Juggling an Addiction

When I was nine years old, I learned to tread water.  I was an awkward kid (I’m an awkward adult, who are we kidding) so coordination and sports-like activities were not my forte.  I struggled and struggled to pull my head above water as the seemingly endless depths loomed underneath me.  Visions of sharks and fish – who are still my greatest fear – danced in my head as I clenched my fists and pushed to make it just past that one minute mark that the test required.

Eleven years later, I’m still learning to tread water.  Do you know someone who is addicted to something?  Well now you can add one more person to that list  – yours truly.  I’m addicted to busy schedules.  And before you laugh, let me explain what that means.

I hate the quiet.  That may partially be due to the fact that I grew up in a family of ten and noise is normalcy.  I can’t study without a little bit of music playing, multiple conversations going at once do not phase me, and my ears are probably adjusted to the noise levels of a jumbo jet thanks to the joyful shouts of my little siblings.  I don’t know what to do in the silence – I start to go crazy.

The Entertainer by Robby Cavanaugh, 2011.   Only when I dropped a ball, because it wasn't working for me anymore, was I capable of responding to what was going on in the realities around me. I was not being myself, and myself is excessively responsive.: This applies to the physical silence of no audible noise – but also the silence in a life schedule.  I go stir crazy on school breaks and summers drag on and on without a set schedule to follow.  When school rolls around, I take a minimum of 15 credit hours just to keep myself busy.  I start stuffing things into a schedule – cramming my days so full that I fall asleep utterly exhausted at 3:00 am, still upset that everything is not done yet.  And despite that cramming and self-awareness of knowing that my schedule is getting to the max, I’ll still say yes to mostly anything asked of me.

I always imagine myself as a circus juggler, adding more and more balls into my act and seeing how close I can creep towards the edge of dropping them all.  And one by one this semester, they began to fall.  And I began to loose it.

It seemed that everything I was passionate about was slumping.  My school was overwhelming.  My family’s health was a mysterious turmoil.  My spiritual life hit rock bottom and I went weeks without even desiring to pray.  I cried in my friend’s kitchen and poured my heart out to a God whose plan I didn’t even care to understand.  I was drained.  I was walking around campus and my job with a haze covering my heart, making it incredibly hard to be energetic about anything, especially around those I loved the most.

There were so many nights that I crawled to adoration just begging God to show me how to juggle.  How do I balance everything and not disappoint anyone who was counting on me?  How do I keep that ‘It’s fine” mask on as it got heavier and heavier, and people started to glimpse the struggling, broken, fallen me?

And He didn’t teach me how to juggle – He taught me how to let things fall, and then fall into Him myself. 

It was then that peace started flooding into my life like an ocean of mercy.  It was then when I finally was able to stop and listen and not only tolerate the silence, but enjoy it, search for it, yearn for it.

In 1 Corinthians 4:8-9, I was comforted by a God who was by my side even in the turmoil of life’s ups and downs.  I was held by a Savior who knew that my faith and self-esteem and sustainability was shuddering and that it seemed that at every corner was another trial.  I was supported by a God who knew that one more thing that I took on could be that straw that broke my back.  I began to slowly rely on His amazing and unending strength, and realize the frailty of my own heart without Him.

In 1 Peter 5:10, I was amazed at a God who called me to greatness and was going to let me suffer.  Not because He didn’t love me…but because He did.  Who was going to restore me in Himself and His amazing grace and not only help me with my burdens but restore me and make me strong again in Him.

In Zephaniah 3:17 I was strengthened by a Warrior God who stood by me at all times.  He was proud of my desire to be His hands and feet in the world, and knew the ache of my heart and weary soul.  He was surrounding me with a love that did not rebuke, and was rejoicing over me with singing.  

And in 2 Corinthians 12:9 God shocked me. He not only told me that His grace was sufficient, but that my suffering was a way to glorify God.

My suffering was a way to glorify God – it was in my weakness that highlighted and accented Christ’s amazing power that was making me whole and pointing the world to His amazing love and concern and goodness.

Perhaps one of the most quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XIV sayings is: “The world promises you comfort but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”  

GREATNESS.  Not exhaustion.  Not existence.  But greatness – which comes with a price.  Great lives call you to great challenges and great changes.

It’s okay to not be okay – it’s all right to feel the end of your rope and run to God for the strength to just keep going day by day, sometimes minute by minute.

Here I am at the end of me, trying to hold on to what I cannot see.  I forgot how to hope, the night’s been so long.  I cling to your promise that there will be a dawn. (Superchic[k] “Beauty from Pain”)

Yet it’s not ok to sit in that place of struggle and wrestle alone.  It is there in the struggle that Christ calls us to lean closest to him.  There in the deepest valley He is able to reach us at our most vulnerable points. You never know God is all you need until God is all you have to cling to.

So cling to Him.  Run to His heart.  He made your very being and soul, He knows your deepest desires and dreams.  I don’t know what your struggle’s name is…mine is packed schedules and a fear of silences.  Yet whatever you are struggling with right now, know that He is bigger than the pain.  And He gives you nothing that you cannot conquer…with His help.

Stop Existing.  Start Living.  Break free from the chains.  Be Not Afraid.  

I heard the voice of Jesus say

Japan, 1603.  The art of Kabuki Theater begins – and it is something that has never been seen before. Actors emerge onto a stage with painted faces which indicate who their character is.  Their movements are so graceful that often the viewer cannot distinguish which movements are dance forms and which are the acting.  Actors train for years to be able to possess the honor of being in a public performance.  It is as if you are learning an entirely new language – the stylized motions convey the emotions that the heart speaks and the mouth has no words for.

Japan, 2015.  A Kabuki Theater performance is staged.  Actors and actresses perform, pride showing in their actions.  They have trained for year for this.  Not to shine as theater stars themselves, but to accurately portray the Kabuki performance the same way the actors before them did.  A Kabuki performance stands frozen in time – performed the same way over and over again.

The performance given in 2015 is the same performance one saw in 1615.

There is great pride in the preservation of the traditional Japanese theater – the actor who plays the part of a great hero says the same words, does the very same actions and wears the very same costume design that the original master actor said, did and wore.

The Last Supper, 33.  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup and when had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink from the fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-30).

Mass on the First Sunday of Lent, 2015.  The priest leans over the host, elevates it and says, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.” And taking the wine, he says, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood.  The blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in memory of me.”

As Catholics, we gather in Church and are able to participate in the same sacrifice that occurred 2,000 years ago on Calvary.  

Yet our journey does not start by the foot of the cross.  Through the Mass we also are able to experience Christ as we are seated at His Last Supper, and then, (spoiler, my favorite part of the Mass) we join our voices with the angels and saints as we sing in adoration to a God who rose and is in Heaven.  

The Mass is not simply a performance or a ritual performed the same way and preserved for over two thousand years.  The words of consecration are not recited lines said by a priest who wants to be the best priest on the altar since Christ.  Instead, they are Christ’s words, spoken by a man who stands in the person of Christ.  

In Luke 10:16, Christ tells his priests that “He who hears you, hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me.”  The words “This is my body” does not come from the priest who stands in front of us.  We are not called to eat the flesh of Father fill-in-the-blank and drink his blood.  Instead, the priest acts as another Christ – in persona Christi.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this belief as such: It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person, his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration, which he has received, is truly made like to the high priests, and possess the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ Himself.” 

It is not simply a rote rehearsal of words to make sure that we get everything “just right” and preserve the perfect tradition the way Christ would have liked it if he were still here.  Rather, HE is still here, in the very real way through His physical presence on the altar.

It is also not a simple show, costumes included, of bravado and strict and regulated art.  The priest does not ‘dress up’ as Christ and carry on actions as to imitate him.  Rather, he puts on Christ Himself.  Rather, even the vestments of the priests symbolize this participation in the person hood of Christ. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “The fact that we are standing at the altar clad in liturgical vestments must make it clearly visible to those present that we are there “in the person of an Other”. Just as in the course of time priestly vestments developed, they are a profound symbolic expression of what the priesthood means…the essence of the priestly ministry, interpreting the liturgical vestments themselves…”

And then we lay people get to participate in that same sacrifice of Calvary on the altar and receive the body and blood of Christ, crucified and risen, into our bodies through the hands of the priest. 

How beautiful! To be given the actual body of Christ through the hands of His priest, who stands in as another Christ.  Saint John Vianney, patron saints of priests, wrote, ““When you see the priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Saint John Chrysostom, a doctor of the Church, said in 391 AD, “Neither angel nor archangel is able to do anything in respect to what is given by God; rather Father and Son and Holy Spirit manage it all; but the priest lends his own tongue and presents his own hand.”

There is great beauty in the priest acting in the person of Christ – and the beauty of interacting with the God of the Heavens and Creator of the Universe in such a physical way.  And while priests are given the honor of such an intimate way do not forget the fact that we too are asked to share in Christ’s life here on earth. 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter five, he wrote, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children.  Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 

Act as Christ in your world.  Not as an actor, whose life after he is done impressing people returns to it’s state of normalcy or even discontented malice.  Instead, let Christ invade your live and take over so that we can say like Paul in his letter to the Galatians , “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

Goodbye Comfort, Hello Greatness

Lent.  We all know it, we all have mixed feelings about it.  But the truth of the matter is that, in a mere thirty five minutes, Lent 2015 starts.

What’s the point?  Why not eat meat, give extra money away, pray more and toss the Alleluia and Glory to God out the window?

We’ll walk around with ashes on our heads and a little spot in our hearts wishing that Easter was already here so we could indulge in that chocolate that we’ve been craving all week.  And let’s not even talk about the Catholic phenomena about how McDonald’s hamburgers never sound good until a Friday during Lent.

But if it’s all just mortification and the ever present message that we’re going to die some day in the not-so-far future, why even do Lent?  It can be depressing, and the weight of the sacrifice can feel incredibly heavy sometimes.  And if it’s all for naught anyway, why even bother.

I’ll let someone with a much more rich theological knowledge help out:

“Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God” – Pope Benedict XVI.

The Deepest Hunger.

But how true!  We hunger for food because in this world there is food that will fill our stomachs and stop the hunger.  We thirst because in this world there is water (or coffee, whatever the case may be) to quench our physical thirst.

We crave love because there is an infinite and fulfilling love out there, ready to take our souls by storm and turn our lives upside down with His passion for us.

A passion and desire that God has for us to be with Him that is so great that he He wants to consume our very lives with it’s power.

Not just six hours of our lives until Easter.  Don’t let your lent become something you do when it’s convenient or when you happen to be at Mass on Sunday.

God is crazy in love with you.  And not the feel good warm fuzzy love.  The beaten to an inch of his life, thrown down and nailed on a cross, take every sin that was and will be onto his soul and lay it all out for YOU.

God thinks you are worth pursuing.

And what a beautiful opportunity Lent is – the chance to connect your suffering to the cross and relieve the burden of sin from Our Lord’s back!  The beauty of a crucifixion that exists outside of the human concept of time is the ability that we have to connect our suffering to Christ’s as He hangs on the cross for you.

Don’t let this Lent pass you by.  Don’t sit in the pew on Easter morning and think “Man, Lent went by fast this year!  I missed the chance to do anything…again.”  Seize this Lent as a chance to become a better version of you (thank you Matthew Kelly) and become fully alive.

“The world offers you comfort but you are not made for comfort.  You are made for greatness.” – Pope Benedict XVI.

Let’s make this a GREAT Lent.