Advent Boot Camp 2016

I put out an Advent Boot Camp three years ago and the response was great, so it’s become an annual thing. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” 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.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup;Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 7:5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings ((Click “Office of Readings” on the left side of the page)); 5 minutes silence

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

  • Day 22: 5 minute warmup;the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 23: 5 minute warmup; Jeremiah 31; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 24: 5 minute warmup; 15 minutes journaling on why you need the incarnation; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 25: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 35; reading from St. Augustine; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 26: 5 minute warmup; Matthew 1:18-2:23; G.K.Chesterton “The House of Christmas”; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 27: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 28: Half an hour of prayer: your choice

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. If you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, though, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

50 Ways You Can Help Heal Our Divided Country

Since the election, what I’ve been trying to say was love each other, love each other, and love each other. From the reactions I got, it seems some people weren’t able to hear anything but attack. Over and again I was told how divisive I am.1 It seems that for some of us, unity is the currently the supreme value.

So I’ve been praying about what it means to be unifying. I think many people–on both sides–believe it means to shut up about what you don’t like and accept the status quo, but in a Church that has always fought for justice I just can’t see how that could be right. When people are afraid and enraged and feel attacked for voting their consciences, the appropriate response can’t just be to yell at everyone to shut up.

Seen in a high school government classroom the week after the election. Ain't that the truth?

Seen in a high school government classroom the week after the election. Ain’t that the truth?

Unity doesn’t mean that we all believe the exact same thing. It means that we listen and respect and try to understand each other. It means that we use appropriate channels to voice our concerns, including peaceful protest. It means that we acknowledge people’s fear even if we then try to show them that it’s unfounded. It means we work to defend each other, even if we don’t have a dog in this particular fight.

But opportunities to do all this seem to be evading us. So for those of you who, with me, are trying to understand and love people on both sides, I thought a list of concrete things to do might be helpful. They may not all be up your alley, but they’re worth considering.

Respect—specific actions you can take to respect people who differ from you.

  1. Assume that people mean well. Don’t read between the lines to discover an attack where one wasn’t intended.
  2. Stop with the hateful rhetoric. Call out prejudice, but don’t refer to people as fascists and crybabies unless they are heavily influenced by Mussolini or literal infants in tears.
  3. When using words like racist, do the best you can to label actions, not people. For one, it’s a dangerous thing to define someone by one element of his character. For another, it’s not fruitful to slam the door in his face. Take issue with language or behavior and you might still be able to have a conversation.
  4. Don’t hold people to a higher standard than the one you set for yourself. If you expect others to understand that not all Trump supporters are bigots, you need to acknowledge that not all protestors are rioting, and vice versa.
  5. kinderRemember that every person you criticize—friend, family member, stranger on the internet, even politician—is a real person, beloved by God, with wounds and suffering that have formed her. Be kind.
  6. Make a list of all the things you respect about the party you don’t belong to. (If you’re an independent, make two lists.) Once you get going (including intentions and conviction), you might find there’s more there than you expected.
  7. Encourage people you see who are trying to understand how the other side thinks. Believe me, when you start to affirm something that’s different from what the majority of your friends believe, you’re going to suffer for it. A little encouragement goes a long way.
  8. Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Ask yourself: if I were gay or rural poor or pro-life or undocumented or a victim of sexual assault or underemployed, how would I feel? Is it possible to believe as this person believes without being a racist/baby-murderer/snowflake/xenophobe? Then give him the benefit of the doubt. Assume he’s not terrible and act on that assumption.
  9. Remember that the point of all this isn’t winning but love.
    .
    Information—the sources you listen to and the way you share them.
    .
  10. Read books that weren’t written for you, and follow news sources that don’t skew your way. Share their work, even if with a caveat. I don’t agree with everything in any of these articles, but I think they’re all worth a read.
    1. I found this article particularly helpful in understanding the Trump voters who weren’t motivated by pro-life convictions.2
    2. This one (despite its profanity) similarly gives an explanation of the desperation of many people living in rural poverty.
    3. These quotations from individual Trump voters shed light on how multifaceted that group is.
    4. This man–no Trump supporter–writes in a very thorough way about how he believes the accusations of racism are beyond excessive. This one is really fascinating.
    5. On the flip side, this post outlines some of the serious concerns the left has following this election.
    6. Elizabeth Warren’s letter might also raise eyebrows among Trump supporters who expected him to drain the swamp as he promised.
    7. It helps to read what those in the middle are saying as well.
    8. This post on how to be an anti-racist ally might make you very uncomfortable. It’s still worth your time.
  11. Be very deliberate about your comments on social media. (Seriously, click over there. Half of what I’m trying to say here I already said better there.)
  12. Don’t share stories you haven’t fact-checked. May I recommend www.snopes.com to start?
  13. If you listen to the radio, alternate between SiriusXM Patriot and Progress. If television, add some Fox to your diet of MSNBC. Subscribe to the Washington Post and the Washington Times–real print subscriptions that support responsible journalism in an age of clickbait. Try not to hate your opposition but actually to listen.
  14. thinkIf you love Trump, make a post on social media in which you acknowledge some of the concerns you have about him. If you don’t, share a list of positive things you could see coming out of his presidency.
  15. Continue to speak out against injustice, but make sure you also decry injustice coming from your side. You might think that everybody knows that when you defend immigrants you clearly oppose riots, but people these days are struggling to ascribe any positive attributes to the opposition. Make it easier by saying the obvious aloud.
  16. Go find some of those friends you unfollowed during election season–the ones who are good and intelligent if a bit overly-vocal about politics–and read what they’ve shared. Then reach out to them to start a conversation.
  17. Research—if you’re genuinely afraid of the consequences a Trump presidency will have on your life, find the particular laws and executive orders you’re concerned about and learn what it would take to reverse them. In many instances, the process would be impossible or at least so complicated as to push it after mid-term elections.
  18. When your heartfelt attempts to be just and compassionate are met with rage or disdain, consider taking a break from fighting the good fight to read some happy news and remember that there really are millions of marvelous people in this world.
  19. Get off social media for a week and just live your life.
    .
    Conversation—the way you view and interact with people you know.
    .
  20. Go to coffee with a friend from the other side of the political spectrum. It might be best for you to set a time limit on political talk, giving yourself half an hour or so to work through the very real differences between you before switching to less incendiary topics.
  21. If you know somebody who’s afraid following this election, reach out and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
  22. When an online interaction is getting heated or you’re talking past each other, invite your interlocutor to meet in person to continue the conversation. It’s harder to hate each other in person.
  23. Be aware that you use words that set off red flags for other people or just seem meaningless (privilege, subsidiarity). Try to use language that we all share.
  24. Sirach 20:1Remember that not every battle is yours to fight. There are times when you have to stand your ground and other times when you can change the subject or keep scrolling.
  25. Don’t defend the indefensible. Just because you approve of a particular politician doesn’t mean you have to take his side on every issue. We are fighting for truth and goodness here, not for a political candidate or ideology. Admit it when your side is wrong.
  26. Reach out to people you know who voted differently from you and ask them, “Please help me understand.” Listen. Repeat it back to them. Do not argue. Don’t even share your perspective unless they ask. Just try to understand.
  27. When conversations get too heated, pull back and ask people to help you find common ground. We may not agree that a certain appointee is a racist, but we can agree that racism is wrong. We can agree that people ought to feel safe. We can agree that people ought to listen to each other. There’s far more that unites us than that divides us.
    .
    Action—choices you can make to benefit the broader community.
    .
  28. Take a look at the appointments being made by our president-elect. If any of them concern you, call your representatives to voice that concern. If any of them reassure you, do the same.
  29. Consider wearing a safety pin, even if you’re not a liberal. This is a signal that you are a safe person to ask for help and that you’re willing to step in if you see injustice. If people view it as a political statement, explain that you are opposed to cruelty regardless of its cause.
  30. Don’t wear a safety pin if you’re not willing to put yourself at risk.3
  31. Pray daily for our current president, our president-elect, and every person whose political persuasions rub you the wrong way.
  32. Encourage your elected officials to pursue genuine dialogue. This article suggests that Catholics who have worked in ecumenism could lead the conversation.
  33. Pick an institution you struggle to understand and respect (a crisis pregnancy center, a mosque, the National Organization for Women, a Baptist church, the VFW, Greenpeace, the NAACP, the NRA) and stop by for a visit. Ask if they have a representative you can ask some questions of. Don’t try to change their minds, just to understand. And maybe bring cookies.
  34. Take your kids to visit a nursing home. It may not do anything politically, but works of mercy always serve the common good.
  35. Look for beautiful things to refresh you. Read a lovely or painful or entertaining book. Man cannot live on rage and controversy alone.
  36. Support local businesses and get to know the people who run them.
  37. When you’re upset on behalf of a particular group, instead of being angry, do something specific to serve that group. If you’re concerned about immigrants, donate to an organization that serves them or volunteer to teach ESL at your church or community center. If you’re worried about affordable housing for the poor, get involved in Habitat for Humanity or sign up to tutor people working toward their GED.
  38. Tell people you love why you love them. Especially the ones who make that hard.
  39. Make eye contact with strangers and smile at them. This is a particularly easy time to do that, as all this week you can tell people happy Thanksgiving and I can’t think that anybody will be offended.
  40. Stop by your neighbors’ houses with cookies/an invitation to dinner/an offer to rake their leaves.
  41. Tell immigrants and refugees who you know personally that you’re glad they’re here.
  42. When someone is afraid or angry or otherwise upset, offer to pray with her right there.
  43. Go home for the holidays and love your family. Even the difficult ones.
  44. Spend time in silence every day.
  45. Write a prayer of thanksgiving for the existence of those on the other side of the spectrum from you. Be specific about their good intentions and all that you’ve learned from them (or from trying to speak to them).
  46. Before posting online, reading an article that challenges your view, or speaking to a person you disagree with, offer this prayer:

    Holy Spirit, speak in me and through me. May my stony heart be broken open to love and may I speak the truth the world longs to hear.

  47. Teach your children to love people who are different from them–by talking about it and by demonstrating it. If you don’t have friends who are a different race, try attending a different church (or the same church at a different time) for a few weeks to integrate your Sunday morning. If you don’t have friends who are a different religion, you might consider calling a local place of worship and explaining that you’re trying to help your children learn to love different people and you’re wondering if they might have a family that would like to meet for a playdate.
  48. Though I don't recommend doing it with graffiti.

    Though I don’t recommend doing it with graffiti.

    Find an entirely nonpartisan charity, one that feeds kids or builds handicapped-accessible playgrounds or helps single parents go back to school or shelters abused women or something, and make a donation.

  49. If you see someone who’s being treated cruelly for any reason, step in. This comic shows a peaceful way to defuse a situation.
  50. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

My friends, unity is a beautiful thing, but it is not the most beautiful thing. Truth and justice are far more important, even at the expense of unity. But we can serve truth and justice with kindness and compassion, seeking to listen and understand, respecting people even if we can’t accept their beliefs. Unity is not achieved by people shutting their mouths for fear or shame but by people honestly seeking to love and understand each other. Instead of letting the devil convince us that the other is the enemy, let’s stage a revolution of kindness and make this terrible election season the spark that lit the world on fire with love.

 

(One way to start being unifying would be to make only constructive comments on this post rather than insulting me in all caps. Just a thought.)

  1. Even when I posted an article in which a Clinton supporter said (with all evidence of sincerity) that she believes Trump supporters to be “good-hearted, well-intentioned, loving, tolerant, inclusive, and American.” []
  2. I already understood those. The right to life is the most important right we have and I had no problem respecting those who voted on that issue in this particular election. []
  3. Note: I don’t agree with everything that author says, just thought it was a good read. []
Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Not Babies Throwing Tantrums: Respecting People’s Fear

The trouble with being a Catholic is that we don’t generally do extremes. We tend to try to walk right down the center, holding seeming opposites in tension in what’s called the “both-and” of Catholicism. This is particularly complicated in our polarized American culture and many of us have been struggling this week to figure out how to rejoice over some hope of pro-life legislation being passed while mourning the pain and fear of so many marginalized groups in this country.

I’ve made no secret of my deep concerns about the rhetoric and character of our president-elect; at the same time, being a believing Catholic means that many of the issues that matter most to me align with his current party. So this week has been a tough one, trying to challenge the victors and console their opponents while also reminding both sides not to vilify one another. I’ve already written to liberals encouraging them to consider that most who voted for Trump did so not because of the racist and misogynistic and otherwise hateful things he’s said but in spite of them.1

Now, my conservative friends, I need to talk to you. Or rather, to the handful of you who are complaining so loudly about “crybabies” throwing ”temper tantrums.” To those who are raging that people just need to accept the results of the election and “get over it.” To those who laugh at trigger warnings and safe spaces, and feel the need to ridicule people’s pain and fear.

This is not mercy.

This is not love.

This will not heal.

And those of you who are so loudly asserting your tolerance are refusing to hear the suffering of people of color, abuse victims, Muslims, the disabled, women, GLBTQ folks, and every other community denigrated in recent months by our president-elect and his supporters. But perhaps you will listen to me, a white, pro-life Christian who’s never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Your brothers and sisters are terrified.

It doesn’t actually matter if you think their fears are legitimate. When a kind and merciful person encounters someone paralyzed by fear, the proper response is never to ridicule him for being illogical or reactionary.

If your sister came to your house hyperventilating because her ex was trying to kill her, you wouldn’t tell her to shut up and quit whining, even if her ex was an amazing man. You would hold her and love her and tell her you’d protect her and then try to figure out why she was so afraid. Only then would you talk her down and point out why her fears are—perhaps—unfounded.

Now let’s say your sister had a past history of abuse. You’d be even more empathetic, wouldn’t you? You’d listen and love and ask her how you could help her to feel safe.

And if she’d been abused and her abuser had just been acquitted and her restraining order canceled, you’d do something tangible to protect her.

At least I hope you would.

Because when people are afraid, good people don’t ridicule them.

This is where we are right now. Millions of people who have been abused and see the face of their abuser on the most powerful man in the world are begging desperately for help. Mockery is an inhuman response.

When people are afraid, it’s because there’s something wrong. Maybe there’s a real danger and maybe they’ve been told there’s one and maybe they’re having a mental breakdown. But none of those things is solved by telling them to suck it up.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-09-17-amYou don’t have to believe that there is a real danger to your friends and neighbors and strangers in order to listen with compassion. You don’t have to accept the assertions that this presidency will pose a danger to their livelihoods and very lives. Even if you don’t believe them, you can still listen and love and ask how to help.

But it might be easier knowing that these people are not crybabies. Perhaps they will be fine, but they have legitimate reason to fear.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to this country as children and here legally now under DACA are afraid of being deported. You may disagree that they should be here. They are still afraid.

Seriously ill people who had been unable to obtain affordable health insurance because of pre-existing conditions are afraid that they won’t be able to pay for life-saving treatments. You may have had a negative experience with the Affordable Care Act. They are still afraid.

Gay and lesbian couples who are legally married and have children together are afraid that their families will be split up, that they will no longer be able to share legal guardianship of their children or receive their partner’s health benefits or appear in public together without risk of harassment or assault. You may not believe that their union is truly a marriage. They are still afraid.

Survivors of sexual assault are afraid that a country that elects as president man who brags about assaulting women will refuse to believe them when they share their stories of assault. You may believe that Mr. Trump was all talk on that tape. They are still afraid.

Muslims are afraid that they will be forced to register as Muslims and then will be systematically discriminated against as a result of this registry. You may not see the link between this and Nazi Germany. They are still afraid.

Transgender individuals who obtain hormones through insurance (hormones that keep them from committing suicide) are afraid that insurance will no longer cover these medications. You may disagree that they need them. They are still afraid.

Black Americans are afraid that in a country that elected a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, they are not safe in their communities or even their homes. You may know a thousand people who voted for Trump and would never use the N-word. They are still afraid.

Marginalized people of all sorts have heard report after report of hate speech and hate crimes and are afraid that they will also be targeted. You may believe many of these events to be fabricated; you may have similar concerns over accounts of attacks on Trump supporters. They are still afraid.

Tell that to the March for Life. We lost that battle 40 years ago and we're still out marching. Maybe we should just get over it. #sarcasm

A good example of rhetoric that is not helpful.

People are protesting in the streets. I suppose some might just be pitching a fit because they don’t like losing. Others feel a deep fear for themselves or those they love. Many believe—and God help us, I pray that they’re wrong—that President Elect Trump is as dangerous a man as Adolf Hitler was. If you learned of Germans in 1933 who took to the streets to protest Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, you would applaud them. You don’t have to agree with the protestors to respect the fact that many of them believe they are acting to prevent grievous human rights abuses.2

You may argue that true mercy wouldn’t allow people to rest in an unfounded fear, and I agree. But consider this: the fact that you haven’t experienced violence and discrimination and other threats simply because of who you are might make you the wrong person to determine what fears are unfounded. And even if you are the right person, you must do it gently and compassionately. Listen. Empathize. Seriously consider the suffering of the other. Only then can you very gently begin to explain certain areas in which a person is safer than she may feel.

But please don’t sit behind your computer complaining about entitled millennials throwing tantrums. Other people’s pain and fear deserve your respect, even if you don’t understand them. And when you listen with respect, you may find that you come to understand.

 

Edit: This post is about people who are afraid, not people who are enraged or violent. That’s why I spoke only about fear and specifically expressed my rejection of violence.

We’ve been having some trouble in the comments section since I started talking about controversial topics. Maybe before you post something, take a look at this post on how to be kind online.

  1. Somehow, the only negative responses I got on that post were from those I was trying to defend. Can’t win for losing, I suppose. []
  2. Should people be looting and getting violent and burning things? Obviously not. That doesn’t make everyone a violent entitled child. []
Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Moving Forward after This Election

So many of us are discouraged today. So many are heartbroken. So many are afraid for their futures and the futures of their children. A few are jubilant, but I expect many more are experiencing a relief mingled with disgust. This was an ugly election in which most people felt angry at “having” to choose between these two options.

Let me say first of all that I’m sorry. If you’re afraid you’ll be deported, I’m so sorry. If you’re worried your family will be split up, I’m so sorry. If you feel that your fellow citizens have voted against you as a person of color or a woman or a member of the LGBT community, or any other marginalized group, I’m so, so sorry. You matter. You matter to me and to millions of Americans. I hope that soon you will feel safe and loved and welcome in your home.

I also hope that you will join me in fighting against hatred. There’s a temptation now to retreat behind the walls we’ve erected around our political camps. But one thing that has always made America great is that Americans are able to move past differences after an election and work together.

adams-jeffersonI remember my mother telling me, with powerful emotion in her voice, “When Thomas Jefferson was elected and John Adams yielded the presidency to him, it was the first time in the history of the world that power was transferred from one party to another without a drop of blood being shed. It is an incredible thing to belong to that country.”1

Please, friends, let’s make our founding fathers proud. I don’t expect that we’ll riot or revolt, but we can do nearly as much damage by entrenching ourselves in anger and resentment. All over Facebook I’m seeing, “If you voted for Trump, make sure to explain to your lgbt+, female, black, latino/a, Muslim friends why they don’t matter to you.” Or “If you voted third party or didn’t vote, please unfriend me. I will not forget.” A large portion of our country believes that their friends and neighbors voted deliberately for bigotry and misogyny, and I don’t think that’s quite fair. Your friends and neighbors may have voted for a man who is bigoted and misogynistic, but so many of them did it while holding their noses, even weeping at what they felt they must do.

god-have-mercy

This whole Facebook page expresses it well.

Many of them were voting for the lives of children, believing as they2 do that unborn human beings are people and people deserve to live. Many were voting for the freedom to live a faith that Secretary Clinton has openly threatened. Others were voting for their livelihoods, with uncertain jobs and the cost of living on the rise; any change, they thought, must be better.

I can’t say I totally understand them. I refused to vote for him and I refused to vote for her. I found both of them morally abhorrent. And I understand the instinct to characterize his platform as one of hatred and xenophobia, but not everybody who voted for him was intending to vote for that. Many are so scared of life as they’re living it now that they were unable to see the threat to immigrants and people of color and women and, well, the whole planet. I have a hard time understanding that, but I also don’t personally feel threatened by the state of things in this country.

This is the trouble: we don’t understand each other. Being angry and depressed won’t fix that. But trying to love people we disagree with–even people whose choices threaten our very lives–that is the greatest act of defiance against a campaign of hatred.

2014-07-18-14-46-40-2America is already great. We’re great because we band together after tragedies and natural disasters. We’re great because we support each other in spite of our differences. We’re great because we celebrate the freedom to protest. We’re great because when we disagree, we still work together. Let’s honor those whose vision gave us this great country by loving each other in the midst of feelings of anger and betrayal and terror.

Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall on, you must understand that there are people who are unlike you who are terribly afraid. So whatever you feel today, fury or despondency or relief or elation, make this promise: I will not define people by their ideologies. I will love.

Then make a concrete resolution to reach out to people who may be feeling particularly attacked or endangered because of last night’s decision. Make a donation to a group that serves refugees,speak out against domestic violence, commiserate with a friend, volunteer to tutor ESL, invite an immigrant family over for Thanksgiving, keep an eye out for sexual predators when you’re at a bar, befriend a person of color who seems nervous in an all-white situation. Just find someone who isn’t like you and learn how to be an ally.

The thought of saying President Trump makes me feel ill, much though I may understand that it’s not actually the end of the world. But loathing the people who elected him doesn’t fix that. The hashtag all along has been #loveTrumpshate. Let’s live that.

  1. Maybe she said in the modern world? Still, a big deal. []
  2. we []
Posted in Random | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Got a Favorite Disney Princess? Meet Your New Favorite Saint.

If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they can be remarkably single-minded. From an hour-long tantrum inspired by tyrannical authorities switching off an electronic device to the uncanny ability to make every conversation about Spiderman, once they fixate, they may be stuck for years.

Which is why we need to get them focused on the right things. Superheroes and construction vehicles are all well and good, but we who are blessed to be part of a 2000-year-old Church have much more to offer our children than Doc McStuffins and Paw Patrol.

What if your kids loved the Saints as much as they love fictional characters? What if they wanted to dress like Isaac Jogues and Catherine of Siena instead of (or in addition to) Batman and Elsa? I’ve been doing my part to share these stories, but it occurred to me that it would help if you used the obsessions they already have to draw them into the lives of the Saints. And since Disney princesses aren’t so very different from Princess Saints, I thought we’d start there. Scroll through to find your (or your child’s) favorite Disney Princess/Lady-who’s-cool-enough-to-be-a-princess and check out the Saint who might be your new bestie.

disney-saints-2

cinderella-germaineCinderella: St. Germaine

I honestly wonder if St. Germaine wasn’t the inspiration for Cinderella. After her mother died when she was a baby, Germaine’s father remarried, a horrid woman named Hortense who deserved her name. She was terribly abusive to her stepdaughter, refusing to feed her, pouring boiling water on her, and laughing when her children put ashes in Germaine’s food. Like Cinderella, Germaine was sweet as can be imagined, sharing what little she had with beggars and even finding it in herself to forgive her stepmother. Like Cinderella, she was rescued from her life of suffering servitude to be wed to a prince, though her happily ever after came through her death at 22, when she was married to the King of Kings; 40 years later, her body was exhumed and discovered to be incorrupt.

rapunzel-barbaraRapunzel: St. Barbara

Like Rapunzel, the beautiful St. Barbara was locked in a tower for years to protect her from her many expected suitors. What her pagan father didn’t expect was that her long hours staring out the window at creation would turn her mind to the creator of all things, convincing her (through the use of her senses and reason) that pagan idols are worthless. She devoted her life to the pursuit of wisdom, refusing all the suitors her father had finally allowed to come calling. Realizing that he’d messed her up, he let her out of the tower to try to make her normal again and was more than a little dismayed when she met several Christians and decided to be baptized. When she began to witness to her father, he rushed upon her with a sword. Despite miraculously avoiding him several times, she was eventually captured, tortured, and martyred by her own father. (Don’t worry, he was struck by lightning shortly afterward.)

pocohontas-kateriPocahontas: St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Okay, so you probably don’t need help to make this connection; it’s basically just their ethnicity. But while Kateri wasn’t as hot as Pocahontas or as loved by raccoons, she’s more of a true heroine than Pocahontas could ever be–even if you read the real story and not the Disney rom-com. Kateri was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father who both died when she was four. The same smallpox epidemic that killed them left her disfigured and nearly blind, in the care of an uncle who despised Christians. She suffered throughout her life for her faith as people spread rumors about her, ridiculed her, and refused her food on Sundays when she was unwilling to work. Finally, she escaped to a Christian village, walking 200 miles so that she could live with the Sacraments, embracing a vow of virginity and a life of prayer. When she died at 24, her pockmarked face was cleared and those who looked at her dead body saw her as radiantly beautiful.

belle-catherineBelle: St. Catherine of Alexandria

Every girl I’ve ever known who loved Belle loved her because of books. And nobody loved books like Catherine of Alexandria, a pagan princess in Egypt who refused to marry because she was too busy reading. As suitors sought to win her and remained unable to distract her from reading, a hermit came by and promised her a man who knew more than was contained in all her books. Catherine was interested in this and allowed the hermit to tell her about Jesus. Entranced, Catherine offered her life and her hand in marriage to the king of kings. When the Roman emperor heard this, he tried to convince her of the error of her ways by sending 150 of the world’s greatest philosophers to debate her; Catherine convinced every one (and the emperor’s wife) of the truth of the Gospel and was eventually martyred herself.

jasmine-casildaJasmine: St. Casilda

The Moors didn’t dress like Jasmine, but neither did whatever culture she’s supposed to be from. In any event, both Jasmine and Casilda are from Muslim countries, so we’ll call it good. The Muslim daughter of a Moorish king, Casilda knew nothing about Christianity until she met Christians imprisoned for their faith and heard the joy they had found in the love of Christ. She longed to become a Christian but her father threatened her with imprisonment, so it seemed there was nothing she could do. Her longing for Christ was so strong that she began to waste away, consumed by an illness no medicine could cure. Finally, her father consented to send her to a healing spring in a Christian country, where Casilda was healed and then baptized. Unable to return home, she became a hermit and lived to be 100.

tiana-henrietteTiana: Ven. Henriette Delille 

Like Tiana, Henriette Delille was a New Orleans-born woman of color (though we wouldn’t know it to look at her) who worked to earn her place in the world. The great-great-granddaughter of a slave, Henriette belonged to an elite class of African-Americans whose daughters were expected to become mistresses to white men. Refusing to submit to such an ungodly arrangement, Henriette founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious community made up of other educated, intelligent women of color. She spent the rest of her life working with the sick and poor, particularly in the African-American community.

mulan-joanMulan: St. Joan of Arc

If you’re drawn to Mulan because she’s Asian, you’ve got a whole host of Saints to choose from. But if it’s the strong femininity/leading men in battle thing, look no further than St. Joan of Arc. (Actually, feel free to look further to the book of Judith. She’s a boss.) It seems silly even to summarize her story, as I’m sure you know that she was a French peasant girl to whom the voices of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria (see above) spoke. She was told to lead France to victory in the Hundred Years War. Unlike Mulan, Joan was not seeking to impersonate a man–her strength lay in her ability to serve the Lord as a woman, even though he called her to an unusual role. As with Mulan, her story ends gloriously in fire, though Joan didn’t walk away from her fire. Always a hero to France, it took 500 years before she was canonized by the universal church.

merida-margaretMerida: St. Margaret of Scotland

A queen of Scotland is the obvious choice for Merida, but it helps that St. Margaret also had rather a strong personality. She entered Scotland a shipwrecked princess and proceeded to refuse marriage for several years before consenting to marry King Malcom. As queen, she managed to introduce courtly manners to the less-than-couth Scottish nobles. She also brought the Church in Scotland out of a near schism, washed the feet of beggars every day in Advent and Lent, prayed like a nun, and raised eight children, one of whom went on to become a Saint himself. But mostly it’s the Scottish thing.

jane-helenaJane: St. Helena

Though not exactly a princess, Jane (of Tarzan fame) is quite the compelling character. She’s intelligent, brave, and adventurous, just like St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine. Having witnessed the degradation of Christianity at the hands of the Roman nobility, Helena traveled to the Holy Land at an advanced age to search for the True Cross. That makes her an empress, an adventurer, and an archaeologist–no dainty, decorative princess here.

megara-pulcheriaMegara: St. Pulcheria

Meg’s always been a favorite of mine, and it’s not just the name. She’s sassy, cynical, and single, just like me! Take out the selling-your-soul-to-the-devil thing, and we’re a perfect match. But it’s her intelligence that has me pairing her with St. Pulcheria, a woman who reigned as empress in Constantinople not because of her marriage but because of her brilliance. She ruled along with her brother the emperor until his death, at which point they asked her to continue in her position. A consecrated virgin, Pulcheria always made prayer her top priority, even in the midst of important affairs of state. This prayerfulness gave her such wisdom in divine things that Pope St. Leo the Great asked her to speak before the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in order to help the bishops better understand the nature of Christ. A woman like that could outsmart the devil himself.

esmeralda-catherineEsmeralda: Bl. Catherine Jarrige

Unfortunately, the only gypsy on the path to canonization is a man (Bl. Ceferino), but a woman who loved to dance when she was young and spent her adulthood deceiving corrupt agents of the state sounds like a good match for Esmeralda. Bl. Catherine served the poor as a third order Dominican (kind of a lay nun) but is best known for her work to protect priests during the anti-clerical French Revolution. She would sometimes pretend to be a drunken vagrant to distract the authorities and is said to have saved thousands of priests from the guillotine through her quick wit and acting ability. (Click the link–she’s fantastic.)

As for the others, I’m at a loss. There are obviously no mermaid Saints, no Saints who slept for 100 years, no Saints who lived with seven dwarves, and no ice-magic-working Saints (though St. Catherine of Sweden was at least a Nordic queen). For Ana and Elsa, you could try Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, since at least they come in a pair? But a very different pair. Sleeping Beauty could be Jairus’ daughter from Mark chapter 5.1 I bet there are some good medieval legends that could supply us with some alternatives, but for now we’ll just have to steer our girls away from Ariel (because she’s the worst) to better princesses and marvelous Saints.

So there you have it, friends What other suggestions would you make?

  1. This was my niece’s favorite Bible story because I would wrap her up in a sheet, pretend she was dead, then say, “Little girl, arise!” and hold one end of the sheet while she spun out. It’s not pink and blue fairies, but it was always good for a laugh. []
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How Not To Be a Jerk Online in 6 Simple Steps

I'm with you, wide-eyed dog. I'm with you.

I’m with you, wide-eyed dog. I’m with you.

It is an ugly time to go online. Now, I hate conflict of any sort, but online conflict is the worst. Somehow because you’re not directly in front of a person, they seem to be able to ignore your humanity, and often their own. I hate this so much that last week I was about to submit a post to a website where I regularly contribute when I discovered that another author had written a post making the opposite point–on the same site. Rather than seem to be attacking a total stranger, I tabled my post, wrote in for an extension, and stayed up until 3am the next night to get it all done. Conflict successfully avoided!

The next day, I wrote a post decrying Donald Trump. Good job avoiding controversy and online drama, Meg.

Good job avoiding controversy and online drama, Meg.

In the aftermath, which hasn’t been quite as unpleasant as I expected, I’ve had the opportunity to watch people rage and condescend and talk over each other ad infinitum. I’ve been lurking in the comments sections on people’s Facebook posts, where I’ve watched people who actually know each other treat each other like garbage in the name of politicians who they themselves don’t even like. I’ve been called a dishonest crook (which is, by the way, a ridiculous insult and entirely off topic) for being a Democrat, which anyone with Google or any reading comprehension skills can see that I’m not.1

And this, friends, is from self-proclaimed Christians. This is from people I otherwise respect. These are comments directed not at strangers but at neighbors and family members and co-workers.

This profanes the name of Jesus.

I can understand where you're coming from if you, like me, feel this way about this election. But you're not a toddler.

I can understand where you’re coming from if you, like me, feel this way about this election. But you’re not a toddler.

It profanes his name quite literally at times. I saw a good priest called a “Catholic” (in quotation marks) because he suggested a third party candidate. One woman shared her experience of sexual assault and was told, “Any Bible believer who does not vote for the Republican candidate is a hypocrite,” to which the response, of course, was “Jesus was a liberal!”2

It’s appalling. I would think any person of good will would see that. But since many of us seem to have forgotten how to treat each other like human beings when we’re not looking each other in the eye, I thought it might be helpful to have some guidelines for discerning how to reply to people’s controversial opinions online.

1. Read. Please don’t respond to a post without reading the article and all the comments that precede yours.3 I can’t tell you how much unnecessary strife I’ve seen because people are making arguments that have clearly been settled by the linked article or because they’re responding to the quotation shared by the poster without reading the context. Before you comment, make sure you know what you’re responding to.

kinder2. Reread. Part of why arguments online are almost always fruitless and divisive is that people misread each other. There’s no tone or body language to help us interpret people’s words and so we often put the worst possible spin on things. Before you assume someone is being callous or dismissive or rude, reread their comment. Try it in different tones of voice and with different emphases. Is there any way of reading it that can be viewed as less offensive? Assume that was their intent and respond as though they were unclear, not uncharitable. My friend’s husband frequently reminds her: “Never attribute malice or contempt to what can be explained by ignorance or incompetence”–or by pain or confusion or any number of other motivations we can’t possibly know.

3. Respect. Remind yourself that this is a human being you’re talking to, a person desperately loved by God, a soul whom you hope to spend eternity with. This is not an ideology or a platform or a robot, this is a soul. And even if you know this person well, you don’t know everything about him. Don’t say things you don’t want repeated at your funeral. Don’t level accusations you aren’t certain about. If you wouldn’t say it to his face, don’t type it.

4. Rephrase. Don’t just write something angry or controversial and post it immediately. Stop and look it over again. Ask yourself if the language you use is unnecessarily combative. Can you make your point without calling her Killary or him an ass? Because nasty language doesn’t further dialogue. Are you speaking courteously? Do you show respect for the intelligence and goodwill of the people with whom you’re debating? Do you need those extra question marks??? Maybe you could add a friendly emoticon or a kind note like, “Thanks for your question!” or, “I really appreciate your response.” Consider how someone else might read your response and rephrase it to be as charitable as possible.4 I find it helpful to ask myself if I want this to be the last thing I ever say to this person. If I’d be ashamed to have spoken that way, it needs some tweaking.

think5. Reconsider. Are you adding anything to the conversation? Are you clarifying any points or just hurling accusations? Is the person you’re addressing willing to listen? Or are you just increasing the strife and division in the world? When I’ve got a tough comment to write or email to send, I generally write it in a draft, then leave it for a few hours. If it still seems like a reasonable response when things have settled, when I’m less frustrated and have prayed about it, I send it. If not, I figure that by this point nobody was expecting a response anyway. It’s also worth considering that some conversations do need to happen but should happen in a private message, not a public forum where people are being scandalized or contributing divisive commentary. If it’s sensitive, keep it private.

6. Remember:

  • This is not that important. With very rare exception, nobody’s salvation hangs in the balance; if it does, get the heck off the internet and have that conversation in person!
  • You don’t have to win. At a certain point, it might be best to remove yourself from the conversation.
  • Backing off doesn’t mean you’ve lost.5
  • It’s okay to change your mind.
  • The greatest victory a Christian can celebrate is sincere repentance for wrongdoing; now might be a good time to look back over your recent conversations and ask forgiveness.
  • There is nothing more important than prayer. Not argument, not research, not clever phrasing. Pray more than you type and you should be okay.

I’m certainly not the poster child for how to argue well online; my approach is usually to pen some scathing retort worthy of an Austenian heroine and then refuse to post it because I’m terrified of your reaction. But I think that by being deliberate and prayerful, treating our online interactions as human interactions, and assuming people’s intentions are good, we can fight for charity in this broken world of ours. Will you join me?

  1. Not a Republican either. []
  2. Both obviously untrue, at least in the way they meant the words. []
  3. I suppose if you’re commenting on a public figure’s post and it has hundreds of comments you don’t have to read them all. But really, what are you trying to accomplish in that case? Nobody else is reading them either. []
  4. Pro tip: sarcasm is generally a bad idea when you’re online and people’s hackles are already up. []
  5. I recently ended a comment this way: “And now, friend, I will excuse myself from this conversation. Thank you for your respectful tone. God bless you!” []
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Never Trump–Because Apparently It Doesn’t Go without Saying

I didn’t think I was going to have to say anything. Obviously his candidacy was a joke.

And then it wasn’t.

But nobody could possibly support him.

And then they did.

But the Republican Party would never choose him.

Until they did.

But people couldn’t possibly overlook his narcissism, racism, misogyny, and inability to speak coherently. They couldn’t possibly ignore the fact that he’s a terrible businessman. The only thing he’s good at he’s not even good at! They couldn’t look past the fact that he has neither experience nor knowledge nor, apparently, the ability to listen to advisers. And then this–no decent human being, presented with incontrovertible evidence of this creep’s arrogant disregard for the personhood of half the human race, his approval of sexual assault, and his inability to muster any semblance of remorse, nobody could make excuses for that.

BUT THEY ARE.

molochI didn’t think I had to say anything. My kind of people know that this guy is horrendous. The people who read my blog also loathe everything he stands for. Maybe they’re willing to look the other way for the sake of Supreme Court justices, believing (naively, I feel) that this is the one area where an entirely unprincipled man will be faithful to his word. Give an unhinged narcissist the nuclear codes–after all, he might have a shot at chipping slowly away at Roe. Put Kim Jong Un, Putin, and Trump in charge at the same time–what could go wrong?

Nobody could think this was a good idea. Nobody could trust this man. If nothing else, nobody could possibly want to listen to him yell redundant, meaningless sentences desperately in need of a thesaurus for the next four years.

Somehow, this sorry excuse for a man is still in the running for the highest office in the land. His supporters say he’s running for president; listening to him, I expect he thinks he’s running for tyrant.

The wretchedness of Trump’s character is not only disqualifying, I am convinced that it is a danger to the nation and the world. –Rod Dreher

Sometimes it seems that everything this man says is morally abhorrent. Really–read this overview and ask yourself if a person with this kind of highlight reel could possibly be a good president.

punish-abortionDonald Trump is not pro-life. He’s not. He mocks the handicapped, suicidal veterans, and POWs. He thinks Planned Parenthood has done great things. He advocates war crimes. He’s not even anti-abortion. He’s so unfamiliar with the anti-abortion position that he actually suggested jail time for women who have had abortions. With his philandering and misogyny, it’s hard to see how one could not understand that men like Donald Trump are the reason abortion exists.

With Trump, all pro-lifers have are promises from a man who prides himself on breaking promises and whose behavior betrays the very thing pro-lifers fight for. –Rebecca Cusey

A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.1

The Deseret News (owned by the LDS Church) came out in no uncertain terms against Trump, and not just because of his indecency:

Trump’s banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will. That characteristic is the essence of a despot.

Many Evangelicals had already denounced Donald before this most recent evidence of his complete unsuitability for the office of president. Very few Catholics I know had brought themselves to support him, and many of those are now withdrawing even such half-hearted support. Thank God even some Republican politicians are finding the courage to withdraw their ill-conceived endorsements. I pray that enough Americans follow suit.

Oh, Hillary is bad. I’m not saying Hillary isn’t bad. I’m not saying you should vote for her. I don’t think I could.2 But Trump is all the things Hillary is, plus mentally unstable and completely incapable of respecting anyone. He is the absolute worst person I could possibly imagine as president. Hillary is a known evil, four (or eight) more years of the same but worse. Trump is a maniac. How do you prepare for the rule of an unprincipled maniac?

But Clinton’s faults, deep as they are, are the faults of a normal politician. Trump’s are in another category. Having a bad, crazy man like Trump in the White House would be a disaster for the entire nation, and even the world. The further we go into this campaign, the harder it is to believe that the US faces equal danger from these two. –Rod Dreher

Character matters, particularly when the despicable character in question has shown evidence of absolutely no moral convictions.

What remains is this question: Can Donald Trump actually execute the basic duties of the presidency? Is there any way that his administration won’t be a flaming train wreck from the start? Is there any possibility that he’ll be levelheaded in a crisis — be it another 9/11 or financial meltdown, or any of the lesser-but-still-severe challenges that presidents reliably face? –Ross Douthat

I have been praying against Trump for months. I have hope now that the pressure on him will be so intense that he will withdraw his candidacy. If he doesn’t, I will continue to do what I can to speak out against him. I will pray for his conversion, for Clinton’s conversion, and for the conversion of our nation. And I will vote against him. It will likely be an uncounted absentee vote for a hopeless third party candidate–Evan McMullin seems as good a choice as any–but it will not be a vote for Donald Trump.3 You will vote how you like and I will love you regardless.

Lord have mercy.

 

I would like to keep the comments closed because people on the internet are mean and I am a coward, but I know that my regular readers are charitable and insightful. So while I don’t plan to reply to comments, I’ll leave them open until I have reason not to.

  1. Yes, I’ve heard of Bill Clinton. He’s not running. []
  2. I tried to once, in the Democratic primary in 2008. With Obama’s record on voting to deny medical help to babies born alive during abortions, I thought she was a lesser evil. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Hillary. So I voted for John Edwards, who I knew had already suspended his candidacy. They say you can’t throw away your vote, but I’m pretty sure I did. []
  3. There’s nothing wrong with a “worthless” vote. []
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My Jesus Year (Death Wishes You Shouldn’t Worry About)

When I was 18 I was in the throes of intense vocational discernment (perhaps better described as grabbing Jesus by the throat and demanding that he tell me I didn’t have to be a nun). After months of talking to God only about myself–and ignoring any contribution he might try to make to my prayer time–I realized that I had a problem and decided to fast from discernment for a month. Only a month because I had already committed to spending that summer with the Missionaries of Charity and figured it would be a waste not to discern while I was literally living in a convent for an entire summer.

So I spent 30 days trying not to pray about my vocation. It was incredibly freeing, giving me time to love on God instead of just demanding that he act as a magic eight ball for me. The day before this fast was supposed to end was June 21st, the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Father began his homily with this line: “St. Aloysius Gonzaga died when he was 24 years old.”1 Suddenly it hit me: what if I’m going to die when I’m 24? What if I’m wasting all this time obsessing about a vocation that I don’t even have because I’m going to die young?

It’s not as morbid a thought as it sounds. In fact, if heaven is the goal of your life, it’s not morbid at all. And while I went on to discern and plan for a long life, there was a part of me that didn’t think it would happen. To the point that I was actually disappointed when I turned 25. I remember sitting in the car, driving back from a retreat, and sighing when the clock hit midnight. “Ah, well. Looks like I’m not getting off the hook that easy.” So I prepared to live.

"Hang on, Jesus, I just need to finish respectfully lambasting the Holy Father before you take me home."

“Hang on, Jesus, I just need to finish respectfully lambasting the Holy Father before you take me home.”

But not all the cool Saints died at 24. A bunch died at 33.2 And this year, I’m 33.

I spent last week with my marvelously inquisitive 5-year-old godson. All week we were talking about Saints, about martyrs who were killed because they were telling people about Jesus. As I was leaving, not to return for another year, he looked miserable. “Hugo, my love, I have to go. I have to go tell people about Jesus!”

Very seriously but without a trace of sorrow, he asked, “And will you be killed?”

I responded honestly, “Probably not. Probably I’m going to be just fine. But if I die, is that a sad ending?”

“No,” he said, with absolute conviction.

“No. You’re allowed to be sad, but it’s not really a sad ending because I’ll get to go be with Jesus.” He nodded solemnly, gravely agreeing with my assessment.

Of course, he doesn’t really understand death. But he gets it more than most of us do. I have a habit of flippantly mentioning my desire to be a martyr,3 to which most people respond, “That’s so depressing!”

But it’s not. Arrogant, yes—presuming that I’ll have the fortitude to withstand threats and torture and death. But it’s not depressing because the death of a Christian is not a tragedy except for those left behind. I remind my poor mother of this from time to time. For all I’m shockingly guarded by Providence, I do live a fairly reckless life and I think it’s good to have my bases covered. “Remember,” I say, “the goal of my life is to die well. If I die doing God’s will, that’s not tragic.” It’s the beginning of a marvelous adventure.4

For years, the passage of the Chronicles of Narnia that’s struck me the most powerfully has been the desperate longing of the mouse Reepicheep to make his way to Aslan’s country:

pauline-baynes-dawn-treader“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

On my best days, this is how I feel. I just want so badly to go home. This world is beautiful and you people are amazing and I’m so grateful for the work I’m able to do, but I miss my Father and I want to sit with my Love. I feel like I’m on an extended, arduous trip abroad, far from friends and family and everyone who loves me. And it’s wonderful and exotic here and I’m meeting all kinds of marvelous people, but I want to go home.

Except that I’m not actually ready yet. Emotionally, perhaps; but morally and spiritually I need major work. So he leaves me here to let me grow, much though I’d rather be a poor, weak Christian in my Father’s lap than a mature Christian far from him. But he loves watching me grow, so here I am.

I’ve spent the week since I turned 335 thinking about death. It’s a sign of how much I’m formed by this world that I feel the need to tell you again and again not to worry about me. I think about death the way I think about going on a cruise one day—it will be amazing and I’m not going to do a thing to hasten its advent.

Odds are good this isn’t the year I die. So I’ve been asking the Lord what else it means to be 33, to spend a year the age he was when he laid down his life for his loved ones. And it’s got me wondering if maybe the point of all this isn’t to prepare me for imminent death but to prepare me to be like Christ in all things. I ought to focus on all this every year, but maybe I can double down this year and see if it sticks once I get past the mild disappointment of turning 34.

What did Jesus do the year he was 33? He loved deeply. He listened to people with broken hearts. He spoke truth, whatever the cost. He went away to pray, even when it meant abandoning people who were certain that they needed him more than he needed the Father. He forgave those who loved themselves more than they loved him. He brought new life to the dead, both physically and spiritually. He sacrificed himself again and again in the days leading up to his one sacrifice for all. He allowed people to love him. He walked into hard places to do hard things he could easily have avoided. He laid down his life every day.

That’s what my Jesus year needs to be: learning a thousand times to die to myself and live for him.

A few years ago, my birthday fell on Sunday so I got different readings from the usual St. Matthew ones. The Epistle struck me: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” Paul said.6 Ever since, it’s been this verse I come back to on days when I long for heaven, either out of love of Christ or despair over the state of this world. It will be marvelous to go home, but until then, let me be Christ in this world.

to-live-is-christ-homescreen

 

  1. Turns out he was 23. I wonder if my life would have played out differently if he’d gotten that right. []
  2. Okay, my research is only turning up Catherine of Siena and Jesus, but statistics suggest that there have to be more than that. Why aren’t there websites that list Saints by age at the time of death? Come on, internet. []
  3. “I stay at strangers’ houses. If somebody tries to serial kill me, I’m going to yell, “I love Jesus!” while they do it and then I’ll be a martyr. Jackpot.” []
  4. If you’ll excuse me paraphrasing Robin Williams in Hook. []
  5. Happy octave of my birthday to me! []
  6. Philippians 1:21 []
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What Keeps Me Going: Doing His Work

My last post was a glimpse into how God speaks to me in prayer, even when I don’t notice. Even more often, I find he speaks through me, often also when I have no idea he’s doing anything particular. Twice this summer I was blown away by his power at work in me, so stunned by his goodness that I just couldn’t help but share.

The Right Place at the Right Time

img_20160620_232608

Meh. I’ve seen worse.

I was at a super posh school in England. So posh you thought you were driving up to Pemberley when you approached the school. So I was a little nervous, because that kind of school isn’t always thrilled with the “Stop sinning, Jesus is all that matters” message I give. But I knew the Lord had sent me, so off I went to shout about Jesus.

The kids were pretty good, laughing in all the right places and generally attentive. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of conversation afterward, but I told them I’d be around if they wanted to chat.

As most of them filed out of the gym, eight or ten of the cool girls walked up to me.

“You were talking about, like, not drinking and not dating boys,” the leader said. “What did you mean by that?”

Interesting, because I’d said hardly anything about either. But okay. So I talked a little about drinking in moderation and dating.

“Don’t date boys, though, date men. Boys treat you like a thing, men treat you like a person. But you’re too young to date men, so I’d say it’s best not to date at all right now. When you get out of high school and start dating, remember this: you’re looking for a man who’s going to love you like Jesus does, who’s going to be crucified for you.” On and on, with the usual “you’re so beautiful” and “God loves you so much.”

Until one of them started crying. “I wish you’d come a few years ago.”

And I pulled her into a hug and kept telling her how God loves her and she doesn’t deserve to be treated badly and God wants to forgive her. And girl after girl started to cry.

“Girls, if I had a priest you were never going to see again, would any of you want to go to confession?”

The leader of the pack’s hand shot into the air and I motioned to my friend, whose husband is a Catholic priest. “Will you ask Father if he can hear confessions?”

Then I stood for an hour in the hallway while most of these girls went in to confession with an incredibly compassionate priest. (If you’re a woman concerned with how a priest will handle your very painful confession, a married hospital chaplain is a good bet.) Each one came out crying and I hugged her, telling her how proud I was, reminding her that she was brand new, that she never had to confess those sins again.

img_20160826_164438Some took a little more persuading than others. One girl in particular sat silently crying for nearly an hour, shaking her head every time I suggested that she go to confession. Finally, when there was only one girl left with her, she looked at me solemnly and asked, “Do you think I should go?”

“Honey, we just ripped the scabs off some really deep wounds. You can go in and get healing or you can just keep bleeding and hurting. I promise you’ll feel better.” Off she went.

I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve given some variation of that talk at least a hundred times. It was so obviously the Holy Spirit who had spoken to them, the Holy Spirit who had sent them to talk to me, the Holy Spirit who had put a girl who believed in confession in the alpha position in the group. It was the Holy Spirit who’d sent that priest with me, the Holy Spirit who’d given us a believing teacher who was happy to excuse the girls from missed classes. I was stunned and thrilled and absolutely overwhelmed by God whose mercy is powerfully at work even when I’ve written people off.

Who knows how long-lasting that moment of conversion will be? But on that June day, those girls knew that they were loved. Whatever happens next, I pray that the devil doesn’t rob them of that feeling of love and mercy. If they can look back and remember that, God will continue to do amazing things.

God Speaks When I Write, Too

I didn’t start this blog because I wanted to be a blogger or a writer. I didn’t start it because I thought I could make any difference with what I write. I don’t really consider myself a writer.1 I only really write so that people will hear about me and invite me to come speak. That’s always felt more like my real mission. And sometimes (the last several months?) I don’t manage to write anything at all because it doesn’t seem like the best use of my time when there are talks to give and people to counsel.

God’s blessed me with a lot of positive feedback about my blog from people who’ve really encountered him through the words he gives me. And often they approach me and tell me the ways he’s used my blog to speak to them. But this one was particularly striking.

“Your blog made me Catholic,” she said.

“Aw, praise God! Thanks so much!” I assumed she meant she’d been looking for truth, had been searching for explanations on the Eucharist or Church authority or something, and had found my apologetics articles. It’s very exciting to have been a part of that process, but I’m not saying anything every other apologist isn’t saying. And if you were searching, the Lord was going to lead you to truth eventually.

“I was raised Catholic but had become an evangelical years before. I was actually an evangelical missionary. I had two degrees from evangelical schools and a friend of mine who’s an Anglican priest shared your Advice to Priests.”

“Oh, and you got sucked down the rabbit hole?”

“Nope, I just read that one. And suddenly I realized how much I was missing. I saw this beauty and power and love and I wanted to come home.”

“Wait, you only read my advice to priests? And that did it?”

Just call me Catherine of Siena.

Just call me Catherine of Siena.

“I just knew I needed the Eucharist and confession and all of it. So I went to confession and went back to Mass. And the next week I told my boss that I’d gone to a Catholic church. ‘To evangelize them?’ she asked. ‘No, to worship.’ And I was fired.”

I was stunned. Here was this piece that wasn’t for her. It wasn’t for lay people and it wasn’t for Protestants. But God works where he wills, and this was, somehow, what she needed not only to reconsider the faith of her childhood but to embrace it even at the cost of her livelihood.2 This was clearly God’s work, not mine.

 

I hope it doesn’t come across as bragging, this pair of praise reports, because none of it had anything to do with me. Each of these occasions came as a total surprise to me, as I trudged through my ordinary work. There are times when I know my talk was spot on or a piece I wrote was really powerful, and I can praise God when results come from those things, but they’re God’s work through my gifts. These two are God’s work despite my misgivings or distraction or whatever. And that’s an incredibly humbling thing, both to see what he can do in spite of my best efforts and to wonder what he could do if I were better at getting out of the way.

It does get me wondering: how many people will we meet in eternity who owe their salvation to something we did, never knowing it would impact anyone? Not even something so big as a talk or a blog post, just a smile at the sign of peace or a comment on a Facebook post. Every thing we do ripples into eternity, for good or for ill. May God use us well and may we surrender completely to him.

 

  1. Not fishing for compliments here. I know I do it pretty well, it’s just not really my thing. []
  2. She got another job eventually and is doing fine, though please say a prayer for her mother who’s dying. []
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