Amanda Martinez Beck

We have all seen the work of Michaelangelo, the Pieta, our Mother holding her dead and broken son. A poor shepherdess embracing her little wounded sheep, his once spotless coat soaked in blood, encrusted with dirt and muck. Mary had a little lamb…

The darkness off the Friday we now call ‘good’…her heart pierced again, a deeper wound than she ever thought possible when Simeon spoke to her of swords and treasure so long ago. 

John held her after the body was buried. She was too grieved to walk upright. Reunited with the others who were in Jerusalem, grief and tears gave way to a dreamless sleep, and the apostles had some small comfort that Mary would get a bit of relief from the pain of her loss, of their loss. 

But in the early morning on the Sabbath, before the sun rose, Mary awoke, confused at first. But then she remembered. And she wept. Not the deep and loud tears of yesterday, but hot, big tears than ran down her face, quiet as the snow. 

She breathed in deep. “Why this way, God?”

The answer didn’t come in words, but in a sense of oneness with the God who gave Jesus to her in the first place. And even today, in her rawness and in her mother grief, she offered the same ‘yes’ that she offered decades ago.

She breathed out slowly, and hope started to warm in her heart, even though she couldn’t see farther than one step ahead. She knew that God was good, and grief and hope mingled together, like the water and blood that flowed from the side of her son. 

And if she were a mother given to song, I imagine she might have lifted up her memories and her voice, singing… 

I took some thread and started weaving

A robe for him to wear as he traveled along

Telling us of the kingdom at hand

Purple, blue, most beautiful colors of my loom

I loved him and I wanted to show him 

And so I started my work

How was I supposed to know 

that they’d take the seamless garment I made him

Cast their lots, divide the spoils 

as they nailed him to that tree?

But this love doesn’t ask for silver and gold

The foolish things of this world will shame the wise ones

And so I let them go

I remember him when he was little 

Bright eyes, so curious

We raised him and he grew in wisdom and strength

And as he grew, I knew he was more

Than the fruit of my womb

But to let him go right now

Is too hard to bear

How was I supposed to know

That the road he’d walk would be so painful

The sword piercing my heart…

I didn’t know it would be this hard

But this love doesn’t ask for more

Than it is willing to give

He’s my son,

But he’s your son, too

The works of my hands

I only wanted to be in your plan

But as things seem to fall apart

It’s not the way I thought they would be

How was I supposed to know

That your plans would be so much better than mine

And through the darkness and the pain

The Resurrection still awaits

And oh, to see you on that day!

Because your love takes me to the place

Where oil and new grain aboundBeyond what I can imagine

Amanda Martinez Beck is a storyteller and fat activist on a mission to help people embrace the goodness of their bodies. She is the co-founder of the Ruah Storytellers Podcast. In addition to cohosting the Fat & Faithful Podcast, she is the author of Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me. Follow her on Instagram(@your_body_is_good) and visit her website to learn more about the Good Body Initiative.

Jules Miles

I used to do this thing in college. I guess in some way I’ve always done it, and I probably still do it now to some extent. But college was the first time I really recognized it as a daily habit, as a part of my personality and temperament. Whenever someone would ask how I was doing, even if the question’s context was because that person knew I was NOT doing well, I would deflect to good old fashioned perspective. The conversation would go something like this: “how are you doing, jules?” and I would respond “I’m fine, there are so many other problems in the world mine really aren’t so important.”

Or sometimes I would get specific, and say things like “I just keep thinking of those who aren’t as fortunate as I am to be going to college,” or “I’m just so blessed to have supportive friends and family when so many others don’t.” You get the picture. 

And even in the times when my suffering seemed heavy and unbearable (after a breakup, a difficult time with a friend), I would still try to deflect the pain. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the pain myself, it’s that I didn’t want to burden others with my suffering. I felt that by diminishing my suffering for others, I was being humble. I was doing the right thing by recognizing there were so many worse things that could be going on in the world.

Which is true, of course, but what I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t actually expressing solidarity with those suffering. In my deflection of my pain, I made other people’s sufferings about ME. 

And this pattern continued until one day, a dear friend and roommate finally had the courage to call me out of this horrific habit. She said plainly and bluntly, “Jules, you have to stop doing that. Suffering comes at you like a gas, and no matter it’s form, it fills you all the same.”

Suffering comes at you like a gas. By deflecting, by trying to justify not addressing my pain because of other people’s pain, I wasn’t actually letting myself feel everything I was supposed to feel. And that only hindered my healing, and frankly my faith. 

When we discerned the theme for this Lenten season, “love your neighbor as yourself,” none of us could have predicted just how much God would be calling us to love our neighbor this year. That we would be called, entirely out of love for our neighbor, to isolate, to separate, simply for the good of the other. Perhaps in one of the most tangible and frankly hard ways He could, God is asking us to completely change our lives strictly for love of the other.

Today is Good Friday. Every year as a family, we sit with our kids and we ask this one question: Why do we call this day GOOD? We look to our crucifix and we show our kids that in the most painful moment of all of history, Love saves us all. We talk about the story of the Passion, but we always end with this one line: “but guys, is that the end of the story?!” And our kids passionately and excitedly shake their heads no, because we know the Miracle that will soon take place. We know that Love truly wins. 

But before we can even get to that moment, Love stretched out, arms opened wide, we have to also acknowledge the very real and human moments of Jesus’ before. Jesus demonstrates that we are allowed to acknowledge our pain. In his heartbreaking prayer in the garden, so intense and strenuous that he literally sweated blood. In his acknowledgment of being alone, abandoned by those who were his closest friends. In his begging the Father to take the cup, while also submitting but “Thy Will be done.” 

Jesus entirely and completely gives up his life for the other, but first he must openly embrace the difficulty of such a task. It is not easy. He gives himself permission to feel everything He is supposed to feel: the physical pain, the loneliness, abandonment, and despair. 

For us, in this time of separation and social isolation, this very literal distance between us and our neighbors, the acknowledgment of our pain and suffering will look different for all of us. It looks like young people losing their final sports seasons or starring roles in the Spring musical. It looks like moms and dads reconfiguring their entire lives to figure out childcare or educate their children. It looks like men and women losing their incomes and wages because of their stores closing. It looks like small children desperate to see friends, to go to the park, to go back to school. It looks like every day loneliness and stress, wondering if the isolation will end before the arrival of a baby. It looks like the horrific, devastating moments of watching from a distance as your loved one struggles through sickness. It looks like losing that loved one to a virus which seems to have no boundaries in its ability to swiftly take over one’s body. The grief and pain look like all of these things, and while there are some instances certainly more painful or devastating than others, suffering still comes at us like a gas. We must give ourselves permission to feel it, to embrace it, to let it fill us, to literally pick it up and carry it with our Lord to Calvary. 

This day is good, the Church tells us. This day is good, I tell my children and my husband. Through the suffering, through the acknowledgment of our suffering, it is still good. Through the pain and the loneliness and despair, it is still good. Suffering comes at you like a gas, but so does love. Love stretched out, having an evermore powerful effect. While suffering can fill us temporarily, love fills us eternally. It fills every inch of our being. It is salvation itself.

Jules Miles is a wife, mom, and holds undergraduate and Masters degrees in Catholic Theology. She is the creator and host of the podcast, Mystery Through Manners, and the co-founder of Ruah Storytellers.

Cathy Torrez

The Blessed Virgin Mary sat at the table with her son and his friends. She and Magdalene had helped his disciples prepare the Passover meal. Mary enjoyed having the younger woman as a companion while she traveled with her son, and Magdalene was so much help today. Mary sat down, ready to hear and say the words that had been repeated by her people for generations.

At one point, Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and shared it with his closest friends, his disciples. He said, “Take and eat, this is my body.” Mary, who had been in a lull from the warm room, meal, and familiarity, snapped to attention. She looked at Peter first, and then John. They were staring at Christ’s hands. This is it. The words whispered in her soul from the Holy Spirit. He had been her constant companion since that moment the angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth. Heart pounding in her chest, images of recent events flashed in her mind. First, one scene– “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger.” Men and women staring at her as they walked away, blaming her for her son’s lofty words. Then, another–“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The Baptist’s eyes were wild with the spirit of God as the Holy Spirit descended on her son, on their son. 

Pulled back into the present by the utter silence that had descended over the room, Mary’s own eyes settled on Jesus’ face. His features were calm, and he met her gaze. Love burned between them. The pounding slowed. She brushed off her fear, trusting in her son’s strength and his father’s plan. She began to listen to his words as he taught. All of them knew that tonight would be important. “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”

More memories flung themselves at her as time slowed to a crawl. First–the blood of the Passover lamb splashed on the lintel. Then the aged voice filling her ears: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” Simeon’s aged hands holding her tiny newborn baby. Simeon’s face bright with life, as if it were reflecting the new life he held. Her whole body tensed as she remembered the next: panic when Joseph told her that the pre-teen Jesus wasn’t with him, and she thought she failed her son and God himself. Next, the grief at the blood of the baby boys spilled so long ago on the streets of Bethlehem. The blood of those that God did not save.

Mary sought out Jesus’ face again. He was still speaking but looking at his disciples. “I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.” No. She whispered internally, probing for the Holy Spirit, her strength. No. He had said “with you”. It’s not tonight. Her breathing slowed. Jesus’ soft baritone began a hymn, and the others joined in. Mary stared at her son. She remembered the first time he opened his eyes, and she felt that familiar tug of nostalgia on her heart. He was hers then. She hadn’t known what to expect, but he had been just a baby. No, he was her baby. No one on earth knew him like she did. If tonight was the night, she would know, wouldn’t she? He was still her baby, her son. But he hadn’t really been hers alone for long. In those early days and years, she had to share him with so many strangers. Shepherds. Kings. Temple priests. She longed to go back, just once, to the quiet years she shared with Joseph and Jesus, when he still fit in her arms.

Jesus looked at her, sure and strong. His voice rose, and it was all she could hear. She tried to burn this moment into her memory, his tender voice, the curve of his chin, the shape of his lips, the joy and love of his friends as he spoke to them. She was comforted enough to join the song. As it ended, Jesus said they would be heading to Gethsemane to pray. Magdalene touched Mary’s elbow. “It’s time to go to Clopas’ house for the night, Mother.” Mary turned and gazed into the eyes of the woman who was like a daughter to her. “I’m going to let Jesus know first.” Confusion clouded Magdalene’s face, but she stepped back, giving Mary a clear path to Jesus.

Mary approached Jesus, and as he turned towards her, she saw it. For a second, in his eyes, she knew this was it. She clung to him, breathing him in, feeling the weight of him in her arms. She remembered all the nights she spent with him pressed firmly against her. She remembered their conversations that lasted late into the night after Joseph’s death, trying to fill his absence with words and failing. She remembered her little boy showing her flowers he found, that had been only weeds. She inhaled deeply. He held her close, and her heart both broke with the knowledge that this could be their last moment and leaped with hope and joy at what was to come.

Jesus left with his disciples, but before he turned out of sight, he looked at her, one final shared moment. Magdalene again touched Mary’s elbow, and she broke her gaze. “Yes, let’s go,” she said. Mary clung to the younger woman as they walked, grief and hope wrapping around her. She turned to Magdalene. “Why is this night different from all the other nights?”

Cathy Torrez is a wife, stepmother, and mother. She spends her days at a salt plant and her nights snuggling her two small children. She takes those aforementioned children to Adoration each week (by choice!) and prays with them for others each night. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as Adventures in Adoring.

Monique Ocampo

I wouldn’t say that I’m obsessed with vampires. It’s more like I’m…fascinated. They’re a strange kind of supernatural creature because they reflect a lot of different aspects of humanity. During my high school years, women of all ages were swooning over Edward Cullen, the rich, immortal vampire from Twilight. Back in the 80s and 90s, the hottest vampires were Louis and Lestat from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. And a few years ago, there were shows like True Blood with vampires like Bill and Eric and The Vampire Diaries with Stefan and Damon Salvatore.

Why are vampires so popular? Well, one obvious reason is because they’re hot, they’re usually portrayed as wealthy aristocrats, and they live forever. Who wouldn’t want to be good-looking, rich, and immortal? There are a lot of tempting wish-fulfillment fantasies behind these fangèd fables. But of course, there’s other reasons why vampires resonate with people, like sexual exploration. Did you know that 26 years before Bram Stoker published Dracula, a lesbian vampire named Carmilla engaged readers in the London literary magazine The Dark Blue?  The vampires from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles were also praised for their laissez-faire approach to relationships. 

The problem with these vampires is that as people are seduced by their glamour, they forget the deadly nature beneath the pale skin. These vampires are beautiful, but they also represent a personification of an unnatural life. All vampires have to feed off of blood to sustain themselves and 9 times out of 10, only human blood will do. Now we all know that vampires aren’t real…but let’s be honest, we’re not altogether that different from them. Let me explain what I mean.

My friend Karen Ullo, who wrote a young adult novel about a teenage vampire, said: “There is only one true horror, and that is being separated from the love of God. Which is also the only reason people are separated from love of neighbor.” Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble of the Daughters of St. Paul wrote in her Memento Mori devotional that “We close ourselves into a casket when we stumble into serious sin and choose not to get up…We may appear young, healthy, and beautiful, but it’s just a facade…When this happens, we cannot rise on our own strength. Only God can exhume us from our self-imposed graves.” When we linger in sin or seek fulfillment in things that aren’t from God, we become like vampires. In that sense, vampires can represent the temptations and sins we struggle with, especially ones that appeal to our vanity.

Think about the weaknesses of vampires–Even when vampires don’t flinch at the sight of a cross or a crucifix, they can still be vulnerable to things that represent God, like sunlight. In some storytelling traditions, vampires can’t cross running water, which is a symbol of baptism. And if you have read Dracula, you would remember that a Communion Host was used to keep Dracula at bay. What’s especially ironic and hilarious is that vampires feed off of the blood of people and yet the Eucharist is right there, promising eternal life. I’m telling you–having a close relationship with God and the Sacraments can help us slay our inner vampires.

I think the reason I find myself fascinated with vampires is because it’s through them that I am able to better understand those who identify with them, even though I may not know the journey each individual has. Vampire lore, in a significant way, connects me to my neighbor. And it’s also through vampires that I see the darkest parts of myself, the wounds that I need Christ to heal. 

My personal favorite vampire is Spike from the 90s cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Though his storyline is problematic in significant ways, he gets put on an unexpected road to redemption. His twisted love for Buffy eventually leads to him embracing a cross, which he does even though he knows it will burn him. His selfishness is turned outward in an authentic and real love for Buffy. 

So what can we take from all of this? Allow me to end this reflection with a verse from Sirach, chapter 7, verse 36: “In Whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin.” Vampires not only help us understand the neighbors who feel like they don’t belong, they remind us that nobody is beyond redemption, not even the worst of humanity.  Vampires also remind us to embrace our Cross, whether it be vanity, a desire for luxury, or living at the expense of others. If we walk in close relationship with Christ and receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist frequently, Jesus will give us the strength to slay our inner vampires.

I hope that in this Lenten season or whenever you listen to this, you can make time to go to Confession and offer your struggles to Him. Then receive Communion with abundant joy. Let us live for Heaven and leave our inner vampires in the dust.

Monique Ocampo is an English tutor from Houston, Texas who loves finding connections between her Catholic faith and her many fandoms. She sees God as the Divine Artist and considers herself an apprentice with the written word. You can find her blog at and check out her podcast Tales, Rambles, and Reactions where she talks about shows she’s watching. Feel free to follow her on Twitter and Instagram @msocampowrites.

Sister Anne Higgins

The idea for this poem came to me as I watched a red-bellied woodpecker at the birdbell on my windowsill.  The woodpecker’s tongue was out, and licking the birdbell. That’s when I thought: Even birds have tongues!  My train of thought took off from that station.

It led me to think of human saliva, and how we use it.  Those of you who are mothers of small children: you experience this more than I do.  This humble but so necessary fluid functions in all our lives every single day. When my best friend’s husband had salivary gland cancer, this reality came even more painfully to me.

I’ve often thought about how we use our hands, often , to serve others.  But all the varied parts of our bodies do their service.


Even the birds have tongues.

I’ve seen hummingbird’s, fine as a hair, 

slip out to catch the nectar from the fuchsia,

have seen fledgling woodpecker’s tentatively taste


From the birdbell at my window.

Tongues sliding on saliva.

Healing water from our mouths,

healing water all were born with ,

salvia salvation, living water,

humble, intimate, vibrant, vital.

Tomcat licking his wounds after a fight,

my mother licking her finger, rubbing the dirt off my nose…

Saliva, shining my lips and teeth,

cleansing my glasses, sucking my cut finger,

Christ’s saliva on the blind man’s eyes.

More humble than tears,

how did you come to be flung out

of the mouth of scorn?

(Poem featured in How the Hand Behaves from Finishing Line Press, 2009)

Sister Anne Higgins is a daughter of Charity for close to 50 years, and a professor of English at Mount St. Mary’s Univeristy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She is also the author of many selected works of poetry.

Catherine Guiremand

I don’t have any memory of when I found out I was pregnant for the fourth time. For each of my other children I remember clearly where I was when I started to suspect I was pregnant, how I felt when it was confirmed, and my husband’s reaction when I told him. My memories are full of light and joy. Each pregnancy was hopeful and very beautiful. I loved the long months of being pregnant, and each newborn was glorious. 

But this one….the 4th one. It was a cold, plunging, heartbreaking shock. And I felt like I was drowning. I had 3 children under the age of 4 at home, and everything seemed to land on my shoulders. My husband was beginning a very demanding phase of his career. I suspected that he was going to deploy soon as well. We lived very far from family and normal support systems.  He is in the navy and we move a lot. In 10 years we have moved across the country or across an ocean 7 times. Soon it will be 8 times when we go to the Persian Gulf. We restart over and over again, and in each new place I pray I might find a community of supportive moms. Sometimes I do….sometimes I don’t. It can be lonely. Especially when you’re stuck inside a small apartment with 3 often sick children, like I was during this time. 

When I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child there was a lot of crying, and angry prayer. I felt something similar to grief. It felt like too much. Too heavy of a burden with such little help. I analyzed my NFP records to figure out what went wrong. What fluke led this to happen, when we had been so careful. I went to confession over and over, feeling guilty for not being happy at the presence of a child in my womb. I received some mediocre advice, and some bad advice, and I tried to plod on through the pregnancy. For months I felt bitter. For months I felt resentful. I was terrified of what the future looked like. I felt guilty for not savoring the pregnancy when I had friends who were doing everything possible to conceive, or who were heartbroken over miscarriages. I didn’t tell many people I was pregnant, because I wasn’t ready to talk about it.

One night during the third trimester I was laying alone in bed, in the dark, with tears in my eyes. I was unable to get comfortable with swollen legs, and a very painful pinched nerve in my pelvis. The doctors suspected my child was over 9 pounds, and my belly was ginormous. I laid there with tears in my eyes, completely on the bottom of my pity party. I begged God to give me the gift of peace. To give me hope. I apologized for being resentful for what he had called me to. I told Him I would accept His will, and put all my strength into grasping it cheerfully.

And then it happened. A flood of light came into my soul. I felt weightless and free. I felt profoundly loved. I remembered times in the past when God had called me to things that felt like too much or too surprising, and that those had been the best things to ever happen to me. 

I knew the answer I needed. Love. Love is the answer for how to endure scary things. Loving God. Loving myself. Loving my children and husband. Loving my vocation. 

Ah…my vocation. 

Once I had thought I was going into a religious life. I discerned for years. I was planning to serve the poor and spend my life teaching or guiding others to the Church. I began serving with a Catholic missionary religious society. My life was planned out. And then a tiny voice inside my mind whispered that I had a deep desire for motherhood that could not be denied. The plans began to crack. It was heartbreaking to leave the path I thought was so honorable and brave. I then met a good, strong man and I knew pretty quickly that I was called to marry him and raise children with him. Even with the heartaches and anxiety of military life, and the ups and downs of marriage…it is beautiful. I feel constant peace that I am building the Church in my own little way. My missionary life is motherhood and being a military spouse. 

For the rest of my fourth pregnancy and through labor and delivery of my son, I felt strong enough to keep loving. Maybe not strong enough to be the perfect mom, or a role model of saintly motherhood. But strong enough to love. It was my chance to do something that seemed so overwhelming purely out of love and cheerful obedience. Which is the thing that I had been attracted to about religious life all those years ago. This was when my vocation work really started, not back when we were newlyweds and life was easier. 

As I have been writing and recording this for you, I have experienced a life-altering event that I want to share. My father just died, and it has shaken me to my core. He was a pillar of my life, and the loss sometimes feels to great to bare. My grief is intense. I feel thankful for his full and faithful life, and for the possibility of seeing Jesus in His glory in Heaven, but I’m lost here on Earth without him. 

The answer that I learned during my 4th pregnancy is still the answer to all these questions and hurts I am feeling right now   …love. Love God. Praise God. Love my family. Love my dad, by praying for his soul. 

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Love endures. 
God’s will is beautiful. Sometimes it’s a shocking curveball, and it takes awhile for me to get with the program. But love is always the answer of how to follow God.

Catherine currently lives in Hawaii, but is preparing to move to
Bahrain soon with her 4 young children. She is married to a Naval
Officer who’s career has taken them to many interesting places. Both
Catherine and her husband insist the best parts of living around the
world are the wonderful people they have met, and the Catholic
parishes that feel like home no matter what language is spoken. She is
originally from a small town in Oregon, and still daydreams of the
mountains and rivers of the Pacific Northwest while changing diapers,
and driving kids all over the island.

Courtney Kiolbassa

Impossible Connection
after Sarah Kay’s “Hiroshima”


Before they bombed Hiroshima, before a mini supernova
turned a city into ash, before the test sites and the radiation damage
and even before an atomic scientist entered the war effort,
there was Robert Oppenheimer, not yet the father of the
atomic bomb, but just a physics student working with researchers
who had finally discovered the basis of it all: Atoms.

Proton, neutron, electron, a swirl of particles forever circling each other, forever tethered. It left Robert breathless. Our foundation, he learned, is this
impossible connection. Proton, neutron, electron, separate things, somehow united.


When I was small, my sister Kathryn and I would beg our dad
to roll his giant telescope outside on clear nights. We’d take turns
wiggling the lens into focus until the white blurs became perfect
orbs of light — pinprick stars through the black sheet cloaking the sky.

It took our breath away. We studied the constellations and shaped
their names with our lips. The stars, I learned, are usually not just single units
but exist in twos, or threes, or fours, all huddling together. Desperate for
each other’s gravity to stay fastened in empty space. If they drift apart, they flicker
out. What my sister and I saw as solo lights were actually stars in endless relationship.


My parents named my sister Kathryn. It’s a family name.The first Catherine, they tell us, was my grandparents’ first child,
a baby girl born with a debilitating defect. In the hospital,
my grandparents huddled together, studying her bubblegum cheeks,
breathing in the smell of her hair. My grandpa held her body, disfigured by the defect,
loved still. For fifty hours, two days that felt like one long night, they clung
together until her heartbeat flickered out. They learned to lean closer.

To stay tethered. To fill each others’ empty hands. Now, my grandparents 
have gravity eyes for one another. Know how desperately they need connection.


After Catherine’s birth, my grandpa learned that some defects come from radiationdamage. As a U.S. soldier, he trudged through cities bombed clean away. His skin soaked in chemicals that might have caused Catherine’s defect. He carried guilt 
like a rucksack. Didn’t realize the bombs for another city could come so close.
Robert Oppenheimer didn’t realize that either. He learned that the building blocks 
of this life — proton, neutron, electron — that the union of particles that makes us

could be pulled apart, destabilized, and when that relationship is broken it incinerates everything around it. He called this the atomic bomb. A flash of light, and generations disappear. Buildings vanish. Trees turn to powder. He didn’t know the radiation can linger long after the first shock.


Sometimes, I also pull away, thinking I can exist as a solo unit. A single 
light, hovering in the dark, tugging apart from the force that ties us. I have pushed 
away the hand that tries to wiggle the telescope lens with me, vanished
when someone wants to trudge through the rubble by my side. I see my grandparents’ eyes, the moments fastening them through this wild life, 
and still I hide. Still I try to carry on alone when guilt is heavy as a rucksack, 
when I see only my defects, when the night lingers long. An electron tearing from the unit I’m made for. When I resist the fact of us, the gaps I cannot fill, the needing and being needed, I flicker out. I kick up ashes in my wake.


After the proton disconnected from the neutron, and the electrontore away, and the A-bomb left cities in ruins, specialists said it would take seventy-five years for anything to grow from the radiation-damaged dirt. But that spring, new buds poked out of the earth. After Catherine, my grandparents filled their home with four new lives, one of whom held me and another Kathryn in her womb. 

And after galaxies explode and dissolve, new stars yield to each other’s pull. What I’m saying is: I need you. What I’m saying is: Our very foundation is a connection. Proton, neutron, electron. We are made in the image of relationship. Father. Son. Spirit. Separate things, somehow united. What I’m saying is:

When everything is turning to powder around you, we will carry you to the God who brings life from the dirt. When you are up against the rubble of a disfigured world, we will trudge through together. We cannot resist the gravity of needing each other. That impossible connection. Endless communion. Separate things, united. We are made from it, we are made for it. We are tethered by the moments we lean closer, and let the stars come into focus, and hold tightly until the night turns to day.

Courtney Kiolbassa is a freelance writer and poet based in Dallas, Texas. She has worked on projects like the Catholic Creatives podcast, the OSV Innovation Challenge, and a thesis on pilgrimage in the American Southwest. You can find Courtney’s work at

Alissa Molina

I slammed the flaps down on each side of the loaded up truck, carefully locking the handle so as to keep all the goods firmly inside.  This was, afterall, no ordinary truck. Specifically built with special compartments to keep toiletries, clothing, and winter caps on one side and fruit, yummy snacks, freshly made sandwiches and cold drinks on the other—THIS was a Mobile Loaves and Fishes Truck.

Mobile Loaves and Fishes or MLF for short, was the closest thing I had ever seen to love manifested on a grand scale.  The dream of Alan Graham, a man who by his own account, went from being sort of a ho-hum church fella to an all-in, love-your-neighbor kind after attending a powerful retreat, began MLF as just a man taking sack lunches to a group living at a homeless camp. It’s now morphed into a true multiplication of loaves and fishes–having served more than 5.5 million meals via a fleet of these miraculous food-trucks-on-wheels..

This day I beamed with self-satisfaction as I directed a group of teens from our parish youth group on their first ever MLF truck run.  The day was crisp and cool and the blue skies and bright sun gave us a welcome respite from a long stretch of dreary winter days. We prepared sandwiches together, loaded goods, prayed for the people we would encounter, and for ourselves –that we would be God’s hands and feet.  Then we all piled into the truck.

“It’s a beautiful day to love our neighbors,” I thought as I hoisted myself into the driver’s seat of a truck packed to the brim with both goods and nervous teens.  

The truck was virtually silent as we pulled out of the church parking lot.  No teen chatter, no low hum of anticipation. Nothing. I explained that there was no need to be nervous–that I’d picked 3 places on the city-wide MLF map that I was well accustomed to.  We’d first visit two motels that mainly housed a motley crew of day laborers and homeless men and women who happened to scrape enough together to stay the night, and then we’d move on to a set of apartments that housed the working poor.  All the places would be less than three miles from our parish.  

We finished the first two stops relatively quickly–handing out smiles along with toothbrushes, sack lunches, socks, and shampoo.  As we made our way to the final stop, the teens finally began to break out of their shells a bit and began to share a few tidbits of information like where they attended school and the plans they had for later in the day.  When we pulled up to the final stop, we were all in great spirits.  

I had no way of knowing that my idea of what it is to love my neighbor was about to drastically change.

I had no idea that in a matter of moments, I would have an exchange that would expose my self-righteousness and self-serving love of neighbor so radically that it would forever change the path of love I would take.  

We hopped out and the teens went about serving the young children, mothers, grandmothers, uncles and brothers who swarmed the truck.  As the number of people standing to be served began to dwindle, I passed a woman on her way towards the clothing and toiletries side of the truck.  I decided that I would walk across the street to the dumpster.

I whipped out my phone and pointed it down at the ground, looking for THE piece of ground that told the most evident tale of a forgotten community.  The beer bottles, and discarded diapers, the leftover charcoal and shards of glass. It made my blood boil.  

“This would NEVER be acceptable in other sections of our city,” I thought ceremoniously.  

And so I clicked a picture, intent on posting it later on Instagram with the right amount of rage and just enough piety so that people knew I had been out that day loving-my-neighbor-with-teens-no-less-thank-you-very-much.

And that’s when it happened.

The woman whom I did not serve.  The woman that I did not love. The woman who I left in favor of taking a picture, yelled across the street,


Stunned, embarrassed and ashamed I did the one thing I could muster.  

I lied.

“Oh, oh….no ma’m, I’m uh, just sending a text.”

“MMMMhhhhhhMMM,” she shot back and walked away.

I shoved my phone quickly back in my pocket, and helped the teens take stock of the goods we had left.  

“There is enough to make a couple to-go bags to pass out at stop lights under bridges on the way back to church,” I instructed,  “Let’s load up and head home.”

Thankfully the teen chatting only increased after this third stop and I was able to keep my focus on keeping my tears in check.  I played the scene over and over in my head.

Didn’t I know, after all these years, that love of neighbor looks more like encounter than a hand out?  Didn’t I believe what I made sure to explain to the teens before we even drove off our parking lot: that the most important thing we would do that day would be to BE with God’s people.  To look our neighbors in the eye and BE human together? To be beloved together?  

What in the world was WRONG with me?  

It took just under 10 minutes to get back to the neighborhood of neatly manicured lawns situated around our parish.  We quickly and efficiently unloaded the few dry items and ice bins. We wiped down the shelves and did closing prayer and the kids disappeared into their parents’ cars.

As the last car sped away, burning hot tears flooded my eyes. My heart had been bruised and busted open and I had myself to blame.  I sat defeated and ashamed on the curb in front of the truck. A heavy cloak of hypocrisy hung around my shoulders. But Jesus was there too.  I told him how sorry I was. How very sorry I was for having made the love of his people about me and about my ego and my self-importance. He didn’t really let me off the hook.  

This memory is seared into my heart and mind.  To this very day, I can see the woman’s face. Feel the cool winter air.  I can hear the giggles of children in the street as they ran to receive what we had to offer.  The memory is acute and shame fresh each time. It is a gift, really. A gift from the neighbor woman.  A gift from my Jesus. The gift is in the remembering that before I can be his hands and his feet, I must be his heart.  His heart for his people. His heart to see them, to know them, to be with them. To love them and be loved by them. I am to forever remember to move first and always with his heart.  

Alissa loves being a wife and mom.  Her family of seven lives just outside of Austin, Texas where in between packing lunches and finding matching socks, she thinks a lot about how to become a saint by loving well.  Alissa is passionate about Catholic social teaching, youth ministry, and building community.  She loves to give presentations and speak on a wide range of topics and was recently a guest on the popular podcast, The Catholic Feminist.

Chloe Langr

A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. (Luke 10: 31-33) 

“Are you doing okay? Really?” 

I’ll always remember that car ride. It’s stamped in my memory. That was the day that something changed. 

My friend Hayley and I were in the car together, running errands around town and taking a much needed break from the busyness of our schedules. 

I’d met Hayley our freshman year of college. Over the course of almost four years, we had shared many late night conversations, cups of coffee, and inside jokes. 

I was driving, and my hands clenched the steering wheel a little tighter at the sound of her question. 

I let it echo in the car for a while, struggling with what to say in response. 

Was I doing okay? 

The past few months, I’d been struggling to hold up a facade of everything-is-okay. 

College was wrapping up, I was planning my wedding, a move to a new city was becoming a reality. 

It looked like I was okay. I wanted people to think that I was doing okay. But it didn’t take too much scratching of the surface of my story to realize I wasn’t doing okay. 

I wasn’t fine. 

I wasn’t eating. 

I’d not been eating for so long that my body had given up. It quit telling me when I should have been hungry. My stomach stopped growling after I’d stopped listening time and time again. 

I was underweight, over stressed, and many times during a week, I wouldn’t even realize I needed to stop and eat something until I was on the brink of fainting. 

Then, in a frenzied rush, desperate to not pass out again, I would end up eating out of a vending machine, or raiding the fridge in the late hours of the night, piecing together a small semblance of a meal. 

In the morning, I would skip breakfast, and most of the time I’d substitute a cup of coffee for the first meal of the day. 

Then, I’d skip lunch. 

Then I’d skip dinner. 

I would get home around 10:00 pm most nights during that semester and and realize that I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before. 

I’d been doing it for so long that it seemed normal. It seemed fine. It seemed okay. 

But deep down, I knew it wasn’t. 

The evening before, I’d tried on my wedding dress for the first time in the nine months since I bought it. 

It didn’t look right. That night, I’d pulled up a picture of the first time I’d tried on the dress. Back when I ate everyday. 

I wanted that back. 

Over the course of a few short months, I’d lost more than fifteen pounds. 

Most everyone who I knew who commented on my weight loss assumed it was a good thing. A slim figure for a wedding made sense, and if they questioned the hurried nature of the change in my form, they didn’t ask. 

Maybe they didn’t see anything wrong. 

Maybe they didn’t want to broach the subject. 

It’s easy to pass by on the other side of the road. I know. I’ve done it. 

Was I doing okay? Really? 

Despite the world telling me my new slim frame was what I should want, it wasn’t what I needed. 

I needed a balanced life. I needed my health back. I need to make a change. 

That day in the car, something changed. Hayley didn’t pass by. She didn’t let the messiness deter her from an encounter. 

That day, Hayley saw me. And she crossed the road. She poured kind words on my wounds, and begin to bandage them. She took care of me. 

She loved me with the love of the Father. 

And He loves me with a love that isn’t disgusted by my messiness, that doesn’t shirk away from me when I’m lying on the side of the road, streaked and muddied with my mistakes and wounds. 

The Father loved me when I couldn’t even love myself, at a point in my story where I doubted that I was even worthy of love. 

He doesn’t wait until I prove myself worthy of His love, until I have it all together, until everything is okay, until I’m fine. 

The grace He gives me, the grace He gives each one of us, is for the present moment. The now – even when we’re struggling to love our neighbor as ourselves because we wonder if we ourselves are worthy of love. 

He treats us with mercy. And He heals us – continues to heal us. And then, He equips us to love others mercifully in return, the way He loves. The way He teaches us to love ourselves. 

Chloe Langr is a writer, podcaster, and the author of “Created for Love: Reflections for the Catholic Bride-to-Be.” She is passionate about the feminine genius, which she explores on her podcast, “Letters to Women.” You can also find her on Instagram at @chloe.langr and on Facebook at the Old Fashioned Girl Blog. When she isn’t buried under a growing stack of books, you can find her in a local coffee shop, spending time with her husband, Joseph, and their daughter, Maeve. 

Victoria Mastrangelo

We often hear the Old Testament adage about God turning our stone hearts into hearts of flesh in the Lenten season. For the longest time, I had no idea what this meant. Surely I didn’t have a heart of stone? How would it become more flesh? It took the love of God–through the love of a friend–to create that transformation in me. 

I didn’t grow up in a very communicative family. Feelings were not something we really ever talked about or addressed. Getting mad at each other was usually resolved by ignoring each other for awhile and then talking again. This is the same attitude and process that I brought into my friendships in middle and high school. 

In high school, I had a few friend groups which made it easy to be prideful and not have to resolve fights. Whenever I felt that I had been wronged, I would vent about it to a different friend group. I was not one to apologize or to even admit that the fight could’ve been caused by anything that I possibly did wrong. I was protected by the pride that surrounded my heart of stone. 

When I got to college, nothing had really changed except that my friend groups merged and there wasn’t really a different place to go if something went wrong. My sophomore year I got into a fight with one of my close friends. A lot of gossip and hurtful words had built up until our friendship broke. I knew it was my fault but refused to face it. It was hard to talk about since our friend group knew most of us and had been following the drama. Summer came and we went our separate ways, not speaking. 

When we returned in the fall, things were still icy. Our friends did their best to hang out with us both separately as much as possible. At one point, my roommate took me aside to try to talk to me about it. She wanted me to really reflect on what had happened and what blame was on me and what a way forward would look like. I remember her saying something like “This isn’t just her fault. We both know you have things to apologize for.” That comment cut me deeply. It was like a fist hitting my stone heart and breaking it open. The flesh, raw underneath, was struggling to come out. 

The thing about my college friends is that they are incredible people. They love in a real way. I was used to superficial and distrustful relationships, easy to break and easy to move on from. This conversation with my roommate helped me to realize that these relationships were different. No one was walking away from me or wanting me to leave. They truly cared and wanted to help me grow into a better person. Things were hard at the moment, but that wasn’t a reason to let go.

Eventually this friend came over to our apartment with my other roommate. My roommate had warned me beforehand, in case I wanted to avoid the situation. She mentioned that she hoped that I would stay and that our friend was hoping I would too. Another fist to the heart of stone, breaking it further open. She came over, we worked on homework, they hung out, and I did my best to participate as least awkwardly as possible. 

Things went as smoothly as they could have. I eventually went up to my room to get ready for bed and was surprised to see an envelope on my pillow. It had my name written on the front in my friend’s handwriting. She had somehow snuck up to our room during that afternoon and laid it there. I opened it to find a letter. She wrote about our friendship, about missing our time and talks together, and ended with a blanket apology. She was sorry for everything and was essentially taking the full weight of responsibility for our fight, for our brokenness. In that moment, I realized the true weight of my own responsibility in the situation. 

The tears came and came. As each round of crying began, I could feel another layer of stone being removed from my heart. Jesus asks us to love our neighbors and to lay down our lives for our friends. Here it was, happening to me, happening for me. My own sin was being absolved in the name of friendship. 

The thing that I most realized moving forward with this, and all of my relationships, was that it wasn’t enough to apologize and to move forward. This gift of friendship required a transformation, a conversion. I could no longer work from the place of pride, the place of blamelessness if this moment was to have truly meant something to me. 

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” This is my favorite line from one of my favorite stories of conversion and sacrifice, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. God had chosen to transform my own heart of stone through the work of another. He reached his loving and merciful hand out to me through a conversation, a hope and a letter. He laid down his life for me on the cross  so that my friends could have the strength to lay down their own pride in humble service and love for me. I still struggle sometimes with this pride, this need to preserve myself by casting blame on others, away from me. However, I now have a point of reference to go back to, a call  that beckons me back to this moment. 

This journey through Lent is about this transformation. Like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, we must allow the mercy we receive to actually transform us. We must let this mercy  move us to be better, to be merciful ourselves and to love others moving forward. We must let our hearts of stone be turned into hearts of flesh, hearts that feel the movements of God’s mercy, hearts that seek God, and hearts that carry his sacrifice to our neighbors. Only with hearts of flesh are we capable of laying down our lives for our friends.

Victoria Mastrangelo is a wife, mother of three, and high school theology teacher in Houston. She loves to read, research, write, drink coffee, and travel. Her dream job is to be a perpetual student. She is a contributor at FemCatholic and can be found on instagram @vimastrangelo.