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.
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.
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…
Just…Monday? Is that it? Something huge is gonna happen! What’s the big deal?
…really? A lesson in patience? That’s what you’re gonna try to pull on me right now?! PATIENCE?!
Wow. Ok. That’s just–great. I mean, c’mon, nothing? No special commemoration? No big anticipatory thing? Nothing?
Well fine then, it’s not like this wasn’t, like the biggest week of Your life or anything…
What was Your Monday was like?
There was time between coming to Jerusalem and the Passover…You already knew exactly what was gonna be coming. It was going to hit Your hard when You got to the Garden of Gethsemane. Was part of it because You had to go on living, go on teaching, go on serving for another few days?
You were literally born to die. For me. For all of us. What was it like to walk among the people You were about to die for, knowing exactly who was going to stay faithful and who was going to abandon You? To walk the streets You had just been paraded down on a donkey, knowing you’d be staggering down the same way with blood, sweat, and a cross on Your back?
What kind of perseverance did that take?
And how often have I let impatience over something infinitesimally less weighty lead me to sin?
Pay attention. Something huge is about to happen.
It’s already here…the time has crept up so stealthily, it seems. All my hope, all my trust, all my love–it’s all coming to its climax in a week. Easter. Lent makes so much more sense; it’s that bugle cry announcing the Son of David, the voice crying to prepare the way in your life for Christ to enter the Jerusalem of your heart.
Something huge is about to happen.
I didn’t think I’d cry. I’ve been going to Palm Sunday Mass all my life. It was always full of anticipation, but never like this.
It never really hit me that when I say, “Crucify him!’, I’m just doing the same thing I do every time I sin.
I drive the nails into His hands with my own.
I take the whip to his blameless back, as if it weren’t about to carry the weight of the world.
I thrust the cross in His face and mock Him for embracing it.
And all the while, He prays, “Father, forgive them…forgive him…”
And all I can see are the tears streaming down Mary’s face…and I cry because I’m begging her to forgive me for doing this to her Son…
I don’t have much to give you this Lent, Lord. Somehow these weeks seem to have flown by without my noticing; the little I’ve done to prepare feels so ridiculously inadequate now. All I have is this cloak and this palm branch.
So I lay them down now, and ask You to let me walk with You to Your cross.
Pay attention. Something huge is about to happen.
Speak no more, no more, I beg thee;
another weighty word,
another vessel of steel-cased emotion,
and the scales shall tip to fear,
Grant me a moment more
in this comforting caress
of unspoken words, dreams unimagined,
a stream of potentiality on a canvass of silence
painted in tears of love and loss.
Take me not from this sweet hollow
this forgotten corner of creation
that hums yet faintly
with the musical silence of Eden.
I see through the mist
in the panes to your stricken heart.
There is a longing,
a cry to balance the scales
as the words begin to spill from your lips
and down your cheeks.
the words cannot touch my fragile mind;
no, they sink
with heavy weight
to my heart,
and I find there an endless vestibule,
a deep chasm waiting for your words
as they pour but a drop
into the infinite awaiting.
It is no longer mine to listen,
nor was it ever mine to heal.
All falls into the mantle,
and carried to the heart of Christ.
O Mother of Sorrows,
Victorious Queen robed in Eden’s silence,
take me over.
My frail spirit is so little prepared
for all that I must take in.
Take these hands,
take this heart.
Let your Spouse
breathe in me His peace,
that this shuddering frame
may come as Simon to the crosses of others
in holy fear
and loving confidence.
Upon blue velvet yet I weave
a terminal brocade
of golden love and silver pain
with red impatience made,
a tapestry to life and death
in words so soon to fade.
Oh Mother, Queen, all clothed in blue
and bathed in endless light,
within whose womb the Savior slept
and found His true delight,
you weave your love in simple words
that put my speech to flight.
Let me in blue your Son pursue
through you, O Mother kind,
until the day I’m brought away
eternal life to find.
‘Til then, let me your servant be.
To you, my heart I bind.
I am happy.
And yet how can I be?
Heavy is my heart, yet light is my spirit; I feel as if I could fly, though my mind lies leaden upon the cries of broken hearts.
There is so little I can do, for myself or for anyone else; and so, as I float awhile on the sweet, intoxicating beauty of voices raised in harmony, my soul gently whispers,
“Dance with me, Oh Lover of my soul, to the song of all songs; Romance me, Oh Lover of my soul, to the song of all songs…”
Not much else matters in life but that we are forever romanced by Christ. He’s been romancing us since our very creation; even as we were taking our first steps, He was caressing us; He has cried with us, laughed with us, sat up with us, ran and jumped with us, and always and forever whispering His love into the depths of our hearts. When we learn to see this, to hear his voice and see His love played out before our very eyes, peace is truly possible, and life has meaning and purpose.
One way He reminds me of His love is through choral music. Every note washes away my fear, frustration, and exhaustion for just a little while, flooding my soul with beauty; it feels as if my soul is about to come pouring out of my body and just run like river, flooding all the world with this beauty. It’s one of God’s little ways of romancing me, and I can’t help but be utterly in love with Him.
It’s moments like that that remind me why I fight: I fight because I am madly in love.
And even my crazed love cannot begin to compare to His love for me.
I’m at a loss for words now; what more is there to say? I love Him, and HE LOVES ME. Me, me, all of me, this mess of me, the best of me, the worst of me, just plain and total and wonderful and horrible me. HE LOVES ME.
And HE LOVES YOU. You, amazing you, broken you, sad you, joyful you, fearful you, reckless you. YOU. HE LOVES YOU.
Next time you speak with Him, sit with Him and simply speak as you would to the one you love most; then sit in the silence, and let Him romance you for awhile; even if you feel nothing, He is planting, tending, growing the seeds of His love in you.
What is there to give when you’re left holding nothing?
The past few weeks, I have given a lot of myself to hundreds of children and teenagers as I shared the faith with them–my time, my energy, my stories. Now there’s one week left, and I feel as though I have nothing left for even a single child, much less another hundred or so.
Surely, Lord, you didn’t mean to let me run out of gas now? You didn’t mean to leave me with nothing left, only to have to once again cry out, “Totus Tuus”, and completely honestly mean it?
Just this afternoon, during recess time, I sat under a tree and watched a group of the kids play. I had absolutely nothing left–no energy, no fun, no words. I might as well have been a shadow. So I picked up a stick and began to peel off the bark, something a little girl had shown me just the other day.
It wasn’t long before a young child joined me, just having lost a game. I’d been curious about this kid all week, he was in third grade but already had his hair styled into a Mohawk and dyed blue. But he didn’t fit the stereotype; he seemed quiet, and was pretty reluctant to join the kids whenever they were asked to scream or shout or dance wildly. So I was only half-shocked when he asked what I was doing and promptly joined in, striking up a conversation and happily peeling away at another stick.
It was only a few minutes more before there was a solid group of 7 or 8 kids all peeling sticks and stacking them in a pile, happily chatting and trying to decide what to do with them. They loved it, such a simple thing when they had the chance to play sports or games or simply run around crazy. Instead they wanted to peel sticks with me and chat and just smile.
It was one of the best moments of the summer, and yet what had I done? What had I given? Nothing. At least nothing of myself, other than my presence.
What was it that they got?
God works in mysterious ways…He’s completely drained me of everything, so that I can’t give any more of me. The only thing left to give now…is Him. I can only give them His love, His mercy, His joy. I can only go on His strength and grace.
I’ve been completely drained…I’ve become Totus Tuus for the final week. I have nothing, and still You ask me to lay it on the altar. Whatever You have planned, Lord, it must be big.
Help me, Lord, to not get in Your way.
There’s nothing quite like letting the wind blow in your face, drowning out all the sound except for the music blasting from your car speakers as you cruise down the highway. The music has a way of drowning out your thoughts, and the wind whisks away the angsty residue.
At least that’s what I tell myself is the reason; maybe it’s just because it helps me forget, like Rumpelstiltskin watching his wheel turn as it spins out threads of gold.
I’m not entirely sure what it is that I’m trying so hard to forget; there’s too many variables in this equation so vaguely termed “My Life”.
I suppose I should expect to feel pulled out of myself and out of any understanding. Between starting college, finding friendships, struggling to break old patterns of behavior, and now putting myself out of my comfort zone completely, I haven’t exactly been easy on myself, and I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that God is choosing this time to make my prayer life frustrating.
See, I don’t like what I can’t understand, which is why I’ve never liked myself. Now, though, it’s like I can’t understand anything. By following what I think God wants for me, I’ve found myself led into an incomprehensible mist of sorts; more than anything else, I just feel confused, hazy, even numb. Until now, I’ve felt stretched to the breaking point; now, it’s like I’m in that split second between the snap and the pain of the break. Except it’s much longer than a split second.
I’ve been broken before. But not like this. I can’t understand it.
And I don’t like it.
Except maybe I have an inkling…
I’ve heard it said that we’re like glass pitchers, and the love of God is the liquid within us. As we are, we ration out His love however we please.
But when we’re broken, God’s love can’t help but pour out everywhere.
So I guess I understand more than I thought, and the thought gives me comfort, even if it shows me that I’m right about to hit the next break. I guess it’s just a matter of trust, of bravery I’ve never believed I could be capable of. Maybe if I could believe that I’m loved, if I could love myself, it wouldn’t be so much a question of struggling as just…waiting. Waiting to understand. And living, going on, smiling not necessarily because I’m happy but simply because life is beautiful and God is good.
So be it.
With the strength of He who gives and takes away, I say to the world…
While in high school, I was blessed to help lead a retreat for my peers known as Kairos. The name for the retreat comes from a Greek word which, very loosely translated, means “God’s Time”; it’s the time of God’s action in our lives, the time of salvation history, the work of eternity within time and space (something my metaphysics professor would term “spiritual time”). While I can’t reveal a lot of what happened on that retreat (after all, no one likes spoilers), I can say that attending it was life-changing for me, but leading the retreat was even more so.
You see, there is a great deal of sharing and openness that happens at these retreats. People suddenly become startlingly real, and open up as if suddenly a flood of stark honesty burst through the barriers of years of hiding, bringing showers of tears with it; and yet, when the darkness is washed away, and all the broken pieces carried away in the tide, there is finally enough room for the light of healing and grace to burst through and embrace their broken lives with peace.
And I got to be a part of it.
One of the incredible graces of this life is that we all have the chance to act as channels of light, instruments of grace. Each of us is given opportunities to bear the love of Christ to another, to not only watch the Holy Spirit at work but be a part of it. Being on the retreat, I got to soak up the love of Christ and others; leading it, I got to pour it out on others–twice as fulfilling.
We are all called to be ambassadors of love, to shower grace on the lives of others by submitting to Christ and living our lives by the inspirations of the Holy Spirit as we rest in the arms of the Father. There is nothing more painful than watching another person cry, and yet nothing more beautiful when the tears are tears of healing, tears born of years of frustration and self-loathing and shame finally released in the wild realization that all this shit they’ve lived with is not their fault, that they are infinitely, incomprehensibly, madly loved. And still more beautiful is realizing that this Love, this grace, flowed to them through you by the will of the Father.
This is what I truly, deeply live for: to be that ambassador of Love, to be an instrument upon which the master musician may make a melody of love to the world (THANK YOU JOHN MICHAEL TALBOT FOR THAT GLORIOUS ANALOGY), to be Christ for others, and watch them realize how utterly beautiful and meaningful they really are, to watch the pain and perforated masks fall crashing to the ground with the flood of their tears, to hold them and show them how very much they are loved, and see the garden of their souls grow under the tender care of God.
I know that many who read this probably need this healing. It is for you I fervently pray tonight, with intense joy in knowing that the Lord is only too pleased to bring you comfort, if only you will let it all fall away. I urge you, brethren, fellow pilgrims, don’t be afraid of healing. Don’t be afraid of tears, of pain. You are madly loved, insanely loved; only a love crazier than imagination could drive God to die for you. Believe that His love is enough, that His grace will flood your soul if you will only let the flood of years past out in one mad rush. Know that I love and pray for you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Lift up your face, and let the healing rain of grace wash over you.
The dawn has already broken; all you need to do is turn from the twilight.
In flash and thunder,
sweet souls dance home to Heaven
while tears fall below.
Prayers and love to all those affected by the explosions at the Boston Marathon today. May the souls of the departed rest in the eternal light of God, the injured soon know His healing touch, and all those affected be comforted in Him.
To the moments of angelic laughter
too musical to hear,
the days so full of audible sunshine
that almost missed my ear,
say a prayer for me tonight.
To the turbulent winds of renewal
whispering peace and screaming revival
in strange harmonic din,
hold my hand through the fight.
And to love I feel and Love I don’t,
separate yet unified,
passion the echoes Passion in timelessness
far too long denied,
be my star, be my light.
Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis I
Prayer for the Pope by Pope Leo XIII
O Lord, we are the millions of believers, humbly kneeling at Thy feet and begging Thee to preserve, defend and save the Sovereign Pontiff for many years. He is the Father of the great fellowship of souls and our Father as well. On this day, as on every other day, he is praying for us also, and is offering unto Thee with holy fervor the sacred Victim of love and peace.
Wherefore, O Lord, turn Thyself toward us with eyes of pity; for we are now, as it were, forgetful of ourselves, and are praying above all for him. Do Thou unite our prayers with his and receive them into the bosom of Thine infinite mercy, as a sweet savor of active and fruitful charity, whereby the children are united in the Church to their Father. All that he asks of Thee this day, we too ask it of Thee in unison with him.
Whether he weeps or rejoices, whether he hopes or offers himself as a victim of charity for his people, we desire to be united with him; nay more, we desire that the cry of our hearts should be made one with his. Of Thy great mercy grant, O Lord, that not one of us may be far from his mind and his heart in the hour that he prays and offers unto Thee the Sacrifice of Thy blessed Son. At the moment when our venerable High Priest, holding in His hands the very Body of Jesus Christ, shall say to the people over the Chalice of benediction these words: “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” grant, O Lord, that Thy sweet peace may come down upon our hearts and upon all the nations with new and manifest power. Amen.