14 June 2015

My Favorite Verse

I was inspired to write about my favorite verse while reading yesterday's Blessed Is She devotional, which contained my favorite verse (was that part obvious enough not to need to make a note of it?). If you are not signed up to this devotional, you definitely should be. Women writers, musicians and artists write their reflections on the day's readings. It is free to sign up and you just get emails every day. Super easy and often a motivational reminder to get into the Word every day.

The New Testament reading was taken from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. My favorite verse from it is as follows: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Why is this verse so special?

The Verse

This verse from Paul's letter stood out to me when I was sixteen years old. People having favorite verses was a common thread in my Baptist church. I don't know how big of a deal that is for Catholics or for other denominations, but I think the bible-centeredness (I know this isn't a word) of Baptists made verses a big deal. It was like "What's your favorite color? What's your favorite Bible verse?" It was also around that time that I was becoming more involved in a youth group at another church, which I think is where this idea of needing to have a favorite verse became important. Now, I didn't have anything against having a favorite verse; instead, I just didn't know what my favorite verse could be. There were thousands of lines to choose from and nothing had really stood out to me.

Things changed when I was sixteen. At the end of my Sophomore year of high school, I developed an eating disorder. (I write more about the experience here and did make mention of this verse there as well.) I think this was the most discordant time of my life. On the outside, I was a good student who got into little, if any, trouble and was seemingly deeply connected to my faith. I had good relationships with my family and friends. On the inside, though, I was a mess. If I wasn't doing rounds of exercises in my room, I was in a ball on my bed, thinking of reasons to skip dinner. If I wasn't staying up late researching "negative calorie foods," I was struggling not to go binge on food I certainly needed. If I wasn't counting and recounting my caloric intake, I was reprimanding myself in my head for having no control.

The self-loathing was an endless cycle: I'd want to change myself, have control over myself, master any craving that hit me. If I succeeded, I'd hate how stuck I felt in something I knew was unhealthy. If I didn't succeed, I'd shame myself for being weak. Over time, I realized I had no real control over myself. I also saw others deteriorating from this disease. I don't know exactly what the wake up call wasmaybe it was something that just built up over timebut eventually I told a friend, who listened with patience and without judgment. When she suggested we meet with the pastor of our church and I told him what was happening, one thing he recommended was turning to the Scriptures. One of the verses I found was the verse that has become my favorite verse. "A new creation," I thought, sliding my fingers over the words. Was it possible that I could become such a thing? Was it possible that the old really could pass away? My understanding of this verse has grown and remolded to the stages of my life since. 

The Church
For years after I admitted my problem to my friend and in time to other friends and family, seeking their guidanceI still felt the remnants of the disease. Imagine my eating disorder was a black, tar-like substance filling the jar that was my soul. Admitting to myself and to others that I had this problem, this sin, was like opening the jar and pouring some of the sludge out. Letting go of it, bit by bit, eased the pressure of the secret, of the thing I couldn't talk about, of the thing I was ashamed to admit. But even years later, I could still feel the grime on the jar, the bits that had collected at the bottom of the jar. Some of it was still in the grooves of the opening. For a time, I understood myself in the context of having had a problem. I would introduce myself and think, "I'm Haley. I'm recovering from an eating disorder."

It became more difficult when I went to University. My homesickness paired with my deficient meal plan had me frequently missing meals in the first month. I would lie on my dorm room bed completely fine, then roll over and start counting lunch calories while everyone else was at dinner. Inner monologues were not as frequent as they had been when it all started, but they still popped up at the least opportune moments. Friends would invite me to dinner and I would force myself to select something in the previously "off limits" category just to remind myself, "You can do this. The world won't end if you have pie."

I had been attending Mass semi-regularly (maybe a handful of times a week: daily Mass was really easy to get to; sometimes I would just go to the chapel to think and pray without the noise of the campus) when Lent came up. Now, I'd never really understood Lent, either. People usually gave something up (often something I deemed silly, like chocolate). The thought struck me: "I should give up counting calories." Maybe it sounds silly and simple to someone who has not spent years counting, to the point where they can make pretty accurate guesses without needing to reference a chart anymore. For me, though, it was a big deal. I had counted calories in some manner, whether finding out the exact calories for each measurement of food I'd consumed or rounding to the nearest hundred the two meals I would eat at University, practically every day.  Then, Ash Wednesday of 2011, I stopped. If I started to count out of habit, I mentally closed that door, locked it and left the area. Something finally gave me the will power to stop. All I needed was that moment. Lent concluded and I didn't break my habit. I haven't counted since.


Confession came into play almost two years later when I was preparing to join the Church. Candidates for Confirmation have to go to Confession first. As I was examining my life in the weeks prior, I realized my eating disorder was something that would have to come up. After making a solid change two years prior, I found it was less of a problem, but I still thought of it. I wasn't sure how to bring something like that up, other than just to say it. It was definitely one of the things I was most nervous about confessing. In my mind, it had been such a destructive part of my life. I knew and had been told that God would forgive you in the Confessional, but that seemed too big.

As a Protestant, it was fine to admit to your sin in your head and direct it at God. All that I really needed to say was "I'm sorry" and then move on with my life. But I didn't just move on with my life. I couldn't just let go of it. I couldn't really be forgiven of something like that, I thought. Admitting your sin out loud to a priest? That's a completely different story. It wasn't "I'm sorry," and then roses and sunshine. There is something so different about saying what you've done wrong out loud. You can't say it and then take it back. Everything is out in the open. As I waited in line for Confession, I kept going over my list and kept getting stuck on this problem. How could I tell God through his priest that I had hated myself and sought to destroy this body He gave me? How ungrateful I was for my very self. It seemed hardly short of taking someone else's life to cause so much damage to myself.

When it was actually my turn, though, Confession wasn't some big, scary thing. It was nerve-wracking, sure, but it dissipated a lot once the door closed behind me. The priest asked a few questions with each item and sought to make sure that I was okay. He was especially kind and walked me through everything as it was my first Confession. It was over not long after it began and I took my penance to a pew with me. Before he'd let me go, though, he said those amazing words: "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Absolve. No more guilt. No more shame. It was finally freedom. It told me: "let go." I didn't have to hold on to this anymore. I didn't have to feel like I was tied to this problem, as if it were my identity. I could finally let it go. The old was gone. The new was now.

Confirmation & Communion

The process of becoming new continued at Confirmation. At Confirmation, monsignor (in my case; the bishop usually does this, but he can't be everywhere at once, so often other priests are ministers at Confirmation) dipped his thumb in chrism oil and said, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." Holy oils are used in many sacraments (another example is at baptism). The scent of the oil and balsam seemed to whisper to me: "New." New again. A new creation. A new Catholic in her infancy. "In her infancy, bumbling about," I'd think to myself, but smile all the same.

What a gift Confirmation was. The journey to this point had seemed so long. I wondered whether I would ever get to Easter Vigil, then there I was, standing in a church before God, before his priests, before hundreds of people, affirming my belief andwonder of wondersbeing sealed with the Holy Spirit. I imagined what the disciples must have experienced when the Holy Spirit filled them and tongues of fire sat upon them. Everything was new. Everything would be different now, because they would be able to speak to all nations. What would I do?

What immediately followed in that moment was the Eucharist. As Father received the gifts and asked our prayers, I was captivated. The Eucharist had been my desire for a long time now. How would I do at receiving Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity? The graces that are poured forth when receiving the Eucharist are the greatest, sweetest gift we can receive (the forgiveness we receive at Confession is only the next best gift in this life). When we receive the Divine, and it is our nourishment, we become more Divine, more like Christ. Who better to cleanse us of our past and our failures? Who better to be filled up with all good things by? I don't have to be the person I was and continue in the same sins. I don't have to be defined by my errors. I can receive forgiveness. I can receive Our Lord in an amazing and intimate way. I can be changed by Him. I can be made new. Each host held before me is a reminder: "Take and eat. Be changed. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come."

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