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!

Confessions about Confession


So speaking as a Catholic I have to confess that there are many, many aspects of my faith that are mysterious and rich in Biblical ritualistic significance. What this translates to meaning for the everyday is that there are several misconceptions surrounding the Catholic Church and people talk about it like they understand it when they don’t (some Catholics are probably included in that). Tackling them all right here would be impossible. But I did want to talk about the sacrament of Confession.

I understand the confusion and how that might come off to a non-Catholic. It would be insulting because it suggests that the victim has to go and ask forgiveness for being victimized, handwhich would be moronic if it were true because the essence of being victimized is that whatever happened was beyond your control, that it was not chosen. And it’s easy for people to believe that the Catholic Church is moronic. It certainly suits the world’s secular agenda, and I think there are many who enjoy believing that without actually worrying about whether their opinion is actually based in truth.

But, back to addressing the matter at hand, this particular victim, in this case a woman, committed no crime. So how am I going to make the argument that I believe confession is a good idea for the woman in this circumstance and that the person highlighted in the article was (based on my limited knowledge supplied from the article) not trying to be a dismissive jerk?

So glad you asked.

If a friend confided in me that they had been the victim of a sexual assault and they shared my Catholic faith I would hope that the sacrament of confession would be the first thing I would recommend. Because all of my friends, as different as they are, have one thing in common: the fact that I love them. And I hope we can all agree that sexual assault is a crime that needs healing. So if I love my friend like I say I do, I would have to admit to them that I can’t heal internal wounds like that.  I would do all I could for my friend. I would be there for him or her, make them tea, offer my condolences, talk or not talk, go on long walks or whatever they needed to do, but I still can’t heal them. I might be able to walk the mile with them at their side, but I can’t walk it in their place. Only God can do that.

And when I need internal healing, the sacrament of confession is my first stop. Because, contrary to popular belief, confession is not a place to go and list your sins in front of God so you can feel bad about yourself for the rest of the day. No, confession is, to borrow the words from one of my favorite Dominican priests of all time, “a place to come and experience the mercy of God.”

I know the mercy of God sounds a lot like forgiveness. It is a lot like forgiveness, but why limit yourself? The mercy of God is also the complete and total love of God, his descent into our misery. His caring about us in every way no matter our sinfulness or present circumstances. And when we go to confession we choose to receive this love into our lives. No limit on how many times you can go. But the priest actually stands in persona Christi which is the Latin for “in the person of Christ.” That is a big deal. It essentially turns an ordinary church room into a grace factory. (The love is as unique as the needs of each us, but factory still works as a comparison because the love of Christ can be supplied infinitely in Him and through Him.) To get back to the point, you are confessing your sins and your struggles to Christ Himself and receiving the graces to heal, to overcome, and to be made whole again. And I will confess that in confession I don’t limit myself to confessing my sins commandment by commandment (or commandment broken by commandment broken I guess would be more accurate) I confess attitudes, places I want to improve, and life circumstances that are hard for me and cause me to question my faith. And boy has the process (learning how to confess for real) ever been fruitful. It wasn’t immediate, but I’m glad I stuck with it because I have gotten a lot of good advice, pertinent scripture passages, support, understanding, and forgiveness in the confessional. A good confessor is for sure something to thank God for and if you’ve never had that I’m sorry but pray about it and continue to seek it out. (Then try a Dominican parish if there’s one near you.)

But suggesting confession is not just a cop out. It’s where healing happens. That’s why God put it there in the first place. It’s not like a sexual assault victim could walk in there once and never struggle with the memories again (although here’s hoping- that would be great!) but it’s a place, to me I always imagine entering in the heart of God or like some cozy parlor where you meet with Jesus and you just chat, openly and honestly about your actual soul. God already knows what we’ve done or what has happened, and even more He knows exactly what we need. And I believe that it’s an important meeting place to have on the journey of life.

Maybe the most important of all. And it makes me sad that so many Christians reject it. In the spirit of open honesty, to me burning your sins on a paper or hanging them on a cross as I’ve seen done in some Protestant churches is nice symbolism but can never compare with actually entering a space and handing them to Jesus through the intermediary of a priest and experiencing the full freedom of merciful love. Knowing that God has looked on your unworthiness, and still decided on the most loving response available in this universe, to freely give you Himself.