Holy Hands

“It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” -1 Timothy 2:8

We express with our God-given bodies the very disposition of our hearts.

I remember watching a video all the way back in my college psychology class about how our body language not only conveys things to other people about who we are and how we are feeling, but to our own minds, as well. If we sit hunched over with our arms folded, that sends signals to our brain that we are unhappy or closed-off. If we stand up straight, that sends signals to our brain that we are confident and at ease.

What are we conveying to other people with our bodies? Do we use the hands and feet God has given us to serve others with compassion? Do we meet the gaze of people who need Christ’s love? Do we use our voices to bring God glory?

St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

We are not our own. We belong to God. So when it comes to prayer, too, how we express our love for God with our bodies makes a difference. Now, I’m not talking about a particular spirituality here, because I think our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is sometimes too fragmented by the, “I’m this kind of Catholic” mentality. Let’s meet for coffee if you’d like to discuss that haha.

I will give you an example to describe what I am getting at: my spiritual director once told me, after a season of difficulty, that I needed to pray with open hands again. Without even realizing it, I had been praying with my hands over my heart out of fear, as if I was shielding myself from letting God in. Interiorly, I had walls of self-protection up, and exteriorly, it was manifesting in my expression of prayer.

God gave us our bodies to physically express our love for Him. Do we pray in a way with our bodies that tells God we are open? Prayer and worship are not about us, in the first place; it’s about giving God the glory He deserves with our whole heart, soul, mind, and being. God deserves all of us. And we have the awesome opportunity to offer our very beings as a sacrifice of praise to our almighty God. With an open physical expression, our disposition of heart is opened to God, like the centurion in today’s Gospel who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Luke 7:6).

There is something so powerful about praying with an exterior posture of surrender. It expresses worship, surrender, trust, and vulnerability. It admits our own weakness. It declares our total dependence on our Heavenly Father. It changes things, takes us out of ourselves, and helps us focus totally on the Lord, body and soul aligned in love for Him. We get to give God all that we are, holding nothing back from Him.

Directing Our Steps

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”
—Luke 6:39–40

Jesus has entrusted each of us with free will, leaving us room to act as we choose. Knowing our weakness and tendency toward sin, this can seem a terrifying responsibility. Sometimes I would rather God just take the reins entirely instead of leaving any decisions up to me. But God does not want to control us; He wants a relationship with us. He does not want us to act out of fear or passive obedience but out of love. When I overthink a decision or think I can’t live up to what God is asking of me, I forget that God knows me better than I know myself and has already accounted for the fact that I will make mistakes. There is nothing He can’t handle.

When it comes to discerning where God is leading us, we can often feel blind to perceive the road ahead. We turn to advice from others, hoping that they can tell us where to go, but they too are only human, unable to see our path fully. So how do we make our way forward? Jesus tells us that as His disciples, we are to listen and follow His ways, training ourselves to become like Him, so that instead of stumbling along like the blind leading the blind, we can learn to walk in His footsteps.

Any good teacher knows that there is a learning curve, that students will make mistakes along the way before they can master any new skill. And when Jesus calls us, He is aware that we are stepping out blindly, not yet able to make out what lies ahead. But He also knows that we won’t learn how to orient our steps if He doesn’t give us a chance to move freely, stumbling a bit as we go.

God knows that our attempts to do good may go awry, but, in the words of Thomas Merton, our desire to please Him does in fact please Him. When we go off course, He can redirect our steps and bring good out of any situation, as long as we continue to invite Him in and give Him permission to act in our lives.

Though we cannot see further than one step ahead, He leaves it up to us to take that one step and then allow Him to illuminate the next. He will never force us; He guides us, if we accept His help, with a gentle hand. Learning to trust Him means believing that He can handle my weakness and that He invites me to follow just as I am.

The Crown of Glory

“We have the Triumph of the Cross next weekend. It’s always a hard day to preach – to remind people that suffering and the cross are real,” he said. 

“It’s hard to live,” I replied. 

Looking through His glory wounds, it’s easy to see the passion of Christ illuminated. The soft glow transforms the brutality into the reality it is – a victory march. Yet, the crown of glory is the crown of thorns – which pierces, and at times obscures, the joy of the Resurrection. 

In the midst of suffering, what anchors us in the victory of the cross? It is HOPE, which  is not just a foreshadow of better days; rather, it is a life giving surrender that trusts even when we can’t change the circumstances, we can still help others personally excel where they are, as they are. Like the first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center, hope shows us how to resist evil by being and becoming a Force for Good. The Lord is the light in the darkness who allows us to endure tragedy by waiting with faithfulness to see transformation of the crown as it is – a beloved gift that pierces our hearts and allows us to whisper “I still believe.”  

Verso l’alto, 

Kathryn Grace 

These wounds are a story you’ll use

The cross meant to kill is my victory

As long as you’re right here next to me, everything’s gonna be alright

It is Easy

“Brothers and sisters:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his Body, which is the Church.” –Colossians 1:24

I sadly don’t have many memories of my grandma before she got sick. She was diagnosed with Alzheimers and Parkinson’s when I was young, and her memory started to quickly fade.

My grandfather was heroic through it all, insisting on caring for her himself until it was absolutely necessary for her to have round the clock care from medical professionals. There was one night where she had gotten up and fallen so many times that my grandpa finally decided to just lie on the floor next to her for the rest of the night until morning.

When she was really sick, my family went to visit to help out for several days. All of us felt the exhaustion of caring for my grandma, coupled with the pain of seeing her suffer so much. My dad asked my grandpa, “How do you do it?” My grandpa immediately and simply replied, “It’s easy. She’s my wife.”

This is the beauty of the sacrificial love that Christ calls us to. All too often I find myself giving into anxiety and doubt in moments of suffering. But Christ calls us higher, to rejoice in our sufferings for the sake of other people. In all things, He is here! May we not waste a single moment of our suffering!

The Very Wine of Blessedness

“Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.”
—Psalm 100:1–2

Almost nine months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates when Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Having journeyed through many liturgical seasons since then, we are now quickly approaching her nativity on September 8. What a day of great joy that must have been for her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, for “a woman’s greatest joy is when she brings a child into the world” (Sheen). What a day of great joy it should still be for us, the beloved children of Mary, though we live in a very different world.

From the start, “the melody of [Mary’s] life [was] played just as it was written,” Fulton Sheen writes. Blessed among women and prepared from conception to receive the Lord, she heard the song of Christ, the very Word of God, and observed it, singing back with all her heart. Her fiat began with the Annunciation, continued in the Visitation, and lasted her whole life, even when her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. As St. Louis de Montfort says, “Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ.” Her own immaculate heart—taken, blessed, broken, and shared with us, much like her son’s—remains perfectly in the sacred heart of her son, the true bridegroom and the new Adam.

Mary is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, chosen by God to be the vessel through which Christ comes into the world. She is “the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy,” Pope Francis writes, as we hear in today’s Gospel. “Her ‘contagious fullness’ helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim and even overflowing, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy.” Her joy is already complete in her son, but it overflows to the children given to her at the foot of the cross. She always leads us to her son and longs for us to remain in his love, to bring us home to heaven, so that our joy may be complete in him for all eternity.

The days have come when the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Jesus has ascended into Heaven, Mary has been assumed after him, and we remain here, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” We fast, we pray, and we long to see the source of our love face to face, even as we adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. For now, our joy, as Lewis describes it, “is never a possession… [it is] always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” But, when we remain with him in silence, pondering these things as Mary did, he sings to us and makes us into new wineskins, ready to receive him and those he sends us. Over time, “[our] hearts, wounded with sweet words, [overflow], and [our] joy [becomes] like swords, and [we pass] in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness” (Tolkien). Our hearts become new creations in Christ, ready at last to pass from death to life.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

Reading Suggestions
De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Sheen, The World’s First Love
Tolkien, The Return of the King

Casting Nets with Jesus

Implementing change in the workplace can take a long time. I work in the construction industry, and contractors are tough people. They all seem to know everything, and their way is the best way, the right way, because it’s always been done that way. However, things change. Industry standards, safety measures, construction codes—these things change.

In today’s Gospel, Simon is at the shoreline cleaning off his nets; it had been a long night and he hadn’t caught any fish. Along comes Jesus, who gets into Simon’s boat and teaches from the water to the people on the shore. After he is done teaching, Jesus instructs Simon to lower his nets into the water, and behold, the nets are full of fishes.

Simon is a fisherman—he owns his fishing boat, owns his nets, he fishes for a living, it’s his profession. Simon is a professional fisherman. When Simon goes out to fish he isn’t doing a lazy, recreational activity. He is doing hard labor: lifting heavy nets, moving bait around, dealing with waves, being dirty and smelly. A fisherman by trade knows that there is a right way to fish and a wrong way to fish. A fisherman by trade knows that certain fish bait at certain times of the day—given the climate in Israel, hot and dry, the higher temperature of the water would force the fishes to dive deep below to be at a cooler temperature. At night, the water temperature would cool off and fishes would swim upwards, closer to the surface. Simon, a professional fisherman, knew all of this and thus went fishing at night. But even with all his knowledge and tactics, he didn’t catch any fish. Imagine Simon’s first reaction when he hears Jesus tell him to cast his nets into the water. I imagine his initial reaction to be a little bit of annoyance that a carpenter is telling a fisherman how to fish and to cast nets in the middle of the day. You hear a little bit of Simon’s hesitation when he says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing…”

How many times have you doubted that God would provide for you? How many times did you not listen to what Jesus had to say to you? Too often I’ve been like Simon at the beginning of the Gospel, doubting. I have even questioned God: “Really? Is this really how it’s supposed to be? Are you sure this is what you want me to do?”

Notice that the beginning of the Gospel begins with the people listening to the word of God. When we listen and are obedient to God’s word, we change. This change allows us to fully accept God’s grace. Simon changed when, in his obedience, he casted his nets into the deep waters: “but at your command I will lower the nets.” In that instance Simon became Simon Peter. This internal change in Simon Peter allowed him to see that Jesus was not only Master but Lord.

We need to let go of any hesitations. Let go of all doubt. Or at times we need to let go of the pride. Sitting at meetings with the subcontractors on my job always leaves me baffled. How can we finish a building without the plumber or without the electrician? We simply cannot; we need all the skilled workers. Likewise we cannot build our own homes without the foundation of Jesus Christ.

No matter what we do in our lives, what we are skilled at, how many times we have done something and succeeded or done something and failed—let’s give that up to Jesus. Let us always remain humble and listen to each other and listen to what God has to tell us. In our society we take our jobs and our volunteer positions as finite. Let us remember that we’re good at what we do because God deemed it that we’d be good at it. And our work needs to be fruitful in such a way that it glorifies God. Sometimes, we aren’t so good and we fail. That is all right. In this failure we are reminded to trust in God. When Simon couldn’t catch any fish, Jesus entered his boat and Simon Peter caught an overwhelming abundance of fish.

Allow Jesus to enter your own boat—make yourself open so he can walk into your life, and cast nets wherever he tells you to cast them.

Image Credit: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by James Tissot [Public Domain]

The Authority of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ had authority over all things, and when He spoke, people were astonished. There is great power in the word; this is a continuous theme throughout the entire Bible from the beginning of time. The Lord actually spoke this world into existence.

And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”
–Genesis 1:3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
–John 1:1

In today’s Gospel we hear the story of Jesus casting out a demon. The people’s amazement made them ask what kind of power Jesus had. The truth is the power is simply in His word, and when He left this world, He bestowed His authority on us. He did this so that His ministry could continue. With this authority, we are also given the responsibility to carry on and share His ministry through the authority of His word.

The first reading speaks of the end of the world. The fear of the end of the world seems to be a hot topic in today’s society. There are many who fear it is coming soon, and they will not be prepared for it. The good news is that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, do not need to fear the unknown because the word tells us that as long as we stay awake and vigilant we will be ready for the end of the world.

For all of you are children of the light
and children of the day.
We are not of the night or of darkness.
Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do,
but let us stay alert and sober.
–1 Thessalonians 5:6

Take heart knowing that whether the end of the world comes in 10 years, 5 years, a year, a month, or even tomorrow, as long as we continue to do the work Jesus asked us to do, we will be ready. We have the same authority that Jesus Christ has and we should use it to glorify Him. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as casting out a demon, just bring the word of Jesus Christ into everything you do, and let Him provide the rest of what needs to be done.