The (Divine) Life Within

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you
-Zephaniah 3:17

Take a moment to soak in the reality of those words of Scripture.  The Lord God is in your midst.  He dwells within you.  Close your eyes for a moment and draw close to that reality of God in you right now. 

It is so rare to take moments to intentionally focus in on the reality of God within us.  This is something I want to do more regularly throughout my day to maintain a sense of connection with Him – the almighty God who dwells within me. 

Currently, I have a very unique and physical way of learning how to do this – my husband and I are expecting our first child in a few months, and as our child dwells within my womb I am brought inward to the reality of this life within.  As our baby grows, this reality is becoming more and more apparent as I have begun to feel our baby’s movements throughout my day.  However, up to this point in my pregnancy, it has been easier than I would have imagined to go about much of my day without actively thinking about the life inside me.  Then a gentle movement within reminds me to connect, to say hello to him or her, and thank God for the life He has placed within me.  This experience has me thinking about the other life dwelling within me – the Divine Life.  Each of us has the source of all life dwelling within us, and it can be all too easy to go about our days without consciously connecting to this Divine reality.  Today’s readings remind me of how present and powerful our Father’s love for each of us is and that He is here for us at every moment, and loves us so much that He has chosen to dwell within us through His Holy Spirit. 

The inner life of Christ in us finds its source in the love of the Father, which is exclaimed so beautifully in today’s optional reading from the book of Zephaniah, especially in the passage that I used to begin this reflection.  The Lord is in your midst, He rejoices over you in gladness, He renews you in His love… He sings joyfully because of you.  The psalm continues with this incredible theme and reality: The Holy One is among us and this should inspire us to “give thanks,” “proclaim,” “sing praise,” and “shout with exultation!” 

As we enter into this reality, as we allow ourselves to be still and receive this love and blessing of our Father, we meet the heart of Mary.  Today’s Gospel guides us into Mary’s reality.  Mary is the perfect example of the reception of God’s blessing.  Mary’s confidence in the Father’s love, her trust in His plan, and her “strength and courage in the Lord,” as today’s psalmist says, have opened her heart to receive the Lord into her very being.  The source of all life, God Himself, took on human form and grew within the humble being of our Blessed Mother.  Though Mary was granted the special privilege of bearing God in a unique way as His mother, we all have been granted the privilege of holding and nurturing the life of Christ within us through our baptism, the Eucharist, and all of the sacraments of the church.  His life IS within us and Mary exemplifies what it looks like when we are open to receiving this love and connecting with this Love everyday.    

As Mary visits Elizabeth, the simple sound of her greeting is so full of the Father’s love and such a pure channel of the life of Christ within her that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb – the unborn St. John the Baptist – leaps!  This is the power of God to touch, inspire, and ignite others by His love.  The Divine presence is so alive in Mary (literally!) that He moves through everything she is and everything she does.  Her magnificat, her magnification of the Lord (Lk 1:46-55), found later in this Gospel passage reveals, yet again, the source of this life within her – the Father’s love. 

Because Mary is so united with the Father’s love and the life of Christ, her being is truly filled with the Divine Life of God.  So her soul can’t help but “proclaim the greatness of the Lord.”  Her spirit can’t help but “rejoice in God!”  This is the transformation of grace we are all invited to partake in.  It all begins with the Father’s love and blessing – and our reception of it.  Zephaniah reminds us how the Father loves us and pours this blessing over us and Mary reveals how the Divine life can be received by us and then pour forth from us, in the grace of God and by the power of His Holy Spirit. 

May we be inspired today, and everyday, to become more aware of the Divine Life within us.  As an expectant mother becomes more aware of the subtle movements of the child growing within her, may God’s grace help us become increasingly aware of every movement of His Spirit within us.  As our own awareness of this Divine and powerful life within us grows and we allow ourselves to receive Him more fully, He will continue to transform us.  His grace is abundant and can’t help but pour forth from a soul so united to Him.  Let’s look to Mary’s example and become channels of the Father’s love and life so that each of our souls can’t help but “proclaim the greatness” of our God!

Setting Captives Free

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How saddened the disciples were that Jesus would not be with them much longer in the way they had imagined He would be.  While their encounter with the Living Word-made-Flesh had turned their lives completely upside down, journeying with Him during the years of His public ministry, they still did not understand the full picture.  In the Gospel today, Jesus sees the grief that fills their hearts in this moment, knowing still the grief yet to come at His Crucifixion, but also knowing the complete joy of His Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is the deep reception of the Holy Spirit in their inmost beings that set the Apostles on fire after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they can be faithful to their mission of baptizing the world in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, no matter where they go or what they endure.

In the first reading, we see Paul and Silas stripped, beaten severely and thrown into jail.  Yet even there the kingdom of God reigns.  Though they are prisoners in every outward sense—put in the “innermost cell” with their feet secured to a stake—they are set free in their innermost selves by Christ and able to be instruments of God’s grace, singing His praises and praying in the dark of night.

Imagine being one of the prisoners nearby, overhearing their love for God spilling forth.  Would you scoff at them?  Might your own heart be stirred to whisper a small prayer of thanksgiving?

Either way, you’d definitely be most attentive the moment you felt the earthquake shake the very foundations of the jail!  What a dramatic revelation of God’s glory!  Each prisoner being set free from bondage—chains broken, doors blown open, light piercing their own hearts.  This freedom is not just physical, but spiritual—freedom from sin.  This outward manifestation of God’s power seems small compared to the inner transformation of the jailer, much like the instance where Jesus healed the paralytic, saying first “Your sins are forgiven,” and then performing a physical miracle to account for our poor human blindness (Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26).

For the jailer and his family to have received the Holy Spirit so as to know the truth of Jesus Christ is a true miracle and a cause for great rejoicing indeed!

And what about us?  How is it that we live in the light and joy of this truth, no matter how dark our present situation may seem?  And do we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us so as to be ministers of joy and truth to others in our lives who may themselves feel imprisoned by doubts, sadness or trouble? 

By virtue of the Sacraments and living in a state of grace, we have the Holy Spirit! We too are set free!  Jesus promised His disciples, as He promises us, that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  And what a mighty work He has done!  No matter if we were born into the Faith or converted later (or find ourselves on the path of conversion!), it is a gift that by His Light we know Light. 

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
~Ps. 138:7-8

What a grace it is to be transformed in the waters of baptism, confirmed in the Faith, brought freedom from our sins in reconciliation, and to receive JESUS Himself in the Holy Eucharist! The Lord has a plan for our lives. We must trust Him every step of the way and bear the crosses He allows us to carry for our sanctification, for even in the darkest night He is the Light we need.

We still have some days of Easter left, before arriving to the great Feast of Pentecost.  Prepare your hearts and souls to grow closer to the Holy Spirit. Receive a new outpouring of the Spirit by praying a Pentecost Novena, learning the Veni, Creator Spiritus prayer (which St. JPII prayed every day!) and shedding any chains of bondage to sin in the confessional.

God awaits to do marvelous things in your soul. Let Him in ever more! And let us cry as one with the whole Church, Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well-beloved Spouse!

Always Faithful

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

‘I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.’” -John 15:26-16:4

In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares the disciples’ hearts for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a great gift of God’s faithfulness. Whenever we are struggling or confused, we do not have to turn far, because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are never left alone.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember God’s faithfulness. We can get cynical and believe the lies that nothing good will ever work out for us, that we are not wanted, that we don’t belong. The truth is that God has great things for us. He is a good Father who desires to lavish His love on His children.

As we read on in the Gospel, Jesus is real with the disciples just as He is with our hearts—this life of following Him is not easy, and people will turn against us out of ignorance, hatred, and their own brokenness. I’m sure we have all experienced this in one way or another, and it hurts and is difficult. But we have the Holy Spirit right there with us, and when we speak the truth with love it is always a victory with God.

God is too good to give up on Him when things get difficult. I was thinking about this the other day when faced with the recent death of my grandfather—as tempting as it is to give into despair in painful circumstances, God is just too good to do that. He never promised a life free of suffering, but He promised to be with us through it all in very real and intimate ways. And when we surrender our will to Him, He brings about the most beautiful graces. Time and time again, He paves a way out of seemingly impossible circumstances. Time and time again, He brings resurrections. His goodness never fails us. When we open our hearts wide to what He has for us, we have no need to be afraid because the Holy Spirit is within us, desiring to work through us and show us the way through childlike dependence on our Father.

Love One Another

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
—John 15:12–14

Jesus, knowing that He only has a few more hours to spend with His disciples, knowing that they will soon be tested in ways unimaginable to them, speaks these words with great care and intention: “Love one another as I love you.” Just hours later, He shows them what His love really looks like. Spread out upon the Cross, pouring out His love and mercy until the very end, He gives us a model of boundless, sacrificial love.

How could we possibly keep this commandment, to love one another as He loves us? Amidst our sins and human frailty, the love that is shown to us on the Cross seems utterly unattainable for us. We are neither courageous enough to face martyrdom nor humble enough to accept insults in silence, and our love for others is guarded by our fears. But Jesus does more than just tell us to follow in His impossible footsteps. When we receive His love, He begins to love through us. In order to truly love one another with a love that echoes Calvary, we must know—really, truly know at the core of our being—that He loves us madly.

When we deeply know this truth, it changes us utterly, and we see the proof of this through the saints. Look at the radiant love of Mother Teresa as she serves the poorest of the poor, or the devotion of St. Damian, sacrificing his life serving the lepers who had been cast out of society. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was beloved by so many because he loved so well, and he always credited this to his devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, saying, “Jesus comes to me every morning in Holy Communion; I repay Him, in my very small way, by visiting the poor. The house may be sordid, but I am going to Christ.” Pier Giorgio, too, expressed God’s radiant love in his very being, not by trying to achieve greatness but by allowing himself to be loved.

When you are totally consumed by the Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God, who has called you to become part of His family. Then you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in this world have never experienced, because true happiness, oh young people, does not consist in the pleasures of this world, or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure of heart and mind.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Do Not Be Afraid!

Do not be troubled or afraid, Jesus proclaims! “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)
This passage may be one of the most powerful in the scriptures because it would have been one of the last times Jesus addressed all of His disciples before His ascension into heaven. He wanted to make sure they knew exactly what was going to happen after He left them. Jesus was completely honest, explaining that they would encounter evil and would need to confront it, but He also gave great promise of His peace and the guarantee this peace would always be with them. There would be hardship, pain and suffering, but through all of these, Jesus Christ would remain with them so they had nothing to fear. “The ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me.” (John 14:30) for Jesus had defeated him already on the cross at Calvary.
What a wonderful blessing this promise is, not only for the disciples, but for all of us. Anyone who truly loves the Lord has nothing to fear. In the first reading, the scripture provides a perfect example of the power of God’s promise and His will for His chosen people. St. Paul was stoned to the point of death but survived. Even after he was nearly killed, he never weakened in his conviction that he needed to continue the Lord’s mission–if anything, the stoning only gave Paul more strength.
The peace of God undoubtedly abides in us and we rely on it in times of great trial. This world can be extremely hard–what a gift that we can combat its hardships with the power of Jesus Christ surrounding us

A Rose Wrought from Steel

In strewing my flowers… I will sing, even if my roses must be gathered from among thorns; and the longer and sharper the thorns, the sweeter shall be my song.
—St. Therese of Lisieux

On this day nearly one hundred years ago, St. Therese of Lisieux was canonized by Pope Pius XI. A sheltered girl turned cloistered Carmelite nun, this young woman died when she was only 24 years old. She would later be declared a Doctor of the Church—along with St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Hildegard of Bingen.

Many may think of St. Therese as just the “little flower,” a naive girl perfectly fashioned for children’s stories. However, her spiritual autobiography reveals a soul filled with an intense longing for God, a deep-seated courage, and an absolute trust in him as her loving Father, even in the midst of great suffering. As Pope John Paul I wrote in his Illustrissimi, “[She] called [her book] ‘The story of a spring flower.’ To me the will-power, courage and decisiveness it showed made it seem more like the story of a piece of steel. Once [she] had chosen the path of complete dedication to God, nothing could stop [her]: not illness, nor opposition from outside, nor inner confusion and darkness.” How similar this is to her role model, St. Joan of Arc, who, according to Chesterton, “chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt!”

St. Therese had wild and holy daydreams, feeling “called to be a soldier, priest, apostle, doctor of the church, martyr… to perform all the most heroic deeds for… Jesus.” She felt in her soul “the courage of a crusader, of a soldier for the Church, and [wished] to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church.” Yet, face to face with her limitations, she found that her vocation was to love, for “Love alone makes its members act… if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.” She understood “that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!” Her dreams were realized by staying “close to the throne of the King and Queen” as a little child, patiently suffering out of love and rejoicing out of love, “letting no little sacrifice pass.”

In today’s Gospel and the following verses, Christ exhorts his apostles to have such trust in him and in the Father, for “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” St. Therese embodied this childlike faith in her “little way” of spiritual dependence on God. She was not childish; she courageously worked hard to overcome her weaknesses and childhood sorrows. She had a deep life of prayer and desire for holiness, choosing to let her imperfect heart rest in and abandon itself to God alone. As St. Pope John Paul II said in a homily at Lisieux, “The Spirit of God enabled her heart to reveal directly… the reality of the Gospel: the fact of having really received “a spirit of adoption as children that makes us cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The ‘Little Way…’ holds a confirmation and renewal of the most fundamental and universal truth. For what truth of the Gospel message is more fundamental and universal than this: that God is our Father and we are his children?”

One of the places from which St. Therese received this spirit of humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude was in the home, from her own parents, St. Louis Martin and St. Zelie Martin. She called them “a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.” They showed her the face of the Father through how they faced the unexpected joys and sorrows of life with courage, entrusted their hearts to divine providence, and fiercely loved all who entered their lives. May we strive to act with the same childlike trust, persevere with the same courage, and faithfully love with the same strength, despite our weaknesses, so that others may see the face of the Father in ours and know how deeply loved they are.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

 

Reading Suggestions
St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
Fr. Jacques Philippe, The Way of Trust and Love
Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
Dr. Tom Neal, “The Vocation to Furious Love”

To Be A Servant

Jesus issued the call to discipleship as servants to others, not only to His personal followers but to those of us who would follow in His footsteps in the future.  This message is preached to us as Christians so often, the meaning of it can lose its significance.  In fact, Jesus lost disciples who were seeking to follow a king, not a servant. Jesus offers true disciples a more personal opportunity for service than simply being part of a military or political entourage.  Would any ruler in this world wash anyone else’s feet himself?! Washing the feet of all His disciples the night before He died was symbolic for Jesus in embracing His role as the Messiah. Now we are called to take up the servant role as we follow the path set by our Master. By accepting this role, we express our humility.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
—John 13:16–18

All our gifts, talents and abilities were bestowed on us by God. There is nothing we can do except through the power of Jesus Christ. As we move forward on our life’s journey, we should consider our place in the world differently, even in the slightest circumstances. We should be kind to our brothers and sisters every chance we have. Let someone merge in front of us in traffic; let a coworker have the last donut in the break room; put your loose change in the tip jar at your favorite coffee shop. These small acts of kindness not only bring us closer to our fellow humans but also to the One who commissioned us to be kind in imitation of His unfailing kindness. Since Jesus no longer walks among us in the flesh, God’s hands must truly be our own.