A Scandalous Mercy

A Scandalous Mercy

“If Hitler repented before he died, after all he had done, would he be able to go to Heaven?”

You know, just some light, casual conversations on a Friday afternoon.

“Yes, if he repented….You don’t like that answer, do you?”
“No, I think he should be in Hell.”

“Let me ask you a question,” I said, knowing that sometimes asking questions is the only way to escort them to the doorstep of truth. “Where do you draw the line? How many people can someone kill or order killed and get to Heaven?”

“Ummm….none.”
“So nobody who has ever killed anyone could have a conversion and go to Heaven?”
“No.”
“Are there any other sins that you think God should be unable to forgive?”
“No.”
“But do you see the problem with choosing what is too much for God to forgive?” And he did, but he still wasn’t convinced that God should forgive Hitler if he repented.

This interaction prompted a much longer conversation than I expected. Our starting point was the Gospel for this upcoming Sunday and it bothered some that the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the wandering son were all received with joy and the ones that remained weren’t so celebrated. The father in Luke’s Gospel extending abundant mercy to the younger son was troublesome and annoying to them. Why does the one who wanders get a party and the one who stays gets nothing?

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The Beloved One

The Beloved One

Is John the most arrogant of all the disciples?

Throughout the Gospel of John, essentially whenever John refers to himself, he doesn’t use his name. Instead, he says “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” At first glance, it might seem like pure arrogance, pride over the fact that John was one of the “inner three” Jesus drew particularly close to Himself.

Or it might be something else entirely.

When I discuss this title with my students, they are a bit surprised that John refers to himself as the beloved disciple. But then I try to draw their attention to the other claims John could have made.

John, the only disciple at the foot of the cross.
John, the one who leaned his head near the heart of Jesus and sat next to Him at the Last Supper.
John, the disciple who arrived first to the tomb after the Resurrection (because he ran faster than Peter).
John, the youngest of the disciples.
John, the one to whom Jesus entrusted His mother.

What do we see instead? John, the one whom Jesus loved.

There are several unique roles that John played, but when writing the account of Jesus, he chooses to simply be known by the fact that Jesus loved him. More than everything else, the love of Jesus is the most precious to John. He is the beloved disciple.

Contrary to what we might think initially, his belovedness is not in conflict with anyone else’s belovedness. It isn’t John, the one Jesus loved more than all others or to the exclusion of all others. It is simply: John, beloved by Jesus.

It is a title we could all claim.

Is that what I see first, though: my belovedness?

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Learning the Way of the Cross

Learning the Way of the Cross

Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?

I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.

Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.

Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.

Lord, what can I see in this?

As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.

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My Ars

My Ars

St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars. Not just one time, either, but multiple times. He wanted to leave Ars for the peace and solitude of a monastic life. And while I lack the great holiness and fervor found in the Cure d’Ars, I definitely identify with his desires to leave the world behind and live quietly removed from the chaos.

My spiritual director reminded me that St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars as we meandered down the sidewalk.

“So this high school is my Ars, huh?”

“Yes,” he replied, “there are a few similarities there it seems.”

“He died there, didn’t he?” I said, in an attempt at wry melodrama.

He paused for a moment as my imagination latched onto the idea of decades spent at this one high school, right up until the moment of my death. (I’m a melancholic–we consider death often.)

“You might not physically die at school, but, yes, I think you will die there.”

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A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires

A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires

A few days ago, I attended my sixth high school graduation as a teacher.  The following day, I attended the first funeral of a former student.

I had wondered before, briefly, at a few sporadic moments, what it would be like to go to the funeral of a former student.  Of course, I hoped that it would be several more years before I would find out.  At the graduation, I watched the students parade by, diplomas in hand, with an unknown future filled with a thousand moments they couldn’t expect.  As a whole, they were excited, ready to leave the halls of their high school and venture into a bigger, bolder world.  The next day, I stood before a woman who had crossed that same stage three years earlier, but, too quickly, now rested in a coffin.

My beautiful, wonderful, frustrating, and interesting students have a million possibilities in their lives.  Some will go on to achieve great things, things that will cause them to be well-known and highly esteemed.  Some will go on to achieve small things, things that will make them loved by a few and yet will impact the world in an authentic way.

And some won’t last very long at all.  They get caught up in addiction or depression or violence.  It was no secret at the funeral that we shouldn’t be there and that there should be a very different ending to the story that was before us.  It was also no secret that drugs were responsible.  As I watched her mother in a mournful embrace with her husband, I wanted a picture to show my students.  I wanted to tell them, “This is how drugs impact your family.  This is what you are doing to your parents.” Continue reading “A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires”

The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You

The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You

Thankfully, I’m dying bit by bit.

I had a professor in college who liked to shock us by saying, “The Holy Spirit is trying to kill you.”  And, honestly, there is a lot in me that He needs to kill.

At the end of last week, I was frustrated with many of my students and tired of teaching.  One class seemed to be intensely critical of everything I was saying, perhaps a reaction from an impromptu assignment the day before.  Then a phone went off in class.  Finally, I asked students to take down papers I had them stick to the board and a few seemed to think it would be funny to tear them off, leaving them slightly crumpled.

It was all more than I wanted to deal with at the time.  And so I reacted.  I spoke a bit too harshly to the students who didn’t seem to care about the activity I had thrown together for them.  They were upset, but I was perhaps more upset.  One wanted to argue the matter and I told them to come back later if they wanted to discuss it.

I had a couple class periods to reflect on the situation.  My response, I soon realized, was not to that isolated situation but to the frustration of the entire day.  And I knew that wasn’t fair, but I couldn’t undo my unfair reaction.  So when one of the students stopped by after school, I was surprised, but glad.  We had a conversation and a few moments of it I could feel myself getting a little upset again.

In the end, part of me died.  I told the student I over-reacted and the punishment I threw out wasn’t fair.  While apologizing, I admitted that I hadn’t responded in the way that I should have responded.  “I agree with you: you don’t deserve a detention.  I’m sorry.” Continue reading “The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You”

God Died

God Died

“God died, Trish.  God died.”

I was a little surprised at this statement, coming from my five year old nephew.  We had just started the drive from my house to my parents’ house.  Perhaps it was the fact that we were passing a Catholic church or maybe the thought just came into his mind, but the statement seemed like it was out of left field.

“Who told you that?”  Even though my mind was immediately jumping to Nietzsche’s famous ‘God is dead’ statement, I was pretty certain my nephew had a different source.  Did he have a little atheist friend at school?  Did his teacher say something?  Was an older student filling his mind with such things?

“My mom and dad.”  Well, that changed it a bit.
“What did they say?”
“They said that He died.  He really died.”
“And that He rose from the dead?”
“Yeah.”  That detail didn’t seem quite as important to him.

Yet the Resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important details of all.  If He was who He said He was, then the Resurrection verifies His claims.  If not, then there could be no greater blasphemy than claiming to be God and, by all rights, the Jewish leaders were correct to condemn Him to death.

The incredible aspect of the Resurrection is sometimes lost on those of us who have spent our whole lives hearing about it.  But if we take a step back, we might be able to appreciate more fully the bold claim we are making.

We claim the Incarnation is true, that God took on human flesh–He didn’t just appear to be human or was merely human–and dwelt among us.

Later, He was condemned to death, scourged, crucified, and then died.  After wrapping His body in clothes, He was laid in a tomb, which was sealed with a large stone and had a Roman guard stationed in front of it.

Three days later, the tomb is empty, the guards are confused, and His body is nowhere to be found.

We claim that He rose from the dead.  He actually died and then He resurrected.  Not “came to” or was revived, but entered into a new life, one that could never end again in death. Continue reading “God Died”

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 Vocation of the Present

The Vocation of the Present

As school draws near and I find myself mentally preparing for a new year, I feel a growing excitement.  It is mixed, however, with the knowledge that once this roller-coaster starts, it will not truly end until May.  So I am saying a sad goodbye to sleeping in, staying up late, and not repeating myself fifteen times.

A few days ago, as melancholics are apt to do, I was reflecting on death.  Particularly on my death.  And how I don’t know when it will happen.  It could be seventy years or this week.  I have hopes and dreams about getting married and having a family, but those may never be fulfilled.  Perhaps, I mused, perhaps I haven’t met the man I will marry because there isn’t one.  Perhaps I don’t get married.  Perhaps there is not much life left for me.   Continue reading “The Vocation of the Present”

Pursuit of Peace

Pursuit of Peace

A couple weeks ago, I made a trip to my parents’ house to celebrate the 4th of July with a nice homecooked meal (and since I didn’t want to be eating leftovers for the next while, I needed more than one person at the meal).  While my dad was outside, my sister and I were working on the meal as my mom looked through some mail.  We were chatting about different things and my mom was reading a letter from an organization defending religious liberty.  She mentioned that 100-something people were killed in a horrible manner recently in a country in the Middle East.  I don’t remember specifics.  I just remember how I felt.

My heart ached.  She finished her sentence and I asked if we could talk about something else…and then I just broke. Continue reading “Pursuit of Peace”