Category Archives: Insights
Amidst everything, God is still our Father, Christ is still our brother, Lord, and savior, the Holy Spirit is still our Comforter and advocate, and Mary is still our Mother. Mary, mother of the Church, lady of sorrows, queen of victory, spouse of the spirit, mother of mercy, most blessed and humble virgin, conceived without sin, pray for us.
A blessed feast of the Assumption to you all, fam.
24 years old. Two score, two dozen, almost two and a half decades. It almost makes me feel a little foolish to see that it’s taken me this long to learn something so fundamental.
I am not God.
Now let’s be clear, I haven’t been fashioning golden idols in my own image and singing hymns about my grandeur and majesty while sacrificing a hegdehog. Well, there was that one time…(I kid, I kid! Deep breaths! Not trying to start my own cult here. Although that would be fun, in a weird, twisted sort of way.) In any case, what I mean is not that I haven’t recognized that the Triune God and Sean Michael Gregory Coyle are separate entities. But not until recently have I begun to get a glimpse of what it really means to say to the Lord, “You are God, and I am not.”
Here’s the thing, guys. I want so bad to make everything right. To fix all the problems and heal all the wounds I see in myself. To make my loved ones know the love I have for them, to be the one that makes them happy. To advance the causes I care about and keep the things I love alive. In short, I suppose, I want my will to be done.
But that’s just it; guys, no matter how much I try to attune my will to God’s, if at the end of the day I still want things done my way on my time according to my comfort level, even if those things are the things God ultimately wants too, I’m still doing my will, not His.
Living the Christian life as an adult has been more challenging than I anticipated. I grew up expecting the difficulties to come from the outside, from people who would antagonize my faith, from a world that tries to drown God out, from the lies of the tempter. I never really anticipated having to grapple with the antagonizing voice of my own doubts. I never expected it would be my own desires and frustrations trying to drown God out. I never knew how easy it was to buy into the lies I tell myself.
For the first time, in this past year, I’ve known what it’s like to come up against questions about my faith and my God and my life that I just can’t find a satisfying logical answer to. I’ve hit a limit where no matter how hard the mind tries to reason, the heart isn’t swayed. I’ve discovered boundaries to my physical ability, my mental energy, my emotional stability, and my spiritual depth. I’ve reached a place where simple answers do nothing to calm the noise, where my mind and my heart are at war with my life as the battleground, where I’m faced with just how weak I am.
The only answer, the only thing, the only person that makes all of this stop, is Jesus in the Eucharist.
I’m not saying this in a preachy “Oh, look how holy I am, I always refer back to Christ!” sort of way. I’m honestly just telling you guys that Christ is the only One who makes sense of the life that I live. I come to him as a wanderer lost in a cave would approach a familiar pinprick of light. It’s by drawing near to Him that the apparent nonsense of my life is illuminated. It’s precisely by admitting to Him that I don’t understand at all that I begin to understand anything. It’s by sitting or kneeling before what appears to all my senses to be just a wafer that I meet the God Who made me, Who sees me, Who knows me, Who loves me.
It’s precisely when I come to him and say that I have no clue what’s going on anymore, that I can’t make heads or tails of this path that I’m on, that I’m reassured by the fact that God doesn’t need my understanding to work in my life, that He doesn’t need my comprehension to love me, that He doesn’t need my clarity to order my path according to the plans He has for me, plans to prosper me, for my good, for a hope and a future, for a day without death, for a life of purpose. God doesn’t need me, or anything from me, or anything about me. YET HE WANTS ME.
Thank God I’m not God. Because He’s doing a much better job of it than me.
Let’s start right out of the gate with an unpopular, eyebrow-raising opinion, shall we? I hate, hate, WITH THE PASSION OF A THOUSAND SUNS HATE, manhood/masculinity talks.
If anyone’s unclear what I’m talking about here, I’m talking about those famous Catholic speakers or even just your local go-to guy for giving talks who either gives a talk specifically directed at men from the beginning or brings the men at some conference or retreat into some separate room to talk to them while someone else talks to the women, and then launches into one or a combination of two basic talks.
The first is straightforward enough: “You’re a guy, you’ve probably lusted, you’ve probably masturbated, you’ve probably seen porn, and basically, you’re awful for doing so, so just stop.” This is usually interjected with poorly and non-contextualized quoting of Theology of the Body and frequent repetitions of, “That’s someone’s sister, that’s someone’s daughter, etc., etc., etc.”, and a few choruses of “BE A MAN!”
The second is a little more subtle about its banality: It attempts to actually talk about what it means to be a true man, a man of God, according to this formula: Stereotypical/Secular Masculinity + A Handful of Pre-Selected Virtues Slapped Over the Top = Being a Man of God. Also usually interjected with some poorly and non-contextualized quoting of Theology of the Body and endless, mind-numbingly repetitious reminders that men’s brains are like waffles and women’s brains are like spaghetti (and please don’t ask me to explain because I just may vomit).
Now granted, I may be generalizing just a tad. Maybe. And it’s not like purity isn’t important. But basically, bottom-line, masculinity talks in the Catholic Church tend to work from a societally stereotypical view of masculinity and build a “Christian” vision of manhood from there.
So let me ask a fairly obvious question which apparently never crossed these people’s minds: WHAT IF NOT EVERY MAN FITS THE STEREOTYPE TO BEGIN WITH? WHAT IF THAT STEREOTYPE IS FLAWED?
Not that I have personal experience in that area or anything. OH, WAIT.
Here’s a few easily recognizable traits of the stereotype I’m referencing: loud, unruly, into sports above all, actually proud of being rude, lewd, crude, etc., outgoing, adventurous/reckless, and shies away from anything considered stereotypically effeminate.
Here’s a few easily recognizable traits of yours truly: quiet, unassuming, into music/art/reading above all, actually proud of being caring, respectful, classy, etc., shy, introverted/anxious, and shies away from anything considered stereotypically masculine.
And yet, last I checked, I’m a man.
Here’s my true beef with masculinity/manhood talks: it’s precisely those men who fit that stereotype who wounded me, who led me to believe for years that somehow I was less of a man, that made me feel small, weak, broken, and alone. It was these men that I simultaneously loathed and longed to have approval from. It was these men who, for a time, were the fuel for my hatred of men. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one out there who has experienced this. It’s all too common, and it simultaneously further wounds those already wounded and confirms such men in their continuation of their wounding under the guise that somehow they’re being “true men” according to the Christian vision.
Now let me set the record straight here: I’m not advocating for all men to be men on my terms. If all men were like me, this world would fall apart fast. Men who are strong in the stereotypical sense, who have a love for physical activity, who are loud and outgoing and passionate, who have zeal and adventure in their hearts, they are good men; some of the best men I know can be described this way. Some, though, are quiet and reflective, artistic and sensitive, strong within rather than without, and express their zeal in subtler ways. And this is where the question has to be asked, what is it that defines true manhood, that really makes one a man? What should these speakers really be talking about? How does one actually grow in masculinity?
A few years back, I was asked to give a brief talk at a men’s night for my parish (cue heart attack), so I went to prayer, started reading Scripture, trying to figure out both what I wanted to say and what it actually meant to be a man. I came to Psalm 84, one of my favorites, and one of the passages jumped out at me like never before:
Blessed are the men whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the pathways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength, the God of gods will be seen in Zion. –Psalm 84:5-7
And basically, the talk flowed from there. This, I think, sums up what it means to be a man. There’s so much to this passage, the implicit humility it takes to allow my strength to come from God and not myself, the priority of making “the pathways to Zion” in my own heart, being a source of life and comfort in the desert valleys of the lives of others and the world which so desperately needs it, the love it takes to do so, the continued growth “from strength to strength” not of ourselves but by growth in that humility before and surrender to “the God of gods” who “will be seen in Zion”. And there’s so much more you could sit with here, but look at all that. Nowhere does it talk about any stereotypical traits. Nowhere is athletic ability, recklessness, general volume, or anything of the kind mentioned. It doesn’t preclude them, but it’s nowhere laid out as the baseline for masculinity.
The baseline for masculinity is, I think, right here in this passage, and from there, it grows not in a single direction but branches out in a myriad of expressions. The one and only masculinity talk that didn’t make me die inside was a talk given by a seminarian one of the summers I did Totus Tuus as a teacher; instead of launching into one or both of the usual formulas, he picked four saints whose lives represented one of the four main vocations (priesthood, religious life, marriage, and single life), and simply told their stories as examples of manhood.
THE BASELINE IS SANCTITY.
THE EXPRESSION TAKES ITS FORM IN VOCATION.
THE ANSWER IS STARING US IN THE FACE, AND HIS NAME IS JESUS CHRIST.
We men need to stop shying away from holding ourselves to the standard of authentic holiness, hiding behind our own peculiar weaknesses. Instead, we need to recognize them, and let those weaknesses become the places where Christ becomes our strength. We need to pave in our hearts “the pathways to Zion” by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us precisely where there are potholes or even gaping canyons. We need to allow Christ not to simply sit over the top of our broken humanity but to truly infiltrate and heal it by filling it with Himself.
If we want to raise true men and grow ourselves in our own God-given masculinity, we need to imitate Christ. If we want to imitate Christ, we have to know, love, and serve Him. That’s all. That’s it. That’s the baseline for manhood, from which we become the men we were made to be.
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)
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.
Just gonna start thinking out loud. I’ve been listening to Hamilton: An American Musical (*insert wild, shameless plug for possibly the greatest musical of our time*) a lot lately, and the line that I made the title of this post has always really struck me. And I think now I see a little bit of why.
There’s a big difference, at least in this life, between the winning of a victory and the extending/sustaining of what you’ve won. In other words, it’s one thing to drive out an enemy or claim something for yourself, and another, more challenging thing to keep what you’ve defended or claimed safe and in order. Winning a battle is no walk in the park, don’t get me wrong; it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of holding yourself to high standards, keeping your eyes focused on what you’re fighting for. But once that battle is done, to keep what you’ve fought for in place, keep it true to its trajectory, make decisions with what you’ve fought for in mind, and build up a defense against what you’ve fought against (both internally and externally)–it’s something that’s never really complete, because life is so dynamic that bringing the truth, the reality that you believe in to bear on the present is a constant task you have to undertake and live according to.
This is true of a lot of things in my own life. My faith, for example. The Catholic Church was brought into being two thousand years ago after Jesus conquered sin and death at Calvary, so the victory is won, the kingdom is established. But bringing that kingdom to every corner of the world, defending it against the relentless losing strokes of the enemy, reminding its subjects Who they serve and how to serve Him–all that is the story of salvation history, and it’s still going on. And it’s not that much of stretch to say that the Church has never had such a difficult time opening the eyes of the world to the truth about itself and the God Who made it. Still that “governing” stage goes on, sustained by the life of grace which has always to be cultivated by continually seeking union with Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body.
More personally, it’s true of my own life. I’ve won huge victories against depression and anxiety, battles I was never sure I’d win. Thanks to God’s healing and strength, I can actually say that I can live my life and take each moment with overarching joy. But now I have no excuses for the sinful habits that developed and festered underneath the perpetual storm clouds; the sun is shining on me now, even when it gets rainy, and it’s up to me whether it shines on deeds of light or darkness. The battle to live my life is won; now I must govern it. And shoot dang, it’s tough. The weeds of sin grow really tangled roots really fast, and it’s been ages since I properly tended the garden. Now it’s exhausting to make it through a single row.
So what’s the solution here? Keep exhausting myself, only to plop down and chuck the weeds back onto the ground where their seeds can just take root again?
Honestly, that’s been my solution for a long time now. Weed a row, plop down, undo all the work, go to Confession, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s like watching the same seven seconds of a movie over and over again until you’ve forgotten how the movie ends and you look up to find out you’ve wasted two hours on those same stupid seven seconds on repeat. Not exactly ideal. Feels a lot like “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.” The clouds were blocking out the sun and my memory of it for awhile; now that the sun is a constant, I’m finding I let myself get pretty caked in mud and crap, and I get so tired of rubbing it off and keeping myself away from it that I just plop back down in it and let myself get covered in it again before I remember how badly I want to be clean.
So how the heck am I supposed to do this? How do I go from momentary victory to lifelong governance towards the good?
I think there are three things I’ve learned that I need to put into practice on this:
1. I ACTUALLY NEED TO PUT THE THINGS I’VE LEARNED INTO PRACTICE.
It’s one thing to know what I need to do, and another thing to do it. I’ve got the principles, but if I don’t govern myself according to them, they just remind me how far away I am from living according to them, and the walls of the hole I’m in just become more clearly defined. If I want to actually move forward, I need to act on them. The Catholic principle that grace builds on nature presupposes that we actually order our nature towards its proper end, that we actually act for our good, for the good. God didn’t make us as automatons that just need proper programming; we’re meant to be loving children, freely living according to His Law, which reveals to us our fullest flourishing and happiness. If we want that, we have to act, and act boldly, according to that. Laziness is all too easy to get caught in, as is complacency. Excuses just aren’t going to cut it; excuses only get us to mediocrity, or maybe normalcy, not holiness.
2. I SHOULDN’T TRY TO DO THIS ON MY OWN.
If I’m going to live a life of virtue, I need to step out of the way. We’re pretty much powerless to live a good life on our own, people; we’re fallen. We have to remember that. We’re broken at a very deep level. Baptism heals that break (praise God!), but we’re still affected by that. But the Good News is that we’re not asked to do this alone. Christ came and died for our sins and rose to restore our everlasting life. And He gives us the New Law, the Holy Spirit. That’s the great thing about the gift of the Holy Spirit as the New Law: we don’t live under a merely external set of principles that only serves to let us know how frail and faulty we are. We are given one of the very Persons of the Trinity to dwell within us and direct all our actions, all our thoughts, all our words, to be in accordance with the will of God (if we let Him), one Who gives us the power to live the life we are called to. Any attempt on our part to do this alone is going to fail. To live well, first and foremost, we have to give up the idea that we have the power to be holy without the only One Who is truly holy. To live well is to surrender.
3. IT’S TIME FOR HEROIC VIRTUE.
Put simply, “good enough” isn’t good enough anymore. Christ made us for more than mediocrity. That’s why we are given crosses to carry, after all: to share in the redemptive work of Christ, to bring meaning even into what seem to be the most meaning-destructive moments of our lives. In the moral life, mediocrity is settling for not committing the big sins, and the devil is all too happy to take advantage of that, tempting us until we find ourselves deep in sin when we thought we were doing “just fine”. There just isn’t room for that. Our decisions aren’t just about the here and now; we’re dealing with eternity. Our eyes need to be fixed on Heaven, and every decision we make needs to keep that in mind. There’s this brilliant monologue in Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot where St. Augustine of Canterbury shocks everyone around him, even fellow priests, by insisting that they open the doors of the cathedral, even though that means that the very soldiers who seek to end his life will be able to murder him. Right in the middle, he says this: “I give myself to the law of God above the law of man.” By every earthly standard, he should have kept the door closed; above all, his job, according to the world, was to stay alive if he could. But he put himself at the service of a greater standard, one which he understood meant that his life was called for, that this was the moment in which to give everything, even the precious gift of life, for the sake of serving God and Him alone. We may never have to give our own lives so dramatically, but we are all called to such radical obedience to God’s will. We’re all called to be martyrs, even if we’re never touched by the sword.
All this being said, if there’s anything I learned in prayer this past Lent, it’s that our furious self-improvement has to be tempered by the hardest kind of patience there is: patience with ourselves, patience that persists in demanding the best while not giving up when we do the worst. The same patience as the One Who hung on the cross, seeing every sin you’ve committed and will commit, stayed on the cross for your sake, and bothers to come in the Eucharist just to say He loves you.
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.
The millstone’s falling now. A few weeks more and that distant whistle will be like the scream of a tornado in our ears. Everything is going to shatter; the walls of glass we thought would protect us are going to be smashed, the golden ropes that tied us together will be tested to see if they were just cheap wire all along, and the sweet sense of togetherness and meaning is going to be drowned out by a world that doesn’t give a shit about anything but flimsy green paper, fancy-shaped boxes on wheels, and titles that you can tack on to your name to make it go on longer.
That’s what getting ready for graduation feels like for me, anyway.
To be honest, I’m not excited at all. I’m just not. There’s nothing exciting about loss. Loss is loss is loss; it sucks even if you get a cookie afterwards. Nothing I’m being offered seems like it’s worth losing what I have. And yet, society will have its way or crush me in the machine of modernity; I can keep moving or get stomped on.
Yes, I know. “Poor you, your life must be so hard, having opportunities.” Having money’s great and all, but what’s a career compared to friendship, to brotherhood? Kind of a crappy exchange rate. Lose people you care about, get a way to earn something that stands for the work you’re doing so that you can even eat and have a roof over your head!
Honestly, there’s nothing I want more than for the mad rush of everything to just stop already. The people I love are about to get swept away in currents that may never re-converge with mine. There’s no time left to live, to love, to heal, to have a good cry or a good laugh. There’s almost no time left even to talk about it all. It’s all slipping away, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. That’s the worst part; it’s not just that I’m too scared to do something (which is the more usual case), I just literally cannot do anything to stop this.
All the wishing is killing me.
Bottom line, I’m not OK. I mean I’m OK, but I’m just not feeling OK at all. So I’m just asking the Lord right now to keep me going through all the stuff I just don’t care about anymore, to remind me that it’s going to be OK, even if everything I’ve known up until now is about to change so drastically.
I don’t know if anyone even reads this thing anymore. Which is probably for the best. Helps me be more honest. But I’m putting this out there in the hopes of letting y’all know, especially my fellow seniors, that it’s OK if you feel like this too, and I hope you’ll share that with me, because even though it sucks right now, I do still have hope that the Lord knows what he’s doing. And to those of you who are genuinely excited, that’s cool too; kudos to you for having that joy right now. We’ll catch up with you eventually.
For now though, I’m just prepping my hands and my heart for that pain of loss that burns like acid.
So there’s this awesome project that is going on this year, called The Common Year; search that or “Beauty in the Common” and you’ll find it. It’s basically a year-long invitation to find beauty in the everyday, to slow down and rediscover a sense of wonder for not only the magnificent but the common. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, sign up for e-mail notifications–all of it. OK, plug is over.
Why is this so important? Because there’s a huge need in this world, and in a particular way in this country, to reawaken a sense of wonder.
Here’s the thing: it’s pretty clear our world is a mess. It’s just straight-up broken, with a lot of broken people (myself included) walking around half-asleep, hiding everything that’s real behind a screen, whether real or mental. Either we’re watching a YouTube video on our phones or acting our way through life like there’s a camera on us that just adores us. Life starts to feel bland after awhile of that; we get so used to the over-stimulation that real life seems to be dragging along. It’s difficult to face a world that feels like all its energy has been drained out of it. So we don’t. We cover it up with more and more distractions.
Why? There are a million reasons why a person starts to fall asleep to the beauty of reality–there’s something in it that is painful, the virtual world seems way cooler, cultural pressure–but it all leads to the same restlessness. But it’s always a half-waking sort of restlessness. We find ourselves either dragging through the mundane as it demands our attention or speeding through it just to get past it. Or worse, just ignoring it.
Chesterton recognized it in the 20th century man, and said the average man or woman of his age was just the same, trying any number of distractions and stimuli, no matter how abominable, to try and wake themselves up. “They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares.” And I ask you, is there anything so nightmarish as a man who does not see a homeless child because he is busy watching a video about homeless children, or a woman who has forgotten how to have a normal conversation because she is too busy taking pictures of herself to talk? Is there anything quite so horrifying as the thought that, after all, a world man makes on a screen might be more exciting or real than a world God makes of matter?
I invite you, brothers and sisters, be open to the beauty in the mundane. The easiest way to do that is to put away distractions and find some source of magnificent beauty, or beauty that is hard to miss, like a breathtaking scene in nature, or a masterful work of music that lifts your eyes to heaven.
It takes time to see beauty, and I promise you, if you do it right, it will hurt. Beauty pierces the heart with the two-edged sword of truth about our littleness, the grandeur of things not of this world, and the ways in which we have both beautified and wrecked ourselves and the world around us. Don’t be afraid of that; let it cut away the shell you’ve built up against reality, the shell that hides the real you. Stand exposed before the storms of life, and you’ll find anchors against the winds and rain all around you. Beauty has a way of showing up all around you if you have eyes to see it.
Then, once you’ve seen beauty, treasure that encounter with it, and reflect on it. Let it soak you with its truth. Write a story about it, keep a journal, or write a poem, like this one I wrote about this very topic. Tell a friend about it so you can ponder it together and enjoy a moment of closeness together. Find a tune that you think expresses the moment. Beauty ought to beget beauty, even if that beauty is simply the beauty of two souls uniting in wonder and awe, or a single soul moving a little closer to God’s heart through Mary, who pondered the mysteries of Christ’s life so perfectly.
Finally, give thanks. True wonder only comes when we are grateful for having encountered beauty. Rejoice before the Lord for this moment, and every moment like it. Let every moment of beauty come flying up to carry you into contemplation of its source in the very heart of Christ.
The best part is? This is exactly the same for beauty in the mundane. Beauty is beauty, wherever it graciously arises. You’ll know it once it’s touched you. Just keep your eyes peeled and your heart and mind open.
What was that, like, four or five steps? OK, recap: 1. Look for beauty in the magnificent, and don’t quit even if it hurts. 2. Reflect on that beauty and share it, even if it’s just with God. 3. Give thanks for the beautiful moment(s) and their source. 4. Repeat with all encounters with beauty, magnificent or mundane. See, just four! Easy, right? OK, easier said than done sometimes, but make a habit of it. It’s an awesome way to enrich your life, both in general and especially spiritually, and it keeps you connected with things as they are and away from the abyss of distractions that threatens to swallow us.
Keep walking, fellow pilgrims; don’t afraid to drown in the sapphire ocean of His beautiful love. You’ll wake up a better person for it.
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite choral pieces to get you started. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, I thought the hardest fight would be through my dreary and sad moments, the miserable downturns on this roller-coaster of life. OK, so that once upon a time was only about a year ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago, because life has been so different since then. God brought so much healing to my sadness and brokenness that I feel like my life is entirely new; I don’t feel like the same person. It’s like I finally came out of the chrysalis.
But the light of Christ…His two-edged sword of truth…His love that cuts to the heart…it isn’t satisfied with mediocrity. He loves us too much to just leave us at just “OK”. So after piercing through the lies I’ve been telling myself for years, He’s been piercing my heart right in the places where I shoved Him (knowingly or unknowingly) into the corners and blocked Him out. And to be totally honest, I’m disgusted with myself.
That being said, this year was unbelievably full of joy, of grace, and of opportunity. And I am so grateful for that. I’ve grown a lot, and made some progress in uprooting some nasty habits. I’ve made new friends, and strengthened old relationships. It’s been a truly positive year.
Now it’s gone, and here I am, full of joy but also really aware of how far I have to go. What now?
Back into the fray, of course.
Here’s the thing: that once upon a time, I forgot that there would come a time when those really intense struggles would be much less intense or even go away, because that’s generally how life goes; it fluctuates, up and down, round and sideways and backways and all the ways imaginable. Some stay in certain seasons longer than others, but everything is a season; it comes, it goes. And then there’s everything in-between. The afterwards, the mundane, the life-as-usual, that’s a hard fight too.
This life gets boring, long, stressful, wearying–all the lot of it, but not enough usually to tear us to shreds, just enough to annoy us but little enough to let us fall into complacency. It’s that fight against complacency that’s hard, and it’s that fight that I want to resolve to fight this year. I want to end old, unhealthy patterns and forge new habits, true virtues.
I want to start by giving myself a challenge here on this blog: I want to commit to putting out at least one prose and one poetry post each month, rather than whenever the fancy strikes me. I can’t keep living for the highs and the lows in any aspect of my life; I’m hoping that consistency here will aid in consistency in other aspects. So we’ll see how this new year goes.
I apologize for the incoherence of this post; 1:30 in the morning is no time to write anything, much less an actually thought-out and cohesive post (although some of my recent papers may testify against that). Part of me wanted this to be impressive; I suppose that Litany of Humility is kicking in a bit now. This is all for Him; He’s the one piercing my complacency with His love, He gets all the glory here.
I suppose this is as good a place as any to simply stop. May God bless you and yours abundantly this year, and happy Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God!
Optional Hymn from Today’s Morning Prayer
Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run. Amen.
Happy Feast of the Nativity of Mary, everyone! Mama Mary, please pray for me and for all the little musings I post here, that I, like you, can always point to Christ. Keep Him always first in my vision and my mind. Wrap me, those who read this blog, and all your children in your sapphire mantle of protection and peace. Amen.
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)
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.