“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?”
“So nobody who has ever killed anyone could have a conversion and go to Heaven?”
“Are there any other sins that you think God should be unable to forgive?”
“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?
Continue reading “A Scandalous Mercy”
I apologize if it seems like I can’t get over this whole “belovedness” thing. (In truth, I never really want to get over this renewed revelation.) Perhaps the first step is acknowledging our own role as beloved of the Father, but there is another step that follows. It involves seeing how others are beloved children of God, too.
The end of the school year probably isn’t the best time to start deeply considering how my students are uniquely loved by God. However, their behavior is making it necessary for survival. Sophomores are getting more squirrelly and seniors are D.O.N.E. Mentally, most of them are a long ways into summer break, which makes teaching them an exercise in charity. And patience. And forbearance. And long-suffering love. You get the picture.
Last week, I was barely surviving. Tension was high and I felt stressed about several things. Add to that the attitudes and antics of students and I was waking up with stress headaches that lasted throughout the day, pretty much the whole week. Obviously, the Lord doesn’t desire that sort of life for me. It led me to wonder: Lord, what are you doing here?
Frequently on my mind was that familiar title of John as the one whom Jesus loves. Delving into my own belovedness was a good refresher, but it had to also be drawn into seeing the students’ belovedness.
Certain students cause more stress and so I prayed, “Lord, help to see ______________ as your beloved child.” There wasn’t a magical shift as I prayed this about a few different students, but it did make me start wondering. What does the Lord particularly love about these people? I wonder if I can see it, too.
Continue reading “Lord, show me what You love about them”
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.
Continue reading “Learning the Way of the Cross”
I mentally planned for the day. I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment. Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.
So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.
“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?” Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.
“How about Archbishop McCarrick? The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?” Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.
Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks. I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response. In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.” And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.
As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me. While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.
Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.
Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more. One class reacted with more anger and bitterness. It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified. Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in. I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry. My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself. Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”
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”
I wonder what caused the Little Red Hen to be what she was.
You know, the story about the Little Red Hen who does all the work and nobody else will help her? My whole life this story has been presented in a way that makes it seem like the Little Red Hen is in the right and everyone else in the wrong. Of course, the others should have helped do the work and not simply expect to partake of the end result. Yet it still calls to mind a question: did the Little Red Hen behave in the way she ought to have behaved? Continue reading “The Little Red Hen”
Small talk isn’t really my thing.
In fact, I have respect for people who have the gift of being able to chat about different things casually. Some of the students I know better are easier to talk to, but I have to force myself to generate conversation with others.
The other day, I asked a student how his snow day was the previous day. His lack of response prompted me to say semi-teasingly, “Come on!” To which he responded with an annoyed, “No.”
Suddenly, frustration and anger filled me. Here I was, making an effort and he couldn’t even give the common courtesy of responding to a non-invasive question. I wasn’t asking him to share the depths of his soul, just to have him share about something from the previous day.
While small talk doesn’t come easily, quick retorts generally do. So I struggled to keep back all of the sharp responses I wanted to give and I forced myself to continue to acknowledge him during the rest of class, even though I childishly wanted to ignore him. I had the desire to demonstrate to him just how rude he was being…by being equally rude myself. You have a question? Too bad, I don’t want to answer you, just like you didn’t want to answer me.
I didn’t do those things, yet I am continually surprised how deeply small-heartedness is ingrained in me. God is justice and mercy, but I naturally favor justice. Old Testament eye-for-an-eye justice. It isn’t what I want to receive, but it is definitely what I want to mete out. Continue reading “When Small-Hearted Meets Magnanimous”
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”
The other day, I gave a test in all of my classes. In the midst of this, I discovered a student cheating on the test. As I spoke with the student and some details were revealed, I found that I wasn’t angry with the student. I simply felt this incredible sadness.
I always want to be able to trust my students. When something happens that betrays that trust, I find myself a bit frustrated and sad. I don’t want to doubt what they tell me or question their integrity. But they are humans and sometimes humans cheat or lie.
During the rest of the day, this incident weighed on my mind. I was sad and disappointed with this student but also with students in general. Cheating is something I do not understand. Perhaps because I enjoyed school and generally like a challenge, but I could never see myself cheating in school. In middle school and parts of high school, people thought I was semi-ridiculous for how cautiously I guarded my paper during tests or quizzes. I didn’t want to be the unknowing person from whom others stole their answers. Some of my students have a very different perspective.
So I began to wonder how God takes in the continually disappointing behaviors of humanity. It is a love that I cannot comprehend because it is truly a love without condition. My love is conditional. I have a great affection for my students, but when confronted with their weaknesses and their imperfections, I struggle with how to move forward. I know a single action does not define who they are, but it shapes how I perceive them. How can the Lord look at us in the midst of every sin and love us wholly and entirely? Continue reading “To Be the Face of God”
Satan, the father of lies, loves division.
It matters very little what the division is actually over. In fact, I think the more religious-oriented the division, the more it pleases Satan. But he will take any dispute, so long as it seeks to divide.
Knock down drag out brawls over the liturgy? Disputes over the placement of the altar? Feuding over Lenten fasting? Frustrations with priests and bishops? Sides forming over who is more Catholic than the pope?
Satan is delighted.
We spend our time considering what we think is best and we tend to lose sight of the Lord. I’m not arguing for an “anything goes” mentality. Far from it, I am encouraging us to focus on what is the most important rather than repeatedly increasing the divisions within humanity.
For the bonds which unite the faithful are mightier than anything dividing them. Hence, let there be unity in what is necessary; freedom in what is unsettled, and charity in any case.
(Gaudium Et Spes)
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis portrays Hell as a place of isolation. The opening pages start in a town that is approaching the evening hours but seems empty of people. Yet the narrator finds people waiting in line at a bus stop. As the minutes pass, people leave the line because they keep quarreling with each other about one thing or another. The town is empty because the inhabitants cannot bear to be in such close proximity to other people with all their flaws and imperfections. So they keep moving, distancing themselves from others until they find themselves in complete isolation. Continue reading “A House Divided”