The question for the 2017 essay: How would I explain Jesus Christ and what he means to me to someone who doesn’t know him?
I invented this scene; it never happened. The character Grace is me, represented as well as I could write myself. Anna is a fictional character, but the situations and people that I wrote about are all true.
SCENE: Barnes & Noble, the Christianity and Religion shelf. A teenage girl, Grace, bumps into another teenage girl, Anna, who is squinting at the C.S. Lewis books.
Grace: (Shyly) Excuse me. (Reaches in front of Anna and grabs a book.)
Anna: Is that Till We Have Faces?
Grace: By C.S. Lewis? Yes.
Anna: Is that the only copy? I have to get it for my literature class.
Grace: Really? You’re reading this in school? That’s awesome.
Anna: I guess.
Grace: I think it is the only copy, actually.
Grace: Here, you can have it.
(Holds out book to Anna.)
Anna: (Clearly wanting the book) No, that’s OK, you had it first. …
Grace: Really, take it. I’m not reading it in school.
Anna: Alright. (Takes book.) Thanks. Wait, so, you were buying this book because you like it?
Grace: It’s one of my favorites! (Trying to hold in passion about the book.) You’re going to love it!
Anna: Well … I don’t know. I’m not into this weird mythology stuff. What is it even about?
Grace: (Excitedly) So, it’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, but C.S. Lewis does it in this really great way so that it has to do with desolation and us wanting answers from God. I also just love the Psyche myth because it’s basically about this god, Cupid, and his love for a human, and in the end he takes her up to heaven! It mirrors Christianity so beautifully! It’s really good.
Anna: (Realizing she does not want to be part of this conversation) OK. I hope my teacher explains it.
Grace: Do you go to a Christian school?
Anna: (Uncomfortably) No.
Grace: That’s a weird literature choice for a public school. The Christianity is so obvious.
Anna: Oh … there’s no way I’m going to understand it then.
Grace: So, you’re not Christian?
Anna: No. (Awkward pause.) But my grandma is. She’s always trying to talk to me about Jesus. It’s annoying.
Grace: (Smiling) It’s hard not to talk about Jesus sometimes.
Anna: Hmm. Apparently. (Noticing Grace’s crucifix) My grandma wears a cross, too.
Grace: What has she told you about Jesus?
Anna: Just that he loves me and stuff. And that I should go to church with her.
Grace: That’s a good start.
Anna: Do you believe all that stuff? That Jesus loves you?
Grace: Well, yes, I do. I see the evidence every day.
Anna: But how do you know?
Grace: Because … you know the Bible?
Anna: Of course. There’s one right there. (Points to bookshelf.)
Grace: (Grabbing the Bible) OK, so, one night, I was thinking about all the mistakes I’ve made, and wondering how God could really love me. And as I was sitting there, I looked at this picture of Jesus on my wall, and started crying, because in his eyes there was so much compassion. And then I opened the Bible and this is what I read. Isaiah 54:6. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will bring you back.”
Anna: Wait, so that verse was just there? Like randomly?
Grace: Yes. He was talking to me. It was such a relief in that moment.
Anna: Well, maybe it was a coincidence.
Grace: When I was going into my junior year of high school, I was absolutely terrified. I felt like the world was too big to handle. I didn’t know what the Lord wanted me to do. So I opened the Bible and I read Micah 6:8. “Do right, love the good, and walk humbly with your God.” And I felt so much peace. That was all I had to do.
Anna: How many times has that happened?
Grace: A lot, actually. It’s what made me fall in love with Jesus. I kept reading all his love notes.
Anna: (Sarcastically) So, you’re in love?
Grace: (Serious) Yes, I am. What else can I do? He’s doesn’t stop pursuing me even when I mess up or decide I’m OK without him. Because really, I’m not OK without him. He loves me no matter what I do, and I need that. I need him a lot, and as soon as I accept that I can be happy.
(Pause. Anna is unsure of how to think of Grace.)
Anna: OK. So you’re one of those “Jesus is my boyfriend” girls.
Grace: Actually, I have a boyfriend. (Grins) A human one.
Anna: (Genuinely curious) So, do you love Jesus more than him?
Grace: (Laughs) Yes. The only reason I am able to love Owen is because I trust God and put him in charge of our relationship.
Anna: (Baffled) So, Jesus is in charge of your dating relationship.
Grace: That’s the way it has to be with all my relationships.
Anna: Why, though?
Grace: I have a little sister who can drive me absolutely crazy sometimes. Just based on my own feelings and my own strength, if I try to love her, I usually fail. But Jesus gives me his love for her, so that I can see her the way he does. And then I can be a good sister. And with Jesus’ love, I can also be a good friend and good girlfriend and good daughter.
Anna: Oh. I guess that makes sense.
Grace: That’s the way relationships are supposed to be.
Anna: So, this religion is real for you. It affects your life.
Grace: Shouldn’t it?
Anna: I just don’t get it. Even if he is real, you can’t see him or touch him. What’s the big appeal? Why does Jesus make people so happy?
Grace: Because that’s who he is. The lover, the Savior, the one who satisfies us.
Anna: Well, he satisfies you. He might not satisfy me.
Grace: That depends on if you let him.
Anna: Thanks for the book. (Turns to leave.)
Grace: Enjoy it. It’s really beautiful.
Anna: (Hesitates, then shakes off her thoughtfulness) OK.
(Anna walks away.)End Scene.
THE 2017 FATHER CHARLES IRVIN ESSAY CONTEST WINNER
Every year, FAITH awards a $1,000 scholarship to a high school senior in our diocese, based on an essay on a topic related to life in the Church. Our goal is to promote insightful thought and excellent writing, and to encourage careers in Catholic journalism. There are many ways to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and good writing is one of them. We hope you enjoy this year’s essay by Grace Schoenle, a parishioner at Christ the King Parish in Ann Arbor.