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.