Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Letter to the Next Great Saints

Dear Eva, Maya, Sarah, Lucy, Jacob, James, Sam, and Michael (and anyone else who honors me with their readership):

I think all of you are making pretty big transitions this year: whether you're finally graduating high school or exploring new territory in the college world.  Usually, big transitions mean you're about to learn and experience a LOT of new things.  Join the club.  I'm really excited because at our age we meet so many new people that we have the opportunity to make a big impression on the world around us.  I think we can all agree that the world could use some change for the better, and God has chosen us- the pressure is on!  Brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm really blessed to have all of you in my life to remind me I have support and I should be unafraid. We've got all this unknown life ahead of us and that makes the temptation to fear very strong...especially when I think about Papa Francis' exhortation to "evangelize."  It's such an important mission, and since I know all of us are called to it to some degree I thought I'd share a few things about my experience...which has not always been as perfect and courageous as I'd like.  I mean, I'm a cradle Catholic, not Scott Hahn, for crying out loud!  I'm not exactly qualified for this job.  I don't know how to handle broken hearts and people who long for God, much less people who don't really know Him. Or so I thought, until recently.

Like seriously though, I was the kid who adopted St. Therese as my big sister at the age of five, since I was the oldest child and didn't have that type of role model at home.  I read the "Treasure Box" books voraciously, I carried my homemade sacrifice beads around in the pockets of my homeschooler/Little House on the Prairie dresses, I was the annoying kid in CCD who could answer every question... I even remember a couple times where I'd purposely drop strands of my hair in random places so that when I became a saint, (not if, when) they would "have relics of me."  *awkward childhood memories facepalm*

 Looking back, that really just screams PRIDE at me...but of course I grew out of that eventually.  Er...that is, after a couple more prideful phases including ganging up on people over email debates and thinking that through my own willpower and persuasive charms I could "convert" people... o.O (Heck no, WHAT was I thinking?!)


And then I went to community college. Lo and behold, my shiny Catholic homeschool group bubble was officially and unceremoniously popped.  Not that I was "sheltered," exactly.  I had a thorough moral education, I was prepared to deal with all the issues.
But at college I didn't meet issues.  I met people.
I was not prepared for the human beings, with names and emotions and memories, who had to carry the weight of all the moral mistakes I had learned to refute.  What was I supposed to do? Look at them funny out of the corner of my eye and thank God I'm not like that? Pass out holy cards, quote C.S. Lewis, and have them look at me funny? Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to commit to either of those options.  So, since I was kind of at a loss, I just rolled with it for a while.  Meanwhile, God was probably watching me with vast amusement, thrilled at how His plan was working out...

Because when you just roll with it, you start to be friends with that girl in English class despite the fact that she's usually quite casually cursing like a sailor.  You chat about 80's guitarists and Starbucks coffee with the guy who got his eyebrows shaved off at a party that got too wild.  You feel the pain of the beautiful 26-year-old woman who's going through her second divorce, believes all men are jerks, and had lost sight of her precious value and dignity to the point that she'd accompany her boyfriend to the strip club where he liked to hang out.  You start rooting for the single mom who sometimes has to bring her bored but awesome eleven-year-old son to class with her.  You might even be able to (carefully) have a civilized conversation about the pros of chastity with that dude who was hitting on you.

It was crazy.  Gradually, I actually started to like these people.  Sure, they had issues.  They weren't the reliable partners in holiness I had always had for friends.  I wasn't going to be able to admire them for their values the same way I admire all of you guys.  But the more I learned about them, I found I could sympathize with them.  And to my discredit, that terrified me.

I think a few of y'all back at "Catholic headquarters" noticed a change in me, even if you weren't sure what it was.  Maybe it was just me being paranoid; I don't know.  I do know that a few of the moms were concerned about whether I was making wise life decisions-- because suddenly, unfortunately, my friendships with their wonderful, virtuous children were a little strained.  I had always been close to these friends and shared my life with them, but I had no idea how to communicate what college was doing to me and how my perspective was changing.  I didn't think they could possibly understand.  We had always been united in preparing our arguments for the day when we'd face all those issues the world is full of.  I had to be doing something wrong; I wasn't getting into arguments! I probably wasn't trying hard enough.  I worried that maybe the concerned moms were right about me.  Maybe I was succumbing to bad influences.  What would my friends think if they knew the kind of people I dealt with at school?  Sure, I didn't go out barhopping on the weekends, or doubt my moral beliefs...but I realized that if I was in the place of my classmates I could have done the same things they had.

I started to wonder. How Catholic was I, really? I didn't have church events built into my schedule anymore since I felt distant from my church community and I had extensive homework.  Had I always just used the good people and wholesome activities that surrounded me to convince myself I was good enough? I hoped not.  I hoped my faith was deeper and more real than that.  I hoped it would stand the test of this partial withdrawal from Catholic society.  I hoped that I wasn't doing the wrong thing by becoming more "tolerant"- or whatever it was I was becoming- towards these new acquaintances.  I needed to figure it out the only way I knew how.  I turned to my best friend, Jesus. 

True evangelization is humbling. At first I still felt guilty, but eventually I concluded that God had allowed me to feel this guilt on purpose, to teach me what evangelization really means.  It means there's no room for being aloof or afraid. If you step up to imitate Christ in spreading the gospel, you have to extend love to the tax collectors and prostitutes.  You do have to get "dirty" in the sense of meeting the sinner and seeing where he's coming from, how he came to be wounded.  You don't run away from him, because as the hands and feet of Christ, you have the power to help his wound heal.  And sometimes you get a shock because you expect to teach him, but he teaches you.

I learned from my college classmates that I have not "earned" holiness.  I do not "deserve" something better than what they have.  I am not "better" than they are.  Everything I am is grace. Everything they are not is simply a lack of grace.  God loves them just as much as he loves me.  And unless I act like it, unless I live like my God doesn't play favorites and can fix absolutely anyone...I have no Gospel.  I have a reward system, not a Divine Lover waiting with open arms and a gift of mercy.  I have pride, not compassion.  I need to remember that it is better to be a Magdalene than a Pharisee.  It took me a while to get the picture because I resisted it.  But I get so much comfort from Papa Francis' Evangelii Gaudium (which you must read if you haven't already).  He has confirmed for me that I am still doing the work of God among the challenges and diversity of community college.  In fact, my time there is forming me into exactly the sort of missionary that the lost children of God need.

But I can't do it alone.  Missionaries have to have backup; the apostles always used the buddy system.  I really suffered last year when I chose to assume my missionary buddies couldn't understand the mission.  The devil truly does try to isolate, but here and now I put my foot down.  I'm not having it this school year.  I ask that you guys pray for me, and I promise to return the favor.   As we all head off to different places, I think prayer is the best way we can stay connected.  In fact, if there's any kind of support you might need during your very own crazy learning experience, you know how to contact me.  I also challenge you to set aside any fear or pride you might have in order to bring the Love of God to all the people He lets you reach this year.  Somebody really smart says we are the great saints of this generation; there is no Mother Teresa or JPII to do our job for us.  And when that smart person says that, I feel a little overwhelmed so I think we should make it a team effort.  We help more people that way, and I don't feel solely responsible for inspiring the entire world to holiness.  The more, the merrier, right?! ;b

In all seriousness, thank you for being some of the most incredible people I have ever known.  I love you all.

your friend,
Sarah Miller



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