Bad Catholics, Unite!

I’m bad at being Catholic.

Did you know that I didn’t know artificial contraception was a no-no in the eyes of the Church until I got to college?  Or that it would be more likely for a priest to get married before a woman could become a priest, and even that is highly unlikely?  I didn’t know the Eucharist was the actual body and blood of Christ.  I didn’t know people cared enough about Mary to consecrate their entire lives to her.  I didn’t know anything about the Catholic memorabilia… the medals, the scapulars (I still don’t know what the heck a scapular is for), those bead bracelet things with pictures of the sacred heart or Mary or (insert favorite saint here) on them.  I couldn’t tell you what my patron saint (Cecilia) actually accomplished in her life other than the fact that she is the patron saint of musicians.  I didn’t know daily Mass was something for everyone until college.  I didn’t know being a nun was even an option for me because I wasn’t 80-years-old yet.  I didn’t know that I had to go to confession before Mass… that it was an obligation.  I didn’t know there was such things as holy days of obligation.

I was a really bad Catholic.  And I still am.

Even after studying theology for 4 years… I still feel completely lost.  I still don’t understand my Catholic faith, and what it means.  The only parts of my faith that I know and understand (aside from a new understanding of the Eucharist, which I now agree with after spending some serious time asking questions about why God was asking me to be a cannibal [God wasn’t]) from my childhood are that I was created by God, I am loved by God, and I am on a mission from God (much like the Blues Brothers, minus the fedora).

I have only gone to confession before Mass twice in my life.  I will probably be using artificial birth control when I get married (and if you think a piece of rubber is going to stop a baby from getting born when God wants that baby born… you are dumb, I’m just sayin).  I cling to the hope that one day, a woman will be allowed to be a priest, and a priest will be allowed to be married. I think a 50% divorce rate and little white chapels in Vegas are a bigger insult to the institution of marriage than sexual orientation.  It is highly doubtful that I would ever consecrate myself to Mary.  I don’t fall asleep at Mass anymore, but I still don’t always pay attention.  My relationship with God will always be important to me… even when I am beyond rock bottom and am not even sure if God exists at all. I hope I will always be crazy enough to think that I can make a difference in this broken world in which we live… and that when I die, I will leave it in better shape than when I found it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I may bitch and moan about the teachings of the Church sometimes, I may not agree with everything, I may not have a collection of scapulars and statues to adorn my house with… but I love my Catholic faith.  I may not understand it… but I love it… and really, when its really love, how can you explain it?  I know there is a place for me in the Church.  I know God loves me just the way I am.  And at my confirmation as a sophomore in high school, I was fully aware of the commitment I was making.  I’m in it for the long haul.  I will wrestle with these teachings until I agree with them, and if I don’t ever agree with them, I will not stop wrestling with them.  I believe that God loves me… that God will not send me to hell because I didn’t go to confession before receiving the Eucharist.  I believe that God loves you, too, and that is why I love you.

I believe God just wants us to be with him.  I think God just wants to see us keep swimming towards him.  And if I’m wrong… if God really cares that much about doing everything by the book and being perfect… then I’m screwed.  But I don’t think I’m screwed.

So anyway.  To all my fellow bad Catholics out there… hollaa.  May you rest easy tonight knowing that I don’t think you’re all that bad, because I don’t think I’m all that bad.  Besides, you and I were made in the image and likeness of God, and God isn’t bad.  So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Out With the Old! In With the New!

Elegant Closet & Dressing Area

Image by sparklerawk via Flickr

I haven’t written anything in a long time… and I’m not sure how much it matters because I’m not really sure who reads this anyway… so for all I know, my Mom is the only one, and she doesn’t seem to mind my absence.

A lot and a little has been going on in my life since I last wrote a piece of genius.  I guess that’s what happens when you start a new job (school bus driver! bam!) and your social life is actually starting to look up because you’re starting to make some new friends (stick that in your juice box and suck it, loneliness!).

While there are a lot of good things going on in my life… there has also been a lot that seems to have been piling up.  I admit that I often just feel lost and completely exasperated at how my dreams don’t seem to be matching up with the reality of my life.  I have spent a lot of time dwelling in the past… wishing for what was and what could have been.  But all that dwelling hasn’t been doing anything particularly helpful for me. Perhaps it’s time to simply look at this present moment as my past, and continue forth in the direction I have been heading.  Why fight it?  What’s the use in constantly looking back when all it does is give me a good crick in the neck?

I’ve been buying a lot of new clothes lately.  It’s good because now I actually have the money needed to update my wardrobe a bit and get rid of the clothes that used to fit me when I was 25 pounds heavier (who wants those around, anyway? I’m not planning on finding those 25 pounds again! Stay away!)… but it’s bad because A) I need to save my money and B) I’m running out of room in my closet.

In order to solve the problem at least halfway, I decided to clean out my closet. And boy, it was hard.  I tend to form emotional attachments to inanimate objects… so I can’t even begin to explain how hard it was to fold up my silky black and white skirt that I wore to give my Kairos talk my junior year of high school.  That skirt was part of a pivotal moment in my life.  I had a hard time throwing away my prom shoes, because prom was so much fun and reminded me of the good ole days.  But the reality is… that skirt doesn’t fit me now, and I am never going to have another reason to wear a fancy beaded silvery shoe.  I could not part with my prom dress. I could not part with my worn down and awful-smelling Adidas gym shoes that I bought at Harrods in London.  But that green and pink polo shirt from 7th grade? See ya. Weird diagonal-cut blue wool sweater thing? Adios.  Too small? Too big?  Haven’t worn it in 6 months?  Haven’t worn it since 1999? Good-bye. Siyonara. Hasta la vista, bay-bee.

My closet now houses 80% clothes I actually wear, and 20% I might wear, but mostly keep around for nostalgic reasons.  It’s quite empty.  It’s quite intimidating.  I feel like my wardrobe is kind of pathetic and like I don’t have enough.  I feel like I may have gotten rid of too much.  Maybe I’ll wear that one black cardigan that has been worn so thin you can see through it.  Maybe I could just put a shirt on under it. Maybe I don’t have to face my future at all… maybe I could just keep pretending that I am still the high school version of myself and that I have a weaker prescription on my glasses to see the world a little fuzzier than I do now.

But maybe the empty closet doesn’t have to be so intimidating.  Maybe it represents possibility.  Maybe it represents trust in the Lord to take care of my needs, when it seems like there isn’t enough.  Maybe it means I’ll have an even swankier black cardigan to throw in there one day.  Maybe I’ll attach new emotions to new shoes.  I’ll have new adventures. I’ll keep growing (or hopefully shrinking).  My closet can look completely different 5 years from now than it does today. Maybe that’s a possibility that needs embracing.

Furthermore, I am donating my old clothes to a good cause.  There are people out there who will love my huge jeans and old coats I haven’t worn since I had braces.  There are girls out there who are going to feel beautiful in my sparkly shoes and silky skirt.  They get to make beautiful memories from my old beautiful memories.  And that’s remarkable.

Everything that happened in my life wasn’t a waste… it meant something to me, and it will continue to mean something to someone else.  But we’re all meant to keep growing.  We are designed to keep changing every day.  So now I am letting go and giving the Lord permission to really do with me what he wills.  All because I cleaned out my closet this afternoon.

Patient Trust

i think no need words

Image via Wikipedia

This is a prayer that I found while cleaning out my desk today.  It meant a lot to me to find it, so I felt like sharing it.

“Patient Trust”

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability–

and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually–let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

As though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

Acting on your own good will)

Will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit

Gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

That his hand is leading you,

And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

In suspense and incomplete.

–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin  SJ

The Prodigal Sock

Rainbow socks

Image via Wikipedia

This weekend’s Gospel reading was one of my all-time favorites.  It was the story of the prodigal son… the one who thought he could do it all on his own… the one who said, “Hey pops, I’m thinking about doing my own thing for a while… so can you just fork over the money you were going to leave me when you’re dead and gone now so I don’t have to come back to collect it when you finally kick the bucket?”  I mean that takes some serious balls to ask for your inheritance before your parent even thinks about croaking.  And you know… I always looked at this story from the point of view of the prodigal son… because I obviously ask my parents all the time for my inheritance up front… you know, with how awful the economy is and all (okay… that was a lie… I’m not that terrible).  I get it. I am a good prodigal daughter.  I screw up all the time. I poorly judge situations ALL the time. Almost constantly.  To the point where I wonder if God is ever sittin up there, long flowy white sleeves rippling around in the heavenly breeze, smacking his forehead and wondering what gene he forgot to install in me before I was born to prevent such stupid mistakes.

But have you ever considered the opposing viewpoint?  That of the father?  The one whose lousy no-good son had the gall to ask for his inheritance upfront… you know… because the economy was so crappy and all.  The one who waited up every night hoping for his son to return.  I mean it’s beautiful, really. Any normal person would probably hold a grudge and say “good riddance.”  But this father never lost hope.  He RAN to his son… with open arms. I bet he did it in slow motion, too, with some grand music playing in the background while the sun was setting over that grassy meadow.

But still. I don’t get it. Why didn’t he just stand there and wait for his son to approach him?  Why didn’t he get that heart-sicky feeling we usually get when we see someone who has wronged us?

Then I had this thought.  How many times have you ever lost a sock to the dryer?  It’s a sad moment when you are done folding your clothes (while they’re still hot… it’s the only way to do it), and you matched up all your socks and balled them up and threw them in your laundry basket… only to find one with a missing mate.  The sock that went rogue… forged its own path… decided feet were not for him any longer… decided that a life in the warm belly of the dryer would be infinitely better than just hangin out in the sock drawer all day until you need a place to stick your nasty sweaty phalanges.

But then, one laundry day in the future, after weeks, months, YEARS of that poor orange polka-dotted sock laying alone and helpless in its pathetic little corner of your sock drawer, you see it. It’s orange. Spotted. It’s lookin kinda sock-y.  It’s laying there, magically, at the bottom of your pile of clean laundry.  The prodigal sock. And if you’re anything like me… you probably let out a noise of some kind at this point (I’m a squeaker, myself).  A Cheshire-cat grin illuminates your dull and aged face as you hold up the long-lost sock and victoriously cry out, “AT LAST! I found you!”  You march up to that sock drawer, pull out that sad lonely other-half, and watch the drama unfold with a tearful reunion.  The socks are cheering. The undies are jeering (but who can blame them, really, they got the short end of the stick anyway when it comes to clothing items).  Finally. Everyone has a friend.  Everyone gets stinky feet time. Everything is right with the world again.

That’s probably what God feels every time he finds one of us lost rogue socks at the bottom of the pile of flowy white robes in his dryer.  Sheer joy.  For I was once lost… but now, am found.

Last I heard, I wasn’t 14 anymore… so…

…why am I getting pimples the size of Russia on my face? Hm? I’m just sayin. I thought that was an adolescent thing.  I

thought by the time 22 hit, I would be immune to it.  But nope. Sure enough… there it is… a nasty little bugger, right near the corner of my mouth.  And when I mean size of Russia, I mean… whip out a map and stick this pimple on it, and I’m pretty sure that it would take up the equivalent space on my face as Russia does on said map.  Okay maybe that’s a bit exaggerated. But still. Seriously.

And naturally this happens the day before an important job interview that I am scared out of my pants for.  I’ve had some interviews for jobs I didn’t really care for that I didn’t really prepare for… because lets face it… why would I, a theology major, care about a data entry job for an automotive company?  That’s like asking the Pope to work the drive through at McDonalds.  Not that it’s a bad job… just that well, you know… the Pope is qualified for other things… other more important things.

And I’m terrified of this interview because it actually means something to me.  Granted, it’s not exactly the job I went to college for… but it is still in the general environment which my degree is in (it’s an office assistant position at a Catholic university), and could at least get a foot in the door for another opportunity even more closely suited for whatever the heck I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life. Maybe.  I’m actually preparing for this interview… meaning I am looking at mission statements, I am looking at programs this department in the school offers, I am preparing for questions that I may or may not be asked so I don’t sound like the bumbling idiot I’ve been sounding like for the past three months of my life… shoot,  I am even YouTubing videos on how I should present myself to my potential future employer.  Yesterday, I bought my first big kid suit… I even got the opinions of a couple salesladies before buying it… just to make *sure* I was portraying the correct image.

I’m freakin out.

So this morning, when I said hello to myself in the mirror and found Jupiter on my chin, I was not pleased.  I know I can’t help pimples… but when I see pimples, I think teenagers.  And when I got my big kid suit yesterday, I did not want to look “teenager,” I wanted to look “Catholic intellectual.”

And then I realized… God is trying to teach me something in this moment.  I don’t NEED to be perfect.  I need to be myself.  I need to let my love of theology shine in my interview, not my adultyness.  I need to trust that God will put me where I am needed.  This pimple humbled me a bit.  I mean I know I’m kind of a big deal, as I’m a child of God and all, but I should be willing to go where God leads me, not where I think I deserve to belong.  I’m caught up in this frame of mind that I am a big bad college grad, I spent thousands of dollars for a piece of paper to put me in a job that will earn me more than minimum wage, I have been a good and faithful servant, I DESERVE this job.  But the problem is that my ego might be getting a little too big.  Sure I deserve happiness, but really, the reason I am alive and on this planet is bigger than me.  I could very well work at the drive through at McDonald’s and be exactly where I need to be.

I’m not saying at all that I should disregard my wants and desires… as God designed me with those particular desires to begin with, and those desires are good. However, I have to be careful to not enter the territory of thinking I can do it all on my own, that everything is in my control.  Because it’s not.  Not needing to be in control is a great gift from God.

So I’ve got a zit the size of the sun on my face.  So it’s unexpected and a pain in the kisser. I’ve just got to make my smile bigger, and my personality shine through even brighter.  Because ultimately, a zit isn’t going to keep me from being where I need to be.

Can You Hear Me Now??

Do you remember those commercials for Verizon with the dude walking around on his cell phone saying, “Can you hear me now? Good!”  I do that a lot.  On my Verizon phone.  My phone only sometimes gets good reception.  A lot of the times it straight up lies to me.  It will tell me that I have 5 bars only to drop my call anyway, just because it feels like it. Sometimes the message comes in loud and clear… and other times it gets jumbled and I have to keep asking “What? What did you just say? Can you enunciate??”  I feel like an idiot a lot when I talk on the phone because I keep needing to ask people to repeat themselves.  It’s really beyond my control… obviously.   It’s my stupid phone’s fault for getting the message jumbled up.

I don’t think I ever had that kind of problem with my home phone.  When the phone is directly connected to the wall, it’s not an issue.  But if I have to get some stupid signal to go all the way out into BUFU space, and then expect it to bounce alllll the way back down to the right person, there ain’t no way I’m going to be guaranteed a clear connection.  At least that’s my personal experience with it.

In getting the convenience of a cell phone, we can potentially sacrifice the quality call received and transmitted.  And while cell phones are seriously a blessing when it comes to emergency situations, or being in contact with anyone no matter where he or she is located, it can also be deadly.  There are more opportunities for disaster with cell phones when it comes to things like calling/texting while driving, or walking across a street, or I don’t know, meandering in front of a train or something.  People just get stupid when talking on their cell phones.  And I’m one of them… I’ll be the first to admit it.

And so it got me thinking.  I’ve been waiting for God’s call for you know, 22 years of my life. I always think I may have heard God say something… but actually, I wasn’t hearing right.  Or sometimes I lose the connection.  Sometimes I think I’m in a place with great reception, only to move just a fraction of an inch and lose my contact.  I try to connect with God on my terms.  I try to figure out a way where I can do what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it… and finagle God in there somewhere, wherever God can fit.  In all of this finagling… I forgot how to listen. I forgot how to create an opportunity for me to simply be still and pay attention.  Or sometimes I focus too much and forget to look at the grander picture unfolding.

I’m trying to connect with God on a shaky cell phone connection.  I’m too busy, I’m too impatient, I’m too set in my own dreams sometimes, and this causes my signal to break up a little.  And then I misinterpret the call, all the while God is on the other line saying, “Sara?? Are you there?? Hello??”  I think I’ll be able to hear God better when I plant myself down to a landline phone… when I remove those other distractions and find a way to focus on just listening with the ear of my heart (as the Benedictines would say!).  Maybe it means reading scripture once in awhile. Maybe it means just taking time to be still.  Maybe it means quit it with telling God what to do, and just be there with the active listening skills.

I think that’s where many of my frustrations with difficult discernment of my calling come into play.  The problem isn’t that God isn’t listening… it’s that I’ve got a crappy connection.

Do you ever feel like that?  In what ways can you create a better connection with God?

I See London… I See France…

There’s nothing like putting on clean undies.  The optimal situation is clean undies and clean clothes on top of the clean undies… but realistically speaking… sometimes it’s day two on the blue jeans.  So maybe not all of my clothes are squeaky clean, however, the undies always are.  Have you ever noticed how grimy you feel wearing the same undies for more than 24 hours at a time?  It feels like week old Chinese food dunked in sewer water.  It’s awful.  The worst part about dirty undies is that it makes the rest of you feel dirty, even if you aren’t all that unclean.  Undies are the foundation for our clothing choices.  Undies are the first thing we put on in the morning.  Undies are of absolute importance, unless you prefer to go without them, which, for all intents and purposes, is not where this conversation is heading.

On a seemingly un-related note, I hate going to confession.  I can count on one hand the amount of times I have ever been.  The first time I felt horrible after and like the priest could care less about my silly little problems, even though it took me over a month and a half to muster up the courage to go in the first place.  The second time was amazing… the priest was very open and listened intently and was very understanding and even offered me solutions which extended beyond a couple “Hail Marys.”  The third time, it wasn’t awful, but I didn’t walk out on Cloud Nine either.  For the most part, my experiences with confession haven’t exactly been stellar ones.

However, today I had an epiphany in the bathroom. I hopped out of an exceptionally delicious shower and was feeling great all over in my clean undies and clean clothes when I realized… a ha!  So this is what reconciliation is supposed to be like!  I have always struggled with the concept of confession to a priest for a long time.  No matter how many times anyone has ever tried to explain it to me, I’ve never understood the need to have a priest intercede for me and the Big Mac Upstairs… I always figured I could just go straight to Jesus myself.  After all, Jesus said Himself… I’m the Son, God is my Father, the only path through to the Father is through the Son.  Get it?  I got it.  But sometimes I don’t go straight to God.  Sometimes I skirt around the issue.  Sometimes I don’t actually confess what needs confessing.  And sometimes I just need something more… I need something physical… I need a hot shower of absolution with the soap of contrition.  And I need my clean undies. I need to *know* that my soul has been purified.  Otherwise, for all I know… I’m still sitting in year-old sin.  And who wants that?  If day-old undies make me feel gross, it’s no wonder I feel so passionless, so apathetic, so not myself sometimes.  I’ve got a kink in my soul.  I’ve got some dirty undies on my soul that need changing.

When I wear clean undies, I feel clean all over.  I feel like I’m ready to start my day.  I feel like I don’t smell all that bad.  The best way to start building anything is with a firm foundation, and the best way to assemble a great looking outfit for the day is with clean undies.  The same goes for your soul.  If there is something troubling you, that something is going to gnaw on you and affect everything you do, from how you treat others to how much time you give for yourself.  Going to confession is your chance to take a shower and put on some clean undies.  You know you’ll feel a lot better when you do it, and you know that you can do it as often as you want or need to.

So my challenge to you for the week is this:  go to confession.  If that’s too big of a step for you, take some time at the end of the day or at the end of the week and reflect how your day or week has been.  Really be critical of yourself.  Take your actions to heart.  Learn from your experiences.  Try a better way.  It can’t hurt.