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.

Continue reading “Learning the Way of the Cross”
Advertisements

I Climbed Mountains

I Climbed Mountains

I love when I am able to find secular examples that point to spiritual realities.  When shown explicitly religious media, my students often give what they think are the correct answers based on their years of Catholic education.  Yet when it is something that seems a bit unrelated to the class, they tend to have a greater openness and willingness to interact with the material.

On the second class day of the new spring semester, I showed them a TEDx talk called “500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair.”  (Feel free to take a minute…or 19…to go and watch this video.)  The image of strangers taking the time and effort to carry a man in a wheelchair up a mountain seemed to obviously gesture toward the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

“Through the power of community, I climbed mountains.”

At one point near the end, Justin says. “Through the power of community, I climbed mountains” and it resonated so much that I had to write it down.  So many conversations lately have pivoted around the need and desire for community and authentic friendship.  While some say community cannot be built, I disagree.  I believe community must be built.  While we cannot choose to magically connect with people, we must be intentional in how we use our time in order for community to be successful.

This community that Justin and Patrick found was possible because others were willing to be intentional with their time and energy.  The pilgrim duo they met in the cathedral in Burgos were willing to wait for them before climbing the mountain leading into O’Cebreiro.  Then other people heard the story and decided to wait, too, without ever meeting Justin or Patrick.  Community requires intentionality and it reminds us that in this pilgrimage of life we cannot walk alone.

A priest friend of mine often said, “You can be damned alone or saved with others.”  I think he was quoting someone but I was never certain of the source.  The idea is that Hell is isolation, but Heaven is necessarily communion.  Communion with God and with others.  The reality of this can be revealed in the many “saint pairs” that have arisen over history.  St. Francis and St. Clare.  St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.  St. Louis and St. Zelie.  St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The list could go on and on.  St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II?  Saints live a foretaste of the heavenly communion through their authentic friendships with one another.  They “carry” each other up the mountain, using friendship to encourage the other to enter into deeper relationship with the Lord. Continue reading “I Climbed Mountains”

What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need

The first homeless man I truly met was Tony.

It was cold and we were all bundled up, but I made a concentrated effort to not mention the coldness.  I had only been outside for a few moments and this man had no home to seek refuge in against the frigid weather.  My perspective of the cold was altered in the presence of a man who stood before me after successive days on the streets.

Tony was tall and kind.  In situations where he easily could have been bitter, he chose to not be.  I was with a group of pro-life university students and he never once made me feel privileged or self-indulged.  One Saturday, a student bought Tony a coffee and I watched him graciously accept it, even as his cold hands shakily caused the coffee to spill on his fingers.  My face was etched with the concern and sadness I felt as I watched the scene unfold, but Tony sought to comfort me in this situation.  He told me to not be sad because even in his difficult situation he was still happy.  That momentary exchange made such a significant impression on me.

In a couple of hours, I would return to my dorm room after a filling breakfast and Tony didn’t attempt to guilt me for the luxuries I had in life.  Rather, he came to the cold streets of Pittsburgh to spend time with us.  He accepted money or coffees when offered, but he said he didn’t like to look homeless.  We wouldn’t see him pushing a cart around or laden down with luggage.  Dressed in the warm clothes appropriate for the cold, he didn’t want to accept extra things that he would have to carry with him during the day.

Tony was the first human face I saw of homeless in a personal way.  I heard him talk about how fearful he had been early one morning when the intense cold made it difficult for him to get out of the chair in an abandoned house that he had accidentally fallen asleep in.  The reality of not being able to move for a couple of hours shook him as he faced the reality that he might die alone in the cold someday.  Yet he was also very happy and enjoyed being around a bunch of young college students.  He wasn’t near us because we always gave him things or because we were popular in the area.  Tony enjoyed being with us and some of the students became his friends. Continue reading “What That Homeless Man Needs Is What I Need”

Snow and Humanity

Snow and Humanity

I love what snow does to humanity.

Granted, I am not a fan of driving in snow, but I get a strange exhilaration from the experience.  In the midst of snow or after a heavy snowfall, I find myself willing humanity to work together.  Even though difficulties can sometimes bring out the worst in us, it can also bring out the best in us.  Last night, I encountered people driving cautiously and courteously.  People were more patient as their fellow drivers struggled to stop at lights or took a couple extra seconds to gain traction.

The snow forces me to be concerned about the other, even if for nothing other than my own self-preservation.  I am particularly aware of how far their vehicle is from mine or what I can do to make their commute home a little easier.  Instead of only being concerned if I get through the light, I am instead considering what will be best for those with whom I share the road.  It is good for humanity to experience the gift of working with each other for the good of all. Continue reading “Snow and Humanity”

An Encounter of Love

An Encounter of Love

October is known as “Respect Life month” in the Church, but it is important to not reduce this to merely life in the womb.  Pro-lifers are sometimes accused of being only pro-babies and at times that accusation rings a little too true.  Babies, you see, are easy to love.  They are adorable, helpless, and are fun to shower with affection.

Yet while babies are a delight to love, it is the other people I struggle to love.  To be pro-life, though, means to be for the lives of every person, regardless of their personal appeal or state in life.  Such a worldview is one that is hard to cultivate.  However, if we claim to be pro-life we must work to achieve that broadness of heart.

When I was in college, I had multiple encounters with a living pro-life saint, Msgr. Reilly from Brooklyn, NY.  Few can rival his dedication to the pro-life movement.  He stands for hours outside abortion clinics, praying for the people who enter and offering alternatives accompanied by a genuine smile.  While he is located outside an abortion clinic, he is not simply offering love to the pregnant mothers and fathers.  He is loving the doctors, nurses, clinic escorts, men, women, and friends.  Each person who enters or passes by the clinic is shown an authentic witness of love.

My heart is much smaller than Msgr. Reilly’s heart, but I learned quite a bit from him.  Initially, I was all about the babies.  Through his words and witness, my heart began to be changed.  I began to feel love for the mothers and fathers who entered the clinic.  Then I began to experience an authentic love for the clinic escorts who thwarted our every attempt to offer help and compassion.  Finally, I was moved by love to encounter the doctors who performed abortions. Continue reading “An Encounter of Love”

Co-Workers

Co-Workers

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink. (Preparation of the Gifts Prayer)

I’ve been to Mass thousands of times, but I don’t believe these words ever stood out to me before.  Yet as Father said these words, I was struck by the beautiful interplay between God and man.  It is through the Lord providing the sun, rain, and nutrients that we have the grapes of the vine.  But the work does not all fall on God.  We tend to the vines, we harvest the grapes, we change them from simple fruit into wine.  Then we offer it back to the Lord and He transforms it into something far beyond us. Continue reading “Co-Workers”

Speak Truth

Speak Truth

There is something about truth that attracts.

It isn’t because the truth is always what we want to hear.  Many times, it is the exact opposite.  Truth, however, spoken ardently and sincerely can be a powerful force, a compelling and crushing beauty.

Challenging someone with unadorned truth can provoke change.  And it can be a testament to the great love and respect the truth-teller has for the other.  These reflections I’ve had spring from a rather unlikely source: I watched a movie. Continue reading “Speak Truth”

Their Eyes

I live for the moments when their eyes look like they did yesterday.  When I’m opening my heart because for a few moments it feels safe with a class, and their eyes are fastened on me.  I want to read the stories that are written there.  I want to profess my love for them even though it is all heightened and strengthened by the moment.  A few seem on the verge of tears, but all appear to grasp my sincerity and my desire to impart this knowledge to them.

I’m discerning on my feet if I should tell them about that powerful prayer experience I had a couple weeks ago.  And I do.  I talk about spiritual direction and share what I learned from it just the day before.

Maybe some are annoyed with my long preaching session, wondering if it is going to be required knowledge for the test.  But I cannot tell that those thoughts are running through their minds.  I can only see their eyes.  They are pools of experiences–hurt and joy.  And I desire to sit down with them and hear all the stories.  I don’t always feel that keen desire, sometimes I forget that their experiences are just as real as my own.

I’m trying to speak truth into situations that I do not know or understand, but I know they are in them.  Because I’m in similar situations.  It is part of the human condition.

The simple truth I desired to impart was this: Jesus knows.  He knows what it feels like to be in their shoes and to experience the pain they feel.  I spoke about how all of Jesus’ friends abandoned Him at the moment He most needed them.  He knows what it is like to feel betrayed and left alone.  He suffered for the sins and sufferings of the entire world, throughout all of history.  And He did this so that when we come to something that seems too much, He can tell us that He already passed through this, too.

And I asked them to find Jesus in the midst of it all.  How is Jesus loving you in this situation?  He is present in death, in their parents’ divorce, and in the betrayal of a friend.  He is loving us through every situation.

A priest pointed this out to me the other day–I told him I was seeking to see each experience as God trying to convert my heart and he included that each experience was God loving me.  How quick I am to shift the focus just enough that it distorts the image.  It is different to experience all as a means for my own conversion and quite another to see it as an avenue of His love.

“I don’t understand,” one student says.  “How can you find Jesus loving you in your parents’ divorce?”

And I don’t have a clear answer.  I can’t give them a Scripture passage or a Catechism reference to answer it nicely.  Instead, I must tell them that I don’t know how Jesus is seeking to love them in their difficulties, but I know that He is doing it.  That we need to open our hearts, to not pull back when we are wounded and to open them to the Healer.  I am speaking to myself as much as I am speaking to them.

Reminding them that Jesus is present in all, reinforces that belief in me.  All I’ve experienced He has already experienced and has thus sanctified the experience.  And each experience is a new way to receive His love.

All can be seen through the eyes of Love.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

His Human Heart

Jesus loves us with a human heart.

Human hearts are unruly things.  They don’t fit neatly into boxes.  They don’t follow the head as often as we may wish.  They can experience the entire gamut of emotions…in an hour.  They get conflicted, torn, bruised, inflamed, and expanded.

Human hearts can be fickle, quickly following the ebb and flow of the emotions one is surrounded by.  Yet they can be enduring in their sentiments, sometimes for far longer than we would wish them to be.

The hearts nestled within us are the great gifts that may appear to cause us the greatest of trials.  They feel heavy when we suffer or suffer with/for someone else.  At times, we may get frustrated with our responses, the spasm in our heart when nobody else seems to be impacted.

Jesus has one of these.  A human heart pumped Precious Blood through His veins and with that heart He loved.  He experienced anger when the temple was misused.  Jesus felt sorrow when He wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  He was compassionate and merciful to the sinful and the ill as they approached Him.

“He has loved us all with a human heart.  For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol for that…love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’ without exception.”   (CCC 478)

The Incarnation is the central point of Christianity.  We believe in a God who desired so much to encounter us, that He became one of us.  He didn’t send a mere messenger, He sent His Beloved Son, He came Himself.

We romanticize the earthly life of Jesus.  Of course life would be easy if we were God, we think.  And then we say that God couldn’t actually understand our pain or suffering, because He never experienced something like this.

He experienced it all.

No, maybe your particular situation is not one that Jesus found Himself in.  Yet on the cross He experienced the suffering of all humanity, in all its forms and intensity.  The “But You’re God” excuse only lasts for so long.  Yes, you have grasped His divinity.  Congratulations.  Now grasp His humanity.  It wasn’t a mask or a mere appearance, it is a reality.

His human heart beats.
I love you.

It aches for humanity.
Yes, I suffer also.

It remains present to us so that we might embrace Him in a deeper way.
“The Body of Christ.”

Your weary little heart needs to know that Christ has a heart like yours.

His heart is tender, vulnerable, open to love all.

This heart desires to dwell within you.

"After this He asked me for my heart, which I begged Him to take. He did so and placed it in His own Adorable Heart where He showed it to me as a little atom which was being consumed in this great furnace, and withdrawing it thence as a burning flame in the form of a heart, He restored it to the place whence He had taken it..."  -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Sacred Heart of Jesus, sanctify my heart.

Sensibly Sensitive?

Some words can be used in either a positive or a negative way, depending on the particular situation.  One such word, I believe, is “sensitive.”

“Well, he is such a sensitive guy.  He brought me soup when I didn’t feel well….”

“You are always so sensitive.  I say one little thing and you start crying.”

Yes, I know the context varies greatly but sensitive can be seen both as a desirable characteristic or something that one should try to curb or diminish in oneself.

I have become very sensitive to Halloween and to evil.  That is not to say that I am perfect, that I never do anything bad, or that I have a sixth sense that allows me to sense evil people.  I think, rather, that my sensitive seems to be highlighted simply because so many have become desensitized to evil. 

Just because I dislike something or have a sensitivity to it doesn’t immediately mean that it would be impermissible for anybody else to enjoy it or for it to not be a vice.  However, the culture’s love affair with evil and violence is sickening.  We are conditioning ourselves to not react to things that we should react to.

My hometown has seemed to really dive into celebrating Halloween over the last few years.  When I was younger I was used to seeing the sheets transformed into ghosts, the jack-o-lantern bags filled with leaves, and the fake cobwebs stretched across the decks of different houses in town.  I will admit I could fall into the category of being overly sensitive but the town has seemed to change for the worse. 

Last year, several houses had dramatic scenes staged on their front lawns.  One house we would drive past on the way to Mass and the scene was horrific, even if it was very obvious that it was fake.  The sheet covered mannequins had blood stains and were positioned in different ways.  The most memorable pose to me was of an elderly lady, complete with walker, with a man coming up behind her armed with a chainsaw.  I saw it for weeks and it disgusted me.  One Sunday on the way home with just my mom, I saw it and I just started to sob.  People thought it was fine, humorous even, to stage vicious murders in their front yards.  It literally hurt my heart and I felt sick. 

This year I have battled within myself the desire to look and see their annual bloodbath and yet not wanting to feel sick again.  The glimpses I’ve had revealed someone wielding a sword and one quick glance left me convinced that someone was being tortured on an operating table…but then I was never certain and I was too divided to actually study the scene when we drove by.

I just don’t understand the enticement to evil.  Why is it permissible to glorify the most sadistic acts simply because it is Halloween?  I don’t believe that seeing a lawn display of fake murder will make the children of the town desire to go kill people.  However, I firmly believe that seeing this, repeatedly, and with the view that this is all in good fun, does something to our hearts.  My heart is already stony enough without needing to view funny mock crimes that I don’t at present find particularly funny. 

That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was not the result of squeamishness or an overactive imagination.  I think it had some connection with just receiving Our Lord in Mass.  Perhaps it was His Heart aching within mine.  Think of the incongruities of this picture: Our Lord, having suffering and died for us, gazing at us with infinite love as we laugh at things that completely strip the human person of their dignity.  It doesn’t praise the goodness of humanity or the goodness of God.  It instills fear and not love.  It brings sickness, not health.

So am I sensitive?  Yes and no.  Sometimes I run over other people and disregard their feelings in the most insensitive ways.  Other times I begin to cry at the drop of a hat.  A sensitivity to evil, though, seems like a good thing.  This is not to mean fearfulness or anxiousness.  Yet a perception to what is not of the Lord can certainly work to draw you nearer to what is of the Lord. 

Who had the most sensitive heart in the world?  Our Lord.  May this stony heart became a new heart, a heart of flesh.  And may St. Michael the Archangel defend us in this battle that rages on earth and help bring us to the glorious victory found in Heaven.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.