WillingNESS TO LISTEN
Very often, I find myself over-complicating simple tasks. Sometimes I put off a small chore for no good reason at all, only to eventually get around to it and find that it took half the amount of time I had anticipated. Still, I don’t ever seem to learn my lesson. If I don’t do something right away, I will almost always struggle to motivate myself to get it done anytime soon. I suppose this could simply be ascribed to laziness, which is perhaps fair. Although I think that this habit might be closely related to another weakness of which I am often guilty, namely a sort of obstinance that prevents me from seeking out the assistance of others, even when it might be significantly to my or their advantage.
In my professional life, I am not slow to admit my shortcomings. I feel I have a pretty good understanding of those areas in which others working on a project might serve better than I and when I ought to take a back seat or assisting role. There have been many times when I have realized that I was ill-equipped to address a particular dilemma when planning a lesson or to draft a letter, subsequently seek out advice from my coworker. I am confident that my work has profited from my recognition and reliance on the gifts of others.
For whatever reason, this receptivity does not seem to transfer to my personal experiences outside of work. When those close to me try to alleviate whatever burden I happen to be carrying, I am often reluctant to share my struggles with them at all, let alone listen to their words of advice or consolation. I suppose it is a sort of stubbornness that prevents me from listening to my friends’ input when it comes to my daily life, a little act of defiance to prove to myself or them that I know what is best.
All of this indicates a failure to trust my loved ones and a failure to trust in God and His Providence. It is a struggle that I think is probably not uncommon. Still, when we take every burden upon ourselves and try to fix everything alone, it will always end in failure. Our capacities for reason are so vastly limited that trying and navigating each every day-to-day obstacle without help is beyond foolish. We are told in Proverbs 3:5-6 :
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; in all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths” (NRSVCE).
When we refuse to trust God, we turn inward. When we turn inward, we push out the other people in our lives as well. We must make room for God in our considerations of the decisions we make every day, from the trivial to the significant. I am finding that it takes practice (and lots of it) to break down the walls I put up over time and allow God’s voice to come through more clearly. Even so, I can see the positive difference it makes when I put forth an effort to become less stubborn and more open to discernment.
He will make straight our paths. It is easy to believe ourselves capable of overcoming anything through the strength of our individual will; it takes far more extraordinary courage to leave it to God and allow Him to be in control. There is great peace to be had in this teaching, and I hope to no
longer take it for granted.
Despising what we Desire
It’s rather odd the way we despise the things that we desire. We love a good night’s sleep but despise our bedtime when it actually comes ’round. We love finishing a project early but tend to procrastinate. Truthfully, the reason for these conundrums is our distaste for discipline.
“But to the wicked God says:
In my own spiritual journey, I’ve had my moments of despising the Cross. I prefer binges on Netflix, video games, and food to my work, prayer, or relationships. Yet every time I gave full force to these temptations and pursued only selfish pleasures, I’d find myself in an earthly kind of hell. A place where I was comfortable, pleased, and had everything I wanted, yet felt dead. I would be distant from God, others, and myself. Although Love is what my heart desired, I’d learned to trade it in for simple pleasures. This is the story of every sinner, addict, and stoic.
“What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” –
What a blessing then discipline, i.e. suffering, can be for us. Running out of money and food isn’t something we’d consider a “blessing”. But, for the Prodigal Son it forced him to come to his senses and return to Love. Imagine if his life remained luxurious: he likely would’ve missed out on Love. To pull a quote from my current favorite sci-fi show, Debris: “You can spend a lifetime hiding from yourself what you truly want.” And it’s all too easy for us to hide from the Love of God because we prefer to avoid discipline. We become the Perpetually Prodigal Son. Let us FIGHT against this temptation. Let’s not be like that. It’s not worth it.
This, then, is the wonderful, challenging, baffling, and beautiful paradox of Christ. He calls us to lose our lives to find it; to die in order to live.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
This is a message that sin doesn’t understand, but the repentant sinner does. A life filled with selfish pleasure is devoid of all peace. A life focused on personal gratification, seeking personal pleasure, is a life unsatisfied. A life of service to our beloved Lord is our true heart’s desire. A life of self-gift is the only path to happiness.
What’s the first thing you should go discipline yourself?
When my pursuit of sin has left me bruised and battered, it is Silence that has soothed my wounds. And yea, silent communication seems like another paradox, but lovers understand the power of a kiss. And you need to stop talking in order to do so! Silence is the kiss of the Holy Spirit. It is the language of God in your heart. Silence is needed from film, video games, friends, and family. We must have silent time with Christ in order to hear his voice.
Like all disciplines, it may be tough at times, but it yields the sweetest of fruit: communion with the Trinity. Turn everything off and chill with God every day. Start small like a child, and let God mature you in Silence. And let’s help each other to this end.
“If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence.”
Where would you be without Christ?
Where would you be without Christ? I start this FRAYAM Reflection with this simple question. My Faith has helped me grow closer to God, and my parents started this process. My family showed me what it means to honor my Catholic Faith. My close bonds with family is one of many G.I.F.T.S. that Christ has given me.
G.I.F.T.S. stands for: God Invites Friends To Sanctification. He does this through relationship with us and the relationships we have with others. That relationship can only work if we show our desire to be his friend. We do this by spending time with him in prayer. God has always answered my prayers when I am down or when family or friends need prayers.
God constantly gives me G.I.F.T.S. and has helped me know that he loves me, and he shows me how to be positive and not worry about the Past. He is going to someday provide me with everything that he believes that I need to be Holy. He helps ease my anxiety when I am praying, and he talks to me to reduce my fear and worries. He tells me to be patient, don’t be too hard on myself, and just rest in Him.
God is the most trustworthy friend we have. He will talk to you and answer your prayer requests whenever you need help from him. God does have a different time frame than we do. Our prayers may not be answered as quickly as we wish, and they may be answered in different ways than we exactly requested them. But, they are answered in the way God feels is best for each of us. Why? This is the case because he desires our Sanctification. He wants us to be made more virtuous, and interestingly enough, this is only possible through trial and tribulation.
I know God loves me. Why? I know this because of the G.I.F.T.S. he has given me. He doesn’t tell me to go away or to stop telling him my concerns. He stays with me and helps me accept the Past that does not need to be troubling me in my Present life. I trust that whatever difficulty enters my life has a purpose, and that purpose is to make me more like Christ. Do you see that God means business? He is our Leader! What G.I.F.T.S. has God given you, both wanted and unexpected, that are leading you closer to him?
Thy Will Be Done
Four simple words, ‘Thy will be done’ - for some, these words bring peace and comfort, but for others, like me, they are a struggle. Born and raised Catholic, God has always been in my life, but I will admit that I have not always made our relationship an easy one. When I graduated high school, a first-generation college student, teachers said I had a mind for science and should pursue it, so I did. I was later told I should get out of our town and meet new people, so I did. I moved 6 hours from my entire family to Terre Haute and majored in Geology. I did well academically throughout my undergrad and was told that I should pursue a graduate degree, so I did. You would be great in the lab researching, so I did. You should pursue your doctorate, so I did. Are you noticing a theme here?
It was during my doctorate at Tulane University in New Orleans that I reached my breaking point. For what felt like forever, I had been doing what others wanted of me, it was all-consuming, and the pressure I placed on myself to please each and every person in my life had left me completely broken.
And God, where was He in all of this? He was there. He always is. My mind was so cluttered, and my heart was so hardened that I couldn’t hear His words or feel Him reaching for me. My two years at Tulane was a period in my life of which I am not proud. I was broken, and my actions reflected that. A phone call from home on February 22, 2009, was the turning point. Through tears and screams, I realized that I had no idea who this person was that I had become, but I was ashamed of her.
The days that followed were a blur as I flew home to bury one of the most important women in my life. The plane ride saw my mind, as always, overthinking every piece of my life. I knew I was proud of my accomplishments, but I wasn’t happy. I knew I wanted to change - looking back, this was God pushing through - but the devil was work in my mind via temptation.
In New Orleans, I finished another semester, and days of internal dialog over my future followed. I can’t explain it as anything other than a ‘God Moment,’ but I found myself in a church for the first time in years. I sat there in silence and reflected on the last seven years of my life - I had unique experiences, published research, a successful teaching career, and a family who couldn’t be prouder. I was good at my life, and I wasn’t miserable all of the time, but in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t the life I wanted. That day in that church pew, my brain shut down. It was quite long enough for me to hear the words of a friend who had never left me, a friend who had been waiting patiently for me.
Telling my parents that I was quitting my doctorate program was, to this day, the hardest thing I have ever done. Followed only by telling others who were so proud of me. My heart knew that they wouldn’t love me any less, but the devil filled me with lies - ‘you are such a disappointment, you are letting everyone down, they will be ashamed of you.’
“I’m so confused, I know I heard you loud and clear - So, I followed through, somehow I ended up here. I don’t wanna think, I may never understand that my broken heart is a part of your plan. When I try to pray all I’ve got is hurt and these four words: Thy will be done...”
I want to tell you that my story ends with “from that day forward I committed to living a life surrendering to God’s plan,” but my friends, that just isn’t how my story goes. What did those hard conversations accomplish? They set me on a path where I acknowledged that I had severe anxiety and that it was playing a crippling role in my life. While I still struggle with my anxiety, I have worked hard to learn tools to cope, and God’s voice is one that I can once again hear.
I find peace in praying those four little words, “Thy will be done,” even when I still struggle with fully accepting them. I pray daily for the strength to surrender to God’s will and everlasting love. When we allow ourselves to surrender, amazing things will happen - when we allow ourselves to surrender, we have the courage to persevere when bad things happen. I’ll end by sharing that I pray daily for all of those who, like me, experience this struggle of anxiety and that the peace of surrendering to God’s will is with you always.
“I know you’re good, but this don’t feel good right now. I know you think of things I could never think about. Sometimes I gotta stop, remember that you’re God and I am not...So, thy will be done.”
Do you Seek Divine Mercy?
Peace be with you! He is Risen. Alleluia.
I write this from our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis. It is at this location and that of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, that I am learning to serve. My formator’s homily from this Sunday’s liturgy noted that our ordination to the Holy Order of Deacons is approaching. In a little over one year from now, god-willing, the eighteen of us will be mercifully ordained for service at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. But, formation has not always been easy and the effort that I apply to this transformational process has occasionally been subpar.
Each and every Christian, by the nature of our baptisms are called to be conformed to Christ. And, each sacramental grace we receive aids us in the process of unifying ourselves to Christ and his merciful love.
Practically speaking: How often do you find yourself not satisfied with the work of your hands? Do you occasionally miss deadlines at work? Are your projects often not of the calibre you’d prefer? Maybe, you did not get that promotion that you were seeking due to a lack of dedication at work. Possibly, because of procrastination you narrowly missed that passing grade on the most difficult examination of the year? At some point in the past, have you not been the best son or daughter, wife or husband, brother or sister, or friend?
Spiritually speaking: Sin is “missing the mark”. A perfectly fitting analogy is that of archery. In that moment, Sin is when you shoot that arrow and find yourself not hitting the spiritual bullseye. How often do you miss opportunities to express the love of Christ to others?
I do not think I am alone in this sad reality. Time and time again, no matter the task asked of me, I am daily reminded of how much I rely on God’s mercy.
For a moment, let’s take Thomas in today’s Gospel reading who was desperately in need of the Divine Mercy of Jesus. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I’d like to suggest that Thomas is displaying symptoms of being a “lukewarm disciple” and someone who is in desperate need of God’s mercy. He spent the last several years living with Christ. And, yet, as soon as the Lord is physically and spiritually distant from him, he disconnects from Christ completely by choosing to not believe he had resurrected.
Is there anyone more in need of the mercy of God than someone who is lukewarm to Christ?
Jesus visited Saint Faustina Kowalska repeatedly for several years and asked her to pray for the souls who have become lukewarm, and immerse them in the abyss of the mercy of God. In her visions of Christ, Christ spoke the following, “These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: 'Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.' For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy”.
Saint Peter reminds us that through our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection we have become “God’s people”.
Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; You “had not received mercy”, but now you have received mercy.
My friends, the remaining question that I ask you to contemplate in your private prayer is the following: Am I seeking to rely on Christ’s mercy moment by moment? Or, am I distancing myself from Christ and his Church becoming a “lukewarm” Christian?
Again, we quote our Lord to St. Faustina:
Jesus said, “When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls.” (Jesus, Diary 1074).
How can we approach the Lord with trust? Firstly, by living in Christian community with our fellow baptized brothers and sisters and taking up responsibilities of service. Secondly, by spending time daily in prayer with our Lord asking for help with the tasks he gives us. Thirdly, by receiving the graces of Mercy only found in the sacrament of confession when we “miss the mark”.
On this, Divine Mercy Sunday, each of us can rejoice! We celebrate the source of our joy which is the Mercy of God. Let us learn from the example of Saint Thomas and seek the mercy of Christ. Let us be the people that Christ is calling us to become. I desire to no longer be “lukewarm”, to resist temptation to miss the mark, and to radiate to others the “abundance of graces” that Christ gives me out of his Divine Mercy.
Let us go now to Worship our Lord, Witness to his Mercy toward us, and Serve others out of that same Mercy.
For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
As I am writing this on the eve of Easter, I find myself marveling at the extent of my stubbornness. I, like many others, desire control, and certainty. I like to sinfully plan every detail, know precisely what is to come and how to get there. And to top it all off, I want to do it myself. I am independent to a fault and will trudge my way through the storm rather than rely on another or ask for help. How ridiculous is that, though?
I am reminded on this night how absurd that notion is. That I, a sinful, powerless, and flawed 25-year-old, would instead try and take control, rather than offer up my anxieties and trust The Father and Christ, who on this Easter weekend we celebrate the fact that He ROSE FROM THE GRAVE. Yet, I still try my best at every obstacle and turn to take the reins. It is truly laughable.
This season has been challenging. This year has been tough. Time and time again, I have been reminded of the absolute lack of control and power I have. Lack of control is everywhere: from considerable shifts in my work to navigating new relationships, changes in the social and political climate, and overall chaos, it seems that the lack of control has been abundant in every area of life. Through this chaos, I’ve desired change. I wanted, I craved, power, so I took it upon myself to seek change to regain that control.
I started job searching, and a few potential opportunities popped up, none of which were ever guaranteed or inevitable, but I clung to them as if my life depended on it. I wanted a change in where I lived, thinking that would help give me some sort of sense of comfort, so I started looking for new places to move to, and another potential popped up, which I, again, clung to. I felt as though I had regained control of my life, but as I write this, both the options to live and work somewhere new are no longer present. As quickly as they came to me, they were gone, and I was left with the reminder that I do not have control. That my only job is to trust, pray, and wait.
I’ve never been good at waiting. I’ve never been good at trusting. It’s a time of challenge but also a time for seeking comfort in Him. Each of us needs to find comfort in Christ, who is powerful, loving, all-knowing, and a personal God. The goal is to find peace in trusting the path that was specially crafted for each of us, one which will ultimately allow us to glorify God. Once I realized this truth, all I had to do was trust and let go of the constant desire and seeking of control; I experienced peace.
For the first time in a long time, I am confident in whatever is to come. Not that I have ANY clue what that is, but I am changed and able to trust that it will be God’s will. Not my own. So- I continue to wait. And pray. And, now, as Easter people, we celebrate that the God who is powerful enough to bring His Son back to life, has control over mine as well.
“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (NRSVCE, John 16:33).
In Christ, Alone
When a dear friend asked me to write this months ago (back in 2020 months ago), I thought, "sure, life will calm down by then, and I'll find time for that." At this point, we were about eight months into a pandemic, and I didn't know it was possible to have so much going on while spending so much time alone. At the time, I was living in Cleveland, OH, and I now live in St. Louis, MO. Yes. You could say things did not calm down.
My relocating could be described as overwhelming. I say this as someone who hadn't lived very far outside of Terre Haute city lines for the first 22 years of her life. The furthest I made it out of Terre Haute was only as far as Le Fer Hall at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC), about 10 minutes on the other side of the river. Living in Cleveland felt pretty far for me. 6 hours away from everyone that I knew and who knew me. Far from anyone who knew the victories I had made and the crosses I carried along the way.
I moved to Cleveland the summer after I graduated from undergrad at SMWC. This move was the first time I felt I was outside of a faith community's relative comfort and safety. Having grown up attending a Catholic elementary school, then a Catholic school again in college, I seemed to have an abundance of faith formation groups, weekend retreats, and friends ready to talk and pray at my disposal. In college primarily, my faith identity was founded so much in the community of SMWC. Additionally, often that was through also my involvement in the St. Joseph's University Ministry.
It was a bit of a shock to my system to find myself in a new state and city and not always have people go to mass with or even just a friend to go to a Theology on Tap / Uncorked event. I found myself sampling churches, events, and young adult groups searching for the community I had always had before. I met great people, joined a wonderful church, and went to some fantastic events, but in the end, it seemed to me that part of the plan in Cleveland was to be alone.
Now, not that I was ever really alone, but I learned so much in this time about it what it meant to be on my own and especially what it meant to be on my own with God. Instead of sitting in a roomful of college students praying in Adoration or on retreat, I found myself sitting, kneeling in a small Adoration chapel I found in a church near my house. Instead of singing praise and worship music with friends, I found myself singing on my own in the car. I found myself praying near a creek in a park on my drive to church and finding a million small ways to be with God on my own. I found a new part of myself and my relationship with God.
It was not always easy; I spent a lot of time wishing for my faith community back. It usually took a lot of courage each time I showed up to an event on my own. But each time I did, even though I was joining and sharing in faith with other people, I learned a little bit more about how to be on my own. In Christ, alone.
I know full well that it is possible to be in a room full of people you love and to feel alone. I also know that you can be in an empty space and feel completely loved. In Christ, alone.
Through knowing Christ, we never truly are alone. For me, it took some time on my own to know that. We must come to learn that being alone isn't always a bad thing and to see that we are with Christ, even when we are alone.
We always will need and rely on our faith communities. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:14, which follows a very well-known verse: Philippians 4:13. It says, "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Right after it, though, Philippians 4:14 says, "Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress." (NRSVCE)
I have always loved the sentiment that we need our friends, family, and peers in hardship. I have often leaned on my faith community in my distress and will many times in the future. Still, it is in Christ alone we find the strength we need.
I leave you with a favorite hymn of mine of the same title as this reflection. Just a tiny change, and suddenly "In Christ, Alone" means something very different and something very beautiful.
"In Christ alone my hope is found;
Oscar ARNULFO ROMERO Y GALDAMEZ
As Catholics, we are called to be saintly, and we should model our lives on that of Jesus Christ. As stated in Matthew 5:48, "be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (NRSVCE). As we strive to be holy, we have others who have lived a holy life like the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and the disciples, amongst others, and can help us in our path to holiness. As I look at the saints, their lives, and their path to holiness, one that has always drawn my attention has been St. Oscar Romero.
Oscar Romero was born in Cuidad Barrios, El Salvador on 15th of August 1917. As a Salvadoran myself, I always grew up knowing about him even before he was canonized. His influence on El Salvador's nation started when he became archbishop of San Salvador and continues as he prays for each of us today. When Romero became archbishop of San Salvador, it was in the midst of the civil war in El Salvador. During times of war, he preached love and forgiveness.
"Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world."
Just as our Lord and Catholic social teaching tell us, Romero was an advocate for the poor. He would regift presents to those who needed them. His brother tells a story of Romero receiving some shoes, but instead of switching them out and using the new shoes, he decides to give the new shoes away to the gardener as he had noticed their shoes were very worn out. Romero was a humble servant of God and loved what Jesus preached about helping the poor.
During the civil war in El Salvador, Romero was very outspoken against violence. He would preach, saying that brothers and sisters in Christ should not harm each other. Even more brazenly, they do not have to follow their superiors' orders if those orders conflict with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Thou shalt not kill. He would preach from the pulpit. His words were so radical that there were death threats. On March 24, 1980, Romero was assassinated as he was celebrating a late evening Mass. While he raised the Eucharist in the air, immediately after the consecration, a bullet was fired from outside the small chapel as Romero was in the middle of the altar. He was struck in the heart. Hundreds of thousands mourned his death; however, millions still hear his words.
On May 23, 2015, Romero was beatified in San Salvador and became recognized as a martyr for the Faith. On October 14, 2018, in St Peter's Square, Pope Francis proclaimed Oscar Arnulfo Romero a saint. For the occasion, the Pope chose to wear the same blood-stained belt that Romero was wearing at the altar when he died.
As I examine Romero's life, I find it incredible how not afraid he was. He knew that if he kept telling the truth, those opposed would be unhappy with him, and yet he spoke the word of God. He knew God had a plan for him, and he would be on Earth just as long God wanted no longer, no less. Each of us must have faith in our God, who has a plan for each of us. We do not know what it might be, but we should open our hearts and listen. We should daily give thanks to God that we get to spend time with our friends and family and our church community.
As you continue on your week, remember that on March 24, we celebrate the life of a saint that died preaching what he loved, the words of Christ Jesus. Oscar Romero was not afraid of being outspoken even in the darkest of times.
As we remember Romero's life and Catholic teachings on his feast day, let us ponder on some of his words, "Aspire not to have more, but to be more." – Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
May God bless you!
PS. If you are interested in learning more about Romero, there is a movie titled Romero.
Fun fact: Romero is also one of the ten 20th-century martyrs depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London.
The Agony of the Leaf
We know God’s will for all of us:
“It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 51).
But what about God’s will for each of us? Few have received God’s call as clearly as Mary or Joseph; for most of us, God reveals himself in glimpses and seeds planted throughout our lifetime. Be wary, however! Glimpses may happen when we least expect it, and those seeds may appear in places we least suspect. For me, these things came about in the most unlikely of things: a tea leaf.
In the Summer of 2017, after I was called into the Catholic Church before I began RCIA, I entered into a deliberate self-reflection period, reevaluating my life. I began sifting through my past, hunting for those seeds, searching for those glimpses. When I recalled my days in Scotland half a lifetime ago, a great longing for tea came over me. It was something at that time that had been such an essential part of my daily life, and I wanted to put my mind back in that time of happiness. I could not have anticipated what that longing would reveal to me, but that’s usually how things go: if you are open to God’s calling, he may reveal himself in the smallest of things. Tea was something I simply enjoyed, I didn’t know it would come to occupy a significant portion of my life.
I decided to start selling tea myself, and it completely consumed me. The more I studied it, the more I loved it. Its history and culture; in the West wars have been fought over it, intellectual revolutions in the East have been triggered. The people in the industry were just as multifaceted as any other, with the soulless corporations on one end and on the other people fighting to protect small farmers from them. Nevertheless, when I began studying the tea leaf itself, how it is processed, how it is prepared, and how it is savored, a change took place in me.
What surprised me the most: all tea comes from the same leaf. It’s how the leaf is processed that determines what type it will become. One tea, in particular, captivated me. It is a type of tea that, after it’s harvested, it is then sorted, shaken, tumbled, bruised, cooked, rolled, dried, then rolled again and again until it reaches its final form, a tightly rolled ball; and after that, they still weren’t done with it, they roasted it as well. I remembered preparing this tea for the first time and being mesmerized at how this tiny little ball unfurled back to its original size. As it unraveled, the leaf began to reveal itself, with all its wrinkles, bruises, cuts, and tears. I remember cradling one of these leaves in my palm, looking at it with great compassion, thinking, “you poor thing, look what you had to go through.”
There is an expression (primarily British) in the tea trade used to describe this unfurling: The Agony of the Leaf. When the tea leaf rehydrates in water, it softens and begins to uncurl; with hot water, the leaf looks like it is convulsing like it is in agony. In this agony, the leaf begins to release its nutrients and lets loose all its flavor, color, and strength. It is a beautiful sight, watching the tea leaf return to life; but it was a new life, one where a lowly leaf reaches its true potential. Through this leaf’s agony, its transformation, where we are rewarded with something that for us is so nutritious, so comforting, so enjoyable.
I was a few months into RCIA when these revelations were happening. At this time in my conversion, I was re-orienting my entire self toward God, and as simple an act as making a cup of tea suddenly has a profoundly deep meaning to it. Not coincidentally, we were then studying the Passion of Christ, which began with the Agony in the Garden. Through the Passion and subsequent Resurrection, we gained access to the Father and became “sharers in the divine nature.” Jesus Christ suffered in a way none of us will ever experience, but it was necessary. Christ was without sin. Both human and divine, thus making his sacrifice Holy and all-encompassing. We have to make a sacrifice as well, but are we prepared for what that involves?
At the time, I could not grasp the agony and suffering of Christ, and I still can’t fully. I know if I do, it would tear me apart, shatter me into a thousand pieces, and I cannot claim that has happened yet. A tea leaf though, helped me reach a better understanding of that sacrifice. When the leaf is harvested, it then goes through a torturous process where it is effectively killed, then it gains a new life with water, fully transformed. We must share in Christ’s suffering: we, too, must be fully transformed. God gave me a glimpse of what that sacrifice entails in a tea leaf, and yet I know it pales in comparison to even what I have to go through to fulfill His will for me. A life chosen in service of God will - to say the least - not be easy.
However, we must choose it and choose sacrifice daily for the sake of our precious Lord. The greatest lesson that the tea leaf has taught me is that there are only two lives to live. Either you fulfill your basic biological function, wither, die, and return to the earth; or, before you return to the earth, you are harvested, suffer, die, transformed, and gain a new life, where your potential is fully realized. I remind myself daily, that I must choose the latter. I pray for the courage to endure the same The Agony of the Leaf, and be continually transformed by Christ.
I was born and raised Catholic. My faith is essential to me and remains a large part of my life. Growing up, I went to church with my family every Sunday. We always helped out the community as often as needed. I went to a youth group in addition to attending a Catholic School. Despite all of this, there was a small piece of me that knew I was missing something. I did not pay much attention to this desire that went unsatisfied. As I grew into adulthood, I realized that I had to listen to that small voice and determine what my faith desperately lacked.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, NRSVCE)
Then, in high school, I went on a TEC retreat (Teens Encounter Christ), and I found that missing piece! That missing piece was a place to help my faith grow with people who would help me along my faith journey. After attending the TEC retreat, I met other people who attended TEC retreats and founded a community. This community was going to help my faith grow to its potential. My faith was not something I would be able to grow by myself, and I needed help from others to cultivate what others had already sown into the soil of my soul. This group of people engaged and supported my desire to connect more deeply to Christ and his Church.
This TEC community was centrally located in my hometown region of Indiana. When I went to college, I was no longer close to that community of people. They were vital to me. I did participate in events when I came home from college some weekends. Still, that tiny voice, growing concerns about my relationship with Christ, began to reappear. As I started college, I again noticed this ever-present need at the center of my life. But, what was it? I went to church every Sunday. I had friends who helped me be a better person in faith. Additionally, I participated in campus ministry as a part of the community at SMWC.
While attending SMWC, I started looking more into my faith, but from a different perspective. I wanted to become intimately closer to Christ, but I was not sure how I could do that. It is at this point that I felt called to discern becoming a religious sister. The more I looked into it, the more that missing piece started to fade. I thought I was being called to the religious life. Even when talking to some Sisters of Providence (SP) they asked me, “Why don’t you become an SP?” I gave them the same answer - I was discerning it. One day, I went to a college youth group called Maximize Your Faith connected to Saint Joseph University Parish. The first time I went, I realized two extraordinary aspects of this community. The first being my life has changed because of the people I met. The second discovery: I found that missing piece. I needed a place to help my faith once again. I needed a diverse community to continue to push me to become the person I was being called to be. I was in a new stage of my faith journey, and I needed to be spiritually fed at this new stage. After that first Maximize Your Faith, I no longer felt the call to become a sister. That feeling or small voice was just a sign for me to keep searching in the right direction toward an intimate christ-centered community.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Mathew 5:6, NRSVCE)
After graduating college, I am again missing the gift of Christian fellowship inside a thriving community. That small voice again suggests something is missing, and it may be more than just one piece missing. I moved away from my home town and away from SMWC, to live with my husband. With the pandemic going on right now, my husband and I do not feel comfortable going to church in person. The public act of worshipping our God in a community is something that we both miss very much. Watching mass online is not the same and lacks the Eucharistic reception in person, and I feel that it could be one missing piece. I also miss engaging in a christ-centered community in high school and college, where I actively grew in my faith more. I feel as if that is another missing piece.
I want an organization like the TEC community or the Maximize faith group, where I live now. I may need to initiate the start of such a group in my local community, post-pandemic. The pandemic makes these two missing pieces hard to fill. But, with it being Lent, I have started a way I can help build my faith. I have the “Best Lent Ever Journal.” With this journal, I listen to a video and write in the journal. It is a way for me to be held accountable for my faith journey. I don’t think this isn’t exactly what will fill these missing pieces in my spiritual practice, but it is a start.
I challenge you to look into your life:
Do you have a missing piece that God is prompting you to fill with renewed prayer practices?
How can you enable Christ to fulfill his work within you?
How can he fill those missing pieces?
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;