Blessed – how sacramental reality brings peace

Yesterday my house was blessed.

Friends gathered. The priest came with stohl and holy water. We walked through the house, prayed words, crossed ourselves. And the house was blessed.

After everyone was gone, leftover cheese wrapped tightly, dishes washed, chairs set back around the table — after it all, I paused. And for one moment I felt the old anxiety. Did I mean it enough? Did I feel it enough? Is my house really blessed?


I was 10 years old the winter I was baptized. I stood in the pool, freezing. Said yes to the pastor’s questions. Emerged shivering and wet.

I was 10 years old. The following years were chaotic. Again and again I was questioned: did you really mean your baptism? Or did you just get wet?

How was I to know? I was 10. I was scared of hell. I wanted to belong in church. I wanted to please my parents.

Well, did you have true saving faith?

I searched my heart, my soul. I couldn’t find the answer. I did want to be baptized. I did want to be a Christian. Did I believe all the right things? No – but who does? I’m sure I still don’t have everything right.

Had you repented?

Of what? How thoroughly? I still sinned – a lot. There were some sins I just couldn’t shake. But I tried really hard to be good. Did that count? Was it enough?

After fifteen years of being questioned, of questioning myself, I gave up. If I hadn’t really been baptized – meaning, if I hadn’t meant and believed all the right things at the time I was baptized – then, I was repeatedly told, I needed to be baptized. If I had been baptized . . . well, I figured getting dunked wouldn’t offend God too much. So, at 25 years old I stood in a much warmer lake, answered yes to the same questions, and emerged dripping and relieved.


A year later I walked into an Anglican church. I watched babies get baptized. I smiled as little children cupped their hands to receive communion. I witnessed adults renew their baptismal vows. I joined with the congregation on the feast days, renewing our vows, receiving the sprinkled reminder of our own baptisms. Slowly, deep peace settled in me.

Sacraments are real. All the introspective diligence of my earlier years is unnecessary. Communion, baptism – they are realities independent of me, of my changing emotions, thoughts, beliefs and moods. Did I have all the right intentions and beliefs when I was baptized at age 10? at age 25? On the deepest level, it does’t matter. I was baptized. Such comfort!

It is to that peace I now return. My mind wandered yesterday. My heart did not fully enter into prayer. I was distracted, tired, distant. But my house was blessed. Neither prayer nor holy water draws its efficacy from my mental state. The Lord hears.

Let this dwelling be made holy; let every unclean spirit depart, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ: May health, joy, and cheerfulness be given to those who live here, and may your divine Majesty ever protect and preserve them. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Truth Is a Person

As we make the Spiritual Exercises we ask for various graces. Recently I have been asking for the grace to admire people.

It started with a seemly simple assignment a couple weeks ago: List the people you admire, people you would like to imitate.

I had a hard time making that list. In fact, it took me a week to think of one person that I very conditionally admired and might want to imitate in certain aspects.

I could, however, quite easily list qualities that I admire, skills that I want to develop, and character traits I would like to emulate. That’s not what I’d been asked to list, but I figured it was something, so I started writing:

courageous, fierce, just
joyful, spontaneous, still
voiced, diligent, kind, gentle
nurturing, loving, blessing
patient, laughing
feeling emotions, open to God
generous, honest, humble
open to people, open with time

As I wrote “open to people” the Spirit nudged me:

“Embody, Helen –
not theory, never pure virtue –
‘I am the truth.’
Embody.”

“I am . . . the truth.”

Jesus’ claim shakes me.

It wouldn’t bother me if Jesus said, “I always tell the truth,” or “I live an honest life.” Those statements would fit my understanding of reality. But “I am the truth”?

I tend toward idealism. I don’t mean that I tend to set impossibly high standards (though I do that too). I mean I tend to think that ultimate reality is in ideas and thought, to value a concept above a person, and to think of truth and love as abstract.

Basically, I tend to think that there’s an ultimate standard of goodness that God conforms to and is, therefore, good.

In so doing, I idolize goodness; I idolize my understanding of goodness; I idolize my understanding.

Then Jesus steps in and says, “I am the truth.”

And my idol crumbles, vaporizes, vanishes in thin air. Truth is a person.

I am undone.

I want to love this person, admire this person, emulate this person. I want out of the idealized world where flesh and blood are shadows. I want to live in physical reality. I want to enter stories, not theories. I want to admire people, not ideas. I want to know Truth.