Friends for the Journey: A Reflection on the Saints

I remember always loving All Saints’ Day as a child.  My knowledge of the feast must have begun around the age of six when my family returned to the Catholic faith and I was baptized.  I didn’t know much about any particular saint, but I had an affinity for this beautiful feast. 

As the years have gone on, my love for the feast has remained while my appreciation of it has deepened, as has my knowledge of certain Saints.  Over time it became more and more apparent that my childhood love was less a result of myself seeking out these Saints, and more that certain Saints were actually seeking me out. 

In my late teen and early adult years I seemed to have an unexplained draw to St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.  Of course, St. Francis is among the well-known Saints and appeals to many, but I just felt a kindred spirit to the Assisi duo.  In my sophomore year, I chose St. Clare as my confirmation saint.  The parish where I’d be confirmed, Santa Clara de Asis, was under her patronage and I thought it would be interesting to write my required saint report on her.  In my young adult years, Francis and Clare continued making their guidance in my life known to me, sometimes less subtly than others.  I read more about Clare, found beauty and comfort in their images and statues at a church of St. Francis when I first moved away from home, and eventually grew to find a kindred spirit in the community of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal in NYC.  It wasn’t until a few years into my deepening relationship with Francis and Clare that I finally learned that I was born on the day of St. Francis’ death, his Transitus, or transition into Heaven.  The moment I realized this was a profound one.  I had a sense that this draw I had felt for years toward these two Saints of Assisi was a connection orchestrated by God Himself placed in me when He formed me in the womb. 

In more recent years, I have experienced the strong and loving guidance of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Growing up in Southern California I saw images of her often, especially with the strong devotion of many California families with a Mexican Catholic heritage.  I didn’t feel a specific connection to her though until she made her maternal presence very clear to me in my time of discerning my vocation and marriage to my husband.  In her strong motherly way, she was making her love for me known.  It was then, as I looked back, that I realized she had been there all along.  (A friend once told me he had a similar experience with Our Lady of Guadalupe in his discernment of religious life. So it seems she is a wonderful mother to call on during vocational discernment!)

As I have reflected and prayed on these relationships in my own life, I am once again awed by our God who knows each of us so well.  Not only are all of the Saints, the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), praying for us all, but I believe He has gifted each of us with specific Heavenly friends unique to each of our earthly journeys.  I have already seen specific Saints seem to seek out my children while they are still in my womb.  St. Therese often came to mine and my husband’s mind as we prayed for our firstborn in the womb, and this Saint was called upon by friends who prayed over her in the womb on separate occasions.  Her middle name, Rose, is meant to reflect this and I hope and pray she continues to develop a lifelong friendship with St. Therese.  Our second child is currently in my womb and my husband has already felt a connection to Padre Pio for this baby. The uniqueness of God’s love for each of us from conception is so evident to me! 

Some of us may have a longstanding deep sense of these particular Saints in our own lives, and some of us may not feel like we know any of the Saints.  I encourage you to open your heart and senses to the subtle and gentle ways a certain Saint may be seeking you out and revealing his or her love, prayers, and desired relationship with you!  Praise God for how He has gifted us with these mentors, these beautiful witnesses of the faith, for our own journeys.  As Paul says in today’s first reading, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).  What a beautiful promise of the Lord! 

As we approach the Feast of All Saints, let us open our hearts to the specific men and women God has connected each of us with, so that through their saintly prayers and guidance, He may continue to complete the good work He has begun in us.  This is indeed something to celebrate!  May God bless and keep you – Happy All Saints’ Day!! All you Holy men and women, pray for us!   

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

Hebrews 12:1-2

All We Are

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.
When day came, he called his disciples to himself,
and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles:
Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew,
James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew,
Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon who was called a Zealot,
and Judas the son of James,
and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

—Luke 6:12–16

I never had the pleasure to attend, but I worked at a sleepaway camp! I was the counselor to very lively little girls between ages 9 and 10, nicknamed the Super Debs. They were quiet and awkward, and these girls could not have been any more different from each other. Despite what seemed to be many barriers, they became the best of friends in the four weeks they spent together! Camp relationships are like that. You tend to spend an incredible amount of time with a small group of people. You learn what you think is everything about them, and you do all the activities together. On the last day, forget it! You cannot say goodbye! Summer is over! You are overwhelmed and cry for these amazing friends you did not choose! Friends that loved you. Although my Super Debs may not have stayed friends beyond that summer, that friendship, I am sure, changed them forever.

Every friendship we experience changes us. The friendships that spark fast, burn out quickly, the friendships that weaken over time, the ones that we work hard for and make stronger…the ones we pick up over and over again as if time never stops, the fun friendships, the life-giving ones…the friendships we take for granted or actively avoid. Which of these friendships is real? They all are real. Each one touches us and transforms us. As we grow in friendship, our heart’s capacity to love grows too.

Who are Simon the Zealot and Saint Jude? There are very little Scripture references besides the Gospel today, which tells us that they were disciples and Jesus’ very close friends. Christ prayed for them and loved them as the gift they are from the Father. Saint Jude has a hospital named after him, he’s the saint of impossible causes…but how? Why am I looking for Saint Jude’s résumé? Why am I asking what sort of man Simon the Zealot was, when I should be asking what his love for Christ inspired?  It does not matter who they were before, because their friendship with Christ—and our friendship with Christ—is transformative.

Jesus loved them all until to the very end. These very imperfect men, who appeared to be of little consequence, were chosen for this friendship that allowed them to learn who Love is and how to love.

Being in friendship with Christ doesn’t always feel like smooth sailing! We read in the Scriptures that the Apostles competed, quarreled amongst each other, and frankly were always a bit confused. Jesus, I am sure, was patient. But like the disciples, like Peter, we stay, because to whom else shall we go? (John 6:68) Jesus is the greatest love: the way, the truth, the life.  Judas Iscariot was loved, he was chosen by Christ himself. That friendship ended badly, or we could say that friendship ended and God’s plan for our salvation continued its motion. We can be Catholic and say both/and.

When we enter into friendship with Christ, on the good days and the bad days all that we are is who God wants us to be. When we love our neighbor, all we are doing is loving them because he loves us first. Yes, we are imperfect; we are sinners, and yet God invites us each, unworthy though we may be, into friendship daily.

Lord, help us to grow in friendship, love, and service. Lord, place a desire in our heart to meet you in every person at work, at home, at camp, to grow in friendship with you every day. God our Father, our best friend, help us to be your hands and to lead a life that points to you.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, pray for us!

It seems as though the Bible is filled with images and information far past what our meagre human brains can grasp. The best approach is to regard these as mysteries; we know and understand them to a point but will not fully comprehend their meaning until we meet our Lord in the kingdom of Heaven. However, we still continue to try to figure these mysteries out before our death.

By the grace of Jesus Christ, there are metaphors He provided by which we can draw a kind of comparison to what we seek to understand better. In this gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed “a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” Luke 13:19 While this comparison may not give us a vivid picture of the kingdom of God, we do gain a different way to conceptualize this kingdom. I used to read this gospel assuming that Jesus was talking about His kingdom in Heaven, but now I realize He is speaking of the kingdom of God. This kingdom refers not only to the paradise awaiting us after death, but this kingdom is here on earth as well. We are part of the kingdom of God right now.

Jesus asks us to tend the mustard seed or mix the yeast in with the wheat, as He describes in a later comparison to the kingdom of God. When the mustard seed grew or when the yeast was fully combined with the wheat, they both provided sustenance or shelter for many. Jesus longs for His kingdom to grow and flourish; He loves this world and wants nothing less than for all the people in it to gain entrance to the kingdom of Heaven. We have the responsibility of growing the kingdom of God, we have the power to share the word of God, and only by sharing the gifts we have received can the kingdom of God grow.

We are experiencing a difficult time in our history and people crave hopeful signs of better times to come. The word of God is the only truth we can count on in this life, and we can rest knowing we are in a safe haven like the birds who dwell in the branches of the plant that came from the mustard seed. There is still room in the kingdom of God for many others and we need to bring more people into its shelter so they too can find peace.

Blessed Are The Servants

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus calls us to stay awake and be vigilant! The time of our Lord’s return is unknown, therefore, we must always be ready for that day. During the recent period of quarantine, we had to abstain from receiving the Body of Christ, and the message of this gospel seems to emphasize our situation of being cut off from that valuable source of sustenance.

Paul tells us: “Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:22. Jesus gave us the wonderful gift of Himself through the Eucharist. When we go to church every Sunday, it is not simply to listen to a priest preach and read scripture; we to to enter into the community of the Lord. The ceremony of the Mass is celebrated not only by human beings, but by the angels and saints alike. While we celebrate the Mass, the heavens open up and all who reside there join in our celebration. We share a meal and take in the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Because of COVID-19, we were forced to be denied receiving Christ in the Eucharist. Churches had to close their doors, and we were asked to remain in our homes. By the grace of God, we were able to attend Mass virtually and receive spiritual communion through prayer, but now churches are open again and we can return to Christ’s home, the Church. We do have to ask ourselves, are we still vigilant servants? The new reality of life in this world created by the pandemic has resulted in so much fear that people are afraid to leave their homes. Jesus calls us to be awake and vigilant by going back to His Bride, the Church, and receiving Him through the Eucharist.

The ability to attend Mass with fellow believers is a gift and can be taken away. We should be eager to go to church each Sunday and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever we can, as well as the Eucharist. We do not know what day the Master will return, and that day may be closer than we think.

Have Mercy on Me

How many times have we told ourselves–if we only prayed more, went to daily Mass, said the rosary everyday, gave more to charity…as humans we can easily believe that our actions are what will save us. Perhaps we fall into this trap because we can control our actions and we want to have control over achieving salvation. Reality has the ability to generate fear within our hearts. The road to redemption is only by the mercy of our Savior Jesus Christ, and it can be scary to realize that there is nothing we can do to climb the ranks and gain entrance to heaven over another.

Paul articulates this perfectly with great simplicity and understanding: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Gal 5:6

The Pharisees had succumbed to several false beliefs, but on the outside they did everything right. They observed the law and believed that made them clean. Jesus Christ revealed the truth: “The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.” Luke 11:39

While good faith practices are always important because these will bring us closer to the Lord, finding intimacy with Jesus Christ is the way to fulfillment and ensuring we are walking the path the Lord intends us to tread. However, this will guarantee our salvation only through the mercy of Christ.

Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.Let your mercy come to me, O Lord,your salvation according to your promise.

By the grace of God, if we accept the Lord’s mercy, we will be able to live the life ordained by Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the light. Whenever we lose our way or struggle with our faith, we are called to return to Him and He will have mercy on us. Praise the Lord!

Mary and Martha

Today’s gospel reading seems like a “tale as old as time.” The story of the two sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home so often was told to me over and over again throughout my childhood. Mary was always presented in a somewhat more favorable light than Martha. After whoever presented the story finished it, the question that always seemed to follow was “are you a Mary or a Martha?” Are you someone who worries constantly and is anxious or are you a person who simply seeks Jesus first?

This is really not the most appropriate question–we cannot always be as contemplative as Mary and hopefully those of us who lean toward Martha-behavior can’t always be fretting over every detail. The truth is we can be both a Martha and a Mary; neither one should be perceived as having the better approach to life. There is a time for everything, from doing the housework involved in preparing for a guest to sitting still and listening to that most important guest, Jesus. Maybe Jesus was trying to convince these sisters (as well as all of us who read this gospel today) to look at their lives and ask themselves if they were in balance.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Luke 11:28

Mary and Martha heard the Lord’s word and observed it, but in different ways. Mary obviously devoted her time with Jesus to focusing on everything He said, but Martha honored her Lord by serving Him and seeing to His physical comforts. Unfortunately, she let her stress and anxiety get the better of her in this situation. We can all become caught up in the present moment and lose sight of what is most important while having the best intentions. Mary may have “chosen the better part,” but Martha made sure her house was comfortable and clean so Jesus could share His words in a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere. Whether we are Marys or Marthas, we need to remember to look to the Lord for guidance in everything we do.

Let Us Offer Each Other the Sign of Peace

Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.

-Luke 10

I used to dread the part of the Mass where, all of a sudden, I had to interact with other humans to give the sign of peace. Here it comes: smile, shake hands, be friendly and non-threatening, be prepared for some people to pull away and just give you the nod or the two fingers. Oh, I did my best to avoid sitting next to people that I didn’t know—couples, families, anyone who seemed friendly, a talker…because let’s face it, my illogical, irrational, selfish fear tells me things that are simply not true.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives several instructions to the disciples he is sending ahead of himself. One such instruction is to give a blessing, a greeting, a love to any home they may enter. If accepted, the recipient is given peace and receives the blessing of the disciples; if they reject it, no big deal (really, Jesus?)—that peace, that blessing, returns to those same disciples who shared it.

We as disciples are charged with the same task. No matter where we are—at work, at home, at church, with whomever, Christians, non-Christians, people we like, people we don’t like—our love for God compels us to wish others peace and share the good news! This requires joy, trust, and humility. Joy, because we have received the peace of the Lord, trust, because we must trust in the grace of the Lord, and humility, because it is not, as I believed, a thing to own, but a gift to receive and to share.

Going back to Mass after quarantine has been a real blessing. I notice now that I receive such immense joy as I receive the peace of the Lord. His peace is strengthened in me not only when I am blessed but also too, now I realize, when I bless others with it. We give each other the sign of peace because as a sheepfold we feed one another, as God wants us to.

In situations where someone may reject your greeting, your invitation, your attention, your affection, your friendship—or reject you—our God reminds us that his peace comes back right at us. This rejection does not defeat the giver. Let us be courageous, knowing perfectly well that, received or rejected, we have the peace of the Lord always with us.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you. Looking forward to the time once more when I can give you the sign of peace.