“Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week

“Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week

I watched Beauty and the Beast this weekend and I’ve been turning one lyric over and over in my mind ever since.  “How in the midst of all this sorrow can so much hope and love endure?” (from ‘Days in the Sun’)  For several reasons, it seemed to be the perfect phrase to carry into this Holy Week.

In the midst of experiencing again the Passion of Jesus Christ, how can we still find hope and love?  When I read the news, how can I find hope and love in the events of strife and discord?  In tragedy on a personal or community level, how can I wade through the hurt and find hope?

The short answer is that it is difficult to do, but it must be possible.  It isn’t a matter of denying the pain or sorrow.  The Lord knew we would experience pain.  He understands the depths of feeling forsaken and abandoned.  His closest friends fell asleep during His moments of great agony.  When soldiers came to arrest Him, the apostles all fled.  Jesus isn’t asking us to deny pain or to act like it doesn’t impact us.  Rather, He is asking us to choose to find the Resurrection in the midst of every crucifixion.  Or, at the very least, to acknowledge that there will be a Resurrection, even if death seems to be victorious right now. Continue reading ““Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week”

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When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

Nearly three years ago, I strapped on a hiking backpack and walked five hundred miles.  As I walked El Camino de Santiago, people crossed my path who were completing the pilgrimage for the second or third time.  While beautiful, I wondered why people would complete this trek multiple times.  Once will be enough for me, I thought.

Yet now and again, I find myself longing to be on some dusty trail in the midst of the Spanish countryside.  It isn’t because of my love for travel, although I suppose that does play a role.  My desire to be on the Camino for a second time stems largely from my desire for simplicity.

On the Camino, it is easy to be simple.  In fact, it is almost a requirement that one be simple.  On your back, you carry all of your clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.  Everything you think you will need along the Way, you must plod every blessed mile with it fastened to your back.

Sometimes it annoyed me to live so simply.  I wanted a different outfit to wear.  I was surprised at how much I found myself longing for a real towel and not the travel towel I would use each day.  At times I wished to simply remain in the same place for more than an evening.  There were several things that made me not like living simply.

Yet, in a very authentic way, I realized my heart was made for simplicity.  When my closet of clothes overflows and the laundry basket is full, when my bookshelves no longer have room for the books I insist on buying, or when I find myself shopping online for things I realize I do not need, I remember that my heart is a simple heart.  Yet I wish simplicity was forced upon me instead of needing to be chosen.

My possessions have a weight and I want to be free.

Sitting in a cluttered room, I find myself slightly jealous of my older sisters and their vows of poverty.  To be free to be poor.  I know I romanticize poverty, but there is a longing in my heart for less.  And in that less, I know I will find more.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

For over thirty days, I walked the Camino and if I did it again, I would pack less.  There is a simple beauty in choosing between two outfits.  There is a simplicity found in needing to walk a few miles each day.  I’ve never been so aware of my feet before.  And rarely have I felt like I’ve spent the entire day just being and walking in the Lord’s company.  Those lovely, simple things make the Camino something I wish I could be doing right now. Continue reading “When Simplicity Must Be Chosen”

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”

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 Mercy Divine

A Mercy Divine

“My people, what have I done to you or how have I offended you?  Answer me!  I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Savior to the cross.  My people, what have I done to you?  How have I offended you?  Answer me!  For forty years I led you safely through the desert.  I fed you with manna from heaven, and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.  What more could I have done for you?  I planted you as my fairest vine, but you yielded only bitterness: when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink, and you pierced your Savior with a lance.”  (Reproaches of Good Friday)

Good Friday is a day of worlds colliding.  We acknowledge the death of Our Lord and our role in it, but we also recall this as the glorious means for our salvation.  The cross is an instrument of torture and yet we take time to exalt the cross, coming forward on bended knee to kiss Our Savior as He is fastened to it.

Today, we begin the Divine Mercy Novena which concludes on Divine Mercy Sunday.  After the Good Friday service, we prayed the first day of the novena.  And I couldn’t help but remember another time when I had prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  It was about six years ago and I stood on the cold, snowy ground of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

We had already toured Auschwitz I.  There I saw picture after picture of people who had entered that place of death.  Next to each picture was a little card that gave the person’s name, their entrance date, and the date of their death.  But the faces were what became engraved on my heart.  I had heard for years about the number of people who died in the Nazi concentration camps, but to see only a fraction of their pictures changed statistics into human lives.

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In silence, we loaded the bus so that we could go to Auschwitz II.  Here we saw long barracks and miles of barbed wire fences.  And we struggled to understand that human beings did this to other human beings.  We saw cattle cars that humans arrived in and we surveyed the watchtowers that were situated to keep all under surveillance.

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In the last few minutes of being there, we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Because what else can you do when surrounded by such a witness to the depravity of humanity?    We could only make appeals to the mercy of God.  I could not offer to God my own merit or good works because they are insufficient in the face of such tragedy.  I can only offer His Son back to Him.

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

Kneeling during the Good Friday service and during the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I could not help but consider this again.  In the wake of the death of Jesus Christ, I can offer nothing to atone for it.  These hands were not physically there, but my sins were bought and paid for with His blood on that day.  Even if I lived a perfect life, I could not make up for what has been done.  The only offering I can make is Jesus Himself.

A couple years ago, I considered the words of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and I realized that it is truly a mercy that can only come from God.  We plead our cause by offering to God the very One we killed.  In any other situation, this would seem laughably grotesque.  Imagine a murderer asking for clemency from a mother or father by invoking the name of the child killed.  Not simply through their name but asking that through the child’s death mercy and forgiveness will be shown to the murderer.  Such mercy is what can only come from God.

Good Friday comes down to accepting that I cannot do anything.  In the Passion narrative, I am the one calling for His crucifixion and claiming that He is not my king.  And I must say those words because I profess them often enough with my life.  Good Friday isn’t about beating yourself up or trying to make yourself feel lousy.  It is about accepting the role we have played in the death of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die, though, so that we could wallow in guilt and self-pity.  He came to make us new.  He came to utterly transform us.  He came to take every part of us and to pour His perfect mercy over all the parts of our heart that most need it, yet are too fearful or prideful to plead for it.

Christ says “Give me All.  I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.  I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.  No half-measures are any good.  I don’t want to cut off a branch here and there, I want to have the whole tree down.  I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out.  Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit.  I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” (Mere Christianity, p. 166)

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion–inexhaustible,  look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
(Closing prayer for the Divine Mercy Chaplet)

Thirst

Thirst

Today, during my sophomore classes, we prayed the Stations of the Cross.  Though I’ve prayed them many times before, God seems to repeatedly sow new meaning into the lines.  Phrases I hadn’t before realized, come to life in a startling way.

The thirst of Christ struck me in prayer today.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, far from my prayer, far from the words of my cry?  O my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; I cry out by night, and there is no relief for me.  All my bones are racked.  My heart has become like wax melting away within my chest.  My throat is dried up like baked clay, my tongue cleaves to my jaws; they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.”  (Ps. 21/22, The Way of the Cross)

I’ve grown up hearing about Bl. Mother Teresa saying that Christ was thirsting for our souls while on the cross.  And that took on a new depth today and will be something I will return to throughout this Holy Week.

For a few brief seconds, I was able to imagine the intense thirst of Christ.  I considered a couple moments in my life where I have felt extremely thirsty, when my tongue seems to stick to my mouth.  The instances have been few and far between.  I had always passed over these words with little thought, but today I was unable to.  I could imagine Christ’s dry mouth and His tongue sticking to His jaws, as He tried to peel it away to speak a few words.  He longed for a little water.

This thirst Christ had was one aspect of His intense suffering.  He also had the scourging on His back, His hands and feet were pierced, His head was seeping blood as the thorns bit into His scalp, and He was repeatedly pushing Himself up to take in some air.  His thirst was one part of the physical agony.  But it struck me.  For a few seconds, I imagined, to a degree, that thirst and my heart seemed unready to take in the rest of the Passion while surrounded by a bunch of teenagers.

A new depth of thirst was realized.  If I now have a greater understanding of His physical thirst, how much deeper was His thirst for souls.  Even more than for a cup of cool water, Christ was longing for our souls.  The intensity of such a thirst pains my heart.  Here Christ so deeply desires my heart and I am slow to give Him it in its entirety.  May a new thirst fill my own heart for the Lord.  May the intense thirsting of Christ on the cross be my new attitude toward Christ Himself.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  (Ps. 42)

Encounter

Encounter

“You’ll enjoy it.  You’ve been excited for this talk since you heard about it.  You don’t go out much…you really should go out tonight.”

This wasn’t me trying to convince a friend to go out.  This was me trying to convince myself to go out last night for a theology talk at a bar.  Shouldn’t be that hard of a sell except I have one little quirk: sometimes my introvert takes over.  Going to bed early or spending the night at home reading or doing some needed homework sounded like lovely alternatives to going out to talk to people.

Introverts like social interactions (humans are social beings…and introverts are humans), but it doesn’t take much for me to prefer a quiet evening.  Or at least just a few friends and not a potentially crowded room where I would engage in the ever-hated small talk.  But I did it.  I went.  Initially, I was annoyed that I was an introvert and it took so much convince myself to go out.  But, gradually, I forgot about it and enjoyed the evening.

When I got home, I listened to a voicemail from a friend and I had to laugh.  She was telling me about how that evening she went out to a party with co-workers.  For a couple days she had not been herself, but after an hour of talking to co-workers at a crowded bar, she left happier.  We’re both introverts and so we get the lack of desire to do social things sometimes.  But a question she posed in the voicemail resonated with me.  She said, “Why, Trish, why would going and talking to my co-workers at a crowded bar change things/make me happier?”  (I paraphrased it a bit, but that is the gist.)

My first thought was because we need community.  On our own, we can become isolated and it can be a bit miserable to be lost inside your own head.  But community brings us outside of ourselves.  I was grinning as I listened to my friend ask this question because I had just experienced the fruit of being with people.  It wasn’t that I was with my best friends or that it was the most fun I ever had.  Rather, it was the experience of the encounter.

What is amusing to me is that the talk I attended focused around the fact that Christianity is not a set of rules but is an event, an encounter with a person.  We are Christians not because we follow the Christian code of conduct (although Christ definitely asked us to live in a certain way and how we live does matter) but because we have encountered the person of Jesus Christ and have been changed because of it.  This encounter with Jesus can happen through our encounter with other people.  We experience the presence of God in a situation and it can seem magnificent, but it is acknowledging a truth that is constant: God is here with us.  He is dwelling among us.  We can find Him in one another, experiencing the same person of Jesus Christ even though He has the face of a stranger.

One of my Lenten goals/penances is to personally encounter my students more.  It is so easy to have them come in, sit down, ask the class a general question about their weekend, and then launch into the subject at hand.  And it is important to actually teach them something substantial.  However, I have a desire to know my students.  Small talk doesn’t come naturally to me, so I am making an effort to have a little conversation with different students.  Today, I talked to one of my quieter students who seems to just be slipping by in the class.  It isn’t that the grade is low, but the student seems to not have close friends or reach out to many people.  So we talked briefly.  She was one of the first ones in my classroom and we talked about her job that she was working at this weekend.  In the midst of this conversation (neither very monumental nor very deep), I was struck by the encounter.  It was something small, but it was something.  She didn’t bare her soul to me, but she shared something about herself that I didn’t know before.  We found something we had in common and we shared it with each other.

We are communal beings and in encountering each other, we can encounter Christ.  That is why a trip to a noisy bar with co-workers can transform us from glum to joyful.  It wasn’t where we went or even what we talked about or what we imbibed.

It was the encounter.

Tangible

Tangible

The Lord understands the need we have for the tangible.

We have a soul gifted with intellect and free will.  In this way, we share in the likeness of God.  Yet we also have bodies and this is no small part of who we are.  We are not to have a Puritanical mindset that declares the body is bad.  Our bodies matter.  This physical world matters.  And God reaches out to us in the midst of what we know and understand.

Over the past few days, I have soaked in the beauty of the tangible in the Catholic faith.  On Ash Wednesday, we have a cross of ashes inscribed on our foreheads.  We hear, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Remember, remember the brevity of life.  It is hard to miss the symbolism–our bodies will return to dust, like the dust from which Adam was formed.  Our life is fleeting and we do not hold within ourselves the meaning for our own existence.  Civilizations and generations will return to nothing.  We are called to remember that our treasure should rest in something other than these earthen vessels, something that will survive time.

Even as we are told to look beyond the physical, the very means of this heavenly gaze is found in the physically tangible.  The black ashes that seal your forehead.  The words we hear that speak of the end for our physical bodies.  Physical signs point to spiritual realities and truths.

That evening I went to a funeral home for my uncle’s wake.  My four year old nephew wanted to touch my ashes and so I tried to keep him at an arm’s length.  When he saw me the next day at the funeral, he noted that the thing on my forehead was gone.  Sometimes kids have the appropriate response.  Familiarity leads adults to see the ashes as commonplace, but my nephew was intrigued by the smudge on my face.  In a way, he saw that the ashes said something significant.

At the funeral there were numerous tangible elements.  The body is reverenced in a way that might surprise us if we pause to think about it.  No longer is this the person we knew, but yet we bring the body into the church.  The casket enclosing the body is nearest the altar, as we hope that this person is nearest the throne of God, participating in the eternal Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.  We cover the casket with a white cloth, remembering their baptism into the death of Christ and into His everlasting life.  The pallbearers, an honor given to a few friends or relatives of the deceased, carry or follow the body from the church to the hearse and from the hearse to the grave site.  This isn’t a task relegated to people paid to help with the funeral, but rather is seen as an honor.  The importance of the body causes us to have a committal ceremony where we place the body into the ground.  We mark it and return to visit this place even though the body will return to dust and the person as we knew them does not remain.

Our physical body matters.  The physical world matters.  The Catholic Church has a beautiful tradition of keeping this in mind.  Whether it is investing in beautiful basilicas or commissioning great works of art, the Church sees the beauty in calling to mind the spiritual through the physical.  Other churches see it, too, but I would say the Church has a deeper understanding.  Weekly, we come together to be nourish by the Bread of Life, by the Body of Christ.  We enter a room or a box and we hear the words that declare that our sins are forgiven.  In entering the the mystical Body of Christ, we are plunged into water as a sign of the cleansing of our soul.

The Catholic Church is all about the incarnational.  Jesus Christ entered into the physical and the tangible.  Of course, we can say that God would completely understand human nature even if He never took it on because He is all-knowing.  But it adds a depth when we acknowledge that He chose to take on human nature so that His knowledge would be experiential and His experience salvific.  

By doing this, He shows us that holiness is pursued through the physical and the spiritual realms.  It isn’t only about the soul and deep meditative prayer.  It isn’t necessary to retire to a desert cave to live on little food and spend days in ecstasy, although He does call some to that life.  The Church has the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy.  It is not enough to admonish the sinner, we must also give drink to the thirsty.  It is insufficient to teach/instruct the ignorant (although important and, technically, my job) but we must also bury the dead.  In the Catholic tradition, we have the great both/and.  We are called to pursue the delicate balance of body and soul, both seen as important aspects of who we are as human beings.

At times, we want to accuse God of being silent or distant.  We ask Him why He does not reveal more of Himself to us or why He requires such faith to believe in Him.  Yet He gives us many signs of His presence with us.  The sanctuary candle that burns in every Catholic church, indicating that the King of Kings is present.  A hand raised in absolution also involves a voice audibly telling you that all is forgiven.  The nearly scandalous declaration of love and sacrifice found in each depiction of the crucifixion.  We belong to a church that firmly declares that Christ walked with us yesterday and still walks with us today in a very concrete way.

God knows what we need.  We have one foot on earth and one in heaven.  And He meets us in both ways.  He is a God who is tangibly with us.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  Our foreheads have been sealed with ashes where we declare that we have sinned and that we are destined to return to dust.  He encounters us, mercifully, in that declaration.  We seek Christ in this desert walk, in these forty days of sacrifice.  How will we tangibly encounter Him?  How will our body and soul be in the union they were created to live in?