Hugging Lazarus

Hugging Lazarus

“Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been hugged by someone who cared about me?”

The words themselves were striking. And yet it was even more striking as they settled in us, bearing the weight they ought to have, as we simply looked upon the one who had asked the question.

Of course, how could we know the answer?

I think his words were revealing to himself. His eyes were rimmed in unshed tears, the ache visible and arresting. He was surprised by the sweep of emotion and we were likewise caught up into that surprise. The moment before had been ordinary and now we found ourselves in suddenly deep waters, like when you walk along a riverbed and shockingly find yourself underwater when you simply expected the next step to be like all of the others.

It was another evening in prison, practicing the music before Mass. I don’t remember what preceded this conversation, but I remember the moment when we plumbed the depths. One of the men was sharing about how it was against the rules to hug volunteers and then another mentioned how he had recently been hugged by a pastor when he was struggling with a situation. And, suddenly, there we were in the depths as the man recognized the importance of that human contact, the need he had to be embraced by someone who cared about him.

I wondered if he even cried in the moment of receiving the hug. After he asked that question, those of us nearby could only turn and look at him, reveling in the stillness and sincerity of the moment. It was a window into his soul. We didn’t know what he had been struggling with at the time, but we were certain that this simple action from a pastor was life-giving and humanizing.

Continue reading “Hugging Lazarus”

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The Rich Man and Lazarus

If you don’t often feel uncomfortable when reading the Gospel, you might be reading it wrong.

Between a Monday evening Bible Study and Friday classes, I have the great gift of looking at the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel at least six times during a typical week. Sometimes, I’m a little dense, though. It took until Friday afternoon or Saturday before I genuinely started applying it to me.

This past Sunday the Gospel was about the rich man and Lazarus from Luke’s Gospel. It is clearly a rebuke of the rich man’s lack of compassion for the suffering of Lazarus. Also, it emphasized the finality of death and the subsequent judgement.

At first glance, I felt pretty comfortable. I do not look at the suffering of my fellow man with zero compassion. Yet I was prompted to wonder: perhaps the rich man did see Lazarus, did see his suffering, did feel moved–just not enough. Maybe the idea of reaching out made him feel uncomfortable. Or he didn’t know what to do. Or he was nervous that the suffering of Lazarus would be too disturbing to experience up close.

The Gospel suddenly became something I could apply to my life as I remembered a situation where I saw someone suffering, felt bad for them, and then did nothing. There were about three times when I had witnessed a man sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the sidewalk, well past a time when he should have been home or in a shelter. It was an arresting scene: the sun had set, it was a bit blustery, and there he sat in a wheelchair on the sidewalk with a blanket stretched over his entire body, from his feet to over his head. I saw it and I kept driving, every single time.

Continue reading “The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Mr. Knightley and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

I feel very ready to fall in love.  As a bonus, I’ve seen all of the movies, so I know exactly how it should happen.  My eyes are keenly on the look-out for anything that looks like what I think love is.  I’ve yet to find it, though.  Probably because my love will come disguised as something else, as something other than the period drama/romances I’ve steadily consumed over the past decade.

My housemates and I have watched Emma and I have essentially fallen in love with Mr. Knightley.  Of all of the male leads in Jane Austen’s novels, I believe he is my favorite.  Sensible and kind, he is persistent in loving Emma and seeking after her own good.  He is firm in his corrections of her behavior yet has a tender place in his heart for her.  He is everything a young man ought to be.  While not entirely, wildly consumed by his emotions for her, he admits in his proposal that if he loved her less he might be able to talk about it more.  I melt inside as I watch the relationship unfold.  His pure, disinterested love for her is arresting.  At points he is jealous of her attachments to others, but he always seeks after her best.  Faith isn’t mentioned much in his lifestyle, yet he embodies so many of the works of mercy every Christian ought.

I’m sold.  I’m in raptures about the fictional creation of Jane Austen’s mind.  He seems to be the perfect composite of all things good.  The only matter that is left unresolved is the simple thing of willing him into existence.

Despite the manifold attractions of Mr. Knightley, I have also recently fallen in love with another man.  However, this one is real although deceased.  Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati has been pulling at my heart lately.  This is largely because I’ve been reading a biography about him (written by his sister) and teaching a unit on him for a new class this semester.

So many things I find on Bl. Pier Giorgio trumpet him as the “ordinary Christian” and one who shows that all are called to holiness.  When I examine his life, however, I find much that seems beyond me, much that seems to be very extraordinary.  He is full of joy and vivacity but also contemplative and compassionate.  While born into a family of affluence and influence, he desires to give his money to the poor, to live his faith ardently, and to devote his short life to service.  Generosity overflows from his person as he gives his very coat and shoes to those who go without.  Wealth had no hold on him and the poor were not even aware that he was wealthy.  Thousands of people come out at his funeral, people that his family had no idea he helped.

There is so much about Bl. Pier Giorgio that I long to imitate.  I have felt a particular desire to imitate, to a degree, his great service to others.  Pier Giorgio was my age when he died.  It makes me wonder how I have used my time so poorly while he was spending with gusto every moment of his short life.  Of course, I am not called to be just like Pier Giorgio, but as a blessed in the Church, he is held out as an example of the lay faithful life.

This love I have for Bl. Pier Giorgio is more than simple admiration.  He is weedling his way into my heart, pointing out areas that need growth.  Talking or thinking about him fills me with a great joy.  I want to be like Bl. Pier Giorgio.  If I had lived during his time, I would have wanted to marry him.  As it is, I want him to be my particular friend.  I want him to be someone in Heaven who is interceding for me, petitioning Christ for the graces I need to live the Beatitudes radically.

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

Divine Revelation

Jesus loves the poor.  Today in class we read the story of Lazarus and the rich man from the Gospel of Luke.  The rich man neglected the needs of Lazarus and his punishment was hell while Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham.  As happens fairly often, I find myself teaching my students, trying to drive home a point that I am simultaneously realizing I do not live by. 

“Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms that helping the poor is necessary.”

The interior dialogue is one that my students cannot see and one that I wish was different.

“Trish, what have you done to help the poor?”  Apart from a few isolated instances, I am loathe to say that I have done very little.  I am quick to reassure myself that I am not that rich man, I would never be so calloused.  But perhaps I am, in many ways.  I am quick to reassure myself that some are called to embrace radical poverty.  However, some are not, I remind myself.  I think of unused clothes in my closet and then I think of those who go without many clothes at all.  I think of the slight pain I feel on a day of voluntary fasting and then I remember the involuntary starvation of people around the globe. 

I’m not going to lie, at times Pope Francis makes me uncomfortable.  He is crashing into my world, he is kissing the feet of inmates, he is embracing the disabled, and it is disconcerting.  Not because I dislike the imprisoned or the disabled.  Rather it is because I find myself falling short of the Gospel message in many ways and I don’t like that truth. 

The Gospel is radical.  Some of my students are under the impression that everyone has heard the Gospel and that it isn’t something that is difficult.  Yet there must be a reason that people grew angry with Christ and persecuted Him.  They didn’t drive Him to the brow of the cliff because He told them that their lifestyle was perfectly acceptable.  He challenged them.  Today He still challenges us.  The Bible is both a book of comfort and a book of seemingly impossible challenges.  I am to be meek, humble, loving, sacrificial, trusting, repentant, merciful, poor in spirit, and so much more.  I will be hated by all for the sake of His name and will be handed over to be killed.  I will be given the words to speak at the proper moment and I will not defend myself against the accusations of others. 

We are so quick to make the Bible a good story that Christianity is based around without realizing the radical implications for our own lives.  In order to fully embrace Sacred Scripture I will need to accept the gift of transformative grace.  I will not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.  The Gospel is challenging and if what is being preached about the Word of God is not challenging us and calling us to change, then it is not the Gospel!  If I read the Bible as it is meant to be read then I cannot be content to be complacent.  I can never say that I have done all that I need.  The message of the Gospel calls for continual conversion. 

The story of the prodigal son fit in perfectly with the recent words of Pope Francis.  I was telling my students about the beauty of the mercy of God as He is depicted in the father in the story of the prodigal son.  The father doesn’t wait for the son to even reach home but races out to meet him.  And he doesn’t wait to hear the son’s plea to simply be a servant but he gives him the best of everything out of gladness that his son is home.  “The Lord never tires of forgiving, never!  It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness.”  All of Heaven rejoices when one repentant sinner returns home.  Even as I am explaining this to my students, I am realizing in a deeper way the truth of this.  God doesn’t forgive us begrudgingly.  He doesn’t sigh when we approach the confessional, slightly irked that we have done again what we just promised we would strive to never do again.  He isn’t like me.  He doesn’t wonder how I could be so dense, how I could be so self-centered.  Rather, He races to me with open arms and rejoices in my repenting.  What a God!  He calls us to be what He created us to be and yet when we fail, He calls us to return to Him and begin again.

I do not sacrifice enough for the poor.  I do not love my students as I ought.  I seek after acceptance and affirmation more than holiness.  I fall into being judgmental when it isn’t my place.  Yet God is calling me to overcome these failings with His grace and begin again.  The Word of God is living and effective.  It is cutting to the heart of the matter and revealing the truth of who we are and who God is.  It is uncomfortable and disconcerting.  But it is compelling and captivating.  It rebukes, consoles, reassures, revitalizes, convicts, elevates, and embraces.

I hope my students are learning at least half as much as I am.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” –St. Jerome