An open-letter to the Catholic School educators of my past

Thank you. Thank you for the ups and the downs, for the sacrifices to your bank account, for putting up with us and for letting us be kids. Thank you for teaching us to work in community, to listen to someone other than our parents, and for witnessing in small ways to the Christian life. Thank you for what you do.

This morning I went to the All Schools’ Mass with the Bishop for Catholic Schools Week. Since we have so many Catholic schools in the diocese, a few students are chosen from each grade to represent their school and accompany their principal and pastors to the Mass.

After Communion, the choir (made up of kids from the three high schools) were singing a beautiful meditation, and I had to struggle to keep back the tears.  Back came the memories of my days in high school choir.  Back came the memories of “Sharing Day,” the Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week when all our schools would gather together for Mass, too.  Back came memories from 21 years of Catholic education – from preschool to graduate school.

I thought of the teachers, the principals, the friends, the moms and dads of friends, the field trips, the school plays, the All School Masses, the recesses, the classes, the times that stretched me and the times that gave me joy.

You know what?  It wasn’t perfect. I had some not-so-great teachers, I had some not-so-great classmates.  There were even days I cried knowing I’d have to go back to school the next day. It was no walk in the park, those years of Catholic high school.  Even elementary and middle school had its ups and downs.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure, I would have liked it to be more Catholic at times. Yes, I would have asked that there was less bullying. I could have had more rigorous education at times.  It wasn’t perfect by any means.  If I was going to write the story of my years of school, there are definite experiences I would have spared myself from, and chapters I would have written differently.

But I survived. And I am who I am today because of the ups and the downs, the joys and the crosses, the good times and the bad.  I’ll be eternally grateful to my parents, who navigated those seas – rocky at times, calm at times – and helped me keep my Faith. There are many of my classmates who have not fared so well.

My years in Catholic schools are like any experience in life. You take the good and celebrate it, and you take the bad and you grow from it.  I know that everyone has their own decision to make for their own families, but I will forever be grateful that my parents didn’t listen to me in sixth grade when I begged to be homeschooled.  I needed those years of growth.  I needed those friends.  Who knows, maybe I needed to be a witness to someone, somewhere.

Perhaps this sounds like a rather back-handed compliment to my Catholic education.  It’s not intended that way.  I am honestly grateful for the memories and the experiences those years in the Lafayette Catholic School system gave me. The growth hasn’t stopped – I am still learning, still figuring out this whole life thing. I suppose the continued growth is why I can look back at those years and be grateful – even for the tough times.

I realized with some horror, as I looked around at the kids at Mass, that they thought I was a grownup. I’m as old as some of their teachers – perhaps even some of their parents! And as I looked at them – from the little bitty kindergartners to the seniors in high school– I wanted to tell them it was all worth it.  Thank your teachers. Thank your principals. Thank your parents.  It’s all going to be just fine.

 

Gaudete!

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to just blog for fun, and this day just screamed out for it.

Happy Gaudete!  What a great, great day.  I’ve always loved Gaudete Sunday, and this year it seems especially joyful.  For starters, I had a lovely weekend with family, enjoying Nashville through food, history, drink, and more food.  And drink.  I went to sleep last night almost feeling like it was already my birthday.  Honestly, no one deserves this much fun for their birthday after they enter their third decade.

This morning I had poticia and a leftover pink cupcake for breakfast to celebrate Gaudete Sunday.  Poticia is a Slovenian nut bread that my grandma always made for Christmas- now my mom and aunts make it, and my aunt gave me some early – so I saved it to eat on Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice!  I lit my advent wreath and read my morning spiritual reading, and I honestly thought for a brief moment that it was already my birthday.  It’s good to be loved.

Even Sammy, the weekend doorman, gave me homemade treats this morning. Honestly, I do not deserve this much love.

Mass was absolutely beautiful, with all the best Advent songs AND the OPENING OF THE HOLY DOOR with the Bishop sitting in choir and an incredible homily from Father Baker that actually ended with a hilarious reference to L.A. (Lower Alabama) and the command to shout “Happy Jubilee!” in the streets of Nashville.  Honestly.  It’s just too much. I was dying of joy.

Then it was the realization during Communion that:

1) I was born during an extraordinary Jubilee.

2) This is an extraordinary Jubilee, and it basically opened for me this morning, on my favorite Sunday of the year, the day before my birthday

3) In 11 days, I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of my first Marian consecration. 20 years. Whew.

Basically, people, this is a big year for me. I can feel it. Lots of graces.  God has big plans.  Here we go!

Almost half the church was wearing pink this morning. You could feel the joy.  Then a bright pink taxi cab drove by while we were standing outside of church and Father Baker shouted, “That taxi cab!  Come here!  We need you! It’s a Gaudete taxi cab!”  I mean, it was like everyone was intoxicated on Advent Joy.

It was sad to say goodbye to the family after brunch, especially since we have had such an incredibly fun time (lots of laughter!), but it was tempered by the fact that I would see them all in ten days!  I began listening to Advent/Christmas music on the way home (for the first time this year- it pays to wait, I’m telling you) and I could just feel it.  He is coming.  He is near.

Gaudete, everyone!  Go rejoice today!  He is near!

 

Being known

Every Tuesday morning, after my early Adoration hour, I go to Bruegger’s Bagels on the way to work. I’ll bop in there on another day of the week here or there, but it’s definitely part of my Tuesday morning routine.

Shawn is behind the bagel counter, ready to make my plain bagel with egg, cheddar cheese, and tomato (“after it comes out of the oven, please.”)  If it’s not Shawn, I know whomever is back there will not make it properly, and I often won’t even let them try.  I’ll just get cream cheese instead.  Thankfully on Tuesdays it’s almost always Shawn. Then I’ll go to the cash register and be greeted by Sayonara with the greatest “good morning” a Tuesday morning has ever seen.

It’s a routine, and I love it.  Shawn doesn’t even ask me anymore.  One day there was another guy behind the counter with him, and when he asked me what I wanted, Shawn simply said, “I got it,” and pulled a plain bagel out of the basket and started cutting it.

This morning I was thinking how happy this makes me, and at first I just chalked it up to the idea of routine and ritual (which apparently people are finally admitting makes our life better).

But then I decided it’s more than that.

We want to be known.

It’s the human desire to be encountered (which I wrote a bit about here).  It’s the feeling of being encountered, recognized, and known.  We want to feel important — not in a prideful way, not in a famous way, but just important to someone, somehow.

How many people survived prison camps or other terrible situations hanging on to the fact that someone was out there waiting for them?

We want to be known.

Shawn and Sayonara brighten every Tuesday morning because they acknowledge that I exist and that I’m a part of their routines as much as they are a part of mine.  I’d like to think I brighten their days, too.  Addressing them by name, asking them how they are, treating them as if they matter to me – which they do.

What if every day, we tried to seek out at least one other person and brought them God’s love by simply showing them they’re known? Maybe it’s just a matter of making eye contact with a stranger and telling them hello. So often I walk past people as if they’re not there. Maybe it’s taking the time to ask how someone is doing or listen to a coworker’s story – even if I’ve heard it before.  Maybe it’s a gesture of appreciation to someone whose work usually goes unnoticed, or a compliment to someone who is usually forgotten.  It doesn’t have to be grand, it just has to be intentional.

There’s a power in being known.

Thoughts on the Synod

I have been more out-of-the-loop with the Synod than I normally would like.  It’s a far cry from last year, when I had just started my job and didn’t have any projects in full swing. I had plenty of time to read as much as I could, watch press conferences, and speculate. This year, work has kept me busy and I’ve barely had time to read a blog post here and there.  I skim Twitter in the morning (following the Holy See Press Office is rather helpful for getting quotes from the press conferences) and sometimes that’s all I can do.

Perhaps, though, it’s not such a bad thing.  I’m aware of the discussions and debates, but in the end, I’ll be waiting until the dust settles to see what comes of all of this. Which is all I could have done anyway. So we pray for the bishops, we pray for the Pope, and we wait.

One thought: Pretending that the only issue the synod needs to discuss is Communion for the divorced and remarried is an insult to families throughout the world. This isn’t a synod on the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.  This is a synod on the family.  And with all respect to those who are in that situation and hurting, there are millions of people throughout this world hurting for other reasons, and their wounds need to be addressed as well. I was reading comments on an article during the first week of the Synod (heaven help me, why do I read comments on articles…) and the person said if that problem wasn’t going to be solved, why is there even a synod?  Well, that’s insulting to every family that is hurting throughout the world: hurt by war, fatherless families, prostitution and sex trafficking, polygamy, abuse, poverty, infertility, lack of educational opportunities…

What about the families who are struggling to be faithful, to be life-giving, to be virtuous in this culture when everyone around them is telling them to give up?  To act like the synod is only about Communion for the divorced and remarried is a slap in the face, at best.  (Thank you, Cardinal Dolan.)

More than one bishop has commented that if the focus of the synod is Communion for the divorced and remarried, it is a narrow focus that pretty much completely ignores the situation of families outside the western world.  We tend to forget that much of the Catholic world lies outside our everyday experience.  The Catholics in North America make up a mere 8% of the Catholic Church.  Add Europe and you get a total of about 32%. Not exactly a majority.

One of the most striking things about the World Meeting of Families was not just the international community present, but where much of the international community came from. Not from affluent Europe (an easy trip to Philadelphia).  No, they were from Asia and Africa.  I’ve never seen so many bishops gathered for Mass in one place outside of Rome, as I did at that opening Mass for the WMOF.  Where were they from? Africa and Asia. (Including this guy.) The Church is growing and the Church is faithful in these “2nd millennial” churches.  They deserve to be in the conversation.

That being said, I stand by the things I said last year (here and here) about last year’s extraordinary synod, and I urge everyone to pray for the bishops.  We can spill a lot of ink, we can gossip and complain and speculate and worry.  Or we can pray.

why am I here?

I should be writing a couple of talks for a faculty retreat I’m giving on Monday and another talk for on Laudato Si that I’m giving next Wednesday.  I could also be writing the pro-life talk I’m giving at the end of the month, the talk on prayer I’m giving in November, or the women’s retreat I’m giving in December.

But no, I’m here. Because I’m having a crisis.

I think every blogger goes through this at some time or another, especially when one is looking at a fairly stagnant blog (no fault but mine own).  What the heck am I doing? Why am I here?

I’ve been watching a series of videos from Michael Hyatt’s Influence & Impact summit that’s going on right now, originally to see if there were some tips for marketing my adult formation opportunities or strategies to share with leaders in adult formation.  Essentially, half of my job is marketing the Gospel message to adults sitting in the pews who don’t know they should care more than they do.  So I was thinking I could learn from the “secular” play-makers who are out there.

But after watching several of the videos, I began to wonder about my own blog, website, and online presence.  I want readers to my website. I want to be speaking and teaching groups of people. But unlike the people I was listening to — people who had massive followings online, multiple New York Times’ best sellers, and huge “platforms,” I’m not selling anything.

Or am I?  As I was listening to them, they all had something in common: They had a product- not just physical products (books, an online course, or newsletter full of tips and inspirational encouragement)- but a product in the form of some niche message.

What was my product? What was my “why”? I love to write, but why should anyone read me? What do I have to offer?

One of the presenters said that we all, at some point, suffer from the curse of familiarity. We begin to assume that everyone knows what we know.  We have nothing to offer, nothing to share, because we don’t have anything unique.

Maybe I do have something unique.  My friend Jenny insisted I did, when we were in Philadelphia waiting 8 1/2 hours to see the Pope drive by (have you read about that?  It was awesome…), and I didn’t believe her.  But maybe I do, and maybe it’s just a matter of honing in what sets me apart.  I’m don’t have a tribe of cute kids to homeschool. I don’t spend time crafting or DIY-ing my way to Pinterest-worthy masterpieces. But perhaps I still have something to offer.  And perhaps it’s time to get off my duff and figure out how to hone that into something that’s worth giving.

Stay tuned.

An incredible week in Philadelphia

I honestly don’t know where to begin when it comes to reflecting on this past week.  So much of it feels like a dream.  But then my feet hurt and I remember that it was all very real.

It’s hard to believe the week is over.  Learning from Cardinals, Church leaders, and other Catholic celebrities and just taking in the joy of thousands of families all week, and then capping it off with the papal visit to Philadelphia … it’s just hard to believe it’s over.

Seeing the Popemobile on American city streets was surreal.

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…And then he stops and kisses your friend’s baby. And the 8 1/2 hours of waiting on the side of the road is all worth it.

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More later, folks. Although that was the high point right there.

Historic Philadelphia

Today I may or may not have had a tour of historic Philadelphia from a guy who once played “young Ben Franklin” in a summer play on the streets of Philly.

Not only did I see where it all went down…

IMG_2823(confession: I wanted to sing songs from 1776 the whole time.)

But I also saw where (most of) our Founding Fathers worshipped:

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Christ Church- the Anglican church were many of the Founding Fathers, Betsy Ross, and the Penn family all had pews

And where they worked.  This is right by Ben Franklin’s house (right next to his printery office) and it’s still a working post office!

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We also visited Old St. Joseph’s, the first Catholic church in Philadelphia

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The beautiful painting on the ceiling was a gift from Francis Drexel’s estate. Yeah, like St. Katherine Drexel’s dad.

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Getting ready for the Pope!

And after a full afternoon at World Meeting of Families, we returned where we began the day – in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers – and had a drink at the pub where they hung out.  I’m pretty sure the real work of the Continental Congresses probably happened here.

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I couldn’t help but continue to think… what were these guys thinking? When they were all sitting at their Anglican service, did they have any idea what the heck was happening in this new country?  Did they realize they were making history?  Or were they just doing, in the words of Father Mike Schmitz, “the next thing” ??  I just wonder.