What Kind of God

Recently it seemed that a wish was about to come true. It was the wish that I made the last three years while blowing out birthday candles. The wish that I had been working tirelessly for and praying for on a daily basis. I worked feverishly to prepare, past the point of pain, and then on the promised day enlisted all my friends and family to pray as well.   I was confident that God had heard my prayer, sure that it was all finally going to work out as I had hoped.

It did not.

The disappointment was crushing. At first I could only laugh at the horror of it all. But fatigue and frustration fed my feelings which quickly turned black and melodramatic. Not only was there no light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel itself had fallen in, and an entirely new tunnel would have to be built.

The Opposition Voice began to whisper words of doubt and discouragement. “Surely if God were good, He would have heard and answered your prayer…”

I have at times in my life felt a supernatural joy, disproportionate to the circumstances, from a source that had to be More than human. This was the opposite. For just a few moments, my heart felt burdened with an inhuman aching; the pain of promises broken and dreams dashed and all the failed expectations of all my friends and family and those I don’t even know seemed to take over. Miscarriages. Broken marriages. Failed operations. Caskets lowered into the ground. Unanswered prayers of every kind. “What kind of a God do you believe in?” the voice taunted.

The devil always overplays his hand. In his very taunt he offered me the antidote: I believe in a God who is good.

I don’t know how God will bring good into or out of all of these situations. But I know He is good.

This trust in the goodness of God: the virtues of faith and hope—these are the weapons of life in the desert.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be rejecting not only the Syrophoenician woman’s request for the healing of her daughter, but the woman herself. “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Yikes!

But despite the apparent harshness of Jesus’ rebuke, the woman persists, and cleverly turns around this unflattering epithet: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Scripture scholar Mary Healy notes that not only is this Gentile woman filled with chutzpa in her persistence, but she is the only person in all of Mark’s Gospel who addresses Jesus as Lord. This remarkable recognition of Jesus’ sovereignty comes not from an Israelite, but from a foreigner. She pays Him homage, falling at his feet, and in her reply expresses confidence that His goodness will include Gentiles as well.

Her faith and her persistence move Jesus to grant her request. Her daughter is healed.

The Syrophoenician woman turns out to be a model of Christian faith…She refused to take no for an answer—and her boldness is rewarded. The clear lesson in this story is that the Lord does hear our prayers, and even his apparent refusals are meant to awaken in us a yet deeper faith, which opens us to receive the gift he has for us. Few sayings of Jesus are recorded more often than his reassurance that what we ask in prayer with faith we will receive. –Dr. Mary Healy

Lord, grant us the grace to trust always in Your goodness, even when we cannot see your plan.

Michael_Angelo_Immenraet_-_Jesus_and_the_Woman_of_Canaan

Source: Healy, Mary.  The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 2008) pp. 143-145.

Image: Michael Angelo Immenraet [Public domain]

Overcome

“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.” -2 Timothy 1:10

You will not be overcome.

Jesus is the Master of our hearts, and He has won the victory over sin and death. It was impossible for our Savior to be held by the bonds of evil (Acts 2:24).

This reality changes everything for us if we let it. If we dare to live fully in the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, we will be set free—not to live recklessly, but to live with radical trust and surrender to the will of God at each moment of our lives.

It’s one of the hardest things to surrender with joy to God when we’re faced with a situation that makes no sense or one that absolutely wrecks us. It can be tempting to fall into thinking that somehow we will be overcome. It can be tempting to grasp at control.

In those moments, God whispers to us, “Wait and trust.” He calls us to stick right there with Him, to keep our eyes locked on His and to let Him guide each step of the way. We can stay so close to our Lord, trusting that He will lead us in every moment, never failing us.

We are His children, and He grabs us by the hand to guide our steps, like a parent helping a child learn how to walk. He won’t let go of you.

You belong to God, and this means that His victory over all evil is your victory, too. He won’t let any amount of evil ever win in the end.

You are so loved. Sometimes, we just need to take a breath and receive that simple yet profound reminder: you are so loved by God. And you will certainly not be overcome. Let this settle into your heart.

Amen, hallelujah!

“In darkness, at times of tribulation and distress of the spirit, Jesus is with you. In such a state you see nothing but darkness, but I can assure you on God’s behalf that the light of the Lord is all around you and pervades your spirit…You see yourself forsaken and I assure you that Jesus is holding you tighter than ever to His divine Heart.” -St. Padre Pio

A worship song recommendation for this theme is “Overcome” by Sarah Kroger!

He Knows Your Heart

“The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12

Your heart is known.

Each and every part of your heart is known by our Lord, even the parts no one else knows about, the parts that carry our deepest desires and our deepest scars. And to be known by God is to be tenderly, intimately loved by God. There is nothing to be afraid of in Him knowing all of us, because He loves us totally and completely.

God knows our hearts and loves our hearts. He desires to so badly pour His love into every nook, cranny, and crevice of our hearts. The Lord waits for you in each moment to fill your soul to overflowing with His dazzling peace, with His wondrous light that shatters all darkness.

Sometimes we can find ourselves crying out to God with questions of, “why?”, “how?”, or “when?”, especially when we are struggling. God always hears and answers these questions, but oftentimes with a “who.” In those moments of uncertainty and questioning and wrestling, God so tenderly answers by pointing us to Himself.

You see, the more we know who God is and who we are as His beloved sons and daughters, the easier it is to trust that He has got every single one of our whys, hows, and whens on His Heart, too, and that He’s already working on it before we can even utter a single word.

When He knows our hearts, He loves our hearts, and everything on our hearts has His complete and total attention. He is always working for our good, in every situation.

Let yourself be known by God, and receive the beautiful intimacy of who God is, for He is love.

Praying in the Name of Jesus

There are probably a lot of souls that have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers.

This was the thought that was said almost two years ago during a Frassati Bible study. We were studying the Gospel of John; somehow the conversation went from the topic of healing to the works of St. Augustine, which led to talking about St. Monica because it was her prayers that helped her son’s conversion, then we were talking about the intersession of our heavenly mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the end of that discussion someone said that there were probably a lot of souls which have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers. The entire discussion was led by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the paralytic man who gets up, picks up his mat, and miraculously walks to his home. It’s an incredible and powerful passage in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was growing; people had come to know about his preaching and healing. While he was at Peter’s house many went over to see Jesus. So many people went to see him that the house was full—there was no room for anyone else to enter. But there was this group of friends determined to see Jesus. You see, their friend was paralyzed and unable to move, but they fully believed Jesus could heal him. As there was no room for them to enter the house through the front door, they cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their friend into the room where Jesus was. Can you see the magnitude of their faith? Who knows the distance that they had already traveled while carrying their friend to get to the house? Then they get there, and instead of things being easy, it gets complicated. They are blocked from getting to Jesus, who, they know, can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to lose faith and to keep doing anything possible to get to Jesus. What other way is there to get in? People will not move out of the way, it’s too crowded. We must get him inside to Jesus. He will be able to heal him. You’ve heard of all the wonders and signs he’s done. Let’s get our friend in through the roof. Yes, let’s cut open the roof to get him inside. Yes, let’s do it for our friend, to get him to Jesus!

The paralytic man was healed because of the faith his friends had; he was healed because his friends prayed, believed, and carried him to Jesus Christ. Those are the types of friends we all need. Those are the types of friends we should all be. If your friend is spiritually paralyzed due to the sins in their life, sin that is stopping them from walking on their own towards Jesus—help them. You can be that light that guides them. You can set a good example of how to live a virtuous Christian life. You can pray for them. A prayer is a conversation that your soul has with God.

Prayer, in itself, and the importance of praying for others have taken a very important part in my life. We cannot be like the people in the first reading who thought God wasn’t with them to fight in battle at their side. God is always with us helping us to fight our battles. Wether those battles be spiritual brokenness or physical illness, God is always by our side. When his children cry out, He listens. And I believe He takes delight in listening to the prayers of His children, especially those prayers (that act of love!) where we put our own needs aside and pray for the needs of others; when we pray for someone else to be healed and for them to encounter God’s love. Praying in the name of Jesus is powerful! He commanded the twelve apostles (and in turn commanded us) to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). God has freely given us these gifts to heal through prayer in His name and, we should freely give these gifts to others—so they may come to know Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, after the paralytic’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus heals his soul and his body. The forgiveness of sins heals both the spiritual and the physical. After this miraculous healing the paralytic gets up and walks home—not just to any home, but he takes his first steps of healing amongst those who followed and believed in Jesus, he takes his first steps to walk home into the Church.

Let us give thanks to our devoted grandmothers (or anyone else!) whose prayers brought us to the Church and kept our faith alive. In turn, let us pray for our friends and relatives so they may be healed, in the name of Jesus, and so they may get up and walk home into the Church.

Image Credit: James Tissot (French, 1836–1902) The Palsied Man Let Down Through The Roof, 1886–1896 [Brooklynmuseum.org]

The Rock

Last Christmas a very generous friend gifted me a Know-It-All watch. It knows when I am sleeping, and how well. It knows when I am sitting—and buzzes “Move!” when I do so for too long. It knows my heart rate and will buzz frantically “Abnormal…!”—often during particularly still moments such as the Consecration—assuring that said heart rate will quickly climb even higher.

I keep this omniscient tyrant for two reasons: one is that it alerts me to calls, which is helpful because I frequently forget where I’ve left my phone. The other is that it tracks my steps, motivating me at least in theory to take more of them.

One morning this past spring I was traveling with some friends from college, and we were planning to enjoy a leisurely brunch before heading our separate ways. I decided to take advantage of the hotel treadmill and get my steps in early. I was pleased that by the time we sat down to brunch, I was just 50 steps short of 10,000.

It was worth it. The food was delicious and it was a delight to just relax and enjoy extended conversation. But suddenly, mid-sentence, I felt the familiar bossy buzz and looked down at my watch to see the fireworks going off, signaling that my steps goal had been reached. I was amused and bewildered. How could this be, since I had been sitting for the entire time?

“It’s because you’re Italian,” my friends laughed. “You talk with your hands….”

Today’s Gospel is about speaking with more than words. It is in fact our actions that speak to God most clearly. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ‘will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven,” Jesus tells His disciples.

Faith is something that we profess not with our mouths but with our lives. By our actions, we build our house on either rock or sand.

At the same time, faith is knowing that it is not by my own strength or power that I do good. Rather, God has made me good and empowers me to choose the good. We are free to say no to what would hinder His will, knowing that it would also hinder our happiness.

Recently I read an article with the rather bizarre assertion that Mary and Jesus could have been just as happy and holy had they told God, “No.”

The author was trying to make a case for the primacy of consent. That at the Annunciation, Our Lady had the freedom to say Yes or No to God’s proposal. This is true: Our Lady was not forced to bear the Son of God. She was invited to be the spouse of the Spirit, the Mother of the Son, but she could have said No. All heaven awaited her answer.

Any man who proposes knows the intensity of such a moment, of held breath, awaiting a reply. No lover worthy of the name would make it a matter of force. She must always have the power to choose.

And yet, with the power to choose comes the power to choose tragically. Mary could have said No. But it would indeed have been a tragedy. Nothing else she could have chosen would ever approximate what God had in store for her. Her empty autonomy could not have been on par with being the mother of the Savior of the world.

Mary, full of the love of God, trusted the goodness of God. She knew He could not and would not propose something that was not good. She knew that whatever He does through us, He also does for us. She was free to respond fully and joyfully, and she did.

We also build our actions on the rock of Christ when we trust His promises, when we choose to say Yes to something (Someone) greater than ourselves. If instead we choose to trust in human ideas, in human strength, in human plans, then we find we have built on sand.

 

Gratitude a Platitude?

I smiled politely but inwardly rolled my eyes and sighed. I had come far, driving for several hours across state lines for this conversation. I was searching for peace, the peace that I heard Jesus promise and holy people speak of, but that was elusive in my own life. I was experiencing darkness and angst, teetering on the edge of depression. I thought this holy priest would offer helpful advice, transformative insight, something beyond: “Try keeping a journal of things you are grateful for.”

Gratitude?!? It was vaguely offensive, this suggestion that my problems arose because I was ungrateful. And a Gratitude Journal seemed little better than a “self-help” suggestion. Surely, if self-help propaganda actually worked, it wouldn’t be an ongoing industry.

I roll my eyes harder, today, at the naïve and stubborn girl I was then. Because when I finally took this priest’s advice, years later, it was transformative.

He was right, of course, that gratitude brought with it an increase in happiness and tranquility. Science in fact confirms this: studies repeatedly show that those who practice gratitude are generally happier and healthier. But in the spiritual realm this truth runs much deeper. In recent years I have meditated often on this mystery of gratitude, and how in fact gratitude is at the heart of the spiritual life in ways that are not immediately apparent.

First, gratitude orients us toward God. Gratitude as grace is more than an expression of contentedness, more than an acknowledgement of the good things in our lives. It is a recognition of, a turning towards, the Giver of these gifts. It is not coincidence that the first prayer children learn to pray is the practice of gratitude, of receiving and responding to the goodness of God. Gratitude is the first expression of the faith that saves us.

When in today’s Gospel Jesus remarks with dismay that only one of the ten lepers He healed has come back to thank Him, it is tempting to read this as a scolding for a breach of etiquette, as though Jesus were little more than a divine first-century Miss Manners. But what Jesus is lamenting is a matter of relationship. We are called as Christians not just to be thankful for someTHING, but thankful to someONE. Gratitude turns the heart toward the Giver. It is the relationship, this coming to the Giver, that saves.

Second, gratitude increases our capacity for God’s gifts. Gratitude in turn unlocks other blessings. It is a mystery of faith that I have come to recognize experientially: our gratitude actually increases the gifts of God.

At first I was put off (again!) by this idea. It seemed to be just another quid pro quo, a means of “earning” grace by playing nice and saying the right things. Worse, it seemed to demean God, suggesting He was crankily waiting for us to respond properly before giving us more good things.

It was living in the country that I began to understand why this might be—why it was more than just spiritual tit for tat, a reward for good behavior. I had discovered early upon my move home on that our basement was vulnerable to floods, and when that spring brought prolonged record rainfall I feared the worst. But each day that I checked, the basement remained dry. It was only after weeks of dry and drought that a short burst of rain sent the water rushing in.

The reason is simple: when ground is dry it becomes hardened, and the water cannot penetrate quickly enough and so runs off the surface of it creating the flooding. But as the earth receives water, it softens, allowing it to receive more and more. Similarly, the more our hearts are open to God and His gifts, the more He can give to us without “drowning” us. The more we gratefully receive, the more we are capable of receiving what God gives us.

Finally, gratitude keeps present in our hearts and minds the goodness of the Giver. As we remember our blessings and the ways in which God has provided for our past, we carry the seeds of hope for our future, even in seasons of scarcity and suffering.

“For all that has been, Thanks. To all that shall be, Yes.”– Dag Hammarskjöld

Mary always wins.

“The rosary is a long chain that links heaven and earth.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

Mary is with us. The rosary is a powerful, powerful weapon against the attacks of the evil one.

I love Our Lady and I love my rosary, because my grandpa made it for me when I received my First Communion. I carry it with me everywhere–it sits out wherever I’m with my youth ministry teens, I hold it when I’m giving a talk or leading worship, I have it by my laptop when I have a grad assignment to do, and it sits by my pillow every single night. It’s a constant reminder of Mary’s protection and just how much I need her Son.

Though I will admit I’m not the best at praying it as often as I should, just having my rosary there is like having Mom with me. Holding the rosary is like holding the hand of Mary, and she always leads us to Jesus.

I feel like sometimes the devil tries to distort the rosary to seem monotonous or boring because he’s afraid of just how powerful a weapon it is. In difficult moments, or moments where I feel lost, I notice myself instinctively grabbing my rosary to pray, and there is always peace. When we find ourselves too weak to call out to Jesus, Mary does it for us, with so much love in her heart.

Mary is our fierce warrior Queen, fighting for us because she wants more than anything for us to know the love of her Son and to be with Him in Heaven forever. We put her Son on the Cross, and she chooses us anyway because He chooses us.

Over the summer, I heard a story of a priest who is an exorcist. While he was praying to cast out a demon, he noticed that the demon got agitated every time he called for the intercession of Mary. When the priest asked the demon why this was, it responded, “Because Mary always wins.”

Amen, friends. Mary always wins. And as St. Maximilian Kolbe said, we don’t have to be afraid of loving her too much, because we will never be able to love her more than Jesus.

Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, friends! Let’s ask for Mary’s intercession today to help us find Jesus in whatever we need.

For a beautiful reflection on Mary’s motherhood, check out this song.