Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dear friend:

Dear friend,

I know what it feels like. The not knowing. The waiting on the precipice of uncertainty with only the certainty of wanting to step outside yourself and becoming truly great. At least, I think that’s what you want. I think that’s what we all want. Maybe.

Here’s the truth: I can’t take away your uncertainty. I can’t take away that gnawing feeling of the unknown or tell everyone in the world to stop asking you what you’re doing next. I can tell you this: you wanting to become great is the first step towards getting there. But along with that, you also have to know it. You have to know, deep in your heart, that you yourself are great. Even if you fail sometimes. Even if your hair is a little funky this morning or if there’s a stain from your strawberry jam on your button down shirt. You’re still great. Do a little dance in front of the mirror every time you go to the bathroom. Shake your hips and give yourself a wink until someone comes in. Pretend you have something in your eye.

Repeat the phrase that says “Behold God beholding you... and smiling.” Marinate in that. Sit in that warm place for a little bit, feel the love, but don’t get too comfortable. Act on it—this desire for greatness. It’s like a hunger isn’t it? The search for your vocation, for who you're meant to be. You want to figure it out so badly you could scream. Then you think, “where’s the fun in figuring it out right away, anyway?” Besides, it’ll change, you know. It doesn’t stay the same. It depends on the time in your life, your passions, your circumstances, your location, the people you’ve met...or haven’t. A lot of times, it unfortunately depends on money too. Don’t get depressed. Don’t get overwhelmed. You’re still great, remember? But it’s time to do something.

First of all, it involves other people. You knew that, right? Remember that no man is an island thing? That guy had a point. In fact, I think he was onto something. It sounds funny, but it’s true. To find yourself, you have to find the beauty of others. Look them in the eye. See how real and rugged they are. Look at their scars. Listen to their stories. Accept their flaws. See that they’re trying, too. See that they are beautiful.

You also have to lose yourself. Should I have saved that for the end? You probably didn’t want to hear that, did you? We spend most of our adolescence trying to find ourselves, why the heck would you want to give that up? I don’t mean go and get your own version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I mean think about yourself less often because you find yourself a little too busy thinking about others. In the “how can I help you?” kind of way, not the “what will they think of me?” kind of way. And guess what? Thinking of yourself less often is refreshing. It’s liberating, really. It takes a huge load off. And once you realize that, you kind of want to let your hair grow out, wear the same three outfits, forget to shave, possibly live in a hut or monastery somewhere. Maybe that’s for some people. But I don’t think that’s for you. Don’t go to the hut. You can let your hair grow out or forget to shave every once in a while.

Instead, stay with people. Marinate in them, too. In the world. It may seem a little depressing and dirty—what with the starving children, genocide, ambulances, hurricanes, cancer and all. But it can be a really cool place sometimes. Like have you ever been to Cinque Terre? Or Yosemite? Or the hill country? Or your backyard? Those are really cool places. So are Paris, London, New York, Vienna and Prague—but those have more man-made stuff that’s cool. The other ones are pretty much gorgeous without even trying. They can really make you jealous sometimes. So can the sunset.

But if the sun can set every day in the midst of all the egoism, greed, inequality and so on, you can give off some beauty too. That's why you should keep on keeping on in this journey for your own version of greatness. Just like the sun, you can illuminate the world. And just like its setting, you can leave beauty in your wake. You can also be great, even if you have to rely on others sometimes or if you don't always have it all figured out. Being great just involves opening your heart a little bit, becoming vulnerable to your uncertainty and overcoming it in the process. You know, it’s that easy. Fine, maybe it’s not. But you become stronger when you do. So open up your heart. Love other people. There’s a freedom in our liberty, you know? And that’s something that should be celebrated. You’re alive, after all. Aren’t you?

Are you?

All the best,

Friday, March 22, 2013

thank you

The beautiful thing about living in this world is that you live life with others. Guess what? You don't have to have everything figured out all the time. No, you're not supposed to. That way, you learn to rely on other people, as vulnerable as it may feel sometimes.

You take comfort in knowing that others will inevitably rely on you one day. But for now, when it's hard to admit you can't do it alone and life's problems seem bigger than your five foot frame, it's enough to know that other people will answer your scribbled messages asking for prayers. And they answer them with love, rosaries, hugs, smiles, texts, and well wishes.

This is community. It's humbling.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


French countryside outside of the Taize community

Different things remind me
of the things of home
of the things far off
of the things I've done

The car that races past
The haunting melody
The scent of her perfume
The feeling of the breeze

I walk the steps so different
Yet always just the same
The path I tread keeps winding
Calling me by name

The people in this puzzle
Shift and rearrange
The world dances on madly
The clocks are all deranged

Why does life move so quickly?
Why does it ebb and flow?
Why do emotions rotate?
There’s so much left to know

And different things come together
To show me I’ve been wrong
I'm becoming different
It’s been me all along

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

habemus papam

Dinner was over. Our allotted half hour whipped by. Just minutes before, I had been in the frenzy of the kitchen: slicing, stirring, flipping. Three different pans cooking at once. The community getting hungrier and hungrier.

Now, the chaos evaporates--leaving dew of peace, drops of joy, glimmers of thanksgiving. The fragile Poor Clare opens the door to the chapel. "Beautiful evening, isn't it?" she asks. "Got to say thank you," I wink.

Habemus papam. We have a pope.

The tiny desktop screen revealed him to us hours before. Our office crowds around, texting, murmuring, giggling, crying. Amy and I did the "Pope Disco" (soon to be a worldwide sensation). Whatever the reaction, all know history is being made. Catholics and non-Catholics stop to watch. There is something about this man coming out on the balcony. He wears the white uniform, facing the millions watching, listening, judging, relishing.

Habemus papam. We have a pope.

He steps out into the weight of the world. With scandal, gossip, corruption, hunger, poverty, injustice and complacency waiting as he takes his stole.

He stands stoically on the balcony, barely moving, staring out into the recording lenses of the world. Side glances, a nudge. "Say something! Do something! Smile!"

And moments later, he does. A prayer for the Pope Emeritus. The prayer Jesus Himself taught us. The Hail Mary. A good start. But then--

The chosen representative of Jesus Christ on earth bows to his people--the children of the world. And we, the Church, the Body of Christ, extend our blessing before receiving his.

We are people of faith. We are brothers and sisters. We are children of God. We are universal. We are Catholic. And we unite now, resilient in these times, in the wake of a new dawn, looking towards the sun.

Habemus papam. We have a pope.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

a long-awaited a-ha moment

I realized something obvious today: doing things for other people is awesome. Go ahead, roll your eyes. Ok, now admit it. You’ve felt it too--pure satisfaction and joy from the pure satisfaction and joy of others. Total, humble pride for making someone else smile. The kind that makes you want to pat yourself on the back and say “COOL” in your best little kid voice (you know, the one that’s just seen a worm or their plant grow). 

You touched another human being….right on the heart. And it’s becoming a little addicting. You don’t want to tell your mom because she’ll sigh and say, “wow, it only took you practically 23 years.” In fact, you probably don’t want to tell anyone because maybe they won’t understand. Maybe they won’t find it that breathtaking or maybe they’ve known this great secret all along. Maybe you don't want to admit you were out of the loop. Maybe they’ll furrow their brows in horror, tsking, “What have you been doing all these years?”

“Plenty of good,” would be my answer. “But not enough."

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" echoes to mock you. But it's not that you didn't understand. It's that now it fully resonates within you and, dare you say it, stems from your core. Now, you have full acceptance of this fact. Mind, body and soul.

That doesn't happen too often.

The journey has occurred once again from the head to the heart. It doesn't mean it's over. That I've got it all figured out.What it means is that right now, I'm at a point where this is crucial to the way I view the world. And this fact is what affects my actions and decisions and thoughts. 

You know, the fact that every single one of us has the power to drastically affect other people, for better or for worse. The fact that this can be a traumatizing or beautiful thing. The fact that I like affecting people for the better. The fact that this can be born of simplicity—a card, baked goods, a birthday reminder, a phone call, a question, a wave. The fact that these aren’t earth-shattering things. The fact that they are. 

And we should try to do them more often.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Catherine of Siena

"Love attracts love. That is, when I see that God loves me supremely, I can't help loving Him in return...My eye has found the light, and the light itself has made me love the light.

...And whatever He gives us and permits us is for this purpose only, that we may share in His supreme eternal beauty."

Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church

Guess I was named after her for a reason. 

Catherine of Siena was a philosopher and theologian. She was a spiritual writer of remarkable courage. She delved into European politics to heal the Church from a great schism. She was named a Doctor of the Church and patron saint of both Italy and Europe. Saint Catherine of Siena is more than just a fascinating figure in history. Her life is something powerful, brilliant, mystical, peaceful, and a wellspring of inspiration. 


Thursday, March 7, 2013

From Elisabeth Leseur

“[L]et us realize that all collective reform must first be individual reform.  Let us work at transforming ourselves and our lives.  Let us influence those around us, not by useless preaching, but by the irresistible power of our spirituality and the example of our lives.

Let us give ourselves generously and try to strengthen our faith and expand our understanding, confident that all will come to us to be rekindled and to enlighten their hearts and minds….

Let us love.  Let our lives be a perpetual song of love for God, first of all, and for all human beings who suffer, love, and mourn.  Let deep joy live in us.  Let us be like the lark, enemy of the night, who always announces the dawn and awakens in each creature the love of light and life.  Let us awaken others to the spiritual life.

Why do we put off doing the good until tomorrow?  Why do we wait to be wealthy before giving?  Is not the gift of ourselves better than money, and is there any time when we could not offer a tear or a smile to someone who is suffering?  Cannot a word from us strengthen someone in distress?  Cannot an act of pure love coming from our depths brighten a sad life?"

I stumbled upon this this morning after reading the Meditation of the Day about her in my Magnificat daily prayer book. I have taken the liberty of underlining my favorite take-aways. Based on this reflection from Elisabeth, I will be sure to add her to my reading list and find out why she is lovingly called "The Joyful Catholic."

Let us love!


Elisabeth Leseur, a French Catholic married woman, died in 1914.  She had offered her life to God for the conversion of her husband, an atheist who hated and mocked all religion.  Her husband later became a Trappist monk. Her cause for canonization is currently underway.  Her Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur and Selected Writings are recommended reading.

Taken from: http://confraternityofourladyofmercy.org/2010/09/29/reflection-from-elisabeth-leseur/

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

the boundary

I sit with my feet propped up, looking out the window at the "real" snow—the kind that sticks on the ground and seems to go on forever. My Southern roots already lament the moment when this magic will stop. A candle flickers; classical music plays; my tea gets colder and colder with each passing note. I sit, gazing out at the convent of bustling young nuns across the street, wondering if I will catch a glimpse of one of their royal blue habits. Already the light plays with my eyes, the windows taunt me. Did one just whip by? Are they standing by the door? Or is it just my imagination? I’d like to give them a call.

Come out and let’s wave to each other across the street! Let’s yell across the yard how miraculous this snow is and admire the dusting of God! Let’s throw snow balls at each other the way you throw grass lovingly at your sisters embarking on their missions!

Then I remember they don’t have personal phones. Or Facebook pages. Or Twitter accounts. Then I remember they are nuns in a community and I am not. Though they are always welcoming, I can only barely enter their world, just as they cannot enter fully into mine. This border seems harder to cross than so many others because it is invisible. And so I must wait for prescribed times of visit or stolen moments like the other morning, when I bumped into a small group of them on my way to the bus stop. 

I felt like we were best friends then, young women all going to the bus stop, laughing and talking, bringing grandeur to an otherwise ordinary human activity. But the difference was undeniable—their gray and blue habits radiated simple beauty compared to my layers and layers of clothing. I almost felt uncomfortable, stifled by all the baggage I carried--like a clown drowning in unnatural make-up and parading in a loud outfit. They seemed so free in blue and gray.

I know that the care and love felt among us is real. I know the hugs and jokes and reflections shared when I go over to their house on the first Friday of the month are genuine.  But I also knew that I am not one of them.

And so I sit, gazing out at the convent of bustling young nuns across the street, wondering if I will catch a glimpse of one of their royal blue habits through the windows. The candlelight flickers; the classical music continues, but my tea is cold.

It is not solely the street that divides us.