Humans are surprising creatures.
They have the unique capacity for acts of tremendous, selfless good. Yet they also carry within themselves the capacity for unspeakable acts of horror. Perhaps even more significant, though, is the capacity humans have for change and transformation.
I spent this past weekend helping with a retreat at a men’s prison.
Several times, I was asked by the inmates and the volunteers if it was what I expected. The truth was I didn’t quite know what to expect from the weekend. I was a bit nervous to enter in. Not nervous for the gate to slam behind me or to be locked into the prison. Not nervous that a riot would start. Not nervous that I would be injured or harmed. Rather, I was uneasy about how I would be received. What would we talk about? What would the men be like? Would they make me uncomfortable or would they be kind?
In the reality, humanity inside the prison is very much like humanity outside the prison. Some of the men were very kind and genuine. Others seemed to want an unhealthy amount of attention. Some wanted to share their hearts. Others wanted to stay only on the surface. Some admitted they made mistakes. Others insisted everything was fine or that they weren’t treated fairly. Some respected authority. Others used each opportunity they had to poke at the officers responsible for them. They reminded me an awful lot of my students and the world around me. Which isn’t all that surprising, but it was different to experience it instead of just think about it.
There was a unique point in the retreat when the group reflected on how God uses all for His good. In our small group, my sister mentioned that God uses everything and that even though they were in prison for something wrong they had done, they were still encountering Him on a retreat. Maybe this time in prison was a good, because God can use all for good. And it was beautiful to see at least some of them agree. They talked about how it was likely that they could have been dead if they weren’t in prison. If they continued on their previous course, it was easy for them to see how it would have led to their demise.
Continue reading “Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison”
My younger sister, parents, and I went and watched the movie Unplanned. It is the true story of Abby Johnson, who went from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life advocate shortly after being called in to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. I had heard many things about the movie, most of them about how sad it was or how it had the ability to change hearts and minds.
I thought it gave an accurate portrayal of the positives and negatives of both the pro-life and the pro-choice side. (Note: I use the terms pro-life and pro-choice because those are generally what each side wants to be called and if I want to engage in a genuine conversation, I don’t start off by alienating them over a title.) Not all pro-lifers are compassionate figures who reach out in love to assist women. Similarly, not all pro-choicers are concerned only about the money behind abortion. The situation is more complex than a simple good people vs. evil people.
During my time outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I saw some of each type of person depicted in the movie. I saw people who loved the men and women entering the clinic so much they endured hours of standing in the cold and being cruelly mocked by the pro-choice escorts. Yet I also saw pro-life people yelling at abortionists that they are baby killers who are going to burn in Hell or that the women will for having an abortion. While there, I encountered people who genuinely thought abortion was the best option for some women and thus volunteered their Saturday mornings to assist these women. I also met pro-choicers who were extremely hardened, who intentionally pushed into me when I tried to talk to the women, who stood in circles as they joked about physically harming those of us who were praying.
It is because of my time spent at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh that I watched Unplanned and didn’t think it was as difficult to take in as some people had said it would be. No, I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I had already watched countless women, escorted by best friends, boyfriends, husbands, and parents, walk passed me and into an abortion clinic. I saw women slowly walk out of the clinic after they had their abortions. The reality is far harder to take in than watching a movie about it, as powerful as the movie may be.
Continue reading “Unplanned”
While personal difficulties can be genuine, regardless of their large-scale importance, sometimes it is helpful to put them in perspective. The Lord cares about what I care about and so I try to be careful to not dismiss hurt feelings, stress, or joy simply because it isn’t life altering. Yet when I do feel overwhelmed or a bit shaken, it can help to focus on the aspects for which I can be grateful.
There are two recent examples that come to mind. The first is my living situation. Currently, I am in the process of moving into a new house, but I am not quite moved in yet. Over the past couple weeks, I have stayed mostly at my parents’ house in the country and sometimes with friends who live in town. It isn’t that difficult of a life, but the slight upheaval of transitional homes adds a bit of extra stress to the day-to-day life.
Yet when I was sharing this stress with a few different people over the last couple of days, I was struck by the fact that I am not homeless. In fact, it is the opposite. I have an abundance of homes–there is the home I am working to move into, my parents’ home where I have my own bedroom when I stay there, and friends who generously offer a room to me when needed. The added stress I feel is real, but the things I can be grateful for far surpass the inconvenience.
Continue reading “The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health”
During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students. When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself. By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked. I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally. Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes. It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change. Continue reading “When the Gift is More for Me Than Others”
They were nearly in the palm of my hands. Not all of them (that would be a miracle) but many of them. For what seemed like the first time in the entire semester, this class seemed interested in what I had to say. Gone were the faces etched with boredom. They were replaced with genuine eye contact and interest. I hadn’t intended to launch into the discussion for an earlier class, but I had and it had gone well. Now I was facing a more difficult to please class and the transition I used before wasn’t clear. I considered not even broaching the subject with them, but just continuing on with the class and ending early.
When I finally began to speak on it, it went better than expected. I remember thinking at one time, “Lord, this is going great. They are listening and the story is flowing well.” This was the best they had listened all year. I was thrilled.
It struck me later as very interesting that what they listened to the best was what was most personal to me. I’ve been talking to them about faith and reason for the past few days. This particular class day I had reviewed the introduction to Lumen Fidei and we had explored what faith is and what faith isn’t according to the encyclical. I love theology. But to them it is just another book, at times, that must be read and regurgitated.
I began to tell them that having faith doesn’t mean that it will all be easy. Yet regardless of the trials, faith is worth it and God desires to be in relationship with us. Then I told them more in depth about my older sisters who are religious sisters. I didn’t try to white wash any difficulties or try to evoke pity in them. Rather, I told them about how it was difficult for me to watch my sisters choose to leave me because they were following God. My intention wasn’t to highlight any strictness of the orders. I wanted them to see that I understand sacrifice, being angry with God, and feeling like what is being asked of me is just too much.
This second class seemed to grasp it most fully. A couple seemed near to tears but just about everyone was alert and listening. I think it helped them realize my humanity. Do I love the Lord? Yes! But even with this love and this desire to love, I still find myself balking at the sacrifices that are to be made. While I often paint this as a past sacrifice, it is still an ongoing sacrifice. I do not always think of the sacrifices but there are moments when the emotions are sharpened, the scab reopened, and the ache felt again.
Perhaps today they forgot everything that I said yesterday. What I hope remains somewhere within them is the knowledge that life will be filled with sacrifices. Will I choose to make them with Christ or without Him? A life of Christian sacrifice is not easy. Yet I do not think a life running from Him would be easy, either. Life will arrive and demand things and people of us that we are not prepared to surrender. Faith is knowing that Someone else cries with you and that Someone desires you infinitely more than you desired your lost love.
That is what makes life bearable.