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.

 

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.

The real reason for Martha’s sorrow

For some reason, a little snippet from the daily reflection in the Magnificat really struck a chord with me this morning.  It’s the feast of St. Martha, who like St. Thomas, always seems to get a bad rap even know we know that we’d all do the exact same thing in that position.

St. Teresa of Avila has this gem as she writes her thoughts to Our Lord:

“I sometimes remember the complaint of that holy woman, Martha.  She did not complain only about her sister, rather, I hold it is certain that her greatest sorrow was the thought that you, Lord, did not feel sad about the trial she was undergoing and didn’t have as much love for her as for her sister.”

Such an honest, open confession to our Lord.  To be so real with Him and tell Him something that we know in our minds can’t be true- but to be real with Him about what’s in our heart. It leaves me kind of speechless with that feeling of recognition/sorrow/relief that hits you right in the stomach. The fear that the Lord doesn’t love us as much as our neighbor… So real, so human. He shows us He loves us everyday, but we are so weak and so in need of His mercy.  We need Him to show His love again and again.  Lord, help my unbelief.  Give me some little consolation of Your love.

Ready or not, here it comes.

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the week before Ash Wednesday, and it’s suddenly a dash to self-evaluate habits, priorities, and routines and, through some spiritual introspection that probably should be a daily occurence and not a 4th quarter scramble, figure out a game plan for the next forty days.

Oreos magically appeared in the breakroom this morning, so naturally I began thinking of giving up snacking between meals, mid-chew of a happy birthday Oreo that just wasn’t worth the energy it took to put in my mouth.  I dumped a french vanilla coffeemate pod into my mug, and while deciding that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with non-refrigerated cream, thought maybe I should start drinking coffee black.  I walked back to my office, upset that I was sleepy even though I re-set my alarm and missed early morning Mass, and decided I needed to relocate my alarm clock across the room so that my bed was easier to exit at 5am.

So what is the game plan?  I need to figure it out, and soon.  I know I need to give up something that is hard enough to make me really desire Easter.  I know it’s been a lazy Lent when it goes by quickly or when Easter is just another Sunday to me.  At the same time, I need to do something that’s doable, or it’s not going to last.  That year I tried to give up electricity after sundown?  Yeah, didn’t work.

I know I need to be creative.  Elizabeth Scalia has some great points about how our brains are turning to mush and how Lent is our opportunity to begin to change that. I agree 100%.  Reading more and staring a screen less would definitely make me a better person.  The idea of a social media fast is aluring, but not practical with my job.  Perhaps I need to tweak it a bit to make it useful.

I’m all about giving up the normal things… chocolate, alcohol, etc etc etc.  I don’t buy that whole “don’t give up something, do something!” thing.  That was a fad when I was growing up, and it’s just not Catholic.  Being Catholic is both-and.  Yes, do something. But give something up, too.  I’ve learned the beauty of the fast-feast interplay over the past several years, and while it’s material for another post, suffice it to say that Judeo-Christian tradition for the last 3,000 years knows what it’s doing.

So I’ll be fasting from something good.  That’s important.  Self-discipline is definitely a virtue I need to work on these days.  But maybe I also need to give up something whose complete absence would actually make me a better person.  Maybe something I won’t splurge on come Easter.  You know, actually develop virtue over the next 40 days, that might sustain into the next fifty or a hundred?

 

Sunshine through raindrops

As I was driving to work today, a quick rain shower of sprinkles hit my window.  Stopped at a stoplight, I looked up and saw the sun peeking out from behind a cloud directly in front of me– one of those incredible sunbeams shooting into the sky moments, when the brightness seems even brighter because it has the contrast of the clouds in front of it, and the streaks of sunlight seem almost personified.

But I was looking at it through raindrops on my windshield.

When I looked back at the raindrops, I didn’t really notice the sun.  Then I looked at the sun, and the raindrops became less noticeable- they were just something I was looking through.

And I realized, as I tried to take a picture of it to remember the moment, that life is a lot like that picture.  There’s hope and beauty and happiness, but often we have to look at it through raindrop splatters. Sometimes we’re enjoying the sunlight, but other times life is more focused on the raindrops.

The last few weeks have been filled with friends facing hardships, in their marriages, relationships, or families.  It’s cliche to say we look for answers during these times, but it’s true.  If we honestly believe God is Love, surely there’s some explanation?  Theologically, we try to explain suffering away by sin.  And yes, if we didn’t have original sin, there wouldn’t be suffering. But that’s a hard answer to give to someone who is suffering from something other than personal sin.  Maybe it’s the right answer, but it doesn’t make sense in our heart.

What about the young devout married couple who are yearning to have a baby but are infertile?  What about when we want something good and holy, but God chooses to take it away or not give it to us?

I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes we should stop coming up with answers.  Sometimes it’s better to just tell ourselves that life doesn’t make sense.  There aren’t answers to everything. I have tried to rationalize pain, to explain suffering, to understand sorrow.  And it just doesn’t make sense.  You can’t explain why your heart feels a certain way.  There aren’t answers.  And yet, in a funny way, I think that’s the first step to finding the answer.

A friend was struggling with something recently — a suffering that didn’t seem just, didn’t seem to make sense — and I realized that God was asking a great deal of this person.

“Why?” I wanted to shout at the tabernacle.  “It doesn’t make sense.  Why is it so HARD?” I don’t hear voices when I pray, but if I do, I’d tell you that I heard:

If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.

And I looked up at the cross and realized my friend wasn’t alone.

Earthen Vessels

I had a humbling and terrifying experience the other day. Someone gave me a great compliment on one of the talks I’ve given. I can’t remember if she actually said my talk changed her life, but it was along those lines.

It was humbling for obvious reasons.  But it was terrifying for less obvious ones.

The talk to which she was referring was a talk I was proud of, in the best sense.  But it wasn’t my talk.  That is, after all, why I can be proud of it.  It wasn’t the talk I thought I was going to write. I was definitely being used by the Holy Spirit.

The topic I had been given was fairly broad, but I had an idea of the direction I would take with it.  A few months before the conference, I started reading and reading.  And the more I read, the more ideas I had about the talk.  And the more helpless I began feeling.  So many possible directions… What was really the purpose of this talk?  I continued reading, still pretty committed to my original thoughts and ideas.

Then one day I was sitting in the chapel before daily Mass.  And the answer was given to me.  Something in a certain paragraph or something I had been praying about, I can’t remember which, jumped out at me.  And I felt like Jesus had handed my talk to me.  Forget what you had orginally thought, what you had wanted, what you thought was best. Go in this direction with it instead.

Now, I still had to craft the talk, of course – it hadn’t been dictated or anything – and so the talk isn’t perfect by any means.  But I remember coming out of the chapel after Mass and wanting to tell the whole world my exciting news. I knew what I was going to talk about!  Granted, this was only a few days before the conference, so everyone probably thought I was a little nuts. (And perhaps I am).  But I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  Now I just needed to write the thing.  And give it.

Fast forward seven months, and here someone was telling me that my talk had impacted their prayer life and healing process.  I am still sort of reeling.  It wasn’t me.  It was the Holy Spirit.  That day in the chapel could have been entirely for her.  That talk might have been entirely for her. He knew that, even if I had no clue.

What if I had said no?

Sure, He is not limited by our weakness or incompetence.  But it’s still rather terrifying.  God, help me to always listen.  To always be open.

Anything I do well… is Him.  Anything I mess up… is all me.

Feverish gratitude (20 years late?)

In honor of the way my 31st year has begun, I give you my thoughts from Monday, written in the middle of the flu.

For a moment you feel okay, and you think maybe you aren’t really as sick as you thought you were. Then the chills come, and you brace yourself for the pain they bring as they run up and down and up your body like Rachmaninoff playing scales.

And you want your mom.

There’s something about a mom that nothing else can replace. My friends are wonderful– picking up my prescription and getting me chicken soup. But a mom…

Right now I’m alone and the remote control is so far away. That wouldn’t have happened twenty years ago. It would be next to me. It’s so hard to lift my head to drink fluids. Twenty years ago, Mom would have somehow produced a straw from the kitchen cabinet.

I don’t know what I would do if I had children. I can barely move, much less take care of another living being. While my friends may lament not being married with kids… Right now I lament not being 11.