Naked without Shame

I find in my life, and particularly in my ministry, that God is very careful to preserve a balance of praise and correction. Because my heart is rather more tender than I would wish, this balance is often very heavy on the consolation with detractors sprinkled in only when I can handle it. But even without outside admonition, I find myself regularly overwhelmed by my own failings. As proud as I am—and I am shockingly proud—one angry face in a crowd of fifty can convince me that I’m really rather useless and I ought to stop preaching because I’m never going to be good enough.

But then, because our good God is particularly fond of me, I’m surrounded again by praise and gratitude and I try again to remind myself that only God matters. And over the years, the mercurial swings between pride and self-loathing have evened out a bit. I rarely think I’m the best thing that ever happened and only slightly more often think I’m worthless. God just keeps working on my heart to teach me humility.

It’s gotten me thinking lately. To borrow a phrase from Genesis—and a central idea from the Theology of the Body—I think humility is being naked without shame. It’s standing naked, completely aware of all your faults and failings, and feeling no self-loathing, only gratitude to a God who uses even your weakness for his glory. It seems to me, looking at this virtue from a great distance, that the truly humble soul has no illusions about his poverty but rejoices in it. Even our sinfulness, I think, might prompt guilt and sorrow and a desire to repent, but not despair.

2014-08-23 18.18.30In the same way, the humble soul sees herself naked before the eyes of God and marvels at her glory. She sees not just her flaws but her beauty, the way she images God in his wisdom or humor or simplicity. But just as Adam and Eve did, she knows herself to be a creature and any joy in her goodness becomes praise of her Creator.

The more I’m conformed to Christ,1 the more I’m able to look at myself and see myself as I truly am without misery. My acceptance of my whole self has mirrored my acceptance of my body. I’m sure there’s less to be pleased with now than there was back when I used to be “fat” and “ugly” but more and more I look in the mirror and see beauty. In the same way, my sins stand in starker relief now than when I first came to know the Lord, but I’m less often driven to despair. I’m more myself than I used to be, which often means louder and more intense, but somehow he’s made me more gentle, both with the souls I serve and with myself.

I’m beginning to see myself as he sees me, naked but without shame. I’ve got a long way to go, emotional perfectionist that I am, but I think now I at least know what I’m aiming for. Rather than ignoring or belittling my gifts, I spend time with the Lord letting him tell me how he loves those things about me, praising him for his mercy in letting me be of use to him. Rather than replaying moments of failure over and over, I try to offer them to the Lord and thank him for humbling me.

It’ll take a whole lot of purgatory to make me a truly humble person, but I’m beginning to be okay with that. All I can do is show up, offer myself into the hands of our merciful Lord, and ask for his grace. If the person I am is what he’s chosen to make of my efforts, I’ll praise him and keep fighting, naked without shame.

sunset cross on mountains

  1. God, I hope I’m being conformed to Christ. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Resting in Beauty

My (excessively long) name. Out of airplane pretzels. Now that's a labor of love.

My (excessively long) name. Out of airplane pretzels. Now that’s a labor of love.

Several years ago, I took a group of high school juniors to New York City. Or, rather, Mike Verlander took them and I went along as a putative adult. It was a remarkable group of kids, the kind who thought nothing of asking me, “Do you know your vocation?” as we were walking down some Manhattan street. When you combine that kind of kids with the majesty of a well-planned trip to the Big Apple, magical things happen.

One of the highlights of the trip for me came when we met up at the Met. I had just extricated myself from a very edifying subway conversation about purgatory1 and was feeling rather glum about not having been able to finish my catechesis when Saeedah came up to me and said, “I’m going around with you. I want you to tell me everything.”

Domenico Tintoretto: The Penitent Magdalene. I could give a whole retreat conference on this one.

Domenico Tintoretto: The Penitent Magdalene. I could give a whole retreat conference on this one.

Now, I’m no art expert. But put me in a gallery of Renaissance paintings, and I’m amazing. The majority are scenes from the Bible or paintings of Saints and I’m a beast at that stuff. It’s actually one of my favorite ways to evangelize: take someone to a museum and then just tell them all the stories of the paintings. So I was in. We looked at Medieval reliquaries and liturgical vessels (a special exhibit) before we got to the Renaissance. I talked and talked and talked. I stared in wonder at the beauty of these pieces, took notes about which to look up later, and marveled at the emotion still brimming in eyes painted centuries before. After two hours, I was tired. There was only one thing I wanted.

“Do you mind if we find impressionism?”

Off we went in search of Monet and Degas and Renoir. When we found them, I collapsed on a bench and just breathed.

Very text-heavy and rather technical, but I was an odd 7-year-old.

Very text-heavy and rather technical, but I was an odd 7-year-old.

Impressionism is home to me. I grew up surrounded by impressionist paintings. My favorite coloring book was an impressionist coloring book. My favorite book was about a little girl going to Giverny. I’ve been there myself–twice. I don’t much like the Louvre because it has no impressionists. I honestly think my healthy (ish) body image is partly due to Christ and partly due to the paintings of healthy, curved nudes that were all around me when I was a child. Put me in front of water lilies or pink-cheeked ballerinas and the tension will drain right out of me. So yes, I am partial.

My point, though, is not that impressionism gives rest to the soul but that beauty does. Truth inspires passion in us, fills us with zeal, and sends us joyful back to fight the good fight. Goodness reminds us of our better nature, encourages us to be made new, and sends us out to be the change. But beauty? Beauty wraps her arms around us and says, “Do not go. Just be. It is good that we are here. Just be.”

That’s how it feels to me. Perhaps because I can’t create physical beauty. I can speak truth and I can do good2 but I can only love beauty.

I’m in Arizona right now and I am surrounded by beauty. There aren’t many impressionist paintings3 but I can’t stop looking at the sky and the mountains and the flowers and just slowing down for a moment to revel. I’ve learned that I have to allot time to stop and take pictures when I’m out this way because the beauty of it all is too much for me. And thank God for that.

I’ve caught myself too many times this summer thinking “What an ugly world this is.” With ISIS and Gaza and the border and Ferguson and suicide and poverty, I’m just overwhelmed. And life is uncertain and loneliness rampant and failure a constant and maybe it’s just all too much.

And God says, “Breathe, love.”

2014-08-23 18.40.48Don’t you see what I’ve done for you?

2014-08-24 10.29.28I’ve painted the fields.

2014-08-23 18.33.51And the rocks.

2014-08-23 19.03.41And the skies.

2014-08-22 16.08.39I’ve put beauty on the side of the road.

2014-07-18 14.46.41On the city streets.

2014-08-16 15.42.42Above you.

2014-08-22 13.38.08Behind you.

Yes, my love, there is ugliness in this world. There is falsehood and evil and you must fight. But not today. Today, be still. Rest in my love. Rest in knowing that I have made this world and made it good. Rest and trust that you are good and beautiful and loved. I have painted you a picture. Your job is not to fix it or share it or analyze it. Your job is to love it. And to love me. Breathe. Just be.

2014-08-23 18.18.30

This is why our Church has always sought beauty: because beauty draws our heart towards Beauty. This is why the asymmetrical brown brick monstrosities that dominated liturgical architecture for decades are worse than just ugly. This is why our music has to be more than catchy. Beauty doesn’t just remind us of God. God is Beauty. And beauty is a sharing in divinity.

So pray and preach and serve. Sacrifice for persecuted minorities in Iraq and all over the world. Evangelize. Love well. But sometime this week, take half an hour to love beauty. Find your favorite section at an art museum or climb a mountain or read some Hopkins or bring up a Rachmaninov station on Pandora or Youtube Swan Lake or find a lovely board on Pinterest if you must. Let yourself steep in beauty. Breathe. And remember the goodness of God.

The Grand Canyon's a good place to start.

The Grand Canyon’s a good place to start.

(All the above pictures are mine. You’re welcome to use them and anything on my flickr page. And I just got into Instagram, so I’ll be sharing beauty there as well.)

  1. People near me on the subway were talking about what Catholics think about purgatory. It was clear that they both knew that they didn’t know much, so I introduced myself. “Excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m a Catholic theology teacher. Could I help?” They were very appreciative and it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. Until two stops later when I had to get off and go be responsible. []
  2. No, I don’t mean well. []
  3. Though there are a few. I’m staying with The Evangelista, after all. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , | 5 Comments

How to Pray with Kids

Stacking his awesome Saint blocks is a quiet activity, but it's not quite the same thing as praying.

Stacking his awesome Saint blocks is a quiet activity, but it’s not quite the same thing as praying.

Praying with kids is not easy. No matter how often you threaten them, they still slouch and make funny faces and take off their pants during your family rosary. And somehow they don’t look forward to half an hour of being glared and hissed at: “God is LOVE! Now pray, dammit, or I’ll smack you in the face!” They’re distracted and distracting and most of us give up on our dreams of family prayer time early in our family life because they just won’t sit down and shut up. So we settle for a rushed Hail Mary as we tuck them in and hope that somehow they miraculously learn to talk to God–something many of us seem to have missed in our catechesis as well.

Now, I’m all for family rosaries and memorized prayers, but we run into trouble when that’s the extent of how we pray with our kids. They also need to learn how to talk to God and whether you’re comfortable praying out loud or not, you’re going to have to model extemporaneous prayer for them. Let me give you a window into what it looks like when I pray with little ones, using the ACTS pattern, a model that I’ve found helpful for kids as young as 2. It’s different every night, of course, but if you’re at a loss as to how to lead your kids in anything other than “Now I lay me down to sleep,” this might be something to try.1

Jenna's kid. Jena's picture. Jenna's generosity in letting me use it.

Jenna‘s kid. Jenna’s picture. Jenna’s generosity in letting me use it.

Adoration: Start off by telling God how great he is. Sure, he already knows, but when we love someone, we want to praise him. And when we teach children to praise, we teach them to appreciate as well.

Me: Can you tell God how great he is?

Kid: God, you’re so great.

Me: What’s so great about God? (pause) What did God do that was so great?

Kid: He made all the children!2

Me: Very good! And can you tell him he’s great?

Kid: God, you’re so great because you made all the children.

Me: Nice work. What else?

Kid: Um…God, you’re so great because you were born in Bethlehem and you turned water into wine. God, you’re so great because you died to save me! God, you’re so great because you made me beautiful.3

Me: Good.4 My turn. God, you are so good to us. You love us even when we don’t deserve it. You forgive us no matter what. Please help us to love and forgive each other.

children kneeling before statue of MaryYou’ll notice that I take what they’re doing and elevate it a little while keeping the language simple. It’s hard for kids to think about God’s more abstract qualities, for example, so I try to focus my prayer on mercy and wisdom. I also don’t force myself to stick with adoration but let it slide a little bit into petition. I think this helps kids learn that prayer doesn’t have to be so scripted.

Contrition: This part of your prayer time can serve as a little examination of conscience for you and your kids. It’s an incredibly important exercise in the Christian life and getting them started early with the idea of a daily examination is a great gift. It also teaches us to humble ourselves before the Lord and recognize our weakness in the presence of his greatness.

Me: Now can you tell God you’re sorry for something bad you did today?

Kid: God, I’m sorry I did something bad.

Me: What did you do that was bad?

Kid: I told a lie.

Me: Okay, tell God you’re sorry for that.

Kid: God, I’m sorry for telling a lie. And I’m sorry for roaring at my brother and not eating my dinner and throwing my truck and not listening to mommy.5

Me: God, I’m sorry that I lost my temper when we were at the playground today. I want to be gentle and patient. Please help me to be more like you.

I don’t know that there’s anything more powerful to a child than watching her parents submitting in contrition and humility. It shows them that you’re human and also that messing up doesn’t make you bad. And it reminds them that God is mercy. That might be a memory that they badly need down the road.

Thanksgiving: Kids are great at this. They’ll thank God for things for days if you let them. This is one type of prayer where I think adults have less to teach and more to learn. Let them roll with it and see where it goes.

Me: What’s something wonderful that happened to you today that you want to thank God for?

Kid: Thank you God that I didn’t eat spicy cheese and that Elizabeth took the diaper off the baby doll.

Me:…okay. What else are you thankful for?

Kid: What else?

Me: Just thank God for anything you like. People or things that happened or your favorite things. God gave you all those things!

Kid: Thank you God for we wish we had a kitty cat.

Me: Okay. What are some things you already have or have done that you can thank God for?

Kid: Thank you God for hot dogs and my friends at school and my Mom and Aslan and bug spray! And thank you God that I didn’t fall off the jungle gym. And thank you for my sister and my other sister and for Peg plus Cat because I love that show.

Me: And thank you God for giving us a family that loves us and for teaching us to love you. Thank you for my prayer time earlier and please forgive me for getting so distracted. Thank you for all the ways you show us your love, especially good weather and delicious food.

Listen to the little things they’re thankful for and try to be as grateful as your kids.

Natalie prayingSupplication:6 Here’s where they get to ask God for things. I usually start with specific things, working toward the abstract and ending with “God blesses.” It’s good for them to know that God blesses us in many ways and that it’s okay to ask him for silly little things but it’s also important to ask for big things.

Me: And now what do you want to ask God for?

Kid: What?

Me: Well, what’s something you’d like to do tomorrow?

Kid: God, may I please have some grapes tomorrow?

Me: Good. Is there anything you want God to help you be?

Kid: God, please help me be…a seminarian, a deacon, and a priest!7

Me: That’s a great thing to pray for. Would you like to ask God to help you be kind and patient, too?

Kid: Yes, kind and patient and really good at soccer.

Me: And do you want to pray for anyone else?

Kid: Dear God, please bless all unborn babies with diligence.8 And please bless Mom and Dad and my brothers and sisters and all my cousins and Father Sullivan and….

Me: Father, please help me to be obedient to you, to open my heart to you and let you lead me. Please help everybody who is suffering because they love you and bless everyone who is lonely tonight.

Praying with FelicityThis can also be a time to tell your kids about people who are suffering and pray together for them. I can be pretty bad at intercessory prayer, but when I ask little kids to pray for someone, they remember for months and just keep on praying. You may forget to pray for persecuted minorities in Iraq, but you’d better believe your little boy is going to want to pray for the children on the mountain who are surrounded by bad guys. It’s just another way that family makes us holy: keeping us in prayer for things we’d let our cushy lives push out of our consciousness.

Formal prayer: At this point, I ask kids to pick a favorite memorized prayer and we recite that together. Then we go into a litany of Saints where they call out all their favorites and we chorus, “Pray for us.” Finally we end with the Sign of the Cross.

 

It’s not quick, this approach, nor is it always the most reverent way to pray. There are lots of interruptions and reminders to stay on track. I often have to stop to define words or correct kids who see prayer time as an opportunity to be silly. But it’s simple and honest, a genuine conversation with God that’s open to the Spirit but guided by parameters. I think it teaches kids to talk to God like he’s a person–which he is.9 I think it also gives them a sense that prayer is more than just asking for things. It might not fit into your bedtime routine every night, especially if you have several kids. But at least on Sundays, make the time to be vulnerable and pray extemporaneously with your kids. If you’re anything like me, it’ll be good for your prayer life, too.

  1. Every weird thing in here has actually come out of the mouth of a child I was praying with. If nothing else, try this for the great stories you’ll end up with. []
  2. Probably 75% of kids I pray with are most excited that God made children. []
  3. This last one was my niece the other night. I’m so excited that she still thinks she’s beautiful, I won’t even call her on pride masquerading as prayer. []
  4. Clearly I’m not of the school of thought that objects to praising kids. []
  5. Some kids really get into this. It’s awesome. But no fair punishing a kid for a minor infraction that you found out about during prayer. []
  6. If you’re teaching them the acronym ACTS, supplication might throw them for a loop. Try Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Someone or Something. Really, though, the acronym is more for you. []
  7. This was my nephew. My heart exploded. []
  8. Also my nephew. Not sure what he was going for there. []
  9. Well, 3 persons. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , | 9 Comments

The Gift of Loneliness

2014-07-15 12.59.42I remember, some ten years ago, falling on my knees at Notre Dame’s grotto, disconsolate. I had plenty of friends, I thought, but I was so alone. Nobody really knew me, nobody understood. I turned my heart to heaven and begged the Lord for one friend.

“I just need one person who really loves me!” I cried out, and I got the distinct feeling that he answered: It’s me.

“No, I know. But I just need someone who’s going to be on my side.” Yup. Me.

“Right, but I’m just so alone. I don’t even need someone who’ll give me advice, just someone who’ll listen.” I’m listening.

“No, but somebody who really knows me, who gets me.” Yes.

“And who loves me anyway.” Right.

“Jesus, I get that you love me, but I just need a friend!” Yes. You need me. And that’s all you need.

I quit my temper tantrum eventually and started to listen. I started to see how he had been loving me so well for so long but how he had recently started to wean me off the friendships that I’d turned into idols. He’d broken down the walls of popularity I’d built around my heart, forced me to take my troubles to him instead of to half a dozen people who’d agree with whatever conclusions I’d already come to. I’d just finished one of the hardest years of my life and I’d come out more alone than I’d felt in years. Because all the love in my life had been separating me from him.

I spent the next year learning what it meant to be loved by God. I learned to process my wild emotions in prayer instead of on Instant Messenger. I wept in prayer instead of in Starbucks and let him define me. After years of following the Lord, I began to love him with an intimacy I’d never imagined. And I found that I wasn’t lonely anymore.

The kind of friends who are always up for a little prayer time.

The kind of friends who are always up for a little prayer time. Even on the way to a wedding.

And then he gave me friends. Incredible friends, the kind who ruin you for relationships with less amazing people. And I was mostly happy, but not always. Those friends married and started families while I was still alone. And the loneliness returned, causing me to question whether I was worthy of love. But I ran to the Lord and he reminded me who I am in him.

I moved into the real world and tried to find friends outside the beautiful community of Notre Dame. Turns out, it’s not that easy. While I loved my kids more than I could have imagined, I didn’t have much of a community. But God shook the complacency of my heart and I began to fall in love with him.

I entered a convent and left to find myself surrounded by people who couldn’t understand the heartbreak of giving your life away and then having it given back. I was shaken and confused and nobody sensed that, nobody got it. So I turned again to the God who listens and understands and loves me the more for my brokenness.

Not all of them. Some of them look at me like this. And it's all worth it.

Not all of them. Some of them look at me like this. And it’s all worth it.

I moved again, built relationships again, and found that as much as I loved my kids they were always going to ignore and betray and reject me. So I turned to the Lord again, handed him my bleeding heart again, and asked him how I could keep doing this, how I could keep standing alone and loving people who would spit in my face for my troubles. And he showed me his bloody, bruised, thorn-pierced image and reminded me that this is exactly what love is.

Again and again, the Lord leads me into loneliness—or perhaps I run there on my own—so that I’ll turn to him again, find myself in him again, let him be my rock again. And I’m so grateful.

Since I started hoboing, I’ve been asked again and again, “Aren’t you lonely?”

“No.” I’ve glibly responded. “I spend time with the Lord every day, and he’s the most important person in my life. Besides, I get to see all kinds of wonderful people in my travels.” It’s true, of course. I see my best friends more than I ever did when I had to live in one place all the time, 600 or 1000 or 3000 miles away. And the only thing that keeps me sane is my time with Jesus, when I sit before the Blessed Sacrament and am known and loved.

But lately, I’ve been a little lonely. Not having a community will do that to you, I suppose. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a gift: God making me ache for something more so that I’ll draw deeper into him. And I hope you feel it too.

I hope you’re lonely. Regardless of how much your spouse loves you or how many friends you have who understand and encourage and challenge you, I hope you’re lonely. I hope that none of your relationships leave you satisfied. Because they aren’t made to satisfy. The only relationship that will ever satisfy you is your relationship with God. Any time you find yourself convinced that somebody else completes you, take a step back. It’s idolatry. And it’s a lie. People will sin. They’ll misunderstand. They’ll expect less of you than what you’re capable of. Your husband, your daughter, your spiritual director, your best friend: they’re not enough. And while it’s a grace that we may feel satisfied for a time, the loneliness will always return to remind us that the only one who will complete us is the Lover of our souls.

Remember this when you’re lonely: you will find what you long for only in the one who created you, the one who died for you, the one who knows you through and through and loves you just the same. Let that loneliness drive you to the foot of the Cross, where Love was poured out for you. You are not alone. You are loved beyond imagining. And the loneliness that reminds you of your need for that love is a gift.

Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

In the Face of Suffering, We Live in Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What delivers me from the Baal of Miracles? Perspective.

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

Because the meaning of this life is not this life.

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

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

Lamentations 3:21-24

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

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

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

My favorite prayer, by Dag Hammarskjold

My favorite prayer, by Dag Hammarskjold

  1. I Tim 2:4 []
  2. Rom 8:28 []
  3. Rom 8:32 []
Posted in Goodness | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

A Fly on the Wall

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

Playing the Annunciation. Because what else would you do?

Playing the Annunciation. Because what else would you do?

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

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

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

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

All dressed up for the ordination.

All dressed up for the ordination.

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

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

Look at the awe in his face!

Look at how excited he is for his blessing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Something to Consider

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

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army.

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

Posted in Beauty, Truth | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Name Catholic Twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Boys.

  • Cosmas and Damian. Think they were identical?

    Cosmas and Damian. Think they were identical?

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

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

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

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

A Boy and a Girl

  • teresa y juan

    John and Teresa–something to aspire to.

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

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

    Mother Marianne beside the corpse of Fr. Damien.

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

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

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

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

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

Two Girls

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

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

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

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

And a more recent picture with big brother John Paul.

And a more recent picture with big brother John Paul.

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

How to Pray: Start Shallow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Mt 11:28 []
  2. I just set the time before my phone screen shuts off and then if it’s dark when I feel like I’m done, I’m good. If it’s not, I circle back to something important. []
  3. Rom 8:26 []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged | 13 Comments

Feels Like Home

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

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

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

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

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

The view from my second-favorite spot.

The view from my second-favorite spot.

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

This chapel is home.

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

Home is where he is.

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

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

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

St. Augustine

St. Augustine

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

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

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