Mercy, Justice, and the Truth (Review: “To Render the Deeds of Mercy”)

I don’t understand the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but I’m trying to. I love learning, so, as I said on my panel during the ATX Catholic Retreat, I’m taking this year as an opportunity to learn what mercy means. I encounter tons of media already, so my learning mostly consists of keeping my eyes and ears open for any discussion of what mercy means. I’m especially curious about how it relates to forgiveness and justice. We’ve got three words, so there must be some room within there for shades of meaning and nuances of the Faith.

My latest foray into understanding mercy comes from one of my favorite magazines, First Things, and one of my favorite authors, Mr. William Shakespeare. Maybe my buddy the Holy Spirit tossed this one into my path, since this is the only Jubilee Year of Mercy I’m aware of, it was just Pentecost, and it was just the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Then again, maybe I just read widely and Bishop James Conley, of the Diocese of Lincoln, is just a timely writer, offering us “To Render the Deeds of Mercy.”

Cristo Redentor statue

The title, as well as the essay’s opening, comes from The Merchant of Venice. Portia’s monologue that begins “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” is often considered poetic in and of itself. As Bishop Conley notes, it is also theological. By pointing out that experiencing the fullness of God’s justice would leave us all goners, so it’s a good thing we have God’s mercy, Shakespeare connects us to similar thoughts by St. Anselm:

Anselm concluded that both punishment and mercy are a part of God’s justice. We are justly punished because we are sinners. And God is just in mercy because mercy reflects the goodness of God’s nature. Anselm wrote: “When you [God] punish the wicked, it is just, since punishment agrees with their circumstance; and when you spare the wicked, it is also just; since mercy befits your goodness.”

I have to say, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard mercy connected with justice in a way that makes sense to me. Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

5 Family Rules for Clutter-Free Spaces (Guest Post at Waltzing in Beauty)

5 Family Rules for Clutter-Free Spaces: Guest Post at Waltzing in Beauty

Long-time blog readers might remember my previous collaborations with the lovely Christina of Waltzing in Beauty. We met through one of my oldest friends, and I am so blessed to know her. She just had a sweet little baby boy, so she is easing her way back into blogging by hosting a guest post series on how to make a house into a home.

My contribution is about some of my favorite things: rules (let’s be real), organizing, and practical tips. Here’s a sneak peek:

Everyone gets an inbox, even at home. I am a practitioner of GTD, the productivity methodology made famous by David Allen over 15 years ago in his book, Getting Things Done. One of the keys to GTD is reducing your inboxes. You will only clutter up your spaces by keeping bits of paper everywhere: Post-Its on your computer screen, receipts crumpled up in your purse or wallet, piles of paper all over your desk, and a mound of snail mail by the door. Do yourself a favor and get a physical inbox or letter tray. You can even get pretty ones: one of my inboxes is striped! Every piece of paper that comes into your life needs to go in that tray, and once a week, you need to deal with all of it. My roommates and I have “invisible inboxes.” We make 3 piles on the first horizontal space after the front door (a.k.a. our landing strip). When we see something in our invisible inbox, we know we need to pick it up and do something with it. Nothing ever stays there for long.

Read the other 4 rules at Waltzing in Beauty.

Sunday Style: A Spectacular Pentecost

I had a spectacular Pentecost. I hope yours was similar.

Sunday Style for May 15

Dress (worn as a skirt): Express
Blouse: Target
Shoes: Old Navy
Earrings: graduation pearls

I’ve worn this exact outfit before. I liked it then, and I think it looked good then, so I like it now and think it looks good now, too. I’m told that is the French approach to fashion. I also liked the opportunity to wear red for Pentecost in a spicier way than wearing a red top. I went for red on the bottom!

My Pentecost experience was the result of grace. There’s no other explanation. As I mentioned, I was praying the Pentecost novena for the preceding nine days. It was fruitful in a way that many of my other prayers and novenas are frequently not. I would have been okay with the actual feast day being lackluster. The Holy Spirit knew that and gave me more than I could have asked for.

On the surface, almost all the songs were ones I love, and I don’t even need music to fit my preference in order to enjoy Mass! “Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” has a pretty simple tune, so I wish we sung it more often. We sang “O Spirit, All-Embracing,” to the tune of “O God, Beyond All Praising,” the latter of which is my favorite hymn. I forget what the communion hymn was, but I don’t sing those anyway.

We ended with “O Holy Spirit, by Whose Breath” to the tune of “All Creatures of Our God and King.” The version in our hymnals is set to another tune. The number the cantor announced was the actual “All Creatures.” However, we recently got hymn boards, and those rescued us (or at least me). I love hymn boards. I go to Mass alone, so there’s not really anyone to distract me when the number is announced, but when I distract myself, it is very helpful to have a visual announcement of the hymn so I can find it and sing along. Hymn boards also force the choir to commit to songs early enough to get the numbers on the board before Mass. The liturgical calendar and lectionary have been set since the 80s; make a plan and stick to it.

Fr. AP’s homily was equally delightful. He began by pointing out that, when breath leaves someone, they’re dead, so it is fitting that breath of the Spirit in someone brings them life. As I write this, I am reminded that God forms man in Genesis by breathing into otherwise lifeless clay. Fr. AP continued to say that the Spirit inspires us to communion. All of his gifts are meant to bring about and enrich communion, especially through our particular vocations. He did not try to turn single life into a vocation, which I appreciated because [I don’t think single life is a vocation]. He did tell a joke/story in the middle, but I have absolutely no idea what lesson it was supposed to be teaching, so I didn’t try very hard to remember it.

Between the homily and the music, I was already very happy when we got around to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Then I started crying when I realized Fr. AP was using Eucharistic Prayer I, as required for Pentecost. (I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes even requirements get skipped.) Although he skipped the first set of optional names (mostly apostles and popes), he included the second set, which meant I got to hear “Cecilia,” which is my Confirmation name. I see what you did there, Holy Spirit.

Really, I did nothing to make Mass special (except get there early; I’ve been working hard on that again). It was all God. I guess it’s always all God, but the reminders are helpful.

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Rosie at A Blog for My Mom for My Sunday Best.

My Sunday Best, hosted at A Blog for My Mom

Not Alone Series: Communication and Problem-Solving


We’ve talked about conflict, but that can be avoided through solid communication. What are some of your tips for becoming a better communicator? What are some strategies for healthy communication? When was a time you were completely misunderstood or completely misunderstood someone else? How does communication affect your relationships, and how does it help you prepare for your vocation?

Let me begin by admitting that not all conflict can be avoided through solid communication. That’s probably hyperbole. I do think it helps, though. Misunderstandings can cause anger to rise up in even the coolest of heads. I shared my best advice when I wrote about conflict, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be finished talking about talking, as it were.

I used to do marriage prep (for other couples, not for myself), and one point that I learned to drive home was the importance of developing good communication and problem-solving skills before marriage. Granted, I’d imagine most couples that make it all the way to marriage prep have resolved conflicts before and learned to communicate at least adequately. Yet part of my role as a facilitator was to be able to verify through my own observation that each couple could demonstrate those skills. You can make all kinds of claims without any evidence. Anecdotal evidence is still evidence.

So, to the best of my ability and based on each couple’s needs, I would guide them through healthy problem-solving by way of intentional communication. It was awkward at first, but so is walking, and that’s pretty important, too. Almost every couple agreed that it was useful to have some sort of fallback “rules” in place for fighting fair.

Problem-solving starts with defining the problem. Here’s my advice for the one who’s bringing it up (a.k.a. starting the fight):

  1. What’s wrong? Identify or clarify some situation or problem that you are not satisfied with. It can be as simple as how much TV you watch or as complicated as expressions of intimacy.
  2. What’s wrong about it? Describe the situation to your partner, focusing on your role in creating/sustaining it, avoiding blame, and identifying specific aspects that you want to change.
  3. What do you want him/her to do about it? Offer suggestions (at least two) for resolving the situation. Don’t suggest anything you don’t actually want to happen.

I think the suggestions are really important. It’s much easier and less productive to just say you’re unhappy. Sometimes, when you have to consider how to solve the problem, you might realize that (a) there’s nothing your partner can do about it, or (b) you’re responsible for the problem, so you really just need support as you solve it. I’ve been there before.

If you’re the other partner (i.e. you didn’t start the fight), there are two possibilities. If the unsatisfactory situation was mutually identified (i.e. this conversation is one you’re having to try to resolve an argument already in progress), you will probably go through the same process I outlined above.

If not, you might feel blindsided because you didn’t see it coming. Here’s my advice for that side:

  1. What’s wrong? Listen to your partner describe the situation. Ask questions to figure out or clarify what he/she is thinking or feeling.
  2. What do you think? Take some time to think or reflect. Share your point of view on the situation. What do you think is wrong, what’s wrong about it, and what are your suggestions?
  3. What do you want to do about it? Consider the suggestions your partner offers. Are you willing to try one of them?

I also have some basic communication pointers for both parties:

  • Don’t interrupt. This one is hard for me; I am kind of an interruptosaurus. I’m working on making it an act of mercy to let someone finish before I jump in with my thoughts. In serious conversations, when I think I might forget something if I don’t interrupt, I’ll write it down. Yeah, that’s awkward, too, but it works!
  • Don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking or feeling or how your conversational partner is going to respond. You can’t see the future. You can’t read minds. You can’t read hearts. Get comfortable asking, “How do you feel about that?” and “What do you think?”
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “I hear you. Now is not a good time. Can we talk about this later?” The catch is that you have to define “later.” “Later” should not be a synonym for “never.” One tip I’m picking up is that couple/family business meetings are super useful. The “date night” movement is thriving. I’m rooting for the “budget meeting” and “weekly review” movements.

Most of what I’ve learned about communication I have learned with an eye to marriage. If I can’t talk openly and honestly with the man I’ve promised to sacrifice for until one of us dies, I will be in a pretty sore spot. The handy thing is that I have plenty of relationships to practice with in the meantime: close friends, coworkers, and sometimes even family. If I never marry, the communities I’m already part of are enriched by my efforts at improving my communication skills.

This blog also helps. Thank you for reading.

Next week’s topic: Adulting Revisited

Adulting is hard, sometimes. So many transitions. Making friends. Starting jobs. Building community. What are some ways that have gotten you through?

The lovely Laura of A Drop in the Ocean will be hosting!

View past and upcoming topics here or like our Facebook Page for regular alerts.

Link up here or by clicking the blue button below!

7 Quick Takes on Reflection, Discussion, and My New Computer

7 Quick Takes, hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum

— 1 —

It’s almost Pentecost. I had a lot on my mind going into this week, and I was hoping that my buddy the Holy Spirit would show up for me as I prayed my novena. Well. You get what you pray for, especially when it is a host of things that make you reflect. I’m looking forward to a quiet, normal weekend, during which I will hopefully have the opportunity to reflect on everything that’s swirling around in my mind.

— 2 —

We discussed mercy throughout the ATX Catholic Retreat a few weeks ago. I was on a panel featuring fellow contributors (and people I know offline) Kraft and Trenton, and we talked about technology and mercy. It sounds like a strange topic at first, but I was pleased with the way the conversation went. I had to take some of my own advice, so I’m pretty sure that didn’t come from my heart alone. (See the note about my pal in Quick Take #1.)

You can listen to a recording of the mercy and technology panel discussion over at ATX Catholic. The post also features a rare photo of me without my shoulders covered. (I took a sweater for the time we spent in the Shrine’s chapel; I don’t like being in churches with bare shoulders.)

— 3 —

It took several days for me to unbox my new computer, but I finally got around to it. I just didn’t want to put in the time, and I struggle with change.

I had my first laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1150, for over five years (all the way through college and halfway through grad school) until it died. There was a manufacturing defect that made it overheat constantly, but I got Dell to replace the faulty part for free, out of warranty. (Yes, that’s another throwback, can-you-find-my-comment post.) Then the operating system failed, so it wouldn’t start. The Geek Squad at Best Buy removed the hard drive for me, I enclosed it, and I saved all my data!

This time around, when my HP Pavilion (currently just over eight years old) started to enter the throes of death, I started backing up my files. The computer actually still works… if I remove the battery completely, keep it plugged in, and hibernate it before unplugging. It’s a tedious strategy that keeps me tethered to the wall, but the computer’s been working okay despite limping along. I knew I needed a new one, though, so I saved up for it and finally pulled the trigger so I can devote that saving momentum elsewhere.

My new Pavilion has Windows 10, so I’m learning to use that. It feels like a flatter version of Windows 7, which was a shinier version of Windows XP, so I think I’ll be okay. I’ve managed to avoid the versions that everyone hated (Vista and 8). Coincidentally, this computer is a shinier, flatter version of my old computer. I did have to solve a Skype–Windows 10-specific microphone problem. Skype is essential to my relational life; I am very grateful to Mr. Man for helping me find a solution.

— 4 —

Category: 10-Letter Words; In the Catholic religion, there are 7 of these Jesus establish and entrusted to the Church.

Category: Communication; The signal that a papal election is complete is smoke of this color coming out of the Sistine Chapel chimney.

Whaaaaaaaaat? Jeopardy! has had some amazing categories during the Teachers Tournament. The sad part is that, because this is J!6, those questions were not actually asked on the show. I can only hope the actual aired questions are that awesome if I get on. I’ve got seventeen more months in the contestant pool; there’s plenty of time for the awesomeness to swing back around.

— 5 —

The best short commentary on the presidential prayer of Jesus (John 17) is that they are the words of a dying man, so they are completely honest.

The best long commentary might be this by my other buddy, St. Augustine:

When he had said to his Father: “And now I will no longer be in the world…; I am coming to you” (Jn 17:11), our Lord recommended to his Father those who were about to be deprived of his physical presence: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given to me.” As man, Jesus prays to God for the disciples he has received from God. But note what follows: “So that they may be one just as we are.” He does not say: That they may be one with us, or: So that they and we together may be one thing just as we are one, but he says: “That they may be one just as we are.” That they may be one in their nature just as we are one in ours. The truth is that these words imply that Jesus spoke as having the same divine nature as his Father, as he says elsewhere: “The Father and I are one,” (Jn 10,30). According to his human nature he had said: “My Father is greater than I, “ (Jn 14,28), but since God and man form one and the same person in him, we understand that he is man because he prays and understand him to be God because he is one thing with the one to whom he prays.

“But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.” As yet he has not left the world; he is still there; but since he is shortly going to leave it, he is no longer in it, so to speak. But what is that joy with which he wants his disciples to be filled? This he has already explained a little before, when he said: “That they may be one as we are.” Concerning this joy, which belongs to him and which he has given to them, he foretells to them the perfect fulfillment and that is why he speaks about it “in the world”. This joy is the peace and happiness of the world to come and, to gain it, we must live in the present world with self-restraint, justice and devotion.

— 6 —

I went to my friend Don’s Derby party again. It was delightful, although I would have appreciated it starting on time. That is part of why I don’t like football: you never know when the game is going to end. I have things other than spectating to do. Everyone else can go spectate without me; that’s cool. Have fun.

— 7 —

It’s raining today, which is not a common occurrence in Austin. We were in a drought so severe that several islands our big lake emerged. They’re usually underwater. Now they’ve disappeared again, but I still can’t get used to life with regular rainfall patterns.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Booking Through Thursday: Where To?


What do you do with books you weed out of your library? If you’re like me, you find this VERY hard to do, but you want your old books to have a good, happy life somewhere, so where do you send them? What do you do with them?

My most recent round of bookshelf culling was painful, but it helped that I didn’t have to actually give them away myself. My mom was the instigator, so she got cleanup duty, too.

If I had my way (except for the part about having to get rid of books at all), I would give them to people who I knew would take good care of them. I don’t know many other people who read the kinds of books I do, so I don’t do much lending, but I’ve always been disappointed to get a book back with obvious damage. Smudged covers, curved pages, or any sign that they weren’t properly loved is always heartbreaking. I would want my books to go to a good home.

I would also want the new owner to intend to read my old books at least once. It’s so sad when books go unread. I have plenty of unread books on my shelf, but part of the reason I stopped buying books is that I stopped reading so much!

I guess I don’t know where, exactly, I want my old books to go, but I know who I want to have them. Find me a place with that kind of people, and we’ll be all set.

For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

Not Alone Series: Following God’s Will


Seeking and attempting to follow God’s will in your life is the most essential and difficult task we are given. Whether it’s the decision to change jobs, date or marry a certain person, or pursue a “big V” Vocation, these circumstances all warrant prayer and soul searching. What is something you’ve discerned in the past or recently? How did you go about discerning God’s will? What advice would you give to someone going through a similar situation?

We are all called to holiness. We know that. Vatican II helped make that a reality. (Yes, there are non-controversial things that came out of the council!) So the most important task we have is to be holy. Avoiding sin is one part of that. Following God’s will is another. I think they go hand-in-hand.

That doesn’t make either one easy.

I have heard and read and thought so much about discernment over these eleven years I’ve been living like a Catholic. Some of my biggest decisions remain unresolved.

Deciding to go back to Church was a pretty big deal. My next big opportunity for discernment was what to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, so I had two options.

My first post-grad option was an integrated fifth-year master’s degree certification program. The only major I graduated with was English (my specialty is British and American literature), but I also took a bunch of secondary education classes. I intentionally did not complete an ed major. The ed school at Maryland offered a major; I just didn’t choose that path. I was on track to spend one year student teaching, taking classes, and finishing my master’s degree. It was the fastest track to full-time teaching with a master’s.

The downside? I would have had to pay tuition. I already had plenty of student loans. I still have most of those loans. The thought of adding more was not a pleasant one. I also had to figure out how to support myself since student teaching is demanding and not income-generating.

My other post-grad option was ACE, the Alliance for Catholic Education It’s like Teach for America, but in Catholic schools. I would get to go to Notre Dame tuition-free, teach in my very own classroom (with my name on people’s transcripts and everything), and finish a master’s degree in two years. I would get to try Catholic school, and my living expenses would be heavily subsidized.

The catch? I would have to move to whatever city the program picked for me. You can give your preferences, but it’s like scheduling a wedding. You can probably get the priest, church, date, or reception site you want, but almost never all of them. You have to pick one non-negotiable and be willing to compromise on the rest. For me and ACE, I wanted to teach high school English, but I would go anywhere.

ACE actually had a second catch: I would have to live with boys. It’s laughable now, but that genuinely worried me when I applied.

So I took the GRE. I got recommendations. I completed both applications. I interviewed for ACE, which required me to go to the CUA campus and get kind of lost.

Decision time came when I was accepted into the program at Maryland. ACE decisions weren’t supposed to come out for about another month. I asked for mine early, and I got it. I had two options: commit to one year, stay in Maryland, and find the money; or commit to two years, move to Alabama, and live with boys.

I chose ACE. It was the best and most difficult thing I’ve ever done. At the time, I was just doing what seemed like the best option, but eventually I figured out why God sent me there. I don’t always get that kind of clarity, but when I do, it’s a beautiful thing.

Next week’s topic: Communication

We’ve talked about conflict, but that can be avoided through solid communication. What are some of your tips for becoming a better communicator? What are some strategies for healthy communication? When was a time you were completely misunderstood or completely misunderstood someone else? How does communication affect your relationships, and how does it help you prepare for your vocation?

View past and upcoming topics here or like our Facebook Page for regular alerts.

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