Ephphatha!

A baby in the womb, at 18 weeks, can begin to hear noises. At 24 weeks, a baby can detect noise outside the womb and can turn their eyes and head towards the direction of the sound. Can you imagine a tiny human baby in utero searching for your voice as you talk to them from outside the womb? Then after they are born, often between parents there is a fun and friendly competition on wether the baby will say “mama” or “dadda” first. We talk to babies in ranges of voices. We make goofy faces and funny noises. They see us. They listen. And they try to imitate us. They try to speak back to us and eventually they do.

In today’s reading, Jesus heals a deaf man who had a speech impediment. The Gospel of Mark tells us that before Jesus healed this man, he took him away from the crowds of people to be alone. Jesus then “put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue.” Looking up to heaven Jesus groaned and said to the man, “Ephphatha!” and instantly the man was healed.

You will notice that someone who is deaf often times has a speech impediment. This is because they cannot hear their own voice which affects their ability to speak. By being deaf they cannot hear other people speak and distinguish speech and dialect. It makes sense that the deaf man in the Gospel had a speech impediment – it’s not that he couldn’t speak but, that he couldn’t speak clearly. Jesus was known and sought after for his ability to heal the physical body. Every time he heals the physical body, he also heals the spiritual body.

At one point or another in our lives we were deaf and unable to speak. We couldn’t hear God’s voice nor his commanding Word. We couldn’t hear the Father because something was blocking our ears. As a result we could not speak about the Father, about His love, about His Son, Jesus Christ. What was it that you were doing at that point in your life? What worldly pleasure were you enjoying that made you turn away from God, that closed your ears to His voice? Jesus took the deaf man away from the crowds to heal him – away from the bad influences, away from worldly treasures, away from temptation, away from the indecent culture. Jesus took the man away – to a place where is was just the two of them – to a place where the man, with newly opened ears, could freely listen and talk to God.

Let Jesus take you away to a quiet place, free of distractions, where you can listen to him. Let him into your life and allow him to heal you.

Ephphatha! Be opened to God’s love. Be opened to God’s mercy. Be opened to follow God’s Word. Be opened to accept Him. And then you can clearly speak God’s truth to others.

Image Credit: [Public Domain] Christ healing a deaf and dumb man by Domenico Maggiotto

What Kind of God

Recently it seemed that a wish was about to come true. It was the wish that I made the last three years while blowing out birthday candles. The wish that I had been working tirelessly for and praying for on a daily basis. I worked feverishly to prepare, past the point of pain, and then on the promised day enlisted all my friends and family to pray as well.   I was confident that God had heard my prayer, sure that it was all finally going to work out as I had hoped.

It did not.

The disappointment was crushing. At first I could only laugh at the horror of it all. But fatigue and frustration fed my feelings which quickly turned black and melodramatic. Not only was there no light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel itself had fallen in, and an entirely new tunnel would have to be built.

The Opposition Voice began to whisper words of doubt and discouragement. “Surely if God were good, He would have heard and answered your prayer…”

I have at times in my life felt a supernatural joy, disproportionate to the circumstances, from a source that had to be More than human. This was the opposite. For just a few moments, my heart felt burdened with an inhuman aching; the pain of promises broken and dreams dashed and all the failed expectations of all my friends and family and those I don’t even know seemed to take over. Miscarriages. Broken marriages. Failed operations. Caskets lowered into the ground. Unanswered prayers of every kind. “What kind of a God do you believe in?” the voice taunted.

The devil always overplays his hand. In his very taunt he offered me the antidote: I believe in a God who is good.

I don’t know how God will bring good into or out of all of these situations. But I know He is good.

This trust in the goodness of God: the virtues of faith and hope—these are the weapons of life in the desert.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be rejecting not only the Syrophoenician woman’s request for the healing of her daughter, but the woman herself. “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Yikes!

But despite the apparent harshness of Jesus’ rebuke, the woman persists, and cleverly turns around this unflattering epithet: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Scripture scholar Mary Healy notes that not only is this Gentile woman filled with chutzpa in her persistence, but she is the only person in all of Mark’s Gospel who addresses Jesus as Lord. This remarkable recognition of Jesus’ sovereignty comes not from an Israelite, but from a foreigner. She pays Him homage, falling at his feet, and in her reply expresses confidence that His goodness will include Gentiles as well.

Her faith and her persistence move Jesus to grant her request. Her daughter is healed.

The Syrophoenician woman turns out to be a model of Christian faith…She refused to take no for an answer—and her boldness is rewarded. The clear lesson in this story is that the Lord does hear our prayers, and even his apparent refusals are meant to awaken in us a yet deeper faith, which opens us to receive the gift he has for us. Few sayings of Jesus are recorded more often than his reassurance that what we ask in prayer with faith we will receive. –Dr. Mary Healy

Lord, grant us the grace to trust always in Your goodness, even when we cannot see your plan.

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Source: Healy, Mary.  The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 2008) pp. 143-145.

Image: Michael Angelo Immenraet [Public domain]

Stepping Out of the Boat and… wait, did you say walk on the water?

Sometimes we are called to step out of the boat.

As my husband and I were approaching our wedding day, we would say, “We’re stepping out of the boat together!” In prayer, my husband had had an image of us stepping out of the boat, like St. Peter, walking toward Jesus. We had spent time dating and discerning marriage with each other and had experienced a lot of confirmation that God was calling us to live out the vocation of marriage together. Even in the confidence that this was God’s plan, there was a reality that we didn’t know what our journey as husband and wife would look like. We were stepping out into the ocean of unknown, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, praying that we’d always have the grace to keep our focus on Jesus.

We’ve been married under a year and a half, and this stepping out of the boat theme has continued! Most significantly, we relied on this image as we became parents. Every day as a parent can bring surprises and unknowns and encourages us to be open to the waves or the calm while relying on Jesus’ guidance. It’s an exciting and truly joy-filled adventure.

Currently, my husband and I are in the midst of another “stepping out of the boat” situation, facing some big decisions for our family. And even though there is fear as we look at each other and say, “well…we are stepping out of the boat again,” we have confidence in the Lord, as He has never failed us before. He has proven the power of His guiding hand to each of us, first as single individuals, and now as a couple, over and over again. He calls us out onto the water, where the uncomfortability and risk are apparent, but where we have the choice to stay close to Him… through prayer, through trust in His promises and provision, through His grace and knowing His love for us.

Because we are currently in the midst of a stepping out (or more like jumping out) of the boat season again, there is an uncomfortability as we are asked to step into the unknown and to cling more truly to Christ. Christ calls us. He asks us to follow Him. It may often be uncomfortable and feel risky. It may look very risky from a worldly perspective. But the risk is where God can show up most clearly. He reveals Himself and His power. There is a theme and a refrain through the chapters of Exodus. God is revealing His Divine power to the Egyptians and Israelites. He is revealing who He IS. “…that they may know that I am the Lord” (cf. Exodus 7:5, 14:8, 29:46, emphasis added). We worship the same God. And His actions in our lives reveal who He is. He reveals Himself and His power not only to us, but to those we know. Our lives can point others to God as He calls us and we follow, putting our trust in Him. And so in the middle of the uncomfortable, risky times, preparing to step out into the waters ahead, we must trust His promises and stay focused on Christ. He never fails us.

As we look back, we will see His unmistakable fingerprints in our lives. He always leads us into goodness that we couldn’t have imagined or planned ourselves. This is who our God is. And this is the adventure of life with Christ. Our stability is truly in Him alone. And it’s a stability beyond anything earthly. His promises are true. “Do not be afraid, my child. I am with you wherever you go.” How is He calling you to step out of the boat and place your trust in Him? Whether it is not clear to you right now, or very clear, you can trust that He is with you and guiding you. Let us open our hearts to His Love, listen for His guidance, and follow where He asks us to come. Even if it means stepping out of the boat into the unknown.

Slow and Steady

He said,
“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.
—Mark 4:30–34 1

Let us not be deceived by the smallness of a mustard seed to think that its impact must be insignificant. What matters is not its size—however little it may be at the beginning, it can grow into a great tree. What matters is whether it dares to bury itself underneath the soil and undergo the process of growth.

Who we are now does not determine who we are to become. We are not defined by the sum of our past successes and failures. The thing that will determine our path—whether we will flourish or wilt—is our openness to grace, our willingness to grow.

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve endured, whatever sorrows weigh upon your heart: these do not define your story. God is not finished with the work He has begun in you; we are not meant to stay as seeds. Growth is not easy, and it certainly isn’t quick. True, lasting growth takes time,2 and it causes us to stretch far beyond our comfort zones. But it is also the only way we can fulfill the potential within us, to become who we were created to be.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco, who had a gift for nurturing souls and seeing great potential in small seeds. He was devoted to educating disadvantaged children, including poor, homeless, orphaned, and troubled young boys in the city of Turin.3 Unlike his contemporaries, he refused to use corporal punishment; instead, he gave fatherly guidance and sought to instill in his students the knowledge that they were loved and valued. Where other teachers had given up on these rowdy young boys, John Bosco saw the gift of who they were and helped them to recognize the seeds of grace within their souls. One of his students, Dominic Savio, even became canonized himself.

St. John Bosco had reverence for the divine potential within each young soul—in the lost, the troubled, the neglected and forgotten. He created a place where they could grow and thrive, becoming men of God. And he had the patience to walk with them on that journey, even during those times when their progress must have seemed unbearably slow. May his example remind us that each and every one of us has the capacity to transcend our humble beginnings and bloom into something truly beautiful if we are tended to with love.


1
You can see past reflections I’ve written on this Gospel reading here and here.
2 Audrey Assad’s song “Slow” is a great meditation on how God’s grace works slowly within us. It’s worth a listen!
3 A saint dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged in Turin…sound familiar? I think St. John Bosco and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati have quite a bit in common.

Overcome

“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.” -2 Timothy 1:10

You will not be overcome.

Jesus is the Master of our hearts, and He has won the victory over sin and death. It was impossible for our Savior to be held by the bonds of evil (Acts 2:24).

This reality changes everything for us if we let it. If we dare to live fully in the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, we will be set free—not to live recklessly, but to live with radical trust and surrender to the will of God at each moment of our lives.

It’s one of the hardest things to surrender with joy to God when we’re faced with a situation that makes no sense or one that absolutely wrecks us. It can be tempting to fall into thinking that somehow we will be overcome. It can be tempting to grasp at control.

In those moments, God whispers to us, “Wait and trust.” He calls us to stick right there with Him, to keep our eyes locked on His and to let Him guide each step of the way. We can stay so close to our Lord, trusting that He will lead us in every moment, never failing us.

We are His children, and He grabs us by the hand to guide our steps, like a parent helping a child learn how to walk. He won’t let go of you.

You belong to God, and this means that His victory over all evil is your victory, too. He won’t let any amount of evil ever win in the end.

You are so loved. Sometimes, we just need to take a breath and receive that simple yet profound reminder: you are so loved by God. And you will certainly not be overcome. Let this settle into your heart.

Amen, hallelujah!

“In darkness, at times of tribulation and distress of the spirit, Jesus is with you. In such a state you see nothing but darkness, but I can assure you on God’s behalf that the light of the Lord is all around you and pervades your spirit…You see yourself forsaken and I assure you that Jesus is holding you tighter than ever to His divine Heart.” -St. Padre Pio

A worship song recommendation for this theme is “Overcome” by Sarah Kroger!

A Rose from Our Lady

To listen to the song while reflecting on these words inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe, please click here.

Dry your eyes; calm your fears.
Look up and see; yes, I am here.
You’ve come so far, and you’re not alone.
Just take that step—one shaking step—
And know that I’m leading you home,
Because:

I am your mother, do not be afraid.
I am your mother, are you not my own?
You are my loved one, I’ll lead you to my Son.
You are my loved one—safe in the storms,
I’ll keep you warm in the folds of my mantle,
The crossing of my arms.
What else do you need?

Just wait for Him, just wait for Him, just wait for Him now.
Seven more days, in the house of healing: take courage, my dear one.
Be satisfied—oh, be satisfied! He’s the destination of your whole life.
Let Him love you—oh, let Him love you! Fall in love, stay in love.
Let Me love you—oh, let Me love you, and heal your precious heart.
So know that:

I am your Father, do not be afraid.
I am your Father, are you not my own?
You are my loved one, I’ve given you my Son.
Rest in my Spirit—saved from the storms,
You’re in my arms, in the folds of my Mercy,
The Cross shows I have won.
What else do you need?
What else do you need?
What else do you need?

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Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us. Amen.

Music & lyrics © 2017

Becoming Like Children

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
(Matthew 18:1-5)

The USCCB has designated today as the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. As such, I’ll be talking about one of the gospel readings recommended by the USCCB to be proclaimed during the liturgy. (Depending on where you reside in America, your parish may observe this day, or your parish will follow the readings today that fall under Ordinary Time.)

Not many know this about me, but I share the same birthday as my mother. My mother was born on April 1st, 1963; I was born on April 1st, 1989. Aside from it being a cute piece of trivia about me, it’s a fact that I have always been close to my mother. I often joke that the relationship and friendship I have had with my mother has been one akin to the one shared by Rory Gilmore and her mother, Lorelai, from the dramedy Gilmore Girls. But on a larger and more relevant note, it’s an even lesser-known fact that my mother was *almost* never born. My grandmother, already married in 1962 and raising one child, felt pressure from relatives to terminate her second pregnancy. Upon going to an abortion clinic, my grandmother felt a sudden thrust of pain in her abdomen.

Ignoring that pain, my grandmother went to the abortion table, but heard a voice urging her, “Don’t do this!” My grandmother then fled the abortion clinic in tears, not caring about getting her money back. My grandmother told me the voice sounded feminine and that she presumed it was Our Lady who urged her not to go forward with the abortion. (Was it an interior locution similar to the ones St. Teresa of Avila writes about in The Interior Castle? I don’t know. Ultimately, my grandmother decided against the abortion.)  In a very real way, my mother was almost never born. Similarly, I could have never been born and never ensouled. I may have never written the reflection you are now reading. I am thankful for the life I have been given. My mother is too. Neither of us hold any resentment towards my grandmother.

I don’t want to politicize my reflection, because that’s not my intent. But the Church does recognize the need to pray for the unborn with days such as today, and with other days such as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (That’s when we pray for the souls of the children lost in the massacre ordered by Herod I in Bethlehem. See Matthew 2:1.)

When I read that gospel reading from Matthew, I am constantly reminded of the infighting that occurred with Christ’s twelve disciples. I am reminded too of the attempts by the Pharisees to catch Christ in a “gotcha moment” when they question Christ about the law of divorce. (See Matthew 19.) I am reminded of my own struggles with heartbreak, loss, and tragedy and when I have often gone to Christ, angry and resentful, demanding, “How can this be?” It is of particular importance that Christ is asked whom is “the greatest” by his disciples. Christ doesn’t say St. Peter; Peter is the disciple who gets the “best job” (becoming the first Pope) despite his thrice-denial of Christ. Christ doesn’t say St. John; John is considered “the beloved disciple.” Instead Christ does something else. Christ simply directs them to a child and asks them to become child-like in their disposition in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For the innocence and mind of a child is a wondrous thing.

Consider this. Many of us, upon being asked what God is, might be tempted to say, “God is the Alpha and the Omega.” Or if you enjoy Thomistic theology, you may cite the following, as declared by Pope Pius IX in 1914, “The metaphysical motion of the Divine Essence is correctly expressed by saying that it is identified with the exercised actuality of its own being, or that it is subsistent being itself. And this is the reason for its infinite and unlimited perfection” (Postquam Sanctissimus §23). (Hey now, I’m a Lay Dominican and it’s practically a requirement to enjoy some Thomistic theology.)

Asides from that being a very profound statement, such a statement may read dense to some of us. In contrast, a parent simply tells a child, upon being asked what God is that, “…God is love” (John 4:8). A child understands immediately what God is, because they often equate the love of God to the warmth of their parents. And indeed, God is a loving father.

My larger point is this: do we approach God as a child in prayer and in our daily lives? As an obedient disciple? To the men out there (including myself!), do you act as a servant-leader rather than as leader-servants? Do we treat others, such as the homeless, as St. Teresa of Calcutta would say, with love and affection, because they [the homeless] are “God in His most distressing disguise?” Do we take up our crosses joyfully, and offer up our sufferings lovingly for the souls in purgatory, or in today’s case, for the unborn? Or. Do we approach God as a Pharisee? Do we question God at every turn? Do we approach God in anger with different shades of resentment? If we see a mother who has decided to go through with an abortion, do we judge them, or do we show them mercy and love? Do we tell them to seek the services of the Sisters of Life? Do we treat them with mercy and compassion? Do we pray for them? Do we tell them that no sin is beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness? You are unique! You are loved! You are truly a daughter or son of Christ, King of the Universe!

I am grateful for the life I have been given. My mom is too. And I pray every day for a greater culture of life. I have dealt with many tragedies in my life, have dealt with the loss of many family members and friends, and I have had many personal struggles in my past and present. (As we all have.) As followers of Christ we are to believe that every person is valuable, sacred, good, and wholly unique. Every person’s life has profound meaning and worth. And I pray every day that I treat everyone I meet in my life, from friends, family, and strangers, as Christ would. I pray everyday that I go to Christ as a child, wholly and completely reliant on Him.

Our Holy Father Francis remarks in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, of his lament and grief of the adverse impact we have had on creation. Remember, as directed in the Book of Genesis, we are to be stewards of God’s creation: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). The culture of today can often be a “throwaway” culture. Such a culture has also had a tragic impact on the unborn. Today’s day of prayer is meant to recognize the right to life and ask for acts of prayer and penance for violations of the dignity of the human person, particularly through abortion. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.