Desert Places

“Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.” -Isaiah 35:6-7

My brother lives in Arizona, where they are currently enjoying the chilly winter temperature of 72°. A couple years ago, I went to visit him in June, when it gets to be a lovely 115°. One morning, we decided to go hiking in the beautiful desert mountains. We got up really early to beat the heat—well, to try to beat the heat, anyway.

As we were hiking, I kept saying that it didn’t feel that hot, even though it was. This was probably because my body associates heat with the sweaty, sticky humidity of New York summers.

It wasn’t until we got back to the car after our hike that I realized how thirsty I was. My throat was really dry, and I was definitely dehydrated.

Has your heart ever felt this way? Sometimes we go about our lives, thinking everything is fine, that we’ve got it, that we’re in control, and then we realize how much we are desperately aching for our Savior.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Or has your heart ever felt like the vast Arizona desert? Dry, cracked, parched, barren. Sometimes in seasons of desolation, pain, or mourning, we can feel like we are stuck in an endless desert. I’ve definitely had those moments of wondering when the drought would end and God would bring a long-awaited reprieve.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Jesus meets us in our desert places. He knows those seasons well. If you are feeling like you’re in a desert season right now, take heart. He is with you. And no matter how painful, lonely, or never-ending it seems, Jesus is bigger. And He is on the way.

There is a beautiful Japanese art form called kintsugi. The artist takes broken ceramics and puts them back together by filling the cracks and places where they broke with gold, turning the art into something even more strikingly marvelous.

kintsugi
Kintsugi art

When Jesus comes to fill in the cracks in our desert hearts, He does the same thing. He redeems our scars, wounds, and dry places by giving us the gift of His whole self and making our scars dazzle with His love.

Let Him fill you today, brothers and sisters.

Cluttered Hearts

“O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the LORD!” -Isaiah 2:5

Advent is upon us, and it seems like each year my heart cries out with more and more longing for the coming of our Savior.

Jesus, we need You.

We need You in our broken and hurting world full of darkness, sin, and deep, deep pain.

We need You to be the center of our families, our marriages, our friendships. We need You to heal our relationships with others.

We need You in our workplaces.

We need You in our bleeding Church; oh how we need You to make all things new and right. We need You to bind up our wounds, to bring mighty justice, to shine Your piercing light into the darkness of the appalling sin, shame, hiding, and cover-up, to direct our next steps and to guide us forward.

We need You in the messy parts of our hearts, the parts we are too ashamed to tell other people about, the parts You see and love us anyway.

We need You to uproot and cast out shame, fear, and distrust of Your goodness from our lives.

We need You in every inch of the world, in every part of our beings, in the deepest depths of our souls. Every minute, every hour, every second—we need You.

Dear brothers and sisters, Advent is a season full of hopeful expectation of God’s saving power. It’s a season of light shining forth in the darkness. As we light each new candle of the Advent wreath, may we allow that much more of the light of Christ to pierce our hearts and renew us.

The other day in prayer, I imagined Jesus knocking on the door of the home of my heart, like a guest that comes forty-five minutes before the party when you’re still cleaning and haven’t showered. I imagined myself panic-stricken, trying to shove certain things behind the couch. And there He stood before me, smiling, seeing right through my couch cushions to all the mess and sin that I tried to hide. Yet He responded with nothing but tenderness. His kindness leads to our conversion.

We need to let Jesus in before we feel ready. Sometimes we need Him to help point out where we need to grow, and sometimes we need the affirmation of knowing that He loves us just the same no matter what mess we have in our hearts. He takes us as we are. When we let our Savior in, prepared or not, He speaks to our cluttered and weary hearts, “You are good. You are seen. You are known. I love you fully, as you are.”

¡Viva Cristo Rey! (Part 2)

Yesterday, we celebrated one of my favorite feast days, the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Why is it one of my favorite feast days, you may ask? Not just because “Crown Him with Many Crowns” is my jam (really, though, it’s a fantastic hymn). I love this day so much because it is a day to celebrate the powerful truth that Jesus is Lord and I am not.

Praise God for that gift. As the liturgical year wraps up this week, I declare that truth with a sigh of relief in my lungs and with praise and gratitude in my heart—Jesus Christ is King. King over all my problems, King over our hurting Church, King over every situation in this past year that has made no sense, King over all the violence in the world and the turmoil in my heart, King over the days where I feel like I can’t do it, King over every. single. thing.

We praise You, Lord Jesus.

Saint_Jose_Luis_Sanchez_del_Rio
St. José Sánchez del Río

He is sovereign over all. We get to choose to surrender our control and let Him be King, no matter what the cost. A great Saint did this at just 14 years old, St. José Sánchez del Río. He lived in Mexico during the Cristiada movement of the 1920s, when a bloody war was waged against Catholics. The Church was under total control of the state, and it became illegal for Catholics to practice their faith in public. Monasteries and convents were shut down, Church property was taken over, and priests were arrested and killed for saying Mass. The Cristeros rose up to fight for Christ their King, and St. José asked his parents to join their army. He said, “For Jesus Christ, I will do everything.” He was their youngest member and became their flag bearer. St. José was imprisoned after giving his horse to the General and not being able to escape in time. While in prison, he refused to renounce his faith and could be heard frequently saying, “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!”

St. José’s godfather was the mayor of his town, but he did not let him go. He told him if he just said, “Death to Christ the King,” he would let José go home to his family. But he refused, so he was ordered to be killed. The federalists cut off the soles of his feet with a knife and then made St. José walk ten blocks along a dusty, gravel road to his grave. The soldiers beat him and mocked him, and he just kept shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!” They then stabbed him several times. They asked him what they should tell his father, and St. José replied, “That we will see each other in Heaven! Viva Cristo Rey! Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!” With that, the soldiers shot him, and he died.

Jesus was St. José’s King, and he let Christ reign over every area of his life, even when it meant dying a death much like our Lord’s. Is Christ King over every part of your life, or is there anything else that reigns? The ultimate expression of our trust in God is when we have childlike dependency on our Savior and King. As the liturgical year comes to a close and we prepare for the coming of our Savior, where do you need Christ to be your King?

Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

P.S. A great movie on the life of St. José Sánchez del Río is For Greater Glory. Here’s a powerful clip!

Unceasingly

“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, I cannot tell you the number of times my prayers for certain intentions have dwindled over time because they’ve gone seemingly unanswered. I get disheartened, listen to that tiny voice of despair telling me to doubt God’s faithfulness, and don’t pray about it as much—and not out of surrender, but out of fear, out of feeling unworthy.

Mea culpa. Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.

The blind man in today’s Gospel was persistent in his cry for Jesus. He, a beggar, an outcast and someone seen as less-than, didn’t doubt that Jesus would hear and answer him because of who he was. Even when the crowd told him to be silent, they couldn’t stifle the outcry of his prayer.

When people tell us to give up, when the world screams that God isn’t good, we cannot cease our prayer. When we pray steadfastly, we allow the steadfast love of God to enter our hearts. We renew our trust in Him each time we cry out to Him. We proclaim how much we need a Savior.

In acknowledging Jesus as the “Son of David,” the blind man is declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord, that as the Son of David, He is the Messiah. This shows his great faith in who Jesus is.

Even though the man couldn’t see Jesus and the miracles He was working before his sight was restored, he had faith. He believed that Jesus is the Savior. When we can’t see what God is up to or when our prayers seem ignored, we can have faith that Jesus hasn’t left the picture. He never abandons us, and He always hears and answers our prayers.

One of my favorite worship songs, “The King of My Heart,” has a line that says, “You’re never going to let me down.” Has God ever let us down? Even in the darkest moments, no. Will God ever let us down? No, we can trust in His unending love. We can pray unceasingly, knowing that God is with us, fulfilling our every need.

Freedom in Forgiveness

“Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
Be on your guard!
If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.”
And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:1-6)

“Have you forgiven him yet?” my friend asked as we sat in the driveway of my parents’ house, heat running in the car on a cold December night.

Her words pierced my heart. “Oh…” I said, “I thought I did. But I don’t think I actually meant it with my whole heart.”

Forgiveness—it’s sometimes so hard for us, yet always so easy for Jesus. See, I used to think that forgiveness meant I was saying it was okay that someone hurt me. It wasn’t until I was deeply wounded by another several years ago that I figured out what forgiveness was all about. I remember hearing someone say the words forgiveness and freedom in the same sentence. My gut reaction was, “I want that…is that really possible?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to forgive, even if the same person hurts us seven times in one day. Forgiveness isn’t saying that someone else’s sin against you is okay—forgiveness says, “What you did hurt me, but I put you in God’s hands. I do not desire your destruction.” Forgiveness is surrender, casting our cares on the One who cares so deeply for us.

Forgiveness in graver matters takes time and is a journey, and that is okay. With the situation I mentioned above, I would kneel and say the words “I forgive_____” and pray a Hail Mary for the person every Sunday before Mass until I started to believe it in my heart.

Forgiveness softens our hearts; holding onto unforgiveness leaves us bitter, angry, and unhealed with walls around our hearts screaming, “DON’T come in!” Forgiveness frees; unforgiveness enslaves. We become chained to our hurt. If we don’t forgive, we may as well put a millstone around our own necks. Is there someone in your life you need to work on forgiving?

I find it fascinating that the Apostles’ response to Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness was, “Increase our faith.” Their hearts were pierced like when my friend invited me to truly forgive. I imagine them seeing the faces of the people they knew they needed to forgive flash before their eyes as Jesus was talking.

And how often do we struggle to forgive ourselves? I know I do sometimes. I’ve walked out of the confessional before only to beat myself up about my sin a few hours later. The liar of shame creeps in and tells us our sin defines us and that we’re not good.

When St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (the saint to whom Jesus encouraged devotion to His Sacred Heart) began having visions of Jesus, her spiritual director, St. Claude, was very skeptical at first. He told her to ask Jesus what the last mortal sin was that he confessed. Jesus answered, “I don’t remember.” How powerful is the ocean of mercy of our Lord!

Father, increase my faith so that I may more easily forgive others. Strengthen me to be courageous and put the people that have wronged me and wounded me into Your wounded hands. So often others’ own woundedness leads them to hurt me; help me to have an understanding heart towards that. Increase my faith so that I may better forgive myself. Help me to know that I am not defined by my sin but as Your precious child. Help me to forgive like You do, Lord Jesus, and set me free. Remove any shame, fear, hard-heartedness, or bitterness from my heart. May I have great faith in Your mercy, Your love song for Your people.

Inhale

“Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also everyone for those of others.” -Philippians 2:1-4

I’ve been doing a study on the four female Doctors of the Church with a couple friends, and it has been wrecking me. Last week, we reflected on St. Hildegard of Bingen. She was a pharmacist, mystic, abbess, poet, theologian, and composer (so she was basically amazing at everything), and she wrote several books and over 300 letters.

St. Hildegard often struggled with self-doubt, but as she grew in allowing herself to receive Christ’s love into the deepest depths of her being, her voice was freed and the doors of her heart flew open to letting the Holy Spirit work through her in powerful ways.

Today’s first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians talks about participating in the Spirit. A few years ago, a friend of mine asked: “What would happen if we prayed for the same response to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles had at Pentecost?” My initial reaction was one of fear. “What kind of crazy things would God call me to?” I thought. How often fear prevents us from saying yes to the greatness the Holy Spirit wills to do in and through us.

This one mind, heart, love, and thinking that St. Paul is talking about is all wrapped up and rooted in the Holy Spirit. He is our healer, comfort, strength, and guide. We all have the awesome opportunity and responsibility to allow the Holy Spirit to bring life and transformation to others through our words and actions. Let’s not squander that gift.

Will we have the courage to respond? In order to lead others to Christ, we must first look inward and do a heart-check on ourselves. Last week at a retreat for my youth ministry teens, the speaker said, “God wants to breathe new life into us, but we have to inhale.” And not only that, but once we let the Holy Spirit fill our beings, we have to exhale His fruits for others, and never stop breathing in.

What gifts has God given you that the Holy Spirit is calling you to use? What is one way you can be obedient to the Holy Spirit and exercise those gifts today? It may be as simple as texting a friend that God puts on your heart to let them know you’re thinking of them. It may be having the courage to have a difficult yet needed conversation. Maybe God is calling you to serve Him in a new way.

God has given each of us a light that no one else in the world will ever be able to give. You are an integral part of building up God’s Kingdom, whether you feel like it or not. Do not give into the temptation that someone else will do it, that you are not good enough, or that He may ask too much of you. Why are we often so afraid to shine?

“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.” -St. Hildegard of Bingen

Be Found

“Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath.
And a woman was there who for eighteen years
had been crippled by a spirit;
she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect.
When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said,
“Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.”
He laid his hands on her,
and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.” (Luke 13:10-13)

Eighteen years. Whoa. Can you imagine her suffering? The demon had caused her such pain and grief that her whole body was crippled under the weight of it all. She couldn’t even stand up properly.

There is so much we can learn from this woman.

First of all, she was in the right place. She was in the synagogue, the Lord’s house. She was praying. The woman turned to God for healing. We don’t know her full story, but I would imagine it would’ve been tempting for her to have given up long ago. She could have become bitter and angry. She could’ve let what other people were saying about her and thinking of her eat away at her heart: she could’ve believed the lies that she was worthless, hopeless, not wanted, unwelcomed, inadequate. Yet she showed up in God’s presence. She put herself in a position to be found. She prayed. She let herself be vulnerable before the Lord, coming before Him as she was, brokenness and all.

She allowed Jesus to heal her. Do we allow Jesus to heal us?

Then, when Jesus cast the demon out of her, she immediately glorified God! She gave Him all the glory for His goodness and faithfulness. She was unafraid and unashamed to praise God for her healing, even though the synagogue leader and the crowd were furious with Jesus for healing her on the sabbath.

Jesus heals the woman with compassionate, tender care. He sees her. He knows her. He calls her “woman,” intimately acknowledging her dignity as God’s daughter when she probably didn’t feel very confident in her womanhood. He lays hands on her, an act not just of healing but a physical sign of His love. He knew that she needed to know she was deeply wanted, seen, and beautiful. He doesn’t define her by her suffering, but by who she is in Him.

God made us, body and soul. Sometimes when our souls are sick and hurting, our bodies can become physically ill, as with the crippled woman. While you may not have suffered from something for eighteen years, we all have things that cripple us. Maybe you’re going through a particularly difficult season of life right now that leaves you feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. What is crippling you? Does a situation in your life right now seem hopeless? Has your heart been hurting for a long time, so long that it feels like the darkness won’t end? Whether it’s sin or a wound or both, bring that to Jesus today. Do not be afraid to step into His presence and reveal your whole heart to Him. He sees you. He knows you. Ask Him to heal you. He surely will, in His perfect timing and goodness. He so desires your healing. Sometimes we have to take the courageous step to lay it all bare before Him and let Him in. Put yourself in a position to be found. God is faithful.