Holding and Beholding

“This night a battle has been waged and won for you. Love had to come back for you. Love had to get you. The Love that has been coming for you since the beginning—He slays dragons for you. This is the truest love story of history, and it’s His-story, and it’s for you. All the other fairy-tale love stories only echo your yearning for this truest, realest one—this one that has its beginning before the beginning of time.

This night, you on this visited planet, your rescue is here. You can breathe.

Your God extends now on straw.

He lays Himself down in your mire.

He unfolds Himself in the stench you want to hide, in the mess that is your impossible, in the mucked straw you didn’t want anyone to know.

Rejected at the inn, holy God comes in small to where you feel rejected and small. God is with you now.

Wherever you are—in a soundless cry or hidden brokenness or in your ache—God always wants to be with you. You are not ever left alone in this. We are never left alone in this; God is with us.

This is Love you can’t comprehend.

You can only feel and touch this kind.

There, in the place where you feel rejected, you can be touched by God.

There, in the places you feel small, you can touch in God.

He came in the flesh.

Come kneel close.

Let the warm breath of heaven fall on you.

God waits to be held.

God waits for you to draw close.” -The Least in the Kingdom, Ann Voskamp

Merry Christmas, dear friends! A friend sent me this reflection the other day, and I was moved to share it with you all.

God waits to be held. He beholds us, and He desires that we behold Him.

This weekend I was blessed to go on a retreat, and in the chapel there was a statue of baby Jesus in a manger in front of the altar. After spending some time in prayer, I was moved to go up and kiss the statue of baby Jesus before leaving the chapel. That got me thinking…”How can I, unworthy as I am, behold our Lord this Christmas?”

The next night, I found myself in the chapel again, kneeling in the aisle, in a place of total humility and vulnerability with our Lord. I looked up at the same statue of baby Jesus, then at the Tabernacle that beheld Jesus in the Eucharist, and finally at the crucifix above it that beheld all Jesus’ pain for our salvation, in awe of who He is and how He died for us. I was confronted with my own weakness, yet somehow still beholding Him.

Beholding our Lord comes with a beautiful, raw humility—those moments where we stop and say, “Wow,” where we marvel at His majesty, and realize just how much we need Him. That is beholding Him.

The Lord came to us with that same beautiful, raw humility. We can be real with Him. We can behold Him as we are, with all that we have, hearts bare like Jesus’ Sacred Heart that beats on the outside of His body.

He wouldn’t want us to behold Him any other way.

O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us behold Him. O come, let us hold Him.

Let Him Love You

“I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His Eyes.”
–St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

As the sun sets, a soft, rosy glow from the Christmas tree fills the silent room. The dying light just catches on small flecks of gold in the sparkling ornaments, the star above the crèche, and the glittering cards from loved ones that line the mantle. On them, simple words written with paper and ink wish you a merry Christmas from across the country. The words seem to come to life with the thought of seeing someone’s sweet smile or hearing another’s joyful laughter, especially if they are far from home this year.

In the beginning, another Word, the Word, was with God, and was God—but this Word did not stay still. Knowing our sins and miseries, this unchanging and creative Word reached into the silence, “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). As St. Augustine explains in today’s office of readings, “In this way, what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.”

But, it was not enough for the Word to simply be seen, for Love to just appear to the beloved: our Love went into action, “springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). In becoming visible, he became vulnerable, as an innocent newborn baby hunted by Herod. He became a servant, healing the sick, shepherding the lost sheep, and washing the apostles’ feet. He became the man of sorrows, carrying our sins and miseries to the end, when his heart was pierced, letting blood and water flow forth for the world. “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), and he loved us from a cross on a hill in a faraway country, even when we were so very far from home.

It was still not sufficient for the Light to die and rise, for Love’s very heart to be pierced—for Love mingled with grief, and grew all the greater. During the Last Supper, Love took, blessed, and broke His own heart to be shared with the apostles and those to come, instituting the Eucharist and finding a way to be with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In his last moments on the cross, he broke his mother’s heart and placed us in the folds of her mantle through the beloved disciple, St. John. “Woman, behold your son… Son, behold your Mother.” His birth in a stable under a star “cost her no sorrow, but this birth of John and the millions of us at the foot of the Cross brought her such agony as to merit the title ‘Queen of Martyrs’” (Sheen). Her lifelong union with Love’s cross led her to loving us in the crossing of her arms, arms filled with roses.

Loving Someone like this takes courage. But, sometimes it takes far more courage to let ourselves be uncommonly loved by Someone who “moves the sun and the other stars,” a Love we receive under the visible appearance of bread and wine, forms of gold that do not glitter but are Light itself. Just as Christ names us as gifts from the Father (John 17:24), he gives us the gift of himself, calling us to arise and run to him, for “the winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11). As the Son is unveiled in our hearts and we come face to face with this “excess of love,” we can hesitate, one step away from being closer to home than we’ve ever been.

We know all too well our miseries and sins; we all know how vulnerable hearts can be “wrung and possibly broken” by imperfect people, or by stories that end far too soon. We know the way of Love is also the way of the Cross, filled with thorny branches and briars that will piece your heart as well as heal it. Even so—let yourself be loved more than this, by more than you think you could be loved. Even if your heart feels frozen under a bitter frost, or hidden inside a silent tomb, do not be afraid of love that is the gift of one who is “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). For, as St. John Paul II says, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Let yourself be loved by the Love who can heal your precious heart this Christmas and always. Take courage, and “may the Lord of heaven grant you joy in place of your grief” (Tobit 7:17). For the Word was not content to simply use paper and ink to come across the world and bring us home. He came to us in a stable that held Someone “bigger than the whole world” and comes again each day in the breaking of the bread, in the breaking of his heart, so we may have joy, and our joy may be complete—our soul in His Soul, our hearts in His Heart, our eyes in His Eyes as we too are taken, broken, blessed, and shared with others. We have only to receive Him—and to let ourselves be loved.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Let Yourself Be LovedLetters
Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Knowing the Love of God
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Josef Pieper, On Love
Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love

Christmas is Worth Waiting For

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord

Merry Christmas!

Today’s Christmas. Today is probably one of my favorite days of the whole year aside from my birthday. And it’s perhaps providential that it’s my very first Frassati reflection, coming right off the very end of Advent and into this wonderful Christmas season. It is also perhaps providential (no, it most certainly is no coincidence!) that today’s publication of my very first Frassati reflection comes right off what has been a very difficult three months for me. Without divulging much here, the past 90 or so days have been among the most difficult in my entire life. Three months ago, I made the decision to leave my PhD program, completely unaware and uncertain as to what the next step of my life would be come the end of this semester. I had prayerfully discerned, during this past fall Frassati retreat, that it was God’s will that I do indeed leave my PhD program, circumstances notwithstanding. Suffice to say, the past three months have been very trying, emotionally and physically. Academia, and completing a PhD, had represented my hopes and dreams for the past 10 years. I knew little else, career-wise. (I had been in and out of grad school for the past five years and had never held a “normal” 9 to 5 job.) 

Often, we all hit a roadblock in the lives we so try to meticulously plan. I know I certainly thought I had my life planned. I then pondered, and asked God, “Ok, God, now what? I’m waiting.” I often thought to how Our Lady must have thought, “How can this be?” when she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Christ, the Word Incarnate (Luke 1:34). “How can this be?” rang often in my prayers, late at night. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on for a while, especially after I felt and knew it was God’s will I be admitted into my PhD program 2.5 years ago. April 15th, 2017, was one of the most joyous days of my life: it was the day I learned I was being admitted into my PhD program, and at my dream program. I now look back on that day with mixed feelings, but I am grateful to the Lord for the knowledge and experience I have gained. But like Our Lady trusted, so should I. True, bearing the Light of The World isn’t quite the same as allowing God to lead you on a different career path, but the sentiment is all the same. Trust. And I felt over and over in prayer, Go to Him.

December 13th was the very last day of my PhD program. I have now resigned myself to never becoming a college professor, never obtaining a PhD, and I am allowing Christ to radically lead me elsewhere. As the saying goes, I am allowing “Jesus to take the wheel.” It ain’t a Carrie Underwood song, it’s life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the midst of all this, my faith was the rock of my entire being and my eyes were ever so planted onto Our Lord. I was waiting. I’m still waiting. I’m still trusting. Today’s Christmas. Most people around us have been hurrying around looking for the perfect gift until the very last minute, waiting in line shopping at Macy’s well past 11pm, putting up decorations, frantically writing Christmas cards, getting stuck in traffic, and planning parties and dinners. We may have been one of those people, too. I know that sometimes I get lost it in all too. (I’m told I overgift and that I go overboard with party planning. I am also told that I can be more wordy than necessary.) It is easy to lose sight of the true significance of this season. 

This entire season, leading up to today, is meant to have been one of joy and hope, of preparation, and of waiting patiently for the coming of the Lord. It is not only about the past, but also very much about the present and the future. I know I won’t be defined by the past, and that I won’t be defined by any lack of ranks, degrees, or titles. I am a follower of Christ and Lay Dominican first, and everything else is secondary.

When I think back to my most recent disappointment with my PhD, I’m reminded that Christmas should be seen as a time for us to step back and take in the deep and rich meaning of this sacred event. We must see, first, that God became the Word Incarnate, that He entered our own human condition, and, in doing so, is able to identify with all that we experience in life. All our joys. All our disappointments. God understands human life! He lived it. God humbled himself in the most profound way so that we would come to know Him and His perfect love for us. The angel Gabriel told Our Lady, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). Do we step back and look to Our Lord? And when we do so, are we afraid?

Despite what may come, despite anything that has happened this past season, do not be afraid to come and behold the Christ who came as your savior. This past Advent season we have been reminded over and over that Advent is a time of waiting. But it’s now Christmas. We are often waiting for God to literally come to us. (God also speaks in His silence, but that’s another reflection.) We celebrate His birth just like that of any one of us—offering prayers, eating, drinking and making merry. We celebrate his coming into the world, but we often do not welcome Him into our hearts and lives. And we so often get away from Him in such times of trial and tribulation. I know the more and more I struggled these past few months, the more and more I deeply held onto Our Lord.

Amidst our celebrations this Christmas, let us pause a while to look around us to recognize that Jesus was born into the world two thousand years ago. The Incarnation is the very incarnation of hope itself. The Son of God comes Incarnate to fulfill the hope of the People of Israel. He is among us in every person and in every trial and tribulation we encounter in our lives. Whatever has happened to you this past season, Go to Him, have hope, and rejoice in His birth.

Silent Night

Today is Christmas Eve—in my opinion, the most peaceful day of the year.  To quote the classic song:  “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”  This is the conclusion of the Advent season, the season of hope.  Even though it is the shortest season in the liturgical year, it does not lack in excitement or anticipation.  Advent is focused on building up hope within ourselves and looking toward the future, the coming of our Savior.  Tomorrow is the birth of Jesus, the answer to all the Lord’s promises to HIs people.  No wonder this night is so peaceful because at this moment in time all is right with the world.

It is important to acknowledge these moments of peace and give honor to them.  They do not happen all that often.  Life’s chaos and conflict along with the enemy’s constant waged wars can easily enter into our souls and disrupt our sense of harmony and essentially draw us away from the Lord.  The Lord will never let these times of trouble overcome His true love for us.  He graces us with instances of silence to call us back to Him.  In the first reading, King David experienced one of these crucial moments.

King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side…The Lord also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you.  And when your time comes, and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his Kingdom firm.
—2 Samuel 7

It is during these times that we can be confident that we are the closest to God, and He uses these times to reveal His will for us; promises are made and covenants are created.  On this night, the most silent of nights, all of the Lord’s promises are fulfilled.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
—Luke 1:79

On this most holy of nights, let us pray for those who are struggling, all who are in a state of darkness, all who cannot hear the voice of their loving Father.  Pray that we can all find peace on this silent night and allow our hearts to be opened by the Holy Spirit and to be made ready for everything that is to come in this new year.

My Heart Burns for You, Lord

“For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.” -Malachi 3:2-4

We are almost to Christmas, dear friends! No matter the ups and downs of your Advent journey, we are here, and God is with us, loving us and sustaining us.

In His saving power, Jesus comes to us with a fierce desire to refine and purify our hearts to be more like His. This is not out of vengeance nor a punishment. He does not come to us in anger, but He takes on the human flesh of a little baby, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph. Who doesn’t love a cute baby? He took on our humanity so He could draw us ever closer to Himself in love. Jesus came into the world in a humble, messy, way—His tiny beating heart longing for us. He wants us to know that He understands everything about us, that He is real, and that He came to save us.

So this refining, this purifying of our lives, is nothing to fear. How great is the Lord’s love that He desires to intricately mold the details of our hearts so that we can be set free to live fully alive with Him! Jesus’ Incarnation is such a profound gift that begs a response from us. And the best response we can give Him is by saying, “Refine me! Consume me! I’m totally Yours!” with wild self-abandonment. May we be able to be a living sacrifice for our Lord. May we surrender all the parts of ourselves completely to His mercy. He desires to rescue you, so that you may no longer be a slave. He aches for you so much that He came to earth to die and rise for you.

As St. John the Baptist prayed, may there be more of You, Lord, and less of us in this refining. Jesus, consume us with the fire of your overwhelming love. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine. Help us to surrender ourselves entirely to Your refining care. We want to burn for You! Come, Emmanuel, and purify our hearts! Amen.

I encourage you to give this song a listen and pray with it for Jesus to consume your heart!

Keep your eyes fixed on His Sacred Heart that outpours with so much love for you, and Merry Christmas! You are in my prayers! He is with us!

Say Yes to God

Could Mary have said no?

This was the question one of my confirmation students asked me. Could Mary have said no?

Well, yes, she could have said no. She could have said to the angel Gabriel that this was just too much, that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, she wasn’t ready to be talked about behind her back or be disgraced because it wasn’t Joseph’s child. She could have said that she didn’t want the responsibility. She could have freely said no. Lucky for us, that’s not the way the Annunciation goes.

Mary said yes to God.

Through Mary’s “yes” the word became flesh and God was amongst us. Through Mary’s “yes” a child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary freely and willingly accepted her mission as the mother of God. She knew that the fruit of her womb, her son, Jesus Christ, was our redeemer, the perfect lamb by which the world would find its salvation. And she pondered on all of this in her heart because God chose her to love and take care of a small, innocent, and special baby. Mary’s “yes” aligned the will of God with her own will, obediently allowing herself to be an instrument of the Lord.

Mary’s “yes” was powerful.

In the Gospel reading for today, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.” That message is for us as well. The Most High, almighty and omnipotent God can do everything and anything—He made every inch of the universe. And nothing is impossible for God. Let us remember that in our hearts when we pray and when we walk up to the altar. Let us remember that the impossible does not exist to God. Whatever fear or doubt we might have in accepting God’s good word, let us renounce it. Whatever uncertainty we may experience that is stopping us from going forth with God’s plans, let us be aware to walk away from it.

In today’s society we are always busy. Our calendars are full of meetings, appointments, dinner parties, sports tournaments, work, and classes. The list goes on and on. We plan our schedules thinking that we are in control. The hardest thing for us to realize is that our lives are not our own; our lives belong to God and therefore should be centered around God. He is the one in control, and He is the one in charge of our final schedules.

God made us in His image to love us and for us to love Him. That love has to be given freely. So, yes, Mary could have said no. But it was her love for God that willed her to say yes and be open to receive baby Jesus in her womb. It is that same love for the Lord that will shape our individual lives. Through our own “yes” to God, we will be open to receive His many gifts of grace.

During this Advent season, as we are waiting and preparing our hearts for Jesus, let us prepare in a special way to do God’s will. Pray that when God changes our schedules we’d be open and willing to accept this change, always aligning our will with the will of God. Let us prepare to always want to say YES! to our God. That the uniqueness of our individual “yes” may be as powerful as Mary’s fiat.

Image Credit: The Annunciation, 1742, by Agostino Masucci [Public Domain]

Not Dumb Forever

“God wounds only to heal.” His eyes were filled with compassion, as he spoke these mysterious words. Moments ago, this priest had told me that God was going to answer my prayer for joy (fulfilled first here); now he seemed to be promising pain.

What did this mean? I had been taught that even God’s punishments are mercy. However, in reality I regarded this a bit cynically, calling to mind the joke about the ambulance driver who runs over a pedestrian and then proclaims, “Isn’t it great that I am here to save you!”

I was thinking about this later, when I (foolishly) walked across the deck of the beach house barefoot, thereby acquiring one of the largest splinters I have ever seen in the ball of my foot. It was unspeakably large, and unspeakably painful. It was baffling how it managed to get in, because there was no hole by which to extract it. The only way to remove the splinter was to cut into my foot. As I painfully pierced my skin to get at the splinter, I thought about the mysterious ways of God.

In today’s Gospel Zechariah is told, “Your prayers have been heard!” This gift of a son is not a random bequest from the Almighty, but a specific answer to Zechariah’s prayer. And yet he doubts the possibility that his prayer is being answered.

And because he doubts, he is punished.

Or is he? Zechariah is struck dumb, literally, rendered speechless for the next nine months. One can only wonder at what was wrought in that silence. What did he think, as he watched his aged wife’s burgeoning belly? What wonder filled his mind as he placed his hand over her womb, felt the quickening and kicking of the prayed-for-son growing beneath her heart?

He must have gone back over that day a thousand times, not just the angel’s words but what had come immediately before. How it fell to him by lot the honor of approaching the holy of holies, to offer the incense on behalf of all of Israel. How with the incense rose the prayers and longings of countless generations for freedom and redemption. Could it be that God could, would, answer these prayer, too?

In the silence it is God who speaks, God who acts. In the silence, we come to know God’s Word.

What kind of God did Zechariah believe in?

Zechariah, abruptly silenced, was forced to let God get a Word in edgewise. And as he was stilled by silence, he was schooled in the lessons of faith, of hope, of trust in the goodness of God. These are the weapons of life in the desert. These hard-won lessons would be instilled in young John the Baptist. Even in the desert, God provides. Even in the desert, God is good. Even in the desert, God’s promises are being fulfilled.

We know that life grew within Zechariah, too, because when speech returns, he prophecies with joy, about the mission of his son, about the “tender compassion of our God.” Discouragement and doubt have given way to trust in the Promise.

Ultimately, the answer to his prayer and mine, is the same: Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Fra Angelico Zechariah

Image: Fra Angelico The Naming of John the Baptist