Once a widowed friend of mine shared with me her experience of witnessing God’s presence in her life. Her eyes gleaned of a vague sadness, though her wizened smile emanated joy. Despite a life of tremendous difficulty and suffering, she maintained a luminous peace. She recounted how when walking once by herself along the beach she prayed for God to make his presence known. She desired ardently for God to make visible what she believed with resolute faith—that he was ever-present. As soon as she finished her modest petition a silver dolphin breached the surface of the ocean exactly where she was gazing. I watched her reclaim the memory with delight. She smiled at me with bright and wide eyes.
It’s easy, though, to be dismissive. I could feel the temptation surfacing just like that marine harbinger she had spotted to shrug it off as a favorable coincidence with smug skepticism. But she knew otherwise with a steadfastness and calm that couldn’t be questioned. The more she spoke of her love of God, the more I knew she had indeed seen his face on the boardwalk that day.
Our ability to choose how we see in this life is a great mystery. We have been given frightening power. We can choose to gaze at the shadow of God and spot his presence “indistinctly as in a mirror”—or turn a blind eye. We can choose to see the intricate and beautiful marks of creation and identify them as God’s fingerprints—or not.
For a long time, institutions of higher education have been heralded as guardians of intellectual progress—precursors to a life of success, worth and greater happiness. Most would agree that when it comes to at least the nation’s premier institutions, a college diploma offers admittance to the good life: hefty Roth IRAs, spacious homes, coveted careers and a slew of invitations for the head of the societal table. However, recently, this long-held belief has come into question by even secular members of society. Higher education, if not blatantly under fire, has drawn the aim of quite a few barrels.
Although our universities churn out some of the nation’s brightest and most promising students—many of whom go on to do wonderful things in the realm of technology, medicine, science, law and so on—there seems to be something missing. Students are graduating full of promise but emptied of meaning. Continue reading
Can trauma help you grow?
According to an article by that title in The New Yorker, written by David Kushner, the answer is definitely yes.
Kushner’s family endured a horrific event when his 11-year-old brother was kidnapped and murdered in a rural small town in Florida. Although Kushner was only four at the time, he explains that as he grew up, he struggled to understand how his parents were able to carry on — giving both him and his other brother happy and normal lives while they still harbored the aching memory of something so awful. Continue reading
There are certain days when it takes every ounce of willpower to drag myself to work and attempt to render what can rightfully be called a semi-productive day. We all have days when we just can’t see the purpose of our work, or if we do, we still can’t be bothered to do it. The general feeling of malaise might stem from a lack of passion, boredom, restlessness, laziness or any other number of things, including an underlying feeling that our work is a time devouring inconvenience that prevents us from doing the things that would really make our lives more meaningful and rich—nurturing relationships with friends and family, helping others, reading scripture, and of course, spending time in prayer.
I do like my job, and I’ve had other jobs in the past where nearly every day I dreaded punching my timecard. I’m grateful that I’ve found something that I enjoy on most days, but I know there are many who struggle to find value or joy in their work. For some, their work is pure toil and unforgiving labor, while for others, though it may not be awful, it’s not life-giving or fulfilling.
Still, it’s a great misconception to view our work—this mandatory, hefty chunk of our lives—as a means to an end. It’s easy to assume that we work so we can take care of our loved ones and ourselves, and that our jobs are merely something to occupy our time and render us “productive” in the vacant eyes of society. And while work does allow us to provide for others and ourselves, there is something deeply mystical and spiritual about it as well that we must not overlook.
The value of suffering can’t be denied. Christ commands us to pick up our cross and follow him to Calvary—to lose our life in order that we may find it. A brief perusal of literature from any Saint or Doctor of the Church—from St. John of the Cross to St. Thérèse of Lisieux to St. Pope John Paul II—will quench any doubt that suffering in this life is inescapable and necessary—an extension of “hard” grace needed for our own sanctification and entrance into heaven. There is a reason we display the corpse of God strung on a crucifix in our churches. We are broken, our bodies at war with our spirits. Or to reference St. Paul’s allusion to concupiscence: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” And so we need to be purified, pruned, shaken out of our stupor of self and reformed in God’s image. This requires—to all of humanity’s grave disappointment—suffering. Whether in the form of sickness, death, disease, financial hardship, addictions, war and so on, suffering clutches its wan grip on all the living.
Suffering can lead to bitterness, a turning even farther away from God. Instead of a catalyst for conversion—sincere repentance—it spawns resentment, hatred, jealousy and, consequently, more suffering. This is obviously never God’s will, and why our response to suffering is of eternal importance. We can be tempted to believe that it’s God’s will to stay mired in our suffering, as if remaining captive to it is a necessary panacea for our soul. And while we know that suffering can be quite medicinal, if we allow it to overtake us and cause greater, unnecessary suffering—and eventually sin—then we have replaced God’s true will with the will of our own twisted ego, harrying neurosis, false understanding of Catholic suffering, or worse, the devil himself. Continue reading
Has the gift of broadened technology begun to narrow us?
It sounds almost apocalyptic, but as I read an article in The Atlantic titled “What Tinder and Halo Have in Common,” I began reflecting on the dark sides of the modern convenience of being spoon-fed our shopping, news and entertainment choices.
The article explores the surprising similarities between the complex algorithms used by Halo to match a video game player with an online opponent and those used by Tinder to pair a person with a potential date.
The author of the article, Michelle Ehrhardt, voices a distinct wariness to a mechanism used to match individuals based on culled data. But while she questions the overall effectiveness of such a process, the article is suggestive of a potentially larger issue.