Mawwage.

It’s been a long minute since my last post.

In all honesty, even though it sounds like a cop-out the only explanation I have for my long absence from the blogosphere is life happened.

I was recently engaged when my last entry went live, and with a wedding date of 6 months from the day of our engagement things just started happening almost as soon as I hit “publish.”  Even for a small wedding (37 people, including the bride, groom, and priest) taking place in 6 months, there was a lot of work to get done.

And then once we walked down the middle of my church, had some cake, and took some photos, we were in full swing to prepare for my BigSis’ wedding later that same summer.

From there, life just became a blur.  A happy, blissful, stupidly cute blur.

Oh, and we got a dog.

On the 17th of this month, we’ll be celebrating 11 months of marriage — 11 months that I can only describe by quoting Pedro Casciaro:  “Dream, and your dreams will fall short.”  Because let me tell you, looking over previous blog entries where I was discussing my love life and my relationship with God (and sometimes both together), I realize now that everything I have experienced and endured while trying to follow Our Lord was His way of testing me in fire and refining me into the woman that would deserve the man I now call my husband.

I am a Catholic who had not one but two crises of faith (one in late adolescence and one in my early twenties) who grew up in the Catholicism of Opus Dei, and I ended up marrying an atheist who was raised in a Protestant home.

If anyone ever tries to tell you God doesn’t have a sense of humor, feel free to point them in my direction.  I’m well aware that describing the faith-dynamic of my marriage sounds like the beginning of a joke.

But it’s not a joke at all, and while I can see the humor in it and say that God really does have a way of making life turn out so weirdly and unexpectedly, I know in the deepest part of my heart that my vocation to married life (and eventually motherhood) means I am tasked with a serious lifelong mission.  And the fact that a man of science and reason, not of faith, was given to me by Our Lord and bound me in Holy Matrimony makes it all the more serious to me.

In First Comes Love, Scott Hahn states:

God knows it is not good for us to be alone .  He doesn’t want us to be alone.  It’s the oldest story in the world, and it’s written into our very human nature:  He wants us home.

As a wife, this is the point of my vocation:  to help my husband live as good and meaningful a life as possible so that we may eternally rejoice in God’s kingdom together. It doesn’t matter if he’s an atheist; not only is this one of my core beliefs, it is one that he has chosen to accept and, even without RCIA let alone the slightest iota of faith, one that he wants to support for my sake.

I promised my atheist husband that I would never beat him over the head with the Baltimore Catechism or the Compendium, that I would never make his conversion a requirement to be in a relationship with me, and that I would never force him to to Mass if he did not want to go.  In return, he listens respectfully to me when we debate about religion, he never ridicules or belittles my faith, and goes to Mass more often than other Catholics I know.  He has even held my hand while I’ve prayed out loud for guidance or for a special intention, and genuflects before stepping into our regular pew at my church.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine an “inter-faith” marriage working so well, even though I was open to the real possibility of it and readying myself for the challenge of being a practicing Catholic in a relationship with a non-religious person.  Our courtship and engagement together lasted 364 days (we chose to celebrate our first anniversary as a couple by getting married on the 365th day, and God saw that it was good), but in that short time I never once felt shortchanged on any level by our differences in beliefs.

When we discussed the direction in which we wanted to take our relationship and I stood my ground and said I wanted to get married and commit for life, and if he didn’t like that then we should part ways sooner rather than later, he respected me enough to tell me that he was also of the same mindset.

Later when we talked about getting married and I told him that marriage to me meant getting married in the Church in any way possible, he told me that as long as I was marrying him he was cool with it.

Because of his acceptance and willingness to support me in my faith — not only did he come, and still continues to go, to Sunday Mass with my family and me whenever possible, he also made no argument about doing the Archdiocese-mandated Marriage Preparation course and had a long one-on-one chat with our parish priest — we were blessed with a dispensation to get married in my parish chapel with the full Catholic Rite of Matrimony.

Yes, you read that right:  I married an atheist with the full matrimonial liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

And he never complained about “doing it my way.”

I may not have married a Catholic, but I am truly blessed in my marriage.  My husband’s name is Pierre, the French form of Peter, and he truly is the rock upon which I continue to build my house for God.  It does not matter that he is an atheist:  what matters is that there is love in his heart, and enough of it for him to support me in any way he can while I go about my faith each day.

He has seen me at my worst and knows where I have been and what I experienced before I found him, and he has forgiven and accepted and loved with all his heart.  And because of this, while I will never force a conversion upon him out of respect for his free will, I will always pray for him and always trust that God holds him in His hands just as He has held me.  Continuing to live my faith and follow God so that I am a strong example of Catholicism for him and for our future children while being respectful of his beliefs and of his free will is what I must do to keep our union harmonious and to keep God in it.

When we were dating, Pierre walked me home in the night even when we lived on different ends of the city.  By the graces given to us through our marriage I know he will walk with me to my Father’s home in Heaven.

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

Watering my mustard seeds

The other day, a very old and very dear friend of mine shared a humour post on Facebook – “30 Ways to Win a Catholic Girl’s Heart.”  It actually was pretty funny and I’m sure I’m not the only reader who can relate to several of the points on this list — though I really do think that you do have to have some working/practicing knowledge of the system to really understand why I had a giggle fit over “Become a Swiss Guard.”

Humour aside, though, the whole thing did get me thinking about this whole “being a single practicing Catholic” thing I’ve got going on.

I turned twenty-five a couple of months ago, passing that particular milestone with the experience of a few long-term relationships and various short-lived ventures into dating. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert because I so totally am not one, but I’ve loved enough and lost enough by now to have a pretty good idea of what it takes to win over this particular Catholic heart.

Some people I know think that the most fulfilling relationship I could possibly have would be one with a practicing Catholic guy. However after my last turn around the LTR block with one, I can tell you that being of the same religious background and having a reasonably comparable level of faith formation is no guarantee to everlasting marital-worthy happiness. Sure, it makes things easier sometimes, and I definitely have peers whose young marriages are working out rather nicely due to shared faith, but castles in the air of any kind are simply that until they’re grounded in your reality.

My reality contains within it a highly secularized demographic of peers who, while perhaps not being so ardent in their natal religions as I am, are still wonderful, decent, and amazing people. And I’m not about to whittle away all my options down to a small handful of churchgoing, God-fearing guys (who I know by appearance alone because the only time I see them is during Sunday Mass) simply because I’m Catholic.

I can stand on my own two feet in my faith.  My mustard tree, though small yet and still sometimes desperately thirsty for grace, is sturdy enough that there’s no danger of me uprooting it from that nourishing soil to please somebody else.  If I am meant to share my life with another person, then I know that I will be able to freely and happily share everything about myself with them – including my faith and all the experiences that I have had because of it. But I will never beat somebody over the head with my old Baltimore Catechism, make full conversion or RCIA a dealbreaker, or drag somebody by the scruff to Mass. That’s no way to win a non-Catholic heart, and that’s also kind of hypocritical (you know, that whole “Free Will” deal and all).

I’ve come to realize that what makes things easier for me is mutual respect, honesty, and openness. If a guy can respect that I have my faith and my beliefs, and doesn’t ridicule me, put me down, or insult me because I am a practicing Catholic, then I can return to him a sizeable measure of respect. If a guy can be honest with me about why he’s lapsed, doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t understand the whole religion thing, then I am happy to share the little I know to help bring further clarity. And if a guy can be open with me about what’s in his own heart and what his intentions are, then I can find it in my heart to return the gesture.

I’d much rather be alone and happy than be trapped in a relationship of religious convenience.  I would rather be loved, cherished, and respected for everything that I am, not just wanted because of the religion into which I was baptized and which I practice willingly as an adult.  And that’s what would warm and win this particular Catholic heart, because the end of the day, being able to share my faith with my partner on any level would be a precious blessing and I would treasure it…and I honestly believe there are many ways to share faith – many ways to grow together in faith, hope, and love, even as a “mixed” couple. If that’s what’s in store for me, then I gladly welcome it and will eagerly walk that path alongside whatever upright, just, and decent man God sends along that same way.

The first day of the rest of my life

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
— C. S. Lewis

I turned twenty-five on Sunday.

I spent the day before my birthday and the day itself with some of the people I love best, and am looking forward to a few friend-dates in the next week to get together with the ones I couldn’t see this weekend.  When I was growing up my birthdays were almost always exclusively family affairs, as having a summer birthday meant the majority of the few good school friends I had were away on family vacations.

As far as milestones go, it’s the only one I’ve had so far where I’ve felt like I’ve really come a long way from where I was the previous year.  The first half-and-a-bit of 2015 has been all about self-discovery and growing up – about coming to terms with what I’ve experienced in the past and learning to let it go so that I can move forward with my life.  I’ve grown stronger in all aspects of my life, even the ones where I was already doing pretty well…but I think the biggest difference between then and now is that I’m finally starting to be strong for myself.

Going the distance – not just physically but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – is something I’ve had difficulty with for my whole life.  I’ve got a few victories under my belt, but I’ve never really  been able to say I’ve done everything I’ve set my mind to do.  And something huge that I’ve come to realize in the past couple of months is that truly going the distance really is an issue of mind over matter.  I can set my mind to anything, but I have to keep those goals at the forefront of my focus if I’m going to achieve what I’ve set out to do.

The other thing I’ve realized is that part of keeping presence of mind regarding those goals is doing them every day.  Long-term investments of any kind take time to give you a return, and when it comes to personal goals and personal improvement there are no shortcuts.

Hot damn though…once it starts paying back, it really starts paying back.    

I can’t really quite describe how it feels to wake up, throw off my duvet, and stretch my legs any which way and see muscle lines where there used to be nothing but wobbly flesh.  It’s not just the fact that my legs are actually starting to look good – it’s the fact that now I can run farther and faster on them, and not just because they’re stronger.  I’ve lost enough weight to realize I can run – and, even more surprisingly, that I like running.  In fact, this former borderline high school Phys Ed failure enjoys running so much that she’s decided to train for a half-marathon next June.

But there’s something else that I’ve wanted to do for much longer than running a half-marathon – something else that symbolizes going the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual distance that I see before me.

Montreal is home to Saint Joseph’s Oratory – founded by one of Quebec’s very own saints, Saint Frère André, whose close relationship with Saint Joseph earned him not only the nickname bon ami de Saint Joseph but also the reputation of a miraculous man whose devotion allowed the intercession of Saint Joseph to cure seemingly countless pilgrims seeking relief from various afflictions.  Pilgrimages to the Oratory are still fairly common, and because it is built so high up on the hillside the most direct route upwards is an impressive series of stone steps.  In between the two stone staircases is a wooden one reserved for pilgrims, specifically those who wish to complete their journey to the Oratory on their knees.

I was meeting one of my closest and oldest friends for Mass last night at the Oratory, and the walk there from my new apartment is literally only ten minutes.  As I stood at the bottom of the hill, texting Elizabeth to let her know I was on my way up, I decided to make the kneeling pilgrimage up to the Oratory.   Yeah, I know I’m weird – who wants to celebrate their milestone birthday by getting to church on time by going up a hillside of ninety-nine exposed wooden stairs on their knees when it’s almost thirty degrees outside with the sun on their back?

But that’s what I did.  With a young couple praying the rosary up ahead of me and a young woman behind me making the same pilgrimage in place of her wheelchair-bound mother waiting at the top, I climbed 99 steps on my knees – praying all the while and giving thanks for everything with which I Have been blessed so far in my life.

Just as I can’t quite explain how it feels when I see strong healthy legs in the morning instead of twin cans of Pillsbury biscuit dough, I can’t quite explain how it felt to stand at the top of that staircase, using the last few spare minutes before Mass to see, quite literally, how far I’d come.  After Mass, I stood at the top of them again with Elizabeth, looking at the sky as the last of the light from the sunset faded to the black of night…and as we descended together I passed the memory of myself – and all my past fears, insecurities, failures, and hurts – where I left them on my way up.

I’m pretty sure there’s at least one of each on every last one of those stairs.

I went to bed last night a newly-minted twenty-five-year old who felt, for the first time in her adult life, like she truly was older, wiser, stronger, smarter, and more loved.  And while everyone in my life who celebrated with me, in one way or another, helped make me feel that way I had to make myself believe that by taking the first ninety-nine steps out of my past and into my future.

stjoesThe view of North Montreal from the Basilica level of Saint Joseph’s Oratory at the end of sunset.

Love over everything else

The United States legalized gay marriage nationwide today, and I’m not afraid to say that I’ve hit “Like” on more than one friend’s status update and on more than one news service’s headline about this social milestone.

I’m also not above sharing the fact that a person I’ve known and called a friend for some time now sent me a text message asking me why on earth would I give this breaking news a thumbs-up, remarking by way of justification that,

“…it’s wrong and goes against what we believe in, and as a woman who someday wants a family you ought to think hard about how this threatens your future position as a mother in a society that accepts this sort of thing.  Your hypocrisy is disappointing, to say the least. ”

Anyone who follows this blog knows I wear my faith and my views on my sleeve, and I do tend to get a lot of mixed feedback about doing so.  That’s only to be expected, though, since the Internet is public — but that’s besides the point.  Of all the negative messages I’ve received about my more worldly views, this is probably the one that angers and hurts me the most.

It’s not just because I have a lot good friends who are homosexual and a few who are bisexual.  It’s not just because  a good friend of mine is a heterosexual whose divorced parents are both now with same-sex partners.  It’s not just because one of my closest friends came out to me before they came out to anyone else, including their own parents.  It’s not just because a dear friend of mine is searching for a way to make their homosexuality coincide with their faith, determined not to give up or abandon either one because they believe both are equally important to who they are as an individual.

It’s also because I have never, ever believed in using my sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or gender to say that I am in any way “better” or “holier” or “more deserving” than anyone else – and it pains me to know that members of my faith community (both immediate and extended) so easily forget what the Lord says about love.

And He has quite a lot to say on the subject, but perhaps the most familiar points to just about anyone  are, “Let those without sin cast the first stone,” as well as, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”  He also asked us to, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Oh, and while we’re considering those points, it would serve us all in good stead to remember that “Christian” means “follower of Christ,” and “Catholic” means “universal.”

Thus…

Is it truly Christian or Catholic for any person or group of people to say that those who are “different” aren’t worthy of the same rights, privileges, and advantages which “the norm” may claim unopposed?  Do we truly love others as we have been loved by an infinitely wise and loving Creator when we use that same Creator’s words against people who are in some way, shape, or form not exactly like us?  Can we really say we believe love is the greatest virtue when we allow our faith and beliefs and ideologies to get in the way of everyone being able to share their lives with other people in freedom and security?

If being a follower of Christ means following His example in daily life and if being made in God’s image means reflecting some measure His infinite love, then the hypocrisy lies not in being supportive of friends and/or family members whose lives are remarkably different than our own.  The hypocrisy lies in viewing anyone who isn’t heterosexual – and therefore supposedly “normal” – as being unworthy of acceptance, friendship, support, and yes, love. 

And that’s because the bottom line about humanity in this faith, the very heart of this belief system, is that our God became human so that He could die for all of humanity.  The Incarnation and the Crucifixion did not occur to save a select handful of souls, but rather every soul.  That is the extent of Divine Love, and nothing of human design or conception – not even the most deeply entrenched prejudices or misconceptions concerning the diverse complexity of any aspect of humanity – can change that.

On integrating integrity when I write

About a year ago, I was asked if I would like to write a review of a particular film for the website of an independent cinema here in Montréal. It was a film that had the entire world talking after its premiere at one of the high-profile international film festivals, and this particular cinema just so happened to be one of the first and few in Canada set to screen it. Having my name under its review would have undoubtedly brought me a fair amount of my own publicity, and the potential for increased viewership was enormous.

After a brief consideration of the offer, I declined…but why?

Given the subject matter of the film, I felt that it crossed too many boundaries in all areas of my life.

Morally, the film went against many things in which I believe and by which I try to live my entire life. I was not ready to compromise fundamental beliefs of any kind for the sake of publicity and increased viewership, and am certain I never will be. My values, whether they come from my secular life or my spiritual one, are non-negotiable. The proposal arrived in my inbox only a few months after I reaffirmed to certain beliefs and values, and I felt that accepting it would be a hypocritical step backwards into a lifestyle I had only just resolved to put behind me.

Artistically, I am not yet at the point where I have enough clout to write whatever I want and get away with absolutely all of it. Writing a review for this particular film at this point in my writing career would have probably done more harm than good in the end for a few reasons. A positive review would have meant praising a film whose main attributes went against my aforementioned fundamental values, whereas a negative one would have meant compromising those values anyway to be able to write an actual opinion on the film in the first place.  In either case, none of my efforts would have produced something well-written because there would have been discordance between the writing and my actual perceptions.

Professionally, I still rely on a paycheque from not one but two high-profile industry leaders (one in finance, the other in technology) for my daily bread, and having my real name associated with this sort of thing would have been detrimental to my professional reputation. A person’s online presence can greatly impact their professional life, after all, and I am not in a position to lose either one of my jobs for the sake of an easier road to becoming a full-time writer.

It all boils down to writing with integrity. Whatever the craft requires you to write, I think doing true justice to the art of writing means adhering to your principles when you sit down to write, and not selling out your beliefs and values for the sake of becoming well-known. I have a passion for writing and I want to spend that passion on writing on subjects in which I truly believe and on subjects that I do not feel the need to hide from or justify to anyone in my life.  Of course I dream of becoming a known and acclaimed writer one day, and I am willing to put in the necessary efforts to get as close as I possibly can to achieving that dream. I may or may not ever be paid for my writing, but at least I will be secure in the knowledge that I never compromised my integrity to gain recognition and popularity.