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For the Love of Drooping Hands

Well, as of my college move-in today, I will officially become a sophomore, also known as a wise fool!

Although yesterday I started quoting Monsters Inc. in a restaurant and laughed too hard at myself for anyone to understand what I was saying, so let’s just say that I’ve been ready to possess an insulting title for a while now.1

Anyways.

Yesterday I headed over to campus to spend some time with Jesus before the craziness of move-in. My school isn’t exactly known for being the most aesthetically pleasing, and yet my heart leapt with joy as I walked the paths I crossed thousands of times last year, taking in every sight with excitement and gratitude. Well, almost every sight. It appears that they got rid of some of the rose bushes right outside of our chapel. I couldn’t help but have a vocal reaction right in front of some freshman parents – so that’s a win for representing our school.

It’s funny to think back to this time last year, when my Dory-like tendencies kept me hopelessly lost, as compared to yesterday’s shock over the minutiae of flower placement in a church garden. I know this campus so well. But I don’t know what this semester has in store.

As I wrote at the beginning of August, this is a month of transition and new beginnings for most everyone. Maybe you’re elated about the start of school or a new job. Maybe you’ve been dreading the return to classes all summer. But whatever your transition and whatever your corresponding emotions, life isn’t waiting. Happily, neither is the Holy Spirit.

As I knelt in the chapel yesterday with my hands folded beneath my chin, I could hear the tick of my watch, puncturing the silence and any denial of the temporal. I love the simple memento mori invitation of a watch, its physical reminder that every second and every breath draws a soul closer to the parousia of today’s Gospel. On one hand, the Gospel is frightening. Could there be a more chilling sentence than, “I do not know where you are from,” spoken by the mouth of our Creator? But on the other hand, the invitation to “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” is offered by the merciful God who yearns for our salvation more than we ourselves could ever desire it.

It is this invitation that gives meaning to every season and transition in life. In her witness, a fellow Totus Tuus missionary showed the teens the tail hanging from a ball of yarn. Our earthly life is that tiny string of yarn in comparison with the unending spiral of eternity. What are we to do with the precious gift of time our Lord offers us? Today’s Responsorial Psalm holds the answer: “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.”

Pick the transition or new season you’re worried about. Whether it’s a new semester, Nutcracker season, new job, new baby, your mission is to tell the Good News. If you are a baptized Christian, you have a solemn obligation to spread the Gospel, to invite others to bask in the truth that they are personally, unfathomably loved by a God who chose crucifixion rather than the thought of eternity without them, and who is alive and present in the Eucharist today. That is your job. Not to impress your new boss, not to keep up your GPA, not to get the band solo, but to set the world on fire for Jesus Christ.

Our fears are often rooted in a selfishness that hunts for the way we personally benefit from a given place or situation. What if we changed our disposition about new seasons from the question of, “What will I get from this,” to “How can I preach the Good News?”

Evangelization isn’t easy. Effective evangelization is even harder. But we must take this narrow gate. We must spread the Good News, begging Jesus to strengthen our drooping hands and our weak knees of which the Second Reading speaks. What if you saw every class as a vineyard for harvesting souls, or every spreadsheet as an offering to the Beloved? Every person you encounter is so hungry for the Truth that answers their most hidden questions, for the Beauty in which they can simultaneously lose and find themselves, for the Love that makes all things new. You won’t be able to speak Scripture to every person you encounter. But you can smile at him or her. In my own life, there has been no greater evangelization than the authentic joy of friends and mentors in love with the Lord.

I don’t know where you are in life. I don’t know what your past whispers or what tomorrow offers. But I know that today you exist because you are loved. Today, you have breath in your lungs because you must share about Love. Today, your heart beats so you may fall into Love once more.

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

1 – Don’t tell me that if you were in a Cajun restaurant, you too would not turn to your mother and exclaim, “Mama, another gator got in the house!

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Apocalyptic Beauty

Not to sound like the classical homeschool family we are, but my mom and I were recently griping about the lies and objectification within some modern music. Don’t get us wrong, she’s a diehard U2 fan and I rediscovered my love for Mumford and Sons over the summer; it’s not like we only listen to Matt Maher or The Hillbilly Thomists. But this is a broken world and that of course transfers over to the art our society celebrates.

I joked, “Maybe when he sings, ‘I’m in love with your body,’ he’s showing that he actually understands the Catholic belief that a person is their body and their soul. Maybe he means, ‘I’m in love with you, a human body and a human soul, gloriously revealing the grandeur of God in both the material and spiritual facets of your being.'”

But somehow I don’t get the impression that Ed Sheeran is that versed in Theology of the Body.

I’m not here to hate on the man – my sisters and I were belting “Perfect” a couple weeks ago.1 But the timing of our conversation reminded me just how vital the Feast of the Assumption is for our world in 2022.

We live in a culture where sexual promiscuity is celebrated, where the human person has no obligations towards another, and where a life of physical comfort or ease is the only life worth living. We are taught that guilt is never appropriate, and therefore the only correct attitude is one of total shamelessness and autonomy.

But we also live in a world of intense self-scrutiny and perfectionism. Social media tells you to flaunt your beauty, but to also bare your soul to the internet so as to seem authentic. Education is centered around college acceptance and career placement, as if the authentic transformation that education offers could be quantified by a standardized test or bullet point on a resume. We are constantly barraged by feeling both inadequate and like we are too much.

Obviously you could write a book on just one of these topics. But it can all be summed up by the human obsession with control. I was recently praying with an examen in Thomas Dubay’s Happy are You Poor. As I looked at all the ways I remain resistant to Christ’s universal call to Gospel poverty, there was one consistent thread that I don’t think is just a Larisa struggle: I fear poverty, because poverty prevents me from feeling like I am in control.

If I’m honest with myself, I love hunting for and investing in the perfect planner because that planner offers me a sense of control over my school year. I love making my weekly budget because it keeps me in control of my finances. I’m writing this post in a coffee shop because for a couple hours, I can control the appearances of my environment.

And these aren’t intrinsically evil things! If my sisters are reading this, I stare intensely into your souls as I declare that organization and cleanliness are good. We are supposed to be stewards of our money. Caffeine, if rightly used, is honestly a gift from God, and a beautiful difference between Catholicism and some other Christian denominations is that we recognize the goodness of the created world.

But when we control and grasp, our hands are too full to receive the gifts Christ longs to lavish on us. We grow insensitive to the beauty of nature. We stare at our phones rather than into the eyes of human beings. We grow deaf to the richness of human laughter.

And this control is merely a facade. Of course you have free will and your daily, habitual decisions dictate the rest of your life. But dear reader, you can do nothing without God’s grace! There is no authentic joy that can be sung into existence without Him. There is no tear that He allows and does not intend to one day wipe away. Despite what the world says, your life is not your own. It belongs to the God who calls us to eternal happiness, but only through our laying down with Him on the Cross.

It’s initially terrifying to realize that we are not in control of this unpredictable life and that nobody has lived past August 14th, 2022.2 You can plan to meet tomorrow with your aesthetic planner and coordinated outfit. You can read all the right books and check off all the right boxes. But no matter what we write in our handy little bullet journals, we have no idea what tomorrow brings.

I certainly can’t tell you the details of my future. And I can’t tell you yours either. But I do know our eternal destiny: Falling into the arms of Jesus Christ.

This destiny is what we celebrate in the Feast of the Assumption. A woman’s body dwells in paradise. Yes, the Catholic Church teaches that a woman’s unveiled body is in heaven at this very moment. Because newsflash: the Church believes that the body is good.

Mary is not a goddess. She is a human who fulfilled her vocation in and through her body. She bore Jesus in her immaculate womb. She nursed Him at her breasts. She held Him in her hands. Mary ran to scoop up little Jesus before He started playing in the toilet or with an electric outlet (or whatever the Nazareth equivalents were). Mary had a smile and a laugh. She had eyes which wept and a heart which was pierced.

In her earthly life, Mary did not grasp at control. Although she was a queen from the moment of conception, she received everything with empty, open hands, aware of her simultaneous poverty and richness as the handmaid of the Lord. Now in heaven, she continues to be our model of receptivity and abandonment, receiving the gift and beauty of her own body and soul for all eternity. She is naked without shame, unveiled before her Spouse, the Holy Spirit. At this very moment, Mary’s heart still beats, enclosed in the Trinity. She has a mouth with which to laugh and eyes with which to gaze on her Son, whose Precious Body also dwells in Paradise.

In this unveiling, this apokalypsis, Mary’s perfect beauty shines forth as a beacon of hope for those of us still wandering outside Eden. Mary does not only receive the gift of herself, but she also gives it away to you and I through her motherhood. In heaven, your mother’s arms eagerly wait to embrace you. Her lips will one day kiss your cheek. Yes, your cheek. Because even though you have sinned and Mary has not, your body is also intended for eternal glory. Your body is good.

Yes, your body is fallen. Yes, there is disease and pain. There are moments of physical and mental agony which make no sense, other than their existence as a reminder that present suffering will only make Heaven all the sweeter. But Christ came in a body to redeem this precious gift that you and I have been given. Through His Mother, He reveals the beauty to which He longs to bring all of us one day.

I don’t know the details of my story, and praise God, I have no way to control tomorrow. But I know that by God’s grace, my story ends with my resurrected hands joined in Christ’s own glorious hands.

Our mother has shown us the way home. Let us go rejoicing.

1 – Although we all knew Peter Jackson had sold his soul to a Balrog when he had Ed Sheeran write the credit song for The Desolation of Smaug

2 – If you think you have, we should probably talk. Mostly so I can get next week’s lottery numbers.

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The August Ecce

May is Mary's Month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why

Perhaps in imitation of these opening lines from Hopkins’ The May Magnificat, one could write:

August paints her bleeding heart, 
And I long to know her art 

Obviously that plagiarist is embarrassing herself a bit. But she still thinks it’s important to muse on the beautiful mercy of our Mother Church, who dedicates the month of August to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes, “Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness.” The Lord longs to unveil our hearts to us. He desires to reveal His luminosity shining within and to expose our sin that darkens the light. He wants to show us our desires, our hidden wounds, our beauty and power as men and women made in His image. And as we behold the messy glory of our hearts created for His, He places His hands on our shoulders and whispers, “Don’t run.”

The heart can be a frightening thing. We look at Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and the first thing we notice in that unparalleled beauty is the stabbing sword. Last I checked, people don’t exactly enjoy being stabbed. So it makes sense that in our desire for self-protection, we close ourselves off from love. We climb Mount Everest with our thumbs rather than have a conversation. We eat ice cream and watch dumb viral videos rather than share our suffering with others, including Christ. We look at past rejection, betrayal, and loss and choose to remain closed off rather than be hurt again.

But St. Alphonsus Liguori, whose Feast we recently celebrated, writes, “The soul cannot live without loving.” C.S. Lewis expands on the same theme:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

The Four Loves

We look at Mary, whose heart loves with an unimaginable love and tenderness, and we see a sword. We see the tears which stream down her face as she hears the wails of the Innocents in Bethlehem, as she endures another night of Jesus lost in the temple, as she embraces her Son for the last time, or kisses His nail-torn feet.

We cannot imagine the pain she would have experienced when she heard her crucified little boy say, Ecce filius tuus, “Behold your son,” and this son was John, not Jesus. But we also cannot imagine the way that her sorrow mingled with joy upon hearing the words, Ecce mater tua, “Behold your Mother.” In that moment when Mary said “Yes” to receiving all broken humanity as her own, she made our wounds her own. In your darkest moment, dear heart, you were not alone. Your mother also knew your pain.

And she also knows your wildest joy, your deepest dreams, your sighed longings. She sees you as you are and like the Bride in the Song of Songs, she whispers, “Let us run to Him.”1

For Mary’s heart knows a deeper joy, a more passionate purity, and a more scintillating delight than any other heart. She has embraced the “One thing” and knows the joy of total surrender to Love’s Will. She teaches spouses how to love their imperfect Joseph, children how to heroically honor their parents, and all souls how to delight in every individual in their Nazareth.

Regardless of where you are in life, August likely brings with it transition and change. In the words of the illustrious Jane Austen, “Of all horrid things, leave-taking is the worst,” especially if you are leaving home for the first time or saying goodbye to people you will never again see on this earth. But August is Mary’s month. She so deeply desires to teach her children the art of loving, and to share the Beauty she knows and loves so intimately.

To close with another Victor Hugo quote, “His whole heart melted in gratitude, and he loved more and more.”2 This August, may any frost in our hearts melt with gratitude for our mother. May she hold our hand as we love more and more.

1 – cf Song of Songs 1:4

2 – Guess what I’ve been reading this Summer?

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Goodnight, Fools

Happy Sunday!

Sorry that this post is a little later than usual. It’s been a crazy week, a crazier weekend, and honestly, writer’s block has been hitting harder than usual over the last few weeks.

But I think it’s providential that this post is late. Today’s Gospel is about the evening of our lives, and it’s not an easy one. I mean, can you imagine if the K-Love Bible Verse of the Day1 was, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

*minivan swerves*

It’s a sobering verse, but one that will be spoken to each one of us at some point. Yet, for our God of eucatastrophe and infinite mercy, even this verse invites us to hope.

We can be fools before God, indulging in material goods, making excuses for unnecessary expenditures2, preferring American consumerism to Gospel joy. Or we can be fools for God, clinging to the “one thing” possessed by Mary of Bethany. We can join John of the Cross, singing of the contradictory joy of nada, nothing but the Lord and His Kingdom. We can appear before God at the close of our lives, still utterly impoverished, yet trusting that our Father delights in our desire to please Him and love Him. If we truly understand that we have nothing, then when God demands our life of us, we can open gloriously empty hands, whispering, “Everything I have received is from you. Everything was spent for you.”

Every breath you are given is an opportunity to prepare for that terrifying, beautiful moment when you and God are unveiled before one another. But how do we prepare for our apokalypsis? How do we grow in self-awareness so that we are prepared when God demands an accounting of our lives and gifts?

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. I could rant about St. Ignatius and the Jesuit Saints for even longer than I could rant about the other Jesuits, which I think is saying something. But a key gift that Ignatius offers to the Church is the Examen, a period of prayer in which you review the Holy Spirit’s presence throughout your day and the way you responded to or rejected His gifts. As we close the month of July and the Lord demands these last 31 days, I want to invite you to join me in an Examen of July. This isn’t a cookie cutter Ignatian Examen by any stretch. But it is nevertheless an opportunity for intimacy with the God who has brought you through the last month, who has seen every tear and rejoiced in every laugh. Let’s give Him glory for all He has done in July.

I want to invite you to enter into a time of prayer. Find a quiet, or semi-quiet spot where you won’t fall asleep. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee, I don’t judge).3 If you like to journal, this is a perfect opportunity, though total silence is beautiful too. Have a blessed evening, and I’ll leave you alone now with the Father.

Come, Holy Spirit, Soul of my soul. Come through Mary, model of receptivity.

Jesus, in July, what were the three greatest joys you gave me?

How did those joys affect my relationship with you? With others? In knowledge of myself? How can I be a steward of these joys in August?

Jesus, in July, what were three Crosses you called me to bear?

How did those Crosses affect my relationship with you? With others? In knowledge of myself? How can I be more faithful to the Cross in August?

Father, what was a consistent sin I struggled with over July? Do I need to go to Confession?

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. What is our battle plan for combatting this particular sin in August?

Jesus, how were you calling me to deeper intimacy with you through the liturgy? Was there a particular Feast day or devotion I embraced? Do I need to grow in awareness of the Church’s liturgical year?

Holy Spirit, how has my prayer life been in July? How are you inviting me to pray in August?

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, O lord, I return it. All is yours, dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for this is sufficient for me. – St. Ignatius of Loyola

1 – Or whatever your local Christian radio station calls itself

2 – Yes, Larisa, this includes what you have favorited on Etsy

3 – Maybe wait on the bourbon though

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Boundless Confidence

Last night my family went to the Johnson County fair. It was about as midwestern as you can get and a truly delightful time with family. But the highlight of the night for me was the six-year-old girl in front of me and my sister while we were in line for a questionably safe ride.

Like any little girl, she was so free. Our conversation began with her complimenting my earrings, and continued with her complimenting every single thing about my appearance that she could find: “I like your shoes, and your shirt, and your ring, and I LOVE your hair!” She also told me that she loved my freckles. Y’all, those are not freckles on my face. But she was so genuine, so full of kindness, that it was a stunningly beautiful affirmation. There is nothing like the feminine genius present even in the littlest women to empower the world.

We continued talking about her day at the fair, her family, the fact that she went on the scariest ride at the fair and didn’t scream once. And then at a certain point she drew her head a little nearer to me and lowered her voice. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course!” I replied, praying that she wasn’t about to tell me her social or the three digits on the back of her dad’s debit card.

“Ever since I was one year old, I’ve dreamed of being a ballerina!”

As she threw her arms in the air and twirled, my heart melted even more than it already had. “Actually, I used to be a ballerina! Do you want me to teach you some ballet right now?”

Her eyes lit up, although she was prompt to inform me that she still didn’t know Swan Lake. We stood in first position, did some port de bras, and transitioned into a first arabesque. “You just did ballet!” I exclaimed, and her face radiated happiness. I gave her a high-five, and then we got on our carnival ride, where in that moment my deepest dream was not to plummet to my death in Johnson County, Indiana.

It was a beautiful encounter for many reasons, but I also think a tender analogy for today’s readings on relational prayer. Honestly, today’s readings are hard. By God’s grace, we hopefully have all experienced direct answers to our intercessory prayer. But we have also asked and seemingly not received, sought and seemingly not found. And this too is grace.

I’m so moved by the first reading, which tells us, “The Lord remained standing before Abraham. Then Abraham drew nearer…” Today we are invited to imitate Abraham’s faithful and persistent intercessory prayer. We must beg for mercy for ourselves and the whole world. We are invited to bring our desires and needs before our Father. But above all, we are invited to imitate Abraham as he draws nearer to the Lord. The Lord remained standing before Abraham because He wanted Him to come closer, to taste deeper intimacy with the Divine One. And His response to Abraham’s nearness was more than Abraham could have ever imagined.

In today’s Gospel we learn the earth-shattering truth that the God who whispers, “Come closer,” is our Father! This Father thirsts for us to draw near like my little friend at the fair yesterday. He wants to hear our lowered voice as we share with Him our wildest dreams and our deepest desires.

Regardless of your age, you have dreams that the Father will mysteriously fulfill. I can’t emphasize enough that prayer is a mystery, as is Divine Providence. Because we are weak, rather dumb children, sometimes we ask for snakes. But because the Lord is a good Father, He can see the fish for which we are actually begging, even without our own knowledge.

I have no idea if this little girl will become a ballerina. But if I, a total stranger, experienced such delight hearing her dreams and desires, how much more does her heavenly Father delight in her dream? I know He will fulfill her dream in a way that makes this sweet girl into a living praise of the Father’s glory.

Yes, today’s readings are scary and at times, very difficult to read without cynicism or discouragement creeping in. But today’s readings are unbelievably beautiful. They are a cause for every person to have the same joy as that little girl.

My life is a continual testament to the reality that Jesus turns our mourning into dancing. Whether you are mourning or dancing today, draw near to the Father. He is waiting to hear and fulfill your dream.

I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
Bl. Charles de Foucauld

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A Singular Glance of Tearful Eyes

One year ago on this upcoming Friday, I sat in the grass with Jesus present in the Church behind me. Trying not to hopelessly squint into the setting sun, I shared my witness with a group of middle and high school students on the feast of Mary Magdalen. It was such a tender gift to join with the woman who was almost my Confirmation Saint, sharing the way Christ called us both to turn from grief and deep pain and instead run into the unfathomable joy of the Resurrection.

There’s so much that I could say in preparation for this beautiful feast. And what a glorious week honoring women in the Church! Yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, today is the Feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne, today’s Gospel is Mary and Martha, and Friday is the Feast of the Mary Magdalen, the Apostle to the Apostles.

But today, I just want to look at Mary Magdalen. Or rather, join the Church who asks in the Easter sequence,Quid vidisti in via? What did you see upon the way?”

When we see pictures of Mary Magdalen, she’s weeping before the tomb, adoring the risen Christ, gazing at a flame as she holds a skull.1 We see Mary as a Saint, the hero whose love transcended Christ’s death, the audacious woman who charmed St. Therese.

We think of Mary as the woman who was possessed with seven demons and then became the apostle to the apostles. But what about Mary a week after Jesus set her free?

I have no idea what Mary Magdalen’s life looked like immediately following her exorcism and conversion. Maybe her virtue and authenticity was instantaneous. But often when Christ heals, He invites us on a continual journey along the path of grace. Every day, as she was assaulted with memories, either of her own sin or the sin of others, she had a choice to lift her eyes from the dust of her former brokenness and instead stare into the eyes of the One who knew everything and still loved her beyond her deepest dreams for love.

Perhaps every night she was tempted to replay the voices of the evil spirits that had lived inside her, to give in to their wickedness and lies once more. And every night she chose to recall the voice that had called her by name and that continued to call her name every day. Maybe she leaned her ear against her tent so she could overhear His laughter with John, His tenderness toward James.

There were undoubtedly moments when she fell, when she believed that lie that she was unlovable, when she began to listen to Satan again. And after her sin, she came before Him as she did on the first day that He saw her. She was crouched on her knees, hair sprawled across the ground, tears moistening the dirt. Jesus knelt down in front of her, placed His hand beneath her chin, and lifted up her head.

“Mary.”

Jesus could lift up her head. But not even the God of the universe could force her eyes to look into His. This is Mary Magdalen’s choice: to look into Jesus’ eyes. It was that daily choice, that continuous glance, which helped to shape Easter Sunday.

That habitual choice and daily surrender gave her the strength to remain staring into His eyes as they filled with blood while walking to Calvary. She kept her eyes on Him as He hung on the Cross, experiencing His gaze as He croaked, “I thirst.” She kept looking at the rolled back eyes as His mother held His limp body.

Her life had no purpose outside of those eyes. There was no music other than His voice. And so she remained in front of a cold and gray tomb, because where else was she to go?

“Woman, why are you weeping?” He asked her in a veiled voice. This woman bent before a tomb did not know that in that moment, the Song of Songs was made incarnate through her anguish:

The watchmen came upon me,
as they made their rounds of the city:
Have you seen him whom my heart loves?
2

His response to her question, her grief, was to speak her name.

“Mary.”

That singular moment made all of the torture of the Passion worthwhile. That turn of the head, rekindling of life in her eyes, mouth agape in wonder and felicity, rendered heaven speechless for joy.

It all began with her choosing to return His gaze. This is what gave the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne the courage and joy to sing even as the guillotine silenced them one by one. This is the One Thing that Mary of Bethany possessed. This is the contemplation perfectly modeled by Our Lady of Mount Carmel, lover of the Silent Word.

This is why we have Adoration chapels all over the world. Regardless of the time, regardless of your emotions or lack thereof, regardless of your state of grace, Jesus Christ gazes through the lattice of a monstrance awaiting you, His Beloved. In Eucharistic Adoration, we are invited to become like Mary Magdalen, presenting ourselves as we truly are to the One who heals, loves, and renews.

When we walk into Adoration, we kneel on both knees and often press our head to the ground in contrite wonder. Then we lift up our head. In that moment, we can choose to keep our eyes downcast, staring into a tomb that is no longer ours to tend. Or we can take courage and stare into His eyes.

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes, “A glance is a spark.” In Song of Songs, the Bridegroom speaks to each soul, crying, “You have ravished my heart…with one glance of your eyes.” With this glance, we invite Christ into our brokenness and into our love, no matter how feeble it is.

And with the beauty of your glance, He can save the world.

1 – Cue Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid, which shows this picture. It’s in your head now and I’m not sorry.

2 – From our first reading on Friday: Song of Songs 3:1-4. On a different musical tangent, I’m pretty sure the musical Les Mis references this passage just before A Little Fall of Rain, when Marius sings, “Have you seen my beloved?” It may be a stretch, but that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. And now maybe you have A Little Fall of Rain stuck in your head instead of Part of Your World. You’re welcome.

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Little Essay on Blood

In the evening of July 8, 1897, a young nun was admitted to the infirmary of her convent. It would be her final nest before flying into the heaven already present in her mighty soul, the marriage bed that she shared with her crucified Spouse.

From July 6 to August 5, she coughed up blood every day as tuberculosis ravaged her young lungs. She had offered herself to be consumed by God’s merciful love, and now she intimately shared in Christ’s suffering on the Cross, requiring a minute between each word as she agonizingly suffocated.

This period of haemoptyses was only an early stage in the gloriously pitiable death of Sr. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Yet it is a profound stage: Therese coughed up blood over nearly the entire month of July, the month which the Church dedicates to the Precious Blood.

Shouldn’t this be one of the deepest desires of every Catholic? To be so united to the poetry of the Liturgical Year – Christ’s love song to His Bride – that even our physical sufferings align with the cadence of the Church’s memorials and devotions?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly there yet. However, Christ wants to begin molding you and I into living liturgies right now, even before we have attained heroic virtue. I believe that this is one of His specific desires for the month of His Precious Blood.

I don’t want the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours to be parts of my day or week – I want them to encompass every breath and action of my day. But to even intellectually begin this transformation of my life, I need to think about everyone’s favorite topic for contemplation: blood.

Before you stop reading, no, I am not a psychopath.1 Nor am I asking you to become one. This is literally the topic our Mother Church is asking us to muse over for the next few weeks, in whatever capacity we are able. The Church is born out of Christ’s blood. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

So grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and let’s talk about blood.2

What does blood have to do with the liturgy, other than the obvious reality that at every Mass, Christ’s blood becomes physically present? Well, blood is ubiquitous to your current phenomenal experience. If there was not blood flowing through your veins right now, you would not be reading this. You would not be breathing. You would be dead. Spilt blood is certainly associated with and the cause of death, but blood itself is a sign of life.

Blood is a sign of life partially because blood is meant to be received. You owe your existence to your mother’s blood that nourished you in the womb for nine months. Without the gift of her body, you would not be here. Similarly, an accident or (physical) trauma victim often requires a blood transfusion. In order to live, they need to receive the gift of a stranger’s blood.

Your salvation hinges on your reception of Christ’s Precious Blood in the Eucharist (John 6:53).3 It is no coincidence that Mary, the immaculate model of receptivity, alongside Mary Magdalen and John, the audacious lovers, were so near when Christ’s blood rained from His dead side and gave birth to the Church. When the Song of Songs urges, “Drink deeply, lovers,4” every member of Christ’s body is urged to drink Jesus’ blood, to receive a physical manifestation of His omnipresent life.

Not only must blood be received, but blood is meant to be shed. Once again, blood is a sign of life – aren’t happy childhoods at least somewhat associated with scratches from tree branches or scraped knees from running too quickly down a hill? I do think there is a certain beauty in blood-stained pointe shoes. To bleed means that you have given completely of yourself, and that is a precious strength of the human person that needs to be safeguarded. Not everything is worth bleeding for.

But how incredible is it that a woman’s body is literally designed to shed blood for her future children? Or that men are built to fight, even to kill, to defend that which they love? Humans are intended to shed their blood for the sake of love.5

And this is at least an inkling of the unfathomable beauty of the liturgy. When we enter the liturgy, we enter the source of life Himself. We receive, we offer, we repeat. At every moment, Christ longs to draw us into the sacrifice of the Mass and the song offered through the Liturgy of the Hours. He is present in the precious laugh of the little boy I nanny. Christ invites me to receive His own presence there in a living room and then offer that gift back for His glory. He is also present when the same little boy spills my coffee all over his parents’ nice leather chair. Once again, he invites me to receive that difficulty and offer it back to Him with joy.

To truly become a living liturgy at every moment of every mundane day won’t be easy though. Christ says that “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent bear it away.”6 By no means is Jesus speaking of physical violence in the name of religion. Nor is He encouraging abuse against our own bodies. But He is saying that to enter His kingdom, we have to be fearless in the war against Hell. With our prudence fully intact, we must battle against our selfishness, violently interrupting our personal agendas for the sake of prayer and charity. We need to fast – always in a way that reverences the human body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.7 And we must violently batter the walls we have placed around our hearts, or constantly battle against the spirits that try to re-erect those soul-crushing walls Christ has already torn down.

Why shed our blood, even if only spiritually? Because Jesus is worth EVERYTHING. You might not be called to physical martyrdom. But young Therese’s glorious passion reminds us that the way of spiritual martyrdom and total union with Christ’s passion and resurrection is attainable for every soul.

You are made to receive His blood. Are you ready for Him to make you new?

You are made to shed your blood. Are you ready to do so?

With a smile I will brave the cannonade
And in your arms, O my Divine Spouse,
With a song I will die on the battlefield
Weapons in hand! - St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face

1 – Nor am I a high-functioning sociopath (with your number). Sorry, the Sherlockian in me couldn’t resist the reference.

2 – Pace to the Abiding Together podcast and my fellow listeners – I love you all dearly, I promise.

3 – Just your friendly reminder that Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are present in every particle of every Host. Before Vatican II, the Priest was the only one to drink the Precious Blood. We have 99 (million) problems because of Covid, but this ain’t one of them.

4 – Song of Songs 5:1

5 – At least in this post-lapsarian (after the Fall) world. These are just ideas, not a painstakingly researched thesis, so feel free to (respectfully) argue with me all you want in the comments.

6 – Matthew 11:12

7 – This Jason Evert podcast episode is the source of my thoughts on this. Definitely worth the listen for both gentlemen and ladies.

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The Woman in the Pink Overalls: An Open Letter to the APA

Dear American Psychological Association,

I know that you are probably never going to see this letter. I know that being angry on the internet doesn’t accomplish much, if anything. But I also know that “a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And so I am writing to protest the injustice you are committing against my generation.

Last Friday, Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court decision that allowed for the murder of over 60 million infants and hundreds of women, was overturned. For nearly half a century, this country, founded on the principles of equality and liberty, was shrouded by this pall of federalized, legalized murder. We dwelt in the shadow of death, crying out, “May their blood be upon us and our children” with every tax payment. Our parents had to drive us children by killing centers as if they were the same as any doctor’s office or fast food restaurant. We were told to watch documentaries celebrating the eradication of Down Syndrome from Iceland – through abortion.

Do you remember Avengers: Infinity War, which is centered around half of the population disappearing with a snap of a finger? As I walked out of the movie theater I was confronted with the reality that there were so many people missing from that theater, from my city, because of abortion.

But last Friday, Roe was overturned! The rights of our children have been returned to the states, and we can finally begin the long, arduous battle for effective pro-life legislation and the transformation of a culture.

And what was your response to the removal of America’s death robe, APA?

“This ruling ignores not only precedent but science, and will exacerbate the mental health crisis America is already experiencing…A person’s ability to control when and if they have a child is frequently linked to their socioeconomic standing and earning power. Therefore, restricting access to safe, legal abortions is most likely to affect those living in poverty, people of color, and sexual and gender identity minorities, as well as those who live in rural or medically underserved areas.”

Frank C. Worell, PhD, APA President

There are so many ways I could express the anger that welled up when I saw that you “expressed deep concern and profound disappointment in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion.” But for the purposes of this letter, APA, I want to share about my personal encounters with people the day after the Dobbs decision. I want to tell you about the woman in the pink overalls.

I don’t know her name or anything about her. She was at the pro-abortion rally that ended up disrupting our pro-life rally. Despite the tension, everything remained non-violent and we were able to dialogue with some of the pro-abortion protesters afterwards.

She was in pink overall shorts with pink-rimmed glasses, blonde hair in a messy bun. Dangly earrings that, although they said “Bans off our bodies,” made me realize that she and I probably had a shared love for Etsy.

I can’t remember what her sign said, but oh, she was angry. And she was angry about the same things that anger me. We were angry about the frequency of sexual assault and domestic violence, the rampancy of human trafficking and the way it destroys lives and societies.

We are both young women in an increasingly unsafe world. We have so many of the same fears. But of course, fears do not take away the fact that a baby is a baby. Abortion kills a human baby, and therefore, it can never be condoned.

We talked for a while, bouncing back and forth the talking points for both of our sides. I knew I wasn’t going to convert her in that moment. I merely wanted to stand in defense of the truth and in defense of the unborn. But as we continued to talk, I more and more passionately wanted to stand in defense of her. I wanted her to know her inherent worth as a human, the unique gift that her femininity offers, and the way the abortion movement wants to strip her of all dignity.

I knew the conversation was drawing to a close and that she was about to go join the hundreds of people gathering for the pro-abortion march. She said the unborn baby is a clump of cells.

“But when does it stop being a clump of cells?” I asked. “What are you?”

“I’m a clump of cells!” she said forcefully. “You’re a clump of cells, that’s all any of us are!”

APA, this was a real woman. Not a statistic in a study, not a number in a demographic, not an object for pushing political agendas. This was a woman, made in God’s image, beloved by a Father who sent His Son to die for her. This was a woman who I think honestly believed she was advocating for justice, whose heart was clearly longing to be a part of a movement, part of a community. Her heart was made for the Father and it will be restless until it rests in Him. But you tell her she needs abortion for mental health. You tell her that she is nothing more than a clump of cells.

I don’t need a book or study to know that my generation needs help when it comes to mental health. But honestly, how can you expect a generation to have a deep sense of self-worth or lack of anxiety when they have grown up in a society that accepts that even the womb is unsafe? That some lives mean more than other lives and that if you were conceived at an inconvenient time or in a horrific way, or if you have health conditions or disabilities, your life means less than the life next to you?

What did you expect to happen when our country declared that mothers could kill children because they are inconvenient? There are people who have gone their whole lives being told that some lives are disposable. Some lives are not worth living. How do you honestly expect a teenager to not believe the same about their lives? If we are only clumps of cells, why does anyone’s life matter?

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that it would be better for a individual in a democracy to believe that his or her soul passes into the body of a pig after death than to fall into the trap of materialistic atheism. In other words, it is better for an American to believe in a bizarre form of reincarnation than to simply believe that he or she is a clump of cells. And yet materialistic atheism is really the only way that any possible argument in favor of abortion can stand.

APA, you want to safeguard abortion. But the prominence of abortion is what drove the girl in the pink overalls to believe she was nothing more than a clump of cells. It’s what enabled another woman to walk alongside a row of people at the rally and individually tell them, “I hope you die.”

To advocate for the culture of death is to advocate for a generation of despair. But my generation is not simply a mentally ill generation. We are the pro-life generation. We didn’t only survive Roe vs Wade, we outlived Roe vs Wade. By God’s grace, we will begin to build a culture in which every life is understood as a beautiful mystery and a revelation of God’s infinite love.

To every soul reading this open letter, your life is not meaningless. You are good, you are loved, and you are wanted. I am so sorry that our culture has told you anything else.

Sincerely,

Larisa, a.k.a. So much more than a clump of cells

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Happy Hearts Day Part 2: Litany of Courage

I have so many dreams as a writer. This post fulfills a dream that for so long seemed too wonderful to even hope for. This is my first piece in post-Roe America.

How beautiful is it that the first day of this new period in American history falls on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary? As people fear that women’s rights are being trampled, the heart of a woman is honored throughout the world.

Although yesterday was the day for which I’ve been longing and praying for as long as I can remember, it was also a day that I had frankly been anticipating with some cowardice. There are lots of angry people in the U.S. right now and I honestly don’t know what the headlines will be by the time this post shows up in your inbox.

But lately I’ve been deeply moved by Mary’s identity as warrior maiden. At Fatima, she promised, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” The battle for the end to abortion is far from over, but we know that our mother will lead us to victory.

As we rejoice in the triumph of yesterday’s decision and press forward in advocating for total protection for the unborn and their mothers, I want to present a Litany of Courage that asks the intercession of the Immaculate Heart. Come, Holy Spirit!

Lord, have mercy on us……..Lord, have mercy on us

Christ, have mercy on us…….Christ, have mercy on us

Lord, have mercy on Us……Lord, have mercy on us

Father, Author of all life…..we adore you

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus…….we adore you

Holy Spirit whose Love casts out fear….we adore you

Response: Give us your heart

Mary, whose immaculate heart was free from sin…Give us your heart

Mary, whose heart reflected the beauty of the Triune God…

Mary, whose heart was radiant with purity…

Mary, whose heart was fearfully and wonderfully made…

Mary, whose heart began to beat at six weeks in Ann’s womb…

Mary, whose heart obeyed when the angel said, “Do not be afraid…”

Mary, whose heart said yes to an unplanned pregnancy…

Mary, who crushed Satan’s head with her “Yes”…

Mary, whose heart is a warrior heart…

Mary, whose heart pumped blood to the unborn Jesus…

Mary, whose heart believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled…

Mary, whose heart did not waver as she gave birth in abject poverty…

Mary, whose heart broke at the screams of the Holy Innocents and at their mother’s wails…

Mary, whose heart trusted when its piercing was foretold…

Mary, whose heart remained at peace even when she did not understand…

Mary, whose heart sacrificed everything for love of her neighbor at Cana…

Mary, whose heart rejoiced in the Eucharist…

Mary, whose heart remained united to Jesus in His agony…

Mary, whose heart consoled Jesus during His Passion…

Mary, whose heart felt every scourge, thorn, and nail…

Mary, whose heart forgave those who taunted her…

Mary, whose heart forgave her child’s executioners…

Mary, whose heart was pierced, yet unwavering as she cradled her son’s dead body…

 Mary, whose heart overflowed with unspeakable joy when she beheld her risen Son…

Mary, whose heart received and nurtured the Apostles…

Mary, whose heart beats in heaven…

Response: Immaculate Heart, triumph

Over all American hearts…Immaculate Heart, triumph

Over all fearful hearts…

Over hearts fearing persecution…

Over hearts fearing their safety…

Over hearts of Supreme Court Justices and their families…

Over hearts of pregnancy resource center employees and all who work in the pro-life movement…

Over hearts of clergy and religious…

Over hearts who are called to defend the Eucharist…

Over hearts that are lukewarm or complacent about abortion…

Over hearts who have been led to fear an America without abortion…

Over hearts who do not know the sacredness of human life…

Over hearts of abortionists…

Over hearts of mothers who have suffered abortion…

Over hearts of fathers who have suffered abortion…

Over hearts of the young pro-life generation…

Over hearts of the generation who fought and continues to fight…

Over hearts of all legislators…

Oh Blazing Heart…lead us into battle.

Oh Pierced Heart…break our hearts for all that has been lost through legalized abortion.

Oh Crowned Heart…lead us to victory.

Amen.

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Happy Hearts Day Part 1: Hidden in the Rupture

Does anyone actually like Valentine’s Day?

To quote Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that every single or taken man or woman, regardless of fortune, age, or creed, does not actually enjoy corporate exploitation of one of the deepest mysteries of the universe for the sake of jacked up prices for flavorless chocolate, in the name of a Saint who is no longer even listed in the Roman Missal.”

That’s how Pride and Prejudice starts, right?

I don’t actually hate Valentine’s Day.1 It truthfully gives the Catholic Church a unique platform to share the good news of Christ’s love and the Christian call to total self-gift with a secular world. Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for puns, so Valentine cards are a pretty sweet deal.

But if we really want a day to celebrate love and give chocolate to loved ones, there is no denying that today and tomorrow are the true Hearts Days.2 Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

For starters, this Solemnity always falls on a Friday. So today, you can eat bacon on a Friday. This has been your PSA. Bacon for Jesus.

But all joking aside, today is when we ask the terrifying question: Where would we be without the Sacred Heart? Today’s Solemnity is really a liturgical immersion in the mystery of the Incarnation: God has a human body, and that changes everything.

The heart that we adore today first began to beat after Jesus was in Mary’s womb for about six weeks. Could Mary see its gentle patter as she gazed on her newborn in a manger of straw?

That little heart beat wildly as He ran through the streets of Nazareth at play. Joseph felt it against his chest as the little boy squeezed His arms around him. Divine love throbbed in Nazareth, veiled by the ribs of a tiny child.

When did the Sacred Heart first break? Was He shoved to the ground by friends? Did He witness Roman soldiers abducting a child? Perhaps that first heartbreak was at Joseph’s death. Did Jesus lay His head on His foster father’s chest, listening to Joseph’s heartbeat until it ceased?

Where would we be without the Sacred Heart, without a God who has taken on human emotion? Of course Jesus was perfect, and this means that His emotions were never disordered like ours so frequently are. But we know that Jesus rejoiced as he praised the Father. He wept before the tomb of Lazarus. Before His death, he said, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death.” When Jesus offers His Sacred Heart to us, He offers His whole human and divine self. He offers the sweet little moments that we can only imagine on this side of heaven: the lullabies from Mary, the inside joke with a neighbor friend. He offers the little heartbreaks: the rejection, the name-calling, the loneliness.

He offers the unspeakable joys as well: the moment Jairus’ daughter opened her eyes, the moment John’s net dropped, the beauty of the repentant woman’s tears. But He also offers the horrific anguish. To follow Christ, we must embrace all of Him and all of His Cross.

I recently received a beautiful penance in Confession: “Go and ask Jesus for Him to give you His heart.”

I know I should have been skipping out of the Confessional with excitement. But that prayer revealed so much of my poverty and fear. To receive Jesus’ heart, which many scientists believe ruptured on the Cross? A heart that is completely selfless and only pours itself out in total surrender? A heart that knows and has felt the abyss of agony within the human experience?

I am a member of the Body of Christ. It is not enough to have His heart. I must become His heart.

For the last couple years the Lord has invited me to imagine myself crawling into His dead, lifeless heart that ruptured on the Cross. So often we feel like Sam Gamgee at the end of The Return of the King, torn in two. But the King Himself has had His heart torn in two. He invites us to place ourselves and all of our heartache, laughter, and faith between those ruptured pieces.

But Sam is assured, “You will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.” At the Resurrection God mended His own heart and made it solid and whole. In that moment when Christ’s perfect heart, Love Itself, beat once more, all of the wounds and heartbreak of the human race were glorified and made new.

In heaven today, a human heart beats for you. That heart is often depicted with the spear wound still present. This glorified wound, this cleft in a heart that was anything but rock, is your eternal home.3

Sweet heart of Jesus, may we hold nothing back from the fire of your love.

1 – I do, however, tend to hate raspberry and cherry flavoring, and the way it just descends on dreary February America like the 11th plague simply because we fell for a marketing scheme is just twisted.

2 – Married couples, can you make this a trend? Move however y’all would usually celebrate Valentine’s Day to the Feast of the Sacred Heart? #justiceforCyrilandMethodius

3 – Song of Songs 2:14

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When Words Fail: Abortion, Dante, and Corpus Christi

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then - I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it is. (Dante, Inferno 33.22-24)

With these words, Dante the Poet begins to recollect his encounter with Satan, frozen in ice at the bottom of Hell. Dante’s Satan is a mockery of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful: He has three faces in mockery of the Trinity, large wings that parody the Holy Spirit, and from his six eyes, “tears gus[h] together with a bloody froth” reminiscent of the Blood and Water which flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross (33.54).

But perhaps the most famous detail about the depiction of Satan in Inferno is the fact that he eternally chews on and “t[ears] to bits” Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (33.56). This act of gnashing and grinding human flesh is Satan’s horrific replication of the Eucharist and of Christ’s summons to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Through this depiction of Satan, Dante the Poet reveals that Satan is not capable of creating anything new. His most diabolical features are only crude illustrations of the divine mysteries. Satan cannot create; he can only twist truth and beauty. But he is a master of deception and his lies are so ugly that the Poet cannot even put them in words: “all words would fall short of what it is” (33.24).

Why on earth did I just make you read about Dante’s Commedia in June, 2022? Because I’ve spent over an hour now trying to find words to share just a little bit of what my heart is feeling as we anticipate the likely overturning of Roe vs Wade. The theme of inexpressibility, or adyneton, is a crucial theme throughout Dante’s Commedia. How do we little humans try to express the beauty, sorrow, and wonder for which we have no words, but only a gasp or tremor of the heart?

There are so many thoughts and emotions flying about our country right now. I teared up with joy last semester when my professor shared the news about the likely overturning of Roe. But I have also broken down over the atrocities committed against pro-lifers, pregnancy resource centers, and Catholic churches. The reality is that we don’t know what is going to happen for the rest of the Summer. And while this is SUCH an exciting time, the moment for which we have been waiting, working, and praying, it’s also a very uncertain and tense time.

And so, like any writer, I want to find words. I want to expose the way Satan has twisted the beauty of women and lied to them that they need abortion to succeed. I want to cry out again and again that abortion brutally murders an innocent baby. I want to reassure women who have had abortions that the Catholic Church does not hate them, but instead invites them to rest in the arms of an infinitely merciful Father. I want to do anything possible to protect the Eucharist and to make reparation for the sacrileges that have been committed in the last couple months.

But words often feel rather useless. So I turn to the Author of Life, to the Word Himself. What is His response to this dark, broken world, so twisted by the lies of Satan?

“This is my body.”

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As Catholics, we believe that the host consecrated by the priest is Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity. But I don’t think it’s an accident that the original name of the feast day is merely Corpus Christi – the body of Christ.

The world claims that the Catholic Church hates women and wants to control their bodies. But today the entire Church celebrates that God Himself has a body, even to this day. Through His life and death, Jesus revealed the gift of the human body. He comes to us at every Mass by touching our bodies with His own divine flesh.

At every Mass, He says, “This is my body,” and gives completely of Himself to every soul and every body of communicants. He holds nothing back because He loves you, the one reading this right now. He allows Himself to become completely weak, utterly helpless. To reach you, He must be carried down from the altar, placed by another on your hands or tongue. In the Eucharist, the almighty God is completely dependent on His creation. Because He loves you.

He has gazed on you with an everlasting love and chosen to be locked in a tabernacle until the end of time. Because He desires intimacy with you now, because He thirsts for you and the love that only you can offer. He is completely immobile so that in your moments of paralyzing fear or anxiety, you are not paralyzed alone. He is completely silent so that when you felt utterly alone and voiceless, He can be voiceless alongside you.

Even in their final excruciating moments on this earth, the silent, abandoned aborted are not abandoned. Because He is here.

Come what may this Summer, He will be here on the altar, in the tabernacle, in the monstrance. As the Church, the Body of Christ, is persecuted throughout the world, He is still here. He knew that He would be strewn over the altar by the thieves who stole the Brooklyn tabernacle. He knew that He would be horrifically mocked and abused by those who desecrate the Eucharist. He knew that so many would ignore Him during Communion, deny His true presence, leave Him alone and unloved. And yet He chose to give Himself to you in the Eucharist. He will never cease choosing to hand Himself over for you.

Satan can mock the Eucharist all he wants to. Peter Kreeft writes, “Abortion is the Antichrist’s demonic parody of the eucharist. That’s why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemous opposite meaning.” Satan can lead people to hate the Church, to commit atrocities against men, women, and children, to desecrate the Eucharist. But Christ assures us that “the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:11).

Dante does not only experience adyneton before Satan, but before the vision of God Himself in Paradise. As he recounts the act of beholding “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso 33.145), the Poet sighs, “How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set / against my thought!” (Paradiso 33.145, 33.121-122). I believe that this inexpressible awe is Christ’s invitation to us on the Feast of Corpus Christi. He calls us to shift our gaze from the horrors of Satan and onto the Beauty of the little white host. He calls us to fall on our knees before the Prime Mover made immobile in the Sacrament of Love.

Jesus invites us to listen for His voice and then gasp at the symphony of silence emanating from the tabernacle. For His Eucharistic love is so unfathomable that audible words cannot express it.

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2021 in Literary Review

2021 has been an insane year. I started out as a trainee with Cincinnati Ballet, went through a major transformation and healing through Totus Tuus, and threw myself into the intellectual world at University of Dallas. Oh, and I’m minoring in political philosophy now, so that’s just one example of how many weird things Jesus has brought into my life.

But whether I was a dancer, missionary, or student, there was always a book nearby. Below is a list and short review of most of the books I read for fun over the last year. Hopefully this list will provide you with at least one new literary friend for 2022! Enjoy and be sure to comment with any book recommendations you have for me!

Fiction

  1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I still own the copy that I annotated in my literary analysis class when I was in eighth grade. Something that makes this novel such a joy is the way that my relationship with the book changes as I grow older. This is a dramatic yet sincere story of a young woman maturing in life, love, and spirituality, all of which are informed by the educational forces in her life.

2. Turtles All the Way Down, John Green

It’s definitely a step down from Jane Eyre, but I devoured this teen mystery and drama in approximately 24 hours. Set in my corner of Indianapolis, the novel depicts suffering in a raw, yet redemptive way that leaves the reader feeling both seen and hopeful.

3. Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

This book. Any time I’m suffering or feel lost, I open to a page in this book and the Lord finds a way to speak to me. This was my second time through Till We Have Faces from cover to cover and it’s incredible to begin to realize the depth that lies in this seemingly simple fairy tale. Dedicated to his wife who passed away from cancer shortly after their marriage, C.S. Lewis uses the myth of Cupid and Psyche to delve into the pain of the human condition that we’re too frightened to explore for ourselves. He ultimately reveals that Love Himself makes all things new.

4. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

This Russian tragedy’s chaotic structure mirrors the chaos of fallen human nature. Following the sickly but pure-hearted Prince Myshkin, the novel explores the ways that people combat against and succumb to the vices in society. It is filled with political and religious commentary, conveyed through moving characters in whom you see yourself, both to your delight and dismay.

There are layers to The Idiot that went way over my head and will require many re-readings. But I picked up this novel because it’s where we get the famous quote, “Beauty will save the world.” And if that quote is true, this haunting and clever story is certainly helping to save the world.

5. Island of the World, Michael D. O’Brien

Where to even begin? If you’ve read Island of the World, you know exactly what I mean. Perhaps the best way to describe this 815-page emotional rollercoaster is through an excerpt from the author’s afterword:

“Wherever you may be in this world, please know that I presumed to write about your memory, your blood, your loss, as if it were my own. . .In eternity, we will know fully; in Him, we will see face to face. Then we shall understand even as we are understood, and love even as we are loved.”

O’Brien seeks to depict the entirety of human suffering in a single volume. This novel, which begins in the Balkans in 1933, depicts the atrocity of war and Communism with painfully graphic violence and devastating emotional agony. But it also portrays the miraculous qualities of love and grace, the way that our first human love brings hope and spurs us on to an encounter with the merciful One who has first loved us. While memory can be traumatic, it also has a healing power. Island of the World reveals that in a culture of dehumanization and demonic evil, the most effective revolution lies in beauty and forgiveness.

6. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

I haven’t picked up this classic in about four years, but it’s just as earth-shattering now as it was then. As the name might suggest, this short book is a series of letters written from the demon Screwtape to his nephew and apprentice Wormwood. As our little habits and daily vices are scrutinized by the enemy, Lewis unapologetically calls out the reader. But his description of our heavenly Father’s compassion renders impotent any attempts of our tempters to draw us into discouragement or despair.

7. Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien

Pairing this short story with The Screwtape Letters would make for a powerful examination of conscience. Tolkien’s allegorical autobiography depicts the untimely trip of an eccentric and in many ways mediocre man and artist. This story captures the power of the arts with piercing beauty and honesty. But it’s that second voice in the hospital room that makes all the difference.

8. The Song at the Scaffold, Gertrud von Le Fort

I’m rarely so quick to re-read a book (My first time through The Song at the Scaffold was in Spring, 2020). But in my politics class this past semester, we spent a lot of time discussing the concepts of revolution, anxiety, and dying while singing. So I couldn’t help but re-read this novella as part of my Advent reading. Le Fort’s simple writing style startles you into absorbing the complex themes of the story. From the Nativity, to fearful people, to the Agony in the Garden, to a rioting mob, The Song at the Scaffold causes the reader to never quite see the mysteries of Christ’s life, and therefore all human life, in the same way.

9. The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh

You may think that you have a twisted sense of humor, but do you have a rom-com-turned-tragedy-set-in-a-mortuary-and-pet-cemetery-where-people-flirt-by-sending-smiling-corpses twisted sense of humor? Regardless of how you answered that question, this novella is a bizarrely delightful read.

It’s hard to believe that this is the same author who penned Brideshead Revisited, but Waugh’s dry humor and elegant prose gives him away. Subtitled An Anglo-American Tragedy, this movie makes fun of Americans and British alike, offering social commentary in a sobering and unforgettable way. Be warned, you will never read The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats through the same lens.

Non-Fiction

10. Happy Are You Poor, Thomas Dubay

I love Dubay precisely because of his radical pursuit of Christ’s command to surrender everything for the sake of divine intimacy. But that doesn’t make his writing easy or comfortable to read. This book takes an honest look at Christ’s commands and warnings about material wealth. I don’t agree with everything Dubay writes in Happy Are You Poor, but for the most part I have had to acknowledge that it’s not the writer who needs to change. It’s me.

This book is a game-changer. It’s one you want to wrestle with, take to prayer, and discuss with others who can offer advice about how to apply Dubay’s advice to your life. Ultimately though, this book’s message is one of deep joy. You don’t want to miss out on that.

11. Unplanned, Abby Johnson

I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement pretty much since birth. But it can be easy to forget the horror story that comes to life every day in abortion clinics. This book was a powerful, painful reminder of the atrocity of abortion and I was sobbing within the first couple pages. But it also reminds the reader of the humanity of those in the abortion industry. So many people on the other side of the fence honestly desire to help women – they’ve just fatally deluded themselves. Abby’s testimony portrays humanity at its worst and best, as well as the compassionate God who works all things for good and is always ready to forgive the most grievous sins.

12. Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge

Every time I see this book for a low price, I buy it so I can give it to as many people as possible. I KNOW I call so many things life-changing, but I really, really do mean it! Captivating provides a beautiful, entertaining, personal exposition of the Christian understanding of femininity. The writers combine testimonies, classic fiction, and Scriptural exegesis to “unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul.” It’s written in such a way that regardless of your age, there is something to gain from it. I don’t endorse every sentence or concept in the book, but overall, this book is one that every Christian woman really ought to read (and then re-read).

13. The Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena

This Lent was all about the Father, so I decided to read St. Catherine’s transcript of her conversations with the Father. This work has everything in it: the call to repentance and self-denial, the stages of prayer and the spiritual life, divine justice, and unfathomable divine love for every soul. It can be a little hefty and hard to get through at times, but this spiritual classic is a truly beautiful source of grace.

“The love of Christ embraces all without exception. Fire of love, crazy over what You have made. Oh, divine Madman.”

14. The Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux

Y’all know I could write an entire book about this book. I actually already wrote about my reflections on this most recent read of Therese’s autobiography, so I’ll keep it short. Therese has honestly been the champion of my 2021 and I love her so much. I know parts of the book can be difficult to get through and maybe y’all aren’t besties yet. But just wait. She’ll sneak her way into your heart, one way or another.

15. Belonging, Nora Krug

This multi-media book combines text, collage, photography, and drawing to depict the author’s journey to discover her German family’s history and involvement in WWII. Krug’s collection of various physical objects to convey a deeply personal story is captivating, as is her poetic writing style and inquisitive, honest heart. It led to many questions for me about home, history, family, and how it all combines to create the person I am today.

Short Stories (One sentence summaries)

16. Parker’s Back, Flannery O’Connor

In a matter of pages, O’Connor uses a story about a man who would qualify for a My Strange Addiction episode on tattoos to confront the reader with questions about beauty, art, the thirst of the human heart, and the undeniable presence of the only One who can quench that thirst.

17. The Red Masque of Death, Edgar Allan Poe

Very awkward to read during a pandemic, but it’s so good it’s worth it.

18. The Black Cat

It’s amazing and I love Poe, but don’t read it right after your family buys a cat who is obsessed with you even though you don’t like him.

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Silent Light: O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

God is with us.

Infinity invisible: He is asleep in the dark waters of a virgin’s womb, so small that His presence is only given away by a swelling belly.

So quiet, so still: The valley is loud with voices, animal hooves, and the creak of carts as the caravan journeys to Bethlehem. But the Word who spoke this valley into existence practices breaths that cannot be heard.

Love is fragile: The Prime Mover of Creation kicks His tiny legs and moves His little arms. But that kick sends His mother into raptures of love.

Yes, God is with us. The Creator has stepped into creation. The lover is encircled by the beloved. His son and foster father guides him to Bethlehem, where human eyes will behold God and not die.

The shepherds are in the fields like they are every day, barely noticing the clear blue sky that overshadows them. They have no idea that tomorrow night, that sky will be ablaze with light and their own hearts will leap like lambs.

Herod is pacing in his palace, his mind overcome with fear of how he could be overthrown. He does not know that nearby, the King of Kings is carried on a donkey with an immaculate womb for a chariot.

Inside Bethlehem, a woman sobs as she prepares her dead baby for burial. A man stands on a roof, his hope caving in. A slave child weeps for the parents she has not seen in years. They cannot see it, but God is with them. He comes to open heaven so that mother and child can embrace again. He is here to strengthen the quivering heart and tell the despairing soul that his life is necessary. He is here to weep with the abused and to promise justice and mercy.

He is here in this dark, grief-stricken world. He is here in the world that will seek His life from its very beginning. He is here, with closed eyes that will cry, with hands that will be pierced, with a heart that will burst.

And He is here with infinite love that shatters death’s darkest schemes. He is here with a quiet presence that cannot be feared, only received. He is here as a fragile member of the human race – perfection enclosed in vulnerable skin. He is Emmanuel.

Tomorrow, He will come. Regardless of the lies you have believed, the sin you have committed, the poverty of your life, He will come. He will come into the ugliness of a cave, redeeming the darkest night with His purifying fire. Tomorrow, He will be too weak to speak – but He will tell you that you are unimaginably loved. His presence will cry out that in this world, you will have trouble. You will suffer, you will be sick, your heart will break. But take courage, dear heart. For tomorrow He comes to suffer with you, to be sick with you, to weep with you. And He also comes to bind up your wounds, to heal your illness, to wipe away your tears. Tomorrow, Love will conquer the world. He is here.

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Dancing in Prison: O King of Nations

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

If there were any two who understood that Jesus is “the only joy of every human heart,” it was the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist. For the last two days, the Gospel has proclaimed the Visitation, recounting John’s dance within Elizabeth’s womb and Mary’s victorious song of exultation.

But thirty years later, after John has prepared the way for the Messiah, he finds himself in prison. The one who sang so faithfully of the liberation Jesus would bring is behind bars. Upon hearing the mighty deeds Jesus is working, John sends his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”1

I think so much of our lives are spent like John, looking at Jesus in our poverty and desolation, saying, “Jesus, I know that you are the only joy of my heart, the only thing that brings meaning to life. I know that you are faithful, I know that nothing is impossible for you. So why am I still imprisoned? Why haven’t you kept your promise?”

Jesus’ response to John’s disciples is one of conviction and compassion: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

John, the “voice of one crying out in the desert,” knows Isaiah through and through. In this response, Jesus synthesizes four different passages from Isaiah prophesying the deeds of the Savior who is to come. One of these passages is the first part of Isaiah 61:1, “He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted.” But he doesn’t finish the verse which promises that the Messiah is sent “to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to prisoners.” Instead, Jesus says, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”2

Jesus is the Messiah who releases prisoners. But His ways are not our ways. John would not meet the one to whom he had dedicated his whole life until the two met in the Kingdom of heaven – one released from pain by a sword and the other on a cross.

When Jesus comes in a few days, he comes as the Messiah and Savior for whom our hearts so desperately long. But His plan for our liberation and healing is too marvelous for our little, fickle minds to comprehend. Sometimes He comes miraculously as He did for St. Therese’s “grace of Christmas.” But more often than not, He comes with the reminder that this world is not our home and that the holidays do not begin until heaven.

But regardless of the way that He answers our prayers, He will come. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross writes, “And when he tells me through the mouth of the prophet that he stands more faithfully at my side than my father and my mother, yea that he is love itself, then I begin to understand how rational is my trust in the arm that carries me and how foolish is my fear.” This is the radical trust to which John was invited by His savior. I think that upon hearing Jesus’ words, John danced in prison. For the only joy of his heart was here. The King’s presence makes all things bearable.

1 – This story is found in Matthew 11:2-6

2 – I learned about this from one of Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s Advent podcasts. Go give the Hobo for Christ podcast a listen!

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Spiritual Canticle in Irregular Verse: O Radiant Dawn

Out of the darkness of this life
the wasteland held captive by gloom's shadow
where there dwell frustrated hopes and dreams dashed against flint
the unwearied Father places upon the weary dust
the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.

The small white Sun ablaze with love
whose radiant joy springs over the hills,
bathing the valley in undimmed light,
wakes the lover asleep with grief:

"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one and come!
Forget your people, come to my Father's house.
I, the King, desire your beauty -
Come swiftly, my friend.

"See the beams I pour as ointment on your wounds,
my light which is poison to the foxes in your yard.
Come, dear heart, they can harm you no more -
So long as you abide in my arms.

"Awake, sweet dove, let me dry your teary eyes.
Let me show you the garden prepared for our paradise.
The winter chill has burnt you, left your heart exposed and raw -
But see the lily springing from my open, bled-out side.

"Arise, my lover, see how my dawn 
has thawed your rigid heart.
My light has banished wet and dark -
The rains are over and gone.

"The flowers appear on the earth
to crown our thorn-pierced heads.
Did you forget, sweet daughter of Eve
as you waited in the rain,
that I promised, "I make all things new?"
Come, lose your life -
You've the Sun to gain."

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

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Wreck My Life: O Key of David

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

Today’s antiphon reminds me of the bridge to the popular worship song, “Reckless Love:”

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

I love my Jesse tree and candles and Blessed is She Advent wallpaper. But sometimes we use the physical manifestations of our Advent devotion as a facade over the chains shackling our heart. I’m all for cozy candlelit meditations on “holy infant, so tender and mild.” But the unspeakable power and jealous love of the King of Kings is also central to the mystery of the Incarnation. The feast we are about to enter isn’t just the celebration of a birth. It’s the celebration of a prison heist and rescue mission of the greatest proportions.

There’s an interesting contrast within the imagery of the antiphon. Christ’s title is “Key of David.” But rather than ask Him to unlock a door, we beg Him to tear down a wall. By Christ’s Incarnation and bestowal of grace through the Sacraments, He has unlocked the prison in which we were trapped by original sin. But the gift of our free will is still intact. We can still choose to sit in prison. Maybe we’re in a state of grace, congratulating ourselves that we’re not like those tax collectors. But Christ didn’t come just to make sure that with one confession per year, we can slide our way into heaven. He “came so that [we] might have life and have it more abundantly.”1

We are too weak to leave our cells. So we ask the “royal Power of Israel” to break down the prison walls and to flood the shadow of death with His luminous light. We ask Him to do whatever it takes to drag us from captivity and run into His joyful Kingdom.

It’s going to require sacrifice. It’s going to require an intense openness in prayer and the courage to let the Lord bring those wounds into the open so that He can tend to them. The Lord delights in your hand-painted Jesse Tree ornaments2 and faithful recitation of the St. Andrew Christmas novena and organization of the St. Nick’s party for the homeschool group. But He’s asking you to go deeper, to press into the messy beauty that each of these traditions holds. The Jesse Tree tells the story of mankind’s adultery and ingratitude against an infinitely faithful Spouse and Father. The St. Andrew novena is a prayer of desperation before an impoverished God. We give gifts in honor of St. Nicholas because he preserved women from the horror of prostitution.

In these last days of Advent, we are asking the Key of David to unlock the doors in our soul that we are too afraid to enter. We are asking Him to smash and burn the idols to which we offer our love. We are asking Him to come with His power and preserve us from every stain of sin, not just mortal sin. “Do whatever it takes,” we whisper to the Messiah. “Open the enclosure in our hearts so that we can enter into intimate communion with you.”

My life changed when I prayed, “Jesus, I give you permission to wreck my life.” The joy and heartbreak that has flowed from that prayer has been confusing, painful, and unexpected. But it has changed everything. Christmas changes everything. Let Him break down the walls.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never
shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

-John Donne, Holy Sonnet XIV

1 – John 10:10

2 – Yours, not mine. Heaven knows I’m not the crafty type.

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Beauty Incarnate: Flower of Jesse

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

You are made for beauty.

You are created to experience that thrill when you see the first pink buds peeping out of snowclad Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You are intended to be moved by the radiance of a bride on her wedding day. It is good when you gape at the stars or weep over a symphony or smile at the scent of herbs. It’s not necessary – I’m just a melancholic who has no category for anything other than intense emotion. But there is nothing wrong with letting beauty move you.

In a way, today’s antiphon is a short, but powerful exposition of beauty. Beauty is “raised up as a sign” of the happiness and harmony for which we were created. The most beautiful images or moments leave the beholder “stand[ing] silent in [their] presence.” In the myth of Psyche and Cupid, the ancients who worshipped Psyche for her beauty weren’t entirely misled. Beauty is intended to lead us to worship. If our intellects shrug it off as sentimentality, our souls know that “Beauty will save the world.”1 So we turn to beauty and beg that nothing keeps it from coming to our aid.

Of course, the beauty of a flower or song cannot save us with its own power. But the source of all beauty hears us. The true beauty is “the true light, which…[is] coming into the world.”2

The reason that we love flowers is that we loved the Flower of Jesse first. We are created in the image and likeness of God, for the purpose of knowing, loving, and serving Him. And since God is Beauty, we are made in the image of perfect beauty, for the purpose of pursuing beauty with every fiber of our being.

Through the mystery of the Incarnation, beauty makes a way for us to be united with Him. The beauty for which we long has a name, a face, a voice. St. John Paul the Great writes, “[Jesus] is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

Today’s antiphon assures us that the hope we have been clinging to throughout winter is not in vain. We are created for everlasting delight, “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”3

Not only are we created to delight in beauty, but we are created for beauty’s delight. Zephaniah proclaims, “On that day, it shall be said…The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.”4 As we pray for an increase in hope as we await Christ, let’s pray for the awareness that the Flower of Jesse comes because He loves us.

1 – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

2 – John 1:9

3 – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

4 – Zephaniah 3:16-18

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Our Lady and the Burning Bush: O Adonai

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

We worship a God who turns water to blood and sweeps sea from land. He is so close that He knows our suffering (Ex 3:7) and yet is so beyond creation’s comprehension that even Sinai trembles before His presence. This marvelous Lord is the One who made that first covenant with Adam and Eve in Eden. But our parents bought into the lie that God wasn’t worthy of all their trust. So they ran into the bushes.

In response, God came to Moses in a bush, promising redemption for Israel and affirming that He was worthy of His people’s trust. From this bush, He revealed His name and sent Moses into Egypt as His forerunner. When He came down to Egypt, He put the Egyptian gods to shame, stretching out His mighty hand for the sake of Israel, His firstborn.

In return, all He asked was that Israel remain loyal to Him and that they keep His law. But the same distrust that sent Adam and Eve into hiding had been passed from generation to generation. As soon as Moses was on Sinai for too long, the Israelites turned to a golden calf for security. And oh, how they suffered for breaking the law.

It’s easy to make fun of the way that the Israelites whine in the desert, or to dismiss as historical trivia Israel’s inability to keep the Torah. But you and I are also sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. The same venom blackened our souls when we were conceived. Our first cries at birth joined with the cries of enslaved Israel.

But there was one first breath that was not fouled by the adder. There was one soul whose timing for redemption was magnificently different. The mighty Lord formed from the dust of the earth a daughter. He made her soul so pure that His Spirit could hover over the waters of her womb without any resistance.

In the fullness of time, the daughter mirrored Her Creator’s “Fiat lux” with her own song of “Fiat mihi.”1 The living flame of love rushed upon her whole being, and Mary, conceived without sin, was on fire, but not consumed.

This luminous vessel carried Love Himself inside her body for nine months. Beneath her breast, Love traveled the hill country to a town of Judah, where He entered the house of Zechariah and His Mother greeted Elizabeth. In the silent power of the womb, the divine Flame purified John the Baptist and set Him apart to be His forerunner, to tell Israel that its Savior was coming soon.

But the first time He stretched out His arm was not to send Herod flying into the waves. He stretched His tiny arms as He lay upon straw. The thunder from Sinai was replaced by a wail from a cave.

This is the mystery we will celebrate in just a few days. The Lord who hears our cries comes down to cry with us. And when we fall beneath the burden of our concupiscence, He gives us His mother. She is the burning bush who unveils our vocation with just one word of greeting and carries us back to Christ when we stray from that path. Let’s ask her intercession as we prepare for the birth of her son and Messiah.

1- “Let there be light, (Gen. 1:1)” “Let it be done unto me (Lk 1:38)”

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Merciful Wisdom: Introduction to the O Antiphons + O Wisdom

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet gentle care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

A favorite Christmas memory in our house is when my younger sister was about four and we were opening gifts on Christmas Eve. Surrounded by fun cousins and fueled by inconceivable levels of sugar, Ieva was in a state of pure frenzy. As she waited for her turn to open gifts, Ieva began to cheer on her younger cousins as they opened their presents, yelling incomprehensible phrases like, “Blow out the candles!” “Make a shout!” “Cuddle up!”

The anticipation of Christmas Eve is something we all remember. Secular culture tries to keep it alive through nostalgic movies and “Believe” sweatshirts. But society has nothing on the Catholic Church when it comes to building anticipation.

The Church doesn’t see anticipation and excitement as cozy nostalgia for Christmas days gone by. Rather, this anticipation is central to the Christian life. In a world deadened by noise, stress, and mind-numbing pleasures, we need to be shaken awake. Our weary souls need to experience that “thrill of hope” of which the famous carol sings. We need the reminder that there is overwhelming joy ahead.

That joy is just days away. St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes that there are three comings of Jesus. We’re familiar with that first coming in Bethlehem, as well as the second coming at the close of history. But the third, “intermediate coming” of the Lord is a private entrance into the hearts of His followers:

“The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man.

Christmas is not a mere remembrance of the past or a fervent gaze towards the future. It is an opportunity for intimate encounter with the incarnate God. Wisdom clothed in weakness softly kisses us at Christmas Mass. His words of truth breathe warm courage into our frozen souls.

Every Christmas, Christ is born again in our hearts. That’s why we spend nearly four weeks in Advent preparing ourselves for this sacred encounter. Even the secular world knows that Christmas is not instantaneous. Our earthly celebrations require planning ahead and the investment of time, talent, and treasure.

But I’m suspecting that you just read that paragraph and sighed because heaven knows, you haven’t prepared well enough for the glorious mystery of the Nativity. Me neither. I spent the first half of Advent far more worried about the apocalyptic nature of finals week than the apokalypsis of Midnight Mass.1

We little humans are so foolish about the idols we worship, the worries on which we fixate, and the way we spend our time. But our Lord is Wisdom Himself. Our weakness and inanity is no surprise to Him. He knows that any initial zeal at the beginning of Advent has at least been tempted to grow lukewarm. So in his “strong yet gentle care,” He offers us this beautiful period from December 17-23 to increase our excitement for Christmas by meditating on seven different titles of Christ. These titles appear during Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the hours, in the antiphon before and after the Magnificat.2

Through the O Antiphons, we spend seven days marveling and wondering over this Savior we will meet at Christmas. We are swept up by His beauty and our hearts are invited to ache with joy rather than drudgery. But while these ancient prayers are solemn, they are also the Church’s equivalent to Ieva’s giddy anticipation of her forthcoming gift – I have seen the girl literally bounce back and forth between walls on Christmas Eve.

That is the childlike excitement we are all called to as we near the intermediate coming of Christ. Tonight, join me in praising the omnipotent Wisdom who is so wildly in love with His creation that St. Catherine of Siena calls Him the “Divine Madman.” Let’s praise Him for His mercy in crafting the liturgical year so that it guides our wayward hearts back to His side. And let’s stop being foolish grown-ups, but instead cast ourselves into the childlike joy and excitement to which we are called in these last days of Advent.

P.S. Wow, hello, dear reader! Goodness, it has been a minute. Since my last post, I’ve completed my summer as a Totus Tuus Missionary, moved to Texas, finished my first semester at University of Dallas, and returned home to Indianapolis for Christmas break. I guess you could say I’ve been a little busy. While I haven’t had the time to write on here in a while, I have been writing commentary pieces for the University News at my school. You can view those here. I’m grateful for the extra time to write on here during break!

1- Apokalypsis – Greek, “Unveiling”

2- This is a great time to get acquainted with the Liturgy of the Hours! The iBreviary app has the official translation for free. Maybe try out Office of the Readings, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer for a nice little liturgical charcuterie board.

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Sunday Gospel Reflection: Rocking Eve to Sleep

I wonder what it was like for Jesus as His bleary eyes woke from sleep. He could feel the water lapping at his feet, hear the roar of the wind skidding over the sea. But the first thing He saw must have been the disciples’ faces, their wide eyes dimming with despair and confusion. Before he heard the waves bludgeon the deck of the boat, he heard their desperate cry cracked by the blade of mistrust: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

How His heart must have broken at the fearful wail of His children. How His heart continues to break today as we too cower and scream, “Do you not care?”

As He woke from sleep, the Word’s human eyes witnessed the fear and lack of trust that has haunted humanity since Eve’s eyes first looked into the visage of the serpent. The venom from that glance has oozed into every human heart, turning us from bold children of the Lord into terrified creatures who shrink at the sight of waves. Many of us have been infused with faith since our baptism as infants. And yet have we practiced this virtue to the point that we can look at Christ’s closed eyes and boldly trust in Him?

Today’s Gospel might not describe a physical healing. But the Teacher asleep on on a cushion yearns to heal our angry and frightened souls. He desires to calm our hearts that churn far more violently than any squall. How does He desire to heal us? By closing our eyes.

It was Eve’s eyes on the Deceiver that ultimately drew her and the whole world to destruction. It was the disciples shaking Jesus’ eyes open that displayed their lack of faith. Today, our merciful Master invites us to reverse this habit and choose to instead rest against His heart. We too are invited to sleep in the peace of the Father, a peace that may not understand why the storm wails but which nevertheless believes in unutterable love and providence.

Friend, I don’t know the storm that threatens to capsize your boat. I don’t know why Jesus remains asleep when He could vanquish the squall with one command. But I do know that He cares. He cares so much that His eyes closed on the Cross as He embraced the sleep of death. But He did not perish forever. His eyes opened in glory. They opened for you and gaze upon you right now.

On this Sabbath, rest with Jesus. He will wake you when the time is right. He will not let you perish.

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The Game is Never Over, John: BBC’s “Sherlock” and the Common Human Experience

If you sign into Netflix, you’ll see a sad sight. More accurately, there’s something that you won’t see. As of last weekend, BBC’s Sherlock has gone away. Netflix is no longer 221 B Baker Street.

I’ll admit that I’m more Sherlocked than most. I don’t think many people were mourning its Reichenbach fall from Netflix like I did, drinking coffee at 2 am while hurriedly finishing the entire show for the umpteenth time before it departed early in the morning on May 15th. The show predates the excitement and publicity surrounding Netflix originals. Its nerdy fans mostly bonded and connected over Tumblr, the social media platform that hearkens back to the first societal hit of social media buzz. But despite its accelerating old age in an era of instant releases for streaming, Sherlock is still widely considered to be one of the best shows to grace Netflix and 21st century TV. Not only that, but it holds deep emotional value for the fans who grew up with the show. I started watching Sherlock in 8th grade, one of the hardest years of my life, and have loved the show ever since. When I saw that it was leaving Netflix, I experienced a sense of loss even though I hadn’t watched the show in ages. No matter what was happening in life, Sherlock was always available. It always brought comfort.

I don’t think those sentiments are wrong to have. TV can be used as a drug, something to numb out pain or stress and allow for separation from real life. But TV shows can also be a form of modern art. Modern art tends to use beauty to provoke and ask a question. Sherlock is no exception to this. At the heart of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ take on the legendary sleuth lies the question: What is it to be human?

The director of my high school Great Books program loves to probe the topic of the common human experience. Odysseus is really not so different from the 14-year old student first stumbling through the churning pages of Homer. When Solomon wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun”1 thousands of years ago, he was living in the same fallen world surrounded by the temptations, joys, and loves that we human souls experience even in the 21st century. That question of the common human experience is critical to anyone navigating life and earnestly seeking after virtue and authentic happiness. And it’s not just something we learn through Aristotle and Shakespeare, but also while tracking serial killers with Sherlock and John.

The way that Sherlock explores the common human experience2 is rather ingenious. In the pilot episode, Sherlock is true to his self-proclaimed identity as “a high functioning sociopath.” He seems like more of a robot than a man, “A bit of a weirdo, if you ask me.”3 Sherlock may be a consulting detective of the highest caliber, but the man is also a painfully awkward and sadistic loner who remains impenetrable to both the hatred and affection of others. But through his adventures and more importantly, his growth in friendship with John Watson, Sherlock slowly learns what it is to be human. The writers of the show are able to portray the facets of the human soul individually, as we see a previously cold man experience friendship, loyalty, passion, rage, betrayal, broken pride, heartbreak, and love for the first time that he can remember.

As a viewer, watching Sherlock develop can be conflicting. Yes, it’s deeply moving to watch him sacrifice himself in The Reichenbach Fall (well, when we learn it was a sacrifice and not an act of despair), but when we see just how much he adores John and Mary and endure his meltdown over Molly in The Final Problem, we find ourselves squirming because Sherlock isn’t supposed to be like that. He’s supposed to be the calculating machine that Scotland Yard resorts to, not a man who needs his friends and who is capable of romantic heartbreak. It’s argued that the show began to go downhill as soon as Mary, John’s wife, entered the story. And while it’s true in my opinion that the final series was far less polished than the previous series, I think that part of our collective criticism is that we didn’t like it when Sherlock became less of a computer and more flesh and blood. We don’t like things as much when they’re real, when they’re messy. “Love is a…vicious motivator,” Sherlock claims in A Study in Pink. That vicious quality of the human soul isn’t welcome in a society that is fixated on control.

But no matter how much we idolize control, it’s generally a facade within the common human experience. The audience can’t help but feel sorry for John, a man who is so desperate for a quiet ordinary life, but is surrounded by an ever-growing list of sociopaths, criminals, and special agents for comrades. His brilliant best friend also shares in his powerlessness to an extent. No matter how incandescent Sherlock is, he still can’t foresee every move of his adversaries. And he has no control over that East Wind that had unknowingly haunted him his whole life, the lost sister who killed his childhood best friend and left him shattered and unable to love.

Yes, the experience of crippling grief and broken trust is a central theme explored in Sherlock. The two unlikely flatmates would never have met if it wasn’t for the toll that trauma had inflicted on them both. Over and over we see John lose loved ones and feel our own hearts strain as he returns to his alert, soldierly stance in the cemeteries of Sherlock and then Mary. We witness horrible deeds committed not only by criminals, but in Mycroft’s betrayal of Sherlock, Sherlock’s forgetfulness or schadenfreude in not telling John about his fake suicide, and John’s infidelity to Mary.

But in those moments when control is lost and suffering is imminent, when Jim turns the gun on himself and Sherlock learns that he has lost to Magnussen, viewers are invited to contemplate the higher aspects of the common human experience. We see Sherlock risk his life and sacrifice his reputation to save John’s life. We are privileged to glimpse Molly’s steadfast charity and feminine genius, even in the face of ingratitude. We hear John forgive Mary for what most would deem unforgivable. We catch our breath at Mycroft’s instant willingness to die in the place of John during The Final Problem. We weep when Mary takes the bullet for Sherlock. Over and over, we see men and women lay down their lives for one another and demonstrate the fiercest loyalty and deepest friendship. We see heroism.

However, the final lesson of Sherlock is not merely about heroic deeds. It is about the vital need of all heroes for beauty. The final spoken words in the series4 come from Sherlock’s mother after she learns that Eurus is in fact alive, but physically and mentally unreachable. “What are we to do?” she asks Sherlock.

Sherlock – no longer a broken machine, but a man, a friend, and hero – responds by playing music. Through his violin and his invitation to Eurus to join him in experiencing and creating beauty, he gives both of them permission to heal. Sherlock’s deductions can solve a murder and John’s intuition and experience can save a life, but it is beauty that offers restoration. It is beauty that unlocks the innermost cells where scarred and scared prisoners hide.

Sherlock shows the ugliness of humanity. We take a glimpse into the most depraved criminal minds and are forced to be witnesses of heinous acts. But we also peek into broken hearts as they heal, are witnesses to the first genuine smiles of Sherlock and John, and see that love is not a passion, but the highest virtue. In Sherlock we are taught that while the game afoot may be dangerous, it is truly beautiful to be human.

The writers of Sherlock ask, “What is it to be human?” The answer that they offer is so intricate and so marvelous that only music is capable of whispering it.

1 – Ecclesiastes 1:9

2 – (which I started abbreviating as CHE in my high school notebooks because of how often we talked about it)

3 – Chief Superintendent, The Reichenbach Fall

4 – Not counting Mary’s voiceover

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That Last Paragraph, That First Death

I’ve been preparing for this post for months now. Thinking about possible ways to open it, staring at a blank screen and aggressively blinking cursor, saving drafts that I’ll never reopen.

My favorite part of a book is always the end. It’s that final sentence or paragraph, the final goodbye from an author to his reader that leaves me breathless and yearning for the transcendent. I choreographed an entire dance to depict the ending of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I wept over the end of Jane Eyre and stomped my foot in confusion over the last paragraph of Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Even that last “I Do” in The Fault in Our Stars was enough to make me curl up in a ball and cry cathartic tears.

And that’s why we love a good ending to a story, don’t we? Our hearts are made for an end, for the “place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued (J.R.R. Tolkien).” But I rely on the masters like Waugh and Cather to weave breathtaking denouements. It’s one thing to muse on where Julia goes after Charles leaves Brideshead. It’s quite another to reach the end of a chapter in your own life.

And that’s what this post is about: This Fall, I’ll be attending the University of Dallas to double major in English and Theology. I’m setting my pre-professional ballet days behind me.

I could list a million reasons for why I’m going to school next year. Tell the stories from high school retreats, explain what was stirring in my soul while watching The Chosen, share the podcast episode that opened my eyes to what the Lord was doing in my heart, gush about the middle schoolers I got to work with this year who helped me to see that serving them is all I really want to do with my time. But none of those reasons or “pieces of data,” as Fr. Mike Schmitz would call them, are enough. Ultimately, there’s only one answer – the One who utters no answer, but is Himself the answer.1

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last fourteen months and through the profound, agonizing invitation to the Cross that I’ve experienced in so many ways, it’s a deeper confidence that He is so trustworthy. I look at all the doors that should have been closed to me and have been unlocked, all the little and big dreams that have been fulfilled (right down to teal blue kitchenware in my house), and even the doors that were slammed so excruciatingly, but have become vessels of mysterious grace. The author of life is not only faithful and wise – He is so gentle. And if He is ready to begin singing a new chapter of my life into creation, I’m ready to magnify that voice.

That voice knows me so intimately. During the Holy Hour when it was indescribably clear that I was going to go to college next year, I heard the Lord say, “Your heart cry is mine.” And what is my heart cry? It’s the cry of every artist who has set a brush to canvas, who has stepped onto a lit stage, who has choreographed movement or written a score. It’s the cry of the mystic, the song of John’s impassioned “nada,” Augustine and Monica’s draft at the fountain, Aquinas’ fingers holding straw. It’s the cry of the beloved who won’t settle for anything less than seeing the whole world set on fire for Jesus Christ. It’s the cry that Dostoevsky composes into words when he writes, “Beauty will save the world.”

The reason that I decided to spend this year in a trainee program was beauty. The reason that I’m leaving the trainee program is beauty. We need the arts. We need faithful Christians in the arts. But we also need artists to work for the Church, men and women who see the Host in the monstrance as unadulterated light and beauty, the fulfillment of every good and true dance, painting, and film.

At the moment, I want to go into youth ministry as a career, although that could certainly change. I’ll be spending the summer as a Totus Tuus missionary in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, teaching kids during the day and running teen nights in the evening. I’m so excited to hit the ground running this summer and my nerdy heart has honestly been pining to get back into the classroom this Fall. But Jesus has crafted my heart in the way that He has for a reason. He has made me an artist, and switching from an emphasis on the art of ballet to the art of writing isn’t going to change that.

That also means I’m reacting to this transition as an artist would (kudos to you if you’re still reading this overly long outpouring of thoughts and emotions). For the last several weeks, as the calendar ticks down the days to my last performance, I’ve been thinking about a quote from Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance:

A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.

How do you prepare to die? How do you dance when your days in the studio are numbered? You can feel peace and joy about a decision, but still catch your breath when, like Mary of Bethany, you see the oil of your offering spilled all over the floor at Christ’s feet and realize that there’s no turning back. Choosing between ballet and college has been the most difficult decision of my life. I was talking to a teacher about it the other day and began to tear up. “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying,” I muttered.

“No,” she said so gently. “Let yourself cry, please. Let yourself grieve and feel whatever you need to feel. Because this has been your first love and of course it’s a big deal to walk away. But don’t walk away completely. Stay connected.”

She is so right. This isn’t the end. It’s only the close of a chapter, the step into a new act. Even though it’s going to look different, I will never stop dancing. My heavenly spouse will never stop wooing my heart with the beauty and faerie that He has always used to draw me to Himself. Ballet may be my first love, but He is the Love who was always whispering to me in the wings and at the barre. And I can’t wait to share His love with others through a new form of ministry.

He is the Love calling my name. His heart cry is mine. And with a beauty like His, “you can overturn the world.”2

1 – cf Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

2 – The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Hidden Worker

They have barely reached the peak of Golgotha when His clothes are violently torn off, leaving only open shreds where skin should be. Jesus staggers right and left as his hunched form is prodded towards the cross by clubs. He kneels beside the cross as one last time, His Sacred Body touches the dust that He created. Now is the moment for which He came to earth. Here is the wood for the sacrifice, and here is the lamb.

Surrounded by mockery, He lies down on that precious wood. Every movement is agony as the Victim and Priest stretches Himself out against the cross. Jesus’ left arm extends, His palm stretched open to heaven. “Here I am, Lord,” He breathes. “This is my Body,” He whispers to His Bride.

Jesus looks sideways, into the eyes of the soldier who will not look at Him. He feels the edge of the nail against His wrist. And then He feels what cannot be described.

He hears the hammer so close to His ear. Over and over it screams as it delivers its blows. But He has heard this sound before. “Father,” He cries in His torment.

In His moment of deepest pain, Jesus thinks of His foster father, Joseph. He brings to mind memories of His father at work, when Jesus’ little eyes were wide with awe at the strength of His dad who could haul giant pieces of wood and craft them into homes. He remembers the song of the hammer, the percussive score that played in the background of His entire childhood. He remembers watching Joseph drive the nails into the wood in swift and sure movements.

Jesus remembers when Joseph first taught Him. How He was so eager to place the two pieces of wood on top of each other. How Jesus had moved His thumb too quickly and felt the piercing pain of a nail for the first time. Tears had sprung to Jesus’ eyes, but they were wiped away so quickly by Joseph’s kind hands. The pain vanished as soon as Mary kissed that little thumb.

Mary and Joseph stood side by side that day to console their hurting child. But now Mary kneels alone. She is only able to watch as a wound is inflicted that will never close up, but will be glorified. Today however, there is no external glory. There is no comfort she can offer Jesus other than her presence and other than the hammer song that she and Jesus both know so intimately.

Joseph was there to hold Mary’s hand when Simeon foretold the revealing stab. But now as she feels that sword sink into her heart, there is nobody to help. The woman who watched her husband die now watches her son prepare to breathe His last.

They were both there when Joseph left this life. They both cradled him like a child, not letting go until his chest had stopped rising and falling and the fear had disappeared from his face. As their tears mingled in an embrace, Jesus had explained to Mary that they would see Joseph again, that He Himself would lead His foster father into the embrace of the heavenly Father. Here on the cross, that momentous occasion is only hours away.

The Son accepts the nails for the sake of the one who first taught him to hammer. Because of righteous Joseph, a man who was imperfect and yet a true son of David, the sound of the hammer blow becomes a consolation in the midst of unfathomable anguish.

In His humanity, Jesus has never tasted death. The dread of Gethsemane washes over Him once more as a nail is driven into His right wrist and His feet are shoved into position for theirs. But then He thinks of Joseph, the man who had protected and provided for and loved the Son of God as his own. This first teacher to Divine Wisdom Himself had known death. And aren’t sons willing to walk down any road, so long as they step where their father has trodden first?

“I will never abandon you,” Joseph had surely told Mary and the unborn Jesus the morning after the angel’s nocturnal visit. On Calvary, we can be sure that he never did.

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Not for Pauline

There’s something enchanting about rereading books. Not all of them – if someone told me to reread The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson, a book the author himself found distasteful, I would rather contract leprosy. But there are some books that you grow up with and that shape your soul in a mysterious way. One of these books for me is The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Therese has always had her eye on me, so I’ve been intimately familiar with her story from a young age. When the illustrated biographies and comic books were my source of edification on her life, I was captivated by her childhood. When I finally read The Story of a Soul cover to cover at age fifteen, I was struck by the fact that I was the same age that Therese was when she entered the convent. As the years have progressed, there are small passages from her writings that always speak directly to my situation or to the desires and fears in my heart.

But when I reread The Story of a Soul over the span of about five days earlier this month, it wasn’t just Therese who stood out to me. The Lord really focused my attention on the woman who is responsible for sharing the Little Flower’s little way with the world: Her older Sister and eventual Prioress, Pauline.

As we encounter Therese’s childhood, it is made abundantly clear that environment matters. Therese spent the formative years of her childhood completely surrounded by souls who were madly in love with Jesus and who taught her live and think only in the light of eternity. She first saw Jesus’ countenance from watching her parents pray. She first learned the good news of the Gospel from her older sisters, who made it their first priority to educate their younger sisters in the Faith.

For many of us, Therese was the first friend to introduce us to the perfumes of Carmel and the riches of that Carmelite tradition in our faceted gem of a Church. But Therese first learned of this hidden way from her older sister Pauline, the first of the Martin sisters to enter Carmel (all five would enter contemplative religious life, four of them to the same Carmelite convent). Therese writes,

“Then you [Pauline] explained to me about the life at Carmel that seemed so beautiful to me. As I was going over in my mind everything that you had told me, I felt that Carmel was the desert where God wanted me as well to go and hide…I wanted to go to Carmel, not for Pauline, but for Jesus alone

The next day I confided my secret to Pauline, who viewing my desires as the will of heaven, told me that soon I would go with her to see the Prioress of the Carmelite convent, and that I would need to tell her what God was making me feel…”

The Story of a Soul, Chapter 3, Emphasis in original

Years after Pauline became the first to encourage Therese in her vocation, Pauline would become Mother Agnes of Jesus, the Prioress of Therese’s convent. Cognizant of the unique role the Father had reserved for Therese in reinvigorating and revolutionizing the spiritual life of the Universal Church, Mother Agnes asked her younger sister and spiritual daughter to write down her life story. This became the bulk of the text compiled in The Story of a Soul.

If it was not for Pauline being utterly captivated by Jesus Christ, Therese would not have found her home buried in the heart of the Church as a cloistered nun. If it was not for Pauline’s wisdom, the Church would not know her own heart like she does today through the legacy and intercession of the Little Flower.

But have you ever heard of Pauline before this? You probably know Therese had older sisters, but have you ever been able to remember their names or given them much thought?

My guess is that you haven’t. And that’s ok. Pauline reminds me of John the Baptist or the apostle Andrew. Her job was to introduce her sisters to Jesus and then disappear from the world’s eye. Perhaps one of the greatest models of Therese’s humble way is this woman who gave Therese first to Jesus and then to the world. For the Carmelite who is now surely dwelling in perfect union with her Bridegroom at His wedding feast, that is more than enough.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the Church’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It can seem overwhelming to hear about the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and then invites us to do the same. “Who are my sheep?” we ask. “Where is my pasture?”

These are big, overwhelming questions. They are far too big for you to answer. So instead, like Pauline and Therese, let us turn to the words of Jesus that are used as the title for the final chapter of Therese’s autobiography: Those Whom You Have Given Me.

Who has Jesus given you today? Not tomorrow, not five years down the road, but today. Who are the people directly in front of you? Get them to heaven. The way you do that is going to be different for each person. But Jesus has given you souls to nurture alongside Him. He does the difficult work of hoisting soil, bending over in the heat, and breathing life into the plants you forgot to water. But like a father first teaching his child to garden, He invites you to join Him. He compels you to join Him.

If you walk by His side in the garden, day by day, soul after soul, He will eventually lead you to the joy-filled home He has prepared for you in this life. But that’s on Him. Today, your vocation is to shepherd and garden those He has given you. There can be no greater call.

“Not for Pauline, but for Jesus.” May these words of Therese be our motto as we allow the Shepherd to lead us towards the distant mountains that will one day be home.1 Like Pauline, may we be concerned above all else with bringing those He has given us, most especially our families, to rest beneath His gentle crook.

1 – Shout out to Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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My Watered Garden

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

Easter should be the feast most unclouded by grief and heartbreak. Even nature seems to break forth in an unmatched “Hallelujah” as the spring is gently unveiled through flowers, zephyr, and relentless birdsong. After all, this octave of Easter is “the day that the Lord has made (Psalm 118).” Today, death is utterly vanquished by the breath of God that runs through previously asphyxiated lungs. The sins that bored literal holes into the hands and feet of the Creator are rendered powerless by a love that goes to Hell and back for the beloved. Bitterness is washed up in the sweet water that flows from a pierced heart and into the ocean of mercy.

THIS is the day the Lord has made. Amen, Hallelujah! And yet, the first words to come from the mouth of the risen Christ in John’s Gospel are, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Of course, the answer is quite simple. Mary weeps because she believes that her Teacher, the one who she believed to be the Messiah, is now lost to her forever. She weeps because she doesn’t know that He is alive.

2000 years later, I hear the Lord asking me the same question more frequently than I care to admit. “Larisa, why are you weeping?” My reasons tend to be far less noble than Mary’s cause to cry. And yet, my tears tend to have the same source that Mary’s tears had as they watered the garden dirt on that first Easter Sunday. I don’t really know that He’s alive.

Of course, I believe in the Resurrection. I can rattle off every Catholic Answers Live proof for the Resurrection and walk you through a step-by-step analysis of the Shroud of Turin in under two minutes if I don’t come up for air (thank you, forensic science class in junior year, for the shroud project). And I also have enough Faith to supernaturally accept the ultimate mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and our salvation. 2000 years of Church history and intellectual tradition really should give me a step up on Mary Magdalen, who had no knowledge of the Resurrection when she was crying on Sunday. And yet, if I really grasped the Resurrection, if I lived every moment with the confidence that my redeemer lives, would I be so caught up in these little things? Would I be so afraid of myself and the decisions I make with prudence and proper discernment? Would I be crying in dread of the opinions of others? Would I be fixated on how I look and how I am perceived, stressed over scheduling and finances?

Life has taught me what Good Friday looks like. Life has definitely taught me what it is to live in Holy Saturday. But I am in need of deep conversion on Easter Sunday. I need to turn away from the empty tomb and into the eyes of the One who calls me by my true name. I need to be taught by Rabbouni.

Should I know better than to be so concerned with passing things? Yes! Jesus Christ is alive and because He lives, nothing else matters. But while I am so impatient with myself and my lack of trust, the risen Victor is still the tender physician that He was when He first exorcised the seven demons through the waters of my baptism. Teachers in the Church speak of the sacredness of tears and how they can actually be a gift. Even when my tears are imperfect, Jesus still meets me in those moments of sorrow. “Woman, why are you weeping?” He asks. Sometimes my reasons are silly. Other times, they are more like the tears of His mother, tears which come from a heart that knows that Resurrection is coming, but which still breaks over the suffering of those I love.

Regardless of my tears, regardless of my answers to His questions, His answer is always the same. He will always stoop down to my tear-streaked face, even when I should be happy. He will always wipe away those tears with His scarred hand. He will say my name with the same love and gentleness that He had when He placed me in my mother’s womb. He will teach me what it is to live as a resurrected creature until the night of this world breaks into endless dawn and the glory of Sunday is no longer mingled with the tears of Friday.

Until then, my vision of the eternal garden will be blurred. But even when my eyes are too full to recognize the new Adam, He will always see me as His own.

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Daily Saturday

Before we start today’s post, I need you to stop and think about what the rest of your day holds. Is this the only thing you plan on reading today? If the answer is yes, I need you stop right here. Please click on this link for today’s Office of Readings and scroll down to what is titled, “Second Reading.” This reading is one of the most beautiful texts the Church offers us for the entire year. I would be ashamed if this blog post deprived you of the opportunity to let those words from an ancient homily penetrate your heart and fill you with awe. When you’re done reading, you can come back to this pithy post if you have time.

Do you have time for both? No? Get out of here and go read.

You do have time? Hi there! It’s lovely to chat again.

“There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.” Those words from the opening of that Second Reading are what make Holy Saturday so beautiful. Yesterday, we entered the noise and chaos of the sinful world that murdered its own Messiah. Today, that noise is replaced by a deep liturgical silence. The entire universe holds its breath as twilight nears and glory approaches. Glory approaches, but has not yet arrived. This is Holy Saturday: The increasing tension between victory and triumph, the flutter of the wind about to pull back the final page, the joyous dirge.

And isn’t this where most of us spend the majority of our lives? We’re no longer on Calvary at the height of our suffering. But we’re certainly not in Easter either. In some ways, the hush of Saturday is worse than the wail of Friday. At least on Good Friday, it’s obvious that you’re racked with sorrow. Holy Saturday brings a quiet anguish as you find yourself still reeling from the pain of Friday but without knowledge of when that pain will be healed.

I see Holy Saturday quite differently after being in lockdown last year. Last spring, we lived in the world that the apostles knew on Holy Saturday, a world separated from His presence. For months, we couldn’t feel Christ’s healing touch in the Eucharist or hear His tender words in the Confessional. I still remember how jarring the empty tabernacle used to be on Good Friday. In 2020, it was normal.

But my parish put their tabernacle in the window adjacent to the church parking lot. I would drive to that parking lot and get as close to the window as I could. I would genuflect on the cold muddy ground and find peace before the red candle that assured me of His Body’s presence even though I couldn’t see or receive Him.

Because nothing else was really going on in my life, I went almost every day. Every time a new piece of news re-shattered my heart and brain, I would go to the window and tell Jesus about it. I would go and feel the hot tears on my cheeks that expressed how desperately I wanted to receive Him and how desperately I wanted the pandemic to end. I would stare at the tabernacle for as long as I could and then drive away desperately praying, “Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”

He never did. He never has. Just as Christ spent Holy Saturday descending into Hell and leading the righteous into Paradise, He was using that time to draw me into a deeper love for the Eucharist and also for the body of Christ right in front of me, my family. And one day, I drove in for parking lot Adoration only to find the Tabernacle missing. It was missing because our parish was finally able to celebrate Mass once more. He was not there, for the Church had risen. That first Mass was the most beautiful one in my entire life.

Today is Holy Saturday. You can’t demand that the sun change its location and make it a different day. You can’t go into the past and change what has led you into this season of seemingly endless suffering. But while you can’t choose the calendar date, you can choose how to suffer. You can choose to be consumed by fear and by self-pity, hating the stagnant waters you wade in. Or you can choose to remember that Christ Himself promised to rise on the third day. You can remember that beneath these waters, the Lion of Judah’s paw is stirring a whirlpool as His roar wakes the dead and sends such a shudder through Satan that it forever undoes him.

And if that seems too good to be true, that’s ok. You can still be afraid. You can still be weak. As Mary Magdalen prepares to walk to the tomb, she’s not preparing to meet her risen Lord. She’s preparing to anoint a corpse. But she’s walking towards Jesus rather than keeping to herself. And that is the key to holiness. So long as we walk forward, Jericho will come crashing down.

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Silent Friday

Tomorrow night’s Easter Vigil could be given the title, “Night of Music.” In the black of night, Christ’s glory will shine like the day and the world will be created anew. Music is one of the most perfect ways that humans can experience and enter into the harmony of the Trinity, the perfect balance for which the world was made. Tomorrow, the church walls will shake with the blare of trumpets and the sung proclamation of the Resurrection.

But we cannot know the glory of music if we have not first experienced its absence. Today we encounter the opposite of music, which is not silence, because silence is an invitation for created beings to step into the unending song of the Creator. The opposite of music is noise. Good Friday is the noisiest day of the year.

The mob roars for the crucifixion of an innocent man. The vulgarity of the soldiers ceaselessly stains the air of Jerusalem. Women wail, demons laugh, and the hammer screams against the nails.

So much noise, so much action. And yet there is one voice that remains so silent on Good Friday that your first instinct is to scream. That is the voice of the Father.

We can cover up Good Friday all we like with whitewashed crucifixes and shallow homilies and Filet O’Fish as our only meal of the day. But we cannot escape the gaping reality of evil, an evil which seems to win on this dark day. Perhaps more shockingly, we cannot escape the reality that the Father allows this evil. Over and over it is Jesus’ obedience to the Father that is emphasized in His death. The omniscient Father watches as His only begotten Son is betrayed, beaten, and mocked. He is there as Jesus is scourged until His entire body is an open wound. He hears the sound of the thorns seeping into His skin. He allows Him to carry a giant Cross, be stripped naked, bored through with nails, and left to suffocate to death.

Light watches light drain from Light’s eyes. The true God watches the true God breathe His last. A Father hears His child call out, “Why have you abandoned me?” And He does nothing.

Good Friday is precisely why I used to struggle to accept the love of the Father. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” is really niche on a coffee mug. It’s almost sickening when you watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and realize what giving the Son really entailed. How am I supposed to respond to that love? How can I receive what I can never repay? How does it make sense that God would become man and die at the hands of men for love of me?

It doesn’t make sense. But it doesn’t have to.

In the final paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the main character writes,

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

The reason why I receive no answer to my questions is because the Father has already spoken His Word to me. That Word hangs on a tree, skin torn to shreds, life poured out, water pouring from His spear-stabbed heart. It doesn’t matter what I have done or failed to do. The Father has already given His own, His first love, to ransom me. It is finished.

Dear soul, the question today is not why the Father loves. The question is whether you will trust Him without putting limits on His mercy or His providence. Will you allow yourself and all your brokenness to be embraced and transfigured by the God who witnesses the murder of His Son and makes it into something good?

This Father of Christ’s, this Father of ours. He makes all things new. Tonight, the clang of the strepitus at Tenebrae will signal the close of today’s noise. A hush will fall over the earth, as God’s Word remains silenced by our sin. But keep going. For tomorrow night, that Word will roar.

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Spousal Thursday

“Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine.”1

This opening verse of the Song of Songs is on the lips of Mother Church tonight. This is the night when the myth of Cupid and Psyche becomes the true myth that enters human history and frailty. In the story, the god Cupid visits the mortal Psyche in complete darkness so that she will not be struck dead from fear at his unfathomable beauty. Just so, Jesus Christ, the Godman, hides Himself in the form of bread and wine as He visits His beloved Bride, the Church. We are wounded creatures so afraid of marvelous light. Therefore light becomes so small that we hold Him in our hand and taste Him on our tongue. The strength that holds the universe taut becomes indescribably weak so that He can nurse us with His own power.

“Why is tonight different from all other nights?” This question sung at every Passover Seder is met with an even more glorious answer as the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood are presented to the human race. Tonight, the lies that enslaved you and left you believing that you are alone and unwanted are shattered by His perfect humility. Tonight, the weight that you carry is no longer yours to carry alone. Tonight, He becomes one with you.

Tonight, He begins to lead you out of Egypt. But you must give Him permission to fight for you and open the sea, that is, His very heart that will be torn open by a lance in mere hours. Tonight, you must heed Moses who urges you to choose life and not death. Because the kiss of Old Testament poetry is not the only kiss bestowed tonight. Judas will kiss his master and friend, but it is a kiss of betrayal. Satan will strike at the future head of the Church, Peter, the strong, fearless man made weak by a little girl. Every one of the feet washed by the Master’s hands will run away. Every friend embraced in the Eucharist will disappear. As he bolts through the trees, the young man’s nakedness lays bare our fickle, distrusting hearts. The One who offers His kiss to humanity is met with only spit from the lips of His creatures.

Tonight, we must come to terms with the fact that we are the ones who will mock and spit on Jesus before the High Priest. We are the ones who will condemn Him and forget His goodness. We are the ones who will beat Him, scourged Him, and crown Him with the thorns of our sin.

But we must not be like Judas and let our sorrowful, disgusting story end there. Tonight, we can kneel beside our Spouse in the garden, holding His hands that are stained red with bloody sweat. At the altar of repose, we can join our feeble surrender to His perfect offering to the Father. Tonight, as we enter the mystery of Gethsemane, Jesus will teach us what it is to be a Son fully alive in the Father. He will teach us perfect obedience. He will teach us perfect grief.

And as He stands to meet Judas, He will teach us perfect love.

Why is tonight different from all other nights? Because tonight God’s heart is broken by a kiss.

1- I’ve been writing a lot about Christ the Bridegroom over this last week. Because we live in a culture that is so confused about love and marriage, it can be strange and maybe even feel irreverent to read. But this is an aspect of Catholic spirituality known as bridal mysticism. It originates with God Himself, who through Old Testament passages in books like Isaiah, Hosea, and Jeremiah, as well as the words of Christ and the book of Revelation, reveals Himself to be the lover and spouse of the human race and therefore of each human soul. This spirituality is notably developed by St. John of the Cross and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, two men whose lives beautifully model Christ’s masculine soul and unrelenting sacrifice. This isn’t a form of prayer that brings God into human terms so we can make him sound like he’s a boyfriend we can write crappy love songs about and play on Christian radio as “art.” Rather, this is an ascent of the human soul to the bosom of the Trinity, the perfect communion of love that all human love points to.

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Superspy Wednesday

*chugs espresso, slams down coffee cup*

Welcome to the Hump Day of all Hump Days. Today, as you know, is Wednesday of Holy Week. But we don’t just call today, “Wednesday of Holy Week.” The Catholic Church is too adept at nomenclature to settle for such a boring title. No, today is Spy Wednesday.

As fun as the name is, it’s also heartrending. Today, our Gospel tells of Judas’ furtive journey to the Pharisees and his schemes to betray Jesus. The human condition is on ugly display today as we witness the seduction of material wealth, a greed that we have all fallen prey to in some shape or form. We weep over the fickleness of friendship and gasp in horror at the atrocity that the demon of betrayal truly is. Today, our hearts must be convicted of our own stupidity when it comes to matters of the heart and worship. We too have been spies with Judas, willing to tear others down to reach happiness, and perhaps even willing to deny Christ, so long as that denial secures our own comfort and satisfaction.

But Judas is not the only spy at work on this Wednesday. It would be dangerous for us to only focus on Satan’s active role in humanity, lest we become overwhelmed by the filth experienced in the common human experience. Yes, the Deceiver is well aware of human weakness and is a master at exploiting our sickness for his own wily gain. But nobody knows the human heart better than the Son of God. In today’s Gospel He is the ultimate spy, as we read:

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; 
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

Matthew 26:17-19

We should be taken aback by the cryptic nature of Jesus’ instructions. Ok, maybe we shouldn’t be that shocked, because Jesus can be confusing at times. But the disciples have asked for a one word answer to a simple, geographic question, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover?” Rather than reply as they expect Him to, Jesus responds with these lengthy instructions to find a certain, unnamed man at a certain, unnamed house. In Mark’s account of the Gospel (The one read on Palm Sunday this year), we are told that Jesus only sends two disciples away with these instructions. Why all this secrecy?

The answer is simple and yet one that changes the entire course of Salvation: Judas can’t know ahead of time where the Passover will be held.

If he knows, he can have the guards come to the house where Jesus is staying. It is essential that that does not happen. Because it is at the Passover meal that Jesus will institute the Eucharist and give humanity the new covenant, the offering and consumption of His Body and Blood until the end of time. This has vital theological ramifications, because the flesh of the Passover lamb must be consumed in order for the sacrifice and covenant to be fulfilled. If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice, slaughtered on the Cross during the twilight brought upon by a solar eclipse, therefore His flesh must be eaten for the act of salvation to be brought to completion. But I’ll let Scott Hahn or Dr. Sri break that down for you.

Covenant theology is crucial. Typology is a fun word to pronounce. But that’s not the only thing on Jesus’ mind as He delivers these instructions for the secret location of the Passover. He is thinking of you. He is thinking of how desperately He thirsts for profound union with you. So gnawing is His hunger that He can’t even wait until you are in heaven to enter into this communion with you. No, the Son of Man sees you in your weakness and pities you. Through the Eucharist, He brings heaven down to you.

The Eucharist is Christ’s final gift to His Bride, the Church, before He lays down His life for her. It is a gift so precious that He guards it at all costs, ensuring that His plans for the great apokalypsis, the precious unveiling of His plan for humanity, are not waylaid by human treachery.

Today, Judas the spy paces back and forth, completely undone by the demon of greed that gnaws all grace away from his soul. But his rage-filled scheming has nothing on the jealous love of your God, who goes to the greatest lengths in preparation for the gift He will give you tomorrow. Tomorrow, He will give you Himself.

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Hidden Tuesday

Holy Week is so action-packed that it can almost feel overwhelming. On Sunday, we had our first memorial of the Passion. Yesterday, we anointed the feet of the Suffering Servant. Tomorrow we’ll lean into the grittiness of Spy Wednesday and on Thursday, step into the Triduum.

But nothing really happens on Tuesday.

Our Gospel is taken from the Last Supper, which won’t be celebrated for another couple of days. It’s almost as if the Church is offering us “a deep breath before the plunge,” as Gandalf would say, allowing the goodness of ordinary life to seep back into our hearts after a liturgical season that has been anything but ordinary. The word, “extraordinary,” pales as a description for these next days in Jesus’ life. He knows that He will surrender Himself to the Father with extraordinary trust and offer Himself to us with extraordinary love. These acts usher in an extraordinary beauty that creates the world anew. But Jesus also knows that these upcoming days will be ones of extraordinary pain. He knows that His days are numbered.

Which leads me to the question: What did the Son of God do on His last ordinary day?

In His perfect humanity, Christ saw the created world with an eye so unclouded that He marveled at every grain of sand for the intricate masterpiece that it is. I wonder if He walked alone through Jerusalem early that morning, taking in every palm branch and praising His Father for every breath of oxygen caught and embraced by His sacred lungs. Oh, to be a molecule swept up by the Creator to sustain His created body!

But maybe He wasn’t alone. Maybe He walked with Peter, James, and John, telling them funny stories to lighten their guarded moods, or discussing the trivial, yet precious things that are only understood by close friends. Maybe they went to the market to buy Jesus’ favorite food. During that transaction, He would have looked at the merchant with unmistakable love and sorrow as He pondered the far greater price that would be paid for this soul so soon.

All of this is pure conjecture of course. It’s equally plausible that Jesus withdrew that entire day to be alone with His Father. But something that I think is far less hypothetical is that the Lord would have sought out time with His Mother.

Mary is not written of profusely in the Passion narrative, quiet handmaid that she is. But her agony was unspeakable that week. Mary was no fool like the apostles frequently were. She knew that her Son was the suffering servant from the book of Isaiah1. She had heard from His own lips that He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified. Mary had to stand there in the crowd on Palm Sunday, watching her Son march to His death. Even though He was surrounded by shouts of jubilee, she knew that those shouts would turn to jeers and those palms to clubs. As He entered the city gates, Jesus was entering the jaws of death. And there was nothing she could do about it.

None of this was without her permission of course. It was Mary’s “Fiat” that unleashed the light of the Holy Spirit to conceive the Word. At Cana, Jesus would not begin His public ministry, thus beginning the end of His life, without first receiving her approval. “My hour has not yet come,” He told her then. This week, Mary witnesses the climax of that hour. This week is the culmination of her surrender at the Annunciation as she must say, “Yes,” once more, not to life, but to death. The fruit once only known in the recesses of her very body and soul will be stripped naked and torn to shreds for the world to see. But it is in that unveiling that Her Son will draw the world to Himself.

Once more, the new Eve invites the new Adam, not to disobedience and mistrust, but to perfect obedience and surrender. Tonight, Mother and Son meet in private for the last time. The depth of every encounter between these immaculate souls is one we can only hope to witness in heaven. But it’s beautiful to imagine what this last night is like. Jesus holds her in his sinewy carpenter arms as she sings the lullabies she sang to Him in Egypt. They laugh at old stories and memories from Nazareth. He tells her more about the Father and she weeps with love and joy.

That weeping is one of sorrow too as Jesus confides in her that Judas is the one who will betray Him. He tells her that His heart is already racked with grief at the sins of mankind and with fear at the task to be accomplished. But He also tells her about the glory of Sunday. He promises to appear to her, urges her to be prepared and wait for Him. To which He adds, “As I know you will be.”

He declares to her the words of Isaiah2, “Do not fear…When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned….For I, the Lord, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.”

Tears fill His eyes as He kisses her cheek and murmurs, “Because you are precious in my eyes and honored.”

Her voice joins with His to finish the verse, “And I love you.”

Together, they walk outside beneath the moon so near its phase for Passover. The luminous moon that reflects the sun’s glory shines on the last moments of Jesus’ last ordinary day. And as Jesus walks back to His apostles and Mary watches until He has faded into the black night, we are urged to remember that the beauty of daily life is absolutely part of the beauty that saves the world.

1- Isaiah 53

2- Isaiah 43

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Prodigal Monday

I’ve always hated Mondays, but for Monday of Holy Week, I’ll make an exception. Our Gospel reading remains the same every year, and it’s a Gospel I never tire of reading.

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. 
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Jn 12:1-81

I love the familiarity with which the reader is welcomed at the opening of this chapter. John reminds us to sit at table with him, an eyewitness. He explains that we know these characters already. Lazarus is the dear friend of the Savior, the man once dead now throwing a party. Martha is busy serving, but now with a renewed understanding of the service for which the Master asks. And Mary? Mary is driving people up the wall as always.

She’s not just sitting at the feet of Jesus anymore. She’s anointing his feet. Her receptivity to His words and life have caused her soul to overflow to the point of action, regardless of judgment from onlookers. And her action is one of total self-gift.

We should stop in our tracks when we hear Judas criticize the lost three hundred days’ wages. That’s almost a year’s worth of work. Why on earth would someone have such expensive perfume? This isn’t Pink Chiffon from Bath and Body Works in an inflated market. No, this oil is Mary’s dowry.

This is her entire livelihood, the thing she needs for marriage, to be cared for in a world where women are widely considered property. This perfume holds the security for her future. Now it runs over a man’s dirty feet, pouring into the cracks of the floor, enveloping an ordinary house on an ordinary Monday. It trickles away until none is left in the jar.

Perhaps we too find ourselves scoffing with the traitor, “What a waste.”

There are so many other ways Mary could have honored Jesus. There are ways that are normal, conventional. Ways that do not require risk and the throwing away of one’s entire livelihood. Mary is beautiful. She has an entire life ahead of her, one with a husband and children. She can dwell in comfort and find a way to profoundly honor the Lord without raised eyebrows and irritated gossip.

Surely Jesus is not asking for her dowry. Surely Jesus does not demand such prodigality and foolhardiness.

Maybe He doesn’t. Maybe He would have been equally pleased with her simply remaining at His feet, or with a simpler offering. But Mary is not anointing the Master’s feet because He has demanded it of her with a threat of punishment. She pours out her life because she can’t help herself. Mary has sat at Jesus’ feet for long enough to know every inflection of His voice and to be captivated by its melody. She has gazed into His face with such a singlehearted longing that she knows every crinkle in His smile and every sorrow in His eye. She has felt the warmth of His presence and has known that there is nowhere else she would rather be than here with Him. This ordinary woman has discerned that the Prime Mover of the Universe has come to her own home, a home that stands as a mere speck of dust in the universe. It seems like such a waste that God would spend His time with Her. But love is never a waste. Love is the ultimate end that all actions pine for, because God Himself is Love.

Here in this Gospel, we stand on Holy ground in the presence of our Incarnate God who dines with His own creatures and in the presence of a woman who gives all and so gains the ultimate prize. Here we stand convicted of the fact that we are the ones who have been wasting our lives on the opinions of others and in our selfish self-seeking and gluttony for control and autonomy. Here we are invited to begin again, to sit at the feet of the Master, to hear His gentle voice, and to be so overcome by love that we hold nothing back, but offer our entire selves and even our carefully planned futures to the God who loves us.

In a matter of days, we will see that the feet we anointed with so great a sacrifice are lifeless and bored through by a giant nail. And we will realize that we have been deluded to believe that anything we give is wasteful compared to His offering to us.

1 – Full Gospel for today is John 12:1-11

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Poet Pierced Through

As a performing artist, there are few moments as surreal and electrifying in joy and terror as that moment before the curtain rises. Audience members have been alerted to exit signs, donors have been thanked, and the overture is coming to an end. You hover between reality and the narrative you are about to enter, desperately trying to calm nerves while praying in gratitude for the gift of performance. Even more curious is that sensation of stillness when you must force your body, petrified for an instant, to step past the wings and onto the stage. But you step onto the stage and no matter what the stage is, whether it’s Lincoln Center in New York City or a ballet studio in Indiana, your tutu brushes past the thick black curtain and you find yourself at home.

For the past five weeks, we have been in intense preparation for the culmination of C.S. Lewis’ “Great Dance,”1 the dance of the liturgy. Through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we have readied our hearts to step into Holy Week, into the story that all dance, poetry, music, and paintings point us to. And now, the curtain has risen once more on these sacred liturgies. Now it is time to step onstage.

But maybe you aren’t as prepared for this dance as you believe you should be. Maybe you haven’t put as much effort into Lent as the Lord was inviting you to. Perhaps you’re feeling defeated as you succumb to the same sins once more. Maybe you’ve felt waylaid by sickness or inconvenience (quarantine, anyone?) and haven’t been able to enter into Lent as you have in the past.

If this is where you find yourself, you don’t need to worry. Because the Holy Week liturgies are not only a dance, but a poem. Poetry does not exist primarily for analysis. Above all else, poetry should be experienced, something that “happens to you,” as my Great Books professors from high school explained. This is not a passive experience of art, but an eager receptivity to a beauty which enthralls and longs to wash over the reader or listener.

This week, “Beauty ever ancient, ever new”2 longs to wash over you and make you new. And He’s not waiting around. Whether you’re finishing up the best or worst Lent of your life, it’s go time. This is the week of the Great Dance, the song of songs, the poetry of the True Muse, the Holy Spirit. This is the week when your life can change. Perhaps this is the week when your life must change.

I encourage you to do all you can to enter into Holy Week with your entire heart, mind, and soul. Hold nothing back but offer all to the Father who has offered all to you in the sacrifice of His Son.

But how do you enter into the narrative of Holy Week? A simple way is to pay attention as you read the Passion story at Mass today. What character stands out to you? Maybe it’s a character you relate to or a character you aspire to be. Or a character you despise, only to realize you two aren’t very different. Then pray with and be that character for the rest of the week. Comfort Jesus like that character. Reflect on the way you crucify Jesus like that character and beg for mercy. However the Holy Spirit leads, be not afraid.3

The beauty of the liturgical year is that we’re not just calling to mind an event which took place 2000 years ago. Rather, we acknowledge the direct role that we play in the events of Christ’s final days. We carry palms into the church, only to hear our own voices cry out, “Crucify him!” twenty minutes later. We watch the priest wash feet and hear the voice of Jesus Himself say, “This is my body.” We kiss a Cross, knowing that through the beatific vision, as Christ hung in torment on Calvary, He could see that very action and receive consolation. We light a fire because we know that the light shining from the empty tomb remains unquenched to this very day.

This is our story. It’s a story of atrocious crime and miserable suffering, a story of an eminently rational Creator who loves like a madman, and a story of seeming failure turned to unfathomable beauty. It’s time to own our part in the story. It’s time to beg for forgiveness like never before and gasp with joy at His mercy. It’s time to enter the Great Dance, the liturgy that immolates and beautifies all.

This week, let His poetry happen to you.

1 – From Perelandra. “The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples…are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!”

2- St. Augustine, Confessions

3- This form of prayer is prominent in Ignatian spirituality

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March 14th

It’s been one year.

One year ago today, I hugged, HUGGED, my friends from ballet goodbye as we said, “See you in two weeks.” My ankle had been hurting a lot, so I was slightly grateful to have the opportunity to rest for a couple weeks. Little did I know. I walked out of the front door without thinking about it too much, not realizing that I would never walk through that front door as a student. When we resumed classes, the front half of the building had to remain closed.

One year ago today, I drove to the Adoration chapel with angry, hurting tears blurring my vision because my parents had told me that it wouldn’t be wise to go to Mass the next day. One year ago, I sat in that chapel and never wanted to leave. Reading my journal from that Holy Hour still causes heartache as I see my shaky handwriting saying, “I can’t have the one thing that gives value to my life. I have literally nothing left.”

And as we all know, things only became more bleak after those first two weeks.

A few weeks into lockdown, my mom sent me to our parish to drop off donation items for the food pantry. As I walked about the church campus, the silence nearly deafened my soul. Out of curiosity, I walked over to the church door itself. Somehow it was unlocked and I stepped inside. I went over to the Adoration chapel even though I knew Adoration wasn’t permitted at the moment, so the Eucharist wouldn’t be exposed. But I just had to see.

I think most of us panic when we see death. Even a dead squirrel is enough to send me shrieking down the street. I think that the reason why we hate dead creatures, even those we’re not attached to, is because our souls see a dead body and instantly register that something intrinsic to that being is no longer present. “It’s not supposed to be that way,” our hearts and minds scream. Something is missing, something is terribly wrong with a world where the body and spirit can separate.

I opened the chapel door and where my eyes usually fall on my Beloved, I saw a gaping hole in the center of the monstrance. Where I usually saw fellow parishioners or friends in prayer, I saw nobody. That chapel, which had been the center of the universe because of the King’s presence, was dead. Life Himself was gone. Even through the sunlit windows, the room seemed so dim.

So much of my personal life was gone too. Nearly as soon as we entered lockdown, I began to daydream about going back to my ballet school. I pictured walking through the front door, excitedly saying hi to my teachers, hugging my friends, dancing in a real studio and not in my living room. Over and over, I imagined throwing my arms around my best friends, returning to Mass, seeing extended family, all like nothing had happened. The world would return to normal. It had to.

And yet, my first ballet class back in a real studio was deeply strange, to say the least, and for a long time I couldn’t focus because of the anxiety associated with the journey back to normalcy. Mass was so far from what I had been accustomed to. It was last Spring that The Lord of the Rings clicked like never before and I found myself asking alongside Sam, “How could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it once was after so much bad had happened?”

The world doesn’t go back to the way it once was. Hearts are shattered, and even when they are healed, they are still affected by scars. We learn from the good and evil of the past, and while we can make amends, we can never reshape what once happened. But praise God for that. Because in just a few weeks, Good Friday will be upon us. And I am so glad that when evil was forever defeated, the world didn’t just slide backwards to a couple weeks before Christ’s crucifixion.

No, our God is not in the business of cutting and pasting. He is the God who writes majesty and glory even from the fragmented horror of deicide. Surely He can restore all that has been lost over the last year.

Last week, when I was home, the Lord used two very concrete events to reveal that He is restoring my heart and desires. With a squinty smile under my mask, I was finally able to walk through the front door of my old ballet studio. One of my teachers was there at the front desk, just as he always had been. Class may be different for now in a world of masks, distancing, and extra cleaning, but it still felt like the same beloved class I had known. Things felt normal and safe. My heart experienced a tender healing.

A few days later, as I was going to Adoration at my home parish, I opened the door and to my surprise, Jesus wasn’t exposed. There was that same lifeless monstrance. But the room wasn’t eerily empty anymore. Because it was as I was walking in that the Eucharist was being placed in the monstrance. As the Host was shut into the monstrance, I was reminded that His Love conquers all and brings light to the darkest places. Even when I too was shut in, He was there. In that moment of glory last week, it was as if Jesus was saying to me, “Daughter, so much has been lost over the last year. But I make all things new. I will fully restore you and all of your loved ones.”

One year ago today, I whispered, “Goodbye,” to Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Today, Father held Him inches from my gaze and declared, “The Body of Christ.”

Amen. Yes, Jesus, I believe.

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Pensee on Home

Last week, I was able to go home to Indianapolis on my winter/spring break from ballet. It was such a gift to feel like I could briefly slip back into childhood. I hung around the house with family, screamed and laughed with dear friends, and took ballet classes at my home studio.

Being home led to my asking a lot of questions about what it really is to be, well, home. I had a strange experience going to Sunday Mass at my home parish in Indy. When I had gone at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I truly felt like I was finally home after months of separation. But this time, I found myself missing my church in Cincinnati just a little. The feeling wore off fairly quickly, but at the beginning I felt like I was revisiting the past rather than entering into a present reality.

The truth is that the further along I go in life, the less and less Indianapolis and the places I always called home will actually be just that. And yet, there will always be something uniquely sacred about those places we still call home, even when they begin to slip into an existence merely on a journal page or in a recess of the mind’s memory. That’s why Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Cather’s My Antonia, fictional celebrations of nostalgia and reminiscence are so beloved. They reverence a part of the common human experience that is not talked about for fear of seeming sentimental and superficial. And yet, God Himself commands that the Passover be vividly recollected until the end of the world. It is in the bloodiness and beauty of the past that we see God’s glory and providence. And in finding God, we find ourselves.

While not necessarily as high in caliber as Waugh and Cather, at Mass I was reminded of the conclusion of the novel, Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green, where the protagonist states,

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved…that love is both how you become a person and why.

I would argue that places can be first loves as well as people. I looked around my home parish and saw the spot I was kneeling when my life changed on a retreat in my freshman year. I smiled when my eyes fell on the outdoor fountain where one of my best friends and I had sat and splashed each other while laughing our heads off (we were 15, young enough to know better and old enough to not care). My heart melted at the sight of the adjacent convent, where I have had beautiful, joyful encounters with others and the Lord.

But above all, the Adoration chapel at my home parish is my ever ancient, ever new secret place. It was in that chapel two years ago that the Lord revealed facets of His work in my heart so beautiful that I literally skipped out of the chapel with joy. Today, those desires and that joy is being purified in a way I didn’t expect at the time. The Lord is asking for some things back so that He can give me something even more precious. But I don’t know what that precious thing is yet, so in His gentleness, the Lord put me right back in that same spot at the corner of the chapel. It was there, resting against the brick wall behind the smooth wooden beam that juts out toward the monstrance, that I found the strength to let go two years ago. If I could do it two years ago, I can do it now. But I needed to be in that place of my first love to say yes in the way I’ve wanted to for the last several months.

The place of our first love has profound value, but not infinite value. Human souls though? Those are of infinite value. As I was sitting in Mass, I saw so many people who I have loved over the years and who I know love me. Right after Mass, I saw one of my best friends and was screaming with joy while raiding the church’s coffee supply just like we always had. As I walked to my car after a night out with her and another bestie, the deepest emotion I felt was one of safety and security. There are some people who are home. People whose presence will always be home, no matter how far away life takes you from them.

But if there’s anything we’ve learned in this last year, it’s that the places we love can be locked. People who live down the street from us can feel worlds apart. And yet, there is One who we can turn to and whisper alongside Jane Eyre, “Wherever you are is my home – my only home.” As I knelt in my old spot in the Adoration chapel a matter of hours before driving back to Cincinnati, I asked Jesus, “Where is home?”

His answer was something to the extent of, “Find me, and you will always find your home.”

His Spirit is moving as I sit on my front porch here in Cincinnati. Here, I am home. Wherever that Spirit leads, I can follow, knowing that I don’t need a bird’s nest or a fox’s den as long as I see the face of the Son of Man. Wherever He is, I am home and in the home that is meant for me.

But that doesn’t discredit the fact that a piece of my heart has been forever shaped by the places I grew up, by the people who loved me and still do, and by the Father who works all things for my good. As I pulled shut the door of my old ballet studio, I encountered once again the tension we experience in growing up as we cherish the past and look boldly to the future. When I don’t have words for an experience or emotion, I look to books. As I walked to my car, I whispered the final words from Turtles All the Way Down, “No one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.”

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Whan that Aprille

The birds have begun to sing again.

Last year, when we entered lockdown, I would wake up early to open my window so that I could hear them. No matter what darkness surrounded humanity then and no matter how uncertain life was, the birds still sang every morning. Their notes hearkened to the piercing reality that some beauty cannot be marred by sin.

An echo of Eden carries on in their melody, reminding the human soul that this bitter earth is not our home and that we are made for blithe freedom and symphonic relationship. And as their subtle and delightful presence returns, I am reminded that spring is near.

The word, “Lent,” comes from the Middle English word for “springtime.” And yet, the beauty and simplicity of Spring is often far from our minds when we consider this sacred liturgical season. This is especially true this year. It was during Lent of last year that the world changed drastically and painfully. Great loss was experienced. Whether it was the loss of life, health, livelihood, mental health, community, or the Sacraments, we were forced to reckon with fallen nature far more palpably than any of us desired.

It makes me think of that heinous and heartrending moment when Adam and Eve experienced the aftertaste of the forbidden fruit, an experience that we have lived for our entire existence. They saw the darkness of the world separated from God and they saw their own nakedness. And rather than running to their infinitely good and merciful Father, they hid.

Many of us are still hiding after the pain we experienced last year. We are sons and daughters of Eve, after all. Just as our mother reached and grasped for control and dominance that did not belong to humanity, we are reaching and grasping, desperately searching for happiness, even momentary pleasure in this valley of tears. We have tried to mitigate the pain of our wounds through sin, indulgence, or an obsession with control. And rather than turn to the One whose stripes heal, we have put up walls to prevent being hurt again.

Lent can be a way to keep those walls up. Sure, we might stop eating Oreos for breakfast or resolve to gossip less, but don’t we often subconsciously use Lent as a way to take control and hide? If we can just get this vice under control, successfully fast from this long list of pleasures, AND get in one to two Holy Hours every day, at least we’ll know that we’re good Christians. At least we can have something we can control and take pride in for accomplishing.

I’m not saying for one second that a strict observance of Lent is a bad thing! By all means, we need to fast, increase our prayer, and strive in almsgiving. But I am saying that it is worthwhile to step back and examine why you approach Lent in the way that you do. Maybe that means you need to step up your game and give something up in addition to Cherry Coke, but not regular flavored Coke. Or maybe you need to find a way to ensure that you aren’t using Lent as a form of self-reliance, even if that involves stepping back on the fasts and prayers you are accustomed to at this time. When Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” have you considered that those words are spoken to you and that perhaps the person most in need of your mercy is yourself?

So often we associate Lent with a difficult trudge up Calvary, and that is a crucial aspect to the spiritual life of a Christian. But this year, I invite you to also associate this beautiful season with the springtime that it is named for. The Father delights in your efforts. He yearns for your purification and holiness. But more than the early mornings, cold showers, and difficult tithes, He wants the renewal of your heart. He wants the birth of your trust. He wants to heal that wound of sin that believes that God holds out on us and is disinterested.

He is anything but disinterested as He hangs on a tree, suffocating to death for you. That tree is the source of all springtime, the surest sign pointing to the reality that Winter cannot remain forever and that Satan has no power against the source of all life. What is keeping you locked in Winter behind closed bars? What part of your soul are you hiding from the Father rather than exposing to His marvelous, merciful light? Allow Christ the sower into your soul this Spring, this Lent, more intimately than ever before. Give Him permission to convict, to save, to heal, and to love you in the places you consider utterly irredeemable and unlovable. Then He will find you in the garden on Sunday morning. And as He calls your name, you will recognize Him and trust Him for the God and lover that He truly is.

(Title taken from the opening line of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a work ultimately rooted in the common human experience and the need for repentance)

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His Will to Heal (And Not)

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately. – Mark 1:41-42

Over the past year, we’ve all been profoundly impacted by an illness that is contagious and isolating like leprosy. At some point in recent months, most of us have presented ourselves to authorities, praying that our cold is only a cold. We’ve all spent time forced to dwell apart from the rest of the world, just as the lepers did. And just like leprosy, the ramifications of this disease have been devastating. Perhaps your mental health is failing or your friends and family are struggling. Maybe your finances have taken a turn for the worse. Perhaps you yourself were incredibly sick. Maybe you even lost a loved one to COVID-19 or some other horrific death.

So the ease and speed with which Jesus heals the leper in this Sunday’s Gospel may feel like a slap in the face.

How many times have we been in the position of this leper, falling on our knees before Jesus and begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean. If you wish, you can make this COVID test come back negative. If you wish, my family member will live. If you wish, my mental illness will be cured. If you wish, my addiction will disappear.”

These are good desires. So why does Jesus wish this man’s healing and not our own?

I don’t know. And at the end of the day, that’s alright. I have to remind myself that saying, “Thy will be done” isn’t supposed to be easy. It isn’t even supposed to make complete sense. It is the prayer gasped by the Son of God sweating blood from sorrow. To say, “Thy will be done” in this broken world is to be united with the greatest and darkest paradox in the universe: God’s own suffocation and death.

But it is in that happy fault and darkness illumined with hope that the leper’s story becomes our own.

The Gospel begins with the phrase, “A leper came to him.” Not, “A man with leprosy,” but, “A leper.” This man has been stripped of all dignity and identity. He is known purely by his disease. And yet something in his soul stirs in response to the sound of Jesus’ feet that trod the dirt of Galilee. The gift of Faith is kindled in his restless heart and he comes to Jesus.

When you come to Jesus, you are seen. Not your leprosy, but you, Jesus’ own creature crafted in His image and likeness. Of course He sees your sickness. He sees your sin. He sees the burden that you long to have removed. But first and foremost, He sees you.

When you kneel before Jesus and beg, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” He is moved with pity for you. Allow yourself to look into His eyes, set so keenly on you. Do you see the pity? Do you see the eyes which quiver at the pain you are in? Do you see the love that radiates from His gaze, that almost audibly murmurs, “If you only knew the glorious joy that is coming soon?”

His perfect human heart knows no bounds in love and pity. It is so great that He stretches out His hand. He stretches it out against a plank of wood and a nail bores into His palm. Isn’t this the ultimate act of love and sacrifice that is re-presented at every Mass when He hear the priest say in the person of Christ, “This is my body, which will be given up for you?” Your broken heart has longed for healing. But has it dared to hope for a love so reckless and profound?

At every Mass, we come to Him. We kneel. We let Him see us. We say, “If you only say the word, my soul shall be healed.”

“And this is the marvel of marvels:”1 Tomorrow at Mass, He will touch you. As you receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion, that same hand that touched the leper, was nailed to the cross, and showed itself to Thomas will literally touch you. And He won’t just touch you for a moment, as He did for the leper. He will literally enter into you and become one flesh with you.2

A priest here in Cincinnati recently said in a homily, “The essence of Christianity is to touch the untouchable.” This is Christ’s great work and joy that was not confined to three years of ministry 2000 years ago, but occurs every day when we approach Him in the Sacraments, most especially in Confession and the Eucharist. When we encounter Jesus just as the leper did, we may not hear, “Be made clean,” and receive the physical healing we desire. But we will always hear, “I absolve you of your sins,” and, “This is my body.”

To hear those words just once is a far greater gift than the most miraculous temporal healing. Can you trust that He pities you enough to give His entire self over for you? Can you trust that He holds nothing back? Can you believe that He is enough?

1 – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

2 – Cecilia Cicone breaks open this uncomfortable beauty on the episode of the “Jesus Loves You, This I Know” podcast episode, titled, “because…He made women.”

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Your Lenten Playbook: 100 Ways to Holiness

It’s so strange to think back to Ash Wednesday of last year. I went to Mass in the morning with my family, hurried off to ballet, came home for school, sang at ANOTHER Mass with my Schola Cantorum, then hurried off for more ballet rehearsal, my forehead covered with burnt palms. Who knew that a matter of weeks later, going to just one Mass or ballet class would become unthinkable?

Our lives have changed drastically since Ash Wednesday of last year. And yet the same God who encountered us then yearns to draw our hearts to Himself again this Lent. No matter what darkness surrounds us, in the Liturgical year, we hear the voice of the Father calling to His children year in and year out, beckoning for us to fall more profoundly prostrate in filial trust and love. At this time of the year, Christians begin to ask what they should “do” for Lent. But the question should really be, “What posture should I take and what should I consume or fast from so that I can most keenly see what Christ has done and is doing for me?”

This blog post is mostly one long, categorized list, but the simultaneously brutal and freeing truth is that if Lent is a check-list, we’re doing it wrong. I encourage you to read through these suggestions for Lent in a period of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. Be not afraid to follow the Holy Spirit’s Will this Lent like never before!

For reference, the categories on this list are as follows:

  • Pleasures from which to fast
  • Bad habits/sins from which to fast
  • Ways to pray this Lent
  • Fictional books fitting for Lent
  • Books of the Bible that are fitting for Lent
  • Spiritual reading that is fitting for Lent
  • Memoirs for Lent
  • Movies/TV to watch during Lent
  • Ways to give alms

Pleasures from which to fast

Examine: What do I turn to for comfort or pleasure rather than turning to the Lord? What is keeping me from having time for prayer or distracting me from Christ’s voice that calls at every moment of the day?

  1. Dessert
  2. Snacking between meals
  3. Comfort food
  4. Social media
  5. Music
  6. Podcasts
  7. Audio in the car
  8. TV
  9. Movies
  10. Unnecessary internet
  11. Constantly checking notifications on phone
  12. Drinks other than water
  13. Caffeine
  14. The snooze button
  15. Hot showers
  16. Spending unnecessary money

Bad habits/sins from which to fast

Examine: What bad habit, vice, or sin can I focus on rooting out over the next 46 days with the help of the Holy Spirit?

17. Cussing

18. Gossip

19. Negative self-talk

20. Excessively worrying about the opinions of others

21. Complaining

22. Yelling at others

23. Procrastination

24. Excessive intake of media (books, music, movies, videos, etc.) that is dark, pessimistic, or explicit

25. Staying up too late

26. Excessive self-comparison with others

27. Interrupting

28. Vocational Discernment (This isn’t a bad thing at all, so it’s not really in the right category. But even goods can become idols. Sometimes the best way to learn God’s will is to stop seeking His will and start seeking Him without any strings attached. Your soulmate, seminary, or monastery will still be there on Easter, I promise.)

Ways to pray

Examine: What’s a specific area of my relationship with God that needs growth? How can I grow in radical friendship with Him over this liturgical season?

29. Go. To. Confession.

30. Go to daily Mass

31. Make a weekly Holy Hour

32. Spend time in silence every day. Start with one minute and then add one minute every day.

33. Read (or listen to!) Scripture every day

34. Pray the Stations of the Cross daily

35. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily

36. Pray the Rosary daily

37. Write one thing that you’re grateful for every day

38. Pray with the daily Mass readings

39. Do a 33 day consecration and take advantage of the extra days in Lent for when you fall behind

40. Pick one area of the Faith that you need to grow in your understanding of or love for. Is it the Eucharist, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Bridegroom, Mary, Church apologetics? Delve into that relationship or aspect of the Faith over the course of Lent.

41. Start spiritual direction

Fictional books fitting for Lent

Examine: How can the gift of my imagination help me to fall in love with God and repent of my sins?

42. The Lord of the Rings

43. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

44. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy

45. The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

46. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

47. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

48. Perelandra, C.S. Lewis

49. Fine, anything by C.S. Lewis

50. Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien

51. Father Elijah, Michael O’Brien

52. The Tale of the Three Trees

53. Amon’s Adventure, Arnold Ytreeide

54. The Song at the Scaffold, Gertrude von Le Fort

Books of the Bible:

Examine: What is a book of the Bible that I haven’t read or that I think God is asking me to re-encounter? What aspect of God’s heart does the Holy Spirit want to reveal to me this Lent through Sacred Scripture?

55. Exodus (You are the Israelites, Pharaoh is Satan, Egypt is sin)

56. Leviticus (not just for the drudgery; it really gives insights into Christ the perfect Victim and foreshadows the Eucharist and the Mass)

57. Hosea

58. Isaiah

59. Jeremiah

60. Lamentations

61. The Song of Songs (read the part of the Husband as if Christ is speaking these words to you from His Cross)

62. Psalms

63. The Gospels

64. Romans

65. Philippians

66. James

67. Hebrews

Spiritual Reading

Examine: How can this reading help me to become a Saint? What book would help me meditate on Christ’s passion and His unfathomable love on the Cross? What do I need to learn about living as a holy person in the 21st century? Is there a spirituality in the Church that I would like to dive into this Lent?

68. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Bl. Ann Catherine Emmerich

69. I Will Think of Everything. You, Think Only of Loving Me, Published by the Children of Mary

70. Divine Mercy in My Soul, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

71. 33 Days to Merciful Love, Fr. Michael Gaitley

72. Fire Within, Thomas Dubay

73. Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge

74. Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross

75. The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila

76. The Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux

77. The Fourth Cup, Scott Hahn

78. Who Does He Say that You Are? Colleen Mitchell

79. The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous

78. Confessions, St. Augustine

81. How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul, Jason and Crystalina Evert

82. Go Bravely, Emily Wilson

83. Emotional Virtue, Sarah Swafford

84. I Believe in Love, Fr. Jean C J D’Elbee

Memoirs:

Examine: How do the witnesses of other Christians call me to deeper conversion and dependence on Christ? Where am I being called to forgive and to radically trust in Jesus?

76. Left to Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza

77. Unplanned, Abby Johnson

Movies/TV to Watch:

Examine: How can I use the media to grow in virtue rather than vice? How does the art of film allow me to witness the beauty of the common human experience? How can I find the story of salvation and Christ’s passion and death even in secular film?

78. The Passion of the Christ

79. Mary of Nazareth

80. Most

81. The Lord of the Rings

82. Unplanned

83. Wonderwoman

84. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

85. The Chosen

Ways to Give Alms

Examine: How can I grow in truly giving of myself, even to the point of personal inconvenience or suffering? Am I too lenient with myself when it comes to financial and physical service? How can I follow in the footsteps of the Master and give until it hurts? How can I be a steward of my time, talent, and treasure this Lent?

86. Tithe more of your income than usual (or start tithing)

87. Pick one item from your bedroom to give away for every day of Lent

88. Write letters to friends and family

89. Invite others to meet for coffee (or some covid-friendly way of interaction)

90. Don’t buy unnecessary things for yourself (Starbucks, more clothes, candy, alcohol, etc.) and give the money you would usually spend on those things to charity

91. Practice one of your God-given gifts every day (write, practice an instrument, sew, build, etc.)

92. Schedule a time for volunteer work every week

93. Pray at your local 40 Days for Life vigil in front of Planned Parenthood

94. Find an extra way to be involved in your parish

95. Pick one member of your family or household every week and find ways to love them according to their love language (gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service)

96. Pick one human rights issue (abortion, hunger, human trafficking, etc.). Learn about this issue to the point that you can educate others, intentionally pray and fast for this issue, donate money to organizations that fight this issue, and find concrete ways to volunteer in this issue.

97. Do a family member’s chores for them

98. Use your talents or hobbies for charity (knit baby hats for a crisis pregnancy center, write letters to the imprisoned, volunteer in music ministry)

99. Write a letter or make a meal for your parish priest

100. Make a complete gift of yourself and don’t use your phone while talking to others (even on Zoom when you can hide it)

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My Friend, Aquinas

I wish that I loved St. Thomas Aquinas the way Dr. E does. My high school Great Books professor had us take a moment of silence after reading his poetry in our online class. The affection and profound gratitude she has for him was tangible in her voice coming over my computer’s speakers. As difficult as the Summa Theologiae was and is for my little brain, her ardent enthusiasm for everything about Aquinas, from the structure of his texts to the beauty of his writings on friendship made me try even harder to wrap my mind around the intellectual girth of the Dumb Ox.

But I’ve never had a large devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas. I’ve always loved him and appreciated him, but doesn’t everyone? Everyone knows who Aquinas is. Anyone who can spout off the Saint’s proofs for the existence of God can buy a laptop sticker identifying himself as a “Hardcore Thomist” and congratulate himself for his fidelity to faith and reason. All Catholic homeschoolers consider themselves rebellious for telling the story of Thomas chasing a prostitute away with a burning poker. It’s not that I don’t love Aquinas. I just love Edith Stein more. After all, phenomenology has one more syllable than scholasticism.

But this past Thursday on the Feast of the Angelic Doctor, I found myself in awe of this Saint’s “quiet light” that has shattered so much darkness in my life. It was Thomas’ prayer, “Nothing except for you, Lord,” that changed my life two years ago on retreat. That experience had nothing to do with the Summa or the fact that Aquinas would dictate multiple treatises at the same time. It had everything to do with an encounter with the living God that my brother in the Faith had centuries before me. Thomas’ astounding love and desire for Love Himself gave me the courage to try to love too.

This is the gift of the Communion of Saints. This Saint has always been in my life. But he’s been hidden in the shadows, quietly at work to bring me closer into the arms of Christ. Maybe that’s why I never noticed him, despite his being my Dad’s confirmation Saint, the namesake and patron of my high school Great Books program, and the namesake of a scholarship that gave me confidence I needed. I never observed until today that it was on his feast day for two years in a row that I re-entrusted my broken, feeble heart to God’s providence. Because even though he is arguably the most intelligent man to ever live in the West, Thomas Aquinas knows that he is nothing compared to the omnipotent God He served in study, service, and contemplative prayer. The model Dominican, His zeal for souls to taste and see the goodness of the Lord was his primary work. And it still is today.

My weak faith is so grateful for the Summa that I can always turn to in doubt and struggle. But I have fallen in love with the Lord through Aquinas’ love for the beauty that is found in both the textbook and in song. It is his art that causes my tongue to sing the Savior’s glory1 and to thirst for His Precious Blood more and more. It is his life of heroic virtue that causes my soul to cry, “Yes, I want to be a Saint too!” It is his loving intercession that has opened doors I never expected to see open. It is his smile that I can’t wait to see one day.

The fraternity that I have found in Thomas Aquinas is a gift that all Christians are to share. Jesus doesn’t necessarily call you to have an aptitude for metaphysics.2 But He calls you to be fearless in using your gifts to bring others to an encounter with His resurrected self. He asks for your love to be so radiant and for your joy to be so tangible that those you encounter can’t help but pause to contemplate the transcendent. If the Angelic Doctor is completely preoccupied with presenting the Lord and nothing but the Lord, shouldn’t we be doing the same?

1 – cf Pange Lingua

2 – Thank heavens

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Psalm 22: The Prayer of an Innocent at Planned Parenthood

Content Note: This post includes details of a D&E abortion procedure, which is the surgical abortion most commonly performed on a preborn baby between 13 and 24 weeks. It can be disturbing to read.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Why so far from my call for help,

from my infant cries of anguish?

My God, my mother calls by day, but you do not answer;

by night, but she has no relief,

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the glory of this world and this country.

In you our founding fathers trusted;

they trusted and you blessed them.

To you the slave cried out and escaped;

in you all trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a parasite, not a child,

scorned by my father, despised by the people.

All who see me on a monitor mock me;

they curl their lips and call me cells

they shake their heads at the burden I am.

Why will none rely on the Lord?

if you love me, God, rescue me.

But I will not be drawn forth from the womb alive,

there is no safety beneath my mother’s breasts

To heaven I will be thrust straight from the womb;

since my mother will not bear me I will go straight to my God.

Do not stay far from me,

for trouble is near,

and there is no one to help.

Many machines surround me

sharp tools encircle me

A suction catheter opens its mouth against me,

a lion that rends and roars.

The amniotic water drains away;

all my bones are disjointed.

My body has become like wax,

it is torn and stretched apart.

As dry as a potsherd is my throat;

the clamp cleaves to my head;

I lie in the dust of death.

Trash will surround me;

a group of doctors closes in on me.

They have pierced my hands and my feet

they count all my bones.

They stare at me and gloat;

they divide my tissue among them;

for my organs they cast lots.

But you, Lord, do not stay far off;

my strength, come quickly to help me.

The woman praying outside asks why you have not delivered my soul from the sword,

my life from the grip of the sopher clamp.

She weeps that you have not saved me from the lion’s den,

my poor life from the bull of choice.

But my soul exults as I proclaim your name with my brethren;

in the assembly of heaven I praise you:

“You who fear the Lord, give praise!

All descendants of Jacob, give honor;

do not doubt, all descendants of Israel!

Although he permits evil, God has not spurned or disdained

the misery of this poor wretch,

Did not turn away from me,

but heard me when I cried out.

There was Another in the womb who comforted me,

he never left my side and now he has brought me home.

We poor babies now nurse at Mary’s breast;

you who seek the Lord and His justice, offer praise.

May your hearts enjoy your gift of life forever!”

All the ends of the earth

will one day remember and turn to the Lord;

All the families of nations

will repent for this sin and bow low before him.

For kingship does not belong to the abortionists or to a president, but to the Lord,

the true ruler over the nations.

We who sleep in the dumpsters and trash piles

will bow low before God;

We children who have gone down into the dust

kneel in homage.

And we live in the Lord.

our prayers serve those who fought for our lives.

The generation to come will be told of the Lord,

that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn

the deliverance you bring to all.

For scientific facts about abortion: https://www.abortionprocedures.com/

For help during an unexpected pregnancy: http://www.gabrielproject.org/index.html

For healing and hope after abortion: https://www.rachelsvineyard.org/

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Becoming Sarah Smith

“Come and see.”

It’s a verse that captivates all who hear it. With only three words, the melody of this young rabbi’s voice cuts through the air and into the heart of Andrew. He responds by bringing not only himself, but his brother, the future Pope, to Jesus.

The child hidden in every soul yearns for surprise and excitement over whatever lies hidden in the future. Jesus tells us to come and see the unknown, the dwelling place of God incarnate. A thrill rushes through the stoniest hearts as we whisper alongside Samwise Gamgee, “Is everything sad going to come untrue (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)?” With scared hearts pounding against our chests and feet spurred on by this command so pregnant with hope, we follow Jesus to His home.

And what do we find in the place where He is staying? What do we find in the person of Jesus Christ? This is our invitation from the Church in this period of Ordinary Time: To have a radical encounter with Jesus, God-made-man. Through Word and Sacrament, we have the opportunity to meet Jesus like we never have before. For too long, we have treated Him like a story-book character who is anything but real and personal. This season, as we follow His public ministry in the Mass’ Liturgy of the Word, we can see Jesus with new eyes. We can draw near to Him like His disciples, be touched like the leper, receive forgiveness like the woman caught in adultery, find reward like the friends of the paralytic.

Ordinary Time is not an intermission between the grandeur of Christmas and the intensity of Lent. It is an invitation to come and see Jesus like never before, to be fascinated with His person, as the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal frequently preach.1 We’re already being barraged by promotions and advertisements for Lent. And while Type-A Larisa is all for being prepared and ahead of schedule, if the profound beauty of this present moment is left undiscovered, our Lent will hardly be more than a Catholic P90X. Lent is an invitation to conversion, an invitation to turn from our sinful and lazy ways. But it’s not enough to turn away from sin. We must return to someone. That Someone is being revealed to us right now, in the supposed tedium of Ordinary Time.

Do you know Him? Do you know Jesus? The more I seek, the more I realize how little I know of this man who loves me and who has died for me. And although it can be discouraging, what a gift it is to always be invited “Further up and further in,”2 as my friend, C.S. Lewis says.

How do we take advantage of these precious weeks to revel in our God’s precious and fragile humanity, as well as His glorious, redeeming divinity? I would encourage you to pray with the daily readings for the Mass every day. Even if you can’t go to Mass, the readings are easily accessible on USCCB’s website. For my fellow ladies, I love the devotionals from Blessed is She that are written to accompany the readings. Regardless of how you receive the Word of God, the Church has chosen Gospel passages over the course of this season that specifically reveal Christ to us as God, Teacher, and Healer.

And not to sound like a broken record who’s repeating what others have said countless times, but now is the time to try out the show, The Chosen. When it was at its most popular during lockdown last year, I didn’t pay much attention. In a world when Christian art is nearly always disappointing, I couldn’t bring myself to expect anything from this show portraying the Gospels. But I just recently went ahead and tried the show again (I had only watched the first episode in the Spring). And I cried, or was close to tears, in every single episode. The Chosen brings the words of Scripture to life in a fascinating way that I had never before considered. The characters are real. They’re dirty and ugly and hope-filled. The stories are the same stories we’ve always known, but they make sense when played on a screen. And Jesus is the reason why I watched nearly the entire season in 24 hours. I could comment all day on the artistic nuances and care given to portray His divinity and humanity as accurately as possible. But all I can say is that the Jesus I watch on The Chosen is the Jesus I have met time and time again in prayer and adoration. I would highly endorse the idea of watching an episode as a warm-up for encounter with the Lord in silent prayer.

This is the season for encounter. This is the moment to follow when He calls. If we approach this season of Ordinary Time with reverence and authentic desire for conversion, we will be able to join C.S. Lewis’ Sarah Smith in The Great Divorce and proclaim to all we meet, “I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see.”

1 – If you like this post, Poco a Poco, the friars’ podcast, is pretty much this, but worded far more compellingly

2 – The Last Battle

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“There are Much Worse Games”

Happy December 40th, 2020…

I was planning to write a nice meditation for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But then I turned on my phone on Wednesday afternoon and, like all other writers across the country, realized that those plans would need to change.

Fortunately for me, everything that could be said about the Capitol breach has already been said. Sharing my intellectual reaction to the matter won’t really change the course of human history. But because this is my blog and I write the rules, I can share my affective reaction to what has continued to unfold since Wednesday. That reaction is one of exhaustion. I’m tired of one bad thing happening after another. I’m tired of being angry with the media. I’m tired of witnessing and participating in finger-pointing, tired of feeling my chest tighten as I freely choose to doom scroll news articles. Above all, I’m tired of the rampant hatred in all corners of society that only seems to grow. Perhaps my inner angsty middle-schooler who has re-emerged over the last year articulated it best when she sent her first text after reading about the riots in D.C., declaring, “I’m so sick and tired of feeling like I live in Panem [setting of The Hunger Games].”

Regardless of your opinion on what exactly happened at the Capitol, it’s undeniable that the devil is hard at work to scatter and destroy charity. How do we tired souls play our part in combatting Satan who is so intent on tearing our country apart? We’re told to join the battle against evil, but I don’t feel like battling anything at this point. Perhaps the key to fighting this exhaustion is also encountered in The Hunger Games. In the epilogue of the final book of the series, Katniss Everdeen explains,

One day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares…I’ll tell [my children] how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do.

It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.

But there are much worse games to play.

Emphasis added

Spiritual warfare may seem too exhausting a concept. But we can all play Katniss’ game of listing acts of goodness. As we remember that human beings are inherently good and that they perform so many good works every day, we drive away the dark lie that screams that the men and women around us are purely evil. As we recollect the Father’s proclamation that all men and women are His beloved children, we find cause to weep and grow righteously angry at injustice, violence, and sin. But we cannot find cause to hate the ones who are loved by our Maker.

I’ll share my list of good acts I witnessed over the last 24 hours:

As I was walking out of Adoration last night, an elderly man practically ran ahead to make sure he could hold the door for me.

The librarian who was helping me set up my library card was so kind and helpful.

My roommate’s family is overflowing with joy as they meet her sister’s newborn baby.

My ballet teachers are so engaged and supportive.

Father’s homily this morning was rich and edifying, even though it was a daily Mass and he could have gotten away with far less.

You’re reading this post right now and I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

As I write, the Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered for the whole world.

I go on social media or a newsfeed and I’m promptly told that people are wicked and irredeemable. We’re told that the country is divided and it’s probably the fault of YOUR friends. But I look at those around me and I see men and women created in God’s image, with blood flowing through their veins as they triumph and fall every single day in the grittiness of the common human experience. I look at my God who calls His creation “Very good” and who chooses to dwell as Emmanuel, “God With Us” even in our sin and desolation. No matter how much the enemy strives to convince us otherwise, goodness, truth, and beauty prevail and have the final say. As we acknowledge goodness, we give the Lord glory for His creatures. We diminish the voice of the accuser while leaning into the melody of the Advocate.

Maybe it seems little and inconsequential to make that list of good acts. But it was a quiet “Yes” from the littlest of mouths that utterly undid Satan 2000 years ago. Could there be a better game to play?

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And When Night Comes…

And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him — really rest — and start the next day as a new life.”St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Night has come on this year of 2020. I look back, and “fragmentary” can barely do justice to what has passed. There’s a video on my phone of rehearsal footage that was taken the final day we were in the ballet studio before the world locked down. I save it because that girl in the video lives on an earth that no longer exists. “What would I tell her?” I ask myself as I see this dancer rolling on the floor and being lifted by a partner, something which I can only dream about today. “What would I say to this kid who thinks she’s coming back to the studio in two weeks and hasn’t even realized that she isn’t going to Mass the next day?”

I could never have actually told her about what was coming. She wouldn’t have believed me about the livestream Masses, the kitchen chair for a ballet barre, the family huddled around a computer screen watching a Pope stand alone in St. Peter’s Square. She couldn’t have fathomed the trucks holding bodies in New York City, the hatred for mankind on display for the world to see, the nationwide collapse of mental health. I might have told her about the murder hornets though. Because there’s no way she would have bought that.

No, I would have spared her the details and just told her what I tell myself in this new year: Keep your eyes fixed on Him.

Even when that phrase feels like a slap in the face as you squint at a white circle on the Facebook Live Mass. Even as you forget the sound of real human voices and not the clinky echo of Zoom. Even when every plan you had for senior year falls apart and every theater you hope to dance in one day remains locked. Keep looking at Him.

Keep looking at Him hidden in the tabernacle outside the church window. Keep hearing His voice hidden in the birdsong that plays outside your bedroom window every morning. Keep looking at Him in the family you have extra time with, in the teachers who are still pouring themselves out for you in virtual classes, and in the community who still supports you, even if it’s done with the awkwardness of Praise and Worship over Zoom. As your bitterness rises when you do another plie in your living room and as your heart is shattered when you leave the Zoom meeting and find yourself alone in your room once again, shift your eyes to Him. Don’t stop looking at Him.

Because if you continue to look at Him, you will see the restoration He promises. You will see the joy return one day. You will find yourself in a studio once more and even performing in that final studio production you never thought could actually take place. You will get to see your friends and family again, not over a screen but in real life. You will get to say those goodbyes before moving and even embrace the people you love. And you will see His hand in it all.

I look back on this past year and recognize how fragmentary my desires were last January. I see all the ways that I fell and doubted and wasted time. But next to the pieces of myself that are left in fragments, I see His faithfulness. Now more than ever, I prostrate myself before the One on the throne who says, “Behold, I make all things new.”1 Even as He crushes and immolates, our God leads so faithfully. How can I not trust Him?

I will put all the brokenness of this past year in His hands. I will also return the glory and beauty that He has created, trusting that everything I surrender over to Him will be returned in the hundredfold. And with my hands completely empty and eyes fixed on nothing but His Eucharistic heart, regardless of the means of Adoration, I will let Him take my hand into His. I will let Him lead me to whatever end. I don’t expect to be safe, because He’s not safe. But He is good. He’s the King, they tell me.2 Whatever this new year brings, I can rest in His sovereignty that delights in my littleness.

Happy new year, friends! And goodbye, 2020 (*starts headbanging to “Goodbye Toby” from The Office*).

1 Revelation 21:5

2 C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”

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18 Works to Read or Avoid at all Costs in 2021


Almost there, friends. We’re almost at the end of 2020.

As excited as we all are for the new year, I haven’t heard much about plans for ringing in 2021 with enthusiasm. I was so excited for 2020 that I wore a flapper dress on New Year’s Eve. A freaking flapper dress. So much for the roaring 20s.

I’d also assume nobody is very ambitious in making New Year’s resolutions for 2021. But in case you’re looking for a new book to read, I want to share everything I read, completed reading, or will complete in this crazy year. Some of these books delighted my heart and were even used by the Lord to keep me in His light during very difficult moments. There are others that I hope to never read again. Please enjoy this list, and I would love to hear what you read over the last year!

Fiction

The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous

The origins of this Russian work are rather mysterious, so it was hard to know where to place this book, but it reads like a work of fiction. The story of a beggar pilgrim is used as a vehicle to convey the beauty of contemplative prayer within the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I think you have to remember that that’s the motivation for the work or else you get bogged down in the somewhat unrealistic virtue and piety of the narrator. When those concerns are set aside (it’s likely that you’re a more virtuous and less snarky individual than I am), The Way of a Pilgrim is an enjoyable narrative that provides a window into both the countryside of 19th century Russia and Orthodox spirituality.

I’ve been trying to get through this tiny book for a long time now, but finally pushed through and finished this Lent. I’m so grateful because it was such a comfort to pray the Jesus prayer and practice the presence of God in a year when God’s sacramental presence felt distant.

Dracula, Bram Stoker

When I was younger, I was terrified of vampires. So I’m surprised, but delighted to say that I absolutely loved this great Father-novel of vampire stories. Although it’s a story of suspense and monstrosity, my favorite part about the book was the emphasis on the nature of man and woman. There are beautiful messages about the complementarity and unique gifts of the sexes, as well as portrayals of chivalry, self-sacrifice, and courage. All of this is given through beautifully constructed sentences that ended up filling my own journal. I do think that the plot can get a little slow and found the ending of the book very disappointing, but in Dracula you read the origin of Halloween stories as we know them today and receive a lesson in human nature, all in one fairly short novel. I’d say it’s worth it.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

I know you’re judging me, I know. But I was writing a college application essay in a Barnes & Noble and writer’s block had taken its hold. The Fault in Our Stars was sitting on a shelf right next to me and three days later I was crying on my pillow.

It’s one of those books that you re-read and try to figure out why on earth you invested in it. The writing quality is poor, the romance is cheesy, and the characters are fairly unbelievable. But there’s something comforting about all that. In a year of so much stress, I didn’t have to stress over phenomenological terms or complex ideas. I simply enjoyed a captivating plot line and delighted in the quotable phrases that are John Green’s trademark. And as an Indiana girl, I had so much fun reading a story set in my own city. The gas station where an ambulance is called is actually the gas station just down the street from my house.

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse, Michael O’Brien

This book. I wept, I rejoiced, I was converted, I fell even further behind in pre-calculus because I couldn’t put it down. Sound like a lot? It really is. I began Father Elijah during April when it felt like we might have been near the apocalypse. And while this suspenseful story isn’t exactly what I expected for an end-times novel, it was exactly what I needed in this year. Michael O’Brien explains that while we might not be living in the end-times, every age is called to battle the anti-Christ and every soul has a pivotal role in that fight between good and evil. The deceit and good that the media is capable of was also very prevalent and eye-opening to read this year.

I don’t know much about Michael O’Brien, but his writings seem to portray a man who knows what it is to pray and hunger for contemplative union with God. This book is steeped in Carmelite and Franciscan spirituality, not as a textbook or catechism, but as a romance that breathes through the pages. All while narrating espionage, terrorism, and murder.

But for me, the most beautiful fruit of Father Elijah is the side story that lasts for only a couple of chapters when Father Elijah meets an evil man near death. Like many of us, I was struggling with the problem of evil this past Spring and this chapter was the answer for me. All I know is that now the Lord has started calling me “dziecko” in prayer. You’ll have to read the book to understand what that means.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins

I have never before closed a book and said out loud, “Well, that was a waste of my time.” But there were a lot of things I had never done before that I did in 2020. When I was in 8th grade, I was obsessed with The Hunger Games. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those books got me through a lot. I was so excited to relive some of that with this book that tells us the origins of President Snow. But I think Collins realized that no matter what she wrote, she would receive a lot of money. I also think she really wanted this to be made into a movie, as the book reads more like a screenplay than a novel most of the time. I do think some scenes would be fascinating and enjoyable on the big screen, between the music, mockingjays, and harrowing scenes of betrayal. But that’s not what I paid $25 for.

The Song at the Scaffold, Gertrud von Le Fort

This novella tells the true story of the sixteen Carmelite nuns who died at the guillotine during the French Revolution. It’s beautifully written in simple prose and unearths a heart of Carmelite spirituality that is sometimes not recognized in the intensity of Teresa and John’s writings. This book asks the reader two questions: Are you ready to die? And what are you ready to live and sing for? If you find these questions terrifying, this book is ready to love you and comfort you right where you are.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I’m still finishing this one up, but this is my second or third time reading the classic novel and every time I fall more deeply in love. I first read this book for school in 8th grade and it’s really beautiful to see that the way I relate to the characters and the plot changes as I grow older. If you want a coming-of-age novel with higher and gloomier stakes than you find in Austen or Alcott, this is a perfect winter read.

Nonfiction

A Right to be Merry, Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.

Have you ever wondered what life looks like in a cloistered monastery? Probably not, but when we entered what we thought was 14 days of enclosure, I thought this would be an appropriate read. A Right to be Merry is a non-fiction book written by a Poor Clare nun and seeks to honestly depict life in the monastery while providing an overview of Franciscan spirituality, vocation, and the gift of life invested totally in Christ. I can honestly say that this is one of the most delightful books I have ever read. I couldn’t put it down because of the joy that truly exudes from every sentence. I found myself laughing out loud at the author’s jokes and holding back tears at her moving stories and proclamations. This book also served as an honest and valuable guide for all of that added time in the solitude and chaos of lockdown. I learned about the gift of silence and how to navigate the difficulty of living in close quarters with family when I didn’t have activities to escape to.

The Other Side of Beauty, Leah Darrow

This book is written by a former contestant on America’s Next Top Model who experienced a Damascus-like conversion and is now a Catholic speaker and writer. If that sounds like a mouthful, the lovely thing about this book is that Darrow’s writing is incredibly accessible and meets you where you are, whether you’ve been walking with Christ your whole life or don’t believe a word she says. Darrow provides you with a history of the fashion and beauty industry, exposing its need to lie to and compromise the dignity of women for profit. But she also explains how we can reclaim the beauty industry and our own hearts. She even includes lists of toxic makeup ingredients to avoid and modesty guidelines that help you discern the classiness of your wardrobe choices.

Fire Within, Thomas Dubay

I was told that this book would change my life, and I was not told wrong. I would love to say that after reading this, I know more about prayer than ever before, but this book made me realize how little I know and will probably ever know about prayer. An overview of Carmelite spirituality and contemplative prayer, Fire Within is a summary of the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. I haven’t read much by either of these Saints, but I was still able to follow along and learn so much. This is definitely the heftiest read on this list and it was so dry at certain points that I actually took over a year to finish the work. So if you’re already apprehensive, I would suggest reading the introduction, first couple chapters, and the final chapter. These are probably the easiest and yet most powerful parts of the book. They have fueled my desire for God so profoundly.

Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen

This is the review where you’re probably going to stop reading if you’ve read Life of the Beloved. I know it’s supposed to be a spiritual classic, but I honestly wasn’t a huge fan. I don’t want to say I disliked this book, but I think by the time I read it I felt like I had already read it a hundred times in the form of retreat talks, blog posts, and personal prayer. Life of the Beloved isn’t meant to be a dense theological treatise, as it’s written to someone who hasn’t begun to walk in relationship with Jesus Christ yet. I think that makes it a valuable gift to the Church, and I do think I would have loved it when I was younger. The opening is very beautiful and the final chapter provides an excellent summary of disciple spirituality. I just wasn’t in the right time and place to enjoy this book like others have.

Making Missionary Disciples, Curtis Martin

Written by the founder of FOCUS, The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, this short book is an excellent overview of the formulae employed by FOCUS to bring college students into a transformative relationship with Christ and His Church. It’s important to keep in mind that nobody is suggesting a cookie-cutter method to fill the pews. Rather, this book provides simple answers and suggestions to the question Catholics ask over and over: How exactly do I evangelize? The answer is simple and adventurously beautiful.

The Lamb’s Supper, Scott Hahn

Let’s face it: at some point this year, we all wondered if the Book of Revelation was playing out before our very eyes. According to Dr. Hahn, it was. Hahn believes (very convincingly in my opinion) that Revelation can only be fully understood in the context of the Mass. This book provides a very satisfactory explanation of Revelation that still acknowledges the mystery of the Book. He also encourages Catholics to experience and love the Mass in a new way, and I’ve found myself more participatory in and appreciative of Mass thanks to this book.

Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation, Fr. Benedict Groeschel

I’m still finishing up this series of meditations that carries you from Advent to Epiphany, but I would highly recommend it for any Christian who wants to be convicted to rise to the next level of virtue. Sometimes Advent devotionals can get a little fluffy (“Is there room in your heart for Jesus? If not, here are some candles that are sure to do the trick”), but this one is intense while unrelenting in its proclamation that the reader is infinitely, unfathomably loved.

Short Stories and Long Poems

The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It doesn’t get better than Sherlock Holmes, especially if you (like me) find it hard to fit in time or focus to read. This short story was read in 30-45 minutes and contains all of the quintessential elements of a Holmes adventure: a bizarre crime, a train ride, baffled police, a snarky consulting detective, and a straightforward yet undeniably satisfying denouement. Make a cup of tea and before you know it you too will be speaking in a British accent and trying learn the criminal background of strangers in the grocery store.

A View of the Woods, Flannery O’Connor

I think I’m too dumb for Flannery O’Connor. I know she’s incredible and her writing style is brilliant, but I just don’t get her. This story is so dark and disturbing that I couldn’t really enjoy it because I couldn’t figure out her hidden meaning. That being said, it’s short, so I would encourage you to read it and tell me what you think it means.

The Dream of Gerontius, St. John Henry Newman

I don’t think there could be a better Memento Mori read than this poem that narrates a holy soul’s death, judgment, and hope-filled punishment of Purgatory. It captures the human fear of death, a fear that doesn’t mitigate a person’s Faith in God but rather gives that Faith value. Most convicting of all, it portrays that horrible, breathtaking moment when we will look upon perfect Beauty Himself. There is nothing cuddly about the God we worship, but there is infinite Love in His gaze. That gaze will heal all of our wounds.

In Principio Erat Verbum, St. John of the Cross

I have never wept over a poem before. I actually don’t think I’ve ever cried this hard over anything written before. But this poem spoke so tenderly to some deep wounds and I was left wanting to enter into deep prayer. It’s about the Incarnation, which makes it the perfect Christmas poem.

So there you have it! Merry Christmas, friends, and I pray that you have a blessed, bookish New Year, regardless of what it brings.

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The Father’s Advent

My heart sunk as the door remained as rigid as ever. I was standing outside of University of Cincinnati’s Parish Newman Center where I had been told Confession was available. But the doors were locked and my brain was transported for a moment back to this past Spring when all churches were closed. I tried another door, walking around the giant church building and rattling on every handle with my shivering fingers. In a moment of saintly virtue, I began to grumble under my breath, “This is what I get for trying to be a good person and go to Confession.” I turned away to try one more set of doors when I heard a noise behind me. I tried the door again and it had been unlocked!

As I stepped into the silent church, I was deeply affected by that simple act of unlocking. After having all doors locked for so much of the year, to be invited into a church and into a Sacrament was a healing encounter. It was almost as if I heard the Lord saying, “You’ve been expected.”

I knelt in the confessional,1 laying bare my soul to Jesus Christ present in the priest who sat behind the screen. Something that is difficult about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that priests are imperfect humans just like the rest of us. You can tell when a priest is going through the motions, just waiting for you to finish rattling off your list so he can go on to the next thing. But that wasn’t my experience. This priest saw me as I truly was, in all my sin and dirtiness. But in that darkness, he loved me. He spoke with such tenderness, speaking conviction and comfort like the true father that he is called to be. Through “the ministry of the Church” that is spoken of in the words of Absolution, I was granted an image of God the Father, the reckless lover who was drawing His beloved daughter back to an unblemished filial relationship with Him. After exiting the Confessional, I sank to my knees before the tabernacle. How good it was to be His.

I remained in the church for a little while and noticed that I was the only person who came that afternoon. The minutes ticked by and the church remained as silent as before. And yet the priest remained in the confessional. I got up to leave and he was still there. Father remained sitting in the alcove of a church in a college town on the outside chance that someone would walk in. Someone like me.

Now I know that priests are kind of required to stay for the entire time they say Confession is available. But the image of that father sitting in anticipation of a child returning home has been cemented in my mind over the last couple of weeks. 

In Advent, a season of preparation, we spend much of our time meditating on our wait for the Lord. We enter the gasp of humanity alive in the millennia after the Fall and before Anno Domini. We accompany Mary and Joseph anticipating their Son’s birth. We are given permission to wrestle with the paradox of hope in a broken world as we look at our own twisted stories and cry from the depths of our broken hearts, “How long, oh Lord?” All of this is right and just, profoundly beautiful. But oh, have you considered the Lord’s wait for us? If we pant for the waters of His divine life, how much more perfectly and heartrendingly does He thirst for our return to Him? Night and day He waits for us prodigal children, gazing through the lattice written of in the Song of Songs, peering through the screen of the Confessional where His arms are outstretched, not to strike and smite, but to heal and embrace.

The reality is that Christ was so desperate for us that He became a baby who we could not fear. But He is not selfish in His love. He will never violate His precious gift of free will. Regardless of the self-abasement that the Lord subjects Himself to for our sake, He needs our cooperation. Just as we chose to turn our backs on Him, we must choose to run to Him. There is no faster road home than the confessional.

Maybe you’re waiting for an abundant grace this Christmas, more eager than ever for a Redeemer. But that has nothing on the way the Lord is waiting for you. We still have a few days left before the King comes to Bethlehem. Will you find time in all the havoc to go to Confession? It’s far more important than those gifts or recipe ingredients. In fact it’s the greatest gift you can offer the world: the restoration of your unrepeatable, indescribable heart that was made for greatness. Make a plan. Find a time for Confession at a nearby church. And go. A priest is waiting for you even if you are the only to come. The Father is waiting for you as if you are the only one created. Now is His Advent. Will you gladden His heart?

1 Set up in a side room near the sanctuary to assist with airflow and distancing 🙂

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On Eponine and Advent

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

It’s perhaps the most famous line from the musical, Les Miserables, a production which is not only my favorite Broadway musical, but the last thing that I would see performed in a theater before the world shut down. What a gift it was to have the words, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise,” sung to my already weary heart as my parting gift from live theater.

As we continue our journey to Bethlehem this Advent, I want to take a closer look at the line, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” In my opinion, it’s not the most profound phrase to ever be written. We know that whatever we do to the least of the brethren, we do to Jesus. We know that God is love. We know that it’s good and lovely and appropriately sappy for Broadway to speak about falling in love with other people.

But what strikes me about the line is WHO sings it. That final phrase is shared by three characters: Jean Valjean, Fantine, and Eponine. Valjean is the protagonist of the story. He owes his entire life to the love given by a priest and he spends the rest of the musical laying down his life for others. Fantine loves her daughter even unto her own shame and death. But Eponine? Why does the character with perhaps the most miserable story in Les Miserables have the privilege of singing this line? Eponine is a girl born to abusive parents and is little better than a street urchin. She’s in love with a longtime friend who falls head over heels for a girl he sees walking down the street once. This guy can’t even recognize the affection Eponine has for him until she sacrifices her life to protect him in a revolt and dies in his arms.

I look at Eponine and when I get past her beautiful, fun songs that I belt with the help of our dining room’s acoustics, my eyes can’t help but widen as I say, “What a waste.” What a sad, disappointing life and character.

And yet, out of all the numerous characters in the musical, Eponine is chosen to sing, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” It is Eponine’s love that is revered and memorialized in song. Hers is an unrequited, rejected love that yearns for what can never be fulfilled. Her love ends in abject failure as she takes her dying breath in the arms of a man who does not have a way to satisfy her. But in this failed, foolish love, we are told that Eponine, whether or not she knew it, saw the face of God. Love is the willing of the good of another. It finds its perfection in the laying down of one’s life, something which Eponine did in her daily life and in her final act at the barricade. Even though it was not reciprocated, even though it ended in disaster and tragedy, her love was real. Although that love was not the cozy Hallmark love we all prefer, it was that true love that conformed her to the image of her Creator. Sometimes, to love well is to fail.

Here we are in Advent, which already feels like a season of failure without the added stress of a pandemic. It’s such a gift to have so many resources at our fingertips to observe Advent well. But it can be so easy to see the beautiful devotional journals, Jesse trees, and novenas and believe the lie of the Enemy that you aren’t doing Advent right. Surely there’s something more or different you could be doing, surely your family should be happier, surely there should be more peace in your heart at this sacred time. Every Advent, my rosy, Instagram-inspired dreams for this liturgical season are forced to confront the bag-eyed, disheveled coffee troll who struggles to make it out of the door on time, let alone with time for peaceful contemplation of the babe in the manger. Just yesterday, my prayer was, “Jesus, I feel like a failure.”

Maybe you are failing. Maybe it’s not just Advent either. Maybe you think you’ve failed in discernment. Maybe you think you’ve failed in a relationship. Maybe it’s not just a “Maybe,” but a “definitely” as you see your grades for finals. But failure requires a finite end that is left unaccomplished. For God’s infinite mind and mercy, nothing, not even death on a cross, is an ultimate failure. Edith Stein writes, “We should also be convinced that, in the divine economy of salvation, no sincere effort remains fruitless even when human eyes can see nothing but failures.”2

You see failure in the Jesse tree left unassembled. You see failure in your prayer that was scattered and anxious, no matter how hard you tried to still your heart. You see failure in being single for yet another Christmas or in the wake of a slammed door. But the Lord sees the love which you pour out to your kids who you were running across the city, thus leaving you without time for Pinterest-perfect devotionals. He sees the love in your earnest striving to know Him intimately in prayer, even though mental illness leaves you terrified of silence. He sees the love that overflowed in your heart for the one who never loved you in the same way. He sees your love for Himself that led you to be open to His Will, even if His Will turned out to be quite different from your own expectations.

Edith Stein also writes, “All that we do is a means to an end, but love is an end in itself, because God is love.” Rest assured that no matter how great or humiliating your failure, if you have loved another person, you have seen the face of God. If you press on this Advent with the same zeal to love, no matter how messy that love is, you will arrive at the manger in a few weeks, able to honestly exclaim the other words of Eponine, “You’re here – that’s all I need to know.” Even though Eponine’s love was not reciprocated, Christ is the lover who reciprocates beyond our wildest imagining. He will keep you safe, He will keep you close. His scarred hand makes the flowers grow.

1 “Spirituality of the Christian Woman”

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The Legend of Simeon and the Longing of 2020

Long ago, several centuries before the “Gloria” of the angels pierced the Bethlehem sky, 72 scholars were asked to translate the books that would later be known as the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. After years of scrupulous independent translation, the scholars gathered to share the fruit of their labors. It was here, according to legend, that a linguistic miracle was witnessed: All 72 scholars had translated the books of the Old Testament identically, something which is a near impossibility. But the Holy Spirit had moved in such a way that the words of Scripture were translated identically, word-for-word. That is, except for one.

In the book of Isaiah, there was a line which spoke of the birth of a child, which would be a sign granted by God to an unfaithful people and a doubtful king. All of the translators wrote, “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” But there was one scholar who did not write, “Virgin,” choosing instead the phrase, “Young woman.” It is impossible and illogical that a virgin give birth, and God does not speak of impossible and illogical things. Despite the disagreement and opposition from all of the other scholars, this man held firm to his conviction until an angel of the Lord appeared to him. “You shall not die,” the angel declared, “until your very eyes see God’s word fulfilled. For nothing shall be impossible for God.”

Centuries passed. Nations crumbled. The iron rod of Rome only grew stronger. This man watched his world pass away, witnessed the death of his wife, his siblings, his children, and even his grandchildren as he was left waiting and hungering for the fulfillment of a prophecy he did not understand. As Israel was desecrated and spat upon, he pressed into the Lord, placing his trust in the words that his own fingers had written into Greek, the words, “No longer shall you be called ‘Forsaken’, nor your land called ‘Desolate’.” Children starved, men grew sick, women were assaulted, and this man waited for those words of comfort to be actualized.

I wonder if his heart grew bitter in the waiting, seeking to become impenetrable to the cold by closing the shutters of his soul. I’m sure there were seasons over that long life when the Lord had to pry open those windows, when the man could no longer hear God’s soft knocking in the wind, so a bludgeon became God’s only option. I don’t know the details of this man’s interior life. But I know that God won. Because one day, this righteous and devout man overshadowed by the Holy Spirit entered the temple in Jerusalem. As he was in prayer he heard the cry of a newborn infant and his eyes opened to a young woman walking in. “Not a young woman,” he corrected himself, “a virgin.”

We all know the consolation of holding a baby or of looking into the eyes of a mother. But it is hard to fathom the consolation that Simeon encountered as he took the child Jesus into his arms and blessed God, the faithful Father who remembers His promise to us even when we forget or doubt His power. The only greater joy Simeon knew came that night as his ancient soul departed this earth in peace. 33 years later he would gaze into the eyes of Jesus once again, no longer the eyes of an infant, but the eyes of a conqueror and Savior come to walk him from the netherworld to the gates of paradise.

As we enter Advent 2020, I invite you to join me in asking the Lord if you know what it is to long for the coming of the Christ child as Simeon knows what it is to long for Him. This year, I think you do. Although it was not centuries of strife, you know what it is to be cut off from family and friends, to witness intense societal and governmental turmoil. You know what it is to stand outside your church, sitting in your car for hours as you gaze upon the tabernacle and wait for the fulfillment of God’s word that He makes all things new and that you are called to His supper.

You know what it is to finally enter the temple and to take God into your arms once more. You know what it is to hear the “Alleluia” ring from your tongue alongside your Catholic brothers and sisters. Perhaps you know the tears of joy or the gift of laughter that the Lord sometimes gives as you received the Eucharist after months of exile and yearning.

And perhaps you, like me, know what it is to have forgotten already. You have joined the centuries of God’s people who are rescued from Egypt only to create idols and grow bitter against the Lord. Maybe you’ve been able to go to Mass every Sunday since your church reopened in June, but your heart is still in Holy Saturday, shuttered away from the light, distant from God.

This Advent, He is calling you back. He is calling you to hunger for His heart and to remember the love you once had, a love that has perhaps grown cold in the iciness of this past year. But the Lord knows that this year has made you tired and weary and that His call might seem paralyzing. So He’s not asking you to move anywhere. He’s coming to you. He’s coming escorted by the whisper of a girl’s “Fiat” that still resonates on the waves of the air today. He’s coming in poverty, embracing a manger so that he can be one with you in your physical struggle from this economically trying year. He’s coming rejected, born alone so that you are not alone in this upcoming Christmas that will be marked by isolation for many. He’s coming surrounded by animals and dung so that he can embrace you even in your sin and brokenness that has become so manifest this year. He’s coming to die for you because regardless of your struggles in 2020, your life is of infinite value to His infant eyes.

This is Advent: Sitting in deep pain and darkness and rather than reaching or running, allowing Him to turn on the light. It is waiting in the temple or in parking lot Adoration with tears streaming down your face as you say over and over, “I don’t understand you, but I trust you.” It is waiting for the consolation of Israel or the coming of the Kingdom even as buildings burn and children die.

For our entire lifetimes, we have sung, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel,” fully taking for granted that in less than an hour, He will come and we will receive Him. After this year, we know that we can never take His presence for granted again. Let us enter this new liturgical year thirstier than ever before for the dew that rains down the just one. Let us be unafraid of our poverty in 2020, trusting rather, in our Bridegroom who comes down to be poor with us. Then our empty hands will be ready to hold him and our parched tongue prepared to sing,

Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.
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Dies Pulchrae

“My Master,” he says, “has forewarned me. Daily He announces more distinctly, – ‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond, – ‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!'”

Thus concludes Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and it’s one of those endings to a novel that makes me fall in love with reading all over again. The Lord continues to woo me through that spark of His perfect mind that resides in the written word. In Jane Eyre, it’s the realization that beauty is made from literal ashes, that the human person can go through countless struggles and finally encounter happiness. Through that book, I am also reminded that our ultimate happiness lies in the next world and it is a happiness which we need to courageously prepare for while we labor through this vale of tears.

Tomorrow marks the final page of the novel that is the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. For the last several weeks, the Church has been preparing us for Christ’s Second Coming through Scripture that speaks of the end times and our need to be prepared for those days. This is the real reason why I’m not ready to pull out the Christmas decorations quite yet. There’s something about this season that has captivated my heart for the last several years and provided me with deep peace even in turmoil. And I owe that to Jane Eyre.

But it’s not just Jane Eyre. It’s every experience that I’ve had with beauty. I should be afraid of the Last Judgment. And I’m fully aware of the gravity of that moment. I’ve had the gift of chanting the Dies Irae, or Day of Wrath with my home parish’s sacred choir. It’s a sequence from the old Requiem Mass:

That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.
What horror must invade the mind
when the approaching Judge shall find
and sift the deeds of all mankind!

But while those words are indeed horror-provoking, here’s the thing: I’ve also heard the music that accompanies those words. From the austere yet indulgent lean and pull of the chant, to the overpowering grandeur and triumph of Mozart’s rendition, this very song has been a conduit of beauty into my soul.

When I fell in love with Jesus in a new and overwhelming way just before my freshman year of high school, it was in a large part due to my family’s vacation out west. I remember gazing into the Milky Way that was visible over Yellowstone National Park. As I stared into the swirl of light overshadowing the night-blackened trees, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that if this was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, the One who placed those stars in the sky had to be far more beautiful.

When I look back on dancing the Grand Pas de Deux from Nutcracker, it was the beauty of dance, storytelling, and music all converging into one that made that such a vital experience. Ballet has been a vessel of the Lord’s love poured out to me as I am invited to not only watch, but co-create beauty.

Why am I not afraid of the end of the world? Because of the sunset that I witness every night. Because of those deep pinks and reds that form a palisade of streaks around the golden clouds. Because of the promise that when night falls, beauty rises. One day, there will be a final sunset and from those clouds will descend the Source of all Beauty. It is Beauty who will judge mankind.

And I should tremble at that prospect. But I’ve seen the Source of all Beauty before. I see Him every Sunday when He descends from heaven and is lifted up from the earth in the hands of a priest. I see Him still and silent in the golden monstrance that is exposed in the chapel day and night. By all means we must fight sin and be alert and ready for that moment when we meet our Maker upon death. But I also believe that the Eucharist exists so that we can meet our Maker now, so that we come close to Him in His littleness and vulnerability and so that He can show us our own littleness and vulnerability. In the Eucharist, we are invited to Eden where we are spiritually naked and yet unashamed. We are invited to drink deeply of Beauty Himself, to allow Beauty to flow through our veins and be breathed out to the whole world.

The Saints repeatedly exhort us to to remember that the only thing to fear in life and death is sin. As you reflect on Christ’s Second Coming this weekend and throughout Advent, examine your conscience. Find a time to go to Confession. But as you examine yourself and see your abject failure, rejoice in the One whose perfect love casts out fear. Allow yourself to be overpowered by the reality that the day of wrath will also be the day of beauty, or in Latin, dies pulchrae.

That balletic line, that imagery in Rosetti’s poetry, that ritardando in E’en So Lord Jesus, Quickly Come (my favorite piece I ever sang in choir), is merely a foretaste of the wonder that awaits us. The One who has created that beauty is coming soon. May His imminent embrace inspire hope in these dark days.

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Poetry: “A’slumber in the Smoke”

Well, even by 2020 standards, it’s been an anxiety-provoking week. Regardless of your stance on politics, the tension surrounding the presidential election has been felt everywhere you go and as if that wasn’t stressful enough, COVID-19 cases only continue to rise.

I certainly have thoughts and opinions about all of the above, but does the world really need my two cents about these topics? Personally, I’ve deleted all of my social media from my phone for the purpose of not having to hear so many opinions, hot takes, and arguments, so I have no desire to throw my hat in the ring.

But on this crazy evening, I can offer what gave me so much comfort throughout high school: poetry. Every week, my Great Books class would open with the reading of a poem. We didn’t hotly debate the poem like we did so many other topics. We weren’t even encouraged to have the most intellectual commentary about the poem. We would merely read it and find something about the work that drew our attention. No matter how ill-prepared I was for the rest of our class, no matter how distracted I was by exterior fears, for those twenty to thirty minutes of poetry conversation, I could rest in my fascination with language and its ability to create landscapes in the mind.

So tonight, instead of a regular post, I want to share a poem that I wrote back in September. It’s nothing compared to the masterpieces I read in Great Books, but as it’s written about resting in the midst of uncertainty, I thought it would be appropriate to share. Maybe when you’re done reading, look up some poetry on your bookshelf or on your PC. If you need some recommendations, Christina Rosetti and John Donne are two of my favorite poets, but of course you can never go wrong with masters like Shakespeare and Dickinson. Grab a cup of tea and candle if you want the aesthetic, but for however long you read, allow yourself to rest in the words you encounter. Are there any lines that stand out? Any images that inspire you? Emotions that align with yours? You deserve rest, friend. Don’t be afraid to seek it out through the goodness, truth, and beauty displayed by the English language.

And now, onto tonight’s poem, titled, March Twenty-Seventh, Two Thousand and Twenty, after the date of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi address.

Oh Master down within
The cellar of this boat
How soundly you remain 
A'slumber in the smoke

You do not seem to mind
How far we are from shore
For nothing stirs your head
Not screams, nor torrent roar

I cannot stay above
Much longer in this storm
The waves are crashing o'er
The deck's begun to burn

So I will run within
The cellar of this boat
Where still is heard the wind
And felt the sting of smoke

But here I see your eyes
E'en though they're tightly closed
I'll lean upon your breast
And trust you don't oppose

Oh Master of the depths
You hear me when I cry
But since you choose to sleep
In peace near you I'll lie
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Why College Board Should Pay Attention to National Vocation Awareness Week

Ah, the first week of November. Buckets of Halloween candy are still overflowing. Every four years, an election is taking place. Christmas commercials have begun to sneak onto TVs and YouTube ads while families begin to earnestly discuss Thanksgiving plans. And for every youth group goer, the familiar strain of Chris Tomlin’s, “I Will Follow” resounds alongside videos of priests skateboarding and nuns sledding, all accompanied by whispered threats to start a drinking game if Father says “Be not afraid” in his homily one more time.1

Starting tomorrow, National Vocation Awareness Week is upon us.

For those who aren’t familiar with the week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops defines the first week of November as, “an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.” And while I write about it with a light-hearted snark, in reality, I am so grateful for this beautiful gift and effort on the part of our bishops. We are all ready to do anything to alter the vocation crisis in the Church, and hopefully our experience of the acrid separation from the Sacraments over the Spring has only fueled this desire in our souls. While seminary numbers remain deeply concerning, Vocation Ministry reports that in 2018, “the United States gained more religious sisters than it lost.” So although effective means of vocation outreach must be discussed and discerned, clearly we’re doing something right.

But what impact does National Vocation Awareness Week have on society at large, if any? The concept of priestly and religious vocations remains an enigma to the secular world, which only has The Exorcist, The Sound of Music, or Lifetime’s The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns2 as context for these ways of life. This week, young people fully immersed in secular culture have the opportunity to tangibly encounter the idea of Vocation, to be presented with the possibility of a radical call to poverty, chastity, and obedience. But at the heart of National Vocation Awareness Week is a call perhaps more radical in the 21st century than any of the above listed evangelical counsels: The call to slow down.

Starting as early as middle school, youth are asked to begin seriously considering their futures. High school freshmen still struggling to find any sense of identity take academic classes with test scores in mind and fifteen-year-old sophomores taking the PSAT for their first time are asked to bubble in a chosen potential major. At an increasingly younger age, students are required to think significantly forward into a hypothetical future, asked to consider not only occupation and academic prestige of college, but desired location to live, possibility for grad school, and plan for paying off inevitable student loan debt. Although gap years have become more frequent, young people choosing this route still face significant judgment and questioning.

Society forces itself further and further into a future that it tries to predict, but is really only known by God. There’s certainly nothing wrong with planning for the future and using one’s present gifts to prepare for the next steps in life, but this becomes problematic when students are led to believe that the next steps are the only thing of value. We’re told that middle school is a preparation for high school, high school for college, college for a job and hopefully MRS degree, post-college for family and job advancement, job advancement for retirement. As society continues to more rampantly advertise “next steps,” young people are led, either explicitly or subconsciously, to equate their value with accomplishments that will aid them in those fleeting and increasingly unsatisfying next steps.

But this is not the case in vocational discernment. The goal of vocation ministry, whether through this upcoming week, a conference-style retreat, or simple conversation with a student, is not to see a drastic uptick in habits, collars, or wedding rings the following week. Although there are certainly exceptions, most vocations aren’t fully revealed until after college. Middle school and high school youth ministers are most certainly aware of that fact. Yet middle school and high school students are invited to openness to marriage, the priesthood, or the consecrated life as a method of planting seeds. Vocation ministry initially sets out to bring a young person in contact with the God of the present moment, and in touch with themselves, not as a future priest in the diocese of Scranton, but as a high schooler who has just heard Christ’s words about “Fishers of men” in a way he never has before.

As I researched for this article, I visited the vocations webpage for the Sisters of Life. The first sentence on that page is not about retreat information or a contact form. It is the simple and profound declaration that, “The God who created the universe and called everything into existence, loved you into being.” A Vocation is a call that emanates love. It is an invitation to lived intimacy and it is something that no grade, test score, or other achievement can affect. It is also something that takes time to discover. This is difficult to impress on us Gen-Zers who have been told to start formulating a life plan since eighth grade. And yet why have teenagers whose brains have not even fully developed been expected to have a career and home life planned before they enter adulthood?

What a gift it would be if the general public took note of National Vocation Awareness Week and its emphasis before anything else on prayer and self-growth. If it saw the Church’s understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person and a soul’s capacity to reflect goodness, truth, and beauty into this dark world regardless of grades or plans for the future. At the end of the day, we are human souls, incarnate thirsts yearning for the Fountain of eternal life3, not numbers assigned by the College board, or transcripts reviewed by a college. How drastic it would be for the education of children to return to the end of cultivation of virtue and love of wisdom rather than the end of a diploma.

One of my favorite quotes about discernment is, “Our God is a God of journeys, not of destination.” A seminarian once explained that it’s celebrated when a young man leaves the seminary, because that means he’s closer to finding God’s will for him. In a world so focused on end goals, let’s spend this week learning from the Church of the easy yoke of our Master who makes our crooked lines and failings straight. Let’s entrust ourselves more fully to the present moment. You don’t know if you’ll get into your dream school. You don’t know if you’ll meet your spouse this year. You don’t know if tomorrow is promised to you. But you do know that regardless of your state in life, today, your Vocation is to love. Let us love as fools in the world’s eyes.

Oh, and while you’re at it, pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, religious life, matrimony, permanent diaconate, and consecrated single life. Consider donating to your diocese’s seminarian fund or to the Laboure Society, which fundraises to pay off student loan debt for those entering religious life. And if you’re feeling the nudge, reach out to your diocese’s vocation office or a religious community this week. It’s just an email.

1 – Or maybe that was just me

2 – It’s actually better than you would think

3 – Allusion to Thomas Dubay

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October 29th, 2016

The church was almost pitch black with the exception of the flickering lighter. As sobs shook my entire chest, I remember being so grateful for the privacy of the darkness. Slowly however, the lights began to turn on and my friend Izzy was understandably concerned by my state. “Are you ok?” she asked.

“Oh yeah,” I replied with a snotty smile. “These are good tears.”

Those were the tears of a girl who had been healed.

When I was five or six, my parents excitedly told us that they were expecting baby number four. It’s hard to put into words the joy that little girls experience hearing about a new baby. There were the hours of excited parades around the house, the requests to read books about unborn children, the many questions about the size of the baby.

I still remember that Hannah was the size of a peanut when she was miscarried. A couple years later, the same thing happened to Angel.

I wish those nights weren’t some of my more vivid memories. But we wish for lots of things in this broken world. I still struggle to understand why the deaths of these babies I didn’t even meet affected me so deeply, although maybe it’s self-evident. But I think that aside from the obvious sorrow over losing family, it was the first time that little Larisa realized that there were problems that adults couldn’t solve. There was grief that affected adults. And because of that, because I knew that the adults in my family were suffering and struggling, I thought that it would be most helpful if I stayed out of the way. The last thing they needed was another kid to worry about.

I should add that all of those thoughts were completely created by my brain and probably by Satan as well. My parents were so loving and gentle with us during those times. But I felt the need to be strong for both my parents and my two younger sisters. And so I tried to hide any emotions I felt about losing Hannah and Angel. I shut so much away.

I struggled from time to time with survivor’s guilt, wondering why I was alive and they weren’t. But life moved forward and with it, beautiful gifts. My rainbow sister, Ieva came flying into the world after four hours of labor and she hasn’t stopped flying around since with her boundless energy and sweet, tender heart. The bond she and I share is one of my dearest joys. Two years after Ieva came Jacinta. Even though I silently suffered from deep anxiety during both of their pregnancies, those two give me strength, happiness, and comfort (along with plenty of sanctification) on my darkest days.

I was able to move forward in life, not thinking too much about the part of me that died when my siblings did. But occasionally that wound would fester. On Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in my freshman year, I finally came to my parents in tears to explain that I still missed the babies so much. It was October 15th, 2016, and at 14, I was having that conversation for the first time. It was a beautiful conversation and I’m so glad that the Blessed Mother gave me the courage to finally open up. But even after being held so tightly by my Dad, I went up the stairs that night still feeling heavy, still knowing that my heart needed a healing that I didn’t know how to achieve.

Just a matter of weeks later, I found myself on my parish’s high school Antioch Retreat Weekend. Still the Jesus freak that I’ve been since day one, I had been excited for this retreat for months. But I was excited to fill out a check box. I was excited to take a weekend where I could learn more about Jesus and how to love Him better. It frankly never occurred to me that Jesus would want to use that weekend to serve me and not the other way around.

If I’m being honest, it was a mostly rough weekend. My mental health wasn’t great, I had never before encountered such vulnerability among people my age, and things were going so much differently than I had envisioned. Eighth grade had been an incredibly difficult year and I entered that weekend still crippled by a pain that left me hungering for control.

But on Saturday night, the words of our youth minister Bob became an instrument of the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to the merciful gifts that the Lord had in store for me that night. I knelt at the front of the sanctuary against the wood of the first pew and with a grace over my heart1 that could only be from the Holy Spirit, I physically saw Jesus fall beneath His Cross for me.

Around the age when Angel died, my favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 53:5, “By his stripes we are healed.” The vivid imagery of the word, “stripe,” caught my attention as a little girl, as well as a very childlike (and therefore wiser than today) understanding that because God Himself suffered for me, I can be healed. But as another youth minister read Isaiah 53 aloud, the Holy Spirit allowed me to be enveloped by that verse, to know the unfathomable depths of Christ’s mercy in a way that I never had before. That night, Christ showed me so tenderly that He had borne my suffering during His Passion. He revealed to this girl so paralyzed by perfectionism that He was not asking me to perform for Him. Rather, He was asking for me to surrender all my anxiety, fear, and grief to Him and to leave it in His pierced hands forever.

I could spend hours writing about the beauty and freedom that the Lord was breathing into my heart over the course of that penance service, but I’ll spare you the snotty details (y’all, I cried so much that night). I will share that all of us teens had been given a small piece of paper at the beginning of Saturday night. We were invited to write down anything that we wanted to surrender to the Lord, and to put it on a nail on the Cross that had been carried into the sanctuary. Those instructions came somewhat later in the evening though. So before I learned the actual function for the paper, it had been used first as a Kleenex and then as a list of sins to bring to Confession. And what a gift, because I was able to literally see my snot and tears and sin nailed to the Cross, as well as all the burdens I had been carrying for so long. That list of burdens was long, just as it is for every human. But I definitively remember writing, “Hannah and Angel” on that tiny piece of paper. It’s the only thing I journaled about for the entire night.

At the very end of that evening, the already dimmed lights grew darker as a youth minister went over to the Cross that held myriad little papers. He knelt down with a lighter and individually held each paper, which was actually flash paper, to the fire. For a split second, each paper was enveloped in flame. And then it was gone.

Youth retreats are hard to explain, because without the context of the Holy Spirit, they sound weird and kitschy. Ok, youth retreats ARE weird and kitschy without the Holy Spirit. But while the burning of paper has no real power, as I watched that flash paper disappear in thin air, the Father invited me to live in the joy of the Resurrection. He showed that He had the power to take away my grief forever and to transform my life so that my Cross was no longer a mere instrument of torture, but a means to the most profound love story possible. In that moment, all the wounds inflicted by the loss of my siblings were healed. I was free.

Two years later, I would be helping to put on that same retreat. In the talk I gave, I briefly mentioned Hannah and Angel and I remember fighting through tears to reach the end of that sentence. But this time, those tears were not the same tears of grief and confusion that I had known for so many years. They were tears of joy, tears of a hope that knows that at every Mass, I worship with the entire Body of Christ, which includes my miscarried siblings. They were the tears of a soul who knows that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that she is only a matter of pages away from the beginning of that One True Story, of a heaven where we will laugh together yet.2 On this World Ballet Day, I smile because four years ago, Jesus turned my mourning into dancing.

It took a lot of nudging from the Holy Spirit to write this. The impact of miscarriage on siblings doesn’t seem to be talked about much, so it’s hard to know what exactly to say. But I know that while Jesus would have died for me if I was the only one to exist, He also heals for the sake of His entire Body. And so I want to magnify the Lord’s greatness that I experienced four years ago. I want to share with you the truth that healing from loss is possible. I want you to know that if you have been affected by the death of an unborn child, there is nothing wrong with you for the way you have reacted. You are not alone in your big or small emotions. You are not alone in your questions.

And you are certainly not alone in carrying that Cross. There is another who walks beside you even now, whose arm is entwined with yours as you stumble to Calvary. He is the One who has borne your pain and endured your sufferings. He is the One who holds your sister or brother in the palm of His hand. As you grieve, as you search in the tomb, know that He holds that same hand out to you. Why do you seek the dead among the living?

Sweet friend, don’t be afraid to step into the Resurrection.

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.Isaiah 53:5

1 – It was a skit that I started watching by thinking, “This is cheesy, do they really expect us to get something from this?” Four years later, here we are.

2 – Adapted from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien