"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.
Recently at the national Focus conference I heard gifted speaker Sara Swafford tell a group of single young women: “Become the woman of your dreams and you’ll attract the man of your dreams.” This struck a deep chord in me.
As we enter into a new year, and resolutions fill conversations and various forms of media, I’ve been asking myself:
“What do I want for this new year? Not merely, what do I want to do, but who do I want to become? Who is the woman of my dreams?”
Initially, what comes to my mind is: perfection. I want to be perfect, of course. Virtuous and valiant, strong yet sweet, to always do the right thing, say the right thing, know the right thing, to be successful in all I attempt, to love without faltering.
Yet I once heard the very wise Rev. Jacques Philippe say: “More than God wants our perfection, more than he wants our success, He just wants our trust.”
What kind of woman would I be if I didn’t so much grasp after being perfect as much as I trusted in God with my whole heart? If my whole presence exuded the reality: “All is well. We have a Father. He is real, and He is good. We can trust Him with our entire being, abandon ourselves to Him without reserve. And no matter what happens—though the mountains crumble around us and the earth melt like wax before us—we are in His loving hands, and He is working all things for our good.”
Probably I would be less like Eve, and more like Mary. Less like the one who took matters into her own hands out of fear that her Maker was holding out on her, and more like the one who said, “the Lord has done great things for me and holy is His name!”
I think we Christians complicate our lives more than we realize. We think we have to do so much, be so much, achieve so much, discover so much; when all we really have to do is say “yes.” A simple “Let it be done unto me according to your will.” Today.
Yes to loving the person that is right in front of us; yes to accepting with peace life as it unfolds before us; yes to trusting radically like a little child. Simple, but not easy.
To be a woman whose trust and joy are not based upon the ever-changing circumstances around her, but solely in a God who loves her. That is a woman of faith. And that is the woman of my dreams.
Oh, to be female, single and Catholic! A state of great ambivalence (or may we say, distress!) for all too many in today’s world. With the feminine desire to make a gift of herself through marriage in a society where people flee commitment, and with deep longings to bring forth life amidst a culture of death, the future for the devout Catholic female can sometimes look a little grim. While the problem of prolonged single-hood is deep, multi-faceted, and cannot be blamed on (nor solved with) one sex, race, or generation, what do we single Catholic women do while we wait for the desire of our hearts?
Like Mary, we say “yes” with a whole heart to Jesus Christ, who is Love itself, hope with joyful expectation, and learn to love right where we are.
We long for love, but sometimes we’re more focused on being the recipients. We want to be pursued, romanced, courted and carried off into the sunset—which is only natural, as it’s how God made us. But as women, we are called not only to receive love, but also to give it freely. Even now as we wait.
Perhaps this time of waiting for so many is a time of purification, as God refashions our hearts to seek to love rather than seeking to be loved by those around us. We need women today in our world who are willing to love sacrificially without counting the cost—for the sake of the other, and not for what that person gives them.
Can we young singles lay down the desire to be on pedestal for the desire to serve? Can we dare to put others before us? Dare to put Christ first? Dare to be content right where we are, to embrace our lives with gratitude as they are today, trusting that we are in God’s will? Can we dare to be humble?
My roommates and I recently wondered what a Catholic single girl’s Litany of Humility would look like. We came up with this:
From the desire of being stared at…
From the desire of being called, messaged, emailed, tweeted, Facebook stalked or Instagramed…
From the desire of being told I’m gorgeous…
From the desire of hearing there isn’t, never was, and never will be anyone else quite like me…
From the desire of a four-carat diamond ring…
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being alone…
From the fear forever being a bridesmaid…
From the fear of gaining 5 more pounds…
From the fear of my ticking biological clock…
From the fear of the single life being my permanent vocation…
Deliver me, Jesus.
That others be pursued more than I…
That others get asked out more than I…
That others get married before I do…
That others have children even when I don’t…
That others be happier than I, provided that I become as happy I should…
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, unafraid to be single till the day you died, hear us.
It hurts to stop looking for the love we long to have, to stop demanding love, and instead, search every day for ways we can offer it to the world around us. But as a priest once told me, “In becoming a woman, you must be the one to love, to serve, to give, and you will find the joy you are looking for.”
Last Christmas Eve, on my 28th birthday, in a little chapel in New Orleans, Louisiana, I sat before Jesus in the Eucharist and wept. Having been on a journey with the Lord for so many years I felt exceedingly frustrated that I still struggled with so many of the same issues, poverties, faults, and that I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life.
I wanted to be strong and have it all together. I wanted to be valiant, virtuous, beautiful and saintly. And there I was, weak, dependent, fragile and in a nutshell, poor.
Crying out to the Lord, I asked Him bitterly, “Why did you make me like this? Why did you make so frail and needy, with so much brokenness? Why did you make me so dependent on you for every breath that I breathe? Why didn’t you make me strong and capable and beautiful in the ways I want to be? Why?”
Immediately with such tenderness and love I heard the voice of God the Father say to me in reply:
“Kara, I made you a Christmas child, and the gift of Christmas is poverty. And poverty is your greatest gift.”
Jesus was born into a dark, cold, empty cave. Into the barren blackness of the night. A King born for the poor, of the poor, as the poor. And how easy it is for we followers of Christ to hate poverty.
By poverty I don’t just mean the hungry in the soup kitchens, the homeless in the shelters, or the beggar on the street—I mean the beggar within our very own families, and most of all, the beggar within ourselves. We want to escape our emptiness, deny our addictions, shun our weaknesses and mask our faults. But as my mother always told me, “Kara, if you were perfect, why would you need a Savior?”
I think St. Therese was made a Doctor of the Church specifically in this time of history because in a society where we truly believe it is our job to be perfect, independent, need no one, and save ourselves, she reminds us that the way to the Lord is not a growing up but a growing down; that the way to freedom is not a figuring out but a letting go.
“What pleases God is to see me love my littleness and my poverty. It is the blind hope I have in His mercy. There is my only treasure,” she tells us.
All of our weakness and frailty, all of our poverty—yes, even our sin if we lay it at the foot of the manger—become that empty cave into which the Christ child may be born. To ransom the captive chained within our souls. To free us from the bondage of ourselves. To die and rise for us, and make us truly rich, that we might rejoice! All because we are poor.