I’m getting married in a few months. Isn’t that strange? Some of you have been reading my work for years, watching this blog go from just a place to organize my little stories to a place where I grapple with the hardest thoughts and emotions I’ve ever had. I didn’t think that my upcoming nuptials would be on that list.
All of us girls grew up with visions of our future wedding. We saw our poofy gowns, our handsome grooms, our happily ever after. I expected those. But I didn’t expect the sadness. I love my fiancé and I am excited for our life together, but I can’t help but feel the pain of this blessed time of single life ending. Marriage, joyous as it is, marks an ending, an ending of childhood and memories and a name. Tatiana Federoff is going to be gone forever. Nobody will have that name now, least of all myself. When I, God willing, join the joyous throng of saints in heaven, it will not be under the name of Tatiana Federoff. It will be as if Tatiana Federoff has died.
Morbid, huh? But I’m sitting here comforted in the morbidity because I am thinking about what marriage is. What is it? A sacrament. And all sacraments are meant to kill us in one way or another.
Think about it: baptism kills the original sin in us, with the water representing a joining in the death of Christ. Confession, too, kills the sinful man each of us becomes after that first death, with each time spent in the confessional another bullet to that person’s heart. Communion enters us into the Body of Christ, a body that died (and rose!) and calls each of us to do the same. Confirmation? The death of the child so that the new adult can rise up. Marriage and Holy Orders? The death of the will to the will of God, and a death of sorts to the person who enters into them and is substantially changed. The Sacrament of the Sick? Prepares us for the final bodily death, of which St. Francis says no mortal can escape. There’s death woven into every one of the sacraments, which is odd if we’re creatures not originally meant to die (Gen 2:17).
We’re not meant to die, no, but death is part of us now. Maybe death is put into the sacraments because there’s death everywhere thanks to Adam and Eve, whose marriage was confirmed in the death of prelapsarian innocence. Maybe even God can’t work against death completely now, as our human wills have become so set upon it. But He can give us new life through death, and He can promise that new life through every one of the greatest channels of grace that He gives us. Sacraments are visible signs of invisible realities, but we know that one sacrament can be a sign of several realities at once. What if they’re all telling us of the inescapability of death but reminding us the same promise given in Genesis, that one is coming (and has come) to crush the head of death itself? Death may strike at the feet of Christ, as the scripture tells us, but Christ will defeat it. And through the sacraments, we are struck and we crush, too, grinding our way through death into heaven.
This was just a short post. But I hope it helped you to read as much as it has helped me to write.
I’ve been trying to avoid talking about the recent horrors in the Church. Honest, I have. I haven’t really gone on Facebook to decry the abuses of children, seminarians, and the legal system perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests, bishops, and even, it seems, the Pope. I have read the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania, every blood-curdling page. I have read the horrors of children sodomized with crucifixes, parents who were silenced. I’ve read about our Church who rejected the broken and appeased itself instead. I’ve read the myriad blog posts, with all the voices rising to a crescendo of rage. Some is the heartbroken rage of the devout, others the gloating self-righteous fury of those who hate the Church, including some who hate it from within. I have read and I have cried and I have been furious, and I have mourned with the millions of Catholics who have done the same.
I am not here to do it again.
See, all these stories are awful, but I don’t think the internet needs another angry voice right now. I know that, of the four hundred people or so who will see this blog post, only about sixty will really read it (hi, dad) and so I am not here to post yet another emotional rant that will get thousands of views, a few death threats, and a “featured blog of the day” post from Bad Catholic. I’m here to tell you sixty or so that healing is possible, and healing is paramount, and to hope that you sixty will help me.
I’ll admit that, til a few days ago, I felt lost in the Church. I don’t know how we could have let such evil happen while we slept. But at Mass, as the Third Order Regular priest (oh, they give me such hope!) led us in the words taken from Matthew 8:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
The priest at Mass called us to come and worship the Lamb of God, to behold the beauty of His sacrifice on the cross and the altar. And we responded with the same words as the Centurion: Oh Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under our roof. But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed. And as I saw the priest consume the Eucharist, my faith clicked back into place.
God alone has the power to heal us. No amount of bloggers or judges or lawyers can heal the rotting cancer of sin in the human soul. No matter who we are or what we’ve done, we need to accept that and ask for the grace of healing for our Church. I think that this is the key lesson that the Centurion can teach us today. The time that God condescended to come into was a culture and time of barbarity, but one not so very different from our own. That Centurion was part of the oppressive and genocidal government that had taken over Israel and was bleeding her people dry. The Centurion was part of the problem, as much as any of us are part of the currently problematic Catholic Church. But he had the humility to ask God to heal his friend, something many people within Jesus’ own circle would have had trouble doing. Even more importantly, the Centurion didn’t just pray, he also acted. He went to find Jesus, a long way off, and asked himself instead of sending a servant to do it. In the same way, our humility and reliance on God will be shown by our willingness to take action to be healed. His action of trust was met with God’s action of healing, a gift whose true value he recognized.
He recognized, most importantly, that he was not worthy of God’s favor. We are nowhere near worthy that Christ should come under the roofs of our churches, into the hands of evil priests, the mouths of enabling bishops. We aren’t worthy that He should enter into our disgusting, painful, sinful humanity. Our Church is a broken house, with a filthy floor, cracked windows, and rotting floorboards. But it is here that we behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are no different than the Rome-controlled Israel of 2,000 years ago. We like to think that it’s the current year and we should be better than our fallen nature, but we can’t be. Human nature suffers the eternal wound of sin, the sin that took what was never ours to take and condemned us to an eternity of taking from others and taking from God. But God came anyway to die for us, and He comes again every single day, the act of redemption played out over and over again in the confessional and the on the altar, entering our unworthiness and our filth and restoring us. He gives Himself to us, even knowing what we would take from Him, because that’s the only way to fix us. By His death, on His word, we can be healed.
My faith in the Church is shaken, but solid, because this is the only institution that could possibly come back from a scandal of this magnitude solely because of the Eucharist. Lawyers and bishops and multi-million dollar payouts won’t save us now. Humility and the Eucharist alone can save us, and that starts with you, sixty readers who have nothing better to do today. Be humble. Make reparation for sin. Help victims. And go to Mass. Beg God to heal us. He can. He will. We just need to trust. The fate of our Church depends on it.
Right now, I am writing this surrounded by a hive of little brothers, five of whom still believe in old Kris Kringle. It’s barely dawn, and they are here, looking at the presents and trying to guess what they have received from Santa. They won’t know until Mom and Dad get up in another hour or so. The waiting enhances the wonder of the season.
Christmas is a time of wonder, especially for the young. The glittery packages, the whispers of parents, the wonderful food and special movies and family gatherings of the time, a whirlwind of wonder with its focus on one larger-than-life character: Santa Clause. Santa Clause is the embodiment of childhood wonder, with his sleigh and reindeer and child-specific omnipotence and, most especially, his ability to deliver to every child on earth exactly what they want for the holiday in only one night. Santa is wonderful and magical and special, a sign of innocence and joy in a world that too often seeks to steal away the joy of children. Look around at the rash of cynicism, depression, anxiety, and anger that hang over so many adults these days. Santa seems the antithesis of all that, at least as long as someone believes in him.
But there’s the issue. We stop believing in him. Around ten or eleven, we realize that Santa’s handwriting looks a lot like Dad’s. We realize that the clatter on the rooftop sounds more like Mom throwing rocks over the top of the house than the pitter-patter of reindeer feet. We lose the wonder, perhaps for good. The supernatural glow of Christmas gone, we may turn to pure materialism, the gritty natural world that too often disappoints us. But wonder is so necessary for us. It’s the glow of not only this season, but all seasons. It’s the balm to so many ills in the world. We need to find a mature reason for wonder again.
And for that, we need to look at the Reason for the Season.
Can there be anything more wonderful than the Incarnation? Think of it, though I’m sure you already have. Think of it deeper. It’s the whole of Salvation history. First is the terror and grief of the Fall, and centuries of human anguish and misery. It’s the call of holy men and women, each given a promise: He is coming. Through years untold of work and pain, obedience and disobedience, sin and repentance, the promise is repeated. There is evil in the world, but One is coming who will blot all that out. Finally, after a brutal conquest by a pagan empire, a supernatural being appears to a normal young woman, telling her the time has come, and she, the most average and nondescript of creatures, now must be the center of humanity as she carries God Himself to His people. She assents, as does her betrothed, and they travel on a dangerous journey to a place that does not welcome them. There, in the rudest of hovels, she gives birth to God, our Messiah. Heaven is ripped open. Angels cascade to Earth, singing of God’s glory and the gift of His presence among us in this little baby, born to live, and die, and live again, born to set us all free.
And in that instant, everything made sense. All the good and the bad of history is seen in Christ’s light. The wonder of the Incarnation lies in the dichotomy that man is fallen and broken, and yet unbelievably blessed and honored. We are the only race that has sinned, but we are the race through which God came into the world. We can count Caligula, Attila, and Hitler in our numbers. But we also count Christ, and His goodness and holiness outweighs all the evils of mankind. There is not a single bad thing that God cannot glorify and make holy. There is not a single person who cannot be redeemed. The redemption we seek for ourselves is worthless. But the redemption that Christ gives to us is living and effective for all peoples at all times, even for those who died before He was even born. The Incarnation is the single greatest event in human history.
Christ is not an empty wonder, not a smear of handwriting or a clatter of rocks. The wonder at the coming of God into our frail humanity is not smoke and mirrors. It is not meant to trick us or keep us in the dark. The Incarnation is a wonder that illuminates everything in the world around us. Every sin and sorrow, every triumph and joy, every unique human soul has been painted with the colors of the Incarnation. It’s a vibrating, pulsing, alive thing, omnipresent to human history. It is real. Truly real. As real as flesh and blood. As real as the God who became so for us.
The Incarnation inspires everyone, even Santa. It is Christ who called the holy bishop Nicholas to the priesthood and later to the bishopric to lead His flock. It is Christ who gave him the power to withstand persecution and imprisonment. It is Christ who inspired him to engage in the work of the difficult council of Nicea, where the beliefs of the Church were finally codified. It is Christ, the God-Man who entered human history, who was the wonder of St. Nicholas. He should be the wonder of us all.
So be filled with wonder, my dear friends. Be filled with the faith, hope, and love of this season. Let it carry you into the year, because every Sunday, Christ comes again in the gifts of the altar. The Incarnation is eternal, after all, not tied to a month like Santa Clause is. St. Augustine famously said that we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song. I would add to that that we are a Christmas people, and Gloria is our song. Glory to God in the highest! He has come to set His people free.
Let us say, dear reader, that for the sake of argument, you are a person of faith who had decided to pray for an intention that is very close to your heart. Maybe it’s something silly, like that boy asking you to prom or that you’d find your lost wallet. Maybe it’s serious, the kind of serious that makes doctors ask to talk to you in person instead of over the phone, the kind of serious that your life or your stability or your marriage depends on. You begin to say a novena. You ask for a rose, or for a rosary to be turned to gold, or for a holy card of St. Jude to cross your path. You have faith, because you’ve heard a thousand stories of roses and rosaries and cards turning up for people, heard of miraculous healings and fortunate fixes and coincidences that can only be the result of the interference of God or a saint. You know you’ll be one of them, too. That is what faith is about, after all. There’s no selfishness here, no desire to be one of the famous stories that people write about. You are in honest pain, and in honest faith you make your requests known to God. For nine days, you beg with your whole heart and soul. And on the last day…
There’s also nothing on the next day, and the next, and the next. The situation doesn’t change, or perhaps gets worse. You are heartbroken. You feel as if the saints have betrayed you. You may even lose trust in God Himself. This was important, and He let you down! He seems to be OK with your life being ruined, with you suffering, with you being in pain. Do you want to leave? Should you?
I’ve been in this situation before. I am in this situation now. I used to pray novenas and I used to get every sign promised, from yellow roses to the smell of roses to even stronger, more mystical consolations, all of which were intense and edifying, and all of which eventually ended. It has been years now since my last rose. It has been years without a concrete sign, and sometimes, I begin to doubt my faith, even in the face of all the signs of the past and all the stories that I have read.
This, my dear friends, is the great struggle of faith. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the situations in our lives that make us lose faith. It is the lack of response from God that chips away at us, the seeming silence of the saints whose novenas supposedly “never fail” but, in this case, and in many thousands of others, do. This is the lonely cry of David, wondering why God has abandoned His child. This is the danger of basing our faith on signs.
Now, you’ve heard this before, possibly from me. It is only human to look for proof, especially for proof of those things that we cannot directly see, like God’s providence or the graces of the praying saints. We can have the roses and rosaries and cards sometimes. But they are not our faith. They cannot be the cornerstone of who we are as Catholics. And, not to be preachy, but that cornerstone can only be Christ, the Christ of Matthew 12:38-40.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” Jesus replied, “A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth…”
I don’t know about you, but this passage comforts me whenever I storm heaven with prayer and get nothing from it. Many people say this is about the Resurrection, and they’re right. But those people also forget what happened in the days before the Resurrection, which is what makes this passage so comforting. In those days, Christ was betrayed, abandoned, tortured, mocked, mutilated, and murdered. He was buried hastily, still filthy, in someone else’s tomb. He died.
We skip past that part. We think about how sin hurt Jesus, and then move right over to how He rose from the dead. We skip past the part where His life ended, where His ministry failed, where He lay naked and exposed with all the signs of torture evident on His work-worn body, where His mother and friends wept on the hill of Golgotha while His blood soaked their aching knees and dripped onto their tearstained faces.
Where were the roses for Christ? Where were the signs for him of anything except failure, filth, and decay? The answer is that He simply did not need them. Even without signs, and in the face of such crushing despair, faith remained. We know that Jesus had faith that He would rise, even as He was dying. It was that same faith that kindled in the heart of the pagan centurion of Mark 15:39.
And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
The centurion could not see the torn temple veil, nor the people rising from the graves. At most, he saw the darkness, the mourners, and the filthy corpse: hardly a glorious miracle or holy consolation! But here, he saw faith. Through the quiet witness of Christ’s death, he came to believe, and became St. Longinus, who himself converted many by preaching and by his martyrdom. Like him, we may not always see signs and wonders. The greatest sign we have is Christ Himself, who is sometimes quiet, sometimes tortured, sometimes dead. We are called to be like Him. We are called to be signs ourselves. St. Paul writes, in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one, we are an odor of death and demise; to the other, a fragrance that brings life”
We give our best witness to God when we go beyond signs and wonders. When we don’t think about proofs, and we simply focus on living as Christ lived and dying as He died, we can do greater things than simply causing a sign to appear. When we suffer with faith, we don’t need proof anymore. We are proof. Maybe, when God does not answer your never-failing novena, He is calling you to something even greater than flowers or beads. Roses wilt, and rosaries can be broken, but the gift of faith is permanent and contagious, strengthening not only you, but everyone around you, especially when you have faith through your suffering. Through suffering, we can be the sweet aroma of life, stronger than that of any rose, to those who are dead in sin. And they can be that aroma to those around them, and then to those around them, until the whole world is a bouquet of faith, hope, and charity, and each a man a gift to his fellow man and to his creator.
We are called to have faith, my friends. We are called to have faith without flowers, faith without consolation, and, at times, faith without hope, at least hope of earthly relief. What we are called to do is endure, through sorrow, with faith and hope in the final resurrection and the justice of God. We are called to live without signs and without wonders. We are called to be the signs of the reality of the death and Resurrection of Christ, and live in such a way that the faithless can look at us and say that truly, Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
A few years ago, I went to a Steubenville youth conference here in Tucson, Arizona. It was a great event, always is, but something happened that night that I have never forgotten. It was something of great evil, but something that was a huge witness to the good.
It was a demonic attack.
Now, there have always been evil presences wherever there is great good. I have not yet been to a Steubenville conference without hearing the gibbering, hyena-like laughter from nowhere that always signals that the enemy is prowling around. It used to scare me, but since coming to Franciscan, I’ve learned a lot about the demonic and I’m less terrified. I had heard the laughter during Mass that morning, coming from somewhere above us. I had prayed and tried to ignore it, and it left as soon as communion began. But that night, at adoration, it began again, softly, almost whispered. It sounded excited. A palpable feeling of unease was in the room. I couldn’t get into the music or the worship, I was far too alert and on edge. Then, shattering the stillness of the Eucharistic procession, someone started screaming.
I didn’t know who, I was too far away. My father, who was working security, was on the scene quickly, and saw a young person writhing and screaming. As the monstrance passed by, the youth jumped for it, clawing at the floor, growling at the Eucharist. The security team could barely hold the person back from lunging at the priest. The team carried the youth outside, where, mysteriously, a priest trained in deliverance was waiting, claiming to have felt that he was being called there for some reason. The person was eventually alright.
Now, I hear you. OOOh, Tani, you’re telling ghost stories to scare us! You’re trying to get us interested in the demonic, isn’t that dangerous? Obviously, yes, you’re right. Being overly interested in demons and hunting them out is a terrible idea, and a great way to get yourself possessed. But that is exactly why we need to talk about these things. Too many people are “hunting” demons using unblessed crosses and ziplock bags of unblessed salt, inspired by TV shows like Supernatural and movies like The Rite. Too many people think it’s a silly game to consult tarot, visit fortune tellers, call psychic mediums, or use ouija boards. Too many people visit “haunted” locations and try to rile up spirits into showing themselves, using at best purgatorial souls and at worst demons to give themselves a rush. Maybe one of these things happened to that young person. But these are not symptoms of overinterest in demons and the spiritual world. They’re symptoms of the opposite, symptoms of a society that has lost its understanding and fear of the spiritual world as anything more than a gateway to an adrenaline fix. These are not issues of belief, but of unbelief. And it’s these actions that can lead to the most potent attachments.
A famous saying goes “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” and it’s completely right. Maybe you’re reading this and scoffing, because demons were things invented by our unscientific ancestors to explain away mental illness and natural phenomena. In some cases, that’s correct, but not in others. There’s no way to explain away a young person, in the peak of health, screaming at and trying to hurt a piece of bread. There’s no way to explain away how someone looks, feels, or smells different when they’ve been in contact with demons. There’s no way to explain away how demons themselves sound and look and feel. It makes no sense, logically. They simply are what they are– existing things of emptiness, darkness, and intense hatred. They hunt us, and, like any hunter, they prefer that their prey does not know that they are there. Society’s unbelief helps them a great deal in that regard. Does that scare you? It should.
But not so much that you don’t see why I’m talking about them. How much do you want to bet that the people around that young person had never seen or experienced diabolical attacks? How many did not believe in them? And how many do you think believed after they saw what happened, not only in demons, but also in the power of the Eucharist that this person was so doggedly trying to destroy? How many came to see the spiritual reality not only of evil, but of good? In this instance, God used even demons to prove His glory. If one side exists, then the other must also exist. If evil is the absence of good, as per St. Augustine, then good must exist, as well.
We have lost something vital to our understanding of the spiritual world when we ignore the existence of demons. We’ve lost our knowledge of the fact that the spiritual world can affect us, for good or ill. We’ve lost sight of the spiritual world that is so close to our own that the creatures there can see, hear, and touch us. Think about it– if demons can hear us, so can angels! If demons can drag us away from heaven with temptation, saints can pull us closer with grace! If Hell is hunting us, Heaven is searching for us! If Satan is watching, so is God, and God and the good are always more powerful that all the evil in existence. The witness of the demonic is that God exists, that the Church can help us, that heaven is really attainable for man.
Be afraid of demons, if you must, but be more afraid of not knowing that they’re hunting you. Be afraid of their tricks that may cause you to lose God. Fight by keeping your eyes focused on God alone, working on virtue, and involving your patron saints and guardian angels in your life every single day.
For spiritual warfare tips, I suggest that you watch my video on the subject from a few months ago.
Love means never having to say you’re sorry, right?
You’ve heard this since middle school. Love isn’t supposed to change people. Love isn’t supposed to hurt people. Love is joy and ease, it’s the romantic walks and the lazy kisses and the sunshine and the sweetness. Somewhere in the distance, an 80’s love ballad plays as you and your bae slowly sway around an empty dance floor. It’s all happy. It’s all good.
And that’s not love.
Love is not the sweetness. Love is not the shopping sprees, not the promposals, not the dancing or the flowers or the badly-written poetry. Why? Because people are people, and people cannot be all joy and light all the time. People cannot survive on a steady diet of boxed chocolates and Safeway® flowers. People are too broken for that. But modern love often ignores the brokenness innate in human beings, ignoring our nature in favor of empty promises of “forever.” It tells the beloved that no, he or she is perfect just as he or she is, that no change is needed or wanted, that the good times will be theirs forever, with no change. But that’s not love, that’s stagnation. And in stagnate waters, nasty things breed and bloom. Greed, lust, pride, and sloth creep to the surface of love that’s not willing to change. You can fill the stagnate emptiness with porn, or shopping, or hobbies, or TV binge sessions, but the emptiness remains, because human beings do have empty spaces. We are all full of chips and cracks that are meant to be painstakingly filled with virtue, and a love that says that those chips and cracks do not exist is not worthy of the name. Maybe we let them stay because we’re afraid that, without the broken pieces, we won’t be ourselves anymore. But if we let those cracks grow, if we let our sins and pet vices fester and bloom, those will destroy us. But we still cling to the veneer of love, the promises, the chocolate and flowers. To let go, and walk out into the fast-moving waters of true love, is a terrifying prospect.
People often choose the comfortable promises of forever because change is scary. We do not want to be told that we’re broken. We do not like being reminded that we have problems. It’s never fun when a loved one reminds us that we can be selfish, or lustful, or depressing. We don’t like to think about our sins, but these are the things that drive good relationships into the ground. If we ignore these flaws, if we let them breed in the stagnation of our souls, they will destroy us. We will drown, poisoned by the sins we don’t want to think about, choked by our protective shields of pretty words and fine gifts. In seeking to keep our selves safe, we will let them be destroyed. We lose ourselves, our true selves, when we refuse to change.
Love must exist with change. For love of us, Christ changed from spirit to flesh. For love of Christ, Peter and the apostles changed from comfortable workmen to wandering, homeless preachers. For love of each other, we must change, as well. Love is, in many ways, the only thing that allows us to change. Love is fearless that way– it sees the bad, as well as the good, and pushes us gently-yet-firmly towards virtue. It fights with our lesser selves, with the chips and the cracks, and for the sake of love, we have to let it win. We have to change. We have to grow. We have to keep moving.
This idea has been shown to me especially in the past year, as I’ve been in a relationship with one of my favorite people ever. John and I love each other, and because we love each other, we’ve changed. It’s not that we’ve become different people– we’ve become ourselves in a way totally new, yet totally familiar. Through the discussions, the disagreements, the cuddling, and the love, I’ve become calmer, less emotional, more open and kind. He’s become braver, stronger, and more conscientious. Our empty spaces are being filled, not just with the joy of romance, but with the abiding peace of virtue and the healing that comes from mutual reliance on Christ and each other. We let ourselves change. And we keep changing, keep becoming better, because we aren’t afraid to call each other on to virtue. We will the good of each other, the true good, not just the temporary, still, quiet comfort of romance. Loving John has helped clear away the algae and bugs of my old vices and hangups, the brokenness that I used to embrace as just being who I was. It’s a hopeful thing to realize that I’ll get even better as this goes on. I’m not afraid of change, because I know that love necessitates change.
If you’re single or in a relationship, don’t be afraid of change. Change doesn’t mean losing yourself. Change done for love, through Love, means finding yourself. It’s part of growing up and becoming who you were made to be. Remember… God loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.
Look how happy he is! How cute! How adorable! How… OK, enough about the boyfriend. Gosh, I’m gross. You know what’s not gross?
BANANAS-FOSTER-STYLE BANANA BREAD! Which is what Mr. Sir here is eating. No wonder he looks so happy. This stuff is the shiznits. I cobbled it together from a few different recipes last night, and figured I’d share here for posterity.
A quick note: It’s imperative that you pour the toffee over the bread before the toffee cools– the toffee will turn goopy and hard as it cools. Liquid, it soaks into the bread and adds a chewy texture to the top. If your toffee does cool, however, you can mix in water, a tablespoon at a time, over high heat. Mix until the toffee becomes liquid again.
Hello readers! It has been a while, hasn’t it? Well, I’m safe here in my second semester at Franciscan University, and I’ve semi-retired from blogging to focus on all the stress that comes from being an English major. I have to write about two essays, from 800-2000 words, every week, so fun writing is pretty low on my priority scale. How have I stayed sane with that kind of workload? Mostly through the amazing ladies of my household, Illuminata Pace.
Illuminata Pace, translated to “illuminating peace,” is a household dedicated to Franciscan spirituality, and we center our lives around peace, joy, humility, and prayer. I’d never really considered peace hugely important before I came, and I thought the peace prayer of St. Francis was just a weird song that my grandparent’s very 70’s parish sang, with twangy guitars, to the point where nobody really listened anymore. Certainly, I never thought of peace as something illuminating. But we pray the prayer several times a week, and the more I’ve looked at it, the more it’s come to mean to me. For all of you who have forgotten, here are the words:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
I started saying this prayer as a morning offering when I became a full sister in Illuminata Pace two months ago, and it has led me to do a lot of meditating on the nature of peace and what peace can do. CCC 2304 says that “Peace is not merely the absence of war…Peace is “the tranquillity of order.” Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” There have been a lot of reasons this semester to not be peaceful, but the words of the peace prayer stop me, slow me down, and help me remember who I am as a sister of illuminating peace. Every line has had its place in my life.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace… We are not the creators of peace, but merely the instruments of God’s peace. As Mother Theresa said, we’re just little pencils in the hands of a writing God, who is writing a love letter to the world. We need to ask God to let us be His instruments, His paintbrushes of peace, so that He can cover the whole world in peace. We must be grounded firmly in the peace of Christ to give His peace to the world, and it’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. Being instruments of God, surrendering ourselves to the higher calling of Christ, allows us to enter into that peace fully.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love… when people are angrily gossiping, are mad at each other, or are refusing to respect human dignity, being instruments of God’s peace means gently and lovingly leading them in a better direction, and prayerfully asking Him to show you what that better direction is.
Where there is injury, pardon… when I have hurt someone, or someone has hurt me, being an instrument of peace means being the first to apologize, the first to forgive. Is it difficult? Hell yes! But oh, the graces that come from this struggle of peace are incredible. This, again, requires constant prayer while trying to do, but when you ground forgiveness in peace, it becomes much easier to give.
Where there is doubt, faith… People, even people at Franciscan University, doubt the love of God. They doubt the forgiveness of God. They even doubt the existence of God when desolation becomes strong enough. Being the light of peace means letting God shine through you into those people, in whatever way you can. It means listening, encouraging, explaining points of the faith, and doing it all in prayer and with the quiet joy of peace that allows doubts, but strives to assuage them.
Where there is despair, hope... People despair. I despair. A year ago, on October 23, 2015, I tried to kill myself. I think many people know what despair feels like. Many cannot get out on their own, and need a leg up. Peace is that divine elevator to help people out of despair. Peace sees the trials and pains of life and acknowledges them, but doesn’t let them win. Peace allows pain to be put in the right place, as something real and difficult, but not overwhelming as long as one is clinging to the cross, even if one is only clinging to their cross through the nails that are holding them to it. Peace sees all that, and reminds us that, no matter how painful the crucifixion is, there is a resurrection to come, and so we need not worry that the pain will completely overwhelm us. Being an instrument of peace here means being there for those people who are in their stage of crucifixion, being there to remind them that every Easter Sunday comes after a painful Good Friday and a cold and dead Holy Saturday. You don’t even have to say it out loud to them. You just have to pray and love as God leads you to.
Where there is darkness, light… the world is dark, but, as St. Francis said, all the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. We can be the light in a dark world when we allow peace to illuminate us, when we allow God to lead us in peace even as all the darkness of our fallen world seems to be sinking around us.We illuminate peace when we study the teachings of the Church and gain knowledge about God. We illuminate peace when we shine through the darkness of ignorance and lead people to the truth of the gospel. We illuminate peace when we choose perfect joy over anger at our situations, when we choose to sink into the joy of the gospel that counteracts the world’s calls to dissatisfaction and cynicism.
Where there is sadness, joy… One of the charisms of Illuminata Pace is this perfect joy, which we’ve matched to this picture:
This picture of Our Mother of Sorrows seems contradictory to joy, what with all the tears and the corpse of Christ in the middle. But perfect joy is found in perfect suffering, because suffering allows us to see clearly what choosing joy means. It doesn’t mean ignoring all suffering. It means putting it into its proper place, and recognizing that all the pain of the world cannot ever destroy the joy of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and cannot even begin to come close to threatening the joy of heaven. Peace puts our thoughts solely on those things, puts our eyes on the lighthouse of heaven so that all the storms of the world, while they may crash and blow, are seen as what they are– changeable nature, not eternal life. When we sink into perfect joy, we create a beautiful example of peace, one that others will want to emulate. Peace illuminates, it spreads outward from the person who is peaceful and lights up everyone around them.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console… Illumination goes outward from the person, by definition. Peace isn’t really about what we’re getting, it’s about what we’re giving to the world. We aren’t seeking to be consoled be others, we’re trying to give them the consolation of God. God has no arms but ours with which to hold people, no ears but ours with which to listen to them, no mouth but ours with which to encourage. We ask for the grace to be these for Him.
To be understood, as to understand... The peace of Christ makes us as absolutely selfless as He is. We know He understands us when we are secure in His peace. Others might not feel that way, and might need human understanding to be reminded of the all-understanding love of God. We need the grace of God to be able to understand the hurts of others and to show to them how God’s understanding is even greater.
To be loved as to love… Again, peace makes us selfless. We aren’t seeking to become instruments of peace so that we can have all the love and admiration of people. We are here to love others. Everything we have been given is for the good of others, and that includes the love of God. To be peacefully secure in the love of God is to want others to be as secure, so we must prayerfully try to show that love to everyone we meet without any thought for what we are getting out of the deal. Heaven is quite enough, thank you.
For it is in giving that we receive… Mother Theresa is quoted as saying “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” The same goes for peace. However much we may give, God constantly gives us more. To wish to give all your God-given peace away is to also be giving a never-empty fountain of peace. We cannot ever run out of the love of God or the peace of God. He will always give more as long as we are giving.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned… Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, right? When we pardon the faults of others, no matter how much they have hurt us, we can be confident that God will forgive us to the same degree. God follows our lead on that point. His capacity to forgive us is infinite, yes, but He will forgive us only as much as we forgive others. So we must forgive everything, and be peacemakers to all, and seek to forgive as infinitely as we wish to be forgiven.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life… I am going to die. It is going to hurt more than I can ever adequately describe. The thought of how painful my eventual death will be drove me to try to kill myself, that’s how afraid I am of it. But the peace of Christ takes away that sting, because no matter how much death scares and hurts, it will never be greater than the joy of heaven. The great paradox of Christianity is that we lovingly accept even the hardest death, so as to gain eternal life. Even if your suffering is so great that it kills you, if you suffer in the peace of Christ, you can be secure in His promise of heaven. And that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?
Amen? Amen. Now, have a really pretty sung version of the prayer, and go out and illuminate!
My dad says that sometimes, when I’m having bad days with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and I’m in too much pain to move. I understand exactly what he means. Before I got sick, I used to be able to life huge weights and carry them around, to walk for miles, and to build with him these huge creative projects. I’ve lost much of my ability to do any of that these days, lost so much potential, so much of myself. It’s a good day when, by seven P.M. or so, I’m not actively trying not to pass out as I limp to my dorm, occasionally needing the help of both my cane and a friend to keep me upright before finally collapsing into bed. I feel diminished. I feel as if everything I did and everything I was has been torn away from me, like all my strength is useless and dead. I have felt like many of my friends, especially those who have known me since before I got sick, have seen this diminishment and have run from it, unable to deal with the fact that someone who used to be identified by physical power now is identified by her lack of it. I’ve felt lonely and, yes, furious at the coldness of fate or allowance of God that let me be afflicted and diminished by this disease. I’ve begged to be healed and tried to come to terms with the fact that it might not happen. I’ve grieved the me I’ve lost.
But is this really the end? Am I really diminished as much as I’ve thought?
I am learning something, readers. I’m learning that God never takes away our strengths, only edits them to bring them closer to His strengths. Nothing good is ever lost when we lose ourselves. It’s merely having all the impurities burned off of it.
I still lift and carry, every day that my head feels too heavy for my skull and I continue to hold it upright and every day that I consent to carrying this cross forward and singing about it as I go. I still walk for miles, every day when each step feels like running a marathon and, yet, I don’t stop walking as long as I’m talking to Christ about His Via Crucis along the way (the hill of Franciscan has taught me so much about Jesus, guys!) I don’t stop building, but instead of building barns and walls, I’m building people every day that I accept God’s calling for me to be a writer and a friend and a minister to the people He’s given me. My potential isn’t lost. It’s perfected, just like these strengths have been, with all the nasty brokenness burned off of it through suffering and loss. They’ve been brought into line with what I was truly called to do.
I never lost an ounce of the strength I had. I’ve just learned what I was really given it for.
Love to all!
-A very feverish and probably babbling, but definitely sure that you needed to know this, Tani
A few days ago, Franciscan University of Steubenville put on a passion play/living stations with students filling all the roles. I went, because many of my friends were in it. My brother was a centurion who beat Jesus, my friend Joseph was the bad thief, my friend Clarke was Pilate, my friend Brian was Simon of Cyrene, Milana was a woman of the crowd who hurled insults at Christ, and my friend Salvador (there’s an ironic name for ya) was Jesus.
It. Was. Horrible.
Not the play, because that was performed beautifully, but the actions. I saw my brother kicking my friend, saw my closest friends hurling insults and condemning someone I knew was innocent, screaming like demons and sadistically kicking a man who was on the ground. I saw a good man who is always very modest and well-dressed, who gives fist bumps in the hallway and never has a mean thing to say to anyone, be stripped to a loincloth and nailed (tied) to a cross by my own brother. Yes, it was all fake. But this drove a point home to me that I’d never actually understood before. Because see, this play proved to me that all the people of the passion? Yeah, they’re all us.
My friends and I are capable of condemning Christ to death when we can’t be bothered to stand up for what’s really true and beautiful. We’re capable of insulting Him and spitting at Him when we decide to sin, knowing exactly what the cost of our sin is on Him. We’re capable of ridiculing Him for possibly thinking that suffering could be good, of laughing at His humility and acceptance even as we’re hanging on our own crosses right next to Him. Every day we nail Him onto the cross and then demand He come down from it just to prove to us that He can, demanding signs and wonders to prove that He’s real as we torture Him for not being exactly the way we want Him to be. We are every character in this grand Passion. His blood is upon us and on our children, not just on some dusty Jews from thousands of years ago.
It is easy to sin when you’re alone and the consequences of it aren’t directly affecting you. But I got to see a friend of mine be hurt, albeit in a fake way, for something that the narrator said I had done. If that hurt me, how much more should the reality of the crucifixion hurt me? How much more remorse should I feel for the actual events, when the play with actors who would shower off the fake blood and put back on their normal clothes in an hour brought me to tears? When I choose to sin, I am knowingly beating and stripping and killing my friend like the Roman guards. When I yell at God for abandoning me and demand a sign that He’s still around, I am the bad thief and the Pharisees. When I allow a friend to do what I know is wrong because I don’t want to rock the boat, I am Pilate, washing my hands of the death of Christ yet still completely culpable for it (to the point where he is remembered by name in the Creed!) And so are you. So are we all.
There is no reason for God to do this. We do not deserve this. We are so wretched, so utterly hopeless, so completely undeserving of the grace of the Passion. We can talk about how much God loves us til we’re blue in the face, but we all have to realize that, because of what we do to Him, we don’t deserve an ounce of mercy. If God were a human, He’d be within His rights to smite all of us, or to turn His back and never acknowledge us again. But God was a human, and He didn’t. He chooses to love us and chase us anyway, as completely worthless as we are. That’s what mercy means. How dare we have pride and see God’s mercy as something to take for granted, something we deserve? How dare we act like we wouldn’t do exactly the same thing as those people in Jerusalem in 33 A.D.?
This Lent of the year of mercy has been, for me, a time of intense meditation on the mercy of Christ. In order to need the infinite mercy of God, we need to realize how intensely wretched we are. We need to know exactly what we’re capable of: murdering someone who loves us and doing it on a daily basis. God’s mercy is the only thing that can make us able to live with ourselves once we’ve realized what we’ve done to Him. I’ve been broken this year, and it’s nothing compared to what Christ suffered, for all that, in my pride, I’ve thought it was as bad. But He offered me mercy, and, in that mercy, I can come back to Him.
May you all have a blessed Triduum and Easter Season!