On Praying in Churches

Some time ago, I was in Europe chatting with a young American priest. We were discussing the state of Catholicism in the different European countries I’d visited and I was going on and on about Bavaria, the Texas of Germany, where churches are unlocked all day and so many people show up on Holy Days that they put speakers outside the church for the masses to hear the Masses.

“And the best thing, Father,” I gushed, “Is that they actually pray in their churches!”

He looked confused.

“No, I don’t mean for Mass. I mean, throughout the day! Every time I go for my holy hour, four or five different people stop through to make a visit while I’m in there. It’s unreal! Americans don’t pray in churches. I can go weeks without seeing another person in the sanctuary outside of Mass.”

“Oh, that can’t be true,” he protested. “At the parish I worked in, we had people stopping through all the time.”

“That’s wonderful, Father,” I said tentatively, “but it’s not typical.”

“No, no, I’m sure it’s more common than you think…” he began, but trailed off. “I suppose you have more experience of this than I do.”

“I’m pretty sure I do,” I said apologetically. “And I’d say that of the 45 hours or so that I spend in churches each month—outside of Mass, of course—I’m alone for all but 5 hours. At best.”

Now, this isn’t counting adoration. And I suppose it’s possible that I’m just going to the wrong churches or at the wrong times. But I have reason to think that’s not the case.

church with sunThe biggest reason, of course, is how often churches are locked. It’s gotten to the point where I call churches before heading over to ask if the building will be unlocked. Even in posh areas during business hours, the answer is often no. And when I ask to be let in to the church, people are confused.

“What for?” they ask.

“To pray.” I answer. It’s not a ridiculous question, after all. I might be there to practice the piano or to sketch the statues.

Sometimes, apparently, that’s not a good enough reason, and I’m told I can’t go in. Other times, the confusion remains, but they walk me over. Still other days find me staying after Mass for my prayer time and being asked to leave so they can lock up. I’ve been kicked out of more churches than most people will go into in their lives. And I understand that some churches need to be locked, especially in more crime-ridden areas. I certainly don’t expect anyone to allow a stranger to hang out with gold candlesticks at 10pm. But the fact remains that many (most?) Catholic churches in the United States seem to have no sense that people ought to be able to pray there.

There is something wrong with a Christian culture where I am looked upon with confusion and even suspicion for wanting to enter the presence of God incarnate to talk to him. This is the culture I’ve encountered in hundreds of churches across America. Even if it is possible to get in to pray, it’s so unusual that people look upon me with concern when they see me in the pews. After all, if a young woman’s come to church outside of Mass, someone must be dead or pregnant or something equally distressing.

I don’t think this has much to do with increased vandalism or lower rates of church attendance. I think it’s a reflection of the poverty of our faith, particularly our faith in the Eucharist.

Easter adorationIf we really believed Jesus was present in the Eucharist, wouldn’t we make some kind of effort to spend time with him? If we understood that the King of the universe was waiting, alone and rejected, our Prisoner of Love in the tabernacle, wouldn’t we stop by? But most of us don’t. Even if we drive by unlocked churches on our way home from work, even if we walk by chapels in our hallways, we don’t stop in.

It’s not your fault that you don’t. Or not entirely. Has it ever been suggested to you that you make a chapel visit? Is your church open if you wanted to? Can you find the tabernacle if you do get in?

I spent years following the Lord before I was convicted that I needed to do my best to get close to him physically as well as spiritually. And I really think it makes a difference. Sure, you can pray in your bedroom or your car or your office or anywhere at all. It’s not like Jesus isn’t present everywhere you turn to him. But the advantage of praying in a church isn’t just the lack of distractions (or the more sacred nature of the distractions). It’s that the God you address is really there, ten feet away, gazing with love on you. His spirit is omnipresent, but his body and blood are waiting in the tabernacle.

Witnessing this faith in the real presence was a transformative moment for Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). Walking through Frankfurt one day, she saw a woman with a shopping basket stopping in to pray at the cathedral. “This was something totally new to me,” she reflected years later. “In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited before, people simply went to services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot.”

I know a man—a Catholic father of five—whose first step toward Rome was a moment of wonder at the silence in a Catholic sanctuary before Mass, so different from the friendly chatter of his Baptist church. There was something different here, he remarked, some reverence paid particularly in this space. It was the silent visit of hungry souls to their Eucharistic Lord that first called him home.

There is something different about a Catholic church. Though the architecture might be oddly asymmetrical and the art unworthy of the name, though the plaster might be peeling and the pews painful, though the drafts might be bone-numbing and the sound system useless, he is there.

The Protestant (formerly Catholic) Cathedral in Edinburgh. A lovely building but he's not there.

The Protestant (formerly Catholic) Cathedral in Edinburgh. A lovely building but he’s not there.

Caryll Houselander tells a striking story of a woman who first realized this difference:

“A Catholic who had never been inside any but a Catholic church was taken to see a pre-Reformation cathedral now in Anglican hands. It was filled with fine old carving, the tombs of Crusaders, a famous pulpit and font, and so on, but she was struck by only one thing: the absence of the Blessed Sacrament. ‘But it is empty!’ was all she could say. Until that time she had not had any special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but from that day her devotion began.”1

His presence matters. And our life ought to be a response to that. I’m not saying you have to make a holy hour every day, although some of you certainly could make time for that. And maybe the only church is so far out of your way that it can’t be a daily thing.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe you can spend ten minutes a day in the very presence of the God who gave you everything.

If your church isn’t open, talk to your pastor and see what can be done. Maybe the retired Knights of Columbus can volunteer to be in the church six hours a day—an honor guard of sorts for the Lord—so that the powers that be feel comfortable leaving the church unlocked. If the church is only open during business hours, you could ask for an hour every evening that it will be unlocked for those who work days. Perhaps there’s a code that could be put on the door, available for all parishioners (or hobos) who ask the office. If you’re building a new church, figure out a way to have a room that’s open 24 hours with a view of the tabernacle.2

All I know is it’s not okay that we treat the very presence of God like it’s no different from any other room. And rebuilding a culture that hungers for our Eucharistic Lord starts by being the change—by spending time with him in his Real Presence and by encouraging others to do the same.

2015-08-30 21.20.17

Dear Fathers, preach on it. Parents, take your children. Working people, mention your lunchtime chapel visit. Teachers, take your students for ten minutes on Fridays. Take time on your knees after Mass. Start your date night with the Lord. Make it a part of your parish events. A love of Jesus in the Eucharist is evidence of that personal relationship with Christ that transforms and animates his followers and the only way I can see to learn to love him is to act like we do until his grace makes it true.

Are you ready to join me in that strange, strange practice of being in the presence of the Person you’re talking to? I’d love to hear how you plan to keep him company—and any of your stories of confusing people by praying in churches.

  1. From The Reed of God which you simply must read immediately. []
  2. If they ask my advice for the next Code of Canon Law, I’m going to say this ought to be required of all new construction. Also, all churches in developed nations must have websites with Mass times prominently featured on the home page and bulletins uploaded in a timely fashion to inform people of changes to the usual schedule. I’ve been bitten way too often by canceled Masses that you could only know about if you heard the announcements the Sunday before. []
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The Best Rosary of My Life

2014-08-23 18.07.56I’ve made no secret of my struggle with the Rosary. And while I’ve continued to struggle through fifteen years of dry Aves, clinging to my beads simply because sweet Mother Church said I should, I’d become fairly convinced that this pious practice would never be anything but a chore for me. “The Rosary just doesn’t suit my temperament,” I said, committed to praying it regardless.

And that might be true. But our God is a God of surprises, of generosity that knows no bounds, of foretastes of the Promised Land amid forty year treks through the desert. And last night he had something better for me.

I didn’t grow up with Mary. Getting to know her has been awfully hard for me. For years, I wasn’t entirely convinced that Marian devotion wasn’t paganism. Then I read Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen and determined that, as with everything else where I’d tested her, the Church knew what she was about. (And for proof, here’s everything I’ve written about the Blessed Mother.)

But accepting the Marian dogmas didn’t at all mean really loving the Blessed Mother. And I didn’t.

Or rather, I don’t.

Oh, I try to. I know I should. But there’s still that Protestant inside me screaming about my blasphemy, that 21st century Catholic wondering why I should even bother. I know all the answers on an intellectual level, but Mary’s never really been my mom. The best I’ve gotten is that she’s my best friend’s mom. Given how close I am to my best friend’s mom–I’ve gone on vacation with her while my friend stayed home–that’s pretty good. But it’s not the same.

Thirteen years ago, before I had any idea who Mary was, I got positive peer pressured into making the Total Consecration to Mary. I was pretty sure it wasn’t idolatry, so I went for it. And it changed absolutely nothing.

But Mary’s been stalking me a little. And I knew I needed to renew my consecration. Everyone raves about Fr. Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Last week, I opened the introduction while killing time at a shawarma place in Atlanta. I read through the usual Mariology and settled in for more of the same.

Until this:

Mary’s task is to give spiritual birth to Christians, to feed and nurture them with grace, and to help them grow to full stature in Christ.

Now I’ve read John 19:26-27. I’ve taught those verses. I’ve made people memorize them. I get that Mary is my mother.

John 19 26-27

But I didn’t.

See, I was treating Mary as my stepmother. She’s the woman who came along when I was twenty-five standing at the foot of the Cross and now she comes to Thanksgiving at my house and maybe sometimes tells me about her Son until I get bored and tune her out.

But Mary isn’t my stepmother. She’s my mother. Adoptive, perhaps, but my true mother just the same.

The Lord speaks really strongly to me in allegory. Through images of princes taking the death penalty their adulterous brides deserve, little girls caught up out of poverty to become daughters of the king, husbands speaking words of forgiveness to their wives. Like analogies, allegories limp. So you’ll have to bear with me on this and be gentle. This is my heart.1

Andrea_Solario_-_Madonna_of_the_Green_CushionI am a poor orphaned infant adopted by the King and languishing for hunger. But the Mother of his Son has been nursing his other children so she takes me into her arms and puts me to her breast. No stepchild or foster child, I am her true child, the daughter of her heart become the daughter of her flesh. To be the daughter of my Father, I have to be nourished by the Mother of his Son.2 And so the food he gives to her becomes my food, the spiritual milk Paul tells us must be our food before we can eat meat.3 But where can we get this milk except our Mother? So she nurses me, as the King sits beside her and strokes my little head. My eldest Brother, the crown Prince, stands nearby. It was he whom the King sent out to rescue me, he who was scratched and beaten and bruised to bring me to the Father. In her arms, I become his. As I nurse, I toy with her necklace, a rope of beads with a crucified man hanging from it. And she tells me the story of my Brother’s love.4

When Jesus went to John to be baptized, he was joining in the struggle of all who sin, all who will die to sin. And your Father split open the heavens. “This is my beloved son,” he shouted. That’s the same thing he says about you, sweet girl. “This is my beloved daughter.” He loves you just that much. And all those people, they didn’t know what to think! Some thought it was thunder or maybe an earthquake. But a few, a very few, heard the Father’s words. And in that moment, they began to wonder if they couldn’t become beloved, too. Jesus had that effect on people, you know. When they looked at him, they knew just who they could be. And some people got angry and others felt hope and most everybody knew they needed mercy. But that brother of yours, he is mercy, sweet girl. Even to the ones who never ask.

And I’m looking up at her face and twisting her beads between my fingers and she’s stroking my hair and there’s nothing else but this—her, telling me about him.

Oh, that wedding feast was a marvelous one! They were some of my dearest friends, you know, and when the wine ran out I knew how desperately ashamed they would be. Jesus said he wasn’t planning on doing anything miraculous, but he couldn’t just stand by. I sometimes wonder if he didn’t hesitate at first just so I would know he was doing it as a gift for me. But no matter, he did it. He brought joy to that banquet just like he brings joy to anyone who turns to him. But the celebration was different afterwards. There was a solemnity to the joy, like the people knew something sacred had happened. Their laughter didn’t run to debauchery. They saw each other, really saw each other, and spoke the words of love they’d never had the courage to let out. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? That freedom to love.

Still I can’t look away. Every time my eyes stray to the window, her gentle voice tugs me back, reminding me that I need this, I need her, to help me become his.

And you should have seen the way they followed him after that! People pushing to get to him like he was their last hope. Which, of course, he was. “Master, heal me!” “Rabbi, teach me!” “Lord, save me!” Most of them not knowing who he was, just seeing that he had something they wanted. But Jesus saw past their ailments to their true need. So he healed a leper here, raised a dead girl there. But others he left broken. That’s what they needed. And oh, how he preached. Stood on a hill and spoke for hours. About love and mercy, yes, but about sin and judgment, too. About peace and violence and prayer and action but always, always about your Father. That was the whole point, of course: to bring these dear ones to your Father. Every word he spoke, every limb he healed, every child he touched, every beggar he fed: always to speak the love of the Father, to draw their hearts to him.

The stories sound different in her voice. I’m hearing them for the first time but she’s telling them for the thousandth. They’re the stories that make her life, make my life, make every life worth living.

Poor Peter. He was so tired. Jesus had told his friends that was going to be killed and no sooner had they picked their jaws up off the floor than he made Peter, John, and James climb a mountain. They were fishermen, not shepherds, and mountain climbing didn’t come easy. So you can imagine, dear heart, how they slept when they reached the top. They might have slept right through the whole thing, but the Father knew they needed that moment to keep them going. And there Moses and Elijah were, finally seeing the Son, the one they’d been pointing to their whole lives without knowing it. And poor Peter, always a man of action, tried to build a tent. I’m sure James was trying to understand it all, figure out how they got there and what it meant. And John—sweet John—just standing there taking it all in, just being. Doing and thinking and being. They’re very important, all of them, but I hope you, my sweet one, will have the courage just to be. That is the truest path to the Father.

The Father stops by and kisses me on my forehead and I only know him because she’s telling me. Her voice pulls me in and shows me just who he is.

Sweet girl, I hope you will never know the pain of that last night. Or maybe I hope you will, if it will bring you closer to the Father by showing you what his love is worth. But your Father is such a mighty King that he made that ugly night a gift beyond compare. Jesus was about to be made a sacrifice to bring you home. You, dear one. Isn’t he marvelous? All that, just for you. And there were his friends, oblivious. Except for John. They all caught Jesus’ mood, but only John was beginning to see. “The Lamb of God. The one who takes away the sin of the world. The paschal lamb whose body is broken, whose bread becomes our food. And tomorrow the Passover.” That meal began his greatest gift, his journey to hell and back to save you, my love. He gave you his body. Do you understand what that means? No, no, of course you don’t. But you will.

And as I feed on his body given to me through her, as his flesh becomes her flesh to become mine, there’s a peace and a stillness I’ve never felt here, an intensity that isn’t from me. She pulls me off and sits me up and delights in me because I am his. Hail, holy Queen.

I don’t know how long this will last, but I get it. I finally get what the rosary is about. I don’t know if you can have this experience, or if you even want to, but it was so much more real than any other time I’ve told my beads before. It’s the storytelling—which I’m becoming more and more convinced is key to evangelization—and the way those old stories are new again and finally understanding that I need her. For an inveterate rosary-tolerator like me, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Praise the Lord.

  1. One hazard of studying theology is that you see heresy in every misplaced preposition in your prayer. I’m trying to stop obsessing over correctness—which isn’t quite the same thing as truth—and let love speak. So today I offered this prayer: Father, I want to love you completely but I know I don’t know how. So I ask you to redirect my misplaced love. If I love the Blessed Mother too much or ignore your Son for love of you, be merciful on a stumbling sinner giving you her heart. []
  2. Obviously I’m not maligning adoptive mothers of older kids here or women who are unable to nurse for whatever reason. But back in the day if nobody was nursing you, you weren’t going to make it. []
  3. 1 Corinthians 3:2 []
  4. Not a vision or a locution, just a meditation. []
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#Lovewins

I’m sorry if you clicked through because you wanted my reaction on yesterday’s ruling.1 I’m not here to talk about the news. Or rather, I am.

Last week, a terrorist walked into a church and continued a long line of crimes against Black Americans. This week, emboldened arsonists continued the attack on Black churches while almost a thousand people died from the heatwave in Pakistan. Yesterday, ISIS seems to have carried out coordinated attacks in 3 countries.

#Lovewins

It’s been all over social media, being shouted from the rooftops by people radiant with joy for their futures and wild with excitement for their friends and just proud of their country. “Love wins!” they shout, as they dance and cheer and celebrate love.

And we whose reaction is less celebratory nod and smile, perhaps in spite of ourselves. There is much we may disagree on, but in this we can rejoice together: Love wins.

It has nothing to do with the news today. Or rather, it does, but it’s old News.

Love won two thousand years ago when he became flesh to cry out his Love for us. Each time he consoled adulteresses or welcomed Pharisees, Love won. He healed and corrected and challenged and gave life because Love wins.

Love won that black day when he took our sin upon him and destroyed our death. He shattered the hold sin had over us, ransoming our souls and winning us for the Father who is Love.

lovewins Jesus_crucifiedLove won when he broke the bonds of death and emerged victorious from the grave. He won when he came back for us, reminding us that not our denial or our doubt or our outright betrayal of him could stop his Love.

lovewins_empty_tombLove wins every time we see a person and not a label. Love wins when we refuse to define people by their sin or their closed-mindedness or their bank statement or their dress size or their age or their ability. Love wins when we too console adulteresses and welcome Pharisees. In each moment of reconciliation, of generosity, of compassion, of witness to the truth, of mercy, Love wins.

Despite evil and hatred and war and disease, Love wins. Because not even death can end his merciful Love. In the face of a world gone crazy with rage, we stand before the void and cry out this truth: Love wins. Because Satan has been defeated and the victory is ours. Because the victory of Love is not a victory of feelings but the promise that Love will never leave us or forsake us, that in spite of our feelings Love has triumphed and will fight for us until our last moment and perhaps beyond.

lovewins Eucharist_monstranceLove won last week in Charleston when victims stood up and forgave the one who murdered their loved ones. In a moment of mercy that will become a lifetime of trying again to forgive, they showed us just what it means when we say that Love wins: it means that Love is always more powerful than hatred, even when it seems hatred is triumphant. Evil has forgotten about the eternal epilogue.

And Love will win on the last day, when he drags every sorry soul he can get his pierced hands on into the kingdom. Despite our pettiness and our ugliness, despite our constant rejection of his Love and our desperation for cheap imitations of it, he will win.

Perhaps it’s more a cry of hope than a jeer of triumph, this declaration that Love wins. It’s the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail, not that they won’t seem to. It’s a challenge to us never to speak (or tweet) from bitterness or judgment or despair but to let God be God and trust in a love that makes us new.

Whether you found yesterday glorious or discouraging,2 in the end Love wins. Our task is to live for that Love. Whatever side you’re on, drop your weapons. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. You want Love to win? Live like it.

  1. But let’s be real. If you agree with me, you already know everything I’m going to say. And if you disagree, today’s not the day you’re going to listen. []
  2. And either way, I love you. But forget me–Jesus loves you like crazy! []
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Love Means Going through the Motions

She was seven years old that summer, the second summer she and her sisters came to live with me. Seven years old and still throwing the tantrums she’d thrown when she was three, tantrums so long and so violent I worried for her safety. I was at my wits’ end with that little one. I’ve known some tough kids, but this one took the cake. And I prayed for her and I prayed about her and it occurred to me that maybe she was lashing out because she needed attention. She’s a physical touch girl through and through, so I sat her down and talked with her about how maybe if we snuggled more it would help her to calm down. And I made her a promise:

“No matter how much trouble you’re in, if you can ask me for a snuggle, we’ll take a time out together and snuggle. Because I love you and I want you to know that.”

It’s a great idea. Trouble is, she really wanted me to prove that I loved her. So she’d push and push and push me until I was almost at my breaking point, then she’d look up with a glint of pure malice in her eyes and ask me to snuggle her.

And I would bite back every objection, every bit of justified rage, every shred of pride. I would take a deep breath and hold her and stroke her hair and murmur to her how I loved her.

I wanted to drop kick her.

As I sat there telling her how much I loved her, I wanted to scream and throw her out of the house. I wanted to be done with this child.1 I didn’t feel lovey. Not one bit.

And I don’t think I ever loved her more.

I didn’t like her much in the moment.2 I didn’t want to tell her I loved her or how sweet and good she was. I wanted to show her everything she was doing wrong. I wanted to fix her attitude and make her compliant so that all our lives could have a little peace in them. I wanted to change her. There was nothing there that the world would call love.

But that’s when I loved her the most. Not because I felt lovey feelings but because I chose to love her.

If you’ve been in any kind of relationship for more than 6 days–or seen Frozen–you know that love is sacrifice. It doesn’t just require sacrifice, it IS sacrifice. Love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. And as wonderful as romantic feelings or maternal feelings are, they aren’t love. Love isn’t really love, I think, until it’s hard. That’s when it finally stops being about us.

This is why marriage is indissoluble: because it’s hard and the hard is good. That’s what kills our selfishness and makes us more like Christ. This is why babies are awful. Because as wonderful as they are, we might love them only for our own sake. When they’re colicky or teething or doing stranger danger and a sleep regression at the same time, that’s when we die to ourselves to live for them. That’s real love.

And I think that kind of love means sometimes you do what you don’t feel because you wish you felt it. It means stopping for a real kiss goodbye in the chaos of the morning routine. It means compliments on a job poorly done but well meant. It means murmuring soft words to a screaming child who you’d rather leave by the side of the road than spend the next 16 years–the next lifetime–nurturing.

It’s not being fake. You’re not doing what you don’t mean, you’re doing what you don’t feel. You’re saying or touching or smiling exactly what you want to mean. You go through the motions and that going through the motions is a powerful act of love and a step back toward the feelings you wish you had.

But you knew that. You learned about the whole “fake it till you make it” thing when you were stressing out about looking cool at your first dance.

Do you know it’s true of prayer, too? Not just that it gets easier as you just suck it up and do it. It’s actually especially pleasing to God when you just suck it up and do it.

For weeks now, I’ve been struggling in prayer. I’m always good about praying, but I’m not good at it and lately it’s been dragging me down. I’ll give an impassioned talk about how amazing God is and then go stare at a tabernacle and feel nothing, think nothing, get nothing.

So I keep sitting there before the Lord. And I keep saying this same thing:

Jesus, I wish I loved you as much as I pretend to love you.

Over and over I’ve sat there thinking how amazing my prayer life would be if I really felt all the things I pretend to feel. They’re not lies, just vestiges of things I’ve felt before. Things I really feel when I’m talking about them, maybe, but not things I feel when it’s just me and him. And I wonder what it would be like to feel those things all the time.

Jesus, I wish I loved you as much as I pretend to love you.

For weeks I prayed that prayer, not petitioning so much as stewing, until he told me:

You do.3 You act like you would act if you felt it. Not perfectly, of course, but you show up. Every day you show up, just the same as you would if you really enjoyed it. You go through the motions not because you’re getting something out of it but because you’re giving me something. You’re giving me yourself even when it feels I’m giving nothing back. You aren’t pretending you love me. You really love me.

You don’t have to get butterflies every time you receive. You don’t have to be totally focused in prayer. You don’t have to be zealous like Francis Xavier or humble like Thomas Aquinas4 or brave like Catherine of Alexandria. There were probably days when Francis wasn’t zealous like Francis and Catherine quaked with fear. Sanctity isn’t a measure of how you feel but of what you choose to do.

I’ve never been more proud of my little sister than on the countless occasions I’ve seen her speak sweetly to a wild, raging toddler. I know she doesn’t feel lovey in that moment but she chooses to act like she loves them. When she does that, she loves more truly than if she were rapturous at the thought of another moment with her cherubs because she is choosing love rather than being driven by her feelings.

I think the Lord feels the same about us. I think that when prayer is boring or faith is hard or NFP seems like it will be the death of you that’s the moment when heaven rejoices at your small victories in finishing the rosary or speaking truth or whatever seems so hollow and fake right now.

I guess all I’m saying is if you’re trying, even a little bit, the Lord is pleased with you. He sees your brokenness and sin and complete inability to love him well. But he sees that you try and the desire to please him does please him.

The best thing Thomas Merton ever wrote.

The best thing Thomas Merton ever wrote.

That little girl–now a big tough high schooler who still likes to cuddle–didn’t need me to feel good about her. She needed me to love her even when I didn’t feel good. In the end, that’s what she was looking for: someone who would love her when she was unlovable. Maybe God withholds the feelings we so long for to teach us to love him when he doesn’t seem lovable.

Keep on going through the motions. Do what you wish you wanted to do as though you wanted to do it–with God and with friends and with in-laws and with spouses and kids–and trust that you are enough. All he wants is your effort–he’ll bring it to perfection. Don’t let your inadequacies stop you. You are enough.

 

  1. There’s a reason parents come in twos. It is HARD to raise kids–especially defiant ones–without backup or relief or someone to talk things over with. If God calls me to have kids, I sure hope he gives me a husband to go along with them. []
  2. Though oxytocin’s a powerful thing, and I’m a physical touch person myself, so it did help a little. []
  3. I don’t hear voices in prayer. Some people do and that’s awesome. But I’m just going to paraphrase the sense I got in prayer. Don’t get all excited and think I’m a mystic or something. []
  4. Have you read The Quiet Light by Louis de Wohl? I love all his books but this one was incredible. []
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Three Years a Hobo

2014-11-18 15.29.44

My home for the last thousand plus days.

Last Thursday marked three years that I’ve been doing this hobo thing. Three years since I last kept my books on a bookshelf. Three years since I had a reliable address. Three years since I saw any one person on a daily basis. Three years of deflating air mattresses and sleep deprivation and inconsistent eating habits and interminable drives.

Three years of audiobooks and stunning scenery, of granola bars and gas station coffee. Three years of trying to find an unlocked church and wondering where I’ll spend the night. Three years of awkward hellos and painful goodbyes, of changing trains in Brussels and changing oil in Missouri.

2015-05-28 20.48.33

Like sweet Emma, who wrote me a note asking that I would pray for her to become a saint. She’s 12.

Three years of visiting dear old friends and being loved well by people who really know me. Three years of making new best friends out of strangers who happened to see a Facebook post. Three years of walking with people through the hardest moments of their lives and rejoicing with them in the most beautiful.

I’m there for the highs and the lows and many of the in-betweens. I’m privileged to see the Holy Spirit at work and to witness the power of Divine Providence. I’ve stayed in well over a hundred homes and never once had to get a hotel room.1

I’ve learned to trust (kind of). I’ve learned that I’m worth something even when I’m doing nothing. I’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit like never before. I’ve learned the power of homelessness to remind us that this world is not our home.

The Darr family knows how to pray. For serious.

The Darr family knows how to pray. For serious.

I’ve seen incredible communities and desperate loneliness. I’ve witnessed deep faithfulness and radical complacency. I’ve felt admired and ignored and abhorred and adored and disdained and accepted and misunderstood and loved.

I’ve started a blog and a speaking ministry and a podcast and a new book project. I’ve been to 49 states and 12 countries and put almost 100,000 miles on my car.

Every day I’m grateful that you all let me love you. It’s not always easy, trying to be for someone different each day of the week with no idea who I’ll walk with tomorrow. But you’ve given me far more than I’ve given you. Thank you for your prayers and invitations, your words of encouragement and your Facebook shares. Thank you for inviting me into your homes and your lives, from London and Rome to Hicksville and Butte.

Has anyone ever looked that good at the end of a half marathon before? She looks better after 12 miles than I would have after 12 yards.

Has anyone ever looked that good at the end of a half marathon before? She looks better after 12 miles than I would have after 12 yards.

Cheering at the OKC marathon a few weeks back got me thinking: that’s basically what I do. I stand at the margins of strangers’ lives and scream for them to keep running. There are some who ignore me and some who grimace and others who step up their game when I beg them to. If you’re one of the ones who started running again after I stumbled through the words I thought you needed, thank you. I’m so grateful that the Lord lets me be a part of your path to him.

I have no idea how much longer this will go on. Some days it feels like it’s really beginning to wear on me. More often I lament that my life is far too easy; you don’t become a saint without suffering, after all. And while I have a marvelous extended community, it’s not the kind of community that rubs off your rough edges through daily annoyances. There’s a reason people don’t live like this, and it’s not just that nobody else is as extraverted as I am. It’s that people need stability and community and home. So while I’ve been given all kinds of grace to endure–more, to adore–an unnatural life, spring has me longing for a little old house surrounded by lilacs and filled with people who know me well.

Maybe I can steal my nieces and nephews.

Maybe I can steal my nieces and nephews.

And yet this life is good. And no place in particular tugs at my heart. So the pilgrim life continues. Jesus accomplished what he had to do in three years as a hobo missionary. It seems I’m less efficient. So right now we’ll aim for three and a half and regroup come December. Between now and then, I’ve got the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts, Connecticut2, Toronto, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland3, St Louis, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. So, you know the drill. If you’re in (or between–Washington to Texas is not a day’s drive) any of those places, drop me a note and I’ll come be your friend.

 

(Here’s what I had to say after two years, 15 months, and one year.)

  1. Though when people book them for me, I spend weeks looking forward to a little space to myself! []
  2. Anyone live between Hartford and Springfield, MA and want a houseguest? []
  3. Please! []
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Princess Saints Picture Book–Big Announcement!

If you’re a parent or a godparent, the most important thing you can do for your children is to introduce them to Jesus and help them learn to love him. But while you parents are the primary catechists of your children, you aren’t meant to do it alone, especially not in the midst of a hostile and noisy culture. With everything this world has to offer your kids, it’s no great surprise that most of them are drawn to licensed characters more than to the things of God.

I know dozens of little girls who love Elsa and Sofia the First and little boys who’d give their right arms to spend the day with lycra-clad superheroes or smiling trains. They hunger for heroes and long for stories of glory and beauty and triumph over evil. And all we give them is absent parents and petulant mermaids, vigilantes and vapid cartoons. We whose lives are fixed on the greatest story ever told, whose heritage is a host of heroes and heroines, we have forgotten how to tell stories and we settle for fictional heroes when the real ones leave even Atticus Finch and Samwise Gamgee coughing in their dust. And this Church of Dante and Michelangelo, having forgotten how to make sacred art, has even forgotten how to tell stories. It’s no wonder our children are drifting away–we aren’t proposing the Gospel to them as an adventure and a romance but as a dull board book with saccharine pictures. Most of us probably see it that way ourselves.

Now I’ve seen a few beautiful Christian children’s books, and even a handful that were both beautiful and interesting, but the majority I’ve encountered leave a lot to be desired. For years I’ve been lamenting the dull Saint books I’ve found, wondering how you can make a story as riveting as the life of St. Josephine Bakhita into something humdrum. So instead of reading the books, I tell the stories to children who stare, mouth agape, as they listen to the lives of the lovers of God. And I wonder why people don’t just write the books this way.

A few weeks ago I realized: I am people. I could write those books. And I have a friend who is a brilliant illustrator. Five hundred emails later, we’re working on a first draft.

This first book is going to be about Princess Saints. I figure most little girls love princesses. And since we have plenty of princesses who are far more worthy of emulation than even Belle or Anna, why not capitalize on it? When our little ones want to play dress-up, why not teach them virtues along with it? And our princess Saints are just as diverse as Disney’s. The book’s current cast of characters includes an archaeologist, a hermit, a philosopher, a nun, a mom, a head of state, and a social worker–talk about girl power! No waiting around to be rescued by some man here, unless you’re talking about the God-Man. There’s an Egyptian, a Byzantine, a Moor, an Ancient Roman, two eastern Europeans and a Western. Two converted from paganism, one from Islam. Four were virgins, three mothers. Only one martyr in this bunch, but plenty of white martyrdom.

The style of color will be like this.

The color will be like this, though the images will be more lifelike, as you’ll see below.

Lindsey and I have been researching like crazy to try to get the pictures right with the right clothes and races and architecture. We’re throwing in subtle Biblical imagery and allusions to other Saints, all in images that are even more striking than the ones on her blocks. Our hope is that the stories and the pictures are interesting enough that your children will begin to love these Saints the way they used to love imaginary heroes. We want them emulating St. Casilda instead of Jasmine, adventuring with St. Damien instead of Iron Man. And in each story, we’re trying above all else to show how the Saints point you to Jesus. So many Christian books tell the story and miss the point–we’re trying to avoid that.

Because these books aren’t just for your kids. They’re for you. I’m writing them in a way that reading them aloud will (hopefully) challenge you to reflect on your own life. Each story is teaching you how to love Jesus better and they’re all followed by some questions to discuss with your kids (or pray about on your own) about how you can better imitate these far-away Saints. I know a lot of parents whose only devotion time might be with their kids, and “Thank you God for flowers so sweet, thank you for the food we eat” isn’t making you a saint. My prayer is that these books will at least nudge you that direction.

So we want to share the first draft of one chapter of the princess book–with rough sketches that will be brought to life with watercolors. Read it (to yourself or to your kids) and if you’re still interested in this project, read on to see what you can do to help.

St. Catherine of Alexandria (November 25)

(280-305)

Princess Catherine loved to read. She had so many questions: where the world came from and why it existed and what her whole life was about–Catherine wanted to know everything. Lucky for her, she lived by the biggest library in the whole world where she could read all day long. She read so much that she didn’t have time for anything else. Not clothes, not friends, and not princes. That was all fine when she was little, but as she got older people began to talk. “She’s going to be our Queen!” they said. “And a Queen needs a King.” “Besides,” they said, “how are we supposed to get new princes and princesses if she doesn’t get married?” “That settles it!” they said. “Princess Catherine must marry.”

St Catherine in the library

This is what they think the Great Library in Alexandria looked like. And see those Egyptian symbols on the vase?

Catherine wasn’t interested in marriage, but she couldn’t exactly tell the whole country no. So she got a little tricky. “Oh, I’ll marry,” she said. “But I could never marry a man who didn’t deserve me. He must be richer than I and smarter than I and stronger and nobler and wiser than I. Much, much wiser.” Well, that was a tall order indeed! Catherine was rich and smart and strong and noble and the wisest woman in the land. Where could they ever find a prince who was good enough for her? Day after day, men came to seek her hand, and day after day she refused them. “Not handsome enough.” “Not kind enough.” “Not clever enough.” Until her people nearly despaired.

But one day, a hermit came to the castle gates. “I know a man who is stronger and kinder and better than any other man in the world,” he said, and the guards waited. “And he knows more than the most learned men,” he finished, and was led to the Princess. There, he told her about Jesus. Princess Catherine was a pagan, a person who worships false gods. In all the time she had been looking for truth she had never even heard of Jesus! The holy man told her that Jesus was King of heaven and earth, that He was merciful and loving and was the true answer to the question Catherine had been asking her whole life. Catherine knew then and there that she could marry nobody but Jesus. Away went her scrolls of history and science and philosophy and out came the Gospels and the writings of the Saints. The more she studied, the more the world made sense. Finally, she understood what her life was all about: to be loved and to love Him back. And the more she loved Jesus, the more she wanted to be His.

St Catherine and the hermit

That’s the woman at the well from John 4 and frogs from the Egyptian plagues. This one is obviously very unfinished.

With all her study, though, Catherine wasn’t ready yet. One night, she had a dream. The Virgin Mary, Queen of angels and Saints, took Catherine to her Son and offered her to Him as His bride! But Jesus took one look at her and said just what she’d said about all her suitors: “Not beautiful enough. Not kind enough. Not wise enough.”

Catherine was heartbroken! She sent for the hermit who had told her about Jesus to ask him what it meant. “My dear,” he answered, “You must be baptized and your sins washed away.”  That very day she was baptized and that very night she dreamed again. This time, Jesus came to her as her bridegroom, putting a ring on her finger and making her His own. At last, Catherine had found a Prince worthy of her—and been made worthy of Him.

St Catherine marriageBut Catherine’s people were not pleased. This was a long time ago, before people were allowed to be Christians, and they reported her to the Emperor. “Well,” he thought, “it must be a very silly religion to say that God could be a man. We’ll just have to show her how silly it is.” So the Emperor called the smartest men in the city to explain to Catherine that Jesus couldn’t possibly be God. One by one, fifty philosophers argued against Jesus and one by one fifty philosophers found themselves convinced by Catherine. One by one they cried out that Jesus is God, the Savior of the world, and one by one they were put to death for their faith, glorious martyrs given heavenly crowns.

You would think the Emperor would think twice once all the smartest men in the smartest city in the world turned to Jesus, but it just made him mad. He decided to punish Catherine for her faith by starving her. But angels fed the bride of Christ, and she came out twelve days later, stronger and healthier than she had been. The people were amazed by this miracle—so amazed that many of them became Christians, even the Empress!

The Emperor hadn’t been able to argue Catherine away from Jesus and he hadn’t been able to threaten her away from Jesus, so he made one last attempt to bribe her away from Jesus. “Marry me,” he said, “and be Empress of all of Rome.” “I belong to Jesus,” Catherine declared, “And will have no other groom.” Oh, the Emperor was furious at that! He ordered Catherine to be killed. And so the brilliant and beautiful bride of Christ, who had searched for truth and found Him, went home to heaven where she prays that all those who love truth will find Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

St Catherine the patron saint

I think she’ll be a little less stern in the final one, but doesn’t she look strong? That’s my kind of princess.

The End

When St. Catherine met Jesus, she wanted to learn everything she could about Him. What can you do to learn more about Jesus? How can you tell other people about His love?

Ask St. Catherine to pray for people who teach the faith, for people who seek the truth, and for all unmarried women.

“Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away. Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love, he would be roundly mocked.” (Song of Songs 8:7)

What do you think? Are you as excited about this as I am? And do you want to help support us? Obviously, what we need most is your support in prayer. Please pray for God’s will to be done in our work. All either of us wants is for people to love Jesus better because of these books.

Then there’s the material support. Because we’ve gone about as far as we can on our own. You see, I have all the time in the world–or rather, I can if I want to. But Lindsey has 5 young children, with 3 who are still home all day. If she wants to work on these illustrations, she needs a babysitter to give her some time. So if you feel led to make a donation to support the illustrations, you can do that here.

One of the most challenging thing about this whole business is our attempt to make the details as accurate as possible. So if you happen to be a historical expert (particularly on clothes and ethnic makeup), we sure could use your input.

Finally, we expect the hardest thing about all this will be finding a publisher. Neither of us has any desire to try to self-publish. We know too well how valuable a good publisher can be, especially in terms of guidance as to word count and page layout and all that. So if you know a Catholic children’s publisher and want to pass this along, that’d be amazing!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you do for the Kingdom! If I didn’t have such an incredible group of supporters (both online and in real life), I couldn’t do anything that I do and I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed this project could come to fruition. But I know you all are prayer warriors and I know that God’s Providence works through you. I’m so excited to see what God has planned for this project and I’m so glad you’ll all be coming along for the ride!

Princess Saints a Picture Book

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3 Odd Reasons I Receive Communion on the Tongue

I grew up, like most Catholics of my generation, receiving communion in the hand like there was no other option. It wasn’t until college that I began to see people receiving on the tongue. To be quite honest, it didn’t immediately strike me one way or the other. I’d seen it in movies and figured the people with their tongues out at dorm Mass were traddy types who were welcome to their own pious observances. I’ve never been one to be more drawn to something simply because it’s traditional, though the testimony of centuries of Christians does often call me to examine a practice more closely. But something about this was nagging at me. I felt as though receiving on the tongue was something I should try. And I did NOT want to.

That got my attention really quickly. Why didn’t I want to? Was it just the awkwardness of sticking my tongue out at a priest? The fear of licking someone’s finger? Nothing I could think of was a reason not to try receiving the way so many Saints had, the way I was feeling led to. So I tried it and I never went back. It’s not because I have unconsecrated hands or because I’m worried about sacred crumbs. It’s not because receiving on the tongue is the norm and receiving in the hand is a concession, though that’s compelling too.1 It’s actually a little odd–but so is eating the flesh of God.

1. I need more awkward helplessness in my life. Until I started hoboing (or maybe just until I gave away my car and had to depend on others for rides for 3 years) I was about the most self-sufficient person you could find. I was intelligent and independent and privileged and my life was totally under control.

The trouble with that is that my life wasn’t under my control at all. Nobody’s is. I lived with the illusion of control and it made me into my own God. When he asked me to receive on the tongue, he was asking me to be helpless before him, to be a passive recipient instead of the master of my own destiny. The reluctance to receive on the tongue was largely a fear of presenting myself helpless before another person, helpless before my God. Every time I receive with my hands folded in prayer, there’s a slight feeling of weakness and surrender. It reminds me that in eating the flesh and blood of Christ I’m surrendering myself to death for him who gave himself for me. It’s yet another way that I try to let him be Lord of my life. For me, receiving in the hands just doesn’t have that symbolism.

Sheen love story2. I’m kissing my bridegroom. This is really what pulled me to change my approach to communion in the first place. I’d been praying about how Jesus was the bridegroom and I was his bride, meditating on the fact that I walk down to the aisle to receive my bridegroom in the most intimate way possible. Communion felt like an embrace to me and receiving in the hand was too sterile. I needed the intimacy of the kiss to remind me just what was happening. I’m not saying that receiving in the hand is a handshake in comparison to the kiss of receiving on the tongue, but it began to feel that way to me. At the risk of sharing too much, I needed to approach my lover with my eyes closed and my lips parted. The Eucharist is that intimate whether I notice it or not but I prefer to notice it.

3.The tongue is extremely sensitive. In ten years of receiving in the hand, I don’t think I once had a meditation prompted by the way the priest handed me the host. He put it in my hands, I walked away. Simple enough. But if you receive on the tongue, you know there are a thousand ways it can feel different and the Holy Spirit speaks to me through that.

In the first few months after I switched over, it always felt as though Jesus was being pressed firmly onto my tongue. Then one day I was at Mass struggling with how hard everything in my life seemed to be. When I went to communion, the host was placed so gently on my tongue that it was like the softest kiss, my Jesus telling me that life wasn’t all hard if I was so sweetly loved by Love. Another time the EM barely touched my tongue and I had to grab at Jesus with my teeth and pull him into my mouth lest he drop. He reminded me that sometimes I have to run after him and cling to him. Sometimes a deacon will see my hands folded over my heart and think I want a blessing. Even that awkwardness reminds me how much I want Jesus, enough that my heart sinks when I think I might be deprived. Call me a Pietist but I enjoy having feelings when I pray and if doing something that the Church recommends draws my heart deeper in o prayer, I’m all about it.

There are plenty of better reasons to receive on the tongue than these. I certainly think that when it’s parish practice it reduces sacrilege.2 And I think personal practice increases reverence, if only because it feels so odd that it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re doing something remarkable.

Of course, none of this is to say that you must receive on the tongue. I’m not even saying that you ought to or that it’s inherently better. If the Church says we can receive in the hand then we can and that’s just fine.3 But I’ve experienced great grace through the awkwardness of sticking my tongue out at clerics. Maybe give it a shot?

  1. If you’re interested in the topic, click through. It’s a good read. []
  2. Non-Catholics often go up and receive because they don’t know better. It makes sense to stand in line and then hold out your hand for something. But if everyone’s opening their mouth for something, they may think twice about that. Besides, people who are stealing the host for foul purposes would have to carry it in their mouths at least until they get out of church and then deal with a saliva-soaked host, which I would hope would be unappetizing enough to deter at least a few. []
  3. And I still do on rare occasion, like when I think I’m about to sneeze. []
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Praying Like a Nerd

The most important part of prayer is doing it. But the second most important part, I think, is being authentic, telling God what’s really in your heart instead of pretending you feel what you think you’re supposed to feel. I always picture my fake prayers going something like this:

Me: Oh good and gracious God, I praise you for your mercy and love. I give you thanks, Father, for your many blessings.

Jesus: Shut up.

Me: What?

Jesus: Quit lying to me. You’re just wasting my time. Tell me what you really think.

Me: Okay, fine. I’m pretty ticked about that conversation I had this afternoon and frustrated that I’m always such a jerk and also this is boring.

Jesus: Better. This I can work with.

So I’m going to be really honest with you here and tell you that my prayer is rarely beautiful. In fact, it’s much more likely to be dull, with a little bit of the nerdy thrown in. Hey, I’m just being me. Cases in point:

Newtonian Discernment

I was beginning to feel a tug away from something I thought the Lord ahd called me to. I’d wrestled and analyzed and discerned my little brains out and finally I’d had enough.

“Jesus, a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. I know you pushed me along this path and I feel like my momentum’s been slowed by friction, but if you want me moving another direction, I’m going to need an equal and opposite force. I don’t feel any conviction in the opposite direction, so I’m going to keep moving this way until you push me another way.”

This is how nerds discern.

Declining to Pray

It’s been a long time since I studied Latin (as in 4th grade), but some things never leave you.

“Jesus, my heart…. Well isn’t that interesting. “My heart” there could be the vocative case, like a term of endearment. Or it could be the nominative, an unfinished declaration about the state of my heart. Really, it feels like an interjection, a cry of love and emptiness, of fullness and anguish. What tense would an interjection be?”

It was actually pretty powerful, that examination of how Jesus My Heart and my empty heart were interchangeable. Until I started trying to decline “cor…corde…cordis?”

This One’s Graphic

I’ll be honest. I could picture the graphs here, but it’s been almost 15 years since I took a math class, so I had to look up some of the functions.

“Lord, I used to think I was x³. Like, I grew a lot and I hit a plateau and soon I’ll break through and start shooting toward holiness. But I’m beginning to think I’m arctangent. There’s this horizontal asymptote I can’t break through. I just need to you to change my equation, Lord, if I’m going to be any better than I am now.”

Meg=f(x)

Meg=f(x)

Seriously, who prays about spiritual asymptotes?

A Different Kind of Nerd

While watching Frozen, sobbing, surrounded by 3-year-old girls singing their hearts out:

“That’s what I’ve done! I’ve built ice walls around my heart!!”

So there you have it, folks. There’s an old saying: Pray as you can, not as you can’t. So if you’re a nerd at heart, pray like a nerd. If you love movies, let movies speak to you. If you’re all about sports, try to imagine salvation like a football game. I’ve done all of the above. The only rule is that you have to be real. Beyond that, there’s nothing God doesn’t want you to hear.

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The Worst Week of Thomas’ Life

As part of my Triduum this year, I took the time to read the Gospel accounts of what I was living in the liturgy. I spent Holy Thursday reading about the Last Supper, the Agony, the betrayal, and the arrest and Good Friday reading every account of the Passion. It really helped me to enter in to the commemorations, but I didn’t have any epiphanies.

Easter Sunday was a different matter. Reading about Jesus different appearances after the Resurrection opened my eyes in so many ways. I sympathized with the women who were “fearful yet overjoyed,”1 saw myself in the Apostles who “worshiped but they doubted,”2 and wondered at the passion of Peter who does everything wholeheartedly, even when it seems rather an idiotic thing to do.3 But it was Thomas who really got me.

doubting ThomasWe know the story, of course. We heard it at Mass today. Jesus appeared when Thomas wasn’t there, Thomas doubted, then Jesus came and Thomas believed. A little late, but still. He came around–even became a great Saint, though he’s stuck with the name Doubting Thomas until the end of time.

The trouble is, we skim over the first part of John 21:26.

A week later, Jesus came back. A week. Between his doubt and his faith, Thomas suffered for a week.

Who knows why he doubted? Certainly the Resurrection was too good to be true. And maybe he thought the other Apostles had snapped–that the misery of the Passion had been too much for them and they were delusional. At first I’m sure he assumed they were just confused, that the body had been moved and would turn up. When they explained that they’d seen him, he must have started to wonder if they were lying to him. As they tried in vain to convince him, maybe he dug in his heels, refusing to be proved wrong. Maybe he wanted to believe but couldn’t see his way clear to.

I wonder if he didn’t start to think they were telling the truth. Did he wonder why Jesus left him out? Did he go over that day in his head again and again, trying to see how he’d offended the Lord? Was he blaming himself? Or did he start to get mad at Jesus for not showing himself to Thomas?

And as the week went on and Jesus still didn’t return, maybe he worried that his friends were really crazy. When he heard reports of other encounters, did it make him angry? Here he was, one of Jesus’ closest friends and the only one sane enough to know that the dead stay dead.

Did he feel left out? Or relieved that he hadn’t fallen victim to the same madness the others had succumbed to? Bad enough to uproot your whole life for a man who can’t even be bothered to defend himself before being slaughtered like a criminal–now he’s expected to live in some delusion. Still and all, it must have been hard to listen to them talk with hope and excitement when he was stuck in misery.

Caravaggio

Caravaggio

Did it take him until that next Sunday to believe? Did he really have to see the light shining through the holes in his hands? Maybe he came to believe days earlier and had to wait, hoping against hope that Jesus would come back, that Thomas would be there this time.

Was Thomas “too smart” to have faith? Was he too proud? Too mistrustful? I don’t know what caused his doubt. I don’t know what brought him to faith. But I know this: a lot of us are Thomas.

We’re supposed to believe and we just don’t. We might not even remember a time when we did. We’re surrounded by people who claim great peace in prayer and joy from knowing Jesus and we’re just going through the motions.

Or maybe we’re not going through the motions. Maybe we’ve given up even that, knowing as we do that this can’t be true.

Maybe we believe plenty but we still can’t sense his presence. We know Jesus rose but we can’t for the life of us see any resurrection in our own futures.

Wherever your doubt is coming from, remember this: Jesus came for Thomas. He knew Thomas’ obstinate doubt and he loved him all the same. He didn’t yell at him or cut him loose. He rose with holes so he could show Thomas, and when he finally appeared to him, I have to think he spoke with the very same tenderness I hear in his “Mary,” at the empty tomb. And he corrects him, indeed, but I imagine Thomas was overjoyed to be corrected by a God he could finally believe in.

Jesus came for Thomas. He brought light into Thomas’ darkness and healed his unbelief and he promises the same to you.

Still. He waited.

He waited an agonizing week as Thomas doubted his friends, his God, his reason, everything. He let Thomas stew. I don’t know why. But he knew. And if he’s leaving you in the darkness right now, he knows why he’s doing that, too. Be sure of this: he knows what he’s about. And just as Thomas’ week won him the confidence of millions of doubters down through the ages, just as Mother Teresa’s darkness won us all peace in the face of incessantly dry prayer, your suffering is working. It may not make you the greatest Saint of your time, but if it makes you a saint at all, it is well worth it. Hang on, my friends. Cling to those pierced hands. Sunday is coming.

I love you Jesus my love

  1. Mt 28:8 []
  2. Mt 28:17 []
  3. Jn 21:7, 11, among many others []
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Meditating on God’s Love

I was leading a high school girls’ retreat the other day and was given the task of putting together some different prayer experiences for the girls. These had to be self-guided, which ruled out my usual Ignatian Meditation and Lectio options. I was stumped, but the Holy Spirit got to working and I wanted to share some of the results with y’all. So carve out 20 minutes, grab a piece of paper to write your answers down (if you want) and a Bible, and get to praying.1

God’s Love in Scripture

How would you describe yourself?

How do you think God sees you?

Look up Isaiah 43:4, Song of Songs 4:7, Isaiah 44:2, and Song of Songs 2:2. How does God describe you in these verses?

How would you describe your relationship with God?

How do you imagine God? What image best describes your relationship? (Father, judge, friend, etc….)

Read Isaiah 49:13-16, Hosea 2:21-22, Isaiah 54:10, and Isaiah 62:4-5. How does God describe his relationship with you?

How has God shown his love for his people? (Deuteronomy 10:14-15, John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Luke 15, John 14:18)

How have you seen God’s love in specific ways in your life?

JPII sum of the Father's love

  1. Gentlemen, this exercise might not resonate as much with you–or maybe it will. Give it a shot, but don’t be too discouraged if it’s not your thing. []
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