Old Words, New Meaning

Old Words, New Meaning

Have you ever heard a passage in Scripture and been convinced that it was crafted specifically for you in that moment?

Or have you heard a story or verse again but you are really hearing it for the first time with new ears?

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?

Psalm 24

After a college semester in Austria, I spent a week in Ireland with my aunt. One day, I climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain said to be the place where St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. I’m a plains girl, through and through, but I was excited to have a mini-retreat as I ascended the mountain on my own.

For several months after, I was reminded of this small pilgrimage when I would read Scripture passages that spoke of climbing mountains. Transported, the verses were enriched with the memory of my own mountain climbing experience. The view I had from the rocky summit was striking, reminding me why mountain-top experiences are so formative.

The Lord is king, let the earth rejoice,
Let all the coastlands be glad.

Psalm 97

In college, I went on a mission trip that brought the sacraments to people living along the Honduran coast. We hiked to towns that had no roads and met with people who had almost nothing. My Spanish was limited, but my heart overflowed when I encountered their simplicity and their joy. Returning to campus, I longed to be in Honduras, a place abundant in beauty and where I encountered the tangible presence of the Lord.

Continue reading “Old Words, New Meaning”

Basic, but Beautiful

Basic, but Beautiful

I have a feeling that for the rest of my life when I return from a retreat, I will only be able to speak of graces and revelations that are profound in their magnitude but elementary in their complexity. This doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising when I came to this conclusion a few years ago. While I’m not saying the Lord can’t reveal anything new to me, I think the revelations will primarily be a deepened understanding and solidifying of truths I already know, albeit superficially.

This understanding came about when I returned from a beautiful retreat. It was enlightening and life giving. Yet the main take-away was nothing new: God loves me. In fact, it seemed laughably basic. Didn’t I already know God loved me? Yes, of course. But after that retreat, I knew it in a deeper, more significant way. I experienced the love of God and it left behind a smattering of old truths seen with new eyes.

Sometimes, the students insist we all keep teaching them the same things. Sometimes, it is true that unnecessary repetition happens. But, it is also true that learning something as a child is quite different than learning about it as a high schooler or an adult. They believe that since they have heard the words before, they know it. Knowledge, however, is something that can be known with the head yet not known with the heart. It is often important to repeat well-known truths because they haven’t journeyed yet from words the mind understands to a reality the heart lives from.

High school students are far from the only ones to do this. The familiar sometimes seems uninteresting when actually we just haven’t plumbed the depths of it yet.

Jesus loves me.
God became man.
The Lord is faithful.
Trust in the Lord.
Jesus rose from the dead.

All of these truths have been heard by Christians innumerable times. Yet how many of these truths have fully penetrated our hearts? How deep of an understanding of the Lord’s love do we actually have? Do we really know and experience the faithfulness of the Lord or do we simply parrot the words? We can stay on the surface with these realities or we can bore down deep and imprint these words on our hearts. Like the circles within a tree, each experience with a particular truth can be packed in deeper and deeper, each additional layer increasing the beauty and profundity of the simple reality.

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That Missionary Life

That Missionary Life

“Who is a missionary?” I asked my class, not too long ago.

They came up with a variety of answers: someone who preaches in a foreign country, someone who has very little, someone who doesn’t make money, and the list continued.

It was difficult for them to wrap it all up neatly. Several wanted to insist that you had to leave the country. I think it was because it fit their idea of a missionary better. Flying to a foreign country steeped in poverty seems far more missionary-esque than serving on a college campus.

FOCUS sends people to college campus and calls them missionaries. Are they?”
“Do they get paid?”
“They fundraise their salary.”

Many were on board with that. But for them, there had to be some type of leaving happening–going to a new place, even if they would begrudgingly accept work in the United States.

“What does a missionary do?” I asked.
“Preach the Gospel.”
“So who could be a missionary?”
They discussed for a while. One said, “You?”
“Am I a missionary?”

The whole issue of pay came up again, some saying that would disqualify me from missionary status.

Am I a missionary?

Continue reading “That Missionary Life”

The Church Showed Up Again

The Church Showed Up Again

Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.

The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.

That did not happen.

As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.

The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.

Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.

Continue reading “The Church Showed Up 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”

Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden

Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden

“Honey, I love you, really, I do.  But being married to you is a burden.”

My students were asked to imagine that a husband came home and said this to his wife.  Already, there was a bit of disdain in their eyes for the husband.

“Oh, I am?  How am I so burdensome?”
“Well, I love you, but sometimes I want to do things and I can’t because of you.”
“Like what?”
“There are a lot of attractive and smart women I run into at work and I can’t date any of them.  Sometimes I want to just catch a plane and fly to Florida for a week, but I would have to tell you first and you might want to come.  You are interesting and wonderful and I love you, but sometimes marriage is restrictive.”

Each time I told this to my students, it worked.  They did not think highly of the husband and were, rightfully so, annoyed with his list of burdens.

Wow, they gasp, he is the worst.

But aren’t these things true?  I asked my students.  He isn’t allowed to date other women, is he?

No, they reply.

Shouldn’t he talk to his wife about flying off to Florida for a week before he does it?

Yes, they say.

So what is wrong about what he is saying?  Why shouldn’t he say these things when they are true?

After very little discussion, because it seems so obvious, they tell me that he has the wrong perspective.  He isn’t focusing on his relationship with his wife, but simply all the things he cannot do because of his relationship with her.

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI

You are correct, I tell them, the husband focuses only on the restrictions of this relationship instead of the love he has for her.

But isn’t this sometimes what we do with God? Continue reading “Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden”

“Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”

“Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”

For me, the first activity of every new school year involves helping facilitate a leadership day for seniors.  They listen to a variety of talks, attend Mass, eat pizza, and write a senior prayer.  Unlike previous years, this year I was responsible for guiding the twenty-five or so students in constructing this prayer.

At the beginning, we brainstormed how we wanted to address God.  Then, we made a list of what would make up the bulk of our prayer: thanksgiving, petition, adoration, etc.  Finally, the part that took the longest was organizing these ideas and deciding which ones were closest to their hearts.

When you are dealing with twenty-five individuals, it takes a while to figure out what is most important.  During this time of discussion, they were attempting to narrow down what matters to them specifically as a class.

Then, this brief exchange happened and it struck me as pretty important.

One student said, “Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.”  And while I knew what the person meant, I replied, “Actually, the prayer is about God.” Continue reading ““Guys, remember, this prayer is about us.””

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

Spoiler: If you haven’t read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and don’t want to know anything about it that might take away from your initial experience, please be aware this post might not be for you.  I discuss elements of the story, but I don’t give it all away.

I recently finished reading The Shack and I found it to be, as a whole, a beautiful story of how God desires to enter into our most painful situations and transform them by His presence.  The way Young depicts the interactions within the Trinity caused me to stop and consider more deeply the perfect communion found within God Himself.  In fact, as soon as I finished The Shack, I picked up Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book The ‘One Thing’ is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.  After reading about the communion of the Trinity in intimate detail, I was filled with a desire to learn more about our Trinitarian God.

The general story line of The Shack is about a man named Mack who has experienced great suffering and loss.  He receives a note from God asking him to come to an old shack to spend the weekend with Him.  When Mack does this, he enters into an incredible encounter with the living God and grows in an understanding of each person of the Trinity.

The main aspects of Young’s story I found to be edifying.  It was simply some of the side details or conversations that made me wonder if he was critiquing Christianity as a whole or specifically Catholicism.  Or, at least, his perception of what the Catholic Church teaches or is.  There are a handful of elements that struck me as a direct rebuke of Catholicism.  The two I want to focus on are ritual and institution.

There is a beautiful section where God involves Mack in “devotions” after a shared meal.  Rather than producing a Bible to read from, Mack is surprised when Jesus reaches across the table, takes the Father’s hands, and speaking honest, loving words of adoration.  It reinforces the reality that devotion is entering into a loving relationship with God, not something that is merely rote or filled with words.  After another meal, Mack expects the same thing to happen.

“What about devotion?” asked Mack.
“Nothing is a ritual, Mack,” said Papa…

What is so wrong with something being a ritual?  There are a couple other places where ritual is portrayed as unsavory and in conflict with God’s desires.  I could agree with this if ritual meant that something was insincere or done merely out of habit.  However, that is not what a ritual has to be.  Sometimes rituals are the best way to enter into something that is far above us.  Like the Mass or marriage, we follow a religious ritual because we are connected to something bigger than just ourselves.

The Catholic Church is known for saying the same Mass over and over and over again.  My students will sometimes question why they need to go to Mass each week when it is simply the same thing they heard the previous week.  But if we understand the sacrifice of the Holy Mass as it actually is–the priest in persona Christi re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus at the Last Supper and consummated on the cross at Calvary–then we would realize that nothing else would be a fitting memorial.

Yes, it is a ritual.  But Jesus also said “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Why reinvent the wheel every Sunday when Jesus has given us His very self and asks us to share in this sacrificial meal?  More than new praise and worship songs (which I appreciate in a specific context), the Mass prayed throughout the ages unites us to the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t a bad type of ritual, but rather a ritual that unites Christians across space and time. Continue reading “The Shack: A Catholic Critique”

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty

I know sacraments aren’t a contest, but how many have you participated in or witnessed in a one week time period?

After I go to confession within the next couple days, I will be at five sacraments.  Five out of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  That is a record for me, although I can’t tell you what the previous record actually was.

Last Friday, I went to ordinations for six priests for my diocese.  On Saturday, I attended the wedding of a couple friends.  Yesterday, I became a godmother for the youngest daughter of a couple with whom I am friends.  Interwoven over this week were several Masses and soon I will go to confession to bring the grand total of sacraments to five this week.

One of the beautiful aspects of the sacraments is how tangible they are for us physical creatures.  As I stood behind the mother at the baptism, I watched the priest sign the child with an aromatic cross of chrism.  She was claimed for Christ in a physical way so as to show the spiritual reality.  The water poured over her head, reveals the spiritual cleansing that is taking place even though we cannot see it happen.  Long after the scent of chrism has vanished, her soul will still be marked with an indelible seal, proclaiming her as a new creation in Christ.

At ordinations, I watched the bishop trace the hands of the men with chrism, consecrating their hands and lives to the eternal High Priest.  Beyond the chrism, there was the laying on of hands by the bishop and all their brother priests.  Placing their folded hands within the bishop’s hands, they promise obedience to the bishop and to his successors.  Called to conform their lives to the cross, they prostrate themselves before the altar of the Lord, the place where they will daily offer up the sacrifices of the People of God and make present the sacrifice of Jesus.   Continue reading “Sacramental Records and Sacramental Beauty”

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started.  It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier.  The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.

I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church.  The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way.  Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days.  While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.

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After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer.  The parish church was still and cool.  Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer.  Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident.  I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.

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Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest.  Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through.  In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer.  Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar.  While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home.  Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart.  When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.

One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal.  Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth.  A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town.  I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”