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.
I’ve held out hope for a long time that I would see a day when all my past hurts would go away completely, that I’d eventually be just totally OK, that I’d be able to be in the same room with someone whose very presence excites me without being terrified of what they think of me, ashamed that I care this much, or lonely and reminded of old wounds when they were gone. That day still hasn’t come. And I’m not sure it will in this life. And I think that’s OK.
See, our God isn’t a snow-plough God (thank you, Fr. Dan Pattee, for that analogy). It’s not as if, the moment we through ourselves upon the Lord, we’ll never experience pain again. The love of the Lord doesn’t always move mountains. Sometimes it just carries us until we can start climbing again. Sometimes it’s just the next breath we take into our lungs.
And that’s OK. That’s enough.
Our hope isn’t for this world, this life. Our hope is for Heaven. It feels so far off sometimes, like a distant dream, but it’s real. It’s there, waiting for us through the dark door of death. It’s the light on the other side of the dark sepulchre that radiates back on the entirety of our lives and makes it all worth it.
Guys, this is what St. Paul means when he says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) It’s not that there are no sufferings. It’s that they can’t compare to the glory of Heaven, the sheer magnificence of finally being united forever with the God who loved us so much that He created us, and loved us too much to leave us when we left Him, and loves us too much to leave us alone even now. This is the great mystery of learning to suffer in the shadow of the cross: to learn that it’s enough that He came to us, that He died for us.
In coming into our world he came also into our suffering. He sits beside us in the stalled car in the snowbank. Sometimes he starts the car for us, but even when He doesn’t, He is there. That is the only thing that matters. Who cares about cars and success and miracles and long life when you have God sitting beside you? (Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering)
The greatest moment of healing in my life was not when I stopped having anxiety attacks, or the first month I went without feeling like I was shrouded in gloom, or the first time I could say hello to a guy I wanted to know better without dying inside. It was when, in a time of distressed prayer, God took me back in my memory to the most painful moment of my life, laying crying in my bed, hating myself, my dreams going up in flames around me and my view of the future completely darkened, and showed me that He was there, sitting on the side of my bed, crying with me, and hearing my desperate prayer that I needed Him to love me, even though I wasn’t sure if He could. Even before we know how to love our own broken selves, He loves us. He’s there. He’s with us. He already died, knowing full well what you would turn out to be. There is nothing you can do, no one you can become, that will make God stop loving you. He came. And He meant it. He came FOR YOU.
We believe in a God who loved us so much that He came and died for us so that we could spend eternity with Him.
So when you suffer, even if it’s the millionth time in a row that you find yourself crying and alone, even if the darkness feels like it’s been there from the beginning and will never go away, remember this:
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy, and turn not aside, lest you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not fail; you who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy. You who fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts will be made radiant. Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in his commandments and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in times of affliction, and he is the shield of all who seek him in truth.
If you, like me, are struggling, go to the foot of the cross. Pour out your heart. Wait, and cry, and let the Lord hold you in His arms outstretched on the cross. Let your wounded heart rest in the Sacred Heart pierced for us. Wait upon His comfort, and let Him love you. LET HIM LOVE YOU. Let Him see and hold close to Himself all that you hold closest and deepest within yourself.
I know I’ve said this over and over AND OVER AGAIN. But each time, it rings with a little more sincerity, a little more clarity. Even if all we do is echo a truth until our very lives echo it, we’ve done well. And right now, that means stepping back from my ambitions, my new hopes and dreams, and allowing myself to remember that I still carry scars and wounds. Right now, it means learning how to live with them rather than shoving them aside. Right now, it means learning how to carry the wounds of Christ, to let my soul be His sepulchre, in which both His death and resurrection are reflected into the lives of those around me.
God bless, fam.
Three years ago, I still had anxiety attacks and often ditched my friends just to feel like I could breathe without choking. Three years ago, I still broke down crying every week and laid on the floor with music blasting in my ears to quiet all the sad thoughts running through my head. Three years ago, I was still hoping and praying my life would be short because I didn’t know how to cope.
Three years ago. There’s something that feels so distant yet so intimate about that. It’s so close that to remember still makes my heart ache, and yet so far that it usually feels more like a bad dream than a memory. I’m forever changed by the years I spent carrying these crosses, but I’m not defined by them. If anything, I think they just uncovered who I was all along.
Look, I don’t know what many of you are going through right now. Suffering is so much more than a single defining moment or the words we try to use to describe it. Deep down, really, only Christ can reach those hurts we can’t express, those unseen twinges and unspoken groans. Only He can really hold us right where the hurt is. Only the Holy Spirit can help us to pray with sighs too deep for words, as Romans tells us.
But the love of another human being makes all the difference. When you stop to listen, to hug, to laugh with or to cry with a brother or sister, it shows them it’s possible that they’re loved, that they aren’t doomed to be stuck in their own heads amidst their own tumultuous thoughts forever.
Three years ago, I poured out my heart, all my brokenness that I hated, my most shameful secret, and someone said, “I don’t care. I love you.” That has made all the difference.
I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again and again and again long after you’re sick of hearing it: I see you, I hear you, I know you, and I love you. Seriously. You. Reading this right now. I so wish I could hug each and every one of you close and tell you how much you mean to me. But I’ll settle for knowing you know that whatever your struggle, whatever your shame that you carry around with you…I don’t care. I love you. The God Who fashioned you died for love of you. I may not see your beauty and worth as clearly as he does, but I do see it. And gosh dangit, I want to show you.
P.S. I totally meant the hug thing. Seriously, ask me anytime for a hug. That’s my jam.
St. Raphael, pray for us.
What fools are we, inheritors of grace
and singers of th’eternal song. We string
our beads of love at someone else’s pace
and find our good intentions shattering.
We proudly stitch our garments, ’til the seams
are torn by lazy hands and frail remorse,
and carry tinder-boxes full of dreams
but hide the flint, and halt conversion’s course.
A fellowship of fools are we who swing
from Calvary into Eternity;
in foolish love our empty hands we bring.
Beloved, broken jesters all are we.
The greatest of all follies rescues us:
the shadow of the folly of the cross.
Being the avid Disney nerd I am, it no longer surprises me when, in movies, within the first half hour or so, someone important leaves or dies; some sort of goodbye takes place before the plot can advance any further. Which means that Marvel movies have majorly screwed with me, because NO ONE IMPORTANT EVER ACTUALLY DIES (and if anyone says Agent Coulsen, you clearly haven’t seen Agents of SHIELD…spoiler alert…), so it’s like, “Goodbye–NO WAIT WHAT OH MY GOSH YOU’RE ALIVE”. And in retrospect, there have been a fair amount of movies, Disney or otherwise, that do sort of the same thing (mostly Disney, because typically there’s some sort of magic or prophecy involved).
But there’s one Disney goodbye that still haunts me and tears at my heart: when Widow Tweed says goodbye to Todd in The Fox and The Hound.
Because not only is that goodbye accompanied with Tweed’s reminiscences and a tear-jerker of a harmonica-led song; it’s a devastatingly final goodbye. When she drives away from Todd, leaving him alone in the woods as she cries, and he just looks after her, confused, there’s no question in anyone’s mind: this is it, the last time they’ll ever see one another. There is no sudden return to the way things were; the film ends with Todd looking down on his old home from his new home in the woods.
Now there are two quotes about goodbyes that I have wrestled with: that sickeningly sweet “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” dealio, and a quote by C.S. Lewis that says, essentially, “Christians never say goodbye”. The first is pretty easy, in my mind, to question. It’s all well and good to say that we ought to rejoice in the good times that have been had, and there is no doubt that I look back with a (bittersweet) smile on the friends to whom I have said goodbye. And yet, when you stand before the ones you love, looking them in the eye and knowing that you may never see them again, feeling like your heart is being ripped from your chest, even if you can manage a smile, how can you not (at least internally) shed tears? How can you ignore that you are about to lose a person who has been precious to you? What greatness is there in denying to yourself that you will miss their laugh, their smile, the way they used to talk and walk, and just their very presence?
The second quote is less troubling, but still makes me uneasy. Essentially, the quote is recognizing the intimate bond we share as members of the Body of Christ, which keeps us always united no matter where we are, and is the source of our eternal union in Heaven. Still, even as we Catholics say to each other, “I’ll see you in the Eucharist”, even as our eyes of faith see the one to whom we have said goodbye in Christ’s Mystical body, and even as our hope tells us that we will see our loved ones in Heaven someday, isn’t there an ache? Can you deny that there is a hole in your heart where the other used to be?
Brethren, for anyone who has said goodbye and known that it was a truly final farewell, life afterwards is the life of an amputee. When we give another person a room in our hearts, we can’t help but feel the cold drafts through the open door and the cobwebs in the corners when they have gone. We have to go on living, knowing that we will never be the same.
That’s just it, though, I guess…we will never be the same. That is the glorious thing about our friendships and our familial bonds. The moment they are forged, we are changed. Love is a strange thing; once it enters your heart, you will never know a deeper ache, and yet every heart-wrenching moment is pure bliss, because you get to look into the eyes of the one you love. So when that terrible, inevitable moment comes when you have to say goodbye, and every part of your being is moaning for just another moment more with the beloved, we shouldn’t hide behind melancholy reminiscence or joyful hope, no matter how noble either might prove to be later. No.
When your universe suddenly seems as if its very light is about to be sucked away, when the air you breathe is about to be torn from your lungs, put every ounce of love you can into that last embrace, the final moment in which the one who brought music to your life pulls you close to them, letting your heart bleed out in one final, painful, blissful rapture of a moment. Then let them slip away, like rain slipping through your fingertips, burning like acid, and smile, because the tears that are sure to come mean that you have been lucky enough, in the few years of your life on this strange and beautiful place called Earth, to have met another person who entered into your life and you into theirs so deeply that your parting is torturous.
Finally, if you can stand it yet, say a prayer that you may both have the strength to go on to love again, and begin to find solace in the love of God, the one and only lover about Whom you can truly say that you will never have to say goodbye.
Impetuous, my lately love, am I
in letting love this fragile frame imbibe;
your sapphire eyes are water to these dry
and burning bones. I wish I could inscribe
your name upon my heart eternally,
but nay, ’tis not to be. You? I? My dear,
the love I wish for us can never be–
love? Nay, nay, but mere passion…fierce, I fear.
Dear one, may I yet stay, and love thee true,
with kindness, care, and groaning heart? Though strung
like harp strings, heart aflame, my song to you
shall be restrained, with few notes ever sung.
Unbridled though my yearning ever be,
I shall but love and let thy heart by free.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.
By far the hardest words for me to pray.
As far as I can tell, not feeling loved has been the source of most of my problems in life. Doesn’t always mean I wasn’t truly loved; just that a lot of my life, I just didn’t feel it, didn’t believe it.
So how can I seriously ask God to take away my desire to be loved?
This is something I’m still not sure I have the answer to, but I have little hints now, I think. I find myself desiring love that I shouldn’t have, love that, in the long run, isn’t really love but just something that serves to fuel my ego. It sounds weird put that way, but I think that’s the only way to describe it. There’s a part of me that just wants to be loved in ways I shouldn’t want, or at least ways I shouldn’t be seeking to accomplish.
Even that word is problematic: “accomplish”. Love isn’t “accomplished”; it’s not just a task or activity that has a definitive end. It’s more like a dance. Because love only happens when the one loved freely returns that love as best they can. What I might picture in my mind as the only way someone can show me they love me isn’t truly the only way I can be loved. It might be the way (or something close to the way) in which I know best or for sure that I’m loved, but I’m not that other person I’m desiring love from. They have their own ways in which they show love; I can’t force them to love me the way I want them to.
In other words, maybe it’s been me all along that hasn’t been loving. Maybe I’ve just been selfish, immature, greedy. Maybe I’m even more broken and twisted inside than I’ve dared to admit.
And for that, I owe everyone who has known me an apology. Because I think the cry in my heart hasn’t been as noble and devastating as what has come out of my lips or my actions; I’m actually pretty crummy in a whole heck of a lot of ways.
But light has shone on that darkness now, and the darkness won’t overcome it.
I think I’m learning humility far greater than the little moments of humiliation I was expecting this Lent; I’m learning that I really am pretty small and dirty and just…I don’t even know if there are words for things as low as me.
And yet, I’m also learning that the Lord has seen this in me all along…and somehow still sees someone worth saving, someone worth loving, and someone worth dying for.
The more I know myself, the more I have to weep at the immense love God must have for me to see me and still want nothing more than to have me with Him forever, even if He has to bleed out on a cross for me.
So to those who have stuck by me and loved me with love that still staggers me, even now, thank you. You are truly vessels of God’s grace, and you seriously deserve so many blessings.
And now I guess I’ll just awkwardly end this here. And it’s OK that I don’t have some sort of impressive final word of wisdom. It’s even OK if no one reads this. It’s all OK, because God loves me, and even if no one else does, I have a soul full of love and grace, and that’s plenty reason to be happy.
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.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going to go with this particular post, I know it’s been awhile since I wrote on here so I want to try and incorporate some of my recent adventures into the message I want to put out there. That message is, in a nutshell, this: NEVER take the little things for granted.
I have struggled for a long time with relating to other men . My age, older, younger, black, white, whatever–I just really don’t connect with guys normally. Or at least with how I perceive guys to be. Conversations with other men are a struggle for me; even being around them for an extended period of time freaks me out. So when I actually make a connection with a guy, or even just hold a normal conversation with them without panicking, it’s pretty euphoric for me. Actually, poor choice of words: it’s healing. Healing for all the countless times I’ve been looked down on, ignored, or outright teased by other men.
That’s literally all it takes.
So when a guy goes a step further, and professes himself my brother, both in words and actions, it’s somewhere between terrifying and utterly exhilarating.
I could cite plenty of examples from my big or any number of my household brothers or others I have been blessed to meet the past few years, but I’d like to focus right now on my Totus Tuus teammate from this summer.
Now I’ll admit, I was incredibly hesitant at first to open up in any way to this guy. I mean this guy is seriously legit. I’d try to conjure an image of him with my words, but I’ll leave that to better writers. Suffice it to say that this young man is a man’s man, and truly a man of God. Twice as intriguing, twice as intimidating.
So when he finally took time one week and went out of his way to get me to open up, to truly get to know me, I was flabbergasted. What could he want to do with me? And what the heck was I supposed to say? How was I, who took months to let down my walls even to the best of my friends, supposed to open up to him in a matter of weeks? And yet he pushed me in my willing hesitancy, not rudely but with care and compassion. He took little moments to spend with me, pushed me to become better at the work we were doing, moved me to reverence and prayer.
It all probably seems like a pretty small endeavor from his point of view, but to me, it meant so much.
It meant that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t such a horrendously terrible person to be around after all.
So I invite you, brothers and sisters, don’t overlook the little things. The tiniest of gestures of love, respect, kindness, generosity, patience–they can change the course of a person’s life. And let yourself revel in the little acts of virtue that are done towards you or those around you. These “little things” are the seeds of rejoicing, because they are planted by children of the One Who is the source of all joy, all healing, all peace.
God bless you all as this semester begins; may you find yourself ever rejoicing in the little acts of love from God and His servants.
Lord, I know we’ve been through this before. Still, I need to ask this again: why do You even care about me, as messed up as I am?
I’m terrified, Lord. I feel cornered into a life I never wanted, half of it self-created. I’m torn apart inside by the crosses You’ve given me and the sins I’ve committed. One of these times I’m afraid You’ll stop at prodigal; You’ll be too sick of me to call me a son.
So how is it You still look at me and smile? How is it you still call me your child, your beloved?
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31
Many sparrows…I just imagine a huge flock of sparrows taking flight at once, filling the site with simple grace…Could I really be worth more than they?
Lord, grant me the grace to trust that even though I don’t see a way out of the corner I’m in, You love me so much that You already have a plan for me. Help me see that I’m worth enough in Your eyes to die for. Help me to see these crosses as gifts, that the life You want from me isn’t just a last-resort effort to save a soul broken beyond repair; that somehow, it’s a perfect plan stitched together with love since before I was born.
Let my prayers of joy rise like many sparrows to Your throne.
Sweet welcome to you, oh burdensome trial,
And may your sweet barbs yet tarry awhile.
An earth more fallow for growth you’ll not find,
For it’s fertilized full with the corpses of your kind.
Yes, welcome to your sanctuary and death;
Though root you take, vain is your poisonous breath.
Your pain is but passage to courage and grace
And the One ever smiling from His bloodied face.
So unsheathe your sword and sharpen your lance–
The longer I cry, the harder I dance.
You’ve homed with a Gael, and all the world knows
That the greater our sorrow, the more our joy grows.
So welcome to rebellious fires, my friend.
My strength is your solace; His freedom, your end.