“_________.” (Insert Your Name Here)

“How’s my sweetheart?” my grandma said on the other end of the phone call. Those three words immediately put my anxious heart at ease. It was my junior year of college, and I was going through one of those seasons of lots of change where my heart felt like it had been through the wringer.

The way the voice of a person who knows and loves us deeply can instantaneously calm us is something to marvel at. Everything about that seemingly ordinary phone call with my grandma years ago was exactly what my heart needed. We didn’t talk about anything extravagant; I updated her on my classes and the fall break service trip I was going on, and she told me the latest updates on how her church was doing. But it was the deep tenderness and care for me with which she spoke that turned it into a phone call I will always remember.

In today’s Gospel, we are told more of the Good Shepherd narrative that we heard in Mass yesterday: “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).

Jesus knows you by name. He calls you by name because He intimately knows you and cares for you. He calls you by name so that you know that with Him you are safe, that you are not just another face in the crowd. You’re so much more than just one of the flock to Him. On the days when you feel forgotten or unseen, stop and imagine Jesus saying your name with great rejoicing.

Jesus’ track record of trustworthiness is pretty great. He’s gotten you through every single day so far, and He won’t stop now. Through every hill and valley, He’s been there, steadily leading you, calling you by name. He has protected you in all things, going before you so that you wouldn’t have to go through anything He didn’t already (John 10:4).

In moments of weakness, where the voices of the world and the enemy swirl around you to distort and distract, listen for the only voice calling you intimately by name, the voice of Jesus, and follow. He will surely lead you to safety.

So, stop and listen today.

“_________.” (Insert your name here)

He so sweetly calls you by name.

Radiant Faces

I’ve been told by quite a few people that my blue eyes change color depending on my mood: they’re a bright, brilliant blue when I’m joyful and happy, a deep blue when I’m tired or reflective, and a dark blue-grey when I’m sad.

I’ve seen this in other people, too. With the teens that I serve in youth ministry, I’ve seen noticeable changes in their faces and eyes after they have a powerful encounter with Jesus on a retreat or at a Youth Night. They smile more, laugh easily, hold their heads up with confidence, and their eyes sparkle.

The joy of the Lord changes us. When we let Him transform our hearts, it is reflected in our outward appearance. The power of His joy cannot be contained—and so we become visible witnesses of His love.

Jesus wants His resurrection to radiate from us.

In today’s first reading, we hear that St. Stephen had the “face of an angel.” Now, he had every reason to look distressed, anxious, and downtrodden as he faced persecution and the trial before the Sanhedrin leading to his martyrdom. His joy in how he lived fully alive in the Spirit bothered people so much that they wanted him to be killed. But that didn’t stop him from proclaiming the amazing news of God’s saving power to all he encountered. And even in the face of death, the joy of the Lord remained burning within him so brightly that he looked like an angel.

No matter what we are facing, can we let Jesus’ resurrection joy dwell within us so powerfully that it explodes onto our outward appearance? Even in the darkest of days, we can be joyful. We can be joyful because Jesus’ resurrection joy is for everyone, and you are no exception to that rule. He is with you, He is at work, and He is ALIVE. The story He is writing for you is full of transforming glory. Amen, hallelujah!

Prayer is the Battle Plan

In my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly laments not being able to come up with the right words at the right time, finding herself tongue-tied and her mind blank. “What should I have said, for example, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?” she says. I think we’ve all had those moments, where we realize later, perhaps at 11:30pm when we’re lying in bed trying to sleep, the thing we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. These situations arise in moments of conflict, in a moment where we feel misunderstood, or when we are put in a circumstance where we are invited to stand up for the truth with love.

What do we say? What do we do? How do we get better at fighting the fear and speaking up, or maybe biting our tongue when anger arises and allowing God’s truth to pour out of us instead?

The Apostles in today’s first reading act with wisdom when they had every reason to both lash out in anger and be totally tongue-tied. Faced with opposition and death threats all around them, and after having just been released from prison, Peter and John and the other Apostles gather together to pray for boldness. They could’ve had a meeting to come up with a battle plan to confront their persecutors, or they could’ve strategized how to go into hiding. They could’ve given up on their mission to evangelize entirely. But praying for boldness was their battle plan. Surrounded by challenges and fear, they knew that it was not them doing the work of growing the early Church, but the Holy Spirit at work through them. They realized their acute need for the Holy Spirit to empower them and give them the boldness they needed to go out and answer God’s call.

So they prayed for boldness; then, trusting that the Holy Spirit would not abandon them, they went out and kept preaching.

I don’t think our Catholic Church has an issue of too many people living with holy boldness. That is not our problem. I think we are more caged in fear than anything. In what areas of our own lives do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us with boldness? Where is God calling us to shake off the fear and trust in His faithfulness? The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He can empower us. When we are faced with those challenging situations where we know in the pit of our stomach that we need to say something, we can call on the Holy Spirit to give us the words and the courage to speak as He is leading us. We can put the pressure on God to show up and give us what we need—we just have to be open.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to be bold and on fire for Your mission for each of us.

God in Our Midst

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
—John 20:14–16

Noli_me_tangere_-_William_Brassey_HoleHow often our eyes are blinded to recognize the presence of God in our midst. Just as Mary Magdalene mourned the absence of Jesus without realizing it was Jesus Himself who was speaking to her, we also cry out into the void when we feel alone and abandoned, while all the while Jesus is there, listening and responding to our every word. We are never, ever abandoned or forgotten, no matter how it may seem to us in the moment.

Perhaps it seemed to Mary too good to be true that Jesus might really be present with her there in the garden; it was an idea too wonderful for her mind to grasp, and so she could not see the glorious reality before her eyes. That is, not until He spoke her name.

When she heard her own name spoken by Jesus, she recognized Him instantly. She knew it could only be His gentle voice, communicating God’s love for her in a way no one else could. In the same way, we begin to see God present in our midst when we move away from a detached, abstract idea of God and toward an intimate relationship with Him. When we realize that He knows us and cares for us with loving tenderness, everything changes.

The reality of Jesus’s resurrection certainly may seem to us at times too good to be true. But when we open ourselves up to receive the outpouring of love and unmerited graces that He desires to give us, we cannot help but realize that He is indeed alive and present in our midst. God calls each of us by name and draws us to Himself. May we, especially during this Easter season, recognize His voice in our lives and rejoice in His eternal presence.


Image: William Brassey Hole, Noli me tangere / PD-US

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Happy Easter, friends! Jesus is risen; alleluia! It was impossible for Him to be held by death, as today’s first reading tells us (Acts 2:24).

Resurrection hope. What does this mean for us? In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary experience this first hand. What were they thinking when they saw the empty tomb? Were they so caught up in the trauma and horror of seeing their Lord crucified that they forgot that He said He would rise?

When they receive the good news of the resurrection, it says that they were “fearful yet overjoyed” as they ran to tell everyone the great news.

For us, sometimes seasons of resurrection can bring simultaneous doubt. We can find ourselves questioning if it’s too good to be true. If we’ve been hurt or have suffered a long time, it can be hard to fully open ourselves up to the marvels of the resurrections when they do at last come. Jesus encounters us along the way, just like He did with the two Mary’s, telling us to not be afraid. We can trust.

We can let our uncertainties vanish in the light of His resurrection. With this one act, Jesus proved and completed everything He ever said. Jesus overcame the impossible in a way no one has ever been able to do so. And He did it all for you and me, with infinite love.

Jesus’ resurrection makes a way for hope in all the seemingly impossible circumstances of our lives. His resurrection is the road to the gift of Heaven for us. If we are feeling fearful yet overjoyed as we ponder the glory of His work in our lives, hear Him proclaim to your heart today to not be afraid. Jesus wants to give you the good things you are experiencing. It’s not a mistake or just a coincidence: His blessings are good and true, and always from Him.

Lord, thank You for Your Resurrection and for all the little resurrections you grace us with here on earth. We praise You with awe and joy. Amen.

Empty Nets

So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
—John 21:3–7

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Appearance_on_Lake_Tiberias_-_adjustedThe disciples do not recognize Jesus until after they bring in a full net of fish and they realize He has performed a miracle before their eyes. Often we do not recognize Jesus working in our own lives until we see the fruits of His presence. When we accomplish things we know we could never have done on our own, when we grow through a difficult experience and become stronger because of it, when we become aware of our own unique gifts, we sense Jesus’s presence more clearly.

Without Jesus, we will just keep on pulling up empty nets. Only through Him can we find nourishment—no matter how hard we labor to find fulfillment, our efforts will be fruitless. And just because we don’t see Jesus in our lives doesn’t mean He isn’t there—sometimes we just don’t notice Him until we feel the weight of a heavy net and realize Who is behind it. While we wait in hunger for that moment, we can call out for help and keep on trying until He steps in. When He does, how will we respond? When we can pinpoint where Jesus is on the shore, watching and providing for us, will we follow Peter’s example? Will we immediately jump into the sea? Will we trust Him to lead us through the unknown? Will we seek closeness with Him above all else, taking the leap instead of staying warm and dry in the boat?

The Easter season is a time to experience the abundance that the Lord wants to provide for us, to accept His gifts with open hands and to step out and follow Him—beyond our comfort zones, beyond our own limited imaginations, beyond the material attachments that hold us back. He’s asking us to take the leap and let Him take control.

The Lord asks us to set out for him. He asks us to become fishers for him. He asks us to trust him and act according to the guidance of his Word….But then something remarkable happens. When the disciples return Jesus does not need their fish. He has already prepared breakfast, and now invites the disciples to eat it; he is the host who provides them with food. The gift is mysterious but nevertheless not hard to decipher. The bread is he himself: I am the bread of life. He is the grain of wheat that dies and now bears fruit a hundredfold and is abundant for everyone until the end of time….Only love can bring about the true multiplication of bread. Material gifts, what is quantitative, always diminish through being divided. Love however increases the more it gives itself. Jesus is the bread, and he is also the fish that for our sake has gone down into the water of death to look for us there and to find us. This is the lesson on the breakfast to which Jesus invites his own on the borderline of time and eternity, the Eucharist. Come and eat, he says to us and thus enables us already to cross the boundary of time and death.
—Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)


Image: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance on Lake Tiberius / PD-US

P.S. Unrelated side note: It’s been a good week for full nets at two of my favorite Catholic universities 😏

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😎