You are not dead. You are waiting.

One winter vacation when I was in college, I went with my mother to a charismatic healing Mass. You could say that I had been “struggling” with depression, but that’s not really the word. I lived there.  I was being swallowed whole by it, day after day, and I could not get out. Wherever people led me, I would go, whether they liked or loved me, hated me, or just found me useful. So I went with her to ask for healing, not with hope, but just because it couldn’t hurt.

The service was emotional—tacky, to be honest— and while the priest was fervid, the scattered congregation sounded sheepish and forced as they softly hooted and called “Amen!” into the chilly air of the church.

We lined up and the priest recited some words of healing—I forget them utterly—over each of us.  Then he gave every forehead a firm shove, to put us off balance in case the Holy Spirit wanted to overcome anyone.  A few people crumpled and passed out, snow melting quietly off their boots onto the tiled floor.  Most of us just staggered a bit under the pressure, recovered, stepped around the fallen, and went back to our seats.

Well, I thought, another dead encounter with dead people in a dead world.  I slid into my pew.  Nothing had changed because nothing could change.  I was dead, and everyone else was allowed to be alive.  Why?  Who knows?  Someone had been sent for help, but help would not come.  Help was not for me.

And then I heard these words in my head, “You made Me wait.  Now you can wait for a while.”  They were not my words.  The tone was warm, a little sad, with a small vein of humor.  I think I was being teased, chided for taking so long to send for help.  You like games, talitha?  All right, I will play.  Now, wait.

Then I went home. Nothing happened, that I could see.

Years later, I thought of that day as I read Tomie dePaola’s The Miracles of Jesus with my four-year-old daughter.  She listened attentively, but I could see that most of the wonders didn’t impress her much.  In these short narratives, some kind of grown-up problem is introduced—and then poof, God solves it, The End.

I think she saw Jesus acting more or less like all adults act:  making good things appear arbitrarily, making sick people feel better, occasionally being cranky and strange, and wishing people would say “thank you” more often.  It was cool, but it didn’t mean much to her. They were miracles, not the kind of thing that happen in real life.

Jairus’ daughter, however, really got her attention—probably because it was about a child, and also because it was a full story, with suspense, despair, and a happy ending, plus the hint of a full life to come.

Jesus hears the news that the girl was sick, but He isn’t teleported to her bed. He walks, one foot in front of the other, on His way to her.  And when He gets there, it’s too late. Her family is weeping; the girl, the poor little thing who wanted to be healed, is already dead.

My daughter got very quiet at this point.  We read on:

“But Jesus said, ‘Do not weep.  She is not dead.  She is asleep.’
And the people only laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.

She looked at me with big eyes.  They laughed at Jesus!

Jesus took her by the hand and said, ‘Child, arise.’
And her spirit returned and she got up at once.  Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.”

At this point, my daughter hurled herself at me and gave me a big, squeezing hug. She got that part!  She knows about being sad, needing help, waiting far too long, being rescued, and then having something to eat, because all these ups and downs make you hungry.  And then life goes on, once you have been saved.  Here was a miracle she could appreciate—the kind that’s part of a story.

I got it, too, because I knew that story. I had been that girl. And I had heard that voice. It was a long time, and a lot of steps, before my slow rescue from the dead came up to the speed where it was recognizably healing, recognizably a wonder. But I never forgot the words I heard, telling me that help was on the way. That I wasn’t really dead; I was waiting.

If you have ever lived inside a black hole; if you have moved about the world enclosed in a dome of sound proof glass, with no voices but your own voice, which you hate above all other sounds in the world; if you have felt so bad for so long that you don’t even want life to get better, you just want it to be over—then you will understand that it was very, very good to hear this voice that simply said, “You are not dead. You are only sleeping. And I am on my way.”

I was not merely sitting in that cold pew, it told me. I was sitting and waiting.  Someone was with me; or at least, someone was on the way.  I was happy to wait.  I was happy!  This was new.

That was how I began to be healed, more than twenty years ago.  It was a long road of waiting, after I began to be healed.  It is a long road.  I’ve been in therapy for over three years, and now I’ve started spiritual direction. I don’t know what is next. The road keeps getting longer, to be honest, and every time I think I am finally healed, I see that I am not, not yet. But I can see Christ better and better as He approaches, step by step. My healing started when I asked Him, without hope, for healing.

That is what our breath is for: To call out for help. As long as we still have breath in us, we are not dead, we are only sleeping.  We are not alone; we are waiting for Christ to arrive.

Can you wait a little longer? You are not dead. You are waiting.

 

***
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Related reading: I thought good Catholics didn’t need therapy. Then I went.

Mindfulness, meet my bumper

Don’t shoot those helicopters down

Ten things about therapy

Passing through the moor

When you are sad, cry.

Don’t you realize comedy is a matter of life and death?

Faith, reason, depression, and help

A version of this essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2011.

 

 

 

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What about Lucia?

Why isn’t Lucia being canonised along with her cousins?

The cute answer is: Our Lady is to blame.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Fatima children with Rosaries via Wikimedia Commons

6 sermons I could do without

I have endless tolerance for boring sermons, weird sermons, silly sermons, scary sermons, tiresome sermons, corny sermons, uninspired sermons, irrelevant sermons, rambling sermons, goofy sermons, and sermons that make me wonder which will come first, the end of the homily or sweet, sweet death.

But I don’t complain! Most of the time. I do, however, have a short list of things I could do without, which I offer out of sheer, self-giving generosity, as your respectful daughter in the Faith.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

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Image: By BPL (originally posted to Flickr as Preaching) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The lady of Medjugorje is not your mother

In the Gospels, she says, “Do whatever He tells you.” In Medjugorje, she snickers and says, “You do you.”

Forty-seven thousand times.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Has Etsy banned the sale of sacramentals?

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To a casual onlooker, it really does seem like Catholics believe that if you die with a scapular, God has to let you into heaven; that if you stick a St. Christopher medal to your dashboard, you can drive like a maniac and walk away unscathed; that if you pray on a rosary blessed by an especially good Pope, or sneak a relic of your favorite saint underneath some sinner’s mattress, then whatever you wish will come true.

This is not what Catholics believe. We do not believe in magic, and we do not believe that God is bound to perform for us like a genie in a bottle.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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Gee, your corpse smells terrific!

Bernadette

Not only does the Catholic Church “do science,” but she allows us a heck of a lot of latitude in our personal devotions. Myself, I have steered clear of incorruptibles as any proof of anything besides the fact that the world is weird, history is messy, and lots of people are different from me.

Read the rest at the Register. 

Over and over again

seedling

Pro-lifers routinely refer to “the miracle of life,” a phrase which isn’t really technically accurate.  A miracle is, strictly theologically speaking, an event which wouldn’t happen ordinarily in nature.  It’s something which only happens because of the special intervention of God.

If you’re going to look at sheer numbers, it’s hard to imagine anything less miraculous, or more ordinary and natural than the conception of a child.  It’s something that’s happened billions of times, often without anyone meaning or wanting it to happen — often without anyone evenrealizing that it’s happened.  I’ve seen pro-choice people roll their eyes and patiently explain, “Yes, babies are cute, but they’re hardly a miracle, any more than it’s a miracle every time a weed grows.  It’s simple biology; happens all the time.”

Which always makes me think, “Yes?  Is it somehow not amazing when a weed grows?”  Maybe it’s just because I’m such a terrible gardener, but every time I put a seed in the ground, sweat and fret for those ten days of germination, give up hope, keep watering anyway, and then go out one evening to discover that SOMETHING IS COMING UP, it blows my mind.  Absolutely blows my mind.  I drag my husband out to see:  “Look!  Do you see, right there?  You can even see where the soil is actually being pushed away, because the little leaves are coming up!  Look how hard it’s trying!  I know I planted a seed there, but HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?  You can even see the little bean shell stuck to it!  LOOK!”

I get nearly the same thrill when I weed, to be honest.  Yesterday there was nothing but bare dirt surrounding my tomato plant; today, there are six kinds of green all fighting their way through out of nothingness into the light, all hungry, thirsty, ready to join the battle with beetles and downpours and sun and chill.  Some of them are feathery, some fibrous, some creep and cling to the ground with flat, sticky leaves, some are just simple, forthright grass . . . and everybody wants a piece of life.  I don’t shed any tears when I rip them out and toss them away, but I really do admire them.  Or at least, I admire the system.  Yesterday, there was something very close to nothing, and today, there’s something big enough to grab with my whole hand.  Tomorrow, if I leave it be, there will be something with a stem thick enough to snap, full of juice and intricate hairs.  Everything is ordered toward life, toward making more and more and more of itself, to being part of the plan.

And it happens over and over and over again.

When we’re talking about grass and weeds or even exquisite hot house flowers, only truly crazy people worry or marvel over every last bit of plant life:  it’s not merely common, it’s insignificant.  And, while we certainly cherish and delight in our own babies and the babies of people we love, no human heart is big enough to cherish and delight in the individual births of all the billions of babies conceived. There are just too many of them.  It’s just too common.  It happens literally all the time, every second of every day.

But here’s the thing:  it’s just that very commonness, that everyday-ness of human life that is a gift in itself.

Think of other things that repeat and repeat.  I’m not the first one to point out that repetition is sometimes a gift in itself, and not a stumbling block to overcome.  Do you get tired of hearing your spouse say, “I love you?”  Do you look at those beloved lips forming those words and think, “Oh, that old thing again.  Why can’t I have something new for a change?”  Would you want to have a marriage where the words “I love you” were an extraordinary, unexpected event, only brought about by special grace?  No, it’s the very repetition that makes it cherished, delightful — extraordinary, even, just because it is so ordinary.

So, when a baby is conceived, maybe it’s not a miracle — maybe it’s something better than that.  It’s a sign that God has given us a world which, even in its natural, fallen state, is completely stuffed with wonders.  He is not stingy; He doesn’t withhold his goodness.  This is the kind of marriage that mankind has with God:  He says “I love you” every day, every minute of every day.

My cup overflows.
***
This post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2012. 

Theologians: Yes, the baby came back to life through the intercession of Fulton Sheen

It’s official! Another hurdle crossed before canonization.

The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, Bishop of Peoria and President of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, received word today that the seven-member theological commission who advise the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican unanimously agreed that a reported miracle should be attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. The case involved a stillborn baby born in September 2010. For over an hour the child demonstrated no signs of life as medical professionals attempted every possible life saving procedure, while the child’s parents and loved ones began immediately to seek the intercession of Fulton Sheen. After 61 minutes the baby was restored to full life and over three years later demonstrates a full recovery.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bonnie Engstrom, the mother of that resurrected baby who grew into this happy, healthy guy:

 

Next up: the case is reviewed by cardinals and bishops, and then by Pope Francs himself.   Come onnnn, Fulton Sheen! Congratulatons, Engstrom family!

My OSV interview with Bonnie Engstrom: ‘Miracle’ baby helps Fulton Sheen cause

From “Who is that guy? He looks like a vampire!” to “Fulton Sheen brought my dead son back to life.”  Here is my interview with the delightful Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life.

‘Miracle’ baby helps Fulton Sheen cause