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”

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!

Prayers and Spiritual Resources During Coronavirus

(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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Love in the Time of Coronavirus: A Call for Submissions

Hi Frassati community,

In light of all the uncertainty we are experiencing this week and looking ahead to the isolation many will experience in the weeks to come, we want to make a real effort as a community to use the reflections platform to reach out to one another, express our solidarity, and seek to strengthen our faith through these trials.

Down the road, many Frassati members who are able are hoping to go outward to serve those in need affected by this crisis, following in the steps of our patron Blessed Pier Giorgio. But right now, our primary focus is to form our hearts through prayer. We pray this will strengthen us to discern how God is calling us to respond to these events and to do so while grounded in the inner peace and joy that only the Lord can bring.

As many of us suddenly find ourselves with a lot of extra free time on our hands, I want to open a call for anyone in our community to share a word of reflection with us. This may take many forms: a full-length reflection on Scripture, a prayer you would like to pass along, an inspiring quote from one of the saints, a short letter to those who are feeling lonely and fearful, etc. The goal of these posts will be to help us to look outward at how we can be connected to one another in prayer and use this time fruitfully—instead of turning inward, seeing only our own fears and anxieties.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, we want to hear your voice. If anything, I hope that through these posts we would be reminded of how many other people are out there alongside us in spirit. I ask that you would prayerfully reflect on whether there is any word God is asking you to share with all of us—not just now, but during the weeks to come as well.

We will be editing any submissions as they come in and will figure out how often to schedule them as we assess how many we’re receiving. Also, we may decide to post some submissions via our social media platforms if they are best suited to that format. As we are still in the process of figuring out what this will look like, we can’t guarantee that every post will be shared, but we will do our best to respond to each one. Know that any word you have to share with us is greatly appreciated.

To submit your reflections, please email us at reflections@frassati.nyc.

Let’s share the love of Christ with one another and live this ultra-Lenten season to the fullest!

Verso L’Alto,
Erin

A Heart Contrite and Humbled

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
—Psalm 51:19

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
—Matthew 9:14–15

During this Lenten season, we talk a lot about we’re doing or giving up for these forty days. But let us not forget that the whole point of all these external activities and devotions is to form the interior disposition of our hearts. What God wants more than anything is to be close to us. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus identifies Himself as the Bridegroom. Jesus desires union with us, to know us intimately, to cultivate relationship with us.

All our Lenten fervor should not be about mere self-improvement or testing our own strength. Rather, it should facilitate our union with Christ, perhaps making us even more aware of our weakness as we learn to depend upon Him. As we fast while waiting upon our Bridegroom, we leave space for the feast that is to come and open up room in our hearts for Jesus to enter.

If we go beyond the surface level of our Lenten devotions and allow them to truly form our hearts, it will affect how we act toward one another. When we create space in our daily routines and welcome the emptiness that Lent brings, we can begin to hear Jesus’s voice more clearly in the silence. And if we listen, we will hear His overwhelming love for us ringing out even in the desert. When we know we are loved beyond measure, our own capacity to love will deepen.

This type of fasting, which brings us closer to the Heart of God, is what will lead us to the promises described in the first reading from Isaiah:

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.
—Isaiah 58:8

He is the Light in the darkness of Lent; He is the One who heals all our wounds. And He invites us to use these forty days to draw close to His Sacred Heart.

Slow and Steady

He said,
“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.
—Mark 4:30–34 1

Let us not be deceived by the smallness of a mustard seed to think that its impact must be insignificant. What matters is not its size—however little it may be at the beginning, it can grow into a great tree. What matters is whether it dares to bury itself underneath the soil and undergo the process of growth.

Who we are now does not determine who we are to become. We are not defined by the sum of our past successes and failures. The thing that will determine our path—whether we will flourish or wilt—is our openness to grace, our willingness to grow.

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve endured, whatever sorrows weigh upon your heart: these do not define your story. God is not finished with the work He has begun in you; we are not meant to stay as seeds. Growth is not easy, and it certainly isn’t quick. True, lasting growth takes time,2 and it causes us to stretch far beyond our comfort zones. But it is also the only way we can fulfill the potential within us, to become who we were created to be.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco, who had a gift for nurturing souls and seeing great potential in small seeds. He was devoted to educating disadvantaged children, including poor, homeless, orphaned, and troubled young boys in the city of Turin.3 Unlike his contemporaries, he refused to use corporal punishment; instead, he gave fatherly guidance and sought to instill in his students the knowledge that they were loved and valued. Where other teachers had given up on these rowdy young boys, John Bosco saw the gift of who they were and helped them to recognize the seeds of grace within their souls. One of his students, Dominic Savio, even became canonized himself.

St. John Bosco had reverence for the divine potential within each young soul—in the lost, the troubled, the neglected and forgotten. He created a place where they could grow and thrive, becoming men of God. And he had the patience to walk with them on that journey, even during those times when their progress must have seemed unbearably slow. May his example remind us that each and every one of us has the capacity to transcend our humble beginnings and bloom into something truly beautiful if we are tended to with love.


1
You can see past reflections I’ve written on this Gospel reading here and here.
2 Audrey Assad’s song “Slow” is a great meditation on how God’s grace works slowly within us. It’s worth a listen!
3 A saint dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged in Turin…sound familiar? I think St. John Bosco and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati have quite a bit in common.

Coming to Life

If you consider that God is righteous,
you also know that everyone who acts in righteousness
is begotten by him.
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
—1 John 2:29–3:1

I’ve been watching a lot of C.S. Lewis Doodle on YouTube lately—if you have not yet experienced these videos, I highly recommend them. In particular, I’d been watching the video Making and Begetting, and today’s first reading brought it to mind. The video illustrates the following passage from Lewis’s book Mere Christianity:

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of; to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.

Given this description of making vs. begetting, I thought it odd that John specifically uses the word “begotten” in describing our relationship to God. Jesus is begotten by God, but we are not begotten in the same way that Jesus is. We are His creation, made in His image and likeness but distinct from Christ in that we are not actually God ourselves. What, then, is John’s meaning when he says that “everyone who acts in righteousness is begotten by him”? How could we possibly be begotten? As I reflected upon this phrasing, I recalled Lewis’s eventual conclusion to the chapter:

In reality, the difference between biological life and spiritual life is so important that I’m going to give them two distinct names. The biological sort, which comes to us through nature and which, like everything else in nature, is always tending to run down and decay, so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is bios. The spiritual life, which is in God from all eternity and which made the whole natural universe, is zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to zoe, but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having bios to having zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is like a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.

We are created by God, not begotten; we are like statues made in His image. But God desires to elevate us beyond our natural capacity. He is not held back by the laws of nature; He can give us life that transcends all we know in this earthly plane. That we might be considered begotten by God seems impossible, yet nothing is impossible for God.

How does God initiate this radical transformation in us? He meets us in the sacraments, washing away the decay of sin through baptism and confession, fortifying our souls through the Eucharist. In our human condition, we are ever aware that life is a bittersweet experience—we recognize it as a great gift, but at the same time we ache for something more, something that will not wither and fade away. God Himself has written this desire upon our hearts, and He intends to prepare us to receive life that is beyond our imagining. As we draw closer to Him, we become like statues that are beginning to blink and fidget around, suddenly aware of the life flickering within us.

In this new year, may we become ever more alive in the Lord, open our eyes to see the gifts He is giving us each day, and allow Him to transform us.