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”

When the Gift is More for Me Than Others

When the Gift is More for Me Than Others

During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students.  When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself.  By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked.  I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally.  Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes.  It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change. Continue reading “When the Gift is More for Me Than Others”

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

May 13, 1917

Our Lady chooses to reveal herself to three children tending sheep in the Cova da Iria.  Tenderly, she tells them to not be afraid and yet she asks them to sacrifice for the conversion of the world.  They are mere children, the oldest one is ten years old, but they agree to offer up their sufferings and sacrifices for love of Jesus and for the conversion of others.

That may seem abstract to many of us.  However, they are quick to concretize this request.  Whenever poor children ask for food, the three children give them their lunch.  As they tend to the sheep, they see how long they can go without water and offer this thirst to Jesus.  Little Jacinta finds out that she will die alone in a hospital in Lisbon and, although she is scared, she chooses to offer this trial up to Our Lady for the sake of others.

We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him.  That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.  God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.

Canonization Mass Homily of Pope Francis, 5/13/2017

These sacrifices, though small in the course of human history, are monumental.  Children are shown to be capable of leading the way to holiness.  Their tangible witness is felt in particular in the place one would expect it: Fatima, Portugal.

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It has been a tremendous gift of mine that I have been to Fatima three times.  The picture above is from the most recent trip.  The man in the picture happens to be the nephew of St. Francisco and St. Jacinta Marto.  His father was their older brother, John.  Proud of his close relation, he showed us the page in Lucia’s book where she speaks about his father.

Each time I am in Fatima, I experience a great peace that comes from resting in a place that is so dear to my Heavenly Mother.  My birthday aligns with the anniversary of her first appearance in Fatima and so I have a filial devotion to this particular feast.  As I have read more about the children and how they fervently responded to her words, I have grown an even deeper love for Our Lady of Fatima and her little children.

May 13, 2017

In so many ways, their lives were insignificant.  Francisco and Jacinta were two children who fell victim to the influenza epidemic in 1919-1920.  Their lives were spent in poor circumstances in a town in Portugal for which few people cared.  While generally good children, they were not known to be perfect.  Yet on May 13, 2017, they were declared canonized saints in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life.

Pope Francis 5/13/2017

Continue reading “Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries”

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”

The Best Defense is Encountering Love

The Best Defense is Encountering Love

You can, in the broadest terms, call it “Catholic culture.”  However it’s described, though, it’s not something you simply argue yourself into.  Rather, it’s something you experience aesthetically as well as intellectually, with the emotions as well as the mind, through friendships and worship and experiences-beyond-words as well as through arguments and syllogisms.

“Letters to a Young Catholic” by George Weigel

Something I am intent on drilling into my students this semester is that Christianity is necessarily a life of encounter.  It is the tremendous beauty of being able to experience an authentic and lived relationship with Christ while also delving into the rich intellectual tradition of the Church.  Catholicism is chock-full of the “both/and” that makes life so simple and yet so deep.

I teach high school Theology to sophomores and seniors, making it somewhat safe to assume that I am not an advocate of an anti-intellectual, touchy-feely Christianity.  Specifically, one of my courses is apologetics, which is teaching how to defend the faith against attacks.  And there are many, many attacks launched against the Church in every age, no less in this one.  Defending the faith, though, is not merely done through well-chosen words or precisely articulated statements.  These are helpful, but much of the battle is done through actions.  If my students do not love the Church, they will be far less inclined to defend or understand Her.

I am well aware that the love I have in my heart for the Catholic Church is not the norm.  My students need to encounter more than the beauty of truth to be convinced.  I read the Church’s teachings and my heart stirs with the acknowledgement that these are profound truths.  Often when my students hear the Church’s teachings, they hear how their freedoms are being minimized or that they are being told what not to do.  However, if they love the Church, they will see that She is a mother caring for and protecting Her children, even if they do not always understand.

This is where the necessity of encounter comes in.  Catholicism, in Our Lord’s great wisdom, is a faith filled with the tangible.  We hear the words of absolution at Confession, we feel (and smell) the oils at Baptism and Confirmation that claim us as members of the Church.  The incense, like our prayers, rises up to the Heavens as we adore Our Lord in the Eucharist.  On pilgrimage, we travel to the places where the bones of the Apostles and saints of the Church rest.  Oddly, we touch our rosaries and prayer cards to their tombs, praying that we will follow the Lord’s will as radically as they did.  We light candles before altars, hoping that our intentions will be continually presented to Our Lord’s throne.  As George Weigel says throughout Letters to a Young Catholic, there is a grittiness in Catholicism.  In this book, he also says the following:

Catholicism does not rest on a pious myth, a story that floats away from us the more we try to touch it.  Here, in the scavi [excavations under St. Peter’s], we’re in touch with the apostolic foundations of the Catholic Church.  And those foundations are not in our minds.  They exist, quite literally, in reality.  Real things happened to real people who made real, life-and-death decisions–and staked their lives–not on stories or fables but on what they had come to know as the truth.

To be Catholic, George Weigel argues and I concur, means to live in reality.  And as someone who so often feels that people think my ideals mean that I don’t live in reality, that is uplifting to hear.  Being Catholic means living in the greatest love story while also fighting the greatest battle of all time, primarily because it transcends time.  As a romantic with more than a touch of stubbornness, these intertwining elements make the Church my perfect home.  It is not merely a battle of the wits, arguing and defending a supernatural institution to a world rooted in earthly affairs.  It is also, and primarily, an encounter with Love, being transformed by Love, seeking to enter into Love.  If love is not at the heart, all is meaningless and in vain.   Continue reading “The Best Defense is Encountering Love”

That Heartburn

That Heartburn

Last year, Fr. Mike Schmitz came out with a video.  And this year, I showed it again to all of my classes.  Sometimes I mind watching the same video six times in one day, but this was not one of those times.  Each time I watched it, I was filled with this desire to be holy and to persevere in running the race.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Before we watched the video, I put this passage on the board and gave my students time to reflect on it.  Each class period, I found something new to consider in the passage.  I could go through it, line by line, and tell you what stood out to me, but that probably wouldn’t be interesting for you.  Instead, I’ll highlight just a couple.  Of course, the video focused on the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us and how the saints are there to push us forward when we want to give up.  Yet I also noticed the “also lay aside every weight” as it shows that we are to, like the saints, strip ourselves of everything that does not help us reach the finish line.  Finally, I was struck by how we are to run the race “set before us” and that it is not necessarily the race that we choose or would want to run.

In listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz and reflecting on that Scripture passage, I am filled again with the desire to be holy.  Though my life is a good one, I do not always feel the adrenaline of being in the midst of a race.  I want it to be exciting always, otherwise I tend to forget that I am in a battle/race. Continue reading “That Heartburn”

Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear

Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear

What if St. Paul didn’t respond to God’s call in his life?

Too often, I assume that the saints would, naturally, follow God’s will in their lives.  I mistakenly believe that it was easy for them–of course they responded correctly, they are saints.

Now we hold them to be saints, but they were not always so.  They had free will and probably had many compelling reasons for not following God.  It probably seemed just as inconvenient to them as it does for us at times.

St. Paul is bound for Damascus and Jesus intervenes into his life in a very dramatic way.  The bright light, the physical blinding, and the clear voice all point to a powerful divine intervention.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  What if, after this encounter, Saul instead returned to his original mission of hunting down the Christians?  In many ways, it might have appeared to be a better life decision.  Or he stops pursuing the Christians, but he doesn’t start to follow Christ.

Following his conversion, Paul goes off to immerse himself in the study of the Gospel.  Then, he presented himself to the Apostles and they were hesitant to accept him.  For a while, he is then considered a traitor by the Jews and someone not to be trusted by the Christians.  When he goes on his journeys to preach the Gospel, riots will frequently spring up as he evangelizes.  At one point, they pick up stones and hurl them at Paul, intent upon killing him.  Dragging him outside the city, they leave him for dead.  When his disciples surround him, he gets to his feet and continues preaching the next day.  In the end, he will be beheaded in Rome, a death he underwent since he was a Roman citizen.

The Lord gave St. Paul the grace of an indomitable spirit, but that doesn’t mean that each movement was filled with absolute certainty.  Perhaps some mornings, Paul woke up and was tired, not wanting to preach and be ridiculed yet again.  Maybe as his feet pounded over miles and miles of Roman roads, his heart was constantly uttering, “Lord, come again.  Lord, end this suffering.  Lord, take me home.”  In the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila, maybe St. Paul experienced the pain of being pummeled with rocks and as he pulled himself to his feet said, “Is this how you treat your friends, Lord?  It is no wonder you have so few.”  St. Paul was a dedicated and faithful evangelist, but that doesn’t mean the Lord surrounded him in constant reassurance or prevented any doubts from entering his mind.  The beauty is that Paul chose Christ daily, even when it seemed foolish in the eyes of his friends and family.

These thoughts about Paul came to mind when I started to watch a video about him in preparation for one of my classes.  The movie opened proclaiming what a great evangelist he was after encountering Jesus and the thought came to mind, “What if he didn’t answer that call?”  The realization was similar to when I realized that perhaps in Old Testament times, God called other people, but it isn’t recorded because they didn’t say “Yes.”  St. Paul had a free choice.  Although God revealed Himself in an undeniable way, it didn’t require St. Paul to choose to follow Him.

My students received the assignment to write an imaginative story about either being a traveling companion of Paul or being a villager in one of the places Paul preached the Gospel.  The goal of the writing was to consider how they would respond to his preaching and to think about what it would be like to experience those events first hand.  Scripture isn’t a nice storybook about events from hundreds of years ago, but rather it is alive and applies to us right now.  So the underlying question to consider is: how am I now responding to the compelling, radical message of the Gospel?

Familiarity with the message of Christianity makes it appear dull and commonplace.  Yet it is anything but that.  We preach of a God who loved so much that He entered into humanity so that He might pay the price to reconcile all of humanity with Himself.  All of salvation history is God reaching out to humanity and working with our “Yes” to bring about transformation.  God knows how we will respond but He never takes away our free will in order to get a “Yes.”  And even if He knows we will refuse, He still asks and offers us a chance to follow Him.

The beauty of the life of St. Paul is not so much that God called him.  God calls each of us to a unique mission that leads us closer to His heart.  The beauty of St. Paul’s life is that he heard the voice of God and he responded with zeal.  His fervent “Yes” opened the pathway for others to hear the Gospel and commit their lives to Jesus.  May we, in this world that is thirsting for the Gospel in all of its truth and radicality, present the beauty, truth, and goodness found in the message of Jesus Christ.  One that is compelling enough to sacrifice home, family, social status, and all worldly goods to pursue.

St. Paul responded wholeheartedly to God’s call in his life.  What if we didn’t?       

Mild Profundity

A couple mildly profound thoughts that I have had today through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Driving into work I was praying and the Lord brought a prayer to my lips that I didn’t understand until I had said it.  “Lord, bring about a deeper conversion at my school, beginning with my own heart.”  I prayed that and then just sat there thinking, “Whoa.”  What if I actually lived that out?

Great, I forgot the other one.  But something else I was reminded of was that we never know the hearts of everyone around us.  Many have secret burdens that we cannot know about by looking at them.  Yet if we love each person as if they are Christ, then we can’t go wrong.  Therein lies the task.  Let’s get to it, Christian soldiers.  Go be Christ’s hands and feet.  And I’ll see you in the Eucharist.

P.S. I remembered my other “profound” thought.  I was stopped at a red light and as it turned green a firetruck with its lights on came from behind.  It got in the opposing lane and went around us.  Since my dad was a firefighter for so many years I have a fond place in my heart for them.  However, this time I was thinking about how beautiful it was that everyone stopped and waited for the truck to pass.  It was as if for a moment we were all in one accord and realized, if only briefly, that someone else was more important than ourselves.  Our mad rush to whatever location was placed to the side as we watched others race to the aid of those in need.  It was a small but great moment for humanity.