When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality

I missed a plane and then had an extended lay-over due to a late arriving aircraft.  I nervously tried to figure out how to turn the headlights on in a new car for which I had just refused all extra insurance.  In the dark, I navigated along the fast-paced 405 and I-5, following a GPS that was guiding me to a place I had never been.  I circled the hotel to find where I was supposed to park.  Stupidly, I had to ask the hotel clerk if he knew the make of a Sentra.  I later realized Nissan was clearly written on the key I had in hand.  The room wasn’t what I expected based on hotel pictures.  I couldn’t figure out how to make the old bathtub faucet produce the water I desired until the second day of my stay.  I missed the evening part the conference that I had flown half-way across the country to attend.

Perceptions and preconceived ideas greatly change how we experience situations.

In my mind, this conference would go perfectly.  I would fly to sunny southern California, learn mountains of information, meet great people, and then blissfully return home.  The hotel would be perfect.  The drives would be scenic and pleasant.  Everything would go according to plan.

The first evening, I laid on the bed in my less-than-expected hotel room and considered the stress I was experiencing.  While there were delays and inconveniences, nothing that terrible had happened.  No accidents, no major dilemmas, nothing that would ruin my time at the conference.  Yet I still felt disappointed and a bit let down.

My expectations were not met and I realized they had been ridiculously high.  When I thought back to how I expected the few days to go, I imagined sunny days, easy drives, and luxurious sleeping quarters.  I let the novelty of the situation turn the reality into something disheartening.  When I surveyed the past day with few expectations, it turned out that reality wasn’t quite so bad. Continue reading “When Expectations and Reality Don’t Match Up, Choose Reality”

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Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy

Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy

“We live in a crazy world,” I told my class near the beginning of a class period.

“One of you asked if I had heard of the truck bombing and I thought I had, but I wasn’t sure if it was from last week or this week.  Then I looked it up.  Two hundred and seventy people died and it just sounded an awful lot like several other events.  We live in a world where it is possible to be uncertain if a tragedy like this is news or something from a couple of weeks ago.”

This particular class period, we were reflecting on the Ignatian theme of finding God in all things.  It is easy to find God in bits of beauty–in the sunset, the splendor of fall foliage, or the smile of a newborn.  The difficulty is found in seeing the face of God in tragedy–the shooting in Las Vegas, the 9/11 attacks, or the truck bombing in Somalia.

Practice makes perfect, though, right?  Or, at least, better?

So our class time was spent in small groups brainstorming a few tragedies and then considering how we can see God in the midst of these situations.  I challenged them to go beyond the cliché lines they hear or the standard Theology class answers.  Instead, I wanted them to delve into these painful situations and to truly seek the face of God.

This class period had the most somber tone of all my classes and I found myself telling them that I viewed this exercise in a hopeful way.  Yes, we were talking about a loved one being diagnosed with cancer, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and struggles in relationships, but we were doing so because we believe God can be found even there.  Perhaps, especially there.

After a group presented how they found God in a particular situation, I opened it up to the entire class.  Time after time, I asked, “Anything else?  Any other ways you can see God in that situation?”  There wasn’t a particular answer I wanted from them, I just wanted them to deeply reflect on all the possible ways God could be found in difficulty.  My hope was that if they did this while a bit removed from some situations, they will be able to try to do it in the midst of suffering.  I want them to remember that God can be found in all suffering.  And I want them to know it in a visceral, heart-wrenching way and not simply a pat answer on a Theology exam. Continue reading “Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy”

Avenues to My Heart

Avenues to My Heart

When I started college, I wanted to be a high school English teacher.  I have loved reading since elementary school and I wanted to encourage others to love reading, too.  Along with reading, I also enjoyed writing.  With these two loves, I assumed teaching English would be a fitting career.

The second semester of my freshman year of college found me taking a Theology class.  Since I had exclusively attended public school growing up, this was my first formal Theology class.  Other students who had attended Catholic schools didn’t seem as impressed as I was with the class.  Simply praying before a math class at college was an exciting concept for me.  Reading encyclicals and Church documents?  That was a complete thrill and I remember marveling at how accessible I found them.

After this introductory class, I was hooked.

I kept slipping extra Theology classes into my schedule.  Until, finally, my adviser asked what I was doing.  My heart wanted a Theology degree simply because it meant I could study more about what the Church thought and did.  So I dropped my Education major and paired my English major with Theology.  While I still loved reading and writing, I knew that I could never be quite as passionate about English as I could be about Theology.

Even with a Theology degree and a day full of teaching Theology classes, it still satisfies a desire of my heart when I can sit down and read good theological works.  Whether they are more dogmatic or more spiritual, I find the truths they speak to be balm for my soul.  I read Bishop Conley’s address to a group of Catholic school educators and administrators and I found myself underlining several points.  Bishop Conley said, “If you want authentically Catholic culture, you need authentically Catholic schools.”  This makes me applaud and then question, “How?”  Hearing about the faith is enlightening and joyous for me.  Learning about my role as a Catholic educator is inspiring.  It fills me with truths I know to be solid.

Despite the length of time I have spent on Theology (the beauty and the teaching of it), the inspiration for this post is not Theology.  Rather, it was in conversation with a co-worker that I realized that while theological reading is beautiful and soul-lifting, so is literature. Continue reading “Avenues to My Heart”

Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church

Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church

In college, I took a course called “Theology of the Church” and the professor made certain to cement a specific truth in my mind.  He spoke frequently of how the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ, without blemish or error.  Yet he spoke just as often about how the Church is stained and tarnished, filled with sin and weakness.  Each Catholic must come to terms with this dichotomy if he or she desires to fully understand this living organism we call the Catholic Church.

The saints are beautiful models of following Christ and seeking holiness in the midst of a chaotic world.  For most of the difficulties we face in life, we can turn to a specific saint who had similar struggles.  There are saints who had difficult relationships with their parents or children, saints who were falsely accused, saints who had superiors who treated them unjustly, saints who lost loved ones, saints who experienced poverty, saints who struggled with drinking or drugs, saints who battled anger and violence, and saints who people thought were foolish or incapable.

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Yet we know the Church is not merely comprised of saints.  I belong to the Church and I am most definitely not a saint yet.  So while it is easier to focus on the virtues and gifts of the saints, we also know we are a Church filled with sinners.  We have sinners in the pews, in the choir, in the streets, at the altar, in the diocesan offices, in the Vatican, and in the chair of St. Peter.  Each of us, on our journey to become the saints God desires, must fight our own battles as we acknowledge our sinfulness.  The goal is not to make perfect masks that cover up our imperfections.  Rather, we seek to let Christ into our deepest sins and allow Him to transform us.

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It is with this knowledge of myself, as a sinner striving to be a saint, that I can recognize this reality within the Church herself.  She is perfect: Christ instituted her, the Holy Spirit guides her, and the Father welcomes her members into Heaven, one by one.  Yet she is us: flawed, broken, dragging our weary hearts to Calvary and to Heaven.  All of the romantic notions I have about the Church and her beautiful, soul-shaking theology necessarily contrast painfully with the reality of the Church that I see around me.  Reality is certainly not so romantic and not so obviously beautiful.  Nonetheless, it is still the Church I love.

When we encounter scandal in the Church, it is helpful to remember this inherent dichotomy, one that existed from the beginning of the Church, yet one which will end when we are purified and in Heaven.  While I love quite fiercely different humans within the Church, I also know that my love for the Church is not solely based on these humans.  My spiritual director is wise and I find myself able to share the workings of my heart with him.  My pastor leads me to a deeper understanding of how to encounter Christ in the daily moments.  Yet even should these priests fail me, I would not stop loving the Church.
Continue reading “Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church”

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”

The Importance of Truth

The Importance of Truth

“At the end of the day, does it matter if we believe or not?  Does it matter what we believe?”

The other day, one of my students spoke these words with great sincerity.  We were in the midst of discussing arguments for God’s existence and he delved directly to the heart of the matter: does what we believe matter?

I knew this question was going to divert us from the lesson plan I had for the day.  We were supposed to go through a few of the arguments, discuss them, and then share what we thought about those particular arguments.  But I find it difficult to pass up opportunities to discuss aspects of the faith they are genuinely interested in discussing.

So I took the bait.

I posed a question to them: Does truth matter?

They thought for a moment and then began to offer their responses.

“Yes, truth matters.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It is simply a matter of opinion.”

This is the heart of many debates in religion, politics, science, and simply life in general: what is true?  And, perhaps a question posed more in today’s world than in previous centuries, does truth matter?

I talked to my students about how some truths are opinion based.  It is true that I think blue is the best color.  People have differing opinions on this matter and I don’t worry about people who prefer red or yellow or green.  These are truths that vary based on the person.

Yet there are truths that are objective.  These remain true regardless of my personal opinion, knowledge, or awareness of that truth.  Gravity did not become true when it was discovered or defined.  It is because it is true that it was able to be discovered and defined.

Naturally, I would argue the same thing about God.  Either God exists or He does not.  He doesn’t exist for some and then not exist for others.  He either is or is not and my opinion doesn’t change this reality.

“But couldn’t we all be wrong?” one student asks.

“Sure,” I tell them, “that is why we rely on faith in addition to reason.  We choose to believe even though we may be wrong.”

“Wow.”  At least one student seemed surprised by my admission that we could be wrong.

“What we need to do is to honestly pursue the truth.  I believe that if we honestly do that, we will find it.  Of course, you know what I think is true.  I think God is real and He exists.  But knowing and seeking the truth is important.  Because if God is not real, I want to know now.Continue reading “The Importance of Truth”

A Reflection of Authenticity

A Reflection of Authenticity
A Reflection written in France
 

Among the swarms of people, residents and visitors, that bustle through Paris, I am merely a face.  Living in a city causes people to think and act in different ways.  Just being with the people, riding in the Metro with them, traversing their streets, I began to feel how closed off they are to the world.  Everyone is wearing a mask–to protect themselves, to not let others see their true selves.

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At one point, I was deeply frustrated with it.  I feel like the quest of the last few months has been to learn authenticity.  Who am I really?  Who is God really?  How is our relationship doing?  It has been all about not staying on the surface but delving deeper.  “Become who you are!”  I was in Paris meeting peoples’ eyes and smiling, but then I remembered city people don’t do that and it could send a message I don’t want.
Riding on the Metro I knew I stood out with my large hiking backpack, but I felt like I fit in more when I acted bored, had a blank look on my face, and appeared to care little about the stops.  We encountered young ladies near the Eiffel Tower who wanted signatures to help the deaf and the mute.  I’m not entirely sure how their attempt to target only English-speakers would actually help the deaf and the mute of France, but that was their mission.  The beggars at the churches–are they actually poor or is it all a ruse?
It bothered me to be living in a world of masks when I was striving for authenticity.  I hate trying to evaluate people’s motives when my innate desire is to trust.  I want to believe in people.  At one point I looked at the crowd and thought of how each person is a well, their depths cannot be plumbed.  Yet if we cut off the deeper parts of ourselves, if we live as masks instead of just hiding behind them, if we live so long in the superficial and shallow, we will begin to lose our ability to go deep, we will lose our belief that we even have depth.  We will become the masks we wear.
Perhaps this is why the faith appears to be dying.  People are tired of masks of holiness.  They, whether they know it or not, crave authenticity.  And the pagan world presents at least one thing authentically–I want to live without rules or morals but simply in the pursuit of pleasure.

How does one live authenticity in a world of masks?  I don’t know exactly but I have some ideas.  Don’t feign indifference when you actually care.  Care less about appearance and more about actuality.  Live deeply.  Penetrate the inner depths you have and seek to know others at a deeper level, too.  Refuse to be content with living in the shallow end, but rather put out into the deep!