“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.”
“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.
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”→
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.
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”→
I know I have read this story before, but for some reason when I was reviewing this with my students, my heart got caught on a previously unnoticed section.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying,and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem;and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.”But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
(Acts 9: 10-17)
The Lord calls his name and he responds.
Ananias seems as though he is used to hearing the voice of the Lord.
I was struck by this response as I spoke to my students about how differently the Lord spoke to Saul and Ananias. Saul sees a light and falls to the ground, blinded. A voice from the heavens speaks, telling him to go to Damascus. Yet when Jesus speaks to Ananias, there seems to be nothing dramatic about it. Ananias hears his name being called and responds simply, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord tells him to go encounter Saul, and Ananias asks a question to be certain this is what the Lord wants. For the modern Christian, it might seem a bit humorous that Ananias is completely unfazed by the call to go lay his hands on someone so as to bring about their healing. That is nothing compared to encountering a man who has been persecuting his Christian brethren. Despite questions and concern, Ananias does as the Lord asks.
I want that ability to clearly hear the Lord’s voice and that willingness to do whatever He desires.
Do you see what the Lord does with this man’s “Yes”? Ananias is the one who lays his hands on Saul’s head, causing his sight to be restored. The Holy Spirit comes upon Saul and soon after he is baptized. In a matter of days, Saul has completely changed his direction and Ananias played a significant role in helping Saul encounter the Lord.
I find it interesting that Jesus does not speak to Saul again and heal him of blindness. Instead, He works through other people. People, hopefully, like you and me who are striving to hear His voice. Paul goes on to become one of the greatest missionaries and evangelizers in the early Church. Thousands of miles are traveled by foot and boat in order to proclaim the Gospel. Ananias laid his hands on this man and implored the Holy Spirit to come make His home in him. That is a significant role for someone who is referenced briefly in Scripture.
Never underestimate how the Lord can use you to bring about healing and conversion in other people. I challenged my students to encounter the Lord and then to let their lives be a living witness of that encounter. Because our encounter with the Lord changes other people. When my older sisters became more interested in their faith, it influenced the entire family. As I have interacted with people on fire for the Lord, it has caused a deeper desire to burn within me. The Lord seeks us out and encounters us personally, but He often does much of His work through other people.
“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.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est)
Sometimes I struggle to make relevant connections for my students. Other times, the perfect words come to mind and I am pleased that, despite myself, I was able to connect it to their lives.
I was reviewing the above quote from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Ethics, I told them, are a part of Christian living but they are not the reason we are Christian. Intellectual Theology, while beautiful and true, is also not the primary focus of Christianity. Instead, we are Christian because we have encountered the Living God. I told them that if Christianity was merely a system of rules, then I could not do what I do. I would never be able to remain passionate, day in and day out, if I simply presented an intricate system of rules. It would not bring such joy to my life to belong to an institution situated around rules.
In a similar way, I told them that our relationship with God should in some ways mirror our relationships with friends.
“What are some of the ‘unwritten rules’ of friendship?” I asked them.
“Listen to the other person.”
“Don’t tell their secrets.”
“Be nice to them.” Continue reading “More Than Rules”→
During 8th period yesterday, I found myself embroiled in an unexpected debate on modesty. It was interesting, albeit slightly frustrating, to hear the girls present the woes of being asked to dress modestly. And, to a degree, I would agree with them that the rules of dress tend to be more strictly enforced for women. They argued about short shorts and the horror of needing to cover their shoulders. Even in their discussions, they admitted that modesty was enforced differently by different teachers and that one rule didn’t always work the same for everyone. The true problem, however, is one of feeling burdened. Continue reading “Not Burdensome”→