We need you.
I, as a 30-year-old single, Catholic woman live a very joyful life. I want to get married someday, and yet my life is incredibly full—filled with so much friendship, adventure, ways God has fulfilled the desires of my heart—and I am truly grateful.
Yet in the last several years I have had countless people reiterate to me: “You don’t need a man.”
“You don’t need a man to make you happy. You don’t need a man to make you fulfilled. You don’t need a man to live the life you want to live. You don’t need a man to live out your vocation…”
I’ve been reflecting on these words for the past several years now, and this is all true to some extent. But on the other hand, I’m calling it: this is total and complete crap.
We do need men.
Yes, we women can be happy and joyful and fulfilled without you men—but that’s because God’s mercy is so big and great that it can fill anything that is lacking; and His goodness and provision are always enough for us. But it’s not because we as women are inherently not made for men, and because we have no need for you.
Men. We need you.
We need you as husbands, as fathers, as brothers, as friends. We need your leadership, protection, and provision. There is a role in our hearts, in our lives, in our society that is for you and you alone. And no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we pretend we can be just like you, or no matter how much we deny the irreplaceable role that only you can play in our lives…
No one and nothing can and will ever replace the masculine in our universe.
St. John Paul the Great said:
“Man cannot exist ‘alone’ (Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a ‘unity of the two’, and therefore in relation to another human person. It is a question here of a mutual relationship: man to woman and woman to man. Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other ‘I’. This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
While our hearts’ deepest fulfillment can only be found in God, and while some of us are legitimately called to lives of celibacy for the Kingdom, I think we need to address the reality that there is a profound lack of unity in our world today between man and woman.
For the last several years I have been trying to pretend like this doesn’t affect me. Trying to tell myself it’s okay. “It’s okay that so many of us today are single. We can be happy anyway. It’s okay if we never get married. It’s okay if we don’t have children. It’s going to be okay…”
On one hand, it will be okay. We can live very joyfully even if we’re not in an official “vocation” (In fact I just wrote a blog about this very topic the other week! See: http://www.karaklein.com/blog/living-your-vocation-when-you-feel-quite-vocation-less)
But I went into Church recently, really thinking and praying about this reality, and just for a moment, allowed myself to say, “No. It’s not okay. Because this is not what God intended. The present reality we see in our culture—the lack of marriage and family, lack of commitment and intimacy between men and women, the lack of children—is not how it was meant to be. And for just a moment I’m going to weep over this reality because it actually elicits weeping.”
Men, we need you.
So many women’s hearts today are aching for the masculine. And it’s good that they ache for the masculine because the feminine heart was made for the masculine heart. So many little children’s hearts today are aching for their fathers. Even so many men need the affirmation, the friendship, the validation of other men!
I don’t even really have an agenda with writing this blog, except to remind whatever man happens to read it of this:
You are wanted. You are needed. There is a place for you in this world that no one else can fill. Please be the man that God has destined you to be.
We need you.
One of the biggest questions of today, particularly for youth and young adults is: What do I do with my life? For us Catholics, this question translates to: What is my vocation? And this question can be an agonizing one.
Am I called to the priesthood? Religious life? To marriage? Well then, why hasn't my husband or wife arrived already?
So many of us have found ourselves uncommitted to a permanent state of life way further into adulthood than we would have liked. (And I do not pretend to have all the answers to this particular dilemma! Those thoughts are for another blog!) But I do have a few points concerning our vocations that I think are worth pondering.
A few years back, I had the unique privilege of going on a very intimate retreat with the brilliant and renowned author, Reverend Jacques Philippe. He gave a talk on vocations that truly stunned me.
He pointed out that many in our generation are looking far into the distance for the big “call” for our lives, overly concerned with what Jesus wants us to do with our future. And yet all the while, God is calling us in countless little ways today.
He said: if we learn to listen to that quiet and gentle voice of Christ in our daily lives, and respond to the very little calls of Jesus, saying yes to whatever He is asking of us today, then all these little calls will string together and the big “call” for our lives will just naturally and organically unfold.
When I heard this, I thought it was the most brilliant thing ever! And then I realized: this requires a great deal of trust on our part.
Do I really trust that if I only worry about today, God will truly take care of my future? That He will work out even the smallest details of my life?
Recently I heard another priest give a talk on one of my very favorite modern saints, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. And this priest said something about him, which I had never considered:
“Pier Giorgio knew what it felt like to be vocation-less, but that did not keep him from becoming a saint. Because he chose to love.”
Everywhere Pier Giorgio turned toward a vocation, he essentially hit a wall. He wanted to enter the priesthood, but his father would not allow it. He fell in love with a girl whom he wanted to marry, but their families would not accept one another. Then he dreamed of becoming a mining engineer, that he might “serve Christ better among the poor,” but even that never became a reality.
Yet he became such a beloved saint of our time—an example for so many of us who might also feel lost, might have shattered dreams, might continue to keep hitting walls—not because he was so successful, but because no matter where he was, he simply chose to love those around him.
It was incredibly simple.
We get so concerned with our futures... What is God calling me to? What is my mission? My dream, my goal, my path, my destiny? Where is my spouse? What am I called to do with my life?
When really the answer is so simple: love the Lord; and love the person that is right in front of you.
As St. Therese of Lisieux said with such wisdom (especially for our generation!):
“I have finally found my vocation. It is love!”
Our primary vocation is love. But again, this takes great trust. If we worry more about loving those in our lives than trying to figure out our tomorrow, can we trust that God will work out all the other details?
I'll never forget the day I walked into Saint Maria Goretti almost 7 years ago: a yellow house on 1 acre that was newly opened in Florida by the Community Cenacolo for girls who wanted to rediscover the joy of living.
On one hand I was so delighted to be there, but on the other hand my blood ran completely cold. I had committed to living for 3 months with a group of recovering addicts: 7 other girls from Austria, Italy, Mexico and the U.S. And in my mind there was a world of difference between me and them.
They had entered the community because they had done everything "wrong" in their lives. They had rebelled against every authority, broken every rule, lived on the streets. And I, on the other hand, had done everything "right" in mine. I had gone to daily mass for years, been involved in every ministry, remained chaste for my future spouse.
Yet I was anxious, bitter, angry, had lost the joy of living. Not because I had done everything wrong, but because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get or do it "right" enough.
But the strange thing was that despite my doing it all right and they're doing it all wrong, these girls had something I did not have: freedom, happiness, a sparkle in their eyes, light in their life. Something that I wanted. And something that made me remain in that house during the moments when I thought I was crazy for ever having arrived.
I had many happy and many hard days living in that community, but over time the distance between me and those girls grew smaller and smaller.
I'll never forget a very specific day when a beloved friend of mine came to the community to give us a talk. She said something that struck me to the core which I will never forget. Looking straight at me at me, she said:
"Our compulsive need to be perfect is a sign of our profound insecurity."
That was a moment of such grace for me. Almost within the blink of an eye I saw countless moments, countless ways within my life in which I demanded perfection: from myself, others, and the world around me. And ways I was miserable, ways I felt abandoned by God, ways I despaired when life, others or I inevitably fell short.
The gift these girls had which I so desperately needed was that through having been addicts, and falling flat on their faces, they knew the great imperfection, the great poverty of life. The imperfection and poverty within themselves and within others. And they accepted it.
They knew that life had failed them. But the immeasurable grace this gave them was emptiness for God to fill: the widest and deepest need for a Savior in their lives. And therefore the greatest opportunity to know the joy of God's mercy, the joy of being loved simply because we exist, which is ultimately the greatest freedom.
This is the freedom of knowing who we truly are- our true identity as prodigal children. As Reverend Jacques Philippe calls it, a kind of double freedom:
“When we see ourselves with God’s eyes, we experience tremendous freedom. It could be called a double freedom: to be sinners, and to become saints” (Interior Freedom).
Just recently I went to visit this same girls house where I lived almost 7 years ago, now holding nearly 25 girls with bright smiles on their faces. These girls are my biggest inspiration- such dear sisters, who remind me of who I truly am- and today I see no difference, absolutely no separation between myself and them.
We are all children of God. Prodigal sons and daughters finding our way into the merciful arms of our Father. This is the only place I want to be.
“Beauty will save the world.” -Dostoyevsky
Take one look around you—at the magazines, movies, billboards and newspapers that fill our culture and it’s not hard to see… We’re a society that worships beauty. The model, the movie star, the stunning celebrity is held in the most honorable of places (and perhaps this was always so for the most beautiful of women).
It’s clear that there is great power in beauty. And great pain.
I have never known a woman (including myself)—no matter what her background, what she looks like, no matter what her weight, or how many men have pursued her—who has not known the pain, and the shame, of not feeling beautiful enough.
My best friends and I talk about this topic frequently.
We get dressed to go out, spending (ok, I’ll admit it… sometimes hours getting ready) only to arrive at a restaurant, bar or party to take one look at all the other gorgeous girls around us, and say: “Ugh! I feel disgusting!” (Anyone relate?)
The shame of not feeling beautiful enough is rampant and frequent. We feel like there’s something wrong with us, and we want to go and hide.
Yet, recently I was getting ready once again to go out with my friends. I put on my makeup, put on a beautiful dress, and when I went out, several people said to me, “You look so beautiful!”
To my shock, I STILL felt shame. I felt like something was wrong with me and wanted to go and hide.
I think many of we women are scared of not being beautiful enough; and equally, I think we are afraid to be too beautiful, to actually be seen and noticed.
What if other girls are jealous? What if they think we’re conceited and vain? What if we’re condemned and criticized for our beauty? Even worse, what if we’re taken advantage of? What if we’re misused or abused?
And in addition, what if we can’t keep up that beautiful image we’re trying so hard to create for ourselves for very long?
There have a been a few points in my life where I have been “model” thin (underweight in fact). But whenever I got to this place I would get so scared because I knew it wasn’t sustainable. What was I going to do when I could no longer keep up that beautiful “model-like” image? It was bound to break eventually… and then what?
The same can go for our internal beauty, our virtues and attributes.
Not long ago in confession a priest asked me: “Are you afraid to be holy?”
It caught me by surprise because my immediate internal response was, “Yes! I am! I’m afraid that if I’m too holy and too good, it will threaten others, make others feel bad, make them uncomfortable. And likewise, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to ever measure up to my own image of what holiness is.”
I’m afraid of being too holy, and I’m afraid of never being holy enough.
Yet I’m reminded again and again that God does not desire our performance. And our lovability does not rest on our achievement.
The size of our body and the look of our face will certainly change as time goes on, and our own virtues will most likely fail us sooner or later. But the Lord’s gaze never changes.
Even the pope is not too holy, and even the prostitute on the street is beautiful enough. Because as our Holy Father keeps telling us, “God’s Name is Mercy.” He sees us with the eyes of love.
I wonder how different the world would be if we could truly see, truly know and experience this: the beauty of His love. His love is the beauty that saves the world, and when we remember His love, we are not afraid of being too much, and we know that we are more than enough.
Photo via Morguefile.com (2015).
iMac. iPhone. iPad. iPod. These machines with “I” rule our society. And interesting that they are all marked with an apple bitten into them.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Mac products and use them all the time. But I think it symbolically says a great deal about where our culture is.
We have never been so consumed with ourselves (particularly, this younger generation). And simultaneously, we are living in an unprecedented culture of death. Many of us don’t see it, we are blind to it on a daily basis, but we are surrounded by abortion, gang violence, drugs, suicide, and now ever increasing sex trafficking.
What has come over our society?
When I go and speak to young people, the main thing I talk to them about is joy. Where do we find our joy? How do we become happy in our lives? We don’t even know the answer anymore.
We are so bombarded with unceasing noise from the media that sex, power, money and fame are going to make us happy… being able to do whatever feels good at any moment, despite what it may cost our future, our well-being, and especially others around us. We are constantly told to put ourselves first, first, first. And it is death, death, death to our joy.
I think that generations before us—perhaps even merely fifty years ago!—knew a very basic truth that our society seems to have forgotten:
It is in losing our lives that we find them.
It is only in giving of ourselves, forgetting ourselves, losing ourselves in service, learning to love today—wherever we are in our lives—that we find authentic joy.
When I speak this basic truth to young people, it’s the most exciting news for them! I tell them:
“You don’t have to wait to live a life of love! You don’t have to wait until you’re married, or until you’re in religious life… You are called to love today! You are called to be a saint today! You are called to give your life in service to your friends and your family, your community, to those around you today! To live a love that is free, faithful, total and fruitful today, right where you are, even at 13, or 17, or 27 years old. And whatever you live today is what you will bring into your future tomorrow. But it is only in loving--truly living a life of love as Christ did—that we discover the joy we are looking for.”
Authentic love gives us life; and selfishness brings death. Is it really surprising then that the more we turn in on ourselves and isolate from our families, friends, communities, and most of all from God, that we have a generation that has lost the joy of living? That does not even want to live their own lives?
I saw an acronym for JOY the other day written outside of an old church. It may have been a little cheesy, but I think it was the truth, and I think it’s what our society is in desperate need of. It simply said:
“You have not called me to be successful. You have called me to be faithful.” -Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
I have these famous words by Mother Teresa written and posted on the mirror in my bathroom so that every day - amidst a world that values success above all else- I can be reminded of the one thing necessary… faithfulness. To Jesus.
Recently I remembered a moment in my life during a time in which I lived in an almost cloistered environment. Having little access to television, media, or anything on the outside world, every day was spent doing very basic work, talking with others, and simply being with Jesus in the Eucharist.
I remember having a moment before Jesus one day, and realizing that nothing else mattered to me but Him. It no longer mattered who I was with or what my future held… if I was going to be married one day or enter religious life. If I was going to live in Hollywood or in Africa, travel the world singing, or scrub bathroom floors. I truly didn’t care. All I wanted was to know God.
Not just to know about Him, but to really know Him. To know who He was and what He was like. To be with Him, to be a saint, to do His will. To be faithful.
And how very easy it is to slip away from that place, to let our gaze slowly drift from the one thing necessary into a million other distractions… Trying to figure out our own lives. Trying to gain other people’s approval. Trying to achieve. Trying to be successful.
Not only is it so easy to lose sight of who matters most in our lives—the Lord—but it is also so easy to lose sight of our one true mission in life: love.
How many days do I spend dreaming, planning, preparing all the ways I think I can build up God’s Kingdom, while I am literally forgetting to love the person right in front of me? Forgetting to serve in the most basic ways those whom God has placed in my life today? To do the "small things with great love" as Mother Teresa reminds us?
When I forget to do this, I miss the boat. I miss living the heart of the Gospel in my own life.
During this Lenten season my prayer is to remember my deepest calling. To draw deeper into the presence of Jesus and let Him truly permeate my being, that I may love as He loves. To “rend my heart” as Scripture says (Joel 2:13). To receive His grace to be truly faithful... For that is my only success.
Every Christmas I am touched again and again by how Jesus was born into poverty... Not a God for the rich, but a God for the poor- truly a lover of the poor who was born into the lowliest state imaginable.
I am always so grateful for this reality because it reminds me that I too can peacefully-even joyfully!- embrace my own inner poverty and the great poverty of the world around me.
But today I was also thinking about the Blessed Mother, and the many poverties she too faced on the road to Bethlehem. The ways she was stripped of everything she knew and loved until all she had was empty space for the Christ child to be born into her life. Fleeing her homeland with nothing left but empty hands with which she could cling to Jesus with all her strength.
And she – like many of us – faced endless obstacles on that road which led her to the fulfillment of God's promises.
I personally have also faced many obstacles in this last year and was so touched when I read these words by one of my favorite women, Mother Elvira Petrozzi, Foundress of Community Cenacolo. I wanted to share them:
"Faith is not something magical: 'I believe, so God should grant me this grace.' 'I pray, so why hasn't God fulfilled my desires yet?'
Let us enter into the faith of Mary, her solid, certain, strong faith. But, oh, how much she must have suffered! How did she respond to the fact that she was ready to give birth to her child, yet no door opened to them? 'There is no room for you!' Even she must have experienced some fear and anxiety, because she could feel the contractions and yet there was no one to welcome them. She knew that the Son of God was about to be born!
Reflecting on Mary, I realize that, at times, faith is seriously tested through suffering. It becomes stronger when it passes through pain, rejection and marginalization. It is strengthened when our goodness is not even seen, much less appreciated, and we experience none of the respect of our basic human dignity for which we fundamentally long.
It is precisely when we are on the cross and we are suffering that the strength to believe, which later becomes joy, is born within us, and we discover that we are more mature, more balanced, more sensitive toward others, more capable of loving. There is no reality more than pain that can teach us how to love!
Pain is the moment of validation of your faith! ... Instead of 'dumping' our pain on somebody else, we should immerse ourselves in a prayer of trust, 'dumping' on God what hurts and worries us, and trusting ourselves to Him who is our Father.
I am sure that Mary and Joseph prayed constantly in faith, as they knocked on the doors of the inns to see if there was room for them. Their faith gave them certainty that the Lord had not abandoned them, that someone would welcome them, that some place, some door would open.
Faith is He who lives within us, who is stronger than our disappointments, stronger than every closed door...
If things are not working out or you still don't fully understand them, keep them within your heart. 'Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.' (Luke 2:19) Even she did not always understand everything or understand right away, but she continued to live the moment of uncertainty and pain with trust that the heavens would open and God would be victorious."
~M. Elvira Petrozzi
Oh Jesus, be victorious in us. Amidst all of the closed doors in our lives, all our disappointments, our heartaches, and all our failings, we thank you. For these become our "mangers"- the sacred spaces into which You may be born in our lives, where You can save and redeem us.
Jesus Christ, born into a poor and lowly manger 2015 years ago, give us the joy of true faith.
Good morning, my life.
About 6 years ago I spent a very cold and difficult winter in a little Italian village called Spinetta along the Piedmont mountains, bordering France and Switzerland.
I lived there with 16 girls from all over Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and from all walks of life: from the convent to lives of prostitution on the streets. But we were all there for one purpose: to know Jesus more deeply, to give our lives away in love to those around us, and to discover the joy of living the Gospel more radically.
Every morning whoever was doing the wake-up call would run through the house at 6 am, turning on the lights and exclaiming, "Good morning, Holy Spirit!" And the rest of us would respond: "Good morning, my life!"
The first several times I heard this, I couldn't help but cry at the beauty of such words.
"Good morning, my life."
Good morning, my life... You are mine, and I am yours!
Good morning, my life... You are the Lord's precious gift to me.
Good morning to all the joy you will bring me today. And hello to whatever suffering, sorrow and pain that may come my way through you.
You are my life.
Not just made to be mine alone, but to be blessed, broken, given and shared with others. And I welcome you fully because through you--in every moment--I can discover Jesus Christ. If I dare to.
I would imagine there are many people in Paris, and perhaps throughout all of France, who don't want to open their eyes or get out of bed today. Whose hearts are broken, whose minds are terribly anxious, and who can no longer see the light.
Why do we live in such a culture of hatred, violence and death where people are killed in the name of God? I don't know that any of us can make sense of it. And we certainly cannot close our eyes to it.
But we must keep our eyes on the Author of life, the Giver of life, who has conquered death; and has given us another day to live, to love, and to run after Him... He who is Life Himself.
How will I choose to live today? For all I have is today to live with joy, to love those around me, and to search for my beautiful Savior in every moment. And how I live today might be a tiny drop in the ocean of this world, but even drops can make ripples.
I, like so many, want peace in this world. But as Mother Teresa said, "Peace begins with a smile." So I will smile at the soul in front of me, smile at the Lord above me, smile at the face in the mirror. And smile at the life He has given me.
And I might smile for the people of Paris, who though they can't see it, will hopefully feel the love and compassion we feel for them right now. Because every smile, every act of kindness, brings more light and love into the world. And while seemingly insignificant, one small act of kindness and love can counteract the darkness and hatred we are facing.
Good morning, my life.
Bon jour, ma vie
"Who am I to judge?"
These very words both moved and enraged countless hearts at the start of Pope Francis' pontificate. Since elected pope, Francis' words and actions have been unpredictable, especially in recent days when he addressed the U.S. Congress, emphasizing issues like climate change, and seemingly steering clear of anything controversial.
When I first read his speech I, like many, felt anger. "Why would he stand before our government and not reprimand them for legalizing gay marriage and slaughtering millions of babies through abortion... key issues which the Catholic Church fights vigorously against?"
But then I thought: "Who am I to judge?"
Could it just be possible that the Holy Father knows a great deal more than I do about the world's problems, has a much broader and global perspective, sees political relationships from a completely different angle than I am capable of, and hears things from the Holy Spirit that I am not privy to?
Could it just be possible that there is wisdom in how the pope chooses to behave, and in the words he chooses to use? That if he met with Congress only to step in with the most controversial topics, that they would immediately shut down, and his speech would fall on deaf ears?
Instead, like Jesus often does in Scripture, he meets them where they are. And so very much like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, he "speaks the truth always and uses words when necessary." He passes on dining with the rich and powerful in order to feed the homeless, which turns more heads and hearts in this country than any mere words ever could.
Could it just be possible that he is showing us the way of love? As Jesus said, "I have not come to condemn the world but to save it” (John 3:17). Could it be possible that through this way, abortionists, homosexuals, atheists, those who feel most bitter about the Church and have seen it as a great enemy just might be able to say:
"What is this Catholic Church? I have to know more! And who is this Jesus Christ that Pope Francis serves?" That their ears might be opened to actually hear the truth, and their eyes be opened to see: "Oh! Why doesn't the Catholic Church support abortion? Because it loves! Why doesn't the Church support gay marriage? Because it loves!"
Pope Francis is a pope of love. Interesting that he does not put himself above meeting with Obama and his friends, above feeding the homeless, and that he also refuses to judge another person. But all too many of us are all too quick to judge Francis.
I think many of the things Pope Francis says and does, like Jesus, are not for we "righteous" but for "sinners"--meeting and speaking to them where they are. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do,” Jesus pointedly said to the Pharisees when they challenged Him on eating with tax collectors and sinners. “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). This is a pope of mercy, speaking to a world desperately in need of mercy. In the end, who are we to judge?
"Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor; it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing."
- Pope Francis to the United States Bishops
Guard your heart. Guard your heart. And guard your heart some more. For as long as I can remember this has been the Catholic cliché when it comes to dating. “I want to guard her heart… I want to guard his heart… Let’s all guard our hearts!” Yeah. Until they’re walled by stone.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in boundaries, abstinence and in what we are now referring to as “emotional chastity.” And to some degree, we must absolutely guard our hearts, and prudence must always be our guide. But in my observation our generation has tended toward two extremes in the areas of love and romance: one, as we often see in the media and secular society surrounding us, the way of sleeping around, infidelity and tossing your heart loosely about. We all know this is not the road that leads to lasting love, joy or freedom.
But in reaction to this, I believe many Christians, striving to live virtuous lives opposed to the culture around us, have run to the other extreme: we’ve gone into hiding, terrified of making any mistake, refusing to take one risk, and as a result, we have fled intimacy. We’re not dating, not getting to know one another, and we are stuck. Frozen in the single life. Guarding our hearts.
When I was 13, influenced by the popular work of Joshua Harris, I myself “kissed dating goodbye.” I vowed to put walls around my heart and only date and fall in love with the man I was going to marry. There was just one slight problem. How was I ever to know if a man was the right spouse for me if I didn’t take the risk of spending time with him, being transparent with him, and gradually opening my heart to him? If I didn’t date him? This risk is a process we must undergo—and a messy one at that—if we are ever going to know the glory of walking down the aisle.
Intimacy is both joyful and uncomfortable. It’s our deepest desire to be one with another, to have someone see, know and embrace all of us—our beauty as well as brokenness—and yet, it’s our greatest fear precisely because of its risks. But let’s not forget that the cross and the resurrection are one reality. You can’t really know one without the other. And we will not know the joy of intimacy, love and marriage without pushing past the discomfort and fear of the risks they involve. The risks many of us are currently fleeing.
We can’t fall in love if we never jump. So while we’re guarding our hearts on the path to finding the love we are called to live, let’s also not be afraid to risk our hearts… just a little.