The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality.  Yet they managed to completely derail that plan.  When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned.  Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.

Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me.  I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way.  Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.

“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things?  Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic.  If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life?  Like why did God make us?  What is our purpose?”

Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me.  When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.

This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing.  The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live.  So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight.  The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.

To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning.  The Trinity.  I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit.  Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking.  God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love.  Therefore, we are not needed.  God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

The Gospel reading from this past Sunday is one that I find intriguing.  Jesus presents a parable that speaks to the nature of God.  Yet it is a nature that we struggle to understand since it is far beyond what seems natural to our humanity.  The line that stood out to me was near the end.  It was a lovingly spoken parting blow from Jesus, aimed at the egos of His followers down through the ages.

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

Sometimes.

The situation that came to mind was from a recent class as we discussed a few attributes of God.  We spoke of the limitlessness of God’s knowledge, love, and power.  As we waded into what it means that God knows all, questions arose, as I was certain would happen.

“If God knows everything, then why did He…”

You can fill in the blank with whatever you would like.  Sometimes they questioned why God would create specific people, knowing the hurt and pain they would inflict.  Other times they questioned if we truly have free will since God knows everything we will do.  They are interesting questions and ones I try to wrestle with for my students.

The closer to home I can make the examples, the more they seem to understand.  Why would God create people who do evil things when He knows they will do them?  I connected it to free will and asked, rather than answered, another question.

“Is it free will if God only chooses to create the people He knows will be good?  What would it mean if God surveyed our lives and then only created the people who would follow Him anyway?”

While still a difficult concept, I believe they began to see that God loves and creates people regardless of their future actions.  As humans, we are quick to separate ourselves into different groups.  There is Hitler and other really bad people on one side.  On the other, good people like you and me.  So I decided to pose another question to them, one that tries to pry into their idea of “good people.”

“If God chose to only create the people who were good, would we have been created?”

Our instinctual reaction of “I’m a good person” kicks in, only to be checked by, “Am I?”  I do not know what I will do in my future, maybe it will be something awful.  From my vantage point of the present, I can see the mean and sinful things I have done in the past.  I want my students to realize that appearances can be deceiving and goodness difficult to measure if we use subjective standards.

“I am uncertain that I would have been created if God only made the good people.”

This is where I think it connects to St. Matthew’s Gospel from Sunday.  At times, I question why God permits certain things to happen, certain atrocities to be committed by other humans.  Why does He create them at all?

Granted, this is a different situation than the Gospel, but it makes me pause and wonder.  Am I envious that God generously creates everyone, even when I find it difficult to love people who willingly hurt others?  Do I wish He applied a stricter test to people’s futures before He made them?  I don’t think I do, but I question His level of generosity. Continue reading “Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?”

Wonderful Awe

Wonderful Awe

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at my dining room table with a couple of friends and discussed with awe the world around us.  In the midst of busy lives and increasing advancements, sometimes it is easy to take for granted things that should be amazing to us.  For a few hours, my friends and I moved from topic to topic, considering the world with great awe.

Wonder is the normal response to splendor.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This event struck me because of how easy it is to view the world in a tired, jaded way.  While I know a decent amount of theology, my knowledge in so many other areas is small and incomplete.  In day-to-day interactions, I take many things for granted.  Things that would astound me, if I paused for just a moment to acknowledge them.  So we conversed with wonder about the internet, smart phones, suspension bridges, wind turbines, time, and solar power.  It was a joy to consider what the human mind has conceived and how it is possible for us to create things.  A couple of months ago, I read a book about a watchmaker who would travel by train to another town simply to get the correct time from an astronomical clock for his town’s clock tower.  We were amazed that now we could just look at our watches or phones to know the time.

I have had multiple situations where I have discussed with others the beauty of things I do not fully understand.  The complexity of a single human cell, the vastness of the universe, and the splendor of mountains have all, at one time or another, been a topic of conversation and awe.  Yesterday, I flew across half the country in less than three hours.  The fact that flying is even possible helps bring wonder into a situation that can be consumed by impatience with security and airline rules.  I looked with curiosity at the mountain ranges that looked like large creases on a landscape far below me.  A patchwork quilt of farmland and mile after mile of straight country roads soon greeted me as I neared my destination.  I spent much of my flying time reading a book, but every now and then I would look and marvel at the world below and this plane far above.

It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives….Fully jaded men and women, old or young, marvel at nothing….To be listless, dull, bored, and lifeless is not only a miserable condition, it is an illness, a fact obvious to anyone who is intellectually alive.  To respond to reality and to appreciate it are normal; not to respond is abnormal.

Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty

This world that surrounds us is quite magnificent.  It is beautiful beyond understanding.  People laugh a bit at me when I profess the beauty of South Dakota.  And when I was in high school, I probably would have laughed at myself, too.  It was only after traveling around Europe during my semester abroad, that I began to see beauty in a multitude of places.  The scenery became glorious because everything was surrounded in a golden halo simply because it was European.

When I came home, I found myself wanting to pull over to the side of the road to take pictures of scenery.  I was surprised that a field of corn filled me with joy or that wide open prairies seemed as beautiful to me in South Dakota as they had in Austria.  My eyes were opened to see the beauty that can be found anywhere. Continue reading “Wonderful Awe”

Unrestricted Access to My Heart

Unrestricted Access to My Heart

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:21

It is because Jesus loves this young man that He challenges him.  By many standards, this man has done all that he has been asked to do.  He has kept the law since his earliest days.  Yet, he comes to Jesus to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Either he wants to be affirmed in how excellently he has kept the law or he feels there is something more to which he is called.

Jesus looks at him with that gaze that pierces through the heart and is filled with a great love for this young man.  The authenticity of His love compels Him to call the young man to something greater.  Jesus tells the young man to put aside everything of this world and to follow Him.  It is out of love that He invites the young man to run with reckless abandon in the race for Heaven.

Yet the man leaves saddened.  Though he follows the law, he is unwilling to set aside everything for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus issues His challenges out of love, but they vary based on the person.  Some He invites to follow Him and they cannot, refusing to leave behind possessions or family.  Others long to follow Him and He tells them to remain home, sharing the Good News among their own people.  When it comes to living in God’s will, there seems to be no one-size-fits-all approach for the Lord.  His will is customized to the individual and it often seems to be contrary to what we want.

This is why the life of contemplation is the boldest and most adventuresome of undertakings, for what could be more radical, more truly earth-shattering, than the willingness to be dismantled and created anew, not once or twice in a lifetime, but day after day?

The Way of the Disciple, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

He is not satisfied by things done half-way.  Our souls, though we may attempt it often enough, cannot be half His.  The young man wanted to comfortably follow the law and yet Jesus calls him to a life he did not expect.  Sell everything?  Why?  Where is that in the law? 

While I may be tempted to mentally chastise the young man (Jesus was asking you to follow Him!  How could you not?!), I must admit that I am he. Continue reading “Unrestricted Access to My Heart”

Beholding Your Beauty

 

“The acute experience of great beauty readily evokes a nameless yearning for something more than earth can offer.  Elegant splendor reawakens our spirit’s aching need for the infinite, a hunger for more than matter can provide.”                                                          -Fr. Thomas Dubay

An acute experience of great beauty.  Sometimes beauty pierces the heart and the soul.  It catches your breath.  It very nearly makes you weep.  It is a heart-rending experience of something that makes you long for far more, yet causes tremendous gratitude that you were able to experience that small glimpse.

Photo cred for this one goes to my little sister

It can be something seemingly insignificant.  The most recent things that have caused my heart to swoon have been trees.  Last Friday, I was driving to Mass and passed a tree bellowing the glory of God.  It was the perfect shade of golden-red and I felt tears come to my eyes as I gazed at it.  It was a moment of intimate union in my car as I moved passed the tree.  It happened again last night at my parents’ house.  The tree was filled with beauty and sunshine and the brilliant contrast of golden leaves with scarlet was arresting.  Even with my arms laden with papers, I still took a few minutes to gawk at the loveliness of creation.

Yesterday, the priest at Mass focused on beauty and how it can pull us in to something beyond what we can see.  I was in love with his descriptions of different moments of beauty.  Part of me wondered if this is a common experience, the transformative power of beauty that causes one to stop and stare with unabashed brazen wonder.

It happened to me in Switzerland, a land I became firmly convinced that could never be home to atheists.  I wondered how they could look at their mountains and lakes and not see God.  Yet we can all be in beautiful situations and places and simply pass them by, not concerned with the truly monumental aspects.

Take a few moments to soak in the beauty of fall, the beauty of this world.  Gaze at a lovely painting, listen to a classical work, drive through the autumnal countryside–draw up into your soul all of the beauty that surrounds you and let yourself be drawn up into it as well.