Preparing for Our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!

A wedding is always something to get excited about: the decorations, the colors, the splendor of the Church, the bride’s dress, the groom’s smile watching her walk down the aisle. So much thought and dedication goes into planning a wedding. I have been a bridesmaid quite a few times and the excitement in seeing my friends get married is always the same, an abundance of joy, blessings and love.

In the time of Jesus, first-century Palestine, a couple was betrothed (legally married) for a period of about a year, and during this time the bride still lived at home with her family. After this period of betrothal the wedding feast would begin at sundown, when the bridegroom would go to pick up the bride from her family’s home and take her to their new home. Customarily, family and friends would come out of their homes and congratulate the newlywed couple as they passed by on the streets. Many would follow the couple in a procession of celebration through the streets to their new home and partake in the wedding feast together. This procession was guided by maiden torchbearers (bridesmaids!) as the crowd danced and sang around the newlyweds. Imagine it being the pitch darkness of nighttime, in first-century Palestine, and the one thing that guides you is this glowing light towards a feast.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us a parable about the ten virgins: five wise virgins with oil and five foolish virgins without oil, all of whom were waiting for the bridegroom to come to pick up his bride so they could celebrate and light the way in their procession. For some unknown reason the bridegroom was delayed and all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for him. When he unexpectedly came, the five foolish virgins realized that their flame was low and they would not be able to keep it lit as they did not prepare and pack oil. So they left to go buy some. In the meantime, the bridegroom arrived and the five wise virgins, who packed oil, were fine in relighting their lamps and joining the procession following the bridegroom to the wedding feast. By the time the foolish virgins came back with oil and made their way to the bridegroom’s home, the door was locked and they were not a part of the wedding feast.

That one line in scripture, “then the door was locked” (Matthew 25:10), really pangs at my heart. There is a clear distinction here on who enters the kingdom and who does not. As much as we focus on details and get ready for our friend’s earthly wedding, we must make all the effort to prepare for our own true wedding with Jesus Christ. Be prepared. Bring oil. What does this oil represent? It represents us living the faith, being true to our baptismal promises, celebrating and practicing the sacraments, praying, loving one another, doing good works of mercy. We are all in a state of waiting for our bridegroom to arrive; as Christians we have been waiting for over 2,000 years for the second coming of Jesus Christ. But we don’t know the exact day nor the hour when Jesus Christ will come again. So make sure you pack your oil. All ten virgins had intentions of going to the wedding feast and all ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom, but only five virgins had oil, and so only five virgins were ready to follow him into the wedding feast.

In the first reading, St. Paul tells us that we should conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God. And the instructions on how to live a holy life were given through our Lord Jesus. Before Jesus had told us this parable of the ten virgins, he taught us on the Sermon on the Mount. He told us to be the light of the world; our light must shine before others in such a way that they see our good deeds and glorify our Heavenly Father. In order to be this light and remain a burning flame, we must have a flask of oil and continue in a course of action, even in the face of difficulties, to commit to doing good works willed by the Father.

“This is the will of God, your holiness”

For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” Through God’s grace we are given every opportunity to continue in good works and so I pray that each of us are overjoyed, excited and well prepared for our own bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and our own nuptials in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Image Credit: 10 Virgins Icon [Public Domain]

The Passion of John the Baptist

“Mom, can I eat a grasshopper to show God I love Him—like John the Baptist?” At age four, little Nicholas is ready to be a disciple of today’s saint.

It is more difficult to see what compelled more grown-up minds to follow Saint John the Baptist. Here was a man living in the wastes of the desert. His diet was insects and wild honey. His clothes were camel’s hair and a leather girdle. He had no power or position but only poverty as his identity. At first glance, his appearance would suggest more lunatic than life coach.

And yet we are told: “There went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark 4:5)

What attracted them?

John was clear in his mission—he was not the Messiah. He was to prepare the way for the Messiah. “I baptize with water, but He will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” “I am not worthy to unfasten his sandal strap…” “He must increase; I must decrease.”

John’s poverty was not merely external. He was aware of who he was, but also of who he was not. He depended on God for everything. He allowed himself to be humanly weak in order that he might be strengthened by God. Everything in his life was ordered not to self-promotion but to ushering in the kingdom of God.

There is a measure of freedom in not caring what others think, but by itself that is not holiness.  Foolish or insane people don’t care what others think either. John the Baptist did care what God thought, and that is what fueled his passion.

“You brood of vipers!” he challenged the Pharisees. “It is not lawful for you to marry your brother’s wife!” he told King Herod. His mission was to preach repentance, to “make straight the way of the Lord.” To prepare for God, to make a path for Him to come, to clear out of the way any obstacles, especially pride and sin.

In contrast, King Herod, with a literal kingdom at his disposal, was nonetheless deeply dependent on the opinion of others. He feared John’s message, and so had him put in prison, but was afraid that he might be right, and afraid of what might happen to him, or what the people might say, if he did something to him. “Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20)

Herod’s mistress—i.e. his brother’s wife whom he had unlawfully married—hated John and looked for a way to silence him forever. And so it was that she prompted her daughter to dance at a banquet, so titillating Herod that he rashly and publicly promised her whatever she might ask—even half his kingdom. At her mother’s behest she requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

“The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head.” (Mark 6:26)

What is deeply disturbing about this story is that we see a gruesome act carried out, not as an act of power, but of weakness. It is not a story of personal malice or vengeance or even violent temper. Instead we see a very weak man—controlled first by his passion of lust and then by his fear of human opinion—swayed to commit a most barbaric act about which he “knows better.” The bloody head on the platter shows us what following the spirit of the world will lead to.

Today’s feast invites us not only to admiration of John the Baptist or to condemnation of Herod but to an examination of our own passions. What are the motivating forces behinds our actions, our lives? Are we seeking God’s kingdom, or our own?

Interestingly in Mark’s Gospel this atrocious banquet is followed immediately by the feeding of the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. Jesus has another banquet in mind—in which, like John, He will give His life, to feed us with Himself.

Head of John the Baptist

Image Credit: Caravaggio [Public domain]

The Shadows

“When you’re a quarterback, people look at you differently,” he commented. Articulating the pressure of the platform, he neither complained nor bemoaned his lot. Simply, he accurately expressed the privilege and responsibility of his role. Lauded for his skillset and recruited with high hopes, he finds himself in the shadows of teammates’ talent and fans’ expectations, a place he hardly has known. The transition involves a walk along a humble road where progress is often made in the hours before the sun rises. Standing at this new starting line, it’s evident just how far he has to go. Momentarily, he thinks about the day he will start.

At this decision point, the distance can become overwhelming and the destination of once again being in the limelight idolized. Yet, “the treasures of darkness” ought not be overlooked. As there is a gift in the time of secret formation and transformation. Mary, St. Joseph, and Christ shared the intimacy of the everyday which laid the foundation for the Lord to perform His public works, which were 33 years in the making. It was out of His relationship with the Father, which He received when He went away to pray, that the Lord was able to lay down His life fully. The altar of Calvary was built in the shadows of St. Joseph’s workshop. Do we trust the Lord will bring the good work He has begun in us to fulfillment? Do we trust He is present, even in the shadows? Do we trust the process, remembering the true goal line?

Verso l’alto, 

Kathryn 

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings

God’s not done with you

Always stay humble and kind

You are Delighted In

“The Lord takes delight in His people…” (Psalm 149)

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing gift of being able to go on a mission trip with a Catholic organization called Mustard Seed to Mandeville, Jamaica. We were serving 18 children with severe disabilities. Most of them were wheelchair-bound and not able to talk or walk. Many of them had been abandoned by their parents and found in the streets. Each day we would feed them, play with them, help with their physical therapy, and give them the one-on-one attention they are so often unfortunately lacking.

One of the best parts of each day was taking the kids to Adoration in the little chapel at their residence. They came to life in the chapel, and it was really beautiful to see them each converse with Jesus in their own way. I just *knew* that they knew Jesus was really there. They would move around, smile, clap, or make sounds to pray and praise our Lord.

One day, I took a girl named Shenell to Adoration. She couldn’t talk and only had peripheral vision, and I had made it my mission all week to get her to smile, something she didn’t do often at first. I purposefully put her wheelchair directly facing the tabernacle, as close to Jesus as I could get her. I was sitting next to her, holding her hand and silently praying for her. During prayer, I was moved to lean close to her and whisper, “God loves you so much.” When I did this, her face immediately broke into this HUGE smile, and she starting giggling with sheer joy. Tears immediately rolled down my cheeks.

I was struck by how much Jesus delights in Shenell and all the other kids, and how they don’t have to do anything to have Him delight in them—He delights in them just because they’re His. How beautiful to think that He delights in us the same way! We do not have to earn God’s love or delight—He simply rejoices in us just as He rejoices in all those precious kiddos in Jamaica. May we be able to delight in one another the same way!

So today, I will speak the same words to you that I did to Shenell in that little chapel: God loves you so much. Really, deeply, intimately, and with so much rejoicing over you. Soak in that love today and let it permeate into the core of your being. Let His joy fill you, sustain you, and hold you through no matter what season you are currently in.

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The chapel at Gift of Hope in Mandeville, Jamaica.

The Art… or Heart of Christian Hospitality

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest… and He more or less gives two answers. (Jesus is very clever like that.)  The first commandment is the greatest and “the second is like it.”

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:37-40


Jesus teaches us that loving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul is inherently connected to loving others. 


I recently listened to a Catholic podcast on hospitality (for link to the podcast episode, see below or click here – I highly recommend listening!).  This has had me thinking and praying…  What does hospitality mean for us as Christians and what does it look like lived out?  I know it can look different for each person, depending on stage of life, vocation, etc, so it calls us to pray about what it looks like for each of us.  But at its heart, hospitality is a universal Christian call.  One of the priests on the podcast makes a beautiful connection between hospitality and receptivity.  In fact, ‘warm reception’ is a synonym for hospitality.  This receptivity, or openness, is not only at the heart of a hospitable person who opens their door to warmly welcome a visitor, but also at the heart of the visitor who openly accepts (receives) this gesture.  Being hospitable doesn’t require a perfectly clean home, the ability to cook a fabulous meal, or having a guest room – it requires a heart open to a visitor, or any person you encounter.  At the heart of Christian hospitality is a quality of being present to the person and the moment.  Thusfar, I’ve spoken of hospitality in specific terms of welcoming a guest, which is what I initially think of when I hear the word.  While this is a very tangible and beautiful example of hospitality, it is a specific example and many of us can think hospitality doesn’t really apply to us unless we often welcome visitors into our home.  (Though I do hope we will think of these things the next time we do host a friend or family member in town). 

The Christian essence of hospitality is its sacrificial and serving nature.  It’s the sacrifice of your time, your energy, yourself to receive another person, even, and especially, when it’s unexpected or last minute.  This can happen with a visitor from out of town, or a stranger at church who strikes up a conversation maybe looking for someone to talk to for a moment, or something as simple as being present and receptive to the person working the register at the coffee shop or grocery store.  For many of us, welcoming visitors into our homes may not happen often, but we all encounter strangers, acquaintances, friends, family – others – everyday.  These are all our neighbors.  Our current cultural challenge is to be present or to be receptive to our neighbors…  to love our neighbors… to welcome each as though he or she is Christ.  This can be more simple than we think.  Making eye contact with the person ringing up my coffee order, instead of checking my phone.  Saying hello to her and asking “how’s your day?”  Taking a moment to ask an acquaintance at church or work how he is doing.  Being receptive to those around us, as Christ is to us in every moment.  The two commandments Christ speaks of today are so interwoven because loving God is to receive from Him… and this moves us to love to our neighbors.  “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  When we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, we are transformed to see every person for who they are – a soul loved by God, a soul whose very human nature reflects God.  We see Christ in them.  And we learn to welcome them as such. 

In our culture of inwardness, where it is easier to stay inside of ourselves, in our bubble, and not extend ourselves out into the reality around us, we can easily begin to lose touch with our call and ability to be present.  This not only challenges our ability to extend hospitality, but also to receive the hospitality of others.  We feel bad if someone offers to help us…we don’t want to inconvenience them…it will be easier to just take care of this on our own…  We are uncomfortable receiving. (Listen to the podcast for more on this).  This doesn’t mean we must forgo all sense of personal boundaries and, for instance, lose the ability to end a conversation when necessary or decline a visitor at a truly inconvenient time for your family.  Though, if we fail to practice and become aware of how to live hospitality and receptivity in our day-to-day lives, we may miss opportunities to share Christ’s warm reception and hospitality with others when He is calling us to.  It can be a great challenge to stay present to our reality.  But it is in this very reality that we meet God and others.  This is the receptive heart of hospitality – being present to opportunities, big or small, to serve another. 

It may just be my perception… reading through my modern lenses and bias… but in the first reading today, I perceived Naomi being uncomfortable with Ruth joining her.  As though it would be easier if Ruth stayed with her native people and Naomi was able to go on her journey alone.  But Ruth has a heart full of love for God and wants to be with her mother-in-law Naomi out of her total love – heart, mind, and soul – for the Lord.  His love takes us outside of ourselves and our inner worlds and connects us to each other in the tangible world.  It leads us to our neighbors.  But the source of this kind of service must be the love of God.  We must first allow ourselves to receive His love so we can emulate this authentic love to our neighbors. 

As the Lord leads each of us into our vocation, our mission, or as He guides those of us already in our vocation, I pray we are each given opportunities to extend Christian hospitality in many ways.  Some days it may be sacrificing time you ‘need’ to get something done to be present to a friend, a parent, your spouse or child, or a fellow friar or sister in your community. And sometimes it may be hosting visitors you know through a friend of a friend and welcoming them into your imperfect (maybe even slightly disorganized) home with the respect and attentiveness you’d give to Christ. The Christian host is not defined by the perfection of her home, but by the warmth and openness of her heart.  But a Christian does not have to own a home to be hospitable or to be a host in the Spirit of Christ.  He can be a young person, living anywhere, who extends a warm, open heart to those he encounters. 

Let’s pray together for an awareness of what Christian hospitality can look like for each of us – in our individual stages of life, in our vocations, or wherever we are on our path of discerning our vocations and the mission God is calling us to. 

Lord, how are you calling me to be more hospitable in my life?  How can I be more receptive of others?  Help me to receive your love more deeply into the crevices of my heart, mind, and soul.  Transform me and conform me to your heart, so I may understand what it means to be truly hospitable, to truly love my neighbor.  Thank you, Lord.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray all of these things.  Amen.         


Catholic Stuff You Should Know Podcast – “Chateau de la Rode”

Dressing for a Wedding

Inevitably, among the daily news about politics and sports and celebrity break-ups and make-ups, there is at least one big post about fashion. In particular, whenever there is a star-studded event, be it the Oscars or Met Gala or somebody’s sixth wedding, we are treated to a slideshow of who wore what, who wore it better, fashion faux-pas and beautiful bodies wearing anything or almost nothing.

There must be quite a fan base for fashion news. I would not, however, expect God to be among those keeping track of wedding guest attire. And yet, in today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the wedding garment. A man shows up at a wedding improperly attired. His punishment is not merely goggling or gossip, but being cast out—“into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

If there is one thing decidedly not in fashion it is Hell. And that God would send someone there for a failure to keep a dress code is more shocking than what the starlets aren’t wearing. What is going on?

When I was young I hated today’s Gospel. If todays’ feast, the Queenship of Mary, highlights the beauty of the faith, the story of the poor slob kicked out in the darkness of Hell seems to be representative of its ugliness. It seems unfair that being underdressed, even for a wedding, could warrant damnation. What kind of a God do we worship?

It was only later that I learned about first-century customs underlying today’s story. Guests who arrived a royal wedding were given the garments necessary for that wedding. The king knew that his subjects could never afford fitting attire, could not produce the appropriate festive garments on their own. And so the king himself provided them.

The man in the story was guilty of refusing a gift. He preferred to cover himself. Why? Was he like the Pharisee, who tried to justify himself with good works? Like Adam and Eve, who tried to hide nakedness with fig leaves? Or just like a regular old sinner who doesn’t think that he is that dirty?

The garment symbolizes sanctifying grace. “Nothing unclean can enter heaven.” In order to be happy in heaven with God, we need to be purified, to be in His grace.

Grace by definition is not something that we can achieve on our own; it is pure gift. We receive this gift at baptism, often as babies, when even the choice is made for us. If we forfeit it through mortal sin, God offers us restoration in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He continues to provide us with the grace to resist sin, and to repent when we fail. It is however up to us to choose to accept this gift, to put on the garment that He offers us.

The feast of the Queenship of Mary highlights this gift, and the goodness of God. It is His delight to share His glory with us! This is pure gift. Mary was not filled with grace on her own. She was saved, as we all are, through her Son. She could not have conceived Jesus by sheer willpower. (Couples who struggle with infertility can attest that even a purely human pregnancy cannot be achieved by willpower alone).

Yet here is a little Jewish girl chosen out of all women to be the Mother of God, and now enthroned as Queen of the entire universe. What did God ask of her? Her assent. She says yes to letting God clothe her, lead her, choose her destiny. The destiny that seemed so humble while she lived on earth became something beyond the wildest of human imaginings and aspirations.

Today God asks of us a yes. To put off the shabby rags of our sinfulness, to take on His robes of righteousness. These robes won’t merit a spread in the fashion pages. We are dressing not for today’s news but for a wedding in eternity.

Vincent_Malo_-_Wedding Guest Resized

Featured Image: Vincent Malo [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Being the Beloved

Things can go wrong very quickly when we are not living from our belovedness.

That’s what happened to the Israelites in today’s first reading. At the first sight of trouble, they turned away from God and worshiped other gods. Even when the Lord mercifully sent judges to help them, they still turned away, and worse than their ancestors.

How often are we, too, like the Israelites? When things go wrong or even when things are going well, we can struggle with trusting in God. We put the armor of self-protection on and soldier on in our own way, while the Lord longingly cries out to us, “Let Me love you!”

It is so much easier to trust in the Lord, even in the darkest of storms, when we live from a place of being His beloved sons and daughters. When we know in the core of our very being that we are delighted in and loved, that changes everything. It frees us. Because we don’t have to restlessly strive to earn God’s love, protection, and peace. He loves us with reckless, wild abandon just because we are His.

So those fears? He’s got them. That conflict you’re in? He’s already conquered it. Your sins? His mercy is there. Your deepest insecurities and self-loathing? He sees it, knows it, and wants to help point you back to the truth of His love. He didn’t promise a life with Him would make all our problems go away, but He promised to be with us. And that’s more than we could ever ask for or need.

God wants to give good things to us. He wants to spoil us with His love, if only we would let Him, because we belong to Him. He is crazy about us. He can’t stop talking about us.

Today, let’s let the Lord scoop us up into His arms like His little children that we are and let Him bring us back to the place of being His beloved ones. We can renew our trust in Him with childlike freedom and joy. He is here. He is here, gazing at us with the utmost joy and delight. His gaze heals, frees, and captivates. We are fully known and truly loved in His sight. He. Is. Here.