Shameless and Nadia Bolz-Weber's Book Tour

from Nadia’s official page

from Nadia’s official page

I’ve been enamored with the famous Luteran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, ever since a colleague showed me an article about her back in 2014. That was while I was still working at Butler University as the director for the Catholic campus ministry. So, when my friend and colleague, Sarah texted me about Nadia (who I lovingly pretend to be on a first name basis with) coming to Dallas to give a talk about her new book, Shameless, I jumped on board before I even looked at what the book was about or where the talk would take place. Even as a fan and a reader of both previous books, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Nadia would be talking about the impact of the Church on healthy ideas of sexuality and gender. Even more exciting, she would be speaking at the Church I have had a serious crush on for years but never actually attended, the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas—the largest LGBTQ congregation in the United States (and, as the pastor says, possibly the world).

The talk was on a Monday and it was one that was already crammed full for me. First, a chiropractic appointment, then lunch with friends, then time with my best friend at the camera shop he works at in Fort Worth (an hour’s drive from Denton), then the 40ish minute drive from Fort Worth Camera over to the cathedral. So, by the time I got there, I was a little overwhelmed with a day of running around and even more overwhelmed by the crowd assembling to see Nadia. My service dog was not overwhelmed, though, unless it was a positive overwhelm at the amount of green space outside the cathedral. After claiming about half of the space in the name of our doggy family, we joined the throng of people heading towards the front door of the church.

Seeing Nadia from far away, it occurred to me yet again the strangeness of celebrity, even in so small a community as liberal ecclesial Christianity. This woman has no idea who I am, but I know most of her life’s story, at least based on that which she had shared through her books. As I excitedly took in her fantastically styled gray hair and stunning liturgical tattoos (#lifegoals), she calmly scanned the crowd that had gathered to see her, clearly used to this kind of audience. Or maybe it’s just because she’s an experienced minister. I never did get used to speaking in front of hundreds—and maybe that’s one of the many reasons that my ministry was cut short.

Anyways, that is how the once-conservative, now very liberal, good little Catholic girl ended up in a huge protestant church to hear a parishless Lutheran minister talk about sex.

My life, man.

In her talk, she discussed a lot about how the idea of purity and purity rings actually does damage where loving instruction was intended.

In her talk, she discussed a lot about how the idea of purity and purity rings actually does damage where loving instruction was intended.

The experience itself—part prayer, part sermon, and part guest lecture—was short compared to the amount of anticipation that Sarah and I had put into the event. It lasted about two hours, about twenty minutes of which Sarah missed because grades at her public high school were due that day. (Oh, the joys of teaching!) It began with the church pastor introducing and welcoming Nadia, then with Nadia giving a brief overview of what was to come. She must have known she had a number of liturgists in the room—people who love knowing what is happening next.

Nadia began talking about her failed marriage (she divorced her husband—“the best guy in the world”—a couple years ago), her current relationship, and what caused her to write the book in the first place. Then, acknowledging that her book, written about her own experiences and those of her former parishioners at the House of Sinners and Saints in Colorado, was limited in the narratives that were given voice through it, she invited her friend, minister and coach Rozella White, to speak. Rozella made some excellent points and then the two sat down in the presiders chairs and had a conversation.

There’s not a lot of point in me writing about the content of the talk—I think it’s best to simply implore you to read Nadia’s book. But as a basic introduction, Nadia wrote about the impact that the Church’s (meaning all of Christianity) teaching on sexuality, largely focusing on abstinence in the case of singleness and procreative sex in the case of marriage, has had on the people of the Church. Just as articles have been discussing and studies have shown for the last decade, Nadia expressed her concern and showed evidence that many young people are finding it impossible to practice intimacy without feeling dirty, even in the confines of marriage. Then, of course, she acknowledged all those whose experiences, identities, and desires that are apart from the Church’s teaching and the ways in which those experiences could still coincide with the life of a follower of Christ. Essentially, she is calling for a reformation of the way that the Church deals with sex, leading to a new ethic. The talk introduced me to the term sexual stewardship and made me think as we discussed the differences between purity (separation from) and holiness (connection to).

Connection was another of the themes of the night—all types of connection and the role that plays in holiness.

Connection was another of the themes of the night—all types of connection and the role that plays in holiness.

One comment that Nadia made that really hit home to me was about the role of childless adult women, whether by choice or not. She said that there is powerful work in the world that can only really be done by childless adult women whose lives are not put on hold raising their own kids for two decades. She called for this role to be made into an honored place rather than a space of shame within the Church. (Of course, the Catholic in me could only think about my nuns and their childless spiritual mothering!)

All in all, it was a spiritual exfoliation (another of her terms) and a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the role of shame in my own life. I plan to read the book soon—I always read Nadia’s books via audiobook because she is such an excellent narrator—and will write a reflection then with more information about the book’s contents. For now, thanks for reading. Comment and share how the Church’s teachings on sexuality and gender have impacted you.

I Unite with All my Sisters and all Who Share the Charism of Providence...

I can hardly believe that it is March. Today we saw the sun for the first time in weeks. I find myself getting everything ready for my Spring Break trip home, my first Spring Break not spent on Mission since that fateful Spring Break where I got the call from Echo, offering me a full ride to Notre Dame...

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Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown

The following is an excerpt from a review I have published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine

Almost two years ago, my friend Lorna told me that I just had to read this book called Sensible Shoes. I added it to my list of books to read, but I never got around to it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, as a part of a wonderful “PhD Survival Kit,” she gave me a copy. When I was packing to go on my retreat, I slipped the book into my bag without really thinking about it. I figured, why not? It might be a good read.

It was so good that I couldn’t set it down.


To read the rest of this review, download the June issue of Spiritual Uprising Magazine. The e-magazine is available for free! You can find it at

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

This review was originally published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine's May 2014 issue and is reprinted with permission. I encourage you to check out Spiritual Uprising at

I started reading Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin as part of my Providence Circle. The goal was that we would read the book chapter by chapter and then get together to discuss. While we haven’t been able to meet as often as we would like, I have read the book on my own.

I think that this book has great insight. For those Christians who are bothered by the seemingly male-dominated quality of Christian history, reading a book about twelve women in the New Testament and learning about their role in the Apostolic era is eye-opening.

Turpin’s writing is good. You can tell in reading her work how much she has studied the Apostolic era—the research she has done into ancient Christian tradition (most of which have been forgotten by all but the academics in the Church) is phenomenal. Most Christians know little about Salome, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, or Tabitha. Most of us have never even heard of Prisca or Lydia. Turpin tells the stories of these women with devotion and full belief.

My primary critique of this book comes from her lack of citations. She will say something and cite it in tradition, but usually never mentions which text to find the story in. She puts complete faith in obscure texts that the Church has never claimed to be true or infallible. Like many Catholics, she tries to get rid of the discomfort of mystery by giving credence to unsubstantiated traditions. Yet, her work allows the reader to connect with scripture in a whole new way. In addition, while some of the traditions she cites might be suspect or have been completely cast off by most Christians (the stories of Mary’s childhood, for example), she also uses finds from modern archaeology to help her tell the story—and that works beautifully.

Turpin’s book is not only educational, but spiritual. She includes great discussion questions that are useful both for a group reading and a personal reading. Each chapter ends with a prayer, making it a great choice for spiritual reading.

In the end, while I would caution readers new to the study of Biblical History to not take everything Turpin says as fact, I would definitely recommend this book as a great read for a group or personal spiritual reading.

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

When We Were on Fire

by Addie Zierman

I received this book for free from 

Blogging for Books

 for this review.

In her memoir about life as an evangelical teen in the WWJD-ridden church of the ‘90s, Addie Zierman reminds us all that sometimes you don’t have to be in a cult to experience a brain-washing, manipulative, and abusive cult-like atmosphere.


When We Were on Fire

, Zierman is open and honest about her past. Her writing goes back and forth between telling her story in first person and setting up the scene in the second person, making the reader feel like they are Addie in the story. An unusual but well employed writing style, Zierman helps the reader to relate and identify with both the painful and wonderful experiences about which Zierman writes.

While it’s hard to write a review about someone’s memoirs, I can say that I think this book is brilliantly written. Zierman puts her soul into it, openly sharing the pain and joy of her life with the reader.

I relate to a lot of what she writes. While the Evangelical Church of the 1990’s is well known for brain-washing, no faith tradition is completely free of that experience. What stuns me about her story is how deeply Zierman’s wounds impact her later life. Her memoir is like a combination story and warning: “Find a way to deal with this before you find yourself in my shoes. Work it out. See a counselor before you’re drunk and tempted to cheat on your husband because Church People are coming between the two of you.”

The one thing that really gets me about Zierman’s writing is that she holds nothing back. She is blatantly honest about driving drunk—no apologies, no self-defense. She just states it, the same way she states that as a child sanctity was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore. It is a brutal honesty, an honesty that, in my humble opinion, should be forgiven and loved rather than judged. This book is her confession in a sense—and it ends as all Christian stories should end, in hope and resurrection.

For more information about this author, see her website at


To read the first chapter of this book for free, visit

I give

When We Were on Fire

a solid 4/5.

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

I received this book for free to review through the Blogging for Books program.

Last night, I read the book Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther in its entirety. The only bad thing I have to say about this book is the day on which I chose to read it. It was the night before a busy day and I meant only to read a chapter or two, but I became so immersed in her story that I realized I was only a few chapters from the end and it was 2am. I literally could not put it down.

I think that my reaction to this book, from a spiritual perspective, is at first a little odd. Reading EE’s (as she calls herself on her blog) words, it was as if I related to some of the brainwashing experience— but of course, I didn’t actually grow up in a cult and I don’t consider myself brainwashed (every time someone told her that asking questions is a sin, I wanted to call my youth minister and thank him for encouraging questions—faith is so much more real when its your own and not imposed). It’s like she is able to capture so much in her writing that she makes the experience tangible, makes it real. Yet, looking back at the reading experience, I feel like there were many experiences she had that remind me of problems in my own faith tradition, albeit significantly worse. The Assembly seems to me like an extreme version of the already extreme right wing of the Church (the ones who considered themselves more Catholic than the pope when Benedict XVI was still on the throne—many of whom have found their groups being censored by Rome). I find the parallels slightly terrifying, but that’s for another blog.

EE not only grew up in The Assembly, a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group; the founder of the group, George Geftakys, is her grandfather, giving her at a unique perspective and insight into The Assembly from an early time until its demise. A small Christian sect that easily fits into the “cult” category, The Assembly used brain-washing and mind control tactics (essentially making all members terrified to disagree with anyone in the hierarchy) in addition to abusive corporal punishment on their children in the same line as the Pearls’ (in the book, EE even indicates that she thinks her grandfather’s church was worse than what the Pearls were known for). The Assembly was, along with many similar cults, guilty of misinterpreting scripture to make women submissive in the extreme, blaming every sin of the man on the weakness of the woman.

The interesting thing about memoirs of young people escaping from cults is that you already know the end when you pick it up: they get out. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing the story to begin with. With Elizabeth Esther, it’s a little different. Even though I certainly baulked at the things that she was taught in The Assembly, you can tell from her storytelling how intensely she believed the flawed theology that her parents and grandparents passed on to her, how much it hurt her to leave the community that she had been with since birth. You cry with her and agonize over the decision that she must eventually make: to leave The Assembly. It is easy to understand, and empathize with, her reasons for doing so. Yet, it is heartbreaking.

Elizabeth Esther is a phenomenal writer, especially given her past. The opportunity to walk with her on her journey is an opportunity to share sacred moments in her life. Her courage in writing this book and doing the work she does with survivors shines through in her willingness to share intimate and personal details about her life: spiritual, family, everything. She holds little back and it makes the story that much more touching.

If you want to read this book, you can check out the first chapter here. You can find more information on the publisher’s website and on Elizabeth Esther’s page.

I give Girl at the End of the World a 5/5—a rare honor, but deserved.

Note: This book, while wonderful and touching, is an emotional roller coaster. At some points, I sobbed reading it. At other points, my hand was clenched into a fist. I don’t recommend reading this book when you’re already feeling emotionally drained or depressed. It’s a great book, but the same writing that makes it so great also allows you to experience some small piece of the agony with the author, making it dangerous if you’re in an already emotionally unhealthy state.

Saints Preserved tells about exactly what the title indicates

When I chose to read Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell, I did so mostly because I tend to think that relics are a little on the weird side. And, since I am a Roman Catholic and I work in ministry, I thought that reading up on this unique tradition in the Catholic Church, perhaps I would be able to relate to it better.

This book, while it doesn’t talk that much about relics in general, did help me to understand this unappreciated tradition a little better. The author reminds us to think about how we relate to our own familial “relics.” For example, is it really so strange to treasure things belonging to a saint when we treasure in our own families the things that belonged to our ancestors: grandma’s china, grandpa’s pipe? And then there are the first class relics—but is it strange to treasure the bodies of saints (or body parts) when there are plenty of families that have their ancestors’ cremated remains in their homes? Or, when we visit graves of deceased friends? Craughwell makes it seem that relics are really a natural part of the human experience. Catholics just seem to talk about them a little more than most.

In addition to giving me a greater appreciation for relics, I think that the real strength of this book is that it gives you an opportunity to learn more about saints. Craughwell writes a little blurb on each saint discussed, tells you why they were thought important enough to honor their remains. Then, he tells the (sometimes humorous) tale of how their remains ended up where they are, or how claims about the remains were made. When talking about one of the many saints that apparently have multiple sets of remains, he gives both accounts, never taking a side.

This book is interesting and is a great opportunity to learn more about both Saints and relics. It is exactly what the title makes it sound like: an encyclopedia of relics. If you’re looking for a more clear theology or better information on why we honor relics, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a little information on relics, a little information about saints, and a few laughs, I highly recommend Thomas J. Craughwell’s Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics.

(This book was provided free of charge by Waterbrook Multnomah for reviewing purposes.)

What I’m Reading Right Now

What I’m Reading Right Now

For those of you who don’t know (really, read the rest of this blog and you would know), I love to read. Generally, I have at least three books going at once: a fiction, a nonfiction, and a spiritual work. Right now, I’m a little bit more than that. Since I’m in the middle of so many things (5 books, preparing for a personal retreat, my job, and discerning my future, not to mention trying to have a social life!), I thought I would update you about what is on the reading list right now.

My non-fiction:

Main Street Vegan

by Victoria Moran

For those of you who are thinking, “Good heavens, Kaitlyn, you already have celiacs and have to eat gluten free, are you really going to go vegan, too?” you may be consoled: no, I’m not going vegan. Not yet, anyway. Every time I pick this book up, I crave meat—and usually I don’t even eat meat (unless you count the occasional midnight pepperoni binge or stressed sausage-link cravings). But I did live in community with two vegans this summer and let me tell you, they made a big impact on how I see food (thanks, Rebecca and Michael!). I am trying to be more mindful about how I feed myself and by reading more about eating vegan, I am doing that. I’m aware that a vegan diet is, overall, more healthy and gives you more energy. There is a decent amount of scientific evidence that human beings were no originally designed to be omnivores—which actually fits in with the creation myth in Genesis—and we gain more nutritionally from plants than from animals. As a result, and also out of a desire to live in solidarity with those who cannot afford luxuries like meat (and because I really can’t afford luxuries like good, grass-fed meat), I am trying to avoid meat and animal products in my diet. That doesn’t mean I’m becoming vegan (try being gluten free and giving up cheese and eggs as well, it would be really hard!), but I am trying to become what I’ve heard people refer to as respect-itarian. I eat what people feed me (as long as it’s gluten free) because I respect their gift. I eat meat from animals that have been treated in a respectful way, because I support in stewardship theology and not dominion theology. When I do eat meat, I remember to be grateful for the wealth and comfort that has been granted to me that is denied most of the Earth’s population.

Enough of my apologetics about my reading choice, now onto the actual book: I like it, but I have my reservations. I’m only through the first five chapters, not even a third of the way in, so my review now and my eventual review when I finish might be very different. For now, I can say that the author is a typical self-righteous vegan—something that my own vegan friends typically avoid. But she does make an effort to backtrack and applaud the reader for their interest even if they’re not vegan, though of course she thinks they should be. She gives the why, the how, and the practical information as well as some yummy looking (though mostly gluten-ified) recipes. I’ll hold out before I issue a recommendation.

Fiction #1:

The Mists of Avalon

by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I’m reading this book with one of my best friends. We’re supposed to be reading on our own, then discussing. We’ll see how that works.

I’m only in Chapter 9 (page 114 of 876), so I’m not very far. So far, I really like it, but I seem to be in a lull (hence the fact that I have two novels going at once). I have enjoyed the different perspective on the Church as well as a new spin on the Arthurian legends. I recommend it so far, let’s see what happens when I finish!

Fiction #2:

Light in August

by William Faulkner

I have been informed by my students (and they think they are experts on the matter) that I am the ONLY person in the world who reads Faulkner for fun. I assume this is not the case, given that someone at UD must have loved him in order for him to make it into the Core. Please, if you love Faulkner, comment below so I can prove them wrong.

My decision to read

Light in August

right now is based on three things in my life: 1) I own it (as the result of a local library selling a large stack of Faulkner, which I bought all of); 2) It is on the reading list for a PhD program I am interested in and I thought I might as well give it a try; and 3) I wanted to read some serious (read: actually good and not fluffy) literature, but didn’t want to be in the ancient world (for once). Hence, here I am reading Faulkner’s classic.

I’m a little over halfway through. Given that I only just started it a week and a half ago, I think that might actually be impressive (especially since I’m also reading


other books). But really, through a lot of it, I couldn’t put it down. I’m enjoying the story, the suspense. I’ve been careful not to look up any scholarship on the book yet so that I can actually be surprised by the ending. Faulkner’s usual ability to create a character, give you an impression of their character, then go deeper and make you question the first impression while at the same time deepening it—this is exemplified in this story. I know I will recommend this book (umm… it’s a classic, obviously), but I’ll have to hold out on the final review until I finish the story. I’m loving it, though!

Spiritual Book #1:

Twelve Apostolic Women

by Joanne Turpin

I’m reading this book for a book group. It’s good for what it is: an exploration of women in scripture. But what it is not is completely historically accurate—there’s no way to be when you’re writing about women in scripture, some of whom don’t even have names. I’m excited to be exploring these women, but a little wary of how some people who don’t have a good historical understanding of scripture might take this book for absolute truth. I’ll hold off on my review and recommendation until I’ve finished it.

Spiritual Book #2:

Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics

by Thomas J. Craughwell

This is one of the books I’m reading for

Blogging for Books

, and I chose it because I’ve had several students ask me about relics recently. I personally find relics to be a weird part of our faith (and yes, I did live in Rome and see many of them), so I thought this book might help me. It has helped a little, but the part that I really love is that I’m learning about all these saints.

The format of the book is that there is a short introduction on relics and what they are followed by a list of the most popular/regularly visited relics, in alphabetical order by saint. The author is very careful to tell not only where the relic is now, but how it got there, how we know whose it is, and who the saint was anyway. I’m loving the stories about the saints already.

My recommendation: if you’re interested in learning more about individual saints, this is a great book. If you’re looking to understand relics/be convinced they aren’t a little weird, this book is probably not for you. Then again, even this author concedes that it might be a slightly odd practice, so maybe you won’t ever be able to be convinced otherwise. I’ll let you know more when I have finished it.

So, that’s what I’m reading right now. I promise that an actual update on my life is coming soon!

Another Book Recommendation: Into the Depths

            I have just finished reading Into the Depths by a Benedictine sister, Sister Mary Margaret Funk. I was given this book by a friend to read and review-- it was written by a good friend of hers. Little did I know that this book would speak to me so much with where I am in my life now.
            The book is the story of the author's soul journey-- and it is a journey that should humble the best of us. The story is divided into three parts. The first, the story of her calling to a religious vocation, is entertaining yet serious. She shares the trials of adjusting to the monastic life even as the monastic life is adjusting to a new world. Her honest words, sharing both the joys of finding her call and the pain of dealing with depression, are filled with wisdom and I think her thoughts could be helpful to anyone discerning-- whether in their vocation or simply in life. The second part, the story of a tragedy that she experienced in Bolivia and the peace she found in the midst of terror, are a great reminder to the ways in which God can work even when the whole world seems to be upside down. The crux of her story, the third part, synthesizes the first two parts and gives an honest understanding of how we  can be tempted to ignore God even when he is so visible and real and how to resist that temptation.

            It seems somehow cheap to say that I enjoyed reading Funk's story because I think that this is a story that will, over time, sink into the soul and call you to conversion. But at the same time her likable writing style and almost off-putting honesty make it enjoyable too. A  quick read, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. I think that there is a lot of wisdom to be found in Sr. Mary Margaret's little book. Now I think I need to read her other works as well.

You can find a copy of this book here:

A Quick Note on the Psalms

“The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness” Part III

A Quick Note on the Psalms

by Kaitlyn Willy, Chaplain’s Apprentice


The last of my series on the retreat. Originally posted at 

First of all, thank you to everyone who sent me supportive emails and texts after my last blog. I am still processing my grief. I appreciate continued prayers.

I wanted to talk about one more thing that happened at my retreat, a tool that I believe many of us forget about when it comes to praying through darkness: the psalms.

During my first Echo Summer, before I came to Butler, I took a class on the Psalms. Ever since, I have loved them. And really, why shouldn’t we love the psalms? They are the prayer, not only of Christians, but of our Jewish brothers and sisters as well. Jesus himself was taught and prayed the Psalms. If they’re good enough for Christ, they’re good enough for me.

Throughout the retreat, we kept coming back to the psalms. We talked about how the psalms can give words to our emotions. There are so many about so many different things. There are psalms of lament and psalms of praise. Some end happily, some are just angry all the way through. Our director of formation reminded us that when praying a psalm of lament, it’s always good to pair it with a psalm of hope. Or, you can do one that covers both. My personal favorites are 23 and 42. Then, rarely, when I’m really angry and refuse to be consoled, I go to 77.

Since the early church, it has been a tradition to sing the psalms daily. Monks used to have to memorize the psalter before they were allowed to officially join the monastery. St. Augustine says: “Singing is for the one who loves.” The Psalms were the most common songs of the early church and Augustine wrote hundreds of commentaries on them. I’m not certain, but I think that the only thing in scripture with more commentaries than the psalms is the Lord’s Prayer.

So, my invitation to you is to open up your Bible to the Psalms and give them a try. They’re good consolation in times of distress.

“The Joy of Waiting”

The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness, Retreat Reflections part 1:
“The Joy of Waiting”

This is part of my short series of reflections about the Echo Winter retreat.

Originally posted to the Butler Catholic Community blog ( 

Last week, as many of you know, I was away on retreat for five days. It was a retreat with Echo (my graduate program) and in packing and preparing for the retreat, I was much more focused on the idea that I would soon see my friends than I was on spending five days with Christ. I am embarrassed, as a campus minister, to admit that. Yet, as I have spoken with my students so many times, friendship is in itself a form of prayer. Everyone in Echo is close, and it had been since August that I had seen my fellow Echo Apprentices, my dear friends. Perhaps it is fitting, given my attitude, that when my community (Pat, Amy, and Joe) was almost all the way to the retreat center, a four-hour drive for us, we started receiving text messages from our friends that their flight into South Bend was delayed.

We arrived at the retreat center thinking that perhaps our friends would be there later that night. As time passed and the plane was still not leaving, we all realized it was not going to happen. Instead, my community would wait with the Associate Director of Echo, Luke, and hang out at the retreat center and the retreat would start the next afternoon, when our friends would finally arrive. While twenty other Echo apprentices were stuck in the airport for almost an entire day (and later, stuck at a shabby hotel where Delta had put them up), my community and I were forced to entertain ourselves. Patrick, Amy, and I played soccer in the dining hall (or, more accurately, half-heartedly kicked the soccer ball back and forth) for an hour and then, joined by Joe and Luke, we ate pizza as a community. We were not in the highest spirits—we were waiting.

After dinner, we managed to raise our spirits a little. I confessed I had never played pool, so the men decided I needed to learn. Patrick and Luke patiently taught me. While I was frustrated at first, they coaxed me into having fun. We managed to enjoy ourselves and lose track of the time amid our laughter at my epically poor pool skills—all the while anticipating our friends’ arrival the next day. We tried to come up with stories to tell them when they arrived and, through the glory of technology, kept up with where they were and what they were up to, even though we were still apart.

It is interesting, given this incident at the beginning, that the theme chosen for our retreat was “The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness.” We spent a lot of time waiting that first night, waiting to hear if our friends would come. Once we knew they weren’t, we were waiting for the morning when they would be there and the retreat could begin in earnest. All the while, we reminded ourselves that we were not alone—we could wait together and in our companionship, find consolation for missing our dear friends.

I think that one of the great things about this retreat theme was that it was ambiguous—we weren’t really sure what or who the beloved is. Perhaps I am the beloved one, the beloved of God who is waiting amidst the darkness of my life—waiting for God, waiting for love, for hope, for light. Perhaps Christ himself is the beloved and he waits for me in the darkness. Or, perhaps it is the waiting itself that is beloved.

During one of the talks during the retreat, the last of these was suggested by our formation director, Jan. What if it is the waiting itself that is beloved? She told us a story she had heard about a grandmother. This grandmother was well loved by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. On one of her birthdays, they threw her a surprise party. When the party came around and the grandmother walked in and they surprised her, she was disappointed. She asked them, “How could you rob me of the joy of anticipating being with you?”

The joy of anticipation… how beautiful is that? But you know, thinking about it, it is true. I know that before my students all come back at the beginning of the semester, when I’m sitting in my office, organizing for the upcoming events, I anticipate their arrival. And it’s a joy to anticipate. I know that soon, I will be busy and in the thick of it. At the beginning, I spend some time just anticipating, preparing, and readying myself… and, hopefully, doing so with love. Anticipating is part of the loving.

My community and I experienced this very clearly as we were anticipating our friends at the retreat center. When they arrived, the vans pulled up and they piled out. We raced out to the cars and hugged each of them almost before they were out of the car. And as we waited for the last two vans, I know that the anticipation was growing in my heart. My best girlfriend from my senior year of college, Meg, was in the last van to arrive. As much as I LOVED hugging each of my other 19 friends, I know that I kept anticipating her arrival even more after the others were there. Having friends like Matt, Sarah, Annie, and Kathy in my arms made me want to hug Meg all the more. The promise that she would arrive soon took away any anxiety of the waiting. The waiting was truly beloved, and it made the moment of reunion that much more beautiful. Had Meg arrived first, I might have lost track of that moment, or, worse, I might have been denied a moment of reunion with my other friends. Instead, the waiting was beloved and beautiful.

Perhaps this revelation for me, the beauty and beloved quality of waiting, should have come about before… like, at Advent, for example. I mean, it is the season of waiting ( and, as I have said before, my favorite liturgical season). Advent is dark—literally, as the days grow shorter; and figuratively, as many people face seasonal depression or sadness related to loss experienced during the holidays or simply from being alone. But even now, in ordinary time, we might face waiting. I wait anxiously for a final decision to be made about my plans for next year. Seniors wait for jobs or acceptance to grad school. Many sophomores wait for acceptance to the Pharmacy program. We are all waiting for something.

As for the anxiety associated with waiting, I found consolation in some of the reading we did on retreat. Thomas Merton wrote: “On all sides I am confronted by questions I cannot answer because the time for answering them has not yet come.” (from The Fire Watch)

We have to trust that God’s silence is not because He doesn’t know the answer or, an even worse thought, because He doesn’t care. It is simply because the time for answering has not yet come. There can be any number of reasons for this. In my experience, it is often because I am not yet the person who God intends to give an answer to.

My invitation for today is to remember that even in the heart of darkness, the waiting can be beloved. Let the joy of anticipation fill you. Trust in the Lord, do not be anxious. The time for answering will come. For now, we wait in joyful hope.

My Sisters the Saints

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

by Colleen Carroll Campbell

I’ve finished book number 78 for 2012, My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

This book is Campbell’s memoir of her spiritual journey and about the six women saints who have become her patronesses and closest friends. She intertwines the stories of these women saints with her own story, telling the reader how they have given her hope, guidance, and strength on her own spiritual journey.

To begin, I have to say that I think this book hit me personally very strongly, as some of her own struggles are struggles that I share—particularly a father with Alzheimers. Because of this connection, I found myself reading Campbell’s memoirs with a box of tissues sitting next to me, taking short breaks when my eyes were so filled with tears that I couldn’t see the page. For me, hearing how she found comfort in Therese of Lisieux’s similar experiences of a father with dmensia were personally helpful and I will take her thoughts and shared experiences to prayer.

I also related to much of what Campbell writes in a professional way. Her memories of college life correspond well with my experiences as a college campus minister. She writes that for her it seemed “better to be labeled shallow, stuck-up, drunk, or debauched—anything but devout” (page 22). If you have encountered this and struggled with it or been mystified by it, then I think this book is for you.

At the very beginning of the text, Campbell sets the stage by telling about an experience she had in college where she looked around her and asked the same question I see many of my students asking themselves, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” She walked away in hopes of finding a satisfactory answer. I think that this book is an answer and it is one that can help readers move forward in their own spiritual lives. I think that readers who have had similar experiences to her, whether it is an exact experience, such as a father who struggles with Alzheimer’s, or simply the wider experience of trying to determine what it means to be free in a world bound by the chains of sin or to be feminine in a society that seems to stand against femininity (both themes continued throughout the book), will find in Campbell’s memoirs a story of hope and also an idea for how to move forward in their own lives.

As a spiritual memoir, Campbell’s writing is insightful and prayerful, a good book to read when you are in your own moment of questioning. As a book, Campbell’s writing is clear and alive. She truly captures the reader, inviting them to walk with her as she tells her story and also those of the women saints—Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, and Mary, Mother of God. The parallels that she draws between her own life and those of the saints are insightful. The lessons she learns are encouraging. And throughout she brings to life for the reader the many characters of her tale—her mother and father, husband, and friends—in such a way that the reader is bound to love them as she does.

I highly recommend this book.

For more information on Colleen and her writing, visit her website:

The first chapter of the book can be found at

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided this book to me for free in exchange for this honest review as part of their Blogging for Books program.

From the BCC Blog... In the Spirit of Christ, which is Love

You can find the original version of this blog at:

So, I was going to write about all the travels that I’ve been doing lately. I mean, I’ve gotten to do a lot. I spent a weekend at St. Mary of the Woods for my orientation as a Providence Associate. That was an awesome opportunity to grow closer to God. I then spent last weekend, actually 5 days, in Dallas for a Ministry Conference. I got to see cool people, family and friends that I have been missing and wanting to see. I’ve had so many blessings lately and I wanted to tell you all about that. But then, today, I was reading my facebook news feed and something else more important was re-iterated to me in a way that I feel like I have to tell you about it.

One of my good friends from college is also one of my heroes. Her name is Genevieve. I call her Genna. And Genna is a teacher in the poorest school district at the poorest grade school in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Yes, I know, we talk a lot about poverty at the BCC. We’re Catholic and part of Catholic Social Teaching is preferential option for the poor. But let me tell you about this poverty.

One of the students in the bilingual class at Gena’s school lost his shoes the other day.

Who knows where or why, he’s a five year old boy. That happens. The problem is, they were his only pair of shoes. His mother sent him to school in slippers. The school said that wasn’t appropriate footwear and he had to go home until he had real shoes. His mom can’t buy shoes until the middle of the month at payday. It’s the beginning of the month now. This kid is going to have to stay home from school for a week—in kindergarten, an important year where missing a week is like missing a month—because his mom can’t buy shoes. And that’s not to mention that he probably gets the majority of his food at school. So now, he has no shoes and he’s hungry. And the school district can’t do a thing about it, because they can’t even put paper in the classrooms. The teachers have to buy their own supplies. And let me tell you, these teachers don’t get paid much.

Guys, this is not okay.

My first instinct was to ask Genna what size shoes I need to buy this kid. I mean, I can’t do a lot to change the world, but I can get this kid shoes so he can go to school. Genna can’t do it—the school doesn’t pay her enough to keep her own kids in nice shoes, much less put shoes on her students. I’m still waiting to find out about his shoe size. I know there are several other friends of Genna who are waiting for the same thing. One of us will get him shoes. And when we do, he will go to school. And someday, I pray, he will change the world and then, maybe there won’t be any kids without shoes.

But my buying a pair of shoes doesn’t really solve the problem.

The problem is, I live in a house with nine other people. Between all of us, there are probably over hundred pairs of shoes in this house. And there are probably over a hundred kids in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex whose shoes are too small or too big and cause blisters or too worn to keep their feet warm. Why? Why is it that in the richest nation in the world in the 21st century this is still happening? And forget Dallas, my old home, what about Indianapolis? What about our city, the one in which we attend school and live at least 9 months out of the year? What about the kids in our schools?

I imagine it’s not much different.

We need to reevaluate our lives, people.

I have been talking about Nazareth Farm (where the BCC will be taking our Alternative Spring Break trip next semester) a lot lately. That’s because a) I love it and b) I want you to go and love it, too. One of the four cornerstones of Nazareth Farm is simplicity. Let’s talk about simplicity for a moment.

Simplicity seems to mean something different for every person. One person can say they’re living in simplicity while they have a flat screen tv and a dvr (I would question this person and their idea of need). The next person might be living in a tiny house (check out Tumbleweed Tiny Houses if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and own less than 100 items (I can’t do that—sorry, my books are really important to me). Whatever you think simplicity is, we are called to it. As we say at Naz Farm, we are called to live simply so that others may simply live.

During the month of November, I would like to both invite and challenge you to try to live more simply. Maybe that means not going out for that burger, ordering that pizza or those insomnia cookies. Maybe that means that instead of buying a new scarf, you’re going to use the one you bought last year. Same for that new coat and those new mittens. Maybe you’ll look in your closet, count the number of pairs of shoes you own and donate a dollar for every pair to the BCC Christmas Family Adoption fund. If you don’t have a lot of shoes, but find yourself buying a lot of something else, maybe you’ll match that. Maybe you’ll tell Mom and Dad that instead of yet another new blouse or new boots, you want to donate that money somewhere else. Maybe you’ll participate in the Tech Fast and see where, without the temptation of entertainment technology, you really do have enough time to volunteer, to serve, to change the world. Maybe. I can’t make that decision for you. I can only decide for me.

As we begin November, I notice a lot of Christmas stuff in the stores. It’s a little early for it, but I am starting to be in a Christmas mindset. Christmas reminds me of my Uncle Tim, who I never met. He died from cancer at the age of 18 almost three years before I was born. But my uncle had a saying and it was passed on to me. Around Christmas, when he wanted something, he would say, “In the spirit of Christmas, which is love, please ___.”

In the spirit of Christmas, which is love…. Perhaps it would be better to say, “In the spirit of CHRIST, which is love.” Because He was love. He was not just love the noun, but love the verb. Suddenly the question at Christmas becomes the same as the question we must ask ourselves every day all year round: How do I, Kaitlyn Willy, love better? How do we, the Butler Catholic Community, love better? How do you, reader, love better?

To answer that, this year, in place of buying each other gifts, my community is adopting a local family and giving them Christmas. And by Christmas, I don’t mean they’re getting a bunch of toys (though I might slip a few in). Primarily, I’m shopping for PJs, undies, socks, and bras for an elderly grandma and her daughter and clothes to keep their three babies warm. This family will be way more excited about these clothes—which won’t be all that nice and certainly won’t be name-brand items—than I have ever been about a Christmas gift. Need does that to people, it makes them find joy in the simple things.

In keeping with this spirit of love, the BCC Service Committee and Leadership Team have decided to adopt two families for Christmas. I mentioned this above, in the “maybe” paragraph. I’m serious, friends—count those shoes, those lattes, those whatever-you-spend-your-money-ons. Donate a dollar for each one you have. Or, donate five dollars, ten dollars, whatever you can muster. Ask mom or dad or grandma to give you your Christmas money early—donate it. Make a difference.

And, if you really want to keep it up, go to Nazareth Farm. Live simply so that others may simply live. Do as Christ calls us to in the reading for tomorrow: love your neighbor as yourself. Change the world.

When people ask me to describe my students, I say that they all want to save the world. Guess what, friends—this is how you change the world. You change it one person at a time. Not one poor person at a time, but one human being made in the image and likeness of God who has intrinsic dignity and who for some reason or other lives entrenched in poverty and cannot get out. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other— in the spirit of Christ, which is love. 

There are no success stories here

14 October 2012

I have been thinking a lot about the term “success” lately. As a child growing up in rural Missouri, success was something to be aspired to. In fact, it was just about the only thing that we aspired to. No one really ever explained what it meant, but it was like a blessing passed on from the older generations: “May you be successful, may you find success.” My own obsession with education and knowledge was linked to (though not merely a result of) my maternal grandfather’s insistence that the only way I could be successful was if I got an education. It was never directly stated, but I was under the impression from a young age that this being successful involved money. My maternal grandmother, who, I must say has only ever wanted the best for us kids, longed for lawyers and doctors in the family. This was not because she wanted legal or medical advice, but because those seemed the most lucrative positions (this was before the technology boom and computers became the money makers). I’m grateful that she doesn’t seem too disappointed about our failure to produce either (although, let’s not give up hope too soon, I have a cousin who would make a great lawyer if he would get through the schooling).

At any rate, looking at my life right now, I’m not sure if I can be considered successful. I certainly don’t have a lot of money. On the contrary, the only material thing I have a lot of is debt. Then there’s the question of success in my field(s) of choice. As a classicist, I must be a failure because I left the field. As a historian, same thing. As a theologian, the fact that I have already admitted to hating theology (/morethanfleshandbone/2012/03/so-heres-why-i-hate-theology.html) probably means I’m not very successful. As a writer, I’m generally too tired to write down the many thoughts in my head and heart. Instead, I lay down and read what other writers have to say.

As a Campus Minister, I’m not really sure how you can define success. Is it quantitative or qualitative? In our conversations with the Archdiocese, we’re always being asked about numbers. Honestly, sometimes there is only one person who shows up to my events. Sometimes there are thirty. But if we have a great conversation about God in which one or both of us grow closer to Him, in which Christ becomes present in a tangible way, isn’t that meeting with the only student who showed up a success?

A couple weeks ago, we had a Leadership meeting on a Saturday morning. Our leadership team is made up of about 16 students and only five showed up. For my boss, this was a failure. And really, as a leadership team meeting, it couldn’t have been much of a success because part of being a team meeting is the team showing up for the meeting. But I don’t think it was a failure, either. I had great conversations with the students, got to know them better in new ways and during our hour together I saw us grow in understanding of what it means to be a Christian and to be in communion with the other. We shared the stories of our “Eli”s (1 Sam 3:1-18), those people who challenge us and invite us to follow our calling, those spiritual leaders who have made us who we are. Sitting there, hearing the stories that these five women had to tell, two of whom are freshmen in college—I don’t think that anything which brings such powerful witnesses together and unites them in prayer could be other than a success, and it was a success brought about by the Holy Spirit.

As we are preparing for a lot of changes and transitions at the BCC, we find ourselves being asked to defend the need for campus ministers at Butler. People ask us for success stories. Fr. Jeff has many—he can tell you about the students who entered into the Catholic Church, the ones who went on to change the world in many ways and who stayed strong in their faith. He considers those to be success stories. Certainly, they are the easiest ones to tell and he tells them which such love and warmth that the hearer is satisfied in the need for ministry to continue here. 

My temptation is always to say that there are no success stories at the Butler Catholic Community. Instead, there are love stories. I’m not sure what success is, but I do know what love is and these kids teach me about it every day.

I can tell you love stories about my love for my students, about how I see God in them and how my own love grows abundantly through them. I can tell you about their love and generosity and patience with me as they teach me so many lessons about life and love. I can tell you about our mutual love for Fr. Jeff, a man with amazing wisdom and kindness and a great power and ability to love that we all benefit from every day. I can tell you about their love for each other: the strength they give each other during tragedies and heartbreak, stress and studying. I can tell you about students who say to me that they wouldn’t have gotten through their breakup, the death of their grandfather, their PCAT, their final exams, their own illnesses without the love of their friends from the BCC.

I can tell you specific stories: the girl who found the ability to love herself through being loved in a way that didn’t demand, didn’t take—only gave; the young woman who finally found a place where God made sense and became the loving creator she needed instead of the judge she had been taught about as a child, how she found this place through the dedication and love of a friend who invited and invited until she came; there’s the one about the young man who carried a girl to her dorm all the way across campus because she was sick and too weak to walk. I look at their faces and see not only college students, but I can see the face of Christ so vividly sometimes that I am perpetually amazed by them.

The most important love stories are the love stories of these college students and their Creator. There are the love stories of their love for God: their trust, their faith so strong that it makes mine pale in comparison. There is the girl who just came back from studying abroad where she had a conversion experience and now is bravely facing the knowledge that the five year plan she had so carefully crafted and protected in her heart since high school isn’t God’s plan for her. She is going forward with far more grace than I did when I had a similar experience. She is one of my heroes and I am blessed to know her, much less to serve her.

Far more beautiful are the love stories that I witness quietly, the ones of the love of a passionately loving creator who so obviously cherishes these college students in spite of anything that they might do to deter his love. I have seen Him come back again and again to pursue them, to work miracles in their lives only to be recognized after with some mystified disbelief. I have seen men and women grow into something far greater than what they were before and while some might call these “success stories,” I am painfully aware that I had nothing at all to do with it. I just sat with them at the Blue House or in Starbucks or walked around campus with them, watching the changes take place.

I have been praised before for the love that I so obviously have for these mischievous college kids, the frat boys and sorority girls, the seemingly frustrating and narcissistic kids who really just want to be loved and don’t know how to love themselves, the socially awkward kids who are still trying to figure out who they are. But really, it’s nothing to love them. I am not Mother Theresa, saving the poor of Calcutta. I’m not Fr. Greg Boyle, loving the homeboys in LA. Like Oscar Romero, I am blessed to say that it is easy to do my job well when I have such great students. The trick is not in loving them; it’s in not letting my heart break because I love them so much. I challenge any person to know these amazing men and women, to spend even a couple days with them, and not love them. It’s not possible, I promise you.

Last weekend, I went home for the Oktoberfest. It was a well-needed and wonderful rest. Going back to Rolla for things like that is like walking into a big, warm hug. I felt wrapped up in love and was reinvigorated to continue my ministry. The only downside of the trip was the immense number of people who asked what my plan is for after I graduate Notre Dame. The frustrating answer is that I don’t know, but like my student who so bravely is letting God guide her future, I am trying to trust that He has a plan and that his plan, unlike my own half-dozen batch of half baked plans for next year, will rise up and give me the answer I need.

On the drive down and part of the drive back, I listened to the audiobook of Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Greg Boyle. This is an awesome book and everyone should read it (thanks to Sarah Hallett and Fr. Jeff separately for the recommendations to read it). He quotes Mother Theresa saying that we are not called to success but to faithfulness. As I look forward to this next step into the great unknown, I try to hold onto this. I am not called to success, only faithfulness. So, let us all faithfully move forward out of the darkness and into the light, listening to our call.