At a recent Christmas party, the host invited the guests to share toasts for the new year (and simply life in general) by setting a theme and encouraging us to toast to various things. Standing there, cupping a glass of mulled wine, I listened to people make toasts to fruitfulness, the fullness of faith, wonder, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, and so on. After the person would give their ferverino related to the toast, he would lift his glass and say “To fruitfulness” (or whatever was being toasted) and the rest of us would repeat it.
Partly preparing for the potential of being randomly called on and partly because it was a beautiful idea, I pondered what I would toast to and how it could be connected to the previous toasts. So, lucky random readers, you shall hear my toast!
To waiting. The gift of fruitfulness comes only after a period of waiting. A slow, quiet growing (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful) which gives way to newness. The world waited for a Savior and even after the Incarnation, there was still a period of waiting for redemption, waiting for an epiphany. Our lives are filled with waiting, manifold opportunities for glorious encounters wrapped in the seemingly mundane trappings of daily life. May this waiting not be passive, but may it be an active experience of longing, of hoping for what is to come, and trusting that it will indeed come.
Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash
So often I find that when I am teaching my students, I am actually teaching myself. I listen to the words come out of my mouth and find that I am convicted to live in a new way. It isn’t as though I talk about the Gospel and the Lord all day long and pat myself on the back. Rather, I find myself over and over having to admit that I am falling short of living the Good News fully.
One of my classes is finishing up a section on martyrs. They researched fairly recent martyrs with most of them living at some point during the 1900s. Then I showed two videos from Chris Stefanick about two priests who lived boldly during times of war. One priest was Fr. Emil Kapaun and the other was Fr. Vincent Capodanno, both of whom are at various stages of the canonization process.
Each video revealed how these men offered hope in situations that seemed hopeless. Fr. Kapaun became a POW during the Korean War and Fr. Capodanno died in a battle in the Vietnam War. In spite of persecution, Fr. Kapaun encouraged the men, leading them in prayer and risking his own safety to help them survive. As a war raged, Fr. Capodanno ran across the battlefield, offering last rites to wounded soldiers and bringing tangible peace with his presence and words. Their ability to provide hope in war changed the people they encountered. For some, it saved their lives and for others, it brought a calm in the midst of the storm.
As we reflected on these priests in class, I found myself inviting them (and by extension myself) to be hope-bearers in this world. High school can be such a difficult place for them, but the frustrations they experience are often carried into life beyond high school. What if they were people that others found hope in? What if we were able to provide a calm in the midst of the storm? A battle rages around us: wouldn’t it be beautiful if others found a place to rest when they were in our presence?
Continue reading “Two Bearers of Hope”
I don’t recall exactly what it was about. During parent teacher conferences, I spoke with a parent and it was either about the grade, the student’s faith, or something, but whatever it was, the parent ended with, “So there’s hope?” And I, filled with a conviction that stretched beyond the moment, replied, “Yes. There is always hope.”
I felt the weight of that truth in the moment after the parent left.
Always. Hope endures despite all difficulties.
For someone who often skews toward pessimism, it is helpful to remember that hope persists, even when it seems illogical. I mean, we worship a God who rose from the dead after three days. He chose the most unlikely people to pass on the faith, who continually misunderstood Jesus and ran away when scared. Yet this Church still lasts. In spite of corrupt popes, Church scandals, intense persecutions, harsh dictatorships, and every other difficulty, we see that life can still burst forth from death just as the frozen ground will one day again yield to the gentle strength of new flowers.
The other day in class, I found myself saying, “Death isn’t the worst thing.” For me, it was obvious that this was true. I spent much of my first year of teaching hoping for death. Not in a morbid or depressed way. Rather, I was thoroughly convinced of the glory of the Beatific Vision and I was also thoroughly convinced that I wasn’t yet experiencing it in a room filled with angsty, complaint-filled teens.
Continue reading “There Is Always Hope”
I didn’t expect to feel sadness at a wedding.
Anything near tears, I assumed, would come from the overwhelming joy of seeing a good friend get married. And while I was definitely happy, I was startled by the profound loneliness that pervaded my heart, even as I sat in a pew with beloved friends and was surrounded by many people I knew. Grateful that my friend was receiving that for which she had long prayed, I discovered a sorrow that I didn’t want to find at that time or in that place. The human heart frequently seems inconvenient, but I’ve found that leaning into that is more helpful than ignoring it.
Near the beginning of the liturgy, I heard the priest proclaim a single word in the midst of a longer prayer. He said “home” and I was immediately asking the Lord where my home was. Looking over the priest’s head, I saw the crucifix, arms stretched wide and side pierced, and within myself I heard Him say that my home was there. In His side, opened so that mercy could pour out, was my home, my refuge, the only place I belonged on either side of Heaven.
As my blog slowly moves from being thoroughly unread to something that people I know and don’t know read, I find myself hesitant to ever speak of being single. Some of my former students occasionally look at my blog as do co-workers, and it feels odd to share this particularly deep desire, even if it seems obvious or assumed or commonplace. Yet it also feels odd to share so many other parts of my heart and then withhold speaking of the vocation I feel called to, simply because God hasn’t fully answered that prayer.
I’m a melancholic and as such I am accustomed to longing. One of the most enduring longings has been for marriage and a family. It isn’t my only desire, but it is the one that seems the most fervent. This newly married friend is one I often spoke of this longing with, as we questioned when it would be fulfilled and wondered how it would happen. So I understand to a degree why this wedding also filled my heart with a bit of sadness. It was because my compatriot had what she longed for and I was still waiting, still hoping, still wondering when and if it would happen.
Continue reading “Whatever God Chooses Should Be All the Same to Us”
In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me. The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses. Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too. Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”
So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings. I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady. One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life. One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis. The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.
Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart. We want to be home, but not confined. We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost. All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.
I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in. Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart. I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed. And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire. What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”
The first week of a new school year seems to feel the longest. It was Tuesday this week when I realized it was only Tuesday and it felt like it should be Friday. Yet by the time I reached Friday, I was getting into the swing of things.
As a veteran teacher (hello, fourth year!), I am enjoying knowing what I am doing some of the time. When students ask me questions, it is often to rules or practices I have already established, questions that I have already answered in previous years. Perhaps I am most excited about the fact that each year I feel more and more comfortable in my role as teacher. I’m not completely at ease with my students, but I feel the most myself this first week that I ever have. I know difficulties will arise, arguments, tough questions, senioritis, and sass, but I will take it in stride. Thankfully, the Lord has been giving me the grace over the last few years of letting my students’ attitudes dictate less and less how I respond. I don’t take things quite so personally anymore and it is only something that time could help me achieve.
Overall, my classes are pretty good. My sophomore classes appear fun and respectful and my seniors seem to be willing to listen. Yet I am going to refrain from naming too many more wholesome traits because it is only the end of the first week. Time and homework will reveal their true colors. My mind recalls my first year of teaching as being one of the most stressful and the students who made life difficult for me still stand out in my memory. It is hard to tell if the classes are really that different or if the difference lies mainly within myself. I am prone to think it is a bit of both but mostly the latter.
So here is to a good school year, one richly overflowing with blessings and all that the Lord desires to do in His good time. And if all goes awry, I can turn to the intercession of a teacher who didn’t always have the most receptive audience, sometimes aroused anger, and whom we celebrate today–St. John the Baptist.
August 21, 2013
My second year of teaching has begun and I am peddling my way through the first week. It is a long and arduous task to jump back into teaching. However, my dad is quick to remind me (and therefore not sympathize with me) that I had the entire summer to do nothing. After last year, I believe teachers deserve that. Yes, of course I would say that.
I just wanted to quickly share a little blessing from today. This year I’m starting each class with some personal prayer time for my students. The idea is for it to be a transition time from other classes and help them focus on how this is different than the rest of their day. Today my sophomores prayed with St. Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit.
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.
I asked them to spend some time reading through it and then to find a line that jumped out to them or that they liked and sit with it for a while. I encouraged them to close their eyes and pray with the line, meditating on what they are asking the Holy Spirit to do in that line. My first class did it well enough but my second class really took it home. As I write this I consider that being a high school teacher has taught me to count the little victories.
My second Scripture class spent some time praying with it and they seemed to be pretty still. I asked how many of them liked the quiet, expecting them to respond negatively. The majority of the class raised their hand and said they liked the quiet. Taking another brief poll, I asked if many had a line that jumped out at them or if they just picked what they liked best. Again a majority said one line seemed to jump out at them. I asked for a couple to share what line they had prayed with and the first person shared that they chose the first line but that they didn’t get it really. That was the line I had prayed with and so I was eager to share what I had thought about. I asked them to close their eyes if they wanted and to concentrate on their breathing. I let a couple seconds pass and because my eyes were closed I didn’t know if anyone was complying or if they were staring at the crazy lady in the front of the classroom. Then I told them to think about each breath in as though they were breathing in the Holy Spirit. And to consider that the Holy Spirit was sanctifying their thoughts and everything within them. Just a few more seconds passed before we continued with class but for me it was a beautiful moment.
Despite what I am often led to think, the youth have depth and desires that can be surprising. It was a reminder that the Holy Spirit can lead and guide far better than I can. Thank You, Lord, for little blessing, for giving me hope, and for reminding me that if I simply bring them to You, that You will take care of the rest.
Come, Holy Spirit…..