Blessed Are Those

In prayer, we ask, plead with and talk to what we have never seen. And to all of us doubting, Jesus only answers: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

“How do you know that God answers prayers if you have never seen His face?” asked the man in old jeans and a tattered sweater standing in the food line at the homeless mission. “I mean, I go to church and I believe in God, but how do you know?”

Clammed up, nervous and inarticulate, the volunteer answered, but only to a barrage of other questions pertaining to faith and the presence of God.  I was glad I was just watching and listening. Thankfully, he was not asking me.

When I left, the first question stayed with me. I thought to myself: “I go to church and I believe in God, but, how do you know?”

I have always liked questions that can be answered. I love the dialogue, the process and, ultimately, the solution. It is exhilarating to discover, explore and solve questions.

The church-going man in his old jeans and tattered sweater shared something in common with me that night. We both loved questions that can be answered. Unfortunately for the both of us, I am not sure his question is one that can be.

In prayer, we ask, plead with and talk to what we have never seen. And to all of us doubting, Jesus only answers: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

That is not necessarily the kind of clear answer I love. But that is the problem all along. I too often love the answer to my question and forget to love the One who is the answer.

When I am struggling with something, I always turn to my wife and talk through it. Sometimes she responds with answers that I love, sometimes with ones I don’t like and other times with only a listening ear. Most of the time, it is not her answer that solves my problem, but her presence through my struggle.

And so it is with God. God, it may not be your face that I see, your hands that I feel or your voice that I hear. But by faith, I know your presence and I know you are near to me. Your answer to my prayers is your love for me. My answer to your nearness, your constant presence and your love – is my own.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on January 5, 2017

A Thanksgiving Story

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks.

I feel somewhere along the way we have forgotten we belong to each other. But then again I wonder if that has always been the case. I am not sure there was any period in human history where there was not war, hunger, or someone seeking to harm the other. It is naïve to believe there ever was a golden age of togetherness, respect, and love? Is it naïve to believe one could come?

In 2016, I made my first thanksgiving dinner. I bought a turkey and roasted it. I mashed up potatoes, made green beans, made cornbread, and bought the pumpkin pie. Most of the essentials were there with the exception of sweet potato casserole. But I wasn’t bold enough to make that quite yet.

With all of the food on the table we sat down to eat. Before we started all of us went around the table and said one thing we were grateful for from the past year. To me, it is not thanksgiving unless you practice giving thanks. Without that it simply becomes another meal at the table – albeit a nice one.

Making the meal took a lot of work. One has to prep the turkey, season the turkey, pray and hope the turkey doesn’t burn or taste terrible once it is done cooking. One has to cook the potatoes, the green beans, the cornbread, and kill a few sticks of butter in the process. It is one big dance that needs to come together at just the right moment so nothing is left sitting too long to get cold. I cook often so even though I know my way around a kitchen this was still a formidable challenge.

However, even though cooking the food is a lot of work, Thanksgiving is not necessarily about eating the food one cooks. It is a holiday of being thankful we have the food to cook and people around us to share it with. At its core, Thanksgiving is a holiday to remember that we belong to each other. The Thanksgiving story of the pilgrims and the Native Americans gathering around a table to share their harvest reminds us of that truth.

I personally love stories. I love nestling up to my son and reading him the classics: Winne the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Charlotte’s Web. I love their interesting plots and the meaningful lesson at the end. Jesus loved stories too, I think. He told them often and they always had a meaningful lesson – even if those listening did not always understand.

The course of human history is certainly a story and our lives are one small chapter or maybe just a few lines. Intertwined in our story, undoubtedly, are the holidays we come together and celebrate. I wonder if I opened that book to look back and see that a couple times a year groups of people came together from all over to share a meal, tell stories, laugh, and give thanks – if I might see that as a moment in time when the world remembered it belonged to each other.

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks. The story of human history is filled with chapters of war, hunger, and despair. Those are chapters we should read and continue to work toward resolving. That work never ends and because of that our coming together should never end.

So grab a seat at the table, place your napkin, and pick up a fork. I am grateful for you and most grateful for those times I remember we belong to each other.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on November 23, 2016

An Essay on Young Adulthood

Perhaps to all of us who have been through it and to those of us who are going through it now, this image is one to encourage us on the journey. In those moments where we are tempted to say “I have been there,” it reminds us that God always says, “I am with you now.”

I recently had a brief but meaningful conversation with an old friend. We had not talked for months and even now we could only find a few minutes to sit down and chat. We caught up on new jobs and showed each other around our new homes. Both young adults, we had a number of new things happening in our lives.

I have many friends who are going through “transitions,” whether that be into priesthood, parenthood, married life, full-time employment, life in new cities, or new lives back in the same city. With all that transition comes a sense of uncertainty. Did I make the right decision in moving away? In moving back? Am I on the right path?

I have no doubt that most people go through this stage in their life. Most likely, we go through multiple transitions – at the beginning of adulthood, when the kids move out and head to college, when we retire, or when we lose someone close to us or face another unforeseen circumstance. Each transition hopefully makes us more able to face the next.

There is no doubt that most of the time during our life journey of transitions, a few encouraging words goes a long way. But, how often do we look at someone who is having difficulty with something new or unforeseen and say, “I have been there,” then share that often-maligned-yet-all-too-common unsolicited advice about how to get through it?

I do it, and we all do from time to time. We especially like to respond this way with people who are closest to us. We already know them and have spent hours working hard to support them. Our advice, then, should be considered and graciously received.

Is there a way, especially with those who are closest to us, to change “I have been there” to “I am with you now”? We all face transitions and new circumstances that challenge who we are and what we want to become. Sometimes these shake us badly and we find ourselves diving into the sort of depth that forms character, builds or breaks relationships, and gives perspective that forms our future choices.

One of my favorite saints, St. Francis de Sales, in one of his writings, shares an encouraging image of a God that holds us by the hand, matching His steps to ours and happy to walk at the pace we set. Perhaps to all of us who have been through it and to those of us who are going through it now, this image is one to encourage us on the journey. In those moments where we are tempted to say “I have been there,” it reminds us that God always says, “I am with you now.”

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on August 26, 2016

7-22-16, Sounds of our New Home

The hum of the vacuum
The empty new home echo
You’re snuggled up to my breast
Lulling in and out of sleep
I’m feeding you in a lawn chair next to the window.

This is the place we will call home
Our future memories
Hope-full-y many things
Siblings, first steps, laughter and flowers
New pets, broken vases, and finished projects.

This is the place
Welcome home Simon Nicholas.

-Gillian

7-8-16, When Violence Happens in the Middle of the Night

4:30 a.m. the baby cries for food
Eyes stuck shut
I pry them open with the light of my phone
Yesterday, black men died.
Apparently today, 10 police officers.
I don’t read. I don’t click the details.
I don’t want to know.
My best friend sleeps over, she stirs.
I could wake her, tell her, not be alone
I think of my husband, tired too from the gore.
But I am so done.
So don’t want to know.
I want them to wake up and not have to deal with more casualties in this American war
We live in a war.
All of those men were innocent.
The black and the white.
Once they were babes in arms like my boy
Both tired and awake
In the middle of the night.
From their vaccine shots the day before.
An innocent smile dances on and off his face
He laughs only because he knows me
Nothing else
He knows not of the world tumbling around him.
Those men shot, black and white
Felt this innocence once before
Smiled at the one they recognized.
The world did this to them, taught them to hate and be hated.
Kill and be killed.

Tonight they are the same, innocent and free again.

-Gillian

Walking on Holy Ground

Each situation can be blessed with grace. Each struggle can be battled with hope. And each journey, with its winding roads, is a place where we can encounter the living God.

A couple months ago, I started volunteering with my wife and a co-worker and his wife at a local ministry for those who are homeless or down on their luck called Jesus Cares at Exit 0.

The ministry, located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, somewhere close to exit 0 on I-65 (hence the name) began about six years ago by Paul Stensrud, a local resident, and his family.

It really is a remarkable ministry. Paul has done much to improve the lives of the local homeless and works tirelessly with community leaders to address issues facing this community. Paul says this ministry is much more than passing out food for them to eat – and nothing could be truer.

He provides showers, he registers individuals for healthcare and food stamps, he helps find jobs, he is a teacher of the faith and, most importantly, he is a dear friend of those who really need one.

His story is one that should be told often. He saw a need and took drastic steps to address it. Even if this need brought him to places many of us will never go.

Wherever we walk, we walk on holy ground.

May is a special month. There is Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, National Teacher’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and, of course, National Roast Leg of Lamb Day (May 7, in case you were curious). But most important and relevant to me, even though I deeply appreciate a good leg of lamb, is the fact that May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that severely affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure and about 70,000 people worldwide battle it each day.  I walk with someone each day that has this disease. She is smart, funny, strong and immensely courageous. She is my wife, Gillian.

There is so much to say about her courageous battle. There are endless stories about hospital stays, drug studies, hours of treatments, and of the many unique people met along the way – even George W. Bush, the 43rdpresident of the United States.

Her story is a truly beautiful one. It is a story of a thousand little moments of strength, sacrifice, smiles and hope. Her every day is a day filled with medicines and treatments that help her live another day. Yet they are filled with moments that give witness to the power of faith, hope and an enduring commitment to living each day with purpose.

Wherever we walk, we walk on holy ground.

The above phrase is a reflection by one of my favorite writers, Fr. James Martin, SJ. They moved me the first time I read them and continue to do so each time I reflect on their meaning.

I am immediately taken to the story about the journey to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke. Two disciples distraught from the loss of who they believed was a king, journey away from the eternal city of Jerusalem down a hill to the small town of Emmaus. Jesus appears to them on the way and talks with them, revealing to them the great mystery of His life, His death and, soon after He breaks bread with them, His resurrection.

Life can sometimes be like the road to Emmaus, full of winding journeys and disparaging situations. It is also full of people filled with hope and on fire for the work of God, just as the disciples were when they ran back to Jerusalem after their eyes were opened at the breaking of the bread.

Really, the story of Emmaus is a story about who we are as people on the journey of faith.

Each situation can be blessed with grace. Each struggle can be battled with hope. And each journey, with its winding roads, is a place where we can encounter the living God.

For wherever we walk, we walk on holy ground.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog Echoes from the Bell Tower on May 21, 2015