Following on the heels of my rant about people and their opinions about widows, I want to address the one question that many people ask me. So, after all that you've been through, why are you still a believer?
The answer to that question is complex, and can be a long and winding explanation. I'll do my best to try and keep it short. I have written about my journey away from the church, out into the world and back on another page. To summarize, boy grows up Catholic. Boy wants to become a priest but his vocations director leaves priesthood to get married. Boy gets married outside the church and runs far away. Boy becomes a father and runs back to the church. The end.
The reality is when I found my way back to the Eastern Catholic church, I found myself all-in. Through participation in the liturgical cycle of the church, I convalidated my marriage, I found my way back to confession and ultimately found myself sitting in the seminary studying to be a deacon. My reversion was strong and Diane Feinstein would have said, "The dogma lives loudly in you". Through all the study, participation in Liturgy and giving of myself to the parish I came to see what it means in John 1:16 "From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace."
Just how full was my "grace tank" began to be revealed to me in 2015. That was when Theresa was diagnosed with breast cancer, 2 days before I left for the seminary. Upon returning to Arizona, it was 9 months of bad news. Every time we hoped for something good, something bad came instead. Yet, every time bad news came our way, I could see the grace inside of Theresa working. She was scared. Scared for what was coming her way, scared for what was coming to Ryan and I. Yet, she held firmly to the promise of the Resurrection. When her birth into eternity was close, she was given the grace of having 2 priests give her the Anointing of the Sick. She fell asleep in the arms of the Church, with the firm promise of what was to come. And after that, my "grace tank" began to drain.
When I was accepted into the deacon formation program, my priest said to me "Congratulations, you now have a giant bullseye on your back." You have decided to give yourself in service to the Lord and you will be tested. In the months after Theresa died I found myself starting to go through the motions. I would still attend Divine Liturgy every Sunday, but my other service to the church began to wane. No longer did I attend every solemnity. No longer did I attend vespers. I found myself doing the minimum things necessary, and not really doing those things very well. I found myself writing theological papers that received the highest grades, at the same time wondering if this was real. Yes, the 2nd year deacon candidate was starting to lose his faith.
When I returned to the seminary for year 3 I was blessed with a beautiful fiancé. That new relationship caused some issues for me with the seminary staff and those issues, coupled with the doubts I experienced throughout year 2 made the decision to leave formation easy. Once I left, my faith was further tested by a priest who didn't seem all to interested in my new fiancé and was less than welcoming when we approached for marriage. Added to that was Ryan having issues with his mom's death and declaring, "How can we know for sure there is a God?" Or, "how do we know that we were created by a God and not by the big bang".
By the time I moved to Phoenix in December 2017, my tank was down empty. Once I left deacon formation, I stopped reading and studying the faith. My attendance at Divine Liturgy was only done out of a sense of obligation. In short I went from "why would you not go to Liturgy" to "Do I have to go to this Liturgy". This state of emptiness went on for many months. This all reversed course one night when Ryan declared, "I don't believe in God. The earth was created from the Big Bang, not through a God." Not sure how to respond to that, I took a blank sheet of paper and had Ryan draw a picture on it. I put some words around the picture and drew a bunch of lines all over the page. I took the paper, cut it up into a bunch of small pieces and tossed all the pieces up into the air. I asked Ryan how many times would we need to throw the paper into the air before it landed on the ground in the same condition it was before I cut it up. He said it never will.
That's when I said to him, "Those who believe in a random Big Bang, devoid of any intelligent design, believe that is exactly what happened. A bunch of matter exploded and formed life as we know it." I said, "what do you think the chances of that happening perfectly to support life as we know it was completely random and without intelligent design?" He said, "probably as much chance as the paper coming back together." I dusted off my Theology books and turned to the section about Thomas Aquinas and the first mover. I explained the principle that every object at rest remains at rest until acted on by another force. That force is God.
And that dialogue between a boy and his Dad started the process of filling up my tank again. I was quickly reminded of how the strong Theresa's faith was, in the face of absolute terror. I watched her grow from a woman whose horrible childhood family dynamics hung over her like a dark cloud to one that could stare in the face of death and say, "I am ready, I want to go home. I have made my peace with everyone and am ready to stand before the fearsome judgement seat" I've witnessed a 10 year old boy deal with the death of his mom and all the struggles and doubts that come from that. That same boy is able to sit down and have a conversation with his mom, reflecting on what the Resurrection means. That faith can only come through grace given from the Trinity. I started praying again, I started to read and study the faith again. And most importantly, I moved from Do I have to go to I can't wait to go.
My tank is far from full and in some aspects I don't think it will ever be as full as it was when I applied for application into the seminary. When people ask me, "You still believe in God after all that you've been through?", I happily answer "Yes, to whom else would we turn to?
Glory to Jesus Christ
Friday, January 11, 2019
Friends, this post is going to be a rant. And to be candid, most of those reading it are guilty of this type of judgmentalism. A few days ago I came across a blog posting about a comedian named Patton Oswalt. I had no idea who this guy before reading the post. Let me bring you up to speed on who he is.
Patton Oswalt is a comedian whose wife died in April 2016. He was very public with his grief on his social media page and was equally as public in announcing to his followers that he was engaged to be married. And it was at that time the grief police (GP) came out in force. A snippet of some of the comments he received to that announcement are:
The list went on, comment after comment, most with disdain and judgement. Part of this has to do with his public persona. He is someone people know of, like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook whose own moving forward after her husband's death brought out the GP. Because these people live in the public eye, people who know nothing of them feel free to make their opinion known. It's the kind of thing that people like us, you know those who lost a spouse to death, get all the time. When I was early on in my journey I just nodded and walked away. Now that I'm much further on in my journey, I won't just walk away anymore. Rather, I'll tell you that you are an asshole, an ignorant, judgmental one at that and let you have it. So, here is the rant I promised.
Those of you who have not joined this club are not entitled to an opinion. You do not get to comment and opine on the choices we make or have made while you sit happily next to your living spouse. You have no idea what it is like to have your everyday world upended by a diagnosis, a phone call, a knock on the door. You have no idea what it is to tell your child that their mother is very sick and is going to die soon. You have no idea what it is like to sit in a hospital room with your dying wife and have her tell you she wants you to remarry, she wants you to be happy. You know why, because you have never walked in our shoes before. Sure, you may know people who have walked that walk, but until you have walked it yourself, you know not what we know.
Who gave you the position to judge when it's "too soon" for a person to move on with their life. In the case of Patton the cry was, it's only been 15 months! Well, how long should a widow sit in isolation before YOU are comfortable enough to release them from their solitary confinement? The reality is, none of this is about you. You aren't actually all that concerned about the heart of the widow who found strength to move forward and courage to love once more. You're too worried about your own feelings or sensibilities being offended.
It does take courage to move forward with another person after death. Because we all understand one thing. Every person in our life is going to die. We know intimately that the price of love is pain and death. So instead of your askance glance, your murmuring and whispers, how about an understanding of the courage it took for us to love again.
One of my favorite comments listed above was "Like, good for them and all, but for me personally, I'd like to be mourned for more than a few months." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the root cause of all the stupid comments and statements that people say to and about widows. It is centered in narcissism. It's all about them. It's all about how they feel. It's all about how they want to be remembered. It's not about those that are left behind, those picking up the pieces. Damn it, I want you to walk around in mourning for a long time. You need to be unhappy that I died. Well, to the self-centered narcissists making those kind of statements, #$@k you and the horse you rode in on. If that offends you, guess what, I really don't care. Truly, I'm past worrying about offending others. If you are an idiot I'm going to tell you so and dump your toxic personality from my world.
I endured more than my share of sideways glances. I had people come to me and tell me they didn't like my choices. I had people, in a passive aggressive manner, let their feelings be known. I had friends who no longer speak to me anymore. I didn't let my feelings be known to them for many reasons. First, the widow thing was still pretty new for me. Second, I was in formation for holy orders and I needed their support to chant Axios! if I were to be ordained. Well, I'm well past the newness of that title and I don't need anyone's affirmation or support anymore. So, to those of you who may be reading this and thinking "He's talking about me", yes I am. And if you choose to make your opinion known to me, I promise I won't hold back on my true feelings for you.
I know that my new wife heard from friends of hers: are you sure, this seems too soon, what are you doing. I'm happy that she didn't listen to them and chose to judge me on my merits and actions. I chose to move forward and be happy, not dwell on things that might have been. We have gone through hell fire and lived to talk about it. We don't need your negativity in our lives. So, if what you have to say about a widow or widower isn't supportive and encouraging, keep it to yourself. Those of us in the "club" aren't interested in hearing it.
Yep, This Guy Says It All
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