Bearing Our Own Cross: A Fiat for Easter

Ten years ago this Easter, my husband and I stood in a line in a little Catholic church in Olive Branch, Mississippi.  We wore red felt stoles and felt both flushed and overwhelmed and hot—the first and last point because well, it was Mississippi, and the middle because we were being welcomed into Holy Mother Church (the red stoles were parting gifts).  That line in led up to the priest distributing the Holy Eucharist, and there were but a few people between us and the reception of our first total, intimate communion with Jesus.

For me, it marked the end of a long, strange, painful spiritual journey, and the start of a new, beautiful, glorious one.  Or so I thought.

Looking back, way across the time and space separating me from that woman a decade ago, I marvel at her naiveté.  She thought she had seen it all— all the dark, painful, dirty places a human soul will go to when it wanders without God.  That woman standing there in line to receive our Eucharistic Lord honestly thought she’d never have to bump up against that darkness and loneliness again.

I wish she had been right.

But she wasn’t.

Having come to the faith in my 30s, after years and years of spiritual wandering and abject hatred of Christianity, I figured my heart was finally at rest here in the Catholic Church.  I thought I was somehow untouchable by the scandals and controversies and doubts and daily minutia that cradle Catholics faced.  But then, slowly, with events that unnerved me every time they happened, unease set in.

First was my reaction to the news that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down. I was shocked by my sense of abandonment. It hit me so out of left field that I didn’t know how to process it, and instead shrugged it off. Then, after the initial euphoria following Pope Francis’ ascension to the Throne of Peter wore off, came the increasingly wearisome task of standing firm in my new(ish) faith when sojourners in the secular world misinterpreted his words. A weariness I suspect I’m not alone in, soon gave way to exasperation.

Then came a move to an under-served rural parish.  Two parishes, yolked, sharing a single priest and parish staff- neither up to the task of dealing with one parish, let alone two. There came the sense each Sunday and Holy Day, when my family walked into the church, that we made up a sizable portion of the parish population.  When we sat down in the pews, we upped the total membership of the place by 20%, easily.

There was no religious education to speak of.  The priest, who had only recently come from Poland, half-heartedly led the parish youth through a slap-dash program.  He was visibly relived when I asked him if we could do Sacramental prep through our homeschool curriculum.  I offered to help him teach some of the classes, but he told me that I was already doing enough and didn’t need to take on anything else.

Maybe I should have, though.

I think about Saturdays when my husband and I managed to load all six of the kids into the van to head to Confession—only to find the church locked, with no indication that the Sacrament had been cancelled, or even scheduled in the first place, despite the parish bulletin. I think about Masses when the priest rolled his eyes through the Consecration, tired, burned out, and burdened beyond capacity.

I was starting to feel the same things.  In my personal life, I was starting to grow tired of fighting.  Always fighting.  Swimming upstream and hopefully passing that scrappy nature on to six other human souls.  No help from our local parish.  Little to no help coming from news out of Rome.

It came to the point where I started rethinking this whole conversion. What if I was wrong about this whole Catholic thing?  About this whole God thing?  Ten years ago, I had been so convinced that I was Home.  Capital H Home, where God had painstakingly led me, to the sum total of revealed Truth regarding the nature of the divine.

But that rethinking never sat right with me.  I was there—that faith part wasn’t an error.  But what if I was mistaken about what that homecoming meant?  I had foolishly thought that this safe landing space would mean there was no more doubt, no more spiritual struggling. But what a foolish thought. I had only to look to my spiritual betters—the saints—to learn how wrong I was.

Saints that we know, love and revere have been through this. The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, suffered from this darkness, wondering if anything awaited her upon her death.  Mother Teresa, who took her religious name in honor of the Little Flower, also famously endured this same trial of doubt for decades, constantly searching for the face of Christ in every person she met.  Look back even farther, and you bump into St. John of the Cross, who coined the term “dark night of the soul”, to express the anguish of being when faith in God seems slim.

So at least I was in good company.  But what to do with all of it?  Certainly the saints had some sanctity that they, but not I, could not be assured of, so what else could a body do?

One, I stopped reading secular reports of faith matters, particularly in these days leading up to Easter.  It’s no shocker that the mainstream media tries to cash in on increased religious sentiment during the High Holy Days by launching every poorly researched documentary it’s got in its vaults.  This seems particularly apropos during the reign of Pope Francis who, bless his heart, sincerely tries to meet the secular press where they are.

Two, I made an effort to connect with believers from the first through fourteenth centuries.  If people then were able to learn, internalize, and pass on the faith before the invention of the printing press, then surely I could do my part to share the faith with my little tribe of offspring.  I had to remember that the word “conversion” means “to turn”— as in: to turn away from sin, and put one’s face towards God.  Was this nuance easier for people of the first 14 centuries to understand?  I don’t know.  But I do get the sense that it’s terribly hard for us in the last two centuries to grasp.  How do we turn our faces toward God when there’s this glittering 24 hour news cycle to distract us?

Three, and hardest, I had to start daily making an offering to God.  I’m talking about a radically humble, “God, I believe you brought me this far.  Please continue to lead me through to the end” type prayer.  Holy Mother Church may be riddled with scandal, but—much like we’ve been asked to endure in every age—it’s important for the faithful to remember that God is always with with His Bride and His Bride is always with His people.  This is particularly important to remember when you feel like the Church has left you, somehow, standing behind.

It seems like every year, the Lenten season asks much of the faithful.  To not only undergo an introspective analysis of their lives, to see where God has fallen from Primacy—but to also endure the slings and arrows of the secular world, and to re-make the radical “yes” that the Church asks of us.

This year, the first in a decade, has been the hardest for me to give my fiat, my “yes”.  But by remembering our Lady, some 2000 years ago, and the countless faithful who have followed after her, I’ve been able to summon the courage and energy to give my yes for another year.  And so, this Holy Week 2016, I ask you—are you ready to give God your fiat for another year?

image: Renata Sedmakova /

Cari Donaldson


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a weekly podcast about homesteading at

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  • Maryanne

    Cari, that was good. You mentioned Therese of Lisieux and I experience and struggle with her doubt: I believe because I want to believe. There’s nothing solid there, is there? Only faith suffices.

    Unfortunately lay Catholics generally don’t have ‘spiritual advisers’. My experience is that when I go to confession I receive stones instead of bread. The priest simply isn’t interested in my distress that prayer is barren.

    I commend you for your faithfulness, Cari. So what keeps you faithful to Catholicism?

    I’m almost at the point of giving up and embracing the eastern orthodox churches. Why? Because they don’t let arrogant young people stuff around with the liturgy for starters – which happened at Vatican2, didn’t it.

  • Kathy

    Wonderful realization, kind of like marriage- when it’s good it’s good when it’s bad – carry on. We grow up in our faith and when all things fall away we have to love God for Himself alone. Bless you for a heart of loyalty.

  • Cari Donaldson

    Honestly, Maryanne, I think Kathy’s comment up there just helped me solidify why I stay.

    Remember when disciples were dropping like flies because Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they wanted or expected or thought they needed? I look back at them, from my comfortable seat 2000 years later, and roll my eyes at their arrogance. Their lack of vision.

    But what if that’s what I’m doing? What if because the Church wasn’t what I wanted or expected or think I need, I leave? Even to go to an eastern orthodox church- while, as I understand it, still have valid sacraments, but reject the primacy of Peter. That’s got to be worth something, right? IDK. I just can’t shake the image of those disciples, rejecting Jesus when their illusions were shattered.

    Anyway, have a blessed Holy Week. I’ll be praying for you. Please pray for me.

  • David

    Nice article and certainly something in this for me, especially as we count down the days until Easter. Thank you for sharing so openly. It would be remiss of me to focus on what is a small point in such an open and honest reflection but I do have to ask: “Why damn Pope Francis with such faint praise?” There seems to be a sense that you are underwhelmed by our current Pontiff and I am surprised: it would seem that he is offering the kind of leadership our Church needs and the kind of inspiration that points is always towards God and the servant heart of Jesus. That’s what the Year of Mercy is about – how we can be merciful towards others in the same way God is merciful towards us. I wonder though if we find it easier to extend mercy towards ‘others’ who are distant but not to those closest to us, including our leaders (a priest or a pontiff is such an easy target because we feel we know them, warts and all) and even ourselves. Part of the mercy experience is about recognising that we are so much more than our doubts and sins. Have a happy and holy Easter and pray for me, a sinner, as I will pray for you and your family. God bless…

  • Anonymous

    Those who are tempted to leave The Church can read the Novena of Divine Mercy ,
    Day 5 , where in The Lord talks about the separated brethren as those who tear at The Lord’s Body , during The Passion ;

    If one has been blessed to be in The Church, the temptation to leave can be used well, by praying WITH those who are separated or even hate The Church from centuries old animosities , asking for mercy , ‘on us’ ( for we too might be still separated in our spirit from all that The Lord desire for us )
    and adoring The Lord with them , in the spirit .

    Those of us in The Church , who are thus blessed to be given the means of true unity with Him , thus have the privilege of adoring The Lord, with all , in spirit , including with the Holy Father , but esp. with those in one’s own family and that might be the best means of avoiding frictions .

    Seeing oneself with Magdalene and all others in one’s life at the feet of
    The Risen Lord , adoring Him, that one attitude to predominate all others , in one’s thoughts about others and thus one would know if one has truly been able to love or have grudges against others that keep one from being in that spiritual unity .

    There might even be hidden deep familial spirit of grudges against The Church that has not been dealt with, by asking for mercy on all such as well .

    Coming from that strength of adoration , in spirit of unity with others , esp with. that priest as well, because through Him, The Lord gives the family the means and grace to join in praise and adoration , at every Holy Mass along with the whole of heaven , thus to undo countless omissions in one’s life and family lines .

    True mercy might be seeing and blessing all in one’s life with the true goal of our lives – to be a people of praise and adoration ; The Church , in Her fidelity to The Spirit , thus being bestowed with that gift to the best , helps us to do so to the best – by bringing all to Him , to thus adore The Father , with all , esp. at every Holy Mass ..

    Even the Rosary , asking The Mother to pray for us – She might be doing so for us and all in our lives as well .

    God Bless us all and have mercy on us all that we get to adore Him , with all in our lives !

  • It can be painfully hard to give our fiat in the midst of suffering – whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. There have been times I hold on to the choice I made to become Catholic and my prayer is the Creed, “I believe in God.” All I know, is like Peter, “Lord, where would I go? I have come to believe that you are the Christ. You alone have the words of eternal life.” It’s not always comfortable, or what I expect, but every moment God is wrapping His mercy around our misery. I believe.

  • noelfitz

    thanks for a brilliant article. Your honesty and courage are inspiring.
    I am a cradle Catholic and the going can be tough. I felt encouraged by the article, as I now see I am not alone going through tough patches.
    I admired B XVI for retiring. I think it is wrong for any organization to be run by people who are sick and too old. I also admire Francis greatly, even though not all do. I think there is no need for people to tell us he does not mean what he says.
    Our Church is a Holy Church, made up of unholy people.
    So let us pray for each other and hang on.

  • Kris Williams Harper

    you do not know just how much I needed to hear this today. Thank you for your insightful post!

  • Andrea

    A friend shared what someone had told him after he converted, wanted to join the priesthood and was told to wait for a year or so before trying to enter the seminary. He was told, “You have seen us in our richness and you say you love us. You now see us in our poverty. Do you love us still?”