The Latin Mass and the Trumpet Vine

The other day, I was sitting on my front steps, telling St. Joseph lots of things he already knew, when I looked down and saw it. There, coming up through a tiny crack in the concrete between the bottom step and the sidewalk, was a new twiggy shoot sprouting a cluster of jaggedy leaves.

Trumpet vine.

Now, to understand the significance of this, you’ll need to know some background. Trumpet vine comes up everywhere in my yard. I could pull up brand-new  trumpet vine sprouts every hour of my life for the next six years, and at the end of that there would probably still be more than there were when I started.

They’re in the flowerbed, doing all they can to win the battle I’m fighting to keep them out from under the house siding.

They’re in various places in the yard, just coming up Willy-nilly. Why? I have no idea. There’s not even anything for them to climb there.

I feel like half my life is spent trying to keep trumpet vines from taking over my house and yard and making my city lot look like a good home for wild parrots and chimpanzees. I spend a whole lot of time scanning the yard for little twiggy shoots with clusters of jagged leaves and then trying to make it clear to them that they can’t stay.

But this day, looking at that little sprout coming up through the crack in the concrete, something good struck me.

You see, that trumpet vine is from a root that must have been planted soon after my mid-1940s house was built.

The original vine was planted at the back fence.

I have a good-sized city lot. The house is situated near the front of it. And now that trumpet vine, planted at the back fence…

Is coming up through the front steps.

The roots have been spreading under the surface of the soil all that time.

When I think about this, it reminds me of the Latin Mass. What Pope Benedict XVI did for us helped it to get reestablished. It had been planted long before, but his motu proprio helped it begin to spread again. Now opposite forces seem to want to take it out, but you can’t stop something that people already know is the fullest expression of God on the earth. It’s got deep, strong, healthy (in every sense of the word) roots, and wherever the Lord wants it to happen, new shoots will pop up and grow.

This Mass has formed so many saints we could never count them, from the East to the West, from the North to the South, over how many centuries now? It nourished them in this life, bore indescribably good fruits through them, and guided them to Heaven. And they all—every last one of them—are watching what’s going on right now from their places above the Firmament.  I wonder what all those thousands (Millions? Who knows?) are saying in their prayers to Our Lord about the strikes leveled against the Mass that brought them to Him in Paradise.

God is always working under the surface; Goodness and Wisdom never stop spreading their roots, and the Mass of the Ages is the most concentrated and honest expression of everything God is that exists on earth. No human force and no evil could stop it.

The Traditional Latin Mass doesn’t belong to anyone but God; it’s a Treasure He gave us—and He still holds it in His Hands. It’s good for us; it heals us; it draws us closer to Him and can restore our friendship with Him with a perfect depth and fullness. Everything Christ suffered and sacrificed, the love God the Father has for us, the awe we should have in His Presence, and Our Lady’s blessed and vital help—they’re all expressed most fully and most honestly in the Mass of the Ages. God made it this way, He loves us, and He is the one nourishing the vine at its roots. Some may try to pluck up the sprouts, but what God protects and fosters, man cannot destroy.

In the Stillness

There’s no shouting,

Drumming, dancing

In the stillness.

There’s no waving high

Or crying out, “Amen!


As we kneel, immersed

In silent Adoration

Of the One who forms and shapes

The hearts of men


In the stillness.


Here, you won’t find people “movin’ in the spirit”;

We just haven’t got the energy to spare.

Everything we have is pouring out in silence

As we turn to meet our God and King in prayer


In the stillness.


My grandma said

these waters run the deepest,

And now, I’ve seen enough

To know it’s true

We sense the slightest movements,

Gentle breezes;

It’s not a storm—

It’s daybreak, evening dew


In the places where He longs

For hearts to join Him,

In the places where He waits

For us to meet,

In the places where we silently

Adore Him,

Hardly moving, for His presence is so sweet


In the quiet,

In the hush,

In the silence,

In the deep,


In the holiness that wakes

The human soul from soundest sleep,


In the calm

And in the dark,

In the tranquil, resting heart


In the stillness.


Copyright  2017, Lori Ann Watson

The Beauty of the Cross

Stations of the Cross always get me. I start out thinking I should probably go home and do the pile of work that’s waiting there. Then, very hesitantly and without being quite sure I’m doing the right thing, I decide to just pray Stations “real quick” before leaving the chapel, and, undoubtedly, am reduced to a blubbering, tear-drenched pile of slush with eyeliner dripping down to my chin by the fifth station. God is so good, and He touches our hearts when we least expect it–even when we’re trying to rush away and avoid fully experiencing Him.

It can be hard to turn toward the Cross. I think this is one of the reasons so few pray Stations—and one of the reasons I sometimes avoid them, too. The Crucifixion is so painful that just contemplating it is enough to reduce us to weeping, and we don’t want to go there. On your knees and weeping is a pretty unappealing place to be, right?

It is. But there’s something that happens in that place that I think the whole world should know about. Catholics already do—anyone who has an ear open to Padre Pio’s or St. Teresa of Calcutta’s wisdom understands this—but it’s something the rest of the world tends to discount. And that’s a shame, because there’s a great richness there.

When you’re suffering and approach it in a Catholic way, asking Jesus to join your sufferings with His, something really special happens that I never experienced before coming Home to the Faith. Under your cross, you’re walking alongside Christ. The heavier your cross is, the more of the weight of it Jesus carries and takes off your shoulders, and the more deeply He ministers to you while you’re carrying it with Him. He walks right beside you and lifts it. And then you’re there, and you’re walking next to Him, His shoulders pushing forward alongside yours, and all the while, He’s taking your burdens on Himself so you don’t have to bear their full weight.

And, while He’s doing that—lifting the burden of the Cross from your shoulders so that it’s not too much for you, He pours the richest treasures into your heart and soul, and it’s so easy to receive them, because you’ve drawn close to Him. Sometimes, it even carries over into material blessings or other gifts we can actually see, and He works real, visible, undeniable miracles there, too, just to strengthen our faith and remind us (again) that He is God and can do whatever He wants.

Before I went through really hard times, I never understood it. For the first 25 (or so) years of my life, I wouldn’t have believed that what the Catholic saints teach about suffering—that there’s a beauty and joy to it—was true. I was “the happy person”—no one ever saw me down; I was always smiling. I’d suffered minor hardships but nothing big enough to make me unhappy.

I thought it would always be that way, but choices made apart from my Faith landed me smack-dab in the middle of a situation that wiped that smile off right-quick.

The two decades that followed brought some very deep emotional pain. At times, it was grueling. And do you know what? Now, looking back, I’m grateful for all of it, because it was there, at the Cross, that I learned to know Christ as my Best Friend.

Things aren’t quite so hard right now, and I’m thankful for this season. But there was something very special about those times—when I was walking alongside Jesus through the hardest parts, shoulder-to-shoulder, Him bearing more of my burdens than I did and ministering to me the whole time. It’s hard to explain, but the Cross, in a very real way, is an especially beautiful place–a sweet place. It’s beautiful, and it’s sweet, because Jesus is right alongside us when we’re there.

 

Originally published November 30, 2017

Empower Women. Defund Planned Parenthood.

Why are so many women up-in-arms over defunding Planned Parenthood? The message all the hullaballoo sends is anti-woman, not pro-.

If there were any truth in the cultural line that abortion gives women power, then maybe I could understand. But the opposite is true–abortion spoils a woman’s highest gift and robs her of the greatest opportunity she’ll ever have to change the world. Planned Parenthood, the world’s primary destroyer of motherhood, is the largest obstacle to women’s advancement today.

The radical feminist movement would have us all believe that a life lived outside the public eye downgrades women—that if we aren’t continually climbing the corporate ladder and tacking title upon title onto the ends of our names, we’re not living up to our potential. I ask, though: who has more influence on the world–a top-ranking female CEO, or the mother of someone like Dietrich von Hildebrand? A powerful attorney, or the mother of a saint? A brilliant female scientist who forgoes motherhood for the sake of her career, or the brilliant mother who raises four incredible scientists and makes sure they have good hearts?

Some of the most powerful and influential women in the world have not been those who went out and made great names for themselves, but those who formed and shaped others–and then sent them out to affect the world for good. These women didn’t give up their callings. Instead, they lived their lives according to St. Catherine of Siena’s wisdom: they became everything they were meant to be, and in doing that, they set the world on fire. Sometimes, they did it without the world ever even knowing their names, which I think is quite a remarkable feat indeed.

I’m not saying women shouldn’t be out in the world; I believe many were created for that. But sacrificing motherhood so that women can chase lower rewards is some extreme jungle-gym kind of upside-down and backwards—and taxpayer funding of an organization that kills baby boys and girls so that their moms and dads won’t have the blessing of parenthood is robbing millions of people, both male and female, born and unborn, of the lives they were created for. Each time a baby is aborted, at least three lives are robbed.

Our obsession with being able to control everything and be, do, and have all that men can has led us to a terrible point: women now believe that giving up their highest gift is the key to their success. Planned Parenthood promotes this; it is the enemy of motherhood itself. If we really want to empower women, defunding Planned Parenthood is a great place to start.

Saying “Thy Will Be Done”–With Hope

I love music. It’s always been one of my favorite joys, and long before I came back to the Faith, songs were the primary means God used to draw me to Him. I must not have made it easy when I was blasting Def Leppard and Boston 24/7, but somehow He still managed to sneak a good verse in here or there and touch my heart through it.

Nowadays, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Pandora station is my favorite. There’s just something different about listening to the radio, though, and we all really enjoy it, so we often switch back and forth between Pandora and that.

We live in the Most-of-the-Books-of-the-Bible Belt. We don’t get any Catholic music stations here, so, when we listen to the radio, it’s often tuned to a praise music station. I don’t think of most of the songs on the airwaves as worship music (because to me, worship is about the ways God is “above us”), but they’re clean and seek to draw us closer to Him, so that’s what our radio is usually tuned to.

The other day, one of these songs reminded me of something very Catholic that I had nearly forgotten–and I hope it will encourage you, too…so I wanted to tell you a little about what happened.

The song was “Thy Will”, by Hillary Scott. Now, this lady has been through the wringer, and God brought great beauty out of it. She suffered a miscarriage, and the lyrics, about accepting God’s will even when it’s hardest, were fruit of the pain. It’s very honest, and people have received it well; as of this writing, the Vevo video had been up about a month, and it had 722,148 views, even though the album hadn’t been released yet.

As I heard the opening lines of this song for the first time a few weeks ago, they really hit home. Our family has been “through the wringer”, too, for the better part of two decades now, and we live each day with the knowledge that the pain and crises could resurface at any moment. As Mrs. Scott sang about accepting God’s will, using Christ’s well-known phrase from the Agony in the Garden that we, as Catholics, often repeat when we’re hurting (“Thy will be done”), I said a prayer of thanks to God that a very faithful view of suffering had helped this songwriter through her pain.

Then, a few bars later, came words to help me through mine. In the bridge of the song, she tied the line “Thy will be done” to the lines from Jeremiah 29 that tell us that God hears us when we pray and that His plans for us are good.

Those few lines reminded me of something really important that I had begun to lose sight of over the past few years—that we don’t just accept suffering out of resignation, because we’re willing to endure the pain (although that is definitely a crucial part of our ministry). We accept the suffering because we trust God—we trust in His total goodness and His love—yes, towards those we are suffering for—but also for us. For each of us. The message of our faith is clear: God’s will is nothing to be afraid of, and we are very, very dear to Him.

We accept trials, knowing that however much it hurts now, He really is going to make “all things work together for the good of those who love Him”. He really is going to bring something more beautiful out of it than we could ever imagine. (I know, I know: DUH!!! Right? :-))

I don’t mean this in an “If you do right, your life will be easy” kind of way. We may never see the fruit this side of Heaven, and trying to please God doesn’t guarantee a pain-free life. Sirach 2, the Crucifixion, and the saints all make it very clear: “When you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials.” The Christian life requires suffering. As Padre Pio said, “There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

But God is all-good, and He loves us. When we know this—really know it at a cellular level in our hearts— we can say, “Thy will be done” not just with a fearful resignation, but with gladness, with trust, and even with joy–because we’re not only accepting the trials, but hoping in the abundant fruit God will bring out of them, too.

Originally published August 17, 2016

Mercy and Tomatoes

I planted tomatoes this year, which was a big step for me. You see, every year, I joyfully buy heirloom tomato plants as soon as winter gives way, before the dogwoods even bloom. I’m full of great intentions. Then, I let those beautiful heirloom plants sit there on my front porch until someone who actually knows what they’re doing passes by and says, “Ya’ know, it’s too late to plant those now. It’s too hot, and you’ll never get any tomatoes.” But this year, for the first time ever, I haven’t left a single tomato vine sitting there waiting to be planted until it was too late. For me, that’s something.

Now, the thing about tomatoes is–ya’ gotta’ plant ’em deep. In fact, one supplier recommends planting tomatoes so deep that a full 2/3 of the plant is underground, with only the top third exposed. The deeper you plant a tomato vine, the more roots it grows, which, of course, gives you a better crop.

This got me to thinking about the spiritual life and how, actually, we’re a lot like that, too.

It especially reminded me of mercy and service. There seems to be a push today to get us “out of the churches and into the world”. A sentiment is building that says our faith “isn’t about sitting in the church; it’s about going out and serving, ministering to the broken.”

Now, of course, a deep faith should well up in us and drive us out into the world to minister to those who are hurting. How do we get that deep faith, though? If we’re not “sitting in the church”, where is all this mercy supposed to come from?

How can we pour out God’s mercy onto others if we’re not spending plenty of time with the One who is mercy itself? What better way is there to tap into the Fount of Mercy–to receive His love so fully that it naturally pours out onto those around us–than by spending time with Him in the Eucharist?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta might have said it best: “We cannot separate our lives from the Eucharist; the moment we do, something breaks. People ask, ‘Where do the sisters get the joy and energy to do what they are doing?’ The Eucharist involves more than just receiving; it also involves satisfying the hunger of Christ. He says, ‘Come to Me.’ He is hungry for souls. Nowhere does the gospel say: ‘Go away,’ but always, ‘Come to Me.’”

Mother Teresa’s sisters spent one hour–sometimes two–in adoration daily, even with everything they had to do to in their ministry. No–because of everything they had to do to in their ministry! In fact, another quote attributed to her is “Each day we should spend one hour in adoration, except on days we are busy. Then we should spend two.”

Would anyone say Mother Teresa and her Missionary Sisters of Charity haven’t been fruitful? Good night–no! Yet, her sisters spend long stretches in quiet time with Christ each day, away from the world they are charged with serving. This piece of their lives, hidden in time alone with the presence of the Lord, makes the portion spent out in the world bear more fruit.

It’s the same with us. We need deep roots, tapped into the One who can give us the grace and mercy it takes to serve with selfless, open, peaceful, trusting hearts. So let’s get back into the churches. Let’s spend a little more time before that tabernacle or monstrance where He waits for us. Drawing our nourishment from Him, we’ll produce a more bountiful crop…because we’re kinda’ like tomatoes.

Originally published May 7, 2016

As High As the Heavens Are Above the Earth…

Originally published April 3, 2016

Okay–the Avoiding the Almighty Smackdown post was sorta’ intense. There was a reason for that, though. Even though it’s terrifying to think of our sins and the punishment (ummmmm…death) they merit, it’s critical that we do this. If we don’t, we can never fully appreciate God’s mercy, either.

The good news is that the LORD doesn’t want to wipe us off the face of the earth. (Whew!) As a wise friend put it, “God wants to forgive. He’s just waiting for us to give Him any excuse to forgive us!”

Sometimes, when we face the ways our sins have hurt others, we question God’s ability to absolve us. When we doubt His mercy, though—when we think, “God can’t forgive me, because I’ve [insert the worst thing you’ve ever done here],” that’s not Him speaking to our hearts. I think what we’re really saying is, “If I were God, and someone had done this same thing to me, I couldn’t forgive.” On the farm, we called that “weighing somebody else’s corn in your own bushel basket”. We don’t understand how God could forgive us, because we couldn’t offer the same forgiveness.

Isaiah 55 tells us, though, that God loves to do things that seem impossible to us:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found,

Call him while he is near.

Let the scoundrel forsake his way,

And the wicked man his thoughts;

Let him turn to the LORD for mercy,

To our God, who is generous in forgiving.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

As high as the heavens are above the earth,

So high are my ways above your ways

And my thoughts above your thoughts…”

With these lines, God lovingly reminds us that we can never fully understand His ways. When it comes to mercy, His greatest attribute, He pours out His gifts so abundantly that we can’t even fathom the bounty.

A Mother Angelica quote came through my Facebook feed yesterday, and I thought it was perfect. This spunky, “all in for God” nun, who was known for having just a little trouble holding her Italian tongue (and temper), said, “God always forgives when you are totally repentant and you desire to change. He forgives…and He never gets tired of forgiving. Never. You may get tired of asking. I hope not. He never, never tires of forgiving you. Never.”

Now, we don’t exactly know whether Mother is a saint or not yet, but she sure did try. The stories of the saints tell us that many of them were just people who had a great sense of their own sinfulness, ran to God with repentant hearts when they fell, and gratefully accepted the mercy He offered them. That builds a close relationship with God, which is even more evidence of His mercy. He has a way of taking our sorrow over our biggest sins and using it as a seed for gratitude, which fosters deep friendship with Him.

Scripture teaches us that the LORD wants all of us, not just those who wear habits or are ordained, to receive this kind of mercy—with this kind of heart. In Luke 7, Jesus comes to dine at the home of one of the Pharisees. A sinful woman, having learned where Christ was eating dinner that night, brought an alabaster flask filled with ointment. She wept, bathing the Lord’s feet with her tears. Then she dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of a woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner,” Jesus told a story:

“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since both were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?”

Simon [the Pharisee] said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love….”

I just can’t get over this story. To me it means that, when the sinful woman experienced Christ’s forgiveness, she felt such intense gratitude that she wanted to find Him–to go to wherever He was and show her thankfulness to Him with a heartfelt gesture–and Jesus, the King of Kings, allowed her to express her gratitude to Him in this very personal way. This scene reminds us that, no matter who we are and no matter which sins we’ve fallen prey to, God wants to forgive us—and that His forgiveness helps our gratitude to grow. It builds our relationship with Him.

Repentance is the turning point that starts a person on the road from darkness to light. It gives God the chance to flood us with the gift he loves to share the most—mercy. And that mercy can help anyone, no matter what his or her sins are, to draw very close to Christ. No one is beyond God’s redemption. That is the beauty of the Divine Mercy–it’s for all of us.

Mercy has touched my own life, and I’ll always be grateful. A long time ago, I was away from the Church, a thousand miles from the family and friends I had grown up with, and living in a very painful domestic situation. The darkness was so thick that I didn’t know if I’d ever see a day of hope again. Sometimes I didn’t want to see another day, period. Thank goodness I had one nearby friend–a lady who had yearned for nothing more in her younger years than to be a cloistered nun. She knew that practicing my faith would have protected me from the pit I was in, and she sent me straight to Confession. In that little room, God reached down, gave me hope, and began to heal my heart. I owe Him (and my friend-who-was-almost-a-nun) a debt I can never repay.

Even if we’ve fallen far, we can still know joy; God’s mercy takes our sorrow for sins and returns love and peace for it. In this way, the Lord really does change our darkness into light. Yes, His thoughts are far above our thoughts, and His ways are far above our ways–so far, in fact, that when we beg His mercy, He draws us into His close friendship.

Can A Loving God Get Angry?

Originally published March 26, 2016

Note: When I write “we” and “us” in this post, I mean it.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all wondered, at some point, whether we have made God angry. Then maybe we passed a billboard or saw a commercial that proclaimed, “God’s not mad at you, no matter what.”

That’s a relief, right? Well, maybe it could be—except for one problem: it’s a lie.

It’s not just a lie; it’s an incredibly dangerous one, because it minimizes the reality of Our LORD’s awesome power. This is the God who wiped an entire city off the map because of its immorality—and then turned a woman into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed Him and looked back at the destruction she was fleeing. This is the God who ended a man’s life because he used contraception…once. This is the God who slew the first born of every Egyptian home, all in one night, because Egypt’s ruler was persecuting people who loved God. We’re going to say He can’t be mad? Where the heck did that come from?

It comes from us—from our desire to be able to do anything we wish without being judged for it. We want to continue in whatever lifestyle we choose, and we don’t want to be criticized for it by anyone—even God. We are a culture of four-year-olds who want that third slab of double-fudge cake, eat it even though our dad tells us not to (when the only reason he says no is because more cake’s not good for us, anyway), and then expect him not to be mad when he finds us in the bathroom throwing up and realizes what we did.

The idea that God can’t be mad at us is wrong for another reason, too: it implies that a God who gets mad can’t at the same time be good. I’m pretty sure the Texan term for that is “bull-honkey. God’s power and the fearsomeness of His fury—those are some of the best things about Him! They are a critical part of His goodness! They’re key to our knowledge of Him as Protector. They help us to remember that if someone threatens His children, He WILL rout the attacker.

In Psalm 29, we read

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the LORD, over the mighty waters.

The voice of the LORD is power;

the voice of the LORD is splendor.

The voice of the LORD cracks the cedars;

the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon,

Makes Lebanon leap like a calf,

and Sirion like a young bull.

The voice of the LORD strikes with fiery flame;

the voice of the LORD rocks the desert;

the LORD rocks the desert of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD twists the oaks

and strips the forest bare.

All in his palace say, “Glory!”

Whom do you want protecting you when you are in danger—a God who can’t get mad?…or a God whose voice alone is enough to start fires, split cedars, twist oaks, strip forests, and rock the desert? I sure know which one I’d pick.

God’s anger is a good thing; one of His attributes is that He is all good. But being good doesn’t mean He can’t get mad.

His anger isn’t the biggest thing about Him, though; even greater is His desire to protect and shelter us. We can’t deny this when we read Psalm 91:

“You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,

who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

Say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and fortress,

my God in whom I trust.’

God will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,

from the destroying plague,

Will shelter you with pinions,

spread wings that you may take refuge;

God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield….”

See? God wants to shelter us. He wants to protect us so much, in fact, that He gives us a very easy way to run to His safety, even after we have offended Him.

In Nineveh and for King David, it involved things such as sackcloth and ashes, but we have an easier route. All we have to do to find it is to turn to Psalm 32:

“As long as I kept silent, my bones wasted away;

I groaned all the day.

For day and night, your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength withered as in dry summer heat.

Then I declared my sin to you;

my guilt I did not hide.

I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”

and you took away the guilt of my sin.

Thus should all your faithful pray

in time of distress.

Though flood waters threaten,

they will never reach them.

You are my shelter; from distress you keep me;

with safety you ring me round.” (italics mine)

Aren’t these verses beautiful? Here is a simple key to God’s mercy. It’s repentance and Confession. All we have to do is run to Him and confess with sincere hearts. Real repentance, though, requires the humility it takes to give Him our lives—to commit to obey Him (even if we don’t understand His reasons). This is the way we can find shelter under His wings.

When we do confess and put our lives under His direction, He always forgives. Mercy is His greatest attribute, and one of the nicest qualities of His mercy is that when we try to follow Him, He knows it’s hard, and He gives us the strength to do it. As written in Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Jesus told this little Polish nun, over and over, that His mercy was like an ocean, and that if you put all of humanity’s sins together (yes, even that one) and tossed them into that ocean, they would be like one tiny drop in the unfathomable abyss of His mercy.

But, today, we don’t even want to try. We can’t admit we’ve done anything wrong. We make our decisions, push forward, and expect HIM to honor US.

No. No. No.

That’s not His way. He knows our hearts. He knows that we are easily tempted to things that are beneath our dignity as His children. So He gives us Scripture and teachings that date back to Him to draw us to a life that will heal us and keep us close.

All He asks is that we abide by those teachings,…but instead, we tell ourselves that God couldn’t possibly be mad at us, no matter what we’ve done.

Of course He can be mad. He’s God.

It’s time for us all to acknowledge His power, His might, and His ability to wipe every single one of us off the face of the map. It’s also time for us to confess to Him that, if He did wipe us off the map, it wouldn’t be at all unfair.

Onan contracepted…once. How many times have we?

Sodom and Gomorrah, the towns He obliterated, were crude, selfish, sexually immoral, and had no regard for God’s commands. How much have those characteristics overtaken our culture now?

God slew all the firstborn of an entire nation because their head, Pharaoh, was persecuting people who loved God. How many in our society have made it harder for us to let our faith guide every decision?…and how many of us have “caved” to that pressure and given in—or fueled this fire with our own sins?

Wouldn’t we rather be under the shelter of His wings than in that desert He finally decides we’ve left Him no choice but to rock?

Wouldn’t we rather be shielded in the shadow of His loving hand than standing under that cedar we’ve been daring His voice to split?

The key to being nestled safely in His protection, and not sitting atop that oak when His voice finally twists it, is accessible to each of us—no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter what our lives look like. That key is repentance, and the time for it is now.

Divorced. Catholic. And Grateful an Annulment Takes So Long

OK, I wanted to talk about this–even though.

Even though it’s deeply personal.
Even though I’m not an extrovert and don’t usually talk publicly about difficult experiences.
Even though I normally prefer to keep details about family life tucked away tight within the walls of our home.

I want to say something, because I think someone should:

I’m glad the annulment process is long, difficult, and even painful.

Not that I’m enjoying it. (I’m not!)
Not that I don’t wish it could be easier. (I do!)
And not that I don’t wish sometimes that it was all over and done with and that I had a decision so that I would know what to do with the rest of my life. (I wish those things all the time.)

But, really, it just makes sense.

Of course, it makes sense because of the gravity of the decision. To declare an entire marriage covenant null? That’s some pretty heavy stuff. It’s not exactly the kind of thing a Church tribunal judge can just skim over in a printed PDF as it crosses his desk, decide whether to use the stamp that says “NULL” or the other one that says “VALID” on it, and then move on to the next one-page summary. Of course, the time it takes makes sense for that reason.

But it also makes sense from the perspective of mercy.

I’m not talking about the “short-term mercy” of our culture today, which says, “Do whatever is going to make the person’s life easier for now. Ease their suffering now, and let them worry about the consequences later.”

I’m talking “end-game” here. We need to get back to long-term mercy, which says, “Do what’s best for the person. Do what’s going to help them to be healthier in the long run. Do what will help them to get to Heaven.”

St. Padre Pio said, ” The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self. There is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”

I can see how this applies in a special way to the divorced person seeking an annulment. When a marriage ends civilly, there’s a lot of pain there. There were mistakes made by the person seeking the annulment–whether they were mistakes that led to a relationship that never should have been, or mistakes that contributed to the civil end of a valid marriage. And the only way to face those mistakes and correct the interior flaws that brought them about is to walk right back through the pain. Those mistakes need to be processed deeply and intentionally, with plenty of thought, prayer, quiet time, and good spiritual direction, until the petitioner understands–not just mentally, but on an action-changing level of the heart–what he or she did wrong and how to keep from repeating that.

Then, there’s the hurt. If a marriage has ended civilly, you have a lot to work through–you have to heal not only from the pain of the divorce, but also from the pain you endured living in a wounded marriage. These things weaken a person, and they don’t go away overnight just because you separate and divorce.

And, most importantly, there’s the way that Christ draws us very close to Himself when we’re hurting. But that takes time! The annulment process is a “little desert” for each of us–a place where God can re-form and re-shape our hearts and bring us closer to Himself.

For me, it’s taken four years so far to go through the annulment process (over half that time was just me working through the questionnaire)–and I’m grateful, because, looking back, I can see that every minute of that time has been a blessing. If I had gone into another relationship, it would have been a huge mistake. Even though the marriage was broken from the beginning, and even though it was the most painful experience I’ve ever lived through, I’m grateful that “moving on” hasn’t been made easy. I’m grateful that, in order to move forward, I first had to go back and sort through everything that happened in the past–despite the fact that that was incredibly painful.

Finally, after four years, I am ready to wholeheartedly accept the Church’s decision–whatever that may be–and I can confidently hope that, if I dated again, I’d be more careful to seek God’s will this time. This has been a fruit of the annulment process–because it’s tedious, because it requires the divorcee to relive the pain and analyze it, and because it takes a long time. All of these things were hard to walk through, but, at the same time, were a gift.

Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Pain and suffering have come into your life. But remember pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus–a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” The difficulty of the annulment process gives God space to work on us and to heal us. And that makes it worth the time.

Loving the Sinner…Halfway

(Originally posted 10/25/15)

Mercy.
We all need it–that’s for sure! As a Catholic, I’m constantly reminded of this–before my reversion to the Faith, my sins and mistakes had left me a shambles in need of healing. There was almost nothing left of me, and the only thing that healed the pain was God’s mercy. And since I’ve returned to my Faith, it seems that the more I learn–the more light enters my life–the more I can see that I’m broken! Thank goodness God forgives us when we go to Him with sorrowful hearts asking, and thank goodness He keeps reminding us of His love for us.

So the emphasis these days on mercy–wow. That is SUCH a good thing. Families in our society have been decimated–by child abuse. Abortion. Pornography. Confusion. Drug addiction. Slavery. Religious persecution. Cancer. Divorce. Coldness, disrespect, and dysfunction. It seems every single person in our culture has been touched by something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone–everyone–is broken now. We live in a world that needs mercy like never before.

I got to thinking about this today, and it led me to the story of the woman caught in adultery and her conversation with Christ found in John 8. You remember–when the scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone her, Jesus outsmarted them by saying, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” At this, instead of stoning the woman, the crowd dwindled away, leaving the woman alone with Jesus. Christ asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “No one, sir,” and He offered her the fullness of His mercy–“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Now, today, as I was mulling this over, I got to thinking–
What would that have sounded like if Christ had left out the reference to the woman’s sin, so as not to offend her…as we are encouraged to do today?

What if Christ, instead of saying, “Go, and sin no more,” had just said…”Go.”?

Would her life have changed? Without admonition and encouragement to do better from a God who loved her, would she have “sinned no more”?
Or would she have gone right back to the same broken, heart-wrenching lifestyle that had nearly led to her death in the first place?

Healing and recovery aren’t the result of someone making us “feel better” about the fact that we are living apart from God. Healing and recovery come about when we turn to Him and offer Him our lives. And that means turning away, with His help, from things He asks us not to do.

When we, as Catholics, talk about sin, it’s about so much more than “this is right, and that is wrong.”
It’s about dignity. It’s about a person’s value. It’s about what a person is worth.

Jesus Himself wanted that woman to know that she was worth more than the degrading life she was living. Sin breaks us. It tears a person apart.
And real love–real mercy–does not mean telling that torn, broken person that their sin is OK–because they’re drawn to it, or because it’s the modern thing to do, or because they can’t help it. Real love–real mercy–doesn’t just say, “Go.” That’s only half the mercy we are called to share. Real mercy shares Christ’s full message–“Go, and sin no more.”

In the end, it’s all about love. And, really, you can’t love someone if you don’t hate what brings them down.
In other words, we can’t really love the sinner unless we hate the sin.