Here at the End of All Things

“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.

In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.

The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”

Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.

In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “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.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the KingOn Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the WorldThe Promise

Gratitude a Platitude?

I smiled politely but inwardly rolled my eyes and sighed. I had come far, driving for several hours across state lines for this conversation. I was searching for peace, the peace that I heard Jesus promise and holy people speak of, but that was elusive in my own life. I was experiencing darkness and angst, teetering on the edge of depression. I thought this holy priest would offer helpful advice, transformative insight, something beyond: “Try keeping a journal of things you are grateful for.”

Gratitude?!? It was vaguely offensive, this suggestion that my problems arose because I was ungrateful. And a Gratitude Journal seemed little better than a “self-help” suggestion. Surely, if self-help propaganda actually worked, it wouldn’t be an ongoing industry.

I roll my eyes harder, today, at the naïve and stubborn girl I was then. Because when I finally took this priest’s advice, years later, it was transformative.

He was right, of course, that gratitude brought with it an increase in happiness and tranquility. Science in fact confirms this: studies repeatedly show that those who practice gratitude are generally happier and healthier. But in the spiritual realm this truth runs much deeper. In recent years I have meditated often on this mystery of gratitude, and how in fact gratitude is at the heart of the spiritual life in ways that are not immediately apparent.

First, gratitude orients us toward God. Gratitude as grace is more than an expression of contentedness, more than an acknowledgement of the good things in our lives. It is a recognition of, a turning towards, the Giver of these gifts. It is not coincidence that the first prayer children learn to pray is the practice of gratitude, of receiving and responding to the goodness of God. Gratitude is the first expression of the faith that saves us.

When in today’s Gospel Jesus remarks with dismay that only one of the ten lepers He healed has come back to thank Him, it is tempting to read this as a scolding for a breach of etiquette, as though Jesus were little more than a divine first-century Miss Manners. But what Jesus is lamenting is a matter of relationship. We are called as Christians not just to be thankful for someTHING, but thankful to someONE. Gratitude turns the heart toward the Giver. It is the relationship, this coming to the Giver, that saves.

Second, gratitude increases our capacity for God’s gifts. Gratitude in turn unlocks other blessings. It is a mystery of faith that I have come to recognize experientially: our gratitude actually increases the gifts of God.

At first I was put off (again!) by this idea. It seemed to be just another quid pro quo, a means of “earning” grace by playing nice and saying the right things. Worse, it seemed to demean God, suggesting He was crankily waiting for us to respond properly before giving us more good things.

It was living in the country that I began to understand why this might be—why it was more than just spiritual tit for tat, a reward for good behavior. I had discovered early upon my move home on that our basement was vulnerable to floods, and when that spring brought prolonged record rainfall I feared the worst. But each day that I checked, the basement remained dry. It was only after weeks of dry and drought that a short burst of rain sent the water rushing in.

The reason is simple: when ground is dry it becomes hardened, and the water cannot penetrate quickly enough and so runs off the surface of it creating the flooding. But as the earth receives water, it softens, allowing it to receive more and more. Similarly, the more our hearts are open to God and His gifts, the more He can give to us without “drowning” us. The more we gratefully receive, the more we are capable of receiving what God gives us.

Finally, gratitude keeps present in our hearts and minds the goodness of the Giver. As we remember our blessings and the ways in which God has provided for our past, we carry the seeds of hope for our future, even in seasons of scarcity and suffering.

“For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.”– Dag Hammarskjöld

Giving Testimony

They will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
–Luke 21:12–13

James_Intercisus,_II_Half_of_XVI_Century,_St_Nicholas_Bolnichki_ChurchIn the Gospel reading, Jesus describes the signs of persecution that his apostles will face in their evangelical endeavors. We know that when this gospel was written down, the disciples had already come to know abuse quite well. Romans and Jews martyred early Christians such as St. James Intercisus, patron of lost vocations and torture victims, whose feast day is today.

St. James Intercisus served as a decorated soldier during the reign of King Yezdigered I in fifth-century Persia. Fearing the retribution of the King, he apostatized his faith much to the dismay of his mother and wife. In time, St. James found the courage to defend his faith, which led to his public martyrdom. St. James was dismembered slowly, but tradition holds that during his execution, he gladly offered himself as a sacrifice to the true living God (DVRodrigues, 2018).

Knowing that this persecution continues in our present time, I find myself wondering, why would anyone want to give a Christian testimony today? Why would I choose to suffer when I could be silent and prosperous?

The answer, perhaps, is the love of Christ that we know through faith. We can see the goodness that comes from Him. When we plan a dinner for our fellow Christians or take a hike, we know He is with us. We see the inspiration Christ continues to give to us, the poor.

When Christ says, “because of my name,” we know that he has paved the way to heaven for us. If Christ suffered such senseless discrimination having both human and divine nature, do we expect to be treated any better? We know that the disorder in the world and our sinfulness prevents us from receiving the goodness we intend to give out, but that should not stop us from giving.

As the holidays approach, and we prepare delicious meals to be shared with family, think of the passage comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a woman making bread. Christ tells us the “kingdom of heaven is like yeast” (Luke 13:33).

Let us meditate on your abundance so that we may rise to the occasion if we are required to give testimony in times of persecution. Please help us to discern the Holy Spirit so that whether we are sharing a meal with family, or protesting against the senseless torture of captives, we can know the true beatitude that you have promised us. Help us remember your name and respond with love instead of hatred. Give us the courage to share your love alongside the poorest among us and within ourselves. Let us not suffer needlessly, but rather with the resolve to do your will. Please give us the Courage and Fortitude to bear our burdens.

Never let us forget your ultimate plan is not limited to us here and now but is ultimately a unitive love that is for all eternity.

Source: DVRodriguez, 2018, Saint James Intercisus, St. Vincent Ferrer Foundation of Texas, accessed Nov. 20, 2019.
https://svfonline.org/st-james-intercisus-nov-27/

Image: James Intercisus, II Half of XVI Century, St. Nicholas Bolnichki Church. [Public Domain]

The End Of Time

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people;
rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms
and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever. –Daniel 2:44

The kingdoms Daniel referred to were made out of iron, bronze, silver and gold. These metals were considered precious, and some virtually indestructible, but not to the almighty God. God’s kingdom is greater and stronger than any created on earth. This passage is a powerful reminder to place all our investments in Jesus Christ for He is more precious than iron, bronze, silver, and even gold.

The Gospel takes this idea further, and Jesus Christ directly addresses the end of the world and how we will know when it is coming:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. –Luke 21:11

All goods and possessions we hold onto on this earth will be destroyed, and then what will be left? Only God, with His glorious kingdom far grander and more superior to anything we have ever known. It is so easy to fall into the trap of living for this day, the one that marks the end of time. We convince ourselves we need to be prepared for it, but instead of preparing our souls, we prepare for the earthquakes, famines, and plagues. Jesus Christ rebukes us, telling us not to fear these acts of nature, for He will be there and give us what we need to survive. We must be concerned about the condition of our souls. When these “mighty signs” arrive, we will have no control over them, but we will have control over how we respond. Will we seek comfort in the strength of iron, bronze, silver, or gold, or will we seek refuge in Jesus Christ? Jesus also said we will be asked to testify, even be handed over by our own family, but we need not fear because the Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak when our time comes.

Turn to Jesus Christ in everything and throughout all time, both now in the present day and in the turbulent time to come. Glory, tragedy, and the basic day-to-day events of life will happen, but as long as we keep our gaze fixed on Him, we can have faith that we will be prepared, not just for the end of the world, but more importantly, for the afterlife as well.

Base of Belief

Trepidatiously, I had added the 5 miles to the calendar.  Though I had run 4 miles the week before, I wasn’t certain I could nail the mileage with the same splits. On the morning of, doubt crept in. Within the first mile, I considered backing the distance down.  I had committed. It was gonna be 5. 

The sun glared across a street sign making it impossible to read. After running another mile and looking at the time, I thought I had made a mistake and had cut the run short. So, I decided I would run to the next intersection  to add the distance back to get where I was “supposed” to be. As the distance increased, I sensed my eyes looking up. I realized I hadn’t made a mistake after all. I knew without a doubt the 5 mile run became a 7 mile loop—7.06 to be exact—and each mile split was 6 seconds faster than expected.

Building is a quintessential activity for both endurance and belief. Therefore, it’s necessary to know the ways we stop gap the process, where we simply put one foot in front of the other.  How do you limit possibilities? How do you tap out because of a fear of failure before facing the breaking point? Instead, how will you build your base of belief?

Verso l’alto, 

Kathryn Grace 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

Moment by Moment with the Lord

On September 21st, mine and my husband’s lives changed forever as we welcomed the baby who had been growing in my womb for nine months into the world! In her first eight weeks outside the womb, our sweet little girl has already encouraged and challenged me to grow. One immediate change I’ve experienced in my day to day is how little my ideas of a plan or schedule really matter. Of course, the words ‘plan’ and ‘schedule’ mean nothing to an eight-week-old, and that is the beauty (and challenge) of it. By nature, I tend to be pretty go-with-the-flow and not much of a planner, but even a plan as simple as making breakfast and coffee when I get up in the morning may or may not come to fruition in the way I imagine now that I have a little one depending on me. Breastfeeding, a diaper change, and/or a snuggle may all need to happen before I have a chance to take a sip of that coffee. In short, any number of little things can re-route my simple daily plans. Equally as often, I am anticipating my little girl getting hungry only to find that she is perfectly content and smiley, giving me an unexpected opportunity to get something done that I wasn’t expecting to do or enter into that smiley moment with her. As I’ve begun to adjust to caring for my sweet little infant, I’ve realized how it encourages me to be present to the moment. I can choose to cling to my ideal plan and be disappointed or upset when it goes differently, or I can choose to be open to what is most important moment by moment.

Holiness is a calling that asks for our whole present selves first and foremost. God asks us to come into His presence and everything else flows from there. Plans and schedules are not bad at all – they are in fact very good. A plan for our day or our entire life plan can be a beautiful source of Hope. What’s important is that this Hope is rooted in the Lord and not the plan itself. He is the source of all Hope and our plans only matter insofar as we don’t lose the source Himself in the midst of them. We must learn detachment from the plans themselves. And while our plans can be good, meaningful, and holy, God often has surprises up His sleeve anyway. As a good friend of mine always says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of His second coming, when the “Son of Man is revealed” (Lk 17:30). These Scriptures make me ask myself, “What can I be doing to be ready when the Lord comes?” But I think that question can be misleading. At the center of anything I am “doing” to prepare for the Lord, is the simple act of being in Him. Through the grace of God, made concrete through our baptism and the other sacraments, we are in Him and called to remain in Him (Jn 15:4) moment by moment. The Holy Spirit speaks to us and calls us outside of our own plans into His own. At the core, we yearn to be so attune with Him that we don’t miss His voice because it didn’t fit into our own schedule. 

How do we become more attune with Him? Talk to Him, spend time with Him, welcome Him in to every moment. And as often as we forget to do this, ask Him to forgive us and start again, asking for His help because we can’t do this in our own power. And He will. He will teach us, just like He is teaching me through the presence of my daughter. In a time where my prayer time is sporadic, He is teaching me through the very vocation He has given me. He is speaking a specific lesson to me through my daughter in these first weeks of her life. I ask Him to help me be open with each moment so I don’t miss an opportunity to play with her when she is awake or use the time she is sleeping peacefully to eat something… or write this reflection. My motherly instincts are encouraging me to become attuned to my daughter and what she is communicating to me. And so it is with the Lord… He welcomes us to become attuned to Himself so we may not miss the important things He is communicating to us. How is He currently communicating to you through your life, and how can you invite Him in more fully to each moment?

Lord, I welcome you into this day, into each moment. Teach me how to surrender my plans and live more truly moment by moment with you. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Devout and Faithful Servant of God

“We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”

– Luke 17:10

When I used to think of the word “servant” I thought of it as a dirty word. I thought a servant was someone without any authority, someone very low in class and poor, someone who had no choice but to do the work for others. My definition and understanding of who’s a servant was completely wrong. Jesus Christ came to earth not “to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:28). As we are called to imitate Christ, we are called to be servants – that is to be devout and faithful followers of Christ.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is speaking to the disciples, and to each of us, telling us that we should do what is commanded by God without complaining and without expecting to be praised. This might be difficult for many to take in as we all want to be seen and given due credit for whatever small deed we do. We attach our names to absolutely everything so the world can see; out of my kindness, out of my brilliance, out of my skills, out of my popularity I did that. On the other side of the spectrum when things aren’t to our standard we complain. We let the world know that we are not satisfied, that we are upset and angry, that we demand things to be as we want them to be. Neither of these characteristics are pleasing to God. We are servants to the Lord. What is pleasing to God is for us to follow His commands and be in accordance with His will. By doing this we show our love for God.

How can we be good servants? By serving as Jesus Christ served. We should take care of the poor, the sick, the hungry, those who mourn. We should be meek and humble. We should follow righteousness. We should be merciful and pure of heart. We should be peacemakers and stand firm in front of persecution. I learned that this is the true definition of what it means to be a servant; a devout and faithful follower of Christ.

In the catechism it states that the religious and ministers of the Church are servants of God. The pope’s proper title is servant to the servants of God. And one of the first steps in canonization of a saint is to pronounce them as a servant of God to the entire world. I mean, woah, think about that. To be a saint in heaven you will first take a title that the secular world walks all over: servant.

We are all unprofitable servants this is true. Because everything good is due to God alone. But, God is not like the man in the parable who is not grateful that his servant is being obedient. After the servant finishes plowing and tending the sheep his master orders him to serve food and drink. The servant’s work never ends and he is not rewarded. As servants of the Lord our work never ends either but, it does not end because we never stop being faithful followers of Christ! Our mission is to always preach and worship His good name. We will continue to plow and plant seeds of faith. We will continue to tend the sheep and build up the Church. The difference is that our God sees the work we do for Him and He loves us. When we enter the gates of heaven our Lord will joyously tell us “come here immediately and take your place at table”. We all have a place at His table and we will celebrate with a great heavenly banquet filled in abundance with food and drink.

Image Credit: Jesus looking over a servant [Public Domain]