To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative

To Be A Disciple Is To Be A Contemplative

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”

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Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

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”

Sorrow and Joy

Sorrow and Joy

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”

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”

“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.””

Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together

Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together

I’ve spent a great deal of the summer considering how this next school year will unfurl.  Each fall, I start with the hopes that this will be the best year ever.  And, in many ways, that has largely proven to be true.  The more I teach, the more confident I feel teaching.  The longer I am there and the more experiences I have, the more prepared I feel to handle future problems and situations.  Yet despite all of my preparations and extra reading I do during the summer, one thing is certain: I will never be perfectly prepared for every question they ask me.

Honestly, I think I am able to answer most of the questions that arise in the classroom.  If I have never considered the question or even heard the answer, I am surprised how often I am able to give an answer anyway.  I’m not lying to them or just trying to look smart.  I’ve come to realize that the longer one knows the Lord and studies His Church, the better one is able to think with the mind of the Church.  So even if that question has never been posed to me before, I can often give a pretty confident answer because I have come to know and understand the Church to a degree.

There is, however, a lingering concern that I will be unable to answer a question.  Or, worse yet, that my lack of knowledge will appear to mean that the Church has never considered that question or that her theology is found wanting.  Regarding those fears, I think back to the summer before my first year of teaching.  I was presenting these concerns to a trusted priest and he asked if I thought that a student could ask a question that the Church couldn’t answer or that would prove her wrong.  I told him that I was certain the Church had answers and that I trusted her to be true in all things she affirmed as true.  For him, that was the end of it.  So what if I didn’t know the answer?  I knew the Church had an answer and I was fairly confident I could find it if needed.

For the last five years, that is what I have sought to do.  To a generation that I struggle to understand, I have striven to present truths they struggle to find relevant or accurate.  I ask them to consider the truths of the Church and they echo Pilate by saying, “What is truth?”  They question if it matters to know the truth.  They ask if everything could be true.  And I try to use logic and personal examples to show them the beauty of knowing and pursuing the truth.   Continue reading “Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together”

My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart

My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart

This blog is entitled “Seeking After His Heart.”  Ideally, I like to think of my life as a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.  Yet sometimes I overlook the fact that it is really about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful pursing me.

God initiates all of our encounters with Him.  If He did not reveal Himself, we would not know Him.  If He did not allow us to perceive Him, then we would be completely unaware of His presence.  Even prayer, which can sometimes be viewed as something we do for God, is actually something He does for us.

In conversation with my spiritual director, he told me to not overlook begging Jesus for the grace to go to Him in prayer.  And sitting in the adoration chapel the other evening, I reminded myself that I was there simply because I responded to God’s grace.  I mean, it kind of felt like it was purely my choice, but I knew that it was God offering His grace and me, finally, responding to it.

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This initiation on God’s part is timeless.  All of the Old Testament covenants are made because God interacts with a human person and desires to be in relationship with them.  They don’t start the process.  “Hey, God!  I’d like to be a part of Your family!”  God reaches down to us and adopts us as His own.  Even greater still, He enters into the human family so as to bridge all gaps between us.  There is nothing left for us to do but to respond.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman with simple words, “Give me a drink.”  He seeks her out, He encounters her, and He asks her to enter into relationship with Him.  Yet I love the way that the Lord does this.  He reaches out to her and expresses His thirst for her. Continue reading “My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart”

Where Jesus Most Wants To Be

Where Jesus Most Wants To Be

During the course of my time in Europe, I saw many churches. While in Rome I was able to enter into some of the most beautiful churches in the world. The basilicas are famous for their antiquity and artistic wonders. As I wandered through Assisi, I was able to pray in beautiful churches as well. At the hermitage of St. Francis, the areas of prayer seemed notable for their austerity and simplicity. One of the most beautiful chapels I have ever seen was my sister’s convent in Pennsylvania—the bare, wooden floors, the large, dark crucifix, and the altar made from a tree trunk made the simplicity obvious yet gorgeous. In a different way, St. Peter’s Basilica caused me to reflect on God as I gazed at the giant statues and ornamental features. When done correctly, both the simple and the ornate can cause the faithful to enter into prayer.

It is a natural thing, as a Catholic, to hone in on the beautiful places that house our King and go there to worship. In the midst of the gothic spires and baroque architecture, it is easy to forget that the person who lives within is the same person who lives in every Catholic Church around the world. He is no greater or lesser in the soaring cathedrals than in the simple country church. He isn’t more or less present if his tabernacle is made of wood or pure gold. Continue reading “Where Jesus Most Wants To Be”

That Others May Be Chosen

That Others May Be Chosen

The Litany of Humility is one of those prayers that I hate.  And love.  And wish I loved more, but am a bit scared by.  If ever there was a prayer that could level a solid crushing blow to the ego, I believe the Litany of Humility is a top contender.

“That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

There are several parts during this prayer that cause me to cringe, and this line is one of them.  This cringing comes from the fact that I do not actually desire this to be true.  It seems like it would be too difficult if this went from prayer to actuality.

Simply put: I want to be chosen.

Doesn’t everyone want to be chosen?  I want to be the chosen confidant.  I want to be the dearly loved and chosen friend.  I want to be the favorite teacher.  I want to be the one people choose to ask questions because they think I will know the answer.  I want people to choose to read what I write.  For so many things, I want people to choose me. Continue reading “That Others May Be Chosen”

Longing for Greatness

Longing for Greatness

I’ve always longed for greatness.  Not in the sense that everyone knows me or that I’m famous.  Rather, I have always desired a great mission or task in life.  I want to contribute something to the world and I want it to impact people.  This weekend I watched The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler and I was re-filled with the desire to pursue greatness.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish woman who lived during the time of World War II.  She was a social worker, but her work went far beyond her simple job title.  During the time that the Jewish people were being relocated to the ghettos and then to “work camps,” Irena worked tirelessly to smuggle children to safety.  Risking her life, she worked with a courageous group to secretly save children by tucking them into tool boxes, packing them into boxes, or hiding them in vehicles.  Later caught, she endured torture and was nearly killed, all the while never giving up any secrets.

In total, it is said that Irena Sendler and companions helped to save 2,500 Jewish children in Poland.  The children were placed with convents or families throughout Poland.  She kept meticulous records of who their parents were and where they were placed in the hopes that families would be reunited after the war.  This young woman quietly changed the world and, initially, received little recognition for it.  She was awarded Righteous Among the Nations in 1965 and later named an honorary citizen of Israel in 1991.  In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  However, for most of her life she lived with little acclaim or notoriety for her heroic actions and sacrifices.

While I do not hope for concentration camps or totalitarian regimes, this is the greatness for which I long.  I look at her life and I see a greatness that goes beyond one person.  Yet the greatness that I see and anyone can see who looks at her life was not recognized by Irena herself.  She did not see herself as a hero or seem pleased with her accomplishments.  Instead, she said that she could have done more to save more children. Continue reading “Longing for Greatness”