Franciscan Spirit Blog

Christ along the Periphery

People watching the sunset | Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

I understand that perhaps I qualify as a “religious weirdo” or, more accurately, in the words of Francis, I’m a holy fool. As I write, a familiar instrumental jazz song swings on WWUH and it takes me a bit to recognize what it is; it’s the old Doobie Brothers song from 1979, one of the most devastating years of my former blackout life: “What a Fool Believes.”

I am still reluctant, ambivalent, in sharing how I love looking right at Jesus. The change is within me: I can no longer keep him on the periphery of my sigh. I meant to tap out: keep him on the periphery of my sight. How I love this possibility of him being there, too, on the edge of my sighing.

I live in a world of typos. Recently I crossed paths with an image of a twelfth-century fresco in Austria, and when writing about Jesus taking that first loaf, I claimed the child “still held four loves in his arms.” Four Loves. All the mistakes that I make, all the mix-ups, the missteps, still leading me, perhaps, into the loaves, beyond sighing.

• • •

Whoever he is, he’s ineffable and boundless. Or so it seems to me. When I’m scared of putting my faith out into the world, when I hear myself lament, “I never wanted to end up this way,” what I’m saying is that I never planned on writing the truth of how I’ve always needed to find his face, to turn it toward me. The Sacred Heart I keep near my bed sees me with eyes of love, acceptance, tenderness, hope, grounding. I always will have a hungry part, that baby I once was, arms reaching up. In the decades I’ve lived since being in a crib, the decades since carrying babies of my own, my need has only gotten deeper. The more heartache I’ve suffered and the more suffering I’ve witnessed, what I need most is someone—a brother, Jesus; a mother, Mary—who will never leave me.

No matter how or why it’s happened, these three words, gather the fragments, elicit within me a desire to protect them, the surest sign of love. Fragments have a bad reputation that they’re less than, incomplete, surpassed. But bread is both whole and made to be broken open, honoring the parts of us sullied and hurt, with a center of untouched purity that has never known disappointment or violence or betrayal.

• • •

I am driving down the road toward my favorite walking site. It’s humid, but nothing like it was yesterday. I’m overwhelmed. I can’t even finish reading any articles right now. International news, social issues, issues of faith. Just as one violent or tumultuous news story recedes, the next one appears. I live in a scorched world. What can I bring? I try to be true in who I am, clear in my refusal to give in to cynicism. I don’t talk of Christ, though, not outside of church. I code-switch all the time. I offer freely, in many conversations, “I have a very deep faith,” but I don’t often mention Jesus. I keep him as a hidden indwelling, like my heartbeat; he’s there, soft—can anyone hear it?

The fragments of love are not lost, scattered things, but are within me as I drive the S-shaped road I’ve driven down hundreds of times before. The miracle speaks into the scarcity in me, reaching at last to the place of enough. Why didn’t he create just exactly what everyone in the crowd that day needed? Certainly he could have. Why was there extra, so much?

I think the unequivocal answer is: he never measures and weighs, doesn’t count, keep score, or tally what is given. He just gives. A feeling wells up and overtakes me: He just wants to feed all of us. And before I know it, I’m crying, envisioning the people around the world with our divisions disappearing. Billions and billions of us with no labels, no names, no groups, no separations. Just all of us, human beings, calling out together on this planet. Can you hear our canticle?

Gather the Fragments by Maureen O'Brien

21 thoughts on “Christ along the Periphery”

  1. Hi Maureen!

    I too have had many occurrences of “typos” in my life. I believe those are the times God is speaking to us, and for us, when we just can’t seem to get our true selves to the surface.

    I could go on and on about similarities in my life of occurrences and feelings and thoughts, with your life and the things you’ve described. That shows me we are all truly on the same journey together. We only notice different things on the journey at different times, but it’s all alright when we remember we are not alone.

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful true self!


    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Much thanks Leon for your feedback and sharing of connected experiences! I love hearing about the typos especially!

    2. A week ago, I was watching a TV show, when two Mormons were knocking on my door. They wanted to talk religion with me, but I wanted to get back to my TV show, so I sent them on their way.

      But as I was rethinking about that experience, I doubt whatever I said to them would have made a difference. In fact, the only difference I can really make to others about my faith is by my own witness to being a good Catholic. The more I’m closer to my true authentic self, the more likely other people will take note.

      I remember going to a funeral a month or so ago, and the wife was an authentic Catholic and her two Mormon nieces were there. Now, I thought to myself, if this aunt of those two Mormon women couldn’t impress those Mormons as to converting them to the Catholic faith, then no one could.

  2. Excellent article. Thanks so much for sharing. Really hit home for me 200% God’s grace and love always holds us all in His everloving Presence hopefully one day when we reach our Heavenly Father. Lord Jesus remember me in your Kingdom, just like the good thief Dismas. Amen ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ????

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Danno, I appreciate what you are saying, because this chapter was one of the hardest for me to publish/go public with in the new book! I never took a risk quite like this before and so it’s wonderful to hear it worked! Thank you!

  3. Suzanne English

    I have never read Maureen O’Brien before, but I feel like I’ve just met a kindred spirit. Thank you for sharing this honest, beautiful reflection. Oh, that we could all stop applying labels, stop building walls and just love the people we meet each day!

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Much appreciation that you took the time to comment here. I acknowledge you walking alongside me in the longing for unity and connection in the world! –Maureen

  4. Terrence Sullivan

    Wow! Maureen you are so Irish. That was beautiful. I could so relate to your melancholy. I embraced it and will hold it in my heart. I especially felt that need for someone, a sister, a mother, a brother, Jesus. To physically and spiritually hold me. Well done! I hope you are some ones Anam Cara. Respond if possible.

  5. “…the unequivocal answer is: he never measures and weighs, doesn’t count, keep score, or tally what is given. He gives.” Your thoughts, Maureen, remind me of one of my favorite quotes of Thomas Merton: “God doesn’t see the score or scorekeeper; only His little child redeemed in Grace.” And my soul sings! Thank you.

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Oh my, I too am a huge Merton fan, but I never heard this quote before! I love it. Thank you!

  6. Dear Maureen and all the others Dear people who have commented!
    This article also moved me as did all of your comments. This AM as I did my morning prayers, before I had even read this article (I am reading it hours later!), I had prayed to God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Mother Mary….feeling so unworthy yet telling them what I would like to do is to ask them to hold me, to feel them holding me and helping me but that I was feeling so unworthy. There are times when I hear or read the news locally and nationally and worldly it is just so hard to believe what I hear or read. To the point I told my husband that I would be ready to move from the state I live in for all that is happening here! I have told others in encouragement “He is ALWAYS with you” but there are times I have to tell and remind myself as well. But here you all are right now with words encouraging me and that means that HE/
    THEY are as well…..Yes! He is with us always!

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      It’s brave, Joanne, to share about feeling unworthy–I have struggled with that as well. But I love your inclusion of knowing God is with you…for me, it’s Psalm 139 all the way! Blessings to you!

  7. Catherine Marie

    Maureen!!! This is absolutely beautiful!!!! I love how the seemingly “imperfections” turn out to have spiritual insight! So cool when The Holy Spirit reveals those type ( seriously, no pun intended there. I just caught it myself!) of things!!
    But that last paragraph about brought me to tears. Just beautiful. Thank you

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      It’s so generous of you to take the time to comment! I truly appreciate the enthusiastic feedback! ????

      1. Dear Maureen, I just read today’s blog (May 2) and found your reply to my past comment. I felt I wanted to tell you one more thing after reading what you wrote back to me.Psalm 139……it means a lot to me and it has special meaning because my Mom had lost 2 babies in pregnancy. One baby son was during her first pregnancy, then she conceived again and had my brother. Then she conceived again and sadly lost a daughter during pregnancy. She was told she would not have any more children…..and Here I am! My brotherTony is about 7years older then me. My parents were such a gift to us. I miss them always. God bless you …. He has blessed us too through your ministry to us! Warm regards, Joanne

        1. Maureen O'Brien

          Joanne, this story gave me goosebumps. I so appreciate this exchange! I read your message several times, just thinking about what your mother went through! I am so touched by how Psalm 139 connects to your life–and how God has been with you and everyone in your family. Thank you for making my day with this faith-filled story.

          1. ❤️????????❤️. Thank you but most of all we need to thank our God that He wanted me to share this. There have been times in my life when I know what I shared or said and had prayed to him for His help definitely was said or heard according to His will. I thank Him for that and try to relate the thanks goes to Him and not me. His will be done. May you feel His love and blessings always! – Joanne

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