If You’ve Been Hurt By the Church: An Open Letter

****CW: clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church****

Bonjour, mes amis. I’ve got some things to say.

A few weeks ago, when the grand jury report on decades of clerical sexual abuse in several Catholic dioceses throughout Pennsylvania was released, I was disgusted, furious, grieved, heartbroken, every negative emotion under the sun. Admittedly, I’ve stayed pretty quiet on social media about these events. I simply didn’t know what I could add to the conversation as a lay woman (i.e. not a member of the clergy) without a theology degree or any experience in church management.

If you came to this open letter looking for my A-B-C solution to cure this cancer that has pervaded my beloved Church, I don’t have one for you. I’m here to speak to a group of people that the discourse seems to have largely ignored: the survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and people who have left or are considering leaving the Catholic Church due to previous abuse, rejection or neglect.

If you belong to this group of people, or if you are simply looking at your screen right now wondering, “Vicky, how can you possibly still be Catholic?”, this letter is for you.

What happened to you is not. your. fault.

God has not forgotten you.

God does not hate you.

God wants you here.

God willed you into existence. 

God is an all-perfect, all-loving God, no matter what anyone who claims to represent Him does.

God looks at you with nothing but unconditional love, love that would never manipulate you, hurt you, or look to take something away from you.

If someone who claims to be Christian or Catholic has hurt you in any way, God weeps with you. Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 18:10)

If you’ve been wondering whether the Catholic Church even cares about you, here’s your answer: I care. God cares. Jesus cares. Mother Mary cares.

I see you if you are a survivor of sexual abuse, clerical or otherwise, and the news cycle for the past few weeks has been very triggering to you.

I see you if you are justifiably angry and hurt and are considering leaving or have already left the Catholic Church.

I see you if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and someone from the Church has rejected you or abused you.

I see you. I weep with you. I stand with you. I love you.

God sees you. God stands with you. God loves you.

Now, a side note to my fellow Catholics: On the day the grand jury’s report was released, I happened to discover Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast Revisionist HistoryToward the end of Season 1, Ep. 9, Gladwell says, “You must respect the body you are trying to heal.”

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see the Church referred to as the Body of Christ. When one part of the body is sick, it affects all of us. Yes, we need to fight tirelessly to cure the disease of sexual abuse in our Church. But in our healing efforts, let us not forget the members of Christ’s Body who have been the most hurt by these crimes.

This is not a PR problem. This is not a theological debate. This is not the time to find a scapegoat. Real people are hurting. In all likelihood, someone in your circle of acquaintance, maybe even someone in your family or close friend group, has experienced abuse at the hands of a member of the clergy. They need Catholics to rise up and be Catholic now more than ever.

I know definitely of one or two people in my life who have been hurt by the Church, and I’m sure there are countless others that I’m not aware of. My call to my beloved Catholic Church is to reach out to those people. Let them know that they can talk openly and honestly to you, without fear of judgment.

For the people in my sphere of influence, you can talk to me. I will listen to you. I will weep with you. More importantly, I will believe you.

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” – Chaplet of Divine Mercy

– Vicky

#1. Prove yourself wrong.

When I decided to start my Confidence Project, I did a bit of market research from several bloggers and YouTubers that I enjoy to hear what they had to say about confidence.

Granted, many of these voices are Christian or Catholic ones, so most of their advice comes from scripture and is more big-picture focused: “Know that your value comes from God.” “Trust in the Lord and rely not on your own understanding.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And so on and so forth.

On the other hand, I was also getting big-picture advice from more secular, mainstream voices: “Fake it till you make it.” “Ignore the haters.” “What’s wrong with being, what’s wrong with being, what’s wrong with being confident?” (Thanks Demi Lovato.)

I’m not saying this advice isn’t well-meaning. My thoughts on these maxims could make a whole other post. However, when I have tried to follow this advice, it has always escaped me when I needed it the most. In moments when I’m overwhelmed by a world that values me based on my relationship status and my salary, it’s difficult to believe that my worth is found in God alone. When I feel immense pressure to please everyone else, I can’t bring myself to ignore the haters.

What I needed was a list of action-oriented, concrete, and practical rules in order to battle against the waves of insecurity and self-doubt in the moment. I called them my Golden Rules of Confidence. I didn’t want to make an arbitrary list at the beginning of the year and try to apply it to the rest of the year. I wanted this list to be a compilation of truths I discovered along the way.

Little-known fact about me: I have a Ph.D. in Self-Criticism. I’m sure many of you can relate. To be fair, examining your conscience is a good skill to have, but constant negative self-talk has no place in authentic confidence.

Recently, during a stressful day at work, I found myself falling down the negativity black hole when suddenly, the First Golden Rule came to me: Prove yourself wrong.

When people talk about the negative voice in your head, that voice often uses “you”: You are stupid. You are ugly. You’re a failure. When the negative voice in my head talks, it uses “I”: I am stupid. I am ugly. I am a failure. I realized that in order to overcome my self-criticism habits, I didn’t need to prove myself to other people, I needed to prove myself to myself.

I wrote my First Golden Rule on a post-it and stuck it to my work laptop. Seeing that note every day has made a huge difference. I used to get so overwhelmed with feeling that I would never get all my work done that I gave up before I began. Now when I think, “I’ll never get all this done!” I immediately say, “Prove yourself wrong.” And my work gets done! Even if I don’t cross everything off my to-do list, I feel so much more confident at the end of the day.

This Golden Rule also works when I make excuses for not doing something I should be doing. “I’m too tired to wake up now.” “I’m too busy to go to Mass today.” “It’s too late, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Prove. Yourself. Wrong.

I encourage you to try out this Golden Rule for yourself. Let me know how it goes for you. I’m no confidence expert, but a well-meaning blogger trying to figure it out.

Prove yourself wrong. It’s easier than you think.

À bientôt!

Vicky

The Confidence Project

Bonne année, mes amis!

It’s that time of year again to make lofty resolutions for the year ahead, fantasize about  your brand-spankin’ new self ringing in the new year 12 months later, and then scrap your plans by the first week in February. Or maybe that’s just me.

As I thought about my resolutions for 2018, I realized that many of them were goals I had made in the past but never accomplished or even attempted. What was holding me back from being the person I wanted to be? The answer was simple: confidence.

For most of my life, I’ve had an aversion to the idea of being a confident person. I believed the word “confident” was synonymous with words like “selfish,” “aggressive,” “overbearing,” and “conceited.” These were the traits the popular kids in high school displayed, and surely they were confident, right? And more recently, I have found that in the theater world and the working world, the louder, more competitive, and more obnoxious you are, the more confident you seem. As a result of these experiences, I associated being confident with being narcissistic, entitled, and all-around insufferable.

Now, I know, and probably all of you know deep down, that this is not authentic confidence. However, I couldn’t even give you a non-cliché definition of authentic confidence here, at least not yet. This is where The Confidence Project comes in.

This project and its title are inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s 2009 book The Happiness Project. One of my best friends lent it to me in December, and even though I’m only halfway through it, I’m hooked. For those of you who haven’t read it, Rubin describes the year she spent studying how to be happier. For each of the twelve months, she focused on a specific area of her life in which she wanted to be happier (marriage, career, parenting, etc.), and set three to five resolutions for the month aimed at increasing happiness in that area.

My nerdy, scatterbrained self thought this strategy was both brilliant and manageable. Instead of trying to become more confident in all areas of my life overnight, I could focus on one area at a time.

So, in short, that’s what I’m doing this year. I’m dedicating each month to a different area of my life in which I want to grow in confidence. I’m not going to make any big promises about how I’m going to document this journey on this blog, only that I will try to do so.

In the spirit of this challenge, I’d love to know: What makes you feel authentically confident? Let me know in the comments below.

New year, new start. Let’s do this.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

 

I’m Not That Girl, and That’s OK

Today, I was trying to decide which picture I should share on Instagram in honor of International Day of the Girl. I remembered a photo a friend had taken of me this past summer in Fatima, Portugal during the nightly Candlelight Rosary procession. I’m juggling a lit candle, my Rosary beads, and my notebook of prayer intentions that I collected before I left (a huge thank you to all who contributed prayer requests!) I thought, “Perfect! What better photo could I share on the Day of the Girl than me praying to the greatest girl that ever lived, Mama Mary?”

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But I felt like just sharing that image would be ignoring part of the story. If anyone saw that picture, they might assume I’m a perfect little Catholic girl who prays her Rosary every day.

The truth is, I’m not.

Even after going to the place where our Blessed Mother appeared multiple times to three peasant children telling them to pray the Rosay daily, my relationship with the Rosary is complicated. Yes, I have prayed multiple 54-day novenas over the past two years, but it never came easy to me, and there were often days or weeks when I would skip it entirely. I’ve always had a great love for and fascination with Mary, but sometimes praying the Rosary feels like doing the dishes; I don’t like it, but I do it because my (heavenly) mom asked me to.

I’m not proud of this. I envy people who have a deep devotion to the Rosary and can pray it daily as easily as breathing. I want to be that girl that thrives on praying the Rosary daily, but sometimes I think, “Wait, I have to pray how many Hail Marys?! Forget it. This is too hard.” And then I feel ashamed, feeling like I missed another mark on the “Perfect Catholic Girl” list.

You may not be Catholic, but I know you’ve got your own “Perfect Girl” list. I also know how infuriating it can be when you don’t live up to it. “I was doing so good not eating sugar. Why did I have to have that cookie?” “Why don’t I have my master’s degree yet?” “Why am I the only one of my friends who’s still single?” “Everyone else seems to have their life in order. Why can’t I get it right?”

Chasing perfection is a dangerous and destructive journey; believe me, I’ve been at it for 25 years. And everyone, I mean everyone, considers themselves “not good enough” in some capacity. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be learning and growing every day, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up because we fall short of some impossible standard we created in our own heads. We’ve heard it a million times, but we all need to be reminded of it, including me, because I’m pretty terrible at following my own advice.

So on today, the International Day of the Girl, let’s put down the burden of living up to everyone’s expectations of what we should be. Let’s stop trying to be that girl and instead focus on being ourselves. 

You, my sister, are enough. Not you smarter, not you richer, not you 10 pounds lighter, not you plus a significant other, not you with all life’s questions figured out. You, right now, are enough.

A quote that has been shared multiple times today is from the philosopher and saint Edith Stein: “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.” The world doesn’t need your resume, or your body, or your Instagram likes. The world needs you. 

It needs you creating in the best way you know how. It needs you giving in the best way you know how. It needs you fighting for justice in the best way you know how. It needs you leading in the best way you know how. It needs you persevering in the best way you know how. It needs you loving in the best way you know how. Most importantly, it needs you being YOU in the best way you know how.

Happy International Day of the Girl to all the amazing girls and women in my life and reading this blog. You are loved. You are enough.

À bientôt! 

– Vicky

For the Days You Feel Like a Louis

 

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I think we’re talking about the guy in the turtleneck, right? (Source: TV Tropes)

To be honest, I know very little about the artists formerly known as One Direction. I knew a few of their songs and knew my cousin had a crush on the one who dated Taylor Swift, but that was about it. I was a sophomore in college by the time their first album came out, so I was not their target audience. (No shade to any college-age Directioners out there!)

When I saw this past week that the Guardian had interviewed former 1D member Louis Tomlinson, I almost scrolled past. But the headline stopped me: “Niall is lovely, Zayn has the voice, Harry is cool, Liam gets the crowd going … then there’s me.”

Then there’s me.

Tomlinson and his fellow boy-banders were on top of the world for a good few years. They churned out one hit song after another, sold out stadiums worldwide, and were hounded by millions of screaming preteen and teenage fans.

And yet, Tomlinson did not feel valuable. In the Guardian interview, he says, “You know I didn’t sing a single solo on the X Factor [the show by which 1D was formed] … But when you actually think about how that feels, standing on stage every single week, thinking: ‘What have I really done to contribute here? Sing a lower harmony that you can’t really hear in the mix?’”

I never thought I’d say this, but I can totally relate to this multimillionaire/former boy band member. How often have we looked around at our friends and coworkers and classmates and felt insignificant or overlooked? “Why did he get that promotion and I didn’t?” “She gets all the guys and I haven’t had a date in two years.” “Why bother trying? No one ever notices me anyway.”

When I did high school theatre, I used to joke that I always played “the crazy old lady who dies at the end,” i.e. not the ingenue. While I really enjoyed playing the crazy character parts, I had a desperate desire to be the young, pretty lead. Like any high school girl, I wanted other people to tell me I was beautiful, talented and worthy of singing power ballads in a flowy white dress. And since I never got the lead, no matter how hard I worked, I thought I must not be beautiful enough or skinny enough or talented enough for people to want to spend a whole evening looking at me. I must not matter.

I carried that resentment into my community theatre career as an adult. One night, I was talking with a few of my castmates about our high school theatre days. As usual, I joked about always playing the crazy old lady, but the lead actress in the show could sense the bitterness behind my laugh. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know why you always got those parts? Because you had talent. You look around at all the girls who played the young, pretty ingenue in high school. They’re not getting cast now, and you still are.”

She was right. The majority of the kids who got the lead roles in my high school are not performing anymore. You know who still is? The ensemble, the supporting cast, the kids who lurked behind the shiny lead actors, honing their craft and learning from every single role, even if they only had one line. Many of them have gone on to play lead roles, or their own dream roles, after high school. If they had given up in high school, they would have missed so many opportunities to shine.

Similarly, while band members Harry Styles and Zayn Malik got most of the media attention, Tomlinson used his time out of the direct spotlight wisely. According to the interview, he learned how to negotiate with managers and label executives backstage, which led him to start his own record label. He also became a father, the first member of the band to do so. On top of all this, he just released his debut solo single and is working on new music.

It’s difficult to say where Tomlinson’s career goes from here. Perhaps he will “make it” as a solo artist, maybe not. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years, he’s the “it” record producer that everyone in the music industry is dying to work with. In any case, 1D was not Tomlinson’s time to shine, but that doesn’t mean his future is dim.

If you’re feeling like a Louis in your own life, don’t despair. Nothing is permanent in this life, even boy bands. Find that one thing that fills you up, and become an expert at it. Learn about the behind-the-scenes processes. Take every opportunity as a chance to grow. Be humble. Ask questions. Make mistakes. Remember that the current situation you’re in is not your end point.

My favorite quote attributed to St. Catherine of Siena is, “Become who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” This, in essence, is what truly makes you beautiful.

À bientôt !

– Vicky  

 

Why I Get Excited About Lent

Many self-improvement programs feature a 30-day challenge (30 days of fitness, clean eating, life organization, you name it.)

I myself am in the midst of a 40-day challenge, the same one I do every year. It’s called Lent.

Growing up Catholic, Lent was generally seen as a dreaded period of depravity. Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, as you prefer) was usually celebrated in my family by a trip to Wendy’s to stuff our faces with burgers and Frostys before the long 40 days of meatless Fridays and no chocolate. As a kid, you were pressured to “give up” something you loved for Lent, and there was always that one smart aleck in your CCD class who boldly declared he was giving up school for Lent.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to understand that Lent is just as much about what you add as what you subtract.

My first serious foray into doing something extra for Lent was my senior year of college, when I followed the 40-day devotional outlined in Katherine Becker’s book, “The Dating Fast.” (For my blog series on this book, click here.) Though I didn’t know it at the time, this book laid the groundwork for my hunger to learn more about the Catholic faith, and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in particular. And it all began with me following my God-given curiousity and typing “dating fast” into Google! Granted, I still have a loooooooooooooooooooong way to go in my discovery of TOB. However, without that “little something extra” for Lent, I wouldn’t have started on the journey.

Lent is not the end. It is the beginning of renewal, of conversion, of realizing more fully our God-given potential for greatness.

This year, I found myself less excited for Mardi Gras and more excited for Ash Wednesday, or as I like to call it, Catholic Awareness Day. I had my Lenten sacrifices and “somethings extra” all planned out, and I was so ready for the challenge. More than anything, I was excited to see what kind of person God could mold me into in 40 days. Instead of looking at Lent as a miserable period of depravity, I felt like someone about to start Whole30 or P90X. What could I, by God’s grace working in me, become in just 40 days?

Some of you reading this post may be thinking, “That’s great, Vicky, but Lent is more than halfway over. And I’ve already caved and ate a huge piece of chocolate cake yesterday.” All I have to say is that Lent isn’t over yet. Remember that talk we had about New Year’s Resolutions? The same applies to Lent. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to try again.

If you can’t get into the spirit of the season, think of the last three weeks of Lent as an extra challenge. Get back on track with the goals you made on Ash Wednesday. Maybe set a new goal for yourself, even something small, like doing one random act of kindness every day. These next three weeks are Catholic crunch time, preparing for the most glorious celebration of our Church year: Easter Sunday!

Are you in? I’m in.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

The Purpose of Unexpected Joy

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy 2016!

Despite growing up 25 miles away from New York City, I never spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, much to the chagrin of my European friends. I never felt a desire to stand in the cold for 10 hours in the middle of a drunken mob, waiting for an event that was over in a blink. This year, being a part-time New Yorker changed that.

One of my friends from my NYC Catholic book club was the organizer of an annual New Year’s Eve party at St. Malachy’s Church, one block away from Times Square. I expected a fun night with a few good friends. Little did I know that God wanted to give me an NYC afternoon adventure with a new friend from out of town, a sparkly disco ball mask to wear, Mass in a beautiful church, drinks and dancing, and the crown jewel of the evening: getting to pass through the police barricade around Times Square and watch the ball drop in person with a million rejoicing people and probably a billion pieces of confetti.

I never asked for it, but God decided to give His little girl one last gift to celebrate the end of the year.

Today, I kept asking myself why I of all people received such unexpected joy at the end of the year. A few weeks ago, my book club discussed the purpose and beauty of suffering, how it can shape us into better people and teach us to rely more heavily on God, among other things. After this discussion, I expected God would bring some suffering in my life in order to put these ideas into practice. But the end of my year was so joyful that I got a little confused. 

Of course, this is only the first day of 2016. A lot of suffering can happen in the near future. But is there a purpose to joy? Are we supposed to just appreciate joy, or is there a responsibility that comes with joy?

The comparison between my average expectations for the evening and what I experienced reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from his book The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about … when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We often don’t expect to find joy because we don’t think we deserve it. We’re not miserable, so we don’t need anything to bring us joy. We’re just moving through life trying to get it all done, and that’s enough for us. Besides, why should we be so happy when so many people in the world are suffering? But those who have experienced deep joy know that it’s impossible to hide. It shows in your face and your smile and your eyes, and other people can see it.

That’s the great responsibility that comes with the great power of joy: to let our joy spill over into the lives of others, to use our light to cast out, even partially, someone else’s darkness. One of my coworkers told me recently, “Your smile is the first thing I see when I walk into the office, and I know it’s going to be a good day.” In 2016, I hope to continue to bring joy to others, no matter what suffering I may have to face.

God doesn’t just want us to feel “fine,” he wants to give us joy! Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.” So as we move into 2016, I challenge you to expect joy. Expect love. Expect positivity. Expect laughter. Expect friendship. And when you or someone you know is in a tough situation, use your joy to make a difference.

Thank you to all who have followed this blog for the past three years. I wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to making 2016 the best year yet!

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on this blog every Friday. Share your resolutions in the comments below!