Halloween: A Call to Goodness (Not Another Origins of Halloween Post)

Halloween: A Call to Goodness (Not Another Origins of Halloween Post)

Oh, Halloween! 

This is a day that seems filled with disputes, particularly this year, about the Catholicity or Anti-Catholicity of the festivities.  I’ve never been a die-hard Halloween person, but growing up, we did the typical trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes, generally not of a religious nature.  Nearly every year I went as something that could be assembled at home.  One year I was a clown, another a scarecrow, and another year an old lady.  (That last one was last year.)  I enjoyed my mom’s creativity and how she pulled together costumes and matched it up with heavy make-up to play the part more authentically.

For a few years in college, though, I spent Halloween on a pro-life retreat in Brooklyn.  We stayed in a monastery where Sisters of the Precious Blood lived and didn’t venture outside.  In fact, I had to remind myself that it was Halloween when I was there.  Immersed in talks about the history of the pro-life movement and the development of the Culture of Death, I wasn’t interested in Halloween or costumes, spooky or humorous.

Then, I graduated college and returned to South Dakota.  My hometown had ramped up their celebrations of the day during the years I was away from home.  Full-out murder scenes were staged in front yards.  Even though they were clearly fake with faces roughly sketched on bedsheet corpses, I found myself oddly sensitive to the horror.  It continues to mystify me that awful acts, when experienced in real life, are entertaining and fun when mockingly displayed.  Chainsaws, torture devices, and bodies splayed open are “all in good fun” during a few weeks of the year.  My heart, though, doesn’t pay attention to the time of the year.  It is bothered by these scenes, regardless how fakey they seem or when they are presented. Continue reading “Halloween: A Call to Goodness (Not Another Origins of Halloween Post)”

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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”

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”

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries

May 13, 1917

Our Lady chooses to reveal herself to three children tending sheep in the Cova da Iria.  Tenderly, she tells them to not be afraid and yet she asks them to sacrifice for the conversion of the world.  They are mere children, the oldest one is ten years old, but they agree to offer up their sufferings and sacrifices for love of Jesus and for the conversion of others.

That may seem abstract to many of us.  However, they are quick to concretize this request.  Whenever poor children ask for food, the three children give them their lunch.  As they tend to the sheep, they see how long they can go without water and offer this thirst to Jesus.  Little Jacinta finds out that she will die alone in a hospital in Lisbon and, although she is scared, she chooses to offer this trial up to Our Lady for the sake of others.

We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him.  That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.  God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.

Canonization Mass Homily of Pope Francis, 5/13/2017

These sacrifices, though small in the course of human history, are monumental.  Children are shown to be capable of leading the way to holiness.  Their tangible witness is felt in particular in the place one would expect it: Fatima, Portugal.

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It has been a tremendous gift of mine that I have been to Fatima three times.  The picture above is from the most recent trip.  The man in the picture happens to be the nephew of St. Francisco and St. Jacinta Marto.  His father was their older brother, John.  Proud of his close relation, he showed us the page in Lucia’s book where she speaks about his father.

Each time I am in Fatima, I experience a great peace that comes from resting in a place that is so dear to my Heavenly Mother.  My birthday aligns with the anniversary of her first appearance in Fatima and so I have a filial devotion to this particular feast.  As I have read more about the children and how they fervently responded to her words, I have grown an even deeper love for Our Lady of Fatima and her little children.

May 13, 2017

In so many ways, their lives were insignificant.  Francisco and Jacinta were two children who fell victim to the influenza epidemic in 1919-1920.  Their lives were spent in poor circumstances in a town in Portugal for which few people cared.  While generally good children, they were not known to be perfect.  Yet on May 13, 2017, they were declared canonized saints in the Catholic Church.

Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life.

Pope Francis 5/13/2017

Continue reading “Simple Witnesses: The Newly Canonized Fatima Visionaries”

A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness

A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness

When I mention that my two older sisters are religious sisters, people often wonder what my parents did to make that happen.  In a way, I understand, because it is mildly unusual in today’s world to hear about young women making vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Yet I also want to fight against this mentality that holiness is primarily for priests, religious, and consecrated persons.  Sanctity is for everyone and we need to continue to proclaim this good news.  

If you are what you should be, you will set your whole world on fire.

~St. Catherine of Siena

Venerable Jan Tyranowski recently came into my life and he inspires me in the quest for a saintly laity.  He was born at the turn of the twentieth century in Poland.  For over three decades, he led a rather unremarkable life.  But at Mass one day, he heard the priest say that it isn’t difficult to be a saint.  From that day forward, he pursued virtue and holiness with an incredible ardor.

When Nazis invaded Poland, they deported several of the priests in parish, leaving behind only a couple elderly priests.  Knowing of his deep faithfulness, the priests ask Jan to minister to the young of the parish.  Despite his introverted nature and little formal education, Jan began this ministry even though he considered himself incapable.  He formed prayer groups comprised of fifteen young men each.  Each man was responsible for daily praying a decade of the rosary and striving to live out particular virtues.  The groups were called “Living Rosaries” and Jan chose a leader for each group, investing time to spiritually form each leader.

Venerable Jan Tyranowski never married and never became a priest, yet his life of holiness impacts us today.  The Second Vatican Council called for the laity to live more fully the mission of the Church.  This call was anticipated in the life of Jan and he did this in the midst of a Nazi occupation.  One of the young men who was in his prayer group and was spiritually formed by this simple tailor was Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope St. John Paul II. Continue reading “A Laity of Saints: How God Uses the Little for Greatness”

When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary

When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary

Kids are really good at living in the moment.  It is what gives them the ability to swing from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds.  They can have great joy eating an ice cream cone and then become distraught with five minutes in time out.  Right now, right here is the most important thing for kids.

My niece is a prime example of both sides of this.  I gave her a mermaid tail blanket for a belated Christmas present.  She was enthused as she slipped it around her legs and then flopped along on the floor.  Coming to me, she grabbed my legs and exclaimed, “I look exactly like a mermaid, Trish!”  Contrast that scene with several weeks prior when she fought against the injustice of being forced to sit at the adult table while her two older brothers sat at a kid table.  “Not fair!” she sobbed, pointing at her brothers, “They get to sit at the little table!  No fair!”  A few minutes later, having switched places with one semi-willing brother, she was more than content.

Adults can be similar, but we also are more prone to live in the past or the future.  Sometimes we can forget that the present is all we really have.

Precious moments can slip away because they don’t come shrouded in the extraordinary.  Everyday moments, ones that are ordinary yet give life beauty, are some of the most treasured once they have passed.  I’ve heard it said that people often miss the ordinary moments when they lose people close to them.  I have found that to be true in my life.  My paternal grandfather died a few years ago and one of the things I miss most is giving him a hug before leaving his house and hearing him say, “Come again.”   Continue reading “When the Ordinary Prepares the Way for the Extraordinary”

The Best Defense is Encountering Love

The Best Defense is Encountering Love

You can, in the broadest terms, call it “Catholic culture.”  However it’s described, though, it’s not something you simply argue yourself into.  Rather, it’s something you experience aesthetically as well as intellectually, with the emotions as well as the mind, through friendships and worship and experiences-beyond-words as well as through arguments and syllogisms.

“Letters to a Young Catholic” by George Weigel

Something I am intent on drilling into my students this semester is that Christianity is necessarily a life of encounter.  It is the tremendous beauty of being able to experience an authentic and lived relationship with Christ while also delving into the rich intellectual tradition of the Church.  Catholicism is chock-full of the “both/and” that makes life so simple and yet so deep.

I teach high school Theology to sophomores and seniors, making it somewhat safe to assume that I am not an advocate of an anti-intellectual, touchy-feely Christianity.  Specifically, one of my courses is apologetics, which is teaching how to defend the faith against attacks.  And there are many, many attacks launched against the Church in every age, no less in this one.  Defending the faith, though, is not merely done through well-chosen words or precisely articulated statements.  These are helpful, but much of the battle is done through actions.  If my students do not love the Church, they will be far less inclined to defend or understand Her.

I am well aware that the love I have in my heart for the Catholic Church is not the norm.  My students need to encounter more than the beauty of truth to be convinced.  I read the Church’s teachings and my heart stirs with the acknowledgement that these are profound truths.  Often when my students hear the Church’s teachings, they hear how their freedoms are being minimized or that they are being told what not to do.  However, if they love the Church, they will see that She is a mother caring for and protecting Her children, even if they do not always understand.

This is where the necessity of encounter comes in.  Catholicism, in Our Lord’s great wisdom, is a faith filled with the tangible.  We hear the words of absolution at Confession, we feel (and smell) the oils at Baptism and Confirmation that claim us as members of the Church.  The incense, like our prayers, rises up to the Heavens as we adore Our Lord in the Eucharist.  On pilgrimage, we travel to the places where the bones of the Apostles and saints of the Church rest.  Oddly, we touch our rosaries and prayer cards to their tombs, praying that we will follow the Lord’s will as radically as they did.  We light candles before altars, hoping that our intentions will be continually presented to Our Lord’s throne.  As George Weigel says throughout Letters to a Young Catholic, there is a grittiness in Catholicism.  In this book, he also says the following:

Catholicism does not rest on a pious myth, a story that floats away from us the more we try to touch it.  Here, in the scavi [excavations under St. Peter’s], we’re in touch with the apostolic foundations of the Catholic Church.  And those foundations are not in our minds.  They exist, quite literally, in reality.  Real things happened to real people who made real, life-and-death decisions–and staked their lives–not on stories or fables but on what they had come to know as the truth.

To be Catholic, George Weigel argues and I concur, means to live in reality.  And as someone who so often feels that people think my ideals mean that I don’t live in reality, that is uplifting to hear.  Being Catholic means living in the greatest love story while also fighting the greatest battle of all time, primarily because it transcends time.  As a romantic with more than a touch of stubbornness, these intertwining elements make the Church my perfect home.  It is not merely a battle of the wits, arguing and defending a supernatural institution to a world rooted in earthly affairs.  It is also, and primarily, an encounter with Love, being transformed by Love, seeking to enter into Love.  If love is not at the heart, all is meaningless and in vain.   Continue reading “The Best Defense is Encountering Love”

The Evangelized Family

The Evangelized Family

I am a long way from having a family and kids of my own, but this morning I was led to consider what I would want it to look like.  Although I didn’t come up with specifics, I reflected on a few elements that I would like to implement somehow.  From my vantage point, I am still able to be filled with high-minded ideals and hopeful expectation of a peaceful family life.  In the midst of fighting children, endless laundry, and a whirlwind of activities, I am sure my ideals will be made a bit more practical and a bit less perfected.

While at times difficult to discern, parents have a tremendous impact in shaping their children’s personalities and values.  Yesterday, my sister and I took our niece and nephews to a play.  Throughout the whole play, my niece would slide over to me and say excitedly, “I can’t wait!” or “I’m so excited!”  It never really made sense to me until I re-told the story to her mom later.  My sister-in-law said that her daughter was probably saying what she had been saying over the past few days in anticipation of moving to a new home.  If this can happen for phrases or actions, then the same would be true for matters of faith.

Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith.  When parents model the faith, the children will seek to do the same thing.  It is a monumental task that can seem a bit overwhelming.  At their baptism, you promise to instruct them in the faith and lead them to Heaven.  So this morning in Mass, I considered: how does one do this?   Continue reading “The Evangelized Family”

That Heartburn

That Heartburn

Last year, Fr. Mike Schmitz came out with a video.  And this year, I showed it again to all of my classes.  Sometimes I mind watching the same video six times in one day, but this was not one of those times.  Each time I watched it, I was filled with this desire to be holy and to persevere in running the race.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Before we watched the video, I put this passage on the board and gave my students time to reflect on it.  Each class period, I found something new to consider in the passage.  I could go through it, line by line, and tell you what stood out to me, but that probably wouldn’t be interesting for you.  Instead, I’ll highlight just a couple.  Of course, the video focused on the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us and how the saints are there to push us forward when we want to give up.  Yet I also noticed the “also lay aside every weight” as it shows that we are to, like the saints, strip ourselves of everything that does not help us reach the finish line.  Finally, I was struck by how we are to run the race “set before us” and that it is not necessarily the race that we choose or would want to run.

In listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz and reflecting on that Scripture passage, I am filled again with the desire to be holy.  Though my life is a good one, I do not always feel the adrenaline of being in the midst of a race.  I want it to be exciting always, otherwise I tend to forget that I am in a battle/race. Continue reading “That Heartburn”