The Gift of Good Men

The Gift of Good Men

Good men, the ones who know what it is like to fight the battle for virtue, are deeply hurt when other men don’t see the dignity in women.  I have found this to be true in personal experience and the glimpses of truth that entertainment sources can provide.  Real men value the unique role women have and they do not respect men who fail to protect women.

I was watching a TV show the other day and the plot centered on a woman who was found in a forest, badly beaten.  Uncertain of the ones who committed the crime, the people aiding her were able to find her husband and sent word to him of her location.  The woman revealed, however, that her husband was the one who had beaten her.  The central male character in the show was profoundly disturbed by this reality.  When given the chance to protect the recovering wife, the main character did so.  He was overly vehement in his defense, the protection spiralling into beating the man himself, but that beating I could understand, even if not condone.  Real men want to defend women, not manipulate or abuse them.

The numerous accounts of sexual harassment that have made the news over the past several weeks has been a bit disheartening.  Last week, my class was reviewing an informational quiz they had taken about tech safety.  One of the questions asked them to define objectification.  Many did so accurately, speaking about how it means you treat a person as though they are an object.  Then I asked a simple question, “Do you think men objectify women more or women objectify men more?”  There was no statistic I had in mind; I simply wanted to see what they thought.  Most people said men objectify women more, but some students argued it was equal.

In one class, however, the conversation continued and they began sharing how men objectify women in different ways than women do.  They spoke of unwanted physical contact, vile words in catcalls, and other scenarios.  Several of the young women in my class had situations or opinions they wanted to share.  After a few shared, I began noticing the faces of the young men in my classroom.  They seemed a bit defeated.  I asked the women to pause their sharing for a moment so that some of the men could chime in.  I didn’t want it to be a man-bashing session because good, virtuous men are as appalled by this behavior as women.

More than the words were the young men’s faces that produced an ache in my heart.  There seemed a vulnerability in their faces.  They couldn’t argue for what the men did because they knew it was wrong.  But hearing about man after man hurting women dampened the natural exuberance they exhibited in my classroom.  I was fine with the gravity of the situation, yet I didn’t want them to feel to blame simply because they are men.  Feminism often takes the unnecessary step from desiring to be seen as equal to bashing men.

In social media and in the world at large, young men are seeing many examples of what not to do.  I told them that men aren’t looking very good in the media right now and that it hurts because we know there are many, many good men.  I challenged them to be the virtuous young men that our culture needs.  A world that continues to tell us to “do what we feel” is now experiencing the results of doing what we feel.  Unsurprisingly, most don’t like the results.  I want my students to be the ones who change the cultural perception of what it means to be a man. Continue reading “The Gift of Good Men”

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Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us.  Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode.  The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before.  I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.

One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world.  The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them.  Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways.  In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults.  They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.

As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters.  Situations aren’t simple.  The correct move or response isn’t always obvious.  Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present.  Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.

Or perhaps that is what I read into it.  Either way, it seems relevant in my life.  Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times.  Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.

The past is a powerful force.  Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life.  Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them.  It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

I missed a plane and then had an extended lay-over due to a late arriving aircraft.  I nervously tried to figure out how to turn the headlights on in a new car for which I had just refused all extra insurance.  In the dark, I navigated along the fast-paced 405 and I-5, following a GPS that was guiding me to a place I had never been.  I circled the hotel to find where I was supposed to park.  Stupidly, I had to ask the hotel clerk if he knew the make of a Sentra.  I later realized Nissan was clearly written on the key I had in hand.  The room wasn’t what I expected based on hotel pictures.  I couldn’t figure out how to make the old bathtub faucet produce the water I desired until the second day of my stay.  I missed the evening part the conference that I had flown half-way across the country to attend.

Perceptions and preconceived ideas greatly change how we experience situations.

In my mind, this conference would go perfectly.  I would fly to sunny southern California, learn mountains of information, meet great people, and then blissfully return home.  The hotel would be perfect.  The drives would be scenic and pleasant.  Everything would go according to plan.

The first evening, I laid on the bed in my less-than-expected hotel room and considered the stress I was experiencing.  While there were delays and inconveniences, nothing that terrible had happened.  No accidents, no major dilemmas, nothing that would ruin my time at the conference.  Yet I still felt disappointed and a bit let down.

My expectations were not met and I realized they had been ridiculously high.  When I thought back to how I expected the few days to go, I imagined sunny days, easy drives, and luxurious sleeping quarters.  I let the novelty of the situation turn the reality into something disheartening.  When I surveyed the past day with few expectations, it turned out that reality wasn’t quite so bad. Continue reading “When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality”

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Each Sister of Life wears a medal that has inscribed on it a fragment of poetry by Fr. John Duffy.  The line is from the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” and it speaks about the Annunciation.

“And nothing again would be casual and small.”

The author is speaking of the Blessed Mother conceiving Our Lord.  Yet the fact that the Sisters of Life carry this line near their hearts makes me think it must relate to their lives and my life, too.

Generally, though, my life feels casual and small.  Despite my desires for great and wonderful adventures and experiences, much of my life is composed of the ordinary and seemingly insignificant.  What does it mean that nothing is casual or small?

In a way, I think Jesus speaks to this when he remarks on the widow’s gift to the temple treasury.  Jesus and the apostles watch people come and give large gifts of money, but the poor widow puts only two small coins into the treasury.

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.  

Mark 12:43-44

In a simple comparison of amounts, is the widow’s gift small?  Yes.  What makes it stand out to Our Lord?  The fact that despite her poverty, she still gives everything.  

Most of us are comfortable giving generously when we know we will still have ample for ourselves.  And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I live any differently.  While I donate money, I do not “give until it hurts.”  I give when it is comfortable or when I feel like it or when I remember.  Generosity is not a hallmark of mine.  When I was in elementary school, my dad would give my younger sister and I an allowance.  Conservative in nature, I always pocketed my money and saved it for a future purchase, probably a book or something.  My younger sister would spend her money nearly immediately, stocking up on some candy or treat at the gas station convenience store.  Yet while she was quick to spend, she was also quick to share.  I, on the other hand, would primarily buy things for myself and was slow to share them with others.

Jesus is commending the poor widow’s generosity with her finances, but I think there are deeper truths we can discover here.  Things that might point to how nothing is casual or small.  Several weeks ago, this was the Gospel at Mass and I left identifying myself largely with the widow.  Not because of her generosity, but because of her apparent littleness. Continue reading “Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small”

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.

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

The Lord is the quintessential example of making do with what you have.  He is able to provide abundance from an experience of poverty.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’  Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’  They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’  And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’  

Matthew 14:15-18

In a situation where the disciples were prepared to send the crowds away, Jesus challenged them to feed them with their meager rations.  To the disciples, it was an impossible feat.  There was not enough food to provide for them all.  How could they feed thousands with food meant to satisfy a few?

The answer is found in surrendering the little to Jesus.  For Him, it is manageable to multiply the fish and the bread to be superabundant.  The same is true with each one of us.  When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, little though we may be, He is able to do far more with it then we could imagine.

You give them something to eat.  In our littleness, Christ is asking us to be streams of living water and bountiful banquets for the weary wanderers we encounter.  Yes, we are to direct them to Jesus, but Jesus living in us.  When we present ourselves to the Lord, He provides.  It is never just enough, it always more than we could have hoped.   Continue reading “With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough”

Today

Today

Today was a good day.

I slept in later than I should have and rushed to get ready in time.  Rushing around, I didn’t eat breakfast and threw a bagel in my lunch bag.  Preparing to submit my grades during my lunch time, I completely forgot to eat my lunch/bagel.  A student asked me why we don’t have a class that covers all of the bad things Catholics have done in the past.  And my supervisor mentioned (in a kind way) that I never date.  (I had noticed.)

But today was still a good day.

I met this morning with lovely young ladies and we talked about preparing ourselves for the relationships for which we all long.  I had multiple times today where I would realize, “Hey, I’m doing this teaching thing!”  A couple moments with my seniors resulted in laughter, partly because I am less defensive than I’ve been in previous years and I was able to take things in stride with a smile.  Today, I laughed: when a student flipped his pencil to the ceiling (and looked like he surprised himself), when a student asked if I would take them all to walk the Camino (my answer: I don’t think we would all make it to the end alive), and with various friends during conversations.  I had a cup of coffee in a mug decorated with pictures from a trip my sister and I took.  During school, I prayed the Holy Sacrificed of the Mass.  I made Thai food.  I read more in my current book.  I was able to talk about art and martyrdom today and feel passionate for the topics even if my students appeared less than excited to hear about them.  One of my housemates shared her leftover cheesecake.  And I can hear a couple of my housemates trying to figure out the suspenseful show they are watching.

Today was a good day.  The Lord used the nothing that I had and He brought about something.  It wasn’t perfect and it probably could have been better if I had given more of myself.  Thank You, Jesus, for this day.

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.