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”

To Be or Not To Be….All is a Gift

It was the end of the day and one of my students was posing one of my least favorite questions.  The question is mildly manageable if I sense that the student is asking this question out of sincerity and a desire to understand God in a deeper way.

That wasn’t how he asked the question.

His question was posed more in opposition to God.  It was meant to hurt our perception of God as loving and merciful.  And I find that attitude very difficult to tolerate.

“Did God use Satan to strike the people down in Egypt at the Passover?  Or did He use one of His angels?  And if it was one of His angels, how come God decided to kill so many people?”

In a certain sense, it is a fair enough question.

In another sense, it tears at my heart.

So perhaps my reply was a little more abrupt then necessary, but it was to illustrate a point.  I didn’t directly answer the question at first, but I attempted to answer the incorrect aspects surrounding his perception of God.

“God doesn’t owe us anything.  God doesn’t even owe us life.”

I think they were surprised by that response, in all its bluntness.  I reassured them of God’s great love for them, but spoke of how it is never our “right” to exist.  Existence, in its entirety for humanity, is a gift.  God, in His great love and mercy, never blots out our existence.  For mere mortals, death will come.  For even the God-man, death came.  But life continues beyond the grave.

We are a people who expect that certain things are our due.  It seems an injustice to us that bad things happen, that we are not treated as we wish, and that death will come to us all.  How many people have expressed, in the throes of sorrow after the death of loved one, that it was so unfair to lose them as they did, when they did?  I do not disagree that death can be tragic or that we will be left with many, many unanswered questions and seemingly unheard prayers.  Yet isn’t it the natural course of life?

I am not owed this next breath.

It is not my due that tomorrow will dawn and I will be alive to see it.

It is not my right to live until an old age, surrounded by loved ones.

In reality, God owes me nothing, because He has given me all I have in an act of extreme generosity.  It is not necessary that I am alive, but He wills it to be so, for now.

God gives life and God can take that gift away, too.  It doesn’t make Him a murderer, as the question my student posed seemed to imply.  A murderer is one who does not have the right to take a life and yet does.

Let’s say each month you receive $100 in the mail from a close friend.  If that friend should stop sending that money, would you then call them a thief?  Of course not!  They were generous to give the money, but as a gift, it must be freely given.  And as a gift, it can end.

All of this is not to make you question the tenderness or faithfulness of God.  He cares about you with a fierceness that is intense to behold.  Yet His ways are so often not our ways.  It can be confusing to muddle through the events that befall us and see how God is working in the midst of devastation.  It won’t always be easy and we often won’t understand.

But this is necessary to know: If God removes a gift, it is because He is offering a different kind of gift.  

It may not always be easy to see the beauty in that new gift, though.  When we are no longer healthy, we can experience the gift God offers in suffering.  When we experience a death, we can see the gift God offers in grief.  The gifts never cease to flow abundantly from His hands, but they may look other than we would wish.

To a generation that thinks they are owed so many things, I told them God has never been beholden to them.  Everything they have and everything they are can be chalked entirely up to the mercy and love of God.  They did not have to exist and yet they do.  And it is very good.

You are here because God desires you to be here right now.  It would not be less loving of Him for you to no longer be alive; He would simply be offering you a different kind of gift.  However, since you are here right now, God has a purpose and a mission for you.  Throughout this life, He will offer you many gifts.  You might not like them all.  But in the end, He will offer you one of the greatest gifts, life everlasting with Him.  I see that not as robbing me of something that is my due (how pale this life will seem in comparison to the Beatific Vision), but inviting me into a mysteriously beautiful gift that is entirely undeserved.

So breath in and breath out.    

Those were gifts.  Handcrafted, uniquely given to you.  Not because He had to, but because He chose to.  Someday that won’t happen.  And that will be a gift, too.

Thank You, Lord, Giver of all Good Gifts.

Sacrificial Love

The headlines and news broadcasts are filled with images of the families and friends of those affected in Newtown, CT.  This is one of those instances when the media and technology is both a grace and a curse.  How wonderful to know that people around the nation and world are joining together in prayer for a community most people have never been to or even heard about prior to this past Friday.  Yet the images and constant replaying of the stories leads one to wonder if this is all done truly out of compassion or perhaps out of a desire to have a big news story and our insatiable desire for excitement.  When is a breaking news story shared because of a desire to enlighten others and when is it the desire to be the first to hit the airwaves with the shocking news?  I wonder at times if we aren’t simply living from one drama to the next.

I saw this not to downplay or dismiss the losses felt by those in Newtown, but simply to re-evaluate our constant desire to know more about it.  I, too, have watched news fragments on the Internet and desired to weep over what was being shown.  There is something about the death of the innocent that evokes strong feelings within each person.  It is a greater sense of injustice, a greater wrong has been perpetrated.  The grief we feel would be of a different caliber had the victims all been adults.  But when we see the ages of 6 and 7, we rightly feel that justice was not done.  Every time something like this happens, I internally link it back to abortion.  Not because I want to diminish the tragedy and say, “Something bad happens every day, get over it.”  Far from it.  I desire to simply say, “Yes, this is a tragedy.  But there is another tragedy that doesn’t get the news coverage, that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves because it is considered to be a ‘hot button’ issue and that people have conflicting feelings about it.  Or because it is a choice.  That is a tragedy that we should all be weeping over.”  The death of the innocent does evoke a heartache in us that speaks to our very desire to defend that which is weak and vulnerable.  Rightfully so.  But let us not forget the accepted deaths that occur daily.  Let not familiarity breed apathy.  We hear about abortion and so we are accustomed to the horrors of it.  Yes, it is bad, but could it truly ever be stopped?  I don’t think that is the important issue, really.  Each parent would greatly desire one more of those children to be spared, even if the child was not their own.  As such, I desire for each child that is being carried into the abortion clinic to be spared, to be carried out once again, living in the womb of his mother.

As a teacher, I find it especially touching to hear the stories of the teachers who sacrificed their lives or put themselves in harms way for the sake of their students.  It makes me wonder if I would have the same resolve.  My students had asked me about the morality of a very hypothetical situation over a month ago.  I had been telling them that it was wrong for the biblical Saul to commit suicide and that while we can never judge the fate of one who committed suicide, that the act is always intrinsically wrong.  Being sophomores, they wanted to find a circumstance in which it would be acceptable.  Who better to put on the stake then their teacher?  So the situation went as follows: say a person came in with a gun and said that either I killed myself or he would kill all of my students.  They looked at me, thinking that they had stumped me.

“Which one would you pick?  Would you sacrifice yourself for us or would you just watch us all be killed?”

They thought I had to choose one of their options.  I was firmly convinced that there were other ways that they had not thought of.  So I presented my “game plan” to them, should this event ever actually take place in real life.  I said that I would throw myself at the man–knowing that I would die–but that when I did that, all of the men in the classroom were to jump up and charge him also.  They seemed a little surprised by my response, and while I wasn’t, I was left wondering if this was really a matter to be discussed with my students.  A while after I heard about the Newtown murders, I re-thought what I had told them and decided that I wouldn’t really alter anything I had said.  The vastly hypothetical situation seemed a little less out there and closer to home.  I thought about how I would be shaking and terrified, but I prayed that God would give me the necessary strength, should something like this actually happen.

Perhaps this is inappropriate to put in a post that also speaks about Newtown, but I don’t think it is.  I often refer to my students as “my kids” even though I know they aren’t really kids, but they do feel in a way like they are mine.  They may never know the affection I harbor for them, even the ones that also drive me up the wall.  For the most part, I can never tell them I love them, because they would never take it as seriously or as deeply as I mean it.  They are each too deep to know in such a short amount of time, yet I feel like I know quite a bit about them, simply from their behavior and class work.

From the fragments of this blog, perhaps what can be redeemed is this fact: that the ultimate sacrifice is never made without smaller, seemingly insignificant sacrifices made prior to it.  The sacrifices would largely be chalked up to “my job” by most of my students and those around me.  But I think there is something deeper involved.  I do not claim to be the best teacher or the most sacrificial.  Yet I think that despite the incongruent images, spending two hours to make bon-bons for my seniors, staying in my classroom until the sun has gone down again, listening to their stories and ramblings, grading their countless assignments, and taking them in prayer to nearly every Mass I’ve been to since I got the job–all of these will be the tiny sacrifices that make it possible for me to make the “ultimate sacrifice” should it be required of me.  Sacrifices like these and the ones many other teachers make will generally not gain the headline on the newspaper, but they are what makes it possible for one to lay down one’s life for a friend.

May God grant peace to those who have died, peace to those who survive, and peace in our hearts and the entire world.  May He also grant us the grace to sacrifice, regardless of the personal cost.