Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

I have a problem with weakness.  When a person’s weakness is on display in a way I don’t like, I find it difficult to be welcoming and open.  Yet I also am convinced that being honest and sharing your heart is a necessary part of living an authentic Christian life.  I understand that seeming as though I always have it together is detrimental to myself and others.  However, seeing weakness in a way other than what I believe is an acceptable display is hard for me to embrace.

This realization–my understanding of vulnerability and yet my dislike of apparent weakness–makes me pause and wonder what is in this little heart of mine.  Sometimes, I see weakness and I am drawn to the person.  In a way, I suppose my heart responds like the Lord’s heart–the misery of another makes me desire to love them in the midst of the struggle.  However, sometimes, I see weakness and I am repelled by it.  I question why they struggle in that particular way or in such a public manner.  Instead of feeling compelled to reach out to them and help them, I withdraw and wish they could get their act together.

Like I have said before, this heart of mine is far, far away from being a perfect heart.

I think a theme that has been woven into several of my posts is one of brokenness and seeking the Lord in the midst of that break.  Yet I also want to have it together and I want other people to be composed.  The other day at Mass, I found myself asking my heart a question, “How is it that you want people to share their brokenness and yet you don’t want to see weakness?  Is there an appropriate way to be broken?”

Is it fair to criticize people for the way they fall apart?  For the way they fail and are weak?  I like when people talk about their humanity, but I’m less interested in actually seeing their humanity.  It is silly, but I find myself arguing that I think there is a proper way to be broken.  A recent experience in prayer highlights the freedom that can be found in being broken and revealing that brokenness.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher has a book called An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises.  The opening meditation uses the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10.  In the opening lines of the meditation, I was directed to take my seat with Bartimaeus.  Soon, this blind man is calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In prayer, I was surprised to find an annoyance with him.  He was obnoxiously calling out to Jesus and I resisted the urge to shush him.  How could he be so shameless?  In the midst of the crowd, he was crying out, causing people to acknowledge his blindness and his complete inability to change his situation.  I wanted Bartimaeus to be more discreet and not draw so much attention to himself.  However, to Bartimaeus, his helplessness was paradoxically a place of hope. Continue reading “Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong”

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The Burden of Perfection

The Burden of Perfection

When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after the Resurrection, His hands, feet, and side still bore the marks of the crucifixion.  His glorious, death-conquering body held the holes that won salvation.  To be certain, His body was different than it was before.  He was strangely appearing and disappearing, passing into locked rooms, and yet still able to eat and be touched.  Dying and rising had changed His body.  Gone was the appearance scarred beyond human recognition.  However, His body still showed where nails and a spear had pierced Him through.  Why was that?

There are several theological reasons, but I would like to focus on one minor, personal reason.  I would argue that Christ kept His wounds to destroy our image of perfection.  Here is the conquering King, the One who has fought death and won and yet–He still shows signs of this arduous battle.  As the commander of this battalion, as the King who leads His people into battle, Christ is not unaware of the price of this fight.  Our whole lives seem to be a battle towards Heaven.  Christ doesn’t need perfect looking soldiers; He simply needs faithful ones.

The burden of perfection is one we place upon ourselves.  We want lives that are neat and tidy, yet none of us have it.  Sometimes we brand others as perfect, but that is only because we see portions of their lives and not the whole of it.  And when we expect this perfection from them, we encourage them to fake it instead of living authentically.

Often, when I tell people that my two older sisters are religious sisters, I can see them mentally placing my family in a certain type of box.  Years ago, I gave my witness in preparation for a summer of catechizing youth, and one of the critiques I received was that teens probably couldn’t relate to my story.  While I understood what they meant, I couldn’t help but take it a bit personally.  My story of an aching heart being separated from my sisters was not something they deemed relatable.  Since then, I have discovered that it is something to which others can relate.  Perhaps they don’t have siblings in religious life, but many have experienced anger and frustration with God and a plan you never wanted for your life. Continue reading “The Burden of Perfection”

To Be the Face of God

To Be the Face of God

The other day, I gave a test in all of my classes.  In the midst of this, I discovered a student cheating on the test.  As I spoke with the student and some details were revealed, I found that I wasn’t angry with the student.  I simply felt this incredible sadness.

I always want to be able to trust my students.  When something happens that betrays that trust, I find myself a bit frustrated and sad.  I don’t want to doubt what they tell me or question their integrity.  But they are humans and sometimes humans cheat or lie.

During the rest of the day, this incident weighed on my mind.  I was sad and disappointed with this student but also with students in general.  Cheating is something I do not understand.  Perhaps because I enjoyed school and generally like a challenge, but I could never see myself cheating in school.  In middle school and parts of high school, people thought I was semi-ridiculous for how cautiously I guarded my paper during tests or quizzes.  I didn’t want to be the unknowing person from whom others stole their answers.  Some of my students have a very different perspective.

So I began to wonder how God takes in the continually disappointing behaviors of humanity.  It is a love that I cannot comprehend because it is truly a love without condition.  My love is conditional.  I have a great affection for my students, but when confronted with their weaknesses and their imperfections, I struggle with how to move forward.  I know a single action does not define who they are, but it shapes how I perceive them.  How can the Lord look at us in the midst of every sin and love us wholly and entirely?   Continue reading “To Be the Face of God”

Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays

Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays

In my youth, giving something up for Lent meant you didn’t have it from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.  When one of my sisters came home from college, she revealed a secret: you can have the things you gave up for Lent on Sundays.  She claimed it was a “mini-Easter.”  At the time, though, it seemed like cheating and an excuse for people who couldn’t handle giving something up for the entirety of Lent.  I didn’t need a cheat day, I reasoned, I was strong enough to last all of Lent.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize the wisdom in allowing Sunday to be a relaxed day in the midst of a penitential season.  There is a particular wisdom found when I remember my own temperament.

I like a good challenge.  Tell me I can’t do something and I will probably try to do that thing (if I care enough).  I’m stubborn and prideful to a fault.  So when I tell myself that I can go without coffee for the entirety of Lent, I start to feel a little smug.  It sounds challenging and I can already feel a sense of pride within myself.  Of course, it is a sacrifice for the Lord and yet I am quick to make it about what I can do.

However, if I acknowledge that I will go six days without coffee and then break that fast on Sunday, it is hard to get overly prideful about that.  Really?  That’s it?  Six days?  And I find myself almost convincing myself to “be strong” and go through all of Lent without it.

The purpose of Lent, though, is not to build up my ego and pat myself on the back for all of the difficult things I did.  Hopefully, Lent is a time of challenging ourselves and saying no to our own habits and desires.  Yet if I walk into Mass on Easter Sunday, bursting at the seams that I was able to forego a long list of comforts, I might miss the fact that Jesus is the one saving me. Continue reading “Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays”

He Meets Me in My Poverty

He Meets Me in My Poverty

Mountain passes are closed.

I’m not from a mountainous region; rather, I live in the vast plains of the Midwest.  The prospect of driving nearly three hours through a mountain snowstorm seemed daunting.  Yet with the mountain passes all closed, it seemed impossible.

So I thought about it often, prayed for things to work out, and nearly obsessively checked the weather and mountain pass website.  The people I was traveling with didn’t seem particularly concerned, so I felt a need to worry for all of us.  Also, I had rented the vehicle and was to drive through these mountains.  I wanted to trust that the Lord would make all things work out, but I also wanted to not stupidly walk into a bad situation.

Generally, I like flying, but the flight from Denver to Seattle was riddled with turbulence.  The uneasiness about the drive was only exacerbated by the bumpy flight.  A headache developed, probably a combination of too much stress and a lack of sleep, coffee, and food.

Arriving in Seattle, my sister and I checked the mountain passes and, thankfully, one of them was completely open with no road restrictions.  I was grateful, but the tension of the past week could not be unraveled so quickly.

After picking up our third traveling companion, we started the trek through the mountains.  The roads were clear and open.  The scenery was beautiful.  Yet my stomach remained in knots and I felt sick.  A few days of worry was wrecking havoc on me physically.  We journeyed into the mountains and it started to snow a bit.  The snow piled on either side of the road reached higher than the semis that surrounded us.  Then we came to a complete standstill due to an accident.  Sitting there, with snow starting to fall and stressed despite the fact that everything had gone well so far, I had to admit defeat.

As we waited, I had been close on multiple occasions to stepping outside the car, confident that I would embarrassingly get sick on the side of the road.  “I think I’m going to be sick,” I told my sister.  I switched places with our third traveler and slid into the back seat.

For the next 1.5-2 hours I sat there with my eyes closed as we flew around curves and over mountains.  At first, I was angry with myself.  I don’t like to view myself as weak and I am generally a very stubborn person.  The driving wasn’t difficult and I knew I could do it.  Yet there I was, unable to continue driving because I had let my fears and worries take their toll on me physically.

Instead of being annoyed with myself, I tried to do something fairly new–I accepted my humanity.  I recently began reading The Way of the Disciple by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis.  The rest of the drive I reflected and prayed with one section of that book.

Our business, then, as Christians and as contemplatives-perhaps our only business-is to work tirelessly at becoming destitute and needy orphans and widows who rely only on the mercy, goodness, and power of God….The Cistercian John of Ford, for one, exclaimed that he desired nothing other than to rest with Jesus as the center of his own poverty, the special place where Jesus had chosen to meet him.

And so I rested in my poverty. Continue reading “He Meets Me in My Poverty”

The Church Wants to be in Your Bedroom

The Church Wants to be in Your Bedroom

I’ve heard the complaint that people want the Church to stay out of their bedrooms.  The truth of human sexuality is not something people want to be bothered with when it comes face-to-face with their ordinary, everyday lives.  Contraception, IVF, sterilization, surrogacy,  and a host of other ethical problems are not what people want from the Church.  It is almost as if they were to say, “Just give us the church service and leave the rest of my life to me.

In which case, I am compelled to ask, “What exactly did you think the Church was?”

Rather than overbearing, the Church desires to guide us in every aspect of our lives because God cares about every aspect of our lives.  Jesus is Lord over all, even the parts of our life we struggle to give to Him.  Especially those parts.

The “Catholic world” has a lot more to it than churches.  It’s also a world of libraries and bedrooms, mountains and the seaside, galleries and sports fields, concerts halls and monastic cells–places where we get glimpses and hints of the extraordinary that lies just on the far side of the ordinary…

(Letters to a Young Catholic, George Weigel)

The Church isn’t trying to artificially insert itself into the different facets of life.  As the Bride of Christ, she seeks to be where Christ wants to be, which is everywhere.  It could be easy to convince ourselves that Jesus doesn’t care much about business ethics or our literary choices or who shares our bed.  We can separate those from that hour on Sunday as if Jesus can only see what happens in “His house.”  Jesus, however, wants to be involved in our work, leisure, relationships, and daily habits because He wants to transform those areas into means of sanctification.

We want to give Jesus the areas of our life that are easy to surrender.  Jesus wants the areas of life that we struggle to admit aren’t flawless.  He wants them, flaws and all.  When He spoke about taking up our cross and following Him, it wasn’t simply the cross of getting up Sunday morning and making our way to Mass.  It was about allowing Him into every part of our lives–our thoughts, our dreams, our free time, our business practices, our interactions with other people, and, yes, our sexuality. Continue reading “The Church Wants to be in Your Bedroom”

Receive Mercy

Receive Mercy

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrew 4:15-16)

One of the first times I really heard this passage, several things about it struck me as completely perfect for my life in that moment.  And even if I don’t remember the specific state of my life, I am able to point to several parts of this passage that have a perennial blast of truth. Continue reading “Receive Mercy”