The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

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When We Don’t See God Clearly

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.

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A Higher Calling for Higher Education

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

Does Trauma Help Us Grow?

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

By the Sweat of Your Brow: The Indispensable Role of Our Day Jobs

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.

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Laying Down the Cross That Leads to Death

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

Algorithms That Rob Us of Our Dignity

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.

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Is It Better to Have Loved and Lost?

I recently heard about an app called KillSwitch, which is designed to automatically remove all traces of a person from your Facebook account with the click of a few buttons. Of course, it’s no surprise that its primary reason for existence is to wipe clean one’s ex-girlfriend or boyfriend from all wall posts, status updates, videos, and photos after a cataclysmic breakup. In anywhere from five to twenty minutes—depending on how many photos, posts and heart emojis you have associated with the other person—every painful or infuriating remnant of the person can be evanesced for good. And just like that, you can get on with things. Or at least look like you are to all of your Facebook friends.

When I first heard about it, I was reminded of the film The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which details the quirky and volatile relationship of a couple living in New York (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet). After a seemingly irreconcilable and caustic argument, they both participate in a procedure to erase all of their memories of the other person—every miserable and ecstatic moment—in only a night’s sleep. This procedure is conducted through an organization that resembles a dental practice—the relative ease and efficiency of removing the deep, complex emotions and feelings associated with a relationship are placed on the same level as the filling of an aching cavity. The unique and imaginative premise of the film ponders the value of our memories—both the good and painful ones—and the possible danger of washing them away to avoid the pain of emotional loss and heartbreak. It asks the age-old question: is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

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How to Avoid a Fractured Spirituality

If you look at what all successful people have in common—from sports to entertainment to business—it’s that they have a singular devotion to a specific goal. They have concentrated all of their efforts toward some end, harnessing all of their talent, energy, stamina and will into achieving that particular thing—even to the point of sacrifice, suffering. It’s no mystery that in order to be great at something—not just good, but truly exceptional—you have to give it your all, literally.

When it comes to the spiritual life, for some reason that logic doesn’t seem to sway so obviously. Maybe it’s because at a certain level, we know the journey toward spiritual greatness—to sainthood—is tremendously difficult. We may see the gap from where we are to where we have to go as equivalent to a vast ocean running endlessly into the horizon. Instead, it’s easier to throw up our hands and concede how laughably far from sainthood we are. And besides, it’s God’s job, right? His grace? Of course, we can do nothing without the grace of God, but still, we have some skin in the game, so to speak—we have to respond to his gift of grace. And we’re called to respond with the whole of our lives. Not a sliver, not a fraction, not even a good majority. All of it. God doesn’t ask us to be good, very good, or even extremely good. No. He asks us to be perfect, just as he, our Heavenly Father, is perfect. And so if God is asking for perfection, why do so many of us still lack a singular devotion to the life of God?

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Giving God Our Full and Undivided Attention

We’ve all been in the middle of a conversation, telling a story, asking for advice, or sharing how we’re doing when we notice the person across from us isn’t paying attention. Maybe they’re eyeing some odd character who just walked through the door behind us, or they’re glancing at their phone in response to a text alert, or they’re simply exhibiting that glazed-over look accompanied with an agreeable, I’m-not-listening-but-am-pretending-to head nod. I’m guilty of this, as I imagine we all are. In many cases, it’s not because we don’t care, are bored, or necessarily have something better to do. Instead, it often has to do with the understandable reality that it’s hard, even at times exceedingly difficult, to give our full attention to something or someone for an extended period of time. And although I think the way we consume information these days, in short, easily-digestible snippets of content at an unending rate, definitely doesn’t make things easier in this department, we can’t blame it only on technology (yes, we’ve all heard a thousand times that the digital age is shortening our attention spans).

The reason it’s hard to pay attention—to give ourselves fully to the moment before us no matter what we’re doing—is because it often requires us to turn away from what we’re naturally conditioned to do. It’s hard to keep our thoughts reined in; it requires an act of the will and a firm commitment to staying focused. And with a weakened ability to focus—to be fully attentive to what’s in front of us—we hinder our relationships with others, the fruitfulness of our prayer, and even our union with God and the knowledge of his will.

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Receiving and Sharing a Love that Isn’t Fair

We’ve probably all received an unexpected gift or act of love. Perhaps this past Christmas someone we didn’t know very well—and from whom we didn’t expect anything—brought us a gift, wrote us a nice card. Since we didn’t expect it, we may feel uniquely loved and valued. We’re touched by the act, possibly more so than gifts by our loved ones, which we expect on some level. The urge breaches to do something nice for that person, to offer them something tangible as well—to remit payment for the free, unexpected act of kindness. Since they did something nice for me, surely I must do something similar in return.

There is obviously nothing wrong with showing affection or love to another who has first shown it to us, and in fact, that’s what we are called to do with God who first loved us. However, there can be the subtle temptation to believe that if we don’t respond in kind, if we remain only the receiver of love, then we’ll lose out on this person’s love—and potential gifting—in the future: if I don’t gift them in return, then they’ll love me a little less, or perhaps, not at all. It’s a natural and reasonable feeling because we live in a world ordered by justice. And with other people, that is usually true. If we don’t respond to their love with love, we can lose it.

It’s a great challenge not to let this paradigm of justice sour our relationship with God. We can fall prey to judging the measure of God’s love for us based on our actions or behavior. Now, to be clear, our relationship with God is dependent in some sense on our behavior—clearly a life of grace looks different than a life of sin. We must respond to his love with love, otherwise it’s a one-way relationship, which isn’t a relationship at all. We choose to receive God’s love—and receive it to an infinite number of degrees—or reject it altogether. In this case, any lack of union with God is our fault, as God doesn’t love us any more or less depending on the state of our souls:

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