Category Archives: Career

Learning to Listen to the Divine Whisper

It has been a crazy past few months here. I have been facing the usual high school senior dilemmas regarding the “afterlife”, so to speak, of high school — whether to go to college or not, whether I should go immediately or postpone it, what I would do in the meantime, and to which colleges I should apply to and visit. All of this on top of my normal activities: finishing up my schoolwork so I DO have a joyful afterlife, working, taking guitar lessons, and the million-other household tasks which are forever regenerating themselves. Ugh. Never before have I been so stressed out about the calendar and fast-approaching deadlines!

In deep waters.

A few weeks ago my dad and I drove to a college here in the Southeast. It was an eight-hour drive, but a comparatively uneventful one. We were attending Scholarship Day at the college. I was excited to be interviewed for a prestigious scholarship, tour campus, attend seminars, and meet students. My dad and I were very impressed with the college.  As we were leaving campus I knew that it was the school I hope to attend.

Over the next couple weeks, I feverishly worked on applications for some outside scholarships. I wrote essays, tracked down signatures, and received letters of recommendation. Yesterday I was informed that I hadn’t received my much sought-for scholarship from the college, although I was eligible for some minor scholarships.

At the end of all this, I just want to laugh the laugh of a treasure-seeker who has searched the world for years for a priceless treasure, beautiful beyond imagination. When he finally finds the treasure, in his exultation he slips on the damp floor of the cave. The treasure slips out of his hands and into the mouth of the volcano. There are only two possible reactions: to weep or to laugh. He begins to laugh.

Perhaps my problem is I am too anxious to discover God’s plan for my life. I stress out too much about what it could be, and the fastest way of obtaining it. Hence, I will run in all directions hoping that I will find a billboard screaming “THIS IS IT”. But of course that is not how God works. I need to remember how God spoke to Elias: not in the wind; not in the earthquake; not in the fire; rather, in the whistling of a gentle air.

Let’s Hear It For The Church!

While I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me. I already know what God’s plan for me in this life is. As a matter of fact, it is what the Church has been telling me my entire life!!

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

—Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 1, Question 6)

That is exactly what I have been looking for, right in front of me the entire time! As long as I truly know God, love Him, and wish to serve Him, everything else will fall into place!! I don’t need to worry about the college I go to, or whether I am to be married or enter a convent. God will tell me in a whisper when I can no longer serve Him in my current situation. He will lead me on the path to Him. All I need to do is to follow. If I know Him, love Him, and serve Him in every “now”, I will forever be living His plan for my life.

I am still looking at my options for this coming year. I don’t know where I’ll be six months from now. It might very well be that I’ll be working overtime at some job trying to save up for college. But right now I am surprisingly unstressed about it; I know that God has a perfect plan for me, and for right now He wants me to swing along behind Him until He can trust me with knowledge. Until then, if anyone wants to hand me $68,000, that would be all right, too. You’ll know where to find me: just follow the trail of empty coffee mugs, chocolate crumbs, Rosary beads, and Divine Intervention.

Certainty

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
– Will Rogers

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
G. K. Chesterton

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Silence actor Andrew Garfield said, “Certainty about anything is the most terrifying thing to me.”

Colbert responded, “If you knew there was an afterlife, would that be comforting, or terrifying?”

“How would I ever know?” Garfield retorted. “I think it’s healthy – you think about Thomas Merton, the great Trappist monk, and philosopher really, his doubt was his greatest ally, and he was always constantly doubting, and I think a life of faith is not a life of certainty. I think a life of faith is a life of doubt, and I think it is so healthy to doubt, it is so healthy to doubt oneself, it is so healthy to doubt any assumption we make about how to live, and I think what I mean when I say certainty scares me – certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology; certainty – the ‘I know, you don’t’, that’s the scariest thing to me.”

Really, Garfield? Au contraire, I hold that doubt is scarier (and less reasonable) than certainty. Christian certainty comes with humility, the humility of submission to the Truth which is greater than you. The humility of placing yourself completely at the disposal of that great mystery which is God, certain that He will be constant throughout the vicissitudes of life.

Two of my friends are terrifying drivers. However, one is more terrifying than the other. The latter drives too fast – he has accumulated countless speeding fines. One evening, in exiting a carpark, he had three near-misses with two cars and a bus. But I still feel safer as his passenger than with the former friend, who drives too slowly. She is a very hesitant driver, prone to stopping in the middle of oncoming traffic while making a turn. “GO!!!” I once yelled, not wanting to meet an untimely demise. My speeding friend is at least pretty certain about his directions and in control of his car, although not altogether observant of road rules.

It is certainly healthy to examine our assumptions about how to live, but one must come to a conclusion and stick to it. How would your boss like it if you were uncertain about turning up for work? Or how would your spouse like it if you were uncertain about your commitment to one another? It was the Benedictine vow of stability that enabled monastery towns to flourish, developing agricultural technology, education, and ultimately the civilization of Western Europe. When you plant a seed, it is not advisable to keep re-potting it. It needs a definite place to grow. Without certainty, we remain immature, vacillating between competing rules of life. This ultimately results in a fragmented, incoherent mess.

“Certainty starts wars on behalf of ideology” – that is such a cop-out statement. Just because some people have been very certain about erroneous ideas doesn’t mean you should remain uncertain about excellent ideas. Some people are brought up badly, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t even try to inculcate some standards of behavior in your own children. If someone is dead certain about taking the wrong path, should you therefore be deadly uncertain about taking any path?

It is not arrogance to claim certainty when you have good reasons. Would you like your surgeon to be uncertain about where to place his scalpel? Or your dentist to be in two minds about which tooth to pull?

Should we be like Adam and Eve, or Cain, who doubted God’s loving providence?

A life of faith is not a life of doubt. There will be tough times, yes; there will be times of doubt and darkness, yes – but a life of faith transcends the times of doubt, because it is a life of faithfulness and radical trust in the One Who loves us so much that He died for us. Christ’s death and resurrection – that’s a Certainty. Let us imitate Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and say with complete sincerity: “Lord, not my will, but Your will be done.” For we know that is the Way of everlasting life.

All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
– Matthew 5:37

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because He Himself is the way.
St. Thomas Aquinas

Etymology: faith (n.)
mid-13c., faith, feith, fei, fai “faithfulness to a trust or promise; loyalty to a person; honesty, truthfulness,” from Anglo-French and Old French feid, foi “faith, belief, trust, confidence; pledge” (11c.), from Latin fides “trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief,” from root of fidere “to trust,” from PIE root *bheidh– “to trust”.

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI

Images: “Fork in the road“/PD-US; CatholicGag; Signum-Crucis

Ora et Labora

fra_angelico_031St. Benedict gives us a remarkable example of discipline. His simple motto, Ora et labora—pray and work—is still relevant to our own lives, so many centuries after his death. We need both prayer and work in order to live a truly Christian life and finish the race. If we were to embrace prayer without also embracing the work that comes along with our calling, we would stagnate. God has given us the incredible gift of cooperating in our own salvation; He calls us to offer our daily work up to Him. We can’t just sit back and expect Him to fix all our problems; instead, we suffer, and we unite those sufferings to His sacrifice. When we are guided by His will, our labors bring us closer to God.

Likewise, our work loses its meaning if it is not grounded in prayer. We can’t pretend that everything in our lives is within our own control, that if we work hard enough, we can fix the problems before us and improve the state of our own souls. We cannot do anything except through the grace of God. Ultimately, our salvation will come from His mercy, not from our own efforts. Before we begin the work of His Kingdom, we must first turn to Him in prayer, knowing that He cares for us and that His will is beyond our understanding. Rooted in His love, we will be able to carry out His work.

Let us pray to St. Benedict that we might learn discipline, so as to stop making excuses and to stop settling for less than the glory to which we are called. May we acknowledge our weaknesses and temptations so that we can face them, and may we call upon God in prayer so that our efforts will be directed toward His will.


Image: Fra Angelico / PD-US

Telos: For This I Was Made

kingfisherI once read an article where the author questioned the social convention of introducing people by their name and occupation. She pointed out that it can be a limiting way of getting to know a person, because you immediately make assumptions about them based on their job. Instead of delineating a friend by their employment, she suggested, we ought to tell others about their best characteristics, or amazing things they have done outside work.

Yes, one is so much more than what one does—but one’s job does make up an important part of one’s identity. That is how some surnames came about—Smith, Taylor, Brisbane even (“break-bone”, probably a surgeon, or a barber who performed surgery). What you spend most of your time doing and thinking about will form your habits and your character. Your job is also part of how you contribute to society, the body politic—engineers, lawyers, road-sweepers, garbage collectors, teachers, etc., are the various organs and limbs of human communities. Each part is specialized and essential to the functioning of the whole.

In Tony Hendra’s book Father Joe, the eponymous Benedictine monk ponders the effects of the satirist’s work on his soul. Hendra confesses: “I’ve trained myself in paths of thought—’ruts’ might be a better word—that reflexively denigrate certain people. People I don’t agree with or have contempt for or whose motives I suspect. I must admit I haven’t considered for years what effect that might have on my own moral state.”[1]

What we do changes who we are, and what we believe; it forms our perception of the world. Those who work in family law tend to be cynical about marriage, because they see the fallout from the worst cases. Prostitutes tend to have a negative view of men, experiencing firsthand how they give in to their animal impulses and treat the human being in front of them as an object for their own pleasure. Soldiers suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from the violence and death they witness and partake in.

Portrait photographers look for the beauty in people, even the lowliest or forgotten. Musicians discipline themselves in order to produce exquisite sounds that bestir the most hardened soul, moving people to tears, expressing the deepest longings of the human heart. Sportsmen too discipline themselves, testing the limits of the human body and willpower. Teachers become experts not only in their subjects but also in drawing out their students’ natural abilities, challenging them to learn and grow as a community that will someday reform the limbs and organs of human society.

A friend asked me if I had a goal in life. I responded that I hoped to get the Catholic media job for which I had applied. He said, “That’s short term, but what about long term?” I realized that to him, as to so many in society today, a job is just a job, interchangeable, disposable, not something to dedicate your life to.

Be that as it may, even if we no longer live in a society where one works for the same company for decades, but move from job to job, we can still offer our work up as prayer, in the Benedictine tradition: Ora et labora. Then, our whole lives, our very being, will be a gift of love, a hymn to God, fulfilling our ultimate telos and giving purpose to everything we do.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

 I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the father through the features of men’s faces.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ

 

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

– William Wordsworth

This article was published in the October 2016 issue of the Melbourne Catholic magazine.


[1]   Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, p. 192. Hamish Hamilton (London, 2004).
Image: Joy-Sorrow

Tactical Pause

Image from http://www.gulfcoastfcskali.com/

Once upon a time, out near Texas somewhere, I was conducting a training exercise. It was a an IED response/mass casualty lane and one of the casualties was going downhill fast (there was a malfunction when the lane trainers had set it up and it was dying a lot faster than they had planned). My fellow medic was held up with other events taking place on the battlefield, and the only help I had was the junior weapons sergeant, the new guy on the team. He had arrived only a few weeks prior and we had not had time to cross train him on emergency medicine, so I had to coach him through saving the other patient’s life, while simultaneously working to save the other one, which was rapidly tanking.

At one point I had to do an emergency cricothyrotomy, and my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t hold the scalpel still. This is a problem when you are about to cut into someone’s neck. I stopped what I was doing, sat back on my heels and looked around, and took a deep breath. Then I made the cut, inserted the cric and went on with saving the patient.

The battalion surgeon had designed the lane and was overseeing the patients, and he gave me some feedback later that I will never forget. He said, “I saw you stop treating the patient for a few seconds to take a deep breath. I liked that, it was absolutely the right answer. Your patient can survive 3 minutes without an airway or 30 seconds with massive hemorrhage, but he won’t survive even 3 seconds if you lose situational awareness. Never be afraid to take that tactical pause if you need it.”

unsplash.comIn other words, the best medicine in the world is useless if you are getting shot at and don’t notice until too late because you get tunnel visioned.

I was thinking about that this morning at Holy Hour because it has been a heck of a weekend. We got back from vacation at 2:30 A.M. on wednesday, with Evie sick. I had National Guard drill thursday through sunday, Kathleen got sick and still had to work nights, and her parents (who were watching Evie over the weekend) also got sick, but still agreed to watch baby girl while we were out. We had two major projects going on at the unit, both involving a ton of organization and logistical planning, both happening at the same time with limited man power and time to support it. Oh, and I hadn’t done any of my online college classes for the week, and they were all due, and we had not had a chance to go shopping for groceries for next week.

You know the kind of week?

So at 7:30 on sunday we finally all got home, with a couple of hours of weekend left in which to eat some supper and read some Winnie the Pooh, say goodnight prayers, and go to bed, before getting up to do it all over again today.

At Holy Hour this morning my mind was just a flurry of disorganized activity. Between work, PA School, National Guard, Korean, saving up for a new house and all our long range plans, we have a lot on our plates. My mind was full of spreadsheets, powerpoints, schedules, calendars, medicine, anatomy and physiology, Korean language study and this awkward, comical drowning feeling. You know the feeling when you wake up in the middle of the 100 meter butterfly at the olympics, but you only know how to doggy paddle? That’s the feeling.

I explained all this to Jesus, who already knew it, and He worked with me to kind of put it in perspective. Right now, all our plans and work and school are geared towards a couple of years from new when I graduate as a Physician Assistant. Then I can start working, but hopefully Kathleen and I can both cut back our hours so we only work a few days a week and can spend the rest of the time doing things as a family. It’s a good goal, and I think Jesus approves of it, but like any goal it comes with its own set of traps. The incredible amount of work required to make that happen can threaten to crowd out the reason for doing it in the first place! How ironic is it to sacrifice relationships for the sake of those relationships?

All the work in the world, done for the sake of the Kingdom, is going to be a cruel joke if I get to judgment and God shakes His head sadly at me and says, “Well, that’s great and all, but who are you? I don’t know you, because you don’t know me.”

All the financial stability and academic success in the world, achieved for the sake of the family, will be a mockery if two years or ten years from now, Evie doesn’t know me or I don’t know her; or if she is more attached to the nanny or her grandparents than to Kathleen and I; or if Kathleen and I have a great professional working relationship, but don’t really know each other anymore. It’s that old Martha/Mary thing again. Work is great but critical relationships are the better part, and the moment the work starts degrading those relationships it is time to reevaluate it’s place in our lives.

That is why the tactical pause is so important in life as well as warfare. It is a chance to step back for a second, take a deep breath and think about what we are doing. I don’t know how many times I have seen myself and fellow medics get tunnel vision and get so focused on treating one particular symptom or injury that we completely missed something obviously going on with the rest of the patient. We need to be able to back away from the immediate crisis, long enough to see whether it really is a crisis at all, in the grand scheme of things.

Does this intervention really need to be performed right now? Can it wait? Is there something more important? Am I sacrificing my patient’s long term survival chances because I am getting sucked into starting an IV?

How is my relationship with God? How is my relationship with my family? Is the work I am doing for them keeping me from being present and knowing them? If it is, then it needs to go. You can’t get time back. No amount of available then can ever make up for absent now.

Morning Holy Hour, date night, and evenings with Evie are not to be sacrificed. They are the things we sacrifice for.

Work, Play, and Science

Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski
Today’s post’s muse. Image source.

The other day, I saw an article making rounds through my facebook’s news feed about a brilliant young woman whom “Harvard believes is the next Einstein.” Having nothing better to do—I was recovering from a minor surgery—and since I generally enjoy topics of interest to the world of physics, I read the article. The young lady described therein, Ms. Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, is certainly a brilliant and hard-working, motivated individual with a very impressive resume to her name. I was particularly taken aback by her sole quote, placed at the end of the article: “Physics itself is exciting enough. It’s not like a 9-to-5 thing. When you’re tired you sleep, and when you’re not, you do physics.”

This comment may be innocuous enough-certainly it has been given no context by the peope who pulled this quote from an interview. Taken alone, there is no inflection, no hint as to how we should interpret it. It could express joy in the wonders discovered through the pursuit of physics (or of the science in general); this is how I take it to mean as expressed by Ms. Pasterski. I have, however, also seen similar words used to cover for a deeper sadness or resignation, or worse to insist that we should cease to turn our eyes innward towards our own moral state or upward towards God. A senior member of the tenure and promotion comittee of my university has certainly said as much to me, and on more than one occasion.

Academia today. Yes, even at “teaching” universities. Image source.

I have been told by this person that a successful scientist should “get off [of his] knees” and focus more on getting work done. In this view, a laboratory is a place of labor, that is, of work and even toil, the rewards of which might be some advancement of one or another field of knowledge, and (perhaps more importantly to the untenured) a publication [1].

Such a view of things overlooks the purpose of science, and for that matter of the labors invoved in our scientific laboratories. There is, after all, a second definition of labor, one which comes more naturally to the female half of humanity, and also to those men who are married and preparing to welcome children into their homes. I mean here that to labor is the process of giving birth the old-fashioned way, and indeed all of our other labors become a fainter echo of this when they bear us fruit.

To labor in life is to give birth, and in the laboratory it is to give birth to new knowledge. This is, however, actualy the lesser function of the laboratory. There is a second word and a second meaning hidden in the word “laboratory,” and it remains all the more hidden because of the obvious placement of “labor” at the front. The second purpose—which is the more important—is hidden at the back of the word, and is thus obscured by the labor, both within the word and within life. The word “laboratory” could be thought almost to be a contraction of the words “labor” and “oratory,” the latter being a place where we pray.

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The gifts of the Holy Spirit. Image source.

For what should we pray while laboring in the laboratory? In one sense, it is the same thing we ought to pray for when pursuing any other form of knowledge, whether in the classroom or in the library or study or where-have-you. We pray there for knowledge, since this is what we are usually seeking directly: the conformity of our thoughts with reality. But there is something better than knowledge, which can build on knowledge: wisdom, another gift of the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom enables us to see the ordering of the world, and ultimately to desire the greatest good first and the lesser goods in relation to this. Wisdom causes us to desire heaven above earth, God above nature. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that

“Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: ‘You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.’ The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the ‘image of the invisible God’, is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the ‘image of God’ and called to a personal relationship with God. Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work. Because creation comes forth from God’s goodness, it shares in that goodness – ‘And God saw that it was good. . . very good’- for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world” (CCC 299).

The verse quoted by the Catechism, “You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight” (Wisdom 11:21), was indeed one of the most popular verses during the time of the scientific revolution in Europe. It is also pertinent to role which wisdom should play in the scientist’s studies: namely, that the ordered-ness of the universe is something which can be studied only because there is a God Who creates, and moreover that this God desires us to know Him and to love Him. The order in the universe is thus built in part to point back to its Creator. Then again, there may be more than one sense in which nature might be read—underlying the physical order of nature is a moral order. Wisdom, in other words, does these three things for us as regards science:

  1. We should have—and most scientists do have—a sense of wonder concerning nature and its beauty and underlying order. Wisdom points to us that this wonder should be transformed into awe for the Creator of nature. We can appreciate nature, which is the art, but this should make us love God, Who is the Artist.
  2. Wisdom lets us see that the orderedness of nature points to our own internal orderedness. This is true on the individual scale and on the social scale. Everything in nature has its place and purpose: we too have both, and every integral part of us has its place and purpose as well. This is true not only physically, but spiritually.
  3. Wisdom transforms the laboratory from a place of only labor and toil, albeit labor after knowledge, into a place of prayer, an oratory. Note that I began by saying that we should pray for wisdom: one effect of wisdom is that we therefore are more inclined to prayer, both in praise and in gratitude.

Created for Joy and DelightThere is another insight which is granted with wisdom, and it is an old insight indeed. It was anticipated by Plato, who writes that while God is serious, man and human affairs are not: the whole world is “the plaything of God, and that is really the best this about it.” Therefore, “One should live out one’s days playing at certain games—sacrificing, singing, and dancing.”

Commenting on this, Fr. James Schall says that

“This passage is the great prelude to the Christian notion that the world God made is not necessary to Him, that what goes on in it is not analogous to work or duty or determinism, bu to freedom, delight, and play, to things that are beautiful but not necessary, in the freedom of what need not exist but yet, when it does exist, is joyful and delightful….

[There is] in reality [a] profound connection between th highest thing and play, between the seriousness of God Whom we must approach in silent holiness and the fact that God’s holiness is our delight, to which we respond freely, happily, as Plato said, in ‘singing, sacrificing, and dancing,’ in liturgy, in praise. The real end and final holiday of human souls is to spend out lives at the most serious things; the blessed seriousness of God is worthy [of] the singing, the dancing, the sacrificing” (Schall on Chesterton).

This is also a challenge to those of us who have made or professions the study of nature—that is, the study of “the plaything of God.” There is order and beauty in nature, and some of the discoveries we make in studying this order may be useful to us. This is good—but it should not be the final nor greatest end of said studies. Rather, we should bear always in mind that we are studying a creation which exists above all to delight, to give joy and to evoke wonder. In this sense, “physics is not a 9-to-5 thing.” It ceases to be just work, and takes on some aspects of holy play: but exciting as physics is, it is also most certainly not “enough.” Rather, when rightly pursued, it has in fact the opposite effect of getting us “of our knees.”

 

—-Footnotes—-
[1] To be fair, “laboratory” is etymologically related to labor, as Stanley Jaki notes: in this case a very particular labor, that of making measurements (The Limits of a Limitless Science).

Leveling Up

level upMy mom posted this image on my facebook wall this morning. It was undoubtedly the mysterious and ironic workings of Providence that prompted her to do so, because as it so happened I had been contemplating that exact idea for several weeks, off and on. More ironically still, I had been thinking about it at Holy Hour that very morning while wondering what to write about for my upcoming Ignitum post.

So, as I said, a Providence moment. Sometimes even I can take a hint.

Seriously though, that is my exact conception of aging, in gamer metaphor. An 80-year-old ought to be twice as powerful and holy as a 40-year-old, or else what on earth is the point of getting older?

There are two problems with the way our society treats aging. The first is the selfishness of our ideal form of getting old. If you buy into the American dream then it seems like the point of young adulthood and middle-age is so that you can earn enough money to retire and then basically check out and play golf or cruise around the Caribbean, or something like that for a few years. Then hopefully there is enough left over to cover dialysis, assisted living, hip replacement, medications and all the other hundreds of things that contribute to the sky-rocketing cost of aging.

Some dream!

The second problem is the fact that we treat our old people as if they were useless because they no longer contribute to our economy. A huge portion of our generation seems to say, “Yeah, Mom, good job raising us, now we’re busy being successful or something so here’s an old people’s home to live in. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable and play bingo until you die.”

There is an alternative to our American dream’s nightmarish view of aging. I call it, “Leveling up!” but there are tons of other good names for it: “Bad@$$itude,” “The Way of Awesome!” and “Sainthood,” to name a few.

Now I do not want you to think that I am suggesting that there is something morally reprehensible about comfort. It is not a sin to save for and hope for a comfortable retirement after a lifetime of working hard for your family. However, I do want to propose an alternative, because I can’t help but notice that comfort is not and never has been the goal of Christianity. It was never promised to us. Economic prosperity is not an essential part of the Christian message. Our goal as Catholic Christians has always been to become saints, and the path to sainthood does not run by way of comfortable.

Recently I read this quote from St. Faustina.

“Once, when visiting a sick sister who was eighty-four and known for many virtues, I asked her, ‘Sister, you are surely ready to stand before the Lord, are you not?’ She answered, ‘I have been preparing myself all my life long for this last hour.’ And then she added, ‘Old age does not dispense one from the combat.’” “Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of Saint Faustina:” #517.

Old age does not dispense one from the combat! How awesome is that!

Although it is not wrong to have a comfortable retirement, it is more awesome to give that time to the Lord. So here is my alternative suggestion: instead of thinking of retirement as the time when we can finally be done working for a living and start enjoying ourselves, I propose we treat retirement as a second vocational discernment.

Here’s what I mean. When we are young, in our late teens and early twenties, we have to make a decision of what to do with our lives. We choose a life-long vocation such as marriage or the priesthood, and we choose more temporary paths, like education and career. Well, for those who choose a career, there will come a point at which we no longer want to do that career anymore, or no longer have to, or are no longer able to. For the baby-boomers that point was called “retirement.” (Who knows whether there will even be such a thing by the time my generation reaches that age, but that’s another question.)

Instead of thinking, “Great, I don’t have to work anymore, how do I want to enjoy myself,” which would essentially be entering into a second adolescence, what if we treated that opportunity like a second emergence into young adulthood? “Great, I don’t have to work anymore. God, how can I serve you with the rest of my life? I belong entirely to you, all of my time, all of my talents, all of my savings and experience, everything. Use me as you will.

“lvl 50 prayer paladin lfg”

In our age and culture we have an incredible opportunity that has not been given to the overwhelming majority of human beings. A good number of us will have almost two lifetimes to live, compared to people in other places and times who could expect to live probably only 30 – 50 years. We can reasonably expect to live to 50 years, and still have another 20 – 30 years of relatively good health ahead of us! Why would we want to waste that time on being comfortable? That’s like leveling a Paladin up to 50 and then spending the rest of your time going back to kill spiders in Duskwood! (Throwback to my WoW days, sorry).

Start preparing now! Not for retirement, but for your second service. Think seriously about it. What do I want to do with my life? Some possible options include:

  • Be that guy that leads the rosary every day before 9:00 A. M. Mass.
  • Build and run an orphanage in a poverty-stricken and possibly war-torn country.
  • Run an inner city mission.
  • Build a garden or small farm and provide high quality fruits, vegetables and meats or eggs to a homeless shelter (that probably won’t be legal by the time I am old).
  • Study Greek and Hebrew and becom a Biblical scholar.
  • Become a contemplative and spend 40 hours a week in prayer for my salvation and that of my family and the whole world.
  • Die a martyr.

Of course I probably won’t be able to do all of them, and I may not even do any of them. God may have other plans, and that is awesome, as long as I am open.

I guess what I am saying is that if you are one of those people fortunate enough to be able to retire and stop working for a living that is not just a privilege, but a responsibility. God wants you to give that time to Him, just as He did when you chose your vocation as a teenager or early-twenty-something.

God wants all of my life, the last twenty years every bit as much as the first. God willing I will not stop leveling up at any point in my life. If I am not holier and more surrendered to Him at age 65 than I was at age 64, then that was a wasted year. If I am not twice as active in His service at 80 as I was at 40, then my life will have been a failure to grow.

Old age does not dispense one from the combat. Nothing does!

 

New Year’s Dreams

man-on-bench

The shiftiness of college years does not always create the best circumstances for keeping New Year’s Resolutions.  Though I hardly ever pass up an opportunity to make a list, my typical resolutions seemed like they would only put more pressure on me in the midst of an already demanding schedule rather than encourage me to be a better person.  So as far as resolutions are concerned, I’ve decided to go more abstract and simply try to accomplish everything ahead this year to the very best of my ability without going insane, with less emotional eating, and—most importantly—by remembering I will not succeed unless I lean on God first.  That being said, it seemed a shame not to participate in the list-making craze that sweeps the nation around January 1st every year, so I sat down and did something I haven’t done in a long time: I wrote down my dreams.

Being a goal-oriented person who lives for the sake of accomplishing one thing so I can start working towards the next one, there’s always been something in the future which drives my work in the present.   But goals are different from dreams; goals are work-oriented, focused in the now, and typically are attached to a certain amount of hard work that has to be accomplished for personal satisfaction.  Dreams however are more special; they’re the things that we think about when asked questions like “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”  Dreams dominate our childhood because kids are less focused on being practical, and adults knowing this don’t ask them which college they’re working hard with hopes of attending, but rather what they want to do with their life.  But often as we age and start worrying about gas prices and college applications, we become so caught up in the “real world” problems we forget to dream.

This New Year’s as I sat unsuccessfully trying to justify not making resolutions, I realized that maybe in the midst of all the studying, planning, and endless working that had me feeling increasingly depressed and burned out, perhaps I just needed a minute to be a little less practical.  As I sat down and asked myself “If you could be guaranteed that your life would turn out any way you want, where would you want to be in ten years?” and “When you look back on your life during your final years on earth, what do you want to be able to see that you’ve done?”  I realized that dreaming is incredibly important, because it makes you reevaluate what means the most to you.

After answering these questions, I found that what I wrote was significantly less immense and spectacular than some of the dreams I might have written about in childhood.  Looking at my list, I wondered if maybe my simpler answers meant I had become a boring person.  But as I reconsidered them, I realized that age had led me to appreciate the beauty of a peaceful life lived in the place that holds your heart, with the people you love more than anything, over the thrill of fame, travel, or experience.  And though I’m sure my simple little three-item list would seem dull to some, it didn’t matter anymore if my life impressed the masses, only that it fulfilled God’s plan for me, and that it was full of beauty and love.

At this phase in my life where college stress and adult growing pains lead me to ask “Why the heck am I doing all of this?” more often than I’d like to admit, those peaceful, simple dreams were just what I needed to keep myself going.  For dreams are like goals in that we hope one day to realize and accomplish them, and if realizing my dream of a peaceful, domestic life in the future means working hard now to reach my more immediate, necessary goals, then so be it.  For with God’s help I know He’ll use those goals to pave the way, and one day as I sit back in my own little house with my family around me I’ll be able to smile and breathe a happy sigh, for though the work is all ahead of me now, it will be behind me one day, and then I know it will all be worth it.

I’d like to dedicate this post to an incredibly kind lady who works at my bank.  While running errands I saw her and she not only remembered opening my account for me two years ago, but also took the time to ask me how college was working out for me.  Upon telling her that it was going okay but that I was kind of burned out, she encouraged me, telling me not to quit because it’s all going to be over before I know it, and when it is I’ll be so happy I saw it through to the end.  She was an uplifting breath of fresh air in a place I least expected it, and I want to thank her for taking time out of her day to try to make mine better!

A Servant’s Heart

Last night, my husband Will and I put our little daughter Grace to bed and had our first moments of alone time… barely, before Will had to leave to go to work until 7 a.m. I became a barnacle while he talked to me, and before I went downstairs to fix his dinner and coffee, I begged him not to go.

“Okay, I’ll just quit my job,” he said, hugging me.

“Wait,” I replied, turning my head out of his chest. “I can’t support you and your extravagant lifestyle. I’ll fix your sandwich.”

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Our growing family

It’s the joke that always gets a smile – quitting residency, even though it’s what we’ve talked about since our dating days. The promise of residency started this marriage during medical school. Two graduations later, here we are: and I am ready to be done. Yes I, who only venture into the hospital to provide Dr. Husband with sustenance during long shifts, accompany him while he returns a library book, or wait for him in the lobby to meet us post-shift (if someone – could be Grace, could be me – is feeling the cabin fever), am tired of residency.

Five months in, and it’s really not so bad. Will’s rotations haven’t been the worst, just different. Okay, some of them are the worst. I’m not a fan of these overnights, but this week, he only has three in a row plus a 4 pm to 2 am shift. I think logging is the real time snatcher – hours spent with patient files, detailed and signed. Oh, and having to go from an overnight shift to grand rounds, like husband will do tomorrow.

It always seems like the better thing to do – quitting. I get tired of therapy, tired of teaching classes, tired of Grace’s teething interrupting her nap schedule… and then wondering how I’m going to handle the second sweet thing in a few months. Ug, where is my desert island with a Wegmans and an internet connection? When can I nap without a baby monitor?

Then Will tells me about his patients. He tells me the funny stories and the sad stories. He tells me of cases he’s proud of, and what he needs to work on.

I tell him about my day – what Grace is eating, how well she’s self-feeding (and what she’s throwing off her tray today), how therapy went that day (and other general activities we’ve done together), what I taught during class, how my work load is treating me, and anything I’ve read that day or thoughts I toss around for discussion.

Some days, we see each other for a few hours. Other days, the whole day. Today was less time than usual, but more than yesterday. I like doing simple chores with him – cleaning the kitchen, tidying up, feeding Grace dinner, playing with Grace and reading to Grace. After a day of “go-go-go”, even being together feels relaxing.

Then he’s back at work, and I’m at home, half-working on a powerpoint for my younger kids, and half-blogging. And I realize how lucky we are to be on this journey together. A classmate of Will’s has been sick for the past few months, working himself to the bare minimum. I made extra soup, loaded up some favorite sick foods and drinks, and texted him stop over on his way home (we live by the hospital). He kept saying we were being too nice, but why pursue medicine if not to help heal the body–and soul too? To add a quality to another’s life?

The thing about residency is that it is hard – yes. This is the last stage of training for doctors. Will calls this the “hand-holding” stage. In medical school, you mostly observed and sometimes got to sew someone up. In residency, you’re officially an M.D. with a prescription pad and both you and the patient have the deer in headlights look: What’s wrong? No, I’m asking you. Oh, you’re asking me?

The other thing about residency is that it is worth it: the kind of satisfaction Will gets from helping his patients is obvious by how hard he studies those ridiculously thick books with little lettering. He’s reading his ICU book this month for next month’s rotation. He wants to be able – more than capable, more than confident – and the more I think about it, that’s what a lot of us strive for, if we choose the challenge.

The ability to be, and do. I love teaching my students. I love talking about history and doing Socratic method discussion. It’s not enough to memorize – context is king, understanding is relevant. The same goes for being a mom: do I wish Grace would stop pulling my hair and trying to swipe my glasses? Absolutely. But I can never wish her other than what she is, because taking care of my baby – especially through the harder days – is what gives me deeper purpose. It reminds me that I am here to serve. We are all here to serve

At a dear friend’s wedding a few months ago, the song after communion was “The Servant Song”; it was breathtaking way to begin their marriage:

“Will you let me be your servant? Let me as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”

As Will and I approach our second anniversary, we feel our marriage is stronger. We have always loved each other, and in two years, that love has manifested in many different acts: the way he takes care of me when I am preggo-nauseous, the way I make sure he eats, our mutual love of playing with Grace, and the way we rely on each other so completely. Will has a complete servant heart, whether he is with a friend, with family, or at work with a colleague or patient. He is a doer – he leads by doing. He blesses me daily with his goodness, love and support, and I have learned to let him take care of me too.

This servant’s heart of his is why I try not to bemoan his shift work, or electives. He is learning to better serve the people of our community, and future communities. Many of Will’s cases in the emergency room are not emergencies – but they are emotionally urgent for the families. The baby with a low-grade fever who wouldn’t stop crying at 3 a.m. The 91 year old lady he spent four hours trying to resuscitate. The statutory rape victim who is 28 weeks pregnant (same as me). The woman who miscarried at 13 weeks. The traumas, the abdominal pains, the headaches.

“We are pilgrims on a journey, we are brothers on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the line and bear the load.”

Residency feels hard for the spouse at home, watching the clock, bearing the load of laundry (my nemesis), unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, and forever tidying the same room over and over again, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain (only to have it roll back to the bottom!). It is essential that I recognize how good my work is too, though I don’t need a specialized degree or license to act upon it. I can emotionally support him on the tough days, and provide a safe, loving home. And we hope, by example, that we will teach our children what it means to serve and love, and be able to graciously accept service and love in return.

Catholic in the Cubicle: Setting up your Work Space

The layout of a space matters. Just look at the time companies spend designing their headquarters. From cube farms to wide open areas, offices are designed to create a particular culture at a company. You too can create a specific culture focused on Christ within your work space. Since a typical office worker spends more time in the cube than in the pew, it is important to structure this area to bring us closer to God. While our cube may not look like a cathedral, we can set it up as a place to encounter God. Here are a few suggestions of making your cube more Catholic.

A Daily Prayer to a Saint on Your Work Desk

Right next to my computer I have a plaque to St. Joseph the Worker which contains a prayer to begin the work day. I start every work day by praying that prayer to St. Joseph, asking him to help me to work well for the Lord that day. This helps me stay grounded and mindful that my work should be an offering to God. When I get into a tough problem, the plaque reminds me to ask St. Joseph to help me through the situation. I have experienced great power through his intercession and highly recommend praying to him in time of distress.

Turn Your Desktop Background into an Encounter with Christ

Instead of using the generic background on your desktop, add in a picture of Jesus, Mary, a Saint, or your favorite story from the Bible. If you want to be creative, you could change the background each liturgical season to remind you of what feast the Church is currently celebrating. That way, every time you close your program and return to the desktop, you are instantly drawn closer to Christ, instead of yellow tulips, goldfish or whatever picture currently graces your desktop.

Sticky Notes on the Laptop

Placing a quote from a saint or a Bible verse on a laptop is another great reminder. It just takes one glance down from the computer screen to that note to allow God to speak to you. While you may not have five minutes at work to read a meditation, you can take five seconds to read a quote that draws you back to Christ.

HR Policy and Religious Items

One company I used to work for had a policy of no religious items on the desk or on the cube wall, though I could have them in my desk drawer. I was rather frustrated when I was told to take my crucifix down in the name of inclusion and diversity. However, I became creative in the ways that I displayed my faith in the cube. I placed a couple of push pins on the wall in the outline of a cross. I kept my desk drawer open a crack so that I could see the crucifix inside it. If HR restricts your expression of the faith, find some creative alternatives. The early Christians used symbols like the fish to show their faith, why can’t we?

The possibilities of customizing your work space to focus on God are endless. In this season of Easter joy, find one thing that will remind you of that joy to place in your work space.

 

 

 

 

Three Ways to Be Catholic at the Cubicle

A few weeks ago, I was reading an excerpt about how a man chose to serve as a missionary on a college campus following graduation. He said that he decided to become a missionary because he wanted to something meaningful with his life and not just push papers in an office.  As an office worker his story struck a chord with me and I began to wonder, Can you only be holy if you work for the Church? Are those who work in an office destined to live a life of mediocrity without meaning?

Upon further reflection, I realized that the various saints show us that holiness is possible in every state of life, even at the office cubicle. Maybe one day we will even have a patron saint for office workers. Yet until an office worker is canonized, I have offered a few suggestions in living out your faith at work.

Schedule Brief Times for Prayer at Work – I like to start my day with a prayer to St. Joseph, patron saint of workers. This helps me focus for the day and reminds me that my work should bring me closer to Christ. Other ways to pray could include saying the Angelus, grace before lunch, spiritual reading during lunch or a prayer of thanksgiving at the end of the day. While an office worker is not a monk, and should not attempt to pray the whole Liturgy of the Hours during work, we should aside a few moments each day to communicate with God as we go about our work.

Offer Up the Annoyances of Cube Life for the Souls in Purgatory – Cube life has little privacy. The habits of our co-workers such as loud talking on the phone, barging into your cubicle without permission, or crinkling open a bag of chips can be rather annoying. However, whatever irritations you encounter, treat them as opportunities to grow in patience and offer them up to Christ for the souls in purgatory who are suffering much greater than any irritations at the office.

Contribute Financially to the Needs of the Church – If God has blessed you with a well-paying job, then one of the easiest ways to serve Him is to support the different ministries of the Church. Maybe you can’t do a year of service in Jamaica or work full-time at the soup kitchen because of your office job, but you can support full-time missionaries and religious of the Church. By financially supporting charities and religious, our work can take on a new dimension. Not only are we providing for our needs and those of our family, but also for the needs of the Church at home and abroad. Even if our work does not always appear to be meaningful, we can take solace in the fact that a part of our labor is sponsoring people serve the needs of Christ around the world.

These three ideas only scratch the surface of ways to grow closer to Christ through our work. As we approach Lent, consider new ways to become holy, especially at the office. Remember that in our work, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” (Colossians 3:23)

Is Religious Life Repulsive?

Religious LifeThe vows of religious life are repulsive, at least according to an article Br. Justin Hannegan recently wrote in Crisis Magazine provokingly titled: Sacrificing Religious Life on the Altar of Egalitarianism.

He writes:

All forms of religious life, at their very core, consist of three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—and each of these vows is repulsive … No one has an innate desire to uproot three of life’s greatest goods.  Such a desire would be mere perversion.

Br. Justin’s argument is that vocations directors need to leave behind the language of desire when talking about vocation. He argues:

The prevailing opinion amongst those who talk and write about discernment is that God calls men and women to religious life by placing an innate desire for religious life in their hearts.  If you have no such desire, it is unlikely that you are called. This advice, although it looks harmless on the surface, ends up thwarting religious vocations. 

My first thought upon reading this article was this guy is on to something. When I was discerning, I listened to a lot of people talk about discernment and give their vocation stories and the one story that spoke most to me was a talk that Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR gave at a conference in the Bay Area. In it, he described his reaction to God’s call to religious life by shaking his fist at heaven and yelling, “Nooooooo!”

Nowadays, telling most young people, “If you are not attracted to religious life then it is not for you” is just not the right advice. Unless you have lived a life of radical virtue in today’s culture, chances are you are not going to feel a natural desire to the religious life. Young people will be more likely to feel an infatuation that flees when confronted with reality or simply feel repelled from it on every level. I do differ with Br. Justin in that, despite this reality, I still think talking to young people about desire is important.

The Language of Desire in Discernment

We are beings of desire and we cannot discount them. They reveal deep spiritual realities. St. Ignatius discerned his vocation through very careful attention to his desires and he taught that key is ordering our desires. The Christian life is about following Jesus who perfectly ordered his human desires to the Father’s will.

However, these days, young people must dig deeply to unearth a radical desire for holiness that is strong enough to combat the many temptations against living religious life. But we cannot discount the power of the desire for holiness once it is unearthed and ordered.

We also should not leave behind the language of desire for one of “effectiveness.” To encourage young people to take up the religious life because it is a more “effective” way to holiness, as Br. Justin seems to encourage, is a quick path to Pelagianism. Religious life is not about attaining holiness efficiently, it is about living our human desire and love for God in a special way. Our life cannot be lived without love; otherwise, the vows will indeed become repulsive and masochistic. The vows are desirable but only insofar as they bring us closer in love to Christ who lived them and in that religious find solace and true joy.

Is Religious Life Objectively Superior?

In his article, Br Justin points to the “objective superiority” of the religious life as something that should be unabashedly pointed out to young people discerning

I agree that religious do have a special call. It is not something to be apologetic about. Religious are not special in and of themselves, but the call is special. Why is it special? Because the life, more than married life, imitates the life of Jesus and foretells the kingdom of God.

However, I would like to point out two things. Br. Justin quotes Vita Consecrata, the papal document in which Blessed John Paul II writes: “This is why Christian tradition has always spoken of the objective superiority of the consecrated life.” The Latin phrase in the document for “superiority” is praestantia and it can be translated as “excellence” and is translated that way in the Italian version of the document. I think this is a better translation.

Unfortunately, for many years Catholic faithful believed that the religious vocation was “superior” to the lay vocation. If one didn’t become a religious then sanctity and holiness was not for them. Br. Justin is correct in challenging the pendulum swing that now tells people it doesn’t matter. However he misses the key issue of calling.

Generally, we can speak of the consecrated life as “more excellent” than any other way of life precisely because it imitates Jesus and foretells the kingdom of God, and the way of life to which we all are called. However, on an individual level, we cannot speak of an objective excellence in the call to religious life. Religious life is not the objectively more excellent way of life for everyone. The vocation that God calls a person to is “objectively superior” to any other way of life because God has called that person to holiness through that particular vocation. I do not think we should shy away from emphasizing the special call that is a religious vocation, but it must be done with care and nuance.

– – –

In the end, Br Justin’s article seems to be a call to go back to the past but I respectfully respond with a call to go forward with balance. Our numbers will never be the same as they were in the “good ol’ days” and it is cause for some lament but we have also grown as a Church and as religious. But along with Br. Justin I do see some things that could change in the current approach to religious vocations. So, I join him in his forthright and frank challenge for change and conversation about the way we speak about religious vocations– for the sake of the Church and the sake of young people who need help in hearing God’s call.