Ministry: A Gift I Give That Changes Me

Ministry: A Gift I Give That Changes Me

“You’re pretty comfortable here, Trish,” I was told Saturday night when I visited the prison for Mass.

“Yeah,” I said, “It is almost like I live here.”

This comment was coming from a prisoner who had poked fun at me weeks earlier for how shy I seemed while helping with the prison retreat. While I didn’t think I was quite as reserved as he claimed, I would definitely agree that I have grown more and more comfortable in prison as time has passed. In fact, the most nervous I felt all night was when I walked alone in the dark from the prison building to my car. And as it happened, I had to laugh. I had spent a couple hours in prison without a care and my biggest concern was about someone not in prison. It made sense and yet the oddness of the situation was not lost on me.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about prison ministry. I told him that it felt strange to tell people I was involved with it because I don’t really feel like I’m doing that much. I attend a Bible study in the prison one night a week and I try to visit both prisons for Mass on Saturdays. Sometimes good conversations happen and other times I seem to be just one of the crowd. He reminded me that often that is what ministry actually involves: just being present to others. But I realized in that conversation that while I am not convinced that I have impacted anyone in prison, I know that my heart has been moved through this ministry.

What if that is enough?

In ministry that so deeply concerns the conversion of the heart, there is an indifference one must have toward seeing the fruits displayed. Obviously, good ministry will bear fruit, but so often we fill the role of scattering seeds and someone else is the one who helps with the harvest. We want to see people respond and we want to frequently evaluate what we are doing or how we could be more effective. But conversion is quite often the slow work of God in the soul, something formed through various conversations with others or different experiences. I’m convinced that we will only know the impact the Lord has made through us once we are with Him in Heaven. Considering my overabundant human pride, that might not be a bad thing, even if it causes me to wonder if I’m doing anything productive in anyone’s life.

When I was involved in sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic during college, I never saw my words or my actions motivate someone to choose life. Instead, I was often fumbling for words as my heart overflowed with feelings but my mind struggled to form ideas to share. Yet being involved in that ministry radically transformed my heart. It gave me the experience of aching with Our Lord, of encountering the complete exercise of free will, of truly being persecuted by others for the first time in my life, and of growing in trust that prayer does something powerful even I don’t see it immediately.

I know without a doubt that hearts were transformed and lives changed through the prayer, suffering, and sacrifices made in that ministry, but I will never know the specifics on this side of eternity. If I had to point to one thing that changed my heart most in college, it would probably be the cold hours I spent begging the Lord for mercy on a street in Pittsburgh. Even if I didn’t see others change, I saw a change occur within myself.

Continue reading “Ministry: A Gift I Give That Changes Me”

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

For the past few semesters, I give something called ‘The Preference Test‘ as a way to lead into the Argument from Desire when speaking of God’s existence. This test gives a series of would-you-rather questions but proposed in a slightly different way. I understand why the students sometimes find it silly because it pits options like You are loved against You are not loved. It seems easy enough to be clear about what you would truly prefer, but so many times the students struggle to admit that they desire something when intellectually they are convinced it doesn’t exist or isn’t real.

One question asked if they would rather have their value be innate or dependent on their abilities. This one is always interesting, because the hard-working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality comes out in full force even if it isn’t really what anyone would truly want. I asked what they preferred. Did they prefer to be worth something just because they exist or did they prefer to strive for worthiness?

So many of them argued that culturally our value is based on our net worth or the skills we’ve acquired or how gifted we are. I told them I understood that, but asked how do you want your value to be determined? Still some insisted that they would prefer that measuring rod of value.

Interestingly, some seemed to fear nobody would work hard if they just knew they were valuable. I wonder if it is because they work hard to be good and then they wonder what it would be like if everyone had value regardless of their skills. Perhaps it is because they feel validated by meeting certain expectations and don’t know what it would mean if those measuring rods were broken and thrown away. Who would they be without grades or athletic giftedness or money or determination?

And it just made my heart ache to see them striving so much. So many of our problems seem to stem from not knowing our true worth or identity. If we all fully understood it, perhaps we wouldn’t be compelled to step on other people or gossip or give up or lie or do whatever we do to get ahead. Or whatever we do to numb the feeling that we aren’t worth anything or can never amount to much. People suffer from not knowing their own true value more than being too full of their own giftedness. I’m quite confident that the ones who seem the most full of themselves are so because they recognize within themselves a radical insufficiency.

Continue reading “Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable”

Perhaps the World Ends Here

Perhaps the World Ends Here

I found this poem through a podcast that has a “poem of the day” that they read and analyze a bit. While I often forget, reading and learning more poetry follows a desire I have to immerse my life in more beauty.

The poem is called “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

Continue reading “Perhaps the World Ends Here”

A Scandalous Mercy

A Scandalous Mercy

“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?”

“Ummm….none.”
“So nobody who has ever killed anyone could have a conversion and go to Heaven?”
“No.”
“Are there any other sins that you think God should be unable to forgive?”
“No.”
“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?

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Poured Out

Poured Out

I often find myself living life the same way I ran seventh-grade cross country.

Simply put: not well.

I remember watching the older runners prior to a race. They were stretching and jogging around, warming up for the few miles they would be running around random golf courses. I understood the stretching part, but I never quite got the jogging part. For me, finishing the race meant I should store up as much energy as possible. Sometimes, I was dragging myself across the finish line or walking small sections where there were no cheering fans. Why would I foolishly waste energy just moments before the race?

A few years ago, I was running pretty consistently and I completed a five-mile race. It was as I was finishing the race that I finally understood what those high school students had been doing years ago. Crossing the finish line, I felt really good. In fact, my third and fourth miles felt way better than the first two. My time wasn’t incredible, but I was satisfied with it for myself. I had logged enough miles that I was at the point where I grasped the concept of running so as to warm up. I wasn’t wasting energy–it was instead needed so I could run better. In my conservative, store-up-everything mindset, it was revolutionary to understand that giving some allowed me to give more.

Weekends during the school year and portions of the summer find me falling into that same trap of storing up instead of spending. I’m an introvert and I have yet to find the perfect life balance when my job is one that requires so much extrovertedness. In the evenings, I don’t want to be surrounded by people. On the weekends, I’d rather curl up in my home. During the summer months, I convince myself that relaxing, watching movies, and being a recluse are exactly what I need in order to survive the school year.

But I don’t think that is actually true.

I mean, I want it to be true because that would be an extremely convenient excuse. But it isn’t reality. When I turn in on myself and don’t enter into community, it doesn’t really make me want to be communal later. Instead, I find a dozen more reasons to not go out, to not share myself. Reasons that essentially boil down to being lazy and selfish.

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Jesus Said Ask

Jesus Said Ask

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11

A friend once told me that his dad gave him really good advice one time.  His dad said, “The worst thing they can say is no.”  For my friend, it made sense and it gave him the motivation to just ask for things, realizing that no was as bad as it would get.

You see, for me, hearing no seems pretty bad.  I don’t want to hear that my request is denied.  So I would prefer to not ask for things because I would rather not know than be turned away empty-handed.  It means that the few days I did phone banking in college during election season were nearly torturous.  I’ve hated any sales I had to do in elementary and high school because I didn’t want people to tell me they were uninterested in buying something from me.  In most situations, I would rather not ask if I think the answer might be no.

Due to circumstances, in the past couple years I’ve been forced to ask for more things.  With a slightly new position at work last year, I recognized that unless I asked for things, I wouldn’t get them.  The few times I made big petitions for situations I already deemed highly unlikely or impossible were rewarded with a surprising affirmative.  Fulfilled requests emboldened me to keep asking, but I still worry that my pleas will be dismissed.

Yet Jesus commands us to ask.  He wants us to petition Him for the things we desire.  Earlier this week in prayer, I received the passage above, slightly jumbled and incomplete in my brain.  The part that stood out was where Jesus compares our heavenly Father to our earthly fathers.  Good dads know not to give their children stones or serpents when they are desiring food.  Our heavenly Father knows us best and desires the most to fulfill our longings.  How much more will He desire to meet our needs when we ask Him, because He is perfect and good. Continue reading “Jesus Said Ask”

In Defense of Summers

In Defense of Summers

A lovely perk of teaching is that most of my work stops in mid to late-May and resumes in early to mid-August.  It is a schedule I have held since I was about seven years old when I started school.  Since I have never known anything else, I sometimes have to remind myself that this is not the norm.

People frequently ask me what my plans are for the summer.  Sometimes they are curious about where I am traveling or what extra activities I will be involved in.  Other times, however, I think they are questioning why I am not getting a job for the summer.  Isn’t that what adults do?  This lingering question is also mixed with the slight jealousy that I have a few months to not work a 9 to 5 job.  I wish I had a job like that, I can almost hear them say.

Well, I’ve decided on a newer tactic this year.  If people comment on wishing they had the luxurious schedule that I have, I will tell them a little secret: this dream can be yours, too!  All you need to do is go to school, get the appropriate degree, and get a job teaching.  Last I heard, there wasn’t a surplus of teachers in our state and teaching here doesn’t require advanced degrees.

But, you see, that is the thing–there just might be a reason schools aren’t overflowing with insane numbers of candidates, at least not where I live.  I do get a summer to step away from it all, but that is a perk that must be taken with the less preferable parts of the job.  I never argue that I have the most difficult or demanding job in the world.  I don’t believe that I do.  Yet I hear over and over again from various intelligent people, “I could never do your job.”  Which I think is slightly exaggerated, but also quite telling.  I think many people could do the job I do, it is simply that many don’t want to. Continue reading “In Defense of Summers”

Writing: The Success is in the Offering

Writing: The Success is in the Offering

The first blog I started was in the early 2000s.  Way back then, I didn’t call it a blog and neither did anyone who read it.  It was a very short list of distinguished people who read it, but it was there, a precursor to what I would do here and now.

I was imitating my older sister.  She sent emails to her friends about life ponderings that she had during the day.  There were religious reflections, philosophical musings, and simply ideas she had as she went about her ordinary high school life.  Wanting to be like her, I started my own little email list.

While I don’t remember how many emails I sent out, I do recall one topic.  Blue toilet paper.  My mother purchased blue toilet paper and, for some reason, this was the thing I felt most compelled to write about.  I know that I sent at least two emails about it.  The first had an intriguing subject line of “Blue” and the second was titled “Still Blue.”  And then, for one reason or another, I stopped sending the emails.

My next foray into the world of writing was in eighth grade.  Apparently, my English teacher thought I had something to offer the world and contacted the local editor of the town newspaper.  The editor agreed to let me write occasionally for the paper about virtually whatever I wished.  I wrote about my sister entering the convent, the death of a classmate, summer church camps, dream jobs, my dad’s retirement, the holocaust of abortion, and my trip to Ireland and Scotland.  The writing continued sporadically until my graduation.

In college, I wrote a couple of times for a few different campus publications.  I was too busy writing papers to publish many articles just for the enjoyment of it.  College also had the knack of tempering my perceived self-importance.  I’d been told for years that I had a gift for writing, largely from family and friends who are supposed to say those kinds of things.  In college, however, I received authentic criticism from my Honors and English professors.

Admittedly, it took me by surprise. Continue reading “Writing: The Success is in the Offering”

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality.  Yet they managed to completely derail that plan.  When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned.  Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.

Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me.  I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way.  Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.

“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things?  Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic.  If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life?  Like why did God make us?  What is our purpose?”

Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me.  When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.

This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing.  The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live.  So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight.  The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.

To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning.  The Trinity.  I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit.  Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking.  God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love.  Therefore, we are not needed.  God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”

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”