Holding and Beholding

“This night a battle has been waged and won for you. Love had to come back for you. Love had to get you. The Love that has been coming for you since the beginning—He slays dragons for you. This is the truest love story of history, and it’s His-story, and it’s for you. All the other fairy-tale love stories only echo your yearning for this truest, realest one—this one that has its beginning before the beginning of time.

This night, you on this visited planet, your rescue is here. You can breathe.

Your God extends now on straw.

He lays Himself down in your mire.

He unfolds Himself in the stench you want to hide, in the mess that is your impossible, in the mucked straw you didn’t want anyone to know.

Rejected at the inn, holy God comes in small to where you feel rejected and small. God is with you now.

Wherever you are—in a soundless cry or hidden brokenness or in your ache—God always wants to be with you. You are not ever left alone in this. We are never left alone in this; God is with us.

This is Love you can’t comprehend.

You can only feel and touch this kind.

There, in the place where you feel rejected, you can be touched by God.

There, in the places you feel small, you can touch in God.

He came in the flesh.

Come kneel close.

Let the warm breath of heaven fall on you.

God waits to be held.

God waits for you to draw close.” -The Least in the Kingdom, Ann Voskamp

Merry Christmas, dear friends! A friend sent me this reflection the other day, and I was moved to share it with you all.

God waits to be held. He beholds us, and He desires that we behold Him.

This weekend I was blessed to go on a retreat, and in the chapel there was a statue of baby Jesus in a manger in front of the altar. After spending some time in prayer, I was moved to go up and kiss the statue of baby Jesus before leaving the chapel. That got me thinking…”How can I, unworthy as I am, behold our Lord this Christmas?”

The next night, I found myself in the chapel again, kneeling in the aisle, in a place of total humility and vulnerability with our Lord. I looked up at the same statue of baby Jesus, then at the Tabernacle that beheld Jesus in the Eucharist, and finally at the crucifix above it that beheld all Jesus’ pain for our salvation, in awe of who He is and how He died for us. I was confronted with my own weakness, yet somehow still beholding Him.

Beholding our Lord comes with a beautiful, raw humility—those moments where we stop and say, “Wow,” where we marvel at His majesty, and realize just how much we need Him. That is beholding Him.

The Lord came to us with that same beautiful, raw humility. We can be real with Him. We can behold Him as we are, with all that we have, hearts bare like Jesus’ Sacred Heart that beats on the outside of His body.

He wouldn’t want us to behold Him any other way.

O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us behold Him. O come, let us hold Him.

Let Him Love You

“I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His Eyes.”
–St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

As the sun sets, a soft, rosy glow from the Christmas tree fills the silent room. The dying light just catches on small flecks of gold in the sparkling ornaments, the star above the crèche, and the glittering cards from loved ones that line the mantle. On them, simple words written with paper and ink wish you a merry Christmas from across the country. The words seem to come to life with the thought of seeing someone’s sweet smile or hearing another’s joyful laughter, especially if they are far from home this year.

In the beginning, another Word, the Word, was with God, and was God—but this Word did not stay still. Knowing our sins and miseries, this unchanging and creative Word reached into the silence, “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). As St. Augustine explains in today’s office of readings, “In this way, what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.”

But, it was not enough for the Word to simply be seen, for Love to just appear to the beloved: our Love went into action, “springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). In becoming visible, he became vulnerable, as an innocent newborn baby hunted by Herod. He became a servant, healing the sick, shepherding the lost sheep, and washing the apostles’ feet. He became the man of sorrows, carrying our sins and miseries to the end, when his heart was pierced, letting blood and water flow forth for the world. “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), and he loved us from a cross on a hill in a faraway country, even when we were so very far from home.

It was still not sufficient for the Light to die and rise, for Love’s very heart to be pierced—for Love mingled with grief, and grew all the greater. During the Last Supper, Love took, blessed, and broke His own heart to be shared with the apostles and those to come, instituting the Eucharist and finding a way to be with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In his last moments on the cross, he broke his mother’s heart and placed us in the folds of her mantle through the beloved disciple, St. John. “Woman, behold your son… Son, behold your Mother.” His birth in a stable under a star “cost her no sorrow, but this birth of John and the millions of us at the foot of the Cross brought her such agony as to merit the title ‘Queen of Martyrs’” (Sheen). Her lifelong union with Love’s cross led her to loving us in the crossing of her arms, arms filled with roses.

Loving Someone like this takes courage. But, sometimes it takes far more courage to let ourselves be uncommonly loved by Someone who “moves the sun and the other stars,” a Love we receive under the visible appearance of bread and wine, forms of gold that do not glitter but are Light itself. Just as Christ names us as gifts from the Father (John 17:24), he gives us the gift of himself, calling us to arise and run to him, for “the winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11). As the Son is unveiled in our hearts and we come face to face with this “excess of love,” we can hesitate, one step away from being closer to home than we’ve ever been.

We know all too well our miseries and sins; we all know how vulnerable hearts can be “wrung and possibly broken” by imperfect people, or by stories that end far too soon. We know the way of Love is also the way of the Cross, filled with thorny branches and briars that will piece your heart as well as heal it. Even so—let yourself be loved more than this, by more than you think you could be loved. Even if your heart feels frozen under a bitter frost, or hidden inside a silent tomb, do not be afraid of love that is the gift of one who is “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). For, as St. John Paul II says, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Let yourself be loved by the Love who can heal your precious heart this Christmas and always. Take courage, and “may the Lord of heaven grant you joy in place of your grief” (Tobit 7:17). For the Word was not content to simply use paper and ink to come across the world and bring us home. He came to us in a stable that held Someone “bigger than the whole world” and comes again each day in the breaking of the bread, in the breaking of his heart, so we may have joy, and our joy may be complete—our soul in His Soul, our hearts in His Heart, our eyes in His Eyes as we too are taken, broken, blessed, and shared with others. We have only to receive Him—and to let ourselves be loved.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Let Yourself Be LovedLetters
Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Knowing the Love of God
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Josef Pieper, On Love
Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love

Christmas is Worth Waiting For

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels:
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord

Merry Christmas!

Today’s Christmas. Today is probably one of my favorite days of the whole year aside from my birthday. And it’s perhaps providential that it’s my very first Frassati reflection, coming right off the very end of Advent and into this wonderful Christmas season. It is also perhaps providential (no, it most certainly is no coincidence!) that today’s publication of my very first Frassati reflection comes right off what has been a very difficult three months for me. Without divulging much here, the past 90 or so days have been among the most difficult in my entire life. Three months ago, I made the decision to leave my PhD program, completely unaware and uncertain as to what the next step of my life would be come the end of this semester. I had prayerfully discerned, during this past fall Frassati retreat, that it was God’s will that I do indeed leave my PhD program, circumstances notwithstanding. Suffice to say, the past three months have been very trying, emotionally and physically. Academia, and completing a PhD, had represented my hopes and dreams for the past 10 years. I knew little else, career-wise. (I had been in and out of grad school for the past five years and had never held a “normal” 9 to 5 job.) 

Often, we all hit a roadblock in the lives we so try to meticulously plan. I know I certainly thought I had my life planned. I then pondered, and asked God, “Ok, God, now what? I’m waiting.” I often thought to how Our Lady must have thought, “How can this be?” when she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Christ, the Word Incarnate (Luke 1:34). “How can this be?” rang often in my prayers, late at night. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on for a while, especially after I felt and knew it was God’s will I be admitted into my PhD program 2.5 years ago. April 15th, 2017, was one of the most joyous days of my life: it was the day I learned I was being admitted into my PhD program, and at my dream program. I now look back on that day with mixed feelings, but I am grateful to the Lord for the knowledge and experience I have gained. But like Our Lady trusted, so should I. True, bearing the Light of The World isn’t quite the same as allowing God to lead you on a different career path, but the sentiment is all the same. Trust. And I felt over and over in prayer, Go to Him.

December 13th was the very last day of my PhD program. I have now resigned myself to never becoming a college professor, never obtaining a PhD, and I am allowing Christ to radically lead me elsewhere. As the saying goes, I am allowing “Jesus to take the wheel.” It ain’t a Carrie Underwood song, it’s life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the midst of all this, my faith was the rock of my entire being and my eyes were ever so planted onto Our Lord. I was waiting. I’m still waiting. I’m still trusting. Today’s Christmas. Most people around us have been hurrying around looking for the perfect gift until the very last minute, waiting in line shopping at Macy’s well past 11pm, putting up decorations, frantically writing Christmas cards, getting stuck in traffic, and planning parties and dinners. We may have been one of those people, too. I know that sometimes I get lost it in all too. (I’m told I overgift and that I go overboard with party planning. I am also told that I can be more wordy than necessary.) It is easy to lose sight of the true significance of this season. 

This entire season, leading up to today, is meant to have been one of joy and hope, of preparation, and of waiting patiently for the coming of the Lord. It is not only about the past, but also very much about the present and the future. I know I won’t be defined by the past, and that I won’t be defined by any lack of ranks, degrees, or titles. I am a follower of Christ and Lay Dominican first, and everything else is secondary.

When I think back to my most recent disappointment with my PhD, I’m reminded that Christmas should be seen as a time for us to step back and take in the deep and rich meaning of this sacred event. We must see, first, that God became the Word Incarnate, that He entered our own human condition, and, in doing so, is able to identify with all that we experience in life. All our joys. All our disappointments. God understands human life! He lived it. God humbled himself in the most profound way so that we would come to know Him and His perfect love for us. The angel Gabriel told Our Lady, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). Do we step back and look to Our Lord? And when we do so, are we afraid?

Despite what may come, despite anything that has happened this past season, do not be afraid to come and behold the Christ who came as your savior. This past Advent season we have been reminded over and over that Advent is a time of waiting. But it’s now Christmas. We are often waiting for God to literally come to us. (God also speaks in His silence, but that’s another reflection.) We celebrate His birth just like that of any one of us—offering prayers, eating, drinking and making merry. We celebrate his coming into the world, but we often do not welcome Him into our hearts and lives. And we so often get away from Him in such times of trial and tribulation. I know the more and more I struggled these past few months, the more and more I deeply held onto Our Lord.

Amidst our celebrations this Christmas, let us pause a while to look around us to recognize that Jesus was born into the world two thousand years ago. The Incarnation is the very incarnation of hope itself. The Son of God comes Incarnate to fulfill the hope of the People of Israel. He is among us in every person and in every trial and tribulation we encounter in our lives. Whatever has happened to you this past season, Go to Him, have hope, and rejoice in His birth.

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!

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

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

You Have Won My Heart

“But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.” -1 John 2:20

Dear brothers and sisters, as 2018 wraps up in this Octave of Christmas, something that’s been on my heart for the past few months that I am making my goal for 2019 is focusing back on the heart-to-heart relationship with God. It is so easy to lose sight of Whose we are.

We have received God’s anointing in Baptism, and from this anointing flows our identity as His sons and daughters, which is sealed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. God has put an indelible mark on your soul that cannot be washed off. His anointing of you is His irrevocable choice to make you a part of His family. No matter how much we fight and struggle with our sonship and daughtership as His beloved ones, no matter how much we wrestle with doubt and lies and fear, God says to us: “You are Mine!” And He says this with great delight over you.

What does this anointing look like in your life in a tangible way? From His anointing flows your purpose that clarifies why you were born. You are certainly not a mistake. You are not an exception to the faithfulness of God’s love. You are not an exception to the fulfillment of His call for your life. You are chosen. You are His. I will say it again: He delights in you, His precious child.

“But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name, 
who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” -John 1:12-13

I want 2019 to be a year of going back to the basics of focusing on God’s love for me and loving Him wholeheartedly in return. I want this to permeate my soul so much that it constantly outpours for others. I want to fall in love with the Lord over and over again. He dwells within us—our bodies are His temple. How often I forget that! We don’t have to go far to find Him. He’s already with us, already loving us, eyes already on us. St. Teresa of Avila said, “We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.”

Lord God, we thank You and praise You for choosing us as Your sons and daughters. Thank You for Your unending patience with our weaknesses. Thank You for Your kindness. Thank You for rejoicing at even the smallest steps we take towards You. No matter the season of life, no matter what prayers we are waiting on answers to, Lord, help us to make this a year of more of You and so much less of us. Help us to fall in love with You again. Help us to find You in the stillness of our hearts, and to be disciplined in silent prayer. Help us to bask in the sight of Your delight in us. Unravel and soften our hearts in a deeper love for You, God. We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more and more. Amen.

“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14