To Be Like Little Children

Gospel: MT 11:25-27

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Dear Frassati brothers and sisters,

Today’s Gospel reminds us that God wants us to be like children, that there is something about children that is an ideal in the Christian life that people lose as they age. I’ve heard this passage explained in homilies and sermons many times, but the way I always come back to interpreting it is that God wants us to remain like “little sponges,” picking up on every word He says, and staying close to Him all throughout our lives. (Even as we grow older and more and more think we know what we’re talking about…)

Children develop at a rapid pace – there is so much to learn about this life, so much joy to be had in the simplest things, so many questions to ask their caregivers, including the never-ending stream of “why? but why? why???”. But then, as childhood fades more and more into the rearview mirror, this curiosity and openness to new information and experiences slows down. We begin to feel “stuck” in our ways or even feel lethargic in life’s pursuits. We forget the amazing gift it is to just be alive. We forget how to grow, develop, because we lose track of that ideal, dependent relationship with God. We might be stuck thinking about how our life is difficult and not what we expected it to be. We grow inward, forgetting our caregivers and learning to depend on ourselves because the idea of independence and “muscling through problems” is put on a pedestal in our society. We forget we are still children of God; we forget we must constantly be developing into the image of our Father.  

And allowing God to work in us during these dark times is something that our generation especially has a hard time with because we expect things to be quickly dealt with. We live in a world where technology and industry are trying to constantly make our lives easier, smoother, less cumbersome. But … the conditions for sainthood have never changed; God has never changed.

To become a saint in these current times requires us to effortfully slow down our minds and invite God in. To become a saint requires us to courageously make space for silence, for God speaks in silence. To become a saint requires us to allow God into every space in our hearts, to actively ready this space for change, and to give God the authority and trust as our eternal Caregiver in order to create this continual shift in perspective, inner life. God wants to carve a unique piece of Heaven into each of our hearts for the world to see, but we so often choose to be formed by the things of this world.

I invite you all to take some time tomorrow night to watch this message – given by my favorite preacher, Christine Caine – and really ask God to convict you in your heart about how you have been resisting the ways He wants you to develop. Also, ask God to show you how you have been learning from Him in the way he desires. Give Him glory for the moments you have been an attentive son or daughter, and ask for direction and forgiveness for the times you have been stubborn or have turned away from His love and call to greater things. I promise that God will say something to your heart as you watch this message!

Sweet Jesus, may our hearts ever be open to your revelation. 

May our eyes be like those of little children, 

seeing the beauty of the world in awe and wonder. 

May we trust You with all of our lives, unreservedly. 

Teach us to learn as little children do, 

with an insatiable hunger for love and learning more and more. 

Amen. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Love Is Stronger Than Rejection

Reading 1

HOS 11:1-4, 8E-9

Thus says the LORD:
When Israel was a child I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the farther they went from me,
Sacrificing to the Baals
and burning incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks;
Yet, though I stooped to feed my child,
they did not know that I was their healer.

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.

From today’s Gospel:

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” 

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Sometimes, Bible verses hit home. For me, today’s first reading reminded me of how I felt after a conversation (albeit mostly one-sided) I had with a close family member on a recent family vacation, a yearly family reunion on my dad’s side during the Fourth of July week. My heart was overwhelmed, I held a blazing anger in my heart… and slowly, my pity was stirred when I thought of the Cross.

I know many of you have had similar experiences with a loved one, so I share this personal anecdote especially for you, to let you know you are not alone in your suffering.

A close family member of mine has a serious mental illness and struggles with substance abuse. Other close family members have quite literally saved his life three or four times, now, and yet, he still has not made a huge effort to change his ways that continually lead him back into these grave circumstances. That is, until he decided he was going to be sober after the last close run-in with death, a decision that lasted for about six months. He started drinking again right before the family reunion, and there was hardly a time during the week where I didn’t see a drink in his hand. I tried to simply ask why he made that decision, but it turns out, it wasn’t such a simple question and he did not want to answer it. Turns out, he did not want to talk about anything with me, even just normal conversation like how he’s doing and what he’s into these days… I tried almost every angle of what I thought was non-combative conversation topics, and tried this on several different occasions, and I got nothing in return. He simply did not want to talk to me.

So, one night, I got really upset. I cried and told him that he deserved to listen to me because of how he has affected my life. I thought of the pain he caused me during the months-long stretch last summer when I didn’t know where he was or if he would even be alive at the end of the day. I thought of all the pain he has caused other close family members of mine, his parents, who have completely rearranged their lives to accommodate his illness and needs and bad decisions. But all he could think about was himself. He scoffed at me and said, “Oh, you’re upset about how my problems have affected your life?” I was filled with pain and anger and immediately fled to the nearest bathroom to cry it out. 

When I was ugly-crying and nearly getting an instant headache from the stress that tightened the muscles in my shoulders, Jesus met me. He gave me a safe space to tell Him how furious I was and frustrated that someone could be so oblivious and uncaring about my pain. The hurt I was feeling was magnified by his total ignorance and selfish response. I let it all out internally. Then, it suddenly became clear to me that this was a new part of the Cross He was allowing me brief access to in my heart. I saw people standing around the Cross, walking by, scoffing and laughing at His pain. My pain was His pain. Then, I realized, this pain I was feeling also told the story of His mission: to come and save the ones who had rejected and paid no attention to His Father. I wasn’t alone. He knew how it felt, and magnified to a greater extent than my heart could ever fathom.

And today’s first reading shows us this agony: how relationships can change as people change, and even those who were once nurtured closely in our arms can grow to forget that it was those arms who had fostered them into the life they know now. It is the tragedy of lost souls: not knowing Who they are rejecting. And, being a parent now to a growing toddler, with the efforts of caring for an infant still fresh in my mind, it is extremely difficult thinking about what it would be like if my beautiful, kind son grows up to reject and forget about me. How there would be this anger and immense sadness at the same time, and yet, a tether in my heart to always care for him no matter how much he rejects me. 

The subtitles of these sections in Hosea say it all: “The disappointment of a parent,” and “But love is stronger and restores.” Love is stronger. Love is always stronger than hate, rejection, ignorance, bitterness, betrayal. That is a truth children of good parents know in their bones, but a truth that is learned and given in a whole new way after becoming a parent. And being a parent is to know the double-edged nature of love as we grow along with our children, who’s capacity to embrace or reject you is always increasing. This giant well of love suddenly unearthed in your heart might be tested by a child who wants no part of it, the part of what makes you you, the part of you that is “mother” or “father” indefinitely. It is a harrowing possible reality for new parents to grapple with, and some parents to live through: how do you love your child who puts themselves in danger when they reject your protection?

This is why we must ask for the grace to understand our identities as “daughter” or “son.” And the best response to a deep knowledge and understanding of our identities as children of God is to give as we have been given. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Children can never earn the exceeding amount of effort it takes to care for them, it is given out of love. So, with this in mind, we should also give this love freely and unconditionally to others, no matter how much the cost. 

Lord Jesus, I pray we all would grow to understand the deep familial bonds that draw us together on Your Cross: 

We are Your lost children, we are Your redeemed prize. 

May we grow in felt appreciation for how we are connected by Your Blood and Body. 

And I pray especially for all of the prodigal children who are still away from their Home, that they would remember the eyes of their Father, Who longs to embrace them again. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

“Do not be unbelieving, but believe”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Do you ever feel “stuck” in your prayer life? Do you ever self-edit as you pray, trying to find the best words or the holiest way to put something? As you pray, do you ever feel disappointed in yourself for what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, and then lose the prayer as you rehearse your words again? These things have been happening to me quite often lately, so these words of the Lord before the Lord’s Prayer stood out to me as words of comfort and power to help me simplify and de-stress my prayer life.

Our God knows what we need before we even ask Him. He’s a Good Father, He sees his children as they are and also as the saints He desires for us to become. Prayer is not a submission request to God, prayer is requesting more submission to God and the plans He already has in mind for us. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking of prayer as this “secret weapon” to employ when things get really tough rather than the ideal mode or state of being human. Prayer is not meant to be “used” for anything, as Jesus reminds us here. Submitting all our requests and thoughts to God as perfectly as possible is not what our God desires; when approaching prayer, He desires that we first acknowledge Him as our providential, all-knowing, benevolent Father.

And if we take that as a starting point, we take prayer to be primarily Other-focused, not focused on our “list of things we’d like addressed soon, God, please.” Wha a comfort to just sit and let your soul meditate and dwell upon the depth of God’s knowing, deeper than we will ever know of ourselves. It is trust in this Knowing that love for God takes root, and grows through prayer, communication with God. Just think of how different conversations about something difficult you’re going through are with longtime friends vs. people you just met; the deeper shared knowing of the friends makes for a very rich and open discussion that requires less explanation, it’s just not needed. Whereas, there might be a lot of background knowledge required by someone you just met. Jesus, here, is speaking out of a deep knowledge of His Father, Whom He addresses as Our Father. He points us to the Father, He gives us His Father.

Maybe as a good prayer exercise, write down all that is in your mind, don’t think of grammar or anything, just write and pray for five minutes and see what comes out. Then, as you re-read the content of your prayers, take time to sit with each area of concern, or joy, and meditate on God’s perfect knowledge of what you need out of this situation, focusing on trusting deeper in His love. Embrace the mystery of trusting in the Father.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Who Is My Brother?

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

The Gospel passage for today reminds me of the sign of peace during Mass, and especially certain Masses where sharing that peace was really difficult with specific people around me at the time, but healing and (what is emphasized in this passage) necessary for approaching the Lord’s table. This passage is especially vivid in application for a Catholic because of the prayers of Mass, bringing our life offerings to His table as a community is important, but being united in doing so is even more important and takes precedence over giving the actual gifts.

And our Catholic Church is strikingly divided on many issues that have caused anger between people who hold opposing views on important issues. Here are just a couple: There are some who believe Pope Francis is the fantastic, merciful pope of the people, but there are others who believe he should retake his theology classes and clarify some issues where he muddied the waters (e.g. suggesting there may be a way for divorced Catholics to receive communion). Fr. James Martin is heralded by some as building the necessary bridge between the LGBTQ community and the Church, while others view some of his statements as dangerous and vague in their theological implications. Heck, after writing all those sides out, they don’t seem entirely mutually exclusive, but it wouldn’t make headlines if we Catholics had reasonable and balanced discussions about important topics. Our world draws out polarized views because we love drama, clickbait, and the warm fuzzy feeling of having a “tribe” that can complain about other tribes. Oh, and the evil one is the Divider, and he knows how to distract us from living in harmony and peace with each other (which he does not want! Bad for business).

Unfortunately, the Church has not avoided the political tensions that are engulfing this nation. And I’m no better! My heart has succumbed to anger against others. I need to learn to pray for our president not by obligation and muttering discontents under my breath, but out of Christian love and trust the God is truly greater than any form of government and can work to change hearts and minds.

But please, do not read this as a political statement. I bring this up because, in searching my own heart for objects of anger, that’s where I landed. I bring this up because even when we are on good terms with people we know and converse with, we may be harboring a reservoir of anger towards certain groups or individuals who we have never met, but are angry at them because of the views that divide “them” from “us.” We might not be able to reconcile with them personally, but it is necessary to reconcile our individual anger with the Lord if we are to truly give our gifts to Him and receive His gifts fully within us. We must not fall into a habit of feeling like we are owed the sacraments, or that they are given without any conditions…we must pave the way in our hearts actively to receive Him.

Of course, there is righteous anger. But we must remind ourselves that because Jesus’ sacrifice covers every person’s sins, people are not our enemies, the evil one is. Still, I would argue, that all too often it is easiest to believe that we are in the moral high ground and give ourselves permission to harbor anger towards others on the basis of believing we are simply expressing a “righteous anger” when we are really expressing a lack of compassion and empathy, and sometimes, an abundance of immaturity in just dealing with other people who are different from you. This is a complex topic that merits further discussion elsewhere, but I want to leave you with the simple and yet painfully difficult charge our Lord gives us to “love our neighbor.” Because truly, when we love our neighbor as they should be loved, we love Jesus as He should be.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

The Word of God Is Not Chained

2 TM 2:8-15

“Beloved:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David:
such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering,
even to the point of chains, like a criminal.

But the word of God is not chained.
Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen,
so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus,
together with eternal glory.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

As I read this first reading from St. Paul, the imagery and meaning of “chains” stood out to me. Prison cells just shortly after Jesus’ time could not have been very conducive to writing a major religious work, but these were the conditions under which the Holy Spirit was thriving in prophesying and teaching through St. Paul. Here was a man who had made a living killing Christians who was about to be martyred for that same faith. He saw his conditions, his chains, but he also saw the deeper truth of the unchained Spirit working in and through him. For he had seen the chains of his own heart destroyed by the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit in the extreme conversion of heart he experienced; he knew the power of God keenly.

And this is why he distinguishes the power of the Spirit working inwardly from his current outward state: we should never doubt that God works wonders even when it seems all external constraints have taken hold on our lives. “The word of God is not chained!” That is a cry to yell into the evil one’s face when he is making you feel like you’re “nowhere near where you thought you would be in life by this point,” or if you really can’t figure out why God would allow this much suffering in your life…we are all “in chains” that constrain us or even hurt and confine what we want our life should be. We might be “in chains,” but the source of all strength and courage and purifying grace and mercy is never limited to our condition, rather, He liberates us from our conditions to a higher consciousness of prayer and awareness.

Where in life do you feel stuck? Do you feel like God is working there, or do you feel like He has left you?

Speak into these parts of our lives. Claim your chains so you can claim the Spirit’s freedom to work within you given the circumstances. These chains are the environment where God is trying to reach you, and there may be reasons that will ultimately benefit you why you are remaining in such a state.

Pray for clarity, wisdom, and humility, to know our limits of our state of life and vocation, and for a greater outpouring of His Spirit upon our lives.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Choosing Our Fire

Dear fellow pilgrims,

We had quite the…uh…blunt readings for today, huh? God was not mincing words for these readings. The first reading paints a brutal picture of how the rich people of the world will be “devoured” by their corroding gold and silver pieces, how they have “fattened their hearts for the day of the slaughter,” feeding on the luxuries of the world instead of service and living a life of humility. The second reading, straight from Jesus’ mouth, reminds us of the primacy of living for the promise of eternal life, even if it means sacrificing things that seem so crucial to our lives if they lead us to sin (e.g. “cutting off” hands and feet, which I am guessing our Lord is using as figurative examples).

What struck me from these readings is that both the righteous and the unrighteousness go through the flames, but this process means two completely different things for each of them: there is the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, being “salted with fire,” but there is also the punishing fire of Gehenna in eternity. We pick our own fire, is the prevailing—and soul-searching, eye-opening—theme of these verses.

Part of this purifying fire of sanctification on earth that we must go through is explained by the gruesome example of cutting off limbs, sacrificing them, if they “cause you to sin.” I think once we get past the gruesomeness of the example, we can see that this is alluding to how we sometimes have to make extreme decisions about our habits or aspects of daily life that seem so given and owed and normal to us, like the use of a hand (or a smartphone or tablet…), if they are clearly causing us to turn away from God over and over again. Because it is better for us to be without these things during the life in which we think we need them than be without eternal life because of the sins we harbored due to our own preference for convenience or pleasure or pick your poison reason.

I think the fire we all need to experience on earth is the fire that burns away all that is of this world, the way in which we evaluate ourselves and others, and begins to see an eternal perspective from God’s point of view. Because while we are here, our default setting is of the world, we need to let God purify us with the fire of His Love, we need to let us “salt us with fire” if we want to remain in Him when we pass away from this life. The short-sightedness of the rich man in the first reading is on full display when we think about the tombs of Egyptian kings and queens…who literally thought they were taking it all with them after they died! I think it’s a helpful exercise to think about our lives in this way…what are we accumulating in our tombs to truly bring with us on our way back home to the Father’s embrace? What does He want us to bring to Him?

When I ask God this question, I hear “bring me the parts you can’t fix.” Well…yeah, God, that’s pretty much all of them…but I do hold so much of what I need to change about myself in my own tight clutches that it never truly gets healed. What do you hear from God when you ask Him about what He wants us to give Him on our journey back home? What is the hand or foot you might need to sever to avoid future sin? What is the loss you are trying to avoid by not giving that over to God, what experience of “being maimed,” or without, in this life are you afraid of and valuing over eternal life? Go into the silent room in your heart and have a conversation with your Father about these things.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Because We Need Faith

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Today in Mass, I continued to ponder the answer to the Lord’s assertion that “it is better for you that I go” amidst a day of celebrating my completed PhD at NYU in Developmental Psychology (AMDG—all glory to God, y’all). I had never thought of the answer within a view of my own discipline…thinking about us as children, and having the disciples, the Church, needing to learn what it’s like to not always have Jesus, their ultimate caregiver, around. After all, in the development of a child’s life, they eventually have to be able to function without the constant help of a caregiver as they get older and more responsibilities are given to them.

In other words, it’s easier to have faith in Jesus when He is in front of you doing miracles and you are physically encountering Him than it is when you are believing without seeing. (But, just for the record, even believing when He was on earth was still a challenge!) And what is Jesus constantly about in our lives? Seeing that we grow further and further into deeper trust and faith in Him. While Jesus was on earth, He subjected himself to being in one place at one time, and in a way, gave up the ability to be present to everyone everywhere in the same way that He can be now, post-Ascension and post-Pentecost.

He left us because you can’t have a deep faith without embracing a space of unknowing. Thomas rejected that space, demanded concrete evidence, and even though our Lord was gracious to meet him where he was, He also acknowledged the superiority of “believing without seeing” over believing because you saw.

Thinking about this dynamic more, I realized that the way I typically have thought of the Ascension (i.e. Jesus itching to ascend and FINALLY get back home, just waving bye-bye to the disciples as they all stare as He ascends slooooowly up towards the clouds) might not have been so one-sided on the angst part. Being a parent and learning to let go is HARD (and my kid is only 15 months old!), so it occurred to me today that Jesus was probably not so unaffected by the disciples pleading. The tone of “it is better for you that I go,” is one straight from a loving Father’s mouth, trying to show that He is doing something that upsets his children only because it is ultimately for their good they could not find from following another way. Saying goodbye to His disciples was probably very challenging, even though He was also intensely joyful to return to Heaven!

The priest today at Mass recalled the words of some saints who have mentioned similar pleas to their loved ones on their deathbeds: It is better for me to intercede for you in Heaven than it is for me to be with you here. Getting to Heaven means joining with the Source of all life and love and holiness, and the Holy Spirit is like the electrical current that flows from that source (going with Grace’s power analogy from Tuesday). It’s like Jesus had to draw the circuit board of salvation history in order to reconnect humans to God, only He could pave the way or connections between Heaven and earth, and He could only truly connect Heaven to earth in the way originally intended in His mission if He returned to Heaven.

But…there is still the waiting after the Ascension. There is still this gap, an empty channel soon to be filled, but the disciples did not know exactly when the Holy Spirit would come! It has never occurred to me that the days after the Ascension were probably filled with similar angst among the disciples as were the days post-crucifixion. “Ok…so He told us to wait in Jerusalem…but not for how long…and what exactly did He say would come to us, again?”. The Lord has left them “for good,” or so it seems like, and they have directions to follow but are uncertain as to the specifics of expectations.

I invite us all to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes after the Ascension—what would you do if you were in their place? How would you feel after you lost sight of Jesus arising farther and farther into the sky…when He turned from a speck in the air to unable to be seen…maybe it was a foggy day and they lost sight quickly…insert yourself into the scene, and reread passages from different Gospels, praying through instincts that arise when you dig deep into what it would be like to be there. Take note of your responses and what it says about how you could pray for deepening your faith.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa