Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who Truly Looks at You?

Christ's gaze.  You know it when you see it.  It's that intense look people give you that is so filled with love, your heart melts.  And it's not in the romantic sense.  I remember in college when I started looking for Christ's gaze, that I first found it (or Him??) in an old man who was a volunteer for the Red Cross.  It's a look that shakes you, but more so, makes you see that there really is Good in the world--something to live for.

We are reading a section in my weekly CL meetings about loving yourself the way that God loves you, not by the false expectations we put on ourselves.  And the only way you can know how God loves you is through that look of Christ that we get from others in our daily lives.

I was trying to prepare for this meeting and asked myself, "Who looks at me this way?  For all my faults, my betrayals, but also with profound honor and respect?  Who sees me for what I was really made for, not necessarily only based on my efforts?"

Incredibly, a long list of people came to mind:  Fr. Rick, my spiritual direction and priest at St. John's the Evangelist, downtown who, no matter how busy he is, always makes time for me.  My mom who I'm sure I've betrayed more than I even know and who I come crying to often (even when I make stupid decisions.)  My closest friends in CL here in Indianapolis: Caitlin, Ali, David, Davide, but even those who are in different states; Chris, Roland, Monik, Fedi, people who really see the greatness that we were all made for. 

But what I'm going to say this week at SofC actually came in my reality yesterday when I was cleaning my apartment and found an address for a friend, Julia, who is now a sister at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens, NY.  We are trying to get together a package of notes and letters for her, since she isn't really allowed contact with anyone, and I've been trying to write her one all week!

So, I finally started writing this note and through it, realized the immense impact that she has had on my life.  Julia, now Sister Gemma, was a classmate of mine at USI in my first day of classes my freshman year.  Although she was an introvert, I am not and we started talking, found out we were both Catholic and she invited me to go to Mass with her.  I always hear of stories where college students are having a really hard time finding people who share similar interests and values as them--for me, this was never the struggle.  It was simply as easy as meeting her.

Over time, Julia and I developed a close friendship.  She was the first person my age who I could see really loved her faith, but not at the expense of herself--her interests, her personality.  She had hilarious quirks, and was still striving for holiness.  Until that point, religious people were "weird" or unattainable to have friendship with...Julia was cool!!!

As probably most Catholics who leave their Catholic bubble and go to a public university, I really struggled with questions of why the Church did certain things and why we believed what we did.  I even was part of a Christian group who challenged that even further.  However, Julia's friendship (along with my mom, and priests from my childhood) saved me.  She was someone I could ask questions to and if she didn't know the answer, she looked it up!  She recommended books, invited me into friendship with other Catholics who lived like her and was just simply herself.  Julia is the most unassuming, humble girl you'll ever meet.  And with my pride, this characteristic is simply refreshing!

All in all, my own commitment to the Catholic faith came in that freshman year with the help of her example and friendship.  The "ripple effect" of that friendship has lasted seven years of being in Communion and Liberation and leading several of the small groups at the university level and now in Indianapolis.  It has contributed to my love of Mass and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  I can't imagine what kind of girl I would be without her and I was so thankful that we got to share two years of school together!

Now, life continues.  With the memory of the way Julia looked at me, I can have mercy on myself and others.  I was so happy to be reminded of the miracle of our friendship yesterday through writing her that note (that actually turned into a little bit of a letter!)  May God continue to bless my life with these characters that always make me move with joy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"God's Grandeur"

A poem read to me by a dear friend in a time of need:

GOD'S GRANDEUR by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the gradeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and share man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can a foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Be A Friend

In the Pope's recent cannonization of Cardinal Newman, he called all followers of Christ to a deeper conversion, so there is no longer any separation between our beliefs and our actions.

Fr. Carron, leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, also says that conversion has a clear goal: more life and more love.  Conversion is always wanting more of the good.  And it's something we cannot do on our own.  God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us friends to help along with this conversion.

But, sometimes, in my insecurities, I feel a little like I'm always the one getting the help from my friends, but I don't really point them to a deeper conversion.  Usually, because I'm just so stinking worried about myself.  I'm responsible (in a way) for my friends and their adherence to what life is asking of them and for them not to betray their hearts.  Do I ever do this?  Do I ever love in such a way?

Sunday night, after I read these things about conversion, I started to panic a little. CRAP!  I'm not a good friend...I don't show my friends  anything about what it means to truly live!  And probably, somewhere deep in my brain, I started analyzing what I was going to do to make this better.  Start sending emails?  Inviting people over for dinner?  How was I going to pay attention to the conversion of my friends?

But God caught me before I could even make a project!  (and projects are not helpful anyway if they didn't happen to you first)  Monday I received an email from a dear friend who loves her heart and lives with great clarity expressing a desire to start School of Community (the meeting of the movement Communion and Liberation) with a group of mothers she meets with weekly.

She was asking me for advice.  Why?  A great question!  This lady has been in CL since practically before birth and knows the human heart so well!  Why was she asking me?  Practically speaking, I had just taken the risk of starting a School of Community at my parish--which, by God's grace has really been fruitful.  But I was moved that she asked me for help on how to get started.

And I realized that what it meant to be a true friend was precisely this...RESPONDING to my friend's needs.  In whatever limited capacity I can give it.  God was giving me the opportunity to be responsible for one of my friends...In that moment, and by responding to her with my experiences and sharing with her some emails I had drafted, I found that I was being a true friend.  Helping her along the journey.  Because none of us is ever so aware of reality that we don't need help.  May I always remember that I am absolutely dependent...just like this woman who I think should "know all the answers" was showing she was dependent.  By acknowledging our limitedness, it is THEN that we can experience conversion!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There HAS to be more to life....

It was last Wednesday when I really thought to myself, "Geez, I should really be blogging."  Two events that day had brought me to tears and both had to do with life on this Earth as being temporary.

First, was the realization that a dear friend of mine had passed away.  Now, when I say "dear," mind you, I didn't even know this man's name.  He and his wife would come to St. Susanna daily Mass with me and had been for a few years.  They were a beautiful couple because the love between them was so evident.  He had a hard time getting around and would lean on her, almost totally, for support getting up the aisle for Communion.  Still, the sacrifice and mutual respect they gave each other was such a profound witness for my life.  One of those feelings where  you want to be married because you want it to be like THAT.  These two people had a great faith--attending daily Mass and receiving the Sacraments often.  It was obvious to me that they knew they could not love each other alone.  They were dependent upon him.  For the past year and a half, I had not seen "my favorite couple" at Mass, and I tried not to think about why.  Maybe it was too cold and the weather was bad, making it impossible for them to attend Mass.  But as the seasons changed, I knew that wasn't the case.

Just last Wednesday, I saw the wife in Church--alone.  "Maybe he's just sick.." I said to myself.  Until I saw others at the Mass consoling her at the Sign of Peace.  Bummer.  He's gone.  And I started to cry--quite unexpectedly because I usually don't feel things like this.  I cried because I would never see the beautiful married witness again.  I cried for the pain she must be feeling of losing a lifelong companion.  I just cried.

My second experience of death this past Wednesday was quite different.  It involved a teenager.  One I had taught as a 7th grader my first year of teaching.  Now, as a sixteen-year-old. I found out he was in the hospital after an alleged suicide attempt and was on life support and not expected to live.  (In fact, he died Friday.)  This boy had some troubles.  He was a challenging student in that he wasn't very interested in learning and was hard to motivate academically.  He had severe mood swings and at times, preferred to just be by himself.  Despite his family's attempts to make him a happy boy at peace with life, it seemed that he had a hard time finding his place--and was violent towards the world and those who loved him most.

If you read the paper and see the news reports about this boy's dramatic death, you would think he is no more than a criminal.  A troubled teen who was in and out of juvenile detention centers, reeking havoc on his community.  But I saw something MUCH different in that 7th grade boy that was in my class.  This was the kid who when his class was planning a surprise birthday party for me (their teacher) suggested they act like he got sent to the principal's office for something, so that I would have to leave the room and take care of it.  I remember that day, the principal (fake) yelling at him while he's smirking and I'm thinking, "What?? Why are you smirking? This is serious!"  When all along, he was in on the surprise.

I can remember (and I still have) the yellow piece of scrap paper I found on my desk one day with the exact time AND location for a soccer game he was playing this evening...just in case I decided to show up.  Oh, and don't forget his parents' cell phone numbers too.  In case I got lost. 

What was going on inside his head those last few hours of his life I may never know.  What I do know is that this kid had a heart that longed for the same things I do--he wanted to know he was loved, he wanted justice (boy, did he ever) and for some reason, despite everyone's efforts to give him that (because he was NOT a neglected child) it never satisfied him and his life ended in desperation. 

When I found out he was in the hospital, I asked all my friends to start praying for this sixteen year old.  Asking God for his mercy and love to just cover him up in his last hours of life.  The only comfort I am given is knowing that God is all-knowing and all-loving and if I've seen events that make this kid a kid--not a convict--then I know God sees it too.  After all, Jesus came for the sinners.  Not the righteous. 

So, for me, these two events of deaths: the elderly man from St. Susanna's Mass and my sixteen-year-old student, although very different in circumstance, are no different at the core of the event.  Death points to something more.  Why?  Because I can't live my life with meaning if it all just ends in death anyway.  No matter what I do, who I love, the accomplishments I make.  If it ends in death, who cares?

For me, life is positivity...it's hope.  Why?  Because Christ came for the man at St. Susanna's and my student who committed suicide...and has the ability to actually save them from death.  My hope and prayer is that both are seeing the eternal light, happiness and peace of God's grace in heaven.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Purpose of A Blog?

So, I'm a busy girl.  Why should I do this whole blogging thing? For one, it's an experiment...placed in front of me by a webinar I took this month about making classroom blogs for my students.  Since I've never actually done this, I figured I would take some time to educate myself before I got carried away with it in front of my students!

Also, I don't want this to be a waste of my time...or anyone who reads it's waste of time either.  So, I really want this blog to be about issues concerning the heart.  What's the "heart" you ask?  It's more than just our emotions, feelings, opinions or even preferences.  It's about looking at the origin of our being...who/what we were actually created for and what characteristics all of us share.  For example, my heart is made up of need for beauty, for truth, justice, love and belonging, etc.  Without these, a part of me feels dried up, empty or unsatisfied.  And so, this blog is going to be experiences, musings, sharings based on where I saw the needs of my heart explode and start asking again. 

Asking for what?  FULFILLMENT!  But is that even possible?  Can we really find what our hearts long for?  I continue to verify in my life that I have met a Man who says that yes, this is possible.  And by letting Him lead my life, I am actually able to experience more joy and peace than I ever have on my own.

I hope that blog can bring me clarity, joy, and greater verification that Jesus Christ is risen and living in our world.