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

When the First and the Last Concur

Today is a paradox. It is a mystery. Behold, God is conceived. But also behold, God dies. Today, we as Eastern Catholics celebrate two of the most important feasts on our calendar, and they are a seeming contradiction when placed together. March 25 is always the Feast of the Annunciation, the feast of the Incarnation of our Lord. It is the day when we celebrate the visit by the archangel Gabriel to the Theotokos in which Mary learned she was to be the Mother of the Christ.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

But it is also Good Friday, the day when we celebrate the Passion and Death of Jesus. We commemorate his brutal saving Passion.

“And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:46)

The two feasts appear to be contradictory. How can we honor the Incarnation of Christ and His Death at the same time? Our Roman Catholic (and certain Eastern Churches) brothers transfer the Feast of the Annunciation to another day. We do not. How can we do this?

Well, practically speaking, we haul out some special rubrics and we celebrate Entombment Vespers (my second favorite Byzantine service) followed by the Divine Liturgy for the Annunciation followed by the Procession with the Shroud and Veneration of the Shroud. It is beautiful. We have special books made. We pray for our clergy and cantors. It works. It is beautiful.

But why do we do it?

I could be sassy and say that we’re Byzantine Catholics. We like mysteries. (I mean, we do…) But there is more to it than that. We believe that feasts of the Incarnation trump solemnities. Also, in the early Church, the two feasts were celebrated together. (That’s also when we believe that a multitude of events occurred including Noah’s Ark coming to rest on Mount Ararat, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, and the Destruction of the Ring of Power on Mount Doom.) We believe that they are inextricably linked as two of the three most important mysteries of our salvation. Together with the Resurrection, which follows on the 27th, these events usher in a new springtime or a season of new life. (Here’s a great article that looks at that in more depth.)

There is an odd beauty in this paradox. The immortal God becomes a human child in the womb of a teenaged woman and the immortal God surrenders his life for the salvation of all humanity. It is the ultimate feast of the Divine Condescension. On their own, each of these feasts allow us to see the love of God and the humility of God in a clearer way. Together, they are a formidable reminder of just how much God loves us and just how far he is willing to go to be with us.

The beauty of Christianity is that it introduces us to a God who loved us so much that he could not bear to be apart from us. Because of that, He sent His Son into the world (the Annunciation) so that the Son could die (Good Friday) for the salvation of all mankind. In many ways, it is meet and just that these two feasts should coincide.

In 1608, these two feasts overlapped, and the poet and future Anglican priest John Donne wrote a beautiful reflection on this. Donne looks at Mary who both becomes a mother and surrenders her only child on this joined feast. He looks at the gift the Church gives us by uniting these feasts and allowing us to contemplate Christ’s love for us and his humility.

This Church by letting those days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one ;
Or ’twas in Him the same humility,
That He would be a man, and leave to be ;
Or as creation He hath made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,

This day is ultimately a reflection on the humility of Christ. God became man, as St. Athanasius said, so that man might become gods. He became human to unite us to Himself. He joined Himself to our lowly state so that He might unite us to His divine state. That is love. That is humility. And so, it is (to me) truly right that (when the calendar so allows) we celebrate the Annunciation and the Passion in one day. It is good that we are reminded of just how much our God loves us. And what better way to remind us of that than to give us what appeared to be the first and the last of the life of Jesus in one day?


(The publication time for this post was very carefully chosen. It is intentional.)

NB: I know that John Donne wasn’t perfect.

What can Rachel say to us?

Over the past few months, I’ve really been struggling with my relationship status. I’m single, I’ve been single for a long time, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. I look at my life. I’m twenty-seven, which is young in the grand scheme of things. It’s not my age that worries me. I’m Byzantine Catholic, which puts me in a small branch of the Church, and I’m active in a charismatic ecumenical covenant community. This is where I feel that my trouble lies. I exist in two worlds that don’t really mesh well. They can mesh well, but they tend not to. I don’t know any men (who aren’t my relatives) who bridge those worlds. I want to build my life in those two worlds. I want to marry in (if I ever marry) and raise my children (if I ever have any) in the Byzantine Catholic Church and in the community I mentioned above. That doesn’t seem like a likely possibility for me. And for better or worse, I’ve kind of given up hope of ever getting married.

As I read one of the first chapters of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, I was struck by the way the narrator of that particular chapter (Leah Price) described the Biblical character of Rachel. Leah talked about how Rachel “waited all those years” to marry Jacob. In the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, I’ve often thought about how difficult it had to be for Jacob to get the wrong wife and to have to work for fourteen years to marry Rachel. I’ve thought about how hard it would be to be Leah, the unwanted wife. But I’ve always kind of written Rachel off as a spoiled brat.

And now, I’m not so sure about that. I think that Rachel and I might have more in common than I might have previously noticed. The poor woman waited fourteen years to marry the love of her life. In a time when a woman’s worth was almost entirely based on her ability to marry and bear children, Rachel couldn’t get married because her father wouldn’t let her. There was a man standing right there, a good man, who wanted to marry her, and she couldn’t get married. Rachel waited for fourteen years.

That’s not an aspect of Rachel that I think we often consider. We see her as the more beloved wife, the mother of the beloved sons, Joseph and Benjamin. But we don’t tend to look at her as the woman who steadfastly waits through all of Laban’s machinations to marry Jacob. We only see the story through Jacob’s eyes, and we never really see how Leah or Rachel feels as their father (typical of that time in the world) uses them in pawns in his own games. It can’t have been easy. I’m sure that they complained every now and then. They must have wondered what their father was thinking. I’m sure that Rachel had moments when she thought that Jacob would give up on her and leave.

But Rachel waited fourteen years for Jacob. We remember her as a wife and a mother. We know that she was jealous of Leah when the older sister had children first. Dan and Naphtali are, in many ways, the children of her envy. Jeremiah describes her as the voice weeping without comfort over the innocent dead. (Jeremiah 31:15) But there had to be more to her. What kind of woman waits fourteen years to marry and then waits years unknown for the birth of children?

I have to think that Rachel was a patient woman. Perhaps longsuffering is a better word. She gave Dan and Naphtali names that reference the Lord as our judge and as our victory. When, as Genesis puts it, the Lord remembered Rachel and she bore Joseph, she said that God had taken away her reproach. (Genesis 30:23-24) To me, this speaks of a woman who is largely patient with life. She isn’t perfect, but she trusts the Lord. Yes, she tries to fix things on her own at times (stealing her father’s household gods, anyone?), but largely, she trusts the Lord. She believes that he has a plan and good will come to her. Life may not go exactly the way that she wants, but in the end, she has Joseph and Benjamin as well as Dan and Naphtali.

I’m sure that she never planned on waiting fourteen years to marry Jacob. I’m sure that the waiting was difficult for her. But she did it. She may never have understood why she went through these difficulties. She didn’t live to see her sons become men as she died giving birth to Benjamin. (Genesis 35:18) But she did play an important role in salvation history. Her sons were crucial, each in their own way, to the history of their family and of the nation that would come from their family.

So what lesson do I draw from all of this? Be patient, and trust in the Lord. We as humans can never see his full plan. We may not always understand what he is doing, but he will work all things to good for those who love him. We need to avoid trying to force things or holding onto the gods of this world. As God worked great things in and through Rachel’s life, he can do the same for us.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:38)

Living with High Standards

I have high standards for myself. I’ve been told that I have impossibly high standards for myself, but I disagree about the impossible part because I don’t often let myself down. I set standards/expectations for myself, and I meet my standards.

I’m probably a perfectionist. I think that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and if I can’t do something well, I’d rather not be bothered to do it at all. I don’t hit snooze on my alarm. I respond to text messages, emails, and phone calls as quickly as I can. I get mad at myself if I don’t think that I’ve done something well enough. (Ask the secretary of my school how often I apologize for doing something “poorly” in my own opinion.) I apologize profusely if I’m late for anything.

There is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with having high standards for one’s self. I expect myself to do well professionally and academically. I have high expectations for my personal life. If I don’t meet my own expectations, I consider myself to be a failure, and I beat myself up.

The problem comes from the fact that I tend to take my expectations and standards for myself and hold others to them. For example, I expect others to be as punctual and time-driven as I am. I get annoyed with people when they are late or when they don’t reply to communication as punctually as I would like. This is a problem. I cannot expect others to do things because it’s what I want. I can’t change other people. I can’t make them live up to my standards. I have to change me. I have to change my expectations.

This is part of being human. We have to live in relationship with one another and treat each other with respect. It isn’t respectful of me to demand that others meet my standards. Yes, I demand these things of myself, but I cannot rightly ask these things of my brothers and sisters. It isn’t my place or my responsibility to get annoyed with others when they are late or when they don’t do what I want. I can’t change them, and I shouldn’t either. But I can change me. I can change how I react to others.

I need to humble myself. C.S. Lewis defined humility as “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I need to get over myself and not seek to force others to rise to my expectations. I need to accept others as they are, to love others where they are. I need to worry less about what I want and what makes me happy. Instead, I need to focus on loving others as Jesus loved them.

And Jesus didn’t sit around yelling at people or getting annoyed with people because they were late for dinner or they took more than ten minutes to reply to his text messages.

The Thoughts You Have on Watching The Road to El Dorado as an Adult

Prior to this evening, neither Joy nor I had ever seen The Road to El Dorado. We had seen the below gif on the webs, but we’d never seen the original movie.
But the movie is on Netflix, and we wanted a quiet Saturday night so we could go to bed at reasonable hour given that this is the worst Saturday of the year.
Naturally, because I’m a jerk, we had to write a ridiculous blog post while watching the film. So, here goes nothing…
Why is everyone speaking English?

That guy is clearly from Hawaii.  How did someone from Hawaii get to Arizona?
He doesn’t believe they’re gods.  He’s going to spend the whole movie trying to prove they aren’t.

We’re the monkeys.  People say we monkey around…

She can hear them!  She can tell what they’re saying.

Her out fit does not look comfortable.

Also, she has really big hips and thighs for someone with that small of a waist.

There’s a lot of inconsistencies in this movie.

Do you ever wonder if the animators were on drugs?

Why on earth would you think that?

Right then they definitely were.

No, I think they were just drunk.

I’m sorry, how long are footprints going to stay on the beach?

Dude, you’re not making friends.

It’s Godzilla, Joy!

My life is worse for having watched this movie. It’s not substantially worse or anything. But my life was better before I saw this movie.

A Man Falls into a Hole: A Meditation on Grace

The West Wing, one of my favorite shows, never shied away from the big issues in life. War, death, capital punishment, alcoholism, disease…they took on pretty much everything. What has always struck me about the show is not merely that they chose to face these issues head on but that they did so with honesty and compassion. In the Christmas episode of the second season, they took on (among other things) mental health and struggling through difficult seasons in life.

Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, is struggling with PTSD after being shot at the end of the first season. While Josh is doing well overall at this point, his boss and his secretary both notice that he’s been struggling in the recent days. They arrange for Josh to see his therapist, and after Josh meets with his therapist, he has a conversation with Leo McGarry. This conversation will never stop being one of my favorite pieces of dialogue on the show, and a recent encounter with the quotation has led me to a meditation on grace and on friendship.

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

I’ve been going through some rough things lately. It hasn’t been easy, and I’m not always sure how I get to the end of the day. I know that there is prayer involved; sometimes that prayer is just “Jesus, help me.” There are days when the only way that I make it through the day is the knowledge that there is someone in my corner.

For me, Leo’s quotation is the definition of love and of friendship. Prayer is infinitely valuable. Medicine is good. But sometimes what you really need is for someone to meet you where you are and try to help you climb out of the pit. Sometimes what you really need is someone who has been in the pit before and knows how to get out. You need that person to climb down into the pit and help you get out.

Recently, I ran into someone who I hadn’t talked to in a while. She asked me how I was doing and added something like “It seems like you’ve been having a rough time lately.” I can’t tell you what it meant to not have to just say, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” I didn’t have to say that everything was going well for me. I was able to be honest and say that things aren’t perfect right now. I don’t know if that woman will ever know what it meant to me to be able to say that yes, my life is hard, really hard right now. It was a massive gift to me, and it was something that I desperately needed. Now, she didn’t help me climb all the way out of the pit, but she did come to the pit and acknowledge it for what it is. That seemingly small act helped me up a little. For me, it was a moment of grace.

Grace can come into our lives like this. It doesn’t always come in big ways or obvious miracles. Sometimes it’s just someone acknowledging our pain. It isn’t always a complete removal from the pit. Sometimes it’s just someone coming into the pit and spending some time with me or seeing that I need some sort of help and getting it for me without me asking. That’s the really amazing thing that Donna and Leo did for Josh; they saw his needs and met them without him verbally asking for help. (Punching the window was his way of crying for help.)

Honestly, that’s the thing that I need the most when I’m struggling. I need someone to do for me what Leo and Donna did for Josh; I need them to see my needs and help me before I ask. But it’s not easy to be Leo and Donna; oftentimes, people will hide hurt or difficulty from even their closest friends. I know that I’ve tried to do that before. I’ve also tried to be Leo and Donna; that’s not easy. You need grace. You need strength. You may need a miracle. And the only advice that I can give on the subject is to ask for grace to help you in whatever role you are playing.

What am I trying to say? You need grace if you’re the man in the pit. You need grace if you’re the friend. When you’re dealing with the pit, you need grace to get out, and you need to have a friend around who will acknowledge the pit and ask for the grace to help you out.

Friday Link Love

Another week, another set of links I love

Self-Emptying Prayer: This can be really useful during Lent.

It’s a Crying Shame: A meditation on forgiveness; it was written in preparation for Orthodox Lent, but for us at the midpoint of the Fast, it is a useful reminder.

How to Love Your Curly Hair: It’s a struggle, kids, and the struggle is real.

Porn is Dangerous: Such a worthwhile read

Jim Harbaugh in a Tigers Uniform: BASEBALL IS BACK, AND I AM A HAPPY WOMAN!!!!!!!!!