Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

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.

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The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health

The Gift of Too Many Homes and Good Health

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”

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.

 

Logically Speaking, of course

Yesterday I taught my seniors about conditional and disjunctive syllogisms.  It was basic logic and easy enough for them to grasp.  Perusing some of the syllogisms that they wrote as an assignment caused me to think of a couple of my own. 

If I desire holiness, then I will be uncomfortable.
I desire holiness.
Therefore, I will be uncomfortable.
OR
Either I will be pursuing a life of virtue and holiness
Or I will not be pursuing a life of virtue and holiness.