Be Honest, BE (IN)OFFENSIVe, BE CATHOLIC
Ever since I was little, I would spend many hours wrapped in my mother’s arms in tears. I was so shattered because I was not like everyone else and wanted to fit in. I had bushy red curls with pale, freckled skin, one too many visible and hideous birthmarks, and I have always been bitter about being so short. The inevitable reality of having a unique appearance was devastating to me. Despite how discouraged I always seemed to be, my mom raised me to be confident, and her comfort and love made me accept and uphold my personal temple of the Holy Spirit.
However, my inherent feeling of being an outcast did not end at my appearance. I can remember being curled up in my bedroom in middle school, dreaming of the day I could move to California, where no one knows my name, and I can start fresh living my dream life. We all should have seen this one coming truthfully: I was a midwest born and raised gal living at the beach under palm trees in a culture consumed with materialistic vanity. I felt like an imposter just doing my best to maintain my cover. The process was repeated again when I fulfilled my dreams of living in Europe only to feel utterly foreign and lonely when I was once again not like everyone else. Now I even reside in my hometown as a stranger to most because they do not understand my life experiences, and I do not understand theirs. All I craved was to be understood, but all I was able to chase was acceptance.
In my journey of following and mimicking Christ, I have found the same need to dilute the truth in order to conform. I love that they teach the small children in Sunday school to let their light shine, but it is a much harder act than they made it seem like it would be. As a young person in today’s society, attempting to live the Christian life, and even more explicitly living as a Catholic, are amongst the most offensive things you can be. Nearly every standard, moral, and value contradicts with culture. Thus, It is utterly intrusive to suggest this alternate yet more fulfilling reality of following Jesus. The irony is brutal.
I was once told that we are baptized as babies not because we are of age to choose God, but because we were born and brought into the church as God chose us. We have inevitable birthmarks of God. We must share the faith, proclaim the gospel, and dispel the evil lurking around us every day. If not us, then who? It is easier to layer up and hide God’s birthmark and the mere fact that we are Christian. It is all too easy to fit it. To simply deny Christ when everyone around seems to have already done so by their actions. It’s vastly discouraging to see the devil’s work amid our life and equally problematic in the lives of those we admire, but this is all the more reason to defy the unwritten rule of today’s culture; to be anyone except for yourself.
My favorite Saint is Francis of Assisi. He is known for the idea of preaching the gospel at all times, and when necessary, using words. To begin your work for the Kingdom, all you have to do is be who God made you to be. God created us to be special and unique from one another. His creation’s beauty can be seen and adored through people owning their quirks, adversities, and talents, their birthmark of Christ. Once you can accept your Catholic identity, and be yourself, then the battle of being Christ to others is that much easier. People are drawn to authenticity and the beautiful diversions from the status quo. It can take a while to figure out who you are, who God is calling you to be and become comfortable with that. But, be rest assured God is in the waiting, the frustration, and the journey. Just start.
I spent too long growing up feeling like the key to joy and success was being like anyone other than exactly who God was calling me to be, holy and true. At any given point, I was tempted to merely escape to a place where no one knows anything about me. It’s easier to not be known, right? It’s easier to be like everyone else because no one will know your personal battles and scars. No one will have to figure out the darker parts of you. You will never have to recount your regrets or come to face with your faults that you probably haven’t even dared to confront yourself yet. At that point, you may begin to understand loneliness, question your worthiness of being loved, and struggle with your self-image the most. However, when you can be entirely vulnerable in front of Christ and the world, you can be loved despite your secrets and sins. You can move on from your past. You can genuinely forgive yourself. The Lord’s mercy is limitless, and although we are taught this so consistently in our spiritual lives, it can be hard to accept this reality in our hearts. It takes other Christ-centered people around us to encourage pursuing God intimately and aiding us in authentically accepting ourselves. We must open our fragile selves up to be loved so we can, in turn, do the same for others who are searching for what God provides. I’m pleading with you to have the difficult and awkward conversations needed to grow closer to God and those you trust. Tell yourself you are a child of God who can evangelize the world around you, even if you don’t believe it yet.
I think the secret to Christocentric growth lies in letting yourself be broken and yet still a beacon of Christ’s light in the world. God does not call the qualified, but instead, he qualifies the called. Let me be the first or millionth person to tell you: you are called. You have been every day since you were knit in your mother’s womb despite any impediment that has deviated you from the path. The church inherently comes across as an exclusive institution for outsiders. We must embrace our humanity, reform our shortcomings, and fight off the urge to do anything else except reach out for God earnestly. Once we are honest with ourselves and others about the struggles and the grace and joy that comes from union with Jesus, then and only then does the Kingdom of God become attractive and accessible to others through our example.
We must proudly wear the bold birthmark of God, our Baptism. Christ calls us to denounce the secular lies, and worldly whispers shouted in all of our ears. It will require us to be brave and offensive to bring others to the freedom granted to us by Jesus on the cross. The freedom to shamelessly be who God made you be. The freedom to be forgiven and to be forgiving. The freedom to be loved and to love unconditionally. The freedom to hope, although this life is full of conflict, despair, and heartache, we wait joyfully for eternal bliss with God our creator ahead.
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