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

So That They May Believe

Gospel Jn 13:16-20

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
I am not speaking of all of you.
I know those whom I have chosen.
But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.
From now on I am telling you before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send
receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

It is late, so I will just send a few brief thoughts regarding today’s readings.

I can just imagine Jesus saying this after the washing of the feet, which seemed to turn the duties of servant and master on its head. This gesture of our Lord’s is similar to other gestures that challenged the understanding of the many social ways by which humans categorized themselves, but here, He is underlining the fact that the washing of the feet should not lend themselves to thinking that He is actually below them in authority.  Judas makes that mistake, he takes the opportunity to have authority over Jesus, to manipulate Jesus in some way, but even this is in accordance with God’s plan, what God had said would happen.

The whole first reading is St. Paul going through the Biblical lead-ins to Jesus, saying that all of these things the Jewish people knew to be true were actually pointing to the veracity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was all about recontextualizing what people saw as the way to appease temple leaders or the way to become holy, He was the answer to all these things, the sacrificial Lamb and the Way.

The main thesis of these passages is that all things are ordered towards bringing God’s people back to Him, letting them know that He is the Alpha and Omega, the one true God. God takes on human flesh, washes His followers feet, allows betrayal…for what? For exactly this: for bringing His sheep back into the fold. To show them that He is I AM, the one who is, who was, and ever shall be.

That is also the main point of everything in our lives, as well. All things should lead us to a closer walk with Him.  Maybe today (Friday), try praying more to God in question form, like “What are you trying to teach me about yourself?” in a tense moment of the day, or “I know you want to teach me something, here, but I can’t see it yet. Where are you in this situation?” Sometimes knowing and proclaiming an ultimate purpose will help you pray and then listen for an answer.

In the peace of Christ,
Alyssa

Seeking the Will of the Spirit

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Today’s first reading (found here) reminded me of a YouTube video I recently saw (found here) where a CFR friar talks about receiving a very clear and immediate answer to God when he asked Him, “Lord, is there anyone You want me to meet today?” Turns out, there was, and this friar was given a very specific description of him (something like, down to “a red hat, tan pants, and his name is David”). The friar followed the voice of the Spirit, Who even gave him a specific place to watch out for this man. Long story short, this friar met a man who fit this description exactly, and they ended up praying together spontaneously on the street. Nothing visibly miraculous happened, but this friar was so inspired by his experience that him and other friars continued to pray this prayer in the morning and waited to see what would happen, with expectation and willingness to be a fool for Christ stopping people on the street to say “Hey, I heard from God that I was supposed to meet you” (in so many words) and seeing what happened next. As this prayer practice spread, more miracles were occurring, some dramatic, like instant healings of chronic injuries. Turns out, God had some ideas and purposes just waiting to be asked for specifically.

And the same is undoubtedly true for us! There are Incredible works God has for us if we would only ask Him to work through us!

And as I type this, I am convicted by so many things in my life that have felt so obvious to me to pray about further direction. But all too often, I seek God only when I think I need Him. I seek Him in the manner of, “How can You fit into my life, how can You make my life better?” All too often, we are affected by the world around us that tells us, trains us from the core of our identity to the neurological brain networks governing our attention – and all too often, our consequent behavior – that following our desires will make us who we are meant to be, living our dream, speaking our truth, and now more than ever in the social media age of self-understanding, promoting and performing our brand of “yeah, my life is great, let me show you why it’s great.” Somehow, the great lie promulgated in our all-too-connected, consumerist, individualistic society is that life is about maximizing self-cultivation, and that we are all our own best judges over what that looks like.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of pressure. And I think this is where many of us get depressed, including myself: when we internalize the belief that we should know what will make us feel whole, and we either have tried different things over and over and never feel whole and happy, or we just generally feel like we have no clue, we get stuck in a perpetual failure loop. The greater news, and the truly liberating news, is that we. Need. To. Ask. God. For. This. We will not find the path to eternal life, and wholeness in this life, if we think we should know the way.

And that is the broader perspective shift that needs to happen. But what about on a smaller time scale? Basically, our automatic question usually driving our moment-to-moment decisions is “what do I want?” but living with the goal of being one with God calls us to reconsider, “what does God want?” I think we overthink prayer so often; God wants us to get back to basics. And one of the most basic beliefs about God is His Omnipotence, His all-knowingness, while we have tiny pinprick minds in the grand scheme of the universe. A very basic prayer but also infinitely powerful is when we simply ask God about what He desires for us. This first reading tells us just how amazing of a journey we can have in our lives if we harken to, listen for, and follow the voice of God over our own inclinations.

So, I challenge us all to give God our first fruits today. When you wake up, turn to God first, not your phone: “God, Here I am. What do You want me to do today? Is there anyone you want me to meet today? Please give me the grace to speak the words You want them to hear.” However, maybe there’s something that God has been putting on your heart again and again and you keep pushing it off to the side for another day. You know what God wants, or at least wants you to ask Him about, but you have not followed through. Bring that thing to the front of your intentions and give Him full reign over it, surrender that to His power and ask for clarity on what He wants for you.

May our hearts grow every more close with His own.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

The Reckless Gift, the Reckless Giver

From today’s first reading:

“… Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

From today’s Gospel:

“…the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

As I’m meditating about today’s readings, I see a common thread of the Holy Spirit through the first reading and the gospel reading. In the first reading, the Holy Spirit is described as both a “witness” to Christ’s death and resurrection and a gift from God granted to those who are obedient to Him. In the gospel reading, the Holy Spirit is described as a gift that never runs out, a gift that is always given out of abundance, a gift that is never given from a miserly, calculating heart. I think the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Trinity, and I think that is in part because he is the least embodied; we have an idea of the personhood of the Father, the Son, but who really is the Holy Spirit? I had to refresh myself on some theology out of the Catechism:

745 The Son of God was consecrated as Christ (Messiah) by the anointing of the Holy Spirit at his Incarnation (cf. Ps 2:6-7).

746 By his Death and his Resurrection, Jesus is constituted in glory as Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). From his fullness, he poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the Church.

747 The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity’s communion with men.

There is something new about the Holy Spirit that was revealed to me as I read more…. the inseparability between the Holy Spirit and Christ, likened to how the oil of anointing seeps into the skin of the anointed. Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, and each informs the other’s identity: the Anointed and the anointing cannot be so without the other. And this anointing is the divine nature of Christ given by the Father to be enmeshed with Mary’s immaculate DNA to create the Incarnate God, Jesus. This is the reckless love of God, to be united with His creation in such a way.

But the Incarnation was not the whole mission of Jesus, it was the qualifying state of His Being that enabled the larger mission of unleashing the deepest possible union between humans and their God through being the type of son that humans could never be: completely obedient, because Jesus submitted Himself to death completely to serve the will of the Father.

Jesus did not want to die. And yet, He did, and did so completely out of love for us because He trusted the Father’s love for us and for Him. Only because of His humanity did He know that His mission of obedience was inseparable from ours, and only because of His divine anointing and union with the Holy Spirit did He know that His mission of atonement was inseparable from the Father’s. And somehow, through the culmination of these inseparable missions in His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, an overflowing channel of the Holy Spirit was released into the hearts of obedient believers following after Him.

The barrier between Man and God was broken by Christ’s broken Body and became the chasm through which the Holy Spirit can now be embodied by non-divine people like us. Within this new relationship between God and Man, the Holy Spirit has one mission: to continue the Incarnation within us. And this gift is recklessly given, it is not rationed or divided because God’s love is never proportioned to what we deserve, God’s love mirrors the infinite mercy of the Giver. But this Spirit cannot be given to those who do not believe in Christ because of the inseparability of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and this is why obedience to Christ makes way for the movement of the Spirit: the Spirit cannot move through channels that have not conformed to Christ’s wounds.

Gracious God, You Who make all things new,
Create in us hearts of flesh,
Holding close to the beat of your Heart,
Which never ceases to live in pursuit of ours.

Good Jesus, may we learn from your perfect Sonship,
Your Sacred Heart, that did not deny the will of your Father’s.
Hide us in the wounds of your passion,
teach us the way of your glorious scars,
And bring us closer to your perfect obedience here within time
So that we may not have to wait any longer for eternity when You come. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Jesus Defines the Relationship

From today’s Gospel:

“…Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him,
“You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, 

Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.

My dear fellow pilgrims,

I have been sitting in my reflection-writing chair for about twenty minutes now pondering this Gospel passage, and I have finally thought of something pretty …human that parallels what happens here between Jesus and the Jews.

Jesus just had a DTR with the Jewish people.

Have you ever heard of the acronym DTR? I think I first heard it from Monica Herber (a beloved Frassati member) when she was asking me about my relationship timeline with Aidan. It means “define the relationship,” and is a very helpful way to describe what is usually a complicated conversation between two people who have been seeing each other pretty regularly but are in need of some clarity as to what they really “are.”  It usually comes after a string of going out on what seems to be dates with the person but you don’t know if it’s really a date or if you’re just looking for an excuse to use an Applebee’s gift card your aunt gave you. (True story, by the way. And I was also looking for someone to drive me to Trader Joe’s.)

But in all seriousness, even though it may come off as a juvenile way to describe what happens here, I think it is worth exploring. (And yes, maybe it’s worth exploring, in part, because I don’t have any better ideas right now. )

If you’ve ever had a DTR, or several, you know all of the emotions going into it are putting more weight on the result of this conversation.  All of what you have experienced with this person has been telling them something about who you want to be for that person, but you have not yet given this relationship a name. You have not yet put parameters on the exact role you want to play in their lives. Chances are, though, if you want to have a DTR, you are the one who wants the other person to stick around, you want to commit to them and you want to know if they will commit. Well, here, Jesus knows that this is the exact time He needs to reveal His identity to His people, the Jews, and because He is God, He knows exactly how it’s going to go. He will be rejected by many. But, He also need to speak the truth of Who He Is so that people can truly accept Him.

Because one of the salient emotions of a DTR is risk. You’re risking losing the relationship you had with this person in order to gain a truer relationship, to build a mutual relationship that you both want. Jesus has been performing miracles, gathering a following of people, intriguing everyone with knowledge and empathy and all these things people have never experienced before and really like and oh my gosh it’s all so crazy, right? But He is no mere prophet, He isn’t an entertainer or just a magician, He is Who Is, He is I AM.  Jesus called Himself I AM, a Jewish phrase for God’s name. It was bad enough that Jesus said it publicly, but He was seen as committing blasphemy because he claimed to be the I AM. Jesus was defining the relationship by defining Himself, because only by acknowledging the absolute divine nature of Christ can we understand our relationship to Him and to anyone else, for that matter. Only by further understanding His Identity can we understand our own. (Side note: And how counter-cultural is that?? Our own personal truth is not the greatest truth. Of course personal truths are necessary to acknowledge and care for, but they cannot be cared for without acknowledging the supreme truth of Christ’s Identity.)

Jesus knew this moment was the beginning of the end. He knew once He told them who He was, their relationship would never be the same. Humanity would never be the same. It wasn’t enough to show them the Way, He needed to tell them He Is the Way, the Word, the Life. He spoke using the language His Father gave them, because He Is the Word. But they threw stones at Him and were scandalized because they were afraid, they were seeking to entrap Him.

But just think about the heaviness of Jesus’ heart immediately preceding that moment… everything was about to change. It is such a human thought process: “I don’t want them to know who I really am because then they will reject me. I don’t want them to know the relationship I want with them because they will think I’m too weird or out there.”  I’m sure Jesus felt this dread in a sinless way because He longed for them to listen and yet knew they would reject Him. He was saddened by the rejection, I’m sure.

This passage helps us prepare for His Passion by helping us see the humanity in the onset of His rejection and the legal case against Him. Try thinking about a time when you took a risk to explain who you really are to a person, or maybe think back to a time when the DTR didn’t go so well. Try to empathize with Jesus.

May we be the ones in the crowd who meet His profession of love for us and longing to be the Messiah with listening hearts. May the fact of His divinity and Incarnation be the basis of relationship for us and for understanding ourselves.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa