Awkward Grace

So I had an awkward moment today, not that that’s especially rare for me. After dinner I finished helping my grandma with something and she commented, “you’re very nice.” Her smile was so genuinely sincere that I felt awkward because I’m really not.

I know that sounds bad like I’m fishing for a compliment or have low self esteem but in truth I’m really not a nice person. I had a moment a few years ago that was a profound turning point for me where I saw who I was without God’s grace. And it was ugly. It came at the end of a series of lows both personally and professionally that had taxed me to my absolute limit and that’s what I saw before my eyes that day: limits. I saw a proud young woman who had rejected God thinking she would do things her way and didn’t need the suffering He was giving. And at the end of that ill-fated rebellion came the realization that every gift I had ever been given came directly from God and on my own I had nothing. All the accomplishments I had attributed to my various talents, even the personal things I liked about myself like being kind and having a sense of humor, were beautiful gifts that came as a result of the love that had flowed so freely from God to me and I felt the absence of it, the absence of that union with God the life of love and grace I had been living without realizing it, down to the absolute depths of my soul.

I was tempted to complete despair in my misery and wretchedness and the pride that had been so blind to it, but I was blessed by two wonderful things that saved me by completely turning it around. The first was a consecration to the Blessed Mother who gently guided me like a mother back into life. The second was the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the wellspring of merciful love I found within it which made that life worth living.

I’ve heard it said, regrettably I forget by whom, that “mercy is where love meets misery.” I’ve experienced that to be true and never before had I known a love so selfless and so completely forgiving, but what astounded me the most was how completely unchangeable it was. Jesus loved me as much at my best as He did when I was at my worst and I understood for the first time a little more of what real love was.

So now as you can judge for yourself I’m really not very nice. I’m genuinely nothing at all. But God loves me. And from that love I have life, the abundant life God promised in Scripture. And that life is what my grandma noticed when she told me that “I’m very nice.” I am very nice because God’s grace is stronger than my many many weaknesses and has been so transformative that I feel like a living miracle. I am very nice because the faithful love of God gives me great joy which circumstances cannot take away. I am very nice because the fountain of mercy from the pierced side of Christ on His cross has saved me and I look forward to eternal life in Heaven. I am nice not because of anything I am on my own but because God’s love is so perfect that it’s making me into His image which is not just “nice”, it’s perfect holiness which is an immersion in the perfect Love of the Trinity.

As a result of all this, what I am not good at anymore is accepting compliments because I always feel like the compliment belongs to God and to the love which He reveals by turning sinners into saints.

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Maybe I’ll Keep My Religion After All

If you have not already read “I’m Not Sure I Want to be Catholic” I would recommend doing that now as this is its cleverly titled sequel.

In that article I spoke (wrote?) of a genuine love I have for people who struggle, my fellow imperfectionists, but I wanted to prove it by compiling a list of resources that certainly helped me strengthen my faith as well as the blog posts they inspired once I started putting my newfound faith into practice.

This is just a general and bare bones list for those just starting out in their faith walk, those looking to be inspired, those who are looking to understand their faith more deeply, those who don’t believe and think they might like to, those atheists/agnostics looking to challenge themselves or debate me in some way as a representative of the Christian religion they dislike, and/or those who don’t have faith anymore and would maybe like to have it back.

As much as you may think this post is a giant plug and be rolling your eyes, I promise I’m sincere. I know the ins and outs of internal struggle and it is just etched on my brain, which is to say, I remember vividly how difficult and isolating navigating those difficult big questions can be when your life just feels like a series of crossroads and you’re not sure which direction to walk in. And it’s hard to open up to people about that sometimes, I don’t even know why.

So I thought this would be nice because it’s totally anonymous, you don’t have to tell anyone you perused the lists, and even if absolutely no one reads anything I’ll feel a heck of a lot better and maybe one person will believe that I care from the effort itself.

Here goes nothing!

Things I have written on the topic (I put them in sequential order because they build off one another):
  1. Frozen
  2. The Bicycle 
  3. A New Faith
  4. Don’t Give Up
  5. The Littler Way (personal favorite)
  6. The Presence of God
  7. What Is The True Nature of God?
Things people holier than me have written on the topic:

(Anything in parenthesis is an overview or explanation of why I added it to the list so you know what you’re getting yourself into. I tried to add something for everyone.) 

  1. Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality by Mother Angelica (it’s like “the spiritual life for dummies” book so naturally it was very effective for me, she will give you a very strong foundation on which to build a relationship with God and/or give your pre-existing spiritual life some juice)
  2. You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado (really great integration of relatable life stories and powerful scripture, easy but effective read)
  3. Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley (clears up perceptions about how Jesus loves and how He wants to relate to you)
  4. 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley (Gaitley will explain exactly what the consecration is but I would highly recommend trying it if you have been struggling with anything for a while and having trouble kicking it completely, this consecration opened the door to the faith described in all the above blog posts.)
  5. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (if the modern world has you confused and lacking purpose he will set you straight. A witty defense of Christian faith and doctrine but I would recommend listening to it on tape via youtube or LibraVox because it is so rich)
I wouldn’t recommend anything that I didn’t think worth your time or which I had not read myself.

Enjoy!

Unorthodox Orthodoxy

As many of you know, several of my best posts are based on my responses to things people say to me, either in person or in some online forum. This is one such instance.

As usual, it began innocently enough with a woman commenting that many people who use the Catholic handle (like this blog for example) do not deserve the title because they are not truly worthy of all the title entails. The definition of orthodox, just to put us all on the same page, is: “conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.” So for Catholics this is primarily Church approved Canon and Doctrine.

I’m open to critique, because if I were perfect I’d be ready for heaven and since that day is not yet here I’m sure there’s still much room for improvement. Perhaps one such imperfection is my sass because this woman struck a particular nerve with me through her condescension and I just gave in to my urge to say something. It just really bothers me when people tell others they are not worthy of something because it subtly implies that they are worthy of it (or at least in their “humble” efforts to be worthy they are better than those who don’t try at all/fail in their eyes). So I responded to this woman, “on the other hand many are too proud of their orthodoxy.” This woman proceeded to correct my response by replying, “orthodoxy precludes pride” which, unfortunately for her, completely proved my point (perhaps unintentionally, but still).

I honestly wish that her claim were more true. Because doctrinally, what she said is sound. Practicing Catholics do accept an orthodoxy that rejects pride in all forms, but I have met so many who practice orthodoxy, it seems, not for the love of God but for the love of men, for status in their Catholic and/or intellectual circles.  And this is a tragedy.

Because I’ve met two types of orthodox people in my day. The first kind is usually the model of humility that is fostered by a deep prayer life. They would be the last to mention their holiness and there is usually no need to because it goes without saying. The second is the type that is always eager to showcase their knowledge of their faith and quick to judge others who do not meet their standards of what a good, orthodox faith entails. Call it Club Pharisee, because these people tend to move in groups and be somewhat proud of their exclusivity. 

And this is an extremely sore point  for me with my faith, not just with Catholicism but with Christians in general, and it played no small role in prompting me to write both The Religion Crisis and The Finest Thing I’ve Ever Known. Because true Christianity, true orthodoxy, is not an exclusive club, it is a way of life and judging others has no place in it. If you must judge anything let it be the action, not the person, because if you walked a mile in their shoes you might have done the same, if not more. The grace of God to walk the difficult path of heavenly perfection and keep true to orthodox doctrine is a generous gift, not an accomplishment. And when you presume to judge others based on your opinions of whether or not they are as orthodox or well informed as your own self you take credit for God’s work in you in a most abominable way. And I honestly think that if you kept this up you would lose God’s grace just as much as if you were caught in sin,  because you become, as Jesus said, a “whitewashed sepulcher” a good looking grave, because while it may seem like you uphold the law there is no love in your heart, because nothing drives out love faster than pride. I know this from experience.

And the whole point of orthodoxy for me is not to have it as a checklist that I measure my worth by. It is instead a key to figuring out how to have more of God in my soul because having God in my soul is the only thing that has ever satisfied my annoyingly restless heart. Because my God is love, perfect love. And if you manage to have perfect orthodoxy without also having love what is the point? It’s just a barren branch without any fruit on it because it’s still just you, and the point of religion is to have God in you. 

And it frustrates me when I see this in the Christian ranks. I moved to Pittsburgh from a lovable but extremely elitist town in Virginia where I saw people being seduced by this temptation everywhere. The temptation to strive for knowledge and the accolades that come from having it while forgetting that the purpose of all knowledge is to enlighten us to the truth, a truth that came to life through love Himself.

Because the truth of the gospel, the rich mysteries of the Church, were not made as a merely mental exercise, a truth to be discovered by and shared among only the worthy. The truth of the gospel was meant to be lived and shared indiscriminately due to the very nature of what it is you’re receiving. The gospel is a tremendous gift meant to give us true joy and lasting love, a life with deeper roots, higher thoughts, wider hearts, and bigger smiles because through it we encounter God in our lives, and there is nothing more we need.

And I get tired of churches looking the same as the world. The same cliques, the same judgments, the same excuses, the same buffet tables. I want churches to look different. Because saints always look different from their times and we are all called to be saints.(After all, saints are just born sinners with the audacity to declare that they will not die that way.) I’m not saying that we should abandon all doctrine and declare free love. I’m a firm believer in absolute truth which I believe is revealed through the Catholic Church and its doctrine. We don’t have to agree on that, in fact a fair amount of people who read this blog probably don’t. But in a world where everyone likes to sit comfortably and discuss what’s wrong with other people, I wish they would focus instead on doing two simple things: 1) receiving the love of God 2) sharing the love of God. Because while these things are straightforward they are not always easy. And by letting God love us, we become the change we wish to see in the world, because heaven comes alive in us and, hopefully, when others see it they remember who they are and want to have it too. 

Because a friend of mine who happened to catch my exchange with this woman told me “she (the commentator) wouldn’t like me very much” because he also uses a Catholic handle and figured that he too would not be orthodox or worthy enough. And this almost perfectly sums up how many millennials feel about the Christian religion. Just a meeting of Club Pharisee with a lot of boring doctrines that exclude people and can’t compete with the exciting modern world of today with the falsely welcoming embrace of the hazy universalism that is non-judgmental spirituality. And this is a shame because from my own study (which I admittedly wish I had more time for) I can confirm that God does not feel that way about a single one of His children. God is love and love is never about being worthy. Love is a gift, a free gift from a free choice, and Club Pharisee is a bad representation of what I believe is in God’s heart. But how would you know that if you weren’t raised in faith like me? And how would you know that if your only experiences with the Church went like that?… But try and be better than me and have patience with members of Club Pharisee, because it’s a very human fault and they’re learning as they go just as you are.

But I guess if I could change one thing it would be a counter to all the perfectionism of the world and the haughtiness of Club Pharisee. And my way of doing that would be to admit to you that I chose the Catholic handle not because this blog is about Catholicism, has millions of footnotes leading you to Catholic doctrine, or even because I’m worthy of the title. I choose this handle because I am Catholic, it is so much a part of me that it colors how I experience the world, and I am as Catholic listening to my new Pentatonix album (amazing) as I am when I’m sitting at mass (also amazing). To admit that I think the love of God is so profoundly beautiful that you can experience whether you are a champ at kneeling or whether you slouch like I do. To admit that truly following Christ is hard and that it won’t always win you friends or a big fancy house in the suburbs (no matter what Joel Osteen says) but that you can do it anyway by His grace and the people He places in your life at just the right time. To admit even that I am far from a perfect person and that often I find myself in awe of God’s patience with me as I struggle to overcome the same flaws over and over again.

But most of all to admit that, while I hope you’ve enjoyed my blog, there is only one thing I ever wanted it to be: honest. And part of that truth is that I love you tremendously, even if we’ve never met. Because I know God loves you tremendously too in both your strengths and in your weaknesses. And if you believe nothing else I ever write believe that, because reflecting on that simple truth can change your life. It certainly changed mine.

So here’s to love and humility, even if it means a slightly unorthodox orthodoxy.