Learning the Way of the Cross

Learning the Way of the Cross

Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?

I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.

Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.

Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.

Lord, what can I see in this?

As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.

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My Ars

My Ars

St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars. Not just one time, either, but multiple times. He wanted to leave Ars for the peace and solitude of a monastic life. And while I lack the great holiness and fervor found in the Cure d’Ars, I definitely identify with his desires to leave the world behind and live quietly removed from the chaos.

My spiritual director reminded me that St. John Vianney tried to leave Ars as we meandered down the sidewalk.

“So this high school is my Ars, huh?”

“Yes,” he replied, “there are a few similarities there it seems.”

“He died there, didn’t he?” I said, in an attempt at wry melodrama.

He paused for a moment as my imagination latched onto the idea of decades spent at this one high school, right up until the moment of my death. (I’m a melancholic–we consider death often.)

“You might not physically die at school, but, yes, I think you will die there.”

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Let Nothing Distract

Let Nothing Distract

This past week, one of my classes watched a movie about the life of Mother Teresa. At one point, right after Mother Teresa had left the Loreto convent, she was shown clearing out her room at a host family’s house. The owner told her they had a lot of spare furniture she was welcomed to use during her time with them. She responded by saying that she needed simplicity so that nothing would distract her from her work with the poor.

I don’t know if that scene happened exactly like that in real life, but her words struck me. Even if she didn’t say that, her life showed that she lived that reality. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the idea that simplicity gives freedom. It wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a new concept when I considered it in light of the saint of the slums. Mother Teresa needed poverty in order to be committed to caring for the poor. That may not seem profound to you, but hearing those words evoked a question within me: what makes me think I have more discipline than Mother Teresa?

If Mother Teresa needed simplicity to pursue God’s mission, what makes me think I can follow God without simplifying my life, too?

Her God-given mission was to help the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she knew she had to give up creature comforts in order to remain focused on her mission. Her life of poverty provided the freedom to be generous and sacrificial with her life and time. Material items distract. Compelled by the love and thirst of God, Mother Teresa knew she could not afford to be distracted by lesser things. She created space in her life that could be filled by the presence of God. Fewer possessions crowding her heart yielded greater room to the concerns of the Lord.

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Gratitude on a January Day

Gratitude on a January Day

Three things I’m thankful for today:
-The song “Kings and Queens” by Mat Kearney–especially the line “Richer than Solomon with you by my side” as he expertly blends Scripture into his songs
-Weekend food leftovers to power me through the start of another week
-Books: owning them, reading them, and anticipating their arrival

There is something about gratitude that shifts the perspective.  A few years ago, I was in the practice of writing down things for which I was thankful.  They were often small, inconsequential things.  Yet, even now, when I look back at those pages in my notebook, I smile at the glimpse into my heart and life during that time.

A random sampling from my gratitude journal:
3. Principal observation on a movie day
5. Peace after expressing frustration
29. Gusts of wind that make crunchy leaves trip down the road
37. The post-run feeling of health (following the post-run feeling of death)
59. Stretching out in bed at night
69. Eyes crinkled in laughter
80. Heavy hearts sharing the burden through conversation
133. Answered novenas in unhoped for ways
172. Solo supper with Grandma
176. My students telling me which gifts of the Holy Spirit they think I live out
241. Laughter with students instead of going insane

Some of the events I remember.  For others, I’m not quite certain to what I was referring, but there is a beauty in seeing what moved my heart to express gratitude.  Thankfulness is one of those things that doesn’t quite make sense if there is no God.  Who else can I thank for the peace I feel after settling an argument?  Or for the wind that causes leaves to swirl around on the ground?  These would be mere observations or fleeting thoughts unless they could be expressed to someone responsible for them. Continue reading “Gratitude on a January Day”

I Climbed Mountains

I Climbed Mountains

I love when I am able to find secular examples that point to spiritual realities.  When shown explicitly religious media, my students often give what they think are the correct answers based on their years of Catholic education.  Yet when it is something that seems a bit unrelated to the class, they tend to have a greater openness and willingness to interact with the material.

On the second class day of the new spring semester, I showed them a TEDx talk called “500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair.”  (Feel free to take a minute…or 19…to go and watch this video.)  The image of strangers taking the time and effort to carry a man in a wheelchair up a mountain seemed to obviously gesture toward the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

“Through the power of community, I climbed mountains.”

At one point near the end, Justin says. “Through the power of community, I climbed mountains” and it resonated so much that I had to write it down.  So many conversations lately have pivoted around the need and desire for community and authentic friendship.  While some say community cannot be built, I disagree.  I believe community must be built.  While we cannot choose to magically connect with people, we must be intentional in how we use our time in order for community to be successful.

This community that Justin and Patrick found was possible because others were willing to be intentional with their time and energy.  The pilgrim duo they met in the cathedral in Burgos were willing to wait for them before climbing the mountain leading into O’Cebreiro.  Then other people heard the story and decided to wait, too, without ever meeting Justin or Patrick.  Community requires intentionality and it reminds us that in this pilgrimage of life we cannot walk alone.

A priest friend of mine often said, “You can be damned alone or saved with others.”  I think he was quoting someone but I was never certain of the source.  The idea is that Hell is isolation, but Heaven is necessarily communion.  Communion with God and with others.  The reality of this can be revealed in the many “saint pairs” that have arisen over history.  St. Francis and St. Clare.  St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.  St. Louis and St. Zelie.  St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The list could go on and on.  St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II?  Saints live a foretaste of the heavenly communion through their authentic friendships with one another.  They “carry” each other up the mountain, using friendship to encourage the other to enter into deeper relationship with the Lord. Continue reading “I Climbed Mountains”

Unlikely Friendships

Unlikely Friendships

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were good friends.

In a world where rational discussion and respectful dissent is viewed as semi-impossible, these two Supreme Court justices demonstrated how it could work.  They didn’t simply clash over minute details: one could say they had almost fundamentally different views of the law and that translated into different worldviews.

My friendship with Judge, later Justice, Scalia was sometimes regarded as puzzling, because we followed distinctly different approaches to the interpretation of legal texts.  But in our years together on the D.C. Circuit, there was nothing strange about our fondness for each other.

Scalia Speaks Foreword by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Despite differences in opinion, they were able to have a genuine appreciation for each other.  In several sources, Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks of Antonin Scalia’s wit, grand presence, and shopping skills.  I don’t believe she is merely coming up with things to speak about for the sake of maintaining some public reputation of a friendship.  It has all the hallmarks of genuine sincerity–as evidenced by Ginsburg speaking at a memorial for Scalia following his death.

The friendship they share is significant to me because I, too, share a similarly surprising friendship.  Of my friends from elementary and high school, there are only a few with whom I keep up.  (Keep up is used rather loosely because I’m not really known for excellent communication where distance is concerned.)  Melissa was a close friend in high school and yet, in the years since, I think the friendship has deepened, though we speak infrequently.  Our friendship was born of mutual interests of theater, classes, and a desire to learn.  As the two ladies in calculus, we forged a deeper bond from confusion and frustration with the class.  Many of my memories from high school involve Melissa, whether it be laughter we shared, scenes she caused, or stories we told. Continue reading “Unlikely Friendships”

When the Gift is More for Me Than Others

When the Gift is More for Me Than Others

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”

My Little Cross: An Avenue for God

My Little Cross: An Avenue for God

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”

Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing

Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing

Recently, I came into possession of Alanna Boudreau’s “Champion” CD.  And I’ve been listening to it on repeat pretty much since then.  As with all CDs, there are some songs I like more than others and certain lines in songs that move me more than others.

Her song “Controlled Burn” is one of the songs on repeat a bit more than others and I want to highlight a couple of the lines that stand out to me.

“And I ache, I ache, I ache / When I see all the nothing / That could have been something / That should have been you”

This line is perhaps the most perfect summary of these months of summer and maybe even the past year.  From the silent retreat near the beginning of summer to my sister’s home visit to being on the brink of school beginning, I have felt an ache for the nothingness that surrounds me.  Sometimes I am a bit fearful about the judgment that will come at the end of my life and how I will need to answer for all of my time.  The “nothing” that I did should have been replaced by the Lord, by perfectly following His will in all things.  Someday I will regret that wasted time even more than I do now.

I’m not saying that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with productivity.  Americans, however, aren’t particularly good at true leisure.  We binge watch TV shows, waste time on our phones, and fastidiously document our lives on social media.  Obviously, these are all generalizations, but our inability to truly embrace leisure is evident.  So when I say I waste time, I don’t mean I neglected to work, work, work.  Rather, I was isolated too much, preferring to spend time on my own rather than setting up numerous coffee dates or road trips or nights out with friends.  As an introvert, it is an easy hole to fall into and an even easier one to justify. Continue reading “Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing”

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

Whether it is cleaning a room, getting into an exercise routine, or starting a new school year, I’ve discovered that it gets worse before it gets better.

Somehow, I’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the state of my bedroom for the entire summer.  I knew it was a mess and yet it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I saw it with the eyes of reality.  As I began to move some boxes around and sort through a pile of clothes, I realized that it was getting worse.  My attempts to clean were making my room more unlivable.  Yet I reminded myself that it needed to get worse so it could get better.  It still isn’t great, but my room is looking better, bit by bit.

The same was true a couple of years ago when I picked up running for a while.  The first run was tiring as I realized how out of shape I was.  Yet the next couple runs were worse as my sore muscles protested being used again so soon.  Eventually, though, it did get better.  In fact, I ran a 5-mile race and finally understood why runners say they need a few miles to warm up.  Having never been a “real” runner, I always thought I should conserve my energy, but as I finished the race, I could feel that I was running far better than the first couple miles.   Continue reading “It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better”