Have you ever stopped to let yourself feel the weight of all that’s been lost?
At least for me, it’s terrifyingly easy. For example, just today I was listening to the Original Cast Recording of the recent Broadway adaptation of Anastasia (which I highly highly highly recommend, by the way), and what struck me most was the sense of something lost that the revised story and additional musical numbers highlighted. A lot of the more fanciful elements are gone, so it really hones in on the mournful, post-revolution ethos of Russia, looking back longingly at the time of royalty, nobility, high culture, beautiful music, a sense of pride and solidarity. Long story short, it’s heartbreaking. And it made me think of other ages, societies, cultures, ideas, and the like, that have been lost. It’s honestly kind of depressing once you start going. The ages when monarchs were recognized not as tyrants or holdovers from the past but a present and promising face of servant-leadership, the senses of words and ideas that held closer to the truth than current adaptations or even aberrations, the years when there was music created simply to be beautiful–not popular, or political, or agendized, just beautiful. I even got to thinking about losses in my own life, friends I’ve said goodbye to, childhood innocence, dreams and goals that turned sour.
And then, at work, I got a phone call from Janice.
I’ve never met this woman and I know next to nothing about her except that she’s somewhat elderly and lives somewhere mountainous in the middle of nowhere, “God’s country” in her own words. I’m in the middle of placing an order for her when she starts telling me her favorite jokes, and then telling me stories about what it’s like living where she does, about how she looks out from her back porch and only sees two rooftops, about all the elk she’s seen and the deer her family feeds. I swear, it was like being snapped awake, like being pulled out of the fog, and my day was suddenly turned from brooding and depressed to grounded and full of light.
It’s strange, but go with me on this: I think that’s the difference between a purely human perspective and a divine one. When we got locked into a human perspective, and what matters above all is humanity’s importance, then the loss of humanity’s golden ages is not just sad and tragic; it’s devastating and worthy of despair. It’s easy to look out at the world and see its brokenness, its seeming devolution into madness and lethargy and cacophony, especially in comparison with other ages of apparent glory (even taking into account their own flaws). But this wouldn’t be the first time the world has looked like this, and may not be the last; and the great difference between a perspective of hope and a perspective of despair is realizing it was never humanity’s job to aggrandize and glorify itself anyway. As good as humanity can do, we just can’t do it perfectly, or keep it perfectly together forever. And that’s actually for the best.
I think Chesterton puts it best in The Everlasting Man when he talks about Calvary:
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.
The world is always entering, passing through, and leaving golden ages. The best the world has ever been only lasted for awhile. You can tell yourself the lies of progress all you want, that we’re constantly moving to bigger and better things, but this planet is only so big, and the human mind and heart is only capable of so much, and technology can only extend our reach so far. A day will come–maybe it’s almost here–when all those avenues will be searched out, emptied of their riches, dried up. If time doesn’t do it, nature or the pratfalls of fellow humans will stop them up.
But there is another perspective to take, one which sees humanity as a mind-boggling and beautiful paradox with a story that sends sabers of light to pierce through the darkness that hovers over a merely human life. It’s God’s own perspective, which sees and knows the humanity he has created for what it is: mere creatures made to be sons and daughters of God, mortals made to be immortal, natural beings made to be supernaturalized.
When Chesterton talks about the Incarnation, he pretty much blows my mind:
It is quite unlike anything else. It is a thing final like the trump of doom, though it is also a piece of good news; or news that seems too good to be true. It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. It declares that really and even recently, or right in the middle of historic times, there did walk into the world this original invisible being; about whom the thinkers make theories and the mythologists hand down myths; the Man Who Made the World…I have not minimized the scale of the miracle, as some of our milder theologians think it wise to do. Rather have I deliberately dwelt on that incredible interruption, as a blow that broke the very backbone of history.
Man will always have periods of enormous light and periods of enormous darkness. Our history has truly glorious moments, but it’s easy to use those as stepping stones to our own aggrandizement, building a backbone to our self-made image to rise against even God, even as it collapses under its own weakness. When God became man, the backbone was snapped; the framework and foundation upon which the glory of humanity tried precariously to rise was broken. But with that collapse, the whole world was righted from its topsy-turveydom. Mankind was buying into the idea that life and history was a shroud of darkness with pinpricks of light. Christ Our Light came to show us that that darkness within time and space was surrounded by the pure light of eternity.
And that light continues to pervade the world. There have been times when that light pervaded culture, music, seemingly the very air of the world, and there have been times like our own when it’s all we can do to tear our eyes from the surrounding darkness. But the light lives. Christ continues to be present in every single tabernacle, punching through time and space and darkness just to continue to be with us and make the light ever-present. The Holy Spirit continues to breath life and hope into Christ’s very mystical body, the power of the Lord coursing through the veins of the warrior-queen that is our Mother Church, and the Blessed Mother and all the saints, citizens of the New Jerusalem, are continuing to call to us and pray for us, cheering and urging us forward like the moon and stars in the dead of night. Our God is a mighty warrior and the very source of light and life, and he heralds and ushers and carries us on to a life where all we’ll see is light.
And sometimes, all it takes to see that is for another human being to snap you out of your own reveries, handing you a ray of the light, reminding you of the One in Whom all that is lost will be found.
This is gonna be dark for the next few paragraphs. Bear with me, I promise it’s for a good reason and has a lighter ending.
I don’t think I even need to explain why the title of this post has relevance or significance today; you can hardly take in a breath without hearing another joke about millenials, about “kids these days”, about how we’re ruining society because we *insert whatever you particularly feel like today here*. And ultimately, most people draw the conclusion that we just don’t understand how the world works, that we’ve been brought up wrong, that we took a wrong turn, that we should just “do the right thing” and get back on the glorious track society used to be running on.
I could write an entire post on how screwed up was the direction society was heading in, or how previous generations had a hand in how we’ve gotten to where we are today, or how we suck less in some ways, or a myriad of other defenses of why we really aren’t as horrible as we’re made out to be. But there’s enough of that out there, and frankly, I don’t have the time, resources, or patience to get into all that. What I want to talk about is what I think is the fundamental reason why millenials just don’t seem to care when older generations start to yell at us for wrecking everything.
It’s because we let ourselves realize that we’re all going to die.
Like I said, dark. Now obviously, everyone knows this. The thing is, much of modern society which millenials go against is built around busying ourselves and bettering ourselves at such a dizzying pace with such stringent ideals that we don’t have time to think about our deaths until they’re just around the corner. Millenials are so different from recent generations because we’ve gotten tired of the mad dash, stopped to ask why, and realized that it’s all been a huge distraction from what everyone knows is coming. If you think I’m making this up, ask yourself why you care so much about climbing the corporate ladder, or doing something meaningful with your life, or that whitewashed image of a suburban house with 2.5 kids. Why do you try so hard?
Because you want to be happy? And why do you have to continually try to be happy, here, now? Why do you grasp so hard at what seems to constitute your happiness and meaning?
Because one day, you won’t have breath in your lungs to support your grasp at happiness and meaning, so the sooner and more aggressive, the better.
See, here’s the thing: the vast majority of people have bought into the lie that our story ends when our life ends. The structure of modern and postmodern society hinges on the lie that we have a limited number of years to find our own happiness and make our lives meaningful, and then we’re gone, and then we’re not happy or meaningful or anything at all, really. And if that’s the case, what does anything matter, anyway? Albert Camus’s main character in The Stranger gives us the cry that lies at the root of the millenial upheaval:
“Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why…Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living.” (pg. 121 in my copy…sorry, too many college papers)
If our story ends when our life ends, then every demand that we “do the right thing” rings hollow. Traditions become nothing more than centuries of attempts to create our own meaning, and let’s be honest, bucking it all and finding our happiness our own way is easier than sticking to a system that just seems to wear you down.
Still think I’m making this up? Look back at the Garden of Eden in Genesis. What is it that’s the tipping point for Adam and Eve? Believing that God is withholding something from them, the one thing for which they were made: to be like Him. What is the one and only threat that God can impose in an attempt to convince them of His love in forbidding them to eat that fruit? Death, an end to their story, a loss of their purpose, a separation forever from the one something, or rather the one Someone, that could constitute our true happiness.
See, here’s the thing: we were born, we were made, we were lovingly fashioned by God, to be with God. That’s why Christ came and died and rose from the dead: to take away death’s power to end our story, to cease our chance at happiness that comes in resting forever with God, in sharing His divine life. Any real hope the true Christian has in this life is precisely hope because it doesn’t rest in this life.
If it seems like millenials are going recklessly astray, it’s because for several generations, the world has operated on the idea that there is no life after death, no God Who intimately loves us, and so the world has been desperately trying to establish some other vehicle for us to find happiness, to create our own meaning and purpose. Like Adam and Eve, we’ve been grasping at happiness ourselves, thinking it’s up to us to take it for ourselves. Millenials are just figuring out less stressful, more fun ways to do that.
Want us to get back on “the straight and narrow” again? Shift the end of that road from the suburban house to our Heavenly Home. Want us to not go to Hell? Remind us that Heaven is real and worth getting to. Want us to “do the right thing”? Give us a better reason than “because it’s the right thing to do”.
Tell us the only two things that really matter: that God is real, and that He cares where we end up after we die. Tell us how everything He asks of us is precisely because He wants us to spend eternity with Him, precisely because that is what constitutes our true happiness. Tell us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us just so we could spend eternity with Him.Tell us that God loves us so much that He meets us where we are, and too much to leave us there. Tell us that He has adopted us by dwelling in us, and that as long as we are “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears”, He comes to be with us, and to strengthen us, to empower us, until our last day comes. Tell us that on that day, even as we die, we are born, born to eternal life, born to the happiness we were always seeking and don’t need to seek after anymore. Tell us that on that day, we will see His face, and any doubts we ever had about His love for us, His faithfulness, His methods, His power, will melt away.
In other words, both older generations and fellow millenials, if you want to see change happen in this world, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) For “[b]y [God’s] great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
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.
I found out today why I’m always running.
My last post, “A Thought About Farewells”, came from a place where I think my heart has secretly been for many years–hiding from the truth that goodbyes really do happen, that we cannot go back and reclaim the moments we’ve lost. It hit me like a brick wall this summer (while playing mini golf, of all things) that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t soak in every part of every moment that we’d like to. We only have so many eyes to see, so many ears to hear, so many hands to embrace. Things will be missed, and before we can try to grab them back, the moment will fly from us just as every moment has since time first began to turn its pages.
There are so many beautiful things about being part of a large family, both close and extended. One of the harder parts is feeling like you just blinked and suddenly the baby you were holding in your arms is toddling around, and the little tykes are suddenly going through puberty. The new moments aren’t bad, but the ones that are gone were pretty darn good too.
Moments just don’t last forever. And if you let yourself be fully invested in them, your heart is going to ache. This is the truth I’ve been running from, as time and time again I’ve come to love and then to lose.
Honestly, left just with this, I’d be crying myself to sleep right now. Which is what I did for years at the end of the days where I either hid from this truth in any corner I could or just let it completely overwhelm me. Truth be told, I’ll still probably cry myself to sleep many more nights in the future; it’s the price to be paid for letting yourself feel loss.
But if there’s anything these years are finally teaching me, it’s that this is not the end of the story.
The answer here is hope. It’s not a fix-it sort of answer; it doesn’t make the hurting stop. It doesn’t even really give a reason for the hurting. What it offers is something much bigger: a future where moments DO last forever, a future where there AREN’T goodbyes, a future where somehow a single glance at the face of God will quell every question and leave our hearts in complete peace and utter love.
The most marvelous part about hope is that the Holy Spirit gives us the first tastes of that hope here and now, in these fast-fleeting moments. When Christ came, He brought eternity into time, and now the Holy Spirit draws us out of time and into eternity. He brings us Christ Himself in the Eucharist to feed us as we walk with him through the moments of life into the unbroken joy of Heaven. The glory of our sorrows is that we are not alone in them; Christ has entered into every moment, every ache, every joy, every pain, and has given us the Holy Spirit as a promise that we will eventually pass out of all that is passing into the place where nothing passes, and we are in the very embrace of God.
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)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
What more is there to do but give glory and praise to God for loving us so unfathomably much? Not a drop of our pain goes unnoticed. We are not echoing voices in a hollow universe latching onto others and onto fantasies. We are beloved children, never for a moment left alone, always heard, always laughed with, always cried with. Brothers and sisters, we are loved with a love that is unlike anything this world can ever even begin to offer; every moment of every life is held in the hands of a God Who literally died for us, who pines for us always and will never stop wanting us to be with Him in eternity.
And if you feel that you are too far away, that this is just too good to be true, know that even in that you are not alone. I was not kidding when I said that Christ is with us in EVERYTHING. I know that it is not always easy at first to believe that God loves or even cares about us. I didn’t, for years; He had to prove it to me. And He did; He finally got through my stubbornness and my doubts. He found me after I said my first really painful goodbye years ago, and he cried with me. When I finally, flailingly, asked Him to help me, even though I wasn’t sure He loved me, He gave me the strength to survive and began walking me down a path that I never could have foreseen, a path of healing and freedom. And He wants to do that for all of us.
Ok, I know that basically sounded like an altar-call. Consider it a personal testimony to assure you that all the craziness I spout on this site isn’t really about me. It never was, and every post I’ve written that tends in that direction is flawed. What it’s really all about is trying to give an account, a reason, for my hope, hope that I have not always practiced. It really isn’t easy to choose, in every moment, to live as though death is not the end of our story, to love with God’s love so as to bring the God of eternity into time and men of time a step closer to eternity. But it makes all the difference.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)
“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.
The Litany of Humility has pretty much become infamous among Catholics for being one of those prayers that gives you exactly what you ask for in exactly the way you don’t want to receive it. You know, like when you pray for patience in the morning and immediately spill your coffee as you get in your car, get stuck in traffic on your way to work, have to deal with that one guy who just won’t shut up on your shift talking about some anime show you’ve never heard of (but now know its entire cast of characters, plot, subplot, and existential significance), and come home to find your front lawn TP’d by the neighborhood kids…and it just started raining. You learn patience fast…or else completely break down.
So when I started praying for humility this Lent, I already had my teeth gritted and body braced, waiting for a little disaster.
…I’m still waiting.
The past few weeks have been less of a living awkward-fest and more of a self-discovery. Time after time, God has placed events and people in my life trying to tell me to love myself.
See, the thing is, I’m not particularly a fan of myself. I’m your typical perfectionist, and in the last few weeks, I’ve been particularly scrupulous for various reasons, and generally just tense and upset and frustrated. And I think this is exactly what God is trying to help me not to do. He’s trying to teach me real humility.
Because humility isn’t just knowing your weakness and smallness. It’s knowing how much God loves you, at every single moment. It’s less about stopping yourself from seeking approval and more about being so secure in God’s love that you just don’t need that approval. It’s seeing yourself for who you are before God: a beloved child. Weak and small, yes, but so remarkably precious. It’s letting yourself be loved with the perfect love that casts out all fear, all frustration, all scrupulosity.
Funny how our greatest pride, sometimes, is thinking that we’ve managed to create a mess so big in ourselves that God can’t possibly overlook it. Funny how we swell ourselves up so much in our self-pity and self-loathing.
Funny how God simply turns us to the cross and says, “I already knew you would do these things, would end up here after all these mistakes, and I still did this for you. Any reason left not to let me love you?”
Well, brothers and sisters, is there?
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart…
This Lent, something I’m really trying to work on is humility. And I just want to share things as I go, based on the prayer I’m praying everyday: the Litany of Humility.
I’m not really sure why. Maybe part of it is a selfish or prideful desire to be noticed, I suppose. But I’d like to believe I’m not entirely stuck in the mire of my ego and sinful desires, and that somewhere in this is a noble desire. So we’ll see how this goes together, brothers and sisters, if that’s OK with you.
When I was first introduced to this prayer my freshman year, I was told that it was a good prayer both for the more egotistical types and for people who were insecure (I fit more into the second category, although I’m finding out they’re not mutually exclusive). I prayed it for about two weeks and then just stopped. I just felt like I couldn’t keep up such an intense prayer. How could I honestly ask God to deliver me from things that I craved with my whole heart, like love and acceptance? How could I ask Him to take away things that I had yet to truly experience in my life? And what was so bad about them anyway?
But now, things are different. I am loved, and I am accepted, by so many beautiful people. And still my heart reverts to seeking and craving more and more of it. My heart and mind are so hell-bent on it that I’ll do anything to get it, even when I already have it so authentically and fully without trying. It’s as if part of me still doesn’t believe it’s possible, part of me still just wants to be picked up and held until I know beyond a doubt that I can stop searching, stop grasping.
So now I desperately need to pray this prayer.
I need to be delivered of this false humility that’s built up inside me like a cancer, to be truly humbled, where I recognize my own weakness and frailty, and yet feel truly secure in the love of my God.
I need to look to Jesus, Meek and Humble of Heart, and beg Him to hear my voice. That’s all I really want, anyway: to know that I’m being heard, that the little cries my heart makes silently throughout the day don’t just pass into the void or get lost in the cacophony in my head; that someone, the Great Someone Who looks into my heart and loves me, hears me even when I don’t think about Him.
Jesus, You Who humbled yourself to know our life and flesh and the burden of sin, who humbly accepted even death on a cross for love of me…
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.
There’s a concept in metaphysics related to time, that there are different types of time. There’s objective, of course, the measure of change that we use clocks to observe. There’s subjective time, which is our perception of that change (you know, like how a 30-minute crash course on sexual harassment feels like it’s never going to end). There’s also spiritual time, which is when we are unaware of the passage of time because we are pulled by God out of our normal experience of time (aka ecstasy). There’s one other type of time, which I want to focus on: metaphysical time.
This kind of time presupposes that things are made with ends, that they grow and change with a purpose towards a natural end. It is the measure of the distance between where a being is metaphysically and its metaphysical end. Remarkable thing about metaphysical time, most things just progress naturally towards their natural ends unhindered unless stinted or interrupted by outside forces. We’re like that to an extent ourselves, but there is a major difference.
We have the power, throughout our lives, to derail that growth towards our ultimate end: Heaven.
So why am I writing about this on New Year’s Eve?
All over the world, people are celebrating the beginning of the New Year with (drinking, drugs, sex, other ridiculous stuff, and) resolutions. In a quiet way, people are looking at the past year and, while they are remembering the good memories, they are also seeing the things in themselves they don’t like, the choices they made that have derailed them. Their response? Resolutions, promises to make new choices, choices to put themselves “back on track”, heading towards their good and happiness.
Unfortunately, not everyone understands what this end is, this good, this ultimate happiness. Not everyone is able to see all the things in themselves that are stinting that metaphysical growth in themselves. And many look at how far they’ve jumped the tracks and simply give up on trying to find their way back to the straight and narrow.
But that’s the remarkable thing about redemption: IT HAPPENS.
We just celebrated the Incarnation of Christ, His coming into our world. He came specifically to redeem mankind, to undo what all mankind throughout history has done and win graces to save and constantly renew us. Again and again these graces are offered new to us in the sacramental life of the Church. What an incredible blessing!
So now that this year is coming to a close, I just want to sit in gratitude for the fact that Mama Troll in Frozen was wrong when she said, “We’re not saying you can change him, ‘cuz people don’t really change. We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange…” Love does, in fact, transform, not just draw out. Love intimately and powerfully works in the person, shaping them. Love can work even the most distant, hardened, or shattered heart into a masterpiece of grace.
I’ve discovered that in my own life this past year. It’s been an intense year of growth, coming to terms with the fact that massive changes needed to happen in my life. and by God’s grace, I’ve grown to a point where depression and anxiety, which I have struggled with for years, is now almost nonexistent, and I have the hope and courage to continue to work at cooperating with the transforming grace of God in my heart, rooting out old habits and mental frameworks that have stinted my metaphysical and spiritual growth for so long.
So first of all, thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and believed in me, and been living witnesses of the love of Christ to me. I love you so much.
Second of all, take courage! The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it! Let the coming year be a transformative one. Trust in the Lord; He can and will transform and renew your heart.
Happy New Year, everyone! May God bless you and yours abundantly.
In solemn awe the seraphim cry “Gloria” on high,
as hosts join in rejoicing at sight:
the New Creation’s dawn is come, salvation’s morn is nigh,
and breaks upon a cold December night.
The light of Love, on wings of grace, stoops into time and place,
the Word speaks in a tiny infant’s cry,
and God, so inexpressible, now takes a human face,
content within the Virgin’s arms to lie.
The hearts of men with labor pains once wracked now moan no more,
for Christ is come to take away our sin.
Let Mary and the Spirit make a manger and a door,
that Christ in you be born anew. Amen.
Writing a Christmas poem has become a tradition for me. I wish I had more time to put better thought and effort in, but the important thing is that it expresses what I want it to: that this Christmas can be an opportunity of great renewal, of letting Christ be born in our hearts and our lives, just as He was born in Bethlehem. He comes with redeeming love. So rejoice, even if you don’t feel happy, because we have a reason to be truly joyful all the days of our life, a reason that began with one moment, on one night, in this world. May God bless you and yours with peace, love, and joy; may you sleep peacefully in the arms of Mary, our Mother and His, and may you rise to the splendor of the dawn of Christ’s coming in the love of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas to one and all!!
You certainly didn’t hesitate to show me the shadows, Lord.
Which made carrying the candle that almost blew out all the more meaningful.
It was like my hope in You, Lord. And because it was in You, it couldn’t be put out, although the winds of this life have certainly tried. The only time it went out was when it was blown out as I walked into the Chapel. I didn’t need it any more then. The Chapel was filled with candles, and more importantly with Your presence in the Eucharist.
It’s like our lives. If Christ is our hope, nothing in this life can put it out, no matter how low the flame may seem to get, no matter how hard the winds blow. It only goes out when we leave this world, and then we don’t need it any more, because we have Christ Himself in Heaven. Christ never fails us.
But we have the choice to blow out the candle ourselves. To walk away.
It hurts like heck to have the flame purge away the darkness inside. But better that than to get lost forever in the dark.
Tenebrae. What a melodious word. Just speaking it is like silk in my mouth. And yet it’s the Latin word for ‘shadows’, those dark things that fall gloomily to the earth as the sun sets.
The Triduum is here at last. The solemnity is almost tangible here…the shadows have fallen, and only one candle remains in this darkness which now falls: a promise. A promise of hope, of resurrection. A promise of redemption and salvation that fought back the darkness for centuries. A promise which was fulfilled, bringing light into the world to stay until the last breath of the last mortal on earth. How I long for that light.
But first, I must pass through the shadows.
I must look at my life and see the places that have become darkened by sin and covered over with cobwebs of excuses. I have to face the fearful monsters under the bed of my consciousness. I have to enter into that moment in the world when everything hung on the edge of its seat, then screamed in agony as the light seemed to be snuffed for good.
Only then can I truly know what a great miracle it is that the light would return, more alive than before, to scatter the tenebrae.
I can only know what a great miracle it is that Christ won the victory when I know how very much of a defeat it seemed to be.
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.
A phoenix asked the flames, “Do you delight,
Oh fiery fiend, to lick my chest, to sear
through flesh and bone, to boil blood? Does the light
inside your tendrils glow with pride? A tear
of pain, a mournful torrent–no respite
they offer from your suffocating fumes.
What mortal sin, what monstrous err made I,
to merit burning scarlet for a tomb?”
The blushing flames replied, “If you could see,
Oh tender chick, beyond my ruby walls
into the light which all-envelopes me,
‘twould send thy soul aflight. For shining halls
of resurrection, little is the price
of pain. Let faith be stirred, and hope suffice.”
Ever have a craving for something without knowing what it is you were craving?
When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the Garden of Eden. It was an earthly Paradise–no pain, no tears, no sadness at all. No, there was only happiness and an intense intimacy with the Lord. Yet they gave it up, trusting in lies that they might be more than what they were if only they would abandon their Creator. They even gave up the chance to live without the fear or even reality of death. They let sin warp their intellect and will, and pit their emotions against what they knew to be true and good.
And they passed it on to all of us.
We call it original sin, and it stains all our souls. It can be washed away by Baptism, so that we can be brought into God’s grace and have a chance at Heaven. But the effects never go away; we always have to grapple with them.
Even the craving.
Chesterton wrote that in just about every culture, there is a myth or legend of an ancient fall from grace that coincides at least partially with the truth held by Catholics regarding Adam and Eve’s Fall. They didn’t just pass on the sin and suffering. They passed on the remembrance.
We were not made for this world brethren, we were made for life with God, and we once had it. Yet now, here we are, and at our deepest, we know we don’t belong here. We crave Paradise. We all want something more than this world has to offer. We have a faint reminiscence of its music, we can almost taste the beauty, but then all is dark but for the saddest sight: God tearfully ushering broken man and woman from a place they can no longer call their home.
And the cry still echoes down the generations: “When, O God, when will we see your glory? When will we be done with this pilgrimage? When will we fly on wings of grace again?”
The glory of it is, God gives us an answer in Christmas.
When Christ came, God made man, He came to redeem us, to open the gates of Heaven again for us. Because God loves us; the very moment He sent our first parents from the garden, He was promising them salvation, a day when all mankind would have the chance once again at eternal happiness. Except this time, it would be even more splendid; we would literally be with Him, and by grace partake in His divine glory.
But first, the price for our transgressions had to be paid. The cost of the breaking of our covenant with God was death. As a priest once said in a homily, “By justice, we all deserved Hell. But Love couldn’t bear that.”
So Christ, truly God, came and took on our nature, truly man. And he came not as a mighty ruler, but as a tiny babe in a poor stable; He subjected Himself from the very beginning to our frailty, our suffering, our poverty. And so redeemed it.
Brethren, we are promised more than a Garden. We are promised Heaven, a Paradise beyond compare, beyond imagination, beyond comprehension; we are promised a home in the heart of Everlasting Love Himself.
Our crying does not go unheeded by the Lord. He has simply answered it in the most perfect and completely unexpected way.
He has answered our cry for Paradise with Christmas.
Rejoice, for He is with us, and has come to redeem us all!