Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings

In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me.  The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses.  Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too.  Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”

So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings.  I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady.  One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life.  One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis.  The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.

Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart.  We want to be home, but not confined.  We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost.  All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.

Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.

Philippians 4:11-12

I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in.  Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart.  I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed.  And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire.  What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”

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Unlikely Friendships

Unlikely Friendships

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were good friends.

In a world where rational discussion and respectful dissent is viewed as semi-impossible, these two Supreme Court justices demonstrated how it could work.  They didn’t simply clash over minute details: one could say they had almost fundamentally different views of the law and that translated into different worldviews.

My friendship with Judge, later Justice, Scalia was sometimes regarded as puzzling, because we followed distinctly different approaches to the interpretation of legal texts.  But in our years together on the D.C. Circuit, there was nothing strange about our fondness for each other.

Scalia Speaks Foreword by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Despite differences in opinion, they were able to have a genuine appreciation for each other.  In several sources, Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks of Antonin Scalia’s wit, grand presence, and shopping skills.  I don’t believe she is merely coming up with things to speak about for the sake of maintaining some public reputation of a friendship.  It has all the hallmarks of genuine sincerity–as evidenced by Ginsburg speaking at a memorial for Scalia following his death.

The friendship they share is significant to me because I, too, share a similarly surprising friendship.  Of my friends from elementary and high school, there are only a few with whom I keep up.  (Keep up is used rather loosely because I’m not really known for excellent communication where distance is concerned.)  Melissa was a close friend in high school and yet, in the years since, I think the friendship has deepened, though we speak infrequently.  Our friendship was born of mutual interests of theater, classes, and a desire to learn.  As the two ladies in calculus, we forged a deeper bond from confusion and frustration with the class.  Many of my memories from high school involve Melissa, whether it be laughter we shared, scenes she caused, or stories we told. Continue reading “Unlikely Friendships”

Nostalgia

Nostalgia

Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer.  The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me.  However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.

Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota.  A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through.  I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me.  So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.

But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool.  For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away.  After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers.  Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.

These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation.  Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings.  The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”

My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks.  As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year.  Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship.  My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially.  My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent.  While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit.  As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.

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During my semester abroad, I spent some time making my “snow family.”  This is of my two older sisters.

After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth.  Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like.  When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic.  The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic.  While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been.   Continue reading “Nostalgia”

Praising at the Potter’s Hands

Praising at the Potter’s Hands

The other night, I gathered with a group of people to enter into praise and worship.  As we praised, I was forced to acknowledge that I so often forget to praise God in my daily life.  I am thankful for many things, but too infrequently do I stop and simply praise God for who He is, independent of anything He has done for me.

As I sang, I couldn’t help but consider how it pleased God to hear hymns rising amidst the violence that surrounds our world.  To the unbeliever, the songs of praise would seem ridiculous.  How could we praise a being we claim is all-powerful while conflict seems to send ripples of tension across the surface of the earth?  Even as I praised God, I could imagine a person gesturing to point after point of contention.  How is God good here?  How is God loving here?

I don’t always know the solution or have the knack of finding God perfectly in all things.  Yet I know that in a world of aching longing, He is found in the small and large moments.  In those moments I spent in the church with others, praising God, I felt His presence, but primarily I felt a desire to respond to God as we ought.  Too often caught up in asking for things or pouring out my feelings, I wanted time to just adore the God who Is.   Continue reading “Praising at the Potter’s Hands”

Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Gift of the Liturgical Year

Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Gift of the Liturgical Year

On a plane ride a few weeks ago, I found myself seated next to the founder of a Protestant church. He laughed because he was sandwiched between two Catholics, a married man who had been in Catholic seminary for a little while on his right and me, a Catholic high school Theology teacher, on his left. The conversation was pleasant, but the pastor shared one thing that seemed rather significant to me. Although he founded and now pastors an extremely contemporary church, he said his personal prayer is quite liturgical. This point fascinated me because it spoke of the true desire for liturgy is woven into the fabric of our beings.

As humans, we are bound to worship, whether our focal point is God or something else varies for the individual.  Perhaps overly simplified, the liturgy is our communal worship, the traditional rites we follow to offer praise, thanksgiving, and supplication to God.  Of the various liturgies in the Catholic Church, the highest is the Eucharist, the Sacrament of sacraments.  Beyond the structure of this liturgy is the structure of the year.  Too often I take for granted the beautiful gift that is found in the yearly passing through the major points of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Several years ago, I heard it said that in the Church’s wisdom she developed the liturgical year to satisfy mankind’s love of change and stability.  Having never before thought of it like that, I experienced a new perspective of something that had always been present in my life.  In delving into the rich rhythm of the liturgical year, I have discovered that the feasting and fasting, as well as the ordinary and extraordinary times, provide a healthy balance in life.  Since humanity often tires of the same thing, the Church moves us through different seasons to celebrate and recall the different parts of the mystery of Christ.  Yet constant change is difficult and so the seasons are cyclical, each new year of grace seeking to lead us deeper into these same mysteries of Christ but in a fresh way.

While the Gregorian calendar tells us a month is left of this year, the liturgical calendar is reminding us that a new year is close at hand.  Personally, I like that the two calendars that govern my life are slightly off-center.  It reminds me that I am in the world but not of it.  As a follower of Christ, it calls me to acknowledge that His grace should cause me to see the year in a different way since my sight is imbued with an otherworldly perspective.

With the Church in the first days of a new year, let us consider the gift of the changing liturgical seasons.

Advent: Waiting for Christ’s Coming

The year starts off in joyful anticipation. Joining our hearts and minds with the Israelites, we wait for the coming of the Messiah. Yet knowing that Jesus has already come and ascended, we wait for His Second Coming at the end of time. This pregnant season of waiting calls to mind St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:22-25.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We do not wait without a purpose. As parents of a newborn prepare for the child’s birth, so we make our hearts ready for Christ’s new birth into our hearts and our birth into eternal life. While Advent is culturally forgotten or seen merely as a time of wrapping presents and sending Christmas cards, it should cause us to remember that we need to make Him room, in our hearts and in our lives.

The best Advent I have ever had was the semester I took an Old Testament Scripture class in college. For months we made our way through salvation history, learning about the covenants that God repeatedly offered man and the ways humanity broke those covenants. We ended the semester with a unit on the prophets and, for the very first time, I encountered a taste of the longing that the Israelites must have experienced. Scripture passages that I had heard before were filled with a new life, a new pleading that God would send a Redeemer. While I knew the Savior had already come, I experienced the “wait” in a new way and thus experienced the joy of Christmas in a new way. Continue reading “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Gift of the Liturgical Year”

A Little More Like Ananias

A Little More Like Ananias

I want to respond to the Lord like Ananias did.

I know I have read this story before, but for some reason when I was reviewing this with my students, my heart got caught on a previously unnoticed section.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

(Acts 9: 10-17)

The Lord calls his name and he responds.

Ananias seems as though he is used to hearing the voice of the Lord.  

I was struck by this response as I spoke to my students about how differently the Lord spoke to Saul and Ananias.  Saul sees a light and falls to the ground, blinded.  A voice from the heavens speaks, telling him to go to Damascus.  Yet when Jesus speaks to Ananias, there seems to be nothing dramatic about it.  Ananias hears his name being called and responds simply, “Here I am, Lord.”  The Lord tells him to go encounter Saul, and Ananias asks a question to be certain this is what the Lord wants.  For the modern Christian, it might seem a bit humorous that Ananias is completely unfazed by the call to go lay his hands on someone so as to bring about their healing.  That is nothing compared to encountering a man who has been persecuting his Christian brethren.  Despite questions and concern, Ananias does as the Lord asks.

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(Image source)

I want that ability to clearly hear the Lord’s voice and that willingness to do whatever He desires.  

Do you see what the Lord does with this man’s “Yes”?  Ananias is the one who lays his hands on Saul’s head, causing his sight to be restored.  The Holy Spirit comes upon Saul and soon after he is baptized.  In a matter of days, Saul has completely changed his direction and Ananias played a significant role in helping Saul encounter the Lord.

I find it interesting that Jesus does not speak to Saul again and heal him of blindness.  Instead, He works through other people.  People, hopefully, like you and me who are striving to hear His voice.  Paul goes on to become one of the greatest missionaries and evangelizers in the early Church.  Thousands of miles are traveled by foot and boat in order to proclaim the Gospel.  Ananias laid his hands on this man and implored the Holy Spirit to come make His home in him.  That is a significant role for someone who is referenced briefly in Scripture.

Never underestimate how the Lord can use you to bring about healing and conversion in other people.  I challenged my students to encounter the Lord and then to let their lives be a living witness of that encounter.  Because our encounter with the Lord changes other people.  When my older sisters became more interested in their faith, it influenced the entire family.  As I have interacted with people on fire for the Lord, it has caused a deeper desire to burn within me.  The Lord seeks us out and encounters us personally, but He often does much of His work through other people.

And that is what blows my mind. Continue reading “A Little More Like Ananias”

As Promised, He Remains

As Promised, He Remains

Several months ago, I was making a mild attempt to listen to the overpowering political discourse, if it can be called that.  As I heard one awful thing after another, I found myself seeking for something to hold onto, some hope or reassurance that things wouldn’t get as bad as some thought.  That is when I remembered–Christ said that He would never allow anything to overcome….Oh.  Yeah.  

Christ promised that nothing would overcome the Church.  Of the United States of America, Christ made no comment.  He didn’t prophesy that this nation would come in several centuries and would be indomitable.  Throughout Scripture, we hear about how the Lord will remain and endure.  Throughout history, we see nation after nation fall.  There are uprisings and reformations, divisions and unifications.  All is changing and all is temporal.

Except the Lord.

He remains.  He endures.  He is steadfast.  He is “I AM WHO AM.”  He is existence itself.  And He promised that His Church would remain until the end of time.  He promised persecution, the cross, and many difficulties, too.  But, He would always remain.

I don’t happen to think our nation is on the verge of dissolving.  However, I do think it is clear that we need prayer and that we need the Lord.  While I am fully aware of the separation of Church and state, I am also aware that one of the longest running institutions is the Catholic Church.  It isn’t such because the leaders have been flawless; on the contrary, they were deeply flawed from the very beginning.  The Gospels are replete with accounts of the fumbles and foibles of the Apostles.  If the Church has not endured because of the perfection of Her members, it must endure because of the perfection of the Lord.   Continue reading “As Promised, He Remains”

What the Lord did with his Yes

What the Lord did with his Yes

It is incredible what the Lord can do with a fervent “Yes.”

This thought came to mind as I heard the news of the death of the president emeritus of my alma mater.  Fr. Michael Scanlan died this morning at 85 years old and the legacy he leaves behind is beautiful.  I try not to canonize people too early and so I will say that Fr. Mike was an imperfect man, like many others.  Yet his “Yes” to the Lord has changed the lives of many.

That is what I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting on right now.  The Lord has a unique mission for each of us and accepting that mission will transform many lives.  Fr. Mike reformed the Franciscan University of Steubenville from struggling local party college to a renowned pillar of orthodoxy.  It was not on his own, of course, because he needed like minded people to work with him in this mission.  As the president, however, he was at the forefront of changing the insignificant college into something that people would travel across the country to attend.

My heart changed in college.  It was through the classes, ministries, and communal life that I experienced a profound deepening in my faith.  My grandpa would frequently ask me if I chose this college simply because it was far from home.  He would ask why I didn’t attend Catholic colleges far closer.  Unless he went there, I don’t think I could explain to my grandpa the uniqueness of this college and how it helped reform my own heart.  Fr. Mike’s “Yes” to Jesus Christ made this possible.  There were many other yeses by many other people, but the “Yes” of Fr. Mike helped bring about change in the lives of many.  When I consider all of the students who attended this college or all of the people impacted by the summer conferences, I thank the Lord for the gift and witness of Fr. Michael Scanlan.  Continue reading “What the Lord did with his Yes”

The Evangelized Family

The Evangelized Family

I am a long way from having a family and kids of my own, but this morning I was led to consider what I would want it to look like.  Although I didn’t come up with specifics, I reflected on a few elements that I would like to implement somehow.  From my vantage point, I am still able to be filled with high-minded ideals and hopeful expectation of a peaceful family life.  In the midst of fighting children, endless laundry, and a whirlwind of activities, I am sure my ideals will be made a bit more practical and a bit less perfected.

While at times difficult to discern, parents have a tremendous impact in shaping their children’s personalities and values.  Yesterday, my sister and I took our niece and nephews to a play.  Throughout the whole play, my niece would slide over to me and say excitedly, “I can’t wait!” or “I’m so excited!”  It never really made sense to me until I re-told the story to her mom later.  My sister-in-law said that her daughter was probably saying what she had been saying over the past few days in anticipation of moving to a new home.  If this can happen for phrases or actions, then the same would be true for matters of faith.

Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith.  When parents model the faith, the children will seek to do the same thing.  It is a monumental task that can seem a bit overwhelming.  At their baptism, you promise to instruct them in the faith and lead them to Heaven.  So this morning in Mass, I considered: how does one do this?   Continue reading “The Evangelized Family”

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

A phrase I have found myself repeating over the last few months is, “A lot can happen in a year.”  It has come up when reflecting on different friends and how their lives have changed.  Sometimes it relates to jobs or relationships or babies.  And, sometimes, when I’m being a bit more pessimistic and thinking about my own life, I’ll add to the end of that phrase, “…or not change.”

Yet, mostly, I utter this phrase in hope.  Whatever state my life is in now, in a year, it could be very different.  Who knows what the Lord has planned for tomorrow?  or next week?  or next month?  His promises and blessings for this next year will definitely be different from what I imagine, but they will continue to change and transform me.

Sometimes change can be a bit scary.  And at other times, change can be prayed for and longed for.  I have numerous desires in my heart that I long for the Lord to fulfill.  But I also can be led to worry about how He will fulfill them and if I am actually ready for Him to fulfill them.  Whatever my current feelings may be, a lot can and will happen in the next year.

This week we are wrapping up one liturgical year and preparing for the advent of another.  Now is a good time to consider how the Lord has poured out His blessings upon our lives.  The past year of grace has changed and transformed us.  What are specific ways the Lord has caused us to grow?  What encounters have we had with the Lord and how have they changed us?  How have they not changed us as much as they ought?  The next year will continue to do the same in new and unexpected ways.  As we sit on the cusp of a new year, let us pray to be filled with a deeper desire to enter into salvation history in a new way.  May this next year not leave us unchanged.  Come, Lord Jesus, reign in my life.  Let a lot happen in this next year.

In one moment, I can give you more than you are able to desire.
(Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary 1169)