Soul Shine

They said it would come. It did.

They said it would leave. I’m waiting.

As the radar predicts at least two more weeks, the permacloud lingers over South Bend. There are stretches when it is conceivable to forget the sun exists as the grey backdrop cloaks the town in this seeming soul sucking reality. However, just because I do not see the sun it does not mean that the sun fails to exist.

Even when He seems silent and far, He is near. What do you believe when all feels lost? What do you see when all appears grey? How do you respond to the clouds and the rain?  Even in the darkness, we can shine a light.

Verso l’alto,

You got to let your soul shine, shine till the break of day

Life is short; make it sweet.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

Prayer is the Battle Plan

In my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly laments not being able to come up with the right words at the right time, finding herself tongue-tied and her mind blank. “What should I have said, for example, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?” she says. I think we’ve all had those moments, where we realize later, perhaps at 11:30pm when we’re lying in bed trying to sleep, the thing we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. These situations arise in moments of conflict, in a moment where we feel misunderstood, or when we are put in a circumstance where we are invited to stand up for the truth with love.

What do we say? What do we do? How do we get better at fighting the fear and speaking up, or maybe biting our tongue when anger arises and allowing God’s truth to pour out of us instead?

The Apostles in today’s first reading act with wisdom when they had every reason to both lash out in anger and be totally tongue-tied. Faced with opposition and death threats all around them, and after having just been released from prison, Peter and John and the other Apostles gather together to pray for boldness. They could’ve had a meeting to come up with a battle plan to confront their persecutors, or they could’ve strategized how to go into hiding. They could’ve given up on their mission to evangelize entirely. But praying for boldness was their battle plan. Surrounded by challenges and fear, they knew that it was not them doing the work of growing the early Church, but the Holy Spirit at work through them. They realized their acute need for the Holy Spirit to empower them and give them the boldness they needed to go out and answer God’s call.

So they prayed for boldness; then, trusting that the Holy Spirit would not abandon them, they went out and kept preaching.

I don’t think our Catholic Church has an issue of too many people living with holy boldness. That is not our problem. I think we are more caged in fear than anything. In what areas of our own lives do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us with boldness? Where is God calling us to shake off the fear and trust in His faithfulness? The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He can empower us. When we are faced with those challenging situations where we know in the pit of our stomach that we need to say something, we can call on the Holy Spirit to give us the words and the courage to speak as He is leading us. We can put the pressure on God to show up and give us what we need—we just have to be open.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to be bold and on fire for Your mission for each of us.

Again…

“Again!” little Zippy claps with delight. “Again! Again!” she pleads.

I wonder just how many more “agains” I can take. The Five Little Monkeys have fallen off the bed enough times to warrant a CPS intervention. Baby Shark could probably have little grandbaby sharks of his own. And still the Wheels on the Bus go ‘round and round and round… “Again! Again!” cries little Zippy.

In today’s Gospel, Peter is invited to cast his nets into the sea, again.  Again, he and a few others have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Perhaps the “again” is accompanied by skepticism and weariness, even a resigned “going through the motions.”

I wonder if Jesus, standing on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, has something of a childlike delight at the coming surprise, as He invites Peter again. “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something…”

*            *            *

“Again!” This is not the first time that Jesus has intervened while Peter was fishing.

The first time (in Luke 5), Jesus asked Peter to take Him out in his boat. Using it as a platform, Jesus taught as the people listened from the shore. Jesus then invites Peter to cast His nets—and Peter protests, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” No doubt he is skeptical, the fisherman taking advice from a carpenter, but he concedes: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

When they raise the nets, they are full to bursting—so much that two boats are filled to the point of almost sinking. Seeing this, Peter falls on his face, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

It is not a surprising reaction—the shock of seeing a miracle performed before his very eyes. But this is not the first miracle Peter has seen.

We know disciples were with Jesus when the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana. (Some have joked that their presence explains why the wine ran out…) Peter and the disciples saw the changing of water to wine.  They saw Jesus cast out a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum, and they saw Jesus heal a woman with a fever—Simon Peter’s own mother in-in-law. Peter then is present as “all those who had any that were sick with various disease brought them to [Jesus]; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” (Luke 4:40)

So why is Peter so overcome by a net full of fish? Surely it is not more spectacular than those works already witnessed?

Yet observing a miracle is very different than being a part of one. In the net of fish, Peter’s own work is changed. His own actions produce a result that is clearly more than human. This is beautiful and awe-inspiring…and terrifying.

Jesus did not come primarily that we might see signs, but that might become one. His greatest work is not to transform water into wine but to change stony hearts into hearts of flesh. He makes it that human beings might do the works of God.

“Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” Peter doesn’t yet understand that it is precisely sinners that Jesus has come to be with, to save, to change. “Do not be afraid…henceforth you will catch men,” Jesus tells him.

*            *            *

In today’s Gospel, Peter at first doesn’t recognize the voice that calls from the shore.  But once again the nets are filled, and John says: “It is the Lord.”  This time Peter doesn’t run away or beg Jesus to leave him. Instead he “tucks in his garment and jumps into the sea” rushing towards Him.

Peter is now more aware than before of his sinfulness and unworthiness. His denials of Jesus have stripped away any illusions of self-sufficiency. He knows who he is, what he is made of.  On his own, he has only empty nets and empty promises to offer.

But he also knows who Jesus is. Jesus who is able to fill his nets, will also fill his heart with courage. One day, empowered by the Holy Spirit, he will fulfill his wish to follow Jesus and lay down his life for Him.   He will become a sign.

Today, let us, like Peter, resolve to invite Jesus to come into our boat, “again.”

 

fredrik-ohlander-401681-unsplash

Photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash

 

Emmanuel: The Strength of God With Us

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

LORICA OF ST. PATRICK

I’ll preface this reflection the same way I nearly always (need to) do: I am not a theologian, and all heresy is purely accidental. One of my favorite ways to reflect on Scripture is to follow various thought experiments and “what ifs” to try and tease out God’s intentions and motivations; as a cradle Catholic, most Bible stories were familiar and therefore fraught with foregone conclusions and a sense of heavenly fatalism. “Of course Moses parted the Red Sea, that’s how this story goes!” or “Jesus’ Resurrection is the happy ending that this story needs!”. So often I forget at just how radically shocking and unexpected the mind of God truly is. While the Passion might seem like a familiar, expected story to me, to the Jews of Jesus’ time, how devastating must it have been that their Messiah, their Deliverer, wound up being captured and crucified in a publicly humiliating execution?

The LORD’s ways are not our ways, and no mistake about that. So my mind likes to try rewriting the chapters to find more meaning in the story God wrote.


Today’s readings from Acts and the Gospel of Luke immediately stood out to me in one of their shared theme: The power of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit he gave us

After all, what did the Resurrection that we celebrate so joyously accomplish? Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection accomplished our salvation, yes, but if salvation was the only goal, why did the LORD not bring us up to Heaven with Jesus when he ascended? Why are we left here below?

Let’s look at John 14 for some clues:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 1the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.n

John 14:16-20

While I can’t give a great answer to the question, Christ gives us some food for thought here. While the world no longer sees Jesus, He lives, and we live. He is in the Father, and we are in Him. In short, he is as near to us our own being; perhaps even nearer still. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ so that we were not left as orphans.

Perhaps there is a simple reason that there will be a Second Coming (i.e. that Jesus Incarnation was not the final judgment): There were still more to save! Not only were we left with the Advocate, we were left with a mission:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20

In today’s readings, we see the radically transformative power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. The travelers to Emmaus’ hearts were set ablaze with a zeal for Christ, and a crippled man was miraculously healed by Peter in the name of Jesus. In both stories, all who were touched by the LORD left changed, wanting only to proclaim the goodness of God. Witnesses were left astonished.

How often do we believe the lie that things about our world, lives, family, etc. cannot be changed? This Easter season, let us take courage in the triumphant power of our savior’s Resurrection and call upon the Spirit to change these parts of our lives that we’ve sealed off in an effort to protect ourselves. The Spirit of the living God wants to renew your mind, your soul, your relationships, your work, your family, and your heart.

Maybe today, you can try a little thought experiment, a “what if”:

What if the power of Jesus can change our lives, here and now?

God in Our Midst

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
—John 20:14–16

Noli_me_tangere_-_William_Brassey_HoleHow often our eyes are blinded to recognize the presence of God in our midst. Just as Mary Magdalene mourned the absence of Jesus without realizing it was Jesus Himself who was speaking to her, we also cry out into the void when we feel alone and abandoned, while all the while Jesus is there, listening and responding to our every word. We are never, ever abandoned or forgotten, no matter how it may seem to us in the moment.

Perhaps it seemed to Mary too good to be true that Jesus might really be present with her there in the garden; it was an idea too wonderful for her mind to grasp, and so she could not see the glorious reality before her eyes. That is, not until He spoke her name.

When she heard her own name spoken by Jesus, she recognized Him instantly. She knew it could only be His gentle voice, communicating God’s love for her in a way no one else could. In the same way, we begin to see God present in our midst when we move away from a detached, abstract idea of God and toward an intimate relationship with Him. When we realize that He knows us and cares for us with loving tenderness, everything changes.

The reality of Jesus’s resurrection certainly may seem to us at times too good to be true. But when we open ourselves up to receive the outpouring of love and unmerited graces that He desires to give us, we cannot help but realize that He is indeed alive and present in our midst. God calls each of us by name and draws us to Himself. May we, especially during this Easter season, recognize His voice in our lives and rejoice in His eternal presence.


Image: William Brassey Hole, Noli me tangere / PD-US

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Happy Easter, friends! Jesus is risen; alleluia! It was impossible for Him to be held by death, as today’s first reading tells us (Acts 2:24).

Resurrection hope. What does this mean for us? In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary experience this first hand. What were they thinking when they saw the empty tomb? Were they so caught up in the trauma and horror of seeing their Lord crucified that they forgot that He said He would rise?

When they receive the good news of the resurrection, it says that they were “fearful yet overjoyed” as they ran to tell everyone the great news.

For us, sometimes seasons of resurrection can bring simultaneous doubt. We can find ourselves questioning if it’s too good to be true. If we’ve been hurt or have suffered a long time, it can be hard to fully open ourselves up to the marvels of the resurrections when they do at last come. Jesus encounters us along the way, just like He did with the two Mary’s, telling us to not be afraid. We can trust.

We can let our uncertainties vanish in the light of His resurrection. With this one act, Jesus proved and completed everything He ever said. Jesus overcame the impossible in a way no one has ever been able to do so. And He did it all for you and me, with infinite love.

Jesus’ resurrection makes a way for hope in all the seemingly impossible circumstances of our lives. His resurrection is the road to the gift of Heaven for us. If we are feeling fearful yet overjoyed as we ponder the glory of His work in our lives, hear Him proclaim to your heart today to not be afraid. Jesus wants to give you the good things you are experiencing. It’s not a mistake or just a coincidence: His blessings are good and true, and always from Him.

Lord, thank You for Your Resurrection and for all the little resurrections you grace us with here on earth. We praise You with awe and joy. Amen.

On This Friday We Call Good: Eucatastrophe and the Eucharist

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

-Matthew 27:45

It is finished.

We listened as Christ’s final words were proclaimed from the altar. We adored His cross and kissed His wounds, following in the footsteps of Mary and the beloved disciple. And then, we received the Word made flesh in the Eucharist, “the one great thing to love on earth,” one last time.

Now, the sanctuary light is extinguished, the altar is bare, and the dim church is silent. The tabernacle is open, and empty. If “a stable once had some[one] inside it that was bigger than our whole world,” the absence of that dear friend leaves a hole just as large, and it seems like “all other lights [have gone] out,” that our “one companion is darkness” (Ps. 88:19). As another poet says, “O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.”

Yet, even in this hour of remembering Christ’s passion, we “do not believe that any darkness will endure,” though the “shadow lies on [us] still.” Jesus tells us himself at the Last Supper that “you will weep and mourn… you will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (Jn. 16:20). This darkness is not the end of the story. Though we may be in anguish now, and remember how his apostles were then, we will see Him again, receive Him again, and our hearts will rejoice just as their hearts did. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5).

In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien writes about this “sudden joyous turn” when all hope seems lost, which he calls a eucatastrophe. The opposite of a tragedy’s catastrophe, it is a “sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence… of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies… universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Evangelium—the Gospel, the good news. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:1, 14). As Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech—not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform… God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears… For here it is the real Lord of the world—the Living God—who goes into action.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

As Tolkien continues, he says, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” So too does Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, Jesus joyfully arrives in Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, He gives us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, which “[feeds] the will and [gives us] the strength to endure.” On Good Friday, He gives us His mother, Our Lady, to be our mother and companion in darkness, before giving up His very life for us on the cross out of love.

Soon, His love will be told not only on the cross, but also in the empty tomb. His faithfulness will be known among the dead, as He breaks the very bonds of sin and death. And His wonders will be known, even in the dark. We need only to take courage and wait a little while longer—for the winter will pass, the Son will be unveiled in the breaking of the bread, and the light will leap forth as we sing with Easter joy.

Referenced
Eliot, Four Quartets
Lewis, The Last Battle
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, On Fairy-Stories, Letters
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1