With a Burning Heart

Every Easter season, I’m struck with the story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus in chapter 24 of Luke. Perhaps it’s because I relate to the two disciples in question, who begin the story with heavy hearts. Unbeknownst to them, they encounter Jesus, because “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).  They tell Jesus of the mysterious events of the crucifixion and their discovery of the empty tomb.  Christ then explains the Scripture to them and reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread. The disciples finally recognize Him and their response to this revelation is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Many times in my life, I’ve gone through dark periods  – the infamous dark valley of Psalm 23. Like the disciples, I enter a mixed period of doubt, hope and wonder when life doesn’t go the way I planned, or I encounter an unexpected setback. During these periods, I wonder at the presence of Christ in my life and question His will. I know that I’m traveling to a new destination, but I feel uncertain, perplexed and sometimes sad and lost. And then, oftentimes without realizing it, I encounter Christ along the way.

In a similar way the disciples could not recognize Jesus, Christ enters my life and moves me in ways that I don’t immediately recognize. I’m blinded by past suffering and errors and afraid to hope for what’s to come. Suddenly, everything falls into place. My eyes are opened and I suddenly see God’s plan for me.  Christ’s presence in my life raises my spirit and gives me new hope. And again and again I recognize the burning in my heart that comes with the truth and love of Christ. Only the Lord can make my heart burn in such a way, as I renew my Baptismal vows every Easter season. The disciples encountered the Lord on the road and God in the dark valley guided the shepherd. In such a way, the Lord has led me through a dark valley and I celebrate his resurrection with my family. He has met me on the road.

The tale of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds me that Christ pulls through in his promises.  He invites me to renew myself with his resurrection.  Sometimes I don’t recognize the way the Lord moves me in my life, but I just have to trust that He will guide me. He challenges me to reacquaint myself with His word and fall back in love with Him.  They say that hindsight is 20/20 and, at least for me, that’s very true. In retrospect, when I consider moments in my life when I felt lost or needed extra guidance, I realize that I became stronger and was on my way to a new beginning. When I doubt the Lord’s presence in my life, I must remember to be extra vigilant to an encounter with Christ along the way.  No matter how long the road – or the dark valley – Christ will lead me to my destination.



December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic Church.  As a child, I was always taught that the Immaculate Conception commemorated the Catholic teaching of Mary’s birth without Original Sin, but I had no idea what that meant. 

            December 8, 2011 fell on my first week of final examinations at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.  It was below freezing outside.  I had zero desire leave my warm dorm room to go to mass that day, and I did not feel like I had time to go.  Besides, faith was not the most important thing in my life then.  My roommate at the time was going, and she encouraged me to go with her.  Despite pressure otherwise, I decided to join her for the 8:00 p.m. service.  I remember sitting in St. John’s that night overwhelmed with responsibilities, surrounded by my new friends, and listening to “Immaculate Mary” playing from the beautiful Steinway grand piano.  Candles were lit, and the church lights were faint.  I had a big decision to make, one that had needed to be made for a long time, but one that I feared making. 

            The gospel spoke to me in a particular way that night.  It is the same gospel reading today as it was that night.  

Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”


            As I sat there that day I realized that living without Original Sin simply meant living without fear and trusting the Lord with whatever He asked…even if it wrecked my perfect game plan.  That night, I made a huge personal decision that changed the course of my life forever.  I felt a profound peace sense of peace.  When I walked outside, I was greeted Nebraska’s first winter snow.  It was officially a new season, a new beginning.  The white Christmas lights reflected off that fresh snow.  Christmas wreathes and red ribbon hugged each lamppost.  The life size manger in the middle of campus looked something out of a Christmas snow globe, and everything took my breath away. 

            I think this what I have come to love and remember most each year about this feast day.  Yield to love.  Yield new beginnings.  Yield to the change in season and in relationships.  Yield to uncertainty.  As the angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid.”  With baptism, we are wiped clean of Original Sin, which provides the possibility of both choosing fearlessly and living fearlessly.  So this season, take some risks.  Make big decisions and changes if they need to happen.  I am grateful everyday that my life has never been the same.

Who is Your Adventure?

“You are my greatest adventure.”

-Mr. Incredible

If you haven’t already read Jacob Machado’s One Step Guide to Going on an Adventure I highly recommend you do so here. His discussion of adventure as an unknown risk and not in accord with comfort or a desire to be in control is wonderful, and will be helpful to keep in mind as I attempt to expand the idea without regurgitating.

Being in the middle of a semester abroad, I am currently living what a vast majority would consider an adventure. I am living in a reformed monastery in the foothills of the Alps, studying philosophy and theology, and spending my weekends traveling all over Europe. I am experiencing different cultures every week, each one incredibly unique. I have spent weekends hiking through snow to frozen waterfalls and incredible views. I have learned how to navigate European train systems, and spent afternoons wandering through thousands of years of history.

What I have noticed, through all of these adventures, however, is that the experiences, in and of themselves, while beautiful, do not satisfy. What has elevated each one from experiences to check off my list to adventures is what I have learned about the people around me (including myself) in and through these experiences.

If you have ever taken the time to get to know someone, and I mean really get to know someone, you have experienced an adventure. Each time you learn something new about them, there is a new thrill. Each time you are vulnerable you take an unknown risk. Getting to know someone better, whether it is yourself or another, is what makes experiences, even the thrilling ones, adventures.

In the midst of a pilgrimage to Rome, I was invited to join a few friends at a dinner with a former Franciscan student living and studying in the city. At first it was just exciting to think about going to a Roman apartment and having homemade Italian food. What was incredible, though, was that after a dinner filled with talk about studies in humanities, she decided to walk us around Rome, showing us her favorite sites. It was exciting to see the city at night, with someone who knows the way. As she talked, incredible turned to indescribable, and I saw the city through her eyes. As she told us how she ended up in Rome, I began to see everything the city was to her, and the whole night came alive. Through getting to know her, wandering the streets of Rome, though they were familiar by this point, became an adventure.

As communal creatures, the fact that learning about others is what makes an adventure means that not only do we desire adventure, we need it. We need to be drawn out of our comfort zone and into the hearts and minds of others. We need to be challenged in our beliefs, our thoughts, and our skills so that they might become stronger. We need to come to know others and ourselves so that we may come to know Christ. And it all starts with the One Step Guide to Going on an Adventure.

I would like to propose, however, before signing off, that we must be careful in this discussion not to undervalue stereotypically adventurous experiences. It was not until traveling that I could see the areas in which my spirit of adventure had started to atrophy. It wasn’t until wandering the streets of Rome on someone else’s timetable that I could see in what areas my need for control was affecting me. It was being the only two awake on an overnight train that encouraged me to be a little more vulnerable with a new friend. It was jumping into a random pick up game of volleyball in an Italian schoolyard that reminded me I need to cultivate my spirit of adventure.

And so, my friends, let us be adventurers, in all senses, keeping adventures themselves and the spirit of adventure each in perspective, so that we might live fully that adventure we are called to, a life lived in Christ.