Monday, February 18, 2013

A letter to my 25-year-old self

Dear Anne at 25:

Hi there. Don't be shocked to receive a letter from yourself nearly 10 years in the future (I turn 35 Wednesday). My reason for writing this is to offer you some encouragement while you sit waiting for your life to begin. It's also to encourage myself because, frankly, I've felt a bit under attack the last few days as I approach my birthday, and I think I need a reminder.

So here's a possibly hard truth: you're life has been going for a while now. You're in the midst of it. I'd like to tell you that when you get to where I am, in 2013, you'll have no regrets, that you're married to an amazing man, you have several kids, have written a novel or two and life is perfect, but that isn't the case. You're still single, so no husband or kids. You're too busy to write those novels at the moment. Fortunately, your regrets are few, and none of them major.

This doesn't sound at all encouraging, does it? Hold that thought.

I know right now back in 2003 you're feeling a bit stuck, living at home with mom and dad post-grad school while you job hunt. Dad wants you to take any job that comes along (if I remember correctly, he's pushing a job at a local insurance company), but you want to write, so stick to your guns. The job you get isn't perfect (and no job is), and it's not the highest-paying gig, but you learn a lot. I'm still there, and there have some pretty amazing coworkers.

You see all your friends are pairing off, getting married and having babies. You've been to a load of weddings lately. You share their joy, but you want that joy for yourself. And you are in mid-crush on Patrick. I know he seems like the be-all and end-all of Catholic guy perfection: prayerful, cute, engineer-smart and writing you those witty, lengthy emails from where he is in New Mexico. You're thinking about a possible future with him. I know it's too late to say don't get so caught up in the whole thing, but try to curb it a little. You spend way too much time daydreaming about him. Nothing comes of it. I don't say this to be discouraging or cruel, mind. I just want you to realize that sometimes, crushes can come close to idolatry. If he were really invested in you, he would show it. Give your heart to the Lord instead, and He will care for it so devotedly.

So you're wondering where the upside is. From where you sit, you're probably thinking I'm some washed-up spinster. But you're not alone. You have a pretty amazing roommate. I know you have no kids of your own, but I do have five -- yes, five! -- wonderful godchildren. People still think I'm in my late 20s. I am loved and appreciated and supported by so many. I don't feel old at all, so let me tell you, 35 is hardly the end of the world. And speaking of the world, you know how you want so desperately to travel? There is plenty of travel in your future. Hawaii is coming up pretty soon for you, actually. Then there's a fair amount of domestic travel in the contiguous 48, too. You're heading to Oregon, Nevada, D.C., to name a few. And Italy. This will be the most amazing gift and help you grow in so many ways. Puerto Rico is coming on the horizon for me in the next few months as well.

I want to encourage you to take advantage of this time that you have. Learn new things. Take up some new hobbies. Volunteer. You're going to have a great time working with the youth group at church soon. This may not make much sense to you, but your friends with kids? A few of them are actually envious of you. You can read uninterrupted for hours, and run into the store for 20 minutes without hauling what seems like a week's-worth of camping supplies with you to keep the kids happy and occupied. You can travel. Don't waste this time. There is so much you can accomplish, so much help you can give, just as you are.

Finally (although this is probably the most important thing), at 35, you're going to be much deeper in your prayer life than you are now. This is a good thing. God deserves your attention. He longs for it. Be open to His guidance. Although it's an ongoing struggle (and I'm hardly a pro at this), I can say that trust Him so much more now than you do. His plans are not yours, and while you are going to be frustrated about how things work out sometimes, ultimately that is a very good thing. All those things you hope for? It's not that you don't deserve them, because you -- I -- do. Take it from me when I say you weren't ready. I still may not be. But I know that God's plans are all for the good, and He watches over me.

The future is unwritten, ultimately, and only the Lord knows what's in store. Have faith in that. Take some chances, because he won't let you fall. And when things look cloudy, lean into His embrace, because He will hold you fast.

"The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you."
Zephaniah 3:17 

Anne at (practically) 35

Monday, February 11, 2013

Our Holy Father's decision

Today I was going to write about Lent. About what I'm giving up (going out for lunches during the week. I've been spending too much money doing that lately, and need to cut back) and what I was going to do as something extra (finally learn all the mysteries of the Rosary. As a lifelong Catholic who is almost 35, I should know them by now, but don't). I might do some extra spiritual reading as well, but I haven't decided on the book yet. Perhaps something by our Holy Father?

Because I would be remiss if I didn't say something instead about today's big news: that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to abdicate the Chair of Peter. In his statement, he said:

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

I've seen all sorts of reactions on Facebook, mostly reflecting shock (the first post I saw, just after 7, said nothing about resignation but only that we'd have a new pope by Easter, which for a moment made me think His Holiness had passed suddenly), but also prayerful acceptance and understanding, along with praise for his humility.

One, however, criticized his decision to do so right before Lent. But I think he chose this week, this day, on purpose. Not only is today the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, but also World Day of the Sick. If His Holiness is indeed ill and suffering, that makes so much sense. But the fact that Lent begins Wednesday, to me, makes his announcement today even more profound. Lent is a time of reflection, a time to turn and return to the Lord, to offer Him our failures, our sorrows, our need for healing on all levels, to be open to His grace and recall that without Jesus' sacrifice, we would truly be without hope.. What better time to entrust the entire Church to the Lord? For the Church Universal to really increase in prayer, for both our Holy Father as he serves out his last weeks, as well as for the cardinals who will soon enter Conclave to choose Benedict's successor? The Pope even directs us to do so in his statement: 

"And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff."

May God bless Pope Benedict, his successor, and all the Church! And may you have a blessed Ash Wednesday!
“If we take the Lord’s hand and let ourselves be guided by him, the path we take will be right and good.”
-Pope Benedict XVI

Monday, February 04, 2013

...but the greatest of these is Love.

Scattered thoughts this morning about love and perseverance, surrender and seeking God, after yesterday's second reading (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). And since I've been sitting here trying to formulate something muse-worthy and am coming up empty with words of my own (writer's block being a very real thing sometimes), I'm going to let a blessed, a poet and a saint do it for me.

Blessed Mother Teresa, on holiness:

"In order to be saints, you have to seriously want to be one.
St. Thomas Aquinas assures us that holiness 'is nothing else but a resolution made, the heroic act of a soul that surrenders to God.' And he adds: 'Spontaneously we love God, we run towards him, we get close to him, we possess him.'
Our willingness is important because it changes us into the image of God and likens us to him! The decision to be holy is a very dear one. 
Renunciation, temptations, struggles, persecutions, and all kinds of sacrifices are what surround the soul that has opted for holiness."

Love, by George Herbert

"Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back;
            Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
            From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
            If I lacked any thing.

'A guest,' I answered, 'worthy to be here':
            Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
            I cannot look on thee.'
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
            'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'who bore the blame?'
            'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat':
            So I did sit and eat."

A Seeker's Prayer, by St. Anselm of Canterbury

"O my God, teach my heart where
and how to seek you,
where and how to find you. 
You are my God and you are my
all, yet I have never seen you. 
You have made me and remade me,
you have bestowed on me all the 
good things I possess;
still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that for
which I was made;
teach me to seek you. 
I cannot seek you unless you
teach me, or find you unless
you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you in my desire,
let me desire you in my seeking.
Let me find you by loving you,
let me love you when I find you.