The Trouble with Most of Us 

I have been doing a lot of spiritual reading lately for groups I’m part of and I keep seeing the phrase “most of us.”

Usually, when someone uses the phrase “most of us” in spiritual reading it is not because they are about to give most of us a compliment.

“Most of us” are not holy like the saints were.

“Most of us” do not pray enough.

“Most of us” don’t understand the beauty of the Mass.

“Most of us” don’t take the hard road.

I live in the world just like you. I meet and interact with the very souls intended in the phrase “most of us.” However, I do not see the same phenomenon described by the spiritual authors. I often find that as much as I respect some of these authors and even benefit from their teaching I cannot share the attitude they take toward the nameless masses. Because I know for a fact that to God there are no nameless masses or generalized groups of ordinary people- God calls each of us by name. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us each profoundly, sincerely and uniquely as the work of His own Hands. When God looks at the world He doesn’t see trends or demographics, He does not gaze at “most of us” but into the heart and soul of each and every man. He knows us perfectly and loves us perfectly not in spite of our weaknesses but in the midst of them. And I am convinced that the revelation of His love for each of us will be infinite and without limit, all the more so if we have been seeking Him too.

When I think about my faith I do not think of most of us, the other masses who are not as good and may never be anything of consequence to earth (as if there was a correlation to heavenly glory). I tend to think of all of us and our universal call to be holy. I think of all of us in our searching for a purpose of life that I believe can only be found if you accept the invitation to know God, love God, and serve God as well as your neighbor.

I do not think that holiness is something that will or ought to elude most of us. I think it is something intended for all of us that requires nothing from us but our “yes” to the transformative love that God seeks to give us. We are called to seek, the success of our efforts to grow in holiness is a product of God’s abundant grace, either the graces needed to overcome our own natures or the grace to keep going when we don’t.

Perhaps most of us will be intimidated when we first start to think of this. Most of us will feel like running and hiding. Most of us will fail many times at loving God, self, and neighbor. Most of us will have moments of doubt and temptation, where we feel like quitting the whole endeavor…

But I believe each of us can become the person God calls us to be because He loves us, He will give us every grace we need in His perfect timing (and not a moment before!) but perhaps most especially because He gives us each other.

My walk with God received a unique twist around 2014, I had an interior conversion within my practicing of the Catholic faith and that twist was a burning desire not just to get to Heaven myself but to take absolutely everyone with me. Because I realized that as much as real love can frighten people at the outset by its demands of selflessness, sacrifice, and suffering,  to view love as sheer suffering and misery is to see only half the picture. While it is true that in love another’s suffering can become your own suffering, in love their joy also becomes your joy.

So not only will I be “happy” when I get to Heaven by the mercy of God (I use quotations because any word expressing happiness I know will be an inadequate  understatement) but when you get there and experience this “happiness” for yourself I will feel it as profoundly as I did my own because I love you and pray for you constantly. Each and every one of you.

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The Triumph

Not only do I love Mother Angelica, I really really like her too. She passed away semi-recently and how I wish I could have met her, it will have to wait until heaven now.

Mother Angelica is the foundress of EWTN, a Catholic TV network but more importantly (to me) she was the first spiritual mother/guide I ever had. I found her as a questioning 19-year-old by reading a book that is the first on my “Top Ten Life Changing Reads” List, Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. 

I recently picked up this classic yet again (I have reread it too many times to count) and it is still as great as it ever was. That is my personal test of a great book. If you pick it up and like reading it again even better than you did the first time, then it’s a keeper and deserves the coveted spot on the shelf (never enough shelf space in my room so I mean coveted in a fairly literal sense).

The reason I say it is great is because it is short, easy to read, but packs a punch to the point where a paragraph can turn your whole world and mind inside out. Mother Angelica was a holy lady who dedicated her life to helping others grow in holiness too and one of the best things she does is make it seem so possible for absolutely everyone. It’s enough to give hope even to a sinner like me and that’s how you know it’s deeply rooted in the gospel and not just the empty sayings and “feel-good” euphemisms that plague our age.

And it was reading one of her gems that inspired me to write this particular blog post because it hit me in an especially profound way and I hoped that maybe someone else would find it useful.

She was talking about discouragement and in the context discussing Christ’s crucifixion she wrote the following:

He died with no valleys in his soul, no crevices where resentment, and hatred, or anger, or self-pity could hide and warp and disfigure the soul.

This impressed me because, first of all, doesn’t contemplating that just make you want to love Jesus?

Second of all, each of those temptations she listed I find easy.  I wish I didn’t but being a person who struggles against a proud nature I find that those crevices come to me rather naturally.

However, I confess I often forget that each vice has a corresponding virtue. For example, resentment and hatred can be defeated by forgiveness. Anger can be overcome by mercy. Self-pity can be conquered by humility and trust in God.

This knowledge is important because it is this truth that reminds me that I see the world the wrong way. Whenever I am put through trials I tend to see it first as a trial and sometimes (particularly when there are many trials at once) I want a respite from the myriad imperfections that I notice the trials are bringing out in me.

And while it would be easy to sit back and throw my fist at the heavens and ask “why God?” the answer struck me very clearly. It’s because I want to be holy which is just another way of saying I want to love not as humans do but as God does. I don’t want those valleys and crevices to remain in my soul. And so God in His love and His sense of humor gives me lots of opportunities not just to avoid sin by managing to hold my temper or not judge, but also to put into practice it’s opposite virtues like kindness and compassion.

But it’s funny to think that up in Heaven we won’t be glorified for the things on earth we were good at and did well, but instead glorifying God through the things we did poorly and asked Him to do for us in His love. And it makes me sad that those who aren’t “religious” or who feel stuck in a rut sometimes have that fear of approaching God because I’m convinced that in His eyes the greater the struggle the greater the triumph of merciful love.

 

The Pitt 

So today I was faced with an interesting choice. Now that I’m much better at navigating Pittsburgh via public transit I know that from the stop near my office there are two bus routes that take about the same time to get back into the city. The first goes through a fairly poor rundown area before hitting the downtown. The second goes through the prestigious University of Pittsburgh. And the campus is impressively beautiful.

Guess which place my preppy white girl outward appearance fits in better?

I know the anticipation is killing you, but it was the second one. And that makes me kind of sad. Because while I’ve taken both ways, the first time I took the first way I was taken aback. Because suddenly I was launched into a world that was primarily African American and included many people with disabilities, the elderly, and had a strong presence of single mothers. One in particular who had a broken foot and was carting around her work bags and her kid on this broken foot of hers still haunts me. Because that would be damn hard. I don’t even know if I could do it. And while I hate the notion that just because I grew up with a nice, middle-class family I don’t know what suffering is (I know well enough, believe me), it would be hard to bear that particular cross. And I’m grateful that I had a really supportive family to go through it with me, because that lady was all alone with her child.

But fortunately since this is Pittsburgh, there is something sort of genuine about the people here, what you see is what you get. There’s this like prevailing blue-collar honesty, a sweet simplicity that’s hard to describe. Just know that it is the opposite of superficiality. And the people had a little community. A lot of them knew each other. And what could have been a really depressing scene (one that my more elitist but sometimes well-meaning professors and teachers would teach me to automatically pity if not outright condescend) was turned into something almost sweet. Because there’s nothing like being cared about, knowing that people have your back through thick and thin, not because of what you do for them, but because you are friends and neighbors. That is the power of Pittsburgh. And I’m sad that, being raised up and down the east coast, that I haven’t experienced anything like it in other places.

Because other places have turned their back on it as something outdated in this dog-eat-dog world where you are number one and everyone else is number two (extend the number two metaphor as far as you want). And that’s too bad. Because now there is an absence of this type of community, an absence that the world is in mourning for, whether they admit it or not.

Because the truth is the best things in life aren’t things. What makes the experience worthwhile isn’t “finding yourself” or accumulating lots of material goods or even being the best. It’s serving your neighbor. And in a community like the ones I’ve described in Pittsburgh, you get the joy not only of serving your neighbor but in having your neighbor serve you too. I’m glad they keep that tradition alive. And I’d love to see it come back to life around the world.