Restoring Our Relationships

In Christ, we recover what was once perfect: true love in our relationships

In Christ, we recover what was once perfect: true love in our relationships

On Thursday, women took center stage in our readings mass, from the story of woman being created from the rib of man to the Syrophoenician woman convincing Jesus to heal her daughter. I’ve seen homilists go a number of directions with these readings: “God works through unexpected people” (a little condescending), “Jesus changed his mind,” (a little problematic), and “This is the way marriage should be, man and woman loving one another with man as the head” (very complicated). Having studied both readings in my scripture classes this year, I wanted to offer a slightly different perspective.

Let’s start with the often-misunderstood Genesis reading. Unlike the first creation story (Gn 1:1-2:3) in which “male and female he created them,” humanity is created in procession in the second creation story (Gn 2:4-25): God created man from the earth, and then from the man’s rib, he created woman. Many have interpreted this as a sign of subordination, including the Apostle Paul, arguing that woman came from man, not man from woman, so woman is subject to man (See 1 Cor 11:8; 1 Tim 2:13).

But is this really what the story is saying? In fact, quite the opposite: God has set up a radically egalitarian, perfect relationship between man and woman. In her very purpose for being created, woman was intended to be a “partner” of the man, a “helper” in the same way that God is Israel’s helper throughout the Old Testament (the Hebrew word is the same). Is God subordinate to Israel because he is its helper? Of course not! Look, then, at how the woman is made: man had nothing to do with it. He was asleep! (Typical…) Just as God created man, so God created woman. The man declares, “This one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In other words, they are the same, of one essence, perfectly equal in their intended creation. Because of this, man has no claim over the woman, and so unlike the animals (for which he gave names to signify his authority over them), he does not “name” woman as much as he describes their relationship to one another: “for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” He understands who she is in light of him and who he is in light of her. (It is not until chapter 3, after they sin, that the man names her Eve, marking the distortion of their relationship.) The passage concludes that they live naked with one another with no shame, signifying their perfect respect for one another, having nothing to hide, no distortions, and no manipulations. This is what God created.

But this is not the world we live in, is it? We live in a world of human trafficking, pornography, and sexual exploitation. We live in a very “sexist” world in which women are harassed, paid less than men, and subordinated to second class. Just this week Sports Illustrated sent me their annual Swimsuit edition. Today, “50 Shades of Grey” hits theatres. How can we look at these things as say that we are respecting each other as equals? How would we feel if it was our mother, our best friend, our sister, in these situations? We would never treat our loved ones this way, but we subordinate others all of the time, intentionally or unintentionally. We live in a world of distorted relationships, a world that has lost sense of the “partnership” God created, the perfect relationship the he intended.

Now within this distorted world, we jump to the Gospel (Mk 7:24-30), and are confronted with an odd interaction between Jesus and a Syrophoenician woman. Falling to Jesus’ feet in worship for him to save her daughter, Jesus initially refuses to help her, and then worse yet, he calls her a dog! Not politically correct Jesus! He does end up curing the woman’s daughter because of her great faith, but the reader is left a little baffled. Was Jesus serious in calling her that? If so, does that mean that Jesus’ mind was changed?

My own reflection on the passage is that Jesus’ mind was not changed. Look at what precedes it: He has already cured non-Jews, he has cured and interacted with women, and in this case, specifically went out of his way to go to Gentile territory. From the start of his ministry, Jesus understood his mission. He came to proclaim the Kingdom of God to all people. In light of the first story, Jesus came to restore the relationship God had intended between all of humanity.

So why did he call her a dog then? Was he serious? This question is a bit more complicated, but certainly understandable in a human sense. While fully divine, Jesus was also fully human. He came into the world like us, was formed as a child by cultural structures, norms related to interaction with women, and a way of speaking. If Jesus truly took on our humanity, its foolish to think that he would not be unaffected by it, at least externally. What he said, although not what we would hope for, is indicative of the subordination of women in their culture (if not ours as well.) We live in a broken world, and Jesus became a part of that.

But he didn’t come to simply experience it, he came to transform it. He came to restore relationships. Like all of us, (and forgive me if this begins to project my own experience onto Jesus), it is entirely possible that Jesus knew exactly what he was to do, restore humanity to its intended perfect relationship, and simply got caught off guard, letting his human weakness revert to the way he had seen men treat woman his entire life. I have an example. This year, I’ve started going downtown DC in my habit looking for homeless people to talk to, to find out what they need, and to offer them little things like hand-warmers and protein bars. It is clear that I know my mission: I am here to serve and respect the poor and marginalized of society. Sometimes I do it well. And yet, a few weekends ago, I was downtown with some people going to a restaurant and a homeless man reached out a cup asking for help as we walked by. Did I treat him with respect as I know I am here to do? No. I walked by, ignored him, and hoped he wouldn’t notice me. In essence, I called him a dog. I realized that my “relationships” with the ones I served were nowhere close to the type of relationship God intended. I had subordinated him to a person in need of my help, and since I had nothing that day to offer (or was too disinterested to try), I did not interact with him. In my mind, it was a one-way relationship, one in which he could not offer me anything, and so I didn’t stop. I knew my mission, I knew who I was, and yet reverted to the way I had see others treat homeless people my entire life.

While women take center stage in Thursday’s readings, I think the focus is really on how we relate to all of humanity. Do we treat each other with respect or do we degrade? Do we lift each other up to see each others as equals or do we subordinate? Do we attempt to return to what God intended or do we further the distortion, manipulation, and condescension of this world? On this Valentine’s Day, on this day that the Lord has made, I think that our only answer is Jesus, the God who came down from heaven to be equal to us and to restore us to that perfect union we once knew. It is only in relationship to him, in becoming one flesh with the one who gave of himself, that we are able to enter into relationship with those around us in the way it was always intended.

Light in the Darkness



This morning I had the opportunity to preach at our house mass. Here is a rough recollection of what I had to say, expanded a bit for the sake of the blog. The readings that this was based on can be found here.

Don't underestimate the power of even a candle in a dark place!

Don’t underestimate the power of even a candle in a dark place!

In light of the recent (and weak) allegations against the New England Patriots over the past week, I began thinking about some of the famous scandals I have witnessed in my life.

Mark Sanford “hiking in the Appalachian mountains”;

Lance Armstrong admitting doing steroids;

Enron going bankrupt and shredding all of its files.

In a way, stories like these are all the same: someone with a lot of power tries to abuse that power thinking that they will never get caught…until they get caught. It happens almost everyday in politics, sports, and entertainment. Clearly there are many in the world that have never heard our Gospel passage for today: “There is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” Sooner or later, it seems, justice is served. Someone is going to talk; evidence is going to leak; words are going to slip. One way or another, the secret gets out and the rest of us are left wondering, “Did he really think he was going to get away with that?” “What was she thinking?” In a way, there is a sense of comfort in reading this passage, in knowing that those who lie and cheat will always get caught; that in the end, you can’t hide from justice. Everyone gets what they deserve.

But our experience seems to show the opposite as well, doesn’t it? Crimes aren’t always solved and injustice continues. Sometimes the bad guy gets away and the truth is left hidden. I have two such examples from my life:

The first is high school Spanish class. I would sit there during daily quizzes and think, “How can I really be expected to memorize so many words each night?” It was just ridiculous for my little brain. So what did I do? Well, a little peak here… a little peak there… Maybe I’d be lucky enough to get an answer or two. One time, a student was caught cheating during a quiz, had his paper ripped in half, and was chastised for the rest of the class. Thank God it wasn’t me, I thought. But it could have been, maybe should have been. Maybe it was because I didn’t do it very often or because I wasn’t all that blatant about it, but the fact is, what he did was brought to light while what I did was kept secret.  He was labeled a cheater, and I was simply an average student. And unless you go tell my Spanish teacher, that will never change.

I faced a similar situation on my baseball team in high school. Playing for a man insistent on conditioning, we would regularly end practice by running a lap around the campus, stopping on the far side to run up and down the hill ten times. My first practice as a sophomore, I found that I was the only player that took this seriously. “What are you doing? Coach isn’t going to know. Just relax for 5 minutes and we’ll run back.” I couldn’t do it. Even if the other guys, including the senior captains, didn’t care about conditioning and working hard, I was going to do them anyway. Why? Because I wanted to get better; my success was in no way tied to what they, or coach, thought about me. Ultimately, nothing came of it. I never received an award, never gained the admiration of my teammates, and I’m sure to this day my coach still talks about how hard of a worker one of those seniors was (we heard about him for two more years after he graduated.)

And so, there are two things that I want to highlight today.

The first is that we are men called to integrity. There will come a day when, after spending our whole lives “longing to see his face,” we will stand before our God in hopes that He longs to see our face as well. No one else’s opinion matters at that point. But when we think about it, isn’t that always the case? As Francis writes in his Admonitions: “Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more.” In this way, we are called to clear out the clutter from our lives, the distractions and facades we put before us, in order to know very clearly who we are before our God. It is in that moment that we are able to enter fully into the Eucharist, to receive the light and life of Christ to make all things known between us.

But it doesn’t stop there. For fear of over-spiritualizing the matter, thinking only of the life to come, it’s important to remember that our Eucharistic celebration demands that we take what Christ has given us and share it with the world. While all will eventually be revealed by God on our day of judgment, some things need to be revealed now. As God’s hands and feet, we are called to bring the light of Christ to the darkness, to challenge injustice, to stand up against the evil and corruption that dehumanizes our human family. As baptized Christians, we are all given many skills and charisms to be shared with the world: “Is a lamp brought to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed?” Absolutely not. Our gifts need to be used for the sake of the world, to bring the light of Christ to the places of darkness

Today, may we be able to see clearly, in our lives and in our world, what the light of Christ has revealed to us.

Lord, Save Me From Chaos

In my last week here in Camden, NJ, I have been given an opportunity to offer a reflection on the readings at two of the masses this weekend. My hope is that you will read this for what it is, a short reflection on our readings, and not what it could be, a comprehensive theology of theodicy (For that, please see my posts from two years ago, Why Do We Suffer Pts 1, 2, and 3). There are things that I omit and things that I gloss over because, well, it’s a ten minute reflection. Enjoy!


A couple weeks ago, I helped the Student Leaders here at St. Anthony’s plan a trip to Washington, D.C. The plan was for the students to go to the Capitol building for a tour, go next door to meet their Senator, spend a few hours site-seeing, and then head up to one of the friars’ parishes in Maryland for a presentation. A fool-proof plan with every detail accounted for! What could go wrong? Well, let me tell you: we couldn’t find parking so the students were almost late, one of the volunteers lost the keys to the van on the grass of the Capitol, we got caught in some rain walking down the mall, and then on our way to the parish, we got lost, stuck in traffic because of the power lines down everywhere, and one of our drivers was pulled over by the cops. We eventually showed up to the parish so late that the students had no time to practice before their presentation. So much for our fool-proof plan!

The fact of the matter is that our world is chaotic. No matter how hard we try, there will always be things around us that we cannot control. This is certainly the case in our readings today. For an ancient person, there was nothing more chaotic than nature: crushing winds, fire, earthquakes, and the roaring sea. Not having the scientific knowledge that we have, no smartphone to tell them the weather or where to go, the natural forces of the world were unpredictable, uncontrollable, and completely chaotic. While our chaos may be a little more domestic, it is overwhelming just the same. There are bills to pay, kids to take care of, shopping, cooking and cleaning, things to fix, people to deal with, microphones that don’t work, and emergencies to take care of. And if your life is anything like mine, every single one of these things will happen on the same day. Our lives are chaotic. How could we ever find time for ourselves, let alone prayer?

Our natural tendency is to run away from chaos: we deny anything that we can’t control and try to escape the world of disruption and unpredictability. Do you ever say to yourself, “If only I had more time…if things weren’t so crazy… I’d be able to pray better, I could take care of myself more. There’s just too much in the way right now.” This is how I felt my first year with the friars. Living in Wilmington, DE, I was in a house a block away from the noise of I-95, in a neighborhood that is known for violence, at a church that routinely had quinceañeras that would go until one in the morning. Let’s just say that it was a chaotic experience. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I found out that we would be going on an 8-day silent retreat in the middle of nowhere New York. Silence. Serenity. No chaos at all. I was amazed when I got there that I could hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. How peaceful. Finally, I could pray like I wanted to.

Do you know what I found out almost immediately? There was still chaos around me. I was sitting in the chapel trying to pray one day, and one of the monks upstairs kept slamming the door. BANG! BANG! Another kept walking in and out of the chapel looking for something *STOMP* *STOMP* STOMP*. And one of the lights flickered on and off, on and off, on and off, every few minutes. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I couldn’t believe it. In a place as quiet and peaceful as you can imagine, there were still things out of my control distracting me from God.

I realized in that moment that you can never escape chaos. No matter where you go or how in control you think that you are, there will always be things you cannot change. While at first this depressed me, I realized something quite spectacular: God was there with me experiencing everything I was. I thought to myself, “I bet God is annoyed by that slamming door, the annoying monk, and the flickering light too.” I realized that God was not some manipulative judge causing these distractions to test me or some passive observer watching his creation from a distance, God was right there with me sharing in my chaos.

This is an important distinction we must always remember: While God is always present, God is not the chaos nor does he cause the chaos. When we look at our first reading, we hear Elijah speak of a terrifying situation: wind, fire, earthquake. The passage says, “But the Lord was not in the wind…but the Lord was not in the fire… but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” These things were all happening around Elijah, thing beyond his control, and God was not the one causing them, but God was there. God was in the whisper, the comforting voice. The same is true for the disciples. Out in the middle of the sea during a storm, in the darkness of night, they were absolutely doomed. Was God the storm that was about to crush them or the darkness that gave them fear? No, of course not. But God was still there. Jesus came, not running, not shouting, not calling great attention to himself, but walking calmly on the water to meet his followers. God was their comfort, their calm within the storm.

When we look at our lives and at our world today, it is so easy to only see the storm. With tragedy around every corner we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?” Where is God when violence in our city robs us of our sons and daughters? Where is God when all we hear from Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan is terrible news: houses being demolished, children fleeing from their homes, and Christians being killed? Where is God when our whole world is crashing down around us? In the chaos of our lives, it can be difficult to see him, but he is there.

God is not in the violence, but he is there suffering with us.

God is not in the destruction but he is there fleeing with us.

God is not in the tragedies all around us that make life seem impossible sometimes but he is the one walking with us, comforting us with his love.

For some, this may be difficult to accept. “If God really loved us, why wouldn’t he put a stop to evil in our world. If he were really in control, why wouldn’t he do something.” Many times, we want a powerful God that crushes the bad guys and prevents bad things from happening. But that’s not how our God works. He loves us so much that he gave us free will, he made us co-creators in this world, and is unwilling to take that away from us just to make things perfect. Because of that, Jesus came to earth not as a king or wealthy business person to rule over the world, but as a simple carpenter to be ruled by it. He wanted to experience the pain of sin and invite us to create a better world, one with justice and love. His message was not of a perfect earthly world, and so we should not expect him to makes us rich and powerful or to take away our earthly pain; his message is of the heavenly kingdom, the reign of God through justice and mercy. Jesus was like us in everything but sin, and loved us so much that he endured torture and death to share in in our humanity; He gave up his body and blood so that we could share in his divinity. That, the sharing of this communion meal, is our eternal calm within every storm.

And so, we’re given a choice: we can try to run from the chaos, never venturing out of our comfort zones for fear that something might surprise us or go wrong, or we can embrace the chaos all around us, giving up our fear and our need to be in control, to be where our God is. There’s a chance we might get hurt by the crushing winds; there’s a chance that we might sink in the roaring sea. But if we stay hiding in the safety of the cave or are afraid to have faith to walk out onto the water, how will God ever be given the opportunity to save us from the chaos?

What Are You Looking For?

This weekend, I’ve been given the opportunity to preach at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, NJ. For the readings of the day, you can go to the USCCB website found here. May God bless you on this 17th Sunday of Ordinary time.

For many, we're searching for something we don't yet know. What is it that you are looking for?

For many, we’re searching for something we don’t yet know. What is it that you are looking for?

Imagine for a second that you were in Solomon’s place. God appears to you in a dream and says “Ask for anything. I’ll give it to you.” Anything. Blank check. Anything you can possibly imagine. What would you ask for? In some ways, it’s kind of a silly hypothetical question, a cheesy get-to-know-you game question like, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” On the other hand, it may actually be the most important question you ever ask yourself. Why? Because it reveals what is at the deepest depth of your heart. Instead of thinking about it as some wish from a genie, ask yourself: “At the absolute core of who I am, what is it that is most dear and true to my heart, the thing that I desire with all of my being?” It may be something that you already have that you want to keep or something you don’t have that you want to get. It can be physical or mental, social or spiritual; it can be real or imaginary, plausible or impossible. What is it that you desire most, and what does that say about you?

In Solomon’s case, his greatest desire revealed his humility, compassion, and above all, his great love for God. Of all the things that his imagination could possibly conjure up, all that he requested from God was an “understanding heart.” I mean, come on! He could have asked for anything: power, money, fame, immortality. Like so many kings of his time, he could have tried to rule the whole world, put his face on money, or at the very least had a theme park named after him. But he didn’t. He didn’t ask anything for himself at all. What he asked for was the skills to love God’s people better, in essence, to be able to give more of himself. How much more revealing of a virtuous character do you get? At the core of Solomon’s heart was love for God and his people, and nothing more.

So what about you? Does your desire stack up to Solomon’s? What does that say about you? I admit, it’s a really difficult question. It forces us to look deep inside ourselves, to potentially see what we’re not always proud of. It requires us to see our potential faults and shortcomings, our insecurities and vulnerabilities. Our natural impulse will be to deny what we see, to blame it on others, or to just not care. Instead, we prefer to stay on the surface, to talk about the weather or what was on TV last night, to go through life hiding from ourselves, remaining unchallenged. I think, if you’re willing to open to yourself, to see the person that God sees, you’re right, you may not like what you see. But how can we ever be called to conversion if we never know what needs to be converted?

When I’m honest with myself, I see that there are some desires deep inside me that I wish weren’t there. I care very much about what people think about me, and desire to be liked by everyone. Even though I know God loves me and that should be good enough, I still want everyone else’s approval. Can anyone relate to that? If not, I’m sure that there are plenty here that have a deep desire to always have more. So many people waste their entire day worried about making money and their entire night worried about keeping it. What other things do we desire but don’t want to admit? I imagine we could go down each row and find desire after desire that doesn’t match Solomon’s: power, fame, intelligence, leisure, control, security, affection.

But that’s okay. It’s who you are right now, and whether good or bad, I think that knowing what we truly desire, the thing we love above all else, is the most important thing we could ever know about ourselves. Really. Like Solomon, our desires reveal who we are and who we want to be before God. They reveal what motivates us, and ultimately, how we’re going to act. There’s a prayer by the late Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe, S.J. that captures this perfectly. It goes:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Such words of wisdom, and from a Jesuit no less! Whatever it is that we desire above all will have a hand in everything we do. It guides us and informs our decisions. Sometimes, it even makes us do radical things. When we find that buried treasure in the field or the pearl of great price, that thing that we most desire, we are able to give up absolutely everything we have, our time, our skills, and our money, just to get it.

Look at your own life. Look at what gets you up in the morning; what keeps you up at night; what makes you laugh; what makes you cry. What is the buried treasure that you spend your whole life seeking? Is it money, or is it Jesus? Is it personal glory, or is it the glory of the kingdom? Is it power over others, or is it the desire to be faithful to our God?

In many ways, we know that there will always be competing desires in us. We seek God, but sometimes, we seek other things as well. While I’d like to say that Jesus is my only desire, I know that my actions don’t always say so. When I honestly look inside myself, when I honestly look at how I spend my time, I know that I am in need of further conversion. We all are. The real question is, when push comes to shove, which desire is going to win out: Jesus or the world?

Our Church is witness to so many inspirational people that have made Jesus their ultimate desire. Of particular importance today, we remember all of those who have gone on mission through the Franciscan Missionary Union. Through this organization, men and women have been led to serve the lowest and most forgotten people of society, people who would otherwise never be loved or cared for; they have built schools and universities all around the world, spreading not only knowledge, but wisdom to people who need it most. They have loved without boarders, given of themselves without restraint. Why? Because Jesus is their greatest desire. Our second collection today will be an opportunity to support those who have supported so many in this world.

For me, it is actually my need for conversion, not any perceived holiness or perfection, that has led me to this life as a friar. I know that I am a sinner and that I fall short. Being a friar isn’t about being perfect or having no worldly desires: it’s about recognizing how much we need Jesus in our lives, even if we forget it sometimes. Jesus is my pearl of great price, and even though I get distracted by other things at times, I know that I want to give up everything I have in this world to buy it. Because we take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, some point out that there are a lot of things we cannot do. True, we cannot get married, become rich, or chase prestigious careers. But look at all the things we can do: we are free to move where we’re needed, to love without restraint. We live a life centered in prayer, poverty, and humility, and the best part about it is that we don’t have to do it alone: we always have our brothers. If you ask me, there is no greater treasure in the world than what I’ve found.

And so I ask again, what is your deepest desire, your pearl of great price? Have you found it yet, or are you still searching? My prayer for you today is that you may know with all of your heart what is truly important in this world, that Jesus is the only treasure worth seeking. I pray that when you find him, you may have the courage to give up everything you have to be with him.

A “Lectio Divina” of Life

Progress isn't always a straight path.

Life isn’t always a straight path.

Lectio Divina, or “divine reading,” is a powerful way to engage Sacred Scripture in a prayerful way. Dating back as one of the oldest practices in the Church, Lectio Divina is the process of reading Scripture as the living Word of God.  Rather than approaching it as something to be studied or dissected, this process invites the one praying to enter into the text and to be moved by it.

The first step is an obvious one: read the text. There’s no specific criteria for choosing which part of the Bible to read, but the Gospels are always a good place to start. After one has read the text (it is preferable to read it aloud so that it can be proclaimed and heard, even if doing it alone) time is taken to meditate on what was just heard.  This is a time to focus on a particular word or phrase that captured the attention of the reader, thinking about the significance of that word or phrase in the larger context of the passage, and to offer a response. “What did this passage mean to me? How is it calling me to change my life?” Essentially, it is the human response to the Word. Once the reader has exhausted the meditative process, it is appropriate to move into a time for prayer. This can be personal and spontaneous, or communal and pre-written, but the purpose of this portion is to turn one’s will over to God and to ask for God’s aid in prayer. Words are not even necessary for this portion; all that is necessary is a will like Mary as she says, “Thy will be done.” If this is truly achieved, one enters finally into contemplation, the height of mystical prayer. This level of prayer is not easy, and I must admit I have very little experience with it, but it is in essence being so free from one’s own will that God is able to respond to our prayer. Think of it as surrender or radical openness, a time for God to gaze upon the one praying and be in union with them. The mystics have experienced this as a state of ecstasy, but it does not always have to be so radical. Often times, this is simply the time when God chooses to speak to our hearts.

But this is not the end, for the end is just the beginning. With each finished cycle brings the start of a new one, returning to the text to read the passage again. By repeating the process multiple times in one session, each prayer builds upon itself, calling the one praying to a deeper experience each time.  The text does not change, but the one hearing it, having now mediated, prayed, and contemplated on it with God, now comes back to the text with a different perspective. Words or phrases that seemed unimportant before may take on a new meaning or be heard in a different way. The text calls the reader to a deeper consciousness each time. This is the essence of the Living Word.

This, however, is incomplete for us as Franciscans. Lection Divina can only be considered an appropriate prayer with the addition of a final step: action. Once we have read, meditated, prayed, and contemplated, there must be something that takes root in our lives to inspire a conversion. How has the passage or life experience moved us closer to God? How are we converted by God’s presence in our lives?

It was after a wonderful conversation about just this that my spiritual director made the connection that the process we follow in Lectio Divina is the same process we follow in our own lives.  What he meant by this was that the journey of our life is something that can be prayerfully entered into, rather than just analyzed, and that we can experience God in reliving, or rereading our life’s journey. In some ways, the stories of our past are unchanging, set in stone. But as we read our life’s stories and allow time for meditation, prayer, and contemplation, we are called to a deeper understanding of what each event means to us.

The clear example I have right now is my novitiate. I believe very strongly that the majority of the stuff that “happened” to me during novitiate, the bulk of what we may call “revelation,” occurred in the first three months. The remaining nine months I believe I spent trying to understand and integrate what I had experienced into myself.

What I also realized was that life is a cyclical set of situations that recur on a regular basis; progress, then, looks much more like a spiral staircase than it does a ladder.  We want to think sometimes that we can find a solution to our problems that will leave them in our past, stepping up a step on the ladder never to come back down. And yet, a short period of time later, we find ourselves face-to-face with the same problem. Have we regressed? Not necessary. Just like in Lectio Divina and just like walking up a spiral staircase, each step brings us somewhere new and yet ever closer to where we first began.  While I found myself becoming frustrated with the lack of “progress” in my life, I realized that with true introspection, by recognizing the situation, meditating on it, bringing it to prayer, and then contemplating with God, there was something new that I could bring to the situation. I may have be standing in the same spot as before, but my perspective had changed; one floor higher, there was a slightly new vantage point on the same situation from which to act. Once I chose how to act, there began a new cycle of prayerfully reading that situation into the corpus of my life.

My advice, then, is twofold. The first is to read scripture in this way, prayerfully engaging the text and letting it speak to you in a way that studying cannot. A common practice is to find the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday and to spend time during the week going through this process. It will change your week and will most definitely change your experience at mass. The second is a bit more demanding, but potentially more fruitful: keep a journal. I cannot tell you how powerful it has been to reread my entries from the past two years, to notice patterns, and to identify growth.

Either way, know that life is not something to be solved once and for all, and that “growth” is not in leaving our problems behind. The best we can ever be is a people humble enough to know our own failings, smart enough to learn from them, and faithful enough to ask God for help.