Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

the great pep talk

The Great Pep Talk

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.  For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” –Matthew 10 : 19-20

Today’s Gospel is a great pep-talk for any apologists out there.

I am a Catholic. I love everything about the Catholic faith–the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the smells and bells of liturgy, Pope Francis. I love my faith and I try to follow Christ in all that I do.

Yet Christ calls us to more than “simply” following Him in our individual lives. In fact every single Catholic is anointed priest, prophet, and king at their Baptism. Part of the indelible mark of Baptism is the prophetic call.

Most of us don’t want to be prophets. Most of the Biblical prophets didn’t want to be prophets! Moses came up with an array of excuses when he was called: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 3:11), then “Suppose they do not believe me or listen to me?” (Ex. 4:1), then, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” (Ex. 4:10), “and then the final straw (my personal favorite), “O my Lord please send someone else!” (Ex. 4:13).

Jonah famously tried to dodge his prophetic call and wound up spending three days in the belly of a giant fish.

Jeremiah, too, had his doubts. He cried out, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The hardest part of the prophetic call is necessarily speaking an unpopular message.  The prophets were virtually never well-received. It is difficult to speak out about something that is counter-cultural or radical. I’ve written about this before—I would much rather blend in and mind my own business than spark a controversy.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t accept our excuses: God calls us to move beyond our fear. God promises to be with us and to give us the words to speak.  In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  This has been God’s message to the prophets from the beginning.  In Jeremiah 1:9, the Hebrew is beautifully expressive—God tells Jeremiah, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” (Admittedly, Jeremiah had the “easy route”—Ezekiel had to eat a scroll! See Ezekiel 3 for that awesome story).

The only choice we have is to move forward, trusting that God will give us the words that we need to continue to joyfully teach and to live Christ’s message of love in the world, as we draw ever closer to the one who knows what it is like to be persecuted.

This post also appears on the Catholic Voices USA Blog

help me believe

A dear friend and mentor from Boston College gave me a beautiful painting as a graduation present a few years ago. The painting is called “The Annunciation” by Henry O. Tanner.

I have had this painting hanging in my room since I began graduate school. I love this painting, and, like many great works of art, it means something different to me all the time. Sometimes I relate easily to its message, other times I don’t know what its message is.

The Annunciation is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.  I love that Mary said yes to God, even though she had absolutely no idea what exactly she was saying yes to. She was young, unmarried, and filled with God’s grace. And she said yes.

I love this painting for many reasons, but lately, I have found this painting very inspirational and comforting. I love the way Mary is looking timidly into this bright light–I love that we can’t see what exactly the light is, or where the light is coming from. Nevertheless, she is looking intently at the light, in such a humble fashion. “Me? Are you looking at me?”

I am currently filled with an indescribable, overwhelming feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. I have no idea what is happening in my life, I have no control over anything, and I am not even sure what I want. I feel a little bit like I am staring into this light, into this unknown space, and asking not only “Are you looking at me?” but “What exactly would you like me to do?” and “Do I have the strength to do this?”

I pray that I can, like Mary, find somewhere the strength to say yes to God’s will in my life, even though I have no idea what that means, or what it looks like. Here’s to trying.

big fat failure

There is this great line from the movie “You’ve Got Mail.”  Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is experiencing one of the greatest setbacks of her professional life, and she is sharing her thoughts with her friend, Bertie.  Bertie exclaims, “Oh, I’m sure you feel like a big fat failure now!”  Really a great moment in the movie.

Yesterday, I had my “big fat failure” moment. I came out of a really terrible meeting, and was ready to just give up. Despite my hard work and efforts to get ahead, it always seems that something pops up that is holding me back. I can’t even express the frustration that accompanied this meeting. I came home, flopped down on my bed, called my Mom, and cried.  Since we are constantly quoting You’ve Got Mail to each other, she knew exactly what I was talking about when I cried “I feel like a big fat failure.” She talked me down from my distraught state and helped me to see the big picture.  I soon felt a little better.

Then, I turned to another coping mechanism: a manicure and pedicure. Few things can pull me out of a funk sometimes, but this is definitely one of them. As I sat in the salon, I kept replaying the meeting over and over in my head. What I realized was this: the reason I felt so awful after that meeting was because my advisor had, point-blank, illuminated every last one of my fears regarding PhD applications.  Literally, one-by-one, he called out any gaps he saw in my work, and pointed out all of my deficiencies.  It felt awful to be so exposed.  So what did I do?  Did I take all of this in stride, and vow to keep working?  Nope.  I got frustrated and upset and went home miserable, contemplating not even applying for programs. 

I’ve noticed that each time I think about giving up, it is accompanied by some sort of trying situation like this.  I never want to give up when I am writing a paper on a topic I’m obsessed with, or when I’ve done well on an exam, or when I’ve received a glowing compliment from a Professor.  No, I decide that its over when I hit a road bump.  I’m working to change this attitude.

So, here’s to facing all my inadequacies and insecurities head-on.  This may not all work out in the end, but I am not going down without a fight.   And lucky for me, I’m not the one in charge of my future. I’ll leave that one up to the big guy.

surprised by love

From what I can remember, one of the first things that I learned about God is that God is love. Countless songs at Mass, little bookmarks from the Catholic bookstore, dinner table conversations…God is love. During my time at BC, this truth became real for me in numerous ways.  Thanks to the Jesuits, I learned to try to find God in all things. So naturally, since God is love, I began looking for God in the  love I found in my life, in my relationships with others.

I have been unbelievably blessed with love in my life. Sometimes I can hardly take it all in. And the best part about all that love is that I am constantly surprised by how much I am loved, and by how deeply I love others. My Mom and I have a little joke about this- when something really great happens, or we have experienced love in a special way, we’ll call each other up and say “Why does God love us so much?!” 

And it is so true. I wonder this all the time. But not only do I wonder why God loves me so much, sometimes I look around and wonder why the people in my life love me so much. I mean, I really suck sometimes. Why do my friends love me so much, when I constantly dodge their phone calls in an attempt to get work done? Why does my boyfriend love me so much, when I get irritated and snappy on the phone when I’m stressed out?  Why do my brothers love me so much, when I am so far away and we barely see each other? Why do my parents love me so much, when I move halfway across the country to study and can’t be at home? These are just a few obvious, fairly lighthearted examples.  But the truth is, I am so very often surprised by the love of others.

And sometimes I do some crazy things for love, and I look around and laugh at myself. Many a time I have jumped on I-95 north to drive up to see my boyfriend and his family, just because I miss him so much, even though I should definitely be studying.  Flying home for short weekends to be with my family, staying up late talking to my brother, putting down my Hebrew Bible to pick up the phone to call a friend. I hope sometimes I surprise others by my love for them!

I think that is what this whole “God is love” thing is about. God loves us through anything and everything we have ever done. Sometimes, we are happily surprised by love–God’s love for us, as manifested through the actions of others. The love that a friend shows when she jumps on a midnight train to come visit, even though its only for a day. The kind of love a father shows when he works night and day for his family, and puts everyone in his family before himself.  And when we are blessed to experience such love, we have to share it.  We, too, are called to surprise others by our love.

Sometimes I think I just don’t deserve to be surprised by love.  But that is the beauty of grace.

Suscipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

I am confident of this

A few days ago  in Greek class, we translated a bit of Paul and Timothy’s letter to the Philippians (Sidenote: Little known fact, Timothy co-authored many of the “Pauline” epistles with Paul. But no one talks about Timothy! For ease of writing, I will refer to Paul as the author of the letter, but know that Timothy deserves just as much credit.)

Now, Paul seems to have a great relationship with the Philippians in particular, especially when compared with some of his other letters to other communities (See Galations 3:1, for example).  This is a great letter in general, but one verse really stood out to me today (Phil. 1:6). 

Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

I just love this verse. Paul must have known that the Philippians were going through some tough times as one of the first Christian communities, and felt compelled to write and to encourage them. In fact, Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, judging by the content and context of the letter itself. So even as Paul was suffering himself, in prison, he was writing letters encouraging others.

This verse got me thinking that one of the greatest things we can do for each other, whether as Christians, Catholics, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, or even complete strangers–is to encourage one another. We all need someone to have confidence in us, even when (especially when) we don’t have confidence in ourselves.

As this Greek class draws to an end on Tuesday, I’ve been reflecting on the people who have gotten me through the past few weeks, by their little “letters” of encouragement. Votes of confidence, little reminders that I am loved, right when I feel like I am about to give up. I feel blessed beyond all measure as I think about the times over the past few weeks when I’ve heard and seen through the actions of others, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”

To conclude, another classic quote from Paul, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

-1 Thessalonians 5:11

I am

One of my favorite church-related childhood memories happened when I was seven or eight years old.  One of the priests at the Base Chapel, Fr. Dave, was notorious for long, usually dry homilies.  One day, though, out of the blue, in the middle of his homily, Fr. Dave was trying to explain how we should have a close relationship with God, that God should not be some far-away being that we talk to once in awhile–God should be our best friend.  Suddenly, he smacked the pulpit and shouted “ABBA! FATHER! DADDY!”  We were all so shocked by this sudden outburst of emotion. My family still laughs at this moment from time to time.

My feminist theologian friends would beat me up for saying this, but I’ve never really minded the image of God as “Father.”  I’ve been blessed with a great father, who has always been a great example of love and security.  And tonight, as I was driving my ever-familiar route down I-95, an underplayed song came on my ipod–the song is called “I am” by Nichole Nordeman, and if you’ve never heard it, look it up on youtube and try to find the lyrics.  Its a beautiful song, and in it, Nichole Nordeman reflects on the different roles God has played throughout her life. 

In the first verse of the song, she sings of her childhood and how God saw her trying to ride her bicycle, and saw when she fell down.  And that as a little girl, she called out to God, “Elbow-healer, Superhero…Come if you can.” and God replied “I am.”

This little part of the song really does it no justice, but it really got me thinking.  In Exodus 3:13-14, Moses asks God “When I go to the Israelites and I say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me ‘What is his name?’ what should I tell them?”  And God replies “I am who am.”  Or at least, that is how most translations render verse 14.  This has always bothered me, because it makes no sense to me.  What does it mean??  In the Hebrew, though, it really works–there is deliberate ambiguity.  The same verb form, in the imperfect tense, is repeated, with a relative preposition smack in the middle. The preposition could mean “who, what, where, that, etc.”  God could be saying to Moses “I will be who I will be” or “I will be what I will be” or “I am who I am”–there is really no great way to make this work in English.

I like to think that its written this way in scripture because we need God to be anything and everything–when we’re six years old, we need God to be the “elbow-healer” or “super-hero,” when we are sad or lonely we need God to be the comforter.  When we don’t believe, we need God to be the father in the prodigal son story, ready to welcome us home at a moment’s notice.   

What is your favorite image of God?

what are you afraid of?

A few months ago, my Mom came up for a visit. It had been a rough few months and I was so grateful for her loving presence. On Sunday morning, we went to Mass at a nearby church and afterwards, decided to browse their bookstore (sidenote: there are few things in life that my Mom loves more than a good Catholic bookstore!)

She stumbled upon this book called “God, I have Issues” by a Jesuit, Mark. E. Thibodeaux.  She LOVED the title and we laughed hysterically at its truthfulness. Who among us doesn’t have “issues” after all? This book has little entries to help you pray through any mood, and it is a fantastic resource, I highly recommend it! 

To say that I had an important meeting today would be an understatement. Arguably one of the most important meetings of my academic career loomed before me this afternoon, with merely 20 minutes to spare. So I grabbed this book and read the entry called “God, I’m Afraid” which seemed most fitting in this moment.

This entry focused on allowing prayer to let you get to the root of your fear. I was definitely not in a praying mood–after all, I was panicking and pacing back and forth through my apartment. In typical Ignatian style, Fr. Mark asks “What are you afraid of?” Once you’ve answered that, he asks again. and again. Until finally, maybe you get to the real root of your fear.

Today when I did this exercise, I got to the bottom of my fear: failure. I am afraid of failure. So much of my future is out of my control, and this frightens me.  But I felt so much better just naming the fear. So I gave it up to God, asked for God to sit in that meeting with me, and went to my meeting.

And you know what? It turned out to be one of the greatest meetings in recent memory, and I now have the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me.  To sum it up, “Mama always said that miracles happen every day. Some people don’t think so, but they do!” (Forrest Gump)

So I ask you, what are you afraid of?

Triduum, or why I love being Catholic

As long as I can remember, the Holy Thursday liturgy has been one of my favorite Masses all year. I love the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist, I love the deeply rooted connection to the Passover tradition…I could go on and on.

One part I’ve never really been into is the whole washing of the feet thing. I find it so awkward and I’ve never really understood it. Tonight, a seemingly unrelated event shed some light on this ritual…

I have a massive Akkadian test tomorrow, so I had big plans for tonight: arrive at the Catholic center two hours early, coffee in hand, flashcards at the ready, with two glorious hours of intense studying before me. I had the coffee and flashcards, what I did not have was access to the library in the Catholic center. Because of Holy Week, the center was closed, except for prayer.  My heart sank when I saw this notice on the door. Where the heck am I supposed to go now, I’m thinking to myself.  I shared my plight with the security guard on duty, and she agreed to let me spend some time in the lobby studying, as long as I “looked” like I was praying.

Considering how much praying actually goes on while I’m studying Akkadian (aka Sweet Jesus, please help me remember this paradigm tomorrow when my mind goes blank…) I figured this wouldn’t be too hard.

But alas, God had other plans. A few minutes later, the woman came up to me and said “Excuse me, but just so I am not actually lying, would you mind stepping into the meditation room for a few minutes to pray?” Wow, God, I’m thinking, you really are outdoing yourself right now. After all, wasn’t I here to go to Mass in the first place? Of course I said yes, and I spent some peaceful moments reflecting on the hilarity of the situation, alone in the meditation room.

A few moments after I returned to the lobby, as I finally picked up my Akkadian book to begin studying, the woman began walking toward me again. I figured she was going to kick me out, or ask me to pray again or something.  Instead, she brought over a glass of ice water and said, “I thought you could use this!”  Me=speechless.

What an incredibly simple act of generosity. I felt so grateful and so utterly humbled in that moment. Saying thank you didn’t seem like enough, because this woman had gone completely out of her way not only to allow me the kindness of entering the building, but by showing me such hospitality and warmth.

Perhaps, then, this is a little like how the disciples felt when Jesus washed their feet. Humbled. So greatly humbled that for just a minute, everything is in perspective and becomes a little clearer. And maybe, just maybe, they were filled with deep gratitude for this simple act of kindness, performed by this friend they loved so much.

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

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