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

Waiting, Groaning, Hoping

Happy Advent, dear friends!

This beautiful season of Advent goes far beyond twinkling lights and perfect Nativity scenes. if we let God really speak to us this Advent, we are pointed back to the aches on our hearts, to our need for a Savior.

Sometimes things about this season seem so perfect and cozy and cute that we forget that Jesus took on human flesh to burst into our world, into our mess…and for our mess. If everything was right, we wouldn’t need a Savior. And how much we do.

How is your heart in need of redemption and restoration this Advent? I feel that all of us have things on our hearts, sometimes buried deep, that are places of aching, longing, and waiting. Maybe you’re waiting for a new job, aching for a vocation, or hoping for good news for that next medical test result from a loved one. Maybe you’re in a season of feeling overwhelmed and not enough. Maybe you’ve given up on praying about something.

Whatever it is, you’re not alone. In St. Paul’s Letter the Romans, he writes about how all of creation groans awaiting redemption (Romans 8:22-23). Bring it to our Savior. And have hope.

I will say it again, have hope! Jesus is here to save. He came into our world with a face, with a beating heart, and with a voice to speak: “I’m here. Be made well.”

We can enter into this Advent with expectant faith, entrusting each ache of our heart to our Savior. God never fails to come through, and He loves you through it all. Advent is a season for reawakened hope, because we are reminded that Jesus comes to meet us over and over again, that He’s constantly entering into our lives with His relentless love to heal, to restore, to redeem, and to hold us in His tender Heart.

For further reflection on this theme, check out this beautiful Advent song by the Vigil Project!

Here at the End of All Things

“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.

In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.

The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”

Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.

In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the KingOn Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the WorldThe Promise

The Baby Who Changed Everything

Merry Christmas Eve, friends!

Last fall, I was blessed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the more comical moments of the trip was the day we went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Our group made our way down the narrow stairs to the cave where Jesus was born. It was wall-to-wall people, everyone wanting to shove their way through to kneel down and kiss the 14-point star on the floor where our Savior was born (14 points representing the 14 generations leading up to Jesus).

Despite the crowds, I was in awe and humbled by the simple little cave, and I was hoping for a powerful moment with our Lord when it was my turn to kiss the place where Jesus first met the earth. As I knelt down in reverence, imagining how the shepherds felt as they came to see Jesus, one of the people behind me literally shoved me onto the star. I laughed a little to myself and whispered, “Sorry, Jesus,” as I kissed the star, hearing the security guard in the background yell, “HEY! Watch what you’re doing!” at the person who pushed me.

.

Nativity Star
The picture of the 14-point star at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem that I somehow managed to capture in the crowds.

Though it was anything but a “Silent Night” moment of prayer, there was still something so profound about all the people who so badly wanted to cram into the place where Jesus was born. In our lives, what lengths do we go to to seek our Lord? What do we let get in the way? If we were the shepherds, if we were the Wise Men from the East, would we have trusted and followed the star to find the Messiah? Sometimes we need other people to shove us face-to-face with God, to give us the extra push we need to get past our fear to say yes to Him.

The crowd in that cave in the Church in Bethlehem was perfectly reminiscent of the mess Jesus came into when He was born. He was born among animals and dirt, sin and shame. He didn’t wait until we were in a perfect place to come into the world. Better yet, God chose to send His only Son into the world as a baby boy, totally dependent on human beings just like you and me to care for Him.

Who doesn’t love a cute baby? What baby can’t melt a person’s heart? Jesus knew that sometimes we find God hard to relate to, hard to connect with. God not only took on human flesh to understand what it means to be human, but He became a little baby to go to any length to help us know and love Him more.

I’ve been praying the St. Andrew Novena, which Erin wrote about last month. The most impactful part of the prayer for me has been that it asks Jesus to pray for you and hear your intentions in the exact moment of His birth. How awesome is that, that God works outside of time and that is possible! So, friends, tonight, I encourage you to talk to baby Jesus. Really talk to Him. Delight in Him. Adore Him. Hold Him and rock Him. Bask in His love, His innocence as a precious baby boy. Give Him your whole heart and do not be afraid—after all, what could a baby do to hurt you? Let the baby who changed everything change you.

Blessed Christmas to you and your loved ones! God is with us!