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.
Unveiling the morning, awaking the dawn,
an eternal anthem in glory goes on
and on and on ever, and ever, ’til time
may no longer carry the weight of the rhyme.
Proclaiming the noon-tide, upholding the day,
a single song swells and will never decay,
for decay is defeated, and death has no sting,
for the Lamb Who was slain mounts his throne now as king.
Exhorting the evening, declaring day’s end,
no longer will man ‘neath the weight of sin bend;
nay, now sings the song of the dead that shall rise
with the King of the Crucifix into the skies.
Invading the darkness, destroying the night,
e’en still sings the song of the Heavenly light,
of the promise of Christ which debilitates Hell:
Death can’t stop the story your life’s meant to tell.
Unveiling the morning, awaking the dawn,
the great Hallelujah of Easter rings on
and on and on ever on your lips and mine.
To Father, Son, Spirit, all glory be thine!
A freaking blessed Easter to all of you, brothers and sisters in Christ! He is Risen indeedn, Hallelujah! And a happy NaPoWriMo, fellow poets! A poem a day for a month? Bring it on! I’ll try to keep haiku’s to one a week tops. 😀
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.
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.
The sound of tears is only outdone by the shattering of hearts all around. It seems wrong in a way that today should be so beautiful, with a bright, sun-filled sky and flowers beginning to bloom everywhere. Only the leafless trees seem to understand, and even they are putting forth buds.
But they’re right, in another way.
We ought to mourn today. We ought to cry, to grieve, or to sit in silent reflection. Our hearts ought to be broken when we look at the wounds of Christ and hear His prayer for our forgiveness, when we see Mary weep as she kisses the feet of her Son, when we hear the soldier cry out in faith as his heart turns violently in His chest.
And yet, there ought to be just a whisper of a promise echoing still in our hearts, and echo that nature itself seems to speak today.
This is not the end.
It’s a beginning.
You certainly didn’t hesitate to show me the shadows, Lord.
Which made carrying the candle that almost blew out all the more meaningful.
It was like my hope in You, Lord. And because it was in You, it couldn’t be put out, although the winds of this life have certainly tried. The only time it went out was when it was blown out as I walked into the Chapel. I didn’t need it any more then. The Chapel was filled with candles, and more importantly with Your presence in the Eucharist.
It’s like our lives. If Christ is our hope, nothing in this life can put it out, no matter how low the flame may seem to get, no matter how hard the winds blow. It only goes out when we leave this world, and then we don’t need it any more, because we have Christ Himself in Heaven. Christ never fails us.
But we have the choice to blow out the candle ourselves. To walk away.
It hurts like heck to have the flame purge away the darkness inside. But better that than to get lost forever in the dark.
Tenebrae. What a melodious word. Just speaking it is like silk in my mouth. And yet it’s the Latin word for ‘shadows’, those dark things that fall gloomily to the earth as the sun sets.
The Triduum is here at last. The solemnity is almost tangible here…the shadows have fallen, and only one candle remains in this darkness which now falls: a promise. A promise of hope, of resurrection. A promise of redemption and salvation that fought back the darkness for centuries. A promise which was fulfilled, bringing light into the world to stay until the last breath of the last mortal on earth. How I long for that light.
But first, I must pass through the shadows.
I must look at my life and see the places that have become darkened by sin and covered over with cobwebs of excuses. I have to face the fearful monsters under the bed of my consciousness. I have to enter into that moment in the world when everything hung on the edge of its seat, then screamed in agony as the light seemed to be snuffed for good.
Only then can I truly know what a great miracle it is that the light would return, more alive than before, to scatter the tenebrae.
I can only know what a great miracle it is that Christ won the victory when I know how very much of a defeat it seemed to be.
Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be much of a lesson today…
I just feel…numb. And tired. Not anticlimactic, really, just…sad in a way that doesn’t bring me to tears but just makes me want to sit and stare at a wall until I start to feel again.
I guess I’m just homesick.
Homesick for Heaven.
I’ve listened to this song so much the past few days, and it kind of puts things well for where I am. I’m clean from Confession, I’m in a good place overall, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Things aren’t empty, just insufficient. Heaven just sounds great right now.
And it’s crazy to think I wouldn’t be able to get there if You hadn’t died for 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.
What does it mean to be a man?
I can discard a bunch of answers right away: it doesn’t mean being physically strong or attractive, it doesn’t mean being obnoxiously loud, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean getting with the most women. Sorry, majority of society, but you don’t have a clue what manhood is.
Most prolific writers on what it means to truly be a man are men who came from this point of view to a deeper understanding of masculinity based in faith. They speak mainly to people who are either in this mindset or are attempting to move out of this mindset. Truly, a noble thing, since it speak to a great part of society, and is certainly very necessary in this day and age.
Yet it leaves a particular demographic unaccounted for: those young men who come from a more gentle point of view, those who would never consider being loud or obnoxious if they didn’t have to, those who befriend women rather than trying to get with them, and those who, in general, are just more sensitive. They’re the young men who have trouble listening to talks on manhood, because little of what is said is relatable, the young men who are truly striving to find their manhood but are put off by The Art of Manliness. They’re the young men who have so many questions about what manhood is, and can’t quite hear the answer over the disgruntling war-cries and frustrating half-crudity used to excite another audience.
Does this demographic even exist? Speaking from my own life and the lives of several of my friends, YES, YES IT DOES.
So why is so little being said to us? Because we are, unfortunately, either a minority or greatly overshadowed by our more “macho” counterpart. Plus, we’re the ones still doing a lot of questioning, so there’s not a lot of resources for answers out there.
And no, we can’t just adapt to the messages being yelled from the podiums of men’s conferences across the country. I’m sorry, but I can only take being told that my mind works like a waffle so many more times before I stand up and scream, “LIES. MINE WORKS LIKE SPAGHETTI. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT?” (If you don’t get the reference, look in any popular Catholic teens book that discusses the difference between men and women.) I can only take being shown clips of The Princess Bride so many more times before I raise my hand and ask, “Excuse me, Westley’s devotion and courage are great and all, but what about Fezzik’s gentleness and honor?” I’m all for trying to imitate the fatherly protection and fatherly love of Mufasa, but how about the wisdom and persistent devotion of Zazu?
Here’s the thing: not all of us are built to be strapping heroes. Some of us just can’t relate to that. I was asked in my senior year to help lead a short retreat for sophomores that focused on manhood with a focus on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti. Most of my hipster Catholic friends just cheered. It might surprise them to know I almost backed out. I just couldn’t get excited about it. I wasn’t a huge fan of Frassatti–it was super cool that he gave to the poor so freely and prayed a ton, but his athleticism, his rascally nature, his love of smoking and mountain-climbing…none of that resonated with me. The other guys leading the retreat were super psyched, talking about how seeing his example and still being “a normal guy, a man’s man” was so cool. I just thought it was ridiculous. I’m not saying I don’t think he should be a blessed, he absolutely gave a Christ’like example in many ways. I just couldn’t relate to him. I couldn’t identify with him. Nothing that the other guys saw was intriguing to me, it was just off-putting.
But when I went to talk to the head of the team, he encouraged me to stay. He said he recognized this in me, and that there would probably be other guys on the retreat who would feel the same way, and I could be a help to them. Manhood didn’t just lie in that. So I stayed on. I didn’t enjoy the retreat much. At all. But there were some fellow young men I was able to be there for, so it was worth it.
I still didn’t have my answers though. So I want to start writing posts on this topic with the help of a couple friends, exploring from the other side what it means to be a man. This should be a wild ride.
All glory to God.
What kind of legacy am I leaving on these posts?
It would be so easy to start complaining right now; the later it gets, the more my mind zooms in on all that went wrong, all that I missed, all that I regret.
But instead, I think I’ll stop and remember what a good day it was.
I woke up this morning–I mean c’mon, there are a lot of people who don’t even have that blessing–on the campus of my super Catholic, super awesome, super friendly college, and started the day with music and musicals. I ate, drank, walked, lounged; I went to my first Lord’s Day as an intent to the household I have come to love, hung out with dear friends while I wrestled with Origen and sipped soda, then joined my household brothers again for a fantastic movie, walked (just walked, how fantastic, seriously!) with my big, and came home to chilling with other wonderful friends and praying together.
There were so many blessings today. Just stopping and thinking about them is a far better exercise than venting all my complaints; especially because, when stacked against the blessings God showered on me, all the pain, no matter how much it tears at my gut, seems…petty in comparison. Not that they’re not there, just that I don’t give them more attention than I need to. The spiral doesn’t have a chance to work, because it’s just a spinning top in my hand now, and not a swirling black hole. It still doesn’t sit right, but it doesn’t crush me. Humble gratitude makes things seem a little more manageable, sometimes a lot more manageable.
So thanks God for today, even though sometimes I screwed up royally and had things royally screwed up for me. Thanks for making me realize that when it comes to blessings versus complaints, they’re not really even on the same scale, and things are gonna be ok, even when I can’t see it like I do now.
Just thanks, God.
Today in our Honors class, we discussed the letter from St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans, a letter expounding passionately on his soon-to-come martyrdom. Most of the class agreed that the letter was disturbing to an extent–how could anyone be so joyful in the face of torture, suffering, and death? How could someone seemingly actively desire it?
Then one guy jumped in and shocked the entire discussion with these words: “I have no problem with this! I hope I would be this joyful if I were about to be martyred.”
Forgive me for sounding crazy…but I agree with him.
Some of you probably just closed this page; some of you are probably wondering how mentally stable I am. But for those of you still reading, allow me to defend my own sanity, the truth of this guy’s statement, and the beauty of this letter by St. Ignatius.
The very center of our faith is love: God Himself is Love, Christ died on the cross out of love, the Holy Spirit is the personified love between the Father and the Son. We are called to love our neighbor, love our enemies, do little things with great love, live in love. Most importantly, we are called to love God. The love of God for us is passionate, extravagant, unfathomable. We, even in our fallen humanity, are given the capacity to strive to love Him as He loves us: passionately.
Is it any wonder then that there are so many stories of martyrs going joyfully to their deaths, even smiling and singing? When a person is in love, they want nothing more than to be with the object of their love. The deepest of loves is all-consuming, and at the prospect of being with the object of our love, ecstasy is the only way to describe what we feel. Is it any wonder that St. Ignatius speaks so joyfully, that he waxes so poetic from his usual logical thinking? The love of the Lord is more passionate than we can conceive; to be madly in love with Him in return creates such ecstasy that people even levitate or bi-locate. Is it any wonder?
Very well, the class concedes the joy of martyrdom. Yet they are hung up on one particular phrase he uses when speaking of his martyrdom: “And if they are still reluctant, I shall use force to them.”
MADNESS! How could he say this? Actively forcing his martyrdom? IT MAKES NO SENSE! IT’S WRONG!
And yet I ask you, my brothers and sisters, is this statement any less insane?
“You want the moon, Mary? I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you!” (It’s a Wonderful Life)
Love makes promises. Ridiculous promises. The moon, the stars, my heart–literature and culture are riddled with ridiculous promises made by lovers in the heat of the moment. In their passion, their desire to express just how extravagantly they love the other, language fails, and such promises are the closest they can come to expressing their ecstasy, because IT MUST be shared with the other, IT DEMANDS to be set free and pour out joy. The other MUST know how great this love is.
Why should this case be any different?
St. Ignatius, I believe, is a passionate lover of Christ. There is nothing he desires more than to be with Him forever in Heaven, to look on the face of his beloved and have the Lord look on His face and say, “My Beloved.” His devotion to Christ is obvious in His other letters; it just so happens that in his letter to the Romans, he becomes consumed with ecstasy at the thought of his coming birth into eternal life. Does he truly mean he will use force? No. He is so overwhelmed with love and joy that he has to share it and cannot find the words. He makes a ridiculous promise.
Perhaps because he is in the unique position of being able to actually prove the one most common, most heartfelt promise all true lovers make: “I am willing to die for you.”
Others may believe what they wish about this letter. They may think this a mere weakness or flaw in his otherwise beautiful legacy, and welcome.
But forgive me if reading this letter makes me see St. Ignatius as a role-model.
Be yourself…it was so easy to do when you were younger, huh? Certainly, much of it had to do with the fact that you just didn’t care about what others thought of you. You were your own; the world was yours to discover. How you were perceived never came into your head; being yourself was as easy as breathing. Then suddenly you notice the way people look at you, and the startling thought enters your head: “Do they…not like me? Why? What am I doing wrong?”
Suddenly, ‘you’ is anathema. ‘You’ must be hidden away at all costs to ‘fit in’ or ‘be well-liked’. You begin to forget who the real ‘you’ is, and you try to balance the shadow of what’s left of ‘you’ with an acceptable image, blurring the lines until you can’t tell which is which.
Then, suddenly, from the radio, the television, every sign and street corner, that familiar cry rings out: “Be yourself!” “Stand out!” “Pay no heed to the opinions of the world!” FINALLY!!!! THEY UNDERSTAND!!!! You can be you! At long, long last, you can–
Wait…how can you be yourself if you don’t remember who you are?
Never fear! The world has the answer to that too! All you have to do is buy this clothing…listen to this music…say these things this way…and WHAM! You can be yourself again…just like everyone else…
Notice the discrepancy? ‘Be yourself’ has become another cliche, a new niche. It’s one more option to mask the true problem: you’ve forgotten who you are. Rebel, hipster, what have you–to stand out, you must fit in. And the more you try to fit in, the more you realize you never will.
Chesterton particularly liked to point out the beautiful paradoxes of life; it was one of the reasons he came to convert to Christianity and Catholicism. One of the paradoxes of life is that in order to fit in, you must stand out.
But allow me to clarify, for I mean something rather different than society by these terms. When I say fit in, I do not mean become part of the crowd; when we strive to join the collective, we’re searching for love. This is the deepest hunger of every person, the most basic and important desire. When I say ‘fit in’ in this context, I mean to find yourself comfortable in the world, unafraid of being judged, because you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are loved. (Sidebar: This is why I can’t understand the appeal of many Eastern philosophies; they declare the search for love futile and advocate instead the following of a lifestyle that will ultimately lead to to being joined eternally to an indistinguishable collective.)
And when I say stand out, I mean something other than what the world declares is within the realm of standing out. ‘Standing out’ must begin with discovering, or rather rediscovering, who you are. It is when we recognize who we are that we are able to recognize how very loved we are.
Why? Because we are children of God.
Take a second and let that fully sink in and blow your mind.
No seriously, just stop. Right now. And contemplate: WE CAN CALL GOD “OUR FATHER”.
Good. Now back to the paradox.
Who are you? At your core, you have the potential of being an adopted son or daughter of the One True God, and by baptism, that incredible gift, that indelible mark, is placed on our souls. All that we are ultimately stems from and leads to this: that we exist, each and every moment, solely because God continues to love us, and desires us to spend eternity with Him.
It’s commonly heard in my family that ‘everyone is weird in their own way’. Our quirks, our talents, our likes, our dislikes, even our crosses–they are given to us as gifts of love, such that we are completely unique.
When we can recognize our identity as beloved children of the Father, then and only then can we truly ‘be ourselves’, for then we can confidently go forth into the world, unashamed of who we are, because we are perfectly, wonderfully, unfathomably loved.
By standing out, we find ourselves fitting in.
Sensitivity. Not generally something a guy is expected or desired to possess as a personality trait, is it? Our culture declares that men should be impervious, rigid, rough. Stray from this pre-set stereotype, and you’ve opened yourself up for ridicule and scorn. Either step into the mold of a mix between Beowulf and a boulder, or accept that you’re gonna be on the fringe of society and called out for a lack of masculinity. Such is the mindset of the world.
As I’ve said before, I have SPS, which means that I literally have no choice when it comes to being sensitive, it’s just how my body works. Everything around me affects me tons of times more than the average person. I notice everything, feel things more deeply; everything bombards me–light, sound, touch, emotion, pain–with a force like a freight train, and my mind keeps running through the wreckage at a thousand miles a minute. Even the things that bring me the most joy wear on me until I literally can’t take anymore. It’s not uncommon for me to close or cover my eyes and ears in frustration, or simply walk off to the most quiet and lonely place to give myself a break. It’s either that or completely break down.
Needless to say, this didn’t particularly help me in my self-image growing up. A kid who cries at thunderstorms and fireworks, who would rather spend time singing or reading a book than running amok on a sports field, isn’t generally looked on as the most masculine. Particularly when your singing voice doesn’t change until freshman year (don’t get me started on all the “you sing like a girl” comments).
But when I looked at other guys, as much as I wanted to be more like them, I couldn’t help turning away and chuckling to myself. I felt like I possessed some secret treasure, a precious gem that brought me more than their trinkets of entertainment could ever bring them.
In an instant, I could sail on the words of some great author to the most distant lands of imagination, and scour the depths of the human heart along the way. I only needed to set my fingers on a piano or lift my voice in a familiar tune and suddenly I was washed in a sound that soothed rather than shocked, a sound that seemed to cleanse my mind of anxiety. I had but to kneel a moment before a glistening tabernacle and I felt in the depths of my soul that He was with me, loving me. I felt everything, and when I encountered beauty, I could be moved even to tears.
And I thought, “What’s so wrong about that?”
I think we as a society have forgotten the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit called gentleness. We as men are indeed called to be strong and courageous, for these too are virtues; yet it is also our call to be gentle, humble, and truly loving. Part of these more forgotten virtues and gifts is being open to being touched and moved, to being receptive to that which God desires to use to move us closer to His heart. We are called both to roar like lions and sit in receptive sensitivity like lambs, to rise in strength with the Lion of Judah and walk in gentle peace with the Lamb of God.
So as we enter the Easter Triduum, I challenge all men to lift up their reluctance to feel, their fear of emotion, their illusion of superiority in hollow strength, to be crucified with Christ, that they may rise with Him as true gentle men. I call them to combine a lion’s spirit with a lamb’s heart.