God Broke My Heart

 

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” Ezekiel 36:26

Throughout my whole life, I wanted the flesh heart that Ezekiel talked about.  I remember this verse and being intrigued by the idea of a real heart in terms of the interior life.  I knew that I had a physically real heart beating within my chest, but in terms of my spiritual life, the landscape of my heart looked more like a stone mountain range instead of a fertile planting ground for God to take root in.

So I took my desires to adoration and prayer and began to ask God to give me this real, fleshed out spiritual heart for His plan and will in my life – even though it would mean having to daily, if not hourly, combat the pride that stood in the way of the destruction of my cold, dead heart.

Yet instead of giving the hammer to God and asking Him to do exactly as He said He could, I pridefully took control of the hammer and began to chip away at my own heart.

Chipping away was probably an optimistic overstatement.  It was like I had a huge boulder to break down inside of my soul, but instead of pulling out a jackhammer and dedicating every waking moment that I had into smashing that stone encasement to smithereens, I was scratching at it with my fingernails in my spare time.

It wasn’t working.  The stone was still there and but I was hurting, aching, longing for anything different.  Although it was cold and hard, the stone was at least familiar and comfortable.  Having a flesh heart would hurt – the vulnerability and lack of control of a tender heart scared me to death and I was content with my stone.

“Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”
– Fulton Sheen.

God had the incredible ability to, if he so desired, simply glance at my stone heart and do the shatter-and-replacement mission in a split second.  Yet He, out of complete love for me and the desiring of my good, chose to break my heart first so it would mend and bind to His heart in the healing process.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, the character of Eustace, an English school boy, is turned into a dragon because of his selfish desires and hardened heart to his role in the Narnia quest.  There is a beautiful scene that resonated with my own story within the pages of the book.  Eustace returns to camp, transformed back into a boy, and tells his cousins the story of his transformation.

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sorts of things and snakes can cast of their skin.  Oh of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means.  So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place….

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you.  I was afraid of His claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.  So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right through my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure feeling the stuff peel off.

Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only even so much thicker, and darker and more knobbly looking than the others had been.  And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.  Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.  And then I saw why, I’d turned into a boy again.

When Eustace tried to scratch away his dragon scales himself, he readily admitted that it hadn’t hurt.  It was only when he lay vulnerable to Aslan’s claws, although they terrified him, that the transformation back into His real self was possible.

The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is the only religion that makes sense out of suffering.  In light of the cross, the suffering that we have is transformed and redeemed into a beauty from ashes.  Because Christ’s death is outside of the limits of time, each time trials or hardships are placed in our spiritual journey, we have the unique opportunity to unite those sufferings with those of Christ crucified.

My heart isn’t all the way transformed into it’s best-version-of-itself flesh state.  There are still many areas along it’s surface that are rough with calloused, hardened stone that God is still ripping off and breaking off in front of my eyes.  And, like Eustace’s transformation, I look at the pieces of my stone heart that lie in front of me, knowing that those are chunks of stone that would have taken me decades to smash myself.

God is good.  

I feel like I say that everyday, but it is the only phrase that my simple heart can utter in light of the incredible mercy and grace He has shown me.

The process still stings, but when I’m thrown into the waters of grace through confession, the pain is but moment and the joy is life-long.  And the tender heart that God is slowly transplanting into my chest is one of the most beautiful things that I have seen – tender and vulnerable, but protected by His hand and heart in ways I could have never imagined.

 

 

 

 

Appreciating Women

In the late 1960s, the feminist movement burst onto the cultural scene in America, and in it’s wake has left an American culture that is thirsting for true femininity and the ever elusive answers concerning the interaction between men and women.

The world defines feminism as equality.  Men and women should be treated the same, and men and women should be allowed to do whatever they want.

What does a Catholic have to say on this issue?

I believe in the distinct equality of the human person – but I also greatly value the beauty in the differences between men and women and how God created two genders…not one.

I’m a Aquinas-loving, theology-reading, baseball loving woman with a pixie cut.  I love a good maxi skirt, a strong espresso, and the desire to totally loose myself in love of others.  And I believe that radical feminism has destroyed femininity.  

I’m tired of a radical feminism that says that my desires to get married and have a family are old fashioned and I’m giving up on what should be my ‘real dreams’ if I pursue something so archaic. I’m tired of an angry feminism that says it’s my body and I can do with it whatever I want.  I’m sick of the radical feminism that says woman should just be clones of men and there is no difference between the two.

I value womanhood and femininity as a whole because the world needs femininity and, frankly, the world needs the beauty and uniqueness of women.  For too long, today’s culture has squished what is feminine down into the outskirts of society, all with the battle cry that women are equal, and men and women are the same. And if womanhood is talked about, it’s reduced to narcissistic messages about how woman can look…which is more objectifying than empowering.

In his letter to women in 1995, Saint John Paul II wrote, “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” 

A valuing of women and Catholicism aren’t two things that are at odds with each other. In fact, it is in the Catholic Church that I am the most valued, respected, and honored as a woman.  The love and honor showed to our Blessed Mother radiates the appreciation of the beauty of a woman’s role in salvation history.  Saint Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote, “The feminine sex is ennobled by the virtue of the Savior’s being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind.” Whoa. Re-read that line if you have to : it was a woman who acted as the very portal for Christ to enter the world and take on human nature.  If that honor isn’t something that values a woman, I don’t know what is.

Being a woman doesn’t mean that I’m weak, or insignificant, or less-than-a-person. It actually means that I’m strong, beautifully valued, and a whole person who finds my value and significance in Christ.

Being a woman isn’t about what you wear, what service projects you have on your resume, whether you are married, or devoted to the religious life.  It isn’t about how long your hair is, whether you wear high heels, what religious orders’ charism appeals to you, or who your favorite spiritual author is.  Being a female, desiring to uphold the dignity of women as human beings, and possessing a sense of femininity is something completely different.

“It’s about what inspires our deepest passion, and who reigns in our hearts.” Colleen Carroll Campbell says in her talk, “The Feminine Genius.”

We live in a world that hungers so deeply for saints to rise up, and whose brokenness yearns for the touch a spiritual materialism.  But the culture’s answer to this problem is to create a uni-gender mentality that blurs the lines between roles of men and women, and disdains any difference between what is male and what is female.

Femininity is not a burden or a set back.  Instead, it is a beautiful gift that allows one to be so receptive to Christ’s love for oneself and for the world. Call me old fashioned, but I agree with Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, “The level of any civilization is always its level of womanhood.  In as much as woman is loved, it follows that the nobler a woman is, the nobler a man will have to be to be deserving of that love.  That is why the level of any civilization of its womanhood.”

The feminine genius that JPII called women to is a great call – a call to love.  A call to embrace the fact that woman are called to help create a culture and world that is open to life.

If we take what JPII and the Church says about women, Colleen Campbell says, “We realize that our fulfillment lies not in tearing men down, or, in imitating boys behaving badly.  It lies in becoming more fully what God created us to be: human beings who bear His image to the world in a distinctively feminine way.”

Viva La Difference….Viva La Feminine. 

Christ’s Wedding Day

Good Friday.  The day we set aside once a year to commemorate the death of Our Lord for our sins and the opening of the gates of Heaven for our salvation. We remember God, who took on human nature and all of it’s messiness in order to spend eternity with us, His beloved children, and His beloved bride, The Church.

What if we thought of Good Friday as a a wedding feast in conjunction with Christ’s sacrificial love?  In his book, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, Brant Pitre examines the actual event of the crucifixion in the light of historical Jewish wedding.  He places Christ as the Heavenly bridegroom and the Church as His eternal bride.
In an earlier post, I wrote about how Christ yearns to be intimate with us, emptying Himself into something so simple as bread and wine so that He can physically be within our very bodies.  In Mass tonight, the Homily focused on Christ’s desire for us to know God – to be intimate with Him.  Not just to know about Him, but to really know Him as the most important thing in our lives. 
In Biblical terms, the phrase “to know” indicates a physical relationship, or an absolute knowledge of the other. The Hebrew word is “Yada.”  John  W. Ritenbaugh in his study of the old testament Hebrew language wrote, 

“At times, the Bible uses “to know” as a euphemism for sexual intimacy. Paul is not saying here [in Philippians 3:8-10] that he desires sexual intimacy with Christ, but that he greatly desires spiritual intimacy with Him. He wants to be so close to Him that he experiences the same level of life as Jesus did—even to the point of suffering or dying as He died, if that is necessary to be made like Him in every possible way. He desires to glorify God in every aspect of his life just as Jesus did.”

 In Joshua 23:14, Joshua gathers the people to tell them about their relationship with the Lord.  “Behold this day I am going into the way of all the earth, and you shall know with all your mind that of all the words which the Lord promised to perform for you, not one hath failed. ” 

In Luke 1:34, Mary’s eternal virginity is emphasized with her lack of previous intimacy and full knowledge with any man. “And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

Christ desires to be intimate with us.  To have absolute knowledge of us.  In John 17:3-4, He prays to the Father before His passion. “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”  
And what is more physical than Christ’s passion and death for our salvation?  He is betrayed with a kiss from a close follower, and then goes through the most physically excruciating death imaginable for a person in the fist century.  He is covered in His own blood, the physical life of His body (and the spiritual life of ours), and drags a wooden beam through streets crowded with the jeering of the souls He is on His way to die to save.  His body is fastened and hoisted in the sky, where He physically must thrust Himself up to fill His lungs. 
All the while, He thinks of you.
And when the crowds yell at Him to come down from the cross and prove that He is God, He thinks of you.  “I can’t come down from the cross.  I have to stay up here for (insert your name) because one day, even if it’s over two thousand years in the future, they are going to need me.  And how can I teach them of the beauty of suffering if I give up now?”  
And then, “It is finished.”  There is a spear thrust into His heart that is so full of overflowing love for our soul despite how much pain we have caused Him that blood and water flow from His side.
Brant Pitre points out the significance of this final physical aspect of Christ’s death. “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took out one of his side (Greek pleura) and closed up its place with the flesh; and the rib which the Lord had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to man….so too Jesus falls into the sleep of death, and blood and water flow from his side (Greek pleura) And just as the miraculous creation of the first bride from the side of Adam is the foundation of marriage of man and woman, so the miraculous flow of blood and water from the side of Jesus is the origin and foundation of the marriage of Christ and the Church.”
So Christ pours out His very life on the altar of the Cross on Good Friday, that supposedly dark day that ushered in the redemption of our souls from a debt that we could never pay off.  And the Catholic Mass taps into the eternal sacrifice at Calvary.

 In The Faith of Millions, John A. O’Brien said, “The Mass is the renewal and perpetuation of the sacrifice of the cross in the sense that it offers [Jesus] anew to God . . . and thus commemorates the sacrifice of the cross, reenacts it symbolically and mystically, and applies the fruits of Christ’s death upon the cross to individual human souls. All the efficacy of the Mass is derived, therefore, from the sacrifice of Calvary.”

What will your wedding gift to Christ be?  A Sunday morning hour when convenient for you? He sacrificed His entire life for you…are you willing to do the same for him?