My Little Cross: An Avenue for God

My Little Cross: An Avenue for God

This, I thought, is not the cross I wanted.  Can’t I have something different?

I’ve heard that if everyone could throw their particular struggles and crosses of life into a common pile, we would go through and pick again the one we already have in our lives.  That when we would compare our crosses to what other people are struggling with, we would realize that we didn’t have it too bad the first time.  Or maybe that we would recognize that the cross we have, perhaps oddly and strangely, is one customized for our lives.

It might be true, if I knew the secret things you struggled with, that I would recognize that my cross is far more manageable than I initially thought.  Yet at this particular time, I’m simply wishing I could choose something different.  I survey the struggle and it doesn’t quite seem fair, this thing with which I’m saddled.  Or things, to be more precise.

When I speak of these struggles, I don’t always mean failures or weaknesses.  Sometimes, the cross in our lives is simply a matter of circumstance.  It isn’t anything we can choose to alter, rather it is something we choose to embrace, or at least endure.  The crosses of circumstance might be some of the most difficult ones to bear because we find ourselves unable to fix the recognizable problem.   Continue reading “My Little Cross: An Avenue for God”

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"Quo Vadis" — A Call to Bearing Witness to Authentic Christian Living

I recently read Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz and was drawn deeply into the story.  It is set in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero and tells the tale of the beginnings of Christianity.  While I enjoy history, I am probably far more uninformed than I should be and thus it took me a bit by surprise to read of the moral depravity found in Rome.  Sienkiewicz accomplished the arduous task of transporting the reader into the time period and understanding the tradition of the times.  Prior to the revolution of Christianity, Rome was a burgeoning epicenter of vice and immorality.  The feasts held by Nero were consumed with gorging oneself on food, drink, praise, lust, and selfish whims.

Enter Christianity.

The Christians are portrayed as being something entirely different from the rest of the Romans.  They are set apart and act with never before seen goodness, honesty, and courage.  When faced with betrayal and anger, they freely bestow forgiveness.  The Christian life is not presented as easy by any means, but it is presented as filled with light and being something beyond human powers.  As I read this book I thought about how beautiful it was that the witness of Christians to the truth in word and deed was able to transform a sinful culture.

Think about that: the witness of Christians in their words and deeds consistent with what they profess to believe was able to transform a culture of death and vice. 

Nero spread the lie that the Christians were responsible for the great fire in Rome but when the citizens saw the goodness that was at the root of the Christian life, they doubted the words of their emperor.  While the martyrdom of the early Christians seemed to provide a set-back for the Church, soon they were inundated with many people who wanted to be Christians.  The bloody deaths they endured do not seem to be good advertisement to prospective members, but they were drawn by their courage, love, and the manner in which they died.  The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.  By their faithful witness to Christ and His teachings, they were the compelling force that spoke to the basic dignity of the human person, the freedom found in forgiveness, and the willingness to die for that which one firmly believes. 

I found myself thinking that if it happened once, what is to stop it from happening again?  We are again facing a culture of death and a world riddled with vice.  Yet the Truth is still living and active.  What if we became the faithful Christians who lived what Our Lord taught and by this simple witness were able to spark another revolution?  To be a Christian is in essence to be a revolutionary.  In Quo Vadis the words on the lips of Vinicius, one of the central characters, struck me as something that perhaps we wouldn’t be so quick to proclaim today.

“It’s not enough, you see, to honor Christ with rituals and worship. You have to live according to his teaching, and that’s like coming to the edge of an ocean and being told to go across on foot. It’s deeds, not words, that matter to these people….There’s no longer a difference between the conqueror and the conquered, the rich and the poor, the master and the slave. Christianity means the end of all authority, of government, of Caesar, of the laws, and of established order as we know it. Instead there is Christ. There is an instant sense of mercy never found anywhere before. What follows is such superhuman goodness that it overturns everything we know about mankind…I tell you frankly there’s nothing more at odds with my character than this Christian teaching, but I simply can’t tell who I am since I brushed against it. Is this love or magic? I don’t know…I feel as if they’ve changed my soul!”

Our very souls must be changed, must be transformed by the very life of Christ.  If we simply go to Mass each Sunday, we are not giving a faithful Christian witness.  Our lives must be filled to the brim with the Gospel, it needs to find it’s way into every aspect of our life.  We must be the people that others look at and are amazed at our goodness, forgiveness, and zeal.  Not because we desire the praise, but because we are witnessing to what a life rooted in Christ actually is.  When I think of the early Christian martyrs the last words to come to mind are: mediocrity, comfort, politically correct, and fashionable.  If we desire to be like the early Christians, then we must also abandon the hopes of being able to live a mediocre, comfortable, and easy life.  When I look within myself, I discover that I am very attached to all of those things.  I want to be great and be a saint, but I also don’t want the sacrifice that is necessary.

Sienkiewicz very clearly presents the seeming contradiction found in the truth that the more you surrender to Christ, the more happiness and freedom you gain.  Vinicius wonders how he could be happy giving up the life of Roman decadence he has always known, but the happiness he discovers is of a far grander and long-lasting sort.  From the witness of the early Christian martyrs to the modern men and women who dedicate their entire lives to Christ in the priesthood or religious life, we see that Christ asks to be Lord of everything.  He asks for much but He rewards generously.  We may not be popular or comfortable in this world, but He promises to prepare a place for us in Heaven.  We may experience ridicule and humiliation, but then we would be simply following in the footsteps of the King of Kings as He was nailed to a cross. 

The world will hate us because we are not of this world.  But we serve a King who is not of this world and who has already conquered it.  The battle has already been decided.  Truth prevails, Goodness wins, Love conquers all!  Which side will we find ourselves on? 

If Rome can be transformed from vice to virtue, can not our world once again become what it ought to be?  I do not know what the Lord will ask of me in the future in order to bring about His Kingdom, but I do desire to have the grace and courage to do as He asks.  After a radical encounter with Truth, we cannot remain as if we have not changed. 

Imagine what the Lord could do with a few souls that do only His will.

Will you be one?  Will you say yes to the grace that is trying to flood your soul and pierce every avenue of your life?  Will I say yes?

Pray for me, dear reader, and I will pray for you.  May the Lord give us the grace to endure whatever may come.  The grace to follow Him to Rome to be crucified, to the classroom to be mocked, to the office to be scourged, to the public forum to be humiliated, to our families to be dismissed, and to our world to be belittled.  And may the world be transformed by the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty that we bear witness to through God’s grace.

 

I’m Worn…

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left….

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn
–“Worn” -Tenth Avenue North

That was how my week ended.  It found me filled with a great sense of tiredness and my inability to be perfect and teach as well as I desire.  I want perfection or at least success.  It is hard to remind myself that God is desiring my faithfulness far more than my success.  My competitive nature wants to win and even though I don’t quite know who I am in competition with, I can feel that I am not winning.  Perhaps part of my mopey feelings stemmed from remembering that I was a natural at school as a student but am not quite a natural as a teacher.  For some reason I assumed that those two went hand-in-hand.  But, alas, they do not.

I received some criticism, some fair and some unwarranted, from a student as the topping to my Friday.  Those words echoed in my mind throughout that evening and into the rest of the weekend.  We are an ungrateful society but it is difficult to find gratitude in the faces of students who don’t even want what you are offering.  So I spent the weekend wondering what God wanted, frustrated with my students and more so myself.  If I was less stubborn and bull-headed I might have considered quitting or finding a different job in the near future.  This sounds dramatic considering the conversation that took place wasn’t earth-shattering.  Primarily what topped the feeling chart was that I was tired of not adequately communicating the love I have for Jesus and the Church and wondering why I was in a position so obviously ill-suited to my temperament.  Yet the weekend continued on and all of this pondering and wondering led to much fruit.  On Sunday I watched “Beyond the Blackboard” and I began to put my situation in perspective.  The movie is about a teacher who faces seemingly insurmountable odds and yet, of course, she manages to come out ahead and be a wonderful inspiration.  I knew the ending would be triumphalistic but it was what I needed to get me back into a “I can make a difference and help people” mindset.

So I decided to pursue a course of change.  For a melancholic, this is a quite a feat in itself.  Monday I started all of my Apologetics classes with my students writing down what they like and dislike about my class.  I encourage charity and criticism with the intention of being constructive.  For the most part, my students were very good.  While my ego was wounded a bit in the reading of them, I found much that encouraged me.  Some students were encouraging since I was a first year teacher and others told me to not take it too personally because religion isn’t well-liked by many people.  It also reconfirmed the realization that no matter what I do, I will never please all of them at the same time.  The weekend gave me time to build things up and feel as though everybody hated me and my class.  Some of the students claimed to have no complaints, others had some reasonable complaints, and others took the opportunity for what it was worth and, hiding behind the anonymity of it, let me have their unadulterated criticism.  I shared with my mother that I was beginning to partially understand how God could be frustrated with us–I have only 115 or so students that I am trying to please while God has 7 billion.  No matter what I due, someone will be displeased.  God does things far better than I and still people are continually unsatisfied with what He is offering.  Too often I am among that number.   

I wonder at times if the Lord has placed me here not because of anything I can teach my students but rather because of something that He desires to do in my own heart.  Perhaps in some way teaching can convert my heart like nothing else could.  Sometimes my stubborn heart is my downfall and at other times it is that which keeps me from giving up and surrendering the battle. 

Lord, I am still in this battle until You take me home.  But I renewed my desire again today that it be Your classroom and not mine.  You are a much better teacher.   

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.