Hiding in the Sacred Heart

If you’ve been keeping up on social media, you know that I spent the last two weeks on an insane pilgrimage around France, Spain, and Portugal. I went with an amazing group of young people who have no patience for shopping and leisurely sight-seeing. They wanted to visit Saints and a lot of them. So we did. (You can stalk our pilgrimage here if you want.)

Pilgrimage

Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Catherine Labouré, Thérèse, Louis and Zélie Martin, Louis de Montfort, Marie-Louise Trichet, Josefa Menendez, Bernadette, Margaret Mary Alacoque, Claude de la Colombière, John Vianney, Francis de Sales, Jane Frances de Chantal, John Francis Regis, Thomas Aquinas, Saturninus, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Elizabeth of Portugal, Lourdes, Fatima, Mont-St-Michel, and the Normandy Beaches. In 10 days.

I was really excited about this pilgrimage. I’d seen Thérèse before, but that was about it. And a lot of these are in really inaccessible places, so doing it on a tour bus is much easier than trying to go it alone. But it was day 5 that I really couldn’t wait for. Bernadette—the incorruptiest of the incorruptibles—and John Vianney, the only diocesan priest ever canonized. What a day!

Bernadette

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

And they really were amazing. Bernadette was incredible to see—as though she were just sleeping. Honestly, though, it was the sign near her body that struck me the most. Here lies a miracle of shocking proportions, a body dead 150 years that hasn’t decayed in the least, and the caretakers of the shrine seem almost blasé about it. “Yeah, yeah, she’s cool and all. But God himself is in the next chapel over. And that’s really the point of all this.”

John Vianney’s shrine was marvelous as well, not least because our incredible priest got to say Mass on the altar where John Vianney celebrated Mass, using his very chalice. What a grace!

But it was the afterthought of the day that got me: Margaret Mary and Claude de la Colombière.

You’d think that I’d already have been a Margaret Mary fan. After all, my name is Margaret.1 But I’d always thought of her as some nun Jesus appeared to. Like that’s not a big enough deal to warrant some attention??

"Come to me, all of you."

“Come to me, all of you.”

And you’d think that I’d already have been a Sacred Heart fan. The statue of the Sacred Heart is my favorite spot on Notre Dame’s campus. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent sitting outside staring at it. Matthew 11:28-30 (a passage often connected with te Sacred Heart) was my favorite for years. And then there’s the fact that the whole point of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is the burning, passionate, desperate love of God, which is kind of my thing.

But most images of the Sacred Heart don’t really do it for me. There’s something wrong about Jesus’ face. So that’s never been a big devotion of mine.

Until Paray-le-Monial.

2016-05-20 12.15.53 copyAnd yeah, Margaret Mary’s real body was there, which was cool. And the art was much better than usual. Charles de Foucauld was unexpectedly represented in the apse of the chapel, which was exciting. But I don’t think it was any of that. I think that the Sacred Heart just wanted me to love him.

Here is the Heart of Christ, ripped from his chest for me. It’s marked by the cross, burning with love, and surrounded by the thorns of suffering. It’s rent open, broken for love of me. How can I not love him?

Underneath the relics was the charge Jesus gave to St Margaret Mary: I want you to to serve as an instrument to draw hearts to my love.

If there’s any better description of the mission God’s given me, I don’t know what it is.

2016-05-20 12.10.56

So I spent the next few days just soaking in the love of God. I sat and said to him, over and over, “I love you I love you I love you.” I sang him silly love songs–Michael Buble’s “Everything” for one–and basked in some marvelous consolations.

But mostly I did something odd: I crawled into the pierced heart of Jesus.

I often want to be held by the Lord, but I’m too visual. I can imagine dancing with Jesus, but being held is more intimate, and then I’m wondering if I can sit on Jesus’ lap or if that’s too forward. Same thing with the image of being held by the Father: it’s nice for a moment and then suddenly I’m overthinking it.

This one, somehow, I couldn’t overthink because it was just too weird. All I could do was crawl inside the heart of Jesus and know that I was absolutely surrounded, that everything that impacted me came through him first, that I was protected and cherished and held.

2016-05-20 12.49.27

Check out that throne of flames! This is no sallow-faced, pink-cheeked, shrinking-violet Jesus.

I put other people in there, too. I’ve spent years holding people up at the foot of the Cross or handing them to Mary so she can offer them to the Lord. This time around, I was done with middle men. So when I got ugly news from beautiful friends, I walked right up to the pierced heart of Christ and put my friends inside. When I couldn’t hold them or help them or even handle their pain, I put them in his heart and let him hold them.

Off and on, this is where I’ve been since. I’ve been praying the Novena to the Sacred Heart and the Litany to the Sacred Heart, learning what it means to burn with the love of God and be marked by the Cross. But above all, I’ve been hiding in his heart. I hope I stay there.

Sacre-Coeur

God has loved us with an everlasting love; therefore, when he was lifted up from the earth, in his mercy he drew us to his heart.

PS If you’ve got any favorite books on the Sacred Heart, hook me up!

  1. Yes, really. No, it’s really not Megan. At all. In any way. Please stop calling me that. []
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Heavy Blessings

Elizabeth spent her life barren in a society inclined to value women solely based on their childbearing abilities. Those of you who struggle with infertility can identify with the longing and the despair and the irrational guilt that must have plagued Elizabeth. More than the internal suffering, Elizabeth would also have been subjected to open scorn and derision from her neighbors and friends, seen as one cursed.1 So when, at long last, the angel appeared to Zechariah, when her belly began to swell, when she felt the quickening of life within her, Elizabeth must have been transfigured by joy. What an incredible gift: not only motherhood, but such motherhood. To bear the prophet of the most high—it was more than she could ever have dreamed.

Visitation 2But Elizabeth was old. Old enough that this conception was more than just providential but miraculous. So when God worked this miracle and John the Baptist was conceived, there was great rejoicing and also great pain.

Elizabeth’s joints were already stiff and sore; they must not have taken 40 extra pounds well.

Elizabeth’s ligaments didn’t stretch as well as they once had; her body must have screamed in pain.

I wonder how sick she got.

I wonder how early in her pregnancy she was no longer able to get out of bed at all.

I wonder just how awful it was, this incredible blessing.

Because Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a blessing, but it was a heavy blessing. She rejoiced, she gave thanks, she loved her baby. But it was really, really, really hard.

I wonder what your heavy blessing is right now. The situation you’re in that you’re able to thank God for but that still weighs on you as a cross. The unexpected pregnancy or the much-needed promotion that requires far more hours. The roommate you adore who sucks you dry emotionally. The special needs child. The big old house in need of a thousand repairs. The summer break with your kids that might drive you crazy. The amazing community that leaves you little time for sleep. The mentally ill spouse. Some things in your life might be purely awful, but many are good things that are really, really hard.

The temptation is to get caught up in the difficulty of it, to focus on the aches and exhaustion and fear of what happens when an old body gives birth. But the more we focus on all that’s ugly the more we forget the shattering beauty of what’s weighing us down. We start to define our blessings by the ways they inconvenience us instead of seeing them as gifts. We need the clarity of Elizabeth, stepping back from all the heaviness to rejoice in the goodness.

VisitationWe also need to be real and to acknowledge the struggle that it takes to accept God’s gifts. It seems so ungrateful to look at something beautiful God’s given us and complain about the attendant pain or worry or sleeplessness. But for all Elizabeth may have rejoiced in her suffering, I bet you anything she acknowledged it. I bet she asked for help. I bet she wept tears of relief when Mary showed up to help. There’s nothing unvirtuous in being honest about your struggles. And I think that when we’re honest, we open the pressure valve a little and the resentment dissipates.

When you spend your life trying to be okay with a difficult situation, eventually it becomes too much. “It’s good, it’s a blessing, everything’s fine, I should be grateful” explodes into anger and self-pity. But looking at your marriage or job or friend or child or health and calling it a heavy blessing gives glory to God while acknowledging your weakness and that is exactly what Christians are called to do.

My friend, you’re not a superhero. Neither was Elizabeth. Just like her, you’re an ordinary person with some awfully heavy blessings. It’s okay to be really grateful and really tired. And if you need a patron saint of those heavy blessings, Mary’s got a cousin who might be willing to help you out.

  1. Lk 1:24 []
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Fourth Hoboversary: What’s Changed?

Saturday marked four years–and nearly one million blog views–since I started hoboing. It does sometimes seem that this episodic novel I’m living is monotonous in its constant change, but a look back at where I was four years ago makes me think things are rather more different than I’d realized.

Something else I wasn't expecting to be part of my hobo life.

I wasn’t this expecting to be part of my hobo life.

Four years ago, I quit my job, packed everything into my car, and started driving. I figured I’d be couchsurfing until July, then God would give me a place to live. Four years later, there’s no end in sight. I figured I might hit 20 or so states before I settled down. 49 states and 18 countries later, not so much. I called it a sabbatical, thinking I’d stay someplace quiet and have lots of free time to write a book. Quiet? Free time? Ha.

It became clear within the first 8 months or so that this was going to be a longer and wider-reaching ministry than I’d expected. You lovely people have read and shared my blog, invited me to speak, told your friends, connected me to people abroad, and all around kept me busy. And as this whole crazy thing has unfolded, I’ve found myself praying more and sleeping less, reading more and blogging less, falling asleep in chapels more and beating myself up about it less.

Also wasn't planning on employing a puppy evangelist.

Also wasn’t planning on employing a puppy evangelist.

Then I liked very little better than talking about myself. Now it’s all I can do not to sigh dramatically when someone asks me a question I’ve answered a thousand times.1 Then I was such an extrovert I couldn’t stay awake driving unless I was talking to someone on the phone. Now I’m thrilled when my host offers to leave me alone for the evening–and I detest talking on the phone.2 Then I was convinced I was going to be a consecrated virgin. Now I’m thinking God might be intending marriage for me.

I can feel the strain this life has put on my body; I might still be able to drive 15 hours in a day, but my back is no longer pleased about it.3 Fortunately my soul’s holding up better than my shoulders. I lamented last year that this life isn’t making me a saint, and while I’m certainly no saint, I can see areas where the Lord is rubbing off my rough spots using internet trolls, thoughtless hosts, and talks that go over like a lead balloon.

Didn't anticipate how often pieces of my car would fall off.

Didn’t anticipate how often pieces of my car would fall off.

There’s quite a lot that’s hard—though mostly not the things you’d expect—and quite a lot that’s lovely. There are days when I think I can’t possibly do this any longer and days when I can’t imagine anything else. Most days are both.

But the biggest shift has been in how I preach. For the first year or so that I was a hobo, person after person asked me what my topic was. I’d prayed about narrowing my focus and I really felt that I couldn’t, that I wanted to speak on all things Catholic.

“Everything,” I’d say, “but at heart I’m an apologist.” I was fascinated by the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism–still am–and was pretty convinced that training Catholics in how not to be Protestant would teach them to be Saints.

I'm not at all surprised by how many books I have.

I’m not at all surprised by how many books I still have.

What I didn’t realize was how very many Catholics weren’t ready to be Saints. Or Catholics. Or even Christians. I didn’t know how many people go through the motions without knowing Jesus. I had no idea that people would bother showing up to Mass–even to daily Mass–when they didn’t love him.

I was trying to feed meat to children who needed milk. And while I’m sure those were good enough talks, I was skipping the foundation of loving God and trying to build the turrets and crenellations. I won’t worry about who I missed, I’ll just trust that God was working even then.

But then I read Forming Intentional Disciples (which is amazing and you simply must read it) and realized that what people need more than anything is to hear the simple Gospel proclaimed in compelling ways. And I shifted my focus.

Had no idea I'd be spending two months in Europe each year.

Had no idea I’d be spending two months in Europe each year.

Oh, I still speak on confession or purgatory or Church history, but I’ve really only got one talk: “God loves you like crazy.” I just frame it in different topics. Basically every talk I give now is the kerygma (a proclamation of the Gospel). When I talk with individuals, I try to work it in. When I get excited about defending some point of doctrine, I remind myself the whole point is to convince people that God loves them and encourage them to live like that’s true.

So these days, you’re more likely to hear me say this than anything else: you are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you. It’s incredibly basic and the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Which is why I try to slide it in to every talk I give, even to people who already believe it. Because it’s the greatest good news the world has ever seen and it changes everything.

So it’s the same mission that it was, just longer. And busier. And more exhausting. And more focused on the one thing that matters: the love of God. All in all, a good four years. Please pray for me!

  1. Amazing that it took me three years of talking about myself nearly nonstop to get tired of the subject. []
  2. I still love people, it’s just such a treat to be alone! []
  3. My back is no longer pleased about most anything and I’ve decided getting a massage every few months is not overly indulgent. []
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Experiencing the Spirit

I’ve always loved the Holy Spirit rather more than most, I think. For years, I told people he was my favorite person of the Trinity, if it’s not blasphemy to pick favorites among the coequal, coeternal persons in the triune Godhead. When your gifts are as churchy as mine, it’s easy to have powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit. And I certainly have, whether it’s through speaking or giving counsel or just following God’s prompting to visit a random town in Ohio or fly out of Norfolk for no good reason.

I describe him as a power running through my veins, like adrenaline or alcohol or caffeine. He heightens my experience of the world and makes me more alive.

2016-04-06 19.03.13But last week in a powerful homily Father asked us to imagine the Holy Spirit not just within but behind us, catching us up and pushing us along, and the Lord gave me the most beautiful image. I’m sure I can’t describe it adequately, but I think I have to try.

The Spirit is a wind that you can see and feel, a wind that has a personality you can understand, though he speaks only mutely. He communicates by the things he catches up and shows you, the places he draws you, and the way he moves you. When he first begins to blow around you he may be gentle and enticing, but at a certain point he sweeps you off your feet, spinning you around before gently setting you back down. When he takes control, you can choose how to respond. You can fight, clinging to lamp posts and trying to keep charge of your life. And more often than not, he’ll back off and let you continue trudging along through your dreary life, oblivious to the joy and wonder he’s trying to open to you.

But you’ll find that when you fight him you often end up hurting yourself. The less you trust, the more you clench your fists around your own plans and ideas, the more you find your shoulder wrenched, your nails broken, your neck aching from whiplash. When you give in, though, surrendering to the movement you don’t understand, there’s an unexpected comfort and even a whimsy. You might be spun into the air laughing for joy or gently cradled for a moment of rest. The wind is at times warm and comforting, at times a bracing chill to wake you. He’s got emotions, too, that you can sense from how he’s moving but that you also inhale, finding yourself filled with power or clarity or peace amid turmoil. It’s different depending on what he’s doing–he’s nothing if not unpredictable.

Watch this brilliant video for some sense of what I mean, only with more of a personality and taking you into the air as well as around on your feet:1

I’ve been sitting with this image of the Spirit all week, allowing myself to be caught up in his dance and filled with his power. Sometimes I see myself reaching out to grab something that isn’t for me and left tumbling, falling, falling before suddenly he catches me again and puts me back where I belong.

flameIt’s somehow both thrilling and peaceful, a gentle ride on Aslan’s breath or an hour in a tornado. It’s more a relationship with a person than just the motivation and inspiration I’ve felt before. I’m not sure if I’ve described it well enough, but maybe you can pray with this image during the octave of Pentecost, asking the Spirit to show you who he is and how he works. Find someplace still (before the Blessed Sacrament is always best) and picture yourself being caught up and carried about by the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s terrifying or out of control or just as it should be. Maybe you’re fighting it and the Spirit won’t leave you behind or maybe he leaves you be to try again later. Maybe there’s something specific you grasp that causes you to be pulled out of God’s will. Maybe it’s all too speculative. But this is where my spirit’s been all week and it’s been absolutely lovely to be getting to know the Spirit as a real person, not just a force. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!

  1. There’s some other animated piece, I think, that accomplishes what I’m imagining, but I can’t quite think what. It’s a little bit Toothless the dragon and maybe something from Peter Pan? And a lot of the Genie from Aladdin. And other bits that make it much more personal than this, but this is a start. []
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When Being an Easter People Is a Bad Thing

Easter candle liliesHappy Easter, friends! We are an Easter people over here–all 50 days of it. So along with my feasting (and there has been plenty of feasting) all during the Easter season I’ve been trying to use the stories from Acts as much as I can. After all, Acts is our Easter book, right? We read from it every day of Easter. So let’s be all about the Apostles and the amazing work they did, especially during this Easter season!

Until last week when I realized: almost none of the Acts of the Apostles takes place during Easter.1 Because during Easter, the Apostles weren’t out doing anything. For forty days they were being taught by Jesus, learning to forgive sins and feeling their hearts burn within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. And then he ascended. And maybe they felt empowered by the great commission or maybe they felt afraid and alone or maybe they wondered if this wasn’t another 3-day psych-out. But whatever they were feeling, here’s what they did:

They kept to themselves.

“They were continually in the temple praising God,”2 which is great. They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”3 They were in fellowship and in prayer amongst themselves, but they weren’t going out. They weren’t preaching Christ crucified or offering his mercy to the nations.

They had an excuse: they hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit.

What’s our excuse?

We received the Holy Spirit at baptism and his presence was strengthened in confirmation. We claim his name over our lives every time we cross ourselves. We’ve been called and filled and sent out.

But most of us are still locked in the upper room.

We’ve met the risen Christ and many of us have been transformed. Like Peter our sins have been forgiven, like Mary Magdalene our broken hearts healed, like Thomas our doubts satisfied. We’ve been made new. And now we’re sitting around doing nothing about it.

Oh, we might be in the temple day in and day out. We might be meeting in fellowship and even praying together. But we’re not reaching out to the world.

I wonder what happens when the Spirit comes down as tongues of fire and we refuse even to open the windows, let alone go out into the streets. My hunch is that it doesn’t look pretty and doesn’t end well.

That’s where we’ve been as a Church for far too long. In the West, at least, we’ve been focusing inward, trying (halfheartedly, in most cases) to take care of our own. But when a missionary Church locks itself in an upper room, nobody gets fed.

This year on the Vigil of Pentecost, people all over the world are praying in a special way for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They’re praying that the power of God will be released in their lives, that they’ll live in the freedom of the Spirit. I think one of the most powerful ways that we’ll experience this is by giving God permission to touch hearts through us. If we decide that we’re going to unlock the door and walk out into the streets, proclaiming Christ and living the book of Acts, we’ll be transformed just as much as those we meet. We’ll move past Easter (still filled with Alleluias) and live in Pentecost as though it were Ordinary.

This Pentecost, the Spirit is coming down. Let’s open our lives to him and go out to set the world ablaze.

Pentecost

  1. That we know of anyway. Certainly not during the first Easter season. []
  2. Luke 24:53 []
  3. Acts 1:14, though they weren’t really his brothers []
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The Day After the Annunciation

Yesterday the world stopped spinning.
The whole earth trembled.
Heaven came down to earth
as the Word was made flesh
in my womb.
Mine.
Though I am no queen,
no prophetess,
no Judith or Esther or Deborah.
Here in this nowhere town
dwells the creator of all the world.

I cannot say if there were trumpets,
though I heard them,
nor if choirs of angels sang God’s glory.
I only know my heart thrilled,
my spirit soared,
my soul sang
as the angel of the Lord called me God’s own
and asked me to bear his Son.

But that was yesterday.

Today the angel is gone,
and so too the astonishing peace,
the silence in my heart so loud it fairly shook.
Today I am not wandering
like one in a dream,
a secret smile touching my lips
as my hand returns again and again to rest
over the spot where Life himself has chosen to live.

Joy still, yes, and wonder.
Who am I that my Lord should come to me?
Still my heart is full and still my head spins with the glory of it all.
But today I have to think:
what next?

St. Anne and the Young Mary, by Maria Pureza Escano.

St. Anne and the Young Mary, by Maria Pureza Escano.

Perhaps I imagined it,
fell asleep in the warm afternoon sun
and turned the words of the prophet
into my fate.
Perhaps it was a dream,
a temptation,
a trick of the light.
And yet there has never been anything so real
as that shocking moment of peace,
that clarity of confusion.
Nobody could hear what I heard
and see what I saw
and not believe.

But they did not see.
Nor did they hear.
And today I must wake from this dream I am living
and act.

What will he say, when I tell him this thing that has never been told before?
Will he rage against what cannot be believed,
call me out for a liar and call my neighbors out with stones?
He would have that right.
But no.
My Joseph so gentle could never.
He will not shout, will not condemn.
But still he may not believe.

And the sorrow in his eyes would break my heart
if it did not beat for another Heart than his.
He may turn from me,
divorce me,
and leave me alone with this Child who will save him, too.
I am not afraid,
exactly.
My life is not my own.
And He who has chosen me will take me where I need to be.
Though that may be death or disgrace,
though a sword may pierce my heart,
I know he will be with me.

But
but
but I cannot help but hope
that the love of this good man will be stronger than his doubt,
that my parents will believe,
that I and my son will be safe.
As I walk from the radiance of the angel’s presence
into the darkness of the unknown,
God-with-me guides my steps,
though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
And while my flesh may fear
my heart will choose to trust.

Even when I cannot see him
I will be faithful:
the handmaid of the Lord.

After the Annunciation

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