I Need You, Lent

I Need You, Lent

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.

I need Lent.   Continue reading “I Need You, Lent”


Is there free will in Heaven?

Is there free will in Heaven?

“Do people in Heaven still have free will?”

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?”

Unrestricted Access to My Heart

Unrestricted Access to My Heart

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.”

Mark 10:21

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? 

While I may be tempted to mentally chastise the young man (Jesus was asking you to follow Him!  How could you not?!), I must admit that I am he. Continue reading “Unrestricted Access to My Heart”

A Little More Like Ananias

A Little More Like Ananias

I want to respond to the Lord like Ananias did.

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.

(Image source)

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.

And that is what blows my mind. Continue reading “A Little More Like Ananias”

The Price of Forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry…”

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”

What the Lord did with his Yes

What the Lord did with his Yes

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”

The Need for Reform

The Need for Reform

A group of atheists in my town is spending money to buy billboard space to convince people there is nothing.  The only other group that quickly comes to mind that spends so much time and money to prove that there is nothing are those fiercely for abortion.

The atheist group has chosen to utilize one of the best arguments for there not being a God: evil and suffering exist.  The billboard points to the millions who died in World War II as evidence of there being nobody who heard the prayers of the Christians and Jews.  It is a compelling argument.  Nearly everyone can point to an instance in their life or in the life of someone they know that seems to not mesh with a good and all-loving God.  But what if the state of the world pointed more to the depravity of which mankind is capable rather than the non-existence of God? Continue reading “The Need for Reform”

When God Wills the Ordinary

When God Wills the Ordinary

It is incredibly easy for me to think that everyone else has a far better job than I do.  Over the past few years, I seem to have perfected the skill of viewing the neat ways that everyone else can live out their job as an apostolate for Jesus.  Yet I seem to miss the ways in which I can do the same thing…in a Catholic school…teaching Theology.

Parked outside the Cathedral the other day, I thought of how neat it would be to show up to such a place for work.  Wouldn’t it be neat to work for the Diocese?  Or I’ll go to a restaurant and think about how wonderful it could be to subtly evangelize while serving people their food.  Just a few weeks ago I had my students make lists of different secular jobs and then brainstorm ways to live the Gospel in the midst of such work.  And I can give you a decent list for most jobs that are not immoral.  I miss, however, the ability to live it out in the midst of a job that is so clearly evangelistic.

Because, so often, I want something else.  Something easy.  Something challenging.  Just something different than the lot I have been given. Continue reading “When God Wills the Ordinary”

Holiness in the Mundane

Their faces are registering complete shock.

Personally, I’m a little taken aback that what I said is so surprising to them.

“How can homework make us holy?”
“Do you want to do homework?”
“Yes….er, no,” my student responds, wavering, it seems, between what he feels he should say and what is actually the truth.  “No, I don’t.”
“So doing your homework would mean you are going against your own will and desire to do what you should do.”
“So we are supposed to stab ourselves in the arm?!”
“Doing your homework is a bit different than stabbing yourself in the arm.  I’m not saying you need to intentionally inflict pain upon yourself so that you suffer.  Simply accept the suffering that comes your way and offer it to God.  Choosing to do your homework when you don’t want to means saying no to your own will and yes to God’s will.  Right now you are to be a student.  God isn’t requiring that everyone gets a 4.0 GPA, but He does want you to do the very best that you can.”

How often we fail to see the ordinary, inconvenient, monotonous tasks of the day as paths to sanctity!  We want something extraordinary.  Lord, give us some big task, some grandiose mission and we will fulfill it for You!  Instead, we are given long lines at the grocery store, disobedient children, laundry, and snow shoveling.  They don’t seem quick paths to holiness, but the Lord only entrusts big missions to those who are faithful in small matters.

If the cross my students carry is homework, my cross is found in grading their homework and tests.  It is easy to push it aside, to think I have far better things to do.  Yet, in a way that I don’t fully understand, my holiness can be brought about in grading the 63rd paper about the Shroud of Turin or test over the arguments for God’s existence.  Somewhere in the monotony of that work, I can utter with my actions, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

So homework, study guide writing, end of the year planning, and room cleaning here I come.  And somewhere in the midst, may sanctity be found.

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.