Friday, November 20, 2015

To Should or Not to Should

I recently had a conversation with a student about shoulds. In the conversation, we discussed the feelings of obligation that come with them. They tend to cause us to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves which then lead to guilt when we don’t fulfill those expectations. As someone who doesn’t really like to be told what to do, when I feel like I should do something, I have less motivation to actually do it.

I don’t know about you, but I too often let shoulds run my life—there are times when I should all over myself. There are a lot of things in my life that I feel like I should do. These shoulds carry a lot of weight with them and if at the end of the day I feel like I haven’t completed enough of them, I may go to bed with a heavy heart.

These shoulds can also impact the way I live my life. I do things not because it’s the right thing to do, but because I feel like I should do them. Shoulds have a tendency to turn into have-tos, and those can feel real heavy. Not all shoulds are bad, but those that cause us to set unrealistic expectations and that induce unhealthy guilt are those that we might need to really evaluate and call into question.

Shoulds can oftentimes spill over onto our image of God. It becomes an image of God standing there shaking his finger at me, making me believe I’m not good enough. This is, in my experience, so far from who God is. Instead, God wants to free us from the shoulds. I believe God uses coulds. Coulds feel more like an invitation than a demand. When we’re invited by God, we do things out of love, not shoulds.

Ask yourself where you’re shoulding in your life. Are there tasks that you’re resentful towards and you allow yourself to easily be distracted from? Chances are there’s a should behind it. Are there spaces in your faith life in which you do things because God is shaking a finger at you rather than inviting you? Chances are there’s a should behind that too.

Robby Francis is the Campus Minister in Fusz and DeMattias Halls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints - November 1, 2015

One day a priest was visiting the home of some parishioners who had a young toddler. The parents were wondering what path their son would one day choose, so the priest said he had a simple test that could predict what would become of him. He would set out three objects and let the baby choose whichever one he wanted to have: a Bible, a wallet stuffed with cash, or a bottle of scotch. If the baby chose the Bible, he’d be a holy priest; if he chose the wallet, he’d be a wily businessman; and if he chose the bottle, he’d be a slick bartender. So the parents let the baby loose, and when he ran over and grabbed all three at the same time, the priest cried out, “Saints preserve us! He’s gonna be a Jesuit!” I can neither confirm nor deny that I was the baby in this story. But what I can tell you is that it points to something important: what it means to have a certain vocation, and what it means to be holy, can often burst apart the categories of our expectations. It’s a good time to remember this, because today we celebrate two things. It is the feast of All Saints, a day when we honor all those who, by God’s grace, lived out our faith in holiness, both the canonized and the uncanonized, both the famous and the forgotten. It is also the beginning of National Vocation Awareness Week, when the Church encourages young men and women to consider what kind of life God is calling them to.
So I’m going to combine these two occasions into a single, bold claim tonight, and say this: it is the vocation of every person in this church to be a saint. Now, when I say that it’s your vocation to be a saint, I’m guessing that you’re probably listening politely on the outside, but inside you’re more or less dismissing it as pious claptrap. I’m betting there are at least two reasons for this. First, most of us think we are way too flawed, too imperfect, to ever be remotely eligible to be a saint. What we know of saints makes them sound like religious superheroes who do things far beyond our ordinary lives. Second, most of us don’t even particularly feel a desire to be a saint, since frankly it doesn’t sound like much fun. Saints seem so austere, so otherworldly, so serious, so grim. What we hear of their lifestyle just doesn’t seem like a viable option for happiness. But maybe the categories of our expectations need to be burst apart. What I’d like to propose to you is that being a saint means, yes, being flawed and, yes, being joyful.

So, first: saints were flawed, imperfect, broken people like you and me, but they allowed God to use them. And when God used them, he transformed their very flaws into strengths, with that delicious kind of irony that God seems to enjoy. The communion of saints is definitely a motley crew—as the first reading describes them, “a great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Take a closer look at some of these colorful characters:

St. Peter, a big-hearted blunderer whose mouth seems a few steps ahead of his brain, who stands up to confess Jesus as Son of God, but later denies he even knows him—God uses his generous spirit to become the leader, the rock of faith on which the Church is built.
St. Paul, a passionate, single-minded religious fanatic who goes from city to city bitterly persecuting the young Church with all his energy—God uses his zeal to become the great missionary who spreads Christianity throughout the Roman world.

St. Jerome, a crotchety old curmudgeon who’s good at languages, but complains when studying Hebrew that it sounds like farting—God uses his talent to translate the Bible into Latin, which would communicate God’s word for centuries.

St. Hildegard, a sickly woman who lives enclosed as a nun and suffers from debilitating migraines—God uses these episodes to grant her visions, which inspire her to stand up even to the most powerful men in her society.

St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Dumb Ox because he’s hefty and slow to speak, which makes him work extra hard at his studies—God uses his careful perseverance to become the master scholar who writes a huge summary of all theological knowledge.

St. Ignatius Loyola, a chivalrous but washed-up wanna-be knight who wants to do great deeds in service of his king—God uses his great-hearted vision to found a new order, the Jesuits, to serve under the banner of Christ the King.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who wants to be a missionary but lives in a cloistered monastery and dies of tuberculosis at age 24—God uses her apparent insignificance to produce profound spiritual writings and powerful miracles still today.

Why does God choose the weak, the misguided, the idiosyncratic, and do great things through them? Maybe just to show that it’s not all about us. Holiness is God’s doing: God will take even the things we’re most embarrassed about and turn them around until they are, ironically, the ways we can best serve others and build up his kingdom. So not feeling “saintly” is no excuse: God has a fondness for unlikely heroes, and the people you least expect—including you!—may turn out to be saints, whether or not you’re ever canonized. All that’s required is to allow God to work through you.

And second: no matter what they may look like in stained glass or as statues, saints were joyful people, because they were following their hearts. Being holy is not a grim, teeth-clenched, deadly serious enterprise. It means not chasing after false happiness and things that delude us, but living life to the full, flourishing as the persons we are created to be, chasing joy. In fact, our
tradition reveals many saints who impressed people by their good sense of humor:

As St. Lawrence was being put to death for being a Christian by being slow-roasted on a gridiron, he famously told his executioners, “I’m done on this side; you can turn me over now!”

St. Augustine in his autobiography wrote that he used to pray, “O Lord, give me chastity… but not yet!”
When St. Francis of Assisi’s father accused him in public of giving away all his goods to the poor, and pointed out that Francis’ own clothes were bought from his father’s hard work, Francis stripped off all his clothes, gave them back to his father, and walked away naked.

St. Ignatius Loyola used to cheer up sad Jesuits by dancing a little jig from his native country. After getting hit with a cannonball in his youth, one leg was shorter than the other, so it must have looked pretty goofy.

St. Teresa of Avila is said to have prayed, “From somber devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” She even liked to joke around with God—in one journal entry she wrote, “If this is the way you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

St. Philip Neri was widely regarded as a saint during his lifetime, so to keep himself humble, he would go around with half his beard shaved off, or wearing a cushion on his head like a turban, or making faces at people while he was celebrating Mass.

St. John XXIII, who was pope just over fifty years ago, was famous for his wit. When asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he replied, “About half.” And once, when he was at a fancy dinner which a woman attended who was wearing a very low-cut dress, his assistant said, “What a scandal! Aren’t you embarrassed that everyone’s looking at her?” John replied, “No! Everyone’s looking at me, to see if I’m looking at her.”

Why do saints laugh so easily? What’s the source of their joy? For one thing, they’re comfortable with themselves, and don’t mind looking foolish or drawing attention to their own shortcomings. Also, they keep everything in perspective: they know what’s really important in life, and can poke fun at the things that aren’t. Most of all, they understand that what God wants for them and what they want for themselves deep down are the same: to be truly happy, to flourish in the way they were made to be, with all their gifts and desires and personality. They know that following God’s will is ultimately never going to conflict with who they want to be. So yes, our vocation is to be saints—or put another way, our calling is to be holy. And no, our flaws won’t get in the way. And no, we will not have to give up happiness—in fact, we will find the most genuine joy we can imagine. What particular mode our holiness will take is going to be different for each of us. There are some in this church who will one day join the Jesuits. Some will become priests or sisters or brothers of other kinds. Some will get married, and some will stay single. Some will dedicate their lives to healing the sick, or defending justice, or serving the disadvantaged, or teaching the young, or building a better government, or any of a myriad of other professions. It’s up to each of us to figure out how God is calling us to be holy. The important thing is that we need not fear God’s plan for us, or worry that it won’t satisfy us. As we read in the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord: plans of fullness, not of harm, to give you a future and a hope.”

Fr. Steve Schoenig, S.J. is a Professor in the History Department.

Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 2015

Those who know me well, know that I love music of all kinds. This week as I was driving, I heard a beautiful piece on the radio:  “Im Herbst” “In Autumn”, Concert-Overture Op. 11 by Edvard Grieg.  I invite you to listen and to reflect with me.

I often pray with music and I was so moved to reflect on autumn after listening to this.  Autumn is a time when the earth is curling up for the long winter in anticipation of being reborn in the spring.   With the dying of many leaves and grasses on the vine also comes hope, and a remembrance for what was.

In this autumn, we come to the anniversary of events in our city, in Ferguson, on our campus.  Just like the leaves and grasses slow down but spring back to life, so these memories of the challenging times in our city and campus ebb and flow.  Even through the dead of winter, we can never forget the life within the earth.  We also cannot forget the issues and challenges we have personally been presented with throughout the last year, and we are called in a special way to continue to honor those issues and challenges.  We are called to honor those images which are both fragile and beautiful, those images which provide us with both a harvest of reflection and hope for the future, and those images which call us in a greater way to not only honor and care for the earth but for all creation, including every living being.

As we move into this period of dormancy, we ourselves cannot lie dormant about the challenges and issues which call us to our faith that serves justice.  Perhaps now, in this period of quiet and fragility, it is time to revisit some of the important questions we are called to ask ourselves.  These questions were presented to the campus last autumn from the Department of Campus Ministry.  I invite you to call them to mind again this autumn:

·         Do I condone prejudice by my participation or by my inaction, particularly when speaking out seems like a greater inconvenience than silence?
·         Do I make the connection between faith and action by critiquing structures and attitudes that diminish others?
·         Do I make an effort to get to know people who are different from me in appearance, beliefs, and lifestyle?
·         Do we listen to members of vulnerable communities, both on and off campus, who can help us to see our own blind spots about how our unchallenged assumptions perpetuate hostility?

As always, please remember that there are resources on campus that will engage in dialogue with you around these challenging questions.  My hope and prayer for you is to consider these questions in light of your faith tradition, and in light of the mission which you are a part of here at SLU.  Autumn is a good symbolic reminder that we need to take some time to reflect on our own greater purpose.

Sue Chawszczewski, Ph.D.
Director of Campus Ministry

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Never again, never forget: commemorating to make a difference

This upcoming week, August 29, marks the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many of my friends and fellow New Orleanians - and I - lost everything, relocated, rebuilt their lives and their homes. Plenty of people I knew found ways to commemorate that moment: leaving up the spray paint marks left on front doors by the National Guard, saving memorabilia that survived the flooding, and lots and lots of fleur de lis tattoos. All of them shared the goal of demonstrating the change that this event had on our lives, how we have been wounded, and how that wound does not just heal but leaves a permanent impact on us from then on.

This evening, Sunday August 23, SLU will hold a vigil for peace and justice, echoing the vigil we held in the same spot one year ago, the Sunday immediately before classes began, to share our desire for peace in a city that so desperately needs it and to challenge ourselves to be engaged in making that change happen. The university is working on plans for a memorial of last year’s #OccupySLU and the Clocktower Accords that concluded that challenging week - a week for which SLU’s leadership has been hugely lauded and hugely criticized - but statue or no statue, we still have a long way to go as a university to be more connected to the city around us.

Last year opened more, and more serious, dialogue about race, privilege, and the place of our university in St. Louis than I have seen at any other time during my seven years here. It was a singularly difficult year, but one that challenged us to pay attention to problems that have been going on for decades and centuries in this city, but which we on our campus have mostly had the privilege of not having to look at. As our newest SLU students and staff and faculty join us, I wonder what it is like for them to come here, knowing at least something of what has taken place in St. Louis and on our campus in this past year. I can’t abide hearing tour guides on campus talking to prospective students and parents about how safe the campus is as long as people don’t go north of Delmar or into this or that neighborhood. The so-called “SLU bubble” is made more real by telling people they should be afraid of this city, particularly in neighborhoods that are poor and/or mostly African-American, but our SLU Mission is made LESS real by reinforcing that prejudice. On the contrary, in one of his essays on the role of Jesuit higher education in the world, the superior general of the Jesuits talks about the importance of engaging with the “gritty reality” of the world, and last year forced us to do so; we did not keep this city’s racial issues north of Delmar, and to our benefit. I think of that week in October of last year when we were “occupied” - some of us tried to minimize our contact with the disruptions, keep focused on the alleged “real work” of being a student or professor or staff member, while others of us tried to listen, or dialogue, or challenge, or keep a respectful eye on the proceedings. One of my new colleagues recently discussed with me the difference between “safe spaces” and “brave spaces” - being able to risk a conversation or an encounter that is challenging rather than being so focused on keeping everyone feeling safe that no hard realities can come to light.

I have been student and faculty and staff member here over the years, and cliche though it may be, I am increasingly convinced that the “real work” of Jesuit higher education only makes sense to the degree that it puts us in contact and keeps us in contact with the world around us - not in sterile, abstract, numerical ways alone, but through real solidarity with real people and stories of their real lives. A lot of us got our butts kicked last year by being shown how out-of-touch we were with what is going on just a few miles, just a few blocks, away from the comfort of our offices and classrooms. Many of your friends, your professors, and your classmates put themselves in the thick of the action over and over again, both to help magnify the voices of those who have gone unheard and to educate themselves about what is going on away from campus. As we begin this year with a vigil for peace and justice, I hope that we will take seriously the goal of transformation - we are not praying in a light, easy, “hope-to-God-something changes” kind of way, but out of an earnest desire to learn about what is going on and to be a part of building a better reality.

Patrick Cousins is a member of the Department of Campus Ministry.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Choosing Vulnerability

Vulnerability has been a theme in my life for the past several months. Why? Because I made the decision that for Lent I was going to practice being more vulnerable in various areas my life. The topic of vulnerability had been one that kept showing up in my life in the months prior to Lent, and so I decided that Lent might be a good time for better understanding how vulnerability can play a part in my faith life. I will admit that this decision was a little frightening. Choosing to be more vulnerable is somewhat of a daunting task, but through this process, I have come to see many fruits I had not expected. Several of my relationships took on a deeper level as I learned to better trust others with myself. I also found myself becoming aware of what’s going on inside of myself in a whole new way, and this has spilled over into my prayer life, allowing me to be even more vulnerable in prayer.

What is vulnerability? Brené Brown describes it as “the cradle of the emotions and experiences we crave. It is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity.” It creates space for us to shed our false selves and become the person God calls us to be. It leads us to become a resurrected people. While in my mind I saw it as a “Lent-thing” associated with suffering, I’ve now come to appreciate it at as an “Easter-thing” because it invites me to go through the suffering and experience the resurrection.

I found myself during the Triduum reflecting on the vulnerability present in those events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. It started with the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples. It’s a gross act (their feet would’ve been pretty disgusting) that requires vulnerability on all sides of the parties involved. Then he moves to the garden where he holds nothing back. He’s crying, he’s in distress, he’s scared, he’s asking God to take this suffering from him. Then we find him on the cross, abandoned by most of his friends, exposed to everyone who sees him. It’s not really a great advertisement for encouraging people to embrace vulnerability, but what happens afterward is. He is resurrected and, as a result, those in his life are changed. They gain a new understanding of themselves and their mission as followers of Christ.

Vulnerability isn’t weakness. It’s courage. It is in this space that we can best live out our life of faith. We break down walls and discover our true selves rather than the person the world tells us we should be. Where before, we kept our distance from others out of fear that they might judge us, when we’re vulnerable we’re brought closer to others. When we practice vulnerability, we have more compassion for ourselves and as a result we have more compassion for others.

It what areas of your life is God inviting you to be more vulnerable?

Robby Francis is a Campus Minister in Griesedieck Complex.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

He is Risen!

One of the conversations that I remember having with my grandfather when I was a teenager was on the resurrection of the Lord. My grandpa was a Free Methodist minister who modeled Christ’s love to me beautifully. Undoubtedly his reflections came out of a devout prayer life along with a deep love for life in general.Though I do not recall his precise words, I remember him marveling at Jesus’ resurrection.
In some moments, Jesus was there and then would disappear. At other events he simply appeared or became recognizable. There are passages where he seems to walk through walls, and we have to question in the Gospel passage today whether or not Jesus might have eaten with the disciples. He could be identified, but not always. Mary of Magdala thought he was the gardener before he heard Jesus call her name. The disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread though he had journeyed with them throughout the day.
I wonder what resurrection was like for the early disciples? Could they have really understood the fullness of resurrection even as witnesses to the event? And how did they recognize Jesus? Every story seems unique to the person or persons seeing the risen Lord. Not only did they see the Lord risen, but it changed their lives, their understanding, their way of seeing the world.
What if a time machine existed to take us back to that first Easter morning? Would we be astounded as many of the disciples seem to have been, or would we simply apply science and worldly knowledge to the event in order to classify it differently? I wonder if the same story would have reached our hearing if it had happened in 2015 AD instead of in first century Palestine.
This is not to say that scientific knowledge is not essential, but as with all human knowledge, it is limited to our understanding. And ultimately Jesus’ resurrection is beyond what can be dissected, quantified, or perfectly analyzed.
First century Palestine was not privy to reality as we now have come to understand life. When Jesus rose from the dead most people professed that the Earth was flat and believed it to be the center of the universe. The Eastern world had yet to perceive the West (North and South America and probably Antarctica). And I suppose heaven was a place up in the atmosphere just beyond our reach.
Human constructs of God have certainly changed over the years. The question I often think upon is what do we lose when our construct of God shifts? If it is lost, then perchance it was never God at the onset, but merely our limited perception of who we name God to be.
In a few thousand years, many will look at and wonder perchance at our unknowing. Science tells us that human knowledge is accelerating faster than it ever has. And yet, around every corner there is something we do not yet know or have not perceived fully as yet.
Thus, I continue to wonder and pray into the mystery of that first Easter morning. Though Mary of Magdala, Peter, John, James, Thomas, Didymus, Nathanael, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and many others might have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, I cannot say they knew exactly what was happening to them.

Maybe had the event taken place in 2015 we would have analyzed it all differently, but I suspect the results would be similar. Some would be sceptical and others would believe--and no one would fully understand. So today as we rejoice in the miracle of Easter, I am thankful for both what I have yet to perceive and for the gift of faith that says: Jesus is Risen. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christy Hicks is a Campus Minister in Griesedieck Complex.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Contemplate Love on Good Friday

Rituals and traditions are important to my own Catholic faith. Some are steeped within the rituals of the Church; some are cultural. Growing up in Chicago, my parents built these traditions into our faith life. On Good Friday every year we observed two traditions. In the morning, my mom and I visited several Catholic Churches to pray and venerate the events in Christ’s life. We always went to the Basilica of St. Hyacinth.

They had a crypt in the lower level of the Church that was set up as a tomb. We prayed there on Good Friday. I remember it being pretty creepy, but as I reflect on that experience, I cherish the image of walking with Jesus in his suffering and death.

I also love the story of St. Hyacinth (in Polish: Święty Jacek). He was born in Poland in 1183. He was ordained a priest in Krakow and in 1217 he joined the Dominican Order. He is known as the Apostle of Poland and had a great devotion to Mary. During his time in Poland in Kijow, he was told that the Tartars had invaded the city. Quickly he seized the ciborium from the Church containing the Blessed Sacrament and was about to leave the church, when he heard: “Hyacinth, you have taken my Son and you leave me behind?” He looked to the marble statue of Mary and Jesus and to his amazement the marble statue was as light as a feather as he carried it to safety across the Dnieper on to Krakow. It is said that he walked over the surface of the waters of the Dnieper.

This image of St. Hyacinth gives us a pretty good indication of the love that St. Hyacinth also had for Christ. This love also manifested itself on Good Friday when my parents encouraged me to be silent from noon to 3:00 pm to commemorate the death of Christ. Who knew that my parents were setting me up for an experience of Ignatian Spirituality? While the silence for me at the time was difficult, as I’ve come to understand my own spirituality, the silence is what I cherish. In experiencing the silence as an adult, it gives me pause to contemplate the life and death of Christ in a very prayerful and loving way.

It allows me to contemplate the love I’ve received and the love which I am called to give back to others. It allows me to contemplate my own actions in a broken and suffering world and calls me to show my love to others through my actions. As St. Ignatius tells us “love shows itself more in deeds than in words”.

On this Good Friday, take some time in silence and prayerful reflection. Contemplate the great gift you have been given and pray about how you can manifest your love for others through your actions.

Sue Chawszczewski
Director of Campus Ministry