Jesus Christ Has Won. Love Has Won.

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
And let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
In the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
In the day when I call, answer me speedily.
—Psalm 102:2–3

The responsorial psalm for today is piercing through my soul. Due to the current COVID-19 crisis in the world, how many of us are crying out to the Lord in distress, praying for a miracle? Many of us. How many of us might be feeling anxiety, fear, and loneliness? Many of us. How many of us are clinging to faith in this time of uncertainty? I hope, too, that the answer is many of us.

The last time in which I celebrated communion, I did not know it would be “the last time.” I had accepted the Body of Christ and rejoiced in a beautiful Holy Hour. I remember feeling FULL, feeling HAPPY, feeling THANKFUL. I am holding on to those feelings of peace as I obediently wait for the church doors to be opened to the public again. But, as I wait, I know that the Church is ALIVE. I know that God the Father loves all His children. I know that Jesus Christ has won.

In today’s first reading, the people of Israel were complaining about the manna bread that God had given them to eat in the desert. They had been wandering in the desert for years, only eating of the miraculous manna bread that fell from heaven to sustain their lives. Yes, they were in the hot and lonely desert. Yes, they did not have a variety of food to choose from. But the people of Israel failed to see the good within the situation that they were in; they had much to be thankful for. First, they were freed from slavery in Egypt—they had been enslaved for 400 years and God broke their chains. Second, they had food and water—the manna bread does not naturally grow in the desert; it was bread from heaven that God provided for His children to eat so they’d be nourished and remain strong. And have you heard of this rolling rock that just followed them in the desert and provided water?

As humans sometimes we tend to only focus on the bad and choose to sit with it. We neglect to acknowledge all the good that God has already done in our lives. And at times, even in the midst of living in the good of life, we fail to give proper thanks to God. The people of Israel eventually realized their sin in complaining against God and asked for mercy. God then instructed Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole; anyone who had previously been ill had only to look at the mounted serpent and would be healed.

How interesting that God chose the image of a serpent to be mounted on the pole. A serpent was the creature that manipulated Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, causing the fall of mankind. A serpent, representative of sin; that is what the people of Israel looked at to be healed—their sins hung on a wooden pole. We also need to look at our own sin. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoings, acknowledge when we complain against God and ask for mercy. We need to look at Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. We need to see the Son of God sacrificed for our salvation. Look at the cross, walk towards it, lay all that is weighing you down at the foot of the cross, and let Jesus heal you.

Throughout the bad that is present in the world, we must keep faith to that which is good. Our faith tells us that the battle is already won. Jesus Christ died and was nailed to a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Love has won.

These are very difficult and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus has affected all of us. But have faith, the Church remains alive. Pray and invite God into your life for peace. The people of Israel asked for prayer—I encourage you to submit your prayer intentions HERE so that, as one body in Christ, we can pray for you as well.

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Image Credit: Moses showing the bronze serpent, mounted on a pole to the people of Israel [Public Domain].

The Lord Is Close to the Brokenhearted

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just man,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him.
—Psalm 34:19–20

The weight of these days can feel crushing indeed, the coronavirus pandemic like a cloud that lingers overhead. It is easy to feel a sense of helplessness when dealing with a situation that is so far beyond our control. But in these moments of suffering and uncertainty, we are closer to God than ever. The Lord draws close to us beleaguered and brokenhearted; He looks upon us with a special tenderness.

In Pope Francis’s Urbi et Orbi blessing today, he reflected on the story of the disciples who were fearful during a storm at sea as Jesus was sleeping in the boat (Mark 4:35–41). They called to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And these words, the Pope said, would have shaken Jesus, “because He, more than anyone, cares about us.”1

The Pope continued:

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.1

Jesus did not abandon His disciples in the storm, and He will not abandon us now. He is with us in the midst of our distress, and He will redeem all our sorrows. God shows mercy to us even in the face of our worst moments, our stubborn refusals to choose the good. When we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear instead of trusting in His providence, He is hurt by our distrust, but He does not turn away. Our distrust in God can entrap us in a life that is less than what He has called us to. And yet He meets our stubbornness with undeserved grace, radical forgiveness. He offers us another chance.

Let us wake up each morning and recommit ourselves in trust to God as we weather the fears, uncertainties, and sorrows of the coronavirus pandemic. He is close to all the brokenhearted, and He is with us in the midst of this storm.


1. Vatican News, “Pope at Urbi et orbi: Full text of his meditation”

Memory Matters

In the 1980’s Barbara Mandrell released a hit song: “I was country, when country wasn’t cool.” She sang about how her early life featured all the elements of a country music song—including the tough times, long before the music went mainstream and elements of her lifestyle made their way into popular culture.

In the early days of the pandemic, I’ve had a similar rueful sense of déjà vu. When in 2016 family illness came, first for my mother and then my father, my life played out like a personal pilot of the pandemic. One day everything was normal; the next, reality as I knew it was unraveled. In a short span of time I found myself unemployed, isolated eighty miles from my friends and colleagues, without income or financial security. Both parents went to the ICU. My mother, after months in the hospital followed by rehab, would finally return home; my father would not.

I heard in my head all the voices playing out in the media today, from to denial to despair to determination. “This can’t be happening!” “This isn’t real!” “Maybe I will wake up to find it is only a bad dream!” “Any moment now things will be back to normal…” “I’ve got to find a way to get out of this.”

In an effort to find God in the darkness, I would turn on Christian radio on my drive to and from the hospital. Lines from a Danny Gokey song said it best:

Shattered, like you’ve never been before.
The life you’ve known, in a million pieces on the floor…

It was surprising how quickly life as I knew it went from present to past; how quickly the house of cards in which I was living collapsed. “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

But Danny Gokey’s song continues:

Let every moment, and every scar,
Be a picture that reminds you Who has carried you thus far.
For Love sees farther, than you ever could
At this moment heaven’s working everything for your good.

What saved me was memory.

Remembering the good that God had done at other times in my life. How from dismay and disasters He had raised new and greater things. This was not just my personal experience, but the theme of all of salvation history: human plans and projects brought to nothing; God rescuing, restoring, resurrecting.

In today’s First Reading, God laments the “stiff-necked” people who have turned from the One who brought them out of Egypt, worshipping instead an idol made of melted-down gold. They can’t see Him in the present because they can’t remember Him in the past.

Throughout history we have seen a God who was with His people, even when they chose not to see or to seek Him. We see God from dust making man; from the ashes of sin making Him new, again and again.

In the life of the Church we see this too; God using both saints and sinners to effect a plan that neither had the capacity to imagine. God bringing good from evil, bringing good to even greater good. So many of the saints suffered not only dark nights but periods of abject failure, when it seemed that all was lost, that their work and plans had borne no fruit. But God was growing something greater. We see God’s protection, not from all evil, but in spite of all evil. The fact that the Church has survived two millennia of sinners, is a testimony to the protection and providence of God.

The more we recognize God’s presence in our past, the more we find His peace in the present.

Remembering with gratitude past gifts and graces makes present peace possible. As I recall the goodness of God in the past, I am better able to trust Him with the future.

The Most Blessed of All Dwellings

“Come, lady, die to live: this wedding-day
Perhaps is but prolong’d: have patience and endure.”
– William Shakespeare

A great dark wave seems to be covering the earth, hiding us in the shadows of grief and unrest. Each morning brings us the reality of illness and isolation, desolation and death, as we endure what seems to be a darkness unescapable. In a time when we cannot see or even touch many of our loved ones, we also cannot remain untouched by a communal sorrow which words can barely express. And as we are called to fast from sacramentally receiving Christ—our Bridegroom, Love, and greatest Friend—in the Eucharist, it can seem like the remaining lights are slowly flickering out.

How could we not weep all this while, joining our tears with those of Mary Magdalene outside the tomb? “The ‘sincere gift’ contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” (St. Pope John Paul II). When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the most intimate manner. “God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us” (Pope Benedict XVI), and we become little tabernacles of the Indwelling God.

It is strange: these days of fasting and mourning are not necessarily “when the Bridegroom [has been] taken away” (Matthew 9:15), like Good Friday—but when the Bride has been taken away. Unlike Mary Magdalene, we know where He has been laid. We can even see Him through the livestreaming of Mass and Adoration! Instead, it is we who have been taken, who must remain hidden, and who are called to fast from the foretaste of the wedding banquet, dying to self and holy desires in acts of love so that we and others might live. Fortunately, “both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love” (Pope Benedict XVI). We can receive Christ through spiritual communion, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas describes, “comprises the desire or yearning for receiving this sacrament” (III, Q. 80, Art. 11, co.).

While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life, and a mystery of trinitarian love that shows the “indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires” (St. Pope John Paul II), we have yet more reasons to hope. “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist” (CCC 1617). It is “in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life” (Pope Benedict XVI). Through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our souls—and through the Holy Spirit, the entire Trinity, since the Holy Trinity is indivisible: “He is One” (Mark 12:32).

We are baptized into His death so that we may have life—His life—dwelling in us (Galatians 2:19-21). So long as we remain with Him in a state of grace, He remains in us. As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity explains, “Realize that your soul is the temple of God, it is again Saint Paul who says this; at every moment of the day and night the three Divine Persons are living within you. You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again” (L273). Even “in the most difficult hours, when He sometimes seems very far away, [He] is in reality so close, so ‘within’ us,” (L160) hidden in the little cells of our hearts. “It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul” (L122).

In today’s Gospel, we are all called to love this trinitarian God more than we love each other—with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)—and we are called to love each other very much indeed, loving our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:33). When Christ sees that the scribe understands this, He tells him that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This is true for us as well, as we are not far from the hidden life of the Trinity in the kingdoms of our souls. And with this Love, we can love Him and our neighbors as best we can, all while remaining hidden ourselves. Perhaps there is no better saint to show us this than the one whose feast we celebrated yesterday—St. Joseph, who could be called the patron of the hidden life. “St. Joseph performed no single brilliant act of holiness… What did he accomplish? He loved. That alone is what he did and that alone was enough to glorify him. He loved God with an incalculable and undiminishing love, and he was loved the same way in return” (Bl. Jean-Joseph Lataste).

We may not know what is happening. Our reason may point to what we can see: inescapable waves of darkness, fear, loneliness, and suffering that in turn point to the end of days, or at least to the end of life as we know it. But His grace points to what we cannot see: the divine Life dwelling in our souls, an Indwelling most blessed—and a divine Light, “the true light that enlightens every man” (CCC 1216), even in the midst of darkness and suffering. As Tolkien writes, “in this hour, I do not believe that any darkness will endure.” Instead, Love will endure, a Love which “endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). So too must we hope and “endure with patience these hours of waiting.” And in that hidden, faithful waiting for the wedding feast of the Lamb here and in Heaven, where we will again see our loved ones, receive Christ, and sing for joy, let us dwell in Him and Him in us, letting Him love us and others through us in the House “of all dwellings the most blessed.”

“Don’t be afraid, be completely in God’s peace, He loves you, He is watching over you like a mother over her little child. Remember that you are in Him, that He makes Himself your dwelling here below; and then, that He is in you, that you possess Him in the most intimate part of yourself, that at any hour of the day or night, in every joy or trial, you can find Him there, quite near, entirely within you. It is the secret of happiness; it is the secret of the saints; they knew so well that they were the ‘temple of God’ and that in uniting ourselves to this God, we become ‘one spirit with Him,’ as Saint Paul says; so they went forth to everything in His radiance” (L175).

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis
Fr. Eugene McCaffrey OCD, Let Yourself Be Loved
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, The Complete Works: Volume 2
Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph
Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., The Mystery of Joseph
John Oliver, The Heart of Père Lataste
Jackie Francois Angel, New Creation
Daily Mass, Rosary, and Divine Mercy Chaplet live streams: St. Vincent Ferrer & St. Catherine of Siena

Blossom Like the Lily

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A few weeks ago, while in prayer, I found myself reflecting on the word “bloom” and wondered what God might be trying to reveal to me through it. Its meaning was layered: to bloom where I’m planted instead of waiting for circumstances to change, to become more fully who God created me to be, to open up in vulnerability instead of staying closed in upon myself. I had the sense that God wanted me to meditate on how I could bloom more fully alongside the spring blossoms that would soon appear. I never imagined that I would be asked to bloom amid the shadows of quarantine.

This week, my favorite magnolia tree has begun to blossom. Its beauty seems incongruent with our current experience—that it is opening its buds as we are all retreating inside. But it is a reminder that life goes on even amid uncertainty, that beautiful things are growing in the midst of all this, that hope still blooms beneath cloudy skies.

Joseph_mit_Kind_18_JhAccording to legend, St. Joseph was chosen from among the unwed men of the House of David to be the husband of Mary because his staff blossomed like a lily—a sign from God that this man would be the protector of the Son of God. This is why St. Joseph is often depicted with lilies, echoing Hosea 14:5, “The just man shall blossom like the lily.” St. Joseph was a man who bloomed under pressure. He, like us, experienced times of great anxiety, but he was calm under crisis and always guided the Holy Family to safety.

Consider the emptiness that Mary and Joseph must have experienced in the disappearance of the child Jesus. Right now, separated from access to Jesus in the Eucharist, we are experiencing a taste of that vacancy. St. Joseph is a great protector for us to invoke in these times. He assures us that we, too, will find Jesus, that Jesus has never truly been lost.

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St. Joseph lived within the confines of a humble, hidden life, taking on a supporting role that, while ordinary on the surface, was anything but insignificant. Not a single word he uttered is recorded in the Bible, but his actions speak louder than words ever could. It is fitting that on his feast day, we all find ourselves pressed into a hidden life, a humble silence, retreating into a quieter, simpler family life.

St. Joseph, mirror of patience, glory of home life, pillar of families, solace of the wretched, hope of the sick, patron of the dying, terror of demons, protector of Holy Church, pray for us!

Patron for the Pandemic

About six years ago I was sitting on the beach with my friend Monica when I had a startling idea. “Why is there no 24-hour adoration chapel in Manhattan?” Surely a city which hosts eight million people on any given day could, should, muster enough adorers for an adoration chapel! And sitting there with my hair full of salt water and sand in my toes, I began to make plans to make that happen.

By coincidence other young adults had the same idea, and I joined their efforts and we began to plan. I worked feverishly to research options and funding ideas and to extend inquiries to various churches. As my ideas took form I grew more and more excited. This was really going to happen! Until one day I noticed that something felt off.

I felt energized, but not completely at peace. Little things that shouldn’t have bothered me instead brought out the worst in me—I found myself easily angered, impatient, driven. I felt passionate but at the same time unsettled.

“Did God give you this task, or did you give it to yourself?” my spiritual director asked.

I was stunned. What kind of a question was that? Surely, God would want me to build an adoration chapel! How could such a thing NOT be God-willed?

As I was mulling over this odd question, a friend (in whom I had not confided this story) let me know she had a word for me from God. It was from the 2nd Book of Samuel, which begins with God asking David (through Nathan): “Would you build Me a house to dwell in?” and continues ultimately with rather “The Lord will make you a house…”

Ouch.

This divine smack-down put an end to my planning, but was just the beginning of a new spirituality. I am still learning what it all means—to receive, to let God do all the heavy lifting, to let Him lead and instruct and ultimately be God.

To effect these plans, God sent me Saint Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today.

Of course, it is Joseph who would literally help complete the promise actually written in Scripture about the house of David. It is he who legally gave to Jesus his title as Son of David, fulfilling for all time the prophecies of a royal dynasty that would last forever.

Saint Joseph knew about planning. And he learned about letting go of his plans, for God’s sake.

He was not given a superhero cape. Rather, he was given, repeatedly, situations that were beyond his power to control.

Tasked with providing for the Blessed Virgin and her Unborn Child, he was forced by government edict to travel to Bethlehem during her third trimester of pregnancy, where, when her time came, he was unable to procure for her even a room and a bed. Instead, he kept vigil as the Queen of Heaven gave birth to the Maker of the Universe and laid Him, not in a carpenter’s cradle, but in a feeding trough for animals.

When it was time to present the Child in the temple, he could offer only the poor man’s sacrifice, a pair of turtledoves, and heard Simeon prophesy not only joy but sorrow for his wife and small son. Did his heart break a little, even then, wanting to protect them from the promised pain?

And then came another edict, this one from Higher Authority: “Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.” How it must have pained him, how his heart must have wrung with fear and anguish, to learn that Herod’s soldiers were seeking his tiny son. I wonder if, for a moment, he was tempted to stay and fight, to resist, to protect the child and his mother with his own strength. How strong he must have been to obey God, to put aside his pride and flee with his family to safety.

And then he found himself distanced from everyone he knew, alone in a foreign country, away from the temple and synagogues and the life he had known before. He found himself without work, without his carpenter shop or clients, starting all over again in Egypt. And then a few years later, he returned to Nazareth and began yet again.

We don’t know anything else about the hidden years with Jesus, apart from the time that he lost him, seeking him anxiously with Mary. After he was found, we know only that Jesus was obedient to him. Surely, that must have been a fearsome marvel in itself—to be the teacher of the Incarnate Wisdom.

In Scripture Joseph never said a word, but his life was a continued yes to all that God gave…and all that He did not.

It was not given to Joseph to share in Jesus’ public ministry, or in His passion. Instead, he was asked to sacrifice his desire to protect Mary and Jesus, to say yes to the goodness of God, entrusting them to the true Father above, of whom he was only an image.

If there were ever a patron for this pandemic, it is Saint Joseph.

As he was tasked with protecting and providing for the earthly Body of Christ, the boy Jesus, let us entrust to him the spiritual Body of Christ, the Church. Let him teach us, like Jesus, to always say yes. To always trust. To embrace humble and hidden tasks. To embrace wood, even the wood of the Cross.

And like Joseph, let us say yes to all that is given to us to do, and surrender to Jesus and Mary all that is not.

Prayers and Spiritual Resources During Coronavirus

Holy Week at Home Resources

(Virtual) Community Prayer

Virtual Masses

Video Resources

Podcasts

Individual Prayers

  • Act of Spiritual Communion
    We all miss not being able to receive Holy Communion, but we know we can make an act of Spiritual Communion by which we express our strong desire to receive Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The practice of praying Spiritual Communion has been embraced by many saints throughout history and has been practiced by many faithful around the world where freedom of religion has been banned:
    My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
  • Litany of Trust (written by Sister Faustina Maria Pia, SV)
  • Prayer of Surrender
    Given to me by one of the Sisters of Life:
    Loving Father, I surrender to you today with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say “Yes” to you today. I open all the secret places of my heart to you and say, “Come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and receive you as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back. Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you: my health, my family, my resources, occupation, skills, relationships, time management, successes, and failures. I release it and let it go. I surrender my understanding of how things ought to be, my choice and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. I surrender my weaknesses and strengths to you. I surrender my emotions, my fears, my insecurities, my sexuality. I especially surrender ________, ________, ________. (Continue here to surrender other areas as the Holy Spirit reveals them to you.) Lord, I surrender my entire life to you, the past, the present, and the future. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, I belong to you.
    Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my intellect, and my will. You have given me all that I have and I return it all now to you. Dispose of me according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace, for with this I am rich enough and have no more to ask. Amen.
  • Lockdown
    A poem by Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan in Ireland, reflecting on the coronavirus crisis with hope.
  • Meditations for the Sorrowful Mysteries for the Ending of the COVID-19 Pandemic
    I was able to attend vigil Mass at my parish this past Saturday evening, right before the diocese canceled all public Masses. They passed out these pamphlets with meditations for the Sorrowful Mysteries that are very appropriate for these times:

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