Celibate Living in a Sex-Obsessed Society

Driving home from another ministry excursion, I pass billboard after billboard saying there are sex shops nearby. With each sighting, my stomach turns with sickness, my face falls into a frown. I am tempted to ignore the anguish, to shield my thoughts, to avoid that which feels judgmental and ugly within me.

Instead, I take a deep breath and offer a prayer for healing and conversion: may all people revere every other human as sacred and holy. I wonder, though, what else does Christ need me to do with the frequent reminder that our culture has an unhealthy obsession with sex?

My haunted mind wanders as I continue to drive toward home. I remember when I was first introduced to what sex was made to be about, while huddled into a tiny rectory living room with other college students. Crowded together, a bunch of us awkwardly stared into…

[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for The MudroomContinue reading here.]

A new school year and a refreshed legacy

Like many students and teachers around the country, I recently started a new school year. As this new year began to feel imminent, I looked back on my experience of teaching, so far.

I hesitate to admit that I haven’t always loved teaching. Sure, when I started this important ministry eight years ago, I loved it. I was full of passion and energy and idealism. I was going to change the world, one willing student at a time.

Somewhere along the way, however, I felt my passion for the ministry wane. I fell into a bit of a rut and lost interest in striving for meaningful growth, for myself or my students. I recycled lesson plans and techniques, lacking the energy and motivation to try to find better practices in order to meet the students’ needs. I was questioning whether or not to leave the classroom and…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.] 

The new view from my teacher desk in my classroom. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
The new view from my teacher desk in my classroom. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Praying in the dark

The light is dim and the air is frigid. With Advent’s arrival in this part of the world, we continue to feel the days shorten and the darkness increase.

Whether the light is dimming or not, though, another type of darkness is also apparent: the darkness of suffering. Far and near, people experience violence, injustice and pain.

Some of the suffering, like the death of a Sister in my community, is a natural part of the human condition. Other heavy human experiences of suffering, such as war, poverty and inequalities are conditions we have simply brought upon ourselves by our sins of selfishness and greed. I am feeling especially discouraged by the horrific plan to execute Scott Panetti in Texas later today. The reality that the death penalty still exists and compassion doesn’t seem to be universal hurts all humanity. We are all interconnected and because of our social sins we are suffering together in this darkness.

Advent reminds us of the power of Light in the darkness, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. During this sacred season we are invited to have bold hope, generous love, and wild trust in God: such actions help Light burn brighter in our hurting hearts and world.

A friend of mine who I know through Giving Voice, created the following beautiful video meditation. While we ready our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ, let us light candles in the dark. Let us pray and hold vigils through the dark nights that help us remember the strength of our Love. Even one small candle can illumine darkness. Love and light shall guide us to greater awareness of Truth to the awesomeness of joy. God is so good and we all have lights to shine!

Have a blessed Advent all!

"love light" by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“love light” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

God-centered mundane matters

God is the center of my life.

Really, I mean it. God is my life.  God consumes my life. Most of my time, thoughts, and tasks have to do with God.

I wish I could tell you it’s completely great.

Many mornings, as I hit the snooze button on my alarm, I think ‘God! Already!?” Then I fall back asleep imagining (No, actually knowing) that God is really right in my room with me, like a good, loving protector. When I finally do rally, brew and gulp coffee, I talk to God some more.

Then there’s my job, my ministry. I am a high school religion teacher and I am a Franciscan Sister, for goodness sake. Everything I say or do gives witness to my life with God. It’s constant faith sharing. I pray with my students, try to listen to them and do my best to love and teach with joy. I read a lot about God and learn as much as possible so I know what I am talking about (at least somewhat)! I prepare presentations, lessons, assignments and activities in order to inform and inspire others in their own journey with God. I grade piles and piles of endless papers and read essays by my students centered on–yup, you guessed it–God, again. It’s a lot of work and I never can keep up. Work all centered on God.

My non-teaching time (there seems to be so little of it nowadays) is spent on activities that are centered on God too. I think a lot about God. I talk to God. I make lists of all the God-related topics that I want to blog about for all of you here (and wonder when I’ll ever do it). When I do write it’s God-related, of  course. My other tasks like reading, up-keeping my relationships, eating and praying with my sisters, playing and even the too-rarely exercising also have to do with God in one way or another. Sometimes I get to be crafty, or cook or enjoy nature–or maybe I’ll do chores like my laundry. That’s God stuff too.

I am not complaining. I like it this way. I am grateful that I get to focus so much energy and time on God. God is the love of my life, seriously.

I am not bragging either–I’m just saying. Even though I am so all about God I feel so unsatisfied. My relationship with God is just as hard as anybody else’s. Desire is a funny thing. We can be so unfulfilled, even if we focus a lot on what we desire most. St. Augustine was onto something when he said “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, Oh God.”  Maybe the problem is the rest part.

I am beginning to wonder if my struggle this Lent (or is it during this phase of my life in general?) is about learning how to let my relationship with God evolve.  There was a phase in my life when I was totally head-over-heels in love with God. Wow, that was great! It was basically euphoric: I was consumed with joy because I kept experiencing God’s awesomeness. According to my friends, they knew I was well when I joyfully proclaimed “God is so good!” a lot. I still say that, but I wonder it’s just becoming more monotone.

Maybe my relationship with God is just getting more grown-up. I wonder if God just wants we me to accept maturity. Will I remain faithful and zesty even if I am not always feeling it? What is my love for God centered on?  How can I connect and keep going even when things start to seem strangely bland?

Maybe God and I really are getting to be like a long-married couple in different parts of the house together, quietly doing our thing and just having joy in the presence of each other. Awww.

But, what’s a sister to do when life is more than physical labor and she’s still wanting to just be with God in it all? What if the constant mind stretching, ever-chaotic work is an exhausting and demanding ministry of teaching? How can I connect to God in that mess?

I am reading a book that’s helping me feel a bit better about my dissatisfaction and inadequacies. This is one of its lessons:

“God’s incarnation in Jesus might suggest something startling about the importance of housework: like housework, redemption is physical. God doesn’t stand around watching humanity go to hell in a handbasket; he gets his own hands dirty by sending his Son to heave us in from the muck.  In Jesus, God is cleaning up the mess.”

I am starting to think that this same lesson applies to the mess and all the mundane tasks in my classroom. All work is probably a type of cleaning up.

God is all about creating order out of chaos. It’s hard, tedious, on-going, repetitive work. Grading papers shall be endless, like housework. The preparing, reading, and tidying will always build up on my desk. And in that messy, daily labor I too can unite with God.

It’s a good thing that God is the center of my life, I might pay better attention.