Lent’s a beautiful opportunity for grace and growth, but (like anything good) Satan can twist it. It’s easy for our penances to become about us, for us to be discouraged when we fail or arrogant when we succeed. 24 hours in, it’s probably about time for us to start checking our motivations and letting the Lord refine us. So let’s get judgey for a minute–judgey about imaginary people with imaginary problems so we can be convicted about our real problems.
1. “Super psyched about fasting this Lent. #skinny #40daycleanse”
The point of your Lenten observances isn’t to get hot or impress people. It’s to live for the Lord. Most of us will have some selfishness mixed in, but if it’s all about you, drop it and find something that’s more about him.
2. “I’m giving up TV for Lent, but it’s cool. I’ve got Netflix.”
Don’t sub out one empty pleasure with another. Read a good book. Call a friend. Go outside.1 Basically, if it feels like cheating, it probably is.
I love this guy.
3. “Oh, chocolate? Gosh, I love chocolate. Too bad I gave it up for Lent. You’re so lucky that you didn’t give up chocolate. I guess I’m just really trying to be holy, you know? But not everybody can be holy like me.”
There might be some Lenten observances that you can’t keep quiet.2 And some might be encouraging to others.3 Or maybe you need some encouragement.4 But if you’re just bragging, shut up.
4. “Ew ew ew ew creamy peanut butter ew ew ew ew ew!! Ugh, this is so hard! My life is so hard!!!”
Sometimes it’s veiled bragging, but whether you’re showing off or not, complaining about your penance kind of defeats the purpose. Try asking yourself: is my fast worse than being crucified? If it isn’t, don’t complain about it. If it is, oh my gosh stop it right now!
5. “Shut up! SHUT UP!! Why are you talking to me??? Sorry…I gave up coffee for Lent.”
If it’s more of a penance for those around you than it is for you, stop. Also, deal with your addiction–just maybe not cold turkey.
6. “I love this no meat Friday thing! Seriously, lobster’s, like, my favorite.”
Please don’t use abstinence as an excuse to indulge in something expensive. Or even something delicious. If you really, really love seafood, you should probably avoid it on Fridays in Lent. Penance should be a sacrifice, not just a hoop to jump through.
7. “Yeah, I gave up Skittles but then I forgot and ate them so now I’m back on my diet of skittles as a side dish with every meal.”
Lent is like life. If you fall, you repent and get back up. Don’t quit just because you failed–recognize your weakness and rejoice that your salvation doesn’t depend on your penances. Then start again.
8. “Aw, man! There were coffee grounds at the bottom of my cup and I swallowed them. Does that count as one of my three meals?”
On the flip side, some of us get so obsessed with the rules (even the ones we’ve set for ourselves) that we quit being broken sinners in the arms of a merciful God and start being Pharisees. Have mercy on yourselves and let him be the strong one.
9. “I gave up beer for Lent, which is awesome because I’m saving crazy money. I’m going to use it for a new tattoo once Easter comes.”
The purpose of your fasting is to make room in your life for the Lord. I’ve got nothing against tattoos, but maybe if your fasting is saving you money, you could send that money on and turning your fasting into almsgiving. It’ll help keep that selfishness from creeping in.
10. “I’m giving up homework for Lent.”
I’m sorry, every smart aleck kid ever, you can’t give up an obligation.
Speaking as one who’s probably committed every one of these, let me give you some consolation: it’s okay to fail at Lent. It’s hard to fast, hard to turn your heart back to the Lord, hard to live in the shadow of the cross. But as with so much in life, it’s not about you. It’s about Christ at work in you. Start over each day and let him teach you more and more to live for him. That’s what Lent’s about: not fasting, almsgiving, or even prayer, but a love of God that transforms you. Verso l’alto, my friends. Let’s be saints.
Y’all know I’m a big fan of Lent. Fasting and almsgiving and prayer get my theologeek heart all twitterpated. And while I’ve got a million (well, a hundred) ideas of various things you can do for Lent, I think some of y’all may still feel adrift as far as jumpstarting your prayer life goes. So I figured the Advent Boot Camp was so popular1 that I might as well put one together for you for Lent!
It’s the same idea as last time: a daily regimen of prayer that grows in length and intensity as you get into spiritual shape. You’ll start your prayer time each day (ideally in a chapel) with a 5-minute warm-up, offering the Lord your distractions and discussing with him anything that might be weighing on you. When you’ve slowed down and entered into a spirit of prayer, feel free to begin. As Lent begins, you’re looking at 20-25 minutes of prayer time. By the last few weeks, it should be more like an hour, with longer stretches of silence.
Feel free to be flexible with your “silent time.” If a passage moves you and you end up doing Lectio Divina or an Ignatian Meditation for half an hour, don’t feel compelled then to sit for another 25 minutes. As with the Advent version, this is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.
It’s pretty heavy on the reading and on the silence. If that’s not how you pray, try another way. But do try to be intentional about sitting with Jesus when you have “nothing to say.” That’s usually when he speaks the loudest.
It’s a complicated question, this, because it’s different every time. For example, I know where I’ll be next February 4th, but Wednesday morning I didn’t know where I would spend that night. Sometimes people contact me so far in advance that I build my schedule around them. Other times I go to meet a teacher and find myself in his classroom all afternoon. Sometimes I plan all year to go see an old friend. Other times snow blocks my path to Chicago and I end up heading to see a classmate in Peoria. I keep my Google calendar and a map of upcoming travels open in Firefox all the time for “planning” purposes, but a lot of it’s about flexibility.
Travels (more or less) from January to May. (Excluding Hawaii, which makes Google maps freak out.) The further out I plan, the less detail there is and the more days or weeks there still are to fill. So that Peoria to Albuquerque stretch will probably involve quite a few stops but I don’t yet know what they are.
I mostly plan around invitations I’ve received and then fill in the gaps with what makes geographical sense. So how do people find me to invite me in the first place?
1. My blog
I don’t actually much like writing. You might have picked up on that from the fact that I do it so rarely. But I enjoy having written, so I do it anyway. And then people read it and like it and share it and their friends start poking around on here and see that I’m a hobo and contact me to set something up. So it all works out!
These days it feels as though Facebook has almost as much to do with the direction of my life as the Holy Spirit. I’ve got a gap of a few days, so I post the time period and the approximate location on Facebook and within 3 hours I’ve got a place to stay and work to do. Or I’m worried about the snow I’m driving into and post my location so I’ve got someplace to sleep if the weather gets too bad. If you don’t mind reading about all my travel plans (and woes) on your news feed, follow me on Facebook. Who knows–maybe I’ll be passing through your town and we’ll get to hang out!
3. Word of mouth
Last night, I spoke to a group of grad students because a friend of a friend of a friend knew someone who was involved. I stayed with women who knew the woman who knew the woman who knew the woman who knew my friend. Of course, many of the links in that chain are my real friends now, but it all happens because somebody tells somebody. That’s how I’m going to Europe in the fall (do you live in Europe? I want to come to you!!) and how I may finally make it to Alaska this summer–people who know people.
4. Straight up Providence
It’s all Providence, of course, but sometimes it’s more obvious: the guy who comes to check on me because I pulled over in front of his house to make a phone call–and then ends up praying over me in the middle of the street; the priest who introduces himself and then offers me a house to stay in and a youth group to speak at; the lady next to me on the plane who says I’ve always got a home with her; the broken-down car resulting in a plane ticket donated by a stranger. The crazy stories that keep reminding me that it’s not about me.
In the end, I don’t have to plan or worry or figure anything out. I serve a mighty God who’s been planning my hoboing since before there was time. After so many years of running my own life (and doing a rather miserable job), it’s a relief to acknowledge the he was always in charge. How does this work? Grace. Providence. And mercy working on a broken heart learning every day to trust. Thanks for all your prayers and support, friends–I couldn’t do this without the Holy Spirit working through you.
I got a Facebook message a few years back from a guy I kind of knew, a good Catholic man who was friends with a lot of my friends. “We should hang out and get to know each other better,” he said. “Want to go get coffee or a beer some time?”
Now, when a man comes out of nowhere to ask a woman he barely knows out for drinks, it’s generally assumed that it’s a date. But at this point in my life, I’d just determined that I was going to enter the convent (though I hadn’t yet told anybody). So I knew I couldn’t go on a date with this guy.
The trouble was he didn’t actually say date. And while I could have said no to a date, I couldn’t really say no to hanging out with a guy I was kind of friends with. I couldn’t respond to his message with, “Sorry, I’m not dating right now,” since he hadn’t asked me on a date. And I couldn’t say, “No, I don’t hang out with men,” because that’s strange.
Poor Bad Luck Brian. If only he had used the word date.
So I said yes. I got there early and bought my own coffee. There was no chemistry. When I mentioned that I’d like to see a hockey game and he suggested that we go together, I changed the subject. When he said he had fun and would like to do it again, I changed the subject. I was sending as many signals as I could without rejecting an offer that hadn’t technically been made.
He called a few days later and asked if I wanted to hang out again. I emailed and told him I was pretty busy until the new year (it was mid-November). I hoped that was obvious enough,1 but in January he casually emailed to say he was going to the ballet and would I like to tag along. I’d had enough of subtlety, so I just bit the bullet and was straight with him:
“I’m sorry if I’m misreading things,” I said awkwardly, “but I’m not dating right now. If you’re doing something in a group, I’d love to join y’all, but I’m not interested in a relationship.”
My awkward email was met with an awkward response in which the poor man apologized if he had made me uncomfortable. As far as I can remember, we never really spoke after that.
I found the whole experience so frustrating. If he had asked me on a date, I could have told him I wasn’t interested and it all would have been done. No awkwardness, no games, no confusion. I was convinced long before this, but the experience cemented my position: guys need to man up and use the word date.2
Stop texting for weeks on end without making any kind of commitment. Stop hanging out solo without clarifying your intentions. Save her (and her girlfriends) from the hours of analysis of your every text and casual comment and tell her where you stand:
“I think you’re lovely.3 Could I take you on a date? Maybe this Saturday?”
The cards are on the table and your head is on the chopping block. I understand that. I get that in being clear about your heart you’re offering it to her to break. But consider this: your purpose as a man isn’t to get women, much though society might disagree. Your purpose as a man is to honor the women in your life. To love God and neighbor, of course, but particularly to guard the hearts of women. JPII put it this way: “God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.” And I can tell you that every man who’s asked me on a date—even if I said no—made me feel more beautiful and more worthy of love.
Consider that for a minute. When you ask a woman out, you’re risking rejection, and that is a hard thing to risk. But even if she rejects you, she becomes more aware of her value. She finds herself holding men to a higher standard. I think that’s worth the pain.
In 21st century America, you don’t meet a lot of damsels in distress. Men don’t get the opportunity to put on armor and fight for women physically. But the women in your life are under attack every moment of every day and they need you to fight for them. In the way you talk to them and about them and the way you look at them—the way you look at women in real life and the way you look at women on the internet4—you can fight for the women you love so much. By standing up to the guys who give men a bad name, by refusing to join their ranks, you are a warrior for your wives and daughters and mothers and friends. One way you can do this is by risking rejection to treat them with honor, to avoid games and weakness and commit yourself. Use the word date.
And ladies, please, please if a man has the courage to ask you on a date, be kind. My rule when I was on the dating scene was that I would give any man who wasn’t wildly objectionable one date. One date, I figured, was an opportunity to see if we might be compatible; it was not a preamble to a proposal. You might not feel comfortable saying yes to a date, but say no kindly. Tell him you’re flattered but you’re not interested. Thank him for his courage. Don’t tell everyone you know. Don’t lead him on. Do not tell him you’re not looking for a relationship if you’re just not into him. Recognize the sacrifice he’s making in putting his heart out there and honor him for that.
Gentlemen, I really think it’s a win-win for you. You’re either going on a date with a beautiful lady or you’re a hero with a few battle scars. During my years and years of being “ugly” and “unloved,” there were a few guys who had the guts to ask me out instead of just dancing around the issue. Because the Lord was protecting me from myself, I wasn’t interested in most of the men who asked.5 But each time I said no, I felt like maybe I was lovable, like maybe I wasn’t too ugly and too loud and too abrasive and too worthless. I think about those guys sometimes. I’m so grateful to them, and even to the ones who couldn’t quite muster the courage to use the word date—they patched together some of the shreds of my self-esteem and handed it to me with their sacrificial love.
If there’s a woman you’re interested in, gentlemen, stop beating around the bush. Stop “talking” or making sure she’s invited when your friends go out. Stop conspiring to show up where you know she’ll be. Suck it up and take a risk. Ask her on a date. She deserves it. So do you.
Guys, if a girl says vaguely that she’s busy for the next month and a half, she’s probably not interested. [↩]
There’s no official Church teaching that men should be doing the asking. It’s just my opinion. Having asked quite a few guys out in my day (and seen it done), I’m convinced that it’s not good for a woman’s heart. A woman needs to know that she’s worth pursuing and a man needs to know that he has what it takes to win her. Not to mention the fact that women read meaning into every touch and pause and preposition and we just make ourselves crazy when we’re debating asking a guy out. Y’all are welcome to be far more liberated and modern than I’ve become in my old age and defy all gender roles. But whoever’s doing the asking, someone needs to take the risk and use the d-word. [↩]
great/cool/fascinating/whatever doesn’t sound awkward to you [↩]
Pause for men and women in the audience to be struck by horror at their use of pornography and go get help. [↩]
Seriously, when I fall, I fall hard. In retrospect, I think God was protecting me in making me perpetually single. I could easily have stumbled into marriage simply because a reasonable guy happened to be interested. [↩]
I answer a lot of the same questions when I speak: Where do you shower? How do you get money? How did you decide to do this? And I don’t mind answering them, but sometimes I get really good questions that make me stop and think. A recent one was my favorite parable.1 So I got to thinking about some of my other favorites and thought I’d share them with y’all.
Now, I’m a rather indecisive person, so these are all subject to change. And some of them really might only be my favorite today and never again. But as of right now, here are my favorites:
Parable: The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7). He never stops searching for you, no matter what you’ve done. What a God, to love us so desperately and rejoice so passionately at our return.
Gospel: John. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”2 “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”3 “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin any more.”4 “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage: I have conquered the world.”5 “And Jesus wept.”6 “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”7
Psalm: 20 (Grail translation)
May the Lord answer in time of trial;
may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.
May he send you help from his shrine
and give you support from Sion.
May he remember all your offerings
and receive your sacrifice with favor.
May he give you your heart’s desire
and fulfill every one of your plans.
May he ring out our joy at your victory
and rejoice in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your prayers.
I am sure now that the Lord
will give victory to his anointed,
will reply from his holy heaven
with the mighty victory of his hand.
Some trust in chariots or horses,
but we in the name of the Lord.
They will collapse and fall,
but we shall stand and hold firm.
Give victory to the king, O Lord,
give answer on the day we call
Sometimes, to memorize Bible passages, I set them to music. This one happens to be recorded on my computer, so if you promise not to be annoyed by the metronome in the background, you can listen in:
Book of the Bible: Isaiah. “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son and call his name Emmanuel.”8 “You are precious in my sight, you are beautiful, and I love you.”9 “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken my love will never leave you.”10 “Can a mother forget her children? Be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.”11 “You shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused,’ for the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your builder shall marry you. And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”12
And yes, those are all set to music in my head.
Bible Story: Jonah. I love what a drama queen he is. I love how he runs from God. I love how grudgingly he does God’s will. I love the fit he pitches after God works miracles through his reluctant obedience. I just really identify with him, I guess. Also, Moses and the buts, Elijah’s still small voice,13 and the sacrifice of Isaac.14
Gospel Story: The Anointing at Bethany (Mt 26:6-13). Scholars think that the oil she used on Jesus was her dowry. She kept nothing back, offering her past, her present, and her future in her desperate longing to be close to Christ. If only.
Place on Earth: Assisi. Have you been? Go! It can get crowded around feast days, but when it’s quiet, there’s a spirit of prayer that permeates the place. I love Rome, too, but Assisi makes it more possible to submerge yourself in the sacred without being dragged out by Vespas and lingerie ads. Do make sure you get to pray before the relics of St. Clare. She can be easy to miss in the hype surrounding Francis, but that spot before her body has been one of the most important places in my life.
Place in the Holy Land: the synagogue at Capernaum. You wouldn’t think it, given that I’m pretty much a professional Catholic, but I’m quite a skeptic. So visiting the Holy Land was hard for me–there’s just not a lot of evidence for the claims that this is the exact spot where Jesus died or this is the spot where Mary met Elizabeth. Since it doesn’t really matter, I didn’t much mind, but it did get frustrating, waiting in line for half an hour to see a place where Jesus maybe was 2000 years ago when I could walk right in to the chapel where he is right now. But Capernaum is definitely the Capernaum. It’s in the right spot and it’s even labeled. And while they like to tell you “This is Simon Peter’s house” or “This is where Jesus healed whoever,” eventually you get to the synagogue, which is the ruins of a first century synagogue. The only synagogue in the village, it’s pretty clear that it’s the synagogue from John 6. And the synagogue in John 6 is where Jesus gave the Bread of Life Discourse. Intense.
Saint: Josephine Bakhita. Okay, this is really hard. St. Damien and St. Catherine of Alexandria are my standard answers. I also love Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, Edmund Campion, Margaret of Castello, John the Beloved, and about a hundred others. But yesterday was Josephine’s feast day and she wanted to be a Sister so bad that she fought her “owners” all the way to the Italian courts for her freedom and then said that she thanked God that she had been sold into slavery because that’s how she came to know Christ. And then she lived the rest of her life in mundane religious obscurity. Yeah.
Hymn: Come Thou Fount.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Praise Song: How He Loves.
The lyrics are just exactly what my heart needs to be reminded of: how he loves me.
The Annunciation by Carl Bloch
Feast Day: The Annunciation (March 25th) This is where it all began. Mary’s yes brought about God made man. In being incarnate at the Annunciation, God the Son consented to 33 years of poverty, ignominy, and rejection, culminating in betrayal, torture, shame and death. The Annunciation holds the promise of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, and all because one girl was willing to do God’s will. What a day.
Book: On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard. It’s an intellectual’s love letter to the Church. Howard has an impressive vocabulary–so much so that I read it with a dictionary–but he’s not showing off. There’s a richness in here that you don’t encounter in a lot of modern writing. Just go read it.
Liturgical Season: the Triduum. I kind of feel like it’s cheating to pick such a short and hardcore season, but it’s technically a season and it’s awesome. Tenebrae and the silence at the end of Holy Thursday and the empty tabernacle and the Seven Last Words and stations and priests prostrating and the darkened church and the seven first readings and the Gloria and the lilies and the Alleluia and the bells and the lights and the feasting! I always end the Triduum exhausted, even when I’ve been on retreat. It just makes my heart so tired–and so full.
Sacrament: the Eucharist. I feel as though I ought to pick Baptism since Baptism saves you and is necessary15 for salvation. And then I feel as though I should pick Confession since everything good in my life is the direct result of one good confession in 1997. But, oh, friends, the Eucharist! Jesus Christ in the flesh, holding nothing back, stopping at nothing to be close to you, desperate for you. Source and summit, “the center of existence” (Flannery O’Connor), “the one great thing to love on earth” (Tolkien).
Thing about being Catholic: Ditto. Also, the fullness of truth. Obviously, it’s the Eucharist. But a very close second is the confidence I have in the truth of Catholic doctrine, the knowledge that there is an answer to every question I have. It’s a truth steeped in theology, inviting questions and searching and hours of meditation, but the truth is there for the embracing. What a gift this Church is!
Okay, it’s on you. Tell me some of your favorites! Answer them all or just pick out the ones you can decide on. And feel free to throw a few new categories in there–I may even get around to adding them!
When people ask me how I got started with this hobo thing, the heart of it goes like this: I knew I needed to quit my teaching job and a priest friend said to me, “You’re good at public speaking and you’ve wanted to do more of that.” “Father,” I guffawed, “you can’t just quit life and be a public speaker!” And then I took it to prayer. And God said, “Tell me why not.”
I do a lot of reasoning with God. I tell him why it’s a bad idea for me to do something hard, how it’s really going to make me less holy, how I’m not going to be effective. I keep throwing up objections, like he hadn’t already thought of them. Turns out I’m in good company. Moses was much the same.
Grab your Bibles, friends, and flip to Exodus 3.1 Moses’ first encounter with the living God is no laughing matter: a bush that’s on fire but not consumed. God demonstrates his power by doing something that’s impossible, using something frail for his glory without destroying it, and then tells Moses he’s going to do the same through him:
“Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (3:10)
A disembodied voice from a miraculous vision. And Moses’ reaction?
That’s right. Moses objects.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)
The minute he’s called by God to do something great, Moses starts thinking about himself. He’s unworthy, he thinks, and so he corrects God.
“I’ve been feeling like I need to teach Sunday School, but I don’t know enough to teach anybody.” “I know I need to go to confession, but I’m just going to mess up again.” “They begged me to join the choir, but I can’t sing in front of people!” “I can’t be called to the priesthood, not with a past like mine.”
“I’m unworthy!” we cry. The problem is, it’s not about you.
God answered, “I will be with you.” (3:12)
“Who am I?” you ask? Nobody. It’s who God is that matters. And if he’s calling you, it’s because he’s going to use you. Even in your brokenness.
“But,” said Moses to God, “when I go to the Israelites…if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” (3:13)
But I’m ignorant. I don’t know enough. I can’t evangelize–I don’t have all the answers! I can’t encourage people to be holy–they’ll see through me!
God replied, “I am who am…. This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (3:14)
Jesus said it best: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”2 Yes, you’re ignorant. We all are. But he has all the answers. More than that, he is the answer. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can be inadequate. His grace is enough.3
God gives Moses all kinds of explanation and defense and even a detailed plan for fame and riches and a life of ease.
“But,” objected Moses, “Suppose they will not believe me, nor listen to my plea?” (4:1)
What if they reject me? What if they hate me? What if I’m a failure? God can’t be asking me to risk that–there’s got to be something more comfortable I can do.
This time God gives Moses miraculous proof–a staff turning into a snake and back again, a leprous hand, water turning into blood. He shows Moses once again that he’s in control. “I’ve got this,” he says to Moses and to us. “Just follow. Remember that I’m a God of miracles and just follow.”
Moses, however, said to the Lord, “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent.” (4:10)
Good one–let’s fall back on humility. Figure out all the things that are wrong with you, all the things that keep you from praying or serving or witnessing like you should. Make a list and put it before God. “You see? I don’t have to do your will. Because I can’t.”
The Lord said to him, “Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” (4:11-12)
Over and over he tells Moses, “It’s not about you.” God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. So while grace builds on nature, it can do a lot more with a lot less than we think. If God is calling you to tithe or put your kids in Catholic school or discern religious life or stop using contraception or go to daily Mass, he will make it possible. You’ll be given what you need–extra time or prudence in spending money or trust in his providence or talent or virtue or whatever. You are already enough in him. Stop grasping at straws for why you “can’t” do what he’s asking of you.
Finally, Moses does just that. He stops making excuses and just refuses.
“Please, Lord, send someone else.” (4:13)
Through all the objections, God kept promising, kept explaining, kept showing Moses how he was enough because God was enough. He kept telling Moses that the Great I AM wouldn’t call him without preparing him first. He kept asking Moses to trust. When Moses stops negotiating (with a booming voice from heaven) and just says no, God gets a little miffed. (4:14) This is when God tells him that he already knew his concerns and his shortcomings, that he already took care of them.
“Have you not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he is an eloquent speaker. Besides, he is now on his way to meet you.” (4:14)
See that? All that time God was trying to convince Moses to follow, it was because God knew what he was doing. He didn’t tell Moses at first because he wanted Moses to trust him for who he was, not for what he had done. But his call was perfect, even down to the backup plan that was already in motion when he first called Moses. Aaron was already on his way to support Moses before Moses even started doubting his adequacy to the task.
I’ve heard these called “big ugly buts”–objections to God’s will that stand in the way of our following him. They’re rational and prudent and completely self-serving. They’re natural and faithless. They ignore the fact that God knows you, that he loves you, that he wants what’s best for you, and that he does the impossible every day.
I’d be willing to bet there’s something in your life right now that you know God’s putting before you. Something that’s nagging at you: a job you need to quit, a donation you need to make, an enemy you need to forgive, a sin you need to forsake. You were made for greatness but most of us are pretty mediocre. Moses was pretty mediocre–until he became the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Peter was pretty mediocre–until he became the first pope. David and Esther and Augustine and Teresa were all pretty mediocre until they decided to get off their big ugly buts and start being who were made to be.
No, you’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough or holy enough or loving enough to set the world ablaze. Fortunately, it’s not about you. If God is calling you to some service or prayer or sacrifice, it’s because he’s going to do great things in and through you. You may not see how–or why–but you’ve seen him work again and again in your life. Stop wondering what he’s going to do and trust in who he is. Trust. Follow. Even when you don’t know where he’s leading. Because you may have to walk through the Red Sea and a whole lot of desert, but eventually you’ll get to the Promised Land. Get off your big ugly but and go.
People often ask me what a typical day looks like for me. There’s no such thing as a typical day, but today was a good example of how full things get–and how suddenly things happen! The average day is more likely to have a long drive, but other than that, today was pretty much par for the course.
Hanging out with somebody else’s kid: typical hobo behavior. (That’s Jenna‘s Ellen!)
7:30: start hitting snooze.
8:10: get up.
8:30: take somebody’s kid to preschool.
8:40: Mass and Jesus time.
10:30: make a new friend and eat some chips.
11:15: phone call from a friend: “Want to come meet the religion teacher at my school?”
11:35: meet religion teacher.
12:00: meet another religion teacher. “Nice to meet you. Want to teach my classes this afternoon?”
12:15: meet chaplain. “Nice to meet you. Want to teach my class during his free period?”
12:30: tell freshman boys to man up and fight for the women around them.
1:10: meet with administrator to solve all the world’s problems.
1:30: meet senior campus ministry all stars. Ask them their favorite thing about being Catholic. Be disappointed when nobody says the Eucharist.
1:45: tell freshman boys to man up and fight for the women around them.
2:25: give senior boys the hard sell: live for Jesus or quit wasting your time.
2:45: impromptu spiritual direction with a Jesuit who asks hard-hitting questions.
3:00: talk discernment with a handful of seniors.
3:30: stop by adoration.
4:15: process life and trust on the phone with a beautiful friend.
5:15: help with dinner and kids.
6:00: dinner. Defer to the dad when kindergartener asks what circumcision is.
6:30: pack up to switch houses.
7:00: ladies’ night–tea and cookies with some moms at somebody’s house.
9:30: drive to a third home, socialize.
10:00: start dealing with emails and scheduling and the like.
Lesson learned: never say, “It’s okay, I’ll shower after Mass.”
Somehow, I think this picture is relevant–maybe because my no-shower hair is equally disastrous, if less obviously so? It certainly has nothing to do with the weather I’m currently enduring. Let it snow!
I was stunned the other day to have a good man, 25 years a priest, ask me for advice. Not with a specific situation either, just “Do you have any advice for me?” I didn’t know what to say to this priest of God, this man who speaks and the Word is made flesh, who grasps the hands of sinners to drag them back from the edge of that unscalable cliff, who leads people to Christ in a more real way than I ever will.
“Pray,” I said. “Love Christ and his Church and pray.”
But he wanted more. And I always have an opinion, even when I have no right to. So add this to the list of things I have no business giving advice on.1
If I could ask one thing of priests, it would be this: celebrate the Sacraments like you believe that they’re real. I imagine that most of you do believe that they’re real. And I’ve been privileged to know many priests whose love of the Lord is so powerfully evident in the way they lead their people in prayer. But that’s not always the case. Imagine if you celebrated Mass completely attentive to the fact that you were about to call God down to earth. Wouldn’t it be slower, more reverent, more intense? Wouldn’t you be awestruck, holding the host in your hand? Would you really make do with a quick bow if you honestly believed—or maybe remembered is the word—that Jesus Christ was truly there? More than just doing the red and saying the black (which is a great start), what if you treated the sacred mysteries like they are sacred and mysterious?
In a sacristy in Avila, the words surrounding the crucifix on the wall say, “Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” If you can’t excite the emotions your first Mass stirred up, can you try to imagine how you would say Mass if you knew you were about to meet God face to face? You are, after all.
I don’t mean to imply that all you really need is emotions—or that if you try hard enough you can manufacture pious feelings. I just mean that your people don’t need good homilies. They don’t need good administrators. They don’t need friendly guys. Those things are all nice, but what they need are pastors who are showing them what holiness looks like. They need to see you and wonder at your love of the Lord. They need to believe that it’s possible to know Christ, and you can teach them that by coming to know him better yourself.
I have some Facebook friends who are priests and will occasionally post with joy about how they love the confessional. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a bored “Say three Hail Marys now make your act of contrition” after pouring my heart out in the confessional. And I know you’re overworked. But this is sacred: a lost soul crawling home to his Father. What if you heard confessions with the immensity of this work in mind? I know you’ve heard a thousand confessions, and I do hope mine always bores you, but pray. Oh, Father, pray for the grace to remember what it is you’re doing!
Because if you really believed that confession saved souls, that confession was a sinner kneeling at the foot of the Cross and surrendering his hammer into the pierced hands, wouldn’t you do anything to draw people there? Wouldn’t you preach on mercy? Wouldn’t you be in the confessional for hours each day? Or at least for minutes each day? Wouldn’t you offer confession more than half an hour a week? I know you have so much going on. I understand that you’re pastor and teacher and counselor and administrator, but if confession is real, nothing matters more. You have parishioners who’ve been away from the Sacrament for decades because nobody’s asked them to go. Don’t just ask: beg.
From an inspiring post on priests who have given everything for the faithful.
Baptize babies like it’s the most important day of their lives. Prepare couples for marriage like that’s how God is making them Saints. Anoint like it’s the lifeline holding people to Christ. Confirm like you’re sending soldiers into battle. Spend enough time in private prayer that your public prayer looks more like prayer and less like a formality. The more you love Christ, the more we’ll see that radiating from you. And the more we see it, the more we’ll line up to follow.
I don’t mean to criticize, just to challenge. I’m so grateful for you and for every priest. I have such respect for you and I understand the pressures and the difficulties of wearing a dozen hats and dealing with a thousand different personalities. I know that you’ve got duties that seem to keep you from the confessional and a timeline to stick to for Mass. I know that appearances aren’t everything and that the priest who seems most bored and inattentive might be in deepest contemplation. I know it’s hard to fake reverence when you’re doubting or sick or just doing it for the ten thousandth time. I know that many of you are saints in the making, offering your lives daily for those you serve. Thank you for all that you do and all that you are, for your love of the Lord that shines through everything you do.
But I also know that sometimes when you make a living challenging others to grow in holiness, nobody challenges you. I don’t speak for everyone, but from one laborer in the vineyard to another: won’t you please show us that you believe what you say? Won’t you please fight for us and worship for us and lead us? Remember the priest you wanted to be 5, 20, 50 years ago and be that man. Be John Vianney or Padre Pio or Don Bosco or Ignatius or Francis Xavier or Ambrose. Be Christ. Be you. But always be his.
My advice to you is the same advice I keep giving myself as I stumble through, halfhearted and distracted: be a saint. Nothing else matters.
I’ve loved St. Damien for as long as I can remember. A Belgian priest, he was a missionary to the people of Hawaii when he volunteered to go to Molokai and minister to the lepers who had been left there to await death. When he arrived, the colony was in chaos. The patients were ripped from their families on the other islands and taken by boat to the peninsula of Kalaupapa, a small area of land bordered on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and on the fourth by sheer cliffs, including the tallest sea cliff in the world. As their ship approached the island, they were thrown into the water to swim to shore where hunger, lawlessness, and despair awaited them.
Father Damien instilled order, erected dormitories, and cared for the sick; more than that, he offered hope and salvation. Ordered to keep the lepers at arm’s length to protect himself, he chose instead to live among them as a brother and eventually found himself their brother leper. He was rejected and slandered, forced to live without benefit of confession except when he shouted it to a priest on a passing ship. He died slowly and painfully, rejoicing to die like Christ as he had lived like Christ.
You’re even allowed to make phone calls from the plane–assuming you have decent coverage, which I never do. Down with Virgin Wireless!
Because I lead a charmed life, this week I got to go to Kalaupapa. I boarded the tiniest plane I’ve ever seen (9 passengers) and headed to the island where St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope gave their lives to love the poorest of the poor.
Coming from the mainland, when you land in Kalaupapa, it’s hard (for a minute) to feel sorry for the lepers. This is paradise, after all. How can you complain when you’re surrounded by such beauty? Sure, you’re imprisoned, but it’s not exactly Siberia.
A perfect image of what Molokai is: a graveyard in paradise.
After I got over rejoicing in how far I am from the polar vortex I escaped, though, I began to think. It’s beautiful, yes. Stunningly so. But all there was to do was wait for death. These exiles knew they would never see their families again; palm trees and bright blue waves don’t make up for the anguish of separation. On clear days, they could see their home island of Oahu in the distance: close enough to see but impossibly far. In all the good things they experienced, there was a poverty, even after St. Damien brought order and hope. No matter how good things got, there was an unfulfilled ache underlying every moment. They wanted to go home.
I’ve been feeling this exile more strongly lately. I’ve been longing for home. As beautiful as these islands are, as delicious as the fresh pineapple and kalua pork are, as kind and loving as the people I’ve met are, I want to go home. Not to my legal address, but Home. This life of ours is an exile, a season far from the one we love with only hints of the land we were made for. This world may be magnificent, but the foretaste of joy often strikes me as insipid, the glimpses of beauty washed out. We were made for so much more and when I stand on the shores of Molokai, I feel the yearning of the mothers, the children, the friends who would have traded paradise in an instant for a lifetime at home.
Impossibly far, and yet close enough to hope.
A sweet priest who is kinder to me than I deserve recently introduced me to his congregation as a hobo, but specified that “hobo” really stands for “homeward bound.” I guess that means we’re all hobos, all of us pilgrims working our way through a beautiful land of exile. It’s easy to mistake the way stations for the destination, easy to fill our hearts with promise and lose our hunger for the Promised. When our prison is paradise, we sometimes stop yearning to be free. We settle for what this world has to offer and forget that this world is not our home.
Don’t let satisfaction lull you into complacency, nor difficulty drag you into despair. When all is well, remember that you were made for so much more than the small pleasures and even the deep joys of this life. When life is hard, remember that this is your exile; your homeland awaits. Memento mori, my friends, and rejoice.
They had a stamp you could put in your passport! So now my passport certifies that I’ve been to Israel and Kalaupapa. Apparently, that’s it.
St. Damien, pray for us!
P.S. If you want to boost my ego (not that I need it), you can head over to Bonnie’s and vote for me for the Sheenazing Blogger Awards! And when you’re not voting for me, be sure to vote for my sister: A Blog for My Mom. If you don’t read her blog yet, start. It is literally my favorite thing on the internet.
For all I’m willing to make fun of the way the modern world uses 1 Corinthians 13 as a glorification of romantic love, I’m the first to admit that it’s a powerful passage. It’s one of those where you don’t even mind that you get the same homily on it every time. You know the one: “Replace ‘love’ with ‘a Christian.’ ‘A Christian is patient, a Christian is kind.’” Much like the Prodigal Father homily on the Prodigal Son Gospel or the “What kind of soil are you?” homily on the Parable of the Sower, it bears repeating. Paul’s description of love is a template of our lives. So it stands to reason that it can function as a pretty good examination of conscience, too.
Sin is, after all, a failure to love. We love ourselves more than God or more than our neighbors. We use people or ignore the call of Christ. So I think 1 Corinthians 13 is the perfect mirror to hold up before our lives, especially those of us who are fairly decent people. When we turn from the list of grave sins that we generally manage to avoid to this chapter on love, we begin to see just how far we have to go.
1 Corinthians 13: An Examination of Conscience
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
Are you talking just to hear yourself speak or are you really listening? Because your “wisdom” means nothing when it’s not meeting people in their suffering. All the brilliant words you’ve so carefully cultivated are platitudes and arrogance in the face of the anonymous souls you inflict them on, not caring to hear their story.
And if I have the gift of prophesy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
It doesn’t matter how much you know about Jesus if you speak of him only to prove people wrong and not to draw their hearts closer to him. Faith is not a weapon, it’s a gift. Are you evangelizing to share your joy or to win? If you’re not preaching from a heart that overflows with love for Christ and his lost sheep, shut your mouth and pray for humility.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
How often do you perform good deeds without advertising them? Tell yourself you’re just trying to encourage others to join in, if you must, but ask yourself: are you serving unique, unrepeatable children of God destined for eternal greatness? Or just congratulating yourself on the number of bodies you moved through the line? Selfish service is better than nothing, but not much.
Love is patient,
Not just waiting-for-you-to-be-less-awful patient but loving-you-just-as-you-are patient. It’s not a feeling. You can’t make yourself stop being impatient. But you can sure as heck throw your frustrations over your shoulder and carry them up to Calvary. Do you view people as problems to be solved (or avoided) or as children of God? Choose to live like the other is not an obstacle but the delight of Love himself.
love is kind.
Love isn’t nice, it’s kind. It corrects when necessary. It doesn’t value the love above the beloved. One who loves well takes risks to do what’s best for the other. How many times have you chosen cowardice rather than making things uncomfortable and possibly saving a life–or a soul?
It is not jealous,
Jealousy isn’t just a matter of wanting what the other person has but of resenting him for having it. When you get up to nurse the baby, do you want to smack your husband who gets to sleep on through? Are you bitter about your brother’s new job? Do you try to keep your friends apart for fear they’ll like each other more than they like you? Love seeks what’s best for the beloved–even when it is directly bad for you.
[love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,
Love just isn’t about you. Are you really interested in the girl you’re talking to before class or are you waiting for someone else to come along? Do you spend time with that guy because you’re trying to be a true friend or because you’re doing him a favor with your friendship? A Christian desire to be kind can easily be corrupted into a self-congratulatory kind of pity for losers. Don’t end the relationship–pray for your heart to be purified.
it is not rude,
Do you treat people not as they want to be treated but as they deserve to be treated? Just because a friend is cool with racist or sexual jokes doesn’t mean you have the right to act that way–love treats others with the dignity they deserve, even if they aren’t aware of it.
it does not seek its own interests,
You were made to give yourself to others. Human love means that we receive too, but never that we take. Where is the selfishness in the way you relate to your wife, your parents, your friends? How often do you treat cashiers and wait staff like they’re just there to serve you? That might be their job, but they’re people before they’re busboys and they deserve your respect and courtesy. You’ll be amazed at the graces that flow into your life when you start treating people–all people–like people.
it is not quick-tempered,
More than anything, my sin comes from my quick temper and my quick temper comes from a refusal to recognize other people’s perspectives. The more I love people–the more I see them as people and not as means to my end–the less likely I am to roll my eyes or get irrationally angry.
it does not brood over injury,
You don’t get to hold grudges. Jesus made that perfectly clear. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” remember? And while you might not be able to feel all better, forgiveness is a choice. You choose not to resent someone. And you choose not to replay your suffering in your mind, filled with “righteous” anger. Do you let love win or anger, suffering, fear, and sin?
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
I always found this rather odd until I realized how often I do it. I take a certain vindictive pleasure in the bad choices people make when if they had only listened to me, they’d be perfect just like I am! Do you weep for sinners and long for their joy and peace, or do you feel smug when you see how much better off you are without them? Love continues even if a relationship might need to end.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Think of all the abuse you’d tolerate from your baby–it’s infinite, isn’t it? There is nothing she can do to make you stop loving her, is there? We know how to love our little children this way, some of us: without limits. It fades once we start expecting things of them in return. Don’t. Love every person like they deserve it. Choose to believe that they’re good deep down.1 Trust that God will bring them the healing they need to be who they were made to be. Never let your obsession with yourself get in the way of loving without restraint. Even when you’re the one you’re trying to love.
Love never fails.
You will fail. You will be angry and selfish and judgmental and impatient. Our whole lives are an attempt to learn to love. But Love never fails. He never gives up on you and he will not allow you to give up on yourself. Take some time with this chapter and then take yourself to the foot of the cross, to the seat of mercy: the confessional. Ask Love to teach you to love. Pray that your love would be his love.
Love is not a feeling, my friends, it is a choice. It is willing the good of the other, choosing to treat him as Christ would. One of the most powerful statements I’ve ever heard was attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola:2 of every man we meet, we ought to say, “Jesus died for this man.” That’s what 1 Corinthians 13 is calling us to: a recognition when we encounter each person that Jesus Christ, God made man, like us in all things but sin, thought this person was worth dying for. Who are we to do less?
This doesn’t mean enduring an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. The call to love means loving and protecting ourselves as well. Don’t let the demands of the Cross convince you to allow others to mistreat you. [↩]
Googling it only really gets me my website where I’ve quoted it before, so who knows? [↩]