Doubting Thomas

I’ve been thinking about Thomas for the past two weeks since the Gospel reading was John 20:19-31. He gets such a bad reputation for doubting. He’s been branded ‘Doubting Thomas’ probably more often than he’s remembered for being an apostle.

In the evening of that first Easter, Jesus appears to the apostles. Except for Thomas. They are all given the Easter joy, the hope, the return to life. They were dead in dismay and confusion and the Risen Lord casts light back into their hearts by appearing to them, giving them his peace, and breathing the Holy Spirit on them. All the apostles are present except Thomas.

When we nonchalantly brand this apostle ‘Doubting Thomas,’ no one seems to remember that Jesus knew everything. He could do whatever he liked in His resurrected body. Why not bi-locate and appear to Thomas at the same time? Why appear to the others when Thomas alone had stepped away?

Thomas returns to find the others beaming, buzzing, elated: the Lord is Risen! And Thomas is incredulous –> I won’t believe it until I not only see him, but place my hand in his side. Seeing Jesus is not enough. Thomas must touch Christ, and even more striking, must touch His wounds.

Thomas is criticized for this, but oh how I identify with him here! How often do I demand signs and tangible answers from the Lord? Thomas walked with him, heard his words, and still needed physical affirmation of His resurrection. The testimony of his friends was not enough. He needed more.

I need more. I often cry out for more. Time and again, Jesus has provided, but time and again I demand him practically come down and smack me in the face or embrace me as the situation demands.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be Thomas? It isn’t until eight days later that Jesus decides to appear to him. It’s easy to disparage Thomas’ doubt when we know the arc of the whole story. While the other apostles began the joy of Easter with light and free hearts that very evening, Thomas was probably sulking in the corner for that whole week with a heavy heart and confused mind.

I imagine his interior dialogue went something like this: Can Jesus really have risen from the dead? If he did, why didn’t Jesus appear to me? Why did he supposedly come when I wasn’t here? The others are so joyful. Why wasn’t I invited into that joy? Why am I sulking here in the corner while the others rejoice? I thought he loved me. Why are the others chosen, and I am not?

Jesus could have come at any time. But He didn’t. He waited eight days, and this is no accident or oversight. He made Thomas wait eight days. That eight days must have felt a lifetime to Thomas. The story rolls along so quickly in John’s Gospel that we don’t think about the time in between. I never thought about the eight whole days between his first appearance and the second until this Easter season. When I did, it’s what got me thinking about this whole thing.

Place yourself Thomas’ sandals: how long, O Lord? I cannot believe until I touch His side. Until I can physically be a part of those wounds, I cannot believe He is alive again. I want to believe, but I am prevented.

It’s easy for me to put myself in those well-worn sandals. He has made me wait while I watch others live joyfully too. He provides them opportunities that He seems to deny me, at least for the time being. I demand physical evidence that He’s got a plan for me. And time seems to stand still as I wait, wait, wait.

I identify with Thomas on so many levels. I don’t think he ought to be remember as the one who doubted. He should be remembered as the one who was made to wait. He was made to wait for Easter joy. So, what happens? Eight long days after Jesus appears to the others, He appears when Thomas is present. He invites Thomas to place his hands into those blessed wounds, those wounds made for the love of Thomas and the love of us all. What it must have been like for Thomas to place his hands in the very wounds by which he was healed! His heart must have raced with joy as he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” God willing I make it to heaven, I want to ask Thomas what that moment was like.

Is it a coincidence that Divine Mercy Sunday is the Sunday we hear this gospel? Absolutely not. On Divine Mercy Sunday, as per the revelation to St. Faustina, we celebrate Divine Mercy, and particularly that mercy that is poured out in blood and water, in the Eucharist and in Baptism. We celebrate it eight days after Easter Sunday, the eight days that the other apostles celebrated at Thomas waited. Thomas placed his hand in the wounded side where that precious blood and water gushed out. That tangible reality that Thomas so desperately needed? He received it. We also need it and receive it in the Sacraments. Christ may not appear to us in the Resurrected body when we gather with our friends, but He makes Himself present to us when we gather as the Body of Christ for the celebration of the Sacraments. He made Thomas wait to reveal ever more His glory.

Reflecting on this the last two weeks has been fruitful for my Easter Season. I wanted to celebrate the Risen Lord and found myself failing. I so desired the joy of Easter, but I felt like I was being stiffed by Jesus on a few levels so I wallowed instead of celebrating. But the thing is, waiting can be so good for us and His glory is always revealed in time. In times of waiting, Jesus provides unique opportunities to dwell nearer Him, Our Lady, and the saints all of whom were made to wait in certain times. I have to remind myself of that when waiting feels like an oppressive burden. I invite you to ponder the mystery of waiting more deeply with me this Easter Season.

God bless you on your way, dear fellow pilgrim!

St. Thomas the Apostle, pray for us!

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Longing to be Satisfied

Today is known as Valentine’s Day. Others will call it Singles Awareness Day. People will therefore either think of chocolates, flowers, and extravagant plans or sitting at home alone watching Netflix and drinking and shoveling ice cream into your mouth.

I think I’ll just go with celebrating the Feast Day of St. Valentine even though he isn’t technically in the Roman Calendar anymore. I saw a relic of his in Dublin and that’s good enough for me. It’s also the feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, but that’s quite a mouthful to wish to someone: Happy Cyril and Methodius Day just doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way.

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I love any opportunity to write sappy cards because words of affirmation is my primary love language. So unlike most single people, I actually really delight in Valentine’s Day.

Of course, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about Valentine’s Day unless there was another underlying reality going on.

So here are some real things about my life:

I live with one engaged girl and the other has been in a serious relationship for almost two years. Two of the women I’m closest with got married within two weeks of graduating. This summer, I will be in a wedding for the fourth time since I started college. My joke is that by the end of my life I will become Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses. I already have four bridesmaid dresses to prove I’m on my way. The university I attend has a depressing ratio of men to women, and as a senior I’m least likely to have something develop in the months before graduation. Since my freshman year, I’ve been on exactly two dates that went exactly nowhere. I will be 22 in two months and I haven’t had my first kiss (for this though, I’m pretty grateful from the horror stories I’ve heard about traumatic first kisses).

Here are a few questions I regularly get asked:

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“Why aren’t you dating? You’re so beautiful, who wouldn’t want to pursue you?”

Or my favorite, asked by a priest, no less, “Are you sure you’re putting yourself in social situations where you’re going to meet young men?”

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Or the statements really, really well meaning people say:

“I’m so excited to see where you’re going!”

“Wow, it’s going to take quite the man to keep up with you.”

“Well, you have to know that you’re kind of intimidating.”

“Cherish this time of singlehood! You can do what ever you want! You aren’t responsible to anyone! You’re free!”

Cue the eye rolling because I’ve heard it all again and again and again ad nauseum. Cue the ensuing envy looking at the good men my dear friends have been blessed with. Cue the bitterness that rises up that my vocation hasn’t been revealed to me. Cue the doubt that I’m really not worth pursuing since so few have bothered to try and maybe my friends only say I’m worth it because they want to make me feel better. Cue the fear that this desire in my heart for a husband and children will go unfulfilled. Cue the existential crisis about my purpose on this earth. Cue the lie that no one could possibly love someone so broken a sinner as me until death do us part.

I’ve heard all the supportive words and then I’ve just as quickly believed all the lies that the Evil One has planted in my mind. So I’m not here to reiterate all the things that other very well meaning friends have told you to make you feel better or that have spontaneously erupted out of the goodness of their hearts.

Fun fact: when I was four, my favorite song to sing on our karaoke machine was Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. I wish I could explain why to you, but I honestly couldn’t. I thought it was the best song in the world. It’s been on my mind recently as my heart has been aching.

I want to affirm that ache in your heart because I too need the ache in my heart affirmed.

It’s that ache that arises when you watch your best friend get married. You’re pierced by the Sacramental grace, the radiance of a couple imitating Christ’s love for the Church, the reality of our heavenly call, the joy of their love, and the transcendent beauty of a bride and groom on their wedding day. And then. And then you ache because you want to know what it is to commit to getting another person to heaven.

It’s that ache that arises when you listen to your guy friend discuss how he wants to lay down his life for the woman that he loves. You’re pierced by the marvel of a man conforming himself to Christ, the mystery of a love that stretches out to protect and defend, the delirious joy of his love for her, and the honest pride of watching your friend mature into his masculinity. And then. And then you ache because you want to know what it is to be loved by a man like that.

It’s that ache that arises when you see your best friend with their first child. You’re pierced by the mystery of creation, the wonder of the female body to bear a child, the joy of this brand new human being, and the beauty of your friend in the radiance of her motherhood. And then. And then you ache because you want to know what it is to participate in creation in such a way.

It’s that ache that crushes you when you hear the reading from Genesis as the man cries, “Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh! At last!” Because you, too, want to hear that exultant cry from the lips of another.

This abiding longing, an abiding ache has kept me awake at night and has prevented me from fully enjoying the exciting and beautiful events in the lives of those around me. It has pierced my heart as an arrow penetrating to the depths of my being. It has left me on the floor of the chapel with weepy eyes and wobbly knees.  It hasn’t diminished the farther in I’ve gotten into my knowledge of what marriage is in the eyes of the Church. If anything, it’s only increased a hundredfold. It certainly hasn’t diminished watching some of my dearest friends enter into marriage and witnessing the the joys and the sorrows of married life. The ache has only deepened and broadened and grown more poignant in intensity. The more I read St. John Paul II, Fulton Sheen, and Pope Benedict XVI on the beauty of marriage and the family all the more difficult the ache is to bear.

It is the longing to be loved, to be desired, to be protected. It is the longing to love another as well. The weight of all the love I long to give rests heavy in my heart. There is so much I am capable of giving, and yet some days I feel sterile, unable to be fruitful and wasting the good that’s in my heart.

Of course I love my family, and of course I love my friends. And I pour myself with love into my studies, my work, the ministries I’m involved in, and the volunteering that I do. And I receive love back from all of those things. And how immensely blessed I am to receive and to give. It is so much more than so many will ever know.

Yet. Oh yet I am still hungry and thirsty for more. More, more, more. I long for more. I am unsatisfied. I return to the chapel again and again begging the Lord to take away the heaviness, to be satisfied with the shower of love I receive all the time. I find myself on my knees once more asking, “Why not me? Why not yet?” I am unsatisfied.

We have been made biologically, psychologically, and spiritually for one another. We have been made for communion and community. We need other people to survive and to thrive. These desires, these aches, are a part of being human. They are not bad, but actually really, really good because they point us to the transcendent reality of what love truly is: a gift of self. We cannot love in isolation. It requires an “other” to love. Love draws us outside of ourselves. It is transcendent. But we haven’t been made only for a human love that will draw us outside of ourselves. Because the truth is, my married friends are not satisfied. They still experience loss and loneliness and that painful ache. They experience beautiful purpose and joy and rest in the other, but they too still long for more. Human relationships will never be able to satisfy the ache.

We have been made to love and to be loved, in the image of He who is Love itself. He has made us for Himself. He has made us for an infinite love, for He is that infinite Love. That painful first separation came when our first parents sinned because they had everything and still were not satisfied. They broke the bonds of love between each other and between themselves and God. We then had to be reconciled to the Lord. And sent His only Son, the Word made flesh, Love Incarnate, to draw us back into communion. He became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh at last at the Incarnation and the world and man has never been the same since. Now we are not only reconciled to God, but we have been given the gift to be caught up and transfigured in glory.

But we cannot as yet receive that infinity of love on this side of eternity. We are bound to be searching, seeking, starving, unsatisfied until we are united to Him in truest communion. We ache, we long, we desire to be caught up in Love Himself for all of eternity. But we aren’t there yet. We’re here, on this side of heaven, wrestling with the longing. We are here, unsatisfied even after receiving the holy Eucharist and choosing virtue over sin.

So what’s a girl to do with this ache that makes her quiver down to her core? Lean into it. Lean into the mystery of this longing, the longing we have felt since the expulsion of Eden, the ache we still feel even after the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dwell within the ache and bring it always to the foot of His cross. Bring it to the lap of the Blessed Mother. Bring it to our brothers and sisters the saints who experienced and wrote about that ache and have now been drawn up into Love Himself. Learn to love the mystery and to love the ache because it will lead us home to Him. Let the ache propel you forward to love those around you unreservedly. No sacrifice done in the name of Love is too small.

This is no easy task. You will fail. I will fail. We’ll get caught up again in the lies and the sorrow and begin to doubt. That’s okay. Pick your heart up off the ground and begin again. Kick the devil in the face and begin again. Run to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and begin again.

I’m praying for you, and I beg that you do the same for me. We are all so in need of each others love and support.

Here is a beautiful prayer by St. Anthony of Padua to help with the ache and this time in between heaven and earth:

 Everyone longs to give themselves completely to someone,
To have a deep soul relationship with another,

To be loved thoroughly and exclusively.

But to a Christian, God says, “No, not until you are satisfied,
Fulfilled and content with being loved by Me alone,
With giving yourself totally and unreservedly to Me.

With having an intensely personal and unique relationship with Me alone.

Discovering that only in Me is your satisfaction to be found,
Will you be capable of the perfect human relationship,
That I have planned for you.
You will never be united to another
Until you are united with Me.
Exclusive of anyone or anything else.
Exclusive of any other desires or longings.
I want you to stop planning, to stop wishing, and allow Me to give you
The most thrilling plan existing . . . one you cannot imagine.

I want you to have the best. Please allow Me to bring it to you.

You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing the satisfaction that I am.
Keep listening and learning the things that I tell you.
Just wait, that’s all. Don’t be anxious, don’t worry
Don’t look around at things others have gotten
Or that I have given them
Don’t look around at the things you think you want,
Just keep looking off and away up to Me,
Or you’ll miss what I want to show you.
And then, when you’re ready, I’ll surprise you with a love
Far more wonderful than you could dream of.
You see, until you are ready, and until the one I have for you is ready,
I am working even at this moment
To have both of you ready at the same time.
Until you are both satisfied exclusively with Me
And the life I prepared for you,
You won’t be able to experience the love that exemplified your relationship with Me.

And this is perfect love.

And dear one, I want you to have this most wonderful love,
I want you to see in the flesh a picture of your relationship with Me.
And to enjoy materially and concretely the everlasting union of beauty,
perfection and love that I offer you with Myself.
Know that I love you utterly. I AM God.
Believe it and be satisfied.

A Man Worth Celebrating.

Today we celebrate a man who was an actor, a poet, a playwright, a philosopher, an adventurer, and a priest. Most of us knew him as Pope John Paul II. Thirty-eight years ago he was made the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years. He fought communism, knew the tragic early loss of his family, liked to ski & canoe & camp & hike, traveled the world, ecumenically embraced people of other faiths, and called for the New Evangelization in the Church. His influence on the Church and the world is inestimable. There are books, magazine articles,blog posts, movies, and the like describing him, his life, and his impact on the human community as whole. I could not aspire to write adequately on those things. Instead, I aim only to share the inestimable impact he has had on my own life as far as I am able to articulate it in a manageable blog post.

He was a name I knew and hazily understood in my childhood. I didn’t really get who the pope was growing up, but as my mother had many books with his name on it, I knew who John Paul II was. I distinctly remember when he died because my poor mother cried for days on end. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to get a grip on his significance. I was first introduced to his Theology of the Body via Jason and Crystalina Evert when I was fourteen. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it changed my life. His work on human sexuality and on the human person in the light of Christ radically turned my life upside down. It was a major influence in my true conversion to realizing that, as he said, life with Christ “is the most wonderful adventure of our lives.” His beatification in 2011 cause a lot of hubbub in my home parish youth group. He was the pope of our childhood who we were only beginning to discover. At the time, I thought I had good grasp on Theology of the Body and the cool pope of the youth who had artsy pictures camping out and about in the Polish mountains with young people.

When I came to college, I immediately became involved in our campus’ Theology of the Body Ministry, and my understanding began to open and flourish in ways I had never anticipated. I began to read his encyclicals, to read homilies, and heard more about his influence during the Second Vatican Council and in its implementation. At the end of my freshman year he was canonized a saint, and my friends and I were overjoyed. I continued to learn more about him and to read more of his works. At the end of my sophomore year, I discerned to join our Theology of the Body Ministry team. I felt on my heart the call to share his authentic understanding of who man is and who he is called to be. Around this time last year, I made pilgrimage to Rome and was able to pray outside his tomb. It was extraordinary.

This year, has been the year of John Paul II for me more than ever before. In June, I began working as the Family Initiatives Intern for the St. John Paul II Foundation where I help primarily with the Together in Holiness marriage conferences. It has been an immense blessing working for the Foundation, but most particularly it has been a privilege to work with people there who are deeply passionate about sharing the works of this great man in three different initiatives with both lay people and the clergy. This year I also accepted the co-head leadership for our Theology of the Body Ministry on campus. It has been an absolute joy and has added so much richness to my life. The ministry is flourishing this year. Many fruitful conversations have been taking place on what it means to be human, authentic femininity and masculinity, and true chastity as a virtue. The team of students I have been able to work with in our ministry have such big hearts to serve our Lord and serve their brothers and sisters on campus.

In addition to these “ordinary” privileges was the extraordinary privilege of going to World Youth Day in Poland this July. For a week I was able to walk in his steps in his beloved and beautiful home country. I was able to participate in an international celebration of my faith with millions of my brothers and sisters in Christ, a celebration he inaugurated as pope. He had a heart for the youth, and so do young people still have a deep and abiding affection for him. There was a day of that pilgrimage that is only just now beginning to truly dawn on me. We spent several hours in his hometown of Wadowice, a village a little distance from Kraków. We were able to go the museum there that exists in the building where he was born and lived the first part of his life. We pressed our faces against the glass where letters he wrote, ski gear he skied with, and cassocks he wore were displayed. We stood in the room where he made his entrance into the world. We walked around in the gorgeous church where he received all his sacraments of initiation. There we venerated his relics. What. Joy.
The truly beautiful mystery is that he was born a small boy named Karol in a small village in Poland with people who loved him, but he did not seem to be marked for greatness. Yet he died as the successor of St. Peter after heroically bearing the cross of a debilitating disease in the Vatican with thousands gathered in St. Peter’s square singing and praying for him. He affected the lives of untold millions, he who as a young man did not want to be a priest but an actor. Pope St. John Paul II is extraordinary not in what he was able to do though he did accomplish some amazing things, but he is rather extraordinary in his cooperation with grace. He rose to the occasion of his call to holiness. He was not perfect, nor was his pontificate. He was as human and as weak as you or I. But he lived authentically for the sake of Christ, and not for his own sake. He embodied the truth that man only discovers himself through an authentic gift of himself. He gave his life for the Body of Christ, the Church.
Today’s first reading from Ephesians 4:7-16 is particularly apt for the celebration of this dear man and saint.

Brothers and sisters: Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says: He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men. What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower regions of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole Body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love

It is because a man named Karol became a man called John Paul II that I have the amazing internship that I have. It is because that man dedicated himself to philosophy and theology as well as a truly theological anthropology that I am able to serve in a ministry dedicated to a sexual integrity founded in the goodness of their identity as created lovingly by God. It is so much due to that man that I myself came as I did into my faith at such a critical time in my life. It is because he was who he was meant to be that I am helped to be who I am meant to be.

He became a saint. I want to be a saint. And I want you to become a saint. This is our primary call: to holiness. This is not a trite, fluffy saying to assuage the consciousnesses of Christians. To be holy means to be set apart. To be set apart for what, or rather, for whom? Holiness means to be set apart for accomplishing the will of God. It is a difficult, arduous task in human terms. But all things are possible in Christ, and the Lord works for the good of those who love Him. It takes our cooperation with grace. It takes our conversion, our turning towards the One who made us with purpose. This can be intimidating. Fear and sin gets in my way daily. Yet, in his homily on the occasion of his installation of pope, thirty-eight years ago today, Pope John Paul II gave these words of encouragement:

Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

Open wide the doors for Christ in your heart. Daily answer your call to holiness. And ask Pope St. John Paul II for his intercession. Know that I’m praying for you, and I ask you to pray for me.

May God bless you on your way!

City of Saints, Camp of Sinners

As I sit in my cozy, quiet apartment, I find it difficult to believe that a mere two weeks ago I was outside, on a tarp with close friends and surrounded by around 2 million unknown brothers and sisters. Here, I have all material possessions. There, I had a tiny backpack with the absolute bare necessities. Here I am in a huge bustling city. There I was in an open field so vast and congested I could not dream of seeing the end of it. Here I’m in the nation’s most diverse archdiocese, and there I was surrounded by flags and people from the universal Church represented by 187 countries.

The stark contrast between my pilgrimage in Poland to World Youth Day and my ordinary life is readily apparent. Not as easily apparent are the similarities – the patterns of life that repeat and extend and blossom brilliantly no matter the physical place. I am no less a pilgrim now than I was two weeks ago. If anything, the reality of my pilgrim status has only been made super-real. My week in Poland was a microcosm of the true pilgrimage of this life to the Divine Life with the Trinity. There were moments of surreal joy and boundless hope that were bordered by aching bones and a heavy heart. My companions gave me strength and courage to continue, and there were also moments when I wanted nothing more than to be alone. I experienced profound openness to the Holy Spirit working in me, and I also resisted His presence. There were conversations that revealed ever more the beauty of the human person, and I walked through places where the ugly reality of sin were most cruelly exposed. I have seldom smiled so much or allowed my tears to flow as freely as I did during this week. These are the things  that weave together that create the pattern of this life of ascent. I experienced them acutely and in rapid succession in Poland, but we all experience them over time in the daily life or looking out to the grand scheme of things.

I could lay out our itinerary and describe each day in all its wonders and joys and sorrows. I could, and perhaps that’s what some of you expect and want from this post. But I’m not writing that. Not today. Rather, I want to take some time to reflect on those whom I was privileged to encounter.

Poland, and Krakow in particular, boasts a plethora of saints. In the months and weeks before I left for Poland, I brushed up on my saint-knowledge. I read all about St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Faustina. I took Bl. Pier Giorgio’s words to heart and immersed myself in the feast of St. Mary Magdalene by dwelling on the Gospel of St. John’s words on her. But no amount of reading could prepare me for truly encountering these people, these saints, in Poland. Though I’ve known their stories and their deeds for some time now and though I was plenty excited to walk their walks and venerate their relics, I was not ready to encounter them.

Thursday, we began the day by venerating the relics of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the “Man of the Beatitutes.” Friday, we began the day venerating the relics of St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Mary Magdalene. In the presence of their relics, I finally had some time to take a breath after a long week of running hither and thither to different sites. These were not men and women who were perfectly pious in every way or who never resisted God’s will in their life. These were men and women who simply became who they were meant to be, who they were made to be. In triumph and in failure, they strove towards Christ. By reflecting on their lives, something truly extraordinary happened in my heart: I realized the depth of my very own calling to sainthood. It’s something I think about relatively often, and yet, not nearly deeply enough. And I am not afraid to proclaim from the rooftops or into the blogosphere: I want to be a saint! To be a saint is not to be a doe-eyed painting or sober-looking statue somewhere of an individual who dumbly gave their life to an unseen God. No, to be a saint means to truly offer oneself, body and soul, to Christ. It is in this offering that man becomes fully alive, becomes fully himself. I want to be Kenzie, fully alive, fully the woman I was created to be.

I am encouraged to be who I am by those who came before me – by the saints whom we celebrate and remember. And I am encouraged so deeply by those who were present to me at World Youth Day. I saw millions of young people alive in their faith – lit up by joy and hope. I witnessed the transfiguration of my friends’ and companions’ hearts as we journeyed in that foreign land. Today’s second reading from Hebrews 12 encapsulates the importance of our brothers and sisters, both those in Heaven and on Earth:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

I went to the City of Saints, and the Camp of Sinners. The camp grounds where we gathered to celebrate World Youth Day was called Campus Misercordiae, The Camp of Mercy. In the camp of mercy, I encountered fellow pilgrims from all over the world. Our sins divide us, but our common call to sainthood in pursuing the way of Christ unites us. In the camp of mercy, the sinners were called to be saints by our shepherd here on earth, Pope Francis. He exhorted us during the Vigil on Saturday night,

Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness. Are you up to this? What answer will you give, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life?

Jesus Christ is calling us to be who were made to be for the greater good of the Church and the world. In today’s gospel he says exasperatedly, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49) This is an emphatic call to rise to the occasion of our lives. We have been given what we need to change the world by the witness of our lives just as those saints who came before us were given what they needed.

I pray that I have the perseverance and courage to be Kenzie, a woman fully alive for Christ. Please pray for me to become who I am meant to be. Know that I am praying for you!

May God bless you on your way!

St. Maximilian Kolbe, on this your feast day please pray for us!

The Pilgrim’s Progress

For two years I have been praying and paying and preparing for one week of my life: a pilgrimage to Poland for World Youth Day. Two years have elapsed and now in a mere two days I will board a plane with 70 other pilgrims from Houston and cross into Europe.

I began this blog two years ago just after making my participation in this experience official. The fall semester of my sophomore year was one imbued with many themes of pilgrimage. I read Dante, Josef Pieper, and Chaucer. I reflected on St. Therese’s musings and on the Songs of Ascent in the Book of Psalms. For the first time in my life, I began to understand what this life truly is: a pilgrimage, an ascent to the heavenly Jerusalem. But I saw my life take shape in many other, smaller pilgrimages during the time in between then and now.

In my very first post, The Pilgrim, I introduced the blog and meditated on the meaning of pilgrimage. I asked for donations for the Poland Pilgrimage. That was November 2014. Today seemed so far away then. So much has happened between then and now. Many of you journeyed with me on here as I wrote about my adventures with study abroad last fall and some have seen the other various thoughts that have crossed my mind along the way.

Now I stand on a precipice of a known yet unknown journey. I know where we are meant to go, what we’re meant to see. My bags are packed. I’ve been walking more to prepare my body, and I’ve done reading on all the great Polish saints to prepare my soul. But where am I going? Who will I meet? How will Christ alter my plans and pre-conceived notions? I pray that I have the courage to place it all in his hands and say, Jesus I trust in you.

Someone who trusted absolutely in our Lord is St. Mary Magdalene. Today the Church remembers the great woman who is heralded throughout the centuries as the “apostle to the apostles” for her mission from Jesus to be the very first to share the joy of his resurrection from the grave. Cardinal Sarah wrote recently,

St. Mary Magdalene seeks the Lord, and when she finds him, she adores him. She is the first to adore the Lord….Adoration takes first place. Mary Magdalene reminds us of the need to recover the primacy of God and the primacy of adoration in the life of the Church and in the liturgical celebration.

Mary Magdalene was a woman who was known by Christ. She stood at the foot of the cross as he suffered and died. She was the first to witness the Resurrected Lord. She was called by name. She was known, but she also longed to know him. He utters her name, and she exclaims “Teacher!” Yet Jesus is so much more than Teacher. One of the optional first readings for today is a stunning cry of longing from Song of Songs 3:1-4b,

Upon my bed by night, I sought him who my soul loves, I sought him, but found him not. I called him, but he gave me no answer. “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me, as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves? Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves.

 

This passage reads like what Mary Magdalene’s heart must have been screaming that Sunday morning that she went to the tomb. Jesus is the Lover of her heart, as he is the great Lover of us all. Mary Magdalene found him who her soul loved. So I too, as Cardinal Sarah put it, desire to seek my Lord to adore him and receive my mission.

This is why I go on pilgrimage to World Youth Day: to seek Him, adore Him, and receive my mission from Him who my soul loves.

I also go for those whose intentions I carry with me. I go for those who can’t. I go for those reluctant to answer God’s call. I go for those who do not know Him at all. I go for those in the throes of joy. I go for the spiritual maturity of my peers. I go for the Church – for the strength of the Body of Christ. I go to rest in His Love. I go for the sake of His unfathomable divine mercy. I go for my fellow pilgrims. I go as His instrument to open myself up to His will.

This is not whimsical wander lust. This is not a trip. This is not international adventure in the secular sense. This is a pilgrimage. This is more for interior exploration than exterior, though that will most certainly take place. My eyes will wonder on the beautiful places and spaces of Poland. My body will crumble under physical exhaustion. However, I’m most concerned with what the eyes of my heart will behold afterwards and whether my soul will find the needed nourishment and encouragement.

My pilgrimage is a joyful, humbling privilege. Yet it will also have its difficulties. Two million are expected to descend on Krakow for the occasion. We will all need your prayers for this special time. Please be assured of my prayers as I walk, reflect, behold, and participate in what is to come.

May God bless you on your way!

Take Up Your Cross

Embrace the creaking wood. Embrace the aching shoulders. Embrace the splinters. Embrace the tears. Embrace the humiliation. Embrace the exhaustion. 

When you fall, rise up. 

Accept the help of Simon of Cyrene. 

Do not neglect to meet with your Mother. 

Deny yourself.

Follow the footsteps of Christ, and the worn path of 2,000 years worth of those who have gone before you. 

Remember, O Christian, what you have been called to: take up your cross! 

Then he said to all,“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” -Luke 9:23-24

In the little triumphs and failures that we are called by Jesus to sacrifice who we are and all that we have. This is a daily call to rememeber where we are headed. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hubbub of our lives and reserve our thoughts to what God can do for us in the struggles that we face. However, our lives rather ought to be a sacrifice to Him. He did not will for us to live in a fallen world with a fallen nature, but He is the one who brings joy out of sorrow and Resurrection out of death. In our time in this world we will experince sorrow and suffering, but we draw the necessary strength to endure those things by embracing our crosses. In taking up our own crosses we will better know Christ as he took up his. In walking our own Via Crucis we will better know His. May God bless you on your way! 

Sacred Heart

Many were the nights I would walk in the damp, chilly evening down the back lanes. Further into autumn, the rain and the wind picked up and resisted my ten minute stroll along the pavement. Yet the horrid shivers down my spine, the pelting rain, the aching legs, and the desire for a warm cup of tea and an early dinner were not enough to stop me.

I found the church long before I ever stepped foot in Ireland. I had no idea what to expect because I couldn’t, at the time, find pictures of the interior. All I knew was the time for daily Eucharistic Adoration and Mass. It was hardly an average parish. At one time it had belonged to the Jesuits, but it had long been left to the unforgiving Irish elements. Several years ago, the Institute of Christ the King bought the church and began renovations on it. I would try to explain the Institute of Christ the King, but I would fail utterly at it so instead I link to their website if you are interested in learning about them.

When I first walked breathlessly into the church on an early September evening, I found refuge in the bizarre half tumble down, half triumphantly splendorous church. I did not at first see the stained and torn walls or notice the rickety wooden planks on the floor or recognize that the chill continued from street to pew. All my attention was caught up in the mosaic scene above the high alter. In stunning detail and brilliant color, Christ ascended in glory with a worshipful saint to either side of Him. Here he exposed his Sacred Heart. Not long after I arrived Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament began and my eyes drifted down from the mosaic to the host exalted high above the altar in a glittering golden monstrance. There He was, the very Jesus who the astonishing mosaic depicted. He was present to me, to the few of us gathered there on bended knee. My bewildered eyes searched again and again the mosaic. From monstrance to Sacred Heart, monstrance to Sacred Heart they went in a dizzying, rapid-fire movement. It was as though I had never seen a depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

From my youth, I have seen various depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in paintings, prints, prayer cards, and statues. Yet most are saccharine-sweet with doe-eyed, blonde-ish haired, complacent-looking Jesus. This is not the Jesus I know and love. That is the Jesus of the easily appeased. Not being an artist, I can hardly wrap my head around how difficult and weighty an undertaking it is to attempt to convey some sense of the Word made Flesh who is Christ our Lord. My words ramble, and I am acutely aware of the narrowness of my understanding of Him. Therefore, I do not intend to attack attempted artists of Jesus, but very few manage to capture in art anything that closely evokes familiarity between image and Subject. Art that attempts to imitate Christ and fails except in a basely superficial way is very sad art indeed.

For those who do not know about the Catholic Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it has existed for centuries, but began in the form we know today in 1672 when St. Mary Margaret Alacoque began receiving private revelations from Jesus about spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart as his heart of flesh that is both human and divine. This is truly a devotion to remembering in a special way Christ’s love for us. The images of the Sacred Heart most often have the heart ablaze with the fire of His love and surrounded by the crown of thorns which pierced him during the ultimate sacrifice of love in his passion and death.

Laying my eyes on this mosaic was as though learning about the Sacred Heart all over again. Laying my eyes on the Blessed Sacrament set my own heart pumping wildly for love of His Sacred Heart all over again. That first evening spent at Sacred Heart Church in Limerick was truly saturated with His deep and abiding love for me.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus loves us foolishly in the eyes of the world for it loves without measure. The Word became flesh for love. He walked this earth anonymously for thirty years for love. He taught and traveled for three years, garnering many followers and many naysayers for love. He died an agonizing death for love. He rose from the dead for love. He reigns triumphantly in Heaven for love of us as He guides each and every one of His lost sheep to the Eternal Home.

It is this Sacred Heart that pulses for us in Heaven and on Earth. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and its lifeblood is His lifeblood. We are sustained by His love in the Eucharist. It was at Sacred Heart Church that I adored Him in the Eucharist and received Him in the Eucharist during my time in Ireland. I was sustained by His life and His Sacred Heart that semester as my own heart tittered in anxiety, wallowed in loneliness, and exulted in joy. Nothing could keep me from returning again and again to seek refuge at that church seeking refuge in Him.

As Romans 8:35-39 tells us,

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:“For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing can separate us from His love. Even if we were to turn our back to Him the moment we turned around to face Him He would be there holding out His heart to us. Today on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, revel in Jesus’ achingly beautiful love for you.

May God bless you on your way!

 

Struggling.

Today is just one of those days. It’s the end of a difficult and transitional semester back from studying abroad. And I’ve reached the end of the line with school. I still have three papers to write, a week of classes to attend, and five finals to take, but my motivation is approaching nil. The funny thing is I love school. I love learning. None of my classes are boring me. I like the reading I have to do. The research I’m doing for my papers is honestly fascinating. So why am I lacking in motivation to get things done? Why am I losing myself by numbing my brain with Parks and Rec and Gilmore Girls? I am distracted and my heart is restless. I’ve got about a million and one thoughts scrambling around in my head competing for attention, and none of which actually have to do with the books around me, the outlines I have to edit, and the pages I have yet to write.

I am afraid. I am so afraid of failing the expectations of everyone, including my own expectations. I am afraid that I am not smart enough to get accepted to, much less work my way through, graduate school. I am afraid that the confidence of my professors, family, and friends is ill placed. I am afraid of not knowing how to be an adult. I am afraid of my selfishness. I am afraid of my pride. I am afraid of not being the friend I need to be. I am afraid of serving, and yet afraid of not serving enough. I am afraid of not meeting the goals I have for myself. I am afraid of not being charming enough, pretty enough, giving enough, holy enough, strong enough.

There are so many things I long to do, so many good habits I want to implement. Rationally, I understand that I don’t have to implement all of them overnight or wake up tomorrow ready to take on a graduate program. But my heart is cowering in fear.

Why? Why do we struggle with this anxiety?

I know that I have been given what I need to answer God’s call. I know that I need to worry about today’s troubles instead of tomorrow’s. And yet here I sit contemplating in horror how quickly my life could spiral away into disappointment, sorrow, and grief. Call me a melancholic.

Days like today are a reminder that I can’t do this alone. And that these thoughts only come when I think that I have to do so. This is a ramble, and it was cathartic.

So if you’re reading this, please pray for me. Know that I’m praying for you. Today is a day that I am so in desperate a need of the communion of saints, of the Church, of friends and family. Most of all, I am in desperate need of depending on Christ.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end, amen.

Unfathomable 

This past Sunday, the Church celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, a day dedicated to reveling in the greatness of God’s Mercy and specifically the message of divine mercy entrusted to the poor, uneducated nun of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland in the late 1920s and 1930s. This nun, Sr. Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament, was entrusted with private revelations from Jesus telling to her the greatness of His mercy and the job she had as His ‘secretary.’

In this, the Jubliee Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this past December, we the faithful have been commissioned in a special way to reflect on the unfathomable divine mercy of God and to participate in the mysteries of His mercy.

What is mercy? Mercy is the gift of God, He whom it is within His power to punish, to forgive our miserable mistakes and transgressions against Him. The Latin word from whence our word ‘mercy’ comes is misericordia. Misericordia comes from miserere (meaning ‘miserable’ or ‘pity’) and cor (meaning ‘heart’). Therefore, God in His infinite and unfathomable divine mercy forgives us of a miserable heart that has done wrong against Him. We are so far from worthy of this mercy, and yet we are in such great, great need of it! By His mercy, our God draws us ever nearer to Him.

In one of the recorded conversations in her diary Jesus said to St. Faustina:

“Know, My Daughter, that between Me and you there is a bottomless abyss, an abyss which separates the Creator from the creature. But this abyss is filled with My mercy. I raise you up to Myself, not that I have need of you, but it is solely out of mercy that I grant you the grace of union with Myself.” (1576) 

Though an abyss of Perfect to imperfect, Being itself to created being, Goodness itself to fallen man, Merciful Father to prodigal son separates us from Him, He draws us near in His unfathomable mercy.

Christ crucified is the image of divine mercy. There on the cross Jesus Christ overcame sin and death so that man, weak man, pitiful man, miserable man, might have another chance at true life in communion with God. The blood and water flowing from his side are a symbol of the Eucharist and Baptism. These two great sacraments are instruments of God’s great mercy. Baptism is a washing away of sin and putting on of Christ. The Eucharist IS Jesus Christ Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Nothing we could ever do could possibly ever, ever, EVER allow us to earn these gifts. They are gifts given to the Church in the mercy of God to wash away our misery of original sin, and to nourish us in the strength of heart needed for this sojourn here on earth. We need His mercy.

Today, I celebrate 21 years of life here on this earth. What better a time to contemplate His mysteries of mercy than during the Jubliee Year of Mercy, directly after Divine Mercy Sunday, after spending Lent reading St. Faustina’s diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, as I prepare to make pilgrimage to Poland in the heart of the Divine Mercy message, and on the day I get to particularly revel in marvelous fact of my existence which is entirely owed to the mercy of God? Answer: no better a time!

How often really do we contemplate our existence? I mean, it’s all well and good to celebrate a birthday with cake, a party, spending time with your favorite people, and for legal participants (which I now am!) a refreshing alcoholic beverage. We do all of those things because we know there’s a cause to celebrate, but I think we too seldom meditate on that cause: the fact of our existence.

I exist. There was a time when I did not exist. I do not exist independently. I did not will myself into being. Oh no. I am willed into being, better yet, I am LOVED into being every single second of every day by the God who is Love. How bewildering is that? My very existence, and the very existence of each human person screams the unending and unfathomable mercy of God. I was known and loved by Him long before I was knit together in my mother’s womb. I am loved by Him. I am known by Him. We are loved. We are known. We are wanted. And all this life is a gift from Him.

You know what is even more bewildering? Not only have I been giving this enormous gift of life on this beautiful earth, but through the efficacious grace of the sacrament of baptism, I have been given the chance of life eternal with God. This is what I (and every other person out there) have been made for: life with God. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, damaged our design of life walking in the cool of the day with God. Turning from God in sin, they turned inward and created for themselves hearts wallowing in misery. But Jesus restored us to life through His suffering, death, and resurrection and turns our miserable hearts to joyful ones by the surprising joy of Easter morning.

St. Faustina writes:

“God, who in Your mercy have deigned to call man from nothingness into being, generously have You bestowed upon him nature and grace. But that seemed too little for Your infinite goodness. In Your mercy, O Lord, You have given us everlasting life. You admit us to Your everlasting happiness and grant us to share in Your interior life. And You do this solely out of Your mercy. You bestow on us the gift of Your grace, only because You are good and full of love. You had no need of us at all to be happy, but You, O Lord, want to share Your own happiness with us.” (1743)

So. I exist. Not only do I exist but I live in hope of life eternal. Not only that, but that life eternal would mean participating in the everlasting happiness of God who is Goodness and Love. Can I get a strong, joyful Easter Alleluia?

May we never forget our need of His unfathomable Divine Mercy!

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I conclude with the beautiful concluding prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy:

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

Jesus, I trust in You!

May God bless you on your way!

My Life as a Romantic Comedy

Just before leaving for Ireland, my friends and I watched Leap Year and P.S. I Love You, two romcoms (well, the latter more a cry fest than anything else) centered on finding love on the Emerald Isle. So, naturally, all of my friends became utterly convinced that I, too, would discover the love of my life in unlikely (but hilarious) circumstances among the Irish men.

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^OBVIOUSLY LOVE IS BOUND TO HAPPEN, AM I RIGHT?

Even when I arrived at the school I attended for the semester, the campus minister (a priest no less!) encouraged to me to find, and I quote directly, “A wild Irish man.” I kid you not.

While away, many people asked whether I had met someone. My mother was terrified that I’d meet someone and never come back home.

Apparently, my current lack of love life had people wondering about my time abroad in a romantic country of rolling hills and dramatic castles.

The people I spend time with have clearly watched too many romantic comedies, and wanted my life to take the route of a typical romantic plot line. I hate to disappoint, but there were no chance meetings, no being asked about my favorite Jane Austen novel in a bookstore, no beautiful Irish men with beautiful Irish brogues wanting to playfully argue with me. None of that.

Obviously, my semester abroad was a complete waste because I didn’t find a man.

And so my little heart follows the lines of a beloved Disney movie saying:

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Because it seems to me that nowadays many people equate finding the love of your life with the beginning of said life.

But why is this? Yes, finding someone special is beautiful and significant and could potentially be your life vocation. Love is GOOD. It is so, so good, which is why my friends wanted me to find it with a man with an awesome Irish brogue. They want what’s good for me – and love, in its truest meaning, is not fiery passion or sweet butterflies, but willing the good of another person. My friends want me to find someone who wills for my good! That is amazing, and that’s also true friendship. Plus, all the cute couple-y things are a bonus. However, life does not begin and end in finding a boyfriend.

In a month, I will be 21 years old. I have had many ups, downs, heartaches, sorrows, joys, friendships, trips, self-discoveries, pursuits of truth, bouts of laughter and of tears, and many a prayerful reflection in these 21 years. My life began a long time ago. And in the last three years, I have grown so much more than I ever thought possible. I have taken classes from brilliant professors. I have developed and strengthened beautiful and enduring friendships. I have bonded with an extraordinary community on campus. I have studied abroad, inside and outside of a classroom. I have become more comfortable and more confident in myself.

Most importantly, I have drawn nearer and nearer to the One by whom and for whom my heart was made.No, I did not find a wild Irish man in Ireland. But I discovered ever more intimately the God-Man: Jesus Christ.

No, Jesus is not my boyfriend. I feel that is a tacky and limiting way to describe a relationship with Him. He is the Romancer and Keeper of my heart. And He is also the King of the Universe. He is the Good Shepherd. And He smells like this silly little sheep. He is the Word, the Logos. And He is the Nazorean. He is the Savior. And He has forgiven me. He is all this and more, so how could I limit the One who is limitless? 

In leaving all I knew behind, I came to depend more on Him, and so much less on my stubborn self. He sustained me in my loneliness, and rejoiced with me in my triumphs. He poured grace upon grace on me as I both clung to Him and fell flat on my face. He gave me the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of His servants both loving and deceased that I might ascend further the ladder of holiness. I drew near to Him, and He drew me close to His most Sacred Heart. 

So I rest now near His Sacred Heart, not throwing a pity party that He didn’t direct me to an attractive Irish man, but rejoicing that He has drawn me ever nearer Him. 

Maybe my life is a romantic comedy after all, but not in the modern romcom way. After many a fumble and trial on my part, God willing, the guy will get the girl….to Heaven, to the Beatific Vision with Him. 

May God bless you on your way!