Attractive Misery

Attractive Misery

We feel…shame at seeing our misery and our baseness exposed.  Yet this misery possesses the mysterious privilege of attracting our Lord.  This is difficult to understand, yet it is an incontestable truth.  Our nothingness and our misery constitute the force that attracts our Lord.

(Secrets of the Interior Life)

I’ve never really understood this idea of how our misery attracts the Lord to us.  Generally, when I see my own miserableness, it is repulsive or something I want to hide.  It isn’t something that is attractive or pleasant.  When it comes to seeing the miserableness of others, I’m not much better.  My personality is one that desires perfection.  The people around me (including me) are continually letting me down because they don’t live up to my image of perfection.

Yet the Lord uses all things for good.  The cheating incident I mentioned a couple posts back has really pushed my heart.  It made me move from anger to forgiveness.  A few days later when the individuals came back and we spoke, I found great freedom in being able to express how they had hurt me and to hear them apologize.  The relief on their faces was incredible.  It was though they walked into my room carrying a burden and then through the exchange of a few words, that burden was lifted.  My burden was lifted, too.

Strangely, over the last couple weeks, I have found a special tenderness in my hearts toward those individuals.  No longer angry, I am able to love them as they are: flawed human beings.  The Lord knows I have difficulty loving people in their humanity and so I am beginning to be grateful for this incident.  I don’t want to love them only when I think they are perfect, but for the beautiful complexity that is wrapped up within their hearts and souls.  I know myself and so I know I do not want to be loved merely for my seeming perfection but rather in my entirety.  In the midst of this, I experienced for the first time, at least consciously, the way that misery attracts my heart.   Continue reading “Attractive Misery”

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To Be the Face of God

To Be the Face of God

The other day, I gave a test in all of my classes.  In the midst of this, I discovered a student cheating on the test.  As I spoke with the student and some details were revealed, I found that I wasn’t angry with the student.  I simply felt this incredible sadness.

I always want to be able to trust my students.  When something happens that betrays that trust, I find myself a bit frustrated and sad.  I don’t want to doubt what they tell me or question their integrity.  But they are humans and sometimes humans cheat or lie.

During the rest of the day, this incident weighed on my mind.  I was sad and disappointed with this student but also with students in general.  Cheating is something I do not understand.  Perhaps because I enjoyed school and generally like a challenge, but I could never see myself cheating in school.  In middle school and parts of high school, people thought I was semi-ridiculous for how cautiously I guarded my paper during tests or quizzes.  I didn’t want to be the unknowing person from whom others stole their answers.  Some of my students have a very different perspective.

So I began to wonder how God takes in the continually disappointing behaviors of humanity.  It is a love that I cannot comprehend because it is truly a love without condition.  My love is conditional.  I have a great affection for my students, but when confronted with their weaknesses and their imperfections, I struggle with how to move forward.  I know a single action does not define who they are, but it shapes how I perceive them.  How can the Lord look at us in the midst of every sin and love us wholly and entirely?   Continue reading “To Be the Face of God”

Justice

Justice

A friend once told me that I have an “excessive sense of justice.”  I’m not certain I would agree, but I think justice is incredibly important and I like to think that I pursue it.  A college professor gave me an incorrect final grade and I e-mailed him, visited him during office hours the following semester, and then sent a follow up e-mail, all in the attempt to get him to lower my grade to what it should be.  To me, it was natural and expected that I would go to such lengths to get a worse grade.  I didn’t deserve that grade and I wanted to get what I deserved.

While I will never claim to be perfect, for as long as I can remember I’ve had a very strong moral compass.  It doesn’t mean it is always right, but I think I have a keen sense of justice.  (Others who know me, though, may see more readily the areas where I am not just.)  It meant that I took note of how long my mom spent with my older sister when she was being home-schooled, and I insisted that she spend the exact same amount of time with me.   Continue reading “Justice”

He is Human

He is Human

I gave him a detention for typing something inappropriate into his graphing calculator.  Understandably, that made him upset.  As class progressed, I had them work in partners and he was not interested in doing anything I asked.

It is your fault you got in trouble, I thought to myself, as I watched him sulk.

Each of the partners was responsible for give part of the response to the rest of the class.  His partner went first and then I asked for him to give the rest of the answer.  It was brief and visibly filled with bitterness.  It was enough to qualify as disrespectful and I narrowed my eyes slightly as I deliberated about what to do. Continue reading “He is Human”

On Highland

On Highland

Most of what I have learned about the Lord’s mercy, I learned on Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh.

My younger sister and I were talking the other day about college.  We agreed that perhaps even more impactful than the beautiful truths we learned in the classroom were the heart-wrenching experiences we had in ministry.  Those were the moments that changed our hearts.  Those were the moments when the truths of Christianity became living, breathing testimonies.

The first place I truly experienced a situation where I could love those who persecuted me was on Highland Avenue.  Yet it was also the place where God reminded me that He never abandons anybody.  There my heart was broken and there my heart was healed. Continue reading “On Highland”

Receive Mercy

Receive Mercy

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrew 4:15-16)

One of the first times I really heard this passage, several things about it struck me as completely perfect for my life in that moment.  And even if I don’t remember the specific state of my life, I am able to point to several parts of this passage that have a perennial blast of truth. Continue reading “Receive Mercy”

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)

Maybe Mercy

Maybe Mercy

What I really wanted to do was call the teenage girl out on her attitude.  Yes, I should have prepared better for class by having the questions printed out for them instead of having them write them out.  At this point, however, it was the end of the day and I didn’t feel like trying to convince my students why school required them to do schoolwork.

Instead of writing down the questions, this young lady was resistant.  Her face was one of annoyance that she would have to write down questions.

“Do we have to write these all down?”
“Well, I think you would want to.  You need to answer these questions over the movie we are going to watch and you won’t be able to see the questions when I pull the projector down.”
“So we don’t have to?”
“I guess not if you think you can remember all the questions and answers.”
“Cool.  I’m not doing it then.”

I was frustrated that something so little was seen as such a heavy burden.  She wasn’t the only one who was put out by this task.  As the students wrote down the questions, they would take time to heave a sigh or breathe deeply.

“I hear your sighs.”  I told them as I waited for them to finish copying the questions.

So while others were not enjoying the task at hand, this girl was the most vocal about it.  She has her days.  Some days she is bubbly and excited, calling me “girl” and sharing different stories.  Other days she has a bit of an attitude and looks unimpressed by nearly everything.  I was trying to decide how to handle her responses to me in the classroom.  Should I take her aside?  Should I give her a look?  How should I respond?

In the midst of my frustration, I remembered a personal detail she had written on an assignment at the beginning of the semester.  She wrote briefly of a family life difficulty and in that moment of her less-than-desired responses, I thought of it.  And I prayed for her.  I ask Our Lady to give me the patience to deal with this young girl who was struggling with things that I didn’t know or understand.  In a moment of clarity, I recognized her responses as being, at least in part, the fruit of inner turmoil and pain.  She was hurting and something she felt she had control over was complaining about a simple task in class.

I wish I could say that I have applied this merciful attitude toward all of my students all of the time.  I haven’t.  But it did make me stop and consider: why don’t I extend to those I meet the same mercy I would desire others to extend to me?  Of course, we all need to grow in not letting our emotions overrun us.  We strive to not take frustrations out on people who are completely removed from the situation.  But I know I have been unkind many times and what has brought me out of that rut before has been people looking beyond my ugly words or actions and treating me with kindness.

This brief interaction made me want to extend mercy, without being a doormat for my students.  Not everything in their responses is about my teaching or what they think of me.  Perhaps they just had a difficult test or a fight the night before with their parents.  It doesn’t make what they have said or done acceptable, but it can make them more real to me, people with hearts and problems, struggling to navigate the difficulties of life.

It was once again impressed upon me the need to pray.  I do not enter the classroom alone to fight in a fierce battle against teenagers.  Those would be rather bleak prospects.  Rather I go to them (hopefully) as a missionary and I go armed with the best of warriors–the universal Church.  Particularly during this year of mercy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could encounter my students and everyone I meet as a missionary of mercy?  How beautiful would it be if through an encounter with us, people could know that attribute of God in a deeper, fuller way?