Interior Healing

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what 
they were thinking to themselves, 
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once, 
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Mk 2:1-12

Hello friends,

In today’s Gospel we’re once again given the story of the healing of the paralytic. I touched upon this back in December, but so as not to rehash entirely what I said last time, I’ll focus on some different things today.

When I last touched upon this Gospel reading, I highlighted the obstinance of the Pharisees, the unceasing faith of the paralytic, and the need for community as we are all the Body of Christ.

Notable is that Jesus first forgives the sins of the paralytic, but then afterwards He heals his paralysis.

Of course Our Lord and Savior knew the paralytic needed interior healing (his sins forgiven) before physical healing (his paralysis). A number of years ago, I went to one of speaker Matthew Kelly’s talks. You probably know him as the founder of the Dynamic Catholic institute, and he’s well known for writing Rediscovering Catholicism. Kelly referred to Jesus as “the divine psychologist” when He instituted the sacrament of confession and, with it, our Sacred Tradition of Aposotolic Succession. The document Dei Verbum from The Second Vatican Council elaborates on this. (Specifically, see n. 7–10 on “Handing on Divine Revelation.”)

What do I mean by all this? This is certainly not one of those long-winded rhetorical detours I’ve become infamous for. Many of my friends and acquaintances over the years know what I’m talking about. “Ryan, you’re going off topic! Get to the point!” What I mean is that in the Catholic faith we acknowledge woundedness and brokenness are real. We acknowledge the sacrament of reconciliation is real. And indeed, maybe Kelly remarking that Jesus is “the divine psychologist” isn’t such a far-fetched idea when we consider the healing of the paralytic. Indeed, in both depictions of the healing of the paralytic in Luke and Mark, Jesus heals the paralytic internally before he heals his physical ailment.

Many years ago, when I first began seeking assistance for major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, I began navigating a deeply bureaucratic, and at times, callous medical and psychiatric system. A number of doctors I saw simply saw “the solution” for my diagnosis as, “Here, take this. Once a day. That doesn’t work? Ok, come back and you’ll take something else. You won’t need anything else.” It was awfully dismissive behavior. But in life, it mirrors a lot of things. We often want “easy” or “fast” solutions. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with antidepressants! They absolutely work! But that’s not my larger point.

One reason why I was diagnosed with major depression in the first place was my own brokenness after struggling for years with so many different things—one of them growing up in a broken family and growing up without a father. I carried feelings of resentment and abandonment over the years, and some of it unintentionally spilled over as resentment towards not just my earthly father but my Heavenly one. I eventually began speaking to a good Catholic therapist. I frequented Mass and confession more often shortly afterwards.

The solution—for me—was clearly not just to take antidepressants. More needed to be done as well. (I am not giving psychiatric advice.) Personally speaking, I needed interior healing after not addressing years of brokenness. In Matthew Kelly’s words, I needed “the divine psychologist.” Jesus, because He has the divine intellect, saw that whatever was plaguing the paralytic, required interior healing first. There was clearly something in the paralytic’s past that was either not clearly resolved or that needed forgiveness first and foremost. In a sense, Jesus was the “divine psychologist” who cleaned the rubbish off this man’s soul that had built up over the years. This immediately prepared the paralytic to once again walk. He certainly helped clean the rubbish off my soul.

I remember speaking to a Dominican nun several years ago when I was in Poland for World Youth Day 2016. This sister elaborated that not going to confession, not seeking interior healing, being in a state of mortal sin, was equivalent to a child standing before a mirror with their clothes all muddy, with even the glass of the mirror dirty. You’ve probably heard the analogy of going to confession as akin to taking a shower. The larger point is they all work. We’ve all had rubbish or woundedness weighing down on us, and we have Jesus, the Church, and the sacraments for a reason!

Jesus Himself says, “Come and see,” in the Gospel of John. Jesus will never forcibly take anything from you by force; He is always waiting for you to open up to Him. It’s perhaps no surprise that the Church chose “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” as the motto for the Jubilee 2000. Because God exists outside of time, and because yesterday is the same as today for Jesus, He can always forgive us and heal us of our brokenness. If we can unite our sufferings to Jesus, it’s even better. 

Jesus is always awaiting a “new deed” in your life anytime you turn to Him. Even in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Jesus tells Our Lady as He is carrying the cross, even in enormous indescribable pain, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” (Yes, I know it’s a slight alteration of what is found in Revelation 21. It still works.) Jesus, indeed, makes “things new.” He made it new for the paralytic. He will make it new for you.

Think of all the times Jesus went to sinners and removed the rubbish from them in the Gospels. The larger point is in this pandemic age we live in, where we may think Christ has abandoned us, is that He hasn’t. Go to Him. Go to Him for healing. Go to Him and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. It is not the priest you meet in confession, but Our Lord and Savior. I’m sure once you seek Jesus, you’ll be able to rise and walk as the paralytic did.

Rise and Walk

One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. 
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. 
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus. 
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.” 

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
“Who is this who speaks blasphemies? 
Who but God alone can forgive sins?” 
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
“What are you thinking in your hearts? 
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” 
He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God. 
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
“We have seen incredible things today.”

Luke 5:17-26

Friends, in today’s Gospel we are given the story of the healing of the paralytic. In my previous reflection on the healing of the blind man (based on Luke 18:35–43), I pointed to the blind man having faith in Christ despite being literally blind. He could not see Christ raising Lazarus, could not see Christ turning water into wine, couldn’t even see Christ multiplying loaves of bread. However, despite this, in his heart of hearts, he believed in Christ and the miracles He could accomplish. He had faith, despite being literally blind. How many of us could say the same and remain firm in the faith despite being able to literally see what Christ has done in our lives? Do we have the faith of the blind man? The majority of us are not blind, yet we often struggle in our faith. The blind man gambled [correctly] the Lord would see him and heal him only if he asked, and He did. In contrast, the men around him rebuked him and “asked him to be silent.” The Lord healed him anyway, stunning those who rebuked this man’s faith.

I say this here because there are similar elements in the narrative of  today’s Gospel. Once again, faith inevitably triumphs. This time it involves a paralytic and the Pharisees.

Consider several things. The Pharisees saw Christ cure the sick. However, despite all this, it could be said they were literally blind. They could see with their own eyes that Christ and God the Father were “one.” They refused to entertain the idea the messiah was in front of them and walking the earth “to fulfill the law.” Can you imagine what it would be like to walk among Jesus? Think at this point how it would be if you were a parent. You remind your child to not touch the stove when the gas is on. Why? Because it’s hot and your child will burn their hand. DUH. However, they don’t listen. I can’t fathom how God the Father must have thought at seeing the Pharisees being so obstinate. “THE EVIDENCE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” anyone would exclaim. For those who are parents, how many times have you had to scold your child time after time, often for the same thing? Do we not go to confession often for the exact same sin, time and time again, seeking absolution? Does the priest yell at you? No. Mind you, I do not have the patience of a priest. (I’m trying, God!)

However, this doesn’t happen. Instead, example after example does nothing to sway the hearts and minds of the Pharisees. Miracle after miracle changes nothing. Historically, disease, for the Pharisees at least, was a sign of sin. So what does Jesus do? He does something so decisive that there can longer be any unbelief. However, the Pharisees are too wrapped up in their own plans and their own honor to ascertain God’s mercy when Christ heals the paralytic. The Pharisees simply say, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?” They don’t marvel at the Lord’s grandeur, they simply question. Instead of marveling at what had just taken place, the Pharisees still doubt. Let’s say I ask Christ tomorrow to win the lottery.  However, instead of winning one million dollars, I only win ten thousand dollars. How obstinate and ungrateful would I be if I instead said, “meh.” It’d be something else, right? How often do we want God to give us a sign so we can follow His plan? And how often are we not open to what He tells us, simply and directly because we’re too focused on achieving our own plans? Similar to my last reflection, there is also a similar element of “rebuke” that also takes place here.

Remember when I referred to my last reflection in regards to the blind man’s faith? We should all be similarly impressed with the faith of the paralytic. Think about it—neither the blind man nor the paralytic needed any signs. They simply believed and knew Christ would help them. The paralytic’s faith in Him was so strong, it overcame literal adversity. If he couldn’t walk, he’d ask others to carry him to Christ. I’m reminded of that brilliant moment of friendship near the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins, physically and mentally exhausted carrying the One Ring, tells his friend Samwise Gamgee he cannot walk any longer. He’s exhausted, he’s battered, he looks absolutely defeated. If Frodo does not throw the One Ring into Mount Doom, evil will triumph. Now imagine the paralytic: “And some men brought on a stretcher a man.” He could not physically walk to Christ. Here, Samwise Gamgee takes the initiative, “Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you…but I can carry you!” (Cue the manly tears.) (Yes, I know I am quoting the film and not the book.)

The paralytic’s faith moved him so much it didn’t matter. If he couldn’t walk, he would make sure he saw Christ.  It didn’t matter to his friends if the paralytic couldn’t walk, either—they brought him in through the roof just to make sure Christ saw him. Theirs was a living faith.  It was so strong, it moved him and them into action. Their living faith was far stronger than the durability of a Thomistic argument.  What have you done to seek Christ face to face today? What do we do when we don’t measure up to the faith of the paralytic? What have we done in order to make sure we receive His grace?

In the midst of all this, remember that we too are the Body of Christ. The paralytic struggled physically to see Christ, so his friends helped him. Oftentimes, in moments when we can obsess over clericalism or scruples over which form of the Mass is better, remember that our mission—as established in the great commission Christ professed—is to bring others to Heaven. There are many Catholics at this time who may, because of the pandemic or economic reasons, feel unable to move, frozen. Do we help bring those individuals to Christ as the paralytic’s friends did?

Now mind you, there is a little more to this.  Everyone glorified God after the miracle was done. Christ only sought God’s glory when He healed the paralytic. I only say this because how often do we seek gratitude in doing an act of charity or a favor for a friend? Instead of desiring the “thank you,” do we instead remember we are here on this Earth to glorify God? Oftentimes, we should also remember to purify our own intentions and make sure the reasons we do certain things are for the right reasons. 

Now that we are in the season of Advent, let us not forget the reason for the season. We are awaiting the celebration of the birth of Christ. Oftentimes, Advent is called a season of waiting. But are you going to Him, instead of waiting for signs as the Pharisees did?

Turn to Him

As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me!”
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.

Luke 18:35–43

Dear friends,

How good it is to be writing for Frassati again! Rather than speak as if I were lecturing at the bully pulpit, I’ll speak to reach hearts and minds and try and be as succinct as possible. (No promises.)

In today’s Gospel, we are given the story of the healing of the blind man. The blind man, pleading to be recognized by Jesus, has his sight restored. Jesus tells the blind man, “Have sight, your faith has saved you.” It is an indeed an example of Christ’s miracles, but there are several takes I have on this narrative, especially in our climate these days in regards to our faith in Our Lord and in Holy Mother Church.

In my life, this Gospel narrative has several personal elements that deeply resonate with me. There are three crucial moments as I reflect on today’s Gospel:

  1. There is the crowd “rebuk[ing] him” and “telling him to be silent.”
  2. Christ then tells the man, “…Your faith has saved you.”
  3. The final element of my reflection pertains to “giving glory to God” after such a miracle has occurred.

First, how often in our lives have we reached out to the Lord? For many of us, especially at the beginning of this pandemic rife with mortal and economic loss, many of us may have felt brief or extended moments of confusion, heartbreak, maybe even despair. For me, it was a particularly turbulent moment in my life—I had no choice but to leave my PhD, the academic career I had envisioned for over a decade was now gone, and I found myself suddenly unemployed. I couldn’t find work for many, many months, and I was diagnosed with PTSD. With social distancing mechanisms in place, I, and many others, may have felt displaced from our prayer communities. I felt directionless. Some friends told me, in the midst of their despair, their belief that the Church, too, seemed in crisis. They subsequently said all was in flux, the Church was now in crisis, and they thought the world was ending.

Mind you, let me stop right here. I am not a “doomer.” I tried to be as empathetic as I possibly could with my friends, completely understanding how deeply lonely and heartbreaking this time was and still is. Some have been more active in talking to me; a lot of folks simply needed personal space. This time was and is turbulent in different ways for many of us, in a myriad of ways. I lost several family members and friends. I later contracted COVID-19 and became sick for quite some time in the spring. I was later reinfected with COVID-19 in late August. However, despite these times of trial and tribulation, my faith in Him was strengthened. This was also a sentiment I found with several of my friends: their faith was strengthened, not weakened. But how? Why? Amidst all this, how often have we given into stinging “rebuke?” Either from friends from ourselves? Perhaps we are not literally gathered amongst large crowds now, but the threat of stinging rebuke is still there. From ourselves. The maxim that “we can be our harshest critic” is not entirely without merit. Especially if we sometimes struggle with catastrophizing our interior lives. (Anyone? Sometimes I struggle with this! Struggling with anxiety is a real thing! But praise be to Jesus that I offer this to Him!) How often in the midst of these tragedies have we remained “silent,” instead of turning to Him, the Lord and Savior who died for our sins? He who wept when His friend Lazarus died? He who showed mercy to a thief being crucified next to Him? Turn to Him—He truly understands. If you’ve ever been mad at God or disappointed, whether it be with life, anxiety, or singleness, you can tell Him. He can take it. And Jesus will love you all the same.

Second, in my life, getting to the point of “your faith has saved you” could be the most difficult. Because we sometimes we may thrive on a quick, immediate emotional response in our consumerist society. We may want things now. In my life, I have realized that upon getting what we have wanted from prayer, we may then become lukewarm. We may sometimes have the tendency to turn to the Lord only in moments in despair. (More on this in my third point.) But the larger issue I want to point out is that no prayer is wasted. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said to a group of pilgrims that, “We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost.” Often, I have been told that when we pray, God may think with His divine intellect one of the following things: “Yes;” “Yes, but not the way you expect, here is something even better;” “No;” or “Later.” While we cannot ascertain with our mortal intellect the divine intellect, we have probably had one of these moments that our prayers were answered in magnitudes even greater than we could have ever wanted!

Imagine a world where there was no guarantee the blind man could have ever been healed. The blind man must have realized this small possibility. Obviously, Christ was always going to heal the blind man, but this was never a certainty in the mind of the blind man. I think the larger point to “Your faith has saved you” is to realize the point that it’s always possible that our prayers may never be answered in the ways we expect. And yet, we turn to Him. And we should. I think the larger issue that some of us may not realize is that in the midst of our tribulations, we may subconsciously believe we are beyond reproach or may not need to repent. How often do we feel relieved when we go to confession? Like a clean slate. The blind man felt lost—literally and figuratively. The issue we may not realize from reading this Gospel narrative is that we pretend we are beyond reproach, pretend we are not sinners, and we then become literally and spiritually “blind” to even our own spiritual blindness. Like if you desperately needed glasses to see. Like a glass half full. Like if you went out in the cold without a coat. One way we grow into much better young Catholics is to recognize how lost we are—how truly we actually need Jesus. Do we recognize this in prayer? It may be a hard thing to admit, mainly because it requires a large amount of humility in our lives. When the pandemic first hit, when I was first diagnosed with PTSD, and when I found myself temporarily directionless, I turned to Jesus. Who else would I turn to? I was a blind man, begging to see, temporarily becoming a recluse for many, many months. There was nobody I would rather turn to. Tell Jesus you love Him and how much you need Him. You’ll be surprised how readily He welcomes you with open arms. There are still many moments where I struggle with spiritual blindness, for our path to sainthood is a continual process for the rest of our lives. Remember you want to aim for Heaven, not purgatory, because you don’t want to miss. (Bad joke, I know.) Would I say I’m a much more mature and confident man than I was at the beginning of the year? Absolutely. Am I a saint yet? No, but I’m trying, Jesus.

Finally, comes the role of “giving glory to God.” This is the both the easiest and potentially the most difficult. Mainly because once we receive something in our prayer lives, we are immediately humbled, enormously thankful. How many times do we shout “Alleluia!” once our prayers are answered? But do we keep the faith afterwards? Even after we know Our Lord is with us and truly loves us? It has once been said we are “an Easter people,” who should always strive to shout, “Alleluia!” The most pressing example of this is what Our Lady must have felt at the Annunciation. Consider this moment from the Gospel of Luke:

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

There is the moment of revelation. There is the moment where Our Lady accepts the Lord’s will. However, what people forget is what comes after. Do we try to emulate Our Lady’s example, keeping the faith? Imagine being a young woman, being given such a great mission, probably illiterate, probably scared, coming from Nazareth, where it is said that no good comes from there. (See John 1:46.) Mary kept the faith; we can, too.

Don’t be afraid to pray to God for relief of your burdens. If relief is not in sight, ask Him for the graces you need to endure in these troubled times. He will help you.

Becoming Like Children

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
(Matthew 18:1-5)

The USCCB has designated today as the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. As such, I’ll be talking about one of the gospel readings recommended by the USCCB to be proclaimed during the liturgy. (Depending on where you reside in America, your parish may observe this day, or your parish will follow the readings today that fall under Ordinary Time.)

Not many know this about me, but I share the same birthday as my mother. My mother was born on April 1st, 1963; I was born on April 1st, 1989. Aside from it being a cute piece of trivia about me, it’s a fact that I have always been close to my mother. I often joke that the relationship and friendship I have had with my mother has been one akin to the one shared by Rory Gilmore and her mother, Lorelai, from the dramedy Gilmore Girls. But on a larger and more relevant note, it’s an even lesser-known fact that my mother was *almost* never born. My grandmother, already married in 1962 and raising one child, felt pressure from relatives to terminate her second pregnancy. Upon going to an abortion clinic, my grandmother felt a sudden thrust of pain in her abdomen.

Ignoring that pain, my grandmother went to the abortion table, but heard a voice urging her, “Don’t do this!” My grandmother then fled the abortion clinic in tears, not caring about getting her money back. My grandmother told me the voice sounded feminine and that she presumed it was Our Lady who urged her not to go forward with the abortion. (Was it an interior locution similar to the ones St. Teresa of Avila writes about in The Interior Castle? I don’t know. Ultimately, my grandmother decided against the abortion.)  In a very real way, my mother was almost never born. Similarly, I could have never been born and never ensouled. I may have never written the reflection you are now reading. I am thankful for the life I have been given. My mother is too. Neither of us hold any resentment towards my grandmother.

I don’t want to politicize my reflection, because that’s not my intent. But the Church does recognize the need to pray for the unborn with days such as today, and with other days such as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (That’s when we pray for the souls of the children lost in the massacre ordered by Herod I in Bethlehem. See Matthew 2:1.)

When I read that gospel reading from Matthew, I am constantly reminded of the infighting that occurred with Christ’s twelve disciples. I am reminded too of the attempts by the Pharisees to catch Christ in a “gotcha moment” when they question Christ about the law of divorce. (See Matthew 19.) I am reminded of my own struggles with heartbreak, loss, and tragedy and when I have often gone to Christ, angry and resentful, demanding, “How can this be?” It is of particular importance that Christ is asked whom is “the greatest” by his disciples. Christ doesn’t say St. Peter; Peter is the disciple who gets the “best job” (becoming the first Pope) despite his thrice-denial of Christ. Christ doesn’t say St. John; John is considered “the beloved disciple.” Instead Christ does something else. Christ simply directs them to a child and asks them to become child-like in their disposition in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For the innocence and mind of a child is a wondrous thing.

Consider this. Many of us, upon being asked what God is, might be tempted to say, “God is the Alpha and the Omega.” Or if you enjoy Thomistic theology, you may cite the following, as declared by Pope Pius IX in 1914, “The metaphysical motion of the Divine Essence is correctly expressed by saying that it is identified with the exercised actuality of its own being, or that it is subsistent being itself. And this is the reason for its infinite and unlimited perfection” (Postquam Sanctissimus §23). (Hey now, I’m a Lay Dominican and it’s practically a requirement to enjoy some Thomistic theology.)

Asides from that being a very profound statement, such a statement may read dense to some of us. In contrast, a parent simply tells a child, upon being asked what God is that, “…God is love” (John 4:8). A child understands immediately what God is, because they often equate the love of God to the warmth of their parents. And indeed, God is a loving father.

My larger point is this: do we approach God as a child in prayer and in our daily lives? As an obedient disciple? To the men out there (including myself!), do you act as a servant-leader rather than as leader-servants? Do we treat others, such as the homeless, as St. Teresa of Calcutta would say, with love and affection, because they [the homeless] are “God in His most distressing disguise?” Do we take up our crosses joyfully, and offer up our sufferings lovingly for the souls in purgatory, or in today’s case, for the unborn? Or. Do we approach God as a Pharisee? Do we question God at every turn? Do we approach God in anger with different shades of resentment? If we see a mother who has decided to go through with an abortion, do we judge them, or do we show them mercy and love? Do we tell them to seek the services of the Sisters of Life? Do we treat them with mercy and compassion? Do we pray for them? Do we tell them that no sin is beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness? You are unique! You are loved! You are truly a daughter or son of Christ, King of the Universe!

I am grateful for the life I have been given. My mom is too. And I pray every day for a greater culture of life. I have dealt with many tragedies in my life, have dealt with the loss of many family members and friends, and I have had many personal struggles in my past and present. (As we all have.) As followers of Christ we are to believe that every person is valuable, sacred, good, and wholly unique. Every person’s life has profound meaning and worth. And I pray every day that I treat everyone I meet in my life, from friends, family, and strangers, as Christ would. I pray everyday that I go to Christ as a child, wholly and completely reliant on Him.

Our Holy Father Francis remarks in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, of his lament and grief of the adverse impact we have had on creation. Remember, as directed in the Book of Genesis, we are to be stewards of God’s creation: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). The culture of today can often be a “throwaway” culture. Such a culture has also had a tragic impact on the unborn. Today’s day of prayer is meant to recognize the right to life and ask for acts of prayer and penance for violations of the dignity of the human person, particularly through abortion. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Our Lady, Our Mother

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
Vita, Dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.

—Excerpt of Salve Regina (Latin text)

What a blessed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God! And it’s the 8th day of Christmastide! And of course, I hope you all have a wonderful and happy new year! On this holy day of obligation, we take a moment as we start our new year to honor our Blessed Mother, who in her “yes!” to God brought the Savior into the world to redeem us. 

What, however, is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God? Pope Saint Paul VI says, in his apostolic letter, Marialis Cultus, that, “This celebration, placed on January 1… is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the ‘holy Mother…through whom we were found worthy to receive the Author of life’” (§5). 

Isn’t that so beautiful? Speaking from personal experience, asking for intercession from Our Lady, and praying the Rosary, contributed in bringing me back to Our Lord. Whenever one of my non-religious friends would remark that women didn’t have much of a part to play in salvation history, I always point to Our Lady and remark, “The greatest saint in history was, and still is, a woman who trusted Our Lord and bore the very Incarnation of Hope itself. There’s a reason why the Devil fears Our Lady and the Rosary so much.” Before I get back to Our Lady, you’ll have to allow me one digression about fatherhood. I promise I’ll get to my larger point. 

Some of you know this, but I’m not particularly close to my earthly father; my mother and father separated when I was very young and he wasn’t very involved in my upbringing. My father doesn’t live in America anymore, and hasn’t for 15 years, and getting a hold of him is a both a difficult, and awkward affair. I grew up without a father and it left a very large hole in my heart for many years. In my adolescence, my mother was often told she was doing “two jobs” by being a mother and a father; Rightly so, my mother remarked that’s simply not true. (Complementarity exists for a reason!) 

Suffice to say, for a very long time, I discovered that this absence of my father had, in fact, created a very large God-shaped hole in my heart. My not being being able to rely on my earthly dad subconsciously translated into difficulty in trusting in God. This dad-shaped hole, in fact, contributed to my lack of trust in The Father in my prayer life for many years. (I came to this realization many years later. Addressing your wounds through prayer, Eucharistic adoration, the mass, good Christ-centered fellowship, and via a good therapist or Catholic therapist is extraordinarily important.) Indeed, as St. Augustine once remarked in his Confessions that, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” It was no accident that one of the themes for one of our Frassati retreats several years ago, during the spring of 2016, was called “Rest for the Restless.”

I became a re-revert to the Church in late 2014. I give myself this term because I came back to the Church in 2009, fell away in 2011, and came back again in late 2014 with the help of the Frassati Fellowship. One of the things I had to teach myself upon becoming a practicing Catholic again was re-learning how to pray and how to trust. I didn’t go to Catholic school; I simply received the sacraments vis-à-vis an after school program for children. On the home front, in my youth, my mother didn’t take her faith very seriously so much of what I was being taught wasn’t really staying in my head. I had little to no Catholic friends growing up. When I came back to the Church five years ago, it felt like I had been transported to a video game produced in the 1980’s. You may know those older ones, like the ones on NES. Some of them had punishingly hard difficulty.  If you lost all of your lives, you wouldn’t continue at the beginning of a level, you’d have to start all over from the very beginning of the game. That’s how I felt, a sort of, “Now what? Everyone knows so much about their faith. I know so little. I feel alone.” Of course, I wasn’t actually alone: Christ was there. But so was Our Lady.

I mentioned that I had difficulty appealing to God in prayer in my younger years because of my own dad-shaped hole. Then I thought about Our Lady and the Rosary. Our Lady doesn’t often speak in the bible, but it’s noteworthy that the very last time she does speak in the gospels, it’s at the Wedding at Cana. The last recorded utterance of Our Lady in the gospels is when she tells the wedding servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). I then thought, “Well, I’m having difficulty going to Our Lord, so I’ll appeal to Our Lady in the hopes I’ll grow closer to Him.” And that’s exactly what happened. As Our Lady led the servants to Our Lord then and appealed to them to listen to Him, Our Lady subsequently did the same with me. Our Lady isn’t just the mother of Christ, but she’s our mom too. And what a wonderful mother she is!  Suffice to say, Our Lady holds a special place in my heart. After so many years away from Our Lord, Our Lady played a part in my own story of coming back to Christ. Now as a Lay Dominican, years later, the significance is all the more palpable: Church history says that Our Lady gave St. Dominic the Rosary! 

Today’s feast is a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus.  The title “Mother of God” comes from the Greek Theotokos, which means “God-bearer.”  On this day, we are reminded of the role that Our Lady played in the plan of our salvation. I know that she certainly played a role in mine. Our Lady does in yours, too. Christ’s birth was made possible by Mary’s fiat, or sanctioning of God’s plan with her words, “Be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).  Calling Mary “Mother of God” is the highest honor any of us can give to her. Just as Christmas honors Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God honors Mary as the “Queen of Peace.” As we begin another year, we draw inspiration from the selfless love of the Theotokos, who never hesitated to do the will of God. And we trust in her prayers to God for us, that we might, as the years pass, become more like her. And that we may listen to Our Lord and go to Him. O Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Optional Side note: Some of you may heard of something called Marian Consecration. (It’s really a consecration to Jesus through Mary.) It’s too long to discuss this at length here, but I consecrated myself to Our Lady several years later, in 2017 for the first time. Suffice to say, I was missing out! I myself am doing it again, and I started it again on Christmas. By doing so, you will be placing yourself under the mantle of Mary’s protective care as the Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Church, and Mediatrix of All Graces. I humbly implore you to look into that if you haven’t. It will give you so many graces.

References:

Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 1974.

Marian Consecration Links:

Starting out: 

If you’re looking for something more:

 

Christmas is Worth Waiting For

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord

Merry Christmas!

Today’s Christmas. Today is probably one of my favorite days of the whole year aside from my birthday. And it’s perhaps providential that it’s my very first Frassati reflection, coming right off the very end of Advent and into this wonderful Christmas season. It is also perhaps providential (no, it most certainly is no coincidence!) that today’s publication of my very first Frassati reflection comes right off what has been a very difficult three months for me. Without divulging much here, the past 90 or so days have been among the most difficult in my entire life. Three months ago, I made the decision to leave my PhD program, completely unaware and uncertain as to what the next step of my life would be come the end of this semester. I had prayerfully discerned, during this past fall Frassati retreat, that it was God’s will that I do indeed leave my PhD program, circumstances notwithstanding. Suffice to say, the past three months have been very trying, emotionally and physically. Academia, and completing a PhD, had represented my hopes and dreams for the past 10 years. I knew little else, career-wise. (I had been in and out of grad school for the past five years and had never held a “normal” 9 to 5 job.) 

Often, we all hit a roadblock in the lives we so try to meticulously plan. I know I certainly thought I had my life planned. I then pondered, and asked God, “Ok, God, now what? I’m waiting.” I often thought to how Our Lady must have thought, “How can this be?” when she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Christ, the Word Incarnate (Luke 1:34). “How can this be?” rang often in my prayers, late at night. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on for a while, especially after I felt and knew it was God’s will I be admitted into my PhD program 2.5 years ago. April 15th, 2017, was one of the most joyous days of my life: it was the day I learned I was being admitted into my PhD program, and at my dream program. I now look back on that day with mixed feelings, but I am grateful to the Lord for the knowledge and experience I have gained. But like Our Lady trusted, so should I. True, bearing the Light of The World isn’t quite the same as allowing God to lead you on a different career path, but the sentiment is all the same. Trust. And I felt over and over in prayer, Go to Him.

December 13th was the very last day of my PhD program. I have now resigned myself to never becoming a college professor, never obtaining a PhD, and I am allowing Christ to radically lead me elsewhere. As the saying goes, I am allowing “Jesus to take the wheel.” It ain’t a Carrie Underwood song, it’s life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the midst of all this, my faith was the rock of my entire being and my eyes were ever so planted onto Our Lord. I was waiting. I’m still waiting. I’m still trusting. Today’s Christmas. Most people around us have been hurrying around looking for the perfect gift until the very last minute, waiting in line shopping at Macy’s well past 11pm, putting up decorations, frantically writing Christmas cards, getting stuck in traffic, and planning parties and dinners. We may have been one of those people, too. I know that sometimes I get lost it in all too. (I’m told I overgift and that I go overboard with party planning. I am also told that I can be more wordy than necessary.) It is easy to lose sight of the true significance of this season. 

This entire season, leading up to today, is meant to have been one of joy and hope, of preparation, and of waiting patiently for the coming of the Lord. It is not only about the past, but also very much about the present and the future. I know I won’t be defined by the past, and that I won’t be defined by any lack of ranks, degrees, or titles. I am a follower of Christ and Lay Dominican first, and everything else is secondary.

When I think back to my most recent disappointment with my PhD, I’m reminded that Christmas should be seen as a time for us to step back and take in the deep and rich meaning of this sacred event. We must see, first, that God became the Word Incarnate, that He entered our own human condition, and, in doing so, is able to identify with all that we experience in life. All our joys. All our disappointments. God understands human life! He lived it. God humbled himself in the most profound way so that we would come to know Him and His perfect love for us. The angel Gabriel told Our Lady, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). Do we step back and look to Our Lord? And when we do so, are we afraid?

Despite what may come, despite anything that has happened this past season, do not be afraid to come and behold the Christ who came as your savior. This past Advent season we have been reminded over and over that Advent is a time of waiting. But it’s now Christmas. We are often waiting for God to literally come to us. (God also speaks in His silence, but that’s another reflection.) We celebrate His birth just like that of any one of us—offering prayers, eating, drinking and making merry. We celebrate his coming into the world, but we often do not welcome Him into our hearts and lives. And we so often get away from Him in such times of trial and tribulation. I know the more and more I struggled these past few months, the more and more I deeply held onto Our Lord.

Amidst our celebrations this Christmas, let us pause a while to look around us to recognize that Jesus was born into the world two thousand years ago. The Incarnation is the very incarnation of hope itself. The Son of God comes Incarnate to fulfill the hope of the People of Israel. He is among us in every person and in every trial and tribulation we encounter in our lives. Whatever has happened to you this past season, Go to Him, have hope, and rejoice in His birth.