Ask with Trust

In today’s first reading, Abraham asks God if He will spare the city of Sodom if fifty people living there are innocent. God says yes, and Abraham goes on to pose the question again, asking what if the number of innocent people were forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten—would God still spare the city? Each time Abraham asks, he is careful to say that he does not want to offend the Lord, and each time God faithfully says that He will not destroy the city.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” God invites us to ask great things of Him because He wants good things for His children. Nothing is too great, too small, to seemingly silly, or too weighty to ask of God. We can go to Him with anything that is on our hearts, because He cares about every detail. God sets us free to go to Him with childlike dependency when we ask things of Him.

Childlike dependency is not foolish or naïve when it comes to the disposition of our hearts with the Lord. Rather, it shows wisdom and great strength. Childlike dependency means that we can go to God with anything and ask anything of Him, knowing that no matter what, He will provide for us, that He comes through.

We should ask things of God because we trust Him, not out of a place of a lack of trust.

In this first reading today, Abraham was asking these questions out of trust the Lord, out of a place of hope in what the Lord could do to save the innocent. Even when we don’t see a clear way, we can trust that the Lord is the way, and He cares about the questions, needs, and desires of our hearts infinitely, even when we can’t feel it. God is just that good.

What will you ask of the Heavenly Father today? Don’t be afraid to go to Him like a little child, asking great things from a place of surrender to His will and total dependence on Him.

Father, we trust that You want to lavish Your love on us, Your children. We surrender each desire of our hearts to You, knowing that You hold our desires as sacred. We trust that each prayer we pray is infinitely important to You. We trust that You always give us what we need, even if it was not what we originally planned or had hoped for, because You are our good Father who does what is best for His children. We thank You for never leaving us orphaned, unheard, or uncared for. We love You. Amen.

Your Heart Is My Home

About 8 months ago, while on a retreat, I glanced through the retreat house’s library to borrow a book for the weekend.  Though I can’t even recall the title of the book, the spiritual nugget that the Lord gave me through it has stuck with me.  And on today’s Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I am reminded of this nugget. 

The book was a sort of prayerful and guided walk through St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, and while I barely had time to skim the book, this specific principle stuck with me.  The author encouraged the reader to prayerfully discover a personal representation of the place within her (or his) soul where she meets and dwells with God.  I wish I could more accurately remember how the author guided this meditation, but the point is, it was an opportunity to create a visual “place” that resonates with you personally to help you enter into the presence of God in the innermost chambers of your heart and soul. 

For me, as I took time to allow the Lord to show me this “place,” I began to visualize a flower.  The flower petals opened gently, and there, safe within the beauty of the petals, I saw a tiny version of myself.  I was “Honey I shrunk the Kids”–sized, peacefully dwelling in the center bed of this flower.  A peace came over me as I received the gift of this image from the Lord.  It was like He had given me a new way to enter in to His presence in prayer through the uniqueness of this image of my heart and soul. 

Even though I began this prayerful meditation trying to visualize my own heart, as I sat with the image, I felt this security of being enfolded in the Lord’s Heart.  It is difficult to describe the experience, but I think it represents the reality of the exchange of hearts we partake in when we are in covenant with the Lord.  A Christian covenant is more than a contractual exchange of goods—it is an exchange of persons.  And we are loved enough by Him to be in a covenant relationship, a dynamic exchange of love, with our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our heart, the place where He dwells, is swept up in His own precious and Sacred Heart.  I believe it is this mutual abiding of hearts, mine and His, that I was experiencing in prayer.

I invite you to spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord to help you see your own heart in which He dwells, and so come into contact with His Heart.  Today’s readings illustrating Jesus’ role as our Good Shepherd remind us of His overwhelming love for each of us.  He will go out in search of you, His single lost and beloved sheep, to bring you back into His Sacred Heart.  He loves you personally, deeply, and unashamedly. 

Allow yourself to sit and receive this immeasurable love of His Sacred Heart today.  Dwell in the joy of your covenantal relationship with Him.  May this remind us that Jesus’ love is this genuinely personal for each and every person.  I pray that we can receive this great love of our Savior each and every day, so we can in turn reflect this love to every soul who has yet to experience this love.  Right now, I hope you will take a few moments to dwell in the reception of His love for you.

“Why should I love God? …if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.”

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God

To further your meditation, check out this song that guides me right to His heart… Will Reagan — “Your Heart is My Home” Listen on Spotify | Listen on YouTube

 

 

Living the Ellipses

“Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can.” God invites Abram to faith in today’s First Reading. We’ve all marveled at the night sky, contemplating its vastness and the twinkling of bodies light-years away. But some scholars suggest that it may have been daytime when God directs this upward gaze. Did Abram looking up see the stars with his eyes, or only with memory and faith? In any case, he is asked to envision a promise of progeny too numerous to be counted.

Only Abram has no son. Not even one. So he must wait on a promise.

He waits and waits, and he must have wearied of waiting. For Genesis recounts how Sarah, infertile, offers him her maid Hagar for childbearing purposes. Abraham “listens to the voice” of Sarah, notes Father Anthony Giambrone, a clue that this is not the voice of God, to be listened to with faith1. But Abraham becomes a father to Ishmael. When Abraham asks that Ishmael be the promised son, God reiterates that Abraham will have a son through Sarah, a child of their marriage. Isaac is named laughter because that is Sarah’s reaction.

But let us stop for a moment, to revisit the waiting years. What takes only paragraphs to recount, is a story of waiting more than twenty-five years, fifteen before Ishmael, ten more before Isaac.

What?

For twenty-five years Abraham is schooled in faith. In trust. In waiting on God.

In filmmaking this is known as ellipsis—the merciful passing over the monotonous by skipping from one scene to another much later. Years of sameness, of routine, of waiting, are skipped with a simple slugline: “Twenty-five years later…” We needn’t slog through the tedium of in-between.

But real life, real holiness, is lived in the ellipses.

Hillsong’s recent release Highlands (Song of Ascent), speaks of finding God not only on the mountain but in the valleys and the shadows. “I will praise you on the mountains…I will praise you when the mountain’s in my way.” While we would scale any mountain to find God, He is closer than we think, as the song reminds us, “in the highlands and the heartache all the same.”

We are reminded to find God in the peaks and the valleys, to “sing in the shadows our song of ascent.” For many of us, however, the hardest part is not so much the mountains or valleys, but rather the plain. Plain as in flat, going nowhere, and plain as in boring. Nothing interesting or exciting. No obvious meaning or mission.

Abraham became our father in faith not just in a heroic moment with Isaac on Mount Moriah. He became our father in faith in the years of ellipses when nothing notable happened. When it seemed God was asking nothing, doing nothing.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá, whose feast we celebrate today, preached about sanctifying the everyday. Like Saint Therese, he realized that the making of saints was not in the mountains but in the mundane. Offering little things to God. Offering the littleness that is us.

Josemaría challenges us to offer the material of daily life: the office grind, the homemaker’s chores, everything from our conversations to our recreation to our family or community life. Something as simple as filing papers, done well and with love, becomes an offering to God.

We often think of saints as those who did great things for God, and certainly we can find many heroes among them. But so many were ordinary people in whom God was allowed to do great things, sanctifying simple work and waiting in the ellipses.

Even Our Lady, now Queen of the Universe, was not asked to do anything of itself out of the ordinary. She was asked to bear and raise a Child. Joseph, her husband, was told by an angel to take her into his home. She was not asked to go out, to preach, to sacrifice her own life as a martyr, or to start a new blog or brand. Her tasks were those of an ordinary woman of her time. What is extraordinary is that she did them with a total yes.

Jesus, too, lived the ellipses. For thirty years, He lived a quiet life of obedience, a life so outwardly unremarkable that when He began His public ministry, even His own relatives thought He was mentally ill. Offended onlookers from His hometown said, “Isn’t that the son of Joseph, the carpenter?”

It is this Jesus who today walks with us, in the tedium and trials of the plains, inviting us to join Our Lady in a Song of Assent.

Milky Way for Ellipses


Notes:

1Giambrone O.P., Anthony. “Forbidden Fruit and the Fruit of Faith.” Magnificat. June 2019: pp.403-404. Print.

Featured Image: Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash

Arriving to Heaven Together

When I was in grade-school I remember having scheduled fire drills. The alarm would go off and everyone would stop what they were doing, we would put on our coats and file in two lines. The teacher would give the class directions as simple as “stay calm, follow me”. We would walk out of our classroom together and merge in the hallway with the other classes exiting their own classrooms. We would all make our way to the stairwell to exit the floor. One day while orderly walking down the stairs, I distinctly remember noticing all the children in front of me, all the children behind me, all the children in the stairwell from the floors above and, all the children in the stairwell from the floor below. We were all moving towards the same exit door to leave the building. Every single person was going to leave the building through the same tiny door. Suddenly my grade-school mind began to wander, what if there truly was a fire? What if we truly were in danger? How could everyone possibly fit through that tiny door out to safety? I became worried and scared for myself and all these people.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling his disciples that they should “enter through the narrow gate”. Jesus had given the disciples the simple direction of how to get to heaven by walking on the road that leads to the narrow gate; through him, by following him, by being in communion with him. Jesus had told us that this road was not easy. By picking up the cross we would be judged as he was judged and we would be persecuted as he was persecuted. When life becomes difficult it seems beyond tempting to drop our heavy cross. It seems tempting to cross over to the road that is wide because it seems to be less stressful, it seems like more fun, it seems like less work. But these are deceptions that take us no where. Jesus warns us that this broad road will be the destruction of many. We are not meant to walk the road of deceit and evil. We are meant to walk the road of love and forgiveness. We may get lost at times and end up on the wrong path but, God always gives us many opportunities to get on the right path, on the path to holiness.

How easy it could have been to cause distress in the middle of a fire drill. It could be easy to lose focus of the goal (exiting through the door) and be stuck inside the building in a dangerous situation. If people started to push and shove it would get us no where. But, “pushing and shoving” were not the instructions the teachers gave us. They told us to remain calm, to stay in line, to follow. They gave us directions and we worked together. My class worked with the other classes on our floor, which we may see from time to time, and my class even worked with classes a few floors above, which we never even interacted with before. Remain calm, stay in line, follow. We all became one moving body as we made our way through a tiny exit door to safety.

God didn’t make us to be alone. He made us to be in communion with Him and in turn to be in communion to one another. Right before Jesus told his disciples about entering through the narrow gate, he told them exactly how they would enter through the narrow gate; “do to others whatever you would have them do to you”. We have a responsibility to love each other, to help each other and work together in the name of Jesus Christ. Being in communion with one another means to be in fellowship and have a mutual participation or sharing. If we see someone on the broader road, suffering, take them by the hand and walk with them and Jesus on the narrow road. Share with them the word and love of the Lord. On the narrow road, no matter how pact or how difficult, when we remain calm and follow Christ everyone gets through the narrow gate and we arrive to heaven together.

Not in Vain

“Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.” -Isaiah 49:4

“You should pray for the grace to not see the fruits of your ministry.”

Wait…what? Did I hear that correctly? Also, ouch?

I remember hearing this talk at a youth ministry convention at the end of a whirlwind of the first year on the job. And yes, the speaker chose his words correctly.

In so many things we do in life, ministry or otherwise, we either aren’t seen or don’t see the fruits of our labors for a long time…or ever. We can toil and toil and feel like we’re working in vain. “Does this even matter?” we wonder, “What’s the point if I keep trying but can’t get through to this person?” Maybe it’s an unpleasant co-worker that you try to show compassion to, a friend who needs forgiving, or you feel like you’re giving and giving but no one ever says thank you. We can go on feeling like we’re unnoticed, unappreciated, and as if the ways we’re trying to love like Jesus don’t sink in.

But at the end of the day, is that really what it’s about? It’s a hard question, I know. Now more than ever, we are aching to be seen, known, and loved—and we can fall into the temptation to pridefully seek this approval from anyone and anything but God. The lies lurk beneath the surface, just waiting to tell us that we’re not good enough—when we check to see who looked at our Insta Story, when we get frustrated that we didn’t get a “thank you” at work, when we feel forgotten and misunderstood.

But again, it’s not about that. God sees you, always—He can’t take His eyes off you. God knows you, better than you know yourself. God loves you, through and through.

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. St. John the Baptist had the great calling of preparing the way for the Lord, for helping people’s hearts to be ready for Jesus’ public ministry. He toiled and toiled for the Lord, knowing that his cousin was about to change everything. However, John the Baptist was murdered at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He didn’t get to see all the fruits of his labors while on earth. He didn’t get to live to be one of the people greeting the resurrected Jesus at the tomb. But John knew that it wasn’t about that. He was a fantastic model of humility, saying, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

So maybe we won’t see the fruits of our labors. But take heart, brothers and sisters, we do not toil in vain. The Lord sees, and we can never go wrong by loving like Him. Let’s adopt the words of St. John the Baptist today and pray, “More of You, Lord, and so much less of me.”

Treasure in Heaven

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
—Matthew 6:19–21

While reading about today’s saint, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, I couldn’t help but notice many striking similarities between him and out patron, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Both were born into wealthy Italian families that valued success and prestige more than faith. Both grew in virtue and piety despite the circumstances of their family life. Both were deeply devoted to serving the poor and disadvantaged, sacrificing their own time, talent, and treasure to care for the less fortunate. Both were described as having embodied the virtue of purity. And finally, both died from illnesses they acquired while serving others—Pier Giorgio at twenty-four, Aloysius at just twenty-three.

The story of the lives of these two young men, both cut short in their early twenties, seems a terrible shame if you look at it through the eyes of the world. But through the eyes of God, it is a triumph. Their treasure was not their material wealth, their earthly successes, or even their youth and potential. Their treasure was in heaven. By embracing God’s will and allowing His love to radiate through their lives, they built up treasure for themselves that transcends the plane of this transient world. None of us know how many days we have left here on earth to enjoy its fleeting pleasures, but we can be confident that each work of love we offer to God knits our souls ever more closely into His eternal Kingdom.

If, therefore, we wish to fly to heaven, perishable things are to be cast aside, and these two wings of actual poverty and poverty of spirit are to be assumed, on which we may be borne to the place where our treasure is and there enjoy it.
—St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Idols and Identity

It is so much easier to be happy when the sun is shining, and this Easter the weather cooperated. The world seemed to sing of the grandeur of God, commensurate with the joy of the season. The sun was bright, the flowers bloomed, and my spirits soared. “At last!” I thought. “God is providing a season of joy!”

But then the rains began. It rained for twelve days straight, skipping one, only to resume again and keep on raining. There was the standard flood of jokes about Noah’s ark in the Hudson Valley, but I felt the sog seeping deep into my soul. And when the rains stopped, the sog remained. It was as though my heart were wreathed in a mist of sadness that I could not explain, weighted by something I could not identify.

It happened that in mid-May I attended a mini-Unbound workshop led by the CFRs in Newburgh. Sitting in the church pews, I wasn’t paying close attention during the first talk. Instead, I kept rehashing in my mind how a friend had recently let me down. The transgression was minor, but my mind kept replaying it, a video gone viral in the worst way. “Let it go already!” the Girl I Ought To Be scolded. Even real me was annoyed, because it wasn’t a big deal. So why was I still thinking about it? Why did it, too, weigh on my soggy heart?

“Sometimes we cannot forgive, because underlying the injury is an identity wound.” I have heard many (many, many) talks on forgiveness, but here was a new angle. The speaker gave an example. A man is fired because of the actions of a co-worker. If that man’s job was his identity—that which gave him his sense of worth and meaning and importance—then there would be much more to forgive.

Was God speaking to me? During Lent a visiting Sister had spoken about how God had led her to do a “friendship fast,” because her friends had become her idols. I had felt an uncomfortable resonance as she spoke, but didn’t know what that might mean. Now I thought, was I making idols of my friendships? Was that also connected? Is that why I couldn’t just let go?

And then as we were led through (yet another) forgiveness exercise, I found myself back in two all-too familiar memories. Both times, I was deeply betrayed by someone I thought was a friend. Both times, a friend had turned against me, to side with someone more popular in a manner that was particularly cruel. Both times, the rejection was temporary, but my heart never forgot.

I had hoped for some new revelation; instead I found my eyes tearing at the same old stories that I had walked through so many times before. I had forgiven all so many times. I didn’t even feel bitterness toward the people involved, but here I was, crying again, over decades old spilled friendship. Again.

And as I thought about idols and identity I began to understand what the speakers were saying. I had thought that the problem with idols was that they took on the identity of gods in our life. Rather, I realize, they had become what gave me my identity.

My friends had given me an identity. I felt that failures in friendship meant that I was a failure. I looked to my friends to affirm my goodness, my lovability. I depended on friendship as if it were a god.

Depending on friends is not all bad. Human relationships are meant to be conduits of the grace of God. Human love is the medium by which we most easily and most often experience the love of God. But human love images, and points to, the divine love. It does not replace it.

Anything can become an idol. My own virtue. Morality. My to-do list. My sense of mission. The idols of ought: what my life ought to look like; the girl I ought to be. Particular forms of liturgy can become the object of worship, rather than the means of worship. My political or religious affiliations can become more important than God.

There is a severe mercy in being stripped of our idols, and the accompanying false identities. It is a mercy because it is for our good. But it is severe.

The answer is to choose faith: not just faith in who God is, but in who I am in Him. Faith that I am lovable. Faith that I am not alone. Faith that there is good in me. That I am known, and not found wanting, not found to be no good. Not rejected, not abandoned, not forsaken.

Lord I believe; help my unbelief.