My Heart Burns for You, Lord

“For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.” -Malachi 3:2-4

We are almost to Christmas, dear friends! No matter the ups and downs of your Advent journey, we are here, and God is with us, loving us and sustaining us.

In His saving power, Jesus comes to us with a fierce desire to refine and purify our hearts to be more like His. This is not out of vengeance nor a punishment. He does not come to us in anger, but He takes on the human flesh of a little baby, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph. Who doesn’t love a cute baby? He took on our humanity so He could draw us ever closer to Himself in love. Jesus came into the world in a humble, messy, way—His tiny beating heart longing for us. He wants us to know that He understands everything about us, that He is real, and that He came to save us.

So this refining, this purifying of our lives, is nothing to fear. How great is the Lord’s love that He desires to intricately mold the details of our hearts so that we can be set free to live fully alive with Him! Jesus’ Incarnation is such a profound gift that begs a response from us. And the best response we can give Him is by saying, “Refine me! Consume me! I’m totally Yours!” with wild self-abandonment. May we be able to be a living sacrifice for our Lord. May we surrender all the parts of ourselves completely to His mercy. He desires to rescue you, so that you may no longer be a slave. He aches for you so much that He came to earth to die and rise for you.

As St. John the Baptist prayed, may there be more of You, Lord, and less of us in this refining. Jesus, consume us with the fire of your overwhelming love. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine. Help us to surrender ourselves entirely to Your refining care. We want to burn for You! Come, Emmanuel, and purify our hearts! Amen.

I encourage you to give this song a listen and pray with it for Jesus to consume your heart!

Keep your eyes fixed on His Sacred Heart that outpours with so much love for you, and Merry Christmas! You are in my prayers! He is with us!

Say Yes to God

Could Mary have said no?

This was the question one of my confirmation students asked me. Could Mary have said no?

Well, yes, she could have said no. She could have said to the angel Gabriel that this was just too much, that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, she wasn’t ready to be talked about behind her back or be disgraced because it wasn’t Joseph’s child. She could have said that she didn’t want the responsibility. She could have freely said no. Lucky for us, that’s not the way the Annunciation goes.

Mary said yes to God.

Through Mary’s “yes” the word became flesh and God was amongst us. Through Mary’s “yes” a child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary freely and willingly accepted her mission as the mother of God. She knew that the fruit of her womb, her son, Jesus Christ, was our redeemer, the perfect lamb by which the world would find its salvation. And she pondered on all of this in her heart because God chose her to love and take care of a small, innocent, and special baby. Mary’s “yes” aligned the will of God with her own will, obediently allowing herself to be an instrument of the Lord.

Mary’s “yes” was powerful.

In the Gospel reading for today, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.” That message is for us as well. The Most High, almighty and omnipotent God can do everything and anything—He made every inch of the universe. And nothing is impossible for God. Let us remember that in our hearts when we pray and when we walk up to the altar. Let us remember that the impossible does not exist to God. Whatever fear or doubt we might have in accepting God’s good word, let us renounce it. Whatever uncertainty we may experience that is stopping us from going forth with God’s plans, let us be aware to walk away from it.

In today’s society we are always busy. Our calendars are full of meetings, appointments, dinner parties, sports tournaments, work, and classes. The list goes on and on. We plan our schedules thinking that we are in control. The hardest thing for us to realize is that our lives are not our own; our lives belong to God and therefore should be centered around God. He is the one in control, and He is the one in charge of our final schedules.

God made us in His image to love us and for us to love Him. That love has to be given freely. So, yes, Mary could have said no. But it was her love for God that willed her to say yes and be open to receive baby Jesus in her womb. It is that same love for the Lord that will shape our individual lives. Through our own “yes” to God, we will be open to receive His many gifts of grace.

During this Advent season, as we are waiting and preparing our hearts for Jesus, let us prepare in a special way to do God’s will. Pray that when God changes our schedules we’d be open and willing to accept this change, always aligning our will with the will of God. Let us prepare to always want to say YES! to our God. That the uniqueness of our individual “yes” may be as powerful as Mary’s fiat.

Image Credit: The Annunciation, 1742, by Agostino Masucci [Public Domain]

Justice in the Smallest Things

For the last few weeks the word “justice” has been following me around. I’ve seen it in Bible verses, heard it at Mass, met parish members whose work focuses on it—the word is everywhere. We often see or hear it in mainstream media and conversations, but do we really know what it means to be “just”?

In today’s first reading, we are given glimpses of what it means to be just in a biblical sense. In Jeremiah 23:5–6, it says, “See, days are coming…when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” Although there’s much to be said about the verses, I believe the highlights of those verses are that those that are just do the following: 1. Act wisely & execute fairly; 2. Provide safety to others who wouldn’t have so otherwise; 3. Have a connection with our Lord.

While you might be thinking, yeah, that’s great and all, but what does a king or a chapter from the from the Old Testament have to do with me? Well, a lot. If you reside or work in New York City, or any metropolitan area, you’re bound to come across unjust circumstances and societal issues. Homelessness. Hunger. Poverty. Things that are beyond the average citizen’s control. Yet, despite that, I believe everyone is called to be just in their daily interactions with others. We are called to act wisely and fairly. We are called to provide safety and comfort to those without. We are called to connect with our Creator. It is through our connection with God that we are able to employ just, or fair, practices. God continuously has mercy on us, and we’re called to do the same with others, no matter what stage of life they’re in.

Being just might look differently for everyone, but in practical terms it could mean having patience during rush hour, serving a homeless individual with the dignity and respect he/she deserves, welcoming a new member of your parish with open arms, or even giving your employee another opportunity at work. During this time of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, I ask that you meditate on what it means to be just and how you can apply today’s readings to your daily life.

If you need an example of what that might look like, St. Joseph is a marvelous example of someone who acted with righteousness and wisdom. When Mary discovered that she “was… with child through the holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18), she had only been betrothed to Joseph, and they hadn’t yet moved in together. In her time, adultery was a grave sin punishable by death, so being pregnant without any “logical” explanation as to how it occurred would have given Joseph enough justification to punish her publicly. Despite that, Joseph decided against punishing her because he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and “decided to divorce her quietly” instead. This action in itself was radical and uncommon at the time, which gives us insight into the kind of character Joseph had. Instead of publicly humiliating her, at best, or stoning her, at worst, he decided to quietly settle his affairs with Mary so that their divorce wouldn’t make her an outcast or target of the community.

How often can we say this about ourselves? Do we purposefully and intentionally try to cause as little harm as possible to others during our daily interactions? Or do we sometimes act from a place of hurt and anger, thereby perpetuating the cycle? God calls us to treat others as He treats us, from a place of justice and mercy.

Joseph, however, didn’t just stop there, as we all know. He eventually accepted Mary into his home after an angel appeared to him in a dream:

“He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matt. 1:24).

Although we can only guess what occurred then, it would be enough to speculate that Joseph might not have fully understood what was going on. He might not have understood why God was calling him to accept this woman, with whom he’d had no relations, into his home and take her as his wife. Yet he did so anyway. Just like Joseph, God calls us to follow Him through the uncertainty and discomfort. Through the sacrifices. Through the difficult decisions one must make in order to act justly. Despite how overwhelming all of this might sound, take comfort in knowing that our God gives us all the grace and strength we need. Through Him, we can obtain the wisdom and grace we need to bring a little more justice into this world we live in.

What a Powerful Name It Is

“He himself said to [the chief priests],
‘Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.’” -Matthew 21:27

What great authority lies in Jesus’ Name! Even just speaking the Name of Jesus out loud changes a room.

In Jesus’ Name, the blind regain their sight, demons are cast out, and the deaf hear, as we heard in yesterday’s first reading and Gospel. In Jesus’ Name, healing reigns. Death is no more. Destruction, despair, and ruin are not the defining characters in our story, nor is that how our story ends.

Through Him, with Him, and in Him, we can face any agonizing trial or stubborn obstacle.

Let’s be real, friends. Sometimes God can seem excruciatingly far away. Sometimes we wait and wait and wait for an answered prayer, feeling like it’ll never come. Sometimes it seems all-too tempting to give up and to give into hopelessness.

It is these exact moments where we need to declare who God is and who we are, claiming the authority in Jesus’ Name given to us in our adoption as beloved sons and daughters of the Father.

Say it with me out loud: “In the Name of Jesus, I renounce….”

What do you need to renounce today? Hopelessness? Despair? Fear? Self-pity? Anger? Pride?

Again, say it with me out loud: “In the Name of Jesus, I renounce….”

When God seems far and when prayers seem unanswered, rise up as best you can in the authority of Jesus Christ, our King. Even if all you can muster is whispering His Name, yes and amen.

God is not done with you, and He’s not done with your story. He never is! Keep going. Keep showing up. Keep pressing in to His Sacred Heart. Keep seeking and knocking. He never tires of you, never tires of all that’s on your heart, and never tires of doing good things for you.

Lord Jesus, increase our faith to blossom into expectant faith. Help us to claim authority in Your Name when we feel weakest. Help us to show up and keep seeking You even when You feel painfully distant. We know and trust that You desire great things for us. Give us a new spirit of hope today. Come, Emmanuel, come! Amen.

A Great Light

The Christmas season is marked by light.  Lights strung around the tree, candles burning in windows, fireplaces warming homes, storefronts decorated with lights…  Many families will take a drive to go see the lights or see a tree in their city adorned with lights.  The beauty of light clearly draws us in. 

I’ve been rediscovering the glory of light as I watch my 2.5-month-old stare at lights — not just Christmas lights, but any kind of light.  I am realizing that we are born with an innate draw to the gift and mystery of light.  And while my sweet little baby stares with wonder at light, she is often being stared at by the people around her.  When we introduce her to friends and family, people find themselves circled around her, staring in wonder in the same way she herself stares at a light.  I’ve had two friends say in the past week that babies are like campfires — you feel like you can just stare at them forever.  There is a beauty, a wonder, and a joy in the presence of a baby and in the light of a campfire that draws our hearts.  This mystery of light is at the beginning of creation, as God himself created light before anything else (Genesis 1:3).  And this mystery of light is revealed to us further at the beginning of the Gospel, the beginning of our re-creation in Christ, as the Light of the world comes to us as a newborn baby.  How everyone present at Christ’s Nativity must have stared at this baby with an unmatched wonder and awe, as they stared at the One True Light Himself.  

Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.

The refrain of today’s Psalm taken from the Gospel of John (Jn 8:12) reminds us that as Christians, we possess the gift of light, for Christ is the fullness of light.  It is through Christ that we are called into union with the Creator of light, the Father, and made partakers in this light by the fire of the Holy Spirit. We may already be well aware that as Christians we possess the light of Christ, but this Advent, perhaps the Lord is calling us deeper, asking us to receive His light more fully. What area or aspect of your heart or life remains in darkness? These areas may take some prayerful digging to find. Anxiety, fear, hopelessness… Ask the Lord to reveal this place to you, in His gentleness and love. This is where the Lord yearns to be invited. To bring an end to any remaining darkness with the light of life.   

I hope that every light we see this Advent and Christmas points us to the One True Light Himself. The Savior of the world, God Himself, was born to us a beautiful, sweet baby. Come let us adore Him, and stare in wonder at the baby Jesus, the Light who changed everything.  

Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Stomer, 1632

Her Immaculate Heart Beats for Us

“My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and your safe path to God.” –Our Lady of Fatima

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! Today we rejoice in the grace Mary was given to be conceived without sin, so that she could give herself fully to being the Mother of the Son of God, and in turn, our Mother (CCC 494). In the moment she came to life in St. Anne’s womb, she was “full of grace,” becoming the beautiful vessel through which God’s grace could flow for you and for me (Luke 1:28).

Mary’s Immaculate Conception doesn’t make her unrelatable or distant; no, she is very near! She is our loving Mother—always there, always guiding us to her Son. When we are in need, we can run to our Mom and find security in the comforting folds of her mantle. Like a good Mother, she holds us in her arms, snuggled against her Immaculate Heart. If we listen closely, we will hear the heartbeat of her Son Jesus in each beat of her Immaculate Heart.

Thanks to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, she was able to make her courageous fiat to being the Mother of our Savior—and in this, we gain a Mother, too. Mary’s gentle, pure, courageous, trusting, fierce heart beats for you, with the ache of wanting you to know her Son’s love and mercy.

Mary’s heart was wounded (Luke 2:35), and she knows your pain. Though she was without sin, her life was one of trials, unknowns, grief, and heartache. But she rose up and said another fiat in each moment. She surrendered her whole self to the Lord, even when it didn’t make sense and she couldn’t see the way. Mary, being full of grace, never lost hope and never lost her great joy in the Lord. May she help us to do the same.

You are safe and held in her Immaculate Heart. Mary will never fail to bring you to Jesus, carrying you in her motherly arms into the arms of our Savior.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

Here is a beautiful song honoring our beautiful Mother!

The Long Night

And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
—Isaiah 29:18

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
—Psalm 27:1

During this time of year, when we have more hours of darkness than of daylight, the days can feel impossibly short and the nights endlessly long. It happens every year, but somehow we still find ourselves surprised every December when we walk outside at 5pm and the sun has already retreated. These long nights are the backdrop of our yearly Advent preparations and a blank canvas for all our Christmas light displays.

This week while teaching my Confirmation class, I asked my middle-school students whether they’ve ever gone stargazing. They replied with stories of watching the stars while traveling with their family, out in the country or even in the middle of the desert, where they could see the constellations clearly. Then I asked if they’d ever tried stargazing in Manhattan. They laughed and said that while they’d tried, they couldn’t really see anything from the city, and whenever they did it usually turned out to be a plane. Why is that, I asked? Well, because we have so much artificial light here that you can’t see anything else. Then I asked them to picture the night of Jesus’s birth, the first Christmas. Why did Jesus choose to come into the world during the darkest, coldest time of year, amid a sparsely populated desert, in the middle of the night? Could it be possible that all of that darkness made it easier for the wise men to see the light of the star? Might Jesus have come into the world amidst its cold, lifeless season as a sign of who He is for us?

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The child Jesus, born in the middle of a cold winter’s night, is the Light that shines in the darkness. In order to prepare ourselves to celebrate his arrival at Christmas, let us spend this Advent entering into the night, allowing ourselves to feel the emptiness of our human condition, and daring to quiet the noise of the world around us to breathe in the silence. Let us meditate upon the darkness that enveloped the world before His arrival, so that we can see His brilliance more clearly.

During this time of year, it can seem harder than ever to find a few minutes of silence and permit ourselves to be still. But God speaks to us in the silence and meets us in our emptiness. Let us make space for Him to speak instead of crowding our lives with so many distractions that we cannot hear His gentle voice. There is so much artificial light that fights for our attention during Advent, so much so that it may blind us from noticing the true Light of the world. But if we’re willing to take a step back into the dark, quiet night and realize our need for Him, the Star of Bethlehem will shine all the more brightly in our hearts. Our world, weary as ever, longs to receive that Light.

St. Andrew Christmas Novena:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

Adam_Elsheimer_-_Die_Flucht_nach_Ägypten_(Alte_Pinakothek)_2.jpg
Adam Elsheimer, The Flight into Egypt / PD-US