During two summers in college, I was on a Totus Tuus team that traveled around my home diocese and ran catechesis for elementary through high school students. When I started, I knew I wanted to share the message of Jesus Christ with the youth of the diocese and I had encountered a zeal in teams from previous years that I desired for myself. By the end of the summer, I knew I had been thoroughly tricked. I wanted to share the Gospel and yet I found a deeper need within myself to encounter the Gospel personally. Returning to college, I told people that Totus Tuus is really about my own personal formation, not primarily about the youth I interacted with at the different parishes. It was a surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Lord would change me despite my desire to be the one provoking change. Continue reading “When the Gift is More for Me Than Others”
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.
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”
When I scroll through Facebook, it is difficult to not feel at least a little discouraged. My mini-world of online Catholic life, neatly curated based on my interests, is overflowing with article after article of questions, deception, and Church hierarchy. I haven’t joined the fray and posted yet another reflection on the duplicity found within some of the Church’s most elevated ordained men. It didn’t seem necessary after millions of words have been spilled over it and it doesn’t seem to help the hurting. Despite not posting about it, I feel the increasing weight of the problems and wonder what will happen next.
My faith isn’t shaken–it wasn’t rooted in bishops or the Holy Father to begin with. I don’t feel compelled to even consider leaving the Church–She is my home and I would not want to be an orphan in this crazy world. I do, however, ache for the hurting and I frequently consider how this must look from the perspective of my students. When hypocrisy is so blatant, it is a struggle for them to see why one should belong to such a fragile, sinful institution.
Despite the fact that I am unshaken in my desire to remain in the Church, the Lord gave me a generous gift. Yesterday, the Lord gave me what I didn’t know I needed.
I attended a Theology on Tap.
I know the coordinator pretty well (she is my sister, after all) and so I have known about the progress of the launch of this new program every step of the way. Yet when I walked into the gathering space, I was surprised at the number of people already present. And as the minutes continued to pass, I was soon blown away by the number of people who came streaming in. An event that initially had aimed for fifty people and then optimistically raised its hopes to seventy or eighty, eventually rounded out at about 150 people.
The attendees? They were young college kids, adults in the first decade of “adult” work, middle-aged parents, and grandpas and grandmas. A gentleman at my table graduated from high school in 1956. A priest stood behind me. A co-worker sat next to me. My parents were nearby. A couple sat on the floor near the bar, all available seats having long been snatched up.
The attendees? The Church. Continue reading “The Church Showed Up”
The first blog I started was in the early 2000s. Way back then, I didn’t call it a blog and neither did anyone who read it. It was a very short list of distinguished people who read it, but it was there, a precursor to what I would do here and now.
I was imitating my older sister. She sent emails to her friends about life ponderings that she had during the day. There were religious reflections, philosophical musings, and simply ideas she had as she went about her ordinary high school life. Wanting to be like her, I started my own little email list.
While I don’t remember how many emails I sent out, I do recall one topic. Blue toilet paper. My mother purchased blue toilet paper and, for some reason, this was the thing I felt most compelled to write about. I know that I sent at least two emails about it. The first had an intriguing subject line of “Blue” and the second was titled “Still Blue.” And then, for one reason or another, I stopped sending the emails.
My next foray into the world of writing was in eighth grade. Apparently, my English teacher thought I had something to offer the world and contacted the local editor of the town newspaper. The editor agreed to let me write occasionally for the paper about virtually whatever I wished. I wrote about my sister entering the convent, the death of a classmate, summer church camps, dream jobs, my dad’s retirement, the holocaust of abortion, and my trip to Ireland and Scotland. The writing continued sporadically until my graduation.
In college, I wrote a couple of times for a few different campus publications. I was too busy writing papers to publish many articles just for the enjoyment of it. College also had the knack of tempering my perceived self-importance. I’d been told for years that I had a gift for writing, largely from family and friends who are supposed to say those kinds of things. In college, however, I received authentic criticism from my Honors and English professors.
Admittedly, it took me by surprise. Continue reading “Writing: The Success is in the Offering”
Only once have I really punched someone in anger.
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something. Continue reading “There is a Strength in Faithfulness”
The lesson plan for the day was to discuss the argument from efficient causality. Yet they managed to completely derail that plan. When students ask questions that are about the faith and yet truly interest them, it is nearly impossible for me to continue with class as planned. Interiorly, I am torn between following a schedule or curriculum and the desire to answer questions that organically spring up in their hearts.
Nine times out of ten I go with the questions they present to me. I don’t believe I’ve ever regretted it, I only wish that each class would then magically divert itself in the same way. Genuine curiosity and ponderings aren’t things you can manufacture in other classes.
“So is this argument saying that all things are caused to be by other things? Or it is saying not all things are caused to be by other things?” I asked.
“I have a question that kind of relates but is off topic. If God is caused or even if He isn’t caused, what is the point of life? Like why did God make us? What is our purpose?”
Those questions, dear readers, will definitely sidetrack me. When senior boys are curious about why they were created and the meaning of life, I will dropkick lesson plans to spend time answering some of the biggest questions of life.
This is the class that argued with me about gravity objectively existing. The day before this class, instead of working on an assignment they chose to ask me a thousand inane questions about my car, my hometown, and where my parents live. So hearing one student start a conversation about the purpose of their lives and why God made them, and then hearing several other students jump in with follow-up questions, was a pure delight. The only problem was the lack of time before the bell would ring.
To begin to answer their questions, I went back to the beginning. The Trinity. I spoke of how the Father and Son pour out a love that is so strong that it is another person, the Holy Spirit. Within this communion of love, there is nothing that is lacking. God was perfectly satisfied within this exchange of love. Therefore, we are not needed. God didn’t need us. Continue reading “The Grace of Lesson Plans That Get Overthrown by Questions”
My bedroom is in a similar state as my soul. Messy, cluttered, and kind of driving me insane. The thing is both situations are entirely my fault.
Instead of hanging up my clothes, they have become a mountain covering my ottoman. Generally, I forget I even have an ottoman and I’ve become increasingly convinced that most of the things in there mustn’t be very important if I never need to access them. Stacks of unopened letters and papers I should file away add a bit of an overwhelming sense to a place I often use for refuge. Boxes that need to be broken down for recycling, laundry that ought to be done, and stacks upon stacks of books make my bedroom chaotic.
My soul? Pretty much the same situation.
There is a great deal of clearing out that needs to happen. Scripture says to make a highway for Our Lord. But first, I think I need a plow to come through. So it is with a heart that loves simplicity yet finds itself attached to abundance that I eagerly head into Lent.
I need Lent. Continue reading “I Need You, Lent”
“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently. I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”
A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing. In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart. I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord. These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.
While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow. We need to take quizzes and tests. I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work. Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.
How? I’m uncertain. I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand. Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth. The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.
I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ. Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo. Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period. I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached. Continue reading “To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus”
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”
It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us. Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode. The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before. I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.
One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world. The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them. Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways. In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults. They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.
As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters. Situations aren’t simple. The correct move or response isn’t always obvious. Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present. Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.
Or perhaps that is what I read into it. Either way, it seems relevant in my life. Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times. Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.
The past is a powerful force. Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life. Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them. It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”