Tag Archives: Lent

Will I ever get married?

At 19, I would’ve called myself a 6 on the Kinsey scale; at 29, I’m more like a 4.5. Does that mean I’m basically heterosexual with severe homosexual tendencies? Or basically homosexual1 with slight heterosexual tendencies?

Could I ever get married to a woman if I were only, say, 35% attracted to her? Or what if it were somehow 90%? Would I want to get married, even then? Who has time for that? And is the priesthood really off the table, or do I still need to think about that?

What’s the difference between a cross and an obstacle?

Is there any difference? Do some things remain crosses until they are overcome, at which point they turn out to have been obstacles? Do you miss the point of a cross by thinking of it as an obstacle? Or do you miss the chance to overcome obstacles if you only think of them as crosses? How do you divide your energy between improving the quality of your life — therapy, exercise, support groups, self-help books — and just plain living?

Or do you just stop thinking about it and do the best you can?

What’s the deal with Catholic guilt?

Is it something that shows up in people who would’ve been neurotic anyway, or is there something about Catholicism that actually produces neurosis? And if so, is that what Vatican II was supposed to fix? And if so, did it work? Or is it something else?

What if Catholic guilt is just an occupational hazard of having something as strange and wonderful as the Sacraments, which God decided was worth it even if it’d make us a little nuts, just like He decided it was worth it to give us the book of Revelation, even though He knew what kind of crazies would get ahold of it?

What does it mean to be a Gershom?

Which parts of me are me and which parts are my family? Does that question even make any sense? Could I have had the good bits of Gershomhood without all the crazy bits, or are they so closely intertwined that you can’t uproot one without killing the other, like wheat and tares?

Just what the hell is going on here?

Is it because it’s Lent and all manner of forces are at large, within and without my poor embattled brain? Is it because I’m doing something wrong? Is it because I’m doing something right? Do I need more sleep? Less exercise? More omega-3? Less TV? More prayer? How long has it been like this, and how long will it continue?

Or am I doing just fine?

1 Is that even a thing?

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.1

When I was in college and going through the worst of it, I got tired of praying that the sadness would go away and that things would be easy. I got tired of it because it was a prayer that was never answered. Or maybe it was, since it’s said that every prayer has only three possible answers: Yes, Later, and Something Better. If this prayer was answered at that time, the answer was certainly one of the latter two.

I wondered, then, if there was a prayer that God would always say Yes to, to spare me the suspense of wondering what his response would be. I came up with this one: Lord, let this day be good. I’d say it on the mornings when I woke up and felt the pain settle in, and I’d say it in the evenings when I saw another night of difficulty coming.

The whole trick was not to bother myself about what “good” might mean. All the problems came from bothering: Why me, why this? What’s the use, what’s the point, what’s this for? How did this happen; when will it be over? Questions that tied my stomach into knots. And again, if God answered those questions, I couldn’t hear him — as C. S. Lewis says somewhere2 — over the din of my own grief. Better not to ask till the noise died down.

But “Let this day be good” — this was always answered. Years later I began to have glimpses of how it was answered, but never completely, and never steadily. Others could see it, no doubt, better than I could. I was too close.

It’s an easy prayer to pray. It requires quiet, and it brings quiet. Sometimes it’s the only prayer possible.

It’s the sort of prayer Jesus might have prayed on the Friday which is, after all, called Good.

1 From T. S. Eliot’s East Coker.
2 Either in The Problem of Pain or A Grief Observed.

The Mass is like a huge electromagnet that gets switched on at the beginning of the offertory. Before that point, you should have gone through your pockets for your cell phone, spare change, and any spare paper clips, and maybe your belt if it’s got a metal buckle. Then you throw it all up in the air and it goes flying towards the altar — ZHUMPF, better duck, with all that stuff flying past, or you are going to get clocked in the back of the head with somebody’s adultery or petty rancor — and becomes charged with the magnetism of the mystical body of Christ: all those bits of metal fused into one, one electro-/pneumomagnetic field flowing through all of it.

It’s the Fifth Force, the invisible field of Sanctifying Grace. Kapow!

Except instead of bits of metal you can throw these things into the air:

  • Your sins, the ones you remember
  • Your sins, the ones you don’t remember
  • Your sorrow for the sins you remember
  • Your agitation at not being very sorry for the sins you remember
  • Your frustration at God’s silence
  • Your unease at your frustration at God’s silence
  • Your awareness that you are not very good at any of this
  • Your confusion as to whether being any good at any of this is the point
  • Your being at an utter loss as to what the point is, if not that
  • …And, finally, your willful trust, however faint, that God does in fact love you and is in fact taking care of you.
  • Oh, to have a nice neat offering wrapped up for the altar, fragrant with faith and full of good works and happy feelings! Not these stinking bundles from the foul rag & bone shop of the heart.

    But the lovely thing about the offertory and the consecration is that the stinkingest bundles are somehow transformed, mirabile dictu, into the very body of Christ: killed with him, buried with him, burst open like seeds and risen again on Easter morning: every stinking seed yielding its secret sweetness to the open air.

    For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

    Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, and give us the strength to endure till Easter.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A man is walking along the beach with an old friend. Suddenly he realizes two things: he’s dead, and the old friend is Jesus. And it isn’t just any beach: it’s his life. He can see his footprints from different times in his life — little baby footprints, adolescent footprints, adult footprints, old man footprints, all his.

But there’s another set beside his — even at times in his life when he was alone. He turns to Jesus and Jesus says: Yes, my child, those are my footprints. I was always walking beside you.

But he looks further ahead — at the time when his father died, when his best friend betrayed him, when he was out of work with five children to feed — and he’s troubled, because at these times, one set of footprints disappears. So he looks at Jesus again. Jesus says: My child — those are the times when I was carrying you.

The man is comforted. But then he looks further ahead, to his life’s moment of greatest crisis, the moment when he questioned everything, even his faith, even his sanity — and sees the footprints come to an abrupt halt; and instead there are two round indentations in the sand, side by side. He turns and looks at Jesus a third time.

And Jesus says, My child: that is where I dropped you on your ass.

I was going to try to write something uplifting, I really was. Well, I find this story uplifting. Best I got tonight. One hell1 of a Lent.

1 Or, I guess, Purgatory.

Falling in love has got to be the most humiliating thing ever.

Call it a besetting sin, call it a weakness, or just call it the human condition — this is one of the biggest deals for me, and every time I think I’m all done, I get smacked upside the head with it. You’d think it would set off warning flags when I start to have thoughts like: “Oh yes. I used to be like that.”

Well, so it’s not the end of the world. A little heartache, I can deal with. The worst part is what it does to my sense of self: I mean, how embarrassing is it for a 28-year-old man to get all weepy because some guy didn’t talk to him at a party? To get jealous when he goes out with other friends? To start wondering if he should change the way he dresses, maybe start hitting the weights — so he can be more like him?

Just when I was starting to think I was a grownup.

I saw the danger, this time around: but I told myself I’d open up anyway, because it’s better to risk getting hurt than to keep people at arm’s length. Right?

Right. Oh, but ouch.

It helps to remember that it’s not really a question of friendship, or not wholly. I rarely fall for a guy if he and I are naturally simpatico. It’s always the ones who — poor guys, they didn’t ask for this — somehow symbolize what I’m not, the ones who don’t talk or think or dress like I do: the ones I’m always tempted to twist myself into knots for.

In a very real way, it’s not about him at all. It’s like a dream, where everybody around you is really a reflection of yourself. It’s not him, but some part of myself, that I’ve become obsessed with: the part I used to be, or the part I wish I were, or the part I never have been.

If this sounds juvenile and narcissistic, Oh Lord, is it ever. But knowing that doesn’t help a whole lot, any more than knowing you’ve got the flu brings down your body temperature.

Well. It’s not the end of the world, obviously, and one of these weeks the fire will die down, my stomach will unclench, and I’ll breathe easy again. I’ll remember that I am who God meant me to be, and be glad to be it. These things pass! They’ve passed before! And sometimes they leave real friendship in their wake — or if not that, some solid lessons in humility and self-knowledge, and a whole bunch of gifts to bring to the altar.

Just what I wanted for Lent. Lord, you shouldn’t have!

So I says to the Lord at the beginning of this Lent, “Lord,” I says, “let’s keep things on the surface this year. I think I’m in a pretty good spot.”

“Yeah?” He says.

“Yeah,” I say. “I mean, I’ll give stuff up and so forth. I’m no slacker, I’ll even tackle something big. But you and I, we’re close enough already. Right? I mean, no need to dig deep. My prayer life’s pretty good as it stands.”

“Yeah?” He says.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Okay,” says the Lord. “Now here’s some heartbreak, here’s some failure, here’s a relapse or two into an emotional landscape you thought you left behind years ago. Here’s a dose of your own weakness and a hard look at your own phoniness. Here, I’m going to allow you to depend on your own resources for just a teeny second. How you feeling about that prayer life now?”

Gnrrrhhk,” I say, from where I’m sprawled on the floor, bleeding.

…Okay, I like to overdramatize things a little bit, and I know he’s the Good Shepherd, not the Abusive Spouse. Buuuuut, damn, hard week, friends, and it’s time maybe to hit the Adoration chapel a little bit harder. Rend your heart, not your garments, the Lord seems to be saying; And maybe you could use a little hand with that rending?

Feels a little like how I imagine Muay Thai conditioning to be.

In other words, a successful Lent so far. Right?