like a Sunday alms-box

like a Sunday alms-box

I was recently introduced to the Polish poet Anna Kamienska. As I walked the streets of Rome, post-crepe from a nearby shop, I read a poem she wrote about St. Edith Stein. It was providential because I have rather recently become quite intrigued with the life of Edith Stein. By all accounts, we have little in common and yet I can identify with her unasked for period of waiting for her desires to be fulfilled. I can only ask that I endure all future waiting with the hope and attentiveness to the present moment that she did.

So I read the words about Edith Stein, someone whose life overlapped Anna Kamienska’s, and wondered about this poet. I like poetry that uses surprising yet fitting word choice, poetry that paints rich pictures, poetry that points to a deeper truth in a perhaps unconventional way. I don’t like poetry that confuses me or seems to not make sense or offers no beauty. Reading through Anna Kamienska’s selected works in Astonishments, I have found several poems that I believe I will ponder, appreciate, and re-read during the upcoming days and weeks.

The one I’d like to direct your attention to is called “Gratitude”–something I am certain I will need to return to once the fall semester starts all-too-soon.

Continue reading “like a Sunday alms-box”

Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven

Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven

The Catholic faith, with all of the elaborate liturgies and rich traditions, is a testament to the incarnational reality of Christ. Rather than simply receiving Christ spiritually, we consume what looks like bread and tastes like wine but which we profess is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Rather than simply believing that we are forgiven, we profess our sins aloud and then hear the words of absolution extended as we are reconciled to God. Though not dogma, we profess to have the crown of thorns, nails from the cross, pieces of the true cross, and even the cloth wrapped around Jesus before He was laid in the tomb. The physical realities of the God-man are brimming in the Catholic churches around the world.

On a recent pilgrimage to Rome with some students, I was able to climb the Scala Santa or Holy Stairs. These twenty-eight steps of marble are believed to be the stairs Christ ascended as the Jewish authorities turned Him over to Pilate. Transported from the Holy Land to Rome at the request of Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, pilgrims have come for centuries to climb these steps on their knees as they recall the Passion of Jesus Christ. The ardent devotion of thousands upon thousands of pilgrims began to wear away at the stones and it was a desire of the Church to preserve them for future Christians. Around three hundred years ago, the steps were covered with wood to prevent their further deterioration.

A restoration process that has unfolded over the past few years led to the uncovering of the steps. As the restoration neared its end, for a few weeks during May and June, the Church allowed pilgrims to ascend the uncovered steps on their knees. The pilgrimage I was on happened to fall during the final week of the steps being uncovered.

Nine years ago, I climbed the steps during my first trip to Rome. Knowing the steps would be uncovered this time, I didn’t really consider how that would alter the experience of climbing them. The deep grooves in the marble, formed by thousands upon thousands of knees before me, made the ascent a bit more complicated than when it was on planks of wood. How many knees had been on these same steps? How many kisses had been placed on these marble slabs that formed the path Jesus took to condemnation? How many saints had made this same pilgrimage?

Continue reading “Crawling On Our Knees To Heaven”

I Climbed Mountains

I Climbed Mountains

I love when I am able to find secular examples that point to spiritual realities.  When shown explicitly religious media, my students often give what they think are the correct answers based on their years of Catholic education.  Yet when it is something that seems a bit unrelated to the class, they tend to have a greater openness and willingness to interact with the material.

On the second class day of the new spring semester, I showed them a TEDx talk called “500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair.”  (Feel free to take a minute…or 19…to go and watch this video.)  The image of strangers taking the time and effort to carry a man in a wheelchair up a mountain seemed to obviously gesture toward the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

“Through the power of community, I climbed mountains.”

At one point near the end, Justin says. “Through the power of community, I climbed mountains” and it resonated so much that I had to write it down.  So many conversations lately have pivoted around the need and desire for community and authentic friendship.  While some say community cannot be built, I disagree.  I believe community must be built.  While we cannot choose to magically connect with people, we must be intentional in how we use our time in order for community to be successful.

This community that Justin and Patrick found was possible because others were willing to be intentional with their time and energy.  The pilgrim duo they met in the cathedral in Burgos were willing to wait for them before climbing the mountain leading into O’Cebreiro.  Then other people heard the story and decided to wait, too, without ever meeting Justin or Patrick.  Community requires intentionality and it reminds us that in this pilgrimage of life we cannot walk alone.

A priest friend of mine often said, “You can be damned alone or saved with others.”  I think he was quoting someone but I was never certain of the source.  The idea is that Hell is isolation, but Heaven is necessarily communion.  Communion with God and with others.  The reality of this can be revealed in the many “saint pairs” that have arisen over history.  St. Francis and St. Clare.  St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.  St. Louis and St. Zelie.  St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The list could go on and on.  St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II?  Saints live a foretaste of the heavenly communion through their authentic friendships with one another.  They “carry” each other up the mountain, using friendship to encourage the other to enter into deeper relationship with the Lord. Continue reading “I Climbed Mountains”

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago.  The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating.  We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain.  The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.

The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek.  So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.

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Then we did that again.  And again.

Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep.  Repeat.

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The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain.  My feet ached in a way they never had before.  Blisters developed in tender places.  The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking.  After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious.  However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.

Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits.  I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure.  Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.

One day, I no longer wanted to walk.  

The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking.  There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.”  Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.

And then I realized, this is a lot like life. Continue reading “When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On”

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

Nearly three years ago, I strapped on a hiking backpack and walked five hundred miles.  As I walked El Camino de Santiago, people crossed my path who were completing the pilgrimage for the second or third time.  While beautiful, I wondered why people would complete this trek multiple times.  Once will be enough for me, I thought.

Yet now and again, I find myself longing to be on some dusty trail in the midst of the Spanish countryside.  It isn’t because of my love for travel, although I suppose that does play a role.  My desire to be on the Camino for a second time stems largely from my desire for simplicity.

On the Camino, it is easy to be simple.  In fact, it is almost a requirement that one be simple.  On your back, you carry all of your clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.  Everything you think you will need along the Way, you must plod every blessed mile with it fastened to your back.

Sometimes it annoyed me to live so simply.  I wanted a different outfit to wear.  I was surprised at how much I found myself longing for a real towel and not the travel towel I would use each day.  At times I wished to simply remain in the same place for more than an evening.  There were several things that made me not like living simply.

Yet, in a very authentic way, I realized my heart was made for simplicity.  When my closet of clothes overflows and the laundry basket is full, when my bookshelves no longer have room for the books I insist on buying, or when I find myself shopping online for things I realize I do not need, I remember that my heart is a simple heart.  Yet I wish simplicity was forced upon me instead of needing to be chosen.

My possessions have a weight and I want to be free.

Sitting in a cluttered room, I find myself slightly jealous of my older sisters and their vows of poverty.  To be free to be poor.  I know I romanticize poverty, but there is a longing in my heart for less.  And in that less, I know I will find more.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

For over thirty days, I walked the Camino and if I did it again, I would pack less.  There is a simple beauty in choosing between two outfits.  There is a simplicity found in needing to walk a few miles each day.  I’ve never been so aware of my feet before.  And rarely have I felt like I’ve spent the entire day just being and walking in the Lord’s company.  Those lovely, simple things make the Camino something I wish I could be doing right now. Continue reading “When Simplicity Must Be Chosen”