New Wine

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.” -Mark 2:22

Sometimes in seasons of transition and growth, I find myself thinking, “Once x, y, or z happens, then things will go back to normal.” But what is “normal,” really? And is it the Lord’s will that I go back to how things were, or do I allow Him to change me?

In the crushing, in the pressing, You are making new wine…*

I think this mentality of longing for how things once were is to try to put the new wine into old wineskins. In the literal sense, putting new wine into old wineskins would ultimately lead to the destruction of the wineskins and the wine. So it is with our hearts. When we try to grasp at things, people, a job, etc. that God, in His infinite goodness and mercy, does not want in our lives in the season we find ourselves in, we are fighting against His loving kindness and the things He wants to reveal to us. We get stuck, focusing on the past rather than having our eyes fixed on where the Lord is leading us.

So I yield to You and Your careful hand. When I trust You I don’t need to understand…

It can also be a temptation to think, “If only ____________ would happen, then I would be happy.” This again, is trying to put the new wine in to old wineskins. It is a turning away from God and is an unhealthy attachment to whatever the other thing is. We look to other things to satisfy us rather than our Lord, and we fail to trust in our Father who knows what’s best for us, whose plans for us are far better than our wildest dreams, and who will never lead us to destruction. Even when we don’t understand.

Make me Your vessel. Make me an offering. Make me whatever You want me to be…

There is something so beautiful in surrendering our capacity to the Lord. We can be His vessel, His open jar that He can pour new wine into, even when we think that it would be impossible, that His plans for us are forsaken or won’t happen. New wine takes time to make, and we can trust in the slow work of God. Will you give Jesus your capacity to make new wine out of you? What do you need to surrender today? Where are you trying to pour yourself into things of the past? The Lord has glorious things in store for you. It will not be easy; it will involve the crushing of the grapes of unhealthy attachments and sin in our lives, but the new wine will come, and we can put our hope and trust in the Lord in the process.

Jesus make new wine out of me.

*New Wine by Hillsong Worship

We Belong to Each Other

They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
—Mark 2:3–5

Imagine how it felt for the paralyzed man to be so close to Jesus, and yet so far: within sight of the Healer, yet held back by the very impairments that needed healing, utterly helpless to bridge the gap.

In moments when we feel paralyzed and helpless, unable to fix things for ourselves, God does not want us to go it alone. He wants to heal us, and He seeks to work through the hearts of others in the process. He uses our frailties to bear greater fruit: not only in ourselves, but in others, too. We can only be healed if we are willing to admit our weakness and ask for help. We must allow ourselves to be lifted up, carried, and lowered into the arms of Jesus.

And when we lend a hand to help someone else, it is a privilege: to share in the sacred struggle of their suffering, to draw close to the fountain of grace and healing. God uses these moments of weakness to teach us to rely upon other people and knit us closer together as a community.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
—Mother Teresa

Holy Hand-Off

I wish this was an analogy of Ian handing the ball to Dex, who then found a 92 yard hole that ended in the end zone. However, if you watched the ND-Clemson Semi-Final, you know most Irish attempts were blocked by the opponent’s stalwart D-line. Since the purpose of a hand-off is to move the chains towards the goal, it’s worth asking what are you holding onto, what can you hand off, and who are you going to pass? Perhaps you are clinging to fear, regret, bitterness, or hopelessness. Maybe, you are clutching anxiety, worry, or control.

On campus, there is a statue where Joseph is kneeling at Mary’s feet and the Christ child is between them. It is unclear whether Mary is handing Christ over or receiving Him. Either way, “The Holy Hand-off,” as it is affectionately dubbed, is a reminder to hand-off our cares, faults, failures, joys, and successes and to entrust our desires to the Sacred Heart of Jesus so that like Mary and Joseph we an present the Christ child to one another.

Two Minutes

We were thrilled when my little niece Zippy first began to speak in words we could understand.  From baby babble emerged the first recognizable vocabulary: “Mamma”; “Dadda”; “’nanna (banana)” and “shoes.”  However, when she said, early and audibly, “Two minutes!” we were both greatly surprised and greatly amused.

At age two Zippy still says “Two minutes!” and it is clear that while she has mastered the pronunciation, the actual meaning of the phrase still eludes her.  At times, she recognizes it as a stall tactic.  “Zippy, can I please have my phone back?” I ask.  “Two minutes!” Zippy replies, meaning I must wait.  However,  “Zippy talk two minutes!” means “Zippy wants the phone, NOW, this minute.”  She will ask to hear a song: “One!” by which she means, “One after another,” and listening for “Two minutes!” in that situation translates as “indefinitely…”

In general, the concept of time is confusing if not meaningless to two year-olds.  “I will be back tomorrow” does not console her; she throws herself on the floor, bereft.  (Yes, I am that cool).  “Later” is just a code word for “no.”  And she certainly doesn’t understand “this is not the time to sing” when she breaks out into “Baby Shark” during the Christmas homily, particularly when such a large crowd has gathered to hear her performance.

If the concept of human time is puzzling to toddlers, the concept of God’s timing is equally puzzling to us, even as adults.  I confess that when God says “Wait!” I do not always react well. 

I remember in college that God promised that a particular prayer intention would be answered, but that I must wait.  I thought, “Okay, I have a few minutes.”  Eighteen years later, His answer exceeded my expectations, but I learned the hard way that His time-frame did too.

Even now, I too am tempted to tantrums when God says, “Wait.”  I find myself bereft when He seems absent, wondering if I will ever seem Him again.  And when I pray for solutions to the problems of life, and they don’t come quickly enough, I wonder if He is listening.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preaching in a synagogue in Capernaum when he is interrupted by a snarky demon.  “I know who you are…the holy one of God!” declares the demon.  Jesus first silences him, then drives him out.  “Quiet!  Come out of him!”  Jesus commands in Mark 1:24.

Why doesn’t Jesus want the crowd to hear this declaration?  A few verses later, in Mark 1:34, we again hear of Jesus specifically preventing the demons from revealing his identity: “He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.”

If Jesus has come to reveal His identity as the Son of God, why silence the demons?  Or perhaps a more interesting question: What would the demons have to gain by revealing it? 

It is the mystery of timing again.  God’s timing is perfect.  Patience is a virtue that we do well to cultivate.  But more importantly, the mystery of timing reveals another mystery: that the Christian life is about relationship, not results.

The answer to Jesus’ identity is not a bit of trivia, or even a theological proposition to answer correctly on an exam.  We come to know Him as He is WITH US (Emmanuel again).  Jesus wants the people to come to know God as revealed by His person, not just as a match to their expectations. 

His healings, His miracles, His teachings, and ultimately His gift of self on the Cross and in the Eucharist, reveal to us the face of God.  It is encounter that teaches us, and encounter that changes us. 

We need to hear Him say, to the leper within, “I do will—be healed.”  We need to experience the gaze of the loving eyes which behold the sinful woman weeping at his feet, to hear him say, as to the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.”  We need to watch Him calm the storms without and within; to cast out demons and welcome back outcasts; to feed with a new Manna that is both Presence and Promise.

We want to rush ahead to the solution, to the answer: Who is this guy preaching in the synagogue? What does He plan to do to/for us?  But Jesus wants us to experience His presence.  To walk with Him, to listen, to question, to learn not only His message but His heart.

*            *            *

Over Christmas vacation I take Zippy on a walk to the library.  It is a two-minute walk if one goes directly.  But there is so much to experience along the way: leftover snow to touch, steps to climb up and down, puppies to shriek at delightedly and try to pet.  She wants to see her breath in the air; she wants to see what is in the half-frozen puddle in the driveway; she wants to pick up pebbles and watch them dance as she throws them on the path.  She wants to run and then be carried and then put down so she can meander down the sidewalk.  If we don’t make it all the way to the library; that’s okay.  Life is short.  Just two minutes.

He Sustains All Things

“In these last days, he spoke to us through the Son,     
whom he made heir of all things 
and through whom he created the universe,

who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.” -Hebrews 1:2-3

Happy chilly and wintry Monday, friends! To be honest, I had a whole post prepared about following Jesus based on today’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20), but the Holy Spirit shook things up a bit. So here we are.

One of my favorite prayers is the Litany of Trust, written by the Sisters of Life. It really gets to the heart of the human struggle against the lies the devil tries to tear us down with. One of the lines from the prayer is:

“That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me…Jesus, I trust in You.”

He sustains all things. He is faithful in all things.

Brothers and sisters, He sustains you.

Yes, you.

He never stops.

It’s one of the hardest things, isn’t it sometimes? To be dependent on God and to let Him truly sustain us? We live in a world of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and control. “I’ve got this.” “I can handle this on my own.” “I don’t need anyone.” “I can only trust in myself.”

Any disposition of heart we have towards the world/our jobs/other people absolutely affects our relationship with God. So when we fight His sustaining power? Ouch. Our hearts are blocked; full, vulnerable reliance on God is severed. We hurt ourselves and separate ourselves from the One who desperately longs to hold us.

Have you ever seen a child who’s throwing a tantrum kicking and pounding their mother or father as they pick them up off the floor? But what do the parents do? They hold them anyway; eventually the kicking and screaming subsides, and they are comforted by their parent’s embrace.

This is how I imagine Jesus with us as He’s sustaining us. He loves us too much to leave us there. He will pick us up, even as we fight Him in our thinking we know better than He does, and He will hold us until the storm passes.

Jesus will keep holding you as you learn to allow yourself to lean into His embrace and be sustained by His love. He won’t stop His love for you.

I know this isn’t easy. This is a struggle for me, too. Vulnerability is never comfortable, acknowledging that we need help is hard, and relying on Jesus over yourself is a risk that requires a leap of faith.

Letting Him sustain us, truly sustain us in every way, means that we have to let Him into the darkest and most hidden places of our hearts. We have to allow Him to soften our hearts and go to the depths so He can heal, free, and redeem. This is an endeavor worth taking. We are so safe in His arms. Jesus is the “refulgence” (the brilliance, the splendor, the shining light) of God’s glory. Darkness flees in the presence of Jesus.

Let’s go there with Him. Jesus, break through. My prayers are with you.

P.S. This song speaks to the journey of letting Jesus sustain us.

The Odor of Sin

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati loved the poor wholeheartedly. He went out into the slums of Turin to visit them each day; he did this not to assuage his conscience or to give them something from his material excess, but rather to receive them, to visit with them, to love them as God’s own children and to offer his whole self to them. He saw Jesus in each of their faces. Once, a friend asked Pier Giorgio how he could bear the odor of the poor, the dirt and filth of the slums. He replied, “Don’t forget that even if the house you visit is very dirty, there you may find Jesus. Remember always that it is to Jesus that you go: I see a special light that we do not have around the, sick, the poor, the unfortunate.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of Jesus healing a leper. I would imagine that this man was used to people recoiling in his presence, shrinking away from the fetid odor of his infection. He would have learned to lay low, to avoid other people so as not to feel the sting of their repulsion. But when he saw Jesus, he did not back away. Had he already sensed, in that first glance, that Jesus did not look at him the same way as everyone else? He lay prostrate before Jesus and begged for healing. If the people were horrified to see a leper approaching Jesus, imagine their disgust when Jesus responded by reaching out and touching this man. He was not deterred by the stench; no, He was in fact drawn toward this man, filled with nothing but love for him.

We know where our sores and infections lie within our souls, and more often than not we try to cover them up. We expect that Jesus will be disappointed by our faults and failures, and so we try and mask the odor of our guilt. But Jesus is not deterred by the stench of our sin, and He does not want only part of us. He wants all of us, warts and all, for He seeks to love us totally and completely. He bends down to greet us, looks us in the eye; all He needs is for us to affirm our trust in Him to fully heal us. Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.

How Many Loaves Do You Have? Go and See!

“Give them some food yourselves.”—Mark 6:37

At the beginning of today’s Gospel, we get a glimpse into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”  As He teaches, their hunger grows, in more ways than one.  And soon it is “late.”

The disciples see the physical hunger of the crowd as a problem, and want both the problem and the people to go away.  “Dismiss them…so they can go and buy themselves something to eat,” they urge Jesus.

Jesus surprises them, instead saying: “Give them some food yourselves.”  They are stunned.  “Are we to buy 200 days wages worth of food and give them something to eat?”

He asks them, “”How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”

It is important not to rush past this question.  Having read the spoilers, we know the answer: five loaves and two fish.  And we know what Jesus will do, and how the more than five thousand will be fed that day, and how there will even be twelve baskets of food left over.

But let us ponder for a moment this command and question of Jesus.  It is not enough for Jesus that His disciples hear His words as a message to be learned and taught.  Rather, He wishes for them to share in His heart, in His mission.  Nor can they pray from a safe distance for God to “take care of” the issue.  They are to be an integral part of His work.

First, however, they must come face to face with their inadequacy.  What do they have to offer? “Go and see.”  They are to encounter, concretely, their own inability to provide for the people.  On their own, they do not have what it takes.  They need God to work.  And yet, in the mystery of salvation, God calls them (and us) to cooperate with His work.  Our own experience of poverty does not exempt us from mission.  Humility rather makes room for God to work, but He nonetheless elevates us, drawing us into His divine mission.

The disciples bring the five loaves and two fish to Jesus.  Jesus could have fed the crowd with just one loaf, or with the bread and not the fish.  Or, being God, He could have provided His own loaf and fish.  Instead, He asked that they give what little they had, and all that they had. 

God invites us to experience our poverty, our nothingness—but then asks us to give anyway.  He loves us in our poverty, but doesn’t leave us there: He invites us to make a gift of what we have—all of it.  Sometimes we object because it seems too much.  But just as often, we object because it seems too little.

We prefer grandiose gestures, which make us look or feel good.  When God invites us to give lesser things, we balk.

Caryll Houselander writes of the woman who had a great desire to sacrifice her life to God as missionary martyr to cannibals, and was disgruntled that He never took her up on her offer.  But she was unwilling to offer God the sufferings of her infirmities and old age. 

“I knew once the primmest old invalid lady who could well have offered her helplessness to God, but she had a grievance against Him because He had not permitted her to be eaten by a cannibal for the Faith; she could not accept herself as a sick woman, but she would have achieved heroic virtue as a cutlet!” (Reed of God, p. 50)

We like to think of our saints as superheroes. But Saint Therese of Lisieux was by all accounts so “boring” that her fellow sisters feared there would be nothing to write in her obituary.  Hers was not a life of great deeds, but of great love. She offered to God the smallest of things—and all things—with this love, and in so doing became a great saint.  She was aware of her poverty and weakness and littleness, and so made room for God to act in her life in very big ways.

Father Walter Cizek, on the other hand, lived a life of remarkable strength and courage.  He became a priest, and then went to Russia as a secret missionary.  His daily life there was one of marked suffering, even before he was arrested (accused as a spy) and imprisoned; he was tortured, and later sent the Gulag in Siberia.  The details of his sufferings are astounding, and can only be called heroic.  Yet for Father Cizek, the defining moment of his life, his “conversion,” was a moment of abject failure.

While imprisoned he was subject to routine torture in a effort to get him to make a false confession.  He was determined to resist; determined to outwit his captors; determined if necessary to die for Christ.  Instead he capitulated and signed.

He was devastated; it was a moment of “great darkness” as he confronted his failure, his poverty, the realization that he did not in fact “have what it takes.”  Then suddenly grace gave birth to profound freedom, as he realized that it was precisely his weakness that God was asking of Him.  He had been relying on His own strength; henceforth he would trust completely in God’s will.

Very few of us will be called in the next twenty-four hours to make heroic offerings to God. Yet each of us is invited into the heart of Christ, to give what we have at His asking.  To begin with that first step in trust—to put bread into that first pair of hands, and then another, and then another.  To watch with reverent awe as God multiplies our poverty into abundance.

Image credit: Marten van Valckenborch [Public domain] from Wikimedia Commons