To Praise You For All Eternity

To Praise You For All Eternity

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

(Amazing Grace)

When we started singing Amazing Grace, I recalled that this was very moving for me during my first prison retreat. It didn’t seem like it would be the case this time as those gathered sang semi-enthusiastically.

Then we approached the final verse and I was overwhelmed with a fierce love for these men and a great desire to spend eternity with them. I gazed around the room and saw the guy who reminded me of some of my students and heard the obnoxious men behind me who were chatting or making noises during parts of the Mass. I thought about the men who struck me as a little creepy in how attentive they were to all the young female volunteers. And I thought of one of my favorite prisoners standing beside me who has grown deeper and more devout since I met him four months ago. Thinking about all of the men–the ones I like and the ones I am uncertain about—I felt a great desire to praise God with them for all of eternity.

My heart had a burning desire to turn to my prison friend next to me and say, “_____________, I want to spend eternity with you!” But it seemed like I’d be coming on a little strong. And although it would maybe weird him out, he would probably just laugh and say, “Okay. Calm down, Trish. But, yeah, I know what you mean.” I didn’t tell him that, but everything in me wanted to do so. Instead, I just looked at these men and imagined all of us in Heaven.

Lord, I want to spend eternity with these prisoners.

I imagined us praising God forever and chatting about past memories. “Remember when you came into the prison and met us for the first time, Trish?” And I would tell them I did. We would laugh—that we met in prison of all places but that God used each of us to help draw the other toward Heaven. “Remember the terrible prison food?” And we would all rejoice that we would never, ever again eat that food.

Continue reading “To Praise You For All Eternity”

Eyeliner and Reality

Eyeliner and Reality

I was expecting a lot of things for my retreat, but I wasn’t expecting that not wearing eyeliner would be one of them.

By most standards, I don’t wear much makeup. Despite the fact that my mother has sold it for my entire life, I don’t like even really talking about it or experimenting with it or purchasing it. I utilize it, but I don’t really care about it. On retreat, I eliminated it from my morning routine for a few practical reasons: I wasn’t going “out” anywhere and it seemed it would only look worse when I would inevitably cry as the Lord worked through different matters within me.

The second or third day of not wearing eyeliner, I found myself looking in the mirror, slightly bewildered. That is what my eyes actually look like? My fair complexion and light hair is exactly why someone created eyeliner and mascara. Without it, my eyes aren’t as emphasized and everything looks a little paler.

Since I was on a silent retreat, I leaned into the discomfort rather than away from it. It wasn’t about vanity so much. I would look in the mirror and I would remind myself: these are your eyes. This is what they actually look like. And as the days passed, they seemed more mine. It stopped seeming like I was missing something that ought to be there, but rather that I was seeing reality. When I left retreat, I found that I wanted to keep seeing those eyes that are really mine and in the way they actually are.

(Stick with me, guys, I promise this is not an entire post about makeup!)

I’m not swearing off eyeliner: it does what it is supposed to do–it makes my eyes stand out. But I realized on retreat that I never want to forget what my eyes actually look like. It was a perfect physical takeaway from the tremendous interior work that the Lord was doing during that time of silence. The entire retreat was one of re-crafting my eyes to see me how the Lord actually sees me.

Continue reading “Eyeliner and Reality”

Rome’s Concreteness

Rome’s Concreteness

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.’

Acts 23: 11

The readings for our pilgrimage to Rome were rather perfect. For a few days, they focused on Paul’s arrest and subsequent journey to Rome to stand trial. As we visited the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and walked old cobblestone roads, the Scripture readings came alive. Here was the place Paul had come in chains, insisted on preaching the Gospel, spoke to the Christian community, and later died for Christ. It felt more real, more alive when in the place where so many important things happened.

When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them, ‘My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty. But when the Jews objected, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no accusation to make against my own nation. This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.’ 

He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

In excavated catacombs, in the ruins of the Roman Forum, and in the expanse of the Colosseum, the reality of what had transpired in this ancient city rang clear. We prayed before Paul’s chains, momentarily visited the area where he was believed to have been beheaded, and stood near where Peter was crucified. Traversing beneath the current basilica, we stood before the bones of St. Peter, our first pope, and experienced the feast of Pentecost in the square just above. Everywhere we turned we were encountering concrete reminders that the apostles had visited this place.

I love several particular verses in Romans, but I couldn’t help but be struck anew that this was a letter written to the Roman people. And as a girl from the plains of South Dakota, where anything from the early 1800s feels old, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous that little Roman girls and boys get to grow up reading a letter written to them by St. Paul. How loved that letter must be! How beautiful to read: To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Then to read at the end of Romans as Paul lists numerous people to greet for him, real people who were working in the vineyard of the Lord and who knew Paul.

Continue reading “Rome’s Concreteness”

Another Weary Day in the Battlefield…

It has been a rough day and a long week.  One of those weeks where I look at how many months it is until summer break and I realize that I have only just begun.  My thoughts should still be turned to those of excitement and eager anticipation of the events yet to come.  Maybe I feel so worn down because I’ve been lacking in prayer.  Perhaps I’m simply tired.

At times I feel this weariness deep down in my bones that shouldn’t be found within the person of only 23 years.  I long for Heaven.  At times, I seem to ache for it.  I’m weary of life.  Already this year I’ve had my fill of teenagers and they are the source of my job.  I’m tired of rolling eyes, softly muttered comments, overly talkative classes, looks of pure boredom, and the list continues.

Last week I asked my students if they would rather work a job where they make lots of money but hate it or a job where they make more than enough to survive but have to forgo fancy extras but love their job.  In one class the majority chose to work a job they hate so that they could have all the things they want, take nice vacations, and retire early.  I always figured I would rather work a job I love but this week confirmed it.  Sitting at the dinner table, exhausted and wanting nothing more than to sleep for a week, I thought of what a horrible existence it would be to spend 8 hours at a job I hate, spend the rest of the day tired and dreaming of sleep, only to wake up and do it all over again.  Not for nine months but for the entire year.  Where is life in that?  Where is the time to actually live and be with people?

I do not hate my job.  On some days, I love it.  On days like today, I go to the chapel, beg the Lord for help, and return to the street/battlefield/classroom.  And this idea begins to grow in the back of my mind–what if the Lord desires something else from me?  Maybe He doesn’t want me to teach next year but rather to……  And I draw a blank because there isn’t exactly an application for “wife and mother”.  [And I would cringe at the thought of answering that kind of help wanted ad. “Help wanted: woman to marry and rear children.  Will be paid in a decent house, being woken up in the middle of the night to feed/change/rock child(ren), and beautiful drooling smiles.  Mail application and sample of chocolate chip cookies to…..”]

Lord, I pray, I’m lonely.  I want a “kindred spirit” or a “bosom friend” with whom I may pass through this world.  What a feeling it is to be surrounded by people all day long and yet desire to be alone, but not truly alone, just away from the maddening crowd.  Sometimes I blame God because I feel that He should have made me more adaptable to this world.  My heart shouldn’t get hurt so easily by a few rude looks or a handful of subtle attacks.  I shouldn’t long for solitude so much if I was to have a profession that deals with so many people.  I know God didn’t make me for this world but it seems I could have been made with slightly more skills suited to life on Earth.

Convents sound like beautiful places at this point.  Not because I believe they are easy but because in many ways my heart feels very much aligned with it.  I like to be quiet and by myself.  I enjoy work and prayer.  I would love a community of sisters.  My two older sisters in religious life have made me quite aware that there is more to monastic life than that.  Nevertheless, I desire it.  Yet not the vocation itself.  I desire marriage.  I am a contemplative thrown into the world who seems to not find time to pray.  I am a fish thrown out of the water and I refuse to admit that the water is my source of life.

I’m unsure if any of this makes sense.  All I know is that today I nearly cried during a class and I’ve thought several times over the past couple days, “What if I didn’t come back next year?”  My spiritual director has been helping me find areas of hurt and bring healing to them.  We are trying to make my heart whole again.  Today I began to believe that teaching was simply destroying the whole process.

Maybe I love far too many ideals and not enough realities.  I love my students–as they should be.  Yet when faced with a teenage girl who is subtly mocking me in front of the class, I have to keep myself from crying tears of rage.  I love teaching–on the days when things goes perfectly and my students radiate with kindness and sincerity.

Heaven help me.  So if you are reading this, stop right now and say a prayer for me and my students.  We can definitely use it.  For all of those out there facing far more difficult battles in the streets, know that my little sufferings and prayers are with you.  And let’s all get to Heaven so this can all just look like one inconvenient night in a hotel (thanks St. Teresa of Avila).

Society’s Plague

At times I wonder how much I live in reality.  I know in theory how the world is decaying but I can say that much of my life has been fairly sheltered.  And I am not complaining.  But sometimes I want to know the secret lives of my students.  I think some of them would shock me.  My students aren’t bad but I am certain that some of them are far more worldly than I am.  While I don’t particularly desire to be worldly I think it would be good for me to know exactly what are the difficulties that my students face on a daily basis, what do they struggle with, how are they tempted.

Last week I was explaining the arguments for God’s existence as a review for our quiz.  While recapping the argument from beauty, one of my students asked if the devil created ugly things them.  I told them that the devil will twist and distort beauty.  A couple more questions and clarifications were added and as I was speaking I felt like I would be avoiding the topic if I didn’t include it.  I told them that pornography distorts beauty.  That woman has this inherent beauty and that the devil distorts that by making her purely physical or an object.  I noticed a shift in the feel of the room.  Some of the boys who previously were making pretty good eye contact were suddenly not meeting my eyes.  It wasn’t as though they all got red or gave tell-tale signs, but I noticed a shift in the atmosphere.  Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but almost a subtle admission of guilt and perhaps some curiosity about it.  And I wondered how the scourge of pornography is impacting our Catholic high schools.  I want to know how prevalent the problem is and yet I feel as though if I knew I would simply feel discouraged.  What a society they are being sent into and are a part of now.  It is difficult to try to teach them the truth when doing so means that one must speak against nearly everything found in the culture.  They begin to think that the Church is against everything instead of seeing that society is running away from God.  This is certain the time of the Church Militant.  But have no fear, the Church Triumphant and Suffering are in this with us!

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.