Hearing my Heart for the First Time: When faith is challenged

            Friday’s Human Development class began with the question, “On what is my heart set?”  My initial answer is Christ although my actions don’t always point to that.  Where does my faith truly lie?  Is it in the Catholic Church where I grew up?  Is it possible God is leading me to a different faith tradition?  He has shown me parts of Himself in each religion I’ve encountered.  This question had posed itself before and each time I have pushed it aside, feeling guilty for even considering it.  Friday night I was surrounded by people who had faced that question, answered it, and ultimately found peace.  Their acceptance, openness, and honesty made all the difference.  I felt no guilt in considering the question and shortly I had the answer.  My heart is set on Christ, my HusbandMy marriage to Him is the most important thing in my life.  Our union is that for which I live and will die.  Since the Catholic Church is the only institution that honors our marriage, I will stay.  My anger at current leadership remains.  So now what?

            We discussed Fowler’s stages of faith.  During stage IV, a person’s faith is challenged.  Something happens that contradicts what she believes to be true and she is then forced to question:  Do I continue to follow blindly?  Do I leave behind that which I once knew to be true in order to follow new truth?  Do I reconcile the two – and if yes, how?  Certain events have happened that are challenging my faith.  I question the character of God – not doubting Him, but to better understand Him – and I am seeking advice from every wise man, not despising any useful counsel (Tobit 4:18).  With the religious diversity at Loyola, wise men and women are abundant.

We learn faith from those around us.  I’m sure some would argue the opposite because many leave the faith tradition they grew up in, either finding a different one or abandoning organized religion altogether.  But the bottom line is this:  faith is what drives you, it is that on which you have set your heart. I live by faith.  I question my faith but that is necessary – if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  I am discovering that my Husband, though Jewish when He walked the earth, is not necessarily Jewish.  Or Catholic.  Or Muslim.  Or Hindu.  Or Buddhist.  But He is certainly present in all these traditions.  We are a people who, as Dr. McGinnis says, have written on our hearts to seek God.  I am reminded of a phrase in Slumdog Millionaire, spoken by Jamal to the girl he loves, Latika.  Tragic events transpire in their lives yet he persists in looking for her.  She asks why and he responds, “We are meant to be together.  It is written.”  It was written on his heart.  It was his faith in a love so profound that he could not imagine a life without her in it.  Whatever transpired to that point was unimportant.  As Victor Frankl said, “A person who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

It is my love for my Husband – and my desire for our union – that drives my life trajectory.  It is my anchor through the storm, keeping me grounded in my faith in the Eucharist even as my faith in those consecrating it is deeply shaken.  I will continue to search for those ways in which I can reconcile my faith to my religion.  Why?  Because it is written.

More than Lip Service | Obama, Gay Marriage, and Unconditional Love

Fall and Spring are so nourishing at Loyola.  I find myself excited by the things I learn, the challenges I’m given, the classmates and professors who help me grow.  Then summer comes.  I take one class, maybe two, and the thrill of it all is packed into a few short weeks before I have no choice but to take a break.  And yet!

Last week Barack Obama spoke up in favor of gay marriage.  In that moment of his standing up for those who are marginalized, the excitement that normally comes to me through my courses set my heart once again on fire.  Why?  Because I saw a man who has been given great power – and with it, great responsibility – use that power to give voice to the voiceless, to show respect to those who are outcast, to preach acceptance and love not in a sermon but in his simply choosing not to discriminate, not to hate.

This is what Loyola is teaching me.  It is what Jesus – and the Jesuits who founded Loyola University Maryland – have always taught:  love unconditionally.  No wonder my heart is aflame when class is in session!  Learning to love is essentially getting to know God, Who is love.  The disciples asked regarding Jesus, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked to us on the road… (Luke 24:32)?”  I often refer to my experience at Loyola as my journey…I am walking with Him on this road and my heart is indeed burning.

Yet this summer my heart is burning again as I watch a man with so much power over others attempt to give that power to those without.  I took Intro to Pastoral Counseling a few semesters ago with Dr. Stewart-Sicking.  He had us not only reading about empowering others through our counseling but also through fighting the systems that keep others on the margins.  We were compelled to do service learning – I did mine at Bon Secours Hospice in Richmond, VA – so we could better understand those who are most in need of compassion – and action.  It gives me hope to see the leader of the free world risk so much (it is, after all, an election year) in favor of compassion.  Perhaps the citizens of his country will be inspired to risk the same.

I am taking only one course this summer although I dare say I am immersed in a second.  It is the course of Life, prerequisite:  Love.

Finding my vocation at Loyola

Many students in the Pastoral Counseling programs were attracted to Loyola specifically because they are encouraged – and even guided in how – to approach counseling through the lens of their faith.  I am one such student.  My journey began in the MA program after several people had asked me to be their spiritual director.  Having no qualifications to do that, my answer to them was no.  However, I felt God asking me to become qualified.  I am a consecrated virgin in the Catholic Church and I understood my new calling as a way in which to reach out to others considering their own vocation.  What I realized very early on was that my new calling is really a way in which to live out my own vocation.  I switched over to the MS program at the end of my first semester, anxious to become a licensed clinical professional counselor…a career I would have never guessed I’d be in.

            I am a Christian.  I believe God is love and Jesus is God.  Therefore, Jesus also is love.  When I took my vows in the Order of Consecrated Virgins, I became a “bride of Christ,” as the rite declares.  As such, I believe I must also be love.  Before starting at Loyola, I thought I was doing pretty well at being love.  I was very accepting and respectful of others – of their faith traditions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personal stories.  Or so I thought.  Classes like Contemporary Religious Perspectives, Psychopathology, and Diversity Issues in Counseling opened my eyes to the many ways in which my heart had been closed.  I began to see how many limits I had been trying to place on my limitless God and I was given tools to break apart that box I was trying so hard to fit Him in. 

            I am constantly amazed at how other people understand God.  In this program I have encountered Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’i, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Protestants, and Seventh Day Adventists.  I have been blessed to hear them share the God they know so well.  I see their God and my God are not as far removed from one another as I once thought.  God, as I know Him, looks much different than He did the day I married Him.  He is more beautiful and more loving than I gave Him credit for.  And the more I meet Him through the program, I am falling in love with Him all over again.