Archive for the ‘humility’ Tag

Called to obedience

Last week, when news of the Pope’s resignation broke, I rearranged the day’s lesson so my classes were able to devote an entire period to discussion. We talked about the Pope’s reasons for resigning, how we felt about the Pope’s legacy, and discussed the play-by-play of what would happen in the next few weeks leading up to conclave.  As the bell rang, I asked the students to pay extra-close attention to the news, radio, and newspapers over the next few weeks. “See if you can find any relevant articles to bring to class for discussion,” I suggested.

Well, I found an article of my own to bring in! Frank Bruni’s article in the New York Times on Monday, “The Pope’s Muffled Voice,” was exactly the kind of article that I was hoping to find.  I teach Catholic Morality, and I am constantly looking for displays of moral/amoral/immoral thinking in today’s world.  Topics such as the HHS mandate, abortion, physician assisted suicide are frequent topics of discussion, but I am always on the lookout for more nuanced issues.  And I stumbled upon a jackpot with this article.  You can read the full text of the article here, but I’d like to focus on the final paragraph of the article:

“Does the pope fully appreciate this drift? Every Sunday, he looks from his window onto St. Peter’s Square and sees adoring, rapt masses…But here in America, the Catholics watching closely are fewer and fewer. They’re Christian. They’re caring. They’re moral. But they have minds and wills of their own, and no conclave will change that.”

I cannot wait to see what my students have to say about this quote. You see, the very first chapter of our morality book addresses subjective and objective truth. Subjective truth is, of course, “subject” to each individual.  Objective truth is exactly that—objective. How I feel about an objective truth does not change matters at all. As Catholics, we believe that Catholic morality and Catholic teaching are revealed, not man-made, and these revelations are objective truths. God himself determines what is good or evil—not me.  This is not a popular idea.  The phrase “cafeteria Catholic” describes this phenomenon—one who picks and chooses which pieces of Church teaching one will obey.  Well, as I wrote in a previous article, a Catholic is a Catholic is a Catholic.  We are called to obedience, we are called to foster understanding, we are called to be Church.

There are times when I find it really difficult to agree with the Church’s teachings. But I am humble enough to admit that I am not the moral authority of the universe.  God, through the Holy Spirit, inspires the Divine Revelation and Tradition on which Church teaching is based, and God identifies objective truth. Not me. Yes, I have a mind and a will of my own, but I try each day to conform my will to God’s.  It is difficult. I often fail. Obedience is difficult and involves humility, a virtue that is seemingly on the decline in our postmodern world.  Our problems with obedience—as individuals, as a Church—change nothing about what is objectively good.  We are still called to obey Church teaching.  In the words of Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own), “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

the first day of school

I have always loved the first day of school. Something about the smell of new books, a new set of pens and pencils, binders freshly stuffed with bright white looseleaf paper.  And of course, the thrill of possibility that a new school year brings.  The night before the first day of school has always felt like the night before Christmas! I know, I know…nerd alert.

Tomorrow is my first day of school, but this first day seems different in so many ways. For one, I am alone. This is the first first day of school that I’m ushering in a new year by myself.  Even last year, when I first moved to New Haven, my boyfriend was here on that first day. So this year, I’m alone. And thats ok.

Whats more difficult to wrap my mind around is that this very well could be my “last” first day of school. If I don’t get accepted to a PhD program, this is it for me. Thats all I have to say about that, because I am not beginning this year with a defeatist attitude. Au contraire.

I am walking into this year armed with nothing but passion and the sheer determination to do the best that I can in each of my classes, tests, and applications. This semester is what I have been waiting for: the chance to finally piece together all of my work into hope-filled applications, to be sent off to all corners of the country (and maybe even abroad). I have been chasing this call of mine for years, and here I am, mere months away from some big moments.

I’m going to leave you with this beautiful scripture quote that I found yesterday while prepping for Greek class. I’d never heard this before yesterday, but it is truly something. Enjoy!

“You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.” 2 Peter 1:5-10

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.

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

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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