Missions of Other Saints: When Expectations Meet Christ

January 6, 2017 // Feast of St. Andre Bessette

When I was in my teens, I heard many well-meaning adults tell me that I was “going to do great things.” As a young adult, I was a gifted writer, loved reading, and always had a fresh idea. When adults told me that I was going to do great things, I believed them. I looked forward to the day when I could take my place in the spotlight and show the world my great ability.

As I made my way through high school I dreamed of developing my “great thing” in college. While studying to become an English teacher, I thought of ways to spruce up my resume so when the time came for me to do the great thing, I’d have the experience to match it. (If you can’t tell, I wasn’t really for sure what my “great thing” was.) But, after college, when I was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to South Korea, I thought I was a big deal. After all, the Fulbright is the most sought after international exchange program in the world and the Korean program only accepted 18-20% of its applicants.

However, shortly after arriving in East Asia, I felt as if everything was halted. Among my peers in the program, it seemed as if so many of them had already accomplished their great thing, and I had nothing. A few teachers had started non-profits, some went to elite schools, and others spoke multiple languages. I was just a girl from Central Kentucky who spoke halted Spanish and whose most exciting achievement was visiting all 50 states and the pyramids in Egypt. Compared to others back home, I was quite cosmopolitan. When stacked against all of the other Fulbrighters, however, I was like the person who goes to the local Chinese buffet and talks about how “authentic” it is. I felt fake.

Upon my return from overseas, I settled into a teaching job in Western Kentucky and began my master’s degree in English as second language education. After a year of globe-trotting and living in the babble of foreign language, teaching language arts to 7th graders just didn’t measure up in terms of excitement. I became depressed and wondered if this was my great thing: teaching writing in a school that embodied chaos while waiting for the next vacation. It was a tough year. The years following my first teaching assignment, while much easier professionally, did not offer me any consolation in terms of what my great thing was. I held on tight to what was told to me years ago: I was going to achieve greatness.

Often, I would read the lives of the saints for inspiration. Sometimes, though, my reading became a source of discontent. For example, Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux frequently wrote about her “little way:” becoming small for Christ. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity is noted as saying that “we can do no great things…[just] small things with great love.” The idea of a “little way” and “small things with great love” appealed to me, but St. Therese and Mother Teresa had a platform! Everyone watched their destinies unfold: Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, while St. Therese became known worldwide through her writings after her death at age 24. Everyone knew they lived for Christ, it was evident to those who encountered these great saints. Foolishly, I feared that no one would know that I too could do great things. I feared that my “little way” may be much smaller than that of St. Therese’s. Maybe it would be too little. It was a scary thought.

As the years continued to pass, I found myself preparing for my confirmation in the Catholic Church. I often attended weekly Adoration at my parish, and spent hours praying before the Lord. On one occasion, I asked God how I could help those around me. I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to do something. I was still searching for my great thing. In less than a second of finishing my prayer, the Holy Spirit said, Pray, you can pray.”

Missions of Other Saints

I sat relieved, yet a little disappointed. Here, I had just asked Our Lord how I can help those around me and He responds with pray. There was no “Drop what you’re doing and go to a far away country.” It was simply pray. My own expectations had collided with the will of Christ: I wanted big acts, He wanted little ones. That day I sat and prayed for those I knew, but still thought about how I could do my great thing. For over a year, I struggled with my desire for greatness and my desire to also do what God wanted from me (which I believed was intercessory prayer).

Fast forward to the morning December 8th, 2017, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I am still praying for others during Adoration, but still wondering what my great thing is. After finishing my morning prayers and daily Mass readings, I begin to get ready for school. I open my podcast app, and begin to listen to the many Catholic shows in my queue. As I’m passively listening to the show and struggling to put on eyeliner, my attention is suddenly piqued. The host begins talking about “great things.” I listen more carefully, and what I hear cuts to my heart. The truth behind our promise of accomplishing “great things” is this:

Yes, others may tell you that you’re destined to do great things. But, the great thing that will happen is the great work God does in your soul.

I was stunned. The answer I had searched for since my pre-teen days had finally arrived. I was not responsible for my “great things.” Rather, my one great thing is what I let Jesus do with my heart and soul. Sure, I had known that I have to let God do His work in me, but I never, ever thought of that as my great thing. In my finite wisdom, I imagined my success would amount to a small amount of notoriety. Notoriety is nothing compared to the work Christ can do in mine (and your!) heart. The only great thing we can do is allow God to shape our lives in conformity to Him. No degrees, titles, resumes, or Fulbright awards will amount to anything if we refuse to let Christ break open our lives for His sake. They are only great, hollow things.

However, though I’ve experienced a great relief, it doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with my own feelings of “Am I doing enough? Is this great enough for God? I can never be like St. Fill-in-the-Blank.” But, just this week, I received a blank journal in the mail. To my surprise, the front cover was embossed with this quote from Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN:

“Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other saints. Let us be the kind of saints we were created to be.”

You and I, while we are all united in Christ, we are different individuals. Though I began to pout, thinking that I’d never write as well as St. Therese or be as humble as St. Andre Bessette, God used the late Mother Angelica’s words to set me straight. No, I am not Mother Theresa, St. Paul, St. Lucy, or any other great Christian remembered by history. I was not called to be those people.

Instead, I am to “be the kind of saint [I] was created to be.” May you too find the peace of Christ at work in your heart.

My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. // Luke 1:46

It is with the smallest brushes that the Artist paints the best paintings. // St. Andre Bessette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 in Perspective

 

Image result for new year stock image

pexels.com

I want to take a moment to wish you a very Happy New Year! I pray that, even though we’re fewer than three days into 2018, you’re experiencing happiness. The new year always brings a sense of a fresh start to me and I love the feeling of anticipation and hope. The first days of a new year are like looking at newly-taped boxes: the months lay ahead like unopened gifts. It’s a very fun time, at least for myself.

This year will be my first full calendar year as a confirmed Catholic. Instead of sliding into 2018 without any passing thought, I wanted to create an intentional entrance. In many places on the Internet, especially Twitter, the idea circulated of a patron saint for one’s year. Many that I follow on the social networking site had picked a saint to pray with throughout the new year, using the Saint’s Name Generator (the site, after a simple click, will display a saint’s name and feast day: some known, some lesser known).

Granted, I am very wary of using any type of randomizer to determine God’s will in any situation. But, with the vast number of saints, I knew the generator would be of assistance. After clicking through, I was pleased that I was presented with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti, often referred to as the Man of the Eight Beatitudes. In brief, Frasatti is noted for his piety and care for the needy. He died of an illness, possibly contracted from his work in poor neighborhoods, at the age of 24. Also, shortly before his death, he became a Tertiary Dominican. Interestingly enough, in the past months I have been interested in Dominican spirituality. In 2018 I look forward to learning more about the life and Catholic faith of Blessed Frasatti.

Finally, I have dedicated my year to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In a nutshell, the Sacred Heart devotion is focused upon the love that Jesus had, and still has, for humanity. EWTN describes the devotion this way:

“In honoring the Heart of Christ, our homage lingers on the Person of Jesus in the fullness of His love. This love of Christ for us was the moving force of all he did and suffered for us — in Nazareth, on the Cross, in giving Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, in His teaching and healing, in His praying and working. When we speak of the Sacred Heart, we mean Jesus showing us His Heart, Jesus all love for us and all lovable.”

A personal struggle I have is that of freely giving mercy and love. I’ll readily admit that I want to slide people into categories: the deserving and undeserving. Those who deserve my mercy, grace, and love are those who are living in a way I approve. These are “proper” people: those who are generally good and well-rounded, but sometimes just hit a tough spot. That’s where I can step in with my ministry of love. Everyone else not in my self-declared “deserving” category is a person to be tolerated, and in a best-case scenario, ignored.

While I write these words, I can physically feel the conviction of the hardness of my heart. While I’m subconsciously sorting people into “deserving” and “undeserving” categories, I often forget that Jesus did not become incarnate just for me and my internal list of approved people. Even worse, I forget that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner. We are all in the same group: undeserving. Despite all of this, Christ died for every soul that has (and will) live.

I chose to dedicate this year to the Sacred Heart because I want to be more like Christ. I want to be more open and loving of those around me, not just those I think are worthy of my love. Even though I believe myself to be good, I’m still a sinner. Christ chose to die in order to reconcile me to God. Through this fact, Christ gently puts me back in my place and reminds me that despite my best intentions, I am still in need of His grace, mercy, and divine love. Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd.

So, do you have a saint who you will walk and pray with this year? Do you have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart or a favorite prayer practice? If so, I’d love to hear about it. You can contact me here. I pray that your 2018 is full of the love of Christ. Allow Him to change you from the inside out. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ!”

Happy New Year!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ. // Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

 

Lessons From a Ragpicker

Though I am well-acquainted with the geography and history of East Asia, I never encountered the word ragpicker in my studies or travels. This changed when I read Fr. Paul Glynn’s The Smile of a Ragpicker: The Life of Satoko Kitahara, Convert and Servant of the Slums of Tokyo

At the heart of this biography, Satoko Kitahara is born and raised by her well-to-do Japanese family. She enjoys an education, and cultivates a love of poetry and fine art. However, the Second World War decimates the Japanese landscape and morale. Satoko, who once believed that Japan was the crown of the world, now sees her fellow countrymen defeated and in despair. After the war, day-by-day she drops her sister off at a local foreign, convent school. There, Satoko meets the Mercedarian sisters and develops an interest in Christianity. Sataoko, convinced of the truth of Christ (and to her parent’s dismay), converts to Catholicism.

Because of her new-found faith, Satoko  becomes interested in the people living in the local slums (called Ants Town because the people who lived there “worked like ants”).

Ven. Satoko Kitahara // catholicherald.co.uk

She visits Ants Town to volunteer a few hours per week, but soon, she realizes this is not enough. Satoko wants to mirror Christ who took on our humanity and also became poor. Because of her strong conviction, she eventually becomes a “ragpicker,” someone who sifts through garbage for scraps to sell. Leaving behind a life of wealth, comfort, and security, Satoko plunges into Tokyo’s most destitute neighborhood, only to die penniless and of tuberculosis at the young age of 28. Today, the young woman known as the “Dorothy Day of Tokyo” is on her way to sainthood, currently bearing the title Venerable Satoko Kitahara.

After reading Smile, I was left with many convictions churning in my heart. I thought for many days about God’s mercy and the mercy I offer to others. Often, as Christians, we are quick to say that “Yes, I show mercy to those who need it the most.” After all, it’s so easy to say we are merciful. We throw some coins in the can of a homeless person, we serve an hour a month at a soup kitchen, or we go to Mass regularly. We’ve gone on mission trips to other continents, painted walls, held children for a few hours, and then headed across the ocean to our own comforts.

I say this not to disparage volunteering in soup kitchens or participating in foreign missions, but rather to cast a light on how we think about mercy. In my personal experience, I’ve found that it’s much easier to show mercy to those with whom I don’t have a close relationship. For example, when I was in college, I went on a mission trip to Texas to conduct vacation Bible schools in low-income housing communities. It was easy for me to show mercy and “love on” those kids during that week because I didn’t have the baggage associated with them and their lives. In a similar vein, it’s easy to love kids in a slum living 5,000 miles away because, whether we want to admit it or not, we will eventually go back home to our normalcy.

But, it’s hard to love those who are closest to us. Simply put: We know too much about them. When you’re spouse is insufferable, it’s hard to love and show mercy to him or her. Perhaps there’s a co-worker who grinds your last gear, and you’d rather be sick than share an office space with him. Or maybe it’s your parents, who you think don’t listen to you enough or are maybe too overbearing. It looks like a brother or sister who takes advantage of you, or the family next door that has three kids who are just too loud. In these cases, mercy is very, very difficult.

When reading about Satoko’s life in Japan, I thought about how she served as a conduit of Jesus’ mercy to Tokyo’s most destitute. It would have been easy, effortless even, for her to ignore the plight of Ants Town. After all, she was educated and lived in a comfortable home. If she wanted to do good, Satoko could have easily went to a “proper” mission and sacrificed an hour or two a week.

But, she didn’t.

Rather, Satoko was wholly invested and merciful to those in her own backyard. While others in her elite neighborhood looked down on both her work and the citizens of Ants Town, Satoko gave her physical and spiritual life up for the most poor of Tokyo. But, though she was materially poor at the end of her life, Satoko experienced the richness of the many conversions to Catholic Christianity as a result of her witness. Ultimately, she was known as a “Japanese for the Japanese.”

I ask you: Today, to whom will you show mercy? Think about where you’re from and where you live. Will you be a Californian for Californians? Maybe you’ll be a brother to your sister, or a wife to your husband. A Canadian to Canadians. One does not need to venture very far to show mercy, or even to make an impact. Like Satoko, your ministry of mercy may be next door or down the street. Our Lord does not require a journey of thousands of miles to show His mercy  to others. Today, I pray that we may take the love that Christ has given us, and pass it along to those who are closest to our hearts.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  // Luke 6:36

O Font of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself upon us. //  The Chaplet of Divine Mercy

 

Lace Revolutionary: Choosing to Veil at Mass

“When we go to Mass together, I’d like you to wear a veil. I think it would be a good witness to everyone, especially the other women in the parish.”

If you step into, say 95%, of Protestant or Catholic churches, you won’t find but a handful women wearing head coverings or lacy veil. Gone are the days when most women wore elaborate hats (save for Easter) or little girls a tiny doily for a crown. Unfortunately, I believe this is a long-standing Christian tradition that has been tossed by the wayside for the sake of modernity. So, when my boyfriend (now fiance) uttered the request quoted above, I knew I had to take the importance veiling under more serious consideration.

Shoes, Brautschuhe, White, ElegantAs a Catholic Christian, I believe that when a woman wears a veil to Mass, it is a visual reminder to both herself and those her around her that she is, first and foremost, submissive to God. I should add that I do not believe that the act of veiling is an issue of salvation. Just because I wear a veil to Mass does not mean I am automatically going to heaven, and because you don’t, it doesn’t mean you aren’t God-fearing or love the Lord. A woman can veil everyday of her life, and still not understand the truth of Christ in her heart.

I digress.

Though veiling is certainly foreign to most church-going women in the West, it wasn’t completely unknown to me. In high school, I sometimes wore hats to church. Often, I had read St. Paul’s advice to the women in Corinth, stating “But any woman who prophesies or prays with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head…” and also, because “of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:5; 10). If it was in the Bible, I knew it must be important. Ultimately, in the same chapter, Paul also issues the hierarchy of the Christian home, which for many, is a hard pill to swallow or even ponder. Yet, the foundation of families and Christian submission both mesh into the reason why many women veil on Sunday mornings or any time they enter a church building.

But, I’ve heard the detractors before, “A woman covering was a cultural thing, and now it doesn’t matter in our current age. Head coverings and family hierarchies are symbols of an old, misogynistic past.” But, what if we viewed Paul’s teachings as a way to publicly witness for Our Lord?

While I could express my own views about the power of the chapel veil in evangelization, I believe that Catholic family apostolate Veils By Lily offers a far superior explanation (bold emphasis mine):

In 1 Corinthians 11:7, St. Paul says, “A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.”

Throughout the Bible, nuptial imagery is used to represent the love of God. In Ephesians 5:25, St. Paul says “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church” and this, taken in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 11:7 (and the rest of that passage), reveals this nuptial imagery: man is to Christ as woman is to the Church.

Since the Church is the “bride” of Christ, it makes sense that the bride should cover her head “as a sign of authority” (1 Cor 11:10) and submission to the bridegroom, Christ, whom men represent. The Church submits to Christ, not the other way around. It is a submission of love, not repression. Who wouldn’t submit to Him Who loves her unto death?

and

The veil is meant to be an external sign of a woman’s interior desire to
humble herself before God, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. As
women, we are symbols of the Church – the Bride of Christ – and, as a
priest once said, “the veil is meant to be a visible reminder of the perfect
submission of the Church to the loving rule of Christ.”

“The veil is a visual sermon … a public proclamation before the Lord that He IS the Lord and that we love Him and that we are ready to obey him. It’s a totally counter-cultural statement proclaiming obedience in the midst of a culture that is totally permeated with this attitude of ‘I will not serve.‘”

The veil is also a sign of the great dignity inherent to a woman, who has the potential to receive life within herself… both human life and the supernatural life of God. This is an important message the world needs to hear, now more than ever!

As Christian women, Jesus gives such a beautiful and sacred sacred role in our lives. Just as in a home, men should represent Christ, women are tasked with the representing the role of Christ’s bride, the Church. We have the job of personifying God’s Church!

Nearly exclusively, the idea of submission goes against the grain of our modern society. Take a look in any bookstore. When perusing the selection for women, there are countless titles on how to be a boss in personal and professional life or how to achieve corporate success through aggression. Walk down the aisle further, and you’ll see dating books praising hookup culture. There are few books about the power of a quiet, gentle spirit.

When a woman wears a chapel veil or head covering, she says in a humble spirit to the world, “I am Christ’s and I am submissive to Him.” A woman need not be a married housewife living under the mission of a husband to practice this calling. Just as wives are called into Godly submission to their husbands (representing the submission of the Church to Christ), any woman can wear a veil and say that she is submissive first to Christ: Not to a secular idea or philosophy, not her career, not any other outside force.

When I veil, I believe I am displaying my commitment to Godly submission. I show the world that yes, I work a public career and I have other obligations. But first and foremost, I am living the virtue of submission to Christ. I show my respect, reverence, and awe of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. He is first: not my job, not my appointments, not my plans, and not even my fiance. Christ is King, and He is the ultimate ruler of my life. Finally, in the future when I am married, I pray that I can faithfully mirror the image of the Church in my relationship with my husband (who will reflect Christ in our home).

If you are a woman and thinking about the practice of veiling at Mass, I pray you will consider it. While veiling alone won’t take you to heaven, it can surely help you get there. I understand that for some ladies, it may feel awkward to be the only one with a veil. That’s totally normal, and I’ve felt the same way. Instead, look at veiling as a public witness for Christ that is humble, gentle, and ultimately revolutionary.

For more information about veiling or to purchase a veil, please visit Veils By Lily. If you’d like to chat with me more about veiling, check out my Connect With Me page. Finally, the video below is a wonderful testament to the practice of Christian head covering in the Mass.