I Wore a Hoodie Today

I wore a hoodie today.

I was pretty excited about it. It had been in my trunk, so it was actually my first hoodie day of the season. “I love hoodies!” I thought. “I love them so much it almost makes hoodie weather worth it!”

This is what I think about hoodies. Because wearing a hoodie has never made me a target.

I got pulled over for speeding a few months ago. When the officer approached the car, I was annoyed at myself for not hitting the brakes when the speed limit changed. I wasn’t scared. Because police officers won’t hurt me. They won’t harass me or assault me or strangle me while I beg for breath.

I don’t get followed in upscale stores. I don’t have cops called when I walk with my hands in my pockets.

I read the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag on Twitter and think wryly that they’d probably use something sweet and wholesome like this:

2014-06-07 14.45.44And then I remember. They won’t gun me down.

Since Mike Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and a dozen other dead black1 men whose names I haven’t bothered to learn because it’s not news, my Facebook feed has been split. Some people are sharing posts left, right, and center about racism and violence and solidarity and protest.2 A few are sharing articles with titles so ignorant I know clicking them is just going to enrage me. And most of us are still talking about turkey and sales and weather and everyday life like thousands of our brothers and sisters aren’t angry and desperate and running for their lives.

I’m in that third group. People are being killed and I can’t even manage to be a slacktivist. Because I don’t know what to say. I’ve wrestled with this in adoration every day for the past week and a half. I don’t know how to say I’m so sorry and I wish I could suffer this for you. I’m so sorry for the ways I’ve done this to you and I didn’t even know it. I’m so sorry I’m afraid to pick a side without feeling like I know everything I need to know to defend it.

I’m on the side of lives. Black, brown, white, old, gay, disabled–all lives. But right now I am particularly and vocally on the side of black lives. Because that’s where the attack is. I know white people are killed by cops,3 too–but young black men are 21 times more likely to be. THAT IS NOT OKAY! And your misdirect about looting or your blatantly racist claim that black people are criminals doesn’t fix it.

NOT the same thing!

NOT the same thing!

I don’t know what fixes it. I like to rant about injustice and suffering and then tie everything up with a sweet Jesus bow because he makes everything all right. And he does. But today, I just need to say this, to my largely white audience: this should upset you. Your black brothers and sisters are being judged and jailed and killed while their white counterparts get a slap on the wrist.4

I Can't BreatheDon’t deny it. Don’t defend it. Just listen. Read the articles that make you uncomfortable. Stop reading The Conservative Tribune. Move past the specifics of the one homicide you know about and look at the underlying problem. Because whatever you think happened with Michael Brown, you can’t deny that something’s wrong with our country. And burying yourself in Duggar pregnancy announcements and Dancing with the Stars won’t make it go away. Pray. Pray for the victims, the families, the killers, the innocent officers, the bigots, the oppressed, the lawmakers, the nation. Pray for yourself–for mercy and for justice and for eyes to see.

I hate that I can’t do anything about this. But at least that feeling of desperate futility gives me something I can share with people of color in this country. I guess I’ll be grateful for that. And wrap myself in my hoodie while I pray and love and listen and try to be better.

Written by Senator Cory Booker--22 years ago. Progress?

Written by Senator Cory Booker–22 years ago. Progress?


  1. I’m leaving both black and white uncapitalized. This is basically why. []
  2. Thank you! []
  3. And I know that most cops are good. And I understand they’re just trying to stay alive. But there’s a lot of cops killing unarmed black people without so much as a slap on the wrist. The problem isn’t cops–the problem’s the culture they (and we) come out of. []
  4. Really. Check out #crimingwhilewhite. []
Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Advent Boot Camp 2014

I put out an Advent Boot Camp last year and the response was great, so I thought I’d do it again. 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; the Office of Readings2; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice

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; the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 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

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. But if you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, 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 , , | 9 Comments

The Best Catholic Kids’ Present Ever

I am so excited.

I am a godmother to 5, all under 8. That means that at this point, my job mainly consists of praying and buying presents. I buy them a lot of books–my friend’s little girl once told her, “Godmothers are good at picking books,” since that’s about all I manage to do–but I don’t think books are enough. Don’t get me wrong, I adore books! But if you’re raising saints, you need to baptize their imagination, which means encouraging holy play as well as holy reading. I try for Saint dress-up clothes, but those are expensive. The Catholic toys tend to be equally expensive or rather disappointing. So we’re stuck with books.

Until now!

My friend Lindsey (who does my awesome headshots) is a brilliant artist and a Catholic mom of 5. She had the same trouble I had with finding Catholic toys, but she actually has the ability to do something about it. And she has! Introducing Blessing Blocks from AlmondRod Toys. (Follow them on Facebook!)

Blessing Block NativityI’ve shown you the Nativity before and I still think it’s the loveliest children’s nativity I’ve seen. It’s not just not breakable, it’s also beautiful. But children’s Nativities aren’t too hard to come by and maybe you already have one (or six). So as much as I adore the Nativity, it’s not my new favorite thing. My new favorite thing? Saint blocks!

Blessing Block SaintsThese little wooden blocks come with images of any of 60 different Saints. The images are beautifully painted with appropriate iconography. On the back, there’s the Saint’s name, feast day, and other info, including patronage, a short description, and a prayer or a quotation.

Blessing Block Saints A-BThe other day, I brought my nieces and nephews some Saint blocks. Saints John Paul, Cecilia, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Clare, and Peter for John Paul, Cecilia, Elizabeth, Mary Claire, and Peter. They were thrilled. Seriously, they shrieked and squealed and played with them all day. They built towers of Saints and put them on block towers. Cecilia (age 3 1/2) brought hers to Mass and snuggled it the entire time. John Paul (5) wore cargo pants just so he had a good pocket to keep his in. Elizabeth and Mary Claire (2) kept begging to hold everybody else’s blocks. Only Peter (11 days) was fairly uninterested.

Peter's tender age didn't keep his siblings from showing him the blocks. Nor did it keep him from tasting them.

Peter’s tender age didn’t keep his siblings from showing him the blocks. Nor did it keep him from tasting them.

I’ve seen what happens when kids pick up these blocks: they’re hooked. The Saints become their best friends. They shriek with glee when they run across one of “their” Saints in a book or in the liturgy. They want to know their stories and to imitate them. I’m not telling you about these blocks because I want to help my friend make money. I’m telling you because I really think this kind of thing helps to form young saints. It makes virtue something tangible and gives them a real experience of the vast family they’re a part of. It wraps the Church inside joyful memories so that when they’ve run away, they’ll still think of her fondly and maybe make it back. When they’re playing, they’re asking the Saints’ intercession even without knowing it. AlmondRod Toys’ motto is “Sprouting Saints through Play” and I think that’s exactly what these blocks do.

On Thanksgiving, Cecilia (still clinging to her block) wrote St. Cecilia on her thankful turkey. "The Saint AND the block!" To be fair, she also wrote hermit crabs, which she's never seen, and crab, which she's never eaten.

On Thanksgiving, Cecilia (still clinging to her block) wrote St. Cecilia on her thankful turkey. “The Saint AND the block!” To be fair, she also wrote hermit crabs, which she’s never seen, and crab, which she’s never eaten….

And here’s the best part–you can afford them! They’re not the $25 peg dolls I find on Etsy–they’re 5 for $30.1 Even if that seems steep for blocks, consider that it’s far and away the best on the market for a Saint toy.2 If they don’t have the Saint you’re looking for, you can order one custom made or just wait a few weeks as Lindsey continues to add to the roster. She’s even thinking about putting the images on other things–8×10 prints, t-shirts, postcards–or just selling the electronic copies for you to use as you please. And if there’s any justice in this world, some publisher will recruit her to illustrate children’s Bibles and books about the Saints. We all know how many less-than-lovely Christian books out there, and it’s my life’s dream that Lindsey will have the opportunity to produce some really beautiful, meaningful ones to counterbalance them.3

So head on over to her shop and place an order quick–she makes all these blocks by hand and I’d bet money that she’ll sell out well before Christmas. Then get excited to watch your little ones fall in love with Christ through his Saints.

BONUS: For a limited time, you can get a free Saint block with any order! Just say a Hail Mary for the conversion of sinners and put the code KYRIE ELEISON into the notes section of the order form along with the name of the Saint you’re requesting from her list of options. Sweet deal–and you know you want to support the kind of woman who gives stuff away to people who pray for souls!

  1. Up from $25 since she’s getting so many orders she’s having to contract out the sanding. Still a deal! []
  2. Really, if you find anything else in this category, please send it my way! []
  3. But seriously, if you connect her with a publisher, I’ll be your best friend. I really, really want to buy her books but I can’t do that until someone prints them. []
Posted in Random | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Hobo Abroad–Turkey, England, Belgium

Thanks to your prayers and support and encouragement, I just spent 6 weeks in Europe! If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know all about this. But I thought you might like me to fill in some details so you can see some of the marvelous things God’s been doing in my life.

2014-10-08 02.01.19

In patriotic Taksim Square

I flew into Turkey (which was rather more dramatic than I was expecting), where I ate baklava and Turkish delight and went to Mass in Turkish. The extent of my sightseeing was out the bus window, but I made my flight the next morning without any unnecessary drama, so I’ll call it a win.

My first real stop in Europe was Huddersfield, England. I was met at the Manchester airport by a godly priest whose insights over the next few days were very challenging and encouraging. I spent my visit speaking in schools and a church and got a crash course in the difficulties of the English Church, where they seem to be struggling between relativism from without and apathy from within. There are almost no laypeople working for the Church, where weekly giving in the wealthiest parish in the diocese averages less than $2 per person. This obviously puts a lot of pressure on a dwindling number of priests and results in aging congregations when there’s no youth program. But I met a solid group of young adults who have great hope for the Catholic Church in the UK and further experiences in England bore out that opinion. God is working, my friends, and while I get the feeling that the Church in the States is a few decades ahead of the English Church in terms of renewal and passion and orthodoxy, God willing they’re headed the right direction.

With the lamppost that allegedly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the church where Newman gave his last sermon as an Anglican; a sign in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet with their fellow Inklings; the ceiling of the theology college, where Campion used to debate his colleagues.

With the lamppost that allegedly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the church where Newman gave his last sermon as an Anglican; a sign in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet with their fellow Inklings; the ceiling of the theology college where Campion used to debate his colleagues.

After a visit to York to see St. Margaret Clitherow‘s hand, I was off to Oxford for a rough afternoon. I spent the evening with a group of Oxford students, talking about life and prayer and discernment and my new favorite book I haven’t read. The next day, Brother Oliver, OP, gave me a “short” three-hour tour of campus, where I made a pilgrimage to the holy sites of St. Edmund Campion, Bl. John Henry Newman, Tolkien, and Lewis. I’m pretty sure I kept shrieking over the excitement of hanging out where all my favorite people hung out. Br. Oliver was very patient. There followed afternoon tea with a group of young ladies and a bus to Paddington Station, where I kept my eyes peeled for a bear from Darkest Peru.

While in London, I was speaking at a school in Ilford, East London, working with a young woman who has such a heart for Jesus and such zeal for souls. The British school system is structured in such a way that Catholic schools often have a high percentage of Muslim students. On my second day in the school, I found myself speaking to the sixth form, the oldest students in secondary school who have been liberated from their uniforms. I ended up preaching the Gospel to a group that was 1/3 hijabis. What a grace, to stand before women who’ve been told that God does not and cannot love them and to tell them,1 “You are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you!” Some of them looked angry, but many more had tears in their eyes. Pray for them, that they would come to know the love of Christ and have the courage to follow him.

Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey), Buckingham Palace, Tyburn.

Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey), Buckingham Palace, Tyburn.

I had one day of sightseeing in London, after a lovely evening with a dear friend from college. I saw all of London in a rushed few hours so that I could spend two hours at Tyburn. Tyburn was where many of the English martyrs were killed during the Reformation, hanged, drawn, and quartered–including Edmund Campion, one of my dearest friends. I was blessed to be given a private tour of the relics from a story-telling Aussie nun, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience for someone who loves the English martyrs as I do. Then Mass at Westminster Cathedral to top off a lovely day.

After London, I was off to the south of England, to Southampton and Portsmouth where I spoke in 2 parishes and one school. I met a 12-year-old boy who was moved to tears when telling me the story of St. Tarcisius and a new bishop who spent half an hour talking eagerly with me about evangelization. I gave a talk before adoration and Father had to stay an extra 45 minutes to finish hearing confessions. See what I mean about hope?

On a bridge in Ghent; Trappist-made beer; an atypical sunrise; a bridge over the river; my dear friend St. Damien, originally form Belgium; a typical Belgian building.

(clockwise) On a bridge in Ghent; Trappist-made beer; an atypical sunrise; a bridge over the river; my dear friend St. Damien, originally from Belgium; a typical Belgian building.

Then an early morning cab to the airport, a short flight to Brussels, and a train to Mons, and there I was in Belgium! I had plenty of bread, chocolate, waffles, and beer, and the opportunity to minister to people from 8 or 10 different countries at NATO headquarters. We talked about prayer and evangelization and Mary and the Eucharist and the Resurrection and I was so encouraged to see how well the people in this community love Christ. On my day off, we went to Ghent to see the famous much-stolen altarpiece, go to Mass in Dutch, and enjoy the marvelous architecture along the river. The next day, I searched in vain for a Mass (hard to come by in Belgium, where the churches are open but empty all day long), explored a few marvelous churches in Mons, and then caught three trains and a bus to get to Germany. Up next: Germany, France, Austria, and Italy. Get excited!

  1. This is no attack on Islam–just an explanation that “God is love” is a uniquely Christian concept and that most Muslims would be outraged by the claim that God loves them. Allah tolerates you, perhaps even approves of you, but to claim that he loves you is a denigration of his dignity. []
Posted in Random | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

I Don’t Like the Rosary–6 Reasons I Pray It Anyway

A few months ago I went to confession at a conference where I was speaking and made the mistake of wearing my nametag into the confessional. Now, I’m not terribly concerned that Father would connect my name with my sins–it’s not like there’s anything he could do about it if he did. But my nametag identified me as a speaker at the conference, which evidently gave him the idea that I was serious about holiness because he gave me a rosary for my penance.

You read that right. A whole rosary.

I wanted to be like, “Sorry, did you mean three Hail Marys?” Because you know it’s always three Hail Marys.1 But I figured I’d show off instead.

“Do you mean in addition to the one I’m already praying today?” See, Father? I’m so holy. I shouldn’t have to do a hard penance.

“Yes.” Well, shoot. “Do you pray a rosary every day?”

“Yes, Father.” Now you get it. I’m really awesome.

But instead of congratulating me, he started talking about how I should really pray three rosaries a day. THREE! Ain’t nobody got time for that! As he talked, I sat there stewing. I can’t pray more rosaries. I barely have time for what I’m doing already. I’d have to cut out mental prayer or spiritual reading and I know that’s a terrible idea. Really, I’m too pious for any more rosaries.

Moral of the story: I’m arrogant.

But there’s a confession in there, too: I don’t like praying the rosary.2

If you’re a Catholic of my variety, you’re not really supposed to say this. We love Mass and we love Mary and we absolutely love the rosary. But I don’t.

Sometimes I tell people this and they beg me to try again. Believe me, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve prayed the rosary daily since I was 16–three times a day in college.3 That’s something like 5000 rosaries. I’ve prayed the rosary with music, with extemporaneous meditations, with Bible passages. I’ve prayed in several languages, alone and with thousands of people. I’ve prayed in fits and starts throughout the day and start to finish in one shot, while walking and driving and kneeling and sitting. I’ve read books about the rosary, taught others to pray the rosary, given talks on the merits of the rosary. I just don’t like praying it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like sushi, I don’t like The Phantom of the Opera, and (if we’re being quite honest) I’ve never much cared for Hopkins. I know that sushi is wonderful, that Phantom is beautiful, and that Hopkins will take your breath away. I know these things are good. I just don’t like them. Perhaps if I try and try and try again I’ll find that I do. And perhaps not. But my opinion isn’t a judgment against them, just a personal preference. It’s the same with the rosary–I know it’s good, I just don’t enjoy it.

I haven't read the whole thing, but what I read was awesome.

I haven’t read the whole thing, but what I read was awesome.

I know that I’m bad at praying the rosary. I know that if I were really meditating on the mysteries I’d begin to see the value of the prayer. I also know that not all prayers work for all temperaments. One of the many gifts of the Catholic Church is that there are as many ways to be a Catholic as there are to be a person. You don’t have to love adoration or weekly confession or Taize or lectio divina or 40 Days for Life or immigration reform or Latin or Matt Maher. There are so many ways to pray, so many spiritualities, so many acts of piety to choose from. Not everybody’s going to love the rosary. I even read a book recently4 that said people with my temperament will almost always struggle with the rosary. I felt absolutely vindicated.

You’d think I’d give up. But I’m not going to. Largely, it’s because I felt absolutely convicted that God was calling me to pray the rosary and I haven’t yet felt released from that call. But I don’t think mine is an unusual situation. I think a lot of us don’t enjoy the rosary. And I think most of us should be praying it anyway. Every day. Here’s why:

6 reasons rosary

Rosary Sheen1. It’s objectively a good way to pray. The rosary is a scriptural prayer. It’s shot through with the words of Scripture and built around the mysteries of Scripture. It was given to us by Our Lady,5 who keeps returning to encourage us to pray this miracle-working prayer. When you recite a prayer written by a modern author, sing a hymn, or read a book about God, it might not be fantastic. The rosary always is.

2. You need your mother. Ever call your mom when you didn’t have anything to talk about? And maybe she didn’t either. But you talked for a little while anyway, because talking to your mom is important. Whether you enjoy the rosary or not, it keeps you connected to the mother of Jesus and your mother. And when you’re connected to Mary, she keeps drawing you closer and closer to Jesus. Praying the rosary daily keeps you in check.

Rosary de Sales3. You’re in good company. The rosary has been prayed by countless Saints–I’d hazard a guess at nearly every Saint since it was introduced to the world. It’s a great equalizer, prayed by popes and peasants, geniuses and fools. Any given day, there are millions of people throughout the world praying the rosary. If it’s made saints of sinners for nearly a thousand years, who are you to refuse?

4. It consecrates a busy day. I’ve found that I struggle most when I try to sit down and pray a rosary all the way through. It just makes my mind wander more. Instead, I pray a decade as I drive to the store, half a decade while I’m waiting for the microwave. It seemed like cheating at first, until I realized: every time I have a free second, my automatic inclination is to pray. I’m squeezing the rosary in wherever I can which means my default action is prayer. Back in college (when I prayed three rosaries and still had time for naps) I used to pray the rosary to help myself fall asleep in the middle of the day. I did this so often that when I woke in the night, I found that I was praying Hail Marys. Maybe it’s better to set time aside for a full rosary, but when you’re fitting it in as best you can, it transforms your whole life.

Rosary Josemaria5. Sometimes mindless prayer is the best you can do. The rosary shouldn’t be mindless. It should be wrapped up in the mysteries of Christ’s life. But there are times when you can’t meditate. When God seems far, reading the Bible can be nothing but frustrating. Praise music rings hollow. There’s no time for the Liturgy of the Hours and you wouldn’t be able to mean it even if you tried. But the rosary you can do. Even when doubts are creeping in and you feel abandoned, you can cling to Mary’s apron string and murmur those words. Even when you’re so distracted by contractions or mile 24 of your marathon that you can’t think, you can repeat the prayers you’ve said so many times. Maybe you can’t call the images of the mysteries to mind, but you can keep saying the words–day in and day out–until they mean something again. If you’ve committed to a daily rosary, perhaps only stubbornness will keep you praying. But God can work in stubbornness to draw you back to him. Promise God a daily rosary in time of consolation and it will sustain you through desolation until you’re feeling his love again.

Devotion by Luke Fildes

Devotion by Luke Fildes

6. It’s something to cling to in a crisis. When all is well, the rosary is something I do out of duty. When my life comes crashing down around me, though, I run for my Momma. After a dreaded phone call, after a breakup, while racing to a survivor’s side, my hand reaches automatically for my rosary. Even while I’m struggling to see God working in my pain, I’m being drawn back to him by my Mother. When I’m lost, I’m already found because I go home to Mary before I even know what I’m about. Because the rosary is the rhythm of my life, it’s what I fall back on even when I’m not feeling it. Not song lyrics, not video games, not even phone calls to friends. It’s not even a decision because the commitment I’ve made makes it automatic. And that automatic turning to the rosary has gotten me through more than I ever would have imagined when I first picked one up 15 years ago.


I don’t know that I’ll ever like the rosary. Maybe one day I’ll be holy enough that I won’t spend the whole time distracted. Or maybe even at my holiest it still won’t fit my personality. No matter. I’ll pray it either way, not because of what it does for me but because of what it does to me, even when I don’t notice it.

Will you join me?

  1. Note to priests: it wouldn’t hurt if you switched it up some. []
  2. Pause for the reader to freak out, except that I already put it in the title, so maybe it’s no surprise. []
  3. Take that, rosary-loving priest! I mean…uh…bless me, Father, for I have sinned…. []
  4. Well, skimmed a book and then lent it to someone who forgot to give it back to me. Story of my life. []
  5. Or at least by Saint Dominic, if you want to call the story of the rosary a legend. []
Posted in Goodness | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

The Wrong Questions

We are a faithless people, aren’t we? We know to say “God is good” and follow it with “all the time” but the moment something goes wrong, we’re questioning him: “Why would God let this happen to me?” “What good could possibly come of this?” “How am I ever going to get through?” “When will God step in and save me?”

silhouette churchThey’re totally natural, those questions. And in a sense, they’re good because they do, at some level, presuppose that God has a purpose. But they’re the wrong questions. When we’re lost or suffering or alone, the question is not “Why?” or “How?” or “When?” The question is “Who?”

Who is this God we worship? If he’s a puppetmaster or a strategist, messing with our lives with no regard for our hearts, it makes sense to doubt him. But if he’s the God who is love, the God who calls Israel his darling,1 the God who was stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and nailed to a cross to suffocate to death on the off chance that you’d love him back, we have to change our attitude. Because if that’s who God is, then your first thought in times of trouble ought to be, “The God who loves me is at work in this.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see where God is in your pain or wondering when you’ll be released. The problem is when you’re seeking those answers because you don’t really trust that God is who he said he is: the Lord and Lover of souls.2

stream in French countrysideWhen people are suffering, I don’t often have answers. I can begin to see the ripples, the way their pain is working to make them holier and happier—ultimately. But in the moment of anguish, it doesn’t feel like enough. And so I find myself, again and again, saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s doing, but I know who he is. I know that he’s for you. I know that he loves you more than you could possibly imagine. I know that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you. And so if he’s not stepping in to save you, I have to trust not in what I can see and understand but in who I know him to be. He is yours and you are his. There is nothing to fear.”

It’s the difference between Job and Jonah, the difference between a man whose response to difficulty is trust in God and a man whose response to prosperity is despair. Job loses everything and cries out, “Though he slay me, still will I trust in him.”3 And when he finally calls out to God, God doesn’t tell him what he’s doing. He doesn’t explain why he’s allowed Job to suffer. He simply says, “Remember who I am. Remember that I am wise and powerful, that I am sovereign creator.” Having known Christ, we can add, “Remember that I am for you. Remember that I am love.” And Job is content in knowing who God is, despite the miserable failure of his life.

Jonah, on the other hand, is called by God to be a prophet, an honor and a dignity sought by many in Israel. But Jonah doesn’t know why God would send him to the hated Ninevites and so he runs from God. In the belly of the fish, he relents, only to lament God’s will once again when his preaching is successful. He longs for death, a drama queen to the end. God reminds him that he loves the Ninevites, that he loves even their cattle, but Jonah is unsatisfied. He so caught up in his idea of how things ought to work, so caught up in the why and the how, that he’s forgotten the who.

Belgium sunriseYou will never understand God, whose ways are as far about your ways as the heavens above the earth.4 “What you understand is not God.”5 And holding him accountable to your plan dictated by your finite understanding of things is just ignorant. God would not be God, after all, if he were God the way you would be God if you were God.6 Read that again. He is God and you are not. And while there’s nothing wrong with asking, “Where is God in this?” or “What good thing is God doing?”, any questions you ask have to be rooted in the answer to the one question that matters: who is God?

Nietzsche claimed, “He who knows the why of his life can bear with almost any how.7 It certainly does help to have a sense of the why of your life but the more important question is the who. As you struggle through whatever situation is trying your soul right now, take this question to prayer. Who is God? What has he done in the past to reveal his power, his mercy, his love? What has he done in salvation history and what has he done in your life? Get to know the God of consolations instead of looking merely for the consolations of God. There is peace.

2014-10-22 17.28.35

  1. Is 44:2 []
  2. Wis 11:26 []
  3. Job 13:15 []
  4. Is 55:9 []
  5. St. Augustine []
  6. Thanks to Msgr. Edward Dillon for that marvelous line that’s brought me through many a confusing situation. []
  7. With thanks to Fr. Stephen Billington for the quotation and the response. []
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I Talk a Big Game

Remember when I told you how I’m so good at trusting God now? Ha. Just like 2 years ago, I trust him plenty in the big things. The day-to-day gets a little dicier. Let me tell you what happened the very day I wrote that post about trusting God in Turkey.

Boiled pigs' blood that takes like floury charcoal. Glad I tried it, but next time I think I'll pass.

Boiled pigs’ blood that takes like floury charcoal. Glad I tried it, but next time I think I’ll pass.

The day started off a little rough with black pudding, which is (unsurprisingly) not my new favorite food. After Mass, I headed to the train station to get on my way to lovely Oxford. I waited in a long line at the ticket counter only to discover that I could have saved 30 pounds on my train ticket if I’d bought it the night before, as I was considering doing. 30 pounds! I stewed over the money for a while (as I am wont to do) but really had a rough time getting over it. I’ve got the money to spare, I just hated that being stupid cost me 50 bucks. Pride.

Nursing wounded pride, I caught my train to Oxford, where I was planning to head straight to Littlemore to see the home of Blessed John Henry Newman, a great favorite of mine. But, of course, I have no data plan over here. So I asked how to catch the 16 bus and tried to follow the directions I was given through the winding streets of Oxford. With no map and no sense of where I was going, it took me a frustrating hour to find the stop. By the time I got there, I had only an hour before Newman’s home closed for the day and a 20 minute bus ride still to take.

Rushing unaware past beautiful and historic things the whole time. Like this church, where Newman preached his last sermon as an Anglican before draping his master's hood across the altar as a sign that he was renouncing his preaching authority in the Church of England. Quite a flair for the dramatic, that one.

Rushing unaware past beautiful and historic things the whole time. Like this church, where Newman preached his last sermon as an Anglican before draping his master’s hood across the altar as a sign that he was renouncing his preaching authority in the Church of England. Quite a flair for the dramatic, that one.

So I got in what I thought was a “queue.” My bus pulled up and I waited patiently as the line inched forward, pleased with myself for doing the proper British thing. Until my bus pulled away. At which point I discovered that people getting on that bus got out of the line to board the bus while the others moved forward to wait for a different bus. I had missed my bus even though I was standing there! I was furious and near tears. The next bus wasn’t due for half an hour. By the time I got to Littlemore, I’d only have ten minutes!

But I’ve loved Newman for years, so I stayed in line, trying very hard not to hate my stupid self. When my bus finally came, 30 agonizing minutes later, the old lady in front of me told the driver she was getting off at Catholic Church, Littlemore. Generally, I try to take care of myself, but after the afternoon I’d had, I wasn’t above asking for help. I had to endure some awkward racist comments1 but she pointed the way and I was off for a few minutes with Newman!

Except the door was locked.

Me with a bust of John Henry Newman. At his house. In the room where he was received into the Church. Across from the desk where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

Me with a bust of John Henry Newman. At his house. In the room where he was received into the Church. Across from the desk where he wrote his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

But Ivy hadn’t left me yet. She and her friend Ruby were waiting at the corner to see if I’d gotten where I needed to go. And when it was clear I hadn’t, Ruby took me around to every door—even behind gates I would never have opened—until someone answered. Turns out the place had been closed all day. But since Ruby knew the community running it, I got a private tour of Newman’s library (the room where he was received into the Church) and bedroom and chapel. How marvelous!

If I hadn’t been lost, if I hadn’t missed my bus, if I hadn’t been so frustrated that I caved and asked for help, I never would have gotten in. Every single stupid, frustrating thing of my day was leading toward this. Everything I was so upset about, angry and lamenting my terrible life, was making such a beautiful afternoon possible.

God isn’t just in the big things. He’s in the small things, too. Maybe God isn’t protecting you from riot police. Maybe he’s just getting you a little lost or making you miss your bus. Or maybe he’s putting Ruby on the bus you’ll be on. Somehow he’s working, in big things and small. Especially in small.

It’s easy to tell the stories of how all the bad things were leading to a good thing that ties up all the loose ends and makes for a pleasant resolution. I tell those because I know the happy endings. But there are other upsetting stories whose happy endings I don’t know. The traffic jam that kept you out of a car accident. The broken bulb that sent you to the store where you walked by an old man and reminded him to call his daughter. The bad grade that made you stop at the library where you checked out a book that was then at the top of the pile where someone who needed it could see it.

One day, we’ll know all the happy endings. One day, we’ll know the only happy ending that matters. Until then, I’ll keep trying to trust the Author that the plot twists are working to resolve something, in my storyline or another.

Oh, and by the end of the day, strangers had given me 30 pounds. They probably would have anyway, but I wouldn’t have seen the hand of God in it so well if it hadn’t been exactly the amount whose loss I was lamenting. Glory be to the God of small things.

With the lamp post that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia. I almost died.

With the lamp post that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia. I almost died.

  1. When a Muslim lady got on the bus: “There’s too many foreigners here now.” “Well, I’m a foreigner.” “Oh, no you’re not dear. I mean those Muslims.” “I love her scarf. Isn’t that pretty?” I mean, how do you correct the racist remarks of an old British lady who’s doing you a favor? I just changed the subject. []
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God’s Triumph over Turkey

I’m a planner. I’ve always been one to plan out my day, to plan out a trip, to plan out my life.1 And if you’ve been following this ridiculous life of mine for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that God doesn’t like this controlling tendency of mine. He’s spent years teaching me to trust him, to let him be God. He’s changed my five year plan more times than I can remember, pulled the rug out from under me when it comes to daily plans, and established me in a life where I regularly wake up in the morning unsure what state I’ll be in when I go to bed. And I’ve been learning to roll with it. After all, he keeps providing for me, so at a certain point it seems a little silly not to trust him.

Last Tuesday, he gave me a pretty intense opportunity to trust. On my way to Manchester to begin my evangelizing tour of Europe, I was stopping through Istanbul. Turkish Airlines has this great deal where they’ll give you a long layover in Istanbul and a free hotel room while you’re there. I was thrilled by the opportunity to see one of the world’s great cities, albeit briefly, so I jumped at the chance. I booked the ticket and waited for information on the hotel. When I got none, I called the airline. “Oh, when you get to Istanbul they’ll give you a room.” “Can you check my itinerary and see if I qualify?” “Oh, yes, you’ll be fine.”

Well, I didn’t love the idea of going to a country where I know nobody and can’t speak a word of the language without even an idea of where I would sleep, but I figured it would all work out. After all, they’d told me I’d have a room, right?

You can see where this is going.

A blurry picture of me setting out in DC. I'm really proud of fitting 6 weeks worth of winter clothes into a carry-on suitcase.

A blurry picture of me setting out in DC. I’m really proud of fitting 6 weeks worth of winter clothes into a carry-on suitcase.

After a long (and very pleasant) flight in from DC, I rushed through the Istanbul airport, making it through customs and immigration, finding someone to direct me further, and finally stumbling across the Hotel Desk to be told that I couldn’t have a room. Turns out my flight out of Istanbul left too late for me to take advantage of the offer.

I gave the desk clerk a very disappointed look (which I’m sure he was entirely unaffected by) and walked off to freak out. Yes, I have enough money for a hotel room but I have no internet, so I’m sure to be cheated. And if I spend all that time finding a hotel, I won’t make it to Mass.

Then I stopped.

Last Tuesday was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The feast of the miraculous triumph of Christendom over the Turk. Here I was, in trouble in Turkey on Our Lady of the Rosary. What on earth did I have to worry about?

I’ll go to Mass, I thought. That’s really what matters. And God will take care of me from there. Don’t be too impressed–I had several occasions in Israel where I had nowhere to stay so I went to the church to see about Mass times and found a hostel or a friend from the US or a guest house. It stood to reason that the same thing would happen here.

Peaceful enough to stop and take some selfies with Turkish flags in the background.

Peaceful enough to stop and take some selfies with Turkish flags in the background.

I was astonishingly peaceful. Really, I kept remarking on how powerful the peace of the Spirit is and how far God has brought me. I’m not spontaneous and easy-going by nature, but I felt such a reassurance that God who is sovereign over death, who was sovereign over Lepanto, who is sovereign over creation and salvation and everything in between was also sovereign over my travel plans.

What’s the worst that can happen? I asked myself. This confusion isn’t going to get me sent to hell, which is the only thing that should ever really frighten me. And while I’d rather not be assaulted or have to spend the night on a park bench, I probably wont and I trust that God will be sovereign in whatever happens. Forget the hotel question, I’m going to Mass.

I got on the bus into the city center and got off, following the directions a friend from Turkey had emailed me. I’d spent the evening before trying to download maps I could use offline but to no avail. Standing at the bus stop, confused by the directions I had, I pulled out my phone out of habit and discovered that I had access to nothing—no data, no wireless, no cell signal, not even the correct time—except a map of the area with GPS telling me exactly where I was and a star I’d put on the map telling me where to go. So I went to Mass.

Once I got here, I knew I was okay. Nothing makes any church feel like home like not having a home of your own.

Once I got here, I knew I was okay. Nothing makes any church feel like home like not having a home of your own.

When I got to church, the young gentleman next to me introduced himself and asked how long I was in town. Before I’d been in the chapel 5 minutes, I had an advocate who’d promised to help me find someplace to stay. After Mass (which was in Turkish, so I’m now at 12 languages I’ve been to Mass in) another young man approached to say he worked at a hotel and he could help me, too. But I felt like God wanted me to ask the Church for help. So I approached a Sister and asked her in rusty French if there was a Christian guesthouse or Benedictine monastery nearby. She lived at the hospital, she said, and couldn’t do anything. Father was put off that I hadn’t asked earlier, not understanding that I was only in town for 20 hours. But I explained a little better and dropped the name of a friar I thought we both knew and before I knew it he was on the phone with a community of Italian sisters. “Follow me,” he said, dismissing my guardians.

As I rushed after Father, he explained that there were protests in the streets outside the church. “They may throw gas bombs,” he said. “Can you run?”

Protests. Police in riot gear with gas masks hanging around their necks. Angry-looking Turks shouting something I couldn’t understand.2 But it was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. What was there to be afraid of?

We pushed through crowds, our path occasionally blocked by heavily-armed cops. We scurried across a wide divide between a menacing mob and determined riot police. Finally, we turned onto an empty street and Father slowed down, turning to me. “We’re safe now.”

Of course we are, I thought. We always were.

Look! Something pretty! Taken from the window of the bus.

Look! Something pretty! Taken from the window of the bus.

There followed an introduction to the sisters who had offered to open their home at the last minute and an hour of awkward conversation where I made the best use I could of my college Italian. “Why are you Catholic?” one of them asked me, and I gave my testimony in a language I kind of spoke a decade ago. As always, I felt bad to be imposing on them. As expected, they were happy to help. Finally, I got a good night’s sleep and headed back to the airport in the morning, having seen none of the great sights but also having avoided being caught in a riot or stuck sleeping outdoors. All in all, far worse than I expected my visit to Istanbul to be, but also far better.

For all my life is lived in the hands of Providence, I’m not great at trusting God. Sure, I know he’s going to take care of me ultimately, but I get mad when he doesn’t do it the way I want. I’m anxious when faced with the unknown not because I’m afraid but because I’m obsessed with having my way, with things going perfectly. And God just keeps showing me that my way isn’t perfect. If I’d had a hotel to go back to, I still would have gone to Mass at St. Anthony’s. But then I would have had to navigate an angry mob and a foreign police force on high alert on my own. After dark. Without any idea where I was going. Thanks, I’ll take the uncertainty of having no hotel over that.

Here’s the thing: I’m nothing special. Sure, I may have more opportunities to see God stepping in dramatically, but he doesn’t do it any more for me than he does for you.3 Maybe he’s not going to have a chance to give you a place to stay in Istanbul, but he’s working in your life. He’s leading you to new relationships or away from dangerous situations. He’s offering you peace in turmoil and liberation from bondage. I’m not saying everything that happens to you will be pleasant if you trust God. This is not the Osteen Gospel of “Love God and he’ll give you a BMW.” All I’m saying is that if you try every day to trust God there’s peace even in the midst of disaster. There’s an ability to live in the knowledge of who God is even when you don’t know what he’s doing. It gives you hope when the world would tell you to despair and joy when there seems no cause. I’m not good at it yet but last week God gave me a taste of what it means to trust him. And that time things worked out. Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough to trust him and then find things going disastrously wrong. Even then, my head knows the truth, whatever my heart may say: “Though he slay me, still will I trust in him.”4

At least the trip wasn't a total loss....

At least the trip wasn’t a total loss….

  1. Ask me how many kids I’m supposed to have by now…. []
  2. The only Turkish I know is “Thank you” and they certainly weren’t saying that. []
  3. Although I am fairly imprudent, so I may need more rescuing than most. []
  4. Job 13:15 []
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Breaking My Idols

I found a scrap of paper in my bag a while back1 with thoughts I know I’ve felt but don’t remember writing down. I’m sure it came in prayer, a time of prayer when I was stronger than I am now, readier to beg for suffering and less weary of the plodding pain of the everyday. I put it aside with the intention to finish it someday. And maybe I will. But tonight, I think I’m going to offer it to you half thought out, simply a plea for God to break down the idols I’ve made of him and be God in my life.

I don’t need a nice God, a safe God, one who leaves me comfortable in my complacency. I need a God who knocks down the walls with a trumpet blast and leaves me to be ravaged by grace.

I don’t need a God made in my image and likeness but a God who breaks me and molds me into his.

I won’t give my life to a God who exists to approve my plans and validate my will but a God who leads by fire and cloud and sends a great fish to swallow me if he must.

I want the God of the whale’s belly, of despair and broken pride, who opens the sea and shuts the lions’ mouths, who floods the world to send a rainbow.

I don’t want a nice shepherd but a good shepherd, one who knocks me upside the head and drags me from danger.

And though he slay me, still will I trust in him.2

Stop settling for a plaster God and start worshiping the God who breaks hearts and makes them new. Knock down your idols of comfort and security and let God be God. Let him move and speak and shake you. Give him permission to ruin your life. I promise he will rebuild it into something more joyful and glorious than you could ever have imagined.

If you are plagued by mediocrity, ask God for something better. But be warned: if you offer him your life, he just might take it.

2014-09-16 07.59.22

  1. Perk of being rather a hoarder. []
  2. Job 13:15 []
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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. []
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