Saturday, February 28, 2009

Letting Go and Letting God

Sometimes, our faults can become painfully apparent. The look of disappointment in the eyes of someone we profoundly respect can not only wound our pride, but crush our spirits, as well.

Imagine what it would feel like if it were God looking at you that way, and not just your spiritual director.

Scary, isn't it?

Let's face it: the Lenten season is usually that time of year where we begin to realize exactly what Paul meant when he said that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The elect are going to be going through scrutinies over the next few weeks, so it seems only fair that the faithful should be joining them through this process, albeit in a lesser way.

I stress too much. I worry too much. I rely too much on my own faculties instead of giving myself up to the grace of God. The list goes on: I fail, time and again, to be a witness to my Faith. I can be a stumbling block to others. I say one thing, and do another.

Why? Why do I let Him down so much?

...I know why. *I* am why. There is too much of me, and not enough of Him. As much as I try to do what I know I should, when I don't rely on Him, I fail.

I just can't handle some things--okay, many things--on my own, and it's when I get myself into the mindset that I am the sole instrument of change that I get into trouble. Too often, I convince myself that I'm Wonder Woman. I'm not.

That's where letting go comes in. Letting go is an act of surrender, and of freedom. To let something happen is to give our assent to it, to give permission. In letting go of ourselves, we give God permission to come in and transform us--spiritual housecleaning, if you will.

He doesn't want us to do things on our own. He wants to take care of us!

Why is it so hard to let Him?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Deadlines are Everything

The reason I tend to thrive during Lent hit me over the head today: deadlines!

I'm just under halfway to my BA in Journalism, and of course, deadlines our crucial to my field. Between two years of school and a summer internship at a local newspaper, I've become accustomed to having a time limit for things. You'd be amazed at what you can accomplish when you have fifteen minutes to fill a giant hole where a story should have gone. Why do you think I've been able to write 50,000 words in 30 days for the last three years? ;)

Lent is like that for me. With the stress of current schoolwork, my recent acceptance to university (Deo gratias!), and juggling various relationships, Easter tends to come like a bullet train. Though we should always be working toward greater sanctification, there's something about Lent that's supercharged. Perhaps it's the solemnity of the season, and the graces that come with more Confession or more frequent reception of the Eucharist. Maybe it's our conscious effort to do penance, to cleanse ourselves before 40 days of celebrating in Easter season.

Or maybe it's just the deadline.

Intense penance that goes for several weeks is plenty of time to truly kick a bad habit, or start a new routine (like my Daily Mass readings), but it's not so long that we start to buckle. The dedication comes for me in the knowledge that it the suffering won't last forever. It will eventually end, and when it does, I will hopefully have been transformed once more. I'm learning that in time, these little changes make all the difference. One step at a time!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Square One

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God.
For gracious and merciful is He,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
--Joel 2:13

Here we are again. Another Lenten season, and one last sprint until Easter. Sometimes, it can seem a little more like a decathlon, if you ask me.

When I was younger, I used to hate Lent with all its melancholy and penitential quirks. Now, though, I have a profound appreciation for the opportunity presented to us over the next 47 days. I can't say I'm excited to do penance--I'll be giving up sweets, which is a killer--but I do look forward to the positive changes I know I'll see as fruit from this.

Making sacrifices teaches us to cast aside our self-centered attitudes in favor of humility. Fasting reminds me that everything I have is because of God's graciousness. Sometimes, we lose sight of that. Lent is our opportunity to remember our Provider in thanksgiving.

This year, I'm focusing less on what I've given up, and rather with the things I've chosen to take up:

1) Daily Scripture readings. I'll be doing the readings for Mass on my own, along with reflections from The Word Among Us. My other half and I will also be doing a Bible study together, or at least as often as our schedules will allow.

2) The Divine Mercy Chaplet. Readers who have been around for a while know that I have a devotion to the Divine Mercy, though its zealousness comes and goes. I'm going to make a conscious effort to pray the chaplet again, at least three times a week. More than that, though, I want to work on truly embodying that devotion by being more forgiving and charitable, especially to my family.

The latter of those will really turn me upside down if I stick to it, and I am definitely ready to embrace that. The readings for Ash Wednesday show us that Lent isn't only about suffering, but healing. We are told over and over again to return to the Lord and let Him transform us. All we need to do is open our hearts.

Have a blessed Lent, everyone!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Light Beyond Darkness

"My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

We all know these words, some of us unfortunately all too well. They are the words of an abandoned soul that cries out for deliverance, only to receive no reply.

Most poignant and striking of all, though, is the source of these words: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the midst of suffering the Passion that would be our redemption. One would think that Christ would never doubt His Father. Think of all that He knew, said, and was able to accomplish. How could He experience such anguish and abandonment?

I've been doing a lot of thinking after finishing the two posts before this one, on dryness and hope. There are times even in the lives of the holiest Christians that God seems further away, somehow unreachable, or even absent altogether. Those periods of dryness can be because of sin, or omission, or a number of other things, but I believe that sometimes it simply can't be helped. Were it not for Adam's sin, we would still be perfectly united with the Lord, with no interference or imperfections to get in our way.

We are human--this we cannot change. Sometimes, the well of our faith can go dry. While we can't change that, either, we do have a choice in how we respond.

Look at Bl. Mother Teresa, for example. The greater part of her life was spent without even a single consolation from God, despite all she did to serve Him and the poor. Yet she persevered in her work, doing what she saw to be His will without thanks or recompense. She was honored, sure, and given worldly things from benefactors, but it wasn't what she wanted.

The other option is more grim. We can lose our faith, and lose our hope. I know all too well what despair in the spiritual life can do. It makes it difficult to pray even the ordinary, everyday prayers. Going to Mass can be excruciating; as we watch others respond to the graces given through the Eucharist, we might feel nothing. It might feel trite. Sometimes, we may doubt that our Lord exists at all. If He did, He would touch us, or make us aware of Himself, and not abandon us as He's appeared to...

To the zealous, this might seem inconceivable, but it does happen. Look at Christ, who begged not to suffer, to be rescued.

The most we can do in times of trouble is ask for the grace to persevere. There are times in the journey where, for whatever reason, the Father stops carrying us and asks for us to walk by faith, and not by those sweet consolations. Some of us succeed, and some do not.

Faith, to me, is almost like marriage. Being Catholic is not the easiest thing in the world; indeed, I'll be the first to tell you that reverting remains the hardest thing I've ever done. However, despite all the trials, uncertainty, and disagreements we may have, we remain in our Faith. We abide by the vows we have taken in Confirmation and renewed in Baptism because it's not only right, but true. As an old friend told me before my reversion, truth is terribly hard to swallow.

What we get in return is the incredible peace, mercy, love and grace that only God can give us. Those things remain, even when their noticeable signs fade away. Nothing is ever worth giving that up.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hope Against Hope

Troubled soul, don't lose your heart--
Joy and peace He brings.
And the beauty that's in store
Outweighs the hurt of life's sting...
--Jeremy Camp, "There Will Be a Day"


To me, it is the sweetest of virtues, and also the most stubborn. Affirmations of faith are usually coupled with, in the next breath, questions of doubt; gestures of charity to the needy are quickly followed by rude words to our fellow drivers, and harsh words to those we love at the end of a long day. Hope, though, has always managed to stick with me in a way that the other two haven't.

Perhaps it's my personality--I'll be the first to admit that I'm extremely cheery and optimistic about things. When applying for scholarships in my last year of high school, my parents were stressing while I was laid-back. Things would work out, I'd told them, and they did.

The assurance that "things will work out" doesn't always work as well in situations that are more dire, however.

My pastor's homily this weekend echoed with a sense of worry and uncertainty that we undoubtedly all feel in the face of such a shaky economy. Friends and family alike are losing not only jobs, but homes, and sometimes even spouses. What do we optimists say then? What do we do when suddenly our words are no longer good enough to bring peace?

This one struggles with helplessness. Fortunately for me, Christ is the help of the helpless.

It's true that (and my confessor would fall over if he read these next words), as much as I'd like to, I can't fix everyone. I can't heal every hurt that comes into my path. Believe it or not, I'm not the Savior of the world. God gave us Jesus for that. And that, too, is why He is God, and I don't even come close.
"Cast all your worries upon Him, because He cares for you," St. Peter wrote (1:7). Where my words fall short, He comes in and does amazing things, whether through me or in other ways, those little consolations that my friend Catherine calls "God hugs".
The most I can do, I've learned, is to pray that I can be a channel for that peace for the people in my life that need it the most, and to try to give a little hope even when things are grim. It suits me well, and the results, whenever they happen, are so worth seeing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Silence

It's funny, you know, how God uses other people to show us Himself.

Watching my other half go through the conversion process has really given me the opportunity to re-examine myself and my own faith life. It was around my birthday in November that I started going through a lull, a sense of apathy, and finally, a desert experience.

I think that part of me knew all along that something was out of place, but these things tend to sort themselves out. However, what didn't work this time was keeping to my same routine as if nothing was wrong. If anything, it only gave me an increasingly more uncomfortable awareness that either God wasn't listening, or I wasn't hearing Him.

My confessor warned me to stay vigilant and not let my guard down, that I would be particularly vulnerable in my uncertainty. I told him I would, and truly meant to, but in time I felt myself slipping. It was so hard to care when I felt so foggy and disconnected, and while I knew God was there, the lack of consolation made prayer feel trite and ultimately worthless.

Big mistake. I've not been to Confession this much since the weeks immediately falling my reversion in 2007. I'm not proud of that, but can say at least that I've developed a greater appreciation and thankfulness for the sacrament. There were points that the reassurance and listening ear of my pastor and confessor were the only things keeping me going.

Then, this weekend, as if I hadn't been struggling at all, the silence shattered. God had been there all along, but the sensation was nearly physical. I felt like someone had turned the lights on and dumped water over my head.

As for why things were cut off in the first place, I'm still trying to figure that out. Admittedly, I wanted to blog candidly about it while it was going on, but I still feel like I'm in a place where I can't allow myself to show vulnerability. God is working with me on that. For now, I'm taking a deep breath and soaking up the joy that is finally having His peace back in my life, at least for now. Sometimes, I think we all could use some time being carried.

I'll leave you with the song that got me through, with some background: