During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students. When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself. By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked. I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally. Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes. It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change. Continue reading “When the Gift is More for Me Than Others”
I mentally planned for the day. I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment. Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.
So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.
“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?” Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.
“How about Archbishop McCarrick? The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?” Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.
Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks. I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response. In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.” And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.
As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me. While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.
Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.
Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more. One class reacted with more anger and bitterness. It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified. Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in. I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry. My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself. Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”
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”
Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer. The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me. However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.
Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota. A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through. I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me. So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.
But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool. For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away. After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers. Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.
These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation. Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings. The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”
My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks. As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year. Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship. My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially. My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent. While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit. As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.
After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth. Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like. When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic. The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic. While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been. Continue reading “Nostalgia”
Tastes and preferences change over time, for which I am grateful. When I was younger, I didn’t like spicy food like hot sauce or horseradish sauce. Over the past couple years, I’ve started to enjoy sprinkling (sparingly) some fiery sauce over my eggs or potatoes or whatever might seem good. The surprising craving for horseradish came as a result of an encounter with a Blue Apron recipe I tried. After roasting broccoli and potatoes, the recipe called for a creamy horseradish sauce to coat the vegetables. Since then, I’ve been randomly working the interesting flavor into different meals.
As taste buds change, so also personal preferences change. What used to be unattractive, has changed over time into something which draws my heart. St. Mary Magdalene is one person who fits into this category. I’ve met several people over the years who have loved her and for many of those years, I was a bit confused. The people seemed to have nothing in common with this well-known sinner-saint, yet they were attracted to her life and witness. I can now number myself among those who love St. Mary Magdalene. While I don’t identify very closely with the particulars of her life, I identify very much with her heart.
She was a woman who was forgiven much and loved much. In an act of total self-surrender, she broke her jar of precious ointment and poured it on the feet of Jesus. Wiping His feet with her hair, she laid her entire life before Our Lord. In exchange, she was one of His closest followers, one who sat at His feet to listen to His stories and who was driven by grief to weep at His tomb after the crucifixion. In her need to be close to Him, she was sent as “the apostle to the Apostles” and was the first to witness the resurrected Christ.
St. Mary Magdalene loved with a love that was all-encompassing. That need, that desire to be a total gift for the Lord is something that resonates within my own heart. Earlier this summer while on retreat, I prayed with that passage of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. In a way that it hadn’t before, the words of the Gospel moved my heart and invited me to share more deeply in the relationship Mary had with Our Lord. Continue reading “A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene”
Do you know what it takes to get a compliment from a senior? You keep them after class under the threat of a detention and listen to them try to get out of it.
Some students are just harder to love than others. It isn’t impossible to love them, but the effort that goes into desiring to love them is significantly more. So when a student that fits in this category pushes matters too far, I have to reflect more about the consequences that behavior should incur. Because part of me wants to go all out and give them a harsh consequence. The cumulation of past difficulties with that student or the tension of the particular day must all be weighed to guarantee that the punishment given fits that individual crime.
Yet I’m certain that just as some students are harder by nature to love, some teachers must fall into the same camp. I can definitely acknowledge that I’m not the most loved teacher and I am pretty convinced that I never will be. That doesn’t generally bother me because I’ve experienced life in a rather similar state. High school and college didn’t find me as the most popular person around; therefore, I didn’t expect something magical to happen when I started teaching.
Despite not being the most loved, I do find comfort in being loved by some. As an introvert, that is all I really need anyway–a few people who see under the often reserved exterior. Those glimpses of love and appreciation from students does far more to boost me than they know. At the end of the school year, a student stopped in with a present for me and she thanked me for my patience over the past year. A few students wrote appreciation letters when given the chance for teacher appreciation week. Another student chose to write his own addition to the journal entries I assigned.
That last one perhaps struck me the most. Continue reading “Gratitude Begets Gratitude”
A few days ago, I attended my sixth high school graduation as a teacher. The following day, I attended the first funeral of a former student.
I had wondered before, briefly, at a few sporadic moments, what it would be like to go to the funeral of a former student. Of course, I hoped that it would be several more years before I would find out. At the graduation, I watched the students parade by, diplomas in hand, with an unknown future filled with a thousand moments they couldn’t expect. As a whole, they were excited, ready to leave the halls of their high school and venture into a bigger, bolder world. The next day, I stood before a woman who had crossed that same stage three years earlier, but, too quickly, now rested in a coffin.
My beautiful, wonderful, frustrating, and interesting students have a million possibilities in their lives. Some will go on to achieve great things, things that will cause them to be well-known and highly esteemed. Some will go on to achieve small things, things that will make them loved by a few and yet will impact the world in an authentic way.
And some won’t last very long at all. They get caught up in addiction or depression or violence. It was no secret at the funeral that we shouldn’t be there and that there should be a very different ending to the story that was before us. It was also no secret that drugs were responsible. As I watched her mother in a mournful embrace with her husband, I wanted a picture to show my students. I wanted to tell them, “This is how drugs impact your family. This is what you are doing to your parents.” Continue reading “A Million Possibilities and Infinite Desires”
One of the gifts of having a spiritual director is experiencing in a new way the love of the Father. My spiritual director hears about the good, the bad, and the ugly–and, believe me, there’s plenty of each in my life. Yet what amazes me is his gaze, how it never wavers, how it doesn’t narrow as I describe melt-downs or frustrations.
I’m a woman (obviously) and yet one of the things that has taken years for me to understand is that it’s alright to cry. The fairer sex is usually portrayed as emotional and weepy. Perhaps it is for that very reason that I never wanted to be that way. My innate desire to be other than what is expected caused me to desire toughness and logic. Despite being logical and (fairly) tough, I still have emotions to deal with and my spiritual director has told me over and over that tears are good.
Yet even after hearing tears are good dozens of times, it is hard to believe it in the moment that the tears want to come. I’ve had several difficult conversations in recent weeks and they have been truncated by my need to either cry or yell. Neither seemed appropriate at the time. Neither seemed to be things from which I could tactfully recover. So the conversations had to end because tears seemed to be the only thing that could accompany more words.
However, when I don’t cry and when I don’t say what needs to be said, I do not remain the same. I steel myself against the tears, which can be helpful at times (like in my “early years” of teaching and students’ comments made me want to cry), but sometimes it just makes my heart like steel.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This must be the struggle of the Christian life: to keep our hearts ones of flesh and not of stone. There is a false security in letting one’s heart become a piece of rock. It makes me imagine that hurt will not come and that hopes won’t be disappointed. If I have a heart of stone, then I will be steady and be secure.
Those assurances of security are all lies. A heart needs to be a real heart of flesh. Which means that it also must be capable of being wounded, bent, and broken. And that, I am nearly convinced, is worth the joy that comes with being real. Continue reading “Tears Are Good For The Heart”
Lent seemed to be forty days of falling on my face.
As Easter approached, I found myself holding back, wishing the days would reverse and I would have the gift of more Lent. I was annoyed with myself because I knew better. The Lents that are the most intense and where I am the most faithful yield the best Easters. After forty days of extra prayer and penance, I burst with joy into an Easter that truly finds me resurrected and renewed.
This time, I wanted an extra long Lent. I wanted more time to make up for the ways I failed day after day. I wanted more time to get it right.
I walked into Holy Week and then into the Triduum with a bittersweet feeling. After such a pitiful Lent, it didn’t seem as though I deserved to rejoice in the Resurrection. At some point between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil I became convinced of one thing: I am in incredible need of a Savior.
On Ash Wednesday, I had great hopes of competing well and running this sacrificial race for Our Lord. I wanted to do great things and to show how much I love the Lord. When I arrived at the altar of repose on Holy Thursday evening, I had to acknowledge that the Lord was the only one professing the depths of His faithful love. I desire to be a follower of Jesus and yet I quickly become like the disciples in that night of testing. I run away, I hide, and I wonder what Jesus will do with someone so small and pitiful. Continue reading “I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent”
I wonder what caused the Little Red Hen to be what she was.
You know, the story about the Little Red Hen who does all the work and nobody else will help her? My whole life this story has been presented in a way that makes it seem like the Little Red Hen is in the right and everyone else in the wrong. Of course, the others should have helped do the work and not simply expect to partake of the end result. Yet it still calls to mind a question: did the Little Red Hen behave in the way she ought to have behaved? Continue reading “The Little Red Hen”