My Ars

My Ars

St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars. Not just one time, either, but multiple times. He wanted to leave Ars for the peace and solitude of a monastic life. And while I lack the great holiness and fervor found in the Cure d’Ars, I definitely identify with his desires to leave the world behind and live quietly removed from the chaos.

My spiritual director reminded me that St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars as we meandered down the sidewalk.

“So this high school is my Ars, huh?”

“Yes,” he replied, “there are a few similarities there it seems.”

“He died there, didn’t he?” I said, in an attempt at wry melodrama.

He paused for a moment as my imagination latched onto the idea of decades spent at this one high school, right up until the moment of my death. (I’m a melancholic–we consider death often.)

“You might not physically die at school, but, yes, I think you will die there.”

Continue reading “My Ars”

The Church Showed Up Again

The Church Showed Up Again

Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.

The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.

That did not happen.

As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.

The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.

Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.

Continue reading “The Church Showed Up Again”

Fifteen Years of Learning to Let Go

Fifteen Years of Learning to Let Go

Last week, fifteen years ago, my sister entered a Carmelite cloister.

At the beginning of the school day, I sat for a couple minutes, looking at my calendar announcing March 19th and remembering what had transpired other years on the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Fifteen years ago, we embraced, believing it might be the final time here on earth. Five years ago, we embraced as she moved north to establish a new monastery. And every year in between, I have recalled with tenderly fond pain the life we have been called to enter into as the family of religious.

I spoke about my sister’s vocation with my sophomores at great length this year. While I didn’t intend to spend so much time on it, they asked question after question and I found myself desiring to share this story with them. They were particularly struck by the great physical sacrifice that is found in the life of a cloistered nun. While I have been able to embrace my sister since her entrance, each time is a gift and never expected or something I can claim as my due. I explained that it is because my sister loves us that it is a sacrifice for her to not embrace us or be present for some of the big moments of life.

“But you didn’t choose that life. Why do you have to make that sacrifice when God didn’t call you to be a cloistered sister?”

Perhaps without knowing it, they stumbled upon the question that must be answered for each family member of a religious brother or sister. Why must I make this sacrifice when I’m not the one with the call?

Continue reading “Fifteen Years of Learning to Let Go”

“All collective reform must first be individual reform”

“All collective reform must first be individual reform”

In a month-by-month planner from over a year ago, I found the following quote scrawled in the open boxes at the bottom of a page.

The future will be what we make it; let us reflect on this thought so that it may motivate us to act.  Especially, let us realize that all collective reform must first be individual reform.  Let us work at transforming ourselves and our lives.  Let us influence those around us, not by useless preaching, but by the irresistible power of our spirituality and the example of our lives.

Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings, pg. 135

Re-finding this quote was a great gift in that moment. I was looking through stacks of papers, discarding what I didn’t need so that I wouldn’t move unnecessary papers to a new home. The old planner brought back some nostalgia as I saw different meetings I had, random notes I had made, and, most importantly, saint quotes I had added to the large monthly planner to motivate me onward.

Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur spoke of personal reform and how only by growing individually can we hope to influence the world. She knew what she was talking about. Through her gentle, persistent witness (and an inspiring journal), her husband was transformed from an atheist to being ordained a priest after her death. It wasn’t because of her intellectual arguments, but rather her living testimony that brought a change into her husband’s heart.

What I have been led to consider frequently is this question: how would it impact my students if I embraced my faith with the radical zeal of a saint? (Replace “students” with “children” or “husband/wife” or “friends” or “siblings” or “co-workers” or whatever makes sense in your life.) Too often I think I can fake it or that my lack of discipline or fervor will go unnoticed by others. Perhaps it sometimes does. Maybe I do fake it and others are unaware. But the most important changes and transformations might be untraceable to me yet rely on my own personal holiness. Continue reading ““All collective reform must first be individual reform””

Love Stories Through the Generations

I grew up hearing the love stories of my parents and grandparents.  My parents knew of each other throughout their youth, since they were both from two large families in the same town, with many of their siblings being in the same grades.  When my mom was trying to avoid a young man who was interested in her, she chose to sit with my dad at a graduation reception.  That event turned into dates (my dad saying my mom begged him and my mom saying that my dad asked for a date) and eventually a relationship, with a breakup to ensure my mom had found the right man.  She had.

My paternal grandparents met in a “romantic” meat-packing plant.  After a couple dates, my grandpa proposed and six months later they were married.  They were together for over sixty years, until my grandmother passed away from lung cancer.  My maternal grandparents met at a dance and my grandma’s brother asked my grandpa to drive her home.  The rest seemed to be history–marriage shortly followed and a brood of children. Over sixty years later and they are still married, my grandpa cracking jokes and my grandma still thinking he isn’t funny.

My mom and grandmas all got married fairly young.  At times, it is easy for me to begin to do the calculations.  “If I was my mother…..I would be married, with a toddler and another baby due in a couple months.”  These thoughts aren’t really comforting, nor are they intended to be.  Instead, they instill a sense of urgency, a feeling that I am missing out.  It’s the all-too-dreaded ticking of the biological clock.  It is enough to make me panic, even as others around me are saying, “You’re young, you have plenty of time.”

The other day I came to a greater realization of life.  At times a relationship and marriage dominate much of my thoughts and desires.  But marriage is only a means to an end.  If the goal is Heaven, marriage is meant to get me there.  Life is meant to be spent striving for spiritual perfection and Heaven.  That mission is one that relates to me now.  No, I don’t have a beau or a marriage to invest in.  Yet if God knows everything, He must have intended this time to be used for something other than just waiting for my life to start, because it has clearly already begun.

Someday I hope to have a story of how I met my husband.  Inevitably, it will be different than my mother’s story.  Yet I’ve been blessed to have experiences and adventures that my mother did not have.  Even as I desire a life of wedded bliss, I strive to embrace my present state in life so that I will be prepared for the next state and for the next life.

Sometimes God speaks to me through….me

I love to write.  Another close favorite is reading.  My main writing over the past few years, apart from scholastic writing, has been in the form of prayer journals.  At different, random points in my life, I enjoy going back and reading what I have written.  It allows me to remember what that time period was like, whether it was beautiful or painful, and to see how far I have come.  Recently, different changes in life have caused me to go back and read and, surprisingly, learn from myself.  The moments of epiphany are too often neglected until I read them again and am, once again, enlightened and encouraged to persevere.

I have decided to share a lengthy portion of one journal entry that I wrote because I found myself edified simply by reading something I had penned.  While this could be due to a hardy dose of narcissism or pride, I believe that some of it may be beneficial for others.  Altogether, I believe it was inspired by Someone far wiser than I who, for a brief window of time, was able to use this unwieldy instrument for something good.
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March 31, 2013 –Easter Sunday

Jesus,

You overwhelm me with joy.  Last night I sat in a darkened Cathedral nave eagerly anticipating Your resurrection.  I was filled with a light-hearted joy.  The Scripture readings painted a picture of how God has loved humanity throughout time.  You have given me several moments in my life where I internally declare that this is Church.  Last night as I watch a woman be baptized and confirmed, as I glimpsed the joy on the face of Bishop…, as I inhaled the incense, as I helped fill the darkened Cathedral with light and persons, as I exchanged a greeting of peace–this is the embrace of the universal Church, this is my home.  I received You–Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity–in a manner that pre-dates the foundations of this country, in a way that countless saints have, from the hands of the Bishop ordained through an unbroken line of apostolic succession.  The beauty of the Church is striking and my heart finds itself being pressed to widen her chambers to make room for the Beauty that aches to overflow in her….

There are so many times when I think that I understand You and then I am reawakened to the fact that I comprehend so little.  What a beautiful mystery it is!  The rich depths of the Catholic faith cannot be plumbed.  You died for me and rose again.  The wounds You had were glorified.  You breath into my heart a joy beyond measure and You inscribe “Alleluia!” on my tongue.  From outside of time You pursue my heart, meeting me at the timeless table of the Eucharistic feast.  You know the workings of the universe–and my fierce and delicate heart.  You will for our wills to collide in an eruption of sanctification.  You are the perfect picture of patient love as You hang on the cross.  You recklessly call me to place my hand in Your side, calling me to believe more in Your triumph than my failings.

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The Lord desires something great for each one of us.  It may not be my personal idea of “greatness” or the type of greatness that I would like.  Yet each of us is called to be a saint.  We are called to be great in mercy, love, patience, kindness, generosity, and forgiveness.  We are called to place our will at the service of His will.  To accept that God has a better plan for ourselves than we do.  To realize that He desires to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts…perhaps just in a different way than we are asking Him to do so. 

And Our Lord hasn’t forgotten you.  He hasn’t forgotten me. 

He hasn’t forgotten you. 

“Let me hear in the morning of your merciful love, for in you I put my trust.  Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”  –Psalm 143:8

Step One: Be a Saint

I know that I am far from being a saint, yet I have this great desire to be one.  Over the past few years I have begun to realize the beauty and necessity of friendships rooted in Christ.  Some friends that I have I would love to speak with daily yet even when months separate our communications, we are able to pick up right where we left off.  Sisterly spiritual encouragement is something for which I am presently grateful.  While they aren’t necessarily my biological sisters (although sometimes they most definitely are), we have a friendship that digs deep into the heart of the matter.  I am able to cut directly to the truth and not hedge around political correctness.  I want these e-mails, letters, and phone calls to be saved as aspects of these stories of souls on their way to Heaven.  Of course this evidence would immediately reveal our imperfections but they would also unearth the deep desires of our hearts.  It is the beauty of the Body of Christ, separated by space and time yet united in the intimacy of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Heart.  When I encounter priests, religious sisters, elderly, young people all striving for Christ, I am renewed and reinvigorated.  The Church is not dead.  She is marching onward.  She is wounded, She is weak, She is comprised of sinful people.  Ah, but She is being sanctified.

Persevere, dear readers, in running the race for Christ, in striving continually for holiness.  Look not at what you are, but what He desires you to be.  Focus not on your imperfections but on His perfections.  Never put out the desire to be a saint.  God wants it of you and the world needs it of you.

“Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.”   -Pope John Paul II

In times of darkness Our Lord raises up saints.  Well, there is no need to ask if this is a time of darkness.  Therefore, we must be saints.  Anything less is settling.

 

The Quest: To Be a Saint

A new year, some new classes, and nearly 80 new students.  Some interesting things have already transpired, some for which I suppose I asked.  I thought it would be neat if my students took a temperament test and then I could review the results and try to discover some of their characteristics quickly.  So in class I gave them the web address that I wanted them to go to take the test and it just happened to be one for Catholic Match.  I didn’t fully understand what I was setting myself up for until I was preparing to write the address on the board.  When I did, the response was typical–some chuckling, a few muffled remarks, and the overall questioning air that seemed to compel me to confess or deny their silent accusation.  I did neither, for the most part.  Perhaps the next embarrassing thing was telling them that they couldn’t do this assignment at school either, because the school had blocked the address.  At times I forget about the person of the high schooler and fail to remember that many trivial things can be made ridiculous when presented to a group of teenagers.  Another interesting thing occurred when I reviewed the syllabus and mentioned the school policy on cell phones.  In order to make it absolutely clear to them, I added a line that said that failure to comply with the rules would result in harsher penalties.  My seniors primarily glazed over that but my sophomore classes picked up on it and some wanted to know what the penalty was.  I hedged and simply told them that they didn’t really want to find out.

As I was speaking to my seniors today I tried to present the idea of sanctity to them.  I called them to become saints and to not wait for later or to assume that knowing the answers is sufficient.  As I spoke to them I realized how much of this I need to remember.  I cannot simply spend my day talking about Jesus, I must talk to Him.  The more I interact with my students, the more I realize how much further I have to grow in sanctity.  The thought came to me today that God is using this job as a way to draw me closer to Himself, that all of the challenges and problems are His way of perfecting me.  There is a lot of perfecting that needs to take place.  Today I considered my deficiency in love.  I want to love only those who like me.  Praying outside the abortion clinic in college was my initial experience of forcing myself to love in the face of intense adversity.  However, school is different.  It is much more of a marathon.  It isn’t exhilarating or enlightening to love my students in the midst of their utter humanity.  It doesn’t seem heroic, it doesn’t fill me with warm feelings, and I don’t have someone to talk to about how much I feel like I grew in the process.  Instead, it is just hard.  I don’t want to do it and I can feel myself rebel.  Loving to the point of pain.  That is my calling and yet I fail to do it so often.  I was serious when I told them that I would help sanctify them and they will help sanctify me.  Then I realize that if I truly desired to be a saint above all other desires, if my holiness was what I was concerned about more than my physical or mental health, how much more I would do to further that goal.  It is often surprising how lukewarm we can be while mistakenly thinking we are so zealous and hard-core.  How good it is that we have a God who knows the trappings of human nature because He took them on Himself.  But our desire to please Him and live for Him does please Him.  And if we are serious, we will accept the grace He offers to live out His will.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
                                                                                         –Thomas Merton