What Plans?

and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.” –Mt 1:18-25

I had many plans this year. I think we all did. Plans to travel, to be better physically, mentally, to be a better daughter, a loving friend…plans to be more present, be a better volunteer, to serve better, to pray more, to truly live out my faith, to move up, whatever up is, to really stick to the plans this year…what plans?

Joseph had plans, to be a good husband, to have a companion, enjoy her company, learn how to be a husband, a provider, do well in the business, be looked upon with high praise, to be a father to many children, as many as the lord provides…and here he is….scared and confused and wondering….what plans?! The woman chosen to be my wife is pregnant… I have to divorce her, but I don’t want to bring her shame, I don’t want shame upon me…I must do it quietly…no one can know, no one will understand…my plans….dust. Moreover, God sent his angel, his messenger, “Do not be afraid…”

How can he not be afraid, how can we? With all we have experienced, seen, heard, and been confronted with this year. How can we not be afraid? Through a global pandemic, through a changing of economic circumstances, through an increase awareness of death, because of Covid-19, because of racial violence, we are experiencing an increase in awareness of racial trauma, isolation, emotional trauma, mental illness, loss, pain, loneliness,  hunger, anxiety, fake news, fear mongering…how can we not be afraid?

Little did Joseph know that he would have to leave what he had built, what he thought was good enough, to become a refugee, flee to Egypt with a very pregnant Mary, entrusted with the son of God, and provide food and shelter in an unknown place, and be a protagonist in the plan of salvation. Rewind and read that again….what plan? God’s plan. Queue the Drake song…sorry had to! God challenged us this year in the same way he challenges us every day to live out the truth of the gospel. Never was there a year it was so hard.

I did not find refuge in what I knew…I found refuge in the angels that God sent me. God destroyed what I thought were safe places and comfort zones to bring out real peace and progress.

That peace came in an invitation from a friend I was not so close with, to pray the novena to Saint Katherine Drexel; peace came in the invitation to grow deeply in Catholic Social Teaching, it came in an invitation to intercede for our world in a praise and worship zoom call on a day my heartbroken and I most needed it, the world needed it, it came in the call to serve my family as we continue to struggle to support one of our own through a battle with depression.

Peace came in an invitation to intercede for others, to grow closer to a friend also experiencing isolation and loneliness; it came in the call of supporting my father through his Covid-19 illness. Peace came in supporting a friend through a battle with a tumor, through a friend’s continued struggle to find meaningful employment, through a book club with four amazing Catholic women. Peace came in opportunities to grow deeper into relationship and to take deep fresh air outside. Peace came….(FILL THIS IN FOR YOURSELF RIGHT HERE)! Whatever God has taken away, he has given and will continue to give greater than what WE can imagine.

WHAT PLANS? The obsessive planner in me is freaked out. The Christian in me, is Lord, your plan not mine.

God has greater plans for us then we can dare to dream or imagine. He did not lead us to this point to abandon us. our God is here where you are he is present, EMMANUEL!

In the comfort that you receive and the comfort you must give, in the joy of a smile, that you receive and that you must give. In the help, you receive and you must give, in the faith you must witness and you must show, in the love that you receive and you must show. God is present in the prayers you receive and the prayers you must lift up. Someone entrusts you to the Lord, and you entrust them to God.

It’s ok to be afraid. God will remind you, “Do not be afraid.” Hear his angels, there is a good solid plan that you cannot even imagine. Do not despair, do not lose hope! EMMANUEL!!!! That’s a plan we were not expecting, or could imagine! If you are lonely reach out, if you are struggling call a friend, if you are overwhelmed by attention call that friend who could use more people in their life, if you are bored by your comfort, call that friend who struggles! God has angels and saints all around, he will put us, them, you, to good use. Pray with me, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”- Prayer of Saint Francis

Señor, gracias por el aire que respiro, por este día, por esta Noche Buena, y cada hora que nos regalas. For your angels Lord. Continue to strengthen our hearts, to do your will, serve in your plan and teach us to love and be loved. Thank you for the awesome gift of your incarnation that we eagerly await this night. Te rogamos Señor, por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu hijo, que vive y reina contigo en la unidad del Espíritu Santo, y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos. Amen!

San José de Nazaret, pray for us!

Joseph’s Dream- by Barent Fabritius and other artists in Rembrandt’s  studio Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Lord, Thank You

As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.” LK 17: 11-19

I once attempted to do an activity where I reflected on where I saw evidence of God in my childhood, my adolescence and my adulthood. Having had a difficult childhood this exercise proved to be too much….very much like reading the ordinary time, end of days reading for today! I did not want to go back because there were many wounds and a lot of unreconciled pain. I called my sister for confirmation that it as a bad as I imagined it! I needed proof for the pit in my stomach, the tears on my face and more importantly so I did not have continue this activity any further.

Now here I am fully knowing how faithful the Lord is (or so I think), and I reach out in want of desperation! My sister listened and then reminded me, it was not always bad. “There weren’t numerous, but there were moments,” and she listed things that tore my heart in a better way, going to the park, learning to read time, and watching movies…these cherish small moments with our father and our aunt.

My sister is a non-believer. When we talk about God we do not always end up in a good place. There is judgement on both ends. In that moment, God knew I needed my sister to pull me back. Moreover, as she recalled these moments, I thought she does not know God but she sure is grateful…and I who practice my faith; I needed this refresher, to look back and give the lord thanks.

The gospel reading for thanksgiving took me away. I am one of those lepers, who asked for healing, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us” me! I received healing but I did not return to give thanks and praise… I was not grateful because I did not realize that I had been healed.  I wanted to stay wounded, and go straight to despair. “As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned.”

We have an opportunity today and every day to wake up and be thankful, thank HIM who heals and saves us! We should not forget, but we do, to hold on to the evidence of his faithfulness, the wounds that he heals, the steadfastness of his promises. God has never let us down, so every day ( it’s a reminder for me), I will say thank you Lord, not just for this day on earth (I have to grow this prayer) but for everything you have done for me, for the people in my life, for allowing me to know you.

How much does the Lord care for those of us who are close to him? How much does the Lord care for those who we think are not close to him? How much does Lord care for those who glorify his name, live as children of the resurrection and give HIM thanks, for things received and things not yet received? “He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me.” (Psalm 50:23) It was a stranger, not one of the chosen people of Israel, who returned to thank God!

Take these words in, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? None but this foreigner. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21). In my judgement of my sister, I did not think that she could help me or be instrumental in my spiritual growth! I was hoping she help me go to despair. And here is the lord reminding me again, you too were far away from me and I used everything and everyone to bring you back.

Lord, thank you, for my sister (put whomever you need in here). For her compassion and her love. Thank you for giving me a friend in her and many friends to bring me closer to you. Lord remind me you are in her, as you are in me, and remove thoughts of judgement, I too was a stranger to you Lord. Help us have healthy discussions to grow spiritually. Lord use me; speak to her through me, just as you have spoken to me through her! May we continue to encourage one another to serve our neighbor! Lord allow us to, move closer to you, wherever on the path we are.

Help us all (especially those whom I dare to judge) to realize lord, we have been healed, we are healing, we will be healed.

For this and for all your blessings we praise you our God! For your goodness and your mercy!

Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum (Guérison des lépreux à Capernaum), 1886-1894. Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.89 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.89_PS1.jpg)

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!

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.