If they weren’t women…

“Without a spine she [Teresa of Jesus] couldn’t be a woman and if she wasn’t a woman, she couldn’t be a saint.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft

I studied abroad in Spain in the fall of 2008. At some point in one of my literature classes, my professor (a middle-aged man who was quite proud of being Spanish) began waxing poetical about how Teresa of Avila was the first female Doctor of the Church. I’m pretty sure that he also called her the only female doctor of the Church. My Good Catholic Girl hand shot up. I told him that he was wrong. She wasn’t the first. She isn’t the only. But she is super important. He asked me who the others were. I told him about my darling Catherine of Siena and the excellent Therese of Lisieux.

Over the past fifty years, the Catholic Church has elevated four women to the rank of Doctor of the Church-the three I told my professor about and Hildegard von Bingen a few years after that conversation. They’re an oddly diverse grouping, and I think that each of them is a good role model for women in her own way.

St. Therese of Lisieux is the only of the four to have lived in the age of photography. We have paintings and such of the other three, but we have photos of Therese. Intellectually, I know that she died young. But it’s one thing to know a fact, and another to look at the face of a young woman who died at the age of 24 and realize that she is a Doctor of the Church. She is someone whose wisdom I respect. And she became that person in a relatively short amount of time.

That sort of thing doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of two things: the action and guidance of God and an openness on the part of the individual to God’s action. Therese of Lisieux could have died at the age of 24 and done nothing to matter to anyone outside of her family. She could have lived a mundane life. She could have lived her life guided by her own desires and choices. But she didn’t.

Instead, she said yes to God in big ways and small. She chose to allow God to overcome her natural selfishness and her other human failings. She chose to allow him to make something truly great out of her life. She became a Doctor not on her own power but because of what she allowed God to do with her.

“When we are expecting nothing but suffering we are surprised at the least joy, but then the suffering itself because the greatest of joys when we seek it as a precious treasure.”

-St. Therese of Lisieux

That can be said of each of the four female Doctors. They didn’t become Saints or Doctors on their own merits. They became what they were because they allowed God to use them. When I ramble about St. Catherine of Siena, I often refer to her as the person who brought the Papacy back to Rome. But she didn’t act on her own power. And she didn’t force the Pope to do anything. Under divine inspiration, she wrote to him, and he returned-acting under divine inspiration.

God used each of these four women in unique ways. He gave each of them different gifts, and he gave them different circumstances. He worked through them in different ways. But he was only able to do that because they allowed him to. He gave them gifts, but he never forced them to use those gifts. He worked with them as they were open to him.

NB: This post was supposed to have published on March 30 for the end of March as both Reading Month and Women’s History Month. However, I didn’t get it published before going to Church, so instead I’m publishing it for April 12 because it seems as good a day as any.


A People, Not a Place

Several years ago, I came across a quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux that resonated quite strongly with me. It’s probably one of the most significant things that I’ve ever encountered in my life with Christ, and yet it’s one of the simplest things that I’ve ever heard.

The world’s thy ship, not thy home.

I read that some years ago, and it stuck with me. In fact, for a good while, I’d forgotten who had even said it. I just carried that sentence around inside of me.

I’m going to put three quotations on a similar theme here, and I want you to read them.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis)

“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

“Asgard is not a place. It’s a people.” (Thor: Ragnarok)

I’ve talked previously about my love for a Lewis quote similar to the one above, but this Holy Week and Easter season have found me looking at these quotations again and with a deeper significance.

I’m not a point yet where I’m able to talk about the specifics of this, but I’ve been going through a spiritual season of wandering in the wilderness. When the author of Hebrews talks about the holy ones of the Old Testament, he describes them as strangers and sojourners. That’s really struck me lately. There are some things going on in my life (both internal and external) that make feel like I’m wandering around almost aimlessly. I sometimes wonder what it’s all about.

(Side note: I really don’t know WHAT I’m going to do if it does turn out that the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about after all.)

I know that I feel like I’m a stranger in a strange land. I know that I feel like I’m sojourning without a clear vision of my destination. I wonder about the purpose of my life. Sitting on the brink of thirty with a job that I love but a great deal of confusion and uncertainty in most other areas of my life is stressful. I find it really difficult to find hope and peace when I don’t know if or when certain questions in my life will be resolved. Simply put, when you’re in the wilderness, it can be hard to believe that the Promised Land exists.

This morning, as I was driving to work I found myself praying. I told the Lord that I know he is there and he loves me, but I don’t feel that. I feel completely alone. I feel empty. I feel spiritually void. I know that feelings can be crap and all. I know that God is there even when I don’t feel him. But I could really use a reminder that my life isn’t without value. It’d be nice to know that my life will not have been useless or in vain.

But the purpose of my life is not limited to this world. In fact, this world is not my home. I may not have the things that I want in the here and now. But my life should not be lived focused on this world. I need to live my life with an eternal perspective. Last fall, I made some pretty major changes in my life because I want to live my life more fully for God. I want to live my life in such a way that will help me to draw closer to God and to serve his kingdom more fully. But in order to do that, I had to let go of some things that have long been a part of my life. I had to leave some places behind myself.

This was (and honestly still is) incredibly difficult for me. It was stressful and painful. I have grieved for the losses this decision incurred. While I am confident that I made the right decision, I am not completely at peace with the situation I left behind me. There are temporal matters that cause me pain and keep me from experiencing peace. But the Kingdom of God is not bound to this world. And the Body of Christ, the Church, is not a place; it is a people. And it is a people who are living not for this world but for the world to come. This world is our ship. It is a place where we are living, but it is not our ultimate home.

There is a moment in Thor: Ragnarok where Thor realizes that Asgard, the home of the Aesir, actually contained within the Aesir. Asgard lives in the hearts of the people who inhabit it, not in the physical location-the buildings and streets and bifrost. On Holy Thursday, I had a realization that the Church is the same way. God inhabits the hearts of his people. A church is the building in which those people gather. We as Christians need to meet together and pray together. We do that in a church building. But that building is not the Church. That is the people. The Body of Christ is in the human beings who call themselves Christians.

I am not alone because I am loved by a faithful God but also because I am part of a people who were purchased at such a great price. (I Cor 6:20)  I may feel alone, but I am not the only one wandering through the wilderness. There is some sorrow and struggle inherent to the life that we lead in this world. We as humans live in a fallen world. We live among brokenness. That inherently leads to sorrow and pain. But as Easter reminds us, this world is not the end. When we die, it is then that our lives will really begin. Another world awaits us. “All will turn to silver glass” and then…oh, what joy awaits us when our voyage on this ship has ended.

Be of good cheer. In the world we will have trouble, but Christ has conquered the world. (John 16:33) By death, he trampled Death. This world is merely our ship. We were made for another world, for a better world. We were made for the kingdom that is to come. And in the meantime, we have the people of God to uphold us and support us.

A Book, too, Can Be a Star

I’ve been thinking about March being both Women’s History Month and Reading Month. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my favorite female writers. I pretty quickly started thinking about Madeleine L’Engle. I first encountered Madeleine L’Engle when I was about eleven through A Wrinkle in Time. The school librarian (aka my mom) recommended it to me because she thought it would appeal to my interests.  I loved it, and I wanted to read anything-everything-that she’d written. I got her books out of the library. I once road my bike to the mall because I wanted to have my own copy of A Ring of Endless Light. I borrowed my friend’s copy of Certain Women because I started reading it while I was hiding in her room during a game of Psychiatrist. Suffice it to say, Madeleine L’Engle has been important to me.

Madeleine L’Engle’s books focus primarily on girls and women. Even when the main character is a man, he is surrounded by strong women. (See Many Waters) From my first encounter with L’Engle, that inspired me. I loved exploring the world through the eyes of strong but completely human women. I also loved how the men in these books encouraged the women in their lives to meet their full potential and supported them in that quest. I wanted to be like Meg Murry or Vicki Austin and have people around me who encouraged and supported me. I loved how Dr. Alex Murry, Mr. Austin, and Dr. Calvin O’Keefe each believed that his respective daughter(s) could do anything and encouraged them to do their best at whatever they were doing. Vicky is encouraged to pursue her love of the humanities but also to seek out their intersections with science. Meg’s greatest strength is math, and that’s nurtured. That’s really inspiring for a girl whose math teacher told her that most girls just aren’t as good at math as boys are.

L’Engle also introduced me to all sorts of literature that most middle school girls don’t know. I learned about John Donne, Tennyson, and various theologians because her characters quoted those writers. I met Fortinbras and Mr. Rochester because they were family pets in L’Engle’s books. L’Engle never assumed that her audience was too young to understand these things. By introducing me to these things, she challenged my intellect and encouraged me to push my curiosity. I sometimes think I have her to blame for my nerdy tendencies.

L’Engle also gave me some important spiritual insights. In A Ring of Endless Light, Mrs. Austin tells her children that prayer is not magic but rather “an act of love.” That resonated with my adolescent soul, and it’s given me a strong understanding of what prayer is. It’s helped me to continue praying even when there doesn’t seem to be an immediate answer or an obvious solution. She showed me that joy is “the infallible sign of the presence of God.” I’ll never forget Grandfather explaining to Vicky that “other men’s crosses are not my own” and her subsequent realization that there are moments when each of us is called to act like Simon of Cyrene and carry the cross of another for a time. Christians are not called to worry about others unnecessarily or bear their burdens, but we are called to live with the kindness and love of Christ. I like to think that she made me a better person.

Madeleine L’Engle’s books are stars to me. They lit my interior universe and opened new horizons to me. I owe her a great deal. She encouraged me to pursue new interests and to not fear strength. She showed me the beauty of strong women and introduced me to some truly excellent literature and music. I’m so grateful for her.

The Holy Transience of Baseball

A good subtitle for this post might be “What Baseball Has Taught Me About Heaven.”

I love baseball. Those who know me well know that I dearly love the Detroit Tigers. I freely admit that watching a game at Comerica Park (on a summer evening with a Detroit craft brew in my hand) makes me happier than few other things in this world. Like any good baseball fan, I have my favorite players. For several years (with a particular emphasis on 2012-2014), Rick Porcello was My Tiger. He wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was often a good player. He seems like a good man. This game on my 26th birthday was particularly awesome.

And then about three years ago, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. I still like Ricky P. But he’s not My Tiger any more. J.D. Martinez became My Tiger. And then he was traded. Before I could really attach myself to my next prospective My Tiger, Alex Avila was traded. And last night, Ian Kinsler was traded.

Now, you will tell me (and rightly so) that such is the nature of baseball. Gone are the days of a player staying with his team for an entire career. This is true. I will find a new Tiger next season. I will love him until he leaves, and then I’ll find a new My Tiger. Porcello will always have a special place in my heart as will Martinez, Avila, and Kinsler, but they’re not Tigers anymore. Baseball is transient.

So is life. We are not made for this world. As St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us, the world is our ship and not our home. We were not made for this world. We were made for heaven. Like baseball players, we are not meant to always be here. We are meant for something greater. We cannot stay in one place and never move forward, never improve as Christians.

“If we are created for royal glory, royal glory will fulfill us.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft

We were made to be saints. Just as baseball players are meant to play their best, work together as a team, and win championships, we are called to live lives of holiness. This means that we need to move beyond those things that hold us back from God, that hinder us from holiness. We need to lay aside our earthly care and fix our eyes on the King of Kings.

Brothers, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 3:13-14

Is this easy? No, it is far easier for me to let go of J.D Martinez as my Tiger than it is for me to let go of long-held patterns of sin. That doesn’t mean that I can’t let go of those patterns. It simply means that it is hard. I used to hope that J.D. Martinez or Rick Porcello would come back to Detroit. I had loved them while they were here, and I wanted them to come back. I wanted them to be part of bringing a World Series championship to Detroit.

 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

-Philippians 4:8

But their time in Detroit has passed. This is not their place or their home anymore. I have to let go of them. I can support them where they are now, but I can’t try to hold them back. (Not that I ever had any real power to do so anyway) Similarly, I cannot hold on to things that keep me from pursuing God’s call on my life. They might be fun, but I cannot surround myself with things or people that are not life-giving, that do not tend to sanctity.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…

-Philippians 3:8-10

Now this isn’t some great announcement that I’m leaving something big behind. Rather, it is a reminder that there are things here and there within our lives that keep us from pursuing God with our whole hearts, with our whole lives. I’ll have to find a new My Tiger soon; I have to lay aside my dreams of Porcello or Martinez in the D. (I also have to lay aside my dreams of marrying Rick Porcello; that was always a ridiculous hope.) This is not their home; this place will not help them to become the best baseball players they can be at this point in their careers. They need to seek to be the best athlete that they can be. I need to seek to be a saint.

If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.

-Colossians 3:1

A Better Plan

On Sunday, I put my Jesse tree ornaments on my Christmas tree. My flatmate is Lutheran, and I didn’t want to put the ornaments on the tree until Advent had properly begun for all of us.

As I put the ornaments on the tree, I found myself thinking about the people depicted on the ornaments. They are the great heroes of the Old Testament-David, Abraham, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Elijah etc. They are people who lived their lives with great faith in a God whom they could not see. They were given a promise, but the promise was not fulfilled in any of their lifetimes. But that did not keep them from faith.

As I put up the ornaments, I found myself thinking about Hebrews 12 saying “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…run to Jesus.” Ordinarily, I think of this in terms of the Saints of the Church-St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Cecilia, etc. But as I looked at the ornaments, I realized that these Old Testament figures are just as much a part of that cloud of witnesses. Samuel is no less a member of that great cloud than St. Nicholas. They had a different vision of holiness, but they each lived a life of holiness and sanctity according to the knowledge that they had in their day and age.

And as I kept thinking about that, I found my mind traveling to the end of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) On this side of paradise, I have a limited understanding of the Divine Plan. I don’t know why exactly the Messiah had to come when and where he came. I only know that it happened because it was God’s plan.

While the timing or the place might not make sense to me, the reason is simple. God had a plan. It was a better plan than a plan to send the Messiah at the time of Samuel or Nehemiah or the Maccabees. It was a plan that somehow included us in a way that another plan would not.

And that’s a really beautiful thing. God sent the Messiah into the world at time that would benefit us. He thought of us. From all eternity, he chose to send the Messiah into the world at a time that would be the best time not only for the people of that time but for the all people in all times. The Incarnation was not for one time or one place. It was for all times and all places. It happened in one time and one place, but it happened in such a way as to impact all that had come before it and all that would come after it. The time was perfectly chosen from all eternity.

I find a great deal of hope and encouragement in this. Like any normal person, I struggle with understanding God’s plan at times. I don’t get why things do or don’t happen. I don’t always understand his timing. I know that his ways are perfect and his times are perfect. But that perfection does not automatically mean that I understand what is happening. A few years ago, I went through a very bitter and confusing season of life. In the moment, I could not understand it. Even now, I occasionally look back on it and wonder why that had to be a chapter of my life. I know that I’ve come out the other side, and I believe that both my life and myself as a person are better for that season. But I don’t fully understand why it happened. Regardless, I know that God had a plan for that season as for all of my seasons.

I don’t have to understand that plan today. I don’t have to understand it next week or next year. I may never know on this side of paradise. But I do know that I was guided through that season by a good and loving God. I know that I came out the other side because of God. I know that while I have plans for my life he has a better plan.

As I’ve been meditating on St. Joseph this Advent, I’ve been struck by that thought. Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, had some plans. He probably figured that he was going to marry a nice girl. They’d have a few children and grow old together. Instead, he married the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The only child he ever raised was not his biological child but rather the Son of the Living God.

God interrupted St. Joseph’s plans in order to bring about a more perfect plan. He spent much of the Old Testament interrupting Moses’s and David’s plans for a quiet life and elevating them to greatness. God interrupted the Israelites’ plans for a warlike king as Messiah with a humble servant crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. God will interrupt our plans whether or not we want him to. The great saints throughout history teach us that our only real option is to get out of the way and allow him to act.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:1-2

An Inconvenient Blessing

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

-G.K. Chesterton

On Saturday, I had the great blessing of attending the Beatification Mass for Blessed Solanus Casey. The Mass was celebrated at Ford Field in Detroit. Because of the stadium’s security guidelines, I didn’t take my purse in with me, but I just stuck my cell phone and drivers license in my coat pocket. (In retrospect, I should have put my drivers license in my pants pocket. Oh well!) When I got back to the car, I discovered that I’d lost my drivers license at some point during the day.

My natural high maintenance inclination is to panic, but for some reason (probably because I’d just left Mass) I found myself with an overwhelming sense of peace. I tried to call Ford Field, but I quickly learned that path would be useless until 10am on Monday. So I said a quick prayer asking St. Anthony, the finder of lost things, to help me. And then I asked Blessed Solanus to pray for me.

Thank God ahead of time.

-Blessed Solanus Casey

And then I did something that was decidedly of divine inspiration. I took a piece of advice from Blessed Solanus. I took a minute to thank God for however he was going to work through this situation. I then took advantage of a few methods of social media to contact Ford Field since I couldn’t leave a message via phone. (They responded this morning; they don’t have it but they’ll let me know if they find it.) And I prayed a bit more.

The weekend continued on, and no one seemed to have any idea where my license was. But I just found myself feeling calm and entirely unlike my usual self. To be fair, every time I found myself thinking about the missing drivers license I asked the intercession of Blessed Solanus and then thanked God for however he was going to use this inconvenience in my life.

This afternoon, I left work a little early and went to the Secretary of State (or as I told a kid, the worst place in the world) to get a new drivers license. Again, it’s a place and situation that should have stressed me out, and I found myself feeling remarkably calm about the whole thing. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, but I found myself feeling really grateful for the peace I was experiencing.

Ultimately, the situation was easily resolved. I filled out a form, sat quietly in a waiting room for an hour, dealt with some paperwork, paid $9, allowed someone to take a bad picture of me, and replaced my drivers license. But I’m also well aware that smoothness of the situation was largely due to my prayers. It was a good reminder of the importance of prayer and the importance of seeking the intercession of other members of the Communion of Saints.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

And let me tell you. I’m now convinced of the great value of thanking God ahead of time. I’ll be doing it much more often. Thanks, Blessed Solanus!

And Blessed Solanus, pray for us!

Looking to St. Joseph

Every year, I try to find a focus for my Advent. Because Eastern Advent (or the Fast of St. Philip) begins on November 15, I start looking for something at the beginning of November. This year, something fell into my lap.

When I lived in Spain, I developed an odd but strong connection to Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. The chorus particularly struck me. On a recent November day, I was driving home from work feeling frustrated with life and I found myself listening to that song again. And again, the chorus struck me.

Father, show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. How can a man be father to the Son of God? Lord, for all my life, I’ve been a simple carpenter. How can I raise a King?

Show me where I fit into this plan of Yours. I have not been called to raise a king, but I have been called to a life that I don’t always understand. As I thought about that line and prayed into a bit, I found myself thinking of a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva:

“It is not given to everyone to imitate Teresa of Avila or Vincent de Paul, but each of us can easily follow St. Joseph.”

St. Joseph’s life has lessons for each of us. Joseph was called to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. And as I drove, I felt called to spend the Fast leading up to the Nativity focusing on St. Joseph and his lessons. A dear friend wrote a book about St. Joseph that I plan to reread.

My hope is that by focusing on St. Joseph I can learn to better live out the call to holiness in daily life. I believe that the Good Saint will pray for me to grow in this area, and I hope that by focusing on him, the Lord will guide me to a better understanding of living out the call to holiness in the midst of the challenges of daily life in the world.