He Changes Things

He Changes Things

I like teaching and I like going into prison. Sometimes, they aren’t as different as one would think.

I’m not in charge of anything at the prison bible study, so I am able to just sit back and observe what is happening. One of my favorite takeaways from last time was how so many of them have experienced the difference Christ makes in their lives. When they follow Him, they live differently. But then they run into situations in life that shake their resolve and make them revert back to their old ways. It was a beautiful grace to watch them speak of how they are better when they follow Christ and His Scriptures but yet how hard it is to persevere in that life.

In part, it was beautiful because I could relate and I could tell by the numerous bobbing heads that so many of them did, too.

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Old Words, New Meaning

Old Words, New Meaning

Have you ever heard a passage in Scripture and been convinced that it was crafted specifically for you in that moment?

Or have you heard a story or verse again but you are really hearing it for the first time with new ears?

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?

Psalm 24

After a college semester in Austria, I spent a week in Ireland with my aunt. One day, I climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain said to be the place where St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. I’m a plains girl, through and through, but I was excited to have a mini-retreat as I ascended the mountain on my own.

For several months after, I was reminded of this small pilgrimage when I would read Scripture passages that spoke of climbing mountains. Transported, the verses were enriched with the memory of my own mountain climbing experience. The view I had from the rocky summit was striking, reminding me why mountain-top experiences are so formative.

The Lord is king, let the earth rejoice,
Let all the coastlands be glad.

Psalm 97

In college, I went on a mission trip that brought the sacraments to people living along the Honduran coast. We hiked to towns that had no roads and met with people who had almost nothing. My Spanish was limited, but my heart overflowed when I encountered their simplicity and their joy. Returning to campus, I longed to be in Honduras, a place abundant in beauty and where I encountered the tangible presence of the Lord.

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Basic, but Beautiful

Basic, but Beautiful

I have a feeling that for the rest of my life when I return from a retreat, I will only be able to speak of graces and revelations that are profound in their magnitude but elementary in their complexity. This doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising when I came to this conclusion a few years ago. While I’m not saying the Lord can’t reveal anything new to me, I think the revelations will primarily be a deepened understanding and solidifying of truths I already know, albeit superficially.

This understanding came about when I returned from a beautiful retreat. It was enlightening and life giving. Yet the main take-away was nothing new: God loves me. In fact, it seemed laughably basic. Didn’t I already know God loved me? Yes, of course. But after that retreat, I knew it in a deeper, more significant way. I experienced the love of God and it left behind a smattering of old truths seen with new eyes.

Sometimes, the students insist we all keep teaching them the same things. Sometimes, it is true that unnecessary repetition happens. But, it is also true that learning something as a child is quite different than learning about it as a high schooler or an adult. They believe that since they have heard the words before, they know it. Knowledge, however, is something that can be known with the head yet not known with the heart. It is often important to repeat well-known truths because they haven’t journeyed yet from words the mind understands to a reality the heart lives from.

High school students are far from the only ones to do this. The familiar sometimes seems uninteresting when actually we just haven’t plumbed the depths of it yet.

Jesus loves me.
God became man.
The Lord is faithful.
Trust in the Lord.
Jesus rose from the dead.

All of these truths have been heard by Christians innumerable times. Yet how many of these truths have fully penetrated our hearts? How deep of an understanding of the Lord’s love do we actually have? Do we really know and experience the faithfulness of the Lord or do we simply parrot the words? We can stay on the surface with these realities or we can bore down deep and imprint these words on our hearts. Like the circles within a tree, each experience with a particular truth can be packed in deeper and deeper, each additional layer increasing the beauty and profundity of the simple reality.

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Rome’s Concreteness

Rome’s Concreteness

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.’

Acts 23: 11

The readings for our pilgrimage to Rome were rather perfect. For a few days, they focused on Paul’s arrest and subsequent journey to Rome to stand trial. As we visited the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and walked old cobblestone roads, the Scripture readings came alive. Here was the place Paul had come in chains, insisted on preaching the Gospel, spoke to the Christian community, and later died for Christ. It felt more real, more alive when in the place where so many important things happened.

When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them, ‘My brothers, although I had done nothing against our people or our ancestral customs, I was handed over to the Romans as a prisoner from Jerusalem. After trying my case the Romans wanted to release me, because they found nothing against me deserving the death penalty. But when the Jews objected, I was obliged to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no accusation to make against my own nation. This is the reason, then, I have requested to see you and to speak with you, for it is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear these chains.’ 

He remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

In excavated catacombs, in the ruins of the Roman Forum, and in the expanse of the Colosseum, the reality of what had transpired in this ancient city rang clear. We prayed before Paul’s chains, momentarily visited the area where he was believed to have been beheaded, and stood near where Peter was crucified. Traversing beneath the current basilica, we stood before the bones of St. Peter, our first pope, and experienced the feast of Pentecost in the square just above. Everywhere we turned we were encountering concrete reminders that the apostles had visited this place.

I love several particular verses in Romans, but I couldn’t help but be struck anew that this was a letter written to the Roman people. And as a girl from the plains of South Dakota, where anything from the early 1800s feels old, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous that little Roman girls and boys get to grow up reading a letter written to them by St. Paul. How loved that letter must be! How beautiful to read: To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Then to read at the end of Romans as Paul lists numerous people to greet for him, real people who were working in the vineyard of the Lord and who knew Paul.

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Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven

Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven

The Catholic faith, with all of the elaborate liturgies and rich traditions, is a testament to the incarnational reality of Christ. Rather than simply receiving Christ spiritually, we consume what looks like bread and tastes like wine but which we profess is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Rather than simply believing that we are forgiven, we profess our sins aloud and then hear the words of absolution extended as we are reconciled to God. Though not dogma, we profess to have the crown of thorns, nails from the cross, pieces of the true cross, and even the cloth wrapped around Jesus before He was laid in the tomb. The physical realities of the God-man are brimming in the Catholic churches around the world.

On a recent pilgrimage to Rome with some students, I was able to climb the Scala Santa or Holy Stairs. These twenty-eight steps of marble are believed to be the stairs Christ ascended as the Jewish authorities turned Him over to Pilate. Transported from the Holy Land to Rome at the request of Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, pilgrims have come for centuries to climb these steps on their knees as they recall the Passion of Jesus Christ. The ardent devotion of thousands upon thousands of pilgrims began to wear away at the stones and it was a desire of the Church to preserve them for future Christians. Around three hundred years ago, the steps were covered with wood to prevent their further deterioration.

A restoration process that has unfolded over the past few years led to the uncovering of the steps. As the restoration neared its end, for a few weeks during May and June, the Church allowed pilgrims to ascend the uncovered steps on their knees. The pilgrimage I was on happened to fall during the final week of the steps being uncovered.

Nine years ago, I climbed the steps during my first trip to Rome. Knowing the steps would be uncovered this time, I didn’t really consider how that would alter the experience of climbing them. The deep grooves in the marble, formed by thousands upon thousands of knees before me, made the ascent a bit more complicated than when it was on planks of wood. How many knees had been on these same steps? How many kisses had been placed on these marble slabs that formed the path Jesus took to condemnation? How many saints had made this same pilgrimage?

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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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The Parking Spot God Gave Me

The Parking Spot God Gave Me

About five years ago, I prayed that the Lord would help me finding a parking spot.  And He did.

It was at a bar for a Theology on Tap event and tired, introverted me was trying to muster up the energy to attend a talk when I really wanted to fall into bed for nine hours of sleep.  As I circled the parking lot, I told the Lord that if He wanted me to go to the event, then I needed to find a parking spot.

Weaving my way through the full lot, I saw a man talking on his phone at the apartment building in front of me.  He waved and pointed to a spot nearby.  I hadn’t parked there because it was for a business, but upon closer inspection, I realized the business was closed and the spot was fair game.  I laughed, pulled into the spot, and got out of my car.  The man waved and smiled at me.  Wondering if he was someone I knew or was perhaps at the same event, I slowly turned and saw that the apartment building was completely separated from the bar I was going to enter.

A random guy pointing out a parking spot at a bar was a concrete example of God’s love for me.  Walking into the bar, I was convinced the Lord loved me and cared for me.  It was humorous, but it was an encounter with God’s providence of something unnecessary yet greatly desired.  The Lord provided for such a small need so promptly.  An occasion that wasn’t really that spectacular–looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot–remains embedded in my memory because of how God moved in my heart.

In actuality, the Lord was fulfilling my deeper desire for good community by providing a spot that allowed me to go into the bar so I could listen to a talk and meet up with friends and acquaintances.  That evening, I ended up chatting for quite some time with someone who would become one of my dearest friends.  Yet in order for this deeper desire to be fulfilled, the Lord had to satisfy the initial desire of finding a parking spot.  Continue reading “The Parking Spot God Gave Me”

A Law of Freedom, Not Oppression

A Law of Freedom, Not Oppression

The culture seems to indicate that I should feel a bit like an oppressed victim.  Partly because I am a woman and even more so because I am a young, Catholic woman.  The “male-dominated hierarchy” that imposes a radical ban on my sex from becoming a cleric is meant to be railed against.  And yet I do not imagine myself to be oppressed or a victim.  Instead, I feel genuinely free.

Recently, I started reading Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves and I’ve found it to be quite enjoyable.  The stories are from women who embrace the fullness of the teachings the Church has to offer, finding within the precepts a path to freedom and joy.  In the news and social media, many take it on themselves to speak for Catholic women and how we must feel.  Breaking Through makes the bold claim that Catholic women do not need anyone to speak for them; rather, Catholic women have the ability and intellect to speak for themselves.  Instead of writing us off for actually embracing the Church’s teachings, others are encouraged to listen to the personal experiences women have had as they have grappled with and eventually embraced the wisdom of the Church. Continue reading “A Law of Freedom, Not Oppression”

My Little Cross: An Avenue for God

My Little Cross: An Avenue for God

This, I thought, is not the cross I wanted.  Can’t I have something different?

I’ve heard that if everyone could throw their particular struggles and crosses of life into a common pile, we would go through and pick again the one we already have in our lives.  That when we would compare our crosses to what other people are struggling with, we would realize that we didn’t have it too bad the first time.  Or maybe that we would recognize that the cross we have, perhaps oddly and strangely, is one customized for our lives.

It might be true, if I knew the secret things you struggled with, that I would recognize that my cross is far more manageable than I initially thought.  Yet at this particular time, I’m simply wishing I could choose something different.  I survey the struggle and it doesn’t quite seem fair, this thing with which I’m saddled.  Or things, to be more precise.

When I speak of these struggles, I don’t always mean failures or weaknesses.  Sometimes, the cross in our lives is simply a matter of circumstance.  It isn’t anything we can choose to alter, rather it is something we choose to embrace, or at least endure.  The crosses of circumstance might be some of the most difficult ones to bear because we find ourselves unable to fix the recognizable problem.   Continue reading “My Little Cross: An Avenue for God”

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”