Know Thyself

I just finished reading Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism and it is definitely going on my personal list of most influential books.  Please, do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy now.  Not only does Kelly touch on the major components of the Christian life, he provides a succinct and well thought out guide to becoming what he calls ‘the-best-version-of-yourself.’

I’ll try to boil down the keys to becoming the man or woman God made you to be and point out the parts of the book which were most helpful to me.

Blessed Pope John Paul II popularized the term ‘gift of self’ in terms of marriage, but I realized recently that this idea is essential to all vocations.  In order to fully enter into your God-given vocation, you must be able to make a free and complete gift-of-self.  In order to be able to give ourselves away, we must first achieve self-possession.  Self-possession entails living out your identity with purpose and courage.  How do we achieve self-possession?  Through knowledge of ourselves.

After thinking through all of us, I’m beginning to wonder if before we even begin to discern vocation in terms of marriage, religious life, priesthood or singlehood, we must first reach a certain level of self-knowledge which allows us to be in possession of ourselves.

If we focus on gaining self-knowledge instead I think that our vocation will naturally unfold because God will reveal which state of life we were naturally made for.  God knows us more intimately than anyone, so in every moment we simply need to ask Him who we are supposed to be and how to become that person.

So the next natural question is: how do we gain self-knowledge?  Kelly has a few suggestions for this.  First and foremost, a disciplined prayer life is the key to everything else.  He suggests beginning with just 10 minutes a day in the “classroom of silence.”  Instead of going into prayer with your own agenda, come before God and humbly ask: how can I become the person you are calling me to be today?

Kelly also emphasizes the importance of honestly assessing our strengths and weaknesses.  He points out that if you can identify your greatest weakness and work on it until it becomes a strength, there is no limit to the fruit your life will bear.

This may seem obvious, but one of the paths to self-knowledge is simply to pay attention to what brings you joy.  We humans try to complicate things, but God really does want us to be happy and he puts certain desires on our hearts to lead us towards his will.  In discerning God’s will, Kelly discusses the importance of paying attention to three things: legitimate needs, dreams and desires.

The book wraps up with a discussion of virtue, which I had honestly not considered as a key component of the journey towards self-knowledge and self-mastery.  We often focus on resisting vice, rather than growing in virtue.  Faith, Hope and Love, the theological virtues, “dispose us to live in relationship with God”(313).  The cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, order our passions and help us gain the freedom required to make a complete gift-of-self.

For the Children!

The Holy Family

We just skyped with the 2-year-old niece of one of my roommates and, oh my, her cuteness literally brought tears to my eyes.  She is being raised in a solid Catholic household and her innocent faith reminded me why Jesus told us to be like children.  She prayed the rosary with us (which involved repeatedly kissing the crucifix) and told us the story of Moses.

During this conversation a great truth sunk in: children are the most wonderful creatures on earth.  As frustrating as they can be at times, I feel blessed to spend every day with them.  No matter how bad my day is, having a 3-year-old run into my arms and yell my name can erase the deepest frown from my face.  Even the worst trouble makers know how to melt my heart with a hug and ‘I love you.’

It breaks my heart to hear about the broken homes some of my students have to go back to every night.  I just want to scoop all my children into my arms and shower them with the love they deserve.

I’m all about not using this as a diary, but I think that it’s important for me to reveal some of myself once in a while.  Being around children all the time has made me incredibly sad that I may never have any of my own.  Perhaps it’s my biological clock ticking, or just the natural longing to have a family, but God is making me painfully aware of what He is asking me to give up.  At the same time He is forming me as a spiritual mother, through interactions with my students, housemates, and friends.

Here’s a little poem I wrote a while ago:

A little hand slips into mine;

a head drops to my shoulder.

Little eyes close

as little arms wrap around me.

Innocently trusting I will be here

when he wakes up.

He has known me for a mere three days

yet gives me all his love and trust.

 

Let’s Get Real

It’s great when people speak fundamental truths inadvertently.  This morning I was watching Meet the Press, which had politicians discussing the vice presidential debate.  One of the politicians prophetically said that people today are ‘craving authenticity.’  This immediately reminded me of Matthew Kelly‘s book Rediscover Catholicism.  In it, he writes about our hunger for authenticity and truth in a world of increasing falsehood.  He specifically says we seek authentic people to lead us in the right direction:  “it seems in every place and in every time the shortage is always of men and women willing to lead humanity along the right path with the example of their own lives.”

When I first read this book, I had the humbling realization that people see me as an authentic person.  This is a great privilege and responsibility.  People have certain expectations of me and I know that God is going to ask me to do some challenging things over my lifetime.

Recently a friend and I were talking about our tendencies to emerge as natural leaders in many situations.  He was complaining about always being “that” person and having the weight of responsibility on his shoulders.  A phrase which has been on my heart lately that seems to be an appropriate response to this kind of weariness is, “never tire of doing what is right.”

Being authentic does not mean that you are perfect, but that you are trying your hardest to walk down the “right path” and live a life of holiness.  According to Miriam-Webster dictionary one of the definitions of authentic is: “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.”  When looking this up, I was struck at how accurately that describes the goal of the Christian life: to conform to the one in whose image we were made.  This is what an authentic leader should be striving for.

Is God calling you to be an authentic leader today?  Don’t be afraid of this call, for he will give you the strength necessary.  Help feed a world begging for truth.

 

The Discipline to Start, The Will to Finish

My friend and I after the race…we look much better than we feel.

I’ve never said so many Hail Mary‘s in my life and I now understand what it is to offer up pain.  I’ve pushed my body beyond its limits(and now I’m paying for it).  I have officially run the half marathon I set out to do 7 months ago.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your support – both monetary and spiritually!

So what did I learn from this?  Training and discipline is everything.  I didn’t pace myself in the beginning of the race and paid for it later on.  I wasn’t as disciplined in my training as I should have been and wasn’t as prepared as I could have been.  A lack of training and discipline makes it that much harder to push through the walls you will inevitably hit when running 13.1 miles.  This is an easily transferable lesson: if you’re not “spiritually fit,” you’ll be unprepared to deal with crises and those times when your faith is shaken.

Looking back on the race, another thing I learned is this: even when you think you’re alone – you’re probably not.  When I was limping towards the finish line, sure I was in dead last, I caught up with one lady who became my personal cheerleader for the last couple of miles.  Then my brother came out of nowhere and jogged beside me as I used the last of my energy to sprint across the finish.  We often don’t recognize the help that God sends us throughout life because get caught up in self-pity over our loneliness and suffering.

Most importantly: suffering makes us stronger and with the right amount of mental willpower, you can go farther than you ever imagined.

My one question: when can I do another one??

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“Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.” -Lynn Jennings

“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” -Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” -Oprah Winfrey

The Cross of Life

 

Happy Feast Day of Saint Francis!  This day has gained special significance in the past year 🙂

Rather than write a general post about this Saint’s incredible life,  I thought I would share an interesting tidbit I learned about the Tau Cross that is generally associated with the Franciscans.

A few weeks ago the daily Mass readings were from Ezekiel.  During this time, I was doing some research on this B.A. prophet and skimming through his adventures, when I came upon an interesting passage.  This is from Ezekiel chapter 9:4:  “and the LORD said to him:* Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it.”

My bible’s handy dandy footnotes told me that the mark Ezekiel put on their foreheads was actually the Hebrew letter Taw…as in the letter the Tau cross is based on.  For all of you who think that St. Francis invented the Tau cross, yes you have been lied to.  After getting over the shock of betrayal, I decided to investigate the matter further.  I found this enlightening article which outlines the development of the cross.  While others, such as the 3rd century monk St. Anthony, held a devotion to the cross, St. Francis certainly made it popular.  He especially liked its simplicity.  The Franciscan order’s habit is also in the shape of the Tau cross.

The Tau cross is referred to as the Old Testament cross and a precursor of the crucifix.  Lately, it’s been on my heart to really devour scripture and I am continually amazed by the connections between the Old and New Testaments.  It all points to one divine author and one savior, who took up the cross so that you and I might have life.

“Nor did demons crucify Him; it is you who have crucified Him and crucify Him still, when you delight in your vices and sins. ” ― St. Francis of Assisi