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Honesty…is such a lonely word

You will often hear me talk about being in “darkness,” and almost always those posts happily wrap up with a light at the end of the tunnel, a glimmer of hope, a shimmer of the Spirit. Something. Anything. But lately, to be perfectly honest, it’s just been darkness. I know that from the outside — and even from the inside — I clearly have nothing in the world to feel dark about. But there it is. Enveloping. Suffocating. Punishing. Frightening. Read more

Holy Saturday: Waiting in the shadows

Peter never really used to be one of my favorites from Scripture, but the older I get, the more beloved he becomes. He gives me comfort because I identify with him, especially lately. At this point in our faith story, Peter is locked away — afraid, ashamed, alone. He doubted, he denied, he ran away. Even before the crucifixion, he often seemed to get it wrong. Imagine for a moment that Jesus says to you, “Get behind me, Satan.” Yeah, that’s pretty bad. And yet Jesus saw fit to call him the “rock,” the one who would go on to lead his church, or, at that point, his band of disciples. Maybe, just maybe then, Jesus sees some shred of worth beneath my many failings, behind my own doubts and fears. Read more

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you…

Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

Just back from Stations of the Cross at the beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (Click on the photo at the bottom of this post to enlarge. The Stations are spectacular, if you ever have a chance to visit the cathedral.)

The Scripture verse below is the one that jumped out at me from all the others as we were praying this afternoon:

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Where are the shepherds who are willing to live with the ‘smell of the sheep’?

I’d like to backtrack for a minute and make sure you all had a chance to read what I think is a critical and spot-on portion of Pope Francis’ homily — directed toward priests — at the Chrism Mass yesterday. When I read this, I was moved by the beauty of both the content and the language, and by the truth that this pope speaks. Read more

Pope Francis, rebuild our Church. Please.

The weeks between Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigning and Pope Francis stepping out onto that balcony happened to coincide with particularly dark spiritual days for me, a long stretch of feeling adrift and wondering where I’d eventually land. There were even days, I will admit, when I railed against the Church (if only in the privacy of my own home). All I kept hearing in my head were Jesus’ own words: “Blind guides…hypocrites.”  Even the run-up to the conclave held no appeal for me. I was detached, unfeeling, unsure. Read more

Revelations by the light of the moon

Taken at 4:45 a.m. in my backyard

I couldn’t sleep last night, so at around 4 a.m. I came downstairs to sit by the window and stare at the moon. Weird? Perhaps. But that’s me. As I sat in our darkened family room looking out at the eerily bright backyard, lit only by the full moon, something occurred to me. The strange exterior landscape just beyond my window looked the way my interior landscape deep within my soul feels — a dimly lit shadow world where nothing is absolutely certain and everything has vague edges and sketchy details. There’s nothing to grasp onto, it seems. 

When the moon finally moved a bit in the sky and came into view from behind some tall maples and pines, it was as though it was shining its light right into my heart, asking me: Who are you? What do you believe? And what are you going to do with that information? But I had no answers. Only awe for the beauty of this particular moon on this particular night at this particular moment. Awe for the world we don’t often see but is there nonetheless, hidden in the shadows of a suburban backyard, or in the dark recesses of our souls, places waiting to be explored if we put aside our fears.

As I continued to sit in the moonlight, I kept hearing the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem in my head: “I’m nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody, too?” Maybe it’s okay to be nobody. Maybe it’s okay to be uncertain. Maybe it’s okay to spend time in the moonlit shadows of my soul.

Desperately Seeking Detachment

Yesterday was the 24th anniversary of my mother’s death. Although many years have passed since that awful Tuesday morning, some anniversaries hit me harder than others. This year was one of those years, and it wasn’t even a “milestone.” Maybe it’s because of the stress I’m under professionally. Maybe it’s because of some personal stuff that’s got me down. More likely it’s a combination of both atop the usual grief.

I usually post a remembrance of my mother on April 12, but this time I felt the need to go more inward with my “celebration” of the day. I needed to chew on some things that still have to do with my mother all these many years after her death.

And what I kept coming back to was the word “detachment.” My mother’s death from colon cancer left a gaping hole in my life and in my family, but what you quickly — or sometimes not so quickly — learn after the loss of a close loved one is that rest of the world goes on without so much as a backward glance. You either move with it, carrying your grief deep in your heart, or you get stuck.

It was there, in this school of life, that I first learned detachment, although I didn’t recognize it as that. I learned that I could go on, I would go on, without my mother, despite the fact that I couldn’t imagine that was possible. I learned that losing my mother didn’t lessen my love for her; it only shifted the physical landscape of our relationship. I learned that the ties that bind us to the people in our lives can snap in a flash and without warning, with or without sickness to speed things along.

Now I wonder if the kind of detachment forced upon me long ago might be a good template for detachment of my own choosing right now. It’s not easy, to be sure. Trying to untangle unhealthy connections to possessions, habits, family members, friends, and more goes against everything the ego wants. We want to feel loved. We want to feel valued. We want to feel good and look good and live good. But what does that get any of us?

We end up clinging to — or grieving for — things we can’t have, people who won’t love us, places we can’t go, success we don’t achieve, and on and on. Before you know it, life revolves around the lack, not the blessings. But if we can learn detachment, to own things without letting them own us, to love people without expecting love in return, we inch closer to the place Jesus talked about, a place where none of this earthly stuff matters all that much because we have our sights set on something much better.

With each passing year, detachment seems to find its way deeper and deeper into my life without my really trying all that hard, mostly with regard to professional things or material things. It’s the personal stuff that is so difficult to detach from because it’s so, well, personal. But it’s not impossible, and for the first time I think I’m feeling detachment finally settle in there as well. We’ll see. I can’t force it because then I’d just be getting attached to my detachment.

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” — John 12:25

‘What if your blessings come through raindrops?’

I love this song by Laura Story. (If you’re my Facebook friend, you’ve probably seen me post it over there at least once in recent months.) I needed to hear it again today, during this Lent that feels particularly desert-like to me for so many reasons, none of them earth-shattering. And still it feels awfully dark. This song reminds me to look for light there anyway.

An embarrassment of prayer riches

Okay, so here’s the deal. About a week ago, I was in a weird place. Due to a confluence of events, I found myself wondering — seriously — if perhaps I’d said all I had to say, in terms of my Catholic writing. I was thinking maybe it was time to hang it up. I actually suggested to Dennis that perhaps I would go over to Hewitt’s (our local gardening place) and see about a job there, as I have no other skills beyond writing, talking, writing, talking.

So, as I pondered all this and made Dennis absolutely crazy, I prayed. I asked God for some sort of sign that my writing wasn’t in vain, that I was supposed to keep going, that the people in my life aren’t just some figment of my imagination but really, truly have an interest in and care about my work and, well, in me as a person. I even emailed one friend asking for prayers and said that I wished God would write me a letter, spelling it all out in black and white so there would be no mistaking the message. That was last Wednesday and Thursday.

Fast forward to Friday. A letter arrived. From a religious sister I once worked with at my first job in the communications office of the Diocese of Metuchen. I haven’t seen or heard from this sister in about 25 years. She keeps up with my life through my Life Lines column, which runs her diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit. Here’s a snippet of what Sister Michaelita wrote: “Your efforts to lead a prayerful life amidst all your responsibilities and the demands that are made upon your time have truly impressed and encouraged me.”

I “encouraged” her? I was somewhat stunned, but so happy to hear from this long, lost person from my past. I really didn’t think anything more of it, beyond deciding to send her a copy of Walking Together.

On Saturday, I opened the mailbox and found a card from a fellow Catholic blogger, someone known for her knack for personal note-writing, but, still. Today? Right now? Fran thanked me for all I do and for my life “as a sign of Christ.” Wow. The card included a quote from St. Francis de Sales (one of my all-time favorites) about entering into silence (one of my most recent quests). Perfect.

I still wasn’t catching on…

No mail Sunday, but then came Monday. Two, count ’em, two personal letters arrived. One was a note from my friend Maureen, which, among other things, offered encouragement as I embark on two big writing projects. The other was from Brother Christian, the Trappist monk I met on retreat last month. “See Jesus and Mary everywhere and adore their wills lovingly, and you will be a saint,” he wrote, in a handwritten card that also included a 1973 clipping about him and his monastic life and a page from a book on St. Therese.

As if that wasn’t enough, I received two email notes from spiritual friends I’d included in my book on friendship — one encouraging me in my work, the other offering prayers as he headed to a five-day hermit retreat where he would be in total silence and solitude.

Now I was getting suspicious. I had prayed for a sign, I had wished for a letter, and suddenly there were letters coming every day. And not just any letters. Letters that offered encouragement, prayers, friendship, inspiration. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by what God was doing for me in the most obvious and concrete ways. So often I whine about not knowing what God wants, never being truly sure if I’m doing His will or my own in disguise. This didn’t leave much room for doubt.

I thought that was the end of it, but Tuesday came along and the phone rang. I almost didn’t pick it up because I didn’t recognize the name, but I went ahead anyway. The woman on the other end had made a Cornerstone retreat with me several years ago, and we see each other once in a while after Mass. She’d never called my house before, so I wasn’t sure what she could possibly want or need.

She called, she said, to let me know how much she enjoys and appreciates my work. She apologized for not getting to a recent talk I gave at my parish and then stressed again the importance of my work. What are the odds? That call was really the icing on the cake. I felt humbled by the embarrassment of riches God was showering down on me. All I could do was say thank you and decide that maybe, just maybe, I am already doing what I’m meant to be doing, struggles and all.

All I can say is “thank you” — to God, for sure, but to all those people who, without even realizing it, gave me the answer I was desperately seeking. Not only the people who sent me letters or made phone calls, but all those friends who constantly but quietly support my work and encourage me on my spiritual journey. You are blessings in my life, each and every one of you.