Book Review: One More Thing

A few weeks ago, I finished reading B.J. Novak‘s book One More Thing. I’ve liked B.J. since his days on The Office where he was both a writer and an actor. I also really like his children’s book, The Book with No Pictures.

While my high school self would probably want to punch my adult self in the face for this, I’ve really come to love short stories. I “blame” my college professors for this because they exposed me to geniuses like Flannery O’Connor and Mark Twain. In fact, I find B.J. Novak’s style to be reminiscent of Mark Twain’s voice.

Throughout the book, Novak’s voice was warm and compelling. Some stories were a few pages, others a few sentences. The narration is witty and entertaining. I don’t love every topic that he covers, but for the most part, I was entertained by his stories. There were a few stories that didn’t really line up with my moral comfort zone.

Overall, it’s a good book. Novak revisits the age-old tale of the tortoise and the hare in a hilarious way. He tells us what REALLY happened to Elvis. He gives us funny and realistic tales of potential romances and failed romances. He mocks accepted facts such as the formulaic nature of a John Grisham novel. Novak isn’t producing the greatest literature of the twenty-first century, but he is producing something that is both entertaining and intelligent. He isn’t afraid to mock social conventions. He isn’t afraid to be original. Now, he’s not avant-garde, but he has a voice that is his quite respectably his own.

If you’re not afraid of a little dirty humor, I recommend the book. (I also really recommend his children’s book, The Book with no Pictures.) And if he writes another book of short stories or a novel, I’ll definitely read it.

P.S. His Instagram account is definitely worth a follow if you use that platform.

Why You Should Visit an Eastern Church

I’ve been trying to invite some of my Roman Catholic friends to attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy during the Easter season. I think that it’s really important for Roman Catholics to experience the traditions of their Eastern brothers and sisters. I grew up hearing my dad say (quoting one of his seminary professors) that Roman Catholics should attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy so that they would understand what was going on when they got to heaven. I wouldn’t go around saying that to my friends, but I do have a few reasons why it is important for Roman Catholics to experience a Byzantine Liturgy.

Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois

The word “catholic” means universal. The Catholic Church is not meant to be a set of cookie-cutter people who always look and act the same. Rather, it is intended to be a sign of what St. John Paul II called “diversity in unity” to the world. We as Eastern Catholics are called to a very present part of that. All Catholics (really, all Christians) are called to be lights of a unity through faith and love. To do this, we must come to understand the different branches of the Catholic Church. It is not enough for a Roman Catholic to only attend the Roman Catholic Mass or for a Byzantine Catholic to only attend the Byzantine Liturgy. We must partake in each other’s services. We must interact lovingly and respectfully with Catholics who are not from our Church.

Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.

-Archbishop Joseph Tawil in “The Courage to be Ourselves”

It has been over 950 years since the Great Schism. We need to work towards a loving unity between East and West. Now, the average layperson can’t influence great change, but we can work towards better understanding among ourselves. It is important to know and understand one another’s traditions. The best way to understand the Eastern traditions is to encounter them. To that end, I would recommend that any Roman Catholic who is able visit an Eastern Catholic parish for a Divine Liturgy. (See the bottom of this article for a list of links to some of the American Eastern Catholic Eparchies’ websites.) You can’t really start to understand or appreciate something until you encounter it.

No witness perhaps better brings to light the Catholicity of the Church of God in a more admirable manner than the unique homage which is rendered to it by the differing ceremonies and the noble ancient languages all made more venerable by their use by the Apostles and Fathers.

-Pope Leo XIII “Orientalium Dignitas”

If you encounter the traditions of the other Catholic Churches, you’re doing what Jesus wanted you to do and what people like St. John Paul II thought you should do. On the eve of his Passion, Jesus prayed the unity of his followers. He prayed not only for the twelve good Jewish boys who were about to turn the world on its ear, but he also prayed for all who would come after them. If we only focus on our own traditions, we are not fully embracing that unity. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one. (John 17:20-23) Jesus didn’t pray that we would ignore one another or exclude one another. He did not pray that we would criticize one another or force others to assimilate to our traditions. Rather, he prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one so that the world will know that the Father had sent the Son into the world. We need to embrace one another.

PA-18307918-800x500

His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Pope Francis

If those two can hang out, so can we. Those two became friends when they were both in Buenos Aires. Now, they’re the heads of their respective Churches. They still get on with one another. Friendships between Christians of different traditions can be a sign of unity. We need to view each other as brothers and not as competition. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do need to love one another. Just because you pray the Rosary and I don’t, that doesn’t make us enemies. You may say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; I do not say that. There are divisions between us, but we also have a great deal of common ground. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. We both believe that Jesus Christ is physically present in the Eucharist. We are able to receive the Eucharist in one another’s churches even if it doesn’t look or taste the same. We all believe that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Messiah who came into the world for the salvation of the world. We need to embrace that while celebrating our differences.

The Sacred Congregation has for its office and duty to uphold and foster as much as possible the venerable Oriental liturgies and to preserve them in their integrity and purity.

-Pope Benedict XV

So go to an Eastern Catholic Church. Heck, go to an Orthodox Church. Experience the liturgy. Ask questions. It will be different from what you’re used to, but that is okay. Going to a Roman Mass is different from what I’m used to, but I still go to Roman Masses when that is my best option or when it is an opportunity to support a friend in doing something beautiful.

St. Elias the Prophet in Brampton, Ontario

Here’s the bottom line. Jesus wants his Church to be one. He wants his Church to reflect the diverse unity of the Trinity. There is great beauty in our unity, and it pains the Father when we are divided from one another. I can honestly say that the disunity in our Churches causes me pain. John Paul II spoke of the need for the Church to breathe with her two lungs-East and West. Embrace these two lungs. Learn about your brothers and sisters. Come to an Eastern Liturgy. I can promise you that you will not regret it. You might even love it. St. Vladimir’s emissaries who visited the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople said that during the Divine Liturgy they knew not whether they were on heaven or on earth. Please come taste heaven on earth.


Notes:

I found the text of Archbishop Tawil’s “The Courage to Be Ourselves” on the Eparchy of Newton’s website.

This is the website for Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen. It is a beautiful church and a wonderful parish.

I included an image of St. Elias the Prophet’s building and a video filmed in that building. However, this building burned down about two years ago, and the parish is in the process of building a new Temple. However, that parish has one of my favorite YouTube channels, which happens excellent for learning more about Eastern Catholicism.

Links:

Eparchy of Parma (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Parma (Ukrainian)

Archeparchy of Pittsbugh (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Passaic (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Phoenix (Ruthenian)

Eparchy of Newton (Melkite)

Eparchy of Philadelphia (Ukrainian)

The Beauty in Weakness

I’m not perfect.

I know. It’s shocking, right? A human being who isn’t perfect? Who could believe that?

Oh. Wait. Right…

I’m human. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I don’t do things right the first time. I screw up. I fail. I don’t do what I should do and I do what what I shouldn’t do.

This afternoon, I was thinking about three situations from the past few weeks in which I have felt weak or have shown weakness. One was a situation in which I had something wrong and needed to rectify the situation in some way. One was a situation in which I was in over my head and needed help. The third was a situation where I admitted that I was struggling with a variety of things at this point in my life.

The thing that I realized as I reflected on these situations is that our society does not have much use for weakness. We like strength. We like heroes. We don’t like failure. We like to believe in ourselves. We don’t like to admit when we’ve done something wrong, but we do like to point out what others have done wrong. We’re human. We like to be right. We like to have things together-or at least look like we do. We like to be in control.

But we’re not in control. We don’t have it all together. We aren’t always strong. We’re human. We aren’t perfect. We aren’t always wise. And yet, we struggle with weakness. Seeing weakness either in ourselves or in others can be difficult. It is a reminder that we are fallible beings.

In one of the situations I referenced earlier, the person did not want to hear about my weakness; she merely wanted to move past the situation. For me, this was hurtful because I had mentally prepared myself to admit my weakness and explain what I did, but she did not want that. I have to accept that. The situation is closed. I don’t know why she was unwilling to hear my explanation, but that does not matter. There are two lessons for me in this situation: Treat others better than I want to be treated and don’t repeat the mistake that got me into this situation.

The other two situations involved admitting my weakness to two different people who I know well enough to know that they are both women of strong faith. In one situation, the person chose to meet my practical needs in the moment. In the other, the person offered to pray with me in that moment. They acknowledged my weakness. They saw that there were things that they could do for me.

Those were both moments of grace for me. I saw Christ in those two women. He was using them. I acknowledged my weakness, and he filled in the gaps. He is God. He is strong. I’m human. I’m weak. But when I acknowledge that weakness, he can act through it. He can act through me. That’s the beauty of weakness. God can take our weaknesses and our brokennesses and turn them into moments of grace. It’s okay to be weak because weakness offers God a window to act.

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9

Would God give me something I can’t handle?

I recently heard a man I respect say, “People often say that God won’t give you anything that you can’t handle. I don’t think that is true. I think that God won’t give you anything that he can’t handle.”

I agree with that, and I’ve been thinking about it in respect to my own life. I’ve had a particularly difficult (from my own perspective) go of it the past two years. I’ve had things that I loved taken away from me. I have willingly walked away from things that I once thought that I wanted. My life has changed dramatically, and it hasn’t always been something that I’ve wanted or enjoyed. I’ve had to be brave and strong in times and in ways that I would have preferred to avoid. I’ve had a few people tell me that they admire how strong and brave and capable I’ve shown myself to be, but I struggle taking those compliments.

I struggle with them largely because I’m not getting through this on my own strength. On my own, I am not strong or brave or graceful or gracious. My own natural inclination is often to get angry or cry; I have cried many times in all of this. I’ve acted against my inclination too many times to believe that the reason that I’m getting through this on my own power. When people see me being brave or strong, that’s God working in me and through me. He’s getting me through this; he’s handling it. I don’t understand what he’s doing, but I know that he’s in control. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know what will happen on the way. But I do know who is driving.

My natural inclinations send me to some pretty dark places. And those dark places are part of the reason that I struggle with the idea that God wouldn’t bring me to something that I couldn’t handle. On my own, I struggle to believe that anything good could ever come from my current circumstances. I struggle to believe that I could ever have good things. I doubt that my job situation will ever improve, that I will ever have joy.

This situation is more than I can handle. In fact, it is far more than I can handle. But it is not more than God can handle. The goal is not for me to become stronger on my own. The goal isn’t for me to handle this on my own. The goal is for me to hand this over to the Lord each day and get through the day on his grace, on his strength, on his power. I’m not supposed to get me through the day. He is supposed to do it. He didn’t bring me to this season of my life to make me into Superwoman. He brought me to this season of my life to teach me to surrender to him and to teach me to allow him to be in control. He who walked on the stormy Sea of Galilee can handle this season of my life. He can handle all seasons of my life, and he won’t give me anything in any of those seasons that he cannot handle.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

-Philippians 4:13

Trying to Help a Struggling Friend

Over the years, I’ve faced more than a few dark days and difficult moments. In fact, I’m currently struggling through a difficult season in my life that shows no signs of improving. I have some truly wonderful friends, and I’ve been blessed by their support and love.

However, one thing that I’ve noticed in my life is that people don’t always know how to support people going through tough times. At times, even the best intentions can sometimes lead to the wrong word or action. So I’ve put together a list of a few ways to help a struggling friend in the hopes that it might help someone else.

  1. Acknowledge the situation. Sometimes the best thing that you can do for someone is to sit down next to them and say, “Well, yes, this does suck.” Don’t try to pretend that everything is happy and perfect. (This can often backfire on you.) Don’t just sit there and offer platitudes. Often when I’m dealing with a hard situation, the most helpful thing that anyone can do is what my roommate did last Thursday night. She laid down on the floor where I was already sprawled and said, “Well, this sucks.” This shouldn’t be the only thing that you do, but it’s a good place to start.
  2. Find out what your friend needs and wants. You may know your friend well, and you may be well acquainted with their situation. However, sometimes it is worthwhile to ask what they need or want. Odd as it might seem, the friend who offered to go with me to get my nails done and eat dinner with me did a lot more towards comforting me in my sadness than the friends who’ve promised to pray for me. I love knowing that others are praying for me, and I know that the prayers will do me good. But in my current state of mind, the person who sits down next to me and spends time with me (even if they don’t really say anything) is fighting on the side of the angels.
  3. Acknowledge their love language and use it to your (and their) benefit. My love language is acts of service followed fairly closely by quality time. For me, it means a great deal if someone does something for me. For example, I felt very loved recently by someone who told me to take a break from what I was doing to focus on something else that was consuming my thoughts. Maybe your friend’s love language is gifts. They might really appreciate a small gift that acknowledges that you notice them and that you care about them. Find a way to show your friend that you love them.
  4. Be there. You might live far away. You might be busy. But find ways to make sure that you are available to your friend in whatever ways you can be. For me, nothing is more painful than when I’m struggling and I’m reaching out to people for help but no one reaches back. Make sure that your friend knows that they are valued and that they are not a burden. You may not know what is going on in your friend’s head. You may not know what the brain weasels are telling your friend. But please please please try to help your friend in his or her fight against the brain weasels. (They’re a lot like Wormtongue.) Brain weasels are truly terrible things, and in my experience, they are almost impossible to ignore. They’re lying liars, but they’re really good at convincing people that they’re telling the truth. And one of their favorite lies is “You’re alone,” which they follow up with “No one wants you.” Please please please make sure that you (and others) are combatting those lies in your friend’s life.

For those of you who are trying to help your struggling friends, thank you. They may not say that, so I will. You may not see the immediate impact of your actions, but I believe that you will someday. Above all, just keep loving your friend. They need it-probably more than you can understand.

A Hard Call

(Note: This is not intended to be anything more than my own thoughts and reflections. It is not the be-all and end-all of anything. It is not a condemnation of anyone else or meant to be hurtful towards anyone. It’s just my thoughts.)

For as long as I can remember, Christian unity has been a cause that was near and dear to my heart. I’ve long held that John 17:20-23 is one of my favorite passages. Growing up in an ecumenical community, I was profoundly aware that Christians of different denominations could work and pray together. I saw this happen in prayer meetings and at the summer camps I attended. On the other hand, growing up Byzantine Catholic and attending Roman Catholic schools showed me firsthand some of the deeper divisions among Christians.

I grew up with a strong awareness that I was different from my RC peers. No one ever intentionally tried to make me feel like I was different, but it was hard to hide from the facts. I was able to receive the Eucharist before any of my peers. My peers mostly went to churches that were near their homes while my family drove 35+ minutes to church. I made the Sign of the Cross differently. On the rare occasions that we said the Nicene Creed, I clamped my mouth shut for three words. I had no problems saying “Alleluia!” during Lent. I didn’t see my school friends at church. I was different.

And I was deeply aware of the brokenness of the Body of Christ. I saw the brokenness in the differences between myself and my classmates. (“You’re making the Sign of the Cross wrong again!”) I saw the brokenness in the fact that my RC friends would decline my invitations to attend church with me. (“I’m just not into that kind of thing.”) I saw the brokenness in the differing liturgical calendars between different faith traditions. (“Why do you have to go to church tonight? Ascension is on Sunday.”)

I found it painful to see this brokenness, and as I grew up, I had a variety of reactions to it. When I was in early high school, I went through a phase where I thought that the best way to resolve this issue was to teach others about my church and encourage them to visit it. Nothing really happened. My brother had friends who were interested in our church, but I didn’t. That hurt me even though I wasn’t good at verbalizing my hurt.

Then, I tried to avoid the brokenness; I didn’t want to deal with it. From about age 16 until about age 24 or 25, I went through a several year period where I really hated seeing differences and divisions. I wanted to ignore them. I wasn’t happy being Byzantine Catholic because it made me weird and different and unusual. I wanted to be Roman Catholic. I talked about how I wanted to marry a Roman Catholic man so I wouldn’t have to be Byzantine anymore.

Why did I want to be Roman Catholic? I didn’t want to be weird. I didn’t want to be different. I had all kinds of excuses for why I wanted to leave the Byzantine Catholic Church, but really, when I sat down at about age 24 and confronted myself, I only wanted to leave the East because I didn’t like being different. I was sick of being one of only a very few young women in the church I attended. I was sick of being different from my friends.

Somewhere around age 25, I came to see that I am called to be Byzantine Catholic at this point in my life. As I came to this realization, I saw that while the Body of Christ is broken, there is beauty in this broken Body. There is beauty in our unity. The call to unity is a hard call. There are things that we do not share. I still clamp my mouth shut for three words every time I attend a Roman Mass at which we pray the Nicene Creed. I make the Sign of the Cross differently from my friends. We don’t always share the same feasts. I can’t receive the Eucharist in an Orthodox Church. I almost laughed in a friend’s face once as she expostulated on how wonderful it is that no matter where you go in the world every Catholic Mass looks pretty much the same. (Oh darling, you meant to say Roman Catholic Mass.) I occasionally resist the urge to email various Catholic bloggers and ask them to please specify that they are Roman Catholic and that not everything that they say is true for all Catholics is actually true for all Catholics.

It’s hard. It is hard to share a common life with people who do not share all of our traditions. It can be hard to know how to approach certain situations in an ecumenical context. How do you discuss certain things? What topics should you avoid? And I don’t have any easy answers to those questions. I don’t know what the right things to do are all of the time. I don’t even know how make certain things stop bothering/troubling me. I screw up plenty in this regard. I’m sure that I offend people at times. Heck, knowing me, I’m probably offending someone with this post.

“May the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind.”

-Paul VI

But I know that unity matters. I know that unity is important to the Body of Christ. I know that the Trinity is Three Persons in One God; the Trinity is our model for unity. I don’t know how to fix difficulties between Churches. But I pray for God to make us one as the Trinity is One. I pray for healing of wounds and restoration of relationships. I pray for bridges to be built. I pray for Church leaders to be given wisdom and hope.

I don’t want to change people’s minds. I don’t want to force my RC friends to become Byzantine Catholic-although I would love it if they had a greater knowledge of my Church. I want to promote understanding. I want to encourage people to understand one another more and love one another more deeply. I want to encourage people to pray for unity and to work for unity. I know that Jesus wants unity. I know that only he can heal our wounds, and I know that he wants to do so.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

-John 17: 20-23

Father, make us one. Show us how to love as you love.

Be.

In the fall of 2012 as my beloved Detroit Tigers were making an epic playoff run, I discovered the song “Hall of Fame” by The Script featuring will.i.am.

At the time, the song was about sports for me. But this past fall, I encountered the song in a different context. What if this song could be used to remind young people about the importance of the Saints?

I’ve always been struck by the lyrics of the whole song, but the rap has especially struck me.

Be students, be teachers
Be politicians, be preachers

Be believers, be leaders
Be astronauts Be champions
Be true seekers

Be students, be teachers
Be politicians, be preachers

Be believers, be leaders
Be astronauts, be champions

To me, the main message of that is BE. Do something with your life. Make something out of yourself. God has put you on this earth for a relatively brief time. Use that time wisely.

I wanted my students to meet the great Saints. I wanted them to get to know the people who “burned with the brightest flame” as the song says. So, using Hebrews 12:1-2 as my theme, I gave them a research project to research Saints of the twentieth century.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I wanted them to meet Gianna Molla and Chiara Luce Badano. I wanted them to meet Josemaria Escriva and Pier Giorgio Frassati. Who were these people?

Some died young. Some lived long lives. Some were priests or nuns or even Popes. (Blessed be God who gave us such holy Popes during the 20th century!) Some were missionaries. Some were mothers. Some were martyrs. All of them loved Jesus.

I wanted them to see that they can be saints too. They can be holy. They too can put their hearts near the heart of Christ.

If I could teach these children one thing, it would be that they can saints. We are all called to be saints. Christ desires that we become holy. Christ desires that we join Gianna and Josemaria in the Hall of Fame.

In addition to their essays, I asked my students to present their Saints to their peers. I wanted them to share these people with one another so that they could come to know these holy men and women. However, in addition to their presentations, I made a video for them featuring photographs of and quotes from their Saints as well as other favorites of mine. I used “Hall of Fame” as the background music on the video.

I showed them the video yesterday, and today one of my students asked me if we could listen to “your saint song” again. She told me that she thought it was a good reminder that they can be Saints, that they’re called to the hall of fame; they’re called to heaven.

That was my point. We are called to run after Jesus like the Saints who have gone before us have. We are called to be holy. We are called to be students, to be teachers, to be preachers, to be politicians, to be believers, to be leaders, to be astronauts, to be truth seekers…we are called to be Saints.

“Life holds only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.”

-Charles Peguy

“I know of nothing else that can save this civilization except saints. Please be one.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft