For the Love

For the Love

“The only part I didn’t really like was when she said that before she was a Christian she didn’t know what love was.”

After a recent talk at school, a few students were voicing their thoughts about the talk. The speaker had made a bold claim, one I hadn’t really thought about too deeply before my students offered their critique. Another student agreed and said he thought the speaker was being dramatic.

“Is it possible,” I questioned, “that being a Christian profoundly changes how she loved?”

“No,” said one student.
“Yes,” said another.

The one who said no came closer and continued with this question. The more I teach and the more I know about people, the more I realize that questions help answer better than arguments. Questions help clarify where exactly the person is, how much they know, and how much they have thought about the idea in the first place. So I posed another question, uncertain as I did so where exactly I was headed or what the next question would be.

“Is there anything different between how Hitler loves and Mother Teresa?”

Continue reading “For the Love”

Break Our Hearts of Stone

Break Our Hearts of Stone

It seems keeping the heart one of flesh, instead of being one of stone, is the continual work of a lifetime. Softening, rather than hardening, requires a strength and intentionality that doesn’t come naturally to me. In the wake of my defensiveness and desire for self-preservation, I repeatedly need to engage in the work of letting my heart be real. The simple act of believing in the goodness of others (and living in that truth) is one that requires me to be soft-hearted over and over again.

As I’ve gone into the prison, I have grown in seeing the goodness in people who have made many mistakes. Many of the men I interact with are easy to find goodness in because they are seeking the Lord, too. Their zeal for the Lord or their desire to love Him or find Him invites me to see how God is moving in their hearts. Others are a little more difficult since they make me feel uncomfortable or continually lie to me. But as a whole, I am able to look at men who have raped, murdered, and committed all sorts of crimes and proclaim their inherent goodness.

For whatever reason, we often look up what crimes the men are in for and how long of a sentence they received. At times, it helps to understand their position: are they in for life or a few years or simply back after breaking parole? We decided to look up one man I’ve talked with several times and see his crime. It was surprising because the kindness and gentleness I’ve experienced from him ran contrary to the crime he was sentenced to serve. Yet, despite the surprise, it didn’t really change how I felt toward him. The goodness and kindness I’ve experienced are real and he is far more than the crimes of his past.

Continue reading “Break Our Hearts of Stone”

Build Up the Ancient Ruins

Build Up the Ancient Ruins

After finishing a silent retreat, I opened my Bible to where I had some papers sticking out.  I had marked this section because of the first three verses of Isaiah 61.  They were the Scripture verses my college women’s group considered “our” passage.  While they speak beautifully about the Spirit of the Lord and how it works in us, my attention was attracted to the following verse.

“They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.”
(Isaiah 61:4)

For the first time, I read this verse and realized the great hope attached to it.  I look at the world around me and I see a lot of things falling into ruin.  This isn’t the result of one generation but of many generations over the years, the buildup of human sin over the course of human history.  Yet here in Isaiah, the Lord is promising to re-build that which is ruined.  And Isaiah isn’t saying the Lord is going to do this all apart from us, but rather that He will use us to re-build and raise up new things.

I cannot help but think that this new life will come from the way the Spirit of the Lord will move.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…

(Isaiah 61:1-2)

When we allow the Spirit of the Lord to work in and through us, He will re-build the broken world in which we live.  I see it already happening in small ways.  On the silent retreat, I was primarily surrounded by moms, several of them visibly pregnant with another child.  It is beautiful to think of how families will be strengthened and renewed simply by their mother’s dedication to her faith.   Continue reading “Build Up the Ancient Ruins”

The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You

The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You

Thankfully, I’m dying bit by bit.

I had a professor in college who liked to shock us by saying, “The Holy Spirit is trying to kill you.”  And, honestly, there is a lot in me that He needs to kill.

At the end of last week, I was frustrated with many of my students and tired of teaching.  One class seemed to be intensely critical of everything I was saying, perhaps a reaction from an impromptu assignment the day before.  Then a phone went off in class.  Finally, I asked students to take down papers I had them stick to the board and a few seemed to think it would be funny to tear them off, leaving them slightly crumpled.

It was all more than I wanted to deal with at the time.  And so I reacted.  I spoke a bit too harshly to the students who didn’t seem to care about the activity I had thrown together for them.  They were upset, but I was perhaps more upset.  One wanted to argue the matter and I told them to come back later if they wanted to discuss it.

I had a couple class periods to reflect on the situation.  My response, I soon realized, was not to that isolated situation but to the frustration of the entire day.  And I knew that wasn’t fair, but I couldn’t undo my unfair reaction.  So when one of the students stopped by after school, I was surprised, but glad.  We had a conversation and a few moments of it I could feel myself getting a little upset again.

In the end, part of me died.  I told the student I over-reacted and the punishment I threw out wasn’t fair.  While apologizing, I admitted that I hadn’t responded in the way that I should have responded.  “I agree with you: you don’t deserve a detention.  I’m sorry.” Continue reading “The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You”

What is your withered hand?

“How are we each like the man with the withered hand?”

It was seventh period and my students were, as usual, talkative and eager to laugh with their fellow students.  We are in the midst of learning about the Gospel of Mark and today found us reviewing the story of the man with the withered hand.

One of the goals I have for my Scripture classes is to convince them that this is the Living Word of God and that it should be impacting their lives now.  I tell them that Jesus desires to speak to each of us, today, in this very moment, through events that happened and were written about a couple thousand years ago.

“How are we each like the man with the withered hand?”

It was a rhetorical question and I continued on with one of my little preaching sessions.  The man had a disfigured hand and yet Jesus asked the man to come before the crowd of people and stretch out his hand.  This requires a deep trust that Jesus will be gentle and that He can heal.  The part that the man most wanted to hide from other people, Jesus was asking the man to openly show to Him.

The words seemed to flow naturally from my mouth as I asked them to consider what part of them Jesus desires to heal.

“Perhaps you don’t have physical disabilities.  Jesus wants to provide emotional, spiritual, mental healing.  What if Jesus called you in front of the crowd and asked you, “How is your relationship with your mom?”  Or if He asked you, “How did you feel when your friend betrayed you?”  Jesus wants to come to you in the midst of your brokenness and heal you.  Christ desires complete wholeness for us.”

As I said these words, I was looking at them and their solemn little faces spoke of hurts that I will never know or understand.  Faces that a few minutes before were laughing, now would quickly drop their eyes when mine would rest on their face.  I told them that Jesus desires to heal them.  That whatever part of them they most want to hide from Jesus, is the place He most wants to come.

It was, I believe, a moment of the Holy Spirit working through me.  The room had a stillness to it that revealed an attentiveness that went beyond the typical atmosphere for notes or theological discussions.  I could feel the weight of the room and the weight of the Holy Spirit.  In the momentary pause before I continued on with notes, I thought briefly, “I love talking about healing.”  It was never something I had thought before, but I knew it to be true.  There is a certain life that fills me when I am able to speak about the transforming effect that Christ desires to have on us.

How does Jesus desire to heal your withered hand today?  Let’s let Him do it.  Amen. Amen.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

There are times when I am teaching and I realize that the different experiences I have had in my life have greatly shaped what and how I teach.  The other day we were talking about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River and the descent of the Holy Spirit.  This naturally led to thinking about different places in the Bible where the Spirit has descended.  Pentecost was one of the first answers–probably because it is the most used example and because most of my sophomores are going through Confirmation right now.

Whenever I speak about the Holy Spirit I think of one of my friends from college and how they would laugh at me now.  My time in college greatly changed my relationship with the Holy Spirit.  There is still much work to be done but I would never have had the conversation I had with my students if not for different people in my life.  I told one of my classes that what happened at Pentecost still happens today.  That people actually do speak in different languages and that people are still being healed.  My example of people speaking in different languages didn’t seem to impact them but when I told a story of someone I knew who was healed, that was an altogether different story.

“You know her?”
“Yes.”  I went on to tell them that I was pretty good friends with this person.
“Whoa!  Like you really know her?”

There was more that I wanted to share with them but I didn’t want them to begin to disbelieve.  Even as I was telling them about the power of the Holy Spirit I could feel their disbelief reconfirm my belief.  So often we are willing to chalk up the incredible and miraculous to untrue or mere exaggerations.  It was as I was telling my students that miracles do happen that I began to ponder if I still believed it.  Not that I doubt miracles but I think too often I have the tendency of not giving the chance for the miraculous the credibility it deserves.

I desire to invite the Holy Spirit back into the classroom.  As a Catholic school we have little problem talking about Jesus.  But what if we allowed the Holy Spirit to become more than a little dove that descends upon Old and New Testament figures but rather is living and active in our daily lives?  What if the students could know that the Holy Spirit can radically transform their lives if they are open?  Perhaps for this to happen their teacher needs to reach for an even deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to revolutionize her teaching.

What if we taught in such a way that conversion was the primary goal and that the necessary consequence of that would be learning the material.  I don’t understand how this can happen exactly or what would be necessary for this to take place, but I desire for it to happen.  If I taught English I would still pray for my students, but as a Theology teacher my main prayer is for their conversion and then secondarily for them to learn the material.  The battle is breaking into their world and showing them the importance of their faith now.  That must be a task that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus.