Category Archives: Jobs

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.

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The Joy and Dignity of Work

No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him.
– James Russell Lowell, poet

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.
– J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address

Work is often seen as a miserable burden. It can be stressful, soul-destroying and, at worst, suicide-inducing. When I was admitted to court as a solicitor, the presiding judge spent half her welcome speech advising us not to become so consumed by work as to neglect simple things like walking the dog, breaks from work which can preserve mental health. However, the sad thing is that in the modern workplace, humans are often treated as machines and pressured to keep producing more and more. The thing is, machines too need breaks before they break down. Even God took a rest after His splendid work of creation! In Israel, the ultra-orthodox Jews are careful not to do even a smidgen of work on the Sabbath Day, for fear of placing themselves above God. They hire Gentiles to work the elevator buttons.

Work is in fact a gift from God, a loving invitation to participate in His ongoing work of creation and salvation. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin salus, meaning “health”. When work is performed well, it contributes to the health of the individual and of society. It gives us purpose and joy when we are able to create useful and beautiful things, establish order in the world around us, serve others, and provide for those who depend on us. As a child gains confidence and matures when entrusted with responsibility for housework, so do we mature as persons when granted opportunities for productive work, growing in likeness to God our Father and building His kingdom.

Yet, in today’s post-industrial society, work is rife with pitfalls. Some jobs are stressful because they now demand so much multi-tasking as to obscure the original point of the job – one thinks of teaching, where in some places teachers are now expected to perform as social workers and substitute parents, while taking on more administrative tasks as well. Others are disheartening because they involve a single repetitive, mundane task, as in factory work. A friend of mine who works in a carrot factory during summer breaks shared how he yearns for meaningful work which employs his intellectual gifts, not deadening tasks which make him feel like a mere cog in a machine.

Some people shy away from work, while others idolize work and its proceeds, seeing work or the acquisition of money as their sole purpose in life. As Australia has a welfare system, some people subsist on the dole, turning down jobs – this is borne out by a factory-owner I know, who often has people asking him for work, only to make excuses and disappear after a day or two, having fulfilled their quota of job applications. My boyfriend just started work picking strawberries at a farm, which wants to employ Australians, but is manned mainly by Asian workers because the Australians tend to vanish after a few weeks. At the other extreme, my carrot-picking friend related how a Taiwanese worker griped about having Sundays off, because he wanted to make more money to spend on gambling. Both extremes demonstrate a lack of virtue, succumbing to either sloth or greed. Virtue is found in a healthy appreciation of honest work, while not mistaking it as one’s entire reason for existence.

Work is an essential part of human life, building character, bringing us into connection with others, and keeping our societies functioning. At a disability support training workshop which I attended yesterday, the presenter noted that we usually identify people with their occupations, because their work shapes who they are. As a mother of a disabled son, she knew how important work is for the human being, and helped her non-verbal son start a fruit and veg distribution business. Now when he goes out for walks, his customers greet him, and he feels a sense of pride in his work, besides having gained a certain status in society.

When one has worked well and is then able to disengage from work, one is better able to appreciate periods of rest and leisure. I have found that while searching for full-time employment, it is difficult for me to simply relax and enjoy a good book, because of the worry that comes with having something important undone. However, whether one is employed or not, all circumstances are opportunities to trust in God, offering Him the uncertainty of this transient life, at peace in knowing that whatever state one is in, one finds true rest and purpose in Him Who is Love, the source and end of our being.

Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.
– Frederick Buechner

We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. But God, being Almighty, sees everything great. Therefore, even if you write a letter for a blind man or you just go sit and listen, or you take the mail for him, or you visit somebody or bring a flower to somebody—small things—or wash clothes for somebody, or clean the house. Very humble work, that is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Love: A Fruit Always in Season

Let those who think their work has no value recognise that by fulfilling their insignificant tasks out of love for God, those tasks assume supernatural worth. The aged who bear the taunts of the young, the sick crucified to their beds, the street cleaner and the garbage collector, the chorus girl who never had a line, the unemployed carpenter – all these will be enthroned above dictators, presidents, kings, and Cardinals if a greater love of God inspires their humbler tasks than inspires those who play nobler roles with less love.
– Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

All work is holy. Through it we walk the royal road of Christ.
– Servant of God Catherine Doherty, “The Holiness of Work

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

Your Vocation is Your Mission

On the First Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He astonished them with the reality of His Triumph over death, calmed them with His Peace, and directly informed them that they were going on a mission.

And this makes sense. They are the Apostles, they have a Church to build. Of course the Apostles have been sent on a mission. It’s in their name, apostolos, which is Greek for ‘one who is sent’.

The Apostles were sent to teach, make disciples, and baptize, bringing to all the life of grace regained by Jesus on the cross, that was lost with the Fall of Original Sin, in order to restore the relationship between God and man. They handed down this mission, and the grace to carry it out, through Apostolic Succession and Holy Orders, but you need not be a successor of the Apostles (Bishop) or priest in order to receive a mission from God.

Everyone has been sent on a mission by God. We all have particular missions specifically ordained for us by God, but we all also have that universal mission to love. In ecclesiastical terms, these missions are more popularly known as vocations, a calling. Yet, if we believe the words of Scripture in the first chapter of Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you,” we can understand that God knew our vocations before we were born, created us for a specific purpose, and finally sent us on a mission to fulfill that purpose.

To help us participate in this mission with our free will, God allows us to freely choose. He never merely uses us against our will, but instead allows us to know his plan in some mysterious way so that we may choose it for ourselves and make His goals our own. This participation is enabled through discernment and is manifested by what many have deemed “answering one’s call”.

However, if God knows our purpose for our entire life and merely calls us to come to know it for ourselves, it would be equally correct to say that God is sending us to complete this purpose. He sent us on our missions, some specific mission for each of us, to somehow, as light, leaven, and salt of the earth, bring God to the world so that God may be known, praised, glorified, and loved in this life and in the next.

The idea of all of us being sent on a mission is a fitting description of what God has done and we see it beautifully exemplified and revealed by Jesus Himself. Many times in the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the One Who sent Him. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

Jesus was sent by God to fulfill His mission. His mission was multifaceted, to teach us using words and deeds, to institute the Church and it’s sacramental mission, and to make atonement for the offense of sin. (All of this is beautifully encapsulated in the “Will” of the Father that Jesus must do). Christ came to show us how to complete our missions.

Christ’s life is an ocean of Truth, so I imagine many more lessons can be fished out, but by observing what He said and did, we can agree that to carry on our missions well, we need to remember certain things such as: We should (1) speak to the Father often, praying in solitude and in groups, (2) seek the Father’s Will in all things, and (3) keep the two greatest commandments, Love of God and Love of Neighbor.

The Church has articulated this last lesson of keeping the two greatest commandments as a vocation itself. In the fifth chapter of the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, we find the Universal Call to Holiness. This call to holiness can be seen as a call to love as holiness is the turning away from selfish sin and toward God and others for God’s sake.

Lumen Gentium explains, “For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means. It is charity which guides us to our final game at end.” In the language of the Church, ‘charity’, or caritas, is love. Love is the means of attaining holiness. Love is the Universal Vocation, which means, Love is everyone’s mission.

In fact, Love is everyone’s primary mission. Sometimes we get caught up with other things (like money, work, or school) and seem to love others on the side as we focus on these other things. First, Love God and your neighbor, and then do everything else.

Furthermore, this mission is more than just items we check off of a “to-do list”. It is a mode of being. It is not our mission to do holy, but to be holy.  To not just do loving things, but to be loving. We can form our wills to desire holy things by doing holy things, doing loving things can shape us to be loving, but only through God’s grace can we truly be loving and be holy.

We cannot earn holiness, because we cannot earn grace. However, we can put ourselves in the right place to receive the grace we need to carry out our missions. We can do this by 1) frequenting the Sacraments; 2) Prayer; and 3) Practicing devotions with sacramentals, which can include blessings, venerating relics, wearing a sacpular, visits to sanctuaries, and the stations of the cross. Sacramentals do not confer grace directly, but “they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (CCC 1674).

Through the Sacraments, Prayer, and Sacramentals we can put ourselves where God wants us. These tools will furthermore strengthen and nourish us as we continue with our missions. By seeking to love and be holy through these tools, we can best imitate Jesus, who is God’s Word, and thus not return back to Him empty, but full (Isaiah 55:11).

Lessons From a Roof

A few months ago, my husband and I agreed to re-do the roof on the outreach and hospitality house we run for the Parish in town.

We are not inexperienced construction workers. We’ve worked on dozens of houses, tackled problems of every type and ability level, and know this house inside and out. Despite the fact that the roof on this house is quite technical, we weren’t intimidated and decided to take it on.

The entire week spent working on this roof was an overwhelming experience of joy, mercy, love, and the tangible feeling of the Lord’s presence. The fruits of my contemplation on the roof I now present to you in…

Lessons from a Roof

Lesson Number One: Destruction is Easy, Building Up is Not

The first day was spent tearing off the old roof. Fairly low on the skill-level spectrum, we were able to get some volunteers up the scaffolding and ladders and get the old roof in a dumpster. It’s not exactly the easiest job on the planet, but it’s hard to mess up. No one cares how the shingles come off, so long as they do. No one cares if you destroy them. If they are off and the sheeting is ok, you’ve done your job.

Building, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. The care, precision, diligence, tact, and skill required to make something out of a bunch of pieces cannot be over emphroofingasized. It took 1 day to destroy the roof. It took 14 to put it together.

Likewise, it is incredibly easy for us to tear each other apart. How much easier is it to gossip or snap at another person when we are frustrated? How easy is it for 1 small word or act of injustice to ruin a good day? When we experience evil in our lives, it is easy to allow it to negatively impact or change us for the worse.

Additionally, we know how hard people fight for wellness. We know that establishing health in mind, body, and spirit takes people years – even lifetimes – to accomplish, and how in one instant everything can be destroyed.

So too the same is true of our Lord and the devil. We often wonder why God doesn’t make things right right away when something goes awry. Yet, isn’t it more fitting that it would take time for things to be put right?

The Lord isn’t just putting a roof on a house, He is making goodness out of nothing. He is taking our brokenness and knitting it into His ongoing act of creation; sewing it into His divine plan and making everything right by re-creating joy out of sorrow. Yet this takes time and finesse. We must trust the Lord in His actions: just as rebuilding the roof took two weeks longer than removing it, the finished product was far more glorious than the original roof.

Evil destroys quickly because evil is rash and loud. But the Lord is total peace and tranquility. When something in our lives is destroyed by rash evil, we must return to the peace of creation that will make everything right again.

How much more like God are we, then, when we choose to build up those around us. One kind word is like adding a shingle to a progressing roof. It is a slow process, but the end result brings glory, while tearing each other down is like tearing a roof off. Easy to do, but it leaves the other with nothing but their bear bones, and moreover, it takes years to remedy.

As scripture says:

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Romans 14:19

“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up” -1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lesson Number Two: The Communion of Saints Begins on Earth

The guys who helped on our roof are really good guys who work really hard. Since they work really hard and long hours, they don’t have a lifestyle conducive to time spent with our Lord.

I do.

This is where an Earthly Communion of Saints comes in. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

I was incapable of truly thanking the men for the work they did for us, at least corporally and physically. I could thank them by showering them with prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. I could pray in their stead, ask the Lord to count my prayers as their prayers, just as their work counted for my work.

Lesson Number Three: There Are Things You Can do Alone and There Are Things You Can’t

Even though my husband and I had tackled similar problems in the past, this roof required reinforcements. So too the same applies to the spiritual life.

Confession, adoration, Mass, the sacraments, are not signals that we have somehow failed. They are in place to aid us in our attempt at holiness. Having recourse to them is a sign that we know ourselves and our limitations, not that we have somehow failed at being holy. Calling in extra roofers wasn’t a sign that we were somehow bad at what we do, but a recognition that everyone needs a hand sometime.

Let Jesus be your Simon!!

Finally: We are Corporal Beings

The incredibly physical activity on the roof led us into deep reflection and contemplation, just as any physical experience in the world is meant to do.

Christ made us as corporeal beings. Therefore, it is good, right, and proper that we come to know Him better through our experience of the physical world around us. Do not see the physical world as a threat to holiness, but rather as an opportunity to experience God’s creative genius, artistry, and beauty. The heat, soreness, sweat, (and yes, blood), that came from the roof, served to illustrate God’s mighty power: We slave to create, yet Christ creates in 1 word. We work because of Adam’s curse, yet we have the divine assistance with us in our work. We are tired at the end of the day, and so we rest when we “see that it is good.” All of these things lend us to a deep communion with God. Do not shy away from the corporeal world simply because it is physical. “For God saw that it was good.”

Maybe, He saw that it was good, because it has the very real potential to help us get to know Him better.

Sometimes the Problem… isn’t the Problem

arc611I got off active duty almost a year ago now, and last week I have been reminded of one of the many reasons why. Since I remained in the National Guard I still have certain obligations to uphold, which involve periodic training, and the occasional trip. Last week I had to fly to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for a short training course.

It was a fiasco.

To begin with, my flight left Seattle at 5:00 A. M. Rather than wake up the Baby Girl in the middle of the night to drive me to the airport, my wife and I decided that she would drop me off the night before and I would just sleep over at the USO.

Great plan, but although I did get a bunk from 11:00 P. M. to 3:00 A. M., I didn’t get much sleep. The door to the bunk room was open, the lights were on outside, people kept coming and going. Unsurprisingly I woke up less than refreshed.

The airline only issued me one baggage ticket so I had to hand carry my medical bag.

Going through security the TSA kindly reminded me that I had forgotten to take my skinning knife out of my back pack after a recent fishing trip.. After leaving security and mailing it home I went back through. This time they took issue with my medical bag. A different scanning lady objected to the IV fluids I was carrying. Oh well, those are expendable anyway. But with one thing and another, I didn’t have time for breakfast before my flight, so I was a bit hungry, but I got something to eat at my next flight (I categorically refuse to purchase food on an airplane).

Then in Dallas things really started to get interesting. One of my seat mates was a lady with a 5 month old baby girl. The baby girl was cute, but didn’t like sitting still for that long. I didn’t mind her getting fractious. Fussy babies don’t bother me. What bothers me are the older adults who feel the need to make snide comments about how “it’s going to a long flight” and “people shouldn’t be allowed to bring babies on airplanes.”

7288232_origThen someone on the baggage team accidentally scratched the inside of the cargo door. They called maintenance, maintenance called their boss, their boss called someone in Tampa, and someone in Tampa took two hour to decide that it was safe to fly with that scratch on the inside of the cargo door. By that time everyone on the plane with a connection had already missed it, and the baby girl (whose name was Amelia) was beyond done with this whole “flying” thing.

We landed in Charlotte two hours behind schedule. The customer service was swamped. I tried to call the military ticketing agency, but was on hold for half an hour. I hung up and tried a different number, but again was on hold and my battery went into the red.

The airline switched me to the last flight to Fayetteville, which was supposed to leave at 8:05. I was number 11 on the standby list.

I sprinted to the gate to plug my phone in and wait for the ticketing people to get back to me. My plan was, if I didn’t get on the flight, I would have them rent me a car in Charlotte and I would drive to Fayetteville. I found out that not only was I number 11 on the standby list, the flight was overbooked.

I got through to a person just as they started boarding the flight. The ticketing agent said that they were having a ton of people having issues with Government travel cards, the end of the fiscal year, etc. and she was sorry about the weight, but she couldn’t reserve me a rental car until it was determined that I could not make that flight. She apologized and hung up.

Ten minutes later the airline officially confirmed that I was not on the flight. I called the ticketing agency again. After another hold, this time only 28 minutes long, I got through, and they got me a rental car. However, there was a catch.

pt13-1Because I was picking it up in Charlotte and dropping it off in Fayetteville, they were going to charge by the mile, not the day. If I kept that car the whole trip it would amount to a little over $1500! The only thing to do was to drive to the Fayetteville airport, drop off the new car, pick up the car I had originally contact, hopefully pick up my bags which had been forwarded through, and then try to get to the hotel and get some sleep before class at 6:30 the next morning.

I called to confirm they still had my car reserved for me in Fayetteville, and then picked up the car in Charlotte. Again a problem arose. The Fayetteville rental car desks close at 11:59. It is a 2 hour 45 minute drive from Charlotte to Fayetteville. It was 9:00 PM and I hadn’t eaten.

Then my government card didn’t work at the rental car desk, so I had to use my personal one.

I made it by 9:45 without getting a ticket, and even managing to get something to eat. Then the hammer fell:

1: The baggage claim was closed so my uniforms, equipment and shaving kit were all locked up. I needed them for class at 6:30 the next morning.

2: They had rented out my car. I would have to come back the next day to get rid of the Charlotte car and pick up the Fayetteville car.

In defeat I made my way to the hotel, where I was greeted by a very friendly and helpful after hours clerk. He even let me keep the desk pen, since I had lost mine somewhere during the day.

But when I reached for my wallet, it was gone.

In a panic I excused myself and rushed to the car, praying with all my might that I hadn’t left it at the airport, which by now was closed and locked.

I hadn’t it was sitting on the passenger seat of the rental, and I was able to check in without further incident.

But the lobby smelled like cigarette smoke, the room smelled like mildew, the knob fell off the shower faucet and the floor of the shower sagged when I stepped on it. The floorboards were probably rotten. It was well past 1:00 A. M. when I finally got to bed.

So the next morning, Monday, I got up at 5:30, called the school-house and the head instructor, let them know my predicament. I rushed to the airport, got my bags, changed, rushed back to post, dry shaving on the way, and made it to the school-house with 2 minutes to spare! Go team!

Of course I hadn’t had time for breakfast, but lunch was only a few short hours away, and I had completed the mission, so who cares about hungry?

Okay, so this is the part where I come to the point. This would have been simply an awful nuisance of a day, except that the whole time I had been asking God, “Why are you doing this?”

Not reproachfully, like, “What the heck are you thinking?” but seriously, “What is your purpose? What are you trying to teach me?”

There were a lot of answers. He pointed out my anti-social traveling habits (I never talk much to fellow passengers) my worry, my stressing out rather than simply trusting. But it all became clear when I found my wallet on the passenger seat of the rental and a heartfelt “Thank you, Lord!” burst from my lips.

As clearly as if He had said it in my ear I felt Him ask, “So you will thank me for this, but not for all the rest?”

And it was true. I hadn’t been thanking Him for the hassle, the stress, the irritation, the cross that was an opportunity (minuscule but real) to share in the Cross of Christ. Had I not just been reading about the necessity of the Cross? About how the reality of faith is to be found in the messiness and inconvenience of life?

Instead, through the whole thing I was feeling my old response to stress, which is the urge simply to withdraw, go home, curl up on the couch and read a book with a cup of tea, and never go out and do Army stuff again. (Yes, that is really how I want to react. You wonder how I ever got the Green Beret? So do I.)

Sometimes the problem isn’t the problem.

Sometimes the things that I am worrying about aren’t really the issue. The real issue is much more fundamental. Do I trust God or not?

This doesn’t mean, “I believe God will get me to class on time even though all indications are against.” That is not trust because it insists that my priority (completing the mission) should be God’s priority, and ignores the possibility that God’s priority might be something completely other. It isn’t about the mission. It is about absolute surrender to God’s will.

Trust means, “Whether God intends me to get to class on time or not, His will is perfect.”

Or to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, whether He means us to live or to die, Jesus will be our good Lord.

 

 

Just in case there is anyone out there who hasn’t seen this yet!

Five Tips for Parishes from Pope Francis

Tips for Parishes
Background Img: Church Sainte Marie, Church Point NS 
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Everything Pope Francis says is always so heartfelt, so quotable, so real. Reading through all of the speeches, homilies and messages that he gives is a real treat. If you don’t already, I recommend reading up on his activities at the Vatican website. Or check out news on Vatican RadioNews.Va or get the free Pope App.

Whatever way you choose to do it, it is worth reading Pope Francis’s direct words instead of getting what he says second-hand from the media. There are so many treasures, most of which are not filtered down to us through other news sources.

One such treasure is the words that Pope Francis has given us on parish life. He has real, applicable advice and it is based on his inspiring vision of a Church that goes out of itself, a Church that is missionary, a Church that is merciful and a Church that evangelizes, even in its everyday activities.

I thought I would share some of the gems I have found in my perusal of the Vatican web site.

Here are five tips for parishes from Pope Francis:

1. DON’T Be Like A Custom’s Office: Pope Francis is pretty clear in this, Jesus “instituted seven sacraments” it is not the place of the parish office to institute an eighth sacrament –  “the sacrament of the pastoral customs office.” In other words, the parish office should not close doors for people.

And yet most of us can think of times when we have felt more like we are at the DMV rather than our parish office because of the way we were treated or the business-like approach that was used. Attitudes like this attempt to “control faith rather than facilitating it.” Instead, Pope Francis prays that “all who approach the Church find doors open to encounter Jesus’ love”.

2. DON’T Be Tarantulas: Pope Francis says that when people go to their parish, they should feel like they are entering their mother’s home. He says, “Being parish secretary means opening the front door of the mother’s home, not closing it! And one can close the door in many ways. In Buenos Aires there was a famous parish secretary: they called her the “tarantula”… I’ll say no more! To know how to open the door in the moment: welcome and tenderness.”

3. DO Put Those Who Are “Distant” First: I have often heard grumbling about families who only come to their parish for baptisms, weddings and funerals. These people are often treated like a last priority, but Pope Francis urges us to put those distant from the Church first. Why? Because we want these people to become regulars.

Pope Francis says, “It is about assuming missionary dynamism in order to reach everyone, putting first those who feel distant and the most vulnerable and forgotten people. It means opening the doors and letting Jesus go forth. Many times we keep Jesus closed inside the parishes with us, and we do not go out and we do not let Him leave! Open the doors so He can go out, at least Him! It is about a Church which “goes forth”: a Church which always goes forth.”

4. DO Get the Laity Involved: Pope Francis is pretty clear on this, the laity need to be involved in their parishes. Parishes do not belong to priests or to the parish office, they belong to everyone. This is why parishes need laity on councils, advising and helping in the running of everyday matters. In fact, Pope Francis very sternly has said that “a parish that does not have a pastoral Council and a Finance Council, is not a good parish: it lacks life.”

5. DON’T Gossip Or Cause Division: If only our parishes were exempt from ordinary, sinful human behavior. Alas, they are not. But we can examine our part in making a parish a place of unity and communion or creating division.

Pope Francis urges us, “Let each one ask him- or herself today ‘do I increase harmony in my family, in my parish, in my community or am I a gossip. Am I a cause of division or embarrassment? . . . Gossip does harm! Gossip wounds. Before Christians open their mouths to gossip, they should bite their tongue! To bite one’s tongue: this does us good because the tongue swells and can no longer speak, cannot gossip. Am I humble enough to patiently stitch up, through sacrifice, the open wounds in communion?’”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, try digging into Pope Francis’ words on any topic and you will get more treasures.

Please feel free to share your favorite piece of Pope Francis advice on any topic in the comments!

In Memoriam

He hated tattoos, my paternal grandfather. He died when I was 11, but I remember a conversation, one of many had during summer visits to their home, when he told me of his aversion of tattoos.

You see, he was there, at Buchenwald. He walked into that stinking pit of hell, wearing Army fatigues and the face of a boy forced into manhood at the end of a rifle. He spoke Hungarian and a little German, so he was a useful translator, telling the stories of this living nightmare, from the mouths of skeletal survivors to the ears of horrified soldiers.

He hated tattoos because they reminded him of what he saw there, at the end of the war. He hated them because they represented years of his life that even an ocean and 40 years failed to erase. He never spoke of what he witnessed in the camp, or of friends lost in battle, though I learned later from my grandmother of many fellow soldiers killed while he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

He did his duty to God and Country, and when it was over, it was over. All that remained, all that was shared from that time was his hatred for tattoos. He may have survived, but a part of him died at Buchenwald in 1945.

I had only seen my mother’s father cry once. He cried at her funeral. That hot June day when the sun blazed overhead, my seven year old self confused and overwhelmed by the sadness swirling around me. Six-foot-three and a career military man, I never saw him cry until her death. His baby girl.

The tears came again on another hot day. This time I was 14 and we were in Washington DC on vacation. After two tours in Vietnam, I knew the first place we were headed once we arrived at the national mall: the Wall. It stands like a gash in the earth, twin pieces of stone rising up and fading sharply. So simple, yet so overwhelming. All of their names. Those 58,202 soldiers who died a world away from their families and homes. A few of the men, he knew. He paused longer by some names than others. But silently, for more than an hour, he slowly moved along The Wall. At the end, the tears came. How could they not? The enormity of it strikes your heart and moves even the strongest of stoics.

I grew up in a family where you stop moving when the flag goes up or down. You put your hand over your heart for the national anthem. You d0 not move a muscle during TAPS. Every year, you celebrate Memorial Day for what it is: a memorial of those men and women who died serving our nbso online casino reviews country. (And once you celebrate that, you go on and eat all the hot dogs and brisket you want.)

You may have disdain for those in power who start wars in which their children will never fight. You may abhor violence and pray fervently for an end to all wars. You may even hope that you live to see the day when the military needs to hold a bake sale to buy their weapons. I do.

But Memorial Day is not about me. It’s not about my politics or my view of how the world should be ordered. This day is about them, those men and women who “gave the last full measure of devotion” and died doing what they believed to be right. They held nothing, not even their lives, back from their country and their God. Theirs is a sacrifice for which we must always be grateful, even when we are outraged that it was demanded of them at all.

At the Memorial Day service I attended every year when I was a child and teen, someone would read a poem, In Flanders Fields. I close with it as a tribute to all those men and women who we remember today.

In Flanders Fields
– Lt. Col. John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord. And may we always remember their sacrifice.

Another Article about Millenials (But This One Also Talks About the Spiritual Life!)

In the last few years, a preferred topic of journalistic inquiry amongst concerned Baby Boomers and Gen Xers is the unique situation caused by the invasion of the workforce by Millenials. Born from the early 80s to the early aughts, Millenials bear the positive distinction of being among the most idealistic and socially conscious generations ever. Formed in the Internet Age, Millenials have knowledge of and wish to improve things on a global stage in a way no other generation has even had an opportunity to.

This idealism is not solely limited to notions of transcontinental betterment, however. Unfortunately, many have noted that these same Millenials also bear unrealistically idealistic notions of their own capabilities leading to a sense of grandiosity and entitlement often categorized under the term of “narcissism.”

Sociologists debate how seemingly an entire generation has been captured by Narcissus’ condition, but, no matter the cause, the effects seem rather dire. Relationships between Millenials often can suffer because of this shared selfishness, but it also seems to hamper the ability of my generation to really grind out a job in the work place The latter is the most frequently discussed fruit of this excessive self-love and is the main topic to be analyzed in this article.

Having been told they are special throughout their entire developmental life, Millenials find it difficult to put their head down and crank out the work required of entry-level positions because they feel that their skill set requires more challenge and excitement. Can you really blame them? They’ve been told since kindergarten to “follow their passions” and if the situation you’re in doesn’t really resonate with your ideals and passions then something is defective. One can see the apparent difficulties for Millenials relationships (i.e. “as soon as you encounter difficulties it’s nothing you have to change about yourself it’s their problem and run”) and the same dynamic is played out at the professional level.

Wait, but people on TV never have to work.
Wait, but people on TV never have to work.

My intention with this article is not to simply ensure that an online Catholic journal has an article similar to those that have been written dozens of times already on Yahoo News! or for the Huffington Post. Neither is it my intention to join the chorus of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who are “…just so appalled at the lack of a work ethic in this newest generation.” Rather, I would seek to call out to Catholics Millenials who have grown up in the “You Are Special” milieu to confront how the inability to find meaning in the mundane can be a profound detriment to a relationship with Jesus.

Note the tendency of the Millenial: an overexalted sense of self leads to a general discontentment with being engaged in a *gulp* NORMAL way of life. When this underlying tendency becomes “Catholicized,” this sense of grandiosity becomes applied to the spiritual life. We may even convince ourselves that such notions are really God’s voice we are hearing.

I have a theory that the vocation of Perpetual Discernment is in some sense related to this grandiosity. “Only when I find a situation that perfectly “fits” me will I choose to dive into it.”

In other cases, my fellow Millenials and I will read the Lives of the Saints and be convinced that we too MUST be called to such exalted levels of public immolation. This conviction leads to discontentment with our little sacrifices surrounding family life and 9-5 employment. If we really loved the Lord (and if He really loved us), then we would have an international speaking ministry or would already be in South Sudan serving orphans, right? I posit the question to my fellow sinners though, are these the only real paths to holiness? Does sanctity really require such public displays? Is that ALWAYS the Lord’s desire for you as a saint?

I think in part because of my own Millenialness, I’ve begun to develop a deep devotion to the saints who haven’t been canonized by the Church. There are probably some pretty powerful, heavy-hitters sitting up there right by the throne of Jesus of whom we here on Earth have never even heard. Close to the Lord’s heart. Completely anonymous.

To put a finer point on it, the real difficulty is this: if our excessive sense of self causes us to be discontent with our daily lives and unable to find the Lord’s hand working in the mundane, then we are currently, right now, missing the only opportunity for grace that is being offered to us. Holiness, sanctity, grace is a present moment kind of thing and if our present moment is pretty *gulp* NORMAL then the Lord has chosen for us a quiet and private holiness, at least for now.

Let’s be those kind of saints, guys. No one’s going to know about us, but we’re going to know the Lord’s heart pretty well.

The Biggest Announcement I Have Ever Made

arleen fall 2013

Since Feb. 28, 2013 — the last day of Pope Benedict’s papacy — I’ve been harboring a secret.

A secret I’m ready to share.

I sat that morning at the kitchen table, typing grateful Tweets to the pope and waiting to receive news that would make or break my day (and potentially change my life). In Notre Dame, Indiana, 1100 miles north of my house, the people gathered who would determine which kind of news I’d get. They discussed, deliberated, and decided, all from a room at a publishing house called Ave Maria Press.

After the meeting, an editor delivered the news to me like this:

“So,” he said. “How would you like to write a book for us?”

I said yes.

I said yes because they (the fabulous people at Ave Maria Press) said yes, too. They had gathered that day to review a book proposal I had written, and to decide whether they’d like me to write the book. Indeed they would, and indeed I am (and it’s been a work in progress ever since).

The book — about love, chastity, and sex — is slated for a Fall 2014 release (and I will reveal the title and cover when they’re ready). In the meantime, two things:

1. Thank you for your readership. I am more grateful than I adequately can express that you read what I write, respond to what I write, and inspire what I write by sharing or challenging my sentiments. More to come!

2. Your support while I write (and eventually launch) the book is so appreciated. Here are four ways you can help, if you’d like: First, pray for me, and for the project. Writing a book is officially the greatest feat I ever have attempted (one at which I will succeed by the grace of God, with the help of a wonderful editor). Second, participate in an upcoming series of surveys I will share (which might result in your being quoted in the book!). Third, invite me to discuss love, chastity, and sex with young adults or parents at your church, school, or other organization. Fourth, share my work with your friends (and let them know I’d love to connect at arleenspenceley.com, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Google+).

Hope you all are as pumped as I am. And now, I write.

Beautiful Day

*Warning: This Post Mentions Gynecological Medical Procedures.*

 

 

Today was one of those days; those days when I get up at 3:00 A.M. with less than five hours of sleep behind me. I could have gone to bed earlier, but I believe that spending time with my future wife is important, so I didn’t. I could have slept a little later, but Morning Prayer is important so I get up at 3:00. By 3:20 I have changed into scrubs, shaved and packed. I am out of the house by 3:45, and even that is not enough to get me to the ER quite by 4:00. It doesn’t really matter, though. I am just a student rotating through so if I didn’t show up at all no one would care. I just wouldn’t get the hours I need for school.

Today was one of those days when my first patient passed out during a PT test, has terrible cramps throughout his entire body, and cannot stand up because every time he does his heart races and he passes out. He is my age. It was one of those days when your patient breaks down into tears when you ask about family history. His older brother died of a stroke at 35 years old… three months ago. Today was one of those days when your ER shift ends at 8:00 so you don’t see how your patient ends up before you are headed into clinic to start your regular 8 hour shift.

Yep, just one of those days when you witness the aftermath of a miscarriage of a first pregnancy in a tiny little Filipino lady who has just moved here, has no family or friends, and whose husband is leaving for training for a month… tomorrow.

One of those days when you know that a woman is probably going to miscarry within the next two or three days. She doesn’t know that yet, but you do. And her birthday is this weekend. She is flying home to celebrate with family.

One of those days when every twenty minutes brings in a new patient. Because it is an OB/GYN clinic, any pregnant woman in the whole hospital gets sent there for any and all complaints.

“Fell and hurt your wrist? Come on in! Welcome to ortho where we see stuff like this all the… wait! You’re pregnant?! No! Pregnant lady alert! Get her off the floor, quick before it spreads! I will treat any number of wrists you care to name but not if it is a pregnant wrist!”

One of those days when you go go go all morning, helping out and earn kudos from the attending for seeing so many patients.

One of those days when every patient is a learning experience, because let’s face it, I am a Special Forces Medic, not an OB. I have a little bit of familiarization with a lot of different things, and extensive, repetitively drilled expertise in a very niche set of skills. That doesn’t mean I have ever done a speculum exam, or a trans-vaginal ultrasound. That doesn’t mean I have ever had to figure out whether or not a patient’s pregnancy was at risk and explain that thought process to a doctor. Today, however, I have done all of that.

It was one of those days where you do your first trans-vaginal ultrasound ever, and show a young mother her first ever picture of her first baby (6.5 weeks gestation) and point out the tiny little flutter of tissue that is a heart, barely a millimeter in size, but a heart nonetheless.

Today was one of those days when the patient tells you that she has no history of depression or anxiety, and plain as day you can see the cutting scars and cigarette burn scars on her left arm. When she tells you she has a condition you have only heard of once in your life, that she has strange and terrifying sympIMG_0553toms and she is sick of feeling like this and she is scared and isn’t even supposed to be pregnant because her neurosurgeon told her not to.

Today was one of those days when a text message that simply says, “Eskimo kiss,” can make you smile and feel all warm in the pericardial region.

Today was one of those days when you walk out of the hospital at 4:30 P.M. 12.5 hours after you went into it, knowing you still have two hours of work waiting at the office to prep for a deployment that looms closer and closer; knowing that, if you are lucky, you will be home by seven and get to see your fiancee for two hours before she has to go home to go to bed, and you have to say Evening Prayer and go to sleep, hopefully by 10:00, so that you can do it all again the next day.

Today was one of those days when you walk out of the hospital and a grotesquely crippled little red headed boy, with dwarfishly proportioned arms and head and legs the size of polish sausage links looks at you from his wheelchair and yells, “Watch out for the sprinklers! Watch out for the sprinklers.” For the lawn sprinklers have gone off without warning and sprinkled him and his mother, and his face is one of absolute delight as he warns me. “Watch out for the sprinklers.”

“Sprinklers?! Oh no! You better watch out too! They’ll jump up and get you.”

“Yeah. The sprinklers are attacking each other!” He yells with sheer exuberance for life! “They are shooting each other with water!”

“Heck yeah they are!” I shout back., and laugh from deep in my stomach.

Today was one of those days. One of those beautiful ones.