The Price of Forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry…”

Generally, when I begin to pray the Act of Contrition in Confession, I close my eyes.  I prefer to go behind the screen and I like to close my eyes so I can focus on the words.  As I started the prayer, I realized that the confessional I was using had a crucifix hanging on the screen at about eye level.

“for having offended Thee…”

My eyes shifted and fastened on Jesus.  There He was, arms outstretched and pierced by nails.  His total gift stood in stark contradiction to my selfishness and inability to sacrifice.  Yet as I spoke the words directly to Him, I was struck by the rightness of it all.

“I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell…”

My sin crucified Him.  And though there was nothing new that I was learning, I was seeing in a deeper way what my sin brought about.  Here I was, staring at the very reality that made the words I was saying efficacious.  Without His death, my words were a vain pleading for reconciliation without paying the debt. Continue reading “The Price of Forgiveness”

That Others May Be Chosen

That Others May Be Chosen

The Litany of Humility is one of those prayers that I hate.  And love.  And wish I loved more, but am a bit scared by.  If ever there was a prayer that could level a solid crushing blow to the ego, I believe the Litany of Humility is a top contender.

“That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

There are several parts during this prayer that cause me to cringe, and this line is one of them.  This cringing comes from the fact that I do not actually desire this to be true.  It seems like it would be too difficult if this went from prayer to actuality.

Simply put: I want to be chosen.

Doesn’t everyone want to be chosen?  I want to be the chosen confidant.  I want to be the dearly loved and chosen friend.  I want to be the favorite teacher.  I want to be the one people choose to ask questions because they think I will know the answer.  I want people to choose to read what I write.  For so many things, I want people to choose me. Continue reading “That Others May Be Chosen”

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

“I will not let Satan use my heart against me.”  

Arguably, the topic I write about most is the human heart.  This is probably because I am always struggling to come to terms with having one.  The Lord redeemed the human heart  when He became incarnate.  I am certain it provided difficulties for Him, also, but He handled all of those temptations and challenges to prove that, with His grace, it can be done.

Scripture speaks often of the heart.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6:21)
“My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.”  (Ps. 45:1)
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:7)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, said, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”  Beauty is a powerful force and both God and Satan use it for their own purposes.  It moves our hearts, sometimes against our wishes or in spite of our intentions.

Our hearts are being fought over and so I guess it makes sense that mine so often feels like a war zone.  Too often, however, the main focus can be me and not about how the Lord could be using feelings, situations, and circumstances to draw me closer to Himself.  And when the focus rests on me, it becomes a pretty dismal outlook.  In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis recognizes this tendency in a letter to Wormwood, a young demon-in-training.  “The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.  Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the actions of their own wills.” Continue reading “Getting to the Heart of the Matter”

Waiting: For Christmas and the End

Waiting: For Christmas and the End

“There is nothing restful about Advent yearning.”
(Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting, Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.)

Waiting.

I find myself waiting for a lot of things.  Waiting for packages to arrive in the mail, waiting for conversations to occur, waiting for the end of the semester, or just waiting for something new to happen.  Advent is filled to the brim with waiting.

We can often paint Advent as this oh-so-pleasant and peaceful time of waiting for Christmas.  And, in a way, it is.  It should be a time of peace and eager preparations.  However, ask any pregnant woman, engaged couple, or person awaiting medical tests and they will tell you that waiting can be a time of difficult longing.  There is a tension found in the waiting and, while not necessarily a bad thing, it isn’t always pleasant.   Continue reading “Waiting: For Christmas and the End”

Longing for Greatness

Longing for Greatness

I’ve always longed for greatness.  Not in the sense that everyone knows me or that I’m famous.  Rather, I have always desired a great mission or task in life.  I want to contribute something to the world and I want it to impact people.  This weekend I watched The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler and I was re-filled with the desire to pursue greatness.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish woman who lived during the time of World War II.  She was a social worker, but her work went far beyond her simple job title.  During the time that the Jewish people were being relocated to the ghettos and then to “work camps,” Irena worked tirelessly to smuggle children to safety.  Risking her life, she worked with a courageous group to secretly save children by tucking them into tool boxes, packing them into boxes, or hiding them in vehicles.  Later caught, she endured torture and was nearly killed, all the while never giving up any secrets.

In total, it is said that Irena Sendler and companions helped to save 2,500 Jewish children in Poland.  The children were placed with convents or families throughout Poland.  She kept meticulous records of who their parents were and where they were placed in the hopes that families would be reunited after the war.  This young woman quietly changed the world and, initially, received little recognition for it.  She was awarded Righteous Among the Nations in 1965 and later named an honorary citizen of Israel in 1991.  In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  However, for most of her life she lived with little acclaim or notoriety for her heroic actions and sacrifices.

While I do not hope for concentration camps or totalitarian regimes, this is the greatness for which I long.  I look at her life and I see a greatness that goes beyond one person.  Yet the greatness that I see and anyone can see who looks at her life was not recognized by Irena herself.  She did not see herself as a hero or seem pleased with her accomplishments.  Instead, she said that she could have done more to save more children. Continue reading “Longing for Greatness”

I Know What Not To Pray For

I Know What Not To Pray For

“Alright, Lord, how do You want me to pray for this?”

Finally, finally, something was making its way through my dense head.  I had tried my own methods when I felt like the Lord was taking too long.  Yet each time I found that my ways didn’t work.

So You have a different plan, Lord?  Would you like to let me in on it?

Apparently, He does not.  In the midst of waiting, though, I would like to be praying for something.  I want to plead with the Lord to work in some way.  However, I do not know what He wants or how I should pray for it.

I simply know what I cannot pray for.  Many times I’ve prayed for the Lord to cut something out of my heart: a person, a habit, a feeling, an emotion, a thought, etc.  I want Him to take a Divine Scalpel and cut out the portion that doesn’t fit or that I don’t want.   Continue reading “I Know What Not To Pray For”

His Terrifying Vulnerability

His Terrifying Vulnerability

There is a terrifying vulnerability in how His arms are outstretched.

I’m not certain I had ever quite seen it that way before.  At Sunday Mass, I was looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar and I was slightly fearful.  That wide open heart, that vulnerable heart, that posture of being unable to defend oneself is what He wants from me.  And it scares me.

A nail pierces each hand, fixing them in place.  He is unable to shield Himself from anything: not the hurled insults, not the mockery, not the physical blows should it come to that.  Briefly, I pictured myself unable to curl up into a ball to protect my heart, to shield my face.  It was terrifying.  I would not be simply defenseless before loved ones but before my enemies.  That place of weakness seemed to be too much to bear.  At least in the face of persecution and mockery, I like to appear to be strong and resilient.

And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!  (Luke 23:35-37)

Continue reading “His Terrifying Vulnerability”

That Time I Went To A Club

That Time I Went To A Club

They thought it would be funny to go into the club.  It was a Saturday evening and we were walking downtown.  As I fished around in my wallet for my ID, I could hear the strong beat of music that poured out past the bouncer, who waited with a flashlight and outstretched hand.  This was a place very clearly out of my element.

We entered the club and I started taking it all in.  I wasn’t really dressed for the place, but I wasn’t entirely a misfit.  I tried to keep my facial expressions neutral as we climbed the steps to the second level.

One.  I started a mental count of former students.  Luckily, I never moved beyond one.

On the second floor, I saw the long bar, people pressed up alongside it four deep.  I really wanted to not look like a fish out of water, but I must have failed because my friends were amused by my expressions.

“Just dance,” they told me, as the music blared across the sea of people. Continue reading “That Time I Went To A Club”

Into the Wilderness

Into the Wilderness

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…'” (Isaiah 40: 1)

For some reason, Jesus is really intent on going into forests and deserts.  As I am looking at this passage, one I have heard numerous times, I am struck by His desire to go to the wild places.  A bit comically, I begin to imagine Jesus delving into the thick underbrush of a forest or having a road built into a stretching expanse of sand.

What is that wilderness He wants to dive into?

Ah.  My heart.  

It is a wild place, overgrown with weeds and bad habits.  Other places are deserts, barren and uninhabited.  Jesus wants to enter into those places.

I find myself attempting to redirect Him.  “Look, Jesus, a lovely little valley!  Come admire this place that has it all together, a place that isn’t messy….Oh, a lively garden, teeming with life.  Isn’t this nice, Jesus?”  He looks at these places, smiles at me, and then heads back into the desert.

But, Jesus, there is nothing to see there. Continue reading “Into the Wilderness”

I’m Glad I Didn’t Write Her Off

I’m Glad I Didn’t Write Her Off

It was day two of teaching.  In the midst of a simple roll call, I said her name and she rolled her eyes.

A flash of anger shot through me.

Who does she think she is?  Can she hate me already?

I moved on with class and I reminded myself to love her.  Because, really, that is all I could do.  While I could have made a big deal about it, I have long since learned to choose my battles.  And while I will never say that I always pick the right battles, I have learned to not make all of them battles. Continue reading “I’m Glad I Didn’t Write Her Off”