Saturday, August 28, 2010

Stepping Up and Stepping Out

As I write this, I'm sitting in the midst of piles and piles of mess. It's always a project when you have just a few days left to take inventory of your entire life and stuff it all in boxes to haul to another county. Oh, to be in college. I caught myself singing Audrey Assad again as I packed: "Boxes full of things that I've shuffled and shifted place to place / all the years of me, everything I want to keep and throw away. / I know it's time, it's time to come clean..."

When I came home this summer, I was a tangle of anxiety and bitterness. Every day, I prayed for peace. Then, right as July rolled in, something amazing happened: I found it.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." The thing that needed to change, I realized, was me.

It had been me all along that shut down in denial when my relationship with my ex failed in the fall, and again at Christmas when Mom-Mom couldn't leave the house. I refused to accept God's help, and instead shut Him out in anger.

It did take a lot of courage to turn that around. I had to lay myself down and let God pull me out of the muck, but to do that, I had to admit that I needed support. When I did, I got in spades.

I've learned a lot of life lessons since then: how to appreciate the little things, worry less about the future and instead enjoy the ride. To stand up for myself and what I know is right. To fall gracefully and accept that yes, I do have limits. Who my friends are, and who they're not.

It hit me tonight singing in church that I'm going to trade in my back seat pew for being not only in Newman's music ministry, but their accompanist. In September, I was the new kid at the student newspaper. I had to crawl my way up to earn the respect of the other writers and the editorial board. Now I'm sitting on the board as head copy editor. And just recently, the Gannett daily I spent the summer with as a lowly intern has invited me to join the team as a freelancer. My first assignment will be filed next weekend.

I've been asked to step up in every part of my life all of a sudden. And you know what? I love it. So many people I trust have told me that I've changed, that I'm stronger. That I'm vibrant again.

This song will always be my theme from this summer.It reminds me of my best friend screaming at the TV over the World Cup, my cubicle neighbor doing Zumba in the newsroom and reminding me to stay carefree. To go big, or go home. That's my goal!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How narrow *is* the narrow gate?

"I am a blind man trying to find the way,
A deaf man with my ear to the ground, just listening for what You say;
I got no voice to sing the songs written
By the prophets on the subway walls:
The Kingdom is a golden table, and we are beggars all..."

--Audrey Assad, "Breaking Through"

I was warned tonight before I even walked out of the confessional that I was going to love the readings and homily. But what he actually meant to say was that they were written for me.

The narrow gate is a classic picture that I imagine for a lot of people rubs the wrong way. It did for me, for a long time. No one comes to the Father except through Christ, the narrow gate. No one means no one. Put up, or shut up. (God, forgive me.)

And all too often, we're so quick to assume about ourselves, about others. We look at people and sometimes before we even realize we've done it, we've judged their souls and the state of their lives when, really, we don't know jack.

In my late teens when I started making my way back to the Church, I fell in with a group of people who believed you were either going to heaven or hell, and unless you were praying, frequenting church and evangelizing everyone you knew, you weren't one of the lucky ones. And up until a few months ago, I was involved with a group of Catholics that believes if you so much as sneeze at Mass, you're in mortal sin.

You can probably imagine the damage that's done to my own soul. The narrow gate for me has been one preceded by harsh judgments and fear -- not for myself like most scrupulous people, but for those I love most. Not out of pride, per se, but because I truly believed that to be the position of the Church.

"Are they God?" That question was posed to me in confession about someone else, but I realized it applies to me just as much, if not more. Who am I to say who is and isn't saved? Who died and made me know better than the Church?

...Which, by the way, is not as rigid as I often believe her to be. The sacraments make it EASIER to get to heaven. All grace comes from the Church, yes, but where does the Church get her authority? GOD.

And thankfully, He's a lot more merciful than I'll ever be. This just needs to take root in my heart, not just in my head. Again, He's teaching me humility. I'm more at peace now than I've been since high school. But I've still got a long way to go.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I don't even have to write anything. Just watch. I had the great pleasure of seeing them perform this live two weeks ago.

Please support and spread the word about the gentlemen of Straight No Chaser.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Tonight, the lullaby of crickets is such a comfort to me. Couple that with a half pint of Ben and Jerry's, and I'm finally starting to feel semi-normal again.

Put bluntly, tonight sucked. After our car broke down this morning and I missed all three Masses at my home parish, I got the opportunity to go to our sister parish for an evening Mass. For the sake of charity, all I'll say is that I'm very lucky I got to go at all.

I wrote about the experience privately, but I want to share some of it here. As it turns out, this church is my family's funeral church. I have never been there under happy circumstances, and tonight wasn't much better.

The place is big and white, open and empty, and within two seconds of my getting up to the main level, the smell hits me in the face like a brick wall. It's heavy and stuffy and immediately sends a chill clear down to the marrow in my bones. I'm sure it has little to do with the fact that I'm wet from the rain.

Incense. My parish never uses it, so it's never been the scent of comfort and beauty for me. Instead, it brings back awful memories, ones of a great cloud coming down over our heads as if to muffle the sounds of quiet sobbing in the pews. "The stuff of death," as my mother always said.

And here it was, after I had literally fought to get here, to get myself to the one place that could put life back into me when I was angry and wanting to give up. It was like a taunt. Had she not been furious with me at the time, I would have seriously considered heading right back down the elevator and home.

But no...down the little ramp and into the sanctuary. Front and center, just to the left of the altar. People stare. They don't know me here. I don't know them. I don't belong here. And as far as I can see, rows and rows of pews. Pews that were once full of my family, most of them now empty or occupied by strangers. I walk all the way to the back, eyes down to avoid conversation, and slide into the last pew. Immediately, tears come. The view from here was nearly identical when we buried my grandfather in Ocean City three years ago.

The acoustics are incredible though as we chant the alleluia a cappella. On a normal day, the musician in me would love it, but tonight all I can think of is Schubert's Ave ringing out as a last farewell.

You get the idea. It's the only time I can ever remember having seriously BAD mojo after leaving a church...even my worst days at my home parish didn't make me feel that raw. The Eucharist calmed me down, and my confessor being the celebrant helped (everything happens for a reason, I guess), but not by much.

I won't go back again, not unless I have to. The place holds too many memories that I'd rather forget.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Loaded Question

I can't sleep. I'm going to see the gentlemen of Straight No Chaser in concert tomorrow night, and I'm giddy.

Meanwhile, I realized that I forgot one immensely important detail when I combed through the Gospel in my last post.

"Who do you say that I am?"

This question Christ asks is so simple, yet means so much. What do we perceive Him to be? He's not asking what or who He is, but what Peter says He is.

Jesus can mean so many different things to different people. To some, He serves as a refuge; for others, He is a source of derision or mockery. He has been used for politics and power, love, and for some people, even an excuse for hatred of others. (This can go both ways, liberal and conservative.)

Peter exemplifies all that when he explains the many different identities people had assigned to Jesus. He was called all sorts of things then, and still is today. But he gets it right in the end: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

I'll leave you tonight with a question that was once posed to a bunch of college kids at a Sunday evening Mass by my (now former, sigh) chaplain. I had forgotten this moment until reading those words again.

Sure, Jesus wants to know what people are saying. But buried underneath those words, as there usually is with Him, is a subtle challenge. Who does Christ say WE are?

Who are we, anyway?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Obstacle of Stubbornness

On Thursday, the Gospel reading was particularly interesting in a way that I must admit was a bit unexpected. I wanted to write about it earlier, but between my friend's visit and running school errands, it didn't happen. Better late than never though, right? :)

The passage should be a familiar one to any Catholic who pays even a little bit of attention: Matthew 16:13-23. The first half is usually the part that we can recite blindfolded, and to be honest, it was hard not to just skim the whole thing because I've read it, heard it, and had it preached to me so many times.

Rather than cutting off at verse 18, though, the dialogue between Peter and Jesus continues on, poignantly showing Peter's blatant outrage over Jesus' claim that He would soon be handed over and killed. "God forbid, Lord," he says, scandalized. I don't blame him one bit. I think I can make a reasonable assumption here in saying a lot of people would have behaved similarly.

But the way Jesus reacts here definitely gave me pause. Like this weekend, I really slowed myself down and allowed a passage I'd never read into very deeply sink in. "Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

What does this mean for us? For me, He is pointing out the truth of how me-focused and blind humankind can be. We've made it our life's mission to muddle through with as little pain and as much comfort as we can possibly get away with. To suffer is our ultimate fear.

But to Jesus, it's absolutely necessary. To avoid it is to give in to the voice of the enemy.

That, too, gave me pause. If we are really and truly willing to follow Him anywhere and "do whatever He tells [us]" as Our Lady asks, sometimes it's going to get a little hairy.

We need to get ourselves out of this narrow-minded perspective and try to see the big picture. Of course, it's going to be rare that the whole thing is clear ... but maybe if we ask for the grace to see God's hand at work in even the most difficult of circumstances, or ask ourselves, "What lesson am I being taught here?" we will no longer be obstacles to Him.

That's where I am right now. The events of this summer have encouraged me to be humble, open and teachable. I'm far from good at it, but the better I get, the more I'm being shown, and the happier I am.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet one of my friends from an internet circle, a Salesian seminarian who lives a few hours north of me. After a solid 18 months at least of trying to get together with no luck, it was wonderful to finally do it, especially given he'll be unable to travel once entering the novitiate next weekend.

The day was nothing terribly extravagant -- just a very long lunch, Mass and pizza with my folks -- but I can say today that I got an education in the Faith that I've never had before.

He's got a way of telling things like it is and playing hardball that really appealed to me, to the point that I actually worked out one of the biggest kinks in my spiritual life just by talking things out. (That is really all I've needed to do with my confessor for a while now. I don't need much more than time to talk about things.)

Still, the afternoon gave me a great deal to think about, and we showed up at the church before the lights had even been turned on. Instantly, I thought back to one of the only other times I've gotten there early, my initial confession when I reverted. That day, I told myself that I was accepting a cross by starting on this journey alone.

Sometimes, being without my family, it still feels like that. I went to confession with our vicar #2, and then sat in the pew and fidgeted for a while. My friend, the seminarian of the future that he is, prayed the rosary on his iPod.

After a while of my squirming, I told him I was thinking too much. Before I could ramble, he told me to shut up and pray. I did.

"Lord, I don't know what I'm going to do after graduation. I'm going to be alone again."

I went on in this way for some time, and then, He shattered my thought train in its tracks. STOP, my heart said. Turn your head and look at what's there.

A brother. One of MY brothers.

And in that moment, I thought of all my Rowan friends, my Phatmass and ExWitch families. People from all over the world who are united for His sake. We don't have to be physically together to be supportive of one another. The body of Christ does that all on its own. And then the Spirit gave me this verse, one I've just skimmed over in the past.

"There is no one who has left house or brothers ... for my sake and for the gospel that will not be given a hundredfold more now in this time ... brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands ..." (Mark 10:29-30, RSV-CE).

I have full confidence now that this verse is true and trustworthy, because after years of waiting, all of that has finally been given to me.

Listening to the Our Father recited during a Mass always gives me goosebumps. All of those voices, united with those of the Church in heaven, and stretching all the way back to Jesus' time with the disciples, are family. That does not change with death, because death isn't the end for us.

The weight and scope of all of that hit me for the first time yesterday. All I can say is that I am so glad.