When God Calls You to a Kitchen

When God Calls You to a Kitchen

The image of the Polish Madonna was one I never really cared for until a few years ago.  In the artwork, Mary is hanging clothes on a line as Jesus sits on the ground nearby, playing with a couple sticks that form a cross.  While I didn’t initially love it, later I realized the beauty of the image.  In the simple, ordinary events of everyday life, Mary was pursuing sanctity.  Laundry (clearly, a result of the Fall) was a part of Mary’s life and she did all of it with a gaze towards Our Lord.

The past few days I have been cooking for a summer camp that I attended in my youth and was a counselor for in my college years.  Now, I spend hours in the kitchen, preparing food that will be consumed in mere minutes.  As soon as one meal is finished, preparations begin for the next one.  The work isn’t overly complicated, yet it is more tiring than one would think initially.

I strive to meet Jesus in the ordinary moments of the day, knowing that I am helping nourish bodies so that the souls may be formed.  Yet it is an encounter with humility, too.  My heart wants to make some sort of impact, so I flip the hamburger patty on the grill and flinch when the flames flick toward my hand.  I desire the campers to encounter the mercy of God, so I wash the same pan for the fifth time that day.  I want to create a space where the Lord can move, so I reach into the ice water, crack the egg on the counter, and peel off the shell. Continue reading “When God Calls You to a Kitchen”

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Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice

Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice

Something I gave up for Lent this year is online shopping.  Yet I’ve come to realize in the past week that buying too much stuff isn’t the most prevalent problem.  Yes, I could probably fill a six-foot bookshelf with the stacks of books piled around my room.  The thing that is harder than not buying things is not even looking for them.

My younger sister jokes that for fairly large purchases (like a food processor or an iPhone) I start talking about them six months before I get around to buying them.  I’ve never been much of an impulse buyer.  But this Lent I’m giving up browsing, shopping, and slowly placing items in random online shopping carts.  I have had to catch myself at least two or three times already from following links to Amazon or sites with random household products.

Why am I doing this?  There are two primary reasons: I spend unnecessary time scrolling through websites and I don’t like what looking at so many material things does to my heart.

The first is the lesser of the two.  It is important, though.  Time is a treasure for which it is difficult to account.  The minutes can slip away quickly as I look at what other books will fit nicely into my library.  Or as I scout out birthday presents for family members in advance.  If I am continually feeling like I don’t have enough time, then perhaps I need to evaluate how I invest my time.

But that second reason, that is probably what caused me to stop with the shopping and browsing.  We live in a very materialistic world, but I’ve always felt fairly simple.  That simplicity, though, seems to be more an idea than a practice.  And I don’t like that it seems to be a quality I think I have but actually do not.  Gazing at all of the things I don’t have yet might like to, makes me feel unsatisfied with what I currently have.  Continue reading “Lent: When You’re Little Enough that No Virtual Window Shopping is a Sacrifice”

Holiness in the Mundane

Their faces are registering complete shock.

Personally, I’m a little taken aback that what I said is so surprising to them.

“How can homework make us holy?”
“Do you want to do homework?”
“Yes….er, no,” my student responds, wavering, it seems, between what he feels he should say and what is actually the truth.  “No, I don’t.”
“So doing your homework would mean you are going against your own will and desire to do what you should do.”
“So we are supposed to stab ourselves in the arm?!”
“Doing your homework is a bit different than stabbing yourself in the arm.  I’m not saying you need to intentionally inflict pain upon yourself so that you suffer.  Simply accept the suffering that comes your way and offer it to God.  Choosing to do your homework when you don’t want to means saying no to your own will and yes to God’s will.  Right now you are to be a student.  God isn’t requiring that everyone gets a 4.0 GPA, but He does want you to do the very best that you can.”

How often we fail to see the ordinary, inconvenient, monotonous tasks of the day as paths to sanctity!  We want something extraordinary.  Lord, give us some big task, some grandiose mission and we will fulfill it for You!  Instead, we are given long lines at the grocery store, disobedient children, laundry, and snow shoveling.  They don’t seem quick paths to holiness, but the Lord only entrusts big missions to those who are faithful in small matters.

If the cross my students carry is homework, my cross is found in grading their homework and tests.  It is easy to push it aside, to think I have far better things to do.  Yet, in a way that I don’t fully understand, my holiness can be brought about in grading the 63rd paper about the Shroud of Turin or test over the arguments for God’s existence.  Somewhere in the monotony of that work, I can utter with my actions, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

So homework, study guide writing, end of the year planning, and room cleaning here I come.  And somewhere in the midst, may sanctity be found.

Witnessing to Lived Faith

They were nearly in the palm of my hands.  Not all of them (that would be a miracle) but many of them.  For what seemed like the first time in the entire semester, this class seemed interested in what I had to say.  Gone were the faces etched with boredom.  They were replaced with genuine eye contact and interest.  I hadn’t intended to launch into the discussion for an earlier class, but I had and it had gone well.  Now I was facing a more difficult to please class and the transition I used before wasn’t clear.  I considered not even broaching the subject with them, but just continuing on with the class and ending early.

When I finally began to speak on it, it went better than expected.  I remember thinking at one time, “Lord, this is going great.  They are listening and the story is flowing well.”  This was the best they had listened all year.  I was thrilled.

It struck me later as very interesting that what they listened to the best was what was most personal to me.  I’ve been talking to them about faith and reason for the past few days.  This particular class day I had reviewed the introduction to Lumen Fidei and we had explored what faith is and what faith isn’t according to the encyclical.  I love theology.  But to them it is just another book, at times, that must be read and regurgitated.

I began to tell them that having faith doesn’t mean that it will all be easy.  Yet regardless of the trials, faith is worth it and God desires to be in relationship with us.  Then I told them more in depth about my older sisters who are religious sisters.  I didn’t try to white wash any difficulties or try to evoke pity in them.  Rather, I told them about how it was difficult for me to watch my sisters choose to leave me because they were following God.  My intention wasn’t to highlight any strictness of the orders.  I wanted them to see that I understand sacrifice, being angry with God, and feeling like what is being asked of me is just too much.

This second class seemed to grasp it most fully.  A couple seemed near to tears but just about everyone was alert and listening.  I think it helped them realize my humanity.  Do I love the Lord?  Yes!  But even with this love and this desire to love, I still find myself balking at the sacrifices that are to be made.  While I often paint this as a past sacrifice, it is still an ongoing sacrifice.  I do not always think of the sacrifices but there are moments when the emotions are sharpened, the scab reopened, and the ache felt again.

Perhaps today they forgot everything that I said yesterday.  What I hope remains somewhere within them is the knowledge that life will be filled with sacrifices.  Will I choose to make them with Christ or without Him?  A life of Christian sacrifice is not easy.  Yet I do not think a life running from Him would be easy, either.  Life will arrive and demand things and people of us that we are not prepared to surrender.  Faith is knowing that Someone else cries with you and that Someone desires you infinitely more than you desired your lost love.

That is what makes life bearable.

Movie Love

“I think I’m falling in love with you.”

That line from a movie should be captivating and romantic but at that specific point in the movie I found it utterly—belated and ridiculous.  So far the movie had been mindless albeit slightly different from other chick flicks that I’ve seen, but it came to a necessary aspect in nearly every modern romantic movie.  Boy and girl become very passionate and end up in bed together with no ring on their fingers to make this a marital embrace but rather an over-glorified way to use the other person.  In this particular movie, the guy and girl are in bed and as she is going to tell him something, he looks her in the eyes and huskily admits, “I think I’m falling in love with you.”

My response?  A few short disbelieving laughs and an overwhelming sense of sadness.  You think that you are falling in love with her?  Aren’t those words (or perhaps simply “I love you”) supposed to come before you say those words with the language of the body?  I think the effect is supposed to elicit a response of “Awwww!”  But instead it makes me realize how far we have fallen.  The pinnacle of expressing one’s love for the other person is not found in virtuously denying oneself for the good of the other but rather in letting passion consumed oneself.

The romantic movies that are produced by the mainstream media always leave me less than fulfilled.  The man could be strikingly handsome and the girl witty and smart yet as soon as they fall into the cliché that love = sex, I find myself saddened inside.  If this is what the media is hailing as natural and love, then I shouldn’t be surprised at the decay of the culture.  The dignity of the human person is not upheld as it should be.  When I see a romantic movie it would be nice if I didn’t have to say, “That was good.  Except for….”  Or to think that it would be exactly the love story I would want if only they had shown virtue and a desire for the good of the other person.  Instead I typically leave with this odd feeling that is half wistful and half disgusted. 

I am a romantic by nature–perhaps not discoverable exteriorly but definitely found within my heart.  I want a wonderful love story and a love that is unending.  Yet I do not find myself agreeing with the only romance Hollywood knows how to offer.  Rather I begin to feel that I must be one of a small contingent that has a radically different view of love.  A purer, deeper, truer but far less exalted type of love.  The modern day romantic “fairy tale” ending is ridiculously trite.  In fact, it would be far more innovative for Hollywood to begin to use the oft-forgotten tale of the man and woman who show their radical love for one another within the embrace of Holy Matrimony.

This weekend I found a song with which I have fallen in love.  Her voice is beautiful and the lyrics are true.  It leaves me with a desire to be married yet with none of the bad aftertaste found in the typical mainstream music and society.  Relish this piece of true beauty!

While writing this I also thought of how if we want to transform the media and the culture, we must be willing to support places that are striving to do just that.  I want to see a change in what is being offered in the culture but if I do not support them, how are they to succeed?  So just when I needed it, I received an invitation to support a movie that speaks of the dignity of the human person.  I accepted the invitation and I would like to extend it to you.  While it isn’t speaking of the human sexuality of the person being trampled upon, it nevertheless is speaking about the inherent dignity of each individual regardless of the context of the situation.  Please support them in prayer and money and pass it along to your friends and family.  If we want to see this culture change, it will be through a group effort.  And it will require sacrifice.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/450183161/frohe-ostern-movie?ref=live

P.S. God is ridiculously and madly in love with you.  He is pouring His mercy out upon you but He needs you to accept this mercy and glory in it.  This unfathomable love doesn’t really make sense–but that is probably why it is called “Divine Mercy.”  No mere human person is capable of that kind of love and mercy.  But glory to God we have a God who not only provides for the weak and the lowly (i.e. you and me) but loves to do that. 

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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       

The Quest: To Be a Saint

A new year, some new classes, and nearly 80 new students.  Some interesting things have already transpired, some for which I suppose I asked.  I thought it would be neat if my students took a temperament test and then I could review the results and try to discover some of their characteristics quickly.  So in class I gave them the web address that I wanted them to go to take the test and it just happened to be one for Catholic Match.  I didn’t fully understand what I was setting myself up for until I was preparing to write the address on the board.  When I did, the response was typical–some chuckling, a few muffled remarks, and the overall questioning air that seemed to compel me to confess or deny their silent accusation.  I did neither, for the most part.  Perhaps the next embarrassing thing was telling them that they couldn’t do this assignment at school either, because the school had blocked the address.  At times I forget about the person of the high schooler and fail to remember that many trivial things can be made ridiculous when presented to a group of teenagers.  Another interesting thing occurred when I reviewed the syllabus and mentioned the school policy on cell phones.  In order to make it absolutely clear to them, I added a line that said that failure to comply with the rules would result in harsher penalties.  My seniors primarily glazed over that but my sophomore classes picked up on it and some wanted to know what the penalty was.  I hedged and simply told them that they didn’t really want to find out.

As I was speaking to my seniors today I tried to present the idea of sanctity to them.  I called them to become saints and to not wait for later or to assume that knowing the answers is sufficient.  As I spoke to them I realized how much of this I need to remember.  I cannot simply spend my day talking about Jesus, I must talk to Him.  The more I interact with my students, the more I realize how much further I have to grow in sanctity.  The thought came to me today that God is using this job as a way to draw me closer to Himself, that all of the challenges and problems are His way of perfecting me.  There is a lot of perfecting that needs to take place.  Today I considered my deficiency in love.  I want to love only those who like me.  Praying outside the abortion clinic in college was my initial experience of forcing myself to love in the face of intense adversity.  However, school is different.  It is much more of a marathon.  It isn’t exhilarating or enlightening to love my students in the midst of their utter humanity.  It doesn’t seem heroic, it doesn’t fill me with warm feelings, and I don’t have someone to talk to about how much I feel like I grew in the process.  Instead, it is just hard.  I don’t want to do it and I can feel myself rebel.  Loving to the point of pain.  That is my calling and yet I fail to do it so often.  I was serious when I told them that I would help sanctify them and they will help sanctify me.  Then I realize that if I truly desired to be a saint above all other desires, if my holiness was what I was concerned about more than my physical or mental health, how much more I would do to further that goal.  It is often surprising how lukewarm we can be while mistakenly thinking we are so zealous and hard-core.  How good it is that we have a God who knows the trappings of human nature because He took them on Himself.  But our desire to please Him and live for Him does please Him.  And if we are serious, we will accept the grace He offers to live out His will.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
                                                                                         –Thomas Merton