Season of Light

Merry Christmas!!!  The Savior is born!  Emmanuel – God with us!

My friends, what a precious gift for us to reflect on this Christmas Day – our God has become incarnate, taken on our humble humanity, to be with us now and for eternity.  The Light of the World is come: 

Your birth, O Christ our God has shed upon the world the light of knowledge; for through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship you, the Sun of Justice, and to know you, the Dawn from on High Glory to you, O Lord!

These words from the Christmas Liturgy of the Byzantine Catholic Church are steeped in the imagery of light.  Today, we truly enter a season of light as we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ.  I can’t think of anything the United States and the whole world needs more at the end of an extremely trying and difficult year than the gift of Light. In words attributed to St. Francis, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  Light illumines the darkness.      

Light gives us hope, and the Light which is Christ provides us the most reliable hope of all – a hope we can place all of our trust and confidence in. He has promised us peace. He has promised us joy evermore.  He has promised us mercy, forgiveness, comfort, and love that lasts forever.   

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5

This pandemic year has left many without hope. Just about everyone has been personally affected by hardship in the form of illness, job loss, fear of illness, anxiety about work, and the lack of being able to spend time freely with family, friends, and others face to face.  There has been an air of fear, anxiety, and sadness.  Today, we are reminded why the darkness has no power.  There is One who has enabled our suffering to have redemptive meaning and even gives the grace of joy in the midst of suffering. One who remains with us in the depths of our grief and sadness and blesses us with comfort.  The One has come who is the Light that the darkness cannot and will not overcome.  Today, we see Jesus Christ as a newborn and celebrate His birth into the world He created.  Through Advent we’ve been reflecting on our dear Mother Mary and St. Joseph whose faith carried them through trial on the road to His birth.  We ask for their prayers for our own faith and we ask their Savior Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for a deeper faith and love for Him.      

Amongst the celebration, excitement, and joy of today, may we find a quiet moment to come before our King as a baby.  To revel in His humility and His love for us.  He loves you more than you can comprehend. Challenge yourself to feel the depth of His love for you.  See how He gazes upon you.  See how He has provided for you and walked alongside you this past year.  Thank Him for the moments He has carried you when you realized you couldn’t do it alone.  Revel in this love.

May we ask the Lord for the gift and grace of joy today.  Joy to share with everyone we meet or smile at (even if they can only see our eyes and we are 10 feet away).  The joy of the Lord is palpable and His Love is for all.  May we share it in any way we can with a world in need.  This year, in a special way, people need to hear the good news and we need to go tell it on the mountains!  Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is born!  May we carry the Light of this season with us through this octave of Christmas and continue to spread it in the weeks, months, and years to come.  Let us praise the Lord with everything we are!  For He is good, He loves us all, and He is the Light for the whole world!  Hallelujah!  In the year 390, St. Gregory of Nazianz began his sermon on the Nativity with the joyous words below – in 2020, may we join in his words just as joyfully:

“Christ is born, glorify him! Christ came from heaven, welcome Him! Christ is on earth, exult! Sing to the Lord all the earth, Joyfully praise Him all you nations, For He has become glorious!”

St. Gregory of Nazianz

God bless you, my brothers and sisters, and have a Merry Christmas!! 

Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Icon

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

New Wine: Thoughts on Stewardship & Renewal

When I first moved to NYC 9 years ago, I often babysat and dog-sat for families to make money. There was always a sense of heightened attention and care for the kiddos and animals I watched, and a sense of knowing how precious they were to their parents (and/or owners). Can you remember a time when something valuable to someone else has been placed in your care? There is a sense of honor knowing someone has entrusted you to take care of and look after someone or something so valuable to him or herself.

The God of all creation has entrusted you, and every baptized and then confirmed son and daughter, with His most precious mysteries. A relationship with His Son, the good news of the Gospel, the sacraments of the Church, the richness of His Word in Scripture – these are just some of the many gifts God has given all of us to be stewards of. Paul says in today’s first reading that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1). What an honor. Further, God invites each of us individually to be stewards of the gifts He has given us that are unique to our individual life. He has given each of us specific gifts, or charisms, for the building up of the Kingdom – gifts to serve and nourish the church and the world. For some it is a gift of administration, of teaching, of service, of music, just to name of few. For those of us who are married, God has gifted us a spouse to be a steward of – to reverence, to look after, to care for, to help get to Heaven. Our priests are stewards of their parishes, our consecrated religious brothers and sisters are stewards of the others in their communities and the people they serve. Though we may currently feel limited, unable to share our gifts in some of the ways we’d like to, we can always grow in our posture of wonder and awe in God’s presence. And from that posture we can ask Him to remind us, or show us anew, the gifts He has placed in our individual lives to be stewards of.

As a Byzantine Catholic family, my husband, daughter, and I have just begun the new liturgical year on September 1st! (In the Latin Rite, often called the Roman Rite, the new year begins on the first Sunday of Advent. This is just one of many differences in tradition that distinguishes these two rites of the Catholic Church, both beautiful and rich in their own right…or rite…) Growing up Latin Rite, I just learned about the September 1st new year last Sunday from our priest, Fr. Michael. (Also shout out to Fr. Michael, who inspired the vast majority of this reflection with his recent Sunday homily!) This reality and Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel have me reflecting on the gift of renewal. There is an innate sense of refreshment and of hope in a new year. A chance to begin again, an opportunity to refocus, a time to hope for the future. As Christians, we live in relationship with the One who renews us day to day, even moment to moment.

As we ask God to reveal how He is calling each of us to be a steward of His mysteries, let us open ourselves up to something new He wants to do in us. He is the God who makes all things new, and He promises to constantly renew us from the inside out. He is “making new wine…” (see today’s Gospel + song link below). If the circumstances of COVID have made you feel that one day blurs into the next, and months blur into each other, we can find our renewal and hope in our incredible God. He has entrusted Himself to us, and we have entrusted ourselves to Him. He is the greatest steward of all – He is our Good Shepherd. You are precious to Him, and He delights in you. May you grow ever more deeply in this reality and be consumed by His great Mystery.

Lord God, Almighty Father, I come into your presence in awe of you. I desire to know you more and stand in wonder of the depths of you I cannot grasp. Thank you for entrusting me to be a steward of your mysteries. Reveal the gifts you have given me and help me to be a faithful steward of them. Lord, renew me. Purify my heart so I may see you. I place my trust in you. I place my hope in you. I adore and love you, my dear Father.

Song for Reflection — NEW WINE by Hillsong

More info on the Liturgical Year according to Byzantine Tradition: https://www.archpitt.org/the-liturgical-year-according-to-the-byzantine-tradition/

A Walk in the Garden

A few years ago I was telling a friend some difficult things I was going through.  After describing my situation and things I was experiencing, she said it sounded like God was digging in deep.  He was pulling some weeds, tilling the soil, doing some dirty work… because he was planting something new.  He was laying the foundation for a garden.   

You know those moments when God finds a way to speak a perfect word to your heart?  A word of peace, of joy, of comfort…  Whether it comes through the words of a friend, seeing something that speaks to you, or a sense in a chapel or out on a hike, God finds perfect ways to communicate to us.  (Which He probably does way more often than I actually pick up on!)  Looking back on those words from that friend, I see clearly how God was speaking to me in that moment and how in that time God was laying groundwork for me to step into my vocation of marriage.

Today’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable of the sower, brought me back to the beautiful word my friend gave me years ago and the sense of consolation that came with it. My heart longs to be that of rich soil, not the path, rocky ground, or thorns which do not receive and cultivate the word of God and bear fruit.  Jesus’ words have me asking myself, What does it mean to be rich soil?  It seems that a heart poised to receive is key – to receive the words of our Father in prayer, through the Scripture, through a friend or experience.  However God comes to us, we must be open to receive Him.  In this way the rich soil of our hearts may actually take in, nourish, and give life to the word of God and grow a garden that can bear fruit. 

This image of a garden moves me more deeply than I can describe.  I have a feeling it is because the Garden is what we were created for.  Our hearts were designed to inhabit God’s perfect Garden.  There is a deep ache within each of us for that paradise, especially as it represents perfect communion with our Father.  Perhaps we can each take a moment today to find the garden God has sown in each of our hearts, where we can meet Him naked and unashamed.  We are a work in progress, surrendering again each day to the Gardener’s perfect hand.  May we allow Him today to enrich the soil of our hearts and lead us into communion with Him.  He wants to walk with us.  And in these days of much anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, we must remember He is always walking with us and making our hearts into a garden. 

To continue praying and reflecting on this imagery, I highly recommend listening to Matt Maher and Audrey Assad’s song Garden here.

You walk with me
You never leave
You’re making our world a garden

Garden · Matt Maher | Composer, Lyricist: Audrey Assad

“Follow Me”: Being Led Where We Do Not Want to Go

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring

As I consider the sadness and struggles of this pandemic time, I can identify with Frodo’s sentiment.  Three months ago, I truly couldn’t have fathomed a world where friends didn’t gather, people couldn’t go in to work, children didn’t attend school in person, and families stayed home… where shops, restaurants, and theaters were dark…  where hugs had to become air hugs from 6 feet apart.  The tragic reality of illness has shaken the social and emotional fabric at the core of humanity.    

As much as I identify with Frodo, I find equal inspiration and encouragement in Gandalf’s response. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us (Tolkien). We have received everything from an all-powerful, loving, and merciful Creator.  Everything we have and everything we are has been bestowed on us by God.  Our very creation is a gift from Him that we have received.  So also, we have received from Him our identity and our mission. Our identity in Him, our relationship with our Heavenly Father is the core from which all else flows.  And He has created you and me for a purpose, for a mission.  We don’t get to choose the time in which we live, but we can choose to receive our mission from God, the one who chose to create us in this specific earthly time and place.  Frodo may not have initially loved receiving the mission he was given, but he chose to receive it.  He chose to move forward each and every day of the adventure, saying yes to the mission he was given. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ words echo a similar sentiment:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”

God has created each of us in this specific time for a specific purpose and mission.  It seems He is giving us an opportunity to mature in our faith… Jesus associates maturity with greater surrender and selflessness, a disposition of being led rather than leading oneself.  The Gospel tells us Jesus says this signifying His death and how it will glorify God.  It is not a sin to be upset, hesitant, or genuinely wish God had not put us where we are.  We also know we are limited in our humanity.  We cannot see the bigger picture.  And Jesus, the Son of God, received the greatest mission of all.  His receptivity and acceptance of his mission restored all of creation to its Creator. 

We all have a part to play in the story of salvation.  Our piece of the puzzle is here and now.  We can partake in the ongoing movement of humanity toward God.  We may wish that a pandemic “need not have happened” in our time.  But we know who our God is.  We know He is good.  We know He gave His only Son for our salvation, and we know that by Christ’s death, suffering has become redemptive. 

So knowing these truths, we must ask God for the grace to be grateful that we are living in such a time as this.  For we know He has created each of us and gifted us life in this time for a purpose and for an ultimate good.  We must decide “what to do with the time that is given us.” 

Christ’s words from the Gospel that I mentioned above were to signify “by what kind of death he would glorify God.”  Christ willingly received His mission from the Father out of a heart of love.  So too, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us receive our mission and decide what to do with the time given us by God from a posture of love for our good Father.  From where we stand, it may not look appealing, comfortable, safe or sane, but when the Father calls us out of the boat He is our security and He will not forsake us.  The Gospel passage concludes: “And when he had said this, he said to him, ‘Follow me.'”

Let us decide what to do with the time we are given. Let us follow Him.

Hope, O My Soul


Hope is the “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” (CCC 1820)

Today is my mom’s birthday, which is fitting since I felt called to write on a virtue I have learned from and observed in her: Hope. My mom radiates a steadfast love for the Lord. She possesses an enduring faith. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen her place her trust in the Lord time and time again, a virtue that had been growing in her years before I was born. My mom has experienced trials and tragedy beginning in her childhood that would make many question God – yet her trust in and love for Him is what has defined her life. She has truly placed her hope in the Lord and she knows He is faithful to His promises. As Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Right now, the world at large is in need of hope. What does is mean to have hope? It is important for us to remember that hope is something we can grow to attain, that we can come to possess. As Catholics, we understand that Hope is a virtue. It is one of the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – meaning it relates us directly to God and disposes us to live in relationship with the Holy Trinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1812). Hope is rooted in God.

Through the eyes of faith, we see that Hope is the response to the desire for happiness that God has placed in the heart of humankind (CCC 1818). Our desire for happiness is good; our longing to have something to hope for has been placed within us by God Himself. And what is it we hope for? “In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven” (CCC 1821, emphasis added).

Are you personally finding it difficult to have hope right now? If you are, you are not alone, and God wants to meet you there and grow this virtue in you. If you do have hope, praise the Lord, and let’s keep going! I know there is plenty of room for all of us to grow deeper in this beautiful virtue. And the world needs it.

The first step is re-establishing our faith in Jesus Christ and our trust in God’s promises. The Catechism gives us a simple, practical, yet profound way to both “express” our Hope and “nourish” it so it may grow: prayer. And specifically, praying the Our Father, “the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire” (CCC 1820).

So today, I ask you to join me in praying the Our Father, specifically asking the Lord to increase Hope in each of us. I encourage you to pray it slowly, pausing after each line, to allow the Truth to sink in and to profess it whole-heartedly to our Father in Heaven. This is an act of faith that will serve to remind us of the truth, the truth in which our hope is grounded. I also encourage you to call to mind Scriptures that you lean on in times of trial. Dwell on these truths to nourish your hope. I will list some Scriptures below that have been nourishing my soul lately:

Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Philippians 4:6-7 — Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

John 16:33 — These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

We must stay grounded in God’s truth. He is faithful to His promises. This will be the source of our Hope.

My friends, it is a blessing to be united in prayer with you in the midst of this difficult time. I am praying for each one of you – that the Lord is especially close to you and that you are drawing near to Him. I encourage you to take a minute now to thoughtfully pray the Our Father. …and can I ask a favor? Can you lift up my mom on her birthday — the woman who first taught me what hope looks like? I know she will appreciate that gift! Lifting up you and your intentions, my friends. May God be with you.

Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.

St. Theresa of Avila, Excl. 15:3

A New Heart and A New Spirit

“Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” -Ezekiel 18:31

Here we are, a little more than a week into Lent. How are you feeling about your Lent thusfar? You may be feeling good in your Lenten commitments, having successfully passed on any chocolate or being off of social media. Maybe you have created time each day for intentional prayer. Or maybe you are feeling discouraged… maybe you haven’t kept up on Lenten commitments or you still haven’t quite decided what to “do” for Lent. Firstly, wherever you are right now, God sees and loves you. He is pleased with anything you have offered this Lent and He desires to draw your heart closer to His. Wherever you are, today’s Gospel verse Ezekiel 18:31 (see above), reminds us what lies at the heart of this season — a renewal of our hearts and spirits.

The Lord promises us a new heart and a new spirit when we seek His forgiveness. “Repent” is the first word of John the Baptist’s Gospel proclamation, and it’s always our first step in uniting to the Lord. No matter how many times we sin, whether it be a stumble or a big fall, the Lord receives us back when we repent and ask His forgiveness. In its original Greek, the word translated as repent is metanoia, which means to turn around and literally change direction. To repent is to turn ourselves around, away from our sin, to change direction and face Christ. He is already facing us, loving us even in the midst of our failings, but He asks us to turn away from those failings and the hurt they cause ourselves and others. He wants to transform us, to renew our hearts and spirits.

Lent is the liturgical time for us to dwell on this reality of the Gospel. I encourage you to read through today’s readings or listen closely to them if you are attending Mass. They guide us beautifully through a Lenten reflection far superior to anything I could write. Through these Sacred Scriptures, God speaks to us of His desire to forgive us and His desire for us to forgive others. Forgiveness brings freedom. God invites us into this freedom at every moment. Metanoia is the first step… repenting, changing direction from the darkness of our sin to the light of Christ. Through this action we take toward Him, God will give us a new heart and a new spirit. Our Lenten penances or practices are ways for us to live out our repentance. They are sacrifices and commitments that help foster in us a truly penitent spirit. And this contrite spirit is what God is seeking, for it leads us to Him, the One who is able to transform and renew our hearts and spirits by His all-consuming Love.

Lord, show each of us what we need to sacrifice or commit to this Lent to truly grow closer to you. You know each of us in our uniqueness and you know what we need. Guide us so that we may all emerge from the penitent spirit of Lent with a truly renewed heart and spirit this Easter. We all these things in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt, Amen.

Stepping Out of the Boat and… wait, did you say walk on the water?

Sometimes we are called to step out of the boat.

As my husband and I were approaching our wedding day, we would say, “We’re stepping out of the boat together!” In prayer, my husband had had an image of us stepping out of the boat, like St. Peter, walking toward Jesus. We had spent time dating and discerning marriage with each other and had experienced a lot of confirmation that God was calling us to live out the vocation of marriage together. Even in the confidence that this was God’s plan, there was a reality that we didn’t know what our journey as husband and wife would look like. We were stepping out into the ocean of unknown, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, praying that we’d always have the grace to keep our focus on Jesus.

We’ve been married under a year and a half, and this stepping out of the boat theme has continued! Most significantly, we relied on this image as we became parents. Every day as a parent can bring surprises and unknowns and encourages us to be open to the waves or the calm while relying on Jesus’ guidance. It’s an exciting and truly joy-filled adventure.

Currently, my husband and I are in the midst of another “stepping out of the boat” situation, facing some big decisions for our family. And even though there is fear as we look at each other and say, “well…we are stepping out of the boat again,” we have confidence in the Lord, as He has never failed us before. He has proven the power of His guiding hand to each of us, first as single individuals, and now as a couple, over and over again. He calls us out onto the water, where the uncomfortability and risk are apparent, but where we have the choice to stay close to Him… through prayer, through trust in His promises and provision, through His grace and knowing His love for us.

Because we are currently in the midst of a stepping out (or more like jumping out) of the boat season again, there is an uncomfortability as we are asked to step into the unknown and to cling more truly to Christ. Christ calls us. He asks us to follow Him. It may often be uncomfortable and feel risky. It may look very risky from a worldly perspective. But the risk is where God can show up most clearly. He reveals Himself and His power. There is a theme and a refrain through the chapters of Exodus. God is revealing His Divine power to the Egyptians and Israelites. He is revealing who He IS. “…that they may know that I am the Lord” (cf. Exodus 7:5, 14:8, 29:46, emphasis added). We worship the same God. And His actions in our lives reveal who He is. He reveals Himself and His power not only to us, but to those we know. Our lives can point others to God as He calls us and we follow, putting our trust in Him. And so in the middle of the uncomfortable, risky times, preparing to step out into the waters ahead, we must trust His promises and stay focused on Christ. He never fails us.

As we look back, we will see His unmistakable fingerprints in our lives. He always leads us into goodness that we couldn’t have imagined or planned ourselves. This is who our God is. And this is the adventure of life with Christ. Our stability is truly in Him alone. And it’s a stability beyond anything earthly. His promises are true. “Do not be afraid, my child. I am with you wherever you go.” How is He calling you to step out of the boat and place your trust in Him? Whether it is not clear to you right now, or very clear, you can trust that He is with you and guiding you. Let us open our hearts to His Love, listen for His guidance, and follow where He asks us to come. Even if it means stepping out of the boat into the unknown.

Awakened by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood

“So there are three who testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
and the three are of one accord.”

1 John 5:7-8

At church this past Sunday, we stood in line to receive a personal dousing of Holy Water from the priest in renewal of our Baptisms. My baby girl had finally fallen asleep in my arms, but you better believe she awoke when she felt that Holy Water spray her! Luckily, and no doubt in God’s freshly bestowed grace, she fell right back asleep. Earlier during the liturgy, drops of the Precious Blood of Jesus in the Eucharistic form of wine woke her from her slumber as the priest placed them upon her teeny lips. Twice on Sunday she was awoken by sacramental encounters with Jesus. 

If you have never heard of a baby receiving the Eucharist or a communion line-style Baptismal renewal, don’t worry. These traditions were foreign to me a few years ago. They are traditions of the Byzantine Catholic Church. When I met my husband he introduced me to the Byzantine Rite, an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church in full union with the Pope and the Roman, or Latin, Rite of Catholicism. While the Roman Catholic Church will celebrate Jesus’ Baptism this coming Sunday, we celebrated it last week in the Byzantine Church. In both rites of the Church, especially through the Sacraments, we encounter the Spirit, the water, and the Blood John speaks of in today’s first reading

Some of us may be familiar with this standard definition of a Sacrament: “an outward sign of an inward grace” instituted by Christ Himself. Indeed, the sacraments are physical realities in which we encounter the living Christ and His Holy Spirit. In the three Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist, we encounter the water, the Spirit, and the Blood of 1 John 5. (NOTE: In the Eastern Tradition, babies and children entering the church receive the three sacraments of initiation at the same time. Yes, even the youngest, the baby Byzantines, receive a drop of the Precious Blood of Jesus on their lips. This explains why my baby had been awoken by the Eucharist on her lips in church this past Sunday.)

The waters of our Baptism, through God’s grace, signify that we have become His precious son or daughter. The Holy Chrism, or oil, of our Confirmation or Chrismation, is the sign that communicates the seal of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit which were made ours through our Baptism. The Precious Body and Blood of Jesus present in the Eucharist unite us more fully to Him and allow us to enter into the Mystery of the Cross. We are members of a Church that makes the spiritual realities of the faith tangible. We actively participate in these Sacraments to signify our spiritual relationship with the Living Son of God. John’s words in the first reading are a call to action, a call to live out our faith in Christ. The Sacraments of Initiation provide our initial encounters with this Spirit, this water, and this Blood of Jesus. 

The Gospel shows us how this call moves outside the sanctuary of the Church to the world beyond Her walls. Jesus’ healing of a leper reminds us of the cleansing He has imparted on our own souls — and how we can now be His hands and feet to impart this on others. See, we have been healed by Christ not only for our own sake, but also for the building up of the Kingdom. We have been sacramentally initiated, welcomed into the family of the Church by our good Father through His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit. This is why celebrating His Baptism every year, renewing our baptismal promises, and being doused anew with the waters of the Spirit is so important for our spiritual life. Each week we are nourished by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. God provides us with the grace we need to share our own healing with others, so that they may know that they are loved by God in this same way, and may be invited into His healing love. Most of us are in a continual process of healing of whatever forms of “leprosy” we are sick with — the Divine Healer continues to heal, cleanse, and purify us. Though even as we are in the process of deeper healing, He wants to use us to bring the people we encounter into His healing Love.

May we all be awoken by the drops of Holy Water that land on our faces and by the drops of Jesus’ Precious Blood that touch our lips. His Spirit is alive and well and among us. In fact, it dwells within us. Let us ask Him how He wants us to share the Spirit, the water, and the Blood that we’ve been so blessed to encounter.

A Great Light

The Christmas season is marked by light.  Lights strung around the tree, candles burning in windows, fireplaces warming homes, storefronts decorated with lights…  Many families will take a drive to go see the lights or see a tree in their city adorned with lights.  The beauty of light clearly draws us in. 

I’ve been rediscovering the glory of light as I watch my 2.5-month-old stare at lights — not just Christmas lights, but any kind of light.  I am realizing that we are born with an innate draw to the gift and mystery of light.  And while my sweet little baby stares with wonder at light, she is often being stared at by the people around her.  When we introduce her to friends and family, people find themselves circled around her, staring in wonder in the same way she herself stares at a light.  I’ve had two friends say in the past week that babies are like campfires — you feel like you can just stare at them forever.  There is a beauty, a wonder, and a joy in the presence of a baby and in the light of a campfire that draws our hearts.  This mystery of light is at the beginning of creation, as God himself created light before anything else (Genesis 1:3).  And this mystery of light is revealed to us further at the beginning of the Gospel, the beginning of our re-creation in Christ, as the Light of the world comes to us as a newborn baby.  How everyone present at Christ’s Nativity must have stared at this baby with an unmatched wonder and awe, as they stared at the One True Light Himself.  

Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.

The refrain of today’s Psalm taken from the Gospel of John (Jn 8:12) reminds us that as Christians, we possess the gift of light, for Christ is the fullness of light.  It is through Christ that we are called into union with the Creator of light, the Father, and made partakers in this light by the fire of the Holy Spirit. We may already be well aware that as Christians we possess the light of Christ, but this Advent, perhaps the Lord is calling us deeper, asking us to receive His light more fully. What area or aspect of your heart or life remains in darkness? These areas may take some prayerful digging to find. Anxiety, fear, hopelessness… Ask the Lord to reveal this place to you, in His gentleness and love. This is where the Lord yearns to be invited. To bring an end to any remaining darkness with the light of life.   

I hope that every light we see this Advent and Christmas points us to the One True Light Himself. The Savior of the world, God Himself, was born to us a beautiful, sweet baby. Come let us adore Him, and stare in wonder at the baby Jesus, the Light who changed everything.  

Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Stomer, 1632