Who Is the "Classic" You?

Eli turned six this summer. As a mom, I’ve always thought of sixth birthdays as a major turning point. Somehow five is special. Five means bright, happy little kid. But six? Six is growing up. No more “little kid.” Just “kid.”

When our oldest child, Reya, turned six, I was proud but sad. I remember she drew me a picture of herself the day before her birthday, so I could remember what she looked like when she was five. Of course I remember what she looked like when she was five. She was perfect.

Eli is the youngest of four, and I think even he has picked up on how letting go of “five” means letting go of an era for our family. I’ve seen him processing his own age change. My favorite episode was about a month after his sixth birthday when my mom was visiting. He said to her, “Nana, the five-year-old Eli was the classic Eli.”

This made all of us laugh because it was so cute. Then I stopped laughing because it was much more than cute. It was downright wise. Five-year-old Eli was classic Eli. Five-year-old Eli was the Eli who started reading and writing, whose love of numbers exploded, who started saying “no” to his big brother, who could articulate his thoughts, who charmed strangers with a glance of his eyes, who sat in silence to think, who laughed out loud at funny books, who cried about being the littlest, who wants to be a teacher, a daddy, an explorer and a dentist. Five-year-old Eli was just so “Eli.”

Of course as Eli grows, he will change, and he will discover his “Eli-ness” in new ways. But there will always be those five-year-old traits inside him – numbers, strength, curiosity, sensitivity, humor, beautiful eyes.

We’re always changing and growing, but at our very core there is the person God made us to be, the spark that makes each of us most ourselves. Sometimes the world threatens this person, tries to change it. Sometimes we forget this person, forget our true selves. Sometimes we’ve buried that person under a pile of unrealistic expectations, busy schedules, lame excuses, or mindless, meaningless, meandering pursuits. But he or she is still there, deep down, in our core. He or she is “classic,” the one God created us to be.

I’ve known a few people who have discovered who they are later in life. Not at five or twelve or even thirty – but in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies. In fact, I met a woman in her eighties at a retreat who was so excited to tell me, “I just realized today that I can be a saint!” She had just met her classic self.

And then there are people who never find – or at least never accept – their classic selves. They go on pretending, being someone else’s version of themselves. This is not who God made them to be. God keeps loving them, coaxing them, eagerly awaiting the moment he can run to meet them, put a ring on their finger, embrace them and invite them home to celebrate, passionately awaiting the moment he can put them on his shoulders and carry them back to the flock to be warm and safe, willingly and tirelessly searching for them in a field (Mt 13:44) or in the sea (Mt 13:47)  – or in a suburb, an office, a living room, or a pew.

Who is the “classic” you? Do you know? Are you looking, along with your Creator, searching for that treasure that is you, that pearl of great price for which God himself would give absolutely anything? Is it trite to say that God knows us better than we know ourselves? Then let us be trite and surrender to the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Let us be found by him, embraced and thrown with joy upon his shoulders, to join the flock and the feast, to be classic, to be ourselves, forever and ever.

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 I have a reflection in Magnificat this month (September 2018). It’s called “Divine Camouflage: To My Youngest Son.” Yes, it’s about Eli. And his camouflage pants.

After 3 years of writing Gospel commentary for Catechist Magazine, I’ve moved over to a sister publication. I have a new column called “The Bible in 5” in Catholic Digest! Every month I cover a Bible-related topic in a snappy list of five. It’s fun to write, and I hope it will be fun and informative to read. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

I have a new book out with Little Rock Scripture Study/Liturgical Press. Advent, Season of Divine Encounter is a 3-session Bible study for Advent that can be used by individuals or groups. You can purchase the book on Amazon, Liturgical Press, or Little Rock Scripture Study. Bulk pricing is available from LP and LRSS.

 Classic Eli.

Classic Eli.

Guest Blog: We Grieve, We Believe

My colleague at Little Rock Scripture Study, Cackie Upchurch, wrote these clear, gentle words in response to the recent revelations about our Church in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and beyond. These words helped me, and I hope they may help you too. I don't want to be bitter, I want to believe. But I have children, I have been a child. A sacred trust has been broken.

In times of confusion, we need guiding voices to acknowledge truth and point us back to the light. I found one here.

* * * * * * * * * *

We Grieve, We Believe

We grieve the scandals that have plagued and continue to plague our Church. 
We grieve because we are outraged and disappointed and even disgusted by the revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse, and the lingering violence these do to the human person.
We grieve the cover up and the misplaced loyalties.
We grieve because the body of Christ is injured and in need of healing that will not come easily (nor should it). 
We grieve because, as communities of faith, we’re not quite sure how to proceed – how to bind up ugly wounds so that they heal and are not simply covered over, and how to be forgiving but also demand consequences.
We grieve because our ideals are tempered by ugly realities that demand a reckoning.
We grieve because we know the corrupting influence of power that goes unchecked.

We believe and affirm that Christ is suffering with us, in us, and through us.
We believe and affirm that we have a sacred trust to bring Christ into this broken world, and into our very broken Church.
We believe and affirm that God’s mercy and goodness will have the last word.

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Cackie (Catherine) Upchurch is the director of Little Rock Scripture Study, general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, associate editor of The Bible Today and contributor to Give Us This Day. She is the author of four volumes of the Alive in the Word series, including Mary, Favored by God and Christmas: Season of Wonder and HopeCackie finds great joy in meeting people around the country and beyond when she speaks at conferences and leads retreats for lay people and religious communities.


The Golden Rule, Remix

What does this deep retelling of the Golden Rule mean to you? How do you do it? How would our world be different if we all lived by these words?

I shape my heart like that of others that I meet, and theirs like mine.
— St. Teresa of Avila
 One white flower on my blue hydrangea bush.

One white flower on my blue hydrangea bush.

Retro-Post: Sr. Blanche's Desk

This week I’m re-posting one of my first and favorite blog posts. It’s been off my site for several years as I wanted to make a few edits, and then I just never got around to re-posting it. Some of you may have read it in That Mighty Heart.

My first ministry position was as a parish DRE in Clinton, Maryland. I was 23 when I started, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing. This essay is about my office at the parish, which I inherited from the matchless Sister Blanche Twigg, MHSH. The bookcases of Sr. Blanche’s office were lined with Little Rock Scripture Studies and Catechist Magazines, two publications I never dreamed that I would someday write for. What a beginning I had there, with co-workers who mentored me and parishioners who accepted me. What a place that was to be, sitting at Sr. Blanche’s desk!

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Sr. Blanche’s Desk

I will never forget my first “real” job interview. Fresh out of graduate school, I was applying for a parish position as a Director of Religious Education. I was 23 years old. 

The interview was by all accounts fairly average until I asked the pastor why the former D.R.E. left the position. He looked happy and sad, amused and wistful, all at the same time. “Sister Blanche served here for 25 years,” he told me. “She was 82 years old. She has gone to be with the Lord.” Later I would discover that Fr. Tom’s emotion was the result of a long and solid friendship with this formidable religious sister. Twenty years his elder, she called him “Tom” in a mother’s tone and ran the show as she liked. And she liked a tight ship.

In the coming months, I would hear many legends about Sr. Blanche – how every morning she “pointed” her car in the direction of the parish and drove to work; how no one could say no to her; how children obeyed her and parents feared her; how she was a force to be reckoned with; how much they loved her. Sr. Blanche was a gifted educator, a respected Scripture scholar, a master recruiter, a thrifty manager, a green thumb, a tough cookie, a trusted friend, a spiritual guide, a miracle worker.

My first day on the job, I walked into Sr. Blanche’s office. Her plants had been cared for, her books arranged neatly. I sat down at Sr. Blanche’s desk. It felt large and unfamiliar. Unsure what to do next, I opened the top drawer. I looked at all the things Sr. Blanche had left behind – things she had used so many times, things she kept at the ready. Who was I to clean out this desk? With whispered apologies to my predecessor, I began to pick up the items inside, one by one, trash can at the ready. But I couldn’t throw away much more than a few brittle rubber bands. Many of the items were unidentifiable or just really old. In her eyes, they might have a use someday. Who was I to decide they wouldn’t? 

This was my first encounter with Sr. Blanche. And in my own way, I encountered her many more times in the coming years. I was the opposite of this great lady – I was young, I was new, and it became obvious rather quickly that no one feared me. I needed her, I leaned on her in some inexpressible way. Her influence mentored me. Her legend challenged me. And all the while, those strange things in the top drawer comforted me – old things waiting to have some new use. 

I never tried to be Sr. Blanche. It would have been utterly futile. But I took care of her plants, I read some of her old books. I tried to care for her people, and sit earnestly in her chair, and make her proud in my own small ways. And in the years I occupied that desk, I happily left the top drawer just as it was. It contained treasures I did not yet understand. 

As I look back on that time, I like to imagine that together, Sr. Blanche and I were like the scribe training for the kingdom, like householders bringing out of our treasuries what is new and what is old (Matt. 13:52).

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Sr. Blanche Twigg (1917-1999) joined the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart in 1936 and served as the Director of Religious Education at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clinton, Maryland from 1974-1999.  Among other things, she was known for her thriftiness and her love of Scripture.


Scott Eagan's Green Fire

It’s officially summer! Enjoy a seasonal poem from our friend Scott Eagan, farmer and poet at Madonna House in Combermere, Canada. For those of you who are new to the blog, you can enjoy more of Scott’s very personal, nature-inspired, religious poetry on my blog page by scrolling down and selecting “Scott Eagan’s Poetry” under “Blog Categories” along the right margin of the page.

Thanks as always to Scott for sharing his work.

Look at the green fire that moves across the spring earth.
Fed by sun and rain, it nonetheless arises from within.
 Fr. Robert Pelton – Circling the Sun


I lie in bed, in the dark
and outside my open window
in the blackened spring night, fire
green fire is covering the hills
eating away at the dry wood of winter
spreading cool flames, a foliar carpet
breaking the frozen hold of many months
day growth, night passage.

I wonder as I lay there,
who minds the forest while we sleep
what force watches as men rest
and nocturnal life awakens
surely God must sleep sometime
so much work to be accomplished in
these long days of May, short
nights of solstice.

I rest my weary head upon the pillow
falling asleep is not easy while nighttime
mysteries unfold right outside,
my house all asleep, even the sun
has gone to bed, a few hours
and light will flow softly over the canopy
spring rain blessing leaves and roots
imperceptible growth.

I dream of thunder until early morning
visions of mighty forests and wide fields
a vast carpet of leaves, the secret life of plants and animals
springing to life under the power of sun and showers
heartfelt energies lifting the sleeping spirit
resurrection of what was dead and buried
peace arising as an ever new Sunday
and from within, an emerald fire signaling hope.

Scott Eagan
May 27, 2018

 Baby Queen Anne's Lace. Photo by Mary Weems, Simsbury, CT.

Baby Queen Anne's Lace. Photo by Mary Weems, Simsbury, CT.