn’t have to use any fancy language or Bible verses. It’s often better if you don’t. God doesn’t want poetry, he wants reality. And if your reality is ugly or simple or dull, offer him that. Give him yourself.

I’m going to challenge anyone reading this who doesn’t spend time in silent prayer every day to do this for the next month. Set a timer for 15 minutes if you want.2 Pray in the morning or at lunchtime if bedtime isn’t good for you. But don’t feel like the fact that you don’t know what to say is any excuse. We don’t any of us know what to say, not even St. Paul!3 Just start talking. Every day. It’ll get easier and you’ll get holier and God will start doing marvelous things. Start shallow–with your boring life that the God of the universe somehow finds enthralling–and see where God takes you.

  1. Mt 11:28 []
  2. I just set the time before my phone screen shuts off and then if it’s dark when I feel like I’m done, I’m good. If it’s not, I circle back to something important. []
  3. Rom 8:26 []

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Posted in Beauty | Tagged | 12 Comments

Feels Like Home

There’s something about the word “home” that’s always sparked a feeling of longing in me. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” was my favorite song for much of high school,1 promising a place all my own where someone was waiting for me. In college, I found myself praying the chorus of “Feels Like Home” more times than I can count, aching for a place where I belonged. Lately I’ve felt “Let Me Go Home” running through my soul when I’m sitting with Jesus, my heart desperate to finish my exile. And today, I find tears in my eyes every time I watch the end of “The Wizard of Ahhhs.” (The whole thing is incredible, but I start getting wistful at 4:30.)

I guess home’s always felt like more than just the place you get your mail. It’s a place where you belong, where people miss you and love you flaws-and-all but challenge you to be better. It’s a place where you can sit and let the stress melt off, where you can be real. It’s a place where no one judges you for sleeping in and you don’t have to ask where the spatula goes. It’s a place where you don’t have to make small talk, where you can sit in companionable silence or pour out the mundane agonies of the day. It’s a place where you’re totally comfortable and pushed out of your comfort zone. It’s a place where you fit.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a home.

Not just the two years I’ve been officially homeless, either. For years before that I was in other people’s space, never truly settled. The house I had in Georgia–five years ago–was kind of home. It was my place, anyway, where I could be real. But even there something was missing. There wasn’t a community that loved and challenged and supported and stretched me. Maybe for most people there isn’t. But that’s what my heart’s been longing for lately.

These past few days–after a week with a community of young people who are truly seeking Christ–I’ve realized just how much I want a home. And it’s not just the little things about feeling comfortable raiding the fridge or knowing where things go. I visit any number of homey places and lots of families who are incredibly hospitable. No, it’s the knowing and being known that I long for. It’s friends I can cry with who I see more than once every six months. It’s being able to turn off, to quit the small talk and the answering of the same questions I’ve answered a million times while still being drawn into deep reflection.

The view from my second-favorite spot.

The view from my second-favorite spot.

I was praying on this tonight, asking the Lord if this longing for a home is his way of leading me to settle down or if it’s just more of my restless heart longing for heaven. I started thinking about how the chapel I was in, my “home” chapel, didn’t even feel like home despite the fact that I’ve been going there (on occasion, anyway) for almost 15 years. Despite the fact that I’ve spent more time there than almost any other chapel in the world. And then it struck me.

This chapel is home.

This chapel is home and the cathedral is home and the random airport chapel with a tabernacle tucked in the corner is home, too. The side room on an Army post with an office chair facing the makeshift altar is home. The Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Basilica at Notre Dame2 and the roadside chapel are home.

Home is where he is.

Home is where I belong. It’s where he misses me and loves me and challenges me to be better. Home is where I look at him and let out a deep breath, all the forced cheerfulness sliding away to show how very tired or confused or hopeful I am. Home is where I have to wrestle with the issues I try to avoid. Home is the Eucharist.

On Corpus Christi3 Sunday, I could meditate on the Eucharist as the consummation of our marriage with Christ. I could explain the Eucharist or defend it using Scripture or the Fathers. I could muse on why God gave us the Eucharist. But all I can think today is that the Eucharist means that no Christian is homeless. It’s the reason I’m alone but I’m not lonely.

Sheen love storyEverything Jesus promises in John’s Last Supper is fulfilled in the Eucharist. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he begs. “Where I am, you also may be.”4 “I will not leave you orphans,” he promises. “I will come to you.”5 “Remain in my love,”6 he commands, knowing that it will be possible only because he comes to us. “Your joy will be complete…and no one will take your joy from you,”7 says Christ our joy, and draws us deeper into his embrace. And to hearts weighed down by the sorrows of this life, our God made weak whispers, “Take courage. I have conquered the world.”8

St. Augustine

St. Augustine

I know my solitary hobo life isn’t natural.9 And maybe one day my longing for home will find some fulfillment in a place I belong and a community that calls me to holiness. But I don’t think I’ll ever really feel at home. This restless heart of mine will never find rest in this world because this world is not my home. The closest I’ll get this side of heaven is the taste of heaven I receive each day, the God who’s the same wherever I am, whether I’m lost and alone or surrounded by people who love me. The Eucharist is home.

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi. May we find fulfillment only in Christ, our hope, our joy, our home.

  1. And the inspiration for “Derivative Bound,” a pre-calculus project for the ages. []
  2. See what I did there? []
  3. Shoulda-been-Thursday []
  4. Jn 14:1, 3 []
  5. Jn 14:18 []
  6. Jn 15:9 []
  7. Jn 15:11, 16:22 []
  8. Jn 16:33 []
  9. For now, I hope it’s supernatural. When it becomes merely unnatural, I’ll stop. []

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Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

100 Ways to Serve Your Church

Now, we’re all called to serve. And we’ve all got gifts (or so I’m daring to claim) that the world needs. We’ve talked about ways to be pro-life and ways to be a missionary before. But we’re also part of a local church, a parish that we want to help make into more than just a group of strangers who worship together. Ideally, it wouldn’t just be your church, it would be your church home. But how can you, normal and “untalented” as you are, work to build up your parish? Let’s brainstorm:1

  1. Fix the heinous parish website.2
  2. Spearhead the capital campaign.
  3. Strip and seal the pews.
  4. Painting in some church in Illinois that was unlocked on Easter Sunday afternoon.

    Painting in some church in Illinois that was unlocked on Easter Sunday afternoon. Props for the art and the hours.

    Make good Catholic art.

  5. Buy someone else’s good Catholic art to put in the sanctuary.
  6. Iron the altar linens.
  7. Invite your priests to dinner at your home.
  8. Introduce yourself to the mother of littles and ask if she’d like some help during Mass.
  9. Direct traffic in the parking lot after Mass.
  10. Organize refreshments for the parish mission.
  11. Podcast the homilies.
  12. Start a parish Facebook page.
  13. Cook dinner for the youth group.3
  14. Apologize when you’re wrong.
  15. Revamp the parish database to make it more searchable and user-friendly for the office staff.
  16. Take pictures at parish events.
  17. Host a supper club.
  18. Start a system of supper clubs where every new parishioner is invited to two or three different groups to find a good fit and build relationships.
  19. Buy copies of your favorite Catholic books to hand out.
  20. Start a club for anything you enjoy–knitting, fantasy football, ultimate frisbee, macrame,4 you name it. You’re building community!
  21. Sign up for an extra holy hour or six.
  22. Tell the parish office that you’re happy to drive people to Mass who can’t make it on their own.
  23. Easter candle liliesArrange flowers for the sanctuary.
  24. Take blood pressure readings for the elderly one Sunday a month.
  25. Go to confession. Take your kids. Take your neighbors. Take a stranger.
  26. Pray over the list of sick and recently deceased parishioners.
  27. Never complain except to somebody who could do something to fix the situation.
  28. Volunteer to babysit during the moms’ prayer group.
  29. Throw a baby shower for an unwed mother.
  30. Teach a class on something you’re good at–financial planning or modest fashion or cooking on a budget or web design.
  31. Start a group for the unemployed or underemployed in your parish where you can help each other improve your resumes and interview skills.
  32. Lead a monthly children’s holy hour.
  33. Reorganize the parish library. Toss the heresy and set up a display on a featured topic or author each month. (Think May: Mary; June: Sacred Heart; November: Holy Souls.)
  34. Drive the bus for youth group trips to camps or conferences.
  35. Organize a social hour after a different Mass each week.
  36. Offer 5 hours a week of free counseling to parishioners.
  37. Congratulate parents on their children’s behavior during Mass–even if it wasn’t flawless.
  38. Harmonize.
  39. Mine is a very big name, but not in quite the same way.

    Mine is a very big name, but not in quite the same way.

    Foot the bill to bring in a big name speaker.5

  40. Thank Father for a good (or better than usual) homily. Point out specifically what encouraged or challenged you.
  41. Get to know the people going through RCIA. Invite them out to coffee or over for dinner even after they’re received into the Church.
  42. Write an article for the parish bulletin.
  43. Share good Catholic reads on Facebook.
  44. Lead arts and crafts at Vacation Bible School.
  45. Offer to deep clean the super-pregnant mom’s home.
  46. Ask your pastor if there’s anyone in the community who could use a good friend right now.
  47. Schedule a biannual parish blood drive.
  48. Revamp the parish’s business model.6
  49. Offer to spend an hour every night (or a few hours once a week) guarding the church so people are able to come spend time with Jesus.
  50. Organize a fundraiser–a talent show or auction or gala or something. Make sure your poor parishioners can come.
  51. Fix the church’s sound system.
  52. Start a book club where people actually read the books. (The Well-Read Mom is a great one for women.)
  53. When I drove up to St. Anastasia in Troy, MI, I knew that they wanted me there. How can you make your parish welcoming?

    When I drove up to St. Anastasia in Troy, MI, I knew that they wanted me there. How can you make your parish welcoming?

    Introduce yourself to people after Mass.7

  54. Get a group together for a weekly or monthly service project.
  55. Recommend little-known movies with good themes for more articulate writers to review.
  56. Start a blog with icebreaker ideas for youth ministers–yours specifically.
  57. Do all the advertising for a big event.
  58. Repair the church’s 15-passenger van.
  59. Run for parish council.
  60. Give little toys to all the kids after Mass on holy days of obligation.8
  61. Repair Father’s worn-out cassocks and albs.
  62. Find all the parishioners who live in the same neighborhood and put them in touch with each other.
  63. Go door-to-door inviting people to Mass.
  64. Train Sunday school teachers in classroom management.
  65. Be a sign language interpreter at Mass.
  66. Give a guest lecture on stem cell research or global warming or some other sciencey thing.
  67. Like at this one in Jefferson City, MO.

    Girls’ Night in Jefferson City, MO.

    Host a girls’ night. Teach hair and make-up. Or self defense. Or improv. Or wilderness skills. Whatever.

  68. Teach a Catholic parenting class to go along with baptism prep.
  69. Volunteer to be the “funny guy” at youth events. Skits, emceeing, getting pied, eating toothpaste, you’re up for anything.
  70. Design a logo for your parish and other graphic design stuff that I know I need without even knowing what it is.
  71. Organize a summer program for kids in the area.
  72. Dress like Sunday Mass is the highlight of your life.
  73. Tell the parish office about your language skills and offer to serve as an interpreter for parishioners who struggle with English.
  74. Make first communion dresses for underprivileged girls.
  75. Tell people about your experience as a foster parent/organ donor/AA sponsor.9
  76. Don’t be Pollyanna. Share your struggles while still focusing on joy.
  77. Be present in the moment to each person you meet–even if they’re making you late for Mass.
  78. Here's how my niece and nephew did Pentecost. The faces are a response to this prompt: "Smile like the Holy Spirit is descending on you!"

    Here’s how my niece and nephew did Pentecost. The faces are a response to this prompt: “Smile like the Holy Spirit is descending on you!”

    Wear liturgically appropriate colors.

  79. Start meetings with prayer.
  80. If you work in the parish office, treat each person who walks in the door like an immortal soul ransomed by the blood of Christ. Nothing you’re doing on the computer is more important than the child of God standing before you.
  81. Study the history of your parish and give tours of the building.
  82. Put together a survey for the parish polling people on daily Mass and confession times. Compile the data and submit a recommendation to Father.
  83. Look at daily Mass times for all parishes in the area and suggest a schedule to help meet the needs of more people.10
  84. Design and build a Mary garden.
  85. Start a ministry to reach out to those who have recently lost a loved one.
  86. Organize a winter coat drive.
  87. Set up a Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk at your parish.
  88. Get to Mass early to pray.
  89. Bake for funeral receptions.
  90. Be a sponsor couple for engaged couples. Invite them to your home and share your difficulties as well as your wisdom.
  91. Divide interested parishioners into small groups based on schedule, location, age, and state in life.
  92. Schedule events for senior citizens to build community.
  93. Start a pro-life group. Remember that being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion.
  94. Make awesome t-shirts for the youth group.

    Both shirts by my awesome friend Lindsey (who is available to do design and illustrations, particularly for Catholic stuff) but only the good photo. (She also does photography in N. Carolina and Northern Indiana)

    Both shirts by my awesome friend Lindsey (who is available to do design and illustrations, particularly for Catholic stuff) but only the good photo. (She also does photography in N. Carolina and Northern Indiana)

  95. Make a promotional video for your parish–particularly highlighting your RCIA or Catholics Come Home program.
  96. Invite a non-Catholic or lapsed Catholic to Mass.
  97. Stop by the Church every day to pray. You’ll be amazed to see how it encourages people to see others praying outside of Mass.
  98. Listen to music by different Christian artists. Give out CDs from your favorites.
  99. Trick out the youth room with homemade stadium seating, a stage, and a Nerf arsenal.
  100. Figure out where your gifts and the Church’s needs intersect. Do that.

I know a lot of these sound trivial. But take directing traffic. You may think, “Any fool can direct traffic. I’m just standing here waving my arms like an idiot.” But I know souls that would be saved if someone were facilitating the madhouse of the after Mass rush to brunch. Think how appreciative you would be if someone just took that in hand. And maybe you’d be more likely to come back. And maybe you’d approach that person and thank him and strike up a conversation and develop a relationship and strengthen the Church.

Many of these are little things. Or things that don’t seem very Churchy. But if the Church is a home, a family, the Body of Christ, then it’s going to be made up of all these little parts. And the little things work together to make a beautiful community. Don’t think you don’t matter. You matter. Now quit sitting around and make your church a better place!

 

Help me out here, folks. I’m doing the best I can with a mind that’s very oriented to certain kinds of service and not at all to others. What would you add to this list? Share your outside-the-box ideas in the comments!

  1. Obviously, get permission from the powers that be for any of this. []
  2. I think the next edition of the Code of Canon Law should stipulate that all parishes in first world countries must have websites with Mass times–Sunday and daily–prominently featured on the homepage. I wonder if there is anybody in the world who spends as much time frustrated on parish websites as I do. []
  3. Not lasagna. Every youth group in the country eats pizza or baked pasta whenever there’s dinner. Give them something different! []
  4. What even is that? []
  5. Not me. I mean, go ahead and foot that bill, but I’m free, so the footing of the bill won’t be terribly impressive. []
  6. Is that even a thing? []
  7. But not in the sanctuary. That’s for prayer. []
  8. There’s a man at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in South Bend who does this every Sunday and the kids are absolutely thrilled about going to Mass. Sure, it’s for the toy, but anything that makes their reaction to Mass positive without hurting their ability to pray works for me! []
  9. Is that last one allowed? Maybe the anonymity makes that a faux pas. []
  10. There are towns where every Mass is between 8:15 and 8:30 am–at 4 different parishes! Someone take a 7am, someone a noon, and someone an evening and suddenly everyone can make it to Mass if they want. []

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The Church Needs You: A Pentecost Appeal

A while back, I had the opportunity to be in Oklahoma City for their annual half marathon and friends, I was SORE afterwards! Oh, I didn’t run it.1 But I cheered like it was my job. For five hours I shouted and danced and pumped my fists. I played “The Eye of the Tiger” for a few hours, then switched to “I Would Walk 500 Miles” when the walkers got there. My friends’ house was around the 12-mile mark, so when people passed us they were in need of a little encouragement. And I gave it to them. (My friend Anamaria wrote about it here.)

You can do it! You’re just like Rocky only better looking!

You are amazing! Your mom is proud of you and your wife is proud of you and your friends are proud of you and JESUS is proud of you!2

Do you realize you’ve done more this morning than I’ll do all month? You are awesome! And you’re almost there! You’re going to get to take a nap and NOBODY can you say you don’t deserve it because YOU RAN A HALF MARATHON TODAY!

You only have a mile and a half left and then you get to have a brownie. You know what? You can have all the brownies you want for the rest of your life because you are RUNNING A HALF MARATHON!

This was before anyone started running by, but you can tell I'm ready for an epic day of cheering.

This was before anyone started running by, but you can tell I’m ready for an epic day of cheering.

It was amazing the number of people who were walking and started running again (maybe to get away from the glitter and rainbows I was spewing at them) and the number who actually turned to thank me for the encouragement. I met a runner the next day and asked her if she remembered me.

“Did you have a baby with you?” she asked.

“That was me!”

“Yeah! You said, ‘He can’t run but you can. Do it for the baby!’ That was awesome.”

Seriously, guys, I am amazing at this. If you could be a professional half-marathon cheerer, I would do it. And I had a blast! I’ve already put next year’s OKC half in my calendar.

The people I was with, God bless them, were more impressed than put off by my intensity. They seemed to think it was a great favor I was doing the runners. And it got me thinking.

I’m good at yelling. I’m good at encouragement. I’m good at making a fool of myself. But I can’t run. I could never run a half marathon. I would quite literally die.3 And a half marathon can’t happen without runners.

That’s obvious. But it can’t happen without police, either. Or paper-pushers or fundraisers or web gurus or volunteers to hand out that sticky sludge they keep shoving down your throat. It can’t happen without organizers or city councils or urban planners or people sitting in front of their houses handing out Twinkies.4 The OKC marathon particularly can’t happen without people who still remember the terror of the bombing and others who want to honor their loss. A marathon is not just about runners.

The Church is the same way. I’ve got gifts that are particularly Churchy. I like attention and enthusiasm and telling people what to do, so I make a pretty good speaker. I also really like reading and being a know-it-all, so I manage some content in my talks. And because my natural gifts are showy, people think I’m a big deal and they’re not. Like the Church needs me but you’re just along for the ride.

That's the most important man in the world telling you that YOU are necessary. So deal with it.

That’s the most important man in the world telling you that YOU are necessary. So deal with it.

Lie. Big, fat, ugly lie. It’s a lie if you believe you’re not good enough and it’s a lie if you’re just letting yourself off the hook. I hate to break it to you, friends, but this Church needs you. As much as it needs anyone (and obviously, God can do whatever he wants without any pathetic little sinners), it needs you.

Maybe you don’t have any Churchy talents. Maybe you make children cry when you try to sing and you can’t read in front of a group without quivering in terror. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking about your faith, so you feel like leading a Bible study is out. When you take out all the artsy, feely stuff, what do you really have to offer?

You.

You have yourself to offer. Not just because Jesus desires that you give him your whole self but because the Church is the poorer because you haven’t stepped up yet. See, there’s only so many hobos a Church can sustain. We just don’t need that many missionaries. We need more than we have, that’s for sure. And we’re all missionaries in our own ways. But you don’t have to be a streetcorner preacher to serve the Church. If everybody did that, who’d plan the potlucks and update the databases?

I don’t mean that flippantly. We need that. We need good administrators and financial minds in our parishes–desperately. A loving parish secretary will impact more souls than I will. Maybe you’re only good at sports: coach a CYO team. Maybe you’re just a worker bee: ask the DRE what help she needs. Maybe you’re good at crafts: make Saint dolls and give them to children in your parish.

See, God gave you particular gifts. And while your ability to keep paperwork organized might seem rather mundane to you, I can bet your youth minister would kill for that skill. The talents you have–even things like being friendly or trimming bushes–have been given to you for the good of the Church. If you can get to a Called and Gifted Seminar,5 all the better. But until then, just sit down and ask: what am I good at? What do I love doing? And how can that serve the Church? Because I guarantee it can.

missing from ChurchIf you’ve been baptized (and especially if you’ve been confirmed), the Holy Spirit has moved in you–is moving in you. Not only did God create you with natural gifts, but grace has built on nature and you’re now a storehouse of divine power. It may not manifest itself in obvious ways, but God has been preparing you all your life to be a great gift to the Church and the world if only you’ll let him use you. And since it’s still Pentecost on the West Coast, I’m going to challenge you during this Octave of Pentecost6 to sit with the Lord and ask him how he wants to use you. I’ll even give you a bunch of ideas later this week–I know how you people love lists. Then spend Ordinary Time getting used to giving your time and talents in service to the Church as well as your treasure. We need you. We can’t all be epic half-marathon-cheerers, but if we don’t embrace the role God’s given us, the whole thing starts to fall apart.7

  1. Those who know me are far less confused now. []
  2. Because it’s Oklahoma so you can mention Jesus. []
  3. And no, by “literally” I do not mean “figuratively.” I mean that I would die of an asthma attack or be rolled off the course on a stretcher. []
  4. Okay, maybe the Twinkies are unnecessary. And gross, particularly while running. But I bet some of those runners would notice if the Twinkie people disappeared. []
  5. Disclaimer: I’ve never actually been, but I’ve heard great things and read some of the materials and it all looks good to me. []
  6. Well, it used to be an octave. []
  7. I mean, not the Church. “The gates of hell will not prevail against it” and all that. But our little churches can run into some serious trouble. []

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Two Years In

Well, friends, it’s been two years as a hobo. Two years since I last put my clothes in a drawer. Two years of taking a deep breath before answering the questions “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” Two years of planning a year from now with no idea where I’m going tomorrow. Two years, 49 states,1 two foreign countries,2 60,000 miles on my car. I’ve stayed in 42 states, spoken in 31 (50 dioceses), and been to Mass in 42 (90 dioceses), including 25 cathedrals. Like my first hobo year, this last has been eventful–almost frantically so at times.

2 year map

Stalk me more here.

In two years, I’ve ministered to thousands of God’s people, ages 1-97. I’ve played with hundreds of children, reunited with long-lost family members, and made friends of countless strangers. I’ve answered the same questions more times than I can count and been privileged to share my heart with many people who are struggling. I’ve talked Jesus on street corners, in airplanes, in Dairy Queen, at gas stations, in Catholic churches, in Protestant churches, on the boardwalk, in a country club, on the sharing rug, on the auditorium stage, via email/Twitter/Facebook, around the dinner table, in the middle of the night, in a party barn at an SEC frat house, at retreat centers, in parking lots, in grocery stores, and most everywhere else you can imagine. I’ve been ridiculed and accused and praised and welcomed and ignored–all about par for the course if you’re a missionary (which you are).

So what have I learned? Aside from what I’ve been sharing with you along the way, that is. What truths has the Lord been speaking to my heart over these past two years? Dozens, surely, but two in particular keep resurfacing.

1. I am enough…

I never realized it, but I’ve always thought of friendship as a sort of zero sum game. I’m happy to be the one who’s always giving, but I’m terrified of being needy. I’ve always assumed that people were just friends with me because they were being generous, so I’ve needed to earn their love.3 So I dispense wisdom or collaborate in ministry or just listen well and then I’ve done my part and they won’t mind being friends with me. I hope it’s not news to you that this isn’t love.

When I first started as a hobo, God made me entirely needy. I had nothing to offer. I wasn’t speaking anywhere, wasn’t serving the Church in any visible way. People weren’t inviting me to their homes to stay while I ministered to their community; I was inviting myself. And when I got there, to the homes of dear friends, I felt the need to earn my keep. I washed dishes and babysat, but more than that I just sat around feeling guilty, convinced that I was imposing on the generous nature of my virtuous friends and that they were secretly resenting me for it. It’s a terrible thing to think about the people you love, but it’s more a judgment on what I tend to think of myself than on what I believe about them. Staying uninvited with people who didn’t need me made me terribly anxious.

See? My godson can't get enough of me. He's thrilled, I tell you.

See? My godson can’t get enough of me. He’s thrilled, I tell you. Thrilled.

But every time I moved on, they asked me to stay. Every single time. At every home, I heard, “Don’t go. We’ll move the kids into a room together so you can have the girls’ room. Just stay another week. No, move in! We have room. We want you here.” Everyone wanted me–not because of what I was doing for them, but simply because of who I was.

And God spoke so loudly to my heart, “You are enough. You don’t have to do anything. You are enough.” I think I’ll spend the rest of my life learning this, but God keeps showing me4 that all my anxiety and self-loathing are the product of lies. I am beautiful. I am enough.

2. …because he is everything.

I’m not enough because of who I am, but because of who he is in me. He gives me direction, leads people to open their homes and their hearts to me. He speaks in me and through me. Anything worthwhile I’ve ever said was either the Holy Spirit in me or me quoting someone else he’s spoken to. It’s not me. He helps me to love the unlovable, to ache with those whose suffering was entirely avoidable. He gives me patience and joy and empathy and wisdom. And when I mess up, it’s because I’m not letting him be God.

    Walk up for the puppy, stay for the prayers. I think Don Bosco would approve.

Walk up for the puppy, stay for the prayers. I think Don Bosco would approve.

The talks I’ve given so often that they end up being almost identical always go over pretty well. But the ones where I start talking about things I’ve never thought about before, the ones where the Holy Spirit really takes control, those are the ones that leave people changed. There was the day I went into a day-long retreat with three lines of notes and afterwards had to reassure the participants that I hadn’t gotten confidential information about them to focus my talks around. There was the flight where I got moved to the front of the plane, then had to switch seats again, then felt compelled to start a conversation with the couple beside me5 only to discover that they had fallen away from the faith and were longing for someone to draw them back. There was the time I felt I had to wear my “I’m a Catholic, ask me a question” shirt to daily Mass and was approached by a Protestant from Northern Ireland for a 3-hour conversation. The young man on the quad who God led me to give some cash to. The guy who talked to me and prayed over me because I happened to have pulled over in front of his house to make a phone call. Providence.

People tend to write me off, to think that the way I live is something out of the ordinary and irrelevant to their lives. “It’s amazing how you let God have control of your life,” they tell me, as though they’re not called to the same thing. “Oh, he’s in charge of all of our lives,” I sometimes respond. “The only difference is that I know it.”

Sure, I’m more obviously dependent on God for daily needs, but he’s providing for you as directly as he’s providing for me. The message I’ve been getting these past two years–the repeated assurance from the Almighty: “I’ve got this”–isn’t just for me. He’s not finding me places to stay and leading me to generous mechanics and sending me to Europe simply because he’s particularly fond of me6 but to remind me that he is God. He knows the hairs on my head, he watches the sparrow, he cares about how many Levites were under the age of 5 at the time of the census, and he provides exceedingly and abundantly, more than all we can ask or imagine.7

He’s got this. He’s working through your diagnosis or your breakup or your failure or your bankruptcy. He’s working all things for good.8 He loves you too much to give you everything you want or even everything you feel you need. But he is always, always taking care of you. Trust him.

God keeps leading me into danger and uncertainty just so he can swoop in and save me. It’s getting to where I almost don’t worry anymore. Almost. But at least in the midst of my worry I know I’m being dumb. Because my God is so good and so much bigger than anything I may face. He’s got this.

 

Basically, the lesson I’ve learned is that God loves me. And if I ever really believe it, I’ll be a saint. Until then, I’ll keep trying. And failing. And falling on my knees in the confessional and before the Blessed Sacrament to let him heal me once again. And I’ll keep driving. See you around!

  1. Come on, Alaska! []
  2. More to come! []
  3. I know this isn’t true, but I have to remind myself every time I begin to feel this way. []
  4. Often by having me show up at the very last minute at a stranger’s house to stay without anything to accomplish. []
  5. Something I rarely do. I always want to talk to everyone, but I assume people don’t want to talk to me. See above. []
  6. Though he is. []
  7. Eph 3:20 []
  8. Rom 8:28 []

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Hope for the Church

One question I often hear as I travel about the country is generally posed by a member of the older crowd, often prefaced by disparaging remarks about my generation.

“Do you see any hope for the Church?” they ask disconsolately.

Hope for the Church? Hope for the Church?? By definition there is hope for the Church. Jesus told us when he founded it that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. There is always hope for the Church because the hope of the Church is Christ, victor over death.

Still, I know what they mean, these faithful grandparents who feel as though they haven’t seen a twenty-something at Mass in twenty years. They see babies having babies and pews standing empty. They watch divorce rates rise even as sacramental marriage rates plummet. There sometimes seems little hope in a Church that’s accused of being irrelevant.

4 million followers. NBD.

4 million followers isn’t that much, apparently, but if you add together all the languages he tweets in he’s in the top 50 in the world.

But ah, there is hope. There is hope in youth programs filled with kids who love Christ. There is hope in the flourishing campus ministry centers, hope in the young families with four and five and six kids and enough John Pauls and Thereses to stock a Catholic gift shop. There is hope in long confession lines and in the wild popularity of @Pontifex.

There is hope in every tabernacle and every Sunday School classroom, but nowhere have I seen more hope than in the home where I ate dinner last night.

Gathered around kitchen table and dining table and card tables were a dozen deacons, all of whom will be ordained in the next few weeks, a handful of seminarians, a bishop, half a dozen priests, and assorted non-clerical types. I’d accidentally shared a holy hour with five of the deacons earlier in the day, startled from my silent distraction by the sight of these strong young men dropping to their knees before a God made weak. Over a marvelous dinner, I saw the fruit of many such holy hours in the kind eyes and passionate conversation of these godly men, each one eager not for the honor due to a priest but for the sacrifice required of a victim.

This morning, a dear friend, Father Joe Kirkconnell, was ordained down here on Grand Cayman and his seminary classmates are here to celebrate with him. Father Joe is a quietly holy man, a man more humbled and overjoyed and astonished at the grace of ordination than any I’ve seen. He is intelligent and pious and kind and somehow he is shocked that God would give him this gift. After the election of the candidate (when the bishop declared that he would be ordained), he let out a joyful sigh of relief, as if even during his ordination Mass he had been afraid they might change their minds. It’s enough to make a person weep,1 seeing how grateful he is for what so many would consider a cross.

victimhoodBut this is priesthood. These men don’t feel they’re doing the Church a favor. They’re awestruck by the magnitude of what is being given them. “These hands,” one said to me. “These hands with their long fingers and their odd wrinkles–these hand will consecrate, will bring God to earth.” They are longing to serve, longing to sacrifice, longing to lay down their lives for their sheep.

Now, I’m notorious for going all catholic fangirl on seminarians, but this time you would have done the same. Watching these men, these brothers in Christ and soon to be brother priests, tease each other over their reactions to stingrays, spend an evening filling glasses and taking plates in service to the others in attendance, and roar with laughter at stories that ended with the punchline, “I never should have asked a liturgist,”2 I was overwhelmed by their joy, their goodness, their servants’ hearts and love for truth.

congratulations Fr. JoeThe first time I asked Fr. Joe if he thought he might become a priest, years ago after we prayed our usual rosary in his dorm chapel, he looked wistfully at me and said, “I hope so.” There was no pride, no indecision, just a longing to belong to Christ and serve his Church. Today, he lay on his face on the floor of the church and offered his life irrevocably to you, whoever you are. Others did the same all over the world. And next week there will be more, and the week after. On and on throughout the summer and beyond.

This year and next year and every year until the end of time, there will be men who throw away perfectly good lives to live for the people of God. And these young men who taunt each other and encourage each other and challenge each other and pray for each other give me hope. Oh, there are bad priests out there. But there are so very many men who are laying down their lives, holding nothing back, pouring themselves out for people who see nothing beyond the collar. Pray for them. Invite them to dinner. Thank them for their service. Go to Mass. Go to confession. (There’s no greater gift you can give a good priest than your sins.) These men who absolve and instruct and consecrate and suffer for you are, along with so many other God-lovers, hope for the Church. May God grant us holy priests.

My dear Fathers, thank you. Thank you for the gift of your life.

  1. Which I did. I probably cried 25 times today. Oh, how I love the priesthood and holy priests! []
  2. Best dinner party of my life. []

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