Is the Good News Good?

Is the Good News Good?

St. Peter says to “be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) but sometimes it seems the hope can get lost in a parade of rules. I asked my students what is the cause of our hope and after throwing out several answers, someone finally said the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was the source of our hope.

“Do you feel like the Good News is good?”

They paused for a moment, almost seeming to sense there was a trick question they needed to skirt.

“Yes,” one student said.

“Why?”

This simple question seemed difficult for them. Someone replied, “Because it seemed like the right answer.” In fact, when I asked a later question (“Why does the Good News not seem good?”) they were able to respond with more answers.

When I go into the prison, so many of the men that come to the Catholic bible study or Mass are able to clearly point to their lives and say, “When I do my own will, I am not free.” It is a profound gift that the men in prison have that I think so many outside prison lack. The doctor, the teacher, the student, the politician, the bus driver, the plumber, the painter, the whatever can look like they have it together because they have some worldly success and their struggles might not be so apparent. The reality, however, is that we are all in great need of being saved. This crashes into the truth that the Good News is profoundly good, but it does require an acknowledgement that I cannot do it on my own.

Continue reading “Is the Good News Good?”

A Grateful Mission

A Grateful Mission

Like a mother who gushes with affection over a sleeping child, I often feel particularly fond for my students when they are taking tests.  They seem so quiet, so studious, and so devoted to the task at hand that I find myself gazing at their little, intent faces and being so thankful to be a teacher.

In all honesty, that isn’t the only moment I am thankful to teach, but it is one continually recurring theme.  Moments of quiet, moments of humor, and moments of profound learning make me grateful to teach.  The inside jokes we share and the relationships that are built over time make me thankful to interact with so many high school students.  When I am able to step back from the late papers, endless questions, and constant repetition of directions, I see young people seeking.  Seeking just like I am–for happiness, for joy, for love, for peace, for life.  When I see that perspective, I am grateful for the time to be with them, accompanying them for a short while on their journey to eternity.

It makes me wonder if I have any type of impact.  This little heart inside of me longs so much for a great mission.  And then I remember that I teach.  I interact with young people daily and if that isn’t the rich soil for a great mission, I don’t know what is.  Grades, dress codes, and attitudes can make me forget the mission that is in front of me every day.  Yet every now and then, I will get a glimpse of what God might be doing in souls.  I see that perhaps my littleness might be in the midst of something great right now and completely unaware of it all.

Still, the heart longs to know a difference is being made.  Thankfully, God gives me reminders in little moments.  There is enough to assure me that it isn’t for nothing and yet little enough so that it doesn’t all go to my head.  It is found in class camaraderie when one class writes me up for a detention when I return a little late for class.  I see it in a small group of women who enter into conversation about pursuing true beauty.  It is experienced in random after school conversations and hearing that my class is teaching something.  The look on some students faces as we tackle the problem of evil and honestly question how a good God could allow awful things to happen.  Brief moments, easy to pass by, but ones that remind me that something is happening here and now.

It isn’t because of me.  It is because of God’s grace.  Continue reading “A Grateful Mission”

What the Lord did with his Yes

What the Lord did with his Yes

It is incredible what the Lord can do with a fervent “Yes.”

This thought came to mind as I heard the news of the death of the president emeritus of my alma mater.  Fr. Michael Scanlan died this morning at 85 years old and the legacy he leaves behind is beautiful.  I try not to canonize people too early and so I will say that Fr. Mike was an imperfect man, like many others.  Yet his “Yes” to the Lord has changed the lives of many.

That is what I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting on right now.  The Lord has a unique mission for each of us and accepting that mission will transform many lives.  Fr. Mike reformed the Franciscan University of Steubenville from struggling local party college to a renowned pillar of orthodoxy.  It was not on his own, of course, because he needed like minded people to work with him in this mission.  As the president, however, he was at the forefront of changing the insignificant college into something that people would travel across the country to attend.

My heart changed in college.  It was through the classes, ministries, and communal life that I experienced a profound deepening in my faith.  My grandpa would frequently ask me if I chose this college simply because it was far from home.  He would ask why I didn’t attend Catholic colleges far closer.  Unless he went there, I don’t think I could explain to my grandpa the uniqueness of this college and how it helped reform my own heart.  Fr. Mike’s “Yes” to Jesus Christ made this possible.  There were many other yeses by many other people, but the “Yes” of Fr. Mike helped bring about change in the lives of many.  When I consider all of the students who attended this college or all of the people impacted by the summer conferences, I thank the Lord for the gift and witness of Fr. Michael Scanlan.  Continue reading “What the Lord did with his Yes”

More Than Rules

More Than Rules

“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”

Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear

Whoever Has Ears Ought To Hear

What if St. Paul didn’t respond to God’s call in his life?

Too often, I assume that the saints would, naturally, follow God’s will in their lives.  I mistakenly believe that it was easy for them–of course they responded correctly, they are saints.

Now we hold them to be saints, but they were not always so.  They had free will and probably had many compelling reasons for not following God.  It probably seemed just as inconvenient to them as it does for us at times.

St. Paul is bound for Damascus and Jesus intervenes into his life in a very dramatic way.  The bright light, the physical blinding, and the clear voice all point to a powerful divine intervention.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  What if, after this encounter, Saul instead returned to his original mission of hunting down the Christians?  In many ways, it might have appeared to be a better life decision.  Or he stops pursuing the Christians, but he doesn’t start to follow Christ.

Following his conversion, Paul goes off to immerse himself in the study of the Gospel.  Then, he presented himself to the Apostles and they were hesitant to accept him.  For a while, he is then considered a traitor by the Jews and someone not to be trusted by the Christians.  When he goes on his journeys to preach the Gospel, riots will frequently spring up as he evangelizes.  At one point, they pick up stones and hurl them at Paul, intent upon killing him.  Dragging him outside the city, they leave him for dead.  When his disciples surround him, he gets to his feet and continues preaching the next day.  In the end, he will be beheaded in Rome, a death he underwent since he was a Roman citizen.

The Lord gave St. Paul the grace of an indomitable spirit, but that doesn’t mean that each movement was filled with absolute certainty.  Perhaps some mornings, Paul woke up and was tired, not wanting to preach and be ridiculed yet again.  Maybe as his feet pounded over miles and miles of Roman roads, his heart was constantly uttering, “Lord, come again.  Lord, end this suffering.  Lord, take me home.”  In the spirit of St. Teresa of Avila, maybe St. Paul experienced the pain of being pummeled with rocks and as he pulled himself to his feet said, “Is this how you treat your friends, Lord?  It is no wonder you have so few.”  St. Paul was a dedicated and faithful evangelist, but that doesn’t mean the Lord surrounded him in constant reassurance or prevented any doubts from entering his mind.  The beauty is that Paul chose Christ daily, even when it seemed foolish in the eyes of his friends and family.

These thoughts about Paul came to mind when I started to watch a video about him in preparation for one of my classes.  The movie opened proclaiming what a great evangelist he was after encountering Jesus and the thought came to mind, “What if he didn’t answer that call?”  The realization was similar to when I realized that perhaps in Old Testament times, God called other people, but it isn’t recorded because they didn’t say “Yes.”  St. Paul had a free choice.  Although God revealed Himself in an undeniable way, it didn’t require St. Paul to choose to follow Him.

My students received the assignment to write an imaginative story about either being a traveling companion of Paul or being a villager in one of the places Paul preached the Gospel.  The goal of the writing was to consider how they would respond to his preaching and to think about what it would be like to experience those events first hand.  Scripture isn’t a nice storybook about events from hundreds of years ago, but rather it is alive and applies to us right now.  So the underlying question to consider is: how am I now responding to the compelling, radical message of the Gospel?

Familiarity with the message of Christianity makes it appear dull and commonplace.  Yet it is anything but that.  We preach of a God who loved so much that He entered into humanity so that He might pay the price to reconcile all of humanity with Himself.  All of salvation history is God reaching out to humanity and working with our “Yes” to bring about transformation.  God knows how we will respond but He never takes away our free will in order to get a “Yes.”  And even if He knows we will refuse, He still asks and offers us a chance to follow Him.

The beauty of the life of St. Paul is not so much that God called him.  God calls each of us to a unique mission that leads us closer to His heart.  The beauty of St. Paul’s life is that he heard the voice of God and he responded with zeal.  His fervent “Yes” opened the pathway for others to hear the Gospel and commit their lives to Jesus.  May we, in this world that is thirsting for the Gospel in all of its truth and radicality, present the beauty, truth, and goodness found in the message of Jesus Christ.  One that is compelling enough to sacrifice home, family, social status, and all worldly goods to pursue.

St. Paul responded wholeheartedly to God’s call in his life.  What if we didn’t?