You Have Won My Heart

“But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.” -1 John 2:20

Dear brothers and sisters, as 2018 wraps up in this Octave of Christmas, something that’s been on my heart for the past few months that I am making my goal for 2019 is focusing back on the heart-to-heart relationship with God. It is so easy to lose sight of Whose we are.

We have received God’s anointing in Baptism, and from this anointing flows our identity as His sons and daughters, which is sealed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. God has put an indelible mark on your soul that cannot be washed off. His anointing of you is His irrevocable choice to make you a part of His family. No matter how much we fight and struggle with our sonship and daughtership as His beloved ones, no matter how much we wrestle with doubt and lies and fear, God says to us: “You are Mine!” And He says this with great delight over you.

What does this anointing look like in your life in a tangible way? From His anointing flows your purpose that clarifies why you were born. You are certainly not a mistake. You are not an exception to the faithfulness of God’s love. You are not an exception to the fulfillment of His call for your life. You are chosen. You are His. I will say it again: He delights in you, His precious child.

“But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name, 
who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” -John 1:12-13

I want 2019 to be a year of going back to the basics of focusing on God’s love for me and loving Him wholeheartedly in return. I want this to permeate my soul so much that it constantly outpours for others. I want to fall in love with the Lord over and over again. He dwells within us—our bodies are His temple. How often I forget that! We don’t have to go far to find Him. He’s already with us, already loving us, eyes already on us. St. Teresa of Avila said, “We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.”

Lord God, we thank You and praise You for choosing us as Your sons and daughters. Thank You for Your unending patience with our weaknesses. Thank You for Your kindness. Thank You for rejoicing at even the smallest steps we take towards You. No matter the season of life, no matter what prayers we are waiting on answers to, Lord, help us to make this a year of more of You and so much less of us. Help us to fall in love with You again. Help us to find You in the stillness of our hearts, and to be disciplined in silent prayer. Help us to bask in the sight of Your delight in us. Unravel and soften our hearts in a deeper love for You, God. We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more and more. Amen.

“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14

Holy Innocents

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

—Matthew 2:13–18

As Joseph and Mary anticipated Jesus’s arrival, surely they had some idea that they should expect the unexpected when it came to parenting the Son of God. After all, they had already received one giant surprise and had chosen to trust in God’s plan. Still, I don’t think they could have guessed this next curveball in their journey. After traveling to Bethlehem and delivering the child Jesus in a stable, Mary and Joseph were now asked to leave behind everything and everyone they knew, fleeing the country to protect their newborn son from being hunted by King Herod.

It is a testament to his unshakeable trust in God that Joseph responded to the angel’s warning without hesitation, picking up and leaving for Egypt immediately. After all, it was a big sacrifice to make for a message that had arrived in a dream. How did he know that this was truly God’s will for him and not some crazy manifestation of his own subconscious? Only by being so familiar with God’s voice through daily prayer was Joseph able to discern with clarity that this was a message he should heed. And he did so without wringing his hands wondering where they would stay, how they would get by in a foreign land, and why such senseless bloodshed must ensue at the hands of Herod. He dropped everything, including his own plans, to follow God’s call.

God gives grace for the situation, not for the imagination. The only way that Joseph and Mary were able to follow God so resolutely was by continually seeking His will in the present moment. They didn’t become distracted by worries and plans for the future; surely they had hopes and fears of what might lay ahead, but they placed it all in God’s hands and trusted that He would direct their steps.

Herod, on the other hand, was driven entirely by his own wild fears and self-serving plans. Filled with fear and insecurity upon hearing of the birth of this newborn king, he lashed out with merciless brutality and ordered the massacre of innocent children. But even this act of violence did not achieve its intended end, for the Holy Family had already escaped into Egypt.

Herod’s inflated ego numbed his conscience and skewed his perception of justice; he was willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary to preserve his own power, even innocent lives. Herod grasped for control when he perceived a threat to his power, but God was always in control of the situation. The newborn king would die at the appointed time and place, not through Herod’s feverish display of power and cruelty.

We are not in control, and that is a marvelous thing. Let us embrace the unknown path that lies ahead, knowing that we have a good and loving God who will lead us every step of the way. When unexpected situations arrive, may we trust that God will provide us the grace we need in the moment. And may we always be willing to speak up for the innocent and vulnerable, who are so often trampled upon and exploited by those in power.

Small Wonder

Once upon a time, a few millennia ago
they say a dreamer and a virgin
travelled by donkey to a far off land.
There the virgin had a baby
and the baby was God.

Imagine! The Infinite and Almighty
with tiny hands and feet
constrained by swaddling bands.

And because there was no room for such a God
they placed him in a manger full of straw
a feeding trough,
as though it were his destiny to be consumed.

The tiny face of God crinkled to cry with thirst
for milk, and something more
from a human breast.
(They say he cried this same cry, years later
from another bed of wood).

And to this scene strange searchers come:
wise men who followed a star
to find something brighter still,
and shepherds who also came guided by something in the sky
to find a new kind of lamb.

The sages and social misfits mingle
to adore a tiny helpless God.
How odd.

But stranger still, that time and eternity now linked
the eternal heart of God now forever beats with human blood.

And he is himself a searcher through the centuries
still looking for a room
and a human breast to hold him close.

Of course only a child could believe such things.

So let the worldly wise
settle for more realistic stories
of flying reindeer
and red round men sliding down chimneys.

 

 

Adoration_of_the_shepherds_reni

Originally posted Christmas 2014.  Photo credit The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 


 

 

The Baby Who Changed Everything

Merry Christmas Eve, friends!

Last fall, I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the more comical moments of the trip was the day we went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Our group made our way down the narrow stairs to the cave where Jesus was born. It was wall-to-wall people, everyone wanting to shove their way through to kneel down and kiss the 14-point star on the floor where our Savior was born (14 points representing the 14 generations leading up to Jesus).

Despite the crowds, I was in awe and humbled by the simple little cave, and I was hoping for a powerful moment with our Lord when it was my turn to kiss the place where Jesus first met the earth. As I knelt down in reverence, imagining how the shepherds felt as they came to see Jesus, one of the people behind me literally shoved me onto the star. I laughed a little to myself and whispered, “Sorry, Jesus,” as I kissed the star, hearing the security guard in the background yell, “HEY! Watch what you’re doing!” at the person who pushed me.

.

Nativity Star
The picture of the 14-point star at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that I somehow managed to capture in the crowds.

Though it was anything but a “Silent Night” moment of prayer, there was still something so profound about all the people who so badly wanted to cram into the place where Jesus was born. In our lives, what lengths do we go to to seek our Lord? What do we let get in the way? If we were the shepherds, if we were the Wise Men from the East, would we have trusted and followed the star to find the Messiah? Sometimes we need other people to shove us face-to-face with God, to give us the extra push we need to get past our fear to say yes to Him.

The crowd in that cave in the Church in Bethlehem was perfectly reminiscent of the mess Jesus came into when He was born. He was born among animals and dirt, sin and shame. He didn’t wait until we were in a perfect place to come into the world. Better yet, God chose to send His only Son into the world as a baby boy, totally dependent on human beings just like you and me to care for Him.

Who doesn’t love a cute baby? What baby can’t melt a person’s heart? Jesus knew that sometimes we find God hard to relate to, hard to connect with. God not only took on human flesh to understand what it means to be human, but He became a little baby to go to any length to help us know and love Him more.

I’ve been praying the St. Andrew Novena, which Erin wrote about last month. The most impactful part of the prayer for me has been that it asks Jesus to pray for you and hear your intentions in the exact moment of His birth. How awesome is that, that God works outside of time and that is possible! So, friends, tonight, I encourage you to talk to baby Jesus. Really talk to Him. Delight in Him. Adore Him. Hold Him and rock Him. Bask in His love, His innocence as a precious baby boy. Give Him your whole heart and do not be afraid—after all, what could a baby do to hurt you? Let the baby who changed everything change you.

Blessed Christmas to you and your loved ones! God is with us!

Blessed Are You

And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
—Luke 1:43

Although she did not know it, Elizabeth’s whole life had been leading up to this moment. For decades, she had lived in quiet piety in a small, ordinary village. Her whole married life she had prayed for a child, until her childbearing years had passed and she was an old woman. Through all this disappointment and seemingly unanswered prayers, Elizabeth never grew bitter toward God. She remained a faithful servant, bringing glory to God in her barrenness. Her hope was a sign of God’s grace to her people, for even in her desolation, His promises sustained her soul.

And then, to Elizabeth’s surprise, she was called to be a sign of God’s grace in a new, miraculous way: as the mother of John the Baptist, the one who would point the way to the Messiah. We see in today’s Gospel the account of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, when each had just received a wondrous and weighty mission from God. They greeted one another in exaltation, amazed at how God was using them to bear His grace into the world.

Elizabeth’s faithfulness to God in all the small moments of her life prepared her to speak those prophetic words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” After so many years in prayer, speaking with God and listening to His voice, she recognized with joy and humility that she was now in His presence. She marveled at the roles He had entrusted to her and to Mary—never comparing each other’s blessings and sorrows, but instead embracing the important role she had been given.

Each of us bears the image of God into the world, and each of us has an important calling to fulfill. As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, may we also be aware of God’s presence in the people around us. May we, like Elizabeth, call out with joy as we recognize the blessedness of our brothers and sisters, delighting in one another’s gifts.

The Messiness of Advent

Dear fellow pilgrims,

This Advent for me has been quite active. Well… about as active as a very pregnant woman can be. Right now I’m about eight and a half months pregnant, and my favorite activity for the past few months has been “nesting,” getting my apartment clean and organized and ready for baby boy #2. I’ve been trying to connect that idea to “nesting” in my soul for the coming of baby Jesus, cleaning out the dusty places of my heart, organizing the clutter that has been keeping me occupied and worried instead of open and generous.

The first time I was pregnant, just two years ago, I had a similar focus about “making space” for the coming of Jesus. My Advent was so powerful, deep, and contemplative. I had time and much fewer interruptions, so it seems, to enter into quiet prayer and think deeply about the mystery occurring in my womb. Now, being pregnant during Advent for a second time with my first baby boy now a curious and active toddler… things are a little different. I have things to do, people! Like waddle around taking care of a little toddler while making sure I catch my breath and my beachball-sized belly doesn’t hit any corners. And vacuum. Everywhere.

Today, when I was vacuuming the always-dirty dining room area, Leo (our toddler) was being less than helpful. I was getting pretty frustrated with how it was taking forever to clean up his mess from lunch, and I began to lament interiorly about how cleaning up messes will be a job I will do as a mother pretty much all my life. I began to think about the repetitiveness of cleaning up as a rhythm of life on this earth, as a consequence of original sin. Because dust is just a bunch of dead particles, and basically any other activity having to do with cleaning (showering – sloughing off our own dead skin cells) also can tie into consequences of original sin in our earthly lives. My contemplation ended around being grateful that one day in Heaven, I won’t have to clean up anymore. I can just hear the choir of moms in Heaven rejoicing now…

When I took a little more time to calm down, I realized it was around Leo’s nap time, and he was probably fussy because he needed something and not because he wanted to ruin my plans to clean up our apartment. As I walked and pushed his stroller while he drifted off to sleep, the Lord met me again to continue this “dirt, sin, and nesting” contemplation. I read the Psalm for today on my phone:

“R. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?

or who may stand in his holy place?

He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,

who desires not what is vain.”

I saw myself fervently cleaning, rearranging, dusting, organizing the things cluttering my heart. Check, check, check. Yes, I totally was following this Psalm. My plans for Advent were being executed well. Martha-heart, engaged and satisfied. But then I read it again and the refrain stood out: Let the Lord enter.”

My mental image changed. I saw myself for what this process really was: me trying to make my heart clean in the way I thought Jesus wanted it to be, keeping my hands tied against sin in the way I think He wants me to, to keep my desires away from things that I think are in vain. I wasn’t really letting or inviting the Lord to enter into these things at all.

Turns out, it had been much too long since I had truly invited the Lord to enter into all of my preparation, and He was only “there” because I trusted my own plans were following His “orders” more than I wanted Him to be intimately involved with them.

I thought the result He wanted was just a clean place for Him to reside, not that He actually wanted to help me clean, and have that process be as much of a purpose as the end result. But again, even thinking in terms of an “end result” is faulty, because of original sin, we will be fighting this inner battle all our lives.

My heart softened. I teared up. What a Mary/Martha moment… Jesus doesn’t want me to just produce my own clean heart, my own interior life, He wants to help me in the process of cleaning. I need to allow the Lord to enter. He wants to be there in the mess, in my mess, showing me where to go next, what to do in order to make my heart ready for Him to reside comfortably and happily within me. I pictured myself frustrated with my progress, but having Him take my hand gently and helping me begin again.

How much better are His ways than ours! Sometimes the transformation we so desperately long for – or the transformation we tacitly deny because we are too into our own plans – is just a simple invitation away:

“Lord, please enter into my mess. Show me what to do.”

One great truth of Advent is that Jesus entered into our earthly mess. Our collective, awful, dirty mess of a world stricken by sin and wandering from God. And He’s not afraid of it, He’s drawn to it. The way He loves us is being in the mess with us, taking on our flesh without taking on our mess. He teaches us how to be in the mess of life without becoming a mess… or messier than before. And because He is the Way, He must be in our processes. We must invite Him in without being ashamed of our mess. And many times, the mess we so desperately need to clean is the one most invisible to us, in the darkest corner of our hearts. We must invite Him in to reveal us to ourselves.

As we anticipate Christmas, let us be reminded that Jesus arrived into this world in a dark, messy – and unsanitary – cave. There are many quaint and pretty ways to visualize and portray the Nativity scene, but let’s ask the Holy Family to reveal to us the more unsavory elements of the Christmas story. Let us meditate on the reality of the Nativity scene. (As a pregnant woman, thinking about farm animals rolling around in the dirt while Mary labors and gives birth is enough mess to think about.) Let us enter into their mess so we can better grasp the truth of the Incarnation, how it completely overwhelms and transforms the mess of humanity into a proclamation of the endless merciful love of God for humanity.

Pax Christi!

-Alyssa

Saint Joseph: Interrupted Plans

I used to feel sorry for Saint Joseph.  It can’t have been easy, living life sandwiched between the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation.  He seemed such a quiet, shadow figure, more of a prop than a person, a necessary third to complete the family unit, but otherwise unnoticed and unnoteworthy. 

As I grew older, I became more aware of Saint Joseph’s usefulness.  Not just years ago, in the life of Jesus and Mary, but in the lives of various saints.  Saint Teresa of Avila, for example, always recommended devotion to Saint Joseph.  One could go to various saints for various favors, she would say, but to Saint Joseph, one could go “for anything.”  I found this to be true—he came to my rescue in some rather strange and significant situations.  And I was always grateful when his feast day fell on a Friday in Lent, the solemnity (for us as parishioners of Saint Joseph Parish) trumping the day of abstinence from meat.

In the last two years, I have come to love Saint Joseph, and to see in him a patron of the unplanned.  Or more specifically, of plans that were made, and then unmade.   Of interruptions.  Of re-routing.  Of offering up the idols of what one thinks life ought to look like.

If you’ve read my reflections for awhile you know about September 13, 2016, and how my life changed when I got the call that my mom was in the hospital—how I left to go home and never returned to the life I had known. 

But what I have not much talked about was January 8, 2017. 

We were all thrilled, when, after three months, my mother returned home just in time for Christmas.  But now the Christmas season was ending, and my siblings had left, and it was just me and my parents.  And it was time to face the fact that what had been a leave of absence for a crisis situation, was now to be indefinite.  Adrenaline had carried me through the crisis; now “peace” brought a different kind of panic.  There was no manual, no projected length of stay, no plan in place for providing for this new life. 

I was terrified.  More so than I had been in the days of crisis.  I didn’t know how I would do it, how I would live as a permanent caregiver for two people, without a job, without help. 

I wrote this meditation on Saint Joseph and the unraveling of plans.  It was a turning point for me, as my heart filled with peace in the praying and the writing, I believe as direct result of the intercession of Saint Joseph.  I did not know how many plans were still to be unraveled; I had no idea, that just a month later, it would be my father who passed out of this life into the next.  I had no idea, how many times, on a micro level as well as a macro level, my plans would have to be surrendered to make room for God.

Saint Joseph knew what it was like to have one’s plans, one’s ideas of how life should go, and then what it was like to have God write better ones.  To be interrupted.

Have you ever noticed how one thing that really upsets Jesus in the Gospels is when people would stop others from interrupting Him?  When the disciples want to stop the little children from coming to him.  When the crowd seeks to hush the blind Bartimaeus and stop him from calling out to Jesus.  When the Pharisee seeks to prevent the woman who cries over Jesus’ feet and washes them with her hair, or the woman who breaks the alabaster jar and pours perfume over His feet.

Jesus welcomes interruptions.  When He is heading to heal the daughter of Jairus, He stops to heal the woman who tugs at the hem of His garment—not only to heal her physically, but to speak to her, calling her back into relationship with her Father. 

He likens prayer to woman pestering a judge for a just decision, a friend bothering another friend in the middle of the night for a loaf of bread.

We know that Jesus is speaking about the patience and goodness of His heavenly Father.  But could it be that some of this patience was modeled for Him by His earthly, foster-father?

At the heart of patience is profound trust in the goodness of God.  Saint Joseph continually had to place his trust in God’s superior wisdom, in a plan that He could not see fully but only obey.  Such trust and surrender in turn makes room for fellow human beings, seeing them too as instruments of God’s plan.

Saint Joseph, pray that we too may welcome those who interrupt us. 

The_Dream_of_Saint_Joseph

Image Credit:

The Dream of Saint Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons