Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven

Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven

The Catholic faith, with all of the elaborate liturgies and rich traditions, is a testament to the incarnational reality of Christ. Rather than simply receiving Christ spiritually, we consume what looks like bread and tastes like wine but which we profess is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Rather than simply believing that we are forgiven, we profess our sins aloud and then hear the words of absolution extended as we are reconciled to God. Though not dogma, we profess to have the crown of thorns, nails from the cross, pieces of the true cross, and even the cloth wrapped around Jesus before He was laid in the tomb. The physical realities of the God-man are brimming in the Catholic churches around the world.

On a recent pilgrimage to Rome with some students, I was able to climb the Scala Santa or Holy Stairs. These twenty-eight steps of marble are believed to be the stairs Christ ascended as the Jewish authorities turned Him over to Pilate. Transported from the Holy Land to Rome at the request of Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, pilgrims have come for centuries to climb these steps on their knees as they recall the Passion of Jesus Christ. The ardent devotion of thousands upon thousands of pilgrims began to wear away at the stones and it was a desire of the Church to preserve them for future Christians. Around three hundred years ago, the steps were covered with wood to prevent their further deterioration.

A restoration process that has unfolded over the past few years led to the uncovering of the steps. As the restoration neared its end, for a few weeks during May and June, the Church allowed pilgrims to ascend the uncovered steps on their knees. The pilgrimage I was on happened to fall during the final week of the steps being uncovered.

Nine years ago, I climbed the steps during my first trip to Rome. Knowing the steps would be uncovered this time, I didn’t really consider how that would alter the experience of climbing them. The deep grooves in the marble, formed by thousands upon thousands of knees before me, made the ascent a bit more complicated than when it was on planks of wood. How many knees had been on these same steps? How many kisses had been placed on these marble slabs that formed the path Jesus took to condemnation? How many saints had made this same pilgrimage?

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Their Eyes

I live for the moments when their eyes look like they did yesterday.  When I’m opening my heart because for a few moments it feels safe with a class, and their eyes are fastened on me.  I want to read the stories that are written there.  I want to profess my love for them even though it is all heightened and strengthened by the moment.  A few seem on the verge of tears, but all appear to grasp my sincerity and my desire to impart this knowledge to them.

I’m discerning on my feet if I should tell them about that powerful prayer experience I had a couple weeks ago.  And I do.  I talk about spiritual direction and share what I learned from it just the day before.

Maybe some are annoyed with my long preaching session, wondering if it is going to be required knowledge for the test.  But I cannot tell that those thoughts are running through their minds.  I can only see their eyes.  They are pools of experiences–hurt and joy.  And I desire to sit down with them and hear all the stories.  I don’t always feel that keen desire, sometimes I forget that their experiences are just as real as my own.

I’m trying to speak truth into situations that I do not know or understand, but I know they are in them.  Because I’m in similar situations.  It is part of the human condition.

The simple truth I desired to impart was this: Jesus knows.  He knows what it feels like to be in their shoes and to experience the pain they feel.  I spoke about how all of Jesus’ friends abandoned Him at the moment He most needed them.  He knows what it is like to feel betrayed and left alone.  He suffered for the sins and sufferings of the entire world, throughout all of history.  And He did this so that when we come to something that seems too much, He can tell us that He already passed through this, too.

And I asked them to find Jesus in the midst of it all.  How is Jesus loving you in this situation?  He is present in death, in their parents’ divorce, and in the betrayal of a friend.  He is loving us through every situation.

A priest pointed this out to me the other day–I told him I was seeking to see each experience as God trying to convert my heart and he included that each experience was God loving me.  How quick I am to shift the focus just enough that it distorts the image.  It is different to experience all as a means for my own conversion and quite another to see it as an avenue of His love.

“I don’t understand,” one student says.  “How can you find Jesus loving you in your parents’ divorce?”

And I don’t have a clear answer.  I can’t give them a Scripture passage or a Catechism reference to answer it nicely.  Instead, I must tell them that I don’t know how Jesus is seeking to love them in their difficulties, but I know that He is doing it.  That we need to open our hearts, to not pull back when we are wounded and to open them to the Healer.  I am speaking to myself as much as I am speaking to them.

Reminding them that Jesus is present in all, reinforces that belief in me.  All I’ve experienced He has already experienced and has thus sanctified the experience.  And each experience is a new way to receive His love.

All can be seen through the eyes of Love.

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Pacem in Terris

This September 11th is one of sifting back through old memories and reliving as an adult the stories of my youth.  The feelings have a strength fourteen years after the fact that is surprising.  As an 11-year old, the gravity of the situation was not lost on me.  Yet what was unknown or scary to me then has been replaced by a deeper empathy, sensitivities that are born through maturity and growing more into a woman’s heart.  Even at the time, the events of September 11th, 2001 impacted me greatly because of my father’s profession.

I live in the Midwest and before that day, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center even was.  Nobody I really knew even lived on the east coast and so my feelings were based on the stories I heard, wondering what was happening in our country, and recognizing that if I had lived in New York, my life might be very different.
For all of my youth, I was proud of the fact that my father was a firefighter in a nearby city.  On September 11th, as I saw firefighters respond for their duties, I felt a kinship that is born of knowing your beloved firefighter would race into that building right along with them.  The stories of firefighters climbing dozens of flights in full gear, directing people to the exit, telling them they were going to make it out as they continued to climb higher, reduced me to tears.  It didn’t take too much of an imagination for me to picture the same being true of my father.  Fire engine crews being absolved by the department chaplain before entering the burning building.  With hearts beating wildly in their chests, a brotherhood of firefighters carrying out the wounded.  That would have been my dad, too.

This year I didn’t just recall 9/11, I returned to the news footage, I heard the confusion in people’s voice, I re-read stories of heroism.  My heart felt again that ache and my patriotism was again aroused.  Because I remember after 9/11 how the country was bonded together and how “God bless America” was not uttered as a passing comment but as something we infused in our very marrow.  In a country that now daily bleeds division in terms of political party, religious creed, color, and wealth, it was refreshing to go back to a day of devastation and remember the unity that is forged through suffering and pain.  The 11-year old Trish wept for people she had never met, for families she never knew.  It was not anger that drew us together, even though there was a decent amount of that, but it was a mutual love of our own country and the experience of communal woundedness.

I watched most of the CNN live coverage of 9/11.  Story after story, I read about firefighters who offered themselves for those they had a responsibility to protect.  For my students, this is an event they learn about in history class, something foreign to them that they are told is important.  Yet for me it is a defining moment of the age I grew up in.  It is one of those memorable historic events that makes an impression on young and old souls alike.

Despite my love for my nation, conflicted and tormented though it be at times, I cannot simply stop at recalling 9/11.  I must extend this awareness of suffering and warfare to those around the world.  The Syrian refugees who are fleeing, the conflict in the Middle East, the impact of radical Islam on their neighboring Christians.  September 11th is but one of the instances of humanity willingly inflicting pain on humanity.  On that day of national remembrance, I led a prayer with my students, pleading for peace for the whole world.  It isn’t as though there are just wounds that are fourteen years old, there are daily wounds being made, blood still pouring out, “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying…from the ground.” (Gen. 4:10)  And the Lord is asking, “What have you done?”  It is not enough to recall, we must respond.

Peace is fervently needed.  Our world is aching for peace, our country’s deep-seated tension is pleading for peace, our families are battle-weary, and our very souls are hungry for internal unity.  Global peace is only attained through the soul-peace being achieved by each person.  When we experience honesty and integrity in the most difficult areas of our life.  When I cease to battle against the Lord of my soul and seek to understand my very self in way that may seem frightening or off-putting.

As we sift back through the memories of old hurts, of the traumas of humanity, may we also experience a renewed desire for peace and hearts of compassion to encounter those in their war-torn moments.  May our yearning for union override our wanting to win at all costs.  May the Queen of Peace pour grace and mercy upon our world that will bring us to unwavering peace, starting with our own souls. 

The Trinity is Laboring in Love

There is something strangely beautiful about crouching on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night as your stomach seeks to, yet again, empty itself into the waiting bucket.  With heaving sides and uncontrollable gagging, the words that came to mind at this moment weren’t exactly what I expected.  I had just started a Marian consecration the night before and in the bathroom I thought of one of the suggested resolutions for the day: Consider how all the persons of the Trinity are laboring to give you love.

A few hours later, bent over that bucket again, the words come back to me: the Trinity is laboring in love for me.  Perhaps the oddest thing about this whole situation was that those words didn’t seem that odd, even remembered at the painful moment.

It is a blessing for me to experience trials and find myself praying in the midst of them.  Not because it makes me feel super holy, but rather it reassures me that these things I pray are becoming ingrained deeper in me.  They aren’t words that I just mouth but words that are tangible, that are lived realities.

Later in the early hours of the morning, I was reminded to pray for those suffering and I offered my pain up for them.  The next day, I spent most of it sleeping or trying to start drinking different types of liquids, despite my innate desire to refuse anything that could lead, once again, to the pains of that morning.

I didn’t handle this whole illness like a saint, lest you begin to think that is the purpose of this story.  There were definitely moments I was complaining about my aches and wanted to be pampered even if it wasn’t wholly necessary.  It was a comfort, though, to see my faith being tested (slightly–I know the stories of true testing in concentration camps and Roman amphitheaters–this was a minor testing) and it enduring.

May you also realize that the Trinity is laboring in love for you—even when all seems bleak and pain surrounds you.

Why are you walking the Camino?

“Why are you walking the Camino?”

After hearing someone’s name and country of origin, this is the next general question to ask.  Yet it is a very personal question to be asked so early on.  I never quite knew how deep to go or even how to phrase my reasons entirely.  So when people asked I generally told how it worked out for me to come this summer rather than my deeper reasons for walking the Camino.  If the question seemed to be asked too flippantly, then I didn’t want to bare my soul to someone I hardly knew.  I am a melancholic, after all, and the perfect words never quite seemed to find themselves on my tongue at the appropriate moment.

Despite my reservations, some people were remarkably open about their reasons.  One young man I met said that he was walking for redemption.  I never asked him what he meant by that but it sounded deep.  A young woman was looking for her heart.  An older woman said she was walking for forgiveness–to forgive herself or nature…something.  One man was walking out of thanksgiving.  Others were looking forward to a new stage in their lives or hoping to initiate a change.

I walked the Camino for Love.  Naturally, part of me hoped to find “the one” on my walk, implausible though it might be.  What I really wanted, though, was to find a deeper love with Jesus.  While the Camino is traditionally a pilgrimage to a holy site, modern Camino walkers are typically not walking for religious reasons.  They are searching and seeking after something but they don’t fit into neat religious groups.  Perhaps I underestimated my fellow walkers, but I didn’t foresee a very interested response if I said I was walking across Spain so that I could fall deeper in love with the Lord.

While part of me understands the different reasons to walk the Camino, I often found myself thinking that I knew of no other sufficient reason to walk the Camino other than Jesus.  My heels and the balls of my feet developed large, painful blisters that reappeared day after day.  I can think of little else that would motivate me to repeatedly stick a needle into my foot and then to walk seven hours on sore feet.  The ache in my feet was manageable when I knew that I was offering it up for something and that this pain was aiding someone else.  It would have been entirely different to just endure the pain as part of the adventure.

Why did I walk the Camino?  I walked it for Love.  I walked it because in prayer Jesus tenderly calls me “My Heart” and I wanted to fall deeper in love with that Sacred and Eucharistic Heart.  I walked it for a time of peace and solitude.  I walked for Jesus.

The Providential God

The only thing certain about life is that it is uncertain. 

That isn’t deep or profound.  But it is true.  Yesterday I found out that a young woman I went to college with lost her husband of 5 months.  It made my heart ache even though we never talked much.  I was surprised the effect it had on me.  That evening and this morning I found myself thinking a lot about her and how hard it must be. 

Yet it made me worry for myself.  Too often I trick myself into thinking that my complete happiness will come when I am engaged, or finally married, or starting a family.  Everything is transient, though, and it can all be taken away in a moment.  My heart began to feel restricted and desired to be closed off.  I began to desire that I would never be in a situation where so much could be lost.  So quickly I was being tricked into thinking that to be closed off was a better option than suffering at the hands of love or for the sake of love.

I imagined what she was feeling and I knew I never wanted to feel that.  I didn’t ask the age-old question, “God, why do bad things happen to good people?  Why did this tragedy happen?”  I didn’t ask that question because I didn’t wonder it.  The question I asked instead was “What can I cling to, Lord?  How could I endure losing that which I hold closest to my heart?”  In honesty, I was thinking that having God alone wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted more than the assurance that God would always be with me.  Instead I wanted promises that specific people would always be in my life, that certain things would never happen to me, and that parts of my heart would be left unbroken. 

I know that God alone is enough.  That He provides the graces for every heartache.  Yet in all honesty, I do not live as though He is enough.  I do not cling to Him now as though He is all that is certain.  I cling to other superficial things or to things, good as they are, that cannot fulfill me.

My mind knows the correct answer.  God will provide.  In fact, God is providing.  It is not some future promise but rather a lived reality.  The paradox of love is that one must love with one’s heart vulnerable and revealed or it is not actually love.  Yet to love means one will suffer and feel sorrow.  I have a natural tendency to want to protect my heart, to guard it from all that could injure it.  This can be good but it can also close it off from a deep, penetrating love.  The battle within is between self-preservation and self-gift.

This little heart has a lot of expanding to do.  She needs to begin to live as though everything rests in the hands of God and that He will truly provide for every need.  To be so grounded in the Lord that should all else be lost, she could rest assured that not everything was truly lost.  Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify our hearts.

P.S. My household sister who lost her husband has a fund set up for her and their unborn baby.  If you feel your heart moved in that direction, please give a gift of money.  Regardless, please pray for them.

http://www.gofundme.com/5fd75k   

Oh, the humanity!

I have a secret that I would love to share with you.  It may shock you and take you totally by surprise, but it is something you should probably come to terms with now.

We are human.

It is true.  With all of the beautiful messiness that is involved with being a part of this human race, we sometimes forget this truth.  While it doesn’t mean that everyone is excused for anything wrong that they do simply on the grounds that they are a member of fallen humanity, it does change one’s perspective of the matter.  Through reading another blog I’ve been introduced to the author Heather King and I must say she is altering the way I think. 

She gets to the heart of things and tends to present things in a way that is both naked (i.e. uncomfortable and unvarnished) and refreshing.  One of the things that was emphasized in a book of hers that I was reading was that we are a beautiful mess, we are broken, we are fallen but that it is because of all of these things that we should embrace life.  In all of the sufferings and troubles, we are alive and that is something that she wouldn’t trade for anything.

The chance to suffer.  We don’t typically approach suffering with a sense that we are glad to have this experience.  Very recently I experienced the death of my grandpa.  It was a time in which I was invited to enter into suffering.  Yet while I am grieving, I have also been witnessing the ways that my family is dealing with their grief.  My observations have lead to many more prayers for my family.  The raw grief I see in some of my family causes me to wonder if I am experiencing this so much differently because I have a strong relationship with the Lord or if it is because I loved him less or if it is because I am allowing myself to remain detached.  I’m not quite certain which it is, to be honest.  The brokenness of the human person has again been revealed to me.  I view this not with a sense of condemnation but rather with a sorrow at the human condition.  We are all reckless wanderers without the cross of Christ grounding us. 

Welcome to this broken, sinful, beautiful, wonderful world filled with humans who are the same.  There is this hole within each of us.  Hollywood tells us that our weight or clothes can fill this hole.  Romantic movies tell us that our hole will be filled by that perfect man/woman we are waiting to find.  Other facets of the modern world encourage money, material gain, people, or feelings to fill this void we have. 

You cannot complete me.  I cannot complete you.  Whenever I get married, I will never want to hear from that man (as wonderful, charming, and romantic though he may be) that he completes me.  He does not.  I am a mere human.  I need something greater than me to give sense and purpose to my life, to ground me when the world is hopelessly and desperately spinning out of control, to love me when I am acting in ways that are completely unlovable, to understand me when I do not even know what I understand, to fight for me when I am giving up, and to reveal Truth to me when I am believing lies.  It is unfair to expect any human to do all of these things.  We are flawed human beings, but we are beautiful.  We are beautiful not in our brokenness but in the ways God desires to use our brokenness to bring about wholeness, to cause greater healing.  These deep needs that I have can only be truly fulfilled by Our Lord.

As a human, I will fail and make mistakes.  I will judge others, I will sin, I will hurt others, and I will fail to be forgiving.  As a human, I will let you down and I will fail to live up to the standards of a Christian.  But humans also make big comebacks.  I’ve seen them within my family and I’ve seen them within myself. 

God has a soft spot for humanity.  He knows what we are through and through.  He became man to reveal to us this great love He has.  But He is the one person (or three persons?) that we can rely on entirely, who can fill the hole in our hearts, who has lived in this beautiful and messy world and managed to make sense of it all by an act of extreme foolish love.  The cross–an act of folly that is the only true sense in the world.

Embark on the adventure of life today striving to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Try to see the beautiful ridiculousness of this world and to rejoice in the glories of humanity.  And then draw near to the cross of Christ, pray to each person in the Blessed Trinity, and lay the strongest foundation that you possibly can.  We are human.  God understands that.  Nevertheless, strive to be the saint God calls you to be.  And let’s learn to love like Him. 

Romans 5:8