Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel

Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel

In my foolishness, sometimes I am more inspired by trends than by the Gospel.

Minimalism is a trend that has been around for a few years.  Whether it involves paring your wardrobe down to a few essential items or selling everything to live in a van, the belief that less is more appears to be appealing to people today.  The reality that minimalism is a trend in a world overrun by material possessions seems to indicate that the Gospel applies to the human person, not simply to the Christian.

There are books that speak about keeping only your cherished items, blog posts galore about capsule wardrobes, and podcasts about how to fully embrace a lifestyle of few possessions.  People speak of how there is freedom that is found in ridding themselves of excess and instead focusing on what is needed.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.    (Matthew 6:19-21)

This passage from Matthew’s Gospel was read at Mass last Friday for the martyrdom of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.  After watching a short video clip where a young woman experimented with minimalism, I was struck by how many things in our culture are simply the Gospel repackaged and devoid of Christ.  I don’t believe these trends are a bad thing, but I find it interesting that lifestyles that would ordinarily be considered burdensome gain traction when shown to be an alternative lifestyle.

Another example is fasting or intermittent fasting.  Research done by some scientists indicates that fasting can actually be good for your health.  The different studies and programs encourage people to fast for several hours and increase up to full day fasting.  Interestingly, fasting can now be considered a healthy, trendy choice.  In the Church, fast days are often viewed by the faithful as begrudging days of denial.  For me, mandatory days of fasting are strangely always more difficult than voluntary (or accidental) days of fasting.

Finally, abstaining from meat is also being proposed as something to do for the sake of your health.  Secular advertising suggests that we should embrace “meatless Mondays” so as to help the environment and our bodies.  Some think the Church is irrational for asking adherents to abstain from meat on Fridays, definitely during Lent but encouraged year round.  My students can’t imagine what it would be like to never eat meat on Friday and many profess to forget several times during Lent.  Something seen merely as a duty can be viewed as burdensome, but when it is undertaken for personal health it is manageable. Continue reading “Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel”

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Tears Are Good For The Heart

Tears Are Good For The Heart

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.”
(Ezekiel 36:26)

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”

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions

The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality.  Yet they managed to completely derail that plan.  When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned.  Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.

Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me.  I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way.  Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.

“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things?  Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic.  If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life?  Like why did God make us?  What is our purpose?”

Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me.  When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.

This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing.  The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live.  So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight.  The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.

To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning.  The Trinity.  I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit.  Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking.  God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love.  Therefore, we are not needed.  God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us.  Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode.  The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before.  I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.

One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world.  The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them.  Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways.  In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults.  They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.

As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters.  Situations aren’t simple.  The correct move or response isn’t always obvious.  Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present.  Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.

Or perhaps that is what I read into it.  Either way, it seems relevant in my life.  Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times.  Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.

The past is a powerful force.  Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life.  Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them.  It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

I have a problem with weakness.  When a person’s weakness is on display in a way I don’t like, I find it difficult to be welcoming and open.  Yet I also am convinced that being honest and sharing your heart is a necessary part of living an authentic Christian life.  I understand that seeming as though I always have it together is detrimental to myself and others.  However, seeing weakness in a way other than what I believe is an acceptable display is hard for me to embrace.

This realization–my understanding of vulnerability and yet my dislike of apparent weakness–makes me pause and wonder what is in this little heart of mine.  Sometimes, I see weakness and I am drawn to the person.  In a way, I suppose my heart responds like the Lord’s heart–the misery of another makes me desire to love them in the midst of the struggle.  However, sometimes, I see weakness and I am repelled by it.  I question why they struggle in that particular way or in such a public manner.  Instead of feeling compelled to reach out to them and help them, I withdraw and wish they could get their act together.

Like I have said before, this heart of mine is far, far away from being a perfect heart.

I think a theme that has been woven into several of my posts is one of brokenness and seeking the Lord in the midst of that break.  Yet I also want to have it together and I want other people to be composed.  The other day at Mass, I found myself asking my heart a question, “How is it that you want people to share their brokenness and yet you don’t want to see weakness?  Is there an appropriate way to be broken?”

Is it fair to criticize people for the way they fall apart?  For the way they fail and are weak?  I like when people talk about their humanity, but I’m less interested in actually seeing their humanity.  It is silly, but I find myself arguing that I think there is a proper way to be broken.  A recent experience in prayer highlights the freedom that can be found in being broken and revealing that brokenness.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher has a book called An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises.  The opening meditation uses the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10.  In the opening lines of the meditation, I was directed to take my seat with Bartimaeus.  Soon, this blind man is calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In prayer, I was surprised to find an annoyance with him.  He was obnoxiously calling out to Jesus and I resisted the urge to shush him.  How could he be so shameless?  In the midst of the crowd, he was crying out, causing people to acknowledge his blindness and his complete inability to change his situation.  I wanted Bartimaeus to be more discreet and not draw so much attention to himself.  However, to Bartimaeus, his helplessness was paradoxically a place of hope. Continue reading “Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong”

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

The Gospel reading from this past Sunday is one that I find intriguing.  Jesus presents a parable that speaks to the nature of God.  Yet it is a nature that we struggle to understand since it is far beyond what seems natural to our humanity.  The line that stood out to me was near the end.  It was a lovingly spoken parting blow from Jesus, aimed at the egos of His followers down through the ages.

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

Sometimes.

The situation that came to mind was from a recent class as we discussed a few attributes of God.  We spoke of the limitlessness of God’s knowledge, love, and power.  As we waded into what it means that God knows all, questions arose, as I was certain would happen.

“If God knows everything, then why did He…”

You can fill in the blank with whatever you would like.  Sometimes they questioned why God would create specific people, knowing the hurt and pain they would inflict.  Other times they questioned if we truly have free will since God knows everything we will do.  They are interesting questions and ones I try to wrestle with for my students.

The closer to home I can make the examples, the more they seem to understand.  Why would God create people who do evil things when He knows they will do them?  I connected it to free will and asked, rather than answered, another question.

“Is it free will if God only chooses to create the people He knows will be good?  What would it mean if God surveyed our lives and then only created the people who would follow Him anyway?”

While still a difficult concept, I believe they began to see that God loves and creates people regardless of their future actions.  As humans, we are quick to separate ourselves into different groups.  There is Hitler and other really bad people on one side.  On the other, good people like you and me.  So I decided to pose another question to them, one that tries to pry into their idea of “good people.”

“If God chose to only create the people who were good, would we have been created?”

Our instinctual reaction of “I’m a good person” kicks in, only to be checked by, “Am I?”  I do not know what I will do in my future, maybe it will be something awful.  From my vantage point of the present, I can see the mean and sinful things I have done in the past.  I want my students to realize that appearances can be deceiving and goodness difficult to measure if we use subjective standards.

“I am uncertain that I would have been created if God only made the good people.”

This is where I think it connects to St. Matthew’s Gospel from Sunday.  At times, I question why God permits certain things to happen, certain atrocities to be committed by other humans.  Why does He create them at all?

Granted, this is a different situation than the Gospel, but it makes me pause and wonder.  Am I envious that God generously creates everyone, even when I find it difficult to love people who willingly hurt others?  Do I wish He applied a stricter test to people’s futures before He made them?  I don’t think I do, but I question His level of generosity. Continue reading “Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?”

Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill and Back Again

Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill and Back Again

Sometimes, I do stupid things.  Sometimes, I make small, insignificant situations into large problems.  That seems foolish, but then sometimes I turn around and make a big deal of the little thing I made a big deal of.

Because: logic isn’t always my strong suit when it comes to feelings.

A situation at school that I could, and should, have handled better, snowballed into something more than it ever should have been.  Yet when it reached its conclusion, I found myself quickly sliding into annoyance with myself over the entire situation.

“Trish, really?  You let a little thing become so much bigger than it logically should have been.  This is your sixth year and you are in charge of the department.  Shouldn’t you know better?”

Maybe, I should have.  But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, I experienced a situation where I didn’t do the best.  It is even more self-defeating, though, to beat myself up over the situation.  I would thereby perpetuate the problem.  In the scheme of my day, this was a small matter and I shouldn’t give it more weight by focusing more time and energy on how I mismanaged the problem. Continue reading “Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill and Back Again”

If We Understood the Mass

If We Understood the Mass

“I don’t think God would send someone who loves Him and follows Him to Hell.”

A conversation about exorcisms somehow veered into a free-for-all rapid fire of questions.  As I’ve said before, though, if my students ask questions about the faith and they are interested, I have a difficult time telling them no.

“I don’t believe the Church teaches that,” I told the student.

“But if I don’t go to church on Sunday, the Church says that is a mortal sin.  I don’t believe that if I love God and He loves me that He would send me to Hell for missing one Mass on Sunday.”

Understandably, this is a question I hear quite often.  My students find it difficult to accept that missing Mass is a grave sin.  They aren’t skipping it maliciously, I believe, and so I get where they are coming from with their confusion.  Usually, it is out of laziness or boredom or busyness.

So I did what I generally do–I tried my best to explain why the Church teaches what she does.

“I think if we understood what the Mass was, then we wouldn’t ask this question.  God is asking us to go to Mass to encounter Him and receive Him.  He is offering His very self to us out of love.  And if we love Him, I don’t think we would say that we aren’t able to come for one hour once a week.  The bare minimum in having a relationship with the Lord is this one hour.  We couldn’t say no to encountering the Lord and letting Him live in us if we truly loved Him.”

The answer seemed to touch a chord and we moved on to other questions.

Students are prone to question why we have to go to Mass and adults are more prone to critique the Mass itself.   Continue reading “If We Understood the Mass”

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”

Recurring Bad Dream Means School is Near

Recurring Bad Dream Means School is Near

The start of the school year is just around the corner.

As if the date wasn’t enough of an indicator, several other factors have drawn my attention to this fact.
1. I’ve seen a steady uptick in emails from the school, including schedules for in-services and faculty information.
2. People have started beginning conversations with me by asking, “Are you ready for school?”
3. Finally, I had my first bad dream.

Dreams have a funny way of revealing our inner state to ourselves.  I don’t remember many of my dreams, but I have a fairly consistent dream that happens as I approach a new school year.  I dream that I am running late for school.  The whole, restless dream consists of me waking up late, realizing I won’t get to school in time (while also being a bit confused because I didn’t think the school year had started yet), and the stressful experience of trying to figure out what to do.  Usually, it is a short dream, but one that is replayed multiple times, giving me the feeling that I am in a constant state of panic and stress.  When I pull myself out of the dream, I reassure myself that school hasn’t started and that it was all just a dream.  Sometimes my heart is panic racing so fiercely that it is difficult to fall back asleep.

One summer, I had this running late for school dream in June and I was pretty annoyed.  I had months of summer left and here I was, panicking in the middle of the night because dream Trish thought it was 7:50 on a school morning.  This year, it held off a bit longer and the first dream came this past week. Continue reading “Recurring Bad Dream Means School is Near”