Vanity of Vanities

Vanity of Vanities

I don’t generally consider myself to be vain. Perhaps I have a sort of intellectual vanity, but physical vanity doesn’t usually seem to be my downfall. There was an article I read that said my personal hell would be that every time I open my mouth to say something intelligent, something completely idiotic would come out instead. Based on how strongly I felt that, I assume I must have a rather decently sized strain of vanity when it comes to if people think I am smart or stupid.

A few weeks ago, I asked some of my family if they would rather have people think they were smart or beautiful. For me, the answer was pretty clear—I don’t care too much about beauty, but I care a great deal about intellect. So it seems I would be rather virtuous when it comes to physical vanity.

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Travel Light

Travel Light

As a way to prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago, I bought a few guidebooks and researched suggestions online. The book that had sparked the desire to complete this pilgrimage was Fr. Dave Pivonka’s Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles With Jesus. Prior to reading this book, I had only a vague interest in the pilgrimage, partly spurred on by a fellow teacher who wanted to make the trek. I read about Fr. Dave’s journey and I was intrigued.

Casually, with little intention of it actually happening, I made the next logical investment: guidebooks. Then, I chatted with my younger sister, pondering if this could really, truly happen. Finally, we booked plane tickets, bought necessary gear, and prepped for a pilgrimage that was largely unknown to us.

Along the Camino, several of the American pilgrims asked if we were on the Camino Facebook page. It wasn’t something I had looked for or uncovered in my searching, but when I returned home, I joined the group. Since then, I’ve read numerous suggestions people have for others about to make this pilgrimage, appreciated pictures from people currently on pilgrimage, and read the questions first-time walkers have for the more experienced.

One thing that has always struck me is how particular some people are about the weight of their pack. It is, understandably, one of the most significant things to consider, but it wasn’t something I spent a great deal of time analyzing. In retrospect, I should have taken less.

At two separate points of the trip, we mailed things either home or ahead to a later stop. Church clothes that we hoped to wear were shipped ahead when we realized Sunday would be a walking day and Mass would be attended in our everyday Camino clothes. Pajamas were mailed as we just slept in the clothes we would wear the following day. The pack I already thought was small was pared down twice. When I finished the Camino, I resolved that if I ever did it again, I would be far more particular about what I brought along.

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Is the Good News Good?

Is the Good News Good?

St. Peter says to “be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) but sometimes it seems the hope can get lost in a parade of rules. I asked my students what is the cause of our hope and after throwing out several answers, someone finally said the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was the source of our hope.

“Do you feel like the Good News is good?”

They paused for a moment, almost seeming to sense there was a trick question they needed to skirt.

“Yes,” one student said.

“Why?”

This simple question seemed difficult for them. Someone replied, “Because it seemed like the right answer.” In fact, when I asked a later question (“Why does the Good News not seem good?”) they were able to respond with more answers.

When I go into the prison, so many of the men that come to the Catholic bible study or Mass are able to clearly point to their lives and say, “When I do my own will, I am not free.” It is a profound gift that the men in prison have that I think so many outside prison lack. The doctor, the teacher, the student, the politician, the bus driver, the plumber, the painter, the whatever can look like they have it together because they have some worldly success and their struggles might not be so apparent. The reality, however, is that we are all in great need of being saved. This crashes into the truth that the Good News is profoundly good, but it does require an acknowledgement that I cannot do it on my own.

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A Life in Christ is a New Life

A Life in Christ is a New Life

A few years ago, I had a student who, while not Catholic, was taking a theology class. She expressed to the class a desire to become Catholic, once her parents permitted her to do so. Her peers, as a whole, were shocked.

“Why would you ever choose to become Catholic?!” they asked in disbelief.

These students were thinking of the rules of the Church, I am certain. They were mulling over how we need to make sacrifices (particularly at Lent), how we have to go to Mass on Sunday, how we have to confess our sins to a priest, and the list goes on.

They were thinking of rules; I think she was thinking of life.

If we haven’t encountered Christ or if we have forgotten the encounter(s), we are quick to view life as a series of following God’s commands. It is simply something we ought to do because it is asked of us. Yet the commands the Lord gives are meant to give life. They aren’t hoops to jump through but are instead a path to an abundant, rich life.

Just the other day, a man in prison was talking about how his perception of a family member has completely changed. Before, this man considered the relative a “Jesus freak” and found it hard to swallow when seeing the person post Scripture passages or encourage him to go to church. Now? I’m not quite certain what happened in between, but the man ended up in prison and that changed his perspective by giving him time to really see how his life was going. He said now this relative is the only one he wants to spend time with when he gets out of prison. Instead of annoying, he sees this person’s life as something he wants for himself. This person’s joy, relationships, and success–all of it showed him that life in the Lord can change you. What is more: he desired the change that he witnessed in another.

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You Have Something Unique to Offer the World

You Have Something Unique to Offer the World

It is true. You have something unique to offer the world.

In case today or this week or this month or this year led you to believe otherwise, remember that you have God-given gifts that the Lord desires to use. And even if you aren’t using those gifts to the utmost degree, the Lord still has a profound love for you. On those days when you cannot even recall what your gifts are, remember that your very existence is a gift and that regardless what you do, the Lord is ridiculously in love with you.

If the gifts that others possess tends to make you feel less gifted, shift your perspective. Thank the Lord that He gave those particular gifts to someone and that they are able to use them to shape hearts and minds. Then re-offer yourself to His service, permitting your heart to be a vessel for His transforming love and mercy.

Where you are is not accidental and Christ can use all for His good and perfect will. Trust the process.

Unplanned

Unplanned

My younger sister, parents, and I went and watched the movie Unplanned. It is the true story of Abby Johnson, who went from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life advocate shortly after being called in to assist with an ultrasound guided abortion. I had heard many things about the movie, most of them about how sad it was or how it had the ability to change hearts and minds.

I thought it gave an accurate portrayal of the positives and negatives of both the pro-life and the pro-choice side. (Note: I use the terms pro-life and pro-choice because those are generally what each side wants to be called and if I want to engage in a genuine conversation, I don’t start off by alienating them over a title.) Not all pro-lifers are compassionate figures who reach out in love to assist women. Similarly, not all pro-choicers are concerned only about the money behind abortion. The situation is more complex than a simple good people vs. evil people.

During my time outside an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh, I saw some of each type of person depicted in the movie. I saw people who loved the men and women entering the clinic so much they endured hours of standing in the cold and being cruelly mocked by the pro-choice escorts. Yet I also saw pro-life people yelling at abortionists that they are baby killers who are going to burn in Hell or that the women will for having an abortion. While there, I encountered people who genuinely thought abortion was the best option for some women and thus volunteered their Saturday mornings to assist these women. I also met pro-choicers who were extremely hardened, who intentionally pushed into me when I tried to talk to the women, who stood in circles as they joked about physically harming those of us who were praying.

It is because of my time spent at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh that I watched Unplanned and didn’t think it was as difficult to take in as some people had said it would be. No, I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I had already watched countless women, escorted by best friends, boyfriends, husbands, and parents, walk passed me and into an abortion clinic. I saw women slowly walk out of the clinic after they had their abortions. The reality is far harder to take in than watching a movie about it, as powerful as the movie may be.

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When the Gift is More for Me Than Others

When the Gift is More for Me Than Others

During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students.  When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself.  By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked.  I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally.  Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes.  It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change. Continue reading “When the Gift is More for Me Than Others”

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

A phrase I have found myself repeating over the last few months is, “A lot can happen in a year.”  It has come up when reflecting on different friends and how their lives have changed.  Sometimes it relates to jobs or relationships or babies.  And, sometimes, when I’m being a bit more pessimistic and thinking about my own life, I’ll add to the end of that phrase, “…or not change.”

Yet, mostly, I utter this phrase in hope.  Whatever state my life is in now, in a year, it could be very different.  Who knows what the Lord has planned for tomorrow?  or next week?  or next month?  His promises and blessings for this next year will definitely be different from what I imagine, but they will continue to change and transform me.

Sometimes change can be a bit scary.  And at other times, change can be prayed for and longed for.  I have numerous desires in my heart that I long for the Lord to fulfill.  But I also can be led to worry about how He will fulfill them and if I am actually ready for Him to fulfill them.  Whatever my current feelings may be, a lot can and will happen in the next year.

This week we are wrapping up one liturgical year and preparing for the advent of another.  Now is a good time to consider how the Lord has poured out His blessings upon our lives.  The past year of grace has changed and transformed us.  What are specific ways the Lord has caused us to grow?  What encounters have we had with the Lord and how have they changed us?  How have they not changed us as much as they ought?  The next year will continue to do the same in new and unexpected ways.  As we sit on the cusp of a new year, let us pray to be filled with a deeper desire to enter into salvation history in a new way.  May this next year not leave us unchanged.  Come, Lord Jesus, reign in my life.  Let a lot happen in this next year.

In one moment, I can give you more than you are able to desire.
(Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary 1169)

I’m Busy

“No, I can’t.  I’m too busy.”

I’m a bit surprised to hear these words uttered by my three year old nephew.  I don’t think he really knows what those words mean.  I asked if he had given a hug to his grandma and he said he was too busy, as he tiredly walked away from me. He has heard this phrase but he doesn’t understand how to properly apply it.  My brain thinks briefly of The Princess Bride and the misuse of the word “inconceivable.”

Then I think about my conversations with my relatives and I realize that I am very quick to fall back on, “Life is busy.”  It is a nice conversation filler but it doesn’t really tell one anything.  Which is partially the point–life is filled with many things but I don’t want to fully articulate them right now.  Life is either busy or nothing is going on.

Somewhere along the line I began to think of busy as success or as the necessary answer for how my life is going.  Because I can’t say I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.  I can’t admit in casual conversations that I’m at times frustrated with the Lord and myself.  Or that I want to sit in my classroom and cry some days while other days fill me with over-the-moon excitement and joy.

“I’m busy.”

Oh the contradiction!  Here we are at the “busy” part of the year that revolves in essence around a quiet manger scene. The God of the Universe enters into our chaos, confusion, and hurt and the world for a moment seems to be still.  We are enraptured by the glint in the newborn’s eye, in the soft giggle, in the squirm of chubby arms and legs.

I need to come up with a better response than, “I’m busy.”  I’m present.  I have time for you.

The Simple Life

Each day was simple in its task.  I was to wake up, eat, walk, pray, and sleep.  Each day, I was successful.

It is difficult to not be successful with such a simple task.  Yet too often I feel as though my life is not filled with simple tasks.  Instead of checking each item off the list and falling into bed knowing I did what was necessary that day, I am often going to sleep simply because I’m too exhausted to finish the task at hand.

The Camino was simple.  Not easy, but very simple.  I don’t think my interactions with everyone I encountered were perfect, but essentially every day ended successfully.

I don’t feel this success as a teacher.  I don’t feel this success simply as a working young adult Catholic.  Most days I feel as though I am miserably failing.  Then I wake up the next day to fail again.  The stack of uncorrected papers grow, the lesson plans become less than plans and more like ideas that are half-taught.  The sleep dwindles, the time I take for prayer lessens and I fall asleep during it anyway.

I am not successful.

The world measures my life by a standard of success that I do not have the luxury of choosing.  Even if I had the option to choose my own standard, I would still fall short.

Thankfully, the Lord measures success differently.  He desires my faithfulness and not simply my apparent (or unapparent) success.  With honesty, however, I am lacking in the faithfulness department, too.

All of this draws me back to the simplicity found on the Camino.  I had no papers to grade, no lessons to plan, no time to waste on Facebook, and very little distractions apart from the beautiful scenery and the pain in my feet.  It made me wish that all of life could be like that.  That life could be a simple, clear path.  I would wake up in the morning and know exactly where I was to go and I would take the necessary steps to get there.  I would nourish my body and try to consistently be in my bed by 10 pm.  It was a forced balance that I find myself not adhering to on a regular basis.  I knew what I needed and so I did what was necessary.

How do I take the simple beauty of the Camino lifestyle, the necessary discipline encompassed within that, and apply it to my daily life?

How do I encounter success through being faithful?

How do I simplify?