faith


Imperfect Sanctity

sanctity consists josemaria escriva

Today the Church celebrated All Saints’ Day,and tomorrow All Souls’ Day, beginning the month of November dedicated to remembering and praying for all souls who have gone passed from this life to the next.

A friend of mine and I were talking recently about Saints and how, the more we read or learn about their intimate lives, we realize they really were not as “perfect” as maybe we were led to believe as children. It’s been said that some of the authors who have written saint biographies deserve a certain amount of time in purgatory for only focusing on the saints’ best or ultra-human features and leaving out the parts that made them ordinary humans – relatable to the rest of us simpletons.

The truth is, the more time I spend getting to know those the Church has canonized as “Saints”, the more I realize they really weren’t “perfect”.  They weren’t born with halos or superhuman powers. They all had their struggles – many of them had to overcome severe psychological challenges and mental anguish before they could fully abandon themselves to Christ.  In fact, it was quite common for others around them to question their sanity before admitting their sanctity. It’s always easier to explain the unexplained first by accusing someone of insanity or calling them “delusional” rather than admit Jesus or Mary or anything supernatural could really occur.

On the flip side, I’ve been slightly perturbed as I look at some of the “Saints” through the Church’s history that supposedly led “holy lives” but in reality they probably really were crazy after all.

It’s interesting how our understanding of sanctity and sanity has developed and evolved over the years. Where in one age it was considered holy to “beat the hell out of yourself” quite literally through self-mutilation, we now see this as a heretical and disordered Albigensian mindset about the human body. (that the spirit must be freed from the “evil” body.)

As an adult, I’ve also been shocked and dismayed to learn that many of the stories I learned about Saints as a child were pieced together with patches of hearsay that maybe started with some facts but spun into cultural folklore and legends over the centuries.  There is so much we really do not know about these men and women we revere as Saints.

For some, these discrepancies are probably enough to sway a doubting soul into partial or even complete disbelief in the Saints, the Church, and God all together. However, for me, even when the curtains pull up, revealing unusual and even scandalizing behind-the-scene information about some Saints, it now has the opposite effect on me.

I’m someone who struggles with scruples. (No, really?! I bet you didn’t know that.) In other words, I struggle with a low spiritual-self esteem. It’s easy to get down on myself and feel like I’m not good enough in the eyes of Christ or the Church, especially when I compare myself to all the great Saints of the past.

But then I’ll read about a Saint who admits she detests praying the rosary –

It’s a terrible thing to admit, but saying the Rosary takes it out of me more than any [scratchy and rough] hair shirt  … Try as I will, I cannot meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary. I just cannot fix my mind on them” —St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Or others who have cried out to God, begging them to remove their pain and suffering instead of just accepting it with a holy smile on their face. Or all the great Saints who truly suffered from mental delusions yet continued trusting in God and clinging to Him faithfully, or the many mothers who fought impatience or “anger-management problems” daily yet they continued caring for their children out of love for them and the Lord who gave them to her, or those Saints who felt nothing, only darkness – no happy fuzzies after receiving the Eucharist, no warm glows of light when they prayed and, still, they continued serving Christ – serving His people selflessly. 

I read these stories, even if parts of them may be less than 100% true, and they keep me going.

The Saints show me that being a “saint”, isn’t about being perfect or always saying, “Yes, Lord!” to everything He asks or permits to happen to me with a huge happy smile on my face the whole time.

Being a Saint is is about acceptance – even when we’d honestly rather not.

It’s about saying,

God, I really have no idea why you’re letting this happen to me, I really, really hate this. But I believe You do know why. And so, I’ll follow you. I’ll trust you. Lead me. Where I do not want to go, I will go as long as you lead the way and stay with me. 

Like the quote I shared from Josemarie Escriva, “Sanctity consists in struggling…” In knowing we aren’t perfect, in seeing our weaknesses but instead of falling into despair or self-loathing, we allow God to use our weaknesses for His Glory and for the redemption of not only our own souls but all souls.

And so I’m thankful today for all the Saints the Church has given us as examples to lead and light us on our own unique paths. They are there, cheering us on, showing us that yes, it can be done. “If we did it – even with our terrible imperfections and delusional tendencies – surely you can too.”


Running on Grief 6

Running on Grief

I’d like to try and start sharing a few other thoughts here about running and exercise and faith and grief that I’ve “kept in my heart” and pondered over, even though it’s almost impossible to try and put these feelings into the right words.

Sometimes while I’m running, I suddenly feel a little self-conscious as I think about what I’m doing and how silly it must look. Not just because of how I run (which I’m sure looks silly enough by itself), but I think about the why? Why would I run unless I was late (which happens often) or unless a hungry tiger was chasing me? (That happens less frequently.)

I’ve been a runner – meaning I’ve freely chosen to go out and run for “fun” – off and on for many years since about the time I was in 5th grade and track season was starting up. To many people, and even to me at times in the middle of a hard race or practice, I’ve wondered –

Why? Why in the world am I doing this?!

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s always a deeper meaning and reason to running beyond pumping your legs as fast as you can and trying not to die in the process. 

For me, that reason has varied during different seasons of my life but it’s always provided a great space and time to process my thoughts and pray.

Around this time last year, I decided I wanted to make exercise a daily habit instead of something I did every now and then when I felt like it. A friend invited me to join her in an online “Challenge Group” – basically an online fitness accountability group.

Together with that and another friend’s advice to try the Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred programs and the BeFit videos and acquiring a treadmill from another friend (I have great friends!), I was doing very well with developing a good routine and starting to feel pretty good too.

Then mid-November came, when my Dad’s doctors found cancer on his lungs, and then early December, when they confirmed it was non-smoker’s stage IV lung cancer (but with a very positive “years not months” prognosis”), and then, just a few weeks later, his incredibly unexpected and shocking death right before Christmas.

 

Needless to really have to say, I had a hard time exercising during that time – it’s hard to run or do much of anything when you have a big huge emotional knot in your stomach.

In the weeks and months after that, it was still too hard to think about exercising – it was hard enough just getting out of bed and trying to continue life “as normal” since it was anything but normal anymore.

By March, I decided I needed to do something to get myself moving again but knew it would be too hard to do it on my own at home. I needed a place to plug in until I could get moving on my own again. So I joined the Y, knowing that by paying money per month I’d have to go and make the money well spent.  I made a daily schedule for myself based on the group exercise schedule and asked a few friends to help me stay committed by inviting me to come with them when they went.  I thank God for the many good friends he has blessed me with.

Most people say exercising helps them feel better when dealing with anxieties. At first, for me, it made me feel worse.

I honestly didn’t really feel like doing it and I mostly hated it while I was there. I struggled a lot with thoughts and questions like, “if we’re all going to die one day and the eternal life is all that really matters why waste my time on the things of this world by exercising?” I didn’t feel like dying (though I wished I could at least take a peek and see where my dad was), yet I didn’t know how to continue living, I honestly didn’t really know what I was supposed to do.  I was stuck in a room with no obvious way out.

I wanted a place to escape my grief and instead found myself confronted with it – it followed me and even intensified the harder I worked out. 

The faster I ran or the harder I pushed, I’d get flashbacks of our 24-hour ordeal in the hospital, re-living the trauma of those moments.  Images of my Dad in the hospital and weeks preceding it flashed in my mind with every surge of adrenaline. I missed him so, so, so much. I couldn’t get away from it.

I was lifting weights with my arms while hauling around the deadweight of grief in my heart. 

Yet, since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to keep going.

I remember one evening – or maybe it was morning, I can’t remember that time very well – I couldn’t stand it anymore. My spirit was drowning in grief and I could hardly breathe anymore, frustrated, annoyed, desperate and confused about life, death, God, everything. 

I angrily went downstairs, grabbed the treadmill key, turned it on and, like Forest, I just started running, and I ran, and ran, and ran. (Though I didn’t run till I grew a beard or reached every ocean in the US.)

I ran and it felt as if my heart opened while I ran and all the waves of emotions of sadness and confusion flowed out of me and pumped through my veins, powering me along. My legs and arms pumped and my heart sobbed and sobbed and prayed and cursed and grunted and screamed.

When I finally stopped – I have no idea how long I ran and didn’t care – a strange feeling came over me. Peace, maybe? Relief? Whatever it was, I knew it was good.

My body ran and my soul began thawing – healing.

Ten months later, I’m still running, still exercising regularly, and even ran my first 5K in my life! Slowly, I’ve started enjoying running and exercising again instead of just forcing myself to do it without any satisfaction.

I used to see people’s pictures they’d post of themselves captioning their exercise or running accomplishments and feel almost jealous of their outward “perfection” and happiness. Now I wonder if that’s what others think when they see me at the gym or hear about my running/exercise accomplishments. Maybe others think “she’s got it all together”. But really I’m still healing.

I think everyone finds different ways to process grief or anxiety or other challenges in life. For me, running and exercise (and writing about it) have become an important tool and aid in my own healing process.

Running and exercise have always provided an analogous way for me to better understand life and my faith. I’m still pondering how the finite and temporal act of exercising fits in with the whole eternal life thing. More on that to come…


Mary Mother & Queen of all Joy and Strife

Mary gothic statue from Pexels

“COME TO MAMA, MY CHILDREN”

We celebrated the Assumption of Mary on August 15 and her Queenship yesterday (August 22) and I’ve been “pondering these things in my heart” about Mary and why she is so important to me and all for the whole world.

One main thought I’ve had rolling around my head is this:

Mary has the full knowledge of ALL of the sufferings and ALL of the joys in the whole history of humanity.

She knows both the strife and the joyful triumph of life.

She has experienced pain personally but she is also in full knowledge of the meaning of her pain and of the whole world’s suffering.

This is what makes her the best Mother ever.

We can run to her with our skinned knees and our bruised and bleeding hearts and she will happily embrace us and comfort us. She will not wave us away or admonish us to “quit your whining and just trust in Jesus!”. She knows our pain is real. 

I used to be confused about Mary – if she was “without sin” how could her heart also be “pierced” by suffering? I was confused because I couldn’t understand if someone was “sinless”, why would they suffer? And why, if she truly “knew” God in such an intimate and pure way, why would she feel suffering and anguish? I guess, in a way like my Jewish ancestors of old, I thought only sinners experienced suffering.

But Jesus suffered too.

What I’ve come to understand better is that suffering, on its own, is not a sin. 

If you struggle, if life is hard, if you don’t always feel all happy and good inside – it does not make you a sinner.

It simply makes you human, living in the reality of this incomplete and broken world.

But this is why Mary is so important for us. She is a human, like any of the rest of us, conceived and born of human parents. The only difference is that God spared her the “stain” of sin. He didn’t just hide her from sin though.

Through Mary’s Immaculate Conception, God opened Himself to this one woman amongst all women and revealed Himself to her in His FULL “Be-ing” and Glory – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Like when Eve suddenly “knew” of the good and the evil too when she ate of the forbidden fruit, now Mary knew of ALL the GOOD in all its fullness.  God not only gave her a hint to how the story ends, He showed her the whole ending in a way that makes the “current” time not only make absolute sense but shows how our suffering is an integral part of the ending.

Because of this, Mary is fully aware of the suffering of the world but she also knows that our suffering has a greater meaning and purpose. Like a gentle and wise Queen, she shows us, by her perfect example, how we can embrace our current reality and not only “get through it” but how we can unite our lives completely with Christ so that we become part of the Great Story.

In Jeff Young’s (aka The Catholic Foodie) August 22 reflection in The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion (that I’m so excited to be a part of!), he encourages us to come to Mary with our pains and struggles and allow her to comfort us and then encourage us to get back on our feet and continue on this road because what we will find at the end will make it all worth it!

Mama Mary, you know what it is like to suffer with God. Please help me to accept my life as it is and to trust that Jesus is right here with me. – Jeff Young

 

 

 

(My personal Amazon affiliate links included in this post)

 


Laughing and Trusting in God’s Will

I loved this past Sunday’s Catholic Mass readings! They contain many angles of Wisdom but I especially tuned into the parts that speak to those of us who struggle with anxiety and doubt in God’s plan in our lives.  

Like I shared at CatholicMom.com this week, I struggle with accepting the trials God allows me to go through and often fail to see the gifts through the challenges. 

In the first reading from Genesis, the Lord shares with Abraham that Sarah, who is “advanced in years, and… had stopped having her menstrual periods” and was barren, would have a son! 

Sarah didn’t believe this could really happen for her.  In fact,  she laughed at such an impossible prophesy.  But the Lord, offended at her incredulity, asks,

Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? 

Sarah, like a true daughter of Eve, lies and denies her laugh but the Lord, being the all knowing Father,  answers back – and I love this line –

“Yes, you did.”

Ha! Sounds like a conversation I’d have with one of my own willful children.  

(As a side note,  I also love the irony the USCCB notes that her laughter prefigures the name of her future son, Isaac.)

It’s been said (and said and said), “The best way to make God laugh is to tell Him your plans.”

But how often do I also laugh at His plans in my life?  How often does He try to show me a better way and I laugh in disbelief or naive arrogance? How often do I doubt – or don’t even notice – the “marvelous” ways He works in my life? 

In a way, today’s first reading can also be very aggravating if we have yearned for something and feel like God is not listening. Sarah received what she’d been wanting (a few years too late in her opinion) after she had long since stopped hoping. 

What about those of us who, like Sarah, yearn and PRAY for something but never receive any special visitors from the Lord telling us we’ll finally get it? 

In our hearts we might know that the Lord has other plans for us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future“, plans that He knows are good for us, and that we should just trust Him.  

But our minds remain anxious and restless when we cannot understand His ways or feel like He’s not listening…or maybe not even there…

When we stop trusting God, or when we’re left feeling abandoned by Him, we fill our lives with things or busy work to try and fill the gap or obstinately try to force our plans. We become resentful and obsessed. We stop praying,  we stop listening, we stop hoping. 

In Sunday’s Gospel, Martha is consumed by her work to the point that she seems to forget why, and for Whom, she’s doing it. While her sister, Mary, on the other hand, “…sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.”

The Laudate App (my favorite app) had a great reflection on Sunday’s Gospel shared by Don Schwager and Presentation Ministries. Don reminds us that –

Anxiety and preoccupation keep us from listening and from giving the Lord our undivided attention. The Lord bids us to give him our concerns and anxieties because he is trustworthy and able to meet any need we have. His grace frees us from needless concerns and preoccupation.

So what do we do when things aren’t going our way or we are confused by how God is working in our lives? 

I LOVE this point made in the Presentation Ministries reflection:

Some people say they are like Martha; others say they are like Mary. However, the Lord is not calling us to be Martha or Mary, but Martha and Mary.

​We are called to be like Martha and continue living and going about our days but we are also called to be like Mary and unite our days with prayer by making time to intentionally seek Christ’s Presence in our lives.

We give our anxieties to the Lord when we open our hearts to him and allow Him to enter us and heal our pains. 

We can find hope and peace again in any situation when we humbly pray,

Lord, I have no idea what I’m doing here or how to live with this. I give it to you. Guide me, lead me. Heal me.

(I used my WordPress mobile app to write this whole post so forgive any funky formatting!)

 


Grateful for the Fathers in our Lives

As much as I miss my own dad today, I’m filled with joyful gratitude for the fathers I do have with me [physically] in my life today. My husband, my father-in-law, brothers, uncles, cousins, all the Fr. priests in my life and all the great men and fathers we are blessed to raise our families along with.

For my husband, the best father my kids could ever have.

I love how much he loves them. I remember when our first child, our daughter, was born. We were both so overwhelmed by joy and amazement that this person could be our own child! It was terrifying and humbling. At first, parenting for both of us was like trying to learn how to drive a manual car. You know, the ones were you have a clutch you have to physically push down with your left foot while you simultaneously move your right foot off the brake and ease the gas pedal down while also using your right hand to move the gear shift and, oh remember to keep your left hand on the steering wheel so you don’t swerve into any other cars of off the road!

Yeah, that’s what first-time parenting is like. And boy did we struggle and at first our movements were rough and jerky and there was often the harsh sound of grinding gears as we figured out how to smoothly transition from one gear to another without breaking the baby.

But as our daughter grew and as we added our three sons into our lives, I saw my husband grow too – as a man and as a father. We slowly learned how to let go of ourselves so that we can fully enter into the love of our family and give of ourselves fully to our children together.

We’re still learning for sure and we have many more challenges ahead but I’m thankful today for the amazing and wonderful father my husband is.

When I’m going crazy and can’t handle all the pressure, he comes in and with one look everyone settles down and remembers they are human beings and not wild animals. When I’m all out of energy after a long day and everyone is about ready to explode, my husband diffuses the ticking time bombs with laughter while he chases, wrestles or tickles all the stress out of everyone.

There are many things a mom can do, it’s true, but there’s so much that only a father can do. Trust me, I’ve tried to sound like him and make the kids listen to me like they do to him – I may have even recorded his voice so I would sound like him when lip-sync yelling at the kids. It didn’t work. It’s gotta be him. He has this certain power…or influence over them by his mere presence that I just can’t mimic.

I see how the kids are with him, how they love to spend time with him, how they love doing the silliest and seemingly meaningless stupid stuff with him and it brings them all so much joy. I love that he teaches them all about the random trivia of life, the science of the weather and all about the mysteries of the vast space that spreads beyond our imaginations. When our kids grow up and become meteorologists, astronauts, or astrophysicists it’ll be because of all the time their daddy spent sharing the scope of his knowledge and introducing them to all the wonders of the world.

You can tell what love language our first-born son speaks. (Ahem, quality time together)

We both bring our strengths and our gifts together and I’m so thankful I have him as a partner in this whole parenting gig.

For my father-in-law, a man I respect and admire greatly.

I know some people don’t get along with their in-laws but I gotta say that my father-in-law is pretty dang awesome. I’ve always loved that we can converse together and talk about the things of the world and also about our shared Catholic faith. Over the years we’ve mulled over hard mysteries and questions about God and our unique Catholic and faith experiences.

I’m immensely grateful especially for the gift of his craftsmanship and handy man talents. He’s graciously helped me turn many ideas into physical realities and rescued and fixed many of my attempts at trying to put things together on my own. Mostly I’m humbled by how my father in law has always welcomed me into his family and treated me as his own daughter.

Lastly, but definitely not least, I’m thankful for the spiritual fathers I’ve always had with the many Catholic priests I’ve known growing up.

For all the time they give to bring Christ’s love and healing grace to me through the Sacraments or by offering patient guidance in my times of discernment.

By their physical presence they are here for me as a father In Persona Christi always reminding me and pointing me to the One Father who has, IS, and always will be my Father who loves me and is with me. He knows me and will never forget or leave me.

Though I’m missing the physical presence of my natural father today, I’m thankful for all the great men in my life who I can also look to as fathers to guide me, protect me, and love me.

Lightning

My awesome husband captured this magnificent photo of an amazing lightning storm the other night. It reminds me of how we all connected by the same source of LOVE that spreads through all the veins of our human ancestry. 

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