Learning the Way of the Cross

Learning the Way of the Cross

Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?

I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.

Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.

Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.

Lord, what can I see in this?

As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.

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Peace Begins With a Smile

“How do you do it?”
“What?”
“How do you not respond to all of our comments?  You just smile.”
Unconsciously, I smile as I consider my response.
“See.  Like that!” she says to me.
“Sometimes,” I say, “that is the best response.”
“Really?  You are supposed to just smile?”
“Well, sometimes smiling is the best response for me.  I’m not always certain what I would say would be good.  You guys definitely make me grow in patience.”

That is entirely true.  Teaching forces me to grown in patience in a way I never really considered.  My first year of teaching found me horrified at myself as I realized that I had picked up a behavior from my students I didn’t want: rolling my eyes.  I guess I had seen so many eye rolls that I just began to mirror their behavior back to them.

My students probably view me as quiet, gentle, and “nice.”  They have experienced little of my sarcasm and sharp tongue.  Perhaps they would be surprised if they had a glimpse into my mind, a taste of the quick retorts my mind can come up with when faced with their behavior.  I like to think of myself as “long-suffering” and attempt to wade through their comments, ignoring many and responding to a few.  My goal is to have the best response for the given situation.  Sometimes it is acting like I never heard their groans.  Other times I confront the student and then send them to the office when their behavior becomes too much.  I probably get it wrong 80% of the time.

Patience.  I’m slow to learn it.  Driving across town I’ll get cut off in traffic and I am amazed how quickly my temper can flare.  It is as though the greatest injustice has been done to me.  On good days, I will quickly remind myself that it isn’t that big of a deal and will try to regain my peace.  In a similar way, by 8th period my patience can wear thin and what wouldn’t have bothered me earlier in the day is nearly unbearable at that moment.  I’m weary and ready for the day to end and instead I find myself justifying a ten minute assignment to an eighteen year old child who thinks they are an adult.  Perhaps the Lord placed me here to acquire this virtue and my deficiency in patience will be overcome by teaching.

However, until my stubborn little heart learns to respond with tact and grace to complaints and criticisms, my best response may be a smile.

“Peace begins with a smile.”  -Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

My week…

This week has been my week.  The kind of week where you find ridiculousness at every turn it seems and yet it isn’t enough to be overwhelming.  It is Thursday and to date I have: given two detentions, caught one person copying another person’s paper (and the other person was willing), confronted a situation that was cheating and explained why, took away a student’s phone, and kicked said student out of class.  I wasn’t even in school on Monday.  It has been busy here and, on top of it all, I started off the week lacking in sleep and have been the victim of an increasingly annoying cold.

Despite all of this, I don’t feel like throwing in the towel, although I am eagerly anticipating Friday and a restful/productive (can that even be possible?!) weekend.

All I can say is it must be grace.

Making Excuses with Moses

Moses and I might as well be twins.  Yes, I am aware of the historical, ethnic, and cultural difficulties associated with that type of relation, but it is very true.  Moses and I both balk at what the Lord asks of us and then we make excuses.  Not just one excuse that can be neatly answered, but multiple.  And if we run out of excuses, we start re-using the old ones, just in case they appear any stronger after a period of neglect.  I don’t even need to alter much to make the excuses of Moses my own.

Granted Moses faced a bit more of a challenging task then I do.  He was saved from infanticide, raised in Pharaoh’s house, sent into exile after killing an Egyptian, and called by God from a burning bush to march his people (that he never really lived with) out of slavery and into a Promised Land.  No big deal, right?  I, on the other hand, am simply told to be the best teacher I can be, proclaim the truth without fear of the consequences, and become of a disciple for the Lord.  When placed in that light, Moses had very good reason to throw up excuses while my position has a much weaker foundation for it.

Q: “Who am I that I should…?” (Ex. 3:11)
A: “But I will be with you…”
Q: “If…they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
A: “I AM who I AM.”

Excuse: “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice…” (Ex. 4: 1)
Reply: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak.  Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 1: 7-8)
Excuse: “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent…”
Reply: “Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

Final plea: “Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person.” (Ex 4: 13)

This final plea is sometimes what I find myself reduced to.  Just send anyone but me, Lord.  I think of others who are clearly more qualified for the job than me.  I wonder how the Lord could make such a large mistake, could have overlooked their finer qualities and overlooked my giant deficiencies.  This feeling of “Please, Lord, someone else!” isn’t just with large missions, but is with lesser things.  When there is gossip taking place and I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be the one to squelch it.  If I see something that is wrong but wish I hadn’t seen it so that I could simply be naïve. 

When I was offered the teaching job I felt incredibly inadequate.  I had just finished convincing people quite a bit older than me that I was the person they wanted for the job.  Then I was offered the job and I had a more difficult time convincing myself that I was the person for the job.  In fact, I began to compile a mental list of people that would be better at teaching than I would be.  I thought of intelligent priests I knew, passionate young adults filled with both knowledge and fire, and young religious sisters who would be able to articulate the faith in an eloquent manner.  Then I thought of my own abilities and talents.  The list seemed to be woefully short.  I hadn’t lied to the interviewers…I had simply spoken with more confidence than I actually had.  Who would hire someone who said, “I am pretty sure that I can do this job, I think.  _________ and ___________ would be perfect for this job but they aren’t available.  At the very least, I think I could be a decent babysitter for high schoolers.  Hire me.  Please.”  That probably wouldn’t be sufficient.

Instead of relying on my own incredible speaking abilities (which I don’t have) or my limitless intellect (again, fictional), I was forced to rely on the Lord.  Of course, I failed in that but I was forced to try more than if I was gifted with all that was required of me.  I knew that I could not do the task properly on my own.  However, I did know that the Lord could use me to do His will. 

How did I know this?

Past experience, yes.  Bible stories, yes.  Witness of the saints, yes. 

Abraham.
Moses.
David.
Our Lady.
Padre Pio.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
St. Faustina.

It is not my job to tell the Lord that He has chosen the wrong person or that I am under-qualified.  He already knows my gifts and He knows my weaknesses.  I am convinced that often the Lord chooses people with major weaknesses so that it may be evident to the world that He is doing the work and it is not his/her own skill.

The requirement is a wholehearted yes.  Or at least an openness to being used for God’s will.  It is saying, “Please, Lord, choose somebody more qualified” and then going to talk to Pharaoh anyway when the Lord tells you to.  You are required to be uncertain of the future yet entirely certain of He who already knows the future.  It is surrendering your weaknesses to the bridegroom on the altar of sacrifice and welcoming into yourself the bread of the angels, the strength from heaven, the necessary graces.  It is allowing His to overflow in you and into those in your life.  It is hands wide open, entrusting everything to Our Lord even when we don’t know what that everything even is.

Moses and I both question the Lord and ask Him to choose someone else to do the hard work.  Yet God is unrelenting. 

He crafts our souls, breathes life into us, nourishes us, and then poses a question to us that is hard to refuse. 

“Trish, I created you to reveal an aspect of Myself that nobody else can reveal.  I have a plan for you, I have graces for you, I have a mission for you.  Will you reveal Me to the world and be a part of salvation history?”

Whoa. 

How can I refuse?

Grace-filled Moments

 I stepped out of the humble house and into the early morning air.  Although I didn’t know what time it was, I knew that is was early despite the warm sun that was steadily filling the village with light.  Embracing the time of solitude, I walked to a hammock and prayed morning prayer, with pauses to watch the water crash on the rocky coastline.

Perfection. 

No, perfection was when I finished prayer and spotted a little boy who was creeping around, casting side-long glances at me.  After going inside to get my camera, I had a mini photo shoot with him and his friends.  They were adorable.  One moment they were posing for pictures and the next they were crowded around my camera, only to double over with delight as they saw themselves on the little screen. 

Or perhaps perfection was the feeling of being loved and acceptable absolutely as we entered a village unannounced and were immediately given food and shelter.  Each meal was the best that they could offer–we even had lobster for breakfast one time.  It was being invited to a captain’s house and hearing him explain that he would have been at Mass the night before but that he had been out in the water and didn’t know about it. 

Or perhaps it was the ride in the rickety old boat that seemed ill-suited for six people and backpacks.  It was a simple boat with a motor strapped on the back that cruised over impressive swells.  The water sprayed my face, the sun kissed my fair skin, and my excitement was mixed with silent prayers that we wouldn’t sink.  But then someone spotted a dolphin and soon after I viewed a wild dolphin racing in the water.

Or perhaps perfection was the joy of hiking through the coastal landscape–crawling over rocks, racing up steep inclines, stopping to enjoy the glories of coconut water while sweat ran down my face and back in rivulets.  The moments of pausing to dip our bottles into the cool springs so that we could filter the water to be suitable for our weak stomachs.  Walking to villages to which no cars can arrive simply to bring the best one could offer–Christ present in the Eucharist.  Watching the people unlock their churches with a sense of pride that is difficult to find in the “developed” world and then hearing them spread the word throughout the village that a priest was in their midst.   

Perhaps, in my mind, Honduras is perfection in every aspect.  I understand that the country is going through difficult times, that the homicide rate is one of the highest in the world, and that poverty is abundant.  But I experienced so much grace and perfection in Honduras.  The Lord blessed me with being able to go to Honduras twice for spring break mission trips in college.  As I saw the poverty of the people, I saw a simplicity that made my heart ache.  It made me want to return home and give all of my extra possessions away.  It made me want to become a missionary after college.  And right now it fills me with a desire to return to Honduras someday. 

Honduras has been on my mind lately because in just a few days another mission trip will be launched to that beautiful country and my heart aches to be with them.  Yet I can go back and embrace the memories and for a moment, I am in that grace-filled place again, walking through the coastal land, eating fresh seafood, celebrating Mass with people who manage to praise God in the midst of adversity. 

Heaven is indescribable.  I like to think that Heaven will be like all of the beautiful, grace-filled moments of my life linked together…and then more.  It will be the sum of beautiful adoration hours, hikes in foreign countries, the smell of incense, the feeling of a bed after a long day, the delirious joy of the Holy Spirit, the thankfulness of a student, the embrace of a cloistered sister, the glory of a sun-bathed afternoon, every delightful food, and the reunion of each beautiful friend…and more. 

In the midst of times that seem less grace-filled, it is nice to be able to go back and re-live some moments where I knew the Lord was working and present.  Yet not to get lost in them.  Simply to experience the joy and then return to the present with a renewed vigor to pray for God’s kingdom to come now…in me and in this world.