If you don’t often feel uncomfortable when reading the Gospel, you might be reading it wrong.
Between a Monday evening Bible Study and Friday classes, I have the great gift of looking at the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel at least six times during a typical week. Sometimes, I’m a little dense, though. It took until Friday afternoon or Saturday before I genuinely started applying it to me.
This past Sunday the Gospel was about the rich man and Lazarus from Luke’s Gospel. It is clearly a rebuke of the rich man’s lack of compassion for the suffering of Lazarus. Also, it emphasized the finality of death and the subsequent judgement.
At first glance, I felt pretty comfortable. I do not look at the suffering of my fellow man with zero compassion. Yet I was prompted to wonder: perhaps the rich man did see Lazarus, did see his suffering, did feel moved–just not enough. Maybe the idea of reaching out made him feel uncomfortable. Or he didn’t know what to do. Or he was nervous that the suffering of Lazarus would be too disturbing to experience up close.
The Gospel suddenly became something I could apply to my life as I remembered a situation where I saw someone suffering, felt bad for them, and then did nothing. There were about three times when I had witnessed a man sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the sidewalk, well past a time when he should have been home or in a shelter. It was an arresting scene: the sun had set, it was a bit blustery, and there he sat in a wheelchair on the sidewalk with a blanket stretched over his entire body, from his feet to over his head. I saw it and I kept driving, every single time.
In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me. The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses. Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too. Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”
So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings. I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady. One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life. One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis. The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.
Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart. We want to be home, but not confined. We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost. All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.
I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in. Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart. I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed. And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire. What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”→
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”→
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.
My bedroom is in a similar state as my soul. Messy, cluttered, and kind of driving me insane. The thing is both situations are entirely my fault.
Instead of hanging up my clothes, they have become a mountain covering my ottoman. Generally, I forget I even have an ottoman and I’ve become increasingly convinced that most of the things in there mustn’t be very important if I never need to access them. Stacks of unopened letters and papers I should file away add a bit of an overwhelming sense to a place I often use for refuge. Boxes that need to be broken down for recycling, laundry that ought to be done, and stacks upon stacks of books make my bedroom chaotic.
My soul? Pretty much the same situation.
There is a great deal of clearing out that needs to happen. Scripture says to make a highway for Our Lord. But first, I think I need a plow to come through. So it is with a heart that loves simplicity yet finds itself attached to abundance that I eagerly head into Lent.
Our conversation started with evolution and gradually meandered to angels, free will, and humanity. I told them that angels had free will and they asked if angels could still rebel. Explaining that angels will their decision to follow or not follow God with their entire beings, they then asked if people in Heaven could sin. When I said they wouldn’t, they wondered how free will could be found in a place where there was no sin.
“It seems like free will would just be an illusion,” they said, when I told them that in Heaven we would be purified and would always choose to follow God, even while exercising our free will.
I needed to make a correlation that they would understand. One student compared it to pizza. If he said he would eat pizza for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t be free to eat anything other than pizza. That wasn’t quite the comparison I was looking for in order to explain the situation to them.
I’m not always very quick on my feet. Sometimes, I want to beg them for more time and to consider than I am a slow thinker, a muller of thoughts and ideas. Instead, I tried to think of something tangible that they could understand. How could one make a particular choice that was forever and yet still exercise their free will?
Now that I consider it, I could have referenced Jesus or Mary. Instead, I used vocations.
“Priests, religious, and married persons make vows that they intend to follow forever and yet they freely choose to will those decisions daily. Our free will in Heaven is kind of like that, but we are able to perfectly will it always.”
A couple committed to marriage make vows to love the other in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful way. They still have a free will, but they have publicly voiced their desire to always will the good of the other. This doesn’t make them less free. Instead, their commitment allows them to experience the freedom of total gift of self to another. Yes, they could choose to cheat or leave or lie. But if they follow the vows, they will freely choose to not do those things. Continue reading “Is there free will in Heaven?”→
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
It is because Jesus loves this young man that He challenges him. By many standards, this man has done all that he has been asked to do. He has kept the law since his earliest days. Yet, he comes to Jesus to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. Either he wants to be affirmed in how excellently he has kept the law or he feels there is something more to which he is called.
Jesus looks at him with that gaze that pierces through the heart and is filled with a great love for this young man. The authenticity of His love compels Him to call the young man to something greater. Jesus tells the young man to put aside everything of this world and to follow Him. It is out of love that He invites the young man to run with reckless abandon in the race for Heaven.
Yet the man leaves saddened. Though he follows the law, he is unwilling to set aside everything for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus issues His challenges out of love, but they vary based on the person. Some He invites to follow Him and they cannot, refusing to leave behind possessions or family. Others long to follow Him and He tells them to remain home, sharing the Good News among their own people. When it comes to living in God’s will, there seems to be no one-size-fits-all approach for the Lord. His will is customized to the individual and it often seems to be contrary to what we want.
This is why the life of contemplation is the boldest and most adventuresome of undertakings, for what could be more radical, more truly earth-shattering, than the willingness to be dismantled and created anew, not once or twice in a lifetime, but day after day?
The Way of the Disciple, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
He is not satisfied by things done half-way. Our souls, though we may attempt it often enough, cannot be half His. The young man wanted to comfortably follow the law and yet Jesus calls him to a life he did not expect. Sell everything? Why? Where is that in the law?
I know I have read this story before, but for some reason when I was reviewing this with my students, my heart got caught on a previously unnoticed section.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying,and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem;and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.”But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
(Acts 9: 10-17)
The Lord calls his name and he responds.
Ananias seems as though he is used to hearing the voice of the Lord.
I was struck by this response as I spoke to my students about how differently the Lord spoke to Saul and Ananias. Saul sees a light and falls to the ground, blinded. A voice from the heavens speaks, telling him to go to Damascus. Yet when Jesus speaks to Ananias, there seems to be nothing dramatic about it. Ananias hears his name being called and responds simply, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord tells him to go encounter Saul, and Ananias asks a question to be certain this is what the Lord wants. For the modern Christian, it might seem a bit humorous that Ananias is completely unfazed by the call to go lay his hands on someone so as to bring about their healing. That is nothing compared to encountering a man who has been persecuting his Christian brethren. Despite questions and concern, Ananias does as the Lord asks.
I want that ability to clearly hear the Lord’s voice and that willingness to do whatever He desires.
Do you see what the Lord does with this man’s “Yes”? Ananias is the one who lays his hands on Saul’s head, causing his sight to be restored. The Holy Spirit comes upon Saul and soon after he is baptized. In a matter of days, Saul has completely changed his direction and Ananias played a significant role in helping Saul encounter the Lord.
I find it interesting that Jesus does not speak to Saul again and heal him of blindness. Instead, He works through other people. People, hopefully, like you and me who are striving to hear His voice. Paul goes on to become one of the greatest missionaries and evangelizers in the early Church. Thousands of miles are traveled by foot and boat in order to proclaim the Gospel. Ananias laid his hands on this man and implored the Holy Spirit to come make His home in him. That is a significant role for someone who is referenced briefly in Scripture.
Never underestimate how the Lord can use you to bring about healing and conversion in other people. I challenged my students to encounter the Lord and then to let their lives be a living witness of that encounter. Because our encounter with the Lord changes other people. When my older sisters became more interested in their faith, it influenced the entire family. As I have interacted with people on fire for the Lord, it has caused a deeper desire to burn within me. The Lord seeks us out and encounters us personally, but He often does much of His work through other people.
Generally, when I begin to pray the Act of Contrition in Confession, I close my eyes. I prefer to go behind the screen and I like to close my eyes so I can focus on the words. As I started the prayer, I realized that the confessional I was using had a crucifix hanging on the screen at about eye level.
“for having offended Thee…”
My eyes shifted and fastened on Jesus. There He was, arms outstretched and pierced by nails. His total gift stood in stark contradiction to my selfishness and inability to sacrifice. Yet as I spoke the words directly to Him, I was struck by the rightness of it all.
“I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell…”
My sin crucified Him. And though there was nothing new that I was learning, I was seeing in a deeper way what my sin brought about. Here I was, staring at the very reality that made the words I was saying efficacious. Without His death, my words were a vain pleading for reconciliation without paying the debt. Continue reading “The Price of Forgiveness”→
It is incredible what the Lord can do with a fervent “Yes.”
This thought came to mind as I heard the news of the death of the president emeritus of my alma mater. Fr. Michael Scanlan died this morning at 85 years old and the legacy he leaves behind is beautiful. I try not to canonize people too early and so I will say that Fr. Mike was an imperfect man, like many others. Yet his “Yes” to the Lord has changed the lives of many.
That is what I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting on right now. The Lord has a unique mission for each of us and accepting that mission will transform many lives. Fr. Mike reformed the Franciscan University of Steubenville from struggling local party college to a renowned pillar of orthodoxy. It was not on his own, of course, because he needed like minded people to work with him in this mission. As the president, however, he was at the forefront of changing the insignificant college into something that people would travel across the country to attend.
My heart changed in college. It was through the classes, ministries, and communal life that I experienced a profound deepening in my faith. My grandpa would frequently ask me if I chose this college simply because it was far from home. He would ask why I didn’t attend Catholic colleges far closer. Unless he went there, I don’t think I could explain to my grandpa the uniqueness of this college and how it helped reform my own heart. Fr. Mike’s “Yes” to Jesus Christ made this possible. There were many other yeses by many other people, but the “Yes” of Fr. Mike helped bring about change in the lives of many. When I consider all of the students who attended this college or all of the people impacted by the summer conferences, I thank the Lord for the gift and witness of Fr. Michael Scanlan. Continue reading “What the Lord did with his Yes”→