If you’re a Catholic millennial, chances are you’ve heard the catchphrase “Love is more than sex” more times than you can remember. I’m pretty sure there are literally bumper stickers, pins, t-shirts, and the like that have that phrase in big, bold letters. And to be fair, in the world in which we live, that catchphrase ought to be a battle-cry, a rallying point around which the beauty of love can be defended against modernity. There are certainly people who need to hear that love doesn’t just begin and end with sexual experiences or attractions.
The thing is, people need to hear more than the battle-cry. When we move others to desert the camps of the enemy and join our ranks, we need to teach them the truth behind the battle-cry, the reality which we have encountered that lets us shout it not just from our lips but from the very depths of our hearts. And speaking as a Catholic millennial, oftentimes, as soon as we take the bumper sticker, we’re kind of left hanging, still questioning, still uncertain.
See, we get this. We know love is more than sex. In truth, even most people who have bought into modernity still realize that “love is more than sex”. To use a semi-crude example, there’s an episode of Friends (POTENTIAL SPOILER) where Phoebe says about Monica and Chandler, “I just thought you were doing it! I didn’t know you were in love!” *cue laugh track* Yeah, it’s totally eye-roll worthy, but take a second and look at what the implication is. There’s a distinction between “doing it” and “being in love”. There’s something more going on, something that brings more than pleasure; it brings a certain happiness, a good feeling of closeness that’s more than physical. So as long as they have that other part to it, the “being in love”, it’s all good, right?
Not so much; any good chastity speaker will tell you so. And that’s where the snag is. The thing is, I think this is where we miss the mark in particular when ministering to our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Just telling them that “love is more than sex” isn’t enough, because chances are, they already know that. What they really mean when they say, “Why are you against love?” is really something closer to, “Why do you want me to be unhappy?” There are a lot of these people who aren’t really arguing so much for unrestrained sex as they are for their chance to be happy with another person, to have what those ideal married couples have, even if it doesn’t look the same.
If we want to be taken seriously in our defense both of chastity and real love, then we need to get the concept of intimacy right. Intimacy is that “something” that modernity sees as the difference between “doing it” and “being in love”. It’s closeness, it’s seeing and knowing the other person at their deepest levels, it’s being tied together on a spiritual level that manifests itself on the physical level. It’s present in any kind of real love there is–familial, friendly, romantic, you name it. And while romantic intimacy most obviously manifests itself as sexual, that’s only one piece of it. Holding hands, knowing each other’s intimate likes and dislikes, always sharing with one another, finding happiness in just being close to them and even more in knowing that you’re “with” them in a way no one else is–these are all facets of it, and I’m barely scratching the surface. And we all have an ache in our hearts for that. We all see the goodness in this deep interpersonal intimacy. So how do we tell a man who wants to be with another man that it would be wrong without robbing him of some of the deepest desires of his heart?
We have to show him that the desire for God runs deeper.
We can’t just keep shouting “Love is more than sex”, we have to show them that love is even more than intimacy. We can’t just argue that real love is desiring and acting for the good of the other person, we have to bring them to an encounter with the One Who IS their good. We can’t just appeal to their confused minds, we have to tend to their wounded hearts. We have to be willing to step into the myriad facets of this unique struggle that has such popular prominence in our world, to engage not just our idea of what the problem is but the actual day-to-day fight for authentic love and happiness these people face. We need to go beyond telling them to “offer it up” and introduce them to the beauty of suffering love that Christ has made possible on the Cross.
In short, catchphrases and battle-cries aren’t going to cut it if we hope to turn the tide in our war against a world that turns a legitimate struggle into a glorified rebellion against God and His Church; the only One Who can win this fight is Christ, made present by the Holy Spirit, leading us to the Father. If we truly want to evangelize and minister to the broken-hearted, our job is to make His voice, not our own, heard as rolling thunder in the public square and, more importantly, as a still, small voice in the intimate moments of each human life.
I’ve held out hope for a long time that I would see a day when all my past hurts would go away completely, that I’d eventually be just totally OK, that I’d be able to be in the same room with someone whose very presence excites me without being terrified of what they think of me, ashamed that I care this much, or lonely and reminded of old wounds when they were gone. That day still hasn’t come. And I’m not sure it will in this life. And I think that’s OK.
See, our God isn’t a snow-plough God (thank you, Fr. Dan Pattee, for that analogy). It’s not as if, the moment we through ourselves upon the Lord, we’ll never experience pain again. The love of the Lord doesn’t always move mountains. Sometimes it just carries us until we can start climbing again. Sometimes it’s just the next breath we take into our lungs.
And that’s OK. That’s enough.
Our hope isn’t for this world, this life. Our hope is for Heaven. It feels so far off sometimes, like a distant dream, but it’s real. It’s there, waiting for us through the dark door of death. It’s the light on the other side of the dark sepulchre that radiates back on the entirety of our lives and makes it all worth it.
Guys, this is what St. Paul means when he says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) It’s not that there are no sufferings. It’s that they can’t compare to the glory of Heaven, the sheer magnificence of finally being united forever with the God who loved us so much that He created us, and loved us too much to leave us when we left Him, and loves us too much to leave us alone even now. This is the great mystery of learning to suffer in the shadow of the cross: to learn that it’s enough that He came to us, that He died for us.
In coming into our world he came also into our suffering. He sits beside us in the stalled car in the snowbank. Sometimes he starts the car for us, but even when He doesn’t, He is there. That is the only thing that matters. Who cares about cars and success and miracles and long life when you have God sitting beside you? (Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering)
The greatest moment of healing in my life was not when I stopped having anxiety attacks, or the first month I went without feeling like I was shrouded in gloom, or the first time I could say hello to a guy I wanted to know better without dying inside. It was when, in a time of distressed prayer, God took me back in my memory to the most painful moment of my life, laying crying in my bed, hating myself, my dreams going up in flames around me and my view of the future completely darkened, and showed me that He was there, sitting on the side of my bed, crying with me, and hearing my desperate prayer that I needed Him to love me, even though I wasn’t sure if He could. Even before we know how to love our own broken selves, He loves us. He’s there. He’s with us. He already died, knowing full well what you would turn out to be. There is nothing you can do, no one you can become, that will make God stop loving you. He came. And He meant it. He came FOR YOU.
We believe in a God who loved us so much that He came and died for us so that we could spend eternity with Him.
So when you suffer, even if it’s the millionth time in a row that you find yourself crying and alone, even if the darkness feels like it’s been there from the beginning and will never go away, remember this:
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy, and turn not aside, lest you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not fail; you who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy. You who fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts will be made radiant. Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in his commandments and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in times of affliction, and he is the shield of all who seek him in truth.
If you, like me, are struggling, go to the foot of the cross. Pour out your heart. Wait, and cry, and let the Lord hold you in His arms outstretched on the cross. Let your wounded heart rest in the Sacred Heart pierced for us. Wait upon His comfort, and let Him love you. LET HIM LOVE YOU. Let Him see and hold close to Himself all that you hold closest and deepest within yourself.
I know I’ve said this over and over AND OVER AGAIN. But each time, it rings with a little more sincerity, a little more clarity. Even if all we do is echo a truth until our very lives echo it, we’ve done well. And right now, that means stepping back from my ambitions, my new hopes and dreams, and allowing myself to remember that I still carry scars and wounds. Right now, it means learning how to live with them rather than shoving them aside. Right now, it means learning how to carry the wounds of Christ, to let my soul be His sepulchre, in which both His death and resurrection are reflected into the lives of those around me.
God bless, fam.
Three years ago, I still had anxiety attacks and often ditched my friends just to feel like I could breathe without choking. Three years ago, I still broke down crying every week and laid on the floor with music blasting in my ears to quiet all the sad thoughts running through my head. Three years ago, I was still hoping and praying my life would be short because I didn’t know how to cope.
Three years ago. There’s something that feels so distant yet so intimate about that. It’s so close that to remember still makes my heart ache, and yet so far that it usually feels more like a bad dream than a memory. I’m forever changed by the years I spent carrying these crosses, but I’m not defined by them. If anything, I think they just uncovered who I was all along.
Look, I don’t know what many of you are going through right now. Suffering is so much more than a single defining moment or the words we try to use to describe it. Deep down, really, only Christ can reach those hurts we can’t express, those unseen twinges and unspoken groans. Only He can really hold us right where the hurt is. Only the Holy Spirit can help us to pray with sighs too deep for words, as Romans tells us.
But the love of another human being makes all the difference. When you stop to listen, to hug, to laugh with or to cry with a brother or sister, it shows them it’s possible that they’re loved, that they aren’t doomed to be stuck in their own heads amidst their own tumultuous thoughts forever.
Three years ago, I poured out my heart, all my brokenness that I hated, my most shameful secret, and someone said, “I don’t care. I love you.” That has made all the difference.
I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again and again and again long after you’re sick of hearing it: I see you, I hear you, I know you, and I love you. Seriously. You. Reading this right now. I so wish I could hug each and every one of you close and tell you how much you mean to me. But I’ll settle for knowing you know that whatever your struggle, whatever your shame that you carry around with you…I don’t care. I love you. The God Who fashioned you died for love of you. I may not see your beauty and worth as clearly as he does, but I do see it. And gosh dangit, I want to show you.
P.S. I totally meant the hug thing. Seriously, ask me anytime for a hug. That’s my jam.
St. Raphael, pray for us.
What fools are we, inheritors of grace
and singers of th’eternal song. We string
our beads of love at someone else’s pace
and find our good intentions shattering.
We proudly stitch our garments, ’til the seams
are torn by lazy hands and frail remorse,
and carry tinder-boxes full of dreams
but hide the flint, and halt conversion’s course.
A fellowship of fools are we who swing
from Calvary into Eternity;
in foolish love our empty hands we bring.
Beloved, broken jesters all are we.
The greatest of all follies rescues us:
the shadow of the folly of the cross.
Being the avid Disney nerd I am, it no longer surprises me when, in movies, within the first half hour or so, someone important leaves or dies; some sort of goodbye takes place before the plot can advance any further. Which means that Marvel movies have majorly screwed with me, because NO ONE IMPORTANT EVER ACTUALLY DIES (and if anyone says Agent Coulsen, you clearly haven’t seen Agents of SHIELD…spoiler alert…), so it’s like, “Goodbye–NO WAIT WHAT OH MY GOSH YOU’RE ALIVE”. And in retrospect, there have been a fair amount of movies, Disney or otherwise, that do sort of the same thing (mostly Disney, because typically there’s some sort of magic or prophecy involved).
But there’s one Disney goodbye that still haunts me and tears at my heart: when Widow Tweed says goodbye to Todd in The Fox and The Hound.
Because not only is that goodbye accompanied with Tweed’s reminiscences and a tear-jerker of a harmonica-led song; it’s a devastatingly final goodbye. When she drives away from Todd, leaving him alone in the woods as she cries, and he just looks after her, confused, there’s no question in anyone’s mind: this is it, the last time they’ll ever see one another. There is no sudden return to the way things were; the film ends with Todd looking down on his old home from his new home in the woods.
Now there are two quotes about goodbyes that I have wrestled with: that sickeningly sweet “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” dealio, and a quote by C.S. Lewis that says, essentially, “Christians never say goodbye”. The first is pretty easy, in my mind, to question. It’s all well and good to say that we ought to rejoice in the good times that have been had, and there is no doubt that I look back with a (bittersweet) smile on the friends to whom I have said goodbye. And yet, when you stand before the ones you love, looking them in the eye and knowing that you may never see them again, feeling like your heart is being ripped from your chest, even if you can manage a smile, how can you not (at least internally) shed tears? How can you ignore that you are about to lose a person who has been precious to you? What greatness is there in denying to yourself that you will miss their laugh, their smile, the way they used to talk and walk, and just their very presence?
The second quote is less troubling, but still makes me uneasy. Essentially, the quote is recognizing the intimate bond we share as members of the Body of Christ, which keeps us always united no matter where we are, and is the source of our eternal union in Heaven. Still, even as we Catholics say to each other, “I’ll see you in the Eucharist”, even as our eyes of faith see the one to whom we have said goodbye in Christ’s Mystical body, and even as our hope tells us that we will see our loved ones in Heaven someday, isn’t there an ache? Can you deny that there is a hole in your heart where the other used to be?
Brethren, for anyone who has said goodbye and known that it was a truly final farewell, life afterwards is the life of an amputee. When we give another person a room in our hearts, we can’t help but feel the cold drafts through the open door and the cobwebs in the corners when they have gone. We have to go on living, knowing that we will never be the same.
That’s just it, though, I guess…we will never be the same. That is the glorious thing about our friendships and our familial bonds. The moment they are forged, we are changed. Love is a strange thing; once it enters your heart, you will never know a deeper ache, and yet every heart-wrenching moment is pure bliss, because you get to look into the eyes of the one you love. So when that terrible, inevitable moment comes when you have to say goodbye, and every part of your being is moaning for just another moment more with the beloved, we shouldn’t hide behind melancholy reminiscence or joyful hope, no matter how noble either might prove to be later. No.
When your universe suddenly seems as if its very light is about to be sucked away, when the air you breathe is about to be torn from your lungs, put every ounce of love you can into that last embrace, the final moment in which the one who brought music to your life pulls you close to them, letting your heart bleed out in one final, painful, blissful rapture of a moment. Then let them slip away, like rain slipping through your fingertips, burning like acid, and smile, because the tears that are sure to come mean that you have been lucky enough, in the few years of your life on this strange and beautiful place called Earth, to have met another person who entered into your life and you into theirs so deeply that your parting is torturous.
Finally, if you can stand it yet, say a prayer that you may both have the strength to go on to love again, and begin to find solace in the love of God, the one and only lover about Whom you can truly say that you will never have to say goodbye.
“Broken beyond repair”. Part of me is always tempted to say that whenever someone asks that ever-stupid question, “What three words would you use to describe yourself?” It’s basically the way that I view myself when I don’t have anyone to tell me otherwise. I have my flaws before my mind’s eye often, swirling in and out of the crazy noise that is my inner life. It gets really loud in here sometimes, and it’s definitely not particularly pretty.
And I find myself asking “why” a lot. I ask myself why I’ve made such stupid decisions, or why I bother to try so hard. I ask God why He didn’t stop me from breaking myself from within, or why He made me the way I started out, the way that wasn’t ready for what life had to throw at me.
So now here I am, sitting at my family’s kitchen table, 21 years old, and not knowing how to move forward.
I’ve made it past some incredibly dark years in my life (or at least they seemed to be incredibly dark; I’m still trying to see that darkness as the shadow of Calvary), and I learned during those years how to just get by, to continue living while I felt wracked by a ceaseless storm inside. Now I’m on the other side of that storm, trying to figure out how I’m supposed to actually LIVE my life. I’m in completely uncharted waters here, carrying crosses I don’t understand and scars that haven’t faded yet, trying to take a step, any step, towards a future that is completely unclear to me.
So now what?
This past semester, it’s really begun to dawn on me that much of my life has been one long trust exercise with God. He set me on solid ground, then asked me to trust him as I was suddenly thrown from my footing on a cliff. For years I’ve been falling, but I realize now that that fall was long because it was always on the wings of the angel armies. Now that I’ve found solid ground again, now that I’ve become comfortable, God is asking me to trust Him again, and I can feel the earth trembling beneath me, and it sends my soul into terrified spasms.
But if I really listen to the voice that’s asking me to trust, I can hear the music my soul has been thirsting for. I can sense the lips of my Beloved murmuring peace to my heart. His arms are outstretched, and even now wrapping around me.
All that’s left is to have courage and trust enough to leap into the arms that have always held me.
The waves are rolling, my Savior beckons, and it’s time to step out onto the waters. Duc in Altum.
Impetuous, my lately love, am I
in letting love this fragile frame imbibe;
your sapphire eyes are water to these dry
and burning bones. I wish I could inscribe
your name upon my heart eternally,
but nay, ’tis not to be. You? I? My dear,
the love I wish for us can never be–
love? Nay, nay, but mere passion…fierce, I fear.
Dear one, may I yet stay, and love thee true,
with kindness, care, and groaning heart? Though strung
like harp strings, heart aflame, my song to you
shall be restrained, with few notes ever sung.
Unbridled though my yearning ever be,
I shall but love and let thy heart by free.
I am firmly of the opinion that true humility comes in the moment when you stop whining about the size of your cross because you suddenly find yourself floored under the weight of the cross of another, and you both realize together in a gloriously gut-wrenching moment that Christ carried the weight of both already with Him to Calvary.
Recall the day the Tree of Life was shorn
of verdant life and pierced by iron nails,
when darkness, groaning, veiled the dying morn
while stones took up the trembling and wails.
Recall the day when earth and sky screamed out,
“Creator scorned, O creatures!, whence thy hope?”
Remember blood of God-Made-Man, the shout
of stone-cold tomb, salvation’s envelope.
Recall, recall, sweet soul, how blood gave birth
to sons and daughters from a granite womb,
Creation’s moans now sprung from fruitful girth
while souls by flood are washed into the tomb;
once more recall: as old life’s morning dies,
creation new from sepulchre will rise.
Lord, I know we’ve been through this before. Still, I need to ask this again: why do You even care about me, as messed up as I am?
I’m terrified, Lord. I feel cornered into a life I never wanted, half of it self-created. I’m torn apart inside by the crosses You’ve given me and the sins I’ve committed. One of these times I’m afraid You’ll stop at prodigal; You’ll be too sick of me to call me a son.
So how is it You still look at me and smile? How is it you still call me your child, your beloved?
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31
Many sparrows…I just imagine a huge flock of sparrows taking flight at once, filling the site with simple grace…Could I really be worth more than they?
Lord, grant me the grace to trust that even though I don’t see a way out of the corner I’m in, You love me so much that You already have a plan for me. Help me see that I’m worth enough in Your eyes to die for. Help me to see these crosses as gifts, that the life You want from me isn’t just a last-resort effort to save a soul broken beyond repair; that somehow, it’s a perfect plan stitched together with love since before I was born.
Let my prayers of joy rise like many sparrows to Your throne.
Sweet welcome to you, oh burdensome trial,
And may your sweet barbs yet tarry awhile.
An earth more fallow for growth you’ll not find,
For it’s fertilized full with the corpses of your kind.
Yes, welcome to your sanctuary and death;
Though root you take, vain is your poisonous breath.
Your pain is but passage to courage and grace
And the One ever smiling from His bloodied face.
So unsheathe your sword and sharpen your lance–
The longer I cry, the harder I dance.
You’ve homed with a Gael, and all the world knows
That the greater our sorrow, the more our joy grows.
So welcome to rebellious fires, my friend.
My strength is your solace; His freedom, your end.
The sound of tears is only outdone by the shattering of hearts all around. It seems wrong in a way that today should be so beautiful, with a bright, sun-filled sky and flowers beginning to bloom everywhere. Only the leafless trees seem to understand, and even they are putting forth buds.
But they’re right, in another way.
We ought to mourn today. We ought to cry, to grieve, or to sit in silent reflection. Our hearts ought to be broken when we look at the wounds of Christ and hear His prayer for our forgiveness, when we see Mary weep as she kisses the feet of her Son, when we hear the soldier cry out in faith as his heart turns violently in His chest.
And yet, there ought to be just a whisper of a promise echoing still in our hearts, and echo that nature itself seems to speak today.
This is not the end.
It’s a beginning.
Just…Monday? Is that it? Something huge is gonna happen! What’s the big deal?
…really? A lesson in patience? That’s what you’re gonna try to pull on me right now?! PATIENCE?!
Wow. Ok. That’s just–great. I mean, c’mon, nothing? No special commemoration? No big anticipatory thing? Nothing?
Well fine then, it’s not like this wasn’t, like the biggest week of Your life or anything…
What was Your Monday was like?
There was time between coming to Jerusalem and the Passover…You already knew exactly what was gonna be coming. It was going to hit Your hard when You got to the Garden of Gethsemane. Was part of it because You had to go on living, go on teaching, go on serving for another few days?
You were literally born to die. For me. For all of us. What was it like to walk among the people You were about to die for, knowing exactly who was going to stay faithful and who was going to abandon You? To walk the streets You had just been paraded down on a donkey, knowing you’d be staggering down the same way with blood, sweat, and a cross on Your back?
What kind of perseverance did that take?
And how often have I let impatience over something infinitesimally less weighty lead me to sin?
God often teaches us deep truths through some pretty odd yet magnificent, if occasionally (or frequently) painful, ways. I think He’s been doing a little bit of that the past few weeks. And months. And years…Funny how it’s only now that I’m seeing some of them unfold.
First, a true fix to any problem is never immediate; it’s slow, gradual, and intimate. This past week, I was inducted (FINALLY) into my household, called Fishers of Men, and I have grown so incredibly close to my brothers and love them dearly. I honestly cannot express how very dear they are to my heart and how blessed I am to call them my brothers. Yet the anxiety over whether I am truly accepted, the dark memories of past failed friendships–in short, all the things that originally held me back–though lessened, continue to haunt me. Even though the past is past, it has made an imprint on my heart that will never be fully erased, or at least not for quite some time; so the Lord seems to be indicating. The healing of my heart is something that will take years to complete, something that the Lord will do in stages through His grace and through those He has placed and will place in my life.
Second, God’s love doesn’t change because of how we feel. Somehow, that’s magnificently freeing: God’s love for me doesn’t depend on my emotions, my actions, my anything. It is wholly and incomprehensibly unconditional. I could go on, but no pen, no page, could ever encapsulate the boundless love of God.
Third, life just sucks sometimes, and you have to look to God for the strength and hope to continue to live and believe you are loved. The crosses I have to carry right now are such that I have to constantly turn to God in prayer just to make it through some days. His love always comes, sometimes as a beautiful encounter with Him, other times just as the next breath in my lungs. But He always comes.
And altogether, I see that God is teaching me that His plan is utterly mysterious, that it’s anything but what we expect, and that it often calls for changes so radical that they bring us to tears, pull us to our knees.
And that’s OK.
Because His will isn’t arbitrary. He isn’t just putting us through things to see us suffer, or with no particular purpose in mind for us. He’s got an end goal in mind for us: Heaven, where we won’t cry any more, we won’t be in pain anymore, we won’t know anything but joy and love and peace. Every trial, every cross, every tear–it’s all a chance to move one step closer to Heaven by trusting in God and letting Him be our strength, by not giving up but living on in hope and courage. He sends His Holy Spirit to us to comfort and strengthen us. He gives us Mary as our mother and intercessor. He gives us His very self in the Sacraments.
His love…it’s just…incomprehensible. And so intimate. I just can’t even say it enough times. Even when I’m shaking violently, or crying profusely, I can’t stop professing His love, because it’s His love that keeps me alive, that comforts me, that gives me hope, that lets me have moments of peace, joy, and happiness.
So if the pain is coming back again, bring it. If it’s the price I pay for loving God and others, it’s worth it.
Speak no more, no more, I beg thee;
another weighty word,
another vessel of steel-cased emotion,
and the scales shall tip to fear,
Grant me a moment more
in this comforting caress
of unspoken words, dreams unimagined,
a stream of potentiality on a canvass of silence
painted in tears of love and loss.
Take me not from this sweet hollow
this forgotten corner of creation
that hums yet faintly
with the musical silence of Eden.
I see through the mist
in the panes to your stricken heart.
There is a longing,
a cry to balance the scales
as the words begin to spill from your lips
and down your cheeks.
the words cannot touch my fragile mind;
no, they sink
with heavy weight
to my heart,
and I find there an endless vestibule,
a deep chasm waiting for your words
as they pour but a drop
into the infinite awaiting.
It is no longer mine to listen,
nor was it ever mine to heal.
All falls into the mantle,
and carried to the heart of Christ.
O Mother of Sorrows,
Victorious Queen robed in Eden’s silence,
take me over.
My frail spirit is so little prepared
for all that I must take in.
Take these hands,
take this heart.
Let your Spouse
breathe in me His peace,
that this shuddering frame
may come as Simon to the crosses of others
in holy fear
and loving confidence.