At the risk of ruining your Tuesday . . . Kidding! Anyways.
The last few months finally caught up to me and hit me (hard!) with a head cold – so unless you want to hear me talk about ginger ale or Tylenol . . . We will see ya back here next week.
For the longest time, there was something that really bothered me about a serious life of faith: the rules. The Catholic Church has a lot of rules, doesn’t it? A list of random things that some old guys in Rome made up just to make our lives miserable and to exert control over us, right?
For as long as I can remember, I have always considered myself an independent person – an independent woman; someone who prides herself on being able to ask questions, get answers, and make an informed decision; someone who understands what it means to stand up for what is right, even when it is unpopular. Several years ago, when push came to shove, I found myself stuck in the “why” of a life of faith. Why should I lay it all on the line for a serious life of faith when I didn’t even know if I was sure there was a Church that loved me?
Why go to Mass every Sunday when I could find God in nature, in my friends, or in a song?
Why read the Bible when I don’t really understand half of it anyways? (For the record, most days I still feel like I don’t understand even half lot of it . . .)
Why listen to what an archaic institution says about my reproductive health?
Why set myself apart as a young person of faith when it would be a lot easier to keep doing what I want to do, on my terms?
Why, why, why?
Why? Because a life of faith is not about the why, it is about the Who.
Every question I had that started with a “why” needed to resolve itself In the “Who” – the person of Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us – pretty explicitly – that Jesus Christ Himself, through His life, mission, and public ministry, left us a set of rules; a set of rules that would be guarded by a Church, and handed on through the apostles and the successors of the apostles. (Matthew 16:18)
Once I began to understand this, everything changed. Not only did I actually make the effort to discover why the Church teaches what it does, I also made a conscious effort to get to know the person of Jesus Christ.
And you know what? I have never been happier. I have found more joy in this set of rules than I ever thought possible. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that we could never do it on our own; He knew that a life of faith was never going to be easy, and He knew that we would always need His help.
Is it easy admitting that I have been wrong or admitting that the Church really does know best? No. Are there those that look at me like I have six heads when I tell them that I go to Mass every Sunday (every day, even!), that I’m not using birth control, that I believe that there is a God who came from Heaven to earth to form a personal relationship with us, and that I’m now working full-time for the Church? Yes. Does any of that matter? NO!
It doesn’t matter because I know that there is joy to be found in a life lived for Christ. I know that there is joy to be found in living out the Christian life authentically – in leading moral lives, and doing everything rooted in prayer. I know all of this because I have felt it – the answer to all of my questions has been there all along. The rules that Church puts into place, the standards we are asked to uphold, the charity we are asked to exhibit are all aimed to point us to the Who – and that is the person of Jesus Christ.
So. Here I am – in a place I never thought I would be. A 22-year old rule-follower. I’m in – hook, line, and sinker. And not only am I all in, I have never been happier.
For those of you who know me (and anyone who has ever been within a fifteen foot radius of me for that matter . . .), you know that I’m a crier. I cry during all the normal times (receiving nice text messages, googling vintage picture of Pope Saint John Paul II, watching elderly couples hold hands, etc.) as well as other times (movies, weddings, funerals, ordinations). So the fact that I was crying this past Sunday night while closing down Panera (here they call it Saint Louis Bread Co . . . ) should not come as much of a surprise . . . ANYWAYS.
Moving here and taking this job, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do any of this on my own – I know, I know, I have mentioned this in any number of past blog posts. I just didn’t quite realize the ways in which the support system would manifest itself once the rubber reallyyyyyy started to hit the road (aka now).
As I was sitting in Panera (Bread Co, whatever), and brooding over everything that it is happening – spreadsheets, late nights, you know, more legwork – I thought in a moment of exasperation, “I can’t possibly do this!” Just when the tears started coming (you know the type), I got a text message from a friend (looking at you, Theresa!) asking me what time I was going to run my errands the next day. This friend – probably after hearing me talk about said spreadsheets & late nights – offered to lighten my burden by running 293847 (okay, six) errands with me.
And then I remembered a friend texting me saying he would offer Mass for my intentions. And then I remembered my mom telling me that her Bible study group was praying for me. And then I remembered the friend(s!!!!!) that have answered tearful (duh) phone calls about music licenses and people that just! don’t! get! It!. And then, and then, and then . . .
Now, I’ve been the recipient of many acts of kindness since I moved to St. Louis and took this new job, but these most recent ones are not mere favors, not mere people offering to cheer me on from the sidelines; they are people participating in the work that God has called me here to do. Sure, He called me to do it, but did so knowing that the Church, the body of Christ, would come to my aide time and time again. All the text messages and emails promising prayers, the old women stopping me after Mass telling me they know this program will succeed have brought me to my knees in gratitude at all that God is doing.
The tears came that night (and have been coming!!) because I find myself overwhelmed by this great apostolate that is finally about to take off. But more than that they are tears of awe and gratitude at the ways God is showing Himself in my own life. Amidst uncertainty and anxiety, God has continuously shown me that as much as I try to do it on my own, I can’t. As troubling as this realization may be, it really is the great promise of the Christian life – the promise that God will not abandon His people. But it’s not only a promise that we wouldn’t be left alone, it’s also a promise that the Church that will always stand behind us, and God will bring ALL things to fulfillment.
SO! Here we go – things here are ramping up and the pressure is on. But the love, support, and prayers are also increasing. The upshot…? I know that God’s hand is on this apostolate. I also know that the Church is standing behind me and, more importantly, behind all the work that I am doing. And there is real joy, even if it comes after real tears, in knowing that God, His Church, and His people are walking with me.
As I woke up this past Monday morning in my (still not air conditioned!) apartment, I couldn’t help but notice how remarkably unrefreshed I felt for a Monday morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, Mondays are never fun, but I don’t usually wake up feeling like I got hit by a train. As I kept trucking through my morning routine (snooze five times, say a really fragmented prayer/daily offering, force myself to open up both eyes at once – always a struggle), I started racking my brain thinking about all I had done that weekend – went out with friends Friday, training day all day Saturday, parish announcements and meetings on Sunday, put finishing touches on a talk I’m giving Sunday night, you get the point/this really isn’t that interesting. Long story short (or not that short), I realized that my weekends now look much different than they used to.
That same morning, after morning Mass, I was talking to my friend (Hi, Fr. Seiler!) and explaining (aka complaining) about my distaste for the week (already!!). After listening he told me “you’re just tired,” and without really thinking I replied, “Yeah, but, it’s the kind of tired I have always wanted to be.”
The kind of tired I have always wanted to be.
Is life a little busy now? Yes. Am I staying up at night thinking about everything that could go wrong for our program’s kickoff next Wednesday? Yes. Do I start most days looking up toward the heavens asking God if He really thinks I can do this? Yes.
But as true as all that may be, it also all misses the point. Even though my days often include six cups of coffee, they are riddled with reminders that joy is only found in doing the Lord’s will for our lives – and when I get on my knees before bed each night, I thank God for the chance to be tired for His Glory.
The reality is that everything we do in the Christian life involves a lot of legwork. I never thought I would be working full-time for the Church, and when I took on this job, I knew it would mean saying “yes” to whatever the Lord asked of me. Yes to the (many!!!) emails. Yes to the awkward small talk. Yes to making the same (only semi-funny) jokes introducing myself at (so many!!!) Masses each weekend.
Everything in the apostolate, but more importantly everything in life, must always be done with the knowledge that we are serving a God who is much bigger than our day-to-day minutiae. My own struggles (including almost tripping up the center aisle of the Church en route to make an announcement) don’t change the reality of who God is or what He is calling me to do.
The joy that I have comes from knowing that among the long days (and long nights!), and among the uncertainty about what is next, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The weird thing is that the blessed assurance about doing the Lord’s will does not manifest itself in flooding consolation – it manifests itself in the knowledge that none of this work was really mine to start with.
This past weekend, I had the chance to travel home for the wedding of a dear friend – this was something that I had been looking forward to for a lloonnnnnngggg time, and even though a five-day “vacation” in the middle of a busy time at work was a littlleee crazy, I boarded that plane last Wednesday full of anticipation. I knew that it was going to be a busy few days, I knew that I would cry a lot, I knew that I was unprepared for the (cold to me!) Minnesota weather. What I didn’t know was that I would get a lot more than I expected. (Classic God.)
There was a lot of action in the days leading up to the wedding – bachelorette dinner, nail appointments, conversation with their awesome families, a few glasses of wine, etc. But as I sat there in the front row watching Parker and Hannah exchanging their vows for the whole Church to see, I couldn’t help but think with awe and gratitude that what was happening was so much bigger than any one person in the Church. Of course, there was the very real grace of the sacrament – for those of you who have ever been to a Catholic wedding Mass, you know it’s beautiful – but it was more than just a gorgeous wedding: it was a gut-check.
I think it’s natural that any time something major happens in the lives of those we love, we take a step back and evaluate where we are with our own lives. Now, the natural reaction (especially for women my age) may be “Great for them, but where is my ring, and when will it be my turn?!?!?!” I’m learning, though, that it is less about what is or is not happening in my own life, and more about appreciating the reality that the Lord is living and working in a very real way in the lives of those I love.
These last few years, I have been incredibly blessed to be able to travel the country for the ordinations and weddings of dear friends. And although the travel can be (has been!) crazy, I have left each weekend filled with awe at the ways the people I love most are accepting their vocations with reckless abandon. I know that my day will come, but until then I know that the God will continue to give me these “gut-checks,” not only to help me see where I’m going, but also to help me get there more selflessly.
The reality of the Body of Christ is that our vocations are supposed to build each other up, and the reason it is so important that events like this wedding are public affairs is so that they can serve as an example to the entire Church. So! I am learning to be more grateful for the witness that those in my life have to offer me personally, but more importantly to the Church. It is all too easy to fall into any number of ruts – questioning God’s timing in our lives, our current state, etc – and trust me, I have been there. But more importantly, these momentous occasions in the lives of our loved ones serve as an opportunity to not only see how others are selflessly accepting God’s will for their lives, but to see how we can more perfectly do that ourselves.
I know I’m not the only girl who has sat in a pew, tears in her eyes, gut-checked by the life-changing event that was happening before her eyes. But I also know that God is tangibly working in my own life. Moments like this cause me to remember that the God of my future is still the God of my present. And even though apprehension about the future can steal the joy of the present, what keeps me going is the knowledge that everything I have (and everything I witness in the lives of others) are gifts from God.
One of the things that I was most nervous about in moving to Saint Louis was that I did not know anyone. After all, I swore that I would never, EVER move somewhere where I didn’t know anyone. (I sort of hate that “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans” line, but it’s true!) I was leaving a school community that I loved, (and still love!!) where I had ready access to some of the greatest people I have ever known. I couldn’t have done my years at CUA without those friends, and I certainly wouldn’t have been the person (especially the person of faith) that I have become without the support of so many.
So. Where did that leave me? Coming off 45 days/6,000 miles of travel visiting various friends, I plopped myself into a new city where I pretty much knew nobody. I was slightly scared. And nervous! Even though everyone told me that I would do “just fine,” I didn’t believe them. The first several weeks were pretty much equal parts “eat dinner alone in the Sam’s club food court” (let’s be real, though . . . I still do this) and adventures with new friends. And even though nothing was what I was used to or expected, I learned quickly.
Fast-forward two months, and I feel like I’m maybe starting to get the hang of things. Even though the real world is nothing like college, I am so grateful that I am starting to settle into a community that supports me and encourages me in my mission. Even though it can be awkward, frustrating, etc to try to put down roots and find community, it is necessary to have people to look to as an example and witness that the Christian life is possible.
However, something odd happened. In this search for friends and a community, I found myself needing to connect more not only with the One who brings us all together, but to connect with myself as the person that the Lord is calling me to be. This has manifested itself in different ways (cooking, painting, cleaning (sort of), going to the post office (x34897)), but each way is a confirmation in one way or another of the woman the Lord is asking me to be.
Take this last weekend for example. Friday night, I went to go see a movie by myself. A few years ago, the thought of seeing a movie alone would have horrified me (after all, what would people think?!), but I have to admit I kind of liked it. I was also mainly impressed with myself that I managed to sneak in a sonic slushie . . . Anyways!
The solitude of Friday beautifully lead into the craziness of Saturday – early morning errands, a hike with some friends (complete with Mass on a cliff. Holler), and finally a party with some more of our friends. After I manically acted out phrases for the “Heads-Up” game that we were playing (who knew the word “referee” would be so difficult) I sat back down and looked around the room in awe and gratitude; gratitude that I have found a community, but even more so that I have done so with confidence in the person that I am becoming.
So although each night will look a little different, it’s all good. It is good because I am learning more about myself and the ways the Lord is trying to speak to me in silence and solitude. It is good because I have a community of people that I can rely on and that I admire to help push me forward in this crazy thing called the Christian life. And it is good because I realize that joy, like I never expected, comes in the knowledge that none of this was any of my doing in the first place.
This past weekend, I decided to live dangerously and go to sleep without knowing when I would go to Mass the next morning. I woke up to a text from a dear friend, Amanda, who told me that our other friend (how many times can I use the word ‘friend’ in one paragraph?!) was going to be preaching about contraception at the 10:30 Mass at a church about 25 minutes from my house. Even though it was 9:55 am, I decided to just go for it. After splashing water on my face and brushing my teeth in record time, I booked it out the door.
Because Saint Louis really is the “Rome of the west,” I probably passed about fifteen churches on my way to this one specific Mass. Why go through all the effort? Why drive out of my way just to hear a priest preach about the Church’s teaching on contraception? Because if Fr. Samson was willing to preach the truth about love and sexuality to a world (and a congregation) that probably struggles with both of these things, the least I could do was be there to listen and offer whatever support I could.
The issue of contraception is among the most controversial teachings in the Church, particularly for women. I mean, why should I listen to what some “archaic” institution in Rome has to say about my own body? Why should I follow a teaching that most of my contemporaries would say is outdated, hierarchical, and/or oppressive?
Because the goal of the Christian life is not to conform to what the world tells us we need in order to be happy/successful/healthy; the goal is to conform completely and totally to the will of God – His ways, not our ways. As I was listening to Father’s homily, I couldn’t help but smile and nod my head in appreciation and admiration; appreciation for a Church whose truths are unchanging, yet always relevant, and admiration that there are people who are willing to stand and preach the truth, however unpopular.
As with most difficult things in life, the Church’s teachings on contraception and sexuality can be difficult medicine to take. It can seem out-of-date and certainly out of touch. For so long, I myself couldn’t understand why I should follow a set of rules just because the pope (?!) said so. When I started to really learn what the Church actually taught, I was amazed. I am constantly amazed and renewed by the respect that these teachings consistently manifest for the human body and human sexuality.
A God who is Love, who made us from love, by love, and for love wants nothing more than for us to be able to conform to that love in all of our relationships. Although this will look different for each person, it boils down to the reality that we were made for love, and not just any love, but the Love God made present for us on the Cross. Aside from the societal and physical ramifications of the contraceptive mentality, the biggest reason why the Church’s teaching on contraception is so important is that it draws us outside of ourselves. If nothing else, the use of contraception turns the focus of the sexual act from the great gift God has given us, to the level of “pleasure-only”. Doesn’t it follow, after all, that if we are called by God to return the tremendous love He has given us, that no action in our lives can be excepted from it?
Are these teachings hard? Yes. Are they often viewed by society as close-minded and irrelevant? Yes. Do they need to be preached about more from the pulpit? Yes, yes, yes. Is it really worth it to ignore everything that popular culture tells us women “need?” Honestly, YES. But all these questions and hesitations miss the point. Speaking for myself – as a 22 (22 and a half, if we are being exact) year old woman – I have found unexpected joy in these teachings. Joy not only in knowing that I’m doing what I genuinely believe to be best for the health of my body, but also joy in knowing that His ways are not our ways. And long after that homily was finished, with tears in my eyes, I got on my knees and thanked the God who is Love for the love He recklessly gives on the cross to a world that so desperately needs it.