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”

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.

Continue reading “Unplanned”

The Church Showed Up Again

The Church Showed Up Again

Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.

The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.

That did not happen.

As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.

The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.

Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.

Continue reading “The Church Showed Up Again”

Sophie Scholl: The Power of the Written Word

Sophie Scholl: The Power of the Written Word

Sometimes I wonder why I take the time to write.

While I enjoy writing, it doesn’t seem to be changing or transforming the world.  In fact, “the pen is mightier than the sword” seems a bit lost when we are inundated with words upon words.  Blogging seems ridiculous in a cyber world overflowing with anyone and everyone’s thoughts and opinions.  Amidst the suffering and tragedies occurring daily, why do I post my thoughts, experiences, and reflections? Why add one more little voice to the cacophony?

The other day, I stumbled upon a name that I knew little about yet was not entirely unknown to me.  Sophie Scholl.  Curious, I found a website with a story about the White Rose Resistance and the role of Sophie Scholl.  In a few moments, I felt as if I had discovered the reason I stumbled upon this article.

One day in 1942, copies of a leaflet entitled “The White Rose” suddenly appeared at the University of Munich. The leaflet contained an anonymous essay that said that the Nazi system had slowly imprisoned the German people and was now destroying them. The Nazi regime had turned evil. It was time, the essay said, for Germans to rise up and resist the tyranny of their own government. At the bottom of the essay, the following request appeared: “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.”

The leaflet caused a tremendous stir among the student body. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi regime had surfaced in Germany. The essay had been secretly written and distributed by Hans Scholl and his friends.

Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose – A Lesson in Dissent, Jacob G. Hornberger

This young Sophie Scholl along with her brother and friends built a resistance through writing.  Speaking out against the Nazi regime was a sufficient reason to be executed by the state.  What was the reason they used mere words to fight Hitler?  Sophie told the courtroom during the “trial.”

Sophie Scholl shocked everyone in the courtroom when she remarked to [Judge] Freisler: “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”

Speaking the truth in a world filled with lies is a courageous undertaking.  The truth has a power to stir and ignite people.  It is a bold, troublesome thing that inflames hearts, encouraging them to risk all for the pursuit of truth.  Not everyone is courageous enough to speak this truth.  It makes others uncomfortable and it often costs us something.  I’ve had more than one occasion where questions in the classroom resulted in uncomfortable sessions of truth-telling.  When students ask questions about divorce, contraception, homosexuality, mortal sins, and so on, I try to tread lightly, but truthfully, as I attempt to explain the wisdom of the Church. Continue reading “Sophie Scholl: The Power of the Written Word”

Speak Truth

Speak Truth

There is something about truth that attracts.

It isn’t because the truth is always what we want to hear.  Many times, it is the exact opposite.  Truth, however, spoken ardently and sincerely can be a powerful force, a compelling and crushing beauty.

Challenging someone with unadorned truth can provoke change.  And it can be a testament to the great love and respect the truth-teller has for the other.  These reflections I’ve had spring from a rather unlikely source: I watched a movie. Continue reading “Speak Truth”

Truth and the Balancing Act of Teaching

I hesitate to say this too soon.  Mostly because I have one class period left and that could very well be the class where it all falls apart.  But so far, so good.

Today we spoke of truth.  Specifically objective and subjective truths.  My first year, I naively threw around bold statements like, “The Church is the fullness of truth” and the thing was, I didn’t know they were bold claims.  I was simply saying what I believed and had been taught.  How that translated in the minds of some of my students was that I hate every other religion and think they are stupid.  Or something to that effect.

It is a delicate balance, this teaching high school students thing.  I do not want to tip-toe around and offer the truth with an implied, “I’m sorry that I believe this, but here it is” attached to it.  However, my students aren’t quite ready for the fullness of truth.  There is something to be said about trying to put them in the best possible frame of mind when presenting the teaching of the Church.  Sometimes I come on with too much and sometimes I am a coward by choosing to say too little.  It is an art and I’m not very artistic.

Last class period, I think it went pretty well.  I didn’t want to argue with pitting specific religions against each other.  Instead, I chose the logic route.  Logically speaking, can all of the world religions all be completely correct in their teachings?  Some teach there are several gods, some teach one god, and others profess no god.  Can they all be correct?  Logically, the answer must be no.  I used this to apply it to the different religions.  Is it intolerant to say that not all of the world religions can all be correct?  You can argue that no religion is entirely correct, but you cannot argue that they are all completely true.  I then encouraged them to seek the truth.  Obviously they know what I believe to be true.

My hope is that I intrigued them and challenged them to evaluate their beliefs.  I want them to be grounded and I want them to actually believe what they profess to believe.  If they will honestly pursue the truth, I am convinced that they will find it.  That they will find Him.

A Sinister Euphemism

At times we simply grow accustomed to the sinister euphemisms that are found in our world.  They make life more comfortable when we have a pleasant way to say something awful.

One of my students just turned in a parental permission form for going to pray in a park and also in front of Planned Parenthood later in the semester.  Those words struck me as if I had never seen them, let alone be the one to write them: Planned Parenthood.

One would read those words and, if one didn’t know any better, would assume birth takes place there.  A birth might take place there but it is entirely accidental.  Nobody goes to Planned Parenthood to actually walk out a parent cradling a child.  The idea it presents is that you are to only become a parent if you plan to be one.  Part of the trouble (or gift–matter of perspective) is that by the time Planned Parenthood is “needed” the person is most likely already a parent.

As I looked at those two little words—so innocent on their own—I wanted to say that it was unfair.  They shouldn’t be allowed to use those words, to speak those lies, to shove that myth down the throats of the unsuspecting and vulnerable.  But of course—that is why those chose it.  It is built on a foundation of lies.  And do you know what happens with that kind of foundation?  Jesus does.

“Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.  But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”  (Lk. 6: 47-49)

The days of pernicious lies are numbered.  In the end, everything will be tested and what is not of the Lord, will fall.  And the ruin will be great.

Surrogacy and Women: A Rant

“Wouldn’t spending the money and going through the extra effort prove they loved the child more?”

“Isn’t is just nice to do for someone?”

In a move that was perhaps questionable from the outset, I decided to open the floor to questions for the entirety of a class period.  After a couple weeks of my classes being off-sync, I wanted to finally draw them together and the rampant questions of one class had provided the perfect opening.  However, that class asked questions that flowed naturally from one to the next and with only thirteen in the class, there was a feeling of closeness and simplicity.  Trying to re-create that atmosphere for a class of twenty-nine was a different story.  I offered to them the chance to simply ask questions that they had about the Church or the faith.  The first class had found questions that flowed from Our Lady to salvation to exorcisms.  The next class found a different route and were spurred on by different questions.  They followed the line of exorcisms with a leap to evolution and surrogacy.  The result was a class that ended with a bit more intensity and moral depth.  Time ran out and they left unsatisfied with some of my answers.

I have never really discussed surrogacy with a class before but I had recently talked about such things with a friend of mine.  One girl originally asked the question and she seemed alright with my answer.  Others were not.

“Wouldn’t spending the money and going through the extra effort prove they loved the child more?”

I tried to explain that spending money doesn’t mean more love.  (Only later did I think of prostitution as a fitting example.)  Can the couple love this child?  Of course.  I’m not denying that a couple can love a child they “paid” for, but I don’t think it means they love him/her more.  A great example came to mind (thanks, Holy Spirit) that the true statement of love would not be that I can afford to create a life in a laboratory but rather that I can let go of my desire to have a biological child and rather adopt.  (They argued that adoption was spending money, too.  A different matter, I believe.)  The love is found not in the willingness to spend a large sum of money so that their desires can be fulfilled but rather that they can accept the disappointment and then love a child that isn’t theirs biologically but is accepted totally into their loving family.  That seems to indicate a great love.  
“Isn’t it just nice to do for someone?”
The heartache of infertility is not one that I have experienced nor one that I hope to experience.  However, lending my womb to a friend doesn’t seem to fall under that category of “nice.”  This world tends to approach situations with an “how can I get what I want?” attitude.  The desire isn’t simply, “I want a child.”  That would be easily remedied.  The desire is, “I want a child that is biologically mine even if I cannot carry that life in my womb.”  Perhaps, even, the “want” is changed to “deserve” or “have a right” to a child.  
It isn’t “nice” to let yourself be a host for a child.  You can love that child, you can love that couple, but you are not permitted to let your womb be used in a paid/unpaid transaction.  The worth of woman is more than just a womb.  I don’t quite understand what people mean when they say the Church suppresses women or has a negative view of women.  They have never read Chesterton.  Chesterton will throw men under the bus and elevate the dignity of women in one fell swoop.  They also have never looked very closely at theology.  The Church says no only so that she may say a greater Yes. 
Woman, you may not engage in sex outside of marriage because you deserve the lasting love and devotion of a man who will offer his very life for you, not just a few moments right now.  

Woman, you may not have an abortion because that little baby in your womb needs you and you will only inflict a great wound on yourself.  You deserve better.  

Woman, you may not use contraception because you are a precious gift in your entirety and when you offer yourself to your husband, you must offer your whole self holding nothing back, masking nothing of your beauty.  Your ability to create life is not something to be disabled but something to be exalted.

Woman, you may not be a surrogate mother because you are far more than a host for the baby of your friends or strangers.  You are not an object to be used but rather you are a person to be loved.  It is beautiful for the gift of life to grow within your womb but it should be planted there by God and your husband, not by the doctor in the laboratory.  You are more than what they would lead you to believe.
How any of this becomes heard as “Women are stepped on by the Church” is beyond me.
This “niceness” is not something that should be encouraged because it is the same “niceness” that will cause me to put you out of your misery if I think your quality of life is not good enough.  “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is a cliche because there is truth to it.  It is not enough to just intend to do good things, you must actually do them.  And this good must go beyond my personal understanding of good.  (Cue Hitler and his quest for what he deemed good.)
I was surprised with the direction the class took the Q&A session and how we wandered into the realm of sexual morality.  Again I am convinced that the way to win the next generation is to have holy couples that teach their children the faith in their home and live it out daily.  My rant is finished but I cannot help but wonder what the future holds for this world.  The youth are such an important part of the future and their hearts can be in a world-imposed ignorance.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Fullness

I’ve learned some lessons the hard way.  As a teacher I’ve done things that I thought would work really well but did not.  I’ve said things that I thought they would understand and yet I could not believe how horrible they would misconstrue them.  So sometimes I am left understanding that I made a mistake yet not certain how to actually do it the correct way.  That obviously didn’t work.  But what will?

My first year of teaching (way back last year) I talked to my classes about objective truth, subjective truth, and how the Church has the “fullness of truth.”  The phrase rolled off my tongue easily after hearing it said with great love and passion at Franciscan.  Little did I realize that this was, to some of my students, a very offensive thing to say.  Some were pretty upset with me and I was baffled as to why they would feel such emotions.

The Church has the fullness of truth.  Wouldn’t nearly 12 years of Catholic school lead them to see the beauty of such a statement?  I said it as fact and they resented it.  I paid for my “sin” the rest of the semester.  I was a new teacher, a bit timid, trying to preach the Gospel, and ending up making students dislike me and the Church.  That was how I felt, at least.

So I became a little gun-shy of the statement “fullness of truth” because I knew what a powder keg it could be.  Yet isn’t the truth of the Church supposed to be explosive?  It radically transformed the world as it was and, if unleashed, can do the same thing in our modern world.  Yet I waver.  I wonder if I will push the students away more if I speak too strongly.  Yet I refuse to water Theology class down to “Jesus loves you.”  I want to delve into that truth.  “Jesus loves you and so He gave His life for you.  Suffered and died for you.  His human heart ached for you.  He loves you at every breath you take and wills your very heart to keep beating.  That is what I mean by love.”

So when the “fullness of truth” phrase came up today in one of my classes I was hesitant yet determined to speak clearly.  While being gentle and charitable, I wanted to not be apologetic.  I didn’t want to say:

“Yes, the Church believes she has the fullness of truth but I am very sorry that she says it like that.  She could just say she thinks she is correct…it would be essentially the same thing.  Let’s just say the Church is a really good institutional body but sometimes we let it go to our heads.”

OK, perhaps a bit dramatic but I didn’t want to give them the wrong impression by swinging my gavel down and condemning the rest of humanity to Hell.  I don’t think that but students can conjure up rather impressive falsehoods in their minds.

I said the Church has the fullness of truth.  That to hide this truth or to claim to be just another church, any one of which would be fine to join, when we believe that it was instituted by Christ Himself would be a lie.  Christ was pretty dogmatic.  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  That statement doesn’t leave much room to follow some other way.  He also was known to anger people and to upset modern notions.  Perhaps that is what we need today.

Tomorrow I might be facing a class full of students who have thought about what I said and have thrown me in a camp of Catholics who think they are better than everyone else.  Maybe I will find another tempest brewing for this semester.  Whatever may come, I hope they know of my sincerity to teach the truth and, despite all of my fumbles and quirks, that they will come to know Jesus Christ in a deeper way.  The real Jesus Christ who desires to break into our lives, wreck havoc, and bring us to Heaven.  The fullness of Heaven.

To Thine Own Self Be True…

Morals get in the way of fun, don’t they?  I remember taking a Christian Moral Principles class in college and then I began to analyze everything I was doing.  Well, probably not everything…but many things that I hadn’t considered before seemed to present the possibility of being immoral.  Even to this day I cannot quite decide if this semester (because it didn’t last until now) of near scrupulosity was a blessing or a curse, was good or bad.

At times I think we are able to give ourselves passes or excuse ourselves from seeking holiness in every aspect of our lives.  I want to be holy…but it isn’t that bad if I ____________________ (insert current vice or guilty pleasure).  I’m pretty good most of the time but I’m human, which means I am not perfect and thus I ________________________.  While the Lord doesn’t call us to beat ourselves up for being imperfect, He does desire perfection.  We are to strive for the perfection that our Heavenly Father has.  Yet we are really good at excuses for ourselves.

So this semester of questioning the morality of different actions was interesting.  Was speeding a sin?  Would not obeying posted signs or rules be sinful?  Was it a sin to lie to the Nazis standing at the door asking if I was harboring Jews?  The professor I had insisted that it was morally good to follow all just laws to our fullest extent.  Lying, he said, was always sinful, even in the case of the Nazis at the door.  (Side note: Before you get upset about not being able to lie to Nazis, he also said that we were not supposed to tell them the truth either.  Interesting, huh?  We should use “discreet language.”  They don’t have the right to know the information they are seeking because they desire to hurt others.  Anyway, lying in this circumstance would you make less morally culpable because you under pressure.)  Now I wanted to follow all of the rules and I am a person who typically likes to do so anyway.  I think I have a pretty good sense of right and wrong but this class was challenging me to look at things I had always accepted as “not that bad” and strive to look for what would be virtuous.

The memory that comes to mind is from when I traveled to Switzerland and Germany.  The semester that I took the Christian Moral Principles class happened to be when I was studying abroad in Austria.  One weekend a few friends and I traveled to Germany and Switzerland.  We were not in Germany for long but during our time there we went to Fussen, Germany and saw Neuschwanstein Castle.

Isn’t it gorgeous?  Sadly, I never really realized how beautiful it was until I was looking for pictures of it.  We were there for such a brief time.  And now I wish I would have actually toured the castle.  Instead, we got there, looked at the outside, saw the price to tour, and decided against it.  I regret that a little but I think I was getting so used to seeing gorgeous cathedrals and opera houses that touring a castle didn’t seem that special.  It seems a bit crazy now.

The story: We are at this gorgeous castle but decided against touring it.  However, there was a bridge one could get to that gave a lovely view of the whole castle.

Unfortunately for us, it had recently snowed and was closed for safety or to clear it off.  Doubly unfortunate for me was that posted sign was in German and English.  It was easy enough to slip around the gate and several people were doing it.  The people that looked like they would be in charge didn’t seem to mind that much or shoo the people away.  Here was the dilemma–do I obey the rule (made, presumably, with my best interest in mind and clearly posted in English (drat!)) or do I dismiss the rule out of a desire to see the castle and acknowledging that it wasn’t really very bad conditions.

What did I do?

I didn’t go on the bridge.  Instead, I sat by the bags with another girl (who didn’t want to go–not because of a moral dilemma but because she had little interest in it) and felt an internal tugging over the situation.  I can see it going both ways and I hesitate to say that I should have just done it because we are to strive for perfection, not “OK.”  Yet part of me thinks this is being scrupulous.  I don’t exactly know but I know it was a semester of pondering the morality of different things.  (Was it wrong to sit in the lovely window seat even though we were told not to sit there?)

Why does this reverie surface today?  Today the school tried to surprise all of the students.  The original schedule was altered and afternoon classes were not to take place, unbeknownst to the students.  However, word spread (as it always does) and students began to question if we had afternoon classes or not.  Today was a shortened day anyway but the students wanted to be in the know.  Yesterday I managed to dodge all of the questions, carefully replying to afternoon classes that my plans were to watch videos or not do too much.  All true.  However, today I received a direct question and my little “don’t-lie-but-try-to-evade-question” was uncertain how to morally respond.

“Do we have afternoon classes or not, Miss –?”
Pause.  No way to skillfully evade this question without it being obvious.  This was a student just coming into class and many of them were not yet there or paying attention.
“Please don’t ask me direct questions about the schedule.  I don’t want to lie to you but I can’t tell you the truth.”  I am so skillfully secretive.

They kind of laughed at that but I hoped nobody else would ask.  They did.  For them I just responded, “Accept whatever happens today…just don’t worry about it.”  I overheard some of the students talking and saying that other teachers had said there were afternoon classes and that whatever rumors they heard weren’t true.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.  I have lectured my classes on different occasions about always being truthful.  Not that one always has to tell the complete truth all of the time.  (Ex. How do I look?  You look fat and ugly.  What do you think about me?  Well, to be honest, I really hate you.  I can’t stand the way you….)

I wonder sometimes if I take things too far.  I read an article about how telling your children that there is a Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, and Easter Bunny is not sinful because it is helping them develop an imagination.  (If that is not the thesis of the author, I apologize.  I actually skimmed it more than read it thoroughly.  The main gist of the article: you can tell your kids about Santa.)  My professor argued that we shouldn’t tell them things that aren’t true.  People gave examples of kids who, upon finding out that Santa Claus didn’t exist, wondered if Jesus was made up, too.

I think I can see both sides of the story but I am left wondering what is the most virtuous decision.  Because I hesitate when people give the excuse of “it isn’t that big of a deal” or “everyone does this” or “don’t be so serious/strict/restrictive.”  If we are called to be saints, perhaps we will have to look different than others and behave differently.  Not perhaps…we will.  Does being a saint mean being super serious, never joking, and never fun?  No, definitely not.  But saints do strive for virtue in everything that they do.

I end with no neat conclusion because I do not quite know the answer.  Is one being “over the top” attempting to follow all rules and laws?  Or it is simply a death to my desire to be my own boss and do things my own way.  Sometimes just going the speed limit is an act of self-denial.  Do we make excuses for the little flaws we have because we do not desire to put the work into weeding out these things from our hearts and habits?  Or am I being legalistic and missing the main message of God in favor of focusing on little details?  I don’t know.  Maybe all are true to a degree.

“Strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you.” -Sirach 4:28
“A lie is an ugly blot on a man; it is continually on the lips of the ignorant….The disposition of a liar brings disgrace, and his shame is ever with him.”  -Sirach 20: 24, 26