In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity

I mentally planned for the day.  I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment.  Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.

So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.

“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?”  Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.

“How about Archbishop McCarrick?  The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?”  Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks.  I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response.  In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.”  And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.

As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me.  While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.

Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

G.K. Chesterton

Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more.  One class reacted with more anger and bitterness.  It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified.  Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in.  I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry.  My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself.   Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”

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A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene

A Heart Like St. Mary Magdalene

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”

Tears Are Good For The Heart

Tears Are Good For The Heart

One of the gifts of having a spiritual director is experiencing in a new way the love of the Father.  My spiritual director hears about the good, the bad, and the ugly–and, believe me, there’s plenty of each in my life.  Yet what amazes me is his gaze, how it never wavers, how it doesn’t narrow as I describe melt-downs or frustrations.

I’m a woman (obviously) and yet one of the things that has taken years for me to understand is that it’s alright to cry.  The fairer sex is usually portrayed as emotional and weepy.  Perhaps it is for that very reason that I never wanted to be that way.  My innate desire to be other than what is expected caused me to desire toughness and logic.  Despite being logical and (fairly) tough, I still have emotions to deal with and my spiritual director has told me over and over that tears are good.

Yet even after hearing tears are good dozens of times, it is hard to believe it in the moment that the tears want to come.  I’ve had several difficult conversations in recent weeks and they have been truncated by my need to either cry or yell.  Neither seemed appropriate at the time.  Neither seemed to be things from which I could tactfully recover.  So the conversations had to end because tears seemed to be the only thing that could accompany more words.

However, when I don’t cry and when I don’t say what needs to be said, I do not remain the same.  I steel myself against the tears, which can be helpful at times (like in my “early years” of teaching and students’ comments made me want to cry), but sometimes it just makes my heart like steel.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
(Ezekiel 36:26)

This must be the struggle of the Christian life: to keep our hearts ones of flesh and not of stone.  There is a false security in letting one’s heart become a piece of rock.  It makes me imagine that hurt will not come and that hopes won’t be disappointed.  If I have a heart of stone, then I will be steady and be secure.

Those assurances of security are all lies.  A heart needs to be a real heart of flesh.  Which means that it also must be capable of being wounded, bent, and broken.  And that, I am nearly convinced, is worth the joy that comes with being real. Continue reading “Tears Are Good For The Heart”

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

Lent seemed to be forty days of falling on my face.

As Easter approached, I found myself holding back, wishing the days would reverse and I would have the gift of more Lent.  I was annoyed with myself because I knew better.  The Lents that are the most intense and where I am the most faithful yield the best Easters.  After forty days of extra prayer and penance, I burst with joy into an Easter that truly finds me resurrected and renewed.

This time, I wanted an extra long Lent.  I wanted more time to make up for the ways I failed day after day.  I wanted more time to get it right.

I walked into Holy Week and then into the Triduum with a bittersweet feeling.  After such a pitiful Lent, it didn’t seem as though I deserved to rejoice in the Resurrection.  At some point between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil I became convinced of one thing: I am in incredible need of a Savior.

On Ash Wednesday, I had great hopes of competing well and running this sacrificial race for Our Lord.  I wanted to do great things and to show how much I love the Lord.  When I arrived at the altar of repose on Holy Thursday evening, I had to acknowledge that the Lord was the only one professing the depths of His faithful love.  I desire to be a follower of Jesus and yet I quickly become like the disciples in that night of testing.  I run away, I hide, and I wonder what Jesus will do with someone so small and pitiful. Continue reading “I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent”

Chosen Because He is Good

Chosen Because He is Good

“The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own.  It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your father, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery…Understand, then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments.”
(Deuteronomy 7:6, 8-9)

The Old Testament is replete with passages that remind the people of Israel that they are God’s chosen people.  Yet, just as often, it is quick to remind them, lest they get too prideful, that this is because of the Lord’s goodness, not because of anything remarkable they have done.

“Therefore if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.”  (Exodus 19: 5)

We are His people and the flock He shepherds.  He has a deep love for us.  He thirsts for us.  However, this is not because of anything we have done.  The Lord doesn’t love us or choose us because we are the most faithful.  Or because we are the most successful.  Rather, He continues to love us because He is love and He is good. Continue reading “Chosen Because He is Good”

Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Gift of the Liturgical Year

Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Gift of the Liturgical Year

On a plane ride a few weeks ago, I found myself seated next to the founder of a Protestant church. He laughed because he was sandwiched between two Catholics, a married man who had been in Catholic seminary for a little while on his right and me, a Catholic high school Theology teacher, on his left. The conversation was pleasant, but the pastor shared one thing that seemed rather significant to me. Although he founded and now pastors an extremely contemporary church, he said his personal prayer is quite liturgical. This point fascinated me because it spoke of the true desire for liturgy is woven into the fabric of our beings.

As humans, we are bound to worship, whether our focal point is God or something else varies for the individual.  Perhaps overly simplified, the liturgy is our communal worship, the traditional rites we follow to offer praise, thanksgiving, and supplication to God.  Of the various liturgies in the Catholic Church, the highest is the Eucharist, the Sacrament of sacraments.  Beyond the structure of this liturgy is the structure of the year.  Too often I take for granted the beautiful gift that is found in the yearly passing through the major points of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Several years ago, I heard it said that in the Church’s wisdom she developed the liturgical year to satisfy mankind’s love of change and stability.  Having never before thought of it like that, I experienced a new perspective of something that had always been present in my life.  In delving into the rich rhythm of the liturgical year, I have discovered that the feasting and fasting, as well as the ordinary and extraordinary times, provide a healthy balance in life.  Since humanity often tires of the same thing, the Church moves us through different seasons to celebrate and recall the different parts of the mystery of Christ.  Yet constant change is difficult and so the seasons are cyclical, each new year of grace seeking to lead us deeper into these same mysteries of Christ but in a fresh way.

While the Gregorian calendar tells us a month is left of this year, the liturgical calendar is reminding us that a new year is close at hand.  Personally, I like that the two calendars that govern my life are slightly off-center.  It reminds me that I am in the world but not of it.  As a follower of Christ, it calls me to acknowledge that His grace should cause me to see the year in a different way since my sight is imbued with an otherworldly perspective.

With the Church in the first days of a new year, let us consider the gift of the changing liturgical seasons.

Advent: Waiting for Christ’s Coming

The year starts off in joyful anticipation. Joining our hearts and minds with the Israelites, we wait for the coming of the Messiah. Yet knowing that Jesus has already come and ascended, we wait for His Second Coming at the end of time. This pregnant season of waiting calls to mind St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:22-25.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We do not wait without a purpose. As parents of a newborn prepare for the child’s birth, so we make our hearts ready for Christ’s new birth into our hearts and our birth into eternal life. While Advent is culturally forgotten or seen merely as a time of wrapping presents and sending Christmas cards, it should cause us to remember that we need to make Him room, in our hearts and in our lives.

The best Advent I have ever had was the semester I took an Old Testament Scripture class in college. For months we made our way through salvation history, learning about the covenants that God repeatedly offered man and the ways humanity broke those covenants. We ended the semester with a unit on the prophets and, for the very first time, I encountered a taste of the longing that the Israelites must have experienced. Scripture passages that I had heard before were filled with a new life, a new pleading that God would send a Redeemer. While I knew the Savior had already come, I experienced the “wait” in a new way and thus experienced the joy of Christmas in a new way. Continue reading “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Gift of the Liturgical Year”

Sophie Scholl: The Power of the Written Word

Sophie Scholl: The Power of the Written Word

Sometimes I wonder why I take the time to write.

While I enjoy writing, it doesn’t seem to be changing or transforming the world.  In fact, “the pen is mightier than the sword” seems a bit lost when we are inundated with words upon words.  Blogging seems ridiculous in a cyber world overflowing with anyone and everyone’s thoughts and opinions.  Amidst the suffering and tragedies occurring daily, why do I post my thoughts, experiences, and reflections? Why add one more little voice to the cacophony?

The other day, I stumbled upon a name that I knew little about yet was not entirely unknown to me.  Sophie Scholl.  Curious, I found a website with a story about the White Rose Resistance and the role of Sophie Scholl.  In a few moments, I felt as if I had discovered the reason I stumbled upon this article.

One day in 1942, copies of a leaflet entitled “The White Rose” suddenly appeared at the University of Munich. The leaflet contained an anonymous essay that said that the Nazi system had slowly imprisoned the German people and was now destroying them. The Nazi regime had turned evil. It was time, the essay said, for Germans to rise up and resist the tyranny of their own government. At the bottom of the essay, the following request appeared: “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.”

The leaflet caused a tremendous stir among the student body. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi regime had surfaced in Germany. The essay had been secretly written and distributed by Hans Scholl and his friends.

Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose – A Lesson in Dissent, Jacob G. Hornberger

This young Sophie Scholl along with her brother and friends built a resistance through writing.  Speaking out against the Nazi regime was a sufficient reason to be executed by the state.  What was the reason they used mere words to fight Hitler?  Sophie told the courtroom during the “trial.”

Sophie Scholl shocked everyone in the courtroom when she remarked to [Judge] Freisler: “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.”

Speaking the truth in a world filled with lies is a courageous undertaking.  The truth has a power to stir and ignite people.  It is a bold, troublesome thing that inflames hearts, encouraging them to risk all for the pursuit of truth.  Not everyone is courageous enough to speak this truth.  It makes others uncomfortable and it often costs us something.  I’ve had more than one occasion where questions in the classroom resulted in uncomfortable sessions of truth-telling.  When students ask questions about divorce, contraception, homosexuality, mortal sins, and so on, I try to tread lightly, but truthfully, as I attempt to explain the wisdom of the Church. Continue reading “Sophie Scholl: The Power of the Written Word”

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small

Each Sister of Life wears a medal that has inscribed on it a fragment of poetry by Fr. John Duffy.  The line is from the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” and it speaks about the Annunciation.

“And nothing again would be casual and small.”

The author is speaking of the Blessed Mother conceiving Our Lord.  Yet the fact that the Sisters of Life carry this line near their hearts makes me think it must relate to their lives and my life, too.

Generally, though, my life feels casual and small.  Despite my desires for great and wonderful adventures and experiences, much of my life is composed of the ordinary and seemingly insignificant.  What does it mean that nothing is casual or small?

In a way, I think Jesus speaks to this when he remarks on the widow’s gift to the temple treasury.  Jesus and the apostles watch people come and give large gifts of money, but the poor widow puts only two small coins into the treasury.

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.  

Mark 12:43-44

In a simple comparison of amounts, is the widow’s gift small?  Yes.  What makes it stand out to Our Lord?  The fact that despite her poverty, she still gives everything.  

Most of us are comfortable giving generously when we know we will still have ample for ourselves.  And I’m not going to lie and tell you that I live any differently.  While I donate money, I do not “give until it hurts.”  I give when it is comfortable or when I feel like it or when I remember.  Generosity is not a hallmark of mine.  When I was in elementary school, my dad would give my younger sister and I an allowance.  Conservative in nature, I always pocketed my money and saved it for a future purchase, probably a book or something.  My younger sister would spend her money nearly immediately, stocking up on some candy or treat at the gas station convenience store.  Yet while she was quick to spend, she was also quick to share.  I, on the other hand, would primarily buy things for myself and was slow to share them with others.

Jesus is commending the poor widow’s generosity with her finances, but I think there are deeper truths we can discover here.  Things that might point to how nothing is casual or small.  Several weeks ago, this was the Gospel at Mass and I left identifying myself largely with the widow.  Not because of her generosity, but because of her apparent littleness. Continue reading “Nothing Again Would Be Casual and Small”

Farewell to a Pastor

Farewell to a Pastor

Jesus and the prophets spoke to the people of their times in ways that enabled the listeners to understand.  They used examples and situations that were relevant.  Growing up on a sheep farm, the numerous references to sheep struck me as particularly insightful.  Many of my classes have heard stories of how sheep aren’t the brightest and how fitting I think that is in relation to humans.  Yet for all the ways that sheep seem dim-witted, they have some great qualities that make them endearing.

Sheep are communal beings and generally move as an entire flock.  It was rare that simply one sheep would slip through a defect in the fence.  If one had escaped, it was likely that multiple had.  I have several memories of trying to separate a couple of specific sheep out of the flock and their attempts to remain with the larger group.  Yet their desire to be in communion with others, in their simple animal way, is something that is roughly mirrored in humans.  Even as an introvert, I know I need to be in communion with others.  I want to be alone at times and yet I find an intense joy in sharing life with others, too.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

When the sheep would wander far out into the pasture, my dad would go to the gate with a couple of pails of corn, cup his hands to his mouth, and bellow, “Sheep!”  It wasn’t really a unique call in terms of words used, but his voice was unique to the sheep.  My brother could try to imitate it, but I remember going to the pasture on days I was responsible for chores and trying to yell in the deep pitch of my father.  Generally, they were unconcerned.  After calling and several enticing shakes of corn kernels in a bucket, they would lift their heads and begin to head in my direction.  As soon as my dad calls, they start running in his direction, at near full speed.  They know the shepherd’s voice.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)

The word pastor literally means a helper or feeder of sheep.  For years, I only referred to my priests as “Father.”  And there is admittedly a beauty in that.  I love the filial sense of love and respect that is found in the relationship between a priest and his people, a father and his children.  Yet over the past couple years, I have found the term pastor increasingly meaningful.  I used to equate it only with Protestant churches and their ministers.  However, pastor means shepherd and I know the importance of the role of the shepherd.

In a world that is chaotic, the sheep need a shepherd to speak through the noise.  For the past three years, I have had the great gift to be led by my parish priest, my pastor, Fr. John.  He is a priest of my diocese, but I found myself quick to claim a closer association with him if possible.  Not simply a fellow member of the diocese, he was my particular shepherd, the one leading my parish community.   Continue reading “Farewell to a Pastor”

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

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”