The Church Showed Up Again

The Church Showed Up Again

Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.

The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.

That did not happen.

As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.

The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.

Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.

Continue reading “The Church Showed Up Again”
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In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

I mentally planned for the day.  I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment.  Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.

So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.

“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?”  Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.

“How about Archbishop McCarrick?  The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?”  Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks.  I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response.  In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.”  And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.

As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me.  While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.

Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

G.K. Chesterton

Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more.  One class reacted with more anger and bitterness.  It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified.  Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in.  I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry.  My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself.   Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us.  Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode.  The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before.  I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.

One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world.  The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them.  Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways.  In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults.  They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.

As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters.  Situations aren’t simple.  The correct move or response isn’t always obvious.  Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present.  Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.

Or perhaps that is what I read into it.  Either way, it seems relevant in my life.  Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times.  Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.

The past is a powerful force.  Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life.  Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them.  It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

The Lord is a wound healer.  

I’ve been mentoring a young friend for a few months and the last time we met our conversation turned to wounds.  In many ways, I feel I have had a pretty easy life, one without too many struggles or problems.  Yet I am amazed by how many wounds can be found in this tender, little heart of mine.  As we spoke of how the Lord seeks to heal these areas, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the Lord has done in me over the years.

When Jesus heals, He brings freedom into a place I often didn’t even realize was enslaved.  This heart is far from wholeness, but the work the Lord has done in it is impressive.  My gifted spiritual director has spent hours listening to me sob and choke out stories of hurt and pain.  Some are understandable in their immensity, while others seem nearly laughable in their smallness.  Yet my spiritual director has treated each wound as important and in need of healing.  Often it is he who insists on the importance of the incident while I want to be dismissive of the emotions attached to the memory.

As a person who wants to be seen as logical and rational, it has taken years for me to be convinced of the validity of my feelings.  When I can accept that my feelings aren’t foolish, I am able to acknowledge that the hurt is real and needs to be addressed.  In this, the Lord has rewarded me ten-thousand fold.  Working through the intricacies of my heart has forced me to see that Christ wants to redeem and renew every part. Continue reading “Proclaim Liberty to the Captives”

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”

Attractive Misery

Attractive Misery

We feel…shame at seeing our misery and our baseness exposed.  Yet this misery possesses the mysterious privilege of attracting our Lord.  This is difficult to understand, yet it is an incontestable truth.  Our nothingness and our misery constitute the force that attracts our Lord.

(Secrets of the Interior Life)

I’ve never really understood this idea of how our misery attracts the Lord to us.  Generally, when I see my own miserableness, it is repulsive or something I want to hide.  It isn’t something that is attractive or pleasant.  When it comes to seeing the miserableness of others, I’m not much better.  My personality is one that desires perfection.  The people around me (including me) are continually letting me down because they don’t live up to my image of perfection.

Yet the Lord uses all things for good.  The cheating incident I mentioned a couple posts back has really pushed my heart.  It made me move from anger to forgiveness.  A few days later when the individuals came back and we spoke, I found great freedom in being able to express how they had hurt me and to hear them apologize.  The relief on their faces was incredible.  It was though they walked into my room carrying a burden and then through the exchange of a few words, that burden was lifted.  My burden was lifted, too.

Strangely, over the last couple weeks, I have found a special tenderness in my hearts toward those individuals.  No longer angry, I am able to love them as they are: flawed human beings.  The Lord knows I have difficulty loving people in their humanity and so I am beginning to be grateful for this incident.  I don’t want to love them only when I think they are perfect, but for the beautiful complexity that is wrapped up within their hearts and souls.  I know myself and so I know I do not want to be loved merely for my seeming perfection but rather in my entirety.  In the midst of this, I experienced for the first time, at least consciously, the way that misery attracts my heart.   Continue reading “Attractive Misery”

On Highland

On Highland

Most of what I have learned about the Lord’s mercy, I learned on Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh.

My younger sister and I were talking the other day about college.  We agreed that perhaps even more impactful than the beautiful truths we learned in the classroom were the heart-wrenching experiences we had in ministry.  Those were the moments that changed our hearts.  Those were the moments when the truths of Christianity became living, breathing testimonies.

The first place I truly experienced a situation where I could love those who persecuted me was on Highland Avenue.  Yet it was also the place where God reminded me that He never abandons anybody.  There my heart was broken and there my heart was healed. Continue reading “On Highland”

Tireless

The Lord isn’t tired of you.

If He hasn’t tired of me, then I know He isn’t tired of you.

Don’t we sometimes assume He is, though?

I apply human attributes to God and figure He must want to respond to me as I want to respond: grabbing me by the shoulders, slightly shaking me, and telling me to snap out of it.  Or something along those lines, sometimes more or less intense.

He is unfailingly patient.  God is able to endure our imperfections better than we are.  Where we can be short-tempered and over hasty, God is slow and long-suffering.  I think I am a fairly patient person, but at times I am the most impatient with myself.

He waits for us.

It is a struggle to extend that same act of kindness to myself.  To wait for my heart to catch up, to wait for my mind to grasp the concept, to wait for my body to gain the strength.  We want it right now and we think we should be able to conquer all now.  Sometimes, though, we need to accept that we are in a specific place.  Instead of being angry with my heart, I can acknowledge where it is struggling and be patient with it.  Instead of frustration over what my body can’t now accomplish, I can see the difficulties and move forward gradually.

The heart is probably the most difficult for me to wait for.  I want it to quickly recover or never get wounded.  The Lord, in His inscrutable wisdom, gave me a heart that is very tender.  And life can be pretty rough on such a heart.  Having a tender heart isn’t a coveted aspect in our culture.  Instead, we are taught to not care what others think, to do our own thing, and to take whatever doesn’t kill you and let it make you stronger.  But sometimes it just hurts.  So I find myself fighting against the desire to shield my heart behind indifference or coldness.  Or I use my best-learned defense: sarcasm.

I will fight, nearly to the death, in defense of sarcasm being a valid sense of humor.  When used in the right situations, I think it is fantastic.  However, I will admit that I use it to shield my little heart all too often.  If my heart can’t handle the pain of honesty or sincerity, it will hide behind quick remarks and witty comebacks.  In the moment, it is a fight or flight instinct and I guess I choose both: fly away with the tender heart and fight with words of steel.  I know that it will not help my heart, but sometimes the conditioning takes over with little regard to what I should do.

The goal is to tell myself, “Trish, today you will not hide your hurt behind sarcasm.  You will be sincere and meaningful in your words.  And you, impatient one, will be patient with your own heart.  It is a gift.”  Perhaps, someday, I will listen to myself.

I need to be reminded that God sees me in a way that is different than I would initially imagine.  In Isaiah 43: 4-5a, God speaks to Israel of a love that is unsurpassed by any other.  It can be helpful to remember that this covenantal love also extends to us today.

Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.  Do not fear, for I am with you…

He is present, long-suffering, patient, and waiting for you.  Not for you to drag your feet, but for you to let all the many conflicted parts of yourself come together.  To wait for your heart to catch up to where the situation requires it be and to not be frustrated that it isn’t there yet.  To remind the head that there is more to life than what makes complete sense.  God is working in the midst of your broken chaos right now and He isn’t letting it stop Him from doing what needs to be done.

Though He is moving forward in your life, He isn’t leaving any part of you behind.  Because despite all of it (the situations, the emotions, the problems, the pride, etc.), He isn’t tired of you.

In the Body of Christ, Your Healing Heals Others

Her response was something along the lines of, “It’s Jesus.  Of course He was doing something for both of us.”  Her certainty and lack of surprise seemed the opposite of my wide-eyed, wide-hearted realization of God’s perfect planning.

On a silent retreat, I found myself working through a painful memory I had with my sister.  I had tried a couple times during prayer to get to the root of it, but I seemed to get off course.  Finally, I was in the memory and I pictured Jesus there, too.  The pain of the moment eased and I saw things from a better perspective, one closer to what Jesus must have experienced.

Instead of recalling only my emotions, I began to see the situation as she may have experienced it.  “You are the Beloved of the Father,” I found myself telling her.

Then she said those same words back to me and a deep healing occurred in that moment.  Something wounded in me was restored by God, not through a conversation with my sister.

After the retreat, I decided to write her and tell her about that experience.  I didn’t go into detail and I didn’t explain how I had felt hurt.  I simply told her what transpired in prayer.  The next time I saw her, she brought up the letter.  She said my letter was the Lord’s response to her about something she was struggling with.  As she told me that the letter was good for her own heart, I was amazed.  Our Lord took that inclination I had to write my sister and He used it to speak to her heart in a way I didn’t know she needed.

My response was, “Woah.”  Hers was one of confident certainty that the Lord works in exactly that sort of way.

Sometimes the Lord takes the movements of our hearts and our own healing so He can use them to speak to others in a profound way that we never intended.

Sometimes my own healing allows others to experience the grace of God.

As fallen humans, we are always seeking to repair our fragile, little hearts.  But what a different perspective I have when I think of my healing being an avenue that God uses to love others.  Beyond the fact that God desires my own personal wholeness, He has a mission for me, one that requires me to seek healing for the sake of others, not just for myself.

In a way, the Church needs you to be healed.  Our personal healing is a service to the Church.

Souls need you to pursue holiness and wholeness because, though perhaps unbeknownst to you, God will use that renewal to encounter them.

The Mystical Body of Christ is a mysterious being.  God heals us for our own good and then seeks to use that healing to bring about restoration in others.  One that may rely in part on your “Yes” to Jesus entering into those wounded parts of your own heart, areas you don’t want Him to go, but which will truly revive your soul if you let Him.

Your own healing might be that catalyst for others to be healed or encounter God in a necessary way.  

And so He gently asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  (Mark 10:51)

Your response?  Unlock that little room within your heart that you’ve walled away and invite Jesus into that place.  His healing, transformative presence will change you and that will change others.

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