Moment by Moment with the Lord

On September 21st, mine and my husband’s lives changed forever as we welcomed the baby who had been growing in my womb for nine months into the world!  In her first eight weeks outside the womb, our sweet little girl has already encouraged and challenged me to grow. One immediate change I’ve experienced in my day to day is how little my ideas of a plan or schedule really matter.  Of course, the words ‘plan’ and ‘schedule’ mean nothing to an eight-week-old, and that is the beauty (and challenge) of it.  By nature, I tend to be pretty go-with-the-flow and not much of a planner, but even a plan as simple as making breakfast and coffee when I get up in the morning may or may not come to fruition in the way I imagine now that I have a little one depending on me.  Breastfeeding, a diaper change, and/or a snuggle may all need to happen before I have a chance to take a sip of that coffee.  In short, any number of little things can re-route my simple daily plans.  Equally as often, I am anticipating my little girl getting hungry only to find that she is perfectly content and smiley, giving me an unexpected opportunity to get something done that I wasn’t expecting to do or enter into that smiley moment with her.  As I’ve begun to adjust to caring for my sweet little infant, I’ve realized how it encourages me to be present to the moment.  I can choose to cling to my ideal plan and be disappointed or upset when it goes differently, or I can choose to be open to what is most important moment by moment. 

Holiness is a calling that asks for our whole present selves first and foremost.  God asks us to come into His presence and everything else flows from there.  Plans and schedules are not bad at all – they are in fact very good.  A plan for our day or our entire life plan can be a beautiful source of Hope.  What’s important is that this Hope is rooted in the Lord and not the plan itself.  He is the source of all Hope and our plans only matter insofar as we don’t lose the source Himself in the midst of them.  We must learn detachment from the plans themselves.  And while our plans can be good, meaningful, and holy, God often has surprises up His sleeve anyway.  As a good friend of mine always says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”    

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of His second coming, when the “Son of Man is revealed” (Lk 17:30).  These Scriptures make me ask myself, “What can I be doing to be ready when the Lord comes?”  But I think that question can be misleading.  At the center of anything I am “doing” to prepare for the Lord, is the simple act of being in Him.  Through the grace of God, made concrete through our baptism and the other sacraments, we are in Him and called to remain in Him (Jn 15:4) moment by moment.  The Holy Spirit speaks to us and calls us outside of our own plans into His own.  At the core, we yearn to be so attune with Him that we don’t miss His voice because it didn’t fit into our own schedule. 

How do we become more attune with Him?  Talk to Him, spend time with Him, welcome Him in to every moment.  And as often as we forget to do this, ask Him to forgive us and start again, asking for His help because we can’t do this in our own power.  And He will.  He will teach us, just like He is teaching me through the presence of my daughter.  In a time where my prayer time is sporadic, He is teaching me through the very vocation He has given me.  He is speaking a specific lesson to me through my daughter in these first weeks of her life.  I ask Him to help me be open with each moment so I don’t miss an opportunity to play with her when she is awake or use the time she is sleeping peacefully to eat something… or write this reflection.  My motherly instincts are encouraging me to become attuned to my daughter and what she is communicating to me.  And so it is with the Lord… He welcomes us to become attuned to Himself so we may not miss the important things He is communicating to us.  How is He currently communicating to you through your life, and how can you invite Him in more fully to each moment?

Lord, I welcome you into this day, into each moment.  Teach me how to surrender my plans and live more truly moment by moment with you.  In Christ we pray, Amen.

Devout and Faithful Servant of God

“We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”

– Luke 17:10

When I used to think of the word “servant” I thought of it as a dirty word. I thought a servant was someone without any authority, someone very low in class and poor, someone who had no choice but to do the work for others. My definition and understanding of who’s a servant was completely wrong. Jesus Christ came to earth not “to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:28). As we are called to imitate Christ, we are called to be servants – that is to be devout and faithful followers of Christ.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, and to each of us, telling us that we should do what is commanded by God without complaining and without expecting to be praised. This might be difficult for many to take in as we all want to be seen and given due credit for whatever small deed we do. We attach our names to absolutely everything so the world can see; out of my kindness, out of my brilliance, out of my skills, out of my popularity I did that. On the other side of the spectrum when things aren’t to our standard we complain. We let the world know that we are not satisfied, that we are upset and angry, that we demand things to be as we want them to be. Neither of these characteristics are pleasing to God. We are servants to the Lord. What is pleasing to God is for us to follow His commands and be in accordance with His will. By doing this we show our love for God.

How can we be good servants? By serving as Jesus Christ served. We should take care of the poor, the sick, the hungry, those who mourn. We should be meek and humble. We should follow righteousness. We should be merciful and pure of heart. We should be peacemakers and stand firm in front of persecution. I learned that this is the true definition of what it means to be a servant; a devout and faithful follower of Christ.

In the catechism it states that the religious and ministers of the Church are servants of God. The pope’s proper title is servant to the servants of God. And one of the first steps in canonization of a saint is to pronounce them as a servant of God to the entire world. I mean, woah, think about that. To be a saint in heaven you will first take a title that the secular world walks all over: servant.

We are all unprofitable servants this is true. Because everything good is due to God alone. But, God is not like the man in the parable who is not grateful that his servant is being obedient. After the servant finishes plowing and tending the sheep his master orders him to serve food and drink. The servant’s work never ends and he is not rewarded. As servants of the Lord our work never ends either but, it does not end because we never stop being faithful followers of Christ! Our mission is to always preach and worship His good name. We will continue to plow and plant seeds of faith. We will continue to tend the sheep and build up the Church. The difference is that our God sees the work we do for Him and He loves us. When we enter the gates of heaven our Lord will joyously tell us “come here immediately and take your place at table”. We all have a place at His table and we will celebrate with a great heavenly banquet filled in abundance with food and drink.

Image Credit: Jesus looking over a servant [Public Domain]

Seek Him in All Things

“Seek him in integrity of heart;
Because he is found by those who test him not,
and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.” Wisdom 1:1-2

Time and time again I find myself in a place of realizing just how much I need the Lord. It truly is a wonder to behold how intricately He is involved in every breath, every detail of our lives, all because He wants us to know His great love and love Him in return.

We have nothing to lose by allowing ourselves to seek God with every fiber of our beings. God’s the one who won’t let us down, who can take all our mess and brokenness, and who draws us into a deeper relationship with Himself. He is the one who can fully satisfy every searching and longing of the human heart.

When we seek after other things to fill the deepest aches of our hearts, we are left empty. But when we really seek after God, He not only fills us, but He sets us free.

God always shows up when we seek Him, and we have nothing to fear.

What is your heart seeking today?

Is it affirmation? God’s voice is the only voice that matters: you are defined as His beloved child.

Is it peace? The Lord is the giver of true peace, peace that lasts.

Is it attention? God’s tender gaze is always fixed on you. He can’t take His eyes off of you.

Is it answers? He is the way, the truth, and the life.

We can really seek after God, without fear of betrayal or the fear that seeking Him will lead us astray. The Lord promised that when we seek after Him with our whole hearts, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

Now this may all sound cheesy or way too hard to believe, but this is the reality of God’s love that we have the opportunity to live in: God bestows on us the gift of His Divine Revelation, that when we really seek after Him, we will find Him; when we lean into Him, we won’t fall.

We can’t seek after Him too much. We can’t press into Him too much. You are never a burden to our Lord. And the beautiful thing is that we are seeking after a very real God who knows all the ins and outs of our souls, who sees and knows every nook and crevice of our hearts, who cares about the things that make us laugh and the things that keep us up at night. He is there through it all. So let’s seek wildly after His Heart. He’s already there, and He has wonders to reveal to us.

Take courage in your seeking. Know that He is seeking after your heart all the more.

Come, Lord Jesus. We seek You. We long for You. We need You.

Do you find yourself seeking? Here’s some more Scripture to pray with this week on this theme: Psalm 63, Psalm 34:6, Psalm 27, Matthew 7:7-11, Song of Songs 3:1-4

As We Forgive

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the dishonest steward. While this steward who squanders his master’s property is not exactly a model of ethical behavior, Jesus draws our attention toward how he engages in an economy of mercy. After receiving news that he will lose his stewardship, this man calls in his master’s debtors and forgives their debts, so that once he loses his position, they will still welcome him in. He understands that if he extends mercy to others, he will then be received with mercy by those he has forgiven. And in turn, we see that his master subsequently shows mercy to him after seeing what he has done.

We know that God’s economy of mercy is even more generous than what we see in this parable—Jesus specifies that this steward is a child “of the world” and not a child “of light.” He forgives others their debts, but ultimately he is operating out of a desire to protect himself, not out of a true sense of charity. However, Jesus tells us that the children of light are less prudent in these matters than are the children of this world. How can this be?

Consider our knowledge as Christians of just how much we have been forgiven, of the immeasurable price that Jesus paid for us on the Cross. Do we act from this knowledge on a day-to-day basis? Are we aware of the immense debt that has been lifted from us, or do we feel as though we are the ones who are owed something? We have experienced a radical mercy, one that should utterly transform us. But how often do we thank God for His forgiveness and then turn around and hold a grudge against our neighbor for something petty?

When we say the Our Father, do we really understand the meaning of the words we are reciting? Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We cannot expect to be treated mercifully if we do not extend mercy to others. Let us learn from the story of the dishonest steward and remember that those who have been forgiven have a duty to forgive in turn. We, who have been forgiven much, must learn to radiate God’s mercy to others.

Irrevocable Love

“Lord, in your great love, answer me.” -Psalm 69

Sometimes it can be easy to forget that God never leaves us. When we find ourselves in a place of searching for answers, He’s already there, already working on it. With Him, we are safe, and we don’t have to be afraid.

A lot of people talk about how God always hears our prayers, which is true, but let’s focus for a second on how God receives our prayers:

God receives your prayers with the utmost love, care, and concern. He receives your prayers with tenderness and compassion, with deep knowing and understanding for every cry of your heart. No corner of who you are is left unloved or unnoticed by Him. He really does care about every single detail of every prayer, repeated or only uttered once, spoken out loud, or buried in the depths of your heart.

Whatever is on your heart is on God’s heart, too. You always have His attention. His gifts and calls are irrevocable, as today’s first reading says. This applies to His loving, constant focus on you, too–that’s a gift He will never take away.

And so we can go to God, as we are. We can go to Him unmasked and hearts unveiled, because He always receives our prayers with love.

We praise You, Lord.

The Scent of Unseen Roses

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis

The world is our ship, and not our home. Surely you have felt it: in the good desires that do not satisfy, even when they are fulfilled, in the deep stirrings of your heart when faced with the numinosity of true beauty, or in the grief of being parted from loved ones as they pass from this world, emptying us with “the loss and the silence.” We are haunted by “the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of ‘melodies unheard’” (MacDonald) that come from a home we were made for but have never truly seen. As Lewis says, “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”

Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints—those pilgrims who have made that journey home and now see God face to face, as he is. Now, they know: the echo has swelled into the song of praise we hear in today’s first reading, and they are part of the greatest music there is. We remember all of our patron saints, from Our Lady and St. Joseph to the well-beloved St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, and so many others. As C.S. Lewis says, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints!” There are great scholars and teachers, heroic priests and religious, selfless parents and friends, holy mystics and martyrs, little children, steadfast souls who helped the poorest of the poor—and ordinary people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. What they all had in common was the longing to see the face of God, “to press on to that other country, and to help others do the same” (Lewis).

Though we can hear the echo of that song, are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, and even receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are not home yet—we are here in the valley of tears, in the state of the “not yet,” pressing on to that other country as best we can. How can we respond to this inner tug, this state of anticipation? What will our song be? Tempted at times by despair and presumption, we must turn to the virtue of hope. Generally speaking, “in hope, man reaches ‘with restless heart’, with confidence and expectation… toward the arduous ‘not yet’ of fulfillment” (Pieper). As St. Augustine describes it, “God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.”

This kind of hope, the hope of heaven, is a theological virtue, along with faith and love. It is “the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself” (Pieper). Hope depends on a person: Christ. As trust extended into the future, it is much deeper than natural optimism; it is an act of the will. Hope is a fighting virtue that inspires one to keep stepping forward even when all seems dark—and the saints did take these steps, as they journeyed through any and every kind of persecution, loneliness, and grief, through God’s grace. When faced with the problem of pain, “in sorrow [they went], but not in despair” (Tolkien). For, just as Christ describes in the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel, “we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory… Estel, Estel!” (Tolkien). Hope, hope!

We must hope, and “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting” as we press on towards Christ. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.” Hope helps lead one from an imperfect love of God—desiring him only for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones—to the perfect love of friendship, caritas—affirming God for his own sake. This kind of love, another theological virtue, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is the kind of love we see in the saints, especially in Our Lady, who believed what was spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled, bore the son of God in her womb, endured the death of her son for the sins of the world, hoped against hope for Christ’s resurrection, and longs to lead us home to her son, interceding for us from heaven. Who knows how many “unseen roses” come from the loving intercession of Our Lady!

All of the saints intercede for us in this way, loving us as we stumble forward. We are not alone in running this race; they have valiantly kept the faith and now help us on our way. So, let us take courage, run in their footsteps, come out of ourselves, and draw others after us! Let us persevere in hope that our faith will yield to sight, and our hope will yield to possession after a lifetime of self-surrender. That, as we behold the face of Love, all will be well, and all of our questions will die away as the echo swells into the sound itself and we join in the glorious praise of God by those living in their own country—not as wayfarers, but as children home at last. The term will be over, and the holidays will have begun. The dream will be over, and it will be the morning, on the first page of the most beautiful story that never ends, and “in which every chapter is greater than the one before” (Lewis). At last, we will never doubt again, and there will never be a need.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Letters
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien
Josef Pieper, On Hope
St. Augustine, Sermon 256, 1.3.4.
Fr. Mike Schmitz: Homesick, The Fighting Virtue, Kingdom Come

The Kingdom of Heaven

It is often difficult to remember what we are truly meant to do on earth. We were not created for this earth; we were created for the kingdom of Heaven. From that perspective, our earthly lives are spent in a waiting “room” until we are called to return to the home of our heavenly Father. However, we were not made to simply sit idly by until our time to go to Heaven arrives. God is always calling us to a higher purpose, and if we seek the kingdom of Heaven on earth, the riches of Heaven will appear far greater than we can ever imagine. What we do in this life prepares us for the next, but more importantly, it is who we are that can transform us into the people we are meant to be as we enter into the kingdom of Heaven.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God.”
—Romans 8:18–19

As we wait upon the Lord, we are filled with great hope. Living the life of a child of God means to live life in anticipation, always living in the hope of the grace to come, knowing that by living this life devoted to Christ, we will inherit His kingdom.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a perfect example of living in constant hope. Mother Teresa adopted a spirit of gratitude. She endured all the deprivations of grave poverty, yet she never lost her smile and always radiated joy. She could do this because she recognized every good thing, no matter how small, that the Lord placed in her life and she gave thanks for it. Through this act of thanksgiving, she lived each day in anticipation of the kingdom of Heaven.

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed “that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches” (Luke 13: 18–19).

Through each action of kindness and love, we can contribute to the kingdom of Heaven. With every expression of gratitude, we strengthen our hope in the promises the Lord has given to us of what is to come.