love

Revolutionaries of Agape

            Today, the word "love" has become synonymous with "like." For example, we say we love pizza, or we loved the last episode of Stranger Things. Yet, we also say that we love our family, or our significant other. But, surely, we do not feel the same way toward food or images on a TV as we do toward a living human being who we care about and who cares about us.

“Like” comes from the Old English word for “to please, be pleasing, be sufficient.” The meaning of “love” is a bit more ambiguous because its origins are varied. The word itself comes from Old English, meaning, “to feel love for, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve.” The complex part comes when you trace the word “love” back to the Latin “caritatem” and the Greek “agape,” meaning “brotherly love, charity,” or “the love of God for man and man for God.” When the Gospels were translated from Greek to Latin, “caritatem” became the replacement for “agape.” Then, when the Bible was translated into English, “caritatem” was translated to either “charity” or “love.” For the most part, we now limit the definition of “love” to the self-pleasing emotion, and disregard the connotation of charitable affection because the emotional type is more instantly gratifying to us. And, if you know a little psychology, you may understand how when something is pleasing, we tend to form a habit of it. Unfortunately, this limited understanding of love has permeated throughout society.

            The linguistic ambiguity of "love" does not only affect how we speak; it also influences how we understand what love really is. St. Thomas Aquinas described love as, “to will the good of the other." You can also see the true definition of love when Christ says, "no one has greater love [agape] than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:13). It is in giving that we truly love. Ironically, by emptying ourselves, we become devoid of our selfish, mundane desires, and are able to be filled with others, their thoughts, desires, and feelings. We were made for this union with others, not for isolated self-seeking.

            However, our society and our language tell us that love is all about me. Love has been reduced to self-pleasure, instead of an encounter with another. Since the sexual revolution in the 50s and 60s, we have seen a regression from chaste, wholesome relationships to a hurting culture that settles for short, improperly-ordered hook ups. We take the pleasures and emotions of a relationship to be the meaning of love. We try to hold on to the euphoric feelings that come with companionship and romance. But, when times are tough in a relationship, we often want to give up and move on. However, St. Paul clearly lays out that,

“love [agape] is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love [agape] never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

His words reveal that love is totally other-centered. He does not define love as being pleasurable. He does not say that love becomes easily-irritated or that it quits. Rather, he characterizes this greatest of all virtues as not seeking its own interests, not being quick-tempered, and never failing. Of course, we are human and struggle with living out this noble ideal. But, it should be our aim; we should not settle for a lesser love. For, Christ tells us, “be [perfected], just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Also, Pope Francis beckons us “to be revolutionaries, . . . to swim against the tide; . . . to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.” We must be revolutionaries of this true love - revolutionaries of agape.

            A harsh example of how much our society has tainted our perception of love is the anti-life culture. Society has gone so far as to warp our perception of what constitutes an “other,” so that we cannot even identify who we should love. We have turned so much inward toward ourselves, that we have taken defining personhood into our own hands. A person is only valuable as long as they suit our desires, or as long as they do not make us feel uncomfortable. When a new life us “unintentionally” formed, it is acceptable to kill it because otherwise it will mess up the plans we have for our life, or we assume that the baby will not live a valuable life under non-ideal circumstances. If a person on life-support is costing a hospital too much money, it is okay to let them prematurely die, under the euphemistic guise of organ donation, so that the hospital can have an empty bed and so that they can receive compensation for the organs. If someone is struggling with a terminal illness, doctors are encouraged to assist their patient in suicide, instead of entering into their patient’s hurt, and helping them find palliative care and support to deal with their illness. These horrific cultural norms are canaries in a coal mine, revealing the destructive path down which we have moved, straying from true meaning and fulfillment. We have given so much power to our passions that our will and intellect have atrophied. Our desire for pleasure drowns out our ability to stop and ponder the consequences and alternatives of our narcissistic actions.

            Now, I don't mean to be all gloom and doom. Rather, I belabored this topic because it can be so easy to become blinded by the many deceitful societal lies that vie for our attention and distract us from who we were really made to be. But, St. Paul tells us, “do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Thankfully, Christ offers another alternative to our misguided path. He tells us, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). We love ourselves so much that this great commandment highlights how much Christ wants us to love others. He says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Christ exemplified his own words throughout the Gospels. In his meetings with the sick, the shunned, and the sinful, he entered into their life, their pain; he encountered them where they were, no matter how unpleasant it was, or how much it injured his reputation. He lived this way so fiercely that he became “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

A majority of us will not have to suffer the unfathomable amount of pain that Christ suffered on the cross. But, we can participate in his suffering, uniting our daily mortifications to his cross. We can seek out others, those nearby us, in our families, at work, at school, and in our community. Those Christ has placed in our lives are images of Him whom we should serve and love charitably. “These least brothers” can be a friend who lost a family member, a coworker dealing with depression, or a sibling who has a debilitating disease. Walking beside them in their time of struggle is being Christ to them. Also, strangers are others who we can serve; think if the parable of the Good Samaritan. Smiling at the people you pass by, thanking the service men and women that you meet, and encountering and talking with the homeless, instead of just passing them by or throwing them some change, are all ways to serve the least among us. If we see the other as they truly are, and not as the stereotype with which society has labeled them, we can move closer to encountering people as Christ does. By focusing our relationships less on our selfish desires and expectations, and more on knowing and experiencing the other, the more we are drawn out of ourselves to live the revolution of agape. When we make our relationships, and our lives, centered more on the other, we become more Christlike; and, we can repeat with John the Baptist, “he must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Encounter

While in graduate school, I worked as a doula for teenage girls at a local pregnancy center. Most, but not all, of these women were first time moms, without a supportive father in the picture—and very often without a supportive family member of any kind. They could come to the agency for parenting classes, health info as well as baby clothes, car seats, etc. My role was to accompany them at the hospital during delivery, to encourage them, and to make sure that they had a voice in their delivery and their stay at the hospital as they welcomed their babies.

This role is by far among the most influential experiences of my adult life, as I was invited into the most intimate and vulnerable moments of a family’s’ early beginning. Culturally-speaking, unless a woman has a sister, there is seldom an opportunity to be invited into this place of welcoming a new child with an expectant mother, as is custom in so much of the world. Comparatively, birth in the U.S. has become an isolated experience—especially for single mothers who are choosing to give life.

//

I remember the first day I showed up for a meeting with the other doulas at the local pregnancy center. I was excited, nervous and proud to be there after all of my training. The woman at the front desk handed me a clipboard for check in. I grabbed it and began reading through the paperwork.

[Based on the nature of the questions, it was obvious that she thought I was a teen mom.]

Self-conscious about looking young for my role, combined with the indignation of being assumed a pregnant(!), teen, I quickly corrected her and took my “rightful” seat at the table for my meeting.

I have re-visited this encounter often, and with regret.

Of course I could have been mistaken for a teen mom—after all, they were the clients served by this agency. The fact that the receptionist didn’t know me from any other woman at the clinic meant that I was new, not judged. And yet, that was my unfortunate takeaway at the time.

Given a healthy amount of hindsight, I have realized a few things. More than welcoming sweet babies into the world and having a small role in the vulnerable, lonely work of these brave women who choose to deliver their babies in difficult circumstances, I owe these women a debt of gratitude for their genuine (and perhaps even, unintended) education.  Allowing themselves to be accompanied by a stranger as they crossed the threshold of familiarity and childhood into and unknown and frightening world of young adulthood as a single mom showed me just how much I had to learn about radical self-sacrifice, love and trust. Sure I was the birth coach they’d been assigned, but these women were without question, my teachers.

//

Doesn’t this exchange get to the heart of today’s Gospel reading from Luke? Jesus is instructing the Pharisees to get mixed up in a diverse crowd—the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind—‘those who can never repay you.’ This is the exact message Pope Francis has been echoing since 2014 when he first spoke of a Culture of Encounter.

We must strive and ask for the grace to create a culture of encounter,

of a fruitful encounter,

of an encounter that restores to each person his or her own dignity as a child of God,

 the dignity of the living person.

— Pope Francis

I am slowly learning.

//

How often do these scenarios Jesus is describing come up for us? You know the ones where we are hosting a dinner party and inviting all kinds of folks we don’t know and might never see again. They’re infrequent. It does remind me of those magnanimous folks who start planning at this time of year, to host the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for out-of-towners, for college students, foreign exchange students, etc. These are the people with the uncanny knack for gathering folks because it is simply time to gather and we are made for communion with one another.

The daily readings are hinting at the waning of ordinary time, the season of anticipation and preparing to welcome those we might not be expecting. How are you hearing the invitation to see stranger as guest?

Am I seeking a place to gather and be known?

Am I being invited to consider a role as such a host?

What might I be surprised to learn I have in common with those I have separated myself from?

With whom am I already in relationship that is bearing fruits of unexpected grace?

Gaze: The Importance of Orienting Ourselves Toward Jesus

            I’ve heard it said, “Eyes are a window to the soul.” Nobody really knows who said it.  Some believe Shakespeare said it, but others claim biblical origins.  Regardless of the quote’s origin, most of us can attest to its meaning.  When we look at someone, especially for prolonged periods of time, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  In fact, a 1989 study was published in The Journal of Research in Personality called, “Looking and Loving:  The Effects of Mutual Gaze on Feelings of Romantic Love” found that “subjects induced to exchange mutual unbroken gaze for 2 minutes with a stranger of the opposite sex reported increased feelings of passionate love for each other.”  What does this mean for us?  It means that who we look at sparks passions, and love.  This might mean, that though sometimes the developments of feelings may have something to do with “love at first sight” more often than not it has to do with time spent in the presence of another person. 

            The gazes lovers share are not always passionate.  And those passionate moments are not the only times that love grows.  Sometimes, love grows in just an absent-minded stare over a bowl of cereal on Saturday morning or a glance upward while brushing your teeth.  Sometimes it’s just a subconscious awareness that another person is in the room with you while you check your e-mail, watch the news, or cook dinner.  In times like these, you may not even need words.  You just might glance over at that person, know that he or she is there, and relax into that presence.  If that person falls asleep, you might walk more quietly so as not to wake him/her.  The bottom line is that over time, we subconsciously change the direction of our lives, when we are in the presence of others, especially if that person is someone we love.  Try as we might, the more we look at someone, the harder it is to walk in a different direction than he/she does.

            The truth is that if we really love someone, and allow ourselves to be truly present to him/her regularly, it is difficult to really stray from that loving relationship.  It is one of the reasons why long distance relationships can be so difficult.  We crave that contact.  We crave just knowing that another person is in the room with us.

            What does this mean for my relationship with the Lord?  It means that looking at the Lord is vital to having any kind of a relationship with Him.  As Catholics, we can gaze upon the face of the Lord anytime we want in the Holy Eucharist.  If we just show up, for even a brief moment, we can gaze at the Lord, while He looks back at us (the way lovers do), to invoke passion. There may be times during this stare when we leave totally on fire with love for God.  Those days are like the clarity of a first kiss that causes your stomach to fill with butterflies.  It’s really easy to want to be in the presence of God when this happens.  It may happen for you.  It may not.  More often than not though, gazing at the Lord may feel more like doing required laundry with someone you love than dancing with your husband for the first time on your wedding day.  Luckily, the Lord does not need butterflies and lightening bolts to change your life and your heart, even though he may use them sometimes. Choosing to be in the Lord’s presence regularly makes it difficult to stray too far from His loving embrace even if you don’t feel or can’t understand it.  Just like it’s impossible to walk in a straight line for very long with your head turned to the right, it’s hard to walk away from the Lord if you regularly look at Him.  You might take some detours, but you can’t get too far off track if you just look at Him.  The gaze is powerful.  His gaze can change every sinner to a saint, sometimes actively, sometimes passively.  Somebody, somewhere once said that the “eyes are the windows to the soul.” What would happen, if you just looked at the Lord?

What Kind of a Catholic are You?

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I notice that many attendees and Catholics become preoccupied with this question, “What kind of Catholic are you?  Where do you go to mass?”  Sometimes, we ask these question to understand what kind of spirituality another person might have.  Other times we might wonder what kind of liturgy he/she prefers traditional/charismatic/somewhere in between.  However, more often than not, I have noticed that this question takes on different meaning depending upon who is asking the question.  On the “right” side of the aisle, believers usually ask each other if we believe in Catholic teaching regarding contraception/marriage/homosexuality.  On the “left” side of the aisle, believers might ask each other about their beliefs regarding illegal immigration/care for the poor/racism.  Sometimes, I feel like we use this question to gauge our ability to befriend or to date others (disclaimer…CBC is not a dating service!!!). 

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I cannot help but struggle with these questions.  Why do we ask them?  Why are we so preoccupied with sorting each other into these two groups?  How can we better accept each other, create genuine friendships, will the best for each other, and accomplish all of this without judging each other for what we struggle with personally?  Sometimes, I feel like I cannot do all of this.  I feel like I cannot appease both crowds, and at different times in my life I struggle with both sides of the aisle. 

            What type of Catholic am I?  When I am asked this question, I balk, squirm, and try to avoid it.  My Jesuit education taught me to prioritize caring for the poor and vulnerable.  However, there are times when I am not as compassionate to the poor as I should be.  These days might include driving past that homeless person holding a sign on the free way, spending money on frivolous things, or choosing to sleep in on the weekend instead of volunteering in my community.  On those days, I feel like a “lazy Catholic,” “in a hurry Catholic,” or sometimes even a “selfish Catholic.”  Sometimes, my prayer life goes well, but often times I forget to pray.  I become a “forgetful Catholic” or an “ungrateful Catholic.”  Sometimes, I believe I am doing really well, and I am a “prideful” Catholic, at which point I bring more harm than good to the world.  However, lately I have learned much about the right relationships with others/theology of the body, but there are times when I struggle to perfect these ideals and nights when fighting for them leaves me full of anxiety more than anything else.  I am a “sinful Catholic” who has made mistakes.  Some days I am a “faithful Catholic” ready to fight the good fight.  Other days, I am a “doubting Catholic,” who struggles to see God’s love in a world full of sadness and cannot see the wisdom behind the Church’s teachings.  In these days of doubt, I am a “trying to understand Catholic.”  I am a “dependent upon the Mercy of God Catholic,” who knows that all these struggles are watched and tended to by a God who loves her profoundly.

            I have to believe, though we may feel differently and struggle with issues throughout our lives, that we can all relate to the adjectives above.  Sometimes we are all, “lazy, in a hurry, selfish, sinful, faithful, forgetful, ungrateful, prideful, and doubting.”  All the while, we are all “trying to understand and dependent upon the Mercy of a loving God.”  We all have our battles.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have all doubted, struggled, and fallen into the arms of a God who will always welcome us home.  So, I think it is important that as CBC, we welcome each other.  Though our beliefs are important and sharing them is worthwhile, it is most important that we open our arms and hold each other in our lives, in whatever state we may be at that moment.  When all is said and done, we are all profoundly loved.  We are loved by the Lord, who gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  This profound love, more than anything else, is what makes us Catholic.  So, the next time you are asked, “What kind of Catholic are you?”…I hope that you respond, “I am the kind who is LOVED.”

The Shape of Love

One 15 mm anterior lesion.  One 16 mm mass anterior lesion.  One cyst that measures 27 mm on the anterior aspect of the ankle.  Chronic stress injuries to the peroneous longus tendon and peroneous brevis tendon.  Absorbable tack to repair ligaments visible.  Edema at the tendon inserts.  Bone spur.  These were just a few of the readings available on my most recent MRI report.  As a PA student, I read MRI reports from radiologists all the time.  It’s different when I read my own.  Two surgeries in three years, and my right foot still looks like a shark chewed it to pieces.  My stomach ties itself into knots at the thought of a third surgery.    

            Even though the both prospect of another surgery and the battered appearance of my foot ties my stomach is in knots, I cannot help but smile because I don’t regret anything I have ever done to earn my scarred and injured foot.  I’ve tripped over hurdles and crossed state championship finish lines.  I have laughed running in Flagstaff and Lake Tahoe.  I have climbed cliffs in the dead of night to sleep beneath the stars in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I have run through the sand barrios of Peru at dawn trying to solve issues involving social justice.  I have run along the beaches of Costa Rica and California.  I have climbed Mt. Humphrey, hiked parts of the Grand Canyon, run hundreds of miles over the pedestrian bridge that connects Iowa and Nebraska with so many friends.  I have run through Steamboat Springs, along the beaches of Lake Michigan, and across the streets of Texas and Oklahoma.  I have run to the top of South Mountain and walked miles through the Basque country of Spain along the Camino de San Igancio.

            I have worn more high heels than is good for me.  I have danced the night away at sorority formals, country bars, and at weddings with friends and family alike.  I have been lifted, flipped, and swung.  My feet have carried the weight of my passions day in and day out.  They are forever changed from the physical pressures and joys they’ve experienced.  They’re covered with callouses, burned and spotted from sunshine, covered in scars, with masses, bone spurs, and chronic stress injuries.  However, they are mine.  My passions and adventures have changed my feet.  I can't wait to see how they will change as time continues.  I would not trade a single step, spin, or high-heeled date for anything.  That’s the truth about passions.  They shape and change us, physically, and emotionally.  That’s the truth about love.  It will shape and change us, and if it’s real we will never be the same.

La La Land

***spoiler alert

            My sister walked out Damien Chazelle’s movie, “La La Land” in tears.  There were moments during the film when I could barely maintain composure as well.  Why was the movie so compelling? 

            The movie begins with two individuals pursuing their respective dreams.  Mia dreams about becoming a famous actress.  Sebastian dreams about rescuing jazz and opening up his own jazz bar.  Sebastian and Mia’s passion for their dreams creates a magnetic attraction between the two individuals.  They push each other to pursue their dreams, dance under the stars, and fall in love beneath sunsets.

            Sebastian and Mia’s relationship struggles as Sebastian’s band starts a world tour, traveling for weeks at a time.  These struggles culminate on the night of Mia’s one-woman show show, when Sebastian skips her show for a photo shoot.  Only 4-5 other people show up to watch; Mia feels like a failure; and the couple dramatically breaks up. 

            A movie director later contacts Sebastian hoping to hire Mia after seeing her show.  Sebastian drives across the state to find Mia and encourages her to finish the audition.  She gets the role, and once again they are faced with a difficult decision.  Will they sacrifice for each other?  Will he leave the band behind and follow her to Paris?  Will she let the position go?  Neither party is willing to compromise on their dreams, so they part sadly saying, “I’m always gonna love you.”

            The movie ends showing Mia married to a handsome man with a beautiful baby, accidentally walking into Sebastian’s bar on date night.  Sebastian notices her in the crowd and begins to play their theme song.  Scenes from the life they could have had together play across the screen.  This is where I began to tear up, not as profoundly as my sister, but where my emotions did get the best of me.  Why didn’t Sebastian follow her?  She was going to be successful enough to fund his musical endeavors.  Why wouldn’t she go on tour with him?  His fame could have brought her the attention she needed to be a successful actress.  Why didn’t they prioritize each other? 

            This movie evokes many questions and does not provide concrete answers.  What is love?  Is it La La Land?  Dancing in the stars?  Is passion enough?  Did Sebastian and Mia even really love each other?  Maybe they did.  If love is really, “willing the good of the other,” then they both did push each other to be successful and to fulfill their dreams.  Maybe sometimes, loving someone means letting him or her go.  BUT maybe they didn’t.  If love is “self-sacrificial and laying down your life for the person you love,” then neither was willing to sacrifice.  Did they ultimately love music, acting, or themselves more than they loved each other? Can this type of pride have any place within the context of loving relationships?  Is love showing up, no matter what?  I am no philosopher.  I cannot answer those questions, but I do argue that this movie allows us to “feel” some answers and consequences.  It allows us to feel the sting of unrequited love and decide who and what we are willing to sacrifice for in our own lives. 

            Furthermore, it also shows us the mercy of time and grace in this life.  Even though Mia and Sebastian decided that loving each other meant letting go, God gave Mia another man to love, who was willing to sacrifice for her.  He gave her someone who did show up for her when she needed him.  The sting of unrequited love did not ultimately steal her ability to love forever.  It begs the question, were Sebastian and Mia really soul mates?  Or is Mia’s soul mate the man she married?  Is there truly one person we could be destined to spend the rest of our lives with?  And is it really possible to mess that up irreparably?  Knowing the Lord’s mercy, I doubt it.  How could I really destroy God’s plan for myself?  I am just not that powerful.  Perhaps God in his mercy provides many opportunities for love.  Perhaps, we meet our respective soul mates by putting aside our pride and choosing to love despite the personal cost.  Just maybe, at that perfect intersection of our heart’s openness and the mercy of opportunity we choose love.

           If you have not seen the movie, I highly suggest that you see it.  Art is meant to evoke emotions and questions, not provide answers.  This movie is art.  I’ll leave you with the epilogue, full emotions and questions, but void of answers.  Perhaps, you may may feel something as you listen.     

On Receiving Love

        There's nothing more awkward than a "backpack hug good-bye."  Backpack hugs good-bye happen at airports and other places, when for whatever reason, we don't have time to set down whatever we have in our hands.  The physical dynamics never quite work from any direction.  The hugs are lame at best.  As a single woman, I carry lots of luggage (thus increasing opportunities for awkward backpack hugs).  On a daily basis, I carry a backpack full of books, a medical bag full of equipment, a yoga matt, gym shoes, a mug of coffee, a water bottle, and a lunch box.  I look like I'm going camping for a week just walking into clinic.  When I travel, I fit everything in a carry-on duffle and backpack.  I pack responsibly, never carrying more than I can alone.
        Carrying my own bags, full of the things I need for adventures, makes me feel strong and ready to take on the world.  It's a symbol...dehydration...I've got water for that.  Late night...I'm armed with espresso.  15 minutes without a patient...I'm prepared with material to study for my boards.  Mass murderer on the loose?  I can outrun them with my gym shoes.  As Americans, we sometimes pride ourselves in how much we can carry (physically and emotionally) and how strong we are, but stubbornly carrying heavy loads out of fear does not prepare us to receive love from other people.
        For example, on the last night of one of my adventures, I stood at the base of a steep stair case, holding my duffle bag and backpack.  A friend tapped my shoulder and offered to help me carry my luggage up that last flight of stairs to my room.  I looked at him quietly and said sadly, "I have to carry everything on my own starting tomorrow.  I might as well start now."
        Why wouldn't I allow him to help me?  It could be argued that my refusal stemmed from pride, but more honestly, it came from fear that help might cause me to carry more than I could handle alone later...from fear that allowing someone to help me carry my load would make me weaker...from fear that if someone knew what I was carrying in my heart they might run away or drop it...because I need so much more than just someone to carry my stuff around for me.  It's as if because kind gestures will not perfectly, infinitely, and adequately to fix my situation, I refuse any form of help.  It isn't logical.  I desire infinite help and relief (everyone does), but this type of love only comes from God.
        I wish I could say this refusal was a one time occurrence, but the truth is, I'm not very good at receiving small acts kindness from other people in general.  I've walked home from the ER after a severe allergic reaction instead of calling my roommate to pick me up, wrestled crockpots full of chicken that were too heavy up flights of stairs, taken cabs late at night home from airports instead of asking for rides, and wobbled across the street with crutches to class the day after major orthopedic surgery.  I'm good at giving time and energy to other people, but I am not good at receiving kindness.  Christ teaches not just to give love to other people, but also to receive love as it is, in all its imperfections.  Even during His crucifixion, Christ allowed Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross and Veronica to wipe his face.  He did this even though he knew their help would not change the weight of his cross or prevent his death.  Allowing Simon and Veronica to help him provided no lasting solution to his situation, but it did change his journey.  It made Him more human and bettered the lives of those who carried his cross with him.
        A few weeks ago, I went back to Creighton for a wedding.  I planned to sleep on the floor that night, but when I arrived, Megan insisted on giving up her bed for me.  I resisted several times.  Calmly, she placed her hands on my shoulders and said, "Christian, let me love you in this way.  Go to sleep."  We all have our "backpacks."  They're heavy, and they make it hard to let other people love us physically and emotionally.  So sometimes, I think we are called to set them down so we can hug that person good-bye the way we mean to, so that others can temporarily help us carry our load.  Sometimes as Megan said, we must let ourselves be loved.  Setting down our "backpacks" may not lighten our loads or required sacrifices, but it will change our journey.  It will allow us to become more human while bettering the lives of those around us, and that is worth everything.
 

At the Heart of Assisted Suicide

    Colorado will vote on Proposition 106 in November. Prop 106 is modeled after the Oregon law that began permitting assisted suicide in the 90s. Colorado Public Radio reported that the Archdiocese of Denver put forward $1,000,000.00 to defeat Prop 106. Though I don’t relish the task of voting on it or writing about it, it ought to be defeated.

    The principal opposition bases its message on flaws in the text itself, hanging its hat on practical arguments against the law. Such flaws being highlighted include a lack of required mental health exams for those wishing to take their lives, the risk of doctors making mistakes about whether patients are terminally ill and may thus take their own lives, and the risk that patients will make a mistake when administering the life-ending “medication” to themselves.

    These are real flaws leading to real concerns. I understand that polling was conducted and found that concerns such as the above resonate with voters. As a result, the primary public message of the opposition including, to my understanding and experience, that opposition being put forward by the Archdiocese, is that the text is flawed.

    This is a mistake. Support for assisted suicide comes from a moral position toward suffering, life, and freedom. Only a moral position toward the same can counter it.

    The heart of this law is a judgment that some lives are not worth living, much less protecting or elevating. This law presumes that someone of sound mind could choose freely to pursue suicide despite our natural tendency toward survival. This law implicitly accepts that it is better for some human burdens on society or families to be eliminated than loved. Above all, the law spurns, or at least distorts, love that bears all things, hopes all things.

    The truth that can resonate with voters is one that cuts through the practical bologna and asks them to affirm the goodness of something, the goodness of life. Without that affirmation, the practical arguments aren’t terribly important. Without value for my life, I don’t care about various practical arguments in support of it, such as those telling me to exercise or avoid carbs. The heart must be spoken to.

    Flawed text arguments also set up a problem when the flaws are resolved. If Prop 106 is defeated, you can bet something similar will be on the ballot again. And if it was defeated because of poor drafting, you can also bet that the drafting errors will be corrected. What will we say then, after all of our stated concerns are answered and more “safeguards” are included?

    I do not oppose Prop 106 because of poor drafting. I oppose Prop106 because I value my suffering neighbor’s life, because I love my neighbor. This is enough. This truth is enough. If it’s not enough, then this truth is the starting point and practical this and that can serve an ancillary role. An appeal to love, which requires more than our words, isn’t as easy as a pragmatic approach, so it probably doesn’t poll well. But it is more effective when dealing with humans.

    When my friends and colleagues ask me about Prop 106, I will start with love.

 

Love: The True Purpose of Community

Four years and two months ago I moved to Kansas City  from St. Paul, MN. In St. Paul I had the best friends I could have ever imagined. It was really hard to move away knowing that I wasn’t going to be easily and instantly surrounded by “my people” - people that knew me and really got me. And, worst of all, if you’re like me and have a propensity to tell really lame jokes, a new environment comes with many uncertainties. In St. Paul I had relationships that mattered to me: relationships where I could simultaneously just be myself and work on the more selfish and stubborn parts of myself. When I got to Kansas City, I didn’t know exactly what to expect and I spent the first few months just going to work and not really getting to know anyone else. After that, my life changed again when I started meeting in a small group with some guys and started getting really close to some of them. Now, once again, there were people who knew me, accepted me, but also challenged me to improve and wanted me to be the person I was created to be.

I bonded with these guys and eventually some really great girl friends and I started to experience the kind of community I left in St. Paul. Both the St. Paul community and the community in KC changed me and I encountered people - when I was vulnerable enough to have real conversations - that gave me new experiences and insight that I had never had before. Now in KC a lot of the friends I made at first have gotten married or our lives have taken us in different directions. But they still impacted and changed me nonetheless because I was vulnerable and accountable to real friends that truly knew and cared for my growth as a person and disciple of Christ. Over the past year, I’ve been getting to know a new set of friends that have become a new community for me. Every year continues to be the best year of my life because every year I know people that know me, accept me and my lame jokes, and want me to be better than I am currently. All of this is because over and over God blesses us with the people we need to have authentic community by giving us relationships that truly matter.

With relationships that truly matter comes a series of experiences we thought we could never have. We enjoy a new type of happiness that is ultimately satisfying a natural inclination found deep in the way we are wired. I’m not talking about the short-term pleasure-kind of happiness, but a deep and lasting sense of “this is who I am and where I belong.” In these kinds of relationships there is a peace that says “all is right with the world when I’m with these people.” Now, it is absolutely certain that - in this life - no one will ever experience that type of contentment all of the time. But, if we don’t have it some of the time, we may need to reevaluate the depth and significance of our relationships.

Without a deeper type of community, we are left to conversations with people that are simply a kind of fleeting pleasure in themselves. If you’re like me, it’s fun to enjoy a conversation that doesn’t really matter - that doesn’t actually influence my life or their life in any significant way. There are conversations to be had that are pleasant, but not important. Pleasant conversations are fine most of the time, and I am certainly not advocating for every conversation to be super deep. But if we only have pleasant conversations, soon enough we will realize that the true purpose of community is not being realized in our lives.

Like the two greatest commandments, there are two places this deep and satisfying community is found: God and others. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.” What gives us rest? Going to Jesus and having communion with him. If we go to Jesus with our burdens, he wants to be our community. He wants to be the place we go to say that all is right with the world. At some of the hardest times in my life, I found this to be especially true about adoration. We were made for God’s love. Without Jesus as our first and most important relationship, we will always strive and struggle to find some finite thing to fill the void in us that longs for an infinite kind of community. In terms of others, we find that the deepest kind of community participates in and reflects our relationship with God. We get to know people that we share our lives with. People that, practically speaking, know everything about us because we become vulnerable with and accountable to them. People whose presence we enjoy and people who truly want what is best for us.

So what is the true goal of authentic community? In the course of our lives, community is important for many reasons. It’s a place where we find understanding, belonging, joy, kindness, compassion but also honesty, candor, and challenges from people that come from genuine concern for our well-being. But ultimately, the most important reason for community is love. It is a place we receive love, where we give love, and the primary school of formation for a life of love lived for God and others. In the context of our relationships, love - the true purpose of community - has a chance to be cultivated.

Because love is choosing the good of others even at the risk of our own detriment, we cannot grow in love without others. And ultimately this is important for our salvation because true holiness and sainthood is found in the perfection of love, first for God then for others. So how does community teach us love? It’s easy to see in the day to day course of life that our friendships give a chance to enjoy others’ sense of humor, abilities, talents, different ways of thinking, different unique purposes, etc. But what they should really give us is that place of belonging. But not simply in helping us be comfortable though. (Insert dramatic music in your mind here.The universe needs each and everyone of us to become who we were created to be. You are the only you in the world. You are the only you that has ever existed and will ever exist. There’s is something you bring to the universe that no one else ever has, ever will, or ever can. We do this by learning how to love with every fiber of our being. When we know ourselves: our gifts, strengths, our deepest desires we begin to learn our personal mission in the world, but no matter who you are the goal is to be truly you while learning to love to the best of your ability.

Since we all have shortcomings and failures and we all need to strive to improve, community is so important because it is our school of formation for the most important adventure of our lives. What adventure am I talking about? The key adventure of life: Learning to love. We all struggle to love God as well as we should and we all struggle to love others as well as we should. In community we have role models of love, we are challenged and encouraged to love better, but also we have relationships with the very people we are called to love.

In the end, there’s a difference between knowing that the point of community is love and actually choosing to live it. For me, the gap is often wider than I recognize. And I have a lot of work to do. Nonetheless, nothing less than heaven is our goal and, when we have true love in our hearts, we will want to bring as many people with us as we can. With love, we strive to become what God has created us to be, first for him and then for others. We often struggle seeing ourselves without biased, but you can bet your friends - the ones that truly know you - know some of your shortcomings even better than you. In my life, from St. Paul to Kansas City, I’ve had friends who see parts of me clearer than I do. The ones that truly love me challenge me to become better, and one day maybe even a saint. Looking around me, however, I see people all over who are deprived of true community that teaches men and women how to truly love. When you find yourself in this situation, take aim to find friends with which you can be vulnerable and accountable, friends that truly challenge you to better yourself become who you were created to be: a man or woman who loves well in every circumstance.

Mother Teresa's Windex

A few years ago I was living in Philadelphia at Temple University, where I was completing Teach For America’s summer training. My days consisted of riding a bus into Camden, New Jersey, where I taught summer school at a local charter. In the evening I would meet with my team and write lesson plans. It was my first time on the east coast and each day was a new experience. I was a bit out of my comfort zone and felt a little homesick.  

The one place I felt comfortable was Mass every weekend. I looked forward to Sunday Mass, where I was able to spend my time doing something that still felt like Home. My time was limited and I often did not get to socialize after Mass. It was an hour for Mass and straight back to lesson planning afterward. However, towards the end of summer, I decided to stick around after Mass and attend breakfast with the Temple students and Pastor. It was at this post Mass breakfast I heard a simple story I will never forget.

I was in line to serve myself a wonderful breakfast when I struck up a conversation with the Newman Center Priest. He seemed deeply spiritual,  and I wanted to learn more about his vocational journey. I began to ask him questions and he openly shared different discernment stories. As the conversation continued, I learned he had the chance to work in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. Calcutta was a key component in his decision to become a priest. This was my first time meeting someone who knew Mother Teresa and I was fascinated.

At first, I did not know what to ask him about Mother Teresa. She was a legend not only in the Catholic world but in the secular world as well. I did not want to come across as ignorant or ask anything too personal. I decided to ask a straightforward and open-ended question.

“Father, what was the most memorable experience you had with Mother Teresa?”

He smiled and responded, “When I became a priest, it was incredible to give her communion… but I think the most memorable was a time in prayer. I was next to Mother Teresa praying when she leaned over to me and said, ‘Pst… Father… pray I do not stand in the way of God.’”

What a profound and simple thing, “pray I do not stand in the way of God”. This story touched me and began to stir my heart. I was inspired and filled with a sense of awe. My next thought, seemed much less profound, “Oh, for Mother Teresa, prayer is like Windex for the soul”. The image from Windex commercials of birds flying into freshly cleaned windows came to mind. While it was a silly thought, it was the first time humility and purity made sense to me. The notion of “being less so God is more”, finally clicked.  

I do not know Mother Teresa, but to me she was a window into heaven. A vessel for God’s love to be seen more clearly. Maybe, this is why she asked the priest to pray she did “not stand in the way of God”. Instead of people seeing Mother Teresa serving the poor and vulnerable, she wanted the world to see God. Maybe even like the Windex commercials where birds are running into windows and glass doors, Mother Teresa wanted to be so transparent that people would run right into God and His love.  In this way, I pray I too do not stand in the way of God but instead stand right where God can be seen through me most clearly. Maybe the best place for me to start is prayer and confession, where I can get some Windex for my soul.

Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love
— Mother Teresa