I was really not into Lent…

For years, I really was not into Lent. It was a sad time. I really just wanted to fast-forward through those forty days and get on to Easter.

A few years ago though, I was on a “purposeful living” kick. I was attempting to be present in each moment. As we entered Lent, I realized I would have to be present in Lent. So, I prayed that I might be able to accompany Jesus in His suffering that Lent. I resolved to live Lent purposefully – to be present with Him in His pain.

In my prayer I envisioned myself crouched down, ready to receive a football – I said “all right, I’m ready. I can take it. I’m with you, Jesus.”

You know that old adage, “be careful what you wish for because you might just get it?” Ooh. Let me tell you, be careful what you pray for too because you may just get it – and more.

What was I thinking? 

It was the hardest Lent of my life. Every kind of hardship, difficulty, and temptation arose. At one point, I wondered why I even believed in God – a concept that previously would have been completely foreign to me. All kinds of things arose, one after the other – like a barrage of cannonballs – and I felt like I just wasn’t strong enough to handle them. I prayed, “Oh God, I think I prayed the wrong thing. I’m really sorry. Can you take it all away? I think I’m not strong enough to do this Lent thing with you.”

After coming clean with God about my complete and utter spiritual wimpiness, I opened a prayer book to the Anima Christi prayer. I had seen the prayer before, but this time it seemed to jump off the page at me. I resolved to pray it every time a difficulty arose. Things got easier. It became my “go to” prayer that Lent. In fact, it became one of my favorite “go to” prayers of all time.

_____

ANIMA Christi, sanctifica me. Corpus Christi, salva me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. Passio Christi, conforta me. O Bone Iesu, exaudi me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Ne permittas me separari a te. Ab hoste maligno defende me. In hora mortis meae voca me. Et iube me venire ad te, Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

SOUL of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds, hide me. Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. From the malicious enemy, defend me. In the hour of my death, call me. and bid me come unto Thee, that with thy saints I may may praise Thee for ever and ever. Amen.

_____

The more I prayed this prayer, the stronger I felt. The more I prayed it, the more I realized too that the Christian faith is less about taking things upon ourselves than handing them over to Jesus. He already suffered for us. We need to trust that He has suffered perfectly and hand every trouble and every difficulty over to Him. In all things, we are made strong in him – not by our own power – but though His sacrifice.

Yes, He wants our presence, we remember him asking his disciples to wait and stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has already done the suffering and dying though. He wants to give us Easter.

This realization was a transformative moment in my faith journey. Everything became easier, I felt lighter. The hardships, difficulties, and temptations still kept coming at me, but they didn’t rattle me. I felt grounded in Him because I was both painfully aware of my own limitations and also wonderfully aware of His complete abilities. Praying this prayer led to a gift that I couldn’t have prayed for – an unshakable confidence in Him.

During that same time, I came across a musical setting of the Anima Christi by composer Msgr. Marco Frisina of the Diocese of Rome. The harmonies are gorgeous and it remains, to this day, one of my favorite pieces.  Truly, it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Having studied classical and liturgical music myself, I have come to regard Frisina as one of my favorite composers of the modern era.

So, before a recent trip to Rome, I remarked to a friend, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow I could hear some of Frisina’s music while I was there?” It was a completely “blue sky” thought – a totally unlikely happenstance.

The fact is though, God always speaks the language of our hearts – and He happens to know what’s in them too.

While attending Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, I heard familiar harmonies. I whispered to the woman standing to my right, “Isn’t that Marco Frisina?” “Si,” she replied. There was Msgr. Marco Frisina himself conducting the Anima Christi. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had prayed to accompany Jesus through Lent that year and found strength through this prayer. Now, I was sitting next to the composer, conducting a live performance, of this most beautiful setting of this prayer. It was like a gift just for me. Only God knew what I had prayed, and only He could know what an incredible gift it would be for me to hear this prayer that had been pivotal in my faith journey, in live performance, while sitting right next to the composer. It was a gift beyond words.

At that moment, I realized more than ever before, that God hears each one of our prayers. Each one of us is loved. Each one of us is cherished. He loves us so much that He wants to fulfill even the deepest desires of our hearts.

I sat there with tears streaming down, completely overwhelmed by His love.

As we enter this Holy Week, let us realize that this Love is offered to each one of us – He waits for us to come to Him so that He can give us His love.

As we contemplate His ultimate sacrifice this week, let us remember that we have nothing to lose in going to Him except our own suffering, pains, and troubles. We can accompany Him, and in the silence of our hearts, lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross.

Believe me, there is no better offer.

Setting of Anima Christi by Msgr. Marco Frisina, Performed by Choir of the Diocese of Rome

Losing the Masks this Lent

I was reading something that Marilyn Monroe wrote and it really resonated with me.

Monroe wrote, “I’m finding that sincerity, and to be [as] simple and direct as I’d like, is often taken for sheer stupidity.”

There is truth in her words. Sincerity and simplicity are not often-prized in modern times.  Rather, from the time we are small, we are taught control – which often claims sincerity and simplicity as its casualty.  We are taught to control our words, deeds, actions, goals, and dreams.  We are taught that we can control our destiny and our entire world.

As we grow and realize that this is not actually always possible, we develop masks to cover those places where we feel less adequate or where we feel afraid.  Nearly everyone develops these masks.  There is a multi-million dollar industry built on the sale of self-improvement books that teach us how to project power and confidence in the boardroom – and every other area of life.  They teach us to “pretend until you become” and “fake it until you make it.”  They teach us how to survive by putting on masks of power and of control.

Yet, despite our best efforts to maintain control, hardships still arise.  As much as we may try to project confidence and control our destinies with positive thoughts and illusions of power, difficult things still happen.  How is one to reconcile this?

The problem with “masks” is that this mentality, this projection of control, completely closes the door to God.  If we try to control everything and mask those things we fear we can’t control, we leave no opening for God to work in our lives.

Yet, whether or not we admit it to ourselves, God knows our minds and our hearts: LORD, you search me and you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.” (Psalm 139)

God knows what is under our masks.  It is in this place of sincerity and simplicity that God works without hindrance.  He is at home in our unabashed fears and in our unencumbered happiness.  St. Therese of Liseaux, contemplating ways to get to heaven, spoke of her “Little Way.”  It is a way of simplicity. In St. Therese’s “Little Way,” there are no masks – just overflowing love for her Creator, the desire to please Him in her every deed, and an openness to receiving His gifts.

One of the most common ways that God helps us to “lose the mask” is through illness and other hardships.  Countless saints, including St. Therese, St. Francis, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and St. Ignatius, all learned through illness.  St. Ignatius lost his health in battle and during the long and painful months of recovery, came to the realization that he was not in control.  He dropped the masks of wealth and power that he had inherited at his noble birth.  It was during this time, that Ignatius wrote his famous prayer of surrender to God, the Suscipe.  This prayer represents a total offering of the self to God.

Suscipe

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

 

The more I pray this prayer, the more I realize how completely counter-cultural it is. The Suscipe represents a return to authenticity and simplicity – a removing of the masks before God. Essentially, what we are saying when we pray it is, “Here I am, Lord. I realize that I am dependent on you for every breath.  I offer myself to you totally and completely. I surrender my mask.”

In Latin, “suscipe” means “to receive.”  The beautiful paradox is that the more we give to God, the more we ourselves receive.

Perhaps because it presents an opening for God to work in our lives, each day I pray it, I also think of different things I should be handing over to God.  I offer whatever is weighing on me and whatever is making me happy that day.  As I pray it, I often find concerns that I didn’t even know were there rising to the surface of my consciousness.  I hand these things over too.

Praying the Suscipe almost always gives rise to further prayer which, for me, generally goes something like this:

Lord, I give you my joys, sorrows, victories, defeats, pains, consolations, and everything in between.  I give you my imperfections. 

Lord, please sort it all out. You know what’s best for me.  If it is your will, Lord, replace my fears, sorrows, and sufferings, with your love, joy, and peace.  Let me not hold onto things that weigh me down but let me hand them over to you. You are my strength in weakness. 

Even my dreams and aspirations – you may have better ones for me.  Let me not hold too tightly to these.  Keep my eyes and ears open to your designs for my life.  I am an empty vessel.  Fill me with whatever you choose – words, deeds, actions – according to your will, not mine.

Help me to see you at work in my life, Lord.  Open my eyes, my ears, my heart to recognize all of the ways in which you are working in my life throughout the day. 

Allow me to accept your love.

Allow me to accept the gifts you want to give me.

Allow me to accept the abundance of your gifts. 

Allow me to use these gifts you give me in word and deed for those around me too. Work through me in all things for your greater glory.

Praying the Suscipe creates a sacred space in our souls where we ask that “perfect Love” to “cast out all fear”; a place where we allow His mercy and His love to permeate our beings. It is a place where we come to the profound realization that, in the end, and every day in between, He is really our only strength.  In our weakness, He does make us strong.

This Lent, give Him your masks. Give Him all the fears that they cover.  Be weak in Him and let Him make you strong.

This Lent, open yourself to the Love that He is dying to give you.

Sun-baked thoughts of Mermaids and The Magdalen

As I sat by the shore, warm sand underfoot, cool waves misting before me, my mind started to wander to the blue horizon.  Perhaps it was a recent game of pirate-themed, mini-golf that led to thoughts of mermaids in the sea…mermaids with long and beautiful hair.  Thoughts of long and beautiful hair led to thoughts of Mary Magdalene – who’s feast day was celebrated last month.

The story of Mary Magdalene has always disturbed me a little.  I have always gotten hung-up on the fact that she dried Jesus’ feet with her hair.  It seems so impractical.  Why not take a nice, clean, linen cloth? Much more absorbent.  Why the hair?

So, as I sat on the beach, I resolved to sit with the story of Mary Magdalene and try to get beyond the hair.  I decided to employ the Ignatian practice of imagining myself in the Gospel scene so as to try to understand more about what it really is that we are to learn from this story.

I imagined myself there with the apostles who had just eaten dinner with Jesus.  They were wary of this woman who had come into the home. She was known, after all, as having been completely sinful (having seven sins – seven representing completeness in Judaic tradition).  They did not want Jesus’ name to be tarnished by any association with this sinful woman.

So, as she approached Jesus, the apostles tried to stop her.  Jesus, however, held them back and allowed her to approach.  How interesting it must have been to be with Jesus, and maybe a little frustrating for his disciples too – he was always breaking with tradition and doing the unexpected!

She was a beautiful woman with a shapely figure and long, dark locks of hair.  She approached Jesus and brought before him the two things that she may have put treasure in – her beautiful hair and her perfume. Overcome by emotion, her tears fell onto his feet.  She dried his feet with that very part of herself that may have brought her pride and may have also caused temptation. And he allowed her to bring those two things that may have caused her to sin, to his feet, and he allowed her to give them to him.

When she entered the home, he already knew everything about her.  He knew her struggles. He didn’t shy away. Instead, he allowed this woman, who had previously been forced to live on the periphery, this woman who dared to approach him, to touch his Holy feet.

When Judas berated her for “wasting” her expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, Jesus came to her defense.  Why?  Because he knew that her intention was pure.  Judas’ was not.  He wanted to steal the money from the sale of the perfume.  She wanted to give Jesus all that she had.  She was operating out of love, Judas was not.

So we see in Mary of Magdalene an offering of the whole self – the good, bad, and the ugly- a suspice offering.  The required precondition of this offering being that she overcome her own feelings of shame and abandon her pride and sinfulness and trust completely and confidently in Christ.

And Jesus loved her for this.  He did not judge – as did the disciples around him – who were still learning. He accepted her offering and offered her His love and a new life without stigma in return. A life without fear.  A life of peace.

The story of Mary Magdalene is a story of love and of relationship.  Mary’s is a brave love – a love brave enough to approach Christ himself, painfully aware of her own sinful state. And, hers is a confident love – a love confident in the redeeming love of her savior.

And, it is a story of a God who desires to live in relationship with each individual person – not a nebulous relationship – but a real, life-giving relationship.  Ours is an approachable God who cares to receive our offerings of self and reciprocates with a love greater than we could imagine. A God who offers a redeeming love that restores dignity to the brokenness of each individual person.  A God who offers a beautiful relationship that makes those who enter into it, like Mary Magdalene, become – healthy, strong, and truly free. And, it is a love that brings unspeakable joy and peace.

Pope Francis speaks eloquently to this relationship in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, “No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness that never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew (Evangelii Gaudium 3).”

The story of Mary Magdalene does not end here though.  At the resurrection, it was not the apostles, but Mary Magdalene who first saw the Risen Christ. It was she, who was entrusted with the duty of going out and telling the apostles that Christ had risen. Healed by Jesus – brought to wholeness – and perhaps chosen because she had known great brokenness herself, it was this woman, that Christ first chose to spread the good news to broken humankind.

Pope Francis reminds us that when we accept the gift of Christ’s transforming love, we too will be called to go out and share this love. “Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others.  As it expands, goodness takes root and develops.  If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good (Evangelii Gaudium 9).”

Through the person of Mary Magdalene, we are invited to relationship with Christ. And through her example, we are called to announce the Good News to every periphery, to approach those liminal situations and to draw upon our healed-woundedness to connect with the Mary Magdalene’s of today. We are called to connect with those in situations that make us uncomfortable –  to let go of fear and to approach in love. We are called to extend that hand, to offer the ear, the touch, the love, that heals.

(Click hyperlink below to listen)

https://www.google.com/#q=youtube+beautiful+beautiful+francesca+battistelli

“Beautiful, Beautiful” – Francesca Battistelli

“They will know you by your love”

The other day, I was driving to work when I came upon an accident. One car had rear-ended another car. It’s a common occurrence in our region – too many cars, too little space, too many distractions. What was unique about this accident though was the response of the police officer at the scene. He gently touched the arm of the woman who had rear-ended the other car and asked, “Are you okay?” His eyes were full of compassion for this woman. It was an unusually gentle and caring and response.

It reminded me of the parable of the rich young man in the Gospel. The young man tells Jesus that he has followed all of his commandments and wants to know what else he has to do to get into heaven. Jesus, being able to see into his heart, knows the man’s fatal flaw – his attachment to money. So what does Jesus do? Before instructing him about the action he needs to take (go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor), Jesus “looked steadily at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21, JB). Or, in another translation, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (NAB).

There is so much to be learned from this one line.

Instead of looking at him and judging him or berating him, Jesus looked at the man and loved him. He didn’t glance down his glasses at him with a disapproving look.  He didn’t wag his finger at him.  He just “looked steadily at him and loved him.”

How beautiful is this? God knows everything about us – whether we tell Him or not. He knows the secrets we hold in the depths of our hearts and he loves us steadily – despite all of our flaws.

Every person has flaws, imperfections. He knew it, we know it. But in this one passage he shows us how to react to the flaws of our brothers and sisters. Love them. Be compassionate with them. Let go of snap judgments. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, says “When we stand before Christ crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and send us out to his people… How good it is for us to contemplate the closeness he shows to everyone! If he speaks to someone he looks into their eyes with deep love and concern… (268-269).

I was in a meeting recently where the topic of discussion was “evangelization.” There were many heady and academic responses to the question of how one can introduce others to Jesus. The most profound response, however, came from an Afghan refugee who had converted to Christianity from Islam – the price for this conversion being a sentence of death. He rose from his seat and said, “The answer is simple. They will know you by your love.”

Yes, the answer is simple.  Let them know us by our love.

We are so blessed

The latest news says that Meriam Ibrahim is safe at the US Embassy in Kartoum.

If you haven’t heard the story of this 27 year-old woman, let me brief you. This woman was born in Sudan to an Ethiopian Christian mother and Sudanese Muslim father. Her father left her family when she was just six. Her mother raised her in the Christian faith. Meriam became a physician and was also a successful business-owner in Sudan.

She was so successful that people became jealous. They reported her to the new radical, Islamist government that has taken power in Sudan. Her crime was being married to a Christian man. Religious intermarriage is forbidden in Islam and, due to the fact that her father was Muslim and Islam is passed down through the father’s lineage, the government considered her Muslim. It is also not permitted to convert from Islam to another religion – doing so is punishable by death. However, prior to the rise to power of the present radical government, it was almost unheard for the punishment for “intermarriage” to actually be carried out.

Meriam was brought to court and refused to renounce her Christian faith. She was sentenced to 100 lashes (while pregnant) and was given the option of renouncing her faith again. She refused. She was jailed with her two-year old son who was not permitted to be around her husband because her son is considered by the government to be Muslim and a Christian man is not permitted to raise a Muslim son. She recently gave birth in prison in chains. She still refused to renounce her faith. Her death sentence was to be carried out when she weaned her newborn – by two-years of age.

Fortunately, her lawyer, (who is another brave soul – a Muslim who chose to represent her in court despite threats to his own life for doing so), fought hard for her. Governments around the world, including the US government and the Holy See, voiced their disapproval of this religious persecution to the Sudanese government. A few days ago, Meriam was finally acquitted and freed.  Just hours later, she was taken into custody again on the grounds of “false documents” as she and her family were trying to leave on a plane to seek refuge in the US. These visas were, in fact, issued by the U.S. State Department.  (Meriam and her children have been granted refugee status by the US government. Her husband, who came to the US as a refugee as a child, is already a US citizen).

Despite torture and threat of death, this woman refused to renounce her faith in Christ. She believes so much in His message and His promise of  new life that she would have died for it.

As I followed this story, I have asked myself many times, “would I be brave enough to do this? Would I die for Christ – for my Christian faith?” I would like to say that I would, but if I were in her shoes, would I really be brave enough? Brave enough even to leave my children for my faith?

The other day, Pope Francis remarked on how there are more martyrs today than in the early Church.  I believe it. I hear stories of persecution of Christians throughout the world every single day. Just yesterday, I was hearing about the small Christian community in Mosul, Iraq being near to extinction. These people are descendants of the very first Christians. They also refuse to renounce their faith despite the fact that they are marked for death due to it. It is not an easy time to be a Christian in many parts of the world.

Here in the “land of the free,” we sometimes forget just how valuable our freedoms are. I am so grateful to live in a country founded on religious freedom where I don’t have to choose between my faith and my life.

And, I am grateful to live in a country that was founded as “one nation under God.” Christian, Muslim, Jewish – we are all sons and daughters of one God. I am proud to live in a nation that gives refuge to, and welcomes, people of all lands and languages and faiths. I am so glad that we have a government with checks and balances and leaders that ensure that our rights are respected and that peace is preserved.

And, I am so grateful for all those who have died for God and country to maintain these freedoms and this peace.

We truly are so blessed.  Let us not forget it.

America

 

“God is in the Details”

So, I have to give credit where credit is due. My friend, Mary Ann, just gave me the title for this post when I told her this story a few minutes ago.

Listen to this. As often happens, I got busy with the end of the school year activities, work, and life in general and again waited until the last minute to plan our summer vacation. I checked the online listings for the area we had originally planned to go and it was all picked over.  There was nothing left at a reasonable price. In desperation, I punched the dates we are free to go on vacation into the computer and did a worldwide search. All of these cool worldwide destinations came up. Hawaii looked nice – the room prices were reasonable, but airfare was out of the question. So, I decided to stick to the East Coast and, just for fun, looked to see if there was anything left on the Cape – my dream beach destination. I fully expected it also to be completely sold out. (Now, if like Mary Ann, you ask “which Cape?,” I will tell you what I told her. What other Cape is there? Cape Cod of course! Sorry, Massachusetts pride is as strong as NY Yankees pride!)

Anyway, I was surprised to see that there were still a lot of cottages listed as being available the week we have off. However, when I e-mailed the owners, most of the cottages were actually already booked.  I spent many hours looking at these listings and even called on friends in Massachusetts to give me advice. Still, it looked like I was going to strike out again.  I wasn’t sure quite what to do and I was acutely aware of time running out.

So, last night, when Mary Ann asked if I wanted to go to Adoration, I decided to take a break from the frustrating cottage search and said “sure, I’ll go.”  It was still on my mind when I got to the church though, so I decided to ask God for help with the vacation planning. When I was in college, the Jesuits taught us to envision Jesus sitting next to us and just have a conversation with him about whatever was on our minds.  So, although I almost hesitated to ask because it seemed kind of ridiculous that God would care about my vacation plans, I decided to tell ask Him for help. Just as I would tell a friend, I told him I didn’t know where to reserve or which house to reserve. I was concerned about many things and many details and I told him every one!

I woke up this morning and found in my e-mailbox an e-mail from the owner of my favorite cottage. She said it was available. And, not only was it available, but it had every single one of the things we wanted in a cottage – and more!

Then I called up my friend from college who has a family cottage on The Cape and told her where and when we could be there.  She said, “No way!” She said that the cottage I had rented is just a few streets away from her family cottage. I thought that this was nice, but I knew that she would be working so I told her it was really too bad I wouldn’t get to see her. She said, “No! Our week at the Cape is always this weekend, but this year my cousins took my weekend and I was really mad!” Her new weekend happens to fall during the same week that we have reserved. We will be a few streets away and I will get to see her!  And, on top of this, one of our other dear college friends, who now lives in Utah, will also be vacationing in the same town on the Cape the same week!

I could not have planned it better if I had tried! God really is “in the details” as my friend Mary Ann said. It still astounds me that He could really care about every little detail in our lives – but He really does. We just have to bring it to Him and ask for help. Every time I do this, I get results that are far better than any I could plan myself.   As the old adage goes, “Let go and let God”…it works every time!

Footprints+in+the+Sand,+Oregon+Coast[1]

 

A Good Man

Today my uncle David passed away.

My uncle was addicted to alcohol and drugs. He spent years drinking and taking all kinds of drugs. He became homeless. People would shun him on the streets. He was arrested countless times for public intoxication. He was in and out of prison many times for this – but never hurt anyone except himself.

He was also a really good man.

Most of you know that I’m pro-life. Some of you might think that means I’m judgmental. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Let me tell you how I first became pro-life. It wasn’t in biology class when I read about life beginning when the sperm and egg meet. I don’t understand how anyone can dispute scientifically that life begins at that moment, but that’s actually not how I became pro-life. I became pro-life in eighth grade when my mother first told me the story of how my uncle became an addict.

When my uncle was twenty, he was deeply in love with a woman. He proposed to her. She said “yes.” Shortly after, she learned she was expecting. She was embarrassed. He was embarrassed. She said it wasn’t the right time. He said “it’ll be OK, we love each other, we’ll love this baby.”

She decided she still didn’t want to have a baby yet. He asked her to reconsider. She scheduled an abortion. The clinic said she would be asleep and that she wouldn’t feel anything.

She asked my uncle, her fiance, to go to the clinic with her. Even though he didn’t want her to go he said, “of course, you’re my fiance, I will support you and I am part of this.”

He went into the room with her to hold her hand. He didn’t really expect to see anything. She was only a few months along. They told him it was “just a blob of tissue.”

Later that day, he hysterically recounted to my mother how it felt seeing his tiny daughter being dismembered piece by piece and the expression on her tiny face. He asked her how a father could stand by and let that happen to his child. He asked her why he let it happen. He said he felt like a monster.

What my uncle never intended to happen, what he had witnessed that day, changed his life forever.

From that day on, he drowned his guilt in whatever intoxicating substances he could get. He didn’t feel worthy of life. His fiance also became an addict. They didn’t marry.

For the next forty-six years, his brothers and sisters were always looking for him on the streets, bringing him home to get “cleaned up.” He would shower, eat, and go back to the streets. He worked so hard at becoming sober many times and maintained sobriety for years, but he still never felt worthy of life. He hated himself and thought God did too.

He was a good, good man with a beautiful heart and conscience but his life was, in the fullest sense, a tragedy.

There is so much to learned about loving people without judging –Mother Teresa was great at teaching about this. She used to say, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Pope Francis is doing a great job today teaching about this also. He exemplifies, each day how to be humble and loving – how to see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ. One can never know the burdens a person is carrying around with them. If we did, I believe we would all be more gentle with their hearts. What we can know for certain, is that everyone is carrying something, everyone is wounded, because it’s human nature to be wounded.

Some people hear that I’m pro-life and judge me to be “anti-woman” and “judgmental” – this couldn’t be farther than the truth. When I know people in these situations, I accompany them in their pain and think of them with love and compassion because I know that, no matter what anyone claims, there is always pain and death involved when it comes to abortion.

I am PRO-life. That is, I am for life. I am for the life of the woman, who’s life ended that day. I am for the little girl, my cousin, who’s life ended that day. And, I am for the man, my uncle, who’s life ended that day.

But that’s not the end of the story.

At 10 am last Friday, my uncle was received into the Catholic Church and received absolution. When my mother asked if he would like to see a priest, he said, “he would actually come and see me?” Can you imagine what it must feel like to drop all of those burdens of guilt and self-hatred and know that you are loved? As he lay dying the next nine days, his face would fill with joy only one time a day – the time when the priest would come and visit him.

On this day, I pray that as my uncle enters his new life, he will finally fully experience God’s tender and loving embrace.

 

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“The Embrace” by Chris Hopkins