“Who Are You?” Mentor and Memoir

window, portable

Who are you?

This is a question that my mentor, Mr. John D Meehan, asked me in one of a handful of face-to-face conversations that we had.  And when he posed it to me, different answers went through my mind.  All that I could really think of responding with, however, was, “me” – and that with a question mark at the end of it.  I chose not to give an answer out loud, just sat there thinking and waiting for him to continue.  I knew that he would.  He mentioned each of the ways that had flipped through my thoughts, the ways by which most people answered the question: professional identity, national identity, religious affiliation, familial or social association, maybe even a hobby.

But, Mr. Meehan said, none of these go to the heart of your true identity, to who you are.

He said that the truth of who we are is in relationship with Christ, then gave the example of Mary Magdalene.  She didn’t recognize Christ Resurrected, but as soon as he spoke her name, she knew him.  In this, Mr. Meehan was inviting me to find the answer of who I am.  Having been a teacher, I think that he could have spelled it out a bit more plainly to me.  If he had, maybe he would’ve said something like “you are a child of God”… but, then again, perhaps he knew that that answer would not have penetrated into my mind and heart because I had heard it too many times before.  Or, perhaps, he didn’t like that answer either, for the same connotative reasons that would have made me smirk.  I’ll never know now, because, last week, Mr. Meehan died. Continue reading

Brave

I feel very brave posting this.  Three and a half years of blogging here and I have been careful not to show pictures of myself straight on.  In fact, you’ll only find two.  Yet, here I am sharing a video of myself.

Why?  Right now, I’m really not sure!  A video of me reciting one of my poems with no makeup and no video touchup software?  (That would have to be some pretty awesome touchup software…)

But… there is something to be said about showing your wounds…

Being a Christian isn’t about standing on a soapbox yelling out quotes from Scripture or pointing at people “in sin” and warning them that they better change their ways.  Christianity is about Christ – and Christ is about love.  Christ is love incarnate.  So, if I want to share Christ with others, then I must not only love them in my heart and my actions, but also share with them my love – which includes my suffering.

When St. Thomas doubted the Resurrection, Christ came before him and showed him his wounds, let him put his fingers right into them.  We all have wounds.  We all have sufferings.  And we shouldn’t be afraid of them or even ashamed of them.  I am not proud of my defective gene (you won’t see me in any kind of SMA pride parade or whatever) but I am not ashamed to have a defective gene – or to even call part of me defective.  For that is the truth.

By sharing the truth of who I am – all of me – I hope that you may come to better know my love and, through that love, to know Christ.  God doesn’t make junk.  Everybody is sacred – every body is sacred.  And, sometimes, it is through our wounds that the glory of who we are is made known.

Now, remember mercy…

© 2017 Christina Chase

Trust in You

Trust is not something that I’m very good at.  I like to be in control, feeling that I can manage the outcome to my liking.  But, of course, I can’t always do that.  Some things are out of my hands – almost everything is out of my hands.

When I first became a Christian, I was actually glad that I didn’t control everything.  It was a relief to know that I wasn’t responsible for everything that happened in my life and the lives of my loved ones.  I can’t say that it was a relief to know that everything is in God’s hands – that actually scared me quite a bit.  But, if anyone is going to be in control, it should surely be the Creator and Master of the Universe – the One who knows best.

During my recent health odyssey, my problem with trust was made clear again.  I prayed for recovery, for the end of new illnesses – but I also worried every time a new illness appeared.  Legitimate concern is not a bad thing at all, for I do need to think about my body and make good decisions on taking care of it.  But, worry – well, there is no room (and really no need) for worry in the life of a person of faith.  And I worried a lot.

Sometimes, a song, poem, book, movie, or TV show can challenge our faith and inspire us to a better and closer relationship with God.  I discovered the song below during my health odyssey (which is not quite over yet) and it cut to my heart.  It is a challenge for me in my struggles – and a good inspiration to trust…

“Jesus, I Trust in You…”

© 2017 Christina Chase

Expire

Now, breathe out…

 

“His body is letting him down.”

We say this about a person who is getting old or becoming sick with an incurable disease.  Why?  Isn’t the end of life death?  Are we not all born to die?  We know that death is inevitable – so why do we treat it like it’s not?  Why do we act like our bodies are supposed to remain young and healthy forever – and then, when they begin to age or weaken through illness, why do we act as though we have been betrayed?  Betrayed by whom?

Nobody is promised endless youth and health.  Nobody is promised a life that won’t end with physical death.  Nobody.

It’s like we’re all delusional, in a way.  Some say that religious people suffer from wishful thinking – but, it seems to me that almost everyone in mainstream culture is suffering from that.  In my experience, religious people know that suffering happens.  Death is coming.  Catholics are certainly reminded of this quite often, invited every day to contemplate the suffering and death of Christ, uniting our sufferings with his, gazing upon the crucifix.  And every year, when the Lenten season begins, we (and other Christians) have ashes put on our foreheads and are told “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Suffering happens.  Death will come.  Not even God Incarnate lived a human life without it.  Continue reading

Joyful

A few words about joy.  Well, okay, more than a few…

I used to think that Catholicism was very dour, celebrating solemnities (solemn celebrations?) bemoaning sin and life in this world.  This was a false picture of the Catholic Church, however.  Sadly, I’m not the only one who has had this misconception of Catholicism – probably millions do right now.  The error, I think, comes partly from human attempts to depict the Mysterious Majesty of God and the profound honor, respect, awe, and even submission, due to God.  When contemplating the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, we don’t do so with silly giddiness or casual interest.  We must do so with solemn reverence and humble, awestruck gratitude – so, also with joy.

One problem, it seems to me, is that it’s hard to find an ancient image of Mary smiling.  (If you know of one, please share!)  Smiles probably didn’t mean the same thing then as they do now.  But, let us remember that the Bible does speak clearly of joy.  Mary herself cries out to Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”[1] Mary rejoices.  And so should we.

I do like this modern (1873) Greek icon of the Most Holy Mother of God…

Greek icon Mary Mother of God

Today we observe the “Solemnity” of the Immaculate Conception (celebrating the Mystery of Mary being conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of Original Sin, so that she may truly be The New Eve).  And Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent) is being celebrated this weekend.  So, truly, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the importance of joy in our lives of faith.  With the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, must also come the gift of joy – for how can we not be joyful when we believe that we are made to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with God forever?  With this faith and hope we are free to love – and in the true freedom of loving others and knowing that we are intimately and infinitely love there is true and lasting joy. Continue reading

Gratitude

If you are not a grateful person, then you will never be great.

If you do not appreciate the people in your life, then you cannot receive their amazing value – only their cost.

If you do not say “Thank you” when you didn’t get what you wanted, but, rather, what you needed, then you won’t know true joy if you do get what you want.

Giving thanks is easy when you are surrounded by a delicious feast and a happy family.  But, how easy is it to be thankful if you are sadly without home, without family, or without feasting?  The awesome, powerful thanksgiving that transcends the 4th Thursday of November is experienced by those who do not lack gratitude even when life is hard.  For these are the people who recognize life itself as an eternal gift.crucifix-2-flash

The life of your soul is not a gift that was thoughtlessly or cheaply purchased.

It is given by the Giver with pure love…

Live your Thank You by loving – and let your unconditional loving be your joy.  May God help me as I strive to fully live with gratitude…

 

For more of my posts on Thanksgiving and giving thanks, please click and read

One Year of Blogging – and Still Thankful

Giving Thanks (While Gazing upon the Crucifix)

Giving Thanks – Eucharist

© 2016 Christina Chase

Hope, Part 1: The Four-Letter Word

Hope for a Cure

Another Labor Day has come and gone and with it, for me, vague feelings of nostalgia, anxious excitement, dread, and a kind of contempt for hopeful people. I was literally a poster child for neuromuscular disease. Here’s the proof on a national poster:

1980 poster MDA blog

And as Poster Child for my local chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in 1980 and 1982, I traveled the state of New Hampshire, smiling so long and so often that cheek-ache became a familiar sensation of childhood. The climax of my duties was to appear on our local cutaways of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Little, blonde, smiling and dimpled girl that I was, sitting in my wheelchair, I would look into the camera, speak into the microphone, and tell people to help fight MD.

It was at the MDA events and, especially, the Telethon, that I was surrounded by the hopeful people.

People used to tell me, with smiles, sweet voices, and encouragement, that I should keep hoping that a cure would be found for my disease and that I would be able to walk someday. But, I don’t remember having this as a real hope… maybe more like a fantastic wish. My mother tells me, however, that I once expressed belief that becoming Poster Child for MDA would mean that I would be able to walk. We can imagine, then, the disappointment that I must have felt at 5 years old when I became Poster Child and remained crippled – my hope so utterly unfulfilled.

An Amused Cynic

Despite having my hopes dashed, I want to make it clear that I was not a bitter child. I was generally and genuinely happy, finding joy in little things and easy to smile. I don’t even remember getting my hopes dashed. Whenever people mentioned that word “hope”, however, I remember within me an inner smirk of cynicism. Those people who were fighting so relentlessly for a cure, rallying me and believing that I would be able to walk one day – those people were sadly and foolishly falling for wishful thinking. And I never wanted to be a fool like that.

Entering my teen years and throughout those years, I developed a vague, unvoiced dislike for these hopeful people, overly enthusiastic, sappily patronizing people, so full of wishes and happy thoughts that any fairy would swear that they could fly.

Hope became a four-letter word to me. And somewhat amusing.

Hope of Heaven

There was another kind of hope that was introduced to me at an early age, because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church. The Christian understanding is that one’s ultimate and truest happiness will be found in Heaven. The sufferings we endure in this life will bring us great reward in the next. So, I remember, as a child, being taught and believing that I would walk in Heaven. My mother also tells me of my reaction on first hearing this from my older sister, when she came home excitedly one day from religious education. I was about 3 years old. On hearing from my sister that I would be able to walk after I died and went to Heaven, I exclained joyfully that I wanted to die. Hearing these words from her little daughter, my mother understandably tried to talk me out of my desire by informing me that she, my father, and my sister would not be with me in Heaven after I died. Loving my family so very much and only feeling comfortable and safe when I was with them, I stopped desiring Heaven.

That explains a lot, too.

Imagine There’s No Heaven

It is important to note that I have never truly wanted to die, for I have a natural and deep love for life, here and now. My general disposition is as a glass half-full kind of person. And I love what is real, because it is real. Not wanting to be a fool and not wanting to be cajoled, it isn’t much wonder that I became vehemently against the “comforting” hope of the afterlife.

“Poor thing,” people might say to me, “at least you know that you will have a wonderful life in Heaven where all your dreams will come true.” The hope of Heaven became something of a consolation prize for the losing hand that I was dealt or a kind of life-raft to which I was supposed to cling. But, I would have none of that. First of all, I knew that I, myself, was not a loser. Second of all, I didn’t want to cling to anything to help me “get through” life, as if I couldn’t hack it on my own. So opposed was I to this offered hope that it was one of the reasons that I became an atheist for a short while, around the age of 20. I wanted to prove that a didn’t need the vague hope of Heaven, that I didn’t need God to be happy. As John Lennon once sang, “Imagine there’s no Heaven – it’s easy if you try.”

Unexpected Cure

I have always loved the truth and will pursue it, no matter what. It isn’t that I hoped to find the truth, but, rather, that I was determined to uncover it. As an atheist, I really thought that I had revealed all the myths and fairytales and wishful thinking for the errors that they were, that I knew the truth.

But, the final discovery that I made was an unexpected and unwanted one: that which we call God is true. More on that story in another post. I have, thankfully, been cured of the spiritual deafness and blindness of atheism, although it was a long journey into Christianity. Now, as a believing Christian, devoted member of the Catholic Church, I still struggle with the belief that everything will be made “right” with eternal rewards in Heaven. By struggle, I mean that I don’t want to be coaxed into accepting suffering or into being good with the promise of some future treat, like a child. One thing I despise is to be patronized.

Now What?

But, if Hope is a theological virtue, then it can’t be a “four-letter word”. What do I do then, as a believer in Christ Jesus, with this thing called hope?

To be continued next week…

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Words to Live By

Christian humility and charity are neither timid nor sappy – they are a radical recognition, a bold transformation of life: Metanoia.

Yesterday was the Feast Day of the patron saint of my home parish, St. John the Baptist. In his honor, I’m reflecting upon three phrases attributed to him in the Bible. This voice crying out in the wilderness gave us words to live by…

“… there is one among you whom you do not recognize…” (John 1:26)

We never know when we will have an encounter with the Divine. The truth is that wherever we go, in every moment of our lives, we are in the presence of God… God, who is always watching us… who is always loving us where we are…. If I truly become conscious of this truth in my every waking moment – how will my life change?

For the people of 1st century Israel, to whom John spoke these words, the meaning was of particular and immediate import. There was literally a person among them whom they did not recognize as being any different than anyone else. And, yet, although he was a human being just like them – he was profoundly different, because he was also God.

Christ Jesus walked among many unremarkably. The power of the Creator of the Universe was within him – but, to most, if their eyes even fell upon him, he was just some guy. Like so many strangers that we pass on the sidewalk, on the road, in the office, in the park, or in the mall, Christ seemed ordinary… dismissible. We think to ourselves now that it’s a shame, an utterly wasted opportunity, that some of the people back then went right by Christ without even knowing who he was. Yet… those strangers that we pass by every day… do we not know that they are images of God? And we pass them by without a single thought or care for them. Do we not know that Christ is within each and every one of us? Whenever we skirt around a homeless person, we are skirting around Christ. Whenever we say, Good Riddance, about a criminal who is put in prison, we are saying good riddance to Christ. Whenever we ignore the plight of the jobless or the hungry, of the lonely or the diseased, we are ignoring Christ in his sorrow. Whenever I am cruel to the person next to me, it is like I am piercing that person with a thorn… I am piercing that thorn into Christ.

I am only one person, limited, as every human is, and I cannot be everything to everybody. God knows. Being human like us, there were countless many who Christ Jesus could not help in person during his earthly life, countless many to whom he could not speak face-to-face while he walked upon the roads and through the fields, villages, and towns. His earthly mission was to open.

It’s like, by the Mystery of the Incarnation, a divine portal was created to the kingdom of God – and by his death and resurrection that portal was opened to all. Not all will pass through, because we must choose to do so – we must choose to follow Christ. In order to fully and truly encounter the Divine and enter, eternally, the kingdom of God, we must recognize God’s love for us and choose to follow Christ. My mission (say it with me) limited as I am, is to love Christ… and I do that by loving others as Christ loves me. I do that by recognizing my cruelty to another as cruelty to Christ my beloved… and I repent and ask forgiveness.

I carry out my mission of love (which is your mission, too) limited as I am, by recognizing the gifts that God has given to me, in His infinite love for me, and then giving those gifts in the service of those in need of healing, nourishment, guidance, compassion, and light, wherever I can. There will be times when I falter, times when I fail. But, I will recognize my failures as human weakness – and I will not deplore my human weakness but, rather, unite my struggles with the struggles of Christ as he carried the Cross of Salvation to Calvary. Divine and human, it was only with pain that he could place that key into the lock and grant our freedom. He dreaded, he suffered, he was tormented and ridiculed, he fell flat on his face along the way – but he persevered because of love. Christ loves divinely – infinitely and intimately. Profess my love for him as I might, I cannot recognize him in others – and therefore love him in others – unless I recognize him in me.

“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Do I recognize and love Christ within me? Do I recognize and give forth the particular gifts that God has given me? This is what true Christian charity is all about – this is the heart of true Christian humility. It is not overly sentimental, it is not hanging my head down himself abasing shame. God chooses to make a home inside of me… Christ dwells in me in a personally particular way, lovingly unique – as Christ dwells in everybody. Christ is everyone… Christ is you and me and them. Christ IS. That is what we, as Christians, need to be able to see. I open my heart to God’s loving presence and let Christ live in me… through me… through the gifts that are particularly unique to me, which he knows so intimately.

This recognition of Christ is the encounter with the Divine that pulls us through the sacred portal to the fullness of truth, the fullness of life… into the kingdom of God. For, as Christ is ever present, so is the kingdom, so is the loving and saving presence of God. We encounter the Divine, not only in the life to come, but also here and now.

And that’s pretty radical.

“Metanoia, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Obedience Is Nothing without Love

One question that I asked as a nonbeliever and that I still quietly wonder about as a believer is this: when Jesus rose from the dead, why did he only show himself to the people that were already his disciples? If the resurrection is proof of Jesus as the Christ and Savior of the World, then it seems only natural to wish that Jesus would give that proof to more people, so that the whole world might be Christian. It seems like, instead, he rather preached to the choir.

Yet, I feel a bit guilty carry this doubting question around with me.

I shouldn’t.

Turns out that I’m not the first one to ask the question – no big surprise there. The surprise for me, however, came when I learned who it was that asked the question first – and to whom it was asked. (Some of you may already know the “who” and “whom” of which I speak, but, please remember, with mercy and forgiveness, that I am not an accomplished reader of the Bible.) One of Jesus’s own disciples asked it to Jesus himself. And on hearing and understanding the answer given to the one asked, I was washed in a well-contented sense of rightness and joy.

It happened when I was watching a movie. Of course, it was not just any old mindlessly entertaining movie, but rather one of those new “Christian Faith” movies – The Gospel of John. Although I have probably heard or read all of the words spoken by the narrator before, the words of the Gospel struck my ear and my mind in a new way – and, thankfully, penetrated into my heart. The scene of the Last Supper came on the screen and the words of the Discourse came through the speakers. Jesus was saying that he would reveal and show himself to those whom he loved.[1] And then one of his very own apostles asked Jesus, face-to-face, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Good question.

Jesus didn’t rebuke the apostle in the slightest, but willingly gave answer and, of course, said it all:

“He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”

Give yourself a moment to take that in. When first hearing them in the narrator’s voice, the words caught in my mind and then needed to be processed further, like a fish that is caught up in a net and then needs to be pulled onto the boat.

You see, Jesus only showed himself to the people who loved him because showing himself – even himself all resurrected and glorified – to people who didn’t love him would have made no difference. They may have been like spectators of David Blaine magic, flabbergasted and admiring, but merely exclaiming “Cool trick, man!” Rather, he showed himself to those who loved him because he promised that he would. They were grieving and mourning his death – and he came back to them. Although Simon Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times before the Crucifixion, after the Resurrection Jesus gave him a second chance to be true to what was in his heart. “Peter, do you love me?” And every time that Peter affirmed his love for him, Jesus gave reminding command to follow his teachings.[2]

The profound beauty and joy here is that Jesus is telling us the same thing now: Jesus reveals himself to people who love him, because the people who don’t love him will not obey his teaching – even if he showed himself to them, they wouldn’t care. What Jesus knows, and what we should all know, is that in order to be able to follow Jesus Christ and obey his teachings, a person must love him.

Without love for Christ, there is no Christianity.

As believing Christians, we want Christianity to be better respected and more embraced by the world. We naturally want more people to attend church, near and far. We would like to see pews full of people reciting the Creed aloud with us and identifying themselves as Christians. We would like them to obey the teachings of Christ and live good, Christian lives. But… in order to do any of this, people must first love Christ.

Christ himself said that, unless they love him, people will not obey him. It is only people who truly love Christ that are freely willing to obey him – because to do so is a natural expression and substance of that love. We can’t put the cart before the horse. We can’t expect people to reach for the high ethics and ideals of Catholic Christianity without love for Christ himself. I can’t expect myself to do this.

So… in my heart I am asking, “But, Lord, where are you that I may love you?”

I am hungry and need to be fed… I am homeless and need to be sheltered… I am ill and suffering and need to be cared for… I am homebound, and I am stuck in a nursing home, and I need to be visited… I am in prison and I need to be loved… I am a stranger and I need to be welcomed…[3]

I do not have to look far to find Christ here with me, in the flesh and blood of my fellow human beings. My family member is angry or sad – do I love? My friend is burdened – do I love? My neighbor is in great need – do I love? If I love the least of the people around me, then I love Christ. And if I love Christ, then I love the least of the people around me. It’s a profound circle that only has its beginning and end in God – for we can only love because God first loved us.[4] When we are open to divine love and give ourselves to that love, then Christ more fully reveals himself to us, and our love deepens and grows evermore.

One other question:

As we are supposed to evangelize, how are we to teach others to love Christ?  

Everybody who truly loves goodness and truth is already in love with who Christ is – whether they know it or not. The best way that we can teach others about Christ himself – and, perhaps, the only true way that we can really teach them – is by sharing our love for him with them. We love Christ Jesus in all that he is and in all that he has done for us. If others see the deep sense of joy and peace that comes from our love for Christ, love that is manifested in our love for neighbor, then they will come to know him through our love and, in knowing him, they will love him, too. And when they love him, they will want to follow him. They will obey his teachings – not out of superstition or blind adherence to rules, but out of love – and he will reveal himself to them more and more.

© 2015 Christina Chase


[1] John 14:15-24

[2] John 21:15-17

[3] Matthew 25

[4] 1 John 4:19