A Grateful Mission

A Grateful Mission

Like a mother who gushes with affection over a sleeping child, I often feel particularly fond for my students when they are taking tests.  They seem so quiet, so studious, and so devoted to the task at hand that I find myself gazing at their little, intent faces and being so thankful to be a teacher.

In all honesty, that isn’t the only moment I am thankful to teach, but it is one continually recurring theme.  Moments of quiet, moments of humor, and moments of profound learning make me grateful to teach.  The inside jokes we share and the relationships that are built over time make me thankful to interact with so many high school students.  When I am able to step back from the late papers, endless questions, and constant repetition of directions, I see young people seeking.  Seeking just like I am–for happiness, for joy, for love, for peace, for life.  When I see that perspective, I am grateful for the time to be with them, accompanying them for a short while on their journey to eternity.

It makes me wonder if I have any type of impact.  This little heart inside of me longs so much for a great mission.  And then I remember that I teach.  I interact with young people daily and if that isn’t the rich soil for a great mission, I don’t know what is.  Grades, dress codes, and attitudes can make me forget the mission that is in front of me every day.  Yet every now and then, I will get a glimpse of what God might be doing in souls.  I see that perhaps my littleness might be in the midst of something great right now and completely unaware of it all.

Still, the heart longs to know a difference is being made.  Thankfully, God gives me reminders in little moments.  There is enough to assure me that it isn’t for nothing and yet little enough so that it doesn’t all go to my head.  It is found in class camaraderie when one class writes me up for a detention when I return a little late for class.  I see it in a small group of women who enter into conversation about pursuing true beauty.  It is experienced in random after school conversations and hearing that my class is teaching something.  The look on some students faces as we tackle the problem of evil and honestly question how a good God could allow awful things to happen.  Brief moments, easy to pass by, but ones that remind me that something is happening here and now.

It isn’t because of me.  It is because of God’s grace.  Continue reading “A Grateful Mission”

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Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

The Lord is a wound healer.  

I’ve been mentoring a young friend for a few months and the last time we met our conversation turned to wounds.  In many ways, I feel I have had a pretty easy life, one without too many struggles or problems.  Yet I am amazed by how many wounds can be found in this tender, little heart of mine.  As we spoke of how the Lord seeks to heal these areas, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the Lord has done in me over the years.

When Jesus heals, He brings freedom into a place I often didn’t even realize was enslaved.  This heart is far from wholeness, but the work the Lord has done in it is impressive.  My gifted spiritual director has spent hours listening to me sob and choke out stories of hurt and pain.  Some are understandable in their immensity, while others seem nearly laughable in their smallness.  Yet my spiritual director has treated each wound as important and in need of healing.  Often it is he who insists on the importance of the incident while I want to be dismissive of the emotions attached to the memory.

As a person who wants to be seen as logical and rational, it has taken years for me to be convinced of the validity of my feelings.  When I can accept that my feelings aren’t foolish, I am able to acknowledge that the hurt is real and needs to be addressed.  In this, the Lord has rewarded me ten-thousand fold.  Working through the intricacies of my heart has forced me to see that Christ wants to redeem and renew every part. Continue reading “Proclaim Liberty to the Captives”

Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church

Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church

In college, I took a course called “Theology of the Church” and the professor made certain to cement a specific truth in my mind.  He spoke frequently of how the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ, without blemish or error.  Yet he spoke just as often about how the Church is stained and tarnished, filled with sin and weakness.  Each Catholic must come to terms with this dichotomy if he or she desires to fully understand this living organism we call the Catholic Church.

The saints are beautiful models of following Christ and seeking holiness in the midst of a chaotic world.  For most of the difficulties we face in life, we can turn to a specific saint who had similar struggles.  There are saints who had difficult relationships with their parents or children, saints who were falsely accused, saints who had superiors who treated them unjustly, saints who lost loved ones, saints who experienced poverty, saints who struggled with drinking or drugs, saints who battled anger and violence, and saints who people thought were foolish or incapable.

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Yet we know the Church is not merely comprised of saints.  I belong to the Church and I am most definitely not a saint yet.  So while it is easier to focus on the virtues and gifts of the saints, we also know we are a Church filled with sinners.  We have sinners in the pews, in the choir, in the streets, at the altar, in the diocesan offices, in the Vatican, and in the chair of St. Peter.  Each of us, on our journey to become the saints God desires, must fight our own battles as we acknowledge our sinfulness.  The goal is not to make perfect masks that cover up our imperfections.  Rather, we seek to let Christ into our deepest sins and allow Him to transform us.

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It is with this knowledge of myself, as a sinner striving to be a saint, that I can recognize this reality within the Church herself.  She is perfect: Christ instituted her, the Holy Spirit guides her, and the Father welcomes her members into Heaven, one by one.  Yet she is us: flawed, broken, dragging our weary hearts to Calvary and to Heaven.  All of the romantic notions I have about the Church and her beautiful, soul-shaking theology necessarily contrast painfully with the reality of the Church that I see around me.  Reality is certainly not so romantic and not so obviously beautiful.  Nonetheless, it is still the Church I love.

When we encounter scandal in the Church, it is helpful to remember this inherent dichotomy, one that existed from the beginning of the Church, yet one which will end when we are purified and in Heaven.  While I love quite fiercely different humans within the Church, I also know that my love for the Church is not solely based on these humans.  My spiritual director is wise and I find myself able to share the workings of my heart with him.  My pastor leads me to a deeper understanding of how to encounter Christ in the daily moments.  Yet even should these priests fail me, I would not stop loving the Church.
Continue reading “Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church”

Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays

Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays

In my youth, giving something up for Lent meant you didn’t have it from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday.  When one of my sisters came home from college, she revealed a secret: you can have the things you gave up for Lent on Sundays.  She claimed it was a “mini-Easter.”  At the time, though, it seemed like cheating and an excuse for people who couldn’t handle giving something up for the entirety of Lent.  I didn’t need a cheat day, I reasoned, I was strong enough to last all of Lent.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize the wisdom in allowing Sunday to be a relaxed day in the midst of a penitential season.  There is a particular wisdom found when I remember my own temperament.

I like a good challenge.  Tell me I can’t do something and I will probably try to do that thing (if I care enough).  I’m stubborn and prideful to a fault.  So when I tell myself that I can go without coffee for the entirety of Lent, I start to feel a little smug.  It sounds challenging and I can already feel a sense of pride within myself.  Of course, it is a sacrifice for the Lord and yet I am quick to make it about what I can do.

However, if I acknowledge that I will go six days without coffee and then break that fast on Sunday, it is hard to get overly prideful about that.  Really?  That’s it?  Six days?  And I find myself almost convincing myself to “be strong” and go through all of Lent without it.

The purpose of Lent, though, is not to build up my ego and pat myself on the back for all of the difficult things I did.  Hopefully, Lent is a time of challenging ourselves and saying no to our own habits and desires.  Yet if I walk into Mass on Easter Sunday, bursting at the seams that I was able to forego a long list of comforts, I might miss the fact that Jesus is the one saving me. Continue reading “Why I Will Drink Coffee on Sundays”

Maranatha!

Maranatha!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)

We are on the brink of something new and something old.  Hundreds of years have passed since the birth of Christ and yet we have never before been in this place, at this time, with these graces being offered.  What will we do with it all?

Never again will I be right where I am right now.  And part of me rejoices that this will not always be my lot because I eagerly look forward to the future.  I want my life to change and be different than it is now.  Yet in some future day, I may look back at right now and realize only then all that was good about this time.  I do not want it be that way–I want to, right now, recognize the blessings of this moment, subtle though they may seem to my slow heart.

How is Christ being born into my life this day?  How is He striving to shake up the world I’ve known for twenty-six years and say, “Behold, I am doing something new”?  The graces He offers me today are not the same graces offered yesterday or the day before.  They are always new.  Jesus doesn’t offer left-overs, but rather He offers what is most fitting for the moment.  He only ever offers the best to us.

In a special way, Christ is offering the gift of His birth this weekend.  I cannot go to Bethlehem and see Him be born, but I can experience His birth in my life.  Scripture is living and effective.  It is not a nice story from hundreds of years ago, but rather it is a living reality now.  How am I the innkeeper, refusing room to Jesus?  How am I a shepherd, kneeling before a king yet uncertain of what He is asking of me?  How am I St. Joseph, following the promptings of the Lord when He speaks to me?  How am I the wise man, leaving home in search of a king for my life?   Continue reading “Maranatha!”

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

A phrase I have found myself repeating over the last few months is, “A lot can happen in a year.”  It has come up when reflecting on different friends and how their lives have changed.  Sometimes it relates to jobs or relationships or babies.  And, sometimes, when I’m being a bit more pessimistic and thinking about my own life, I’ll add to the end of that phrase, “…or not change.”

Yet, mostly, I utter this phrase in hope.  Whatever state my life is in now, in a year, it could be very different.  Who knows what the Lord has planned for tomorrow?  or next week?  or next month?  His promises and blessings for this next year will definitely be different from what I imagine, but they will continue to change and transform me.

Sometimes change can be a bit scary.  And at other times, change can be prayed for and longed for.  I have numerous desires in my heart that I long for the Lord to fulfill.  But I also can be led to worry about how He will fulfill them and if I am actually ready for Him to fulfill them.  Whatever my current feelings may be, a lot can and will happen in the next year.

This week we are wrapping up one liturgical year and preparing for the advent of another.  Now is a good time to consider how the Lord has poured out His blessings upon our lives.  The past year of grace has changed and transformed us.  What are specific ways the Lord has caused us to grow?  What encounters have we had with the Lord and how have they changed us?  How have they not changed us as much as they ought?  The next year will continue to do the same in new and unexpected ways.  As we sit on the cusp of a new year, let us pray to be filled with a deeper desire to enter into salvation history in a new way.  May this next year not leave us unchanged.  Come, Lord Jesus, reign in my life.  Let a lot happen in this next year.

In one moment, I can give you more than you are able to desire.
(Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary 1169)

Aging Gracefully

Aging Gracefully

“My hair is really getting gray,” she says to me as she combs her fingers through a couple inches of waves.  “Do I look old?”

“You look your age,” I say.  And, because I know that doesn’t seem comforting enough, “You have a young face, but I like that you look your age.  We have enough people trying to act like they are younger than they are.  Culturally, we need more witnesses of how to get older.”

My mom is not one of those moms that causes people to ask us, “Are you girls sisters?”  She has not insisted on celebrating her “39th” birthday for years ad infinitum.  As a woman in her early 60s, her short hair is graying more and more with every year.  While I never really knew my mom as a young woman, I know from pictures that over the years she has changed shapes, sizes, and styles.   Continue reading “Aging Gracefully”

Receive Mercy

Receive Mercy

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrew 4:15-16)

One of the first times I really heard this passage, several things about it struck me as completely perfect for my life in that moment.  And even if I don’t remember the specific state of my life, I am able to point to several parts of this passage that have a perennial blast of truth. Continue reading “Receive Mercy”

Graced

Graced

Anger is like a dead weight.

The fool thinks that anger will invade only one area of his life.  He thinks that anger can be compartmentalized from the rest of one’s feelings and actions.  That fool thinks that the heart can be subdivided, anger for some and happiness for the rest.  He is wrong.  

Or she.  

Or me.

After days of being angry, I decided to not be.  I will not, of course, downplay the workings of grace.  Grace was imperative for me to see what I was choosing to do to my own heart.  In the beautiful mystery that is God, the Holy Spirit prepared my heart to receive the graces needed to take a step away from the anger and frustration. Continue reading “Graced”

The Grace of the Present

I’m not opposed to making memories.  As an introvert, I spend a decent amount of time inside my own head, thinking over what has or will transpire.  However, the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and I was seeing pictures and albums that were presented as “making memories.”  Do we prefer to make memories rather than live in the present moment?

Is something off if we spend a large amount of our time documenting for the future moments of the past?  Could it be that the present is not actually as great as we will remember it to be once it is firmly grounded in the past?

I’m sporadically reading One Thousand Gifts and the other day I read about how Ann Voskamp, the author, was struggling to encounter God’s face in the moments where she is stressed and angry.  Seeing God’s face in the brilliance of the morning sunrise or the contented cooing of a newborn is easy.  Yet it stretches us to see God’s face in a belligerent student or a quarrel with a friend.  As I read, I thought of how just that day I had been annoyed with my students not listening to my directions.  It never even crossed my mind to stop and consider, “How are they revealing God’s face to me right now?”

The present moment is the place where we encounter God.

We are making strides when we are able to go back to a difficult situation and see how God was present in that moment.  Yet it is supremely better to be able to, in that very moment, see the face of God present.  If only I could look at my students, complaining and upset about their work, and see Christ in them.  It would take re-training my mind and my heart.

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp reveals an experience she had with her son that changed them both.  At one point in the conversation, she tells her son that the only way to combat feelings is to have other feelings.  The central feeling we can use to combat unwelcome feelings, she presents, is gratitude.  In the midst of frustration, fatigue, anger, sadness, or annoyance, what a difference it would make if we would begin to be thankful.  Not gratitude for something of the past or the future, but gratitude for that present moment.  What would it be like if in our most trying moments we saw the face of God in His perennial presence?  Surely it would change things.

If we spend our lives trying to simply “make memories,” I fear that the best moments of life will not be what we actually experience, but always events of the past.  I run the risk of sabotaging my present for the glorification of a past that never really existed.

When I look at my semester that I spent studying abroad, I don’t initially recall the tiredness, the inevitable frustrations of group planning, or the desire for American comforts.  Yet those were very real aspects of my semester.  I cannot expect my present moment to measure up to my idealized past experiences.

God is present in the here and now.  In this moment, despite the commonness.  In my quiet study hall on a random Wednesday.  In the lukewarm coffee I’m still enjoying from this morning.  In the satisfaction of checking another item off my to-do list.

This present moment is a moment of grace.  Because grace is only offered in the present.

I desire to teach myself to accept each moment as the grace-filled, soul-transforming, heart-deepening, wound-healing, saint-making, God-given moment that it is.  This present moment is where we encounter God.  Let us not overlook His presence in the now in an effort to live in the past.

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