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Front Row With Francis: Catholic and Apostolic


My latest article is over at Catholic Lane. This one, like the last, is discussing the Papal Audience with Pope Francis and my ham-fisted attempt to bring a little more clarity to a pontiff who already speaks rather plainly.

“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

-St. Ignatius of Antioch

Pope Francis continues his catechesis this week going over what it means when we proclaim that the Church is both Catholic and Apostolic. In using these terms, the Holy Father discusses how they are an expression of our faith lived out in the world and are thus inseparable in the Christian life. As with much of the Christian life, these two concepts seem opposite and contradictory, with the opening of up of the universal Catholic life but the narrowing sense of being Apostolic. However, as His Holiness demonstrates, the paradox in our faith is that these two different ideas are in fact dependent and work in unison with one another in our faith lives.

Read the rest here…

Depression Does Not Discriminate


So many have been shocked by the news of Robin Williams and what appears to be his self-inflicted death. For years, he was to me a poster-child for depression. Laughter became his shield, as it has for many who suffer from mental anguish, but he still had an inner haunting that does not release its grip too easily. I know in my own struggles with depression, comedy was exactly what I used before discovering the toxic cocktail of food, porn, and booze (really, just don’t do it). A little secret of mine is that my first real writing gig was a weekly satirical column in the Eugene Comic News and I got to meet a lot of comedic writers through that. All of them struggled with some form of mental anguish.

So it is that many wonder how man who so funny, so full of life, and with so much adoration, could be so depressed. When I hear people asking that, I swing between having no answer to wanting to hit my head against a book case. It was asked again when Mother Teresa was “outed” as having dealt with some heavy dark nights of the soul. No one could figure out how a holy woman could feel God’s presence, act in great charity, and yet feel the pains of depression.

There there’s my personal life. One of the most jovial friends I ever had killed himself after his wife left him several years ago and just a week ago another close friend attempted to take his own life. I’ve recently been public about my own struggles with MDD and how many times I stared down that abyss where death seemed like it would be the only relief. At one point, medication and a lot of counselling is the only thing that made me turn away from it, along with some deep religious experiences that I can only call miraculous. Yet, you’d never guess from meeting me in person.

The Depressed Look Nothing Like That

Sure, I went through a phase of listening to a lot of punk and metal, but I generally don’t wear all black. The average depressed person is not wearing black eye-liner and writing emo lyrics for a crappy band. They are, in my experience, folks who can be quite charming and even seem to be always happy. This would, to some minds, seem to point to an overall good mood. In private, though, it’s a living hell.

My particular form of mental illness is defined by an over-all low mood. Most days I can function normally, but there are those days when getting out of bed seems like the hardest thing in the world to do. The worst days I’ve had to check myself into a hospital because all I could think about was ways I’d like to die. That part is hard to explain to people who have never been there. It’s not so much a desire  to no longer exist, but a wish that whatever this is that is clouding my judgement would just be gone.

The worst of it, though, is the loneliness. The feeling that even God has abandoned you to your sufferings and that relief is not coming.

I’m much better now than I was even five years ago, but trust me that those feelings rarely go away. Even though I have a job I love, good friends, and a loving family, I am always having to worry about the day that the bark of the black dog will be too loud to endure.

That’s the point of depression and all other forms of mental illness: it clouds the mind and impairs judgement, you are literally unable to think straight and sometimes reality looks like a hazy dream. My mother once described it as seeing the world through a thick blanket. You can’t reason with it, you can’t negotiate with it, and even if you understand that your thought process is not normal or healthy, it’s easier to make out with a grizzly bear than to try to keep your mind from repeating that inner dialogue.

I don’t expect this to make sense, because it barely makes sense to me and I have to live with it every day. Throw in the fact that I, like many depressed people, keep a persona bon vivant, it becomes alienating when my mood reaches a low where I can’t even stand my own company. We want so badly to have some companionship, but we’re so afraid of our own minds that we’d shiver at exposing other people to our inner darkness.

That, above all else, is why I write. I don’t like writing on this subject. It takes just about every once of energy I have to write about depression without dropping the F-bomb every other clause. But, if one person can understand that they’re not alone than I can hope that my mild discomfort can help them.

The world though, especially most Catholic media, is lousy at offering the help we need. In the months since I started writing openly about depression and faith I’ve received the kind of cheap email messages that drive people crazy; things like, “have you tried avoiding gluten or taking Omega-6 oils,” (because, holy crikey, I just needed Dr. Oz, M.Div all along) or “maybe you should pray more” (because depressed people don’t pray, ever). Depression is hard to understand, I get that, but we could be better at explaining it and helping the many who endure it find some form of healing or at least enough grace to go on. Depression does not sell conferences or books, but we need to see how many people it touches and do what we can. Lives are on the line.

Arise from the Darkness!

I wanted to point out that depression touches many lives, whether we know it or not. Even my worst days I can fake being happy for a few hours before I collapse in exhaustion. If someone is depressed, you may never know it unless they feel comfortable enough to let their guard down. Then, it’s up to you to do what you can to be a friend, mother, spouse, or whatever part you play in their lives.

Unlike many illnesses, it does not always show outwardly. The person in your life suffering mental anguish is probably barely aware of it himself. Dig, though, and it’s there. Like all conditions of the Fall, we cannot let it fester in darkness but there needs to a light to shine the truth and to give hope to those who feel like all hope has abandoned them.

Depression doesn’t give a damn about your status, vocation, race, or financial situation. Yet, neither does Christ. If we want the mentally afflicted to find the peace that surpasses all understanding, we need first to open the doors and to let it in, and that is what Christian charity ought to do.

If someone in your life is suffering such mental anguish, I can tell you from experience what works and doesn’t work. Don’t try to cure them unless you are a doctor or a real wonder-worker, and for heaven’s sake do not try to tell them, “But how can you be depressed!” Instead, let them know that they do have a friend, who is willing to carry a lot of their pains if necessary, and be okay if silence is their only response. Then, pray for help and that grace will be sufficient to get them through, but be aware that you probably are called to be an instrument of that grace. It means some work, but love demands it.

As well, if you are reading this and have been exhausted by your own black dog, know that it is not all there is. I’ve found some peace, but it doesn’t mean my burden is gone. Seek help, go for a walk, do whatever you can to come back tomorrow with the determination that you shall live. Also, know that God did not take on our nature and defeat death just to leave you alone. Seems cheap, I know, but sometimes that is the only assurance I have and it is no small thing.

To end, here’s a little poem by one man that few knew struggled with depression, Mr. GK Chesterton:

THIS much, O heaven—if I should brood or rave,
Pity me not; but let the world be fed,
Yea, in my madness if I strike me dead,
Heed you the grass that grows upon my grave.

If I dare snarl between this sun and sod,
Whimper and clamour, give me grace to own,
In sun and rain and fruit in season shown,
The shining silence of the scorn of God.

Thank God the stars are set beyond my power,
If I must travail in a night of wrath,
Thank God my tears will never vex a moth,
Nor any curse of mine cut down a flower.

Men say the sun was darkened: yet I had
Thought it beat brightly, even on—Calvary:
And He that hung upon the Torturing Tree
Heard all the crickets singing, and was glad.

 

 

 

Stratford Caldecott: Go With God


My latest for Catholic Exchange is a sort of goodbye and remembrance of Stratford Caldecott. Keep he and his family in your prayers.

Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all we have to do is to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.

Continue reading…

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Strat reading to his wife and a few students.

#GodForStrat


I received the news yesterday that Stratford Caldecott, the preeminent English Catholic author whom I’ve written about before, has fallen asleep in the Lord last night at the all-too-early age of 60.

After such a heroic fight, and with the love of his amazing family, he still has words that will shine bright in this world. We were never thankful enough for him. If you are unfamiliar, I actually think this essay, written a mere couple of months before his death, is one of the most powerful works by the Good Man. In it, Mr. Caldecott reflects,

God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.

I will be writing more about Stratford, his work, and his amazing life in the next couple of days, but for now I would like to invite all of you who are inclined to please join me in praying for him.

Christ our eternal King and God, You have destroyed death and the devil by Your Cross and have restored man to life by Your Resurrection; give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your servant, Stratford Caldecott, who has fallen asleep, in Your Kingdom, where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering. In Your goodness and love for all men, pardon all the sins he has committed in thought word or deed, for there is no man or woman who lives and sins not, You only are without sin.

For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and Repose of Your servant Stratford, departed this life, O Christ our God; and to You do we send up glory with Your Eternal Father and Your All-holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Stratford.

Stratford Caldecott reading The Ballad of the White Horse to a group of us next to the Uffington White Horse. Some of my most pleasant memories.

Truth, Beauty, and Comic Books


I’ve been on a writing binge (well, my kind of binge). My newest piece over at Ignatius Press Novels is about the three greatest things that have shaped my life: comics, GK Chesterton, and a wise teacher.

Similar to G.K. Chesterton’s fine defense of fairy tales, it is not hard to find a defense of the classic comics that first spark many a child’s imagination and teach him virtues such as kindness, fortitude, and strength in adversity. Comics, like the older brother fairy tales, contain, as Chesterton quipped, more truth than many modern novels. “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey,” Chesterton remarked, “What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.” In the same way that a child doesn’t need to be told about suffering and adversity, they know it far too well, but they are often introduced to how to overcome it and turn it into something beautiful on the colourful pages awaiting them at a comic shop.

Read the rest at Ignatius Press Novels…

Black Dog Days: How to Deal with Depression


My latest piece is over at The Catholic Gentleman, wherein I try to actually use my depression for some modicum of good. I have a lot of gratitude for Sam Guzman for giving me the opportunity to reach another audience and help spread awareness about mental illness.

Recently, I’ve been going through what the great Winston Churchill called “black dog days.” These days are defined by an overall low mood, inability to cope with basic things like getting out of bed, or finding enjoyment in my usual passions. Do not fear, reader, this is actually normal for me.

You see, I have something called Major Depressive Disorder, which was in previous times called clinical depression. In the ancient world, the Greek physician Hippocrates labeled it melancholia. It is something I’ve dealt with for some time now, and my family has a long history of it. My family tree is full of folks who either ended up in the mental ward or at the bottom of a bottle due to this condition. A few, sadly, found more permanent ways of dealing with it.

Read the rest at The Catholic Gentleman…

The Pope and Fortitude (On Catholic Lane)


I’m over at Catholic Lane today, discussing the Pope’s latest words on fortitude. This was strangely tough to write, but hopefully worth it.

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” –GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Continuing his Catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis used this week’s lesson to discuss the gift of fortitude. When we consider the Gifts of the Spirit, fortitude is rarely one that any of us would call to mind. It is an interior virtue that is only manifest during times of trial.

Read the rest at Catholic Lane.

Mission accomplished: Avengers fight cancer!


M. Jordan Lichens:

Wow, what an adventure! Sophie is an amazing woman who did something beautiful for her father with her sisters and mothers support. I couldn’t have dreamed of this but it all warmed my heart to watch so many folks come together for a man that has meant a lot to me.

I told my dear friend Mac that this week made me a little less cynical, which is quite the feat. All these folks, some famous and a few complete strangers, made a viral hashtag just to make a man’s last moments a bit more joyful.

Praise be to God for He is good and He loves mankind.

Originally posted on Something for a rainy day:

CapForStrat

Well, this has been an adventure and a half. When we started out on Monday evening, all we wanted to do was to make it possible for my father to see The Winter Soldier and maybe to get a few superhero selfies to make him chuckle. In under 48 hours our mission was accomplished, and then… we kind of went viral. I have to admit something right now: as a bit of perfectionist, it really bugs me that I can’t stay on Twitter all the time and thank each and every one of you who has tweeted the Marvel actors for us, sent messages of love and support, and sent us your sweet pictures for dad. But please know that our family are so very grateful, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, even if I haven’t said so directly.

You have certainly succeeded in cheering us all…

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We Did It! Marvel Gives Strat a Kind Gift


I just checked my twitter feed, and what do I see? Some good news. I am absolutely stunned by the goodness of people when a man who has touched so many people is able to have this kind of comfort.

Stratford Caldecott has meant the world to me, and our world has not been thankful enough for him.  I’m glad that Sophie, his beloved daughter, could mobilize such an army and that Marvel was kind enough to give him some joy in his final moments.

Please keep Mr. Caldecott and all his family in your prayers. I’m still asking Chesterton to give us a miracle.

Avengers assemble take 3: Selfies for Strat


M. Jordan Lichens:

Mark Ruffalo joins in #CapforStrat! Come on, guys, we got this! Stratford Caldecott, here we go!

Originally posted on Something for a rainy day:

“It’s time to call for backup!”

CapForStrat

CapForStrat

CapForStrat

Team #CapForStrat, you have been doing such a wonderful job of cheering on dad and requesting encouraging selfies from the Marvel actors for him. Such a great job, in fact, that the lovely Mark Ruffalo aka The Incredible Hulk sent us a picture and message for dad this morning. We are beyond thrilled! Dad was having a rough morning at the hospital, so we went in to see him and told him about what we’ve been up to.

Mark Ruffalo Incredible Hulk Marvel CapForStrat selfie for Strat

Mark Ruffalo Incredible Hulk Marvel CapForStrat selfie for Strat

This is kind of how we all felt this morning:

Dad said that seeing Mark Ruffalo and his message of support felt like a dream. He has always loved the character of the Hulk, and in fact the Hulk might as well be the superhero for cancer patients; he was exposed to too much radiation, and his superpower/giant green problem is due to his cells multiplying out…

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