Advent: What Lies Ahead

Advent: What Lies Ahead

In our culture’s mad rush to start the Christmas season, I am left feeling a bit Scrooge-like.  I like Advent.  The anticipation that gradually builds as candle after candle are lit on the Advent wreath adds to the beauty of Christmas when it finally arrives.  If we jump headlong into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, I believe we miss part of the joy of the season.  Waiting has a sweet longing to it and I want that sweetness for as long as I can have it.

As a child, I remember the eagerness as I would watch the presents beneath the tree grow as time passed.  My younger sister and I would check to find the ones with our names and then try to analyze what was inside.  It was tempting to tear the wrapping off, but we didn’t.  The soft, foldable presents were obviously clothes.  Yet the ones in boxes?  Those were unidentifiable.  We would give them a light shake and then simply wonder about what lay nestled inside for us to discover.  The waiting was half the fun.  Even if I wanted to figure out what the present was before Christmas (my competitive nature desired to win), I also wanted to be surprised.

I won’t argue that I’m extremely patient, however I appreciate waiting for something good.  When I get my mail, I am excited if I find a letter from a friend or a package that I ordered.  Yet I generally open the less fun things first, allowing the excitement and longing for the most desired thing to build.  After trick-or-treating at Halloween when I was a kid, I tried to eat my least favorite candies first, saving the best for last.  Even now, I often find myself saving a bite of the best part of the meal for the end, as if to end the meal on a good note.  Waiting doesn’t change the contents of the letter or the taste of the food, but it seems to add a bit of sweetness as I anticipate what is to come. Continue reading “Advent: What Lies Ahead”

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Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started.  It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier.  The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.

I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church.  The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way.  Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days.  While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.

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After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer.  The parish church was still and cool.  Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer.  Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident.  I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.

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Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest.  Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through.  In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer.  Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar.  While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home.  Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart.  When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.

One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal.  Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth.  A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town.  I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

On the way back from my nephew’s baseball game, I attempted to distracted my niece and nephews by directing their attention to the sky.  It was sunset and the streaming colors changed minute by minute.  I pointed out the different colors and asked if they could see any others.  As the minutes passed on our drive home, I would sporadically stop and ask what other colors they could see in the sky.  They seemed intrigued by the way the colors would transform after only a short time.  It was also neat to hear them come up with different names to describe the precise shade of color we were witnessing.

At one point, one of my nephews talked about how the sky was like a painting.  Excited that they were no longer touching each other or complaining about being touched, I ran with this.  We spoke about how God is like an artist and how he creates these beautiful paintings each day.  They are never quite the same yet they greet us each morning and each evening.  My second oldest nephew is a big fan of math, so I gave him a few math problems to conceptualize how many sunrises/sunsets God has made.  He seemed a bit surprised to consider the thousands upon thousands of paintings God has blessed us with, just stretching back a couple of millennia.

Simple beauty is not lost on children, sometimes they (like us) just need to be directed to where they can see it.  A few colors splattered on the vast prairie skies can be an opening to recognize the way God works in the midst of our lives.  Whether or not I notice, God is pouring out His blessings upon me in new and varied ways each day.  Sometimes noticing it requires fighting nephews and an evening drive home.

This Is Us

This Is Us

I have a friend who once said that some things are cliché because they are true.  Phrases that seem trite and overused are sometimes the best way to say what we want to say.  They have become clichés because they express a truth like nothing else really can.

At times, I fight against what it seems a lot of people like or consider to be the best.  But sometimes, it is because it is actually good that so many people rave about specific things.  On Facebook, I’ve seen quite a few people talking about how much they loved the show “This Is Us.”  With the school year wrapped up, I decided to give it a try.

I don’t think a show has ever pulled at my heart as much as this one has.

I love how they portray the complexity of the human heart.  In this show, families are messy, imperfect, and crucial to our own identity.  As the show unfolds, perfect facades crumble to reveal that everyone is striving to get through life doing the best they can and making numerous mistakes along the way.  It is very human, which makes it simultaneously beautiful and frustrating.  Though the families can be chaotic, a theme interwoven in the show is the importance of family.  Whether they are blood relations or adopted family, the experiences we have in our homes shape how we interact with the rest of the world.

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THIS IS US — Pictured: “This Is Us” Horizontal Key Art — (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

In a world that seems to insist that families can be replaced with technology or friend groups, it is refreshing to see families upheld as the place where we grow, change, and become who we are.  Imperfect families, with parents fighting their own struggles and children feeling their own unique pains, are the places that shape us and show us how to love.  “This Is Us” doesn’t claim that all families are perfect or should be perfect.  I would say they are simply claiming that the role of family is irreplaceable.   Continue reading “This Is Us”

The Burden of Perfection

The Burden of Perfection

When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after the Resurrection, His hands, feet, and side still bore the marks of the crucifixion.  His glorious, death-conquering body held the holes that won salvation.  To be certain, His body was different than it was before.  He was strangely appearing and disappearing, passing into locked rooms, and yet still able to eat and be touched.  Dying and rising had changed His body.  Gone was the appearance scarred beyond human recognition.  However, His body still showed where nails and a spear had pierced Him through.  Why was that?

There are several theological reasons, but I would like to focus on one minor, personal reason.  I would argue that Christ kept His wounds to destroy our image of perfection.  Here is the conquering King, the One who has fought death and won and yet–He still shows signs of this arduous battle.  As the commander of this battalion, as the King who leads His people into battle, Christ is not unaware of the price of this fight.  Our whole lives seem to be a battle towards Heaven.  Christ doesn’t need perfect looking soldiers; He simply needs faithful ones.

The burden of perfection is one we place upon ourselves.  We want lives that are neat and tidy, yet none of us have it.  Sometimes we brand others as perfect, but that is only because we see portions of their lives and not the whole of it.  And when we expect this perfection from them, we encourage them to fake it instead of living authentically.

Often, when I tell people that my two older sisters are religious sisters, I can see them mentally placing my family in a certain type of box.  Years ago, I gave my witness in preparation for a summer of catechizing youth, and one of the critiques I received was that teens probably couldn’t relate to my story.  While I understood what they meant, I couldn’t help but take it a bit personally.  My story of an aching heart being separated from my sisters was not something they deemed relatable.  Since then, I have discovered that it is something to which others can relate.  Perhaps they don’t have siblings in religious life, but many have experienced anger and frustration with God and a plan you never wanted for your life. Continue reading “The Burden of Perfection”

A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness

A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness

When I mention that my two older sisters are religious sisters, people often wonder what my parents did to make that happen.  In a way, I understand, because it is mildly unusual in today’s world to hear about young women making vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Yet I also want to fight against this mentality that holiness is primarily for priests, religious, and consecrated persons.  Sanctity is for everyone and we need to continue to proclaim this good news.  

If you are what you should be, you will set your whole world on fire.

~St. Catherine of Siena

Venerable Jan Tyranowski recently came into my life and he inspires me in the quest for a saintly laity.  He was born at the turn of the twentieth century in Poland.  For over three decades, he led a rather unremarkable life.  But at Mass one day, he heard the priest say that it isn’t difficult to be a saint.  From that day forward, he pursued virtue and holiness with an incredible ardor.

When Nazis invaded Poland, they deported several of the priests in parish, leaving behind only a couple elderly priests.  Knowing of his deep faithfulness, the priests ask Jan to minister to the young of the parish.  Despite his introverted nature and little formal education, Jan began this ministry even though he considered himself incapable.  He formed prayer groups comprised of fifteen young men each.  Each man was responsible for daily praying a decade of the rosary and striving to live out particular virtues.  The groups were called “Living Rosaries” and Jan chose a leader for each group, investing time to spiritually form each leader.

Venerable Jan Tyranowski never married and never became a priest, yet his life of holiness impacts us today.  The Second Vatican Council called for the laity to live more fully the mission of the Church.  This call was anticipated in the life of Jan and he did this in the midst of a Nazi occupation.  One of the young men who was in his prayer group and was spiritually formed by this simple tailor was Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope St. John Paul II. Continue reading “A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness”

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”

The Evangelized Family

The Evangelized Family

I am a long way from having a family and kids of my own, but this morning I was led to consider what I would want it to look like.  Although I didn’t come up with specifics, I reflected on a few elements that I would like to implement somehow.  From my vantage point, I am still able to be filled with high-minded ideals and hopeful expectation of a peaceful family life.  In the midst of fighting children, endless laundry, and a whirlwind of activities, I am sure my ideals will be made a bit more practical and a bit less perfected.

While at times difficult to discern, parents have a tremendous impact in shaping their children’s personalities and values.  Yesterday, my sister and I took our niece and nephews to a play.  Throughout the whole play, my niece would slide over to me and say excitedly, “I can’t wait!” or “I’m so excited!”  It never really made sense to me until I re-told the story to her mom later.  My sister-in-law said that her daughter was probably saying what she had been saying over the past few days in anticipation of moving to a new home.  If this can happen for phrases or actions, then the same would be true for matters of faith.

Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith.  When parents model the faith, the children will seek to do the same thing.  It is a monumental task that can seem a bit overwhelming.  At their baptism, you promise to instruct them in the faith and lead them to Heaven.  So this morning in Mass, I considered: how does one do this?   Continue reading “The Evangelized Family”

Jim and Pam

Jim and Pam

I have a tendency to resist liking things that other people like simply because other people like them.  Make sense?  Of course not.  But I learned that “don’t give into peer pressure” thing really well in elementary school and it just maybe turned me into a bit of a contrarian.  In elementary school, I was pretty adamant about not liking any of the boy bands or Britney Spears.  I was a sharp critic of modern fashions and I was never the first to have anything trendy.

I like to think I have balanced out a bit and that I allow myself to like things that other people like.  Nevertheless, I do like to go against the flow and not adopt things simply because lots of other people do.  So I’ve heard people talk about “The Office” for years and I was never really interested in learning more about it.  I watched “Parks and Rec” because my housemates were into it at the time, but that was one of the first TV series I had invested in.  When I got around to watching “The Office,” I was surprised that I enjoyed it, once I was familiar with the characters.  And, being the romantic that I am, I fell for Jim and Pam’s relationship. Continue reading “Jim and Pam”

Intimately Universal

Intimately Universal

There is a coziness found in daily Mass.  Slipping into a pew on a weekday morning, I like to think I am a member of an intimate family.  It isn’t terribly early, but it feels like it is.  The elderly are out in typical force, holding up the Church with their prayers and sacrifices.  But there are also some younger people present: a couple moms with babies or children and a smattering of us who fall in the in-between, not very young or very old. Continue reading “Intimately Universal”