Open My Ears and Close My Mouth

I’ve often said that I find the very idea of “debate” to be useless. I certainly know that people have valid opinions that differ vastly from mine and are worth a listen. But there are so many better ways to share views than in the context of a debate. A debate is a competition, and there is presumably a loser in a competition. No one wants to be a loser. Which is why no one ever seems to lose a debate. I’ve been in debates where I felt my points were stronger and better articulated than my opponents, but I doubt they would admit that I won or vice versa. I also doubt I’ve ever been close to changing someone’s views because we had a debate. “To debate” is to build a wall around your beliefs so no one can prove them wrong.

My contempt for debate only gets worse when it becomes “religious debate”. Religious debate is so out of step with the spirit of ecumenism and more broadly feels contrary to a Christian worldview. What good comes from telling someone their beliefs are wrong? The only benefit I see coming from religious debate is that each combatant becomes more affirmed in their theological superiority.

But did Jesus tell us that the reason he is The Way is because he was the greatest? No. There is one God for all of us, not a Catholic God, a Presbyterian God, Jewish God, and Muslim God. Jesus made this clear in his dealings with the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (JN 4:14). Christ’s exchange with the woman was not an argument but an open invitation to help and love one another; differences be damned. The Samaritan woman ends up declaring, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything” because she was moved toward the spirit, not because she was told she had been wrong in her beliefs.

I doubt I’m capable of emulating the appeal of Jesus’ voice, so I believe my greatest tools for evangelization are my ears. When I lead a group of teens in small group discussion, I make it clear no one on this retreat is going to try to tell them to live their lives one way or the other. Rather, particularly through small group discussion, my hope is that through seeing and hearing the experiences of others, each teen can better understand the role that God plays in their lives. God has a different plan for each of us, but we all exist as one body together. To debate that would take away an opportunity instead to love.

Restless is the Heart

“Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you” – Saint Augustine

When I returned to ministry at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in the new year, I resolved to devote more of my time to personal prayer and growing as a retreat minister. In the past few weeks, God has graced me with the opportunity to see the fruits of my prayers and efforts. For instance, I am becoming more comfortable sharing my witness talk. I know I still have a lot of room to grow in sharing my story, but I am not losing quite as much sleep from my nerves! My experience as a small group leader is also improving. I am learning how to ask questions that challenge our retreatants and lead to deeper, more natural conversations. I am talking less during small groups and listening more.

Community life at the Rock House is also helping me grow both personally and as a minster. I love having other youth ministers to pray with, talk to about ministry, and simply share the joys and challenges of life. One highlight of the past couple months was enjoying a snow day together and sledding down some of the amazing hills on JSC’s campus!

Outside of my work at the Jesuit Spiritual Center, I have also joined a book club about St. Therese’s “Story of a Soul,” started cantoring with the choir at a local parish, and attended several Catholic young adult events throughout the Cincinnati area.

Yet, amidst all these wonderful opportunities for prayer, ministerial growth, and meeting new people, I have still felt incredibly restless at times.

Meeting new people can leave me feeling lonely because I long for deeper friendships than can be formed in a brief evening of fellowship. Despite my best efforts at ministry, I can’t reach every retreatant and this reality can leave me feeling burnout.

What are you Seeking?

When Jesus first calls his disciples, he asks them: “What are you seeking?” (John 1:37). This Lent, I have been reflecting on this very question. As I examen my life, I know I am seeking to love and serve others. I desire true friendships and to be accepted and loved. I am longing to be the best retreat minister I can possibly be.

But, I rarely ask myself the question: “What is God seeking in me?”

In beautiful simplicity: God is seeking my love. God desires my restless heart.

Restlessness in the Seeking

The restlessness in my life right now reminds me that everything I seek in this world will never fully satisfy me. Only the peace of God can overcome the sting of loneliness, the exhaustion of burnout, and the empty striving of restlessness. In seeking God, I find the friendship, love, and peace my restless heart desires.

What part of your life makes you the most restless? 

Where do you find rest?

What are you seeking?

What is God seeking in you? 

Put a New Heart in Me, Oh Lord!

As Christians, we must wrestle, and if we are true, ultimately resign ourselves to a great paradox. This great paradox is that to die in Christ is to really live; to have life more abundantly. We are called to be crucified with Our Lord. To despise our earthly inclinations is to accept Heavenly aspirations. To receive Heaven, during our daily lives, is to reject what the world would have us attached ourselves to because the world limits and twists our desires. However, what keeps us from embracing the Cross? Yes, there will be sufferings, but they are not in vain as the world would have us believe. The sufferings give way to a greater consolation in sorrow and a more defining sense of self in Him. Christ, who knows us and loves us perfectly, has prepared the way for us. If only we would entrust ourselves to Him more fully, we would be made ultimately free from all earthly anxieties and be able to build up our neighbors more effectively.

As I was walking the JSC grounds outside in this winter’s brisk temperatures, I reflected on a passage in the Gospel of Matthew 23: 25, which reads:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

I realized that we are all susceptible to the pride that corrupted these scribes and Pharisees, those who were especially learned and whose role it was to lead people to God. I fear for myself – I am not as learned as these Pharisees, but I have an education and I am a minister. The more I minister, the more I should fear that I am just as corruptible as any of the scribes and Pharisees who Jesus admonished in this passage in Matthew’s Gospel. After recognizing this holy fear, then, there is this pang of desire in the heart to be more than one who is not sinful, but rather good. And moreover, willing to go beyond simply just being a “good person.” Yet there are obstacles within me that I cannot budge in order to be the soul who also embraces the Cross to the full extend as I could. After all, who wants to suffer even if it should lead to good things? It is a hard road. Still, the heart will desire what it desires for Love of the Lord.

While pondering these things, I observed the frigid layer of ice that coated the limbs on the trees. The iced trees were lovely as they glistened in the sun. On one tree, buds appeared to be forming- like one aching for spring. In the winter’s frost, all these potential blossoms were frozen in place. I, too, am like these buds frozen in place. There are things in me that keep me hesitating on my path with the Lord. These hesitations are my “maybe’s”, “what if’s”, “I should’s” and sometimes just a plain “no” or “not yet” to the Lord in various situations and seemingly small day-to-day decisions.

Yet I too desire to grow, and are we not all all aching for our new spring time? With the Lenten season upon us, perhaps it would benefit us to ask ourselves before the Lord in prayer, “Where do I need to grow? Do I desire to blossom for You, Lord?” I do not want to be like the corrupted scribes and Pharisees. So I ask together with our readers, do we hate our sin? We should not hate ourselves, for we are a beautiful creation of God, but do we hate and despise what holds us back from God- those little decisions which we do have control over? Where are we cold? Where do we hesitate as one still frozen in place? Do we trust God enough with these parts of ourselves that needs His grace?

Jesus does all the hard labor by way of grace in us, do we allow Him to help us “cleanse the inside of the cup” so that we may be transformed? What do we cling to that keeps us from moving forward? What do we have to let go of so that we have at least one empty hand to receive Our Lord’s scarred hand? To let Him guide our way? If you cannot receive Christ, can you ask the loving assistance of Our Blessed Mother, your guardian angel, or to the saints? Rest assured that all of Heaven awaits with anticipation to help us receive the Lord, we need only to ask.

Let us, then, long for spring during these remaining weeks of winter, and allow the Lord to melt away especially all those cold parts of our hearts that are indifferent, angry, frustrated, dormant, and struggling. The Lord, and Our Blessed Mother, is waiting to perfect us, to clean us from the inside so that we may be clean all over. by means of grace. Let us let them do their eternal work so that we may not just be good people, but saints.

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” -Ezekiel 36:26 

I Have Fears Like Everyone Else

The first reading begins. I start my way down from the choir loft. Even though it’s too tight around my needlessly thick neck, I button up my collar because I need to look prim when I’m cantoring. I walk down the left-side aisle waiting to hear “The word of the Lord—thanks be to God” so I can process to the middle, bow, and take the ambo for myself. I know exactly what I’m doing. Heck, “To You, O Lord” is so ingrained in my head that I could do the harmony by memory. And yet, despite all of this and against every plan I made, my heart is pounding so hard I can hear it, and I can’t even breath properly to calm down because of my stupid collar. All my entrances are good, but I know I don’t have enough breath to finish each line of text. Worst Case Scenario has started and I’m losing confidence the more I sing. My voice on the line “Keep me in the way of your truth” has gotten thinner and thinner until you can’t hear me singing “truth”. The psalm mercifully ends after the fourth refrain, and I meekly shuffle back to the choir loft trying not to make eye-contact with any of the parishioners.

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Abide in My Love

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9)

Happy New Year! As I write this blog, the Jesuit Spiritual Center’s youth ministry team just completed our first full week of ministry in 2018. Editing the one second videos I recorded the last couple months reminded me how quickly 2017 came to a close.

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