Love Pt. 3: Sexuality and Morals

[Note: This is intended to be read as the third post in a series of three. Please click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.]

Have you ever been wounded by the Catholic Church? Have you ever been disgusted by the seeming hypocrisy of so many Christians? Have you ever been angry at God?

I have. I would imagine most, if not all of you reading this have as well.

This topic was very intentionally selected to be the last addressed in this series. I think the Church, or at least many of its members, are unfortunately often guilty of proclaiming all the moral teachings before we’ve built a firm foundation of love. It’s very difficult to accept the ‘what’ without first understanding the ‘why’. And sometimes even the ‘why’ doesn’t seem satisfactory. This is a significant part of what kept me from actually taking Christianity seriously for so many years. I grew up being drilled with all the rules and teachings without an understanding of why they existed. Think about this for a moment – usually, we are only bitter about laws when we desire to break them, but we are much more likely to want to break them if we believe there’s no good reason for their existence in the first place. As Michael Gormley (a well known Catholic speaker) so intelligently observed, “when we remove Christ from the centre of the [culture, teachings, etc.], but we still have elements of Christianity left over, we’re pointing out the woundedness but we don’t have anyone to heal the wounds”. This is the state of the culture in North America. It is only when God is in the picture, and we are able to recognize His love for us and who He created us to be as human people, that we can come to understand and make sense of the moral teachings of the Church.

As Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Love is the foundation upon which everything must be built, the spring from which everything else must flow forth.

Before I go any further – even if it’s not worth much coming from one person – I want to apologize, on behalf of all Christians, to anyone who has been wounded by the teachings of Christ communicated in a far-from-loving way, in particular members of the LGBTQ+ community and those who have gone through divorce. I am so very sorry for all the ways members of the Catholic Church and the Christian faithful – through our actions or language – may have caused you pain in the past, and for the ways you may have felt shunned, disrespected, unwanted or rejected because of your lifestyle choices or desires. To anyone who has been persecuted or harassed by those who have failed to communicate Christ’s true message, I’m sorry. If we have failed, first and above-all in loving you, we have failed at our primary mission as followers of Christ, who is Love.

This does not mean I am advocating that all Christians simply become cheerleaders, encouraging those around us to do whatever they want, simply because they think it best. We must love each other, and that is not real love. This is why I despise the expression, “you do you”. What happens when ‘you doing you’ results in death, not just physically but emotionally or spiritually? Shouldn’t we care about each other enough to want and be willing to do something to help, if we know the path someone is choosing leads to self-destruction and a great deal of pain? Even if it won’t necessarily lead to pain and destruction, if we know of an even deeper joy and an even greater fullness of life, should we not care about each other enough to at least do our best to share that?

“I had the typical idea of freedom as a teenager: freedom meant doing whatever I wanted to do without anyone telling me otherwise. So I thought I was free when I tossed off the ‘oppressive shackles’ of my Catholic upbringing in order to indulge my lusts. I’ll never forget when I realized how un-free I was. At one point, having been bothered by a conscience I couldn’t seem to suffocate, my girlfriend and I committed to giving up sex. I only lasted a few days. Freedom? No — that’s called slavery; that’s called addiction. I wasn’t able to say no. I was confusing freedom with license.”

— Christopher West, Fill These Hearts

Our modern world has a very distorted notion of the meaning of the human body and the purpose of sexuality. Just look at the artwork depicting the body in the past hundred years compared with more historical artistic depictions (ancient Greek sculpture, ancient Egyptian and Chinese paintings, works of Michelangelo and Bernini, paintings of the Renaissance, among others). There is also a pervasive idea that body and soul are separate, that our bodies really aren’t ‘us’ in the same way that our soul is, so what we do with it doesn’t actually matter – particularly in the realm of sexuality. When stated outright, we may claim not to believe this, but so many of the actions taking place in our post-sexual revolution culture indicate otherwise. There must be harmony between our body and our soul because who we are as individuals is equally both, and what is good or bad for our body is also good or bad for our soul. They are inextricably linked.

This is why the information unfurled in John Paul II’s writings on the Theology of the Body are so powerful and needed, particularly at this time. It seeks to restore an understanding of the true meaning of the human body, intended from the beginning. As stated in the introduction to Man and Woman He Created Them, the “[T]heology of the Body is not primarily an admonition to follow the law of the body, but a persuasive proclamation of the gospel of the body”, and it is good news. It will certainly take work to understand and implement in our lives, but the ‘law’ of the body comes naturally once an understanding of the body is reached.

In the beginning, humanity was made male and female. Each sex has a very particular purpose, communicated through the form and function of the body. Just as our ears were made to hear, our tongue to taste, and our heart to pump blood, our genitals exist primarily to generate. Their primary function is to bring forth new life. Gender means the manner by which you generate. Men give seed. Women receive seed and bring forth life. This is not to ignore the pleasure that comes from sex, but the purpose of sexual pleasure for humanity is that it gives us a “little glimmer” of the joy of Trinitarian love. We are not simply animals – sexual pleasure for humans is not just to procreate. As Christopher West says, “God did not need to dangle a carrot in front of us to get us to procreate“. This obviously does not mean that sexual activity is our ultimate fulfillment, but God has chosen to give us a glimpse into the experience of His own infinite love through human sexual union, and that is beautiful.

Due to the pervasiveness of sex in our modern culture, homosexuality and same-sex topics are constantly brought up in the media, particularly in conversations about Christian moral teaching, forcing the Church and faithful Christians to repeatedly address the topic, seemingly indicating condemnation of the lifestyles lived among members of the LGBTQ+ as one of the primary messages of our faith. I think this is painting a very skewed image of who Christ is and what the true teachings of the Catholic Church are. Yes, the Church declares the reality of sin and sees certain lifestyle choices as sinful, but sexual desire for someone of the same sex is just one of a whole myriad of sexually disordered desires possible within each of us. It is just one tendency to sin among many. We all experience disordered desires which, if followed through too their end, will never lead us to true fulfillment or thriving. I want to make it clear that when I say that, I, or anyone else, has disordered desires, I am not saying that myself or anyone else, in themselves, is disordered. This is a very important distinction. Our desires and emotions do not define who we are. Because of our fallen state, there is a tendency to sexual disorder within each of us, the question is whether we choose to act on it or not. We must understand our own worth and value simply because we exist, and the radiant beauty of our own soul, so we can come to recognize the worth, dignity, and beauty of others, and then to respect and love each other, willing the greatest good.

Though certain sexual acts (sex before marriage, adultery, remarriage without annulment, contraception, same-sex relationships, etc.) may, technically, vary in their degrees of disorder, that is not my point here. For the purposes of this post, I am talking about sin as the great equalizer. We all sin, each and every one of us, every day, and we are all in need of redemption, whether we’ve personally come to that realization or not. But that is why Jesus came! That is why the gospel is called the “good news”, because in the moment we realize and recognize or sin and brokenness and our need for redemption, in the same moment we can then realize, with profound relief and gratitude, that God knew this long ago and provided the redemption we so desperately needed through the sacrifice of Himself. This is a God who submitted Himself to the worst suffering possible out of love for us because of His desperate longing and desire for each of us, regardless of our life choices or past mistakes. God feels eros for us. The Creator of the universe has an infinite longing for you. He came so He could spend eternity with you.

In the ocean of God’s mercy, sin loses its uniqueness. No matter the depth or breadth of sin, the Father’s mercy is more than enough to cover it, to wipe it away and restore brokenness to beauty. It is only in acknowledgment of our brokenness and need that we touch the depths of God, where we find unending love and mercy. This takes humility. We must come to see clearly who we truly are to know who God truly is, and what that actually means for us. What good, good news that is.

Before [God’s] gaze all falsehood melts away… All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation.

– Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

This is the truth the Saints knew so well. It wasn’t that they were these perfect human beings, never making mistakes or hurting others. It was their total awareness of their sin and weakness that allowed them to be such exceptional vessels of God’s love.

Disagreement with someone’s life choices does not mean we cannot still have friendship, communion and love. That seems to be a pervasive idea within our current culture, that if we disagree fundamentally on issues of morality or religious beliefs we must divide and good relationships can’t exist there. That is wrong, and becomes a failed opportunity to stretch our capacities for love, and to foster diverse and open-minded community. Disagreement is not synonymous with hatred or dislike. We have to stop slapping on labels for other people and sticking them in boxes based on pre-conceived notions which have little or no basis in fact, without getting to know them at all. While I may not respect a choice or action itself, I will always, by the grace of God, respect the person who made it.

My dear brothers and sisters, if you have ever experienced or do experience same-sex desires, if you have ever felt out of place within your own body, if you consider yourself gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, genderfluid or anything else, know first and foremost that you are loved by the Church (even if we have failed abismaly in the past at demonstrating this), and that your chosen lifestyle, whatever it may be, does not at all detract from the beauty and dignity I recognize in you. I see you first and foremost as my brother or sister and a beloved child of the heavenly King. I desire your greatest good. I want to know you, to walk with you, to hear you and spend time with you. I do not view you as a project or an object in need of fixing. I look at you as I seek to look at all others, through the eyes of Jesus. You are a potential saint.


As discussed in the first post in this series, God is Love, equally eros and agape – self-sacrificial and desirous. He is the Life-giver, as He desires that all of humanity be unified with Him for eternity in His life-giving, Trinitarian love. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote so beautifully in Deus Caritas Est:

God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape.

The greatest expression of the unitive, life-giving love of the Trinity is marriage and the family. That is why Catholic Christians so fiercely proclaim the truth of what marriage actually is, because any deformation or distortion of it distorts the image of God’s love. The meaning and value of sex is inherent to the act itself, regardless of how we may feel about it. This means that any sexual act which deviates from its true purpose is a distortion and a disordered desire, no matter the sexual orientation of the person. But it is important to note, as Christopher West says, that “the ultimate orientation of human sexuality is towards something infinite, something eternal”.

“We talk about different ‘sexual orientations’ in human life,” says Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist turned Catholic priest and a beloved professor of mine. “But the ultimate orientation of human sexuality is the human heart’s yearning for infinity. Human sexuality, therefore, is a sign of eternity.” This means sex is not just about sex. As we learn to “read” the story our bodies tell as male and female, we discover that sex is meant to point the way to the ultimate fulfillment of our every desire.

Christopher West

That ultimate fulfillment is God.


By the way, if you’re curious who Christopher West is, since he’s been quoted so many times in these posts, you can find out more about him here. He is one of the world’s most prominent teachers of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and is a renound speaker and authour.

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Love Pt. 2: Human Life and the Theology of the Body

You are very good.

In case no one has ever told you that, I want you to know. No matter what your life experience has been, where you come from, what you’ve done or what has been done to you, what your disabilities are, what you believe, who you support, or who you love – you are very, very good. There is no one else who can fill your particular place in the world, no one who has been given the unique set of gifts and quirks you’ve been given, no one who can love in the uniquely personal way you can, and I am glad that you exist. Even if we’ve never met or if we have and you don’t like me, I am glad you are here on this earth.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth’. God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them… God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.

– Genesis 1:26-27, 31

John Paul II in his writings on the Theology of the Body (TOB), points out this passage from Genesis and dives into its profound depths. He examines this part in particular: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”. Here in Genesis, man in the beginning is referred to as both male and female. “It is further significant that the first man (’āḏām), created from the ‘dust of the ground,’ is defined as ‘male’ (’îš) only after the creation of the first woman” (TOB, General Audience, October 10, 1979). So, in the beginning, in a very real if mystical way, man (male and female) was profoundly unified in God. This is the totality of the union we were created for. This is the destiny which awaites us in eternity. We were always meant to be one in Him.

Please, follow with me here. I know this may sound a little far out for those not familiar with TOB, but I promise you, there is powerful truth and radiant beauty here, if only we could be given the eyes to see it.

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“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

As I mentioned last week, God is a union of Persons – Father, Son and Spirit. He desires to bring us into this unity, into Himself, but He also desires that we may be unified with one another, in communion as one Body. Just listen to the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John:

May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)

We were created in His image. In His image – His loving, unified image. Read that passage again. See how much he loves you!

The redemption of the body is closely connected with “the spousal meaning of the body.” In fact, the definitive redemption of the body is nothing other than the final and glorious realization of the spousal meaning of the body in the resurrection and beatific vision (see TOB 67–68). From the very beginning, the spousal meaning of the body is “sacramental.” It is a sign that manifests and communicates holiness (see TOB 19:3–6). It signifies the covenant between God and his people, between Christ and the Church, and ultimately the mystery of mysteries, namely, the communion between the divine Persons in the Trinity.

– John Paul II, Theology of the Body

God wants to wed humanity, to marry us, to consummate His love and be united to us for all eternity. This is why you were created. This is why, in Revelation, heaven is referred to as the wedding feast or marriage supper of the Lamb. It is an eternal celebration of this consummation, the marriage between Christ and His Bride, the Church. If you have been baptised into the Christian family (and for those who haven’t, we are waiting to welcome you with open arms), then you are this Church. She is made up of human persons, each destined for eternal union with Christ, the Bridegroom.

Now, let me clarify something before misconceptions arise. God is not a sexual being. When I talk about spousal union in the context of His relationship with us, I am not referring to a sexual union. When male and female unite in marriage as human persons, they are a sign of the spousal, generative love of the Trinity, but as Christopher West often says, human marriage, as beautiful and life-giving as it can be, only gives us “a little, little glimmer” of the union awaiting us in heaven. This union we will experience is infinitely deeper and more complete than human marriage. This is the great beauty and hope witnessed to us by those who have consecrated themselves totally to God here on earth through vows of celibacy or perpetual virginity – either in the priesthood, religious life, or the single life. These people are signs of this heavenly union awaiting us.

Both married and celibate life are two equal yet different signs of the love of God. This brings up the point I mentioned last week about the difference between chastity and celibacy. Those consecrated to God live out the virtue of chastity through celibacy, but we are all called to live chaste lives, that is, rightly ordered sexuality, whether married or not.

Everyone, regardless of his or her state in life, is called to the virtue of chastity. How many of us have heard admonitions to remain chaste until marriage? This, of course, is to equate chastity with abstinence. If we remain here, we will end with a terribly stilted and dangerously misguided understanding of chastity, not to mention marriage. This misguided understanding of chastity is dangerous because it sets up a very legalistic paradigm of repression and indulgence without training us in the ways of self-mastery and self-giving. Be chaste until marriage translates: I need to ‘cage’ the unicorn (eros) for now, but once I’m married I’m ‘allowed’ to open the cage. If this is our approach to chastity, get ready to be gored.

– Christopher West, Fill These Hearts (p. 134)

We must correct these misguided understandings which have wounded so many, so deeply.

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I don’t know if any of you have ever shared this frustration, but for a long time I was extremely annoyed/upset by the scripture passage where Jesus states that, “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). What if I would rather be married than be like the angels?

I never understood the point of forming deep relationships here on earth, especially at the depth required in marriage, if we are all just going to love each other equally, as family, in heaven. But this line of thought was based on the assumption that the spousal love in marriage would somehow be lessened in heaven, to become equal to all other human relationships. This really didn’t make sense to me. Why would God, who, throughout scripture, is such an advocate for marriage – the union between one man and one woman in their totality of personhood – encourage the exclusivity and incredible commitment and effort of such a relationship in our earthly life, and then take it away as soon as we die? How could that be a good thing? It wasn’t until I heard Bishop Barron respond to a question about precisely this issue on one of the Word on Fire podcast episodes, that I finally heard an explanation that dispelled my former confusion/frustration…

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[NOTE: This is the second in a 3 part series on love, life, and the body all grounded in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Please check back next week for part 3. Click here to read part 1. This has also been written for the ministry I blog for called Project Illuminate.]

(All emphasis added to quotations is my own.)

Love Pt. 1: Eros and Ecstasy

You were created for bliss and ecstasy.

Read that one more time. Has anyone ever told you that? It’s true – bliss and ecstasy.

Have you ever experienced something so beautiful that it actually hurt? In those moments – a sunrise over the ocean, stars filling the nightsky, the crescendo of an orchestra, a moment of intimacy with a loved one – our hearts ache with longing. We never want the experience to end.

It reawakens one’s sense of wonder where one enters into the eternal “I AM” of God. When the heart encounters beauty, time ceases and only the present matters. The thought of forever can often bring a feeling of fear, entrapment, or boredom. But when one’s heart, in an instant, is pierced by a glimpse of beauty, one does not want that particular moment to end, but rather the heart aches for that beauty to last forever – it pleads to go ever deeper into that one newly opened prism, because the heart knows there is no way one could ever fully exhaust the mystery. It keeps on giving and giving. An encounter of beauty is one of discovery and learning – it never remains stale or static, but thrusts one forward into ever new surprise. Beauty opens a portal into the eschaton where we can behold in awe the One who is ever ancient, and ever new, one who is present with us now as the Eternal Present.

– Br. David Brokke SOLT, Created: Bridging the Gap Between Your Art and Your Creator

The Greeks had a word for this – one of the dimensions of love called EROS. However, the Greeks considered it largely a kind of madness or intoxication, usually associated with sexual pleasure, but a significant purification of eros occured through the Jewish faith of the Old Testament. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes about this extensively in his first papal encyclical Deus Caritas Est. The English word erotic comes from the Greek eros, but unfortunately has not yet been redeemed, and remains very twisted and misconstrued in its meaning, being almost exclusively associated with sexual desire and pleasure, so for the purposes of this post, I will continue with the use of the Greek.

Eros – love as desire; desire for everything true, good and beautiful; seeking union; a yearning for infinity

Modern counterfeit eroticism seeks to possess the beautiful by means of sexual frenzy. The difference for Plato is that true eros desires to be possessed in the beautiful… Man’s desire for the Beautiful arouses his hope that his satisfaction is not in this world; his quest is not yet complete.

– Nathan Goebel, Cruciform Eros

Father Nathan Goebel (one of the priests on the popular podcast Catholic Stuff You Should Know) wrote an excellent thesis called “Cruciform Eros” on the importance of eros in the priestly life, which is really significant to the point that eros is a necessary element of love for all people, including those who will never express or experience it in a sexual way. Eros is not limited to sexual or physical love – it is so much deeper and broader. As Fr. Nathan quotes D.C. Schindler (The Redemption of Eros):

[S]exuality is not the same thing as eros, which is a more universal and thus comprehensive desire, but is rather a physical image of eros… If Plato, and indeed the Christian tradition itself, resists the reduction of love to its physical expression, it is not necessarily because of a contempt for eros… but is rather an insistence that it be accorded its integral significance.”

Eros and lust are not the same, just as chastity and celibacy are not the same (more on that in future posts).

God’s love is often referred to exclusively as agape, a descending, self-sacrificial, selfless love, but Pope Benedict argues, “eros and agape can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.” He continues further: “Fundamentally ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.” We see these two dimensions of love in the beautiful poetry of the Song of Songs, which as Benedict says, “ultimately describe[s] God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God”.

You ravish my heart, my sister, my promised bride, you ravish my heart… I come into my garden, my sister, my promised bride, I gather my myrrh and balsam, I eat my honey and my honeycomb, I drink my wine and my milk. Eat, friends, and drink, drink deep, my dearest friends. I sleep, but my heart is awake. I hear my Beloved knocking. ‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one… Then I rose to open to my Beloved, myrrh ran off my hands, pure myrrh off my fingers… I opened to my Beloved.

– Song of Songs 4:9, 5:1-2, 5-6

Ecstasy, from the Greek ekstasis (to be taken out of oneself), is eros experienced to the full. Experiences of ecstasy can be found throughout the writings of the Christian mystics. One of my absolute favourite works of art is The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, where he strove to capture in marble the moment of ecstasy St. Teresa of Avila experienced when her heart was pierced by the love of God, who is Beauty. Recounting this experience in her own words, St. Teresa concluded by proclaiming: “the soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God.”

God is a communion of Persons, a Holy Trinity, and He experiences eros for Himself. He exists in relationship, and therefore human beings, made in His image and likeness, are also made for relationship. The three Persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, desire each other so deeply as to be one, completely united in an eternal exchange of love. This is the truest and purest form of communion, and God wants to invite us into it. As William K. Riordan puts it, “we see God in His goodness attracting Himself in His eros to come forth from Himself in an eternal ecstasy in which new beings are created, sustained, and perfected“. Those new beings are us. You and me, all human persons.

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Your desires are good. Let me repeat that… your desires are GOOD.

For anyone else who (like me) is a very passionate person, this is particularly good news. For most of my life I thought there was something wrong with me, that I needed to beat down or somehow get rid of the intense passions and desires I felt. This was a lie, and I believed it for far too long. It was through Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that the desires of my heart were finally affirmed as inherently good (though in need of purification). This was something I’d always hoped and intuitively felt must be true, but couldn’t quite believe until recently. I don’t know if I can adequately articulate what a radical change this realization has brought about within me, personally. My desires were intentionally placed in me, by God, to direct me towards Him who is the ultimate fulfillment of all human desire. This knowledge has freed me in ways I didn’t even know I needed to be freed, and I hope that sharing it might bring about this freedom for others.

We all, moreover, need to set out on the path of purification and healing of desire. We are pilgrims, heading for the heavenly homeland, toward that full and eternal good that nothing will be able to take away from us. This is not, then, about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man, but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height. When in desire one opens the window to God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God.

– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, General Audience, November 7 2012

We can’t forget about this key of purification and healing. Though inherently good, our desires must be purified. Saint Augustine referred to life as…

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[Note: The is the first in a 3 part series on the love, life, and the body all grounded in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Please check back over the coming two weeks for parts 2 and 3.]

(All emphasis added to quotations is my own.)

Marriage: Sacramental Beauty

Please check out my original post on Project Illuminate here.

Earlier this month, one of my closest friends got married. In anticipation of her wedding day, marriage has been on my mind a lot in recent months as I prayed for her, and her now husband, and helped with preparations. It has been my great joy and honour to witness the blooming and deepening of this couples’ relationship over the last several years, and it was a delight to be a part of their day. Their’s was actually the first Catholic wedding I’ve ever attended, and I couldn’t help comparing the ceremony to others I’ve been to. Though each wedding was beautiful, there was a tangible difference this time. Both the bride and groom knew that they were entering into a sacramental union, with God at its centre, and the importance of this fact and the significance of the sacrament remained the central focus in all the planning beforehand and throughout the day of. There was a tangible peace and joy in the Church that day.

My favourite moment of the Mass was the exchange of vows, followed immediately by the invocation of the Holy Spirit – not just because the vows are the moment the sacrament actually takes place, but also because the choice to follow them with a pleading for God’s grace in the Holy Spirit was so powerful. I had the privilege of seeing the groom’s face during the vows as he gazed at his bride, vowing himself to her for life and she to him. As I took in his facial expression, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the love I was witnessing – a love they had both chosen to commit to until death, no matter what it may require. There are moments when beloved gazes on beloved and the gaze is so intense you almost want to look away, but the beauty of it draws you in. It’s radiant, and reminds us of the gaze of Christ on us, which is always one of love and desire. I could practically hear the rejoicing in heaven.

It struck me that during the vows, all of us faced the bride and groom as they faced each other, but during the invocation of the Holy Spirit, everyone, including the priest, turned towards the crucifix at the front to gaze at Jesus. We sang together, praying that His Spirit would come and be present among us, especially in this union between the newly married couple, and it didn’t matter that it was in Polish and I couldn’t understand a word of what we were saying. I could literally feel the grace. That was the real reason we were all there, because of Jesus, because He had called these two people together for His purposes, and they knew it.

When a couple loves each other in such a deep and pure way, their love in a way becomes inclusive instead of exclusive. We are drawn to them. The love they give and receive from each other spills over in love for others and in its greatest intesity, brings forth new life.

“Love then is not a utopia: it is given to mankind as a task to be carried out with the help of divine grace. It is entrusted to man and woman, in the sacrament of matrimony, as the basic principle of their ‘duty,’ and it becomes the foundation of their mutual responsibility: first as spouses, then as father and mother. In the celebration of the sacrament, the spouses give and receive each other, declaring their willingness to welcome children and to educate them. On this hinges human civilization, which cannot be defined as anything other than a ‘civilization of love’.”
(St. John Paul ll, Letter to Families, no. 15)

No one defends, honours and respects marriage more than the Catholic Church. It places more value on this relationship than any other organization or group in the world and will not yield in its defense despite immense cultural and societal pressure in many places. This is an incredible testimony to the beauty and sacredness of the marriage union.

I think it may be helpful here to clarify a few terms and practicals of a marriage bond, as understood by the Church. Marriages can either be valid and sacramental, or valid and non-sacramental. If a marriage is annulled it means it’s been declared invalid and was never actually a marriage in the first place. The Church assumes every time a man and woman exchange vows willingly, with the intention to remain faithful to each other, commited until death, and are open to children, there is a valid marriage. One exception is when a Catholic is married outside the Church, in which case no authentic marriage bond is recognized. God graces all marriages because of His love for us but when they are valid yet non-sacramental, they don’t receive the extra special sacramental graces. A marriage is considered sacramental when it occurs between two validly baptized Christians, as baptism is the only way through which to receive any sacrament. Nothing but death can break a valid sacramental marriage bond.

In the sacramentalization of natural marriage, two people are called together by God for the salvation of their souls. They are not just drawn together through mutual attraction, but by God for His purposes, and will not just find fulfillment in each other’s presence, but will find salvation. In a sacramental marriage, a person’ spouse is their path to holiness. Their vocation here on earth helps them achieve their ultimate vocation of sanctity.

In the sacrament of matrimony, it is not about what we receive, like in the other sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, etc.), but about what we become. The vows exchanged are the sacrament, and through these vows the couple becomes a sacrament of Christ’s love for His Church. They are a sign to the world of His love for us.

“Marriage and family become for us a sacred revelation of the inner life of the Trinity… It’s within the family that we learn to love, to believe, and to pray. It reveals Christ’s love to us as His bride and gives us a window into and a tangible example of what our relationship with Him will be like in the next life.” – Bishop Donald Hying

Married couples are living witnesses to the love of Christ the bridegroom for His bride the Church.

In our relationships, when we are unified under a common passion and purpose, and are striving for some high ideal, when we fall in love not so much with each other but with a transcendent third (love for the truth, love for a country, love for God, etc.) we are actually drawn closer together through this shared love. This is a concept that can be traced all the way back to Aristotle, and is discussed by others in more recent history such as Venerable Fulton Sheen and Bishop Robert Barron. As Bishop Barron states in one of his Word on Fire podcast episodes, The Spirituality of Marriage, a married couple must look beyond just their spouse towards the transcendent third, who in this case is God. It is through this gaze, this falling in love with God, that their love for each other deepens and their bond is made stronger.

Christian marriage, as Fr Hugh Barbour, O. Praem. (Chaplain at Catholic Answers) put it, is an invitation to maturity and to a moderation of passions. It is the ongoing spiritual battle to be like Christ. Marriage is meant to draw us out of ourselves and into a higher space. It is a journey towards sanctity, and is the vocation most people are called to in this life.

This all being said, marriage is far from easy, which is why the graces of the sacrament are so important. No one, no couple, can live this vocation without help, particularly from God. We need His grace. It is His love which enables spouses to love each other, and their children, in the first place. I have been very blessed to grow up with an example of many strong and long-lasting marriages around me, both in my own family and in friend’s families. As a result, I have experienced first-hand the gift this sacrament is to a family, when fully lived out. Though imperfect, the marriages of my parents and grandparents, especially, have been a living sign for me of God’s love by their love and fidelity through so many years of life’s joys and sorrows. If human beings can love each other so much and can continue to choose each other day after day, year after year, no matter what, how much more does God love and choose us?

This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1615)

The gift of marriage and family is the highest earthly good the Lord has given us. May we continue to recognize, defend and celebrate its beauty.

Let’s Talk – Mental Illness

In honour of #BellLetsTalk today, I thought I would share a quick blog post with some thoughts on mental illness. The images I’ve included in this post were chosen because they depict mental illnesses that either I’ve personally struggled with or that people I know and care about have struggled with. The sketches were done by an artist named Shawn Cross. I first came across them last year and was very moved. He does an excellent job of depicting experiences which are very difficult to describe in words. You can view the original post here.

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To all of you reading this who currently have, or have ever had, a mental illness, you are not alone. Please don’t ever feel ashamed for your illness. You are not your illness. It is not your identity. It is not your fault, you did not cause it, and you did not ask for it. It is simply a sickness of the brain which needs treatment just as any sickness of the body does. But please, do not keep it in the darkness. You cannot heal, cannot improve, cannot regain peace, if you don’t first acknowledge that there’s something wrong, and seek help. Illness should never be shameful.

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For those who do not have personal experience with mental illness, please don’t jump to conclusions and don’t ever let your first assumption be that a person is making up an illness to get attention, or for some other reason. For those who truly suffer from these illnesses, I assure you, we do not want them.

It is high time we, as a society, take this seriously. Change starts with individuals. Each one of us has the power to create this positive change through the way we love and act with others in our own lives. Next time you hear that a co-worker or acquaintance has gone on “stress” leave, do not role your eyes and assume they’re being dramatic or just want time off. Many mental illness are silent and invisible. We have no idea what someone else might be suffering, and it is not ok to assume that just because we haven’t seen any evidence of illness does not mean it isn’t there. We must work to be compassionate, and give the benefit of the doubt. Please try your best to truly listen if someone opens up to you about their pain or struggles, regardless of your own feelings about it. It takes courage, especially initially, to share with even one other person one’s mental sufferings. They can be confusing, terrifying, and isolating.

There is hope, there is freedom, there is treatment for these illnesses. Again, you are not alone. No man is an island. We need compassion, open-mindedness, and understanding, but most of all, we need each other. Together, we can stop the stigma. #BellLetsTalk

Daring to Hope

Sometimes, there are things I read which must be shared. A full year after writing my last blog post, the words of Katie Davis Majors have compelled me to write again. Katie, whose first book ignited the spark in my heart for foreign missions, for loving those in distant lands, who led me to Engineering Ministries International and through them, to her home of Uganda (to read more about that story, click here), has again penned a story that speaks right to my heart.

So much has happened in my life over the past 12 months, a semester in Rome, a work term in Prince Edward Island, and the completion of my final term of architecture school and my undergraduate degree. There is so much I could’ve written about, but never made time to. Now that I’ve been selected as a member of the launch team for Katie’s new book, Daring to Hope, I vowed to spread the word in as many ways possible, which includes my blog. And oh, how I want to share this with you.

Given the current state of the world, the tag line of Daring to Hope might hook you on its own: How do you hold on to hope when you don’t get the ending you asked for? But just in case it doesn’t, let me share what a gift, yet again, Katie’s book has been to me, and so many others who are also part of this launch team.

This is a story of hope, as you may have surmised from the title, and of healing. It is a testament to the faithfulness of the Father. Katie shares her heart, revealing parts of her journey as a mom and missionary over the past ten years in Uganda, striving to find joy in situations that seem hopeless and dark, when prayers were not answered in desired ways, and stories had hard and unexpected endings. This story is much more about God’s faithfulness in the everyday, than it is about a radical missionary in Uganda. It speaks to everyone. It’s about the ways the Lord can work in extroardinary ways through simple acts of faith, icing cupcakes, reading with your children, laughing over bowls of spaghetti, replacing a bandage, mopping the floor. It’s about the healing power of gratitude when we give thanks for the seemingly insignificant, and creating beauty from ashes.

“Some blessings were big and some were small, but there was no denying that they were everywhere. I knew His presence in a way that I had not known previously. Gratitude was healing me. Giving thanks to the One who both gives and takes away, and remains my Saviour in either circumstance, refocused my eyes and made me strong…. Gratitude brought me into communion with God.”

“Our God is not too big for the small and is glorified in our ordinary moments as we invite Him in.”

Katie is often called brave. I have also been called brave, for the choices I have made and the places I have gone (though they have been far less radical than Katie’s), in my striving to follow the will of the Lord. But what we long for you to know, is that Jesus is the one who makes us brave. We are only brave because we have a Father who we know will never let us down, who is always there when we collapse in weariness, who is our guiding hand when we don’t know which way to turn. He is relentless in His pursuit of us. I trust my Father more than I trust myself. This is what it means to be a “prisoner of hope“, to trust Him even when we can’t see any good resolution. Katie puts words to this beautifully, “… I do not know His ways, but I know Him. I know Him”. Christ is our bravery and our courage. He is our strength.

Something that has always struck me most about Katie is her openess to community, to welcoming everyone into her home, whether it’s convenient or not, whether she wants to or not. In Daring to Hope, she writes, “our house is always full, but it never really feels too small. Over the years we have made a habit, a lifestyle really, of opening the doors wide even when we feel like we can’t possibly stretch any more, of making ourselves available to those God brings into our loves and all the ways He might show us His goodness as we open our arms to Him and to others… He has filled our lives and our home with beautiful, broken people, and He has shown Himself to be the God who mends the broken and uses the cracks to reveal His glory.” Isn’t that beautiful? I long to have a home like this. It’s what God calls us to, this sharing of lives, this openess to others, but it is hard and often inconvenient.

Daring to Hope is a testament to the ways the Lord is working through one woman’s willingness to trust in Him and take the next step, and who He has shown Himself to be amidst the pain and heartbreak, because He can work everything for good, even the most horrific and tragic circumstances. That is the major message of the book, “that we would know the true Hope found only in His Son Jesus, the Lamb, who never, ever stops reaching out for us, who cups out pain in His nail-scarred palms and cradles our hearts close to His. He wants to be our reward.”

“No one loves wounds… But when we love our Saviour we can trust that sometimes the ugliness of life draws us to Him.”

All of us know trials in our lives. In the loss of classmates and loved ones, and struggles with depression and loneliness, I have known sorrow and despair, but these experiences have also given me an intimacy with the Lord that I couldn’t have experienced any other way. I don’t enjoy the pain, but I thank Him for grieving with me and for His heart breaking with mine. He never leaves us. “In our pain, He is near.” As Katie writes, “He has taught me His secrets in the darkness. He has taught me true and unwavering hope in Him.”

Katie talks a lot about hard goodbyes in this book. Over the past five years of university, moving to a new city every four months, Christ has shown me how to be open to love, to share my heart with others, even knowing, in such a short time I would have to say goodbye, even when it felt like I was ripping off little pieces of my heart as I boarded each plane and that in spite of promises to keep in touch, with most, the relationships and closeness would never be the same again. It is hard. The goodbyes don’t get easier, but I have learned, in the stretching and the breaking, that it is worth it, every time. With each new friendship, each life that crosses paths with our own, we have the priviledge of bearing witness to another’s story, even if just for a short time, and in so doing, as Katie says, we bear witness to God. To the unique way He reveals Himself in each of us.

“‘I know you are tired, child, but I am not. I do not grow tired. I will never become weary. Lean on me, for in your weakness, I am strong.’

‘I believe in you,’ I whisper.
‘It’s enough, child,’ He answers.”

This book sings of His faithfulness. It seeps through every crack and crevice, every one of Katie’s stories, and the stories of others woven into hers, in the cracking open of Scripture, and the insights shared.

“Certainly God places each of us in situations that, though others look on with support and love, they cannot fully understand. In the past year, loss and life had left a big void that only He could fill, and He did. In His presence, I didn’t have to explain mysef or recount the struggles of the day; I didn’t have to describe my feelings in all their complexity. He knew. I didn’t have to sumon up trite answers or insincere piety. He knew me, and He loved me, and I could rest in Him even when my mind raced.”

I could go on. I swear I have underlined half of this book. There’s a lot to soak in. I’ve already been through it twice. I will not reveal the closing lines, though they are my favourite, because they will be more impactful after you have read the whole book. They sent shivers down my spine as I let them soak in. I hope you will discover them for yourselves, dear friends, and let these words of hope and healing wash over you.

Katie’s book, Daring to Hope, comes out exactly two weeks from today, and is available for pre-order now!

Me Before You or You Before Me?

Having completed my internship with Engineering Ministries International in Uganda, I plan to keep this blog going, continuing to be a place I share my thoughts, experiences, and faith, but also using it to speak out on important issues and to share or process thoughts. I hope my writing provokes thought and feeling, but more than anything I want everyone reading this to know that everything I write comes from a place of love. Really and truly.

I actually wrote this post over a month ago now, but haven’t made the time to mold it into a cohesive whole until now.

Last month, I watched the film “Me Before You”, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, and after reading the book a couple of weeks later, by Jojo Moyes, I have done a lot of thinking about it, its characters, and the beautiful, complex, and occasionally disturbing and heartbreaking messages it communicates. I both loved and hated the story.

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on this post for several weeks now, before I started the book, in the effort to try and communicate my thoughts clearly and kindly, while keeping an open mind and being respectful of the many different viewpoints around these topics. I’m glad I read the book before posting this. Unsurprisingly, the characters are better developed and the novel gives more insight into, and information about, quadraplegics, their caregivers and loved ones, assisted-suicide, euthanasia and the complexities around all of those things.

All of us have pain in our lives. We all know suffering, to varying degrees of course, but a person cannot go through life without pain and hardship. Each of us has a cross, some obvious and visible, some hidden and silent, none less real than another. As a Catholic Christian, I know I was never promised peace and joy in this life, those things can of course be found, but not without the burden of our cross. For those of us who are Christian, we know this. We know that just over 2000 years ago a man loved us so much that he came to suffer and die for each and every one of us, so that we might live, and in doing so guaranteed for all eternity our eternal and everlasting joy, should we choose it. He warned us that this life would be difficult, but not to despair because he conquered suffering and death forever.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

But for those who are not Christian, it is often much more difficult to grasp the purpose of suffering. I know there are countless different systems of belief in the world, and many of them try to tackle the problem of human suffering, but for me, none of it made any sense until I began to dig into my Catholic faith for answers. Without Christ and his Passion, no suffering really makes sense to me. There is just no way to justify any of it, so of course we should try to avoid it at all costs, even if that means death. Why wouldn’t we, if it has no purpose?

Something that was stressed so much throughout this whole film was the right to choose. “It’s his choice”, was spoken multiple times over the course of the story in reference to Will. Of course they’re right, we all have the right to choose. Our free will gives us choices, always, whether they be insignificant or life-altering. It us up to us. That does not, however, mean that we should encourage others in all their choices if we know what they’re choosing will hurt them and hurt others.

Every single choice in our life matters. We have no idea what part we are meant to play in this great story, but each of us does play a part, an important part. Our lives have meaning, we have meaning, and we have purpose. You have dignity and worth, no matter what state your mind or body might be in simply because of who you are. Not for all the things you can do or the things you’ve done, but for you. Just you. You are inherently valuable no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you do with your life. You were made in the image of God, who actually loved you so much that he became human for you, to be able to fully understand your suffering. Physical, mental, emotional, he knows it all, and what hurts you hurts him. Never doubt that he understands your pain. Apart from him, suffering is meaningless, but when we choose to unite our suffering with the Passion of Christ, it has the power to redeem. I know many do not believe in redemptive suffering, and I am truly sorry for that, but it is real. I have lived it and I have seen it.

There was a blog posted on Salt + Light several weeks ago that discussed this film as well and there was a particular line that stated an often overlooked truth, which you’ll find below.

“In the case of medically assisted dying, it affects not just your loved ones, but your doctor and the whole medical system and the legal system too. No act is really ever a completely autonomous act because we are not completely autonomous. We are relational.”
– Deacon Pedro (Salt + Light Media)

In this particular story, it is obvious that Will’s choice affects the people in his life, especially his parents and Lou. Lou’s love throughout the film is a selfless love. It’s beautiful. She is a servant, for her family and for Will, something we are all called to be. She constantly puts others before herself. Seeing the way she puts everything aside to love him in the best way she can is inspiring. She sets a powerful example. She fell in love with Will after his accident, when he couldn’t see anything lovable about himself anymore, when he believed that anything special or valuable about him had been taken away. I wouldn’t say she “sees past” his disability because that disability makes him the man she loves, and she loves all of him, even in his weakness.

Will inspires me in many ways as well, not as much in the movie, but definitely in the book, however, he also breaks my heart. He fails to see all that life still has to offer, and is unable to put the will of others before himself. I know he believes that he, those who love him, and really the rest of the world as a whole, are better off without him. That is tragic because it is such a lie. He is not simply a burden on society who should be disposed of or dispose of himself so that others are free from service. We are called to service. Saying service isn’t always easy is an understatement, but it’s what we are called to do, to lay down our lives for others. The greatest human who ever lived came as a servant; he healed, he listened, he washed feet, he died, all in service. When sacrificial service is freely given it is the greatest and most powerful form of love.

I have a very deep-seated belief that all human beings are inherently good, and were not born wanting to inflict pain on others or on ourselves.

We were each given free will and we always have a choice; a choice that should never be taken away from us ragardless of how others may feel about it, or whether we ourselves know that our choice breaks a moral law. I have chosen things that I know are bad for me more than once in my life, making decisions knowing their negative consequences and choosing them anyway, because I can be single-minded in my pursuit of happiness or peace, outweighing the temporary for the eternal. Sometimes I wish someone had been there to stop my actions, because I was only causing myself (and sometimes others) harm, but then would I have stopped the next time? Probably not. It needed to be my own will, my own desire to choose what is right or good. We were all given choice, not because we deserve it or are entitled to it, but because our Maker chose to make it that way, for better or for worse.

At one point near the end of the story, Will says to Lou that she is not enough, that her love for him is not enough for him to live for. He’s right, it isn’t. Sometimes our love for people or their love for us is just not enough to keep us here. When we have reached the point when we honestly do not believe we can ever feel true happiness again, when we are in such despair that for us life has truly lost its joy, how do we find the will to live? If there is nothing beyond this life, nothing greater than this, then what is the point, especially when we are forced to endure such incredible suffering or to watch those we love endure pain we can hardly imagine? There has to be something more, something greater, calling us to life. Without Christ, no suffering makes sense. It is meaningless. If I did not have my faith, I probably wouldn’t be here. I honestly don’t know how people without any faith in something greater than this realm can endure the pain in this world, can bear suffering, and still find the will to get out of bed every day.

To tell my story is to tell of Christ, so please, even if you don’t share any of my beliefs, just hear me out for a minute. In the moments when I have been in the deepest pits of depression, when I was truly unable to see even the opening at the end of the tunnel, I really didn’t see the point of any of it, of all of this. For me, it was not until my faith became real to me again, when I actually heard the truth Christ was speaking to me, and listened to loved ones reminding me of His truth, that I was pulled out of that place, that I was able to find joy and purpose and passion again.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” – Isaiah 49:15-16

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
– Jeremiah 31:1

“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” – Isaiah 43:1-4

I have much to live for now, but without Him, and the people who love me, in that long dark season, I truly don’t know if I would’ve been able to escape the grips of depression. It is so overwhelming, so suffocating and dominant, whether it creeps up slowly or suddenly consumes you.

Will too suffered from depression, because of his pain, his injuries and illnesses, his lack of freedom, and the life he lost. “That there was no evidence of mental illness”, which the author writes in some of the last pages of the novel’s text, referring to Will, is completely untrue. Depression is a mental illness. When someone decides to take their own life, assisted or not, as a result of depression (I’m not discussing any other potential reasons/causes of suicide here), it is not because they are unbelievably selfish, as many seem to think, and even I once thought. It’s not that it is not a selfish act, maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean that the victims of depression and suicide are selfish people. They are suffering from an illness that is beyond their control. We can’t just “snap out of it” or “think/look on the bright side”. The thing is, we can’t even see a bright side anymore.  Depression is a horrible, debilitating illness, and often a silent killer.

In the darkest moments, we can’t see past the bleakness, the numbness, the despair. For me, it was like the world had drained of colour, without even the vibrance and contrast of true black or white, just grey. It felt like losing everything and gaining nothing. It was a suffocating loneliness, believing if I talked to anyone about what was going on, I would simply become a burden. I hate being a burden, or inconveniencing people. I know I’m not alone in that. Will didn’t like it either, constantly needing people waiting on him night and day, but more than anything, he hated having his freedom taken away. I can only imagine what it would be like not to be able to move, to eat, even to go to the bathroom without someone else’s help. I hard as I might try, I cannot truly understand what that is like. I see the reasoning behind his decision. In the book he even says it, “this is the first thing I’ve been in control of since the accident”. Having freedom taken from you is a horrible experience, especially in such a violent and abrupt manor, but does it really mean we should stop fighting, trying to regain some of what we’ve lost, adjusting to a new reality? Our life does still have meaning, even if it’s not the life we ever would have wanted.

The ending is what ruins the entire story for me. The whole thing has such a pro-life message, with everyone fighting to inspire Will to live, until the very end. Imagine how powerful, how truly brave and inspiring it would have been had that final scene been different. Imagine if Will had made a different choice, if he had been sitting next to Lou in Paris, enjoying that coffee and warm crousiant, and saying those words in person. He gives her a beautiful and wonderful piece of advice, but completely fails to follow it himself. To me, it seems somewhat ironic that the hashtag coined for the story is #liveboldly.

This story is a powerful one. The acting is excellent, the film is beautiful, and the novel deeply thought-provoking, but sadly, no matter what the author or actors or media might say, it ends in tragedy. Choosing death, in this way, is not a happy ending.

My hope, is that it will encourage deep thought, spark conversation. All human life has dignity and worth, no matter the state it may be in. We were never meant to walk this journey alone, but we were given the gift of free will and therefore the choice of what to do with ourselves, who to spend time with, where to go, even whether to live, is our own. We cannot force others to do or believe what we know to be true or right. We can repremand people for doing wrong, committing crime, and contradicting moral law, and we can try until our dying breath to convince those we love, and really everyone we encounter, of truth, particularly as Christians, however they will always have their own free will and I think we need to remember that, as much as it might break our hearts, and might force us to have to go up against the decisions of those we love the most. When those we love are hurting, in pain, struggling to find joy or meaning in anything, it will always be their choice, in the end, how to deal with and react to their situation, but through it all we must lift them up, fight for them while they cannot fight themselves, and sometimes even fight against them for their good. We must love them, in the best way we know how.

Home

‘You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.’
– Miriam Adeney

Now that I’ve been home for one month, I figured it was about time to write again. There have been several things I’ve felt inclined to write and reflect on over the past several weeks, but I’ve landed on what is probably the most obvious topic, home.

Having moved back to Canada last month and being back in my hometown for the summer for the first time in three years, it still feels kind of odd to be here, but lovely at the same time. I’ve loved being able to spend time with loved ones I’d been missing for so long, to go to mass at my home church for more than two weekends in a row, to visit some of my favourite places in the city, and go for runs almost every morning in my favourite park. Getting together with my friends and not having to say goodbye for several months after just one visit has made me very happy.

It’s true that I now have little pieces of my heart scattered all over this country and other places around the world, and though I might spend more time than I should missing people I cannot see, I count it all as gift. The longing for homes around the world means I’ve been blessed with love in so many places and by so many people. Each person in my story was placed there for a reason, and I’m so grateful for the blessing to have been able to travel and learn and develop relationships with such varied and unique people.

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Just hours after stepping off the plane in Toronto… our family is reunited!
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Two of my very best friends who I missed dearly… Katie and Em

‘It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.’ – Eric Roth

I feel like I’ve been reconnecting with my roots, fitting back into place here. Every time I return, I’m a little different than the last time. There are differences at home each time too, but the rates of change are not the same. Adaptation is a skill that has definitely been rapidly developing in me since beginning university four years ago. I certainly have more to learn, and I haven’t always been grateful in the moment for the times I’ve simply been forced to adapt, but I’ve come to like being forced out of my comfort zone. There is nothing quite as effective to help me learn and grow. I seem to have lost my contentment with comfort.

As I was preparing to leave Uganda, I said that to a friend of mine, and she asked me to clarify what I meant. It’s not that I don’t appreciate comfort. I do. Don’t we all? However, I’m not longer content to live a life of comfort when I know so many people don’t have that luxury, and I have the power to do something about it, even if it is one small thing at a time. Katie Davis once said, “sometimes working in a third world country makes me feel like I am emptying the ocean with an eye-dropper”. Just generally trying to eleviate suffering in the world feels like this. But it all matters, one more drop, one more life touched. It’s worth it every time.

So, as my next move rapidly approaches and the summer flies by, though minor stress about school in the fall is beginning and thoughts of all the things I still have left to do before moving to Europe threaten to steal my peace, I will remain rooted. Rooted not just in my home for this short season, so close to many I love, but most importantly, rooted in my best friend and my God, who always remains faithful, who never changes, who is my true home and the source of my peace and my joy, always.

Journey’s End

 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.’ – John 15:12-17

On this, my final day in Uganda, I couldn’t help put wake up this morning for the last time in my shared room with Siima, in our little intern house, with a bit of a surreal feeling. It’s very odd to think that the next time I wake up in a bed, it will be in my bed in my parent’s house, halfway across the world. This term has been too much, too impactful, too transformative, too full to try and do justice to in the very limited time I have today. So instead, I’ve included a bunch of photos below, until I can write a longer reflection once I’m home.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past couple of weeks, trying to process all that’s happened, and is going to happen, as we transition back into life in North America. There have been some really deep and meaningful conversations in the last little while with people here who have become such good friends, and really a family here in Uganda, and I’m so grateful for the ways God is using every last minute I have here to continue teaching me and growing me. Goodbyes are hard, especially when we don’t know when we will see the person, if ever, again. However, as a colleague and friend wisely said to me the other day, in this kind of work, among Christians, goodbyes here are never truly goodbyes. We are part of a larger family, a Body, universally linked, and because of that we have hope. Whether in this life or the next, we will see each other again.

The single greatest thing I hope to take away from this entire experience is how to love better, how to love others visibly, through everyday actions. I want to love with abandon, lavishing the love of Christ on those I come in contact with. The people here love so well. Because many Ugandans don’t often express their feelings in words, they seem to express them through actions instead, and it is powerful. I have learned so much from observing and living in community with these people. They have really given me a better understanding of the verse I quoted above from John 15. I pray that their ways, in this regard, have rubbed off on me while I’ve been here, and that as I return home to Canada, I won’t lose that new way of being, continuing to improve as time goes on.

I will truly miss the family I am leaving behind here, but I know you go with me in spirit no matter where in the world we each may be. Thank you Engineering Ministries International, for the experience of a lifetime, and for giving me the opportunity to witness and be a part of the hands and feet of Jesus at work through others. I am excited to see what the future will bring, both immediate and distant. This coming season will be one of new beginnings.

To my family and friends back home… I love you! I’m coming for you!

 

** Support update… I still have $800 CAD left before my support is complete. If you are willing to contribute, and to be a part of the incredible work EMI is doing in Uganda, please click here, or click the “support my mission” link at the top of my main blog page. Please don’t forget to fill out my name (Andrea Quinn) in the “Purpose” field, so it is counted as part of my support. No amount is too small. Thank you so much to all who have already supported me financially through this. You are in my prayers!

One Life

These past three weeks have been challenging ones, and with just over two weeks left of my time in Uganda, I’ve been reflecting on much. It’s difficult for me to find words to articulate my thoughts at the moment.

I’ve started to write this post several times already over the past week and then stopped because I really couldn’t think of what to say. However, I’m overdue to post an update, so I’m going to do my best to be reasonably articulate.

I’ve been learning how to deal with grief recently. I don’t know if we can ever really learn that, but I do believe that each time someone is lost, we can either allow the grief to close off our hearts or open them wider. I think I’m experiencing the later. I’m trying to feel it, to let it run its course. The tragedies at home have me grieving for some of my dearest loved ones, and while that emotion is very real, the actual events and circumstances have taken on an air of unreality. Three deaths in two weeks. When I received the news last week of the sudden passing of my friend Sarah’s father, and then of Mr. Garasto, one of my grandparents oldest and dearest friends, like an uncle to my dad and his brothers, I couldn’t help crying out to God as tears streamed down my cheeks. What in the world is happening? Why so much loss, so much grief? Being so far away, it’s hard for it to seem real. I feel as if I’m living in some parallel universe, not completely here but not there either. It’s somewhat disconcerting.

I have never come to Christ so helpless. As I kneel at His feet, I come with nothing. My own strength is gone, it’s all Him. Never have I relied so heavily on my faith before, and God knows, I am so grateful for it. These past, almost 5 months, have been the most intense and transformative of my life, particularly the past 3 weeks, in ways I never could have anticipated. No matter how lost I’ve felt, how helpless, how grief stricken, He has never left. More than that though, He has helped keep a flame of joy alive in my heart, no matter how deep it may have been buried at times. He has not let me sink into depression this time, when the numbness sets in and life seems to lose purpose and meaning. It may hurt, but being raw means being open, open to both the darkness and the light.

I am rooted in Rock.

“It’s all I know: When we are in over our heads, we touch the depths of God. Life is hard but we have a Rock. Life 100% guarantees you troubles but you have a 100% warranty that God is with you. Life is a battle – and Joy is a kind of courage and a smile slays all kinds of dragons… even the shadows here can’t help but speak of the depths of God.” – Ann Voskamp

This is something I know to be true. I have lived this truth. I thought I understood what it meant for God to be with us always, but I don’t think I did, not until now. No matter the depth of darkness, when hopelessness threatened to overwhelm, Christ has never once left my side. He has been here, sending reminders of his love, of his joy, and of the beauty of life, even in the midst of suffering. One of my coworkers said something a couple of weeks ago as we were chatting after dinner one night, which rang true. “God speaks loudly in Africa”. I don’t know what the past three weeks would’ve looked like had I been home, but I know they definitely would have looked different. Everything here seems to be more intense. There are few distractions from real life, from the things that really matter. A former boss and friend of mine, who is African himself, once described Africa to me as being very “real”. He’s right, and I don’t know how to describe it any better. There’s something about this place, maybe the fact that poverty is so obvious and visible, suffering is evident, the effort to feed, water, clothe, and shelter is a very real struggle for many on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it’s that these struggles are wide spread and the contrast between wealth and poverty is stark, with collapsing brick and sheet metal one-room homes right across the road from gated compounds with large white, clay tile roofed homes. Celebrations and tragedies are community events, visible to all, and lives and homes overlap in a visible way. You can’t walk or drive down a Ugandan street without seeing people along the sides of the road, in groups or pairs talking, bargaining, arguing, or laughing. So different from home. Life, real life, is visible to the naked eye. Instead of being shut up inside buildings, as it so often is at home, it seems to be more out in the open.

The other day at lunch, a friend of mine was asking whether I was looking forward to going home, “back to the real world”. I thought that was an odd way of putting it. In a way, I know what he meant, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking to myself how real the past few weeks have felt, in terms of powerful and overwhelming emotion, while at the same time, as I mentioned above, the almost otherworldly feeling of the whole situation, being so far away from everyone else sharing the losses, from those I love.

There have been moments when I haven’t known what to say, when I haven’t known what or how to pray. As I was reading an article online the other day, a line the author shared jumped out at me, “Have you ever been there? Wordless but hurting? Bonhoeffer said, ‘That can be very painful, to want to speak with God and not be able to.’” Sometimes we just don’t have the words, even for God, and the best we can do is cast up our thoughts to the heavens, hoping He sees us and knows.

“Sometimes – most of the time – change hurts more than the loss of a [beloved, memory-filled] restaurant. Sometimes if hurts so much that you’re left shaking and out of breath.
But I’m convinced this type of movement keep us moving towards Him. He wants us to keep moving and to keep allowing ourselves to be moved. To be moved by love, by heartache, by art, by death and life, by food and hunger; to be moved by an emptying of our own desires, plans, wants, and dreams; to be filled up by a love only He can pour into us. He wants us to keep experiencing all He has to give us – to seek greatness, rather than indulge in the comfortable.
And that is a gift. We must believe in and be thankful for the peace He has given us. His peace is real, even when He takes it away.” – Emily Martinez (FOCUS Ministries)

Through these challenges, this darkness and difficulty, He is pulling us into Him, closer to His heart. If this pain helps me to love others better, to empathize with others who are hurting or will hurt in the same way, I would go through it all again. If Christ can use this journey to bless others through me, if He can use it to make my heart more like His, it is all worth it.

One of the greatest things I’m learning is the importance of being open with those around us, especially with our friends and family. Don’t wait until tomorrow or next week or next year to remind people, or to let them know that they mean something to you, that you care about them, that they have touched your life in some way, or helped to make you the person you are. If you admire someone’s smile, or the way they’ve done their hair, or you think the shirt they’re wearing looks particularly good on them, tell them. When was the last time you were offended by a compliment, no matter who it was from or in what situation? People deserve to know they matter. We need to remind each other of that more, of how each one of us is loved, uniquely and completely. I’m learning how to do this more and more each day. If we only have this one life, why waste a moment?

I think the most difficult thing for me has been the helplessness to help my loved ones through the loss of loved ones. It’s hard to know what to do when grief is so strong it threatens to pull us apart. How do you help someone through that? How can you be there for them?

This morning, as I was reading through today’s (in)courage blog post I couldn’t help but feel that God had, yet again, seen me and sent words to speak to me through another. I want to share them with you. The post is referring to a woman named Kelli, who is the mother of four young children and recently lost her husband in a helicopter crash.

“From scripture readings to supper offerings, from housekeeping help to Craigslist items, her people show up for her and reveal the love of Jesus for her. And in their love, care, and compassion, Kelli finds a safe place to acknowledge that while her loss doesn’t make sense and isn’t fair, God is merciful and good.
At its best, this is what the body of Christ does: it allows those who’ve experienced a loss to grieve honestly while offering the hope of Truth generously.” – Kristen Strong

We are all called to be a part of this body, with Christ. I pray that through the struggle and pain of life, we will all use it to open our hearts a little wider, love a little harder, live more fully, more completely. May we use these times to remind each other of the joy still present, even when we can’t see it, even when our peace and our comfort has been destroyed. Christ will never, ever leave us. He sees us always, even if we can’t even find the words to speak, even when we can’t stand. He will lift us again, and dry our tears. We are never lost to Him.

** Brief financial update… I have about $800 CAD left to raise, due to fluctuating exchange rates over the past 6 months. I would so love if you would consider becoming a part of the work EMI is doing here in Uganda by supporting me financially, or continuing to support me financially. Please click the “Support my Mission” link on the top of the main page of my blog to contribute. God has already been so faithful in this respect and I am so deeply grateful to each and every person who has contributed so far!