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

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

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

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.

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.”

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)

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.”

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)

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

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/