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”
Tastes and preferences change over time, for which I am grateful. When I was younger, I didn’t like spicy food like hot sauce or horseradish sauce. Over the past couple years, I’ve started to enjoy sprinkling (sparingly) some fiery sauce over my eggs or potatoes or whatever might seem good. The surprising craving for horseradish came as a result of an encounter with a Blue Apron recipe I tried. After roasting broccoli and potatoes, the recipe called for a creamy horseradish sauce to coat the vegetables. Since then, I’ve been randomly working the interesting flavor into different meals.
As taste buds change, so also personal preferences change. What used to be unattractive, has changed over time into something which draws my heart. St. Mary Magdalene is one person who fits into this category. I’ve met several people over the years who have loved her and for many of those years, I was a bit confused. The people seemed to have nothing in common with this well-known sinner-saint, yet they were attracted to her life and witness. I can now number myself among those who love St. Mary Magdalene. While I don’t identify very closely with the particulars of her life, I identify very much with her heart.
She was a woman who was forgiven much and loved much. In an act of total self-surrender, she broke her jar of precious ointment and poured it on the feet of Jesus. Wiping His feet with her hair, she laid her entire life before Our Lord. In exchange, she was one of His closest followers, one who sat at His feet to listen to His stories and who was driven by grief to weep at His tomb after the crucifixion. In her need to be close to Him, she was sent as “the apostle to the Apostles” and was the first to witness the resurrected Christ.
St. Mary Magdalene loved with a love that was all-encompassing. That need, that desire to be a total gift for the Lord is something that resonates within my own heart. Earlier this summer while on retreat, I prayed with that passage of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. In a way that it hadn’t before, the words of the Gospel moved my heart and invited me to share more deeply in the relationship Mary had with Our Lord. Continue reading “A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene”
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”
“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently. I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”
A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing. In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart. I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord. These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.
While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow. We need to take quizzes and tests. I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work. Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.
How? I’m uncertain. I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand. Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth. The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.
I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ. Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo. Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period. I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached. Continue reading “To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus”
It is human nature to have favorites. As a teacher, the same holds true. I often tell my students I’m not supposed to have favorite classes or students. Several classes will guess that they are my favorite, but I can never tell them if they are correct or not. Usually, there are multiple things I appreciate about each class as well as aspects I wish they would change. Yet, as a human, I look forward to some classes more than others. Gone are my first year teacher days of feeling ill at the thought of a particular class. For a variety of reasons, some classes make me a little less excited to teach them.
A couple of weeks ago, I was facing this feeling of not looking forward to a particular class. It wasn’t dread, but I was definitely not excited for them to fill my classroom with their boisterous selves. On Tuesdays, I have “contemplative time” with my classes, ten minutes of silent prayer with a reflection or Scripture passage given as the means to enter into prayer. I’m a little dense, so it took a while, but after a few classes, I recognized that this meditation was speaking to me about that less-than-ideal class.
My dear friend, I am overjoyed to see you. I am with you speaking to you and listening to you. Realize that I am truly present. I am within your soul. Close your ears and eyes to all distractions. Retire within yourself, think my thoughts, and be with me alone.
My Other Self: Conversations with Christ on Living Your Faith*, Clarence Enzler
The word overjoyed stood out to me after several readings. Clarence Enzler wrote this book as though it is Jesus speaking directly to us, that we are Christ’s other self. After considering the beauty of Jesus being overjoyed to see me, I began to desire that this was my response for that particular class. When I come to the Lord with all my worries and failings, He is always pleased that I have entered into His presence. I want this to be my attitude toward this class. Each day, I want to be overjoyed that these particular students are coming into my classroom and sitting in my presence. Recognizing Christ dwelling within them, I want to respond to them as Christ responds to me, even with my less-than-ideal heart. Continue reading “Overjoyed”
There is little doubt, then, that the disciple will spend the greater part of his time and effort, not ‘doing God’s work’, but simply in yielding to the work God wants to do in him. No one can be a disciple without first being a contemplative. The heart of Jesus’ intention in choosing his followers is that they might be with him: above all, Jesus wants to share his life with us, and this too—the longing to be with Jesus—should be the gravitational pull to which all our desires should hasten….
The Way of the Disciple, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
This reminder of the true order of life is necessary as I near the end of the semester and as I consider my role as a high school teacher. The most important thing is not doing more but in being in the transformative presence of Our Lord. St. Teresa of Calcutta spent hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I heard it said that when they were overwhelmed with work, she would instruct the sisters to spend more time in prayer, not less. She knew her littleness and her dependence on God in a tangible way, enabling her to acknowledge her limits and radical need for God.
In college, I had a taste of short-term missionary work as I participated in a mission trip every spring break. I loved seeing how the Lord provided for us in the midst of mission and the experience of going out to preach the Gospel was enlivening. While we offered different assistance to people, I discovered that much of the fruit of the mission was the internal change in me. Simplicity had a more beautiful sound as I encountered people in extreme poverty who were filled with great joy. There was a greatness found in traveling, meeting others, and sharing the joy of the Gospel with them.
It is a greatness that I desire to find in every mission. As a missionary of the classroom, it is easy to lose sight of the goal. Students turn in late work, homework/tests must be graded, schedules must be followed, and the list of responsibilities goes on. In the chaos, it takes very little for the mission to become a job and the job to become “just get through today” and so on. Instead, I desire to view my work as long-term missionary work. I’ve been in the trenches for over five years and I must strive to remember that I have really good news to proclaim to everyone, attentive or not. And, what I’m probably the worst at, I am called to serve my co-missionaries and be a witness of Christ to them. Continue reading “To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative”
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”
Yesterday, I stood on a busy street holding a sign.
It was Respect Life Sunday and my town has an annual Life Chain that stretches alongside the busiest road in the state. While I don’t participate absolutely every year, I try to go when I am able. Nothing about the situation was new.
Except my response.
In college, I spent many hours in front of an abortion clinic an hour from my school. The experiences there shaped my heart and the way I approach being pro-life. Some of the most difficult moments, the ones of heart-wrenching, soul-crushing sorrow, were on Highland Avenue. An intersection in town where it always felt a bit chillier than anywhere else. When I think about hardcore pro-life activism, I place myself back on the frontlines, where life and death literally hung in the balance.
On that busy street yesterday, it was not like my experiences in college. The sun came out and warmed my face. As a whole, the reactions from motorists were favorable. Many people waved, honked their horns, gave us a thumbs up, or even yelled a kind greeting to us. Children’s faces were pressed against windows as they watched the long line of people hold signs on the sidewalk. Overall, the experience was pleasant.
Two things stand out in my mind. Interestingly, the emotions are interwoven, although they seem to be contradictory. One is the image of a couple of police cars driving past our lines. An officer in one vehicle waved at us and the other gave us a thumbs up. For some reason, this moved my heart. Men in uniform, charged with protecting citizens and enforcing laws, were giving us a gesture of support. My heart filled with gratitude. In addition to the officers, the predominantly positive response from the passers-by was a cause for rejoicing.
Yet intermingled with this thankfulness was the realization that abortion still happens. Lives are still taken, hearts are still wounded, and skills of healing are still misused for destruction. Surrounded by young and old alike, I was grateful for the pro-life movement. Years ago I would have mourned for the children only. Yesterday, I was mourning for mothers and fathers, friends and family, doctors and nurses, everyone impacted by abortion in any way.
A woman drove by and yelled at us that everyone has the right to choose.
Everyone? Continue reading “Sorrow and Joy”
“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”
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.””