B L O G
Ever visit a house of Christian roommates? I guarantee they will have a picture framed in their kitchen reading: “Come & have breakfast” (John 21:12). I’m not mad about it – its one of my favorites!
The verse comes from the end of John’s Gospel. Jesus was betrayed, denied, abandoned & then finally crucified. When the stone was rolled over his tomb, Jesus’ followers believed it was all over. But then strange things started happening. Some said they saw angels, an empty tomb, some even said they witnessed Jesus Himself.
Peter, as per usual, had no idea what was going on. He decided to do the only thing he (thought) he knew how to do. He went back to his old way of life, his life before he met Jesus: “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After struggling to catch any fish all night (again, typical for Peter) a man appeared on the shore & offered advice. When his suggestion proved impossibly successful, the Apostles in the boat realized the man must be Jesus & went to meet Him.
Remember, Peter & Jesus didn’t part on the best of terms. Peter’s last words to Jesus were: “I’ll never deny you” & then his last words about Jesus were: “I don’t know Him.” Their reunion could have been super tense. But it wasn’t. Jesus didn’t offer Peter condemnation, judgement, nor shame. He offered him breakfast.
That’s what Jesus wants to do with me. He just wants to eat with me, talk with me, be with me. Yeah, I’ve betrayed & abandoned Him. I’ve run from Him, pretended I don’t know Him, gone back to my old ways of life. And still Jesus offers me His friendship. Through His friendship, He encourages me going forward & teaches me how to live from now on.
But first, breakfast.
Throughout the 70s & 80s, 1 my favorite people (Hi Pope St. John Paul II) gave a series of talks that have been complied into a teaching now known as “Theology of the Body.” TOB is groundbreaking, beautiful, pastoral, & exactly what the Church needed then & needs now. But TOB is not just about sex. Don’t get me wrong, TOB certainly teaches a l o t about sex, but it’s a major bummer when that’s all its boiled down to.
“Theology” means “the study of God.” So, “Theology of the Body” means “The study of God through the human body.” Isn’t this wild?! This means that when you study the human body (not a skeleton hanging in a science classroom, but your own physical body) that you can learn about God! HI HELLO WHAT
God longs to communicate with us – and He is super fluent in all forms of communication. He speaks to us through Jesus, the Church, Sacraments, silence, nature, friendship, food, rest, joy, etc. If that wasn’t enough, God chooses to communicate with us also thru our bodies. God speaks to & grows close to me my body and & body too.
God is extra. He doesn’t just communicate w/ us through our bodies - He dwells w/in them. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” I can just see the Corinthians reading this letter & being like “No I was unaware of that fact but HOLY COW THANKS FOR ENLIGHTENING ME, PAULEY BOY, THIS IS AMAZING.”
This is why how I treat my body is so important. Because my body is not just my home, but it’s also God’s home. Not His Airbnb, but His eternal dwelling. We’re in this cohabitation thing together forever. And again, I’m definitely speaking in terms of sex and sexual behavior, but I’m also speaking about food, sleep, exercise, alcohol, drugs. How I treat my body affects my relationship with God. Loving my body & taking care of it the way that God teaches me to leads me closer to Him. And that’s crazy. Ha, Catholicism is so dang radical.
I spent yesterday answering the questions of 5th – 7th graders. Some were surface level (“Do you like Doritos?” to which I answered “duh”) but a lot others went deeper. My favorites of the day include “Does God really give us free will if He plans our life?” & “What are some ways that I can offer my heart to God?”
God loves questions because He is a good teacher. Good teachers welcome questions. They recognize that questions come from truly thinking & pondering & desiring to understand.
I’ve had good teachers who are patient & gentle & explain things multiple times & in multiple ways. I’ve also had bad teachers who laugh at my confusion and tell me “just figure it out on your own.” Guess which kind of teacher is God? The good kind. Jesus told His disciples to ask, seek, & knock. He promises if one does so, doors will be opened. He keeps that promise to all of us today.
So many of my friends were raised to have “blind faith.” They were taught that doubt meant mistrust & questions meant pride. They were told: “Don’t ask questions. Just believe!” You know where so many of those friends are now? Not in Church. Because, just like the blind beggar outside of Jerico, they wanted to see & the crowds told them to be silent (Luke 18: 35 – 41).
God wants you to see. His first words are: “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3). Jesus tells His disciples to “come & see” (John 1:39). He opens the eyes of the blind b/c He is the light of the world. God desires to reveal Himself. He longs to be known. Sure, we will never fully comprehend 100% of God. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith always require a deep level trust & confidence & reliance not on our own senses but on His grace. But God wants us to see and to understand a lot more than we think He does.
“Let not your hearts be troubled” – John 14:1. Don’t be afraid to ask God some big questions today. Just don’t be afraid to look for the answers.
God wants you to have so many things: eternal life, His mercy, devotion to His Word and His Church, etc.
God also wants you to have a personality: interests, hobbies, activities you’re involved in, things you do for fun. He wants you to maybe listen to a podcast about an obscure piece of American history or read a book of poetry or take a pottery class or learn how to rock climb.
Why? He wants you to be a complete person. He wants you to have that John 10:10 abundant life. When we give our lives to Christ, He gives our lives back to us. When we surrender to Jesus our past, present, future, eternity, He returns it to us whole. “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). God wants to fulfill every part of you!
Christianity isn’t your personality – it’s a relationship. We’ve all had that friend (or even been that friend) who starts dating someone and loses themselves right away. They start dressing, talking, acting, becoming different. They sacrifice their personality for the sake of this relationship.
“Maggie, wait a minute! I heard that I’m supposed to ‘lose myself’ in a relationship with Jesus, I’m supposed to let God consume me.” Sure homie, but when Moses encountered the burning bush, he noticed that the bush was “on fire but not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). God wants to set you on fire with His love, but He doesn’t want to consume you or destroy you or stop you from being you. (IN CASE ANYONE MISUNDERSTANDS ME: if your personality is defined by sin, God isn’t cool with your sinful lifestyle. He wants to consume that right up).
God wants to be included into every part of your life. He wants you to let Him be with you when you’re listening to that podcast or reading that book or trying that new activity. He is 100% present in His Church, His Sacraments His Word. But He’s also present in the world He created, sanctified, and redeemed.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I hide from Your presence?” – Psalm 139:7
(If I peaked your interest and you would like to a podcast about an obscure piece of American history or explore some poetry, I 10/10 recommend @thememorypalacepodcast or any piece of work by Mary Oliver)
I finished up the last of my 2018 speaking events by speaking to some students in Houston in the middle of December. The day leading up to the event was hectic and full of miscommunication and confusion. In the midst of the chaos minutes before the event was to begin, I found myself asking God: "Why am I even doing this?”
I pushed through my frustration and gave a short talk to Kindergarteners through fourth graders, ate a quick lunch, then gave two more talks now to middle school students.
As the students filed out of the gym at the conclusion of the event, one young student hung back and remained in her seat in the third row. I approached her, my hands full of my notes and my Bible and my water bottle. I was exhausted after a full day of speaking, but I mustered up the last of my energy and fixed a large smile on my face. “Hi!” I said. I asked her name and she gave it to me, and then I asked: “Did you enjoy the retreat?” She looked up at me with wide eyes. I suddenly realized that they were brimming with tears.
“Oh my gosh, friend, are you okay?” I wasn’t sure what was going on. Was she hurt? Had someone hurt her? Did I need to call the principle?
“Yeah, I’m great!” she said, smiling wide. “I just realized that God loves me a lot. Thank you!” And before I could respond, this young sixth grade girl skipped away out of the gym to rejoin her friends waiting for her at the door.
2018 has been a wild year. I have collected many frequent flyer miles, various brief illnesses, and more stories than I can share here. Events have been canceled last minute and hopelessly unorganized and sometimes I’ve had to wait months to receive payment. While traveling, I’ve missed my family and my friends and my kitchen and my bed. Praise be to God that I am working my dream job, but I’m going to be honest with you: it doesn’t always feel like I’m living the dream.
Then moments like this happen. I encounter tender young souls and old hardened souls who pull me aside after an event and open up to me, a complete stranger. Holding my hand or giving me a hug, they share how my words have opened their eyes to the reality of God, His Church, His mercy, and His unending love. And in a rush of grace, God reminds me again and again and again why He is calling me to do this.
I am so humbled. I am so grateful. I am so in awe of the Father’s plans.
Thank you for journeying with me and supporting me from afar, Facebook friends! I can’t wait to see what 2019 holds.
“Take heart; rise, He is calling you” – Mark 10:49
Have you ever asked yourself “Where is God?”
I know I have. I’ve often reflected on my life and wondered if God can actually be present in my broken past and my unknown future. I’ve looked at the state of the world and asked if God has abandoned us to our woundedness and pain.
Before Jesus ascended to the Father, He told His Apostles: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How could He possibly fulfill that promise? The human person, Jesus of Nazareth, isn’t physically on earth at this time - there isn’t a man walking around Israel wearing leather sandals and multiplying loaves and fishes anymore. Jesus was killed and buried, and then He rose again from the dead. The Christian knows that less than two months after coming back to life, He ascended into heaven and left earth.
How then can He still be with us?
Christ is truly present in our world through His Church. On the rock of St. Peter, Jesus established a Church over two thousand years ago. His Church is so powerful that not even the powers of hell could destroy it nor remove His presence from it. The Church is not a religious building, nor individual Christians dispersed around the world. Scripture reveals that the Church is the united body of Christ. If Jesus’ Body is present, He is present.
When we gather as a Church in His name, Jesus is present. When a priest consecrates bread and wine to become the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is present. When we receive forgiveness of sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus is present. When we provide shelter and food and clothing to those in need, Jesus is present. He is present in concrete and bodily reality, not in some sort of feel-good fuzzy sentimentality.
Jesus hasn’t abandoned us. His Church endures. God’s covenant of love remains unbroken.
When I was in high school, I thought that a conversion was when a Muslim woman became Catholic, or a when an atheist found his way to the Church. I believed that a conversion was the experience of being knocked off a horse like St. Paul, an instance of blinding realization, or a moment when God spoke to you from Heaven through a megaphone.
What I didn’t realize is that a conversion isn’t a single moment for a select group of people; it’s an ongoing process to which God calls all of His children. A true conversion demands a lasting relationship between you and God, one that affects not just your distant memory, but your daily actions.
Maybe you’ve had a conversion recently.
Maybe you went on your youth group’s latest retreat, conference, or summer camp and experienced a profound encounter with the Lord. You might not be able to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but you know that God changed your heart and you want to respond to that call — but how?
The Gospel of Luke records the story of a man enslaved by a violent demon. Jesus performs an exorcism. After the man is freed, he begs that the Lord might take him along on His traveling ministry. With compassion, Jesus tells the man: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).
Though it’s good to serve in new places, your conversion is not first proved by caring for a malnourished toddler in an African orphanage, nor by serving a homeless mother a bowl of soup downtown. Your conversion is first demonstrated by returning home from the event and sharing God’s love with your family.
That’s hard to do.
Sometimes it’s easier to tell a room full of strangers about your love for God than it is to tell your parents or siblings. Talking about the deep stuff – to people who know you well – is awkward. Because your family remembers all the weird stages you went through, you might be afraid they’ll think your conversion is another one of those phases like your obsession with Harry Potter or white chocolate Reece’s cups. Maybe you’re worried they’ll ridicule you, ask you complicated questions, or even worse, dismiss your legitimate experience and tell you that you’re naïve.
Before Jesus suffered His Passion, death, and Resurrection, He comforted His anxious apostles: “In the world, you will have trouble; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He speaks those same words of encouragement to us. The power of God is with you! The same God who touched your heart on your retreat is with you to give you the words in your mouth and the compassion in your heart to evangelize to your family. His Holy Spirit empowers you to be truthful, but tactful; open, but not overwhelming; honest, but humble.
Call upon the God of love to assist you before every interaction with your family. Prayer cannot be reserved for Sundays, retreats, or the fifteen seconds before we devour our lunch. Prayer must become our daily habit, for it is our means to sanctity, to victory, and to strengthen our ongoing conversion. Whether you are in the car, the kitchen, or the shower, take a few seconds and offer a prayer: Holy Spirit, speak through me. I know you are real and I know You have worked in my heart. Help me to share Your goodness with my family, not just through what I say, but also by how I act. Help me not to be aggressive nor judgmental, neither timid nor insincere. Help me to be an authentic image of You. Amen.
Your family may treat you a variety of ways after you return from a retreat, conference, or camp. They may become annoyingly interested and pester you for more details about the event. They may act the same and not realize how changed you feel. They may antagonize you and encourage you to brush off your experience.
Regardless of how they respond, what matters is that you love them anyway. What matters is that you are brave, and humble, and missionary to the person right in front of you. What matters is that you let your experience of God have a true effect on your everyday life. What matters is that you demonstrate real faith and real conversion, not just through profound encounters with strangers, but in simple moments with your family.
“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta.
The day before Halloween, I went to a graveyard.
Actually, I went with a Religious Education group of 6th grade boys and girls in the middle of the afternoon, so it wasn’t exactly the most bone-chilling of outings.
After listening to a catechesis on Purgatory and the importance of praying for the dead, the kids scattered to explore the cemetery with chaperones jogging after them to keep up.
I wasn’t officially part of the group – I was only in town for the weekend to visit family. So I didn’t have to monitor the kids, chase down any rascals, nor patrol the entrance to prevent any of them from sneaking away to the Dunkin Donuts across the street.
Instead, I got to shuffle through the leaves and scan the tombstones for unusual names and the oldest birthdays. The front section held graves so weather-stained that I couldn’t make anything out, but the graves toward the back were much newer and clearer. Where the older graves included just last names and a year of death, many of these newer ones also had quotes engraved upon the stone.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
I will never know Norma Rhodes or Martina Jimenez or Henry Cobb, or any of those buried in that cemetery. I don’t know a thing about them – their sense of humor or what they did for fun or their favorite dessert – but I but I know everything about them.
They aligned themselves with Christ in life and in death. And they’re in Heaven, rooting for me right now.
This is what makes Catholicism so amazing.
Catholicism is not an ethical code that involves yourself and your own actions. It’s not even a religion that’s just about you and Jesus. Catholicism is bigger than that.
Catholicism is about community. The Church is a community because the God we serve is a community: the Trinity. The communion of the Church on earth flows from the communion of the Trinity.
That means that if you are part of the Church, you’re part of the universal community and the universal family. That means you have angels and saints and people throughout the centuries and from all across the globe praying for you, on earth and in Heaven.
This is what it means not to go through life alone. This is what is means to be part of the Church. This is what it means to be Catholic.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
For the summer of 2013, I had mac n cheese and pulled pork every Monday night. It was glorious.
One Monday after dinner, I walked by a group of teenage girls just outside the dining hall. As I approached, they leapt up and began chanting: “SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH!”
Since summer camp is an environment for odd occurrences, I was prepared to rise magnificently to the challenge. I placed my Nalgene water bottle on the ground, climbed on top of a nearby stump, and declared: “Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday! Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable Hobbits. I don’t know have of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
The girls stared blankly at me. Their chaperone burst into applause.
If you are as confused as that pack of teenagers, no worries. You just aren’t as obsessed with Lord of the Rings as I am.
Thankfully, my whole family is on the same page as me. One Christmas, my dad designed t-shirts with a quote from the dwarf Gimili on the back and gave to everyone as gifts. When my sister and I go hiking, we use our hiking poles to reenact the wizard duel between Gandalf and Saruman. While waiting in line at amusement parks, my mom reads aloud from the Return of the King (book #3) so animatedly that the people around us ask which ride we’re going to next so they can keep listening.
J. R. R. Tolkien published his trilogy of books over 50 years ago. Obviously Lord of the Rings isn’t the most modern of phenomenons, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still relevant.
I watched the movies again last week with my cousins when they were in town. There’s this one scene where a small Hobbit named Merry tries to convince the Ents (giant walking and talking trees. Weird, I know, but just try to keep up) to join him and his friends in their quest to destroy evil. Treebeard, the leader of the Ents, tells Merry essentially, “nah, thanks though bro.” Outraged, Merry asks him, “But you’re a part of this world, aren’t you?!”
I’ve seen this scene over a dozen times over the years. Yet it stuck with me this time, and for the last week, I can’t stop thinking about Merry’s response.
Am I a part of this world?
I am made for Heaven and that is where my true home lies. But what about the meantime? Am I living like I am a part of this world? Do I live in it regretfully or fearfully, refusing to actively participate in it? Do I see the good in it? Do I seek beauty and find truth in it?
Jesus was a part of this world.
How freaking insane that He came down from Heaven and willingly embraced the human experience by becoming one of us. Jesus did wild and dramatic things no one had ever done before, like walking on water and rising from the dead and defeating Satan. But he also did super normal common things. He drank wine. He hung out in town. He made friends with weirdos and talked with sketchy people.
He lived in this world and redeemed it by His sacrifice and His participation in it. I want to follow His example. I don’t want to be afraid of entering the world that Jesus already won for Himself.
Because there are scary things in this world. I’m frightened by our presidential candidates, rape culture on college campuses, and the fact that gun violence and terrorist attacks are becoming standard headlines. I’m not denying the reality of darkness. There’s just Someone who is much more powerful.
At the conclusion of The Two Towers film (the second installment), Sam encourages Frodo by declaring, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!” We need to listen up to good old Sam and fight for what is good in this world.
This is the situation: God alone is Creator, and Genesis tells us that everything He makes is good. All Satan can do is corrupt the good things God has made.
Our bodies and our sexuality, music, social media, fashion, politics, and popular culture can be twisted and brought low. But they aren’t objectively bad. They don’t belong to the devil.
I want to reclaim all things for Christ, particularly the pockets of creation that are especially at risk.
I want to step up as His daughter and start taking ownership of what belongs to me. Because Jesus is King, and He tells us that “all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
I have nothing in this world to fear because it belongs to my God, my Church, and me.
“Take courage, I have conquered the world” – John 16:33