The Power Within – Mother (Pt. 1)

So… it’s Mother’s Day.  Or it will be tomorrow.  I’m kind of on a deadline here as far as getting this post done in time, so I realize I’m probably sacrificing a lot of depth.  Ah well.  As I sit here, writing to try and get my thoughts flowing, I’m reaching for a structured spontaneity, which is quite possibly an oxymoron, depending on how you leap about.

For this post, it’s kind of more a tribute sort of thing, to be made annual, because that’s kind of the deal with such days.  The year comes and goes and suddenly, hey, whaddya know, it has been your regularly scheduled trip around the sun, welcome back to the same date, a year later though, obviously.  Unless you’re a time traveler, in which case,  I am sorry, so so sorry.  Get out of that time loop, mate, and live a little.

Anyway, moving past that little sidebar, the thing we have to remember of course is that our parents, both mother and father, are always around, no matter the day.  So I shan’t begrudge one day (which honestly seems a little too little for celebrating such a big part of my life) to them, right mates?  Let’s actually kick this off with talking about both of the greatest mothers in my life.  The first is Mary, Mother of God, our mother; the second, my own mother, or, as we call her, “Mom”.  Heh, couldn’t resist.

Firstly, Mary.  When I think of Mary, the first thing that usually comes to mind is this very calming gaze, that sort of cuts one to the heart.  The eyes have it, an understanding of my pains and struggles, they see it, and yet they love despite it all.  The second thing is a warm embrace, burying my face in the folds of blue, a powerful ocean sweeping me into a greater reality.  A reality that I am loved, that I have… family.  Ad Jesum Per Mariam.  That’s the thing that drives me onward.  That truth that Christ can be reached through His own Mother, my mother.

I have a sort of… odd thing I do.  Whenever I see a statue of Mary, I think of her, and I wave rather vigorously.  I like to believe that I speak with her rather often, and that she’s amused by my childlike antics.  Whenever I pass the statue at my church(es), the various artworks I see on occasion, and especially The Steps, Immaculata.  Every time we pass by on the bridge between Ohio and Kentucky, I’ll stare across the way, saying a simple “Hello, Mary!” in greeting.  My tradition, my own way of showing I’m thankful for her presence in my life.  Because I’ve had a lot of trying times in which I felt isolated, but in asking for her intercession, I found some new resolve to strive onward, to never give up, to never give in.  She is an inspiring figure, and I am honored to be under her protection.

In the same vein, my earthly mother offers a different protection.  Many the days where I came to her simply to talk and discuss the various areas in my life where troubles had arisen.  Everyone needs a confidante, and she’s one of my main go-tos.  Why go to my mother?  Well, as a commuting college kid, I have time at home outside of school.  I get to know my family a bit better, planted as I am.  Might sound awful, but it really helps to have that kind of separation sometimes.  Two worlds divided, the school and the home.  I didn’t write this to talk about school though, I wanted to… shed some light on my mother’s wonderful awesomeness.

She’s an early riser, not by choice, but because she prepares us men of the house food for both breakfast and packed lunch, and makes sure we’ve got enough to survive before heading back to sleep.  Her prayer life is inspiring, because she really dedicates herself to the Liturgy of the Hours on a daily basis, in between the madness that is keeping the house in order and the rest of the family happy.  As my father says, “Happy wife, happy life.”  Really, it’s her who is often holding us all together.  When we all have our issues, she’s always the one calling us back to prayer, back to God.

I rarely appreciate it in my darker moods, but I need to hear that.  I need to hear that there is a better way than the one I’ve chosen.  Someone to hold me to the mark, and yet support me in those times where I am wrestling.  That’s why she’s my confidante.  She shares her wisdom, doesn’t mind too much when I go on a bunch of threads related to girls in my life, and just all around always seems to have the right words to say to me, to get my head back in the game.

So of course my power comes from both of them.  It’s not a weakness to be close to one’s mother, it’s probably one of your greatest assets.  Through turmoil and triumph, through love and loss, through the violence unto victory, my mother gives me and all the rest of my family strength.  And so today, in light of all our mothers do, say at least a quick thank you, give them a hug, give them chocolates or something, I dunno.  It’s a chance to show our appreciation for their part in our lives.

-M

P.S.  Apologies for this not really having my usual head and heart in it, but it’s been a busy weekend 😛

Heart Unbound

Closure.  That’s the word.
As hard as some things are, it’s always more difficult without closure.

If one reaches an end and receives closure, it’s quite the gift.  Some would rather do without it, but in many cases in life,  I think it’s worth it.  It’s the lightening of the heart from a weight you never really realized was there to begin with.  That’s what the gift affords you.

I’ve lived nearly two decades, and I’ve made many mistakes, some of which I will forever wonder about, but just this once, I’m not left without a clear finish line.  A clean break on the path, as it were; another marker to reference and be sure of as the next move is made.

Oh, there is or was pain involved, most of which I made myself, but it is outweighed somehow.

How?

Here’s the thing:  I’m not someone who thinks of happenings relating to one’s life as coincidences;  I take it as the Spirit reaching out to me.  Well, as far as noticing the signs, I believe it’s the Father pointing them out and teaching me; when I actually move and take action, I reckon it’s the Spirit working.

Before I saw all these… promptings… I felt overwhelmed, filled with a storm of anger thoroughly unwarranted by the situation.  My mind was more of a mess of emotion, fueled by a sort of buried madness.  Anyone else’s brains ever start to go into overdrive, becoming a blur, at which point hardly any coherent thought comes through?  That’s where I was, often.  I’d lost my sense of focus, and it became apparent throughout the days as I tried to work on a number of projects.

~

Maybe it was an experience at Mass… no, it was.  I remember it.  The first sign.

Father’s homily was quite the kick in the face, but it didn’t start there.  That Sunday, I felt more attentive to praying the Mass than I had in quite a while.  Reminds me of a quote from St. Irenaeus, actually (though there is some debate on whether he said it exactly or not).

“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” and that’s what I felt.  As if all my senses, hampered by worry – not just over this one failure on my part, but also a number of matters related to my schoolwork – were kicked up several notches and suddenly unburdened.  I was able to see and pay attention to everything, but not be distracted by it (which is how I normally am at Mass, unfortunately).  This time, I felt right at home, truly in communion.
So when it came time for the homily, a time when I tend to zone out because of how hard it is to hear Father from the altar (shh, don’t tell, I do try), I was so there.  Amazing how God speaks if you actually listen to/for His word *coughs*.

Father’s homily spoke of finding three things, well, finding two things and doing the last for both of them:
-A companion
-A teacher
-Giving them a break

For this, I’ll focus on the things that really hit me in relation to what was happening, which were the first and last items on that list (the second – I’m pretty sure – is a push to continue my hunt for spiritual direction).
I’d heard it before, but he made note of the fact that John the Baptist sent his disciples to Christ.  Good companions lead one another on a journey of growth, with Heaven as the high goal.  Further still, he noted how Christ gives us specific companions, and… because they were given to us by Him… we shouldn’t easily turn our backs on them.
In a finishing blow, Father turned to the subject of expectations of others, how they won’t always meet ours, and sweet glory, how we’ll never meet theirs, so for Heaven’s sake… Don’t.  Give up.  Based on that.

Now, I must confess, I ignored this push for a bit, and as another day or so passed, well… it was St. Mother Teresa’s turn to smack me across the face, as I scrolled the endless Instagram feed:
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person…”
Because that’s what I’d been waiting for.  Initiative from someone else, anyone else, so I wouldn’t have to move on my own.  Did I mention I’m a prideful person?  It was pride that was keeping me back from admitting my failure, unwilling to admit that I remained restless in guilt.  And so… in response to that, God made me see the caption underneath the St. Teresa photo, from Mother Angelica: “… start looking into your own life and attacking your pride in all of its many forms.”

So that’s two mothers smacking me upside the head.  A trinity of smacks to the cranium, if we add Father’s words.

~

Suffice it to say, I did what I felt was right, this time with surety that I don’t normally have.  And when it turned out the way it did, when it was over, I ran.  Not away, but to.
I ended up in adoration, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.  The chapel was mercifully empty, and there I stood before the tabernacle.

Those moments will forever remain locked within me, like a calm fire; not deadly or destructive in its ways, but comforting and warm.  It was my turn to make a promise.

And so with clarity, and to quote Venerable Fulton Sheen, I say: “Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”

There, I admit it.  I have a heart, and it’s broken.  Don’t look at me all funny, I’m not made of stone.  However, the gaps are closing, and faster than I expected, to be honest.  Because right there, in the immediate aftermath, I can look back on what took place and see why God drew me back one last time: to right the wrongs, to fix what I had brought to ruin.  To leave this artwork at peace with it and move on.  Because it isn’t terrible, it isn’t faulty, it is… a beautiful ending.  And oftentimes, you’ll find that the most beautiful endings are the ones that cause the greatest pain.

So I’m beginning.  I am… me.  I do have an idea about where to go, placed in me during what I now consider another era altogether.  Who by?  The voice, the whisper that follows me beyond the bounds, guiding me forward.

Am I a good man?  Let’s find out.

-M

Chasing Perfection: A Brief Note

I’m going to make a bold claim, as an older brother ten years removed from my sibling, that it’s hard to relate to him.  Perhaps I have forgotten what it was like, being that age, and seeing the world in that different way, that mixed bag of extremes and simple, innocently testing fun.  Today, the reality was brought home that perhaps I still am very much like him after all.

See, it’s not often that I actually talk with my little brother, no, on the contrary, I half-heartedly listen at the best of times and ignore him at the worst.  There’s that to add to my list of faults.  I realize that interests change with time and age, yet if I could go back in time and look forward, I would be astounded at how little interest I now show in those little adventure books, in card games like Pokemon, or even in building with LEGOs.  Yeah, that last one is an actual problem.

So today (realize I began this the day of, but failed to see it through until now), after seeing him moping about on the couch for some odd reason (I assumed that he didn’t want to eat his lunch), I decided to talk to him to try and persuade him to get ready for an activity he had later.  As it turned out, he wasn’t sad for that reason at all.
No, what was causing distress was a picture he’d been drawing.  I believe the one in question was of a car, and he’d grown frustrated with a wheel’s roundness of all things.  Ah, if only the worst of my drawing problems was a lack of circular perfection!  He was beating himself up about it, burying his face in the pillows of our couch.  When I got to him at last, he was tearing up a bit, saying he’d never be as good as well… me.

It’s an oddly vicious cycle of comparison.  To compare to those we see as great is a balance, and I’m sure most would agree.  We tend to be partially inspired, and more often than not, discouraged!  Especially when we perceive a gap in what we have versus what they have.  So when I sat down next to him to tell him how I wasn’t the greatest by any stretch of the imagination, I could truly understand where he was coming from for once.  It was one of those situations where nothing is lost in translation, and one aspect that – unfortunately in certain senses – is not lost as we grow.

We lose heart when we realize that we either have a long way to go to reach what we perceive as great (which, by the way, might change to passable in our eyes when we actually get there), or simply think the task impossible.  One of those times where the word “never” comes to mind.

Is perfection subjective?  I don’t think so.  The word for that is perhaps the ideal.  What to us is the ideal, the standard by which we measure success?  I’m sure we can all think of answers to that.  The ideal picture of life… the life I can pretty much guarantee we won’t ever have.
Perfection on the other hand, is – I believe – objective, but there are many roads to that singular goal.  One only has to take the Saints.  So many unique travels, yet they came to that perfection which is holiness.  Unity with Christ.  Oh, to only truly long for such a thing.

However, to make the most and best of time on earth, I have some word of advice, and honestly, a bit of self-motivation at this point.

Don’t get lost in chasing an image.  Have an ideal, have a goal, sure, but don’t forget your own unique abilities.  While you may find a whole number of similarities between yourself and someone else, don’t try to become their carbon copy.  I know that’s easier said than done, but all we can do is our best, right?

It’s like my old gaffer said… no I’m just kidding, this awesomely hilarious priest said something similar is all.  To paraphrase for universality’s sake: “We are not called to be Saint Therese, or Saint Padre Pio, or Saint Josemaria Escriva, or – you get my point.
We are called to be Saint _____.”  So put your name there, sign that line (for those with longer names, I am so sorry that it’s a tiny line), make the commitment to strive for it.  It is beyond imperfect ideals, beyond the standards set by this flawed world.

I don’t say that to push you to sacrifice the pursuit of good and beautiful skills such as art, writing, leadership, a career, and all that.  No, not at all.  All I mean is that… there is more to our destinies than that.

So to return once more to the picture of my younger brother in distress over his artwork, we all have to start somewhere, right?  Should I have told him that this question of “can I ever be good enough?” would never leave him?  Did I perhaps give him false hope by encouraging him to move forward, and just draw and draw, over and over?  Should I have taught him that he would have to do the same with every step of his life’s journey?
Because you see it now, don’t you?  Life is the canvas, and we’re all artists.  And maybe we have some idea of where the line will fall, maybe we already have an idea of what we want to draw out… but we can never be sure until it’s truly on the page.

– M

P.S.  My bad, I did say it would be “brief” in the title.

The Way It Began (A Return) – Eagle Eye Teen Summer Institute Pt. 16 or Finale

I woke up with the exhilarating knowledge in my head that I was homeward bound. Oh the bittersweet feeling. It’s always there, every single retreat, whether it’s taken the blink of an eye or longer, there remains that pull towards home.  It all comes under the human experience I think. That sense of belonging, of having that starting point to cling to when all else is starting to shift. That’s probably why moving hurts so much… but I digress.

I did make it in time for silent prayer, only stopping to take pictures of the sunrise as it touched the basilica and breathe in the cool morning air.
We prayed morning lauds, our hearts so united with our voices that you could hear everything we’d put into them as we sang and chanted.  It was a beautiful moment that can never really be recaptured, no matter how hard one might try.

Breakfast was a talkative affair as we prepared for everything that needed to happen.  We ran back upstairs to finish packing up belongings, and then congregated in the dining room for Father Nathan’s Spirit of the Eagle.  The main point in all that he said: The Eagle Eye retreat was not meant to fill us, as one might expect from a retreat, but instead to empty us, leave us yearning, thirsting, for something greater.  And yet we weren’t meant to leave Eagle Eye.  We were charged with taking what we’d learned and holding it fast, and that was the way we would keep it alive and burning, locked forever in our hearts.

As the talk wrapped up with much cheering, we trooped outside to the grassy field, breathing in the air and taking… groupies.  Not selfies, groupies, because I couldn’t resist.  If I never saw these people again, I wanted a collection of their faces.  Kinda like a face… album.  No, that joke didn’t pan out.  It’s not like I’m going to print out the faces and put them in a book!  No, certainly not!

So began the long arduous task of cleaning everything.  We brought every little thing down to the Saints’ Francis and Clare dining room, and took to sweeping up the remains of everything upstairs, replacing trash cans, drinking water every so often, and constantly reminiscing about what had taken place during the past week.
For those of you who have been following, I don’t think I really managed to emphasize the journey.  Yes, we learned about philosophy and theology to an extent, but they were not the all encompassing points of the week.  There was, at the deeper heart of the matter, the understanding that there was a progression, an adventure to explored, and I apologize if that never quite came through.

We had been called to greatness, and our answer was to reach the peaks as eagles, forging something that would mark us forevermore… and perhaps it did, in many ways.  There’s more to that point in the future, I promise you.  But for now…

I was racing up and down the stairs, carrying things, singing random songs exultantly and at the top of my lungs to the point where it annoyed some people.  I do apologize, I was lacking sleep and on the end of retreat high.  Singing about carrying things, singing about missing these people that I’d grown to view as a great big family, the usual thing you might expect from me in my madness.  Unfortunately, I was already getting into the mindset of thinking people gone before they truly were…
I think I tend to hurt people this way, and while it’s quite selfish of me, I just want to spare myself the pain of having it suddenly and instantly become a truth, surely something quite common to the human experience.

We had everything down, we finished one truly final choir session, and then it was into the basilica for a last prayer in front of our Lady of Consolation, as pilgrims and mass-goers from everywhere looked on in askance and astonishment at the sheer number of us crowded before the side altar rail.

Father Nathan blessed us at the prayer’s conclusion, and we headed downstairs into the crypt for Mass.  As part of the choir, I was privileged to sit in the front two rows as an odd tenor.  I say that because I honestly never did figure out whether I actually fit at all.  Voice lessons would do me good one day.
All that aside, Father’s homily on the importance of being a father was just… awe-inspiring.  There are no words to describe, and yet I couldn’t have recorded if I had wanted to, there was so much more in it than just the way he preached.  There was the passion in his eyes as he spoke, a fire burning, yearning to spread as he had hoped it would to each of us.  For indeed, joy is not something that can be kept within, locked internally, it must be released with all the force of an inferno.

It ended too quickly, and suddenly I was carrying my backpack(s) to the cafeteria, my feet dragging under the weight, as well as my own reluctance to leave.  How could I?  Just when I was getting comfortable with all these fine individuals, it was time to go?!
I didn’t manage to bid everyone goodbye, that’s the sad thing.  Many people left before I could, or were back at the retreat house, which I never looked back at.
I took pictures to try and capture what had happened, and those who I’d met, but… even their names start to fade.  By the time I am reunited, I’m sure I’ll have forgotten what face belongs to which… yet it wasn’t all bad in that ending.
It’s like… having an extended family.  You might not remember all your cousins and aunts and uncles – or at least their names, anyway – but they’re still family, and it can inspire you to muster up the courage to attempt to reconnect with them… one day.
I can only hope that it’s sooner rather than later.

And as I walked away from the happy scene of Father, CJ, Patrick, and Ethan all playing their respective instruments for the crowd of merry onlookers, I figured it wasn’t a bad way to go out.

Then again, I never left.

End – M