The Celebration That Never Ends

“Sport is a universal language that brings together peoples, and can help persons meet and overcome conflicts. Therefore, I encourage you to live the dimension of sports as the gymnasium of virtue in the full development of individuals and communities.” – Pope Francis

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It figures.

It figures that the one time my beloved city of Cleveland did something relevant and timely and AWESOME and RARE by winning a CHAMPIONSHIP, I was on a retreat.

Of course I was. Where else would I be?

In my quest to pursue the full certiication from the TOB Insititute, I decided it would be a great idea to take a week-long course for Theology of the Body in Pennsylvania. Day 1 of the retreat started the night of Game 7 of the Finals.

Great timing.

Now this may be starting out as a pity party for me, but hold on.

Yes, I missed out on high-fiving my family members and my friends who were watching the game at home or at bars or at watch parties. I missed seeing the team come home to thousands of people at the airport. I missed the million+ attended parade. I missed it all but there’s something to be said for social media at this point  – the pictures and videos I saw of all of this was a sufficient substitute for being there in person. I was never more proud of my city and fellow Clevelanders. And to completeley honest, I needed to stop idolizing sports. So this was actually a great way to detach from it and realize there is much more to life than sports.

But of course that didn’t stop me from watching the final 5 minutes of the game. 🙂

Those (very few) of us that watched the last moment of the game on our little mobile devices at the retreat center screamed and shouted and celebrated once that final buzzer sounded and the game was over. We remarked how it seemed like we were in disbelief. I know I was! I didn’t really celebrate until I saw about a minute or two of the team on the court. Then it became “real.” But even the next day, so many people remarked on how surreal it was. I myself even posted:

“Is this real life? Did this really happen? We WON something!?”

To the outsider, yes, it’s just sports. It’s entertainment. And those of us who are fans had nothing to do with the team winning this trophy. But when people, complete strangers, are crying and hugging each other and smiling and saying “We did it! We won!” you get this feeling in your heart that says, “We are united in this!” Even if it’s just for this one brief moment.

There are far more important things that will (and have) taken over the headlines in the week since the Cavs won this championship. I noticed one of my friends posted something on Facebook about how this world is so messed up (she used much more colorful language) when more people are celebrating the Cavs win than focusing on gun control in the wake of some recent violence in this country.

(Instead of responding directly I was inspired to write this post. So thank you for the inspiration, friend!)

Of course we should focus on preventing violence, ending terrorism, looking for cures for diseases, feeding the hungry, etc. The problems we have in this world are endless. But can we allow ourselves to celebrate for a brief moment?

Those that just want to despair and complain and lament that this country has its problems and we’re too busy celebrating a silly basketball game to take notice isn’t fair.

Where’s the allowance for joy to balance out all the evil being done in this world? Isn’t it nice, once in a while, to take a breather from the bad to relish in the good?

I think we can use the escape of sports entertainment to briefly take our minds into something “other worldly.” Some that feels like a dream, especially to the fans who live in the city that WINS.  Allow people to be joyful. Allow their smiles to bring back memories for you when you celebrated something with your favorite team or when you were with family or friends at a party, a wedding, a graduation, etc.

And here’s something you may not know: That dreamy feeling does last forever. But only in one place. It’s a place that puts a record breaking parade to shame. A place where the feeling of a championship win occurs every time someone enters there.  Some don’t believe it exists. But many of us do. And that’s what I live for. That feeling of never-ending bliss. That’s what keeps me going.

Dr. Bob Rice from Franciscan University at Steubenville wrote about this place that also served as inspiration for this post today:

Imagine this: You close your eyes for the last time on this earth, and when you open them again, you are in a different place. It is the most beautiful place you have ever seen. Before you is the finish line. As you head toward it, you see deceased family members calling your name and shouting for joy. You see angels and saints clapping and shouting louder and louder. Behind the finish line you see Jesus, with a huge smile and His arms outstretched. As you break through the finish line into his arms, all of creation erupts in song. He then puts you on a pedestal and, in front of all of creation, he places on your head the crown of life. It is the most incredible moment you will ever experience. And it will continue forever.

How beautiful is that?!?

I know not everyone believes. And it’s still hard for me sometimes to truly believe this, too.

But if there are people walking around just assuming there’s NOTHING at the end of life, well…what would be the point of all of this? What in the world are you living for if you don’t think there’s an endgame?

There’s gotta be an epilogue to this life.  That’s how I get through the depressing and dark times and awful headlines that I read every day.

I try my very hardest to live in the moment, knowing the ultimate celebration awaits us all. God-willing, I’ll see you there. And the best part?  EVERYONE GETS A TROPHY!!!

 

Remaining Silent…When You Really Want to Scream

No one is so good and devout as not to encounter some worries and troubles in life. When you face tribulation and are sorrowful in heart, you are with Jesus on the Cross. And again, when through the grace of the Holy Spirit you enjoy consolation in prayer, you rise, as it were, with Christ from the dead and the tomb, and with a jubilant heart you celebrate Easter with Jesus in the newness of life.

 

When someone directs harsh and unkind words against you, you are given to drink of the chalice of the Lord as medicine for your soul. Remain silent and drink of the cup of salvation without complaint, for the Lord will be your protection in nothing more admirable than to remain silent and patient, for in this way you curb the mouth of him who utters evil against you, and at the same time, you follow the example of Christ, who remained silent before Pilate, though much false testimony had been brought against Him. You are no better than God, who, for your sake, endured scourging, ridicule, and death at the hands of the wicked.

Thomas à Kempis, Bountiful Goodness, pp 36-37

God’s timing is always perfect, isn’t it?  I read this passage a couple days ago, just when I was seeking some answers about a recent encounter with someone who had some harsh words for me. This person said some pretty nasty things to me that aren’t worth repeating, but it was made clear to me, they had no idea just how rude they were being.

My initial response was silence, mainly due to shock that someone would disrespect me so much, but also because I have never felt it beneficial to respond to hate with hate (or in this case, disrespect with disrespect, as her comments weren’t really hateful as much as they were just downright rude and nasty).

Only one thought went thru my mind as she lashed out at me, and that was “Hurt people hurt people.” So I stayed silent, said little, and finished up my work with her. She is no longer in my life (she was a client) and this was her final session with me. My mind was racing after she walked out thinking, “Why would she say such awful things to someone she barely knows? What did I do to deserve such a beating? Where was this anger coming from?”

I even went so far as to reverse the situation and ask myself, “When was I this nasty to someone? When have I lashed out at someone trying to help me?” I was seeking the lesson here, and I admit, I struggled to find it. I am by no means perfect but I don’t recall in recent memory reacting in a similar way this woman did with me.  I got an answer though, and that was: “This isn’t about you. She’s struggling with someone/something that has nothing to do with you.”

Still, I was feeling conflicted and completely out of sorts.

These questions were still on my mind as I went on a retreat for the entire weekend. I felt bad because this woman was still on my mind as I was trying to enjoy myself and get into the “spirit” of the weekend. It’s a retreat, for crying out loud! You’d think of all places this was my best medicine.

In the end, I eventually got the bad taste of this client out of my mouth and my mind. I was inspired by the young ones I spoke to and their fire for the Lord. The answer to my questions maybe didn’t come directly to me that weekend but I did find comfort and a welcome distraction in the many people I encountered. Many of them had some amazing witness stories which definitely put my problems into perspective.

I came home Sunday evening to find this book, Bountiful Goodness, at my doorstep, almost forgetting that I had ordered it.

And this reflection on “Divine Consolation and Tribulations” was one of the first ones I read.

Remain silent and drink of the cup of salvation without complaint…

So for those who have been hurt by the unkind and harsh words of another person, I’m right there with you. As much as we want to react and fight back, sometimes it’s best to just remain silent and let that person go. I think that’s showing mercy, isn’t it? Pope Francis would probably agree in this Jubilee Year of Mercy that this is the right thing to do.

A prayer for them will probably serve them better than our own spiteful remarks and reactions.

And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a prayer for EVERYTHING out there! I found one specifically for our “Enemies” although I don’t consider her a true enemy. She’s probably not a friend though…maybe one day though!

Almighty God, have mercy on N. and on all that bear me evil will and would do me harm, and on their faults and mine together, by such easy, tender, merciful means, as Thine infinite wisdom best can devise; vouchsafe to amend and redress and make us saved souls in heaven together, where we may ever live and love together with thee and they blessed saints. O glorious Trinity, for the bitter passion of our sweet Savior, Christ. Amen.

– St. Thomas More

 

 

The Single Dilemma

Ahhh, the single life. Ain’t it grand?

I was recently a bridesmaid at a wedding and it was probably the first time I was GLAD to be at a wedding without a date. Why? Because recently I discovered my calling, my vocation, my purpose in life.

I know what you’re thinking: Whoa. You discovered the purpose in your life? That’s kind of a big deal.

And I would say to you, yes, it’s a very big deal. Hence, my dilemma. (And Yes, that IS how you spell dilemma. I know, I thought it was with an “N” too! There’s even an entire website dedicated to this comical error!)

Getting back to this wedding I was in. Since it was across the country, it wasn’t ever expected for me to bring a date. So I managed to avoid any and all questions of “Who are you here with?” “You’re here alone? Oh…You know I have a cousin who is single…”

Isn’t that usually how the conversations go? Our attached/married friends so badly want to set us up with someone who they assume is single and looking. Or, you get a slew of some form of the following questions:

Are you dating anyone right now?

Are you seeing anyone?

Are you interested in anyone lately?

Have you met anyone?

But see, I’m not looking anymore. And that’s really difficult for people to comprehend. Especially since I’m a female of child-bearing age.

What’s even more difficult to understand is that I’m HAPPY to be single. And not because I think dating is difficult (which it is) or that marriage can be extremely hard (which it could be). No, I’m not saying YES to being single because I want to AVOID dating and marriage. I’m saying YES to being in communion with God, and in the communion of saints – that is, with Christ and the Church.

Again, a very difficult concept for even the most super of super Catholics to comprehend, not to mention non-believers.

How can anyone be single and celibate and be thrilled about it? I attempted to explain this in a post recently. And I also explained a little bit about the freedom of lust here.

But here’s more of how this single life looks:

Celibacy emphasizes that man is called to be a “Partner of the Absolute” – that his deepest yearning is not for the marriage of earth, but for the marriage of heaven. When viewed in light of “the kingdom,” the celibate person loses nothing and gains everything! The joyful celibate testifies that heaven is real. And it is worth sacrificing everything to possess. – Christopher West – Theology of the Body Explained

The joyful celibate. My gosh, how perfect is that?! I think that might need to be the name of my book, if I ever get finished with it.

If you know that being single is your vocation, how do you even begin to tell people and expect them to understand?

I never viewed being single as being a vocation. And technically, it’s not a vocation in the truest sense of the word according to the USCCB. It’s a state in life.

Being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself. — Dr. Theresa Notare, USCCB

BUT, technicalities aside, it doesn’t matter. If anything, this reassures me that I AM meant for something else, that my life is meant to be steered in a different direction.

According to Mary Beth Bonacci of CatholicMatch.com, being single means that God is asking you to follow a different path, one that is uniquely your own.

“God writes straight with crooked lines. He meets us where we are. When we turn our lives over to Him, he creates something beautiful — beyond our wildest expectations,” she says. “As singles, we’re more aware that real fulfillment comes from giving. The absence of built-in gifts in our lives motivates us to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us.”

I’ve felt this inner voice also steering me to GIVE of my time more. Since, as someone who does not have children or a spouse, I DO have the time! I might not have the money that some singles might have that’s needed to make a huge difference in someone’s life, but donating my time is something that I CAN afford to give.

But how do you know singlehood is your lot in life?

Excellent question. I wish I had a solid answer to this.

All I know is the Holy Spirit is definitely speaking to me. After many months of asking and praying about it, the Holy Spirit has put me on the right path. And that path seems to be pointing towards “a voice for the single’s.”  We are commonly referred to as the “leftovers” because no one knows what to do with us. And because being single covers a wide variety of ages, there’s quite a few of us that need some direction and purpose in the church besides clean-up crew.

What does this ministry or group look like? No idea. I’m working on it though!

There’s hope for us in the singlehood. I found my hope and my enthusiasm for the single life through Theology of the Body. But it might happen for you or others thru a different avenue or a different ministry or an entirely different and unique experience. And that’s all good!

If there was one message to my single friends I would want relayed, it would be this:

Don’t become frustrated if you keep getting those questions about seeing someone and dating someone. If you feel it is your vocation to be married, I believe if it’s part of God’s plan for you, it will happen. But in the meantime, why not be a joyful celibate? Be happy to be in a season of waiting for that final union with God. Because in the end, you’re seeking Him, not him or her.

 

Living In The Ache

The mystic is the one who allows himself to feel the deepest depths of human desire and chooses to “stay in the pain” of wanting more than this life has to offer. For the mystic, the true pleasures of the world are a welcome but only dim foreshadowing of the ecstasy that awaits him in the life to come. He can live within that “ache” (what the mystical tradition calls “the wound of love”) because of his living hope that his “soul shall be satisfied as with a banquet” (Ps 63:5), a banquet that lasts forever and will fulfill his every desire beyond all earthly imaginings.

The truth is, we’re all called to be “mystics.”  – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

I guess I’m a little crazy because, I for one, am longing to live in the ache. As soon as I heard it and read about it, I decided “This is ME! This is for me. This is what I am called to do.”

I didn’t always feel this way of course. I never even believed we are all called to holiness. I thought that sounded like a bunch of garbage and just something “really holy people” say to us sinners to trick us into going to confession. So when my buddy Dan got up to speak in front of bunch of us at a retreat and said that God calls us all to holiness, I started to think, “But how? How are you people attaining all this holiness?! What makes you so special?”

Turns out, most people don’t know this truth because they were raised as either stoics or addicts. Probably not 100% true stoics or true addicts in the sense that you’re probably thinking. But stoics as people who were told that their desires or urges were bad and they should be repressed and shoved down into the depths and never spoke about or felt. Addicts were taught that you only live once so you might as well act on those urges and desires as much as you can. But by the way, this doesn’t guarantee happiness. It rarely does, actually.

So where’s the middle ground? Mystics. We need to aim to be more like them. The mystics directed their desires to God. Away from earthly things and towards the heavens. It may seem impossible, but I would offer myself as living proof that the power of prayer makes all things possible.

Desire is the faculty that not only pines after the divine gift, but also receives it when it is given, so the wider our desire, the more capable we are of receiving. Christ wants us to be as wide open to his gift as possible, stretched in our desire unto infinity, because that’s what he has to offer us: the wild ecstasy of infinite bliss. – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

Wild ecstasy of infinite bliss? Now that’s some good news.

The Body is a Sign of the Divine Mystery

If you’re just joining us, be sure to read my last post to get “caught up.”

“You are made in the image and likeness of God.”

This statement was implanted firmly in my brain starting in Freshman Religion class. I remember thinking “I know this is true, but I’m still not quite sure what it means.”

I don’t think my 14 year old brain could process it. And this is probably true of a lot of teenagers.

I knew my life was a gift from God, but I also remember thinking, “But what does God have to do with my parents conceiving me?” In other words, what do Sex and God have in common? I literally had no idea the two were connected, as strange as that sounds to me 23 years later.

Now, after reading TOB, something finally clicked.

Human nature is both spiritual and physical. We aren’t spirits “trapped” in our bodies. The Church has always maintained that we are embodied spirits, or spiritualized bodies. Through the profound union of body and soul in each of us, our bodies reveal or “make visible” the invisible reality of our spirits. But it does even more. Because we are made in God’s image, our bodies also make visible something of God’s invisible mystery.  TOB For Beginners

God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. CCC 221

And here’s where this all comes together –

God created us male and female so that we could image his love by becoming a sincere to gift to each other. This sincere giving establishes a “communion of persons” not only between the sexes but also-in the normal course of events- with a “third” who proceeds from them both. In this way, sexual love becomes an icon or earthly image in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity. TOB for Beginners

Whoa.

Have you ever heard anyone describe sex like this? Yeah. Pretty awesome right? It gets better.

As St. Paul says, quoting from Genesis, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

This passage from Ephesians 5 is a key text- perhaps the key text- for understanding the body and sexuality “theologically.” Christ is the one who was sent by his Father in heaven. He also left the home of his mother on earth. Why? To give up his body for his Bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him. Where do we unite sacramentally with Christ? In a most profound way in the Eucharist. TOB for Beginners

Confused? Don’t be! It’s simple really.

When all the confusions are cleared and the distortions are untwisted, the deepest meaning of human sexuality – of our creation as male and female and our call to communion – is “eucharist.” John Paul II describes the Eucharist as “the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” God created us male and female right from the beginning to live in a “holy communion” that foreshadows the Holy Communion of Christ and the Church. In turn, the gift of Christ’s body to his Bride (celebrated in the Eucharist) sheds definitive light on the meaning of man and woman’s communion.

The Spousal Analogy

The Bible begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and it ends in Revelation with another “marriage” – the marriage of Christ and the Church.

And here is what we learn from the Pope’s Theology of the Body: God wanted this eternal “marital plan” to be so plain to us – so obvious to us – that he impressed an image of it in our very being by creating us male and female and calling us to become “one flesh.” TOB For Beginners

So two things to take away from this:

1. God is a communion of love

2. We are destined to share in that exchange (God wants to “marry” us – Hosea 2:19)

There is so much more to be discussed here but it is my hope, my dear readers, that you now have an idea of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. I understand it’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around, and one that is never going to be understood completely due to our limited brain power, but that’s why it’s called the “mystery.”

Fitting in My Faith: I look at Eucharist differently now that I have read TOB. Now I understand why it’s a sacrament. Now I understand why marriage is a sacrament. Now I know why the Church takes it seriously, and now I appreciate it even more when I hear the words, “This is my body, given up for you.”

I also appreciate life, my own life and the lives of others, much more greatly. I don’t think of how we are created as just “sex between two people who love each other.” And 9 months later, life. It’s much more than that. It’s a sacred union. It’s not gross or disgusting or bad. It’s awesome and it’s miraculous and it’s a small, tiny, itty bitty taste of what heaven is going to be like. No, we won’t be having sex in heaven, 🙂 We’ll BE in heaven, we’ll be in UNION with God! We’ll be married to Him!

This is the purpose of sexual union in the divine plan: to prefigure in some way the glory, ecstasy, and bliss that awaits us in heaven TOB For Beginners

I don’t know about you, but understanding why we were created, makes me have greater faith of the heaven that awaits us all.

to be continued….

-Michelle

For those who have lost a loved one…

From The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser

“Just as Mary Magdala did not find Jesus in his tomb, we too will not find our loved ones there. Where will we find them? We will meet the ones we can no longer touch when we put ourselves in situations where their souls once flourished. Our loved ones live where they have always lived and it is there that we will find them.

Simply put, we find our deceased loved ones by entering into life, in terms of love and faith, in the way that was most distinctive to them. We contact them and connect ourselves to them when, in our own lives, we shape the infinite richness of God’s life and compassion in the way that they did, when we pour ourselves into life as they did.

Every good person shapes the infinite life and compassion of God in a unique way. When that person dies, we must seek him or her among the living.

Thus, if we want a loved one’s presence we must seek him or her out in what was most distinctively him or her, in terms of love, faith, and virtue. If your mother had a gift for hospitality, you will meet her when you are hospitable; if your friend had a passion for justice, you will meet him when you give yourself over to the quest for justice; if your aunt had a great zest for life, for meals with her family, and for laughter in the house, you will meet her when you have a zest for life, eat with your family, and have laughter in your house.

That is how a Christian searches for his or her loved ones after they have died. Theists visit graves (and Christians too visit graves because we are also theists) but, given the incarnation, given that we are all part of the word becoming flesh, as Christians, we search for our deceased loved ones outside of cemeteries, among the living— at our tables, in our places of work, and in the decisions, great and small, that we must daily make.”

Fit in Your Faith Today: How do you “revisit” your lost loved ones? When was the last time you engaged in something that made you think of him/her? Besides visiting the grave, what else can you do, after reading this passage, that keeps the memory of your loved one alive?

Where God Lives

26 August (1941) Tuesday Evening

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then (God) must be dug out again.

I imagine that there are people who pray with their eyes turned heavenwards. They seek God outside themselves. And there are those who bow their head and bury it in their hands. I think that these seek God inside.

Etty Hillesum – Letters from Westerbork

Etty Hillesum has been called the adult counterpart to Anne Frank. Etty kept a diary and wrote letters while she was a prisoner at Auschwitz. She died at the age of 29 there. But her letters remain “a stunning achievement of the human spirit,” as one critic called them.

Even in the shadow of the Holocaust, she still found life meaningful. (For more on Etty’s insights, pick up a copy of “An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork.”)

Fit In Your Faith Today: When faced with uncertainty, do you still pray to God as if He is inside you or do you assume He has left you? Imagine a place within you where God lives. What does this place look like?