Doubt on Good Friday

It is one of the most important days on the liturgical calendar, and I couldn’t even convince myself to get off the couch that Friday. Like the clouds gathering in the sky outside my window, as I sat on the couch, spiritual clouds gathered in my soul. It was an unwelcome, but familiar feeling. I am no stranger to doubt and wrestling with my faith. In fact, I have learned to embrace the struggle and appreciate the fruits of the fight. But Good Friday is not the day I wanted to struggle. Like Christmas, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter have always stirred welcome feelings of faith and passion in me. Instead, this year I felt doubtful and numb.

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If I look at a crucifix, I will see a man hanging there, bloody and beaten, leaving no doubt that he suffered. Like the one on the cross, Catholics are meant to embrace suffering. This is something that I found attractive when I first began to study  Catholicism. When answers aren’t found and healing isn’t granted, there is not only a theology of suffering to dive into and give meaning to pain, but a God who experienced pain to lean on. This fall will make three years since I entered the Church, and the phrase “offer it up,” is no longer strange to me. I have found the everyday reality of embracing suffering  is less comforting in the moments most needed, however. Not because it is actually useless, but because in those moments, I don’t think of how this could be beneficial to me later on. And I wonder how I, riddled with doubt, but warm, fed, and loved by my family, should bring my meager suffering to a God hanging on a cross, bleeding and dying?

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I didn’t make it to the church on Good Friday. Doubt or not though, I am sentimental to a fault, and when little else can, tradition motivates me. So on Saturday, our little family dressed up and went to the Easter Vigil mass at 7:00 p.m. We met outside with the other parishioners and after lighting candles, processed into the dark sanctuary, once again filling it with the light that represents Christ. The familiar rituals, the smell of incense, physically set me at ease. I didn’t dwell on my problem in that moment. I just sat there content to be among those who did believe, and I let them believe for me. I watched a baptism and confirmation, and admired the beauty of the words and actions. And just like the little candle I carried into the sanctuary two hours before would not have lit the whole church alone, my soul wasn’t set ablaze again by the little flame that began to burn there. But at that Easter Vigil, a little candle inside was indeed lit. And every Sunday since, I have continued to stand, kneel, sit, cross myself, and recite those beautiful and ancient prayers. And as surely as He rose from the dead, and spring has arrived, belief is once again sprouting in my soul.

When Christmas Eve is Anything But a Silent Night

As I gazed at the lit snowflakes hanging in my window, I thought about how I’ve never understood people complaining about the holiday season being stressful. Like those snowflakes reflecting light and warmth, Christmas has so easily always accomplished the same in my heart year after year.

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But as I realized this year, Christmas has basically always gone the way I wanted it and how I planned it. Time with family, Christmas Eve service, Christmas Day breakfast, etc. This year, we added not only a ten month old baby to our plans, but a sick one. I had grand plans of traditions we would get to experience with him, but few went as planned. On Christmas Eve the baby wasn’t able to attend our family gathering, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t at church on Christmas Eve. My husband and I had an argument, and our Silent Night was anything but silent or peaceful.

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For days I felt such a sense of loss, knowing I would never get our baby’s first Christmas back, and a time meant for spiritual reflection and renewal was wasted. But, that’s not true, is it? As children of light we find purpose in imperfection, times of suffering, and seemingly insignificant moments. The babe, the Prince of Peace, was still in the manger, whether I was singing my heart out at midnight mass, or rocking a sick baby and arguing with my spouse. In fact, that’s why the baby is there, swaddled and snug at Mary’ breast, destined to save me and to save you. Still showing us how futile our stubborn plans are, still reconciling spouses, still healing sick children.

I didn’t miss my opportunity, and neither did you.

O Come Let Us Adore Him