Why Ash Wednesday Brings Nine Inch Nails to Mind…

Ash Wednesday always reminds me of Nine Inch Nails, weird huh? More specifically, I think of Johnny Cash’s cover of their song “Hurt,” and the video that goes along with it. These lines are what I conjure up seemingly every Ash Wednesday:

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.

After all, what do we hear in Mass today but words recalling the verse of Ecclesiastes 3:20, “All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Ecclesiastes is also where we hear, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” A nihilist reading of this could make us fret about life, “So, what’s the point?” And that’s just it; without God, there’s really no point to life because He is the point. In God we discover our origin and our aim. We could build empires like the Romans (or Johnny Cash), but it’s all turned to dust in the end. However, there is something that will endure the tests of time, and that is Christ’s Church. We are His Church, and we are eternal. Our bodies will be turned to ashes, but they will be raised on the last day. The wealth we accumulate, the pleasures we chase, the power we pine after—these are the ashes. Our work on Earth is meant to cultivate a “civilization of love” as Pope John Paul II called it. At the Final Judgment, what will Jesus say of the righteous? “For I was hungry and you gave me food…” (Mt 25:35-40). Life is about love; it’s about going beyond the ego and reaching out to other people. It’s never too late to start, as long as you have a beating heart within.

While this song may seem to be nothing but a nihilistic ode to despair, the final lines provoke that feeling we sinners have all felt before:

If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way.

This is where Christians like Johnny Cash pick up the song and finish the story. Jesus offers us this chance to “start again,” to restore us to ourselves. This is what Lent is all about. We are not defined by the sins of our past; with Christ we can be born anew. Is there a sin you’ve been struggling to overcome? Well, here is your chance to get serious. Remember, some demons can only be expelled by prayer and fasting (Mt 17:21). So, challenge yourself this Lent. Go outside your comfort zone because that is where you will find growth. The way we care for our bodies is akin to how we care for our spirits (Christ gave us the Eucharist as bread for our souls). If you lift the same set of weights at the gym all year long, you’re not going to see progress. We can always take on more in our spiritual lives and cut out the spiritual junk food. Don’t be fooled by the “all or nothing” attitude either, and accept that failures are stepping stones to success. Even if you slip up during Lent, renew your efforts as soon as possible. You’re human, you will slip up, but you’re also a child of God, and with Him anything is possible.

I try to take a three-fold approach to Lent. (1) I give up one thing that is hindering (or simply not helping) my becoming the best version of myself. (2) I take on something new that will help me to be a better me. (3) I do a joint sacrifice with my family. I’ll join the chorus of other bloggers throwing out ideas; here are just a few of my favorites:

1. One random act of kindness a day/week (be realistic about your goals)

2. Write down a different thing you’re grateful for every day; so, on Easter you can read through the list you’ve made to see how blessed you truly are

3. Find a new Saint to learn about and find prayers to him/her to say each day (Don’t have time to research? Do this Saint generator.)

4. Read a Bible verse each day/week and make it your focus

5. Do daily mass/adoration/rosary however many times a week is reasonable (Mary and The Eucharist will change your life if you let them)

6. Start going to confession weekly/biweekly

7. You could start 33 Days to Morning Glory consecration to Mary, which has a start date coming up soon

8. My personal favorite, TV and/or movies (perhaps making exceptions for Christian stuff)

Whatever you decide to do, keep your goals manageable. Also, make them tangible, not something like “I’ll be more joyful, more thankful, etc.” If you want to work on being joyful or grateful, that’s wonderful, but figure out some concrete way to put it into practice so that you can track your progress.

It’s never too late to start again, so let’s take the opportunity we have in Lent to do so. The Devil would like us to believe there’s a point reached where we are beyond salvation, but it’s only by believing such nonsense that we effect the very thing we fear. Christ told Saint Faustina: “Tell souls not to place within their own hearts obstacles to My mercy, which so greatly wants to act within them. My mercy works in all those hearts which open their doors to it. Both the sinner and the righteous person have need of My mercy. Conversion, as well as perseverance, is a grace of My mercy.” We know something the writer of the song “Hurt” didn’t, so let’s take advantage and start anew each and every day. We have been given a treasury of armor and weapons to equip us for the daily battles; stop trying to go it alone and wondering why you’re failing. Let’s make Lent a time to refocus, putting all of our human effort into spreading His Kingdom rather than attempting to build our own fleeting “empires of dirt.”

Relinquishing Roses

Jesus-Picture-With-Little-Girl-Giving-Flowers-Beautiful-Scene

One rainy day in November, Siena (5) and I stopped by the grocery store to return some items. A wilting rose lay on the customer service desk, its long stem hanging over the edge of the counter. Not tall enough to see what it was, Siena reached up and grabbed it to happily discover a beautiful rose bud at the other end. I told her to leave it alone since it wasn’t hers, and she put it down; moments later, she grasped it again to briefly gaze upon the beauty of the rose. I shooed her hand away from it and sternly told her not to touch it. So, she grabbed onto the edge of the counter and started hopping up and down just to steal glimpses of the flower. I finally settled my business, and the kind clerk smiled at Siena and told her she could keep it. Siena’s eyes lit up as they glanced up at me for permission. I nodded and smiled as she hurriedly took possession of her new rose, lest the clerk or I change our minds.

We then headed out to the chapel of perpetual adoration. I peered in my rearview mirror at Siena who was simply twirling her rose, admiring its beauty. We pulled up to the chapel, and I explained to her the importance of what we were about to do: “God wants all people to be like a big family. We should love everyone and help one another reach heaven, even people who have died. Most souls go to purgatory after death, which is fire that cleans their souls so they can be with God forever. Our prayers can help them get cleaner faster so they can go to Heaven.” I briefly told her that the week after Halloween is special because we can request gifts from God called indulgences for the poor souls. We hopped out of the car and raced through the rain. Together we threw open the chapel’s heavy, solid oak door to see 5 elderly women inside. Siena proudly paraded her pretty rose in front of the kneeling ladies, sharing her joy over this wondrous blossom of God’s creation.

Siena plopped down in the front pew while I genuflected. It was such a cozy atmosphere with the warm lighting overhead as the rain streamed down the oversized stained-glass windows. We cozied up to each other, and in a hushed voice I told her that people often leave flowers at graves and statues to show their love for those who are in Heaven, since they can’t get our hugs anymore. Then, I asked if she would like to give her rose to Jesus to show her love. She nodded excitedly, and I took her hand to walk her up to the altar. I unlocked the guardrail, and I didn’t dare look at the faces of the women around me, for fear of looks of disapproval. I kept my eyes fixed on Jesus, hidden in the simplicity of the Eucharist, and I led Siena to the altar, where she placed her beloved rose at the foot of the monstrance. We smiled at each other and exited the altar, locking the guardrail behind us. She glanced over her shoulder as we walked back to the pew, and her smile faded into a fretful frown. Turning to me, she asked in a sweetly sorrowful voice, “Wait, do I have to leave it there forever?” I brushed her hair away from her big blue eyes and sat her on my lap and whispered near her ear: “Oh no, sweetie, you don’t have to leave it. Jesus only wants it if you want to give it to Him. But, you know what? You have a treasure chest up in heaven, and every time you show God or others love, He pours a treasure of graces into your chest. When you get to heaven, He will give you all the treasure you stored up in your life.” I didn’t want her to think Jesus would be disappointed if she didn’t give up the rose, so I told her she could take it back if she wanted; He would still be happy she let Him borrow it for a little while. Siena shook her head and insisted Jesus keep it. She smiled, but that light in her eyes from when she held her rose had clearly been extinguished.

f297734e9ae7178be7dd99e69007fdb1I started to feel guilty, thinking, “Uh oh, did I just guilt her into giving up her rose? Did I make a totally bad Catholic-mom move? Will she grow up and point to this moment as the single reason she will never raise her kids Catholic?” Before I was entirely consumed with worry, I put myself in her shoes, thinking back on my faith as a child. I remembered watching the ushers at mass bringing the baskets of money to the altar. When they returned, their baskets were empty as they placed them on the floor next to our pew. I would sit in awe at every mass, believing God to have magically taken up the money Himself to distribute to the poor. A peace washed over me as I felt confirmed I hadn’t done anything wrong. So, in an attempt to cheer her up, I beckoned the beliefs of my childhood: “Siena, how about we come back tomorrow, and if Jesus wants you to share your rose with someone else, we can take it back from the altar. But, if it isn’t there, it means Jesus took it to heaven to give to the souls who are entering heaven because of our prayers today.” The light beamed in Siena’s eyes once more as she pondered aloud, “I wonder if Jesus will give it to Mary for me.” Then, I told her He absolutely would because Mary loves roses, which is why we have the Rosary; when we pray it, we are offering a bouquet of flowers to Mary, who is our mother in heaven.

We stayed for the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Siena’s voice was boisterous each time she prayed the responses, “Have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” She probably just liked hearing her voice echo off the walls of the chapel. Nevertheless, it was very moving hearing her little voice among the typical women’s voices at the 3 o’clock hour. I could feel how much Jesus loved this little child’s prayers: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants you have brought perfect praise” (Matthew 21:16). Despite any lack of understanding Siena may have had, there was certainly no lack of belief. To my surprise, when we were leaving the chapel, a woman with a wooden walking stick chased after us. She stopped us to tell Siena she felt so blessed to be there to witness her offering the pretty rose to Jesus. Siena just smiled, clinging to my leg. I was happy I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the beauty of a child’s faith in that moment.

We returned to the chapel the next day, and Siena was all aglow with wonder when she saw the rose was no longer on the altar, “God took it to heaven, mommy!” I told her He must have really loved her rose and wanted to share it with souls in heaven and with Mary. I explained that her love for the rose made the rose so much more valuable as a gift to God, more precious than gold. How often do we forget Christ’s command to be childlike? There’s so much we can learn from the simplicity of children, especially when it comes to the faith.

We are welcomed to stop and appreciate God’s beautiful creations, but we must always have our heart fixed on Christ: “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”[1] We must be ready and willing to give up what we love most because sacrifice is inherent in love. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, and possessions or people are taken away from us too soon. So, it is best we develop the habit while we can, preparing for times when our only options are to accept the path God has called us down or to rebel against Him. Joachim and Ann offered their loveliest rose—the presentation of Mary in the temple. Mary offered her priceless rose—her Son’s presentation in the temple, where she was told a sword would pierce her own heart. The greatest rose of all, however, was God’s gift to man: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The fruit of this pure, sacrificial love has been our salvation. Are you prepared to relinquish your rose?

IMG_8318

[1] C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain  

Triumphant Song of Confidence

Today I received a unique penance. I was told to go read whatever Psalm corresponds to my age, so I got Psalm 27. There couldn’t have been a more perfect prayer for me in that very moment. I need this plastered on my wall, or better yet on the inside of my eyelids. Reading this just melted every doubt or worry that weighed heavily on my soul. I just love the Psalms.

Triumphant Song of Confidence

A Psalm of David

27 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me,
    uttering slanders against me,[b]
my adversaries and foes,
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though a host encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent,
    he will set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies round about me;
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face.”
    My heart says to thee,
“Thy face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not thy face from me.

Turn not thy servant away in anger,
    thou who hast been my help.
Cast me not off, forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me up.

11 Teach me thy way, O Lord;
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    yea, wait for the Lord!

Satan Chokes the Spiritual Throats of Man

 

I just wanted to share with everyone a blogpost I wrote as my midterm for my online class “The Church and WWII,” which I am taking at Holy Apostles College and is taught by Professor Voccola.

Check out my post here: Satan Chokes the Spiritual Throats of Men,  it is mainly based off a book called Priestblock by Fr. Jean Bernard, who endured much alongside numerous other priests at the Nazi concentration camp Dachau. I received an A for the midterm, so that is  a huge consolation (it’s 25% of my grade).

I’m extremely ignorant of history, and so I love learning about it, although I am awful at retaining information about it normally. This class uses multiple forms of media including movies, books, audio lectures, and online articles. It’s been a great way for me to learn, better than any other history course I’ve ever taken. I’m so blessed to have discovered this program, and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to finish my degree studying Theology and Humanities at a Catholic college. This is such a wonderful program, and it is so affordable. I would highly recommend it.

God Bless!!

Yes, I Am Getting Divorced. Yes, I Believe in Traditional Family Values. No, That Doesn’t Make Me a Hypocrite or Less Catholic! (Part 4 of 4)

IMG_5524

 (Dominic and Siena (see the heart?), Photo Credit: God)

Did you miss Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3?

Finally, contemplating the cross, I realized how little my pain was in contrast. As much as I had fooled myself into believing I deserved happiness, when I gazed upon Christ crucified, I couldn’t believe I deserved anything less than what I was going through. I also realized my supposed happiness was fleeting. I had happy moments, sure. But I lacked that lasting joy I had previously experienced in life, which sustained me through even the worst suffering. Could Ben really provide that for me? No, only one Person can give that, and it would be unfair to expect it from anyone or anything other than God.

“The light that filled me was overwhelming, blinding, and disorienting.”

It finally occurred to me to confess adultery, just in case I thought—to cover all my bases. So, when I made my confession, Father knew some serious change had taken place (My advice: find one confessor, get to know each other. Anonymity is not always best; Reconciliation is much more fruitful when your confessor has intimate knowledge of your struggles). He asked, “What are you going to do about this situation that has you in adultery.” Crap! I didn’t think this one out I guess. Do I just cut off all contact with Ben? Do we see each other but put some very strict rules on our interaction? Not knowing the answer, I retreated: “Well, Father, I know that God knows that I’m not really married.” To this he replied, “Sarah, are you Catholic or Protestant? And do you realize that you are not only endangering yourself, but you are endangering this man’s soul as well? You are trying to help him see the Truth in Catholicism when you yourself aren’t abiding in that Truth.” This may be putting words in his mouth because I don’t remember exactly what he said, but this is the message I received nonetheless. I obtained absolution, and everything had changed when I walked out of that confessional. The light that filled me was overwhelming, blinding, and disorienting.

Do You Love Me?

“I broke down crying as I wailed Yes! (not safe while driving, but pretty much the only time I’m ever alone)”

My mind raced quicker than my feet racing to my car. All this time, I had been trying to help Ben see the fullness of the Truth, but in reality I’d been hurting his soul and mine, which I had spent so much time praying for. I spent so many hours digging into Catholicism to offer him a Truth that I wasn’t even willing to live out myself. I told Ben plenty about what the Church teaches, but did I actually show him? Every time I started to see the way forward, it petrified me. No, that can’t be the only way. How could I possibly give up such a good man—the loving person who is the reason I’m even here asking myself this to begin with? Then it came, a gentle voice from the very depths of my heart: “Sarah, do you love me?” I replied yes as if that was a ridiculous question for Him to even ask me. Then again, “Sarah, do you love me?” Of course I love you, Lord! “Sarah, do you love me?” I broke down crying as I wailed yes! (not safe while driving, but pretty much the only time I’m ever alone). At first they were tears of grief, realizing what I would be giving up. Then, they were tears of gratitude, realizing the abundance of grace He must have been showering on me in that moment. Then came tears of joy when I saw what, no Who, I was giving it up for. And, at last peace washed over me, seeing that Jesus leads me to an immeasurable happiness, a place you may only arrive at by walking the way of the cross. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The cross is not an option for the Christian life, anymore than it was an option for Jesus to redeem us. It is a requirement. The crosses are coming, there’s no doubt about it, whether we have Christ or not. But with Him, we can do all things. His yoke is easy, and His burden light (Mt 11:28-30). How swiftly I had forgotten how heavy the burden of sin is, and how heavy life weighs on your shoulders without His help. Christ bore the bulk of His cross so we need only be Simons of Cyrene.

Love Letters

“Love ceases to be such when it is elevated beyond our love for God, even if it is for a spouse or a child.”

Then came the difficult part. Knowing that the darkest is before the dawn, I set my eyes on the horizon as I tearfully drafted a letter to best explain myself to Ben. I read this letter to him in his car because I wanted to get everything out there before he could interject, so he wouldn’t misunderstand. I spoke of my need to adhere to Church teaching—not because I felt compelled by an authoritarian dictator, but that it was an act of love I owed to Christ. I explained my trust in His Church as His voice on earth. I looked up to see the pain in his eyes, and through tears I choked telling him that I loved him now more than I ever had before because I was seeking the welfare of his soul and mine. Love ceases to be such when it is elevated beyond our love for God, even if it is for a spouse or a child. As I had feared, he didn’t understand, perhaps because his heart was too wrenched with grief to really think much.

Epiphany

We kept our distance from one another for about a month until one day, I received a phone call. It was Ben, and he told me that he didn’t want to hear any “I told you so’s” from me but he was actually seriously considering Catholicism. He knew how much I loved him and that I wouldn’t give up all that we had for nothing. Without all the complications that our previous relationship had entangled us in, we were able to engage in much more fruitful conversations, sifting out the Truth of Catholicism. We spoke often on the phone and via texting; he was doing all the research and I was just there to answer his questions or clear up any perceived incongruities. It didn’t take long before Ben returned to the Sacraments. Once he did, I knew God would care for him, infusing him with the grace he needed to persevere. It wasn’t long before he enrolled in a Catholic Catechetical Certificate program to learn more about the Faith, which he was (and still is) enthused to share with the rest of the world. The experience of seeing someone I love come to the Truth invigorated me with a fervor to teach the Faith as a career, a dream I had dispelled long ago. I couldn’t find any online undergrad schools that were affordable, and I was just about to give up hope when Ben called me telling me about a program he discovered in his researching Masters programs. He introduced me to the Holy Apostles College online undergrad Theology program, where I am now completing my Bachelors double majoring in Humanities and Theology. Ben is now in the process of discerning the priesthood. He is preparing to join a local team of Catholic missionaries, and we remain good friends encouraging each other on our journeys in furthering the Kingdom of God. God reaches out to us, even when we are deep in the mire of sin, and He offers us an escape route to get back on the right track and start afresh. He is at the door knocking, waiting to dine with you in the Banquet Feast of the Eucharist (Just read John 6 for heaven’s sake!). No matter what you may be undergoing right now, God is there just waiting for you to turn to Him, and He doesn’t even care about anything you’ve done once you have repented. He forgives AND forgets. Best spouse ever!

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:53–56).

A Catholic Goes to Court

 

Despite this being my 5th trip to court, it remains a disorienting place to be. You feel the tension and discontent stifling the atmosphere. Not one person wants to be here; even the security guard’s face grimaces in spite of my masking smile as I pass through the metal detector. My heart aches, longing to be home seeing Siena devour the birthday waffles I woke early to make so she wouldn’t be too disappointed when I had to leave. I also wanted to bring her to mass for those special birthday blessings I told her about. Instead I’m having to face the reality of those thoughts I have become an expert at batting away on a daily basis.

Court cases are called before mine, most getting a divorce on the spot after a simple swearing of irretrievable breakdown. Why can’t my divorce be this simple? Some of these people were only married a year, and most likely not in the Catholic Church. It seems so unfair. I have honorable reasons for what I am doing; it took me years to come to this decision! How many of these people simply came to the kitchen table one night and decided together there must be something better out there? Prior to being called before the judge, I pray my rosary and ask Mary to help me. At first, I pray for everything to turn out how I want it to. Then, I realize I ought to be praying rather that the judge reach a just decision. Of course I have specific desires that I believe are best for me and my children, but I also know that I have a very limited perspective. Above all, I want God’s will, even if it doesn’t coincide with mine. That isn’t easy to say either; it took me a long time to get to this point. Uttering those words, “Thy will be done,” are easy enough. They’re in the Our Father we pray so often. But to actually mean them when you say them; that can seem an insurmountable task. I held my fists up and tried fighting for my way for quite some time during this whole process. Each time I landed on my ass exhausted. I finally had to say, “Ok God, clearly you know something I don’t.” I had been locked up in a prison, throwing myself up against the iron bars, which only hurt myself. That hadn’t furthered my cause for release either. In fact, it only proved that I needed to be there. God had to show me who was in control, not in a sadistic way, but in a loving way: like a father who needs to ground his child. Only when he hears the throwing of items and the punching of walls cease will he come into the cell to help us understand the position we are in and how to get out. I had to stop resisting the only Person who could really help me.

I feel trapped right now; I don’t feel comfortable communicating with anyone on his side of the family. I closed all the doors to them out of fear once I saw the terrors of the court room. I felt the need to hide myself and protect myself and my children. I just want this all to be over so I can feel free to communicate with everyone without fear of my conversation somehow being used against me in a court of law. Being under scrutiny in regards to your parenting strikes fear into the very core of your being. No matter how much everyone tells you how good a mom you are, it’s hard to believe when you also know your many flaws. All that comes to mind is losing your temper,  slacking off in disciplining, or selfishly putting kids to bed early to catch the hockey game. We hear all these horror stories of CPS taking kids away from their parents for the most ridiculous reasons, so it’s hard to feel safe when an investigator visits your home. My thoughts swirled with fear: the fence to the backyard isn’t completed; Dominic’s bunk bed is awfully close to the ceiling; the kids play in an unfinished basement sometimes. When you face a system that seems to be devoid of common sense, it’s terrifying, to say the least. My only consolation is trust in God. I have to trust that no matter what happens, He will be there fighting for me, for my kids.

So, I pray that above having the judge side with me, the judge sides with God, which I hope also coincides with my desires. Ultimately, I want what is best for me and my children, and I think I know what that is, but I know I’m human and I could be wrong. I pray that my divorce goes through sooner than later. But, I know that God has their best interests at heart, and mine. So the only thing I can truly pray for is justice, that this judge and the lawyers be concerned with what they are in the business of promoting: JUSTICE.

Most of all, I pray to stay persistent in my Faith. I can see God’s guiding hand through all of the turmoil in my past when I look back. Things make sense now, and the suffering seems worthwhile. So I am hoping that whatever is coming my way, I can remember that God ONLY works for GOOD. Whatever in our short-sightedness we are enduring, there is something greater on the other side of it. Hope is an amazing thing, no, it is everything. Without it, we are doomed to fall into thinking suffering is meaningless, and that is fatal. Without suffering having meaning, life has no meaning. Life is suffering. It’s other things too: Joy, Peace, Love. But it is also undeniable suffering. A Suffering Servant for a Savior now makes a lot more sense, and I pray that those who are suffering without Christ discover him sooner than later. It’s never too late, as long as you’re alive that is.

(Photo Cred: http://cbswashington.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/84611044-1.jpg?w=620&h=349&crop=1)

Yes, I Am Getting Divorced. Yes, I Believe in Traditional Family Values. No, That Doesn’t Make Me a Hypocrite or Less Catholic! (Part 3 of 4)

IMG_5154

Listen to this music while you read, bc it’s just beautiful.

In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 Here or Part 2 Here. Brevity is not my forte. So this is going to be a 4-part series after all, folks. Sorry it took me so long, I promise my next post won’t take quite so long. I just got slammed with schoolwork and midterms.

As my relationship with Ben progressed, the storm that had been raging within began to calm, and I was laughing again. It had been a long time since experiencing a close, loving relationship with someone I felt safe with. Before I got too comfortable, however, I found myself consulting my parish priest about the annulment process one sunny morning. After a brief conversation, Father fished through his desk drawers for the paperwork. My real reason for being there choked in the back of my throat as I searched for the most euphemistic words possible to describe my more-than-friendship with Ben. I finally blurted it out, rationalizing away all the intricacies of our relationship. He paused in his search, and his brows furrowed slightly as the smile faded from his eyes, replaced with a tender disappointment. He attempted to recover his pleasant demeanor as he silently discerned a prudent response. I was hoping to hear, “It’s great that you’re finally happy again because God wants you to be happy!” Instead, he let out a heavy sigh that thickened the atmosphere. He prefaced his message saying he was happy I had a friend whom I was trying to show the truth of Catholicism. I glanced at the door, knowing what was coming next. I had been avoiding the collision of the two opposing worlds that I knew deep down couldn’t possibly coincide peaceably for much longer. The time for choosing was drawing nigh, and Father made that painfully clear. His reproach was direct, but cushioned by paternal care; it both stung and warmed my heart. He explained the importance of considering myself married because an annulment is not guaranteed and demonstrated a true concern for my soul (All without using the *A* word—adultery).

After my conversation with Father, I couldn’t bring myself to receive communion at Mass any longer, just in case I thought. Although, I still wasn’t 100% convinced I would have to sever my relationship with Ben. I couldn’t break his heart and mine unless it was beyond a shadow of a doubt what had to be done. Having a strong background in Theology and Philosophy, I started delving deeper into Catholicism, desperately seeking solid ground to stand on without having to give up my love for Ben. Over the course of months, my heart once again became enflamed with love for God and the Catholic Faith. My passion for Theology that I had buried long ago began to resurface.

I never confessed the sin of adultery because I never thought that’s what I was doing. After all, adultery was despicable, a person cheating on his spouse. My marriage wasn’t even valid; I was just waiting on paperwork for the go-ahead. I would tell myself, “God knows what’s up.” My relationship was uplifting and joyful. He was even bringing me closer to Christ! In what world could that be wrong? Ben and I were kindred spirits, and I know that is utterly cliche but there’s just no other way to describe it. I was taken aback by the level of understanding we reached with one another. He helped me remember myself, believed in my unrealized potential. He helped me out of the box I had imprisoned myself in, stripped away all the labels I had accumulated over the years, and helped me to see who God created me to be. He taught me that flaws and failures aren’t walls that box you in, they’re hurdles to climb over to make you stronger. Ben was truly the most honorable man I had ever met, and He loved Christ more than I ever had. He truly strived to live righteously, and that was more than I could say at that time in my life.

While all this was going on, I had been striving for physical fitness. Having lost 40 lbs, I took a lot of pride in my health and felt very empowered and independent. One day, I visited my doctor after noticing some irregularities, and tests revealed cysts on my ovaries, and they diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. After spending a year becoming a better, stronger me, this was like being hit by a Mack truck. After all I had been through, feeling victimized by life, I finally felt I had taken back charge of my life. Suddenly, I had this terrible realization that my life was not in my control. I had always entertained the idea of more future children to fulfill my lifelong desire for a large family. With my diagnosis, I saw my dreams circling the drain. To add to my dismay, I was told by multiple doctors that birth control was the only solution. Birth control is something that I don’t believe in for both health and moral reasons. These beliefs had been cemented earlier in life. I was blessed to learn priceless lessons about life, love, and family from my Catholic doctor and his wife including the many dangers of birth control, both physical and spiritual (More Info Here and Here). Do I just take the pill? (It may not sound as big a deal to some of my readers, but this was something thoroughly engrained in me morally.) That morally strong Sarah of old who used to know and stand for what she believed in reemerged. I just couldn’t compromise, despite being met with much opposition and condescension from my doctors. I had compromised much of my morals in the past year, so this seemingly small decision did much to resurrect my moral will; my true identity was reasserting itself.

Spring had arrived on Cape Cod, and the misery of a long winter was melting away. The sun poured through the stained glass windows as I knelt in Church before confession one Saturday afternoon. I gazed upon the cross as the Son’s rays penetrated my mind, which had been clouded by the haze of lies I’d been telling myself: I have suffered plenty, and now I deserve to be happy; God knows I’m not really married, He wants Ben and I to be together; I don’t have to do everything the Church tells me to, they’re more like a general guideline; there are people way worse than I am. I realized I was angry with God because I had strived for years to be faithful, and this is what I got in return? I tried so hard, exerted every last effort to make my family pleasing in His sight, and instead it was torn to pieces. My two worlds were colliding, this was it—the dreaded time for choosing. There is only one Truth, and one of these opposing worlds was a lie.

Please visit next week to see what came to be from this Battle of Worlds, so to speak. Thanks for reading. God Bless!

Weight of Glory

20140505-221142.jpg

This book by C.S. Lewis was the first book that I had read outside of his Narnia series. I found an old copy at the back of my high school Theology teacher’s classroom. I was intrigued because I hadn’t realized he had written other books besides his children’s novels. She graciously allowed me to borrow it, and although I didn’t quite understand it as I do now, his words elevated my thoughts to an entirely new plane. This book spurred my C.S. Lewis obsession… or rather appreciation. What especially attracted me was the immense beauty of the ideas contained within this little book, perhaps because he writes so descriptively of earthly and heavenly beauty. Also, one thing that was so striking was that Lewis seems to put into words the truths that I’ve always held in my heart, but could never quite articulate. In the following passages, he speaks of man’s experience of earthly pleasures, which never truly satisfy our longing and rather urge us on to discover the source of all beauty and goodness.

“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you–the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is our desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited . . . Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies… bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere… They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now… Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”

“We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as ‘the journey homeward to habitual self.’ You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to the world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: ‘Nobody marks us.’ A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising they don’t take notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I’m speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

“We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it… That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause use to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. One day, God willing, we shall get in.”

Lord, Have Mercy

20140504-145018.jpg

The following are excerpts from Scott Hahn’s brilliant exploration of the nature of sin, punishment, confession, and penance. If you think you already know everything there is to know about sin and the sacrament of confession, you will be pleasantly surprised by the Biblical depths Scott Hahn illuminates. The great thing about our beautiful faith is that it’s mysteries are inexhaustible and despite the wealth of knowledge and understanding you may possess, you can continuously experience newly found wonders.

“Adam feared the beast [the word for snake in the Bible can also be translated as dragon] . . . he feared for his life more than he feared for his wife; for he did not step forward to protect her . . .

Why would God subject Adam and Eve to such a trial? Because something greater lay on the other side of it. Adam and Eve were given the life of grace, but that was only penultimate. God had intended that grace to be a seed of glory. Adam was made in paradise, but made for heaven. God wanted Adam to share the inner life of the Trinity, which is complete self-giving: The Father pours Himself out in love for the Son; the Son returns that love completely with the gift of His own life; and that love shared by the Father and the Son is itself a divine person, the Holy Spirit. In order for Adam to share that life, he would have to begin living it on earth, in paradise. He would have to offer himself completely in sacrifice.

And that is what he failed to do. Adam was unwilling to lay down his life for the sake of his love for God, or to save the life of his beloved. That refusal to sacrifice was Adam’s original sin.”

****************************************************************

“When people choose a forbidden pleasure, the punishment for sin becomes the pleasure they experience illicitly, because once they experience it, they want it more. If God abandons us to our illicit pleasures, we find we can no longer resist them at all…

Once we’re hooked on sin, our values are turned upside down . . . At that point, repentance becomes almost impossible, because repentance is, by definition, a turning away from evil and toward the good; but, by now, the sinner has thoroughly redefined both good and evil. Isaiah said of such sinners: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Is 5:20).

. . . We render ourselves almost incapable of repenting, apart from some divine intervention–a car wreck, abandonment by our family, eviction from our home, the loss of a job. When disaster strikes, the sinner usually thinks God is finally waking up and beginning to punish him. But that is not divine wrath; it’s divine mercy, saving the sinner from a worse and everlasting fate.

What we see . . . are really the flashes of sudden, brilliant light that God sends to illumine a soul darkened by concupiscence and sin.”

“… His punishments are never vindictive . . . they are the inevitable consequences of our free choices . . . If we did not have the option of choosing sin and hell, we could not have the freedom of truly choosing and loving God. If God did not permit us to say no to Him, our yes would be worthless, the programmed response of a machine.”

***************************************************************

“We can begin to overcome concupiscence through self-mastery and self-denial . . . but even that is not enough. We need the help that only God can give: the grace He dispenses freely in the sacrament of penance. That grace . . . creates anew the heart that sin has disordered, disfigured, and disgraced.”

“… [Jesus says] ‘Blessed are you poor . . . Blessed are you that hunger . . . Blessed are you that weep . . . Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil’ (Lk 6:20-23). All of these calamities, He said, are cause for rejoicing . . . the Beatitudes represent a ‘normative inversion’; they turn our expectations upside down . . . Suffering teaches us detachment from the goods of this world, and it so frees us to attach ourselves to the goods of heaven.”

“Jesus said… ‘Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple’ (Lk 14:27). Self-denial, clearly, is not optional…”

“Christians sacrifice the best things not because they think the world is evil… but because they know the world is very good–so good that it can distract us from what’s far better, thus detouring us on our way home to the Father . . . Love requires that we make sacrifices for the sake of our beloved . . . A man in love will redouble his heroic efforts if he has somehow offended his beloved.”

“Acts of self-denial… heal us by offsetting our many acts of self-indulgence.”

“We must offer our efforts not only for our own sake, but for the sake of others, our friends, neighbors, family members, and even people we don’t know, because they are our cocombatants… Saint Paul said: ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church’ (Col 1:24).”

“Whenever we choose to do good, we build up our fellow fighters, because there is a mystical solidarity that unites us . . . when we choose to do evil, we do not sin in isolation, but we weaken our side in the battle . . . Every time we sin, we diminish not only ourselves, but also the Church. That is one reason why Christ has us confess our sins to the Church.”