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To Whom Shall We Go?

It’s human nature – when we are forced to look in a mirror and confront uncomfortable truths, we are destined to squirm.

The Catholic Church rocked by incendiary and evil sexual abuse scandals? There is nothing but critique for Church leadership in my mind. The victims have been forever scarred, and their families and friends have been left to assist with the fall-out of the impact sexual abuse has on a victim. Church leadership continues to mishandle opportunities to right a horrible wrong that has been committed, erring on remaining silent, rather than acknowledging the pain caused by one of their agents. There is absolutely no way to defend the indefensible, and I can attest that silence does not make things better. Silence reeks of shadows, in which we know the evil one loves to hide.

Belonging to a universal church… a universal organization… whose leadership continues to jaw-droppingly bungle every opportunity to get it right can seem counter-productive and absurd, to some many.

I get that.

St. Peter is one of my favorites, and I have often shared this with my husband when he has (lovingly) asked what keeps me going to Mass through the entire scandal, “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).

If I did not truly believe, deep in my heart, that the One Who is raised up over the heads of us all at church was the True Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ at every single Mass, I would have left the Church two years ago as the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandals broke.

Yet, if I leave the Church – the physical Body of Christ left on earth – to whom shall I go?

There have been half a dozen studies released in the past couple years which point to an amazingly low number of Catholics who either know, or believe, in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Often, it appears the generation of the respondent seems to drive their understanding of Church teachings, and most likely fuels their subsequent answers.

The Church teaches that, when the priest says the words of consecration (“this is my Body…” and “this is my Blood…”), something amazing happens. At the moment of (big word alert) “Transubstantiation,” the physical appearance of bread and wine remain the same, but that “mere” bread and wine undergo a spiritual conversion into Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Christ becomes present, tangible, and a living witness in our lives at every single Mass. In fact, the Catholic Church just universally celebrated this amazing belief in the Feast of Corpus Christi on the 14th of June!

I don’t have a major conversion story, and I honestly can’t tell a soul a single instance in which I felt Jesus truly come to me in a big way. Yet, He reveals Himself to me in the little ways… and He comes to me at every Mass. This I know… this I profess.

But, to let you in on a little secret…

This, I have sometimes doubted.

In my course as a Catholic social media influencer and blogger, I have to confess that I, too, have sometimes doubted if the Church teachings are true… are just… and, are sound.

The Bible, itself, appears to be a timeless story. The stories (and lessons) were applicable as the books were written, as they were when the Bible was officially put together, as they remain today. There’s infinite love, there’s loss, there’s the antagonist, there’s the Savior. It’s all there, and the lessons and stories span the centuries.

Just as the Mass spans the centuries, so, too do the teachings of the Church, found in the Bible and Tradition.

Yet, sometimes, doubt lingers.

As some of the words of the translated Tantum Ergo point out, “Faith will tell us Christ is present, when our human senses fail…” and sometimes, our human senses fail to an irreconcilable level, and our faith crumbles entirely.

And, when a person in a position of authority within the Church begins to doubt, to whom shall they go?

I have been guilty of “faking it until I make it,” at times in my life. Either sitting out of the communion line, or going to communion with a simple prayer on my heart, “Lord, make my belief as strong as Peter’s,” I readily acknowledge I have been guilty of going through the motions at times.

As Dr. Brant Pitre asserts in his book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Peter acknowledged in the aforementioned Bible quote (John 6:68-69) he didn’t quite understand everything Jesus said, but he placed his trust in the One Who spoke the words. And, at times, the simple prayer to give me faith like Peter’s has been what has held me together spiritually.

However, it’s uncomfortable to sit and look in the mirror, knowing you publicly profess one thing, and privately struggle with that teaching.

Whether it’s one certain teaching that one struggles to understand, or whether it’s a central teaching that shakes a person to their core, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that there remains a doubt.

And, well-meaning (or otherwise) individuals in our Church don’t often make it feel safe to express our doubts and discomfort.

St. John of the Cross explores the concept of the, “dark night of the soul,” when he wrote his same-titled book. I once was told by a priest in a confessional that there was no way I could be experiencing a dark night of the soul, “because you are a wife and mom with a little kid. Dark night of the soul only occurs to really holy people.” The absurdity of that young friar’s statement sticks with me four years later.

But, if I weren’t prepared to seek other counsel when faced with that response, to whom would I go?

Little girl running with abandon with the question "To Whom Shall We Go" as the feature title. #catholicsistas #recentevents #beautifulcamouflage

Jesus, present in the Eucharist, is on a mission to change hearts and minds. When we approach Him with an open heart, we receive the Graces He bestows on us, even in the midst of our doubt.

Yet, the previously mentioned statistics beg the uncomfortable “reflection” moment destined to make us squirm. The rhetorical question for each of us to ask ourselves as we stare in the mirror is: are each of us truly receiving Christ with an open mind and heart?

After we have received Jesus, do we go back to our daily lives and continue to live unchanged from mere moments before?

Do we leave Mass without a care or thought of the One Whom we are called to know, love, and serve with all our heart, mind, soul, and body?

Do we invite Christ into our lives on a daily basis, and ask Him to actively help us in being more loving toward our family, toward our neighbors, toward the stranger on the street, or toward those in our Church – lay and ordained alike?

Are we giving Christ room to change our minds, hearts, and ultimately, our actions?

When those in a position of leadership within their church begin to doubt, is the atmosphere welcoming to discussion of those doubts? Or, are they shut down with the trite, “You need to pray harder, study Scripture more, get involved more…”?

Do they find a safe space to voice their normal and natural doubts? Or, are they being told that it makes them a lesser Christian and a worse Catholic because they dare to voice their doubts?

Do they have support in unpacking a lot of the anger, confusion, frustration, pain, and doubt? Or, are they told they are not worthy to express any of those normal emotions?

When we don’t have the support within our community to explore these emotions and doubt, we can become increasingly isolated…

we become lonely…

we become discouraged…

we become weary…

we begin to give in to our doubts…

When we try to muddle through the doubt on our own, we open ourselves up to succumbing to the lure that maybe Christ, His teachings, and that of the Church are not all true.

In light of recent events, perhaps each of us need to take a moment to reflect on where we are on our own faith journey, and dig a little deeper for the compassion to recognize that not everyone is on the same journey, nor on the same part of the path.

Perhaps each of us need to squirm a little to recognize those actions we have done, and the ones we have failed to do, which led to another person experiencing doubt, or wading alone in their doubt.

Finally, perhaps we, as a collective Catholic group, need to get better at meeting all of our members – lay and religious, outspoken and reserved, well-known and inconspicuous – where they are at, recognizing them, and embracing where they are on their journey.

There comes a time in everyone’s spiritual journey where we can’t go it alone – we need the compassion, the empathy, the guidance, and the love of others to continue to grow spiritually. When we don’t find that around us, and when the Truths of the Church are hard to comprehend, we need to be able to rely on the strength of others to support us.

If we can’t find that strength or support in the midst of the doubt, when we can’t find Christ at work in our lives, and have trouble seeing Him working around us, to whom shall we go?

Categories
Guest Posts Real And Raw Series

What are you willing to do about it?

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series REAL AND RAW – SOUL-STIRRING STORIES, a series focused on taking a candid look at life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


Friendships. Growing up, I heard the phrase ‘friends are like elevators – they’ll take you up or they’ll take you down’. My takeaway was “pick your friends wisely.”

But what do you do when a friendship seemingly takes more and more away from your own vocation?

As kids and young adults, it’s a different ball game. Friends were our all, so giving hours upon hours to that friend in need seemed the right thing to do. Why not? I’d want the same thing done for me and often needed that extra ear.

As I got older, and my family grew, I realized that some friendships were not a two-way street, whereby friends both took and gave equally. They didn’t automatically launch into their own goings-on without any regard for me or my latest. And I get there are seasons in friendships when one friend may lean more or harder than the other due to circumstantial reasons.

In the end, the friendship balance is still there.

What happened to me was very eye opening. What I ultimately took away was I couldn’t fix others’ problems and the cost of that thinking had deeply and negatively affected the relationships within my own family.

So, for that realization, I am grateful. The cost of a friendship put into perspective the deficiencies of my own relationships and helped me reprioritize what was most important…family.

Even to this day, I grieve the loss of that friendship, but I also know that I feel like I can breathe again, knowing I don’t have to be involved in intense conversations where I feel this urge to help, knowing that the hours of listening and giving advice fall on deaf ears. I would often feel like “What are you willing to do about it?” knowing full well, based on past experience, the response would be nothing. I became the shoulder upon which to complain…and nothing more.

Having dealt with our own life’s blows, I was very sympathetic to the situations, as I often am with friends. But, I like to fix problems after a certain point. We should be granted a period of time to grieve, work through, or process problems, for sure. But…at some point, we have to muster up the resolve (through prayer or action) to make changes for the better. Even if they are small steps. Some progress is better than nothing, right? But…doing nothing? Constantly being embroiled and enmeshed in situations that can certainly be avoided and wanting an ear to listen for hours at a time at the cost of that friend’s own personal time with spouse and children? That’s not ok.

And if you happen to be the friend doing all the taking, I must insist that if this speaks to you, please do not view what I’m saying as a negative. What I am saying is that we should cultivate an awareness of how the time we take affects our friends’ lives.

That long conversation on the phone or multiple times to chat about problems? It may well be coming at the cost of the friend not being able to spend some much needed time with her own spouse or children.


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before the experience of loss?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

What are you willing to do about it

Categories
Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Martina Offering your suffering Prayer Purgatory Real And Raw Series

Do the Thing You Hate for the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series REAL AND RAW – SOUL-STIRRING STORIES, a series focused on taking a candid look at life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


 

It’s no coincidence that this post went up today. Today of all days. I’ll circle back to this point in a moment.

 

***

 

For me, this ended up being the one thing I used to joke about with friends. Like, if you EVER – and I mean E-VAH – saw me doing this, you should probably look for the four horsemen of the apocalypse because some serious you-know-what is going down and you should probably start praying…NOW.

It all started this past August. My mental wheels had been turning for some time and I was reluctant to find a workout program because I have a hard time sticking with things. It didn’t help that the previous two times I had attempted to work out, I had miscarriages. My older children pointed this out to me, and even though logically I knew it was coincidental, I couldn’t shake the fact that if I were to jump back in with something, it wouldn’t be what I did before. I was a gymnast for years as a child and I loved the idea of doing barre. Of course I ordered two DVDs. They, of course, just sat and collected dust while I went back and forth on whether I could do it.

I live with (and love) my excuses, y’all.

My husband, on the other hand, has been a huge advocate of programs like P90X for years, taking breaks and creating his own workout plans. I always admired his resolve to get up at 5 a.m. (did you know that’s a real time??) and work out, go to work, then squeeze a second workout in the evening before dinner or after the kids had gone to bed.

Upon the sudden and absolutely tragic death of my nephew, Brendan in May, the purpose and focus shifted. It was the thing I hated. And I knew it was the only way I could honor his short life and bring focus and greater purpose to what I was doing.

It was running.

Except I hate running. I loathe it. I joke to friends that if they saw me running, they’red probably be a piece of cake in front of me. I HATE running.

Or so I thought.

In the dead of summer in Texas, I thought that would be a LOVELY time to start my new mission. A friend was selling her treadmill and my husband was on board with my latest, wild-eyed idea.

And that was how that started. Except you don’t just hop on a treadmill and start running – not if you’re me. I relied on my mental notes to carry me through. To start, I reasoned with myself that I’d walk one mile at a time, three times a day, six days a week. Crazy, huh? Three consecutive miles seemed too daunting, but breaking it up into one mile each seemed doable, if not completely exhausting. I wasn’t looking to run initially because, hello, see what I wrote about it at the beginning of this post, friends. I also rationalized that I didn’t like how long it took to walk, so running simply became the quickest way to finish.

That’s all that was.

But I ended up with some pretty fierce pains and injuries after pushing myself a bit. After the first two weeks, I went for all three miles in one stint (because hello, I have a life and this was sucking up too much of my time!) and the result was some pretty gnarly pain in my knee (something to do with my meniscus…?), then my other knee, and then my hip (it was like they were ganging up on me). I took a week off completely to recover, then eased back up into walking/running the three miles, alternating a few minutes walking with a few minutes running. 

The injuries were pretty deflating and reminded me of my three miscarriages. It was a mental block as well as physical. I learned early on that what I was doing was more of a mental game than anything else. So, I set my mind toward focusing on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t. And that’s when things began to change.

It suddenly felt like I was accomplishing something – each day I could do a tiny bit more, and on days when I didn’t feel like I didn’t do much, I reminded myself why I was doing it. It was and still is and will continue to be hard for a very long time. Each time I get out there, I remind myself of all those whom I love who have died. I especially think of my nephew whose athletic resolve was absolutely remarkable.

And as much as I still hate running, I love that it has allowed me to offer that suffering for those in need. It’s not like I enter into some specific prayer on the treadmill – not yet, anyway. Most of my focus is on converting that struggle to keep running on why I’m doing it. I focus on specific memories I have, the people affected by their loss, and placing myself in their shoes as best as I can and just trying to find a way to keep those memories alive. I ask for their prayers as well because hello, I’m suffering on that treadmill and I want to make it through injury free so I can continue the next day.

It’s now been four months since I started and I have been absolutely encouraged by this process. I still hate running. Maybe not hate – I low grade despise it. But I have been able to work through injuries, mental defeat, walk-to-run programs that did not work for me, and was finally able to break through and run my first mile a month ago! I just recently worked my way up past two miles and am now journeying to three miles daily, something I was finally able to do yesterday, November 28. More time on the treadmill means more time to think of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. And more time thinking of and praying for those souls is never wasted time. They need our prayers and I needed to focus on making that more of a priority in my daily life.

So, why is today significant? At the top of the post, I mentioned today’s post was not coincidental. I typically post or schedule on Tuesdays, but friend and fellow editor Rita asked for Tuesday so she could promo our annual Advent Photo Challenge, so we switched days. As it turns out, November 29 is my nephew Brendan’s birthday. He would have been 19 today. I hadn’t planned on running this post this soon, but the switch in days prompted me to go ahead and share. I ask for your prayers for the repose of his soul and for grace and healing for his loved ones, especially his mom, dad, and siblings. 

“Eternal Father,
I offer You the most precious blood
of thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said
throughout the world today,
for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory,
for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal Church,
for those in my own home,
and in my family. Amen.”

PRAYER OF ST. GERTRUDE THE GREAT


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before the experience of loss?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

 

DotheThingYouHatefortheHolySoulsinPurgatory

Categories
Guest Posts Matrimony Real And Raw

True Love Wins

Real and Raw

This post is a part of our Real and Raw series.

 

Aunt #1: “I heard they chose green and lavender as their colors.”
Aunt #2: “Where are they registered?”

As we sat around the kitchen, the ladies in my husband’s extended family chatted about a family member’s upcoming nuptials. I nervously shifted in my chair and hoped someone would steer the conversation to another topic…any topic.

Cousin #1: “It’s going to be beautiful.”
Cousin #2: “I hope we get invited!”

Me: More squirming, a nervous smile, and another sip of coffee.

For several years, a member of our family has brought his boyfriend to holidays and family events. They are delightful people; we love them both and enjoy spending time with them.  A few months ago they became engaged. Although nearly every member of the extended family tree claims a Catholic identity, as far as I can tell, our little family we will be the only branch that chooses not to attend the “wedding.”


No, my husband and I don’t “hate” the grooms. In fact, hate has nothing to do with it; this decision is entirely about love.


Because I love the grooms, I can’t lend my presence – and therefore, my support – to something that I know is harmful to them; my conscience cannot allow it.  The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reminds us, “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of” (Persona Humana, Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, VIII).

Further, because I love my children, I can’t join with our culture in normalizing disordered sexual practices. God has entrusted my children to my husband and me as their primary educators in both life and faith.  Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42 NABRE).  

Finally, because I love the Lord, I must choose to worship Him over my self-constructed altar of family harmony. This is the hardest part for me. My greatest fear is that our branch will be cut from the family tree, and viewed as “bigots.” Still, I must remember that following Christ is not always easy or without conflict. Again, Jesus’ words are difficult, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).

In my flesh, I want to attend this event. To celebrate with people I love, to remain in peace with our family. But my conscience calls me to true love, to make the difficult decision not to participate.
I truly love the grooms, and I pray for them often. I humbly ask that you pray for our family during this trying time.  And please, pray for our nation, that our hearts may be turned back to God, and our families healed.

 

Helpful resources:

http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/

An Initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

https://couragerc.org/  
A ministry to men and women who experience same-sex attractions and those who love them.

Categories
Faith Formation Guest Posts Prayer Real And Raw Series

If Only I Hadn’t _________

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series REAL AND RAW – SOUL-STIRRING STORIES, a series focused on taking a candid look at the Faith and life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


“If only I hadn’t _____.”  

How many of us have said that – days, months, years, decades, after?  Remorse, guilt, shame, self-blame… we push the memory into the darkest recesses of our sub-consciousness, but the effects are still there, silently affecting our self-worth, our relationships, and our faith.  There is another path however. One of God’s unending mercy that heals and transforms us from deep within. It’s a path of self-forgiveness, beauty, and peace. I know it’s there because I was blessed to find it.  I pray you find it, too.

It could have been a chapter in a book from The Series of Unfortunate Events. The week started with a difficult surgery first thing Monday morning. Dreading the ordeal, I attacked the situation with full resolve to offer my pain and discomfort for others in the same situation or worse. I was dead set on saving the world from my bed, until I discovered mid-week this tough girl ain’t so tough sometimes – neither the flesh nor the spirit were up to offering anything for anyone or anything. God was putting me through Acceptance 101, and I was getting the lesson loud and clear. Or so I thought. Thursday I woke up barely able to move from some type of lower back muscle strain. Ok God, I guess class is still in session. Hoping that was the end, I tried to quash the old adage “things happen in threes.” But the Unfortunate Events chapter continued to unravel its newest plot twist on Saturday morning. My greatest lesson was about to begin.

The Gospel of John, Chapter 8 – the infamous story of the woman caught in adultery by the Scribes and Pharisees. As the narrative progresses, you can sense her shame and fear at being discovered. They bring her to Jesus (without the man, as was the law), make her stand in the middle of the crowd, condemn her, and state that under Moses the punishment is stoning. Jesus, after bending down to write something on the ground, responds, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As she stands there, I can imagine her, head bowed, waiting with held breath for the first strike. I’ve thought about her often, because for the past 35 years, I have been that woman.

No, I wasn’t caught in adultery, brought before a crowd of Jesus’s followers and made to stand there silently waiting for the first stone to hit me. I was young, alone and afraid, sitting in an examining room as a doctor pronounced his sentence with a single nurse as his witness. Shame, guilt, humiliation, self-condemnation, remorse – those were the stones strewn about the room and I felt their sting just as if they had been picked and thrown. The doctor and nurse’s words droned on as I listened in stunned disbelief and silently cursed the boyfriend who had failed to disclose he was a STD carrier. Should he not have been present to be condemned as well?

In the woman’s case, the whole town probably knew her guilt. Even if she was spared, her life was an open book that prevented her from escaping repeated condemnation. In my case, no one knew the guilt I carried. Self-condemnation was tucked deeply within the pages of a closed book I refused to open. Surely her relationships must have suffered the effects of her public sentence; my relationships suffered the silence of a truth I couldn’t bear to voice. Her actions, revealed before many – did she have the courage to seek to be forgiven and accepted? My actions, hidden from all – would I ever have the courage to seek forgiveness and acceptance?

How blessed she was to hear the words of our Lord Himself, “Neither do I condemn you.” How many years had I longed to hear those words, and yet, even if I had heard them, I doubt I would have believed them. I had been tricked by the lies the enemy settles deep into our hearts – you are unworthy, tainted, ugly. Already having made life decisions I knew I could never reconcile with my faith, this only served to push me even further away from the One who would have said those words to me had I but been willing to approach Him. But, as is so often the case, we run from Him like Adam and Eve in the garden, refusing to believe that our Creator could be anything but the Just Judge who sits upon His throne dispensing damnation sentences upon His fallen creatures. She and I had both become victims to our own disordered desires in seeking love, self-worth, attention, etc., within the confining limits of our weakened nature. Did she believe His words that day? Did she heed His words ” Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore?”

Over the years, every time I have had to open that book to disclose my guilt (which was only done under extenuating circumstances such as when I had to face telling the man I knew I would marry or when I had to fill out medical paperwork), I was transported right back to that examining room full of its stones waiting to be thrown. And once again, the lies would be resurrected and the wounds would become deeper. Coming back to my faith as an adult, steeped in its stoic “do’s and don’ts”, shoved that closed book further and further back on the bookshelf lest it jeopardized the image of my life as a Catholic Christian woman neatly practicing her faith in a growing family.

God knocks and waits

Never One to force Himself upon us, He thirsts for us as ardently as the day He thirst upon the cross. A God of unending creativity, His knocking comes in as many ways as you can envision. Two summers ago, a book found its way into my hands, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told by Fr. Gaitley.  It is the story of our fall and God’s unending, almost pleading attempts to bring us back to Him. It challenged everything I had catalogued within my notional knowledge of God. Here was a God who wasn’t glaring down from His Judgment seat, but a God who burned with one desire – that we place our total trust in Him and His Divine Mercy. I had heard the knock…hesitantly, I cracked open the door.

Fr. Gaitley’s book launched me on an almost insatiable quest to know everything I could about Divine Mercy. The Diary of St. Faustina, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told DVD series, St. Therese of Lisieux’s Little Way, and the writings of Pope St. John Paul II, whose entire pontificate embodied the Divine Mercy message. I couldn’t learn enough fast enough and I felt as if my spiritual life had taken flight. I immersed myself in promoting the message however I could. I begged for the grace to live a life of mercy for others and the words, “Jesus, I trust in You” became my mantra. All the while, that closed book remained securely tucked away on the bookshelf.

Like a child who timidly stands at the water’s edge and dips a toe in to check whether it’s “acceptable” to take the plunge, the occasion to “test the water” arose unexpectedly one day in a conversation with a friend. Did I dare to believe the book could be opened without condemnation? I stepped ankle-deep into the waters of that friendship, dusted off the cover of that stowed away book, and cracking it open relayed my story, ending with “So, there it is – the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I waited. The same old stones lay about me. The same lies screamed back at me. Although I had placed the past before the Lord in confession on more than one occasion and knew I had been forgiven, the wounds were just as fresh as that day long ago. My friend’s response was soaked in the waters of mercy, “okay….first….nothing about you is ugly.” The book now lay wide open.

In the days that followed, God worked on my heart like a surgeon trying to repair years of diseased tissue. At the grocery, I spontaneously bought myself flowers and for days they were a visual reminder of the beauty I was beginning to rediscover in myself. As part of a project with a women’s mentoring group, I worked on a collage that was to reflect how I wanted to see myself by the end of the session. The timing of the project was uncanny. The pictures I chose reflected images of my faith and nature, places and things that spoke to my heart or reminded me of someone God had spoken through. My mentor nailed it on the head when she remarked that she felt the collage spoke of the Beauty and Truth I was searching for.  

I flipped through the pages of that open book, searching for the beauty I knew had to be there.  Within the words of those pages, God revealed many truths about myself and my life. I saw a faith that had grown with His grace, forgiveness, and redemption. I worked through a myriad of emotions and felt I had finally come to terms with the past. I closed the book.  There was a peace and a freedom I hadn’t felt before. Was this what it was like to be healed? Is this what the recipients of His healing hands had felt?

A series of Unfortunate Events

Saturday dawned early as the discomfort of surgery and my aching back roused me from my sleep. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. It was then I realized the truth and I was propelled instantly back to that examining room. The stress of the surgery had triggered a relapse. The book was flung open before me, it’s pages screaming my guilt. The stones of condemnation piled up around me, just waiting to be picked up and thrown. Where was the beauty I had seen just weeks ago? Where was the forgiveness? I struggled to keep my emotions together and did the only thing I could think of. I stared long and hard at the image of Divine Mercy. What was I missing? What was I not seeing?

Almost instantly, He revealed it. Not In His face, which looks out on us in love. Not in the rays of blood and water radiating from His Sacred Heart, which wash away our guilt. Not even in His raised hand, which gestures a sign of peace. It was somewhat hidden, found in the almost indiscernible differing colors of blues and greens surrounding His Sacred image, which St. Faustina said represent the colors of the ocean – not just any ocean, but the unending depths of His Ocean of Mercy. There I found the final question that begged for an answer. Could I forgive myself? Could I be merciful to that girl of long ago? I slowly picked up a stone, feeling it’s weight in my hand. I tossed it and watched as it landed in those waters and disappeared into the depths. One by one, I held them and then threw them into the water, captivated by the ripples that traveled in every direction. Finally, I picked up the book, closed its cover and heaved it as far as I could. It entered the water with a resounding splash and sent ripples far beyond the edges of the image. The tears flowed down my face. The battle was finally won. All those years and in the end, all He had wanted me to do was to finally let it go – deep down into that Ocean of His unending Mercy, its ripples going out far and wide as a testimony to the rest of the world proclaiming “Jesus, I trust in You.”

If Only I Hadn't______

For more information about Divine Mercy, click here or here.


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before this experience?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A FRIEND ASKS – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide.

IfOnlyIHadn't