We Belong to Each Other

They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
—Mark 2:3–5

Imagine how it felt for the paralyzed man to be so close to Jesus, and yet so far: within sight of the Healer, yet held back by the very impairments that needed healing, utterly helpless to bridge the gap.

In moments when we feel paralyzed and helpless, unable to fix things for ourselves, God does not want us to go it alone. He wants to heal us, and He seeks to work through the hearts of others in the process. He uses our frailties to bear greater fruit: not only in ourselves, but in others, too. We can only be healed if we are willing to admit our weakness and ask for help. We must allow ourselves to be lifted up, carried, and lowered into the arms of Jesus.

And when we lend a hand to help someone else, it is a privilege: to share in the sacred struggle of their suffering, to draw close to the fountain of grace and healing. God uses these moments of weakness to teach us to rely upon other people and knit us closer together as a community.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
—Mother Teresa

The Odor of Sin

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati loved the poor wholeheartedly. He went out into the slums of Turin to visit them each day; he did this not to assuage his conscience or to give them something from his material excess, but rather to receive them, to visit with them, to love them as God’s own children and to offer his whole self to them. He saw Jesus in each of their faces. Once, a friend asked Pier Giorgio how he could bear the odor of the poor, the dirt and filth of the slums. He replied, “Don’t forget that even if the house you visit is very dirty, there you may find Jesus. Remember always that it is to Jesus that you go: I see a special light that we do not have around the, sick, the poor, the unfortunate.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of Jesus healing a leper. I would imagine that this man was used to people recoiling in his presence, shrinking away from the fetid odor of his infection. He would have learned to lay low, to avoid other people so as not to feel the sting of their repulsion. But when he saw Jesus, he did not back away. Had he already sensed, in that first glance, that Jesus did not look at him the same way as everyone else? He lay prostrate before Jesus and begged for healing. If the people were horrified to see a leper approaching Jesus, imagine their disgust when Jesus responded by reaching out and touching this man. He was not deterred by the stench; no, He was in fact drawn toward this man, filled with nothing but love for him.

We know where our sores and infections lie within our souls, and more often than not we try to cover them up. We expect that Jesus will be disappointed by our faults and failures, and so we try and mask the odor of our guilt. But Jesus is not deterred by the stench of our sin, and He does not want only part of us. He wants all of us, warts and all, for He seeks to love us totally and completely. He bends down to greet us, looks us in the eye; all He needs is for us to affirm our trust in Him to fully heal us. Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.

Desert Places

“Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.” -Isaiah 35:6-7

My brother lives in Arizona, where they are currently enjoying the chilly winter temperature of 72°. A couple years ago, I went to visit him in June, when it gets to be a lovely 115°. One morning, we decided to go hiking in the beautiful desert mountains. We got up really early to beat the heat—well, to try to beat the heat, anyway.

As we were hiking, I kept saying that it didn’t feel that hot, even though it was. This was probably because my body associates heat with the sweaty, sticky humidity of New York summers.

It wasn’t until we got back to the car after our hike that I realized how thirsty I was. My throat was really dry, and I was definitely dehydrated.

Has your heart ever felt this way? Sometimes we go about our lives, thinking everything is fine, that we’ve got it, that we’re in control, and then we realize how much we are desperately aching for our Savior.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Or has your heart ever felt like the vast Arizona desert? Dry, cracked, parched, barren. Sometimes in seasons of desolation, pain, or mourning, we can feel like we are stuck in an endless desert. I’ve definitely had those moments of wondering when the drought would end and God would bring a long-awaited reprieve.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Jesus meets us in our desert places. He knows those seasons well. If you are feeling like you’re in a desert season right now, take heart. He is with you. And no matter how painful, lonely, or never-ending it seems, Jesus is bigger. And He is on the way.

There is a beautiful Japanese art form called kintsugi. The artist takes broken ceramics and puts them back together by filling the cracks and places where they broke with gold, turning the art into something even more strikingly marvelous.

kintsugi
Kintsugi art

When Jesus comes to fill in the cracks in our desert hearts, He does the same thing. He redeems our scars, wounds, and dry places by giving us the gift of His whole self and making our scars dazzle with His love.

Let Him fill you today, brothers and sisters.

Hope in the Darkness

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

Throughout this season of Advent, amid the cold and lingering darkness, we seek out light. We surround ourselves with flickering lights that gleam amidst the night, reminders of hope and beauty even in the darkest places. These lights help prepare our hearts to appreciate with awe and wonder the Light that was born out of darkness, in Bethlehem so long ago.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals two blind men who dared to believe that His powerful Light could permeate their deep, unending darkness. Even though they could not see Jesus, they knew that He was the Lord, for even when we cannot see the sunlight we can feel its rays upon us. They could sense, in Jesus’s presence, a sacredness that drew them in, so much so that they truly believed that He could heal them. By their faith in the impossible, their sight was restored.

Only with the light of faith can we see the world around us clearly. Without a sense of hope in God, we cannot understand our true purpose. Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when Mary was conceived without original sin. Out of the darkness of Eve came the luminous beauty of Mary, whose fiat made way for our redemption. Do we believe that God can open our eyes to see hope within the darkness? Do we trust that the Light will prevail, even when it seems hidden to us?

As the days grow shorter and shorter this Advent, may the candlelight enkindle within our hearts a hope that endures through the darkness.

Cluttered Hearts

“O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the LORD!” -Isaiah 2:5

Advent is upon us, and it seems like each year my heart cries out with more and more longing for the coming of our Savior.

Jesus, we need You.

We need You in our broken and hurting world full of darkness, sin, and deep, deep pain.

We need You to be the center of our families, our marriages, our friendships. We need You to heal our relationships with others.

We need You in our workplaces.

We need You in our bleeding Church; oh how we need You to make all things new and right. We need You to bind up our wounds, to bring mighty justice, to shine Your piercing light into the darkness of the appalling sin, shame, hiding, and cover-up, to direct our next steps and to guide us forward.

We need You in the messy parts of our hearts, the parts we are too ashamed to tell other people about, the parts You see and love us anyway.

We need You to uproot and cast out shame, fear, and distrust of Your goodness from our lives.

We need You in every inch of the world, in every part of our beings, in the deepest depths of our souls. Every minute, every hour, every second—we need You.

Dear brothers and sisters, Advent is a season full of hopeful expectation of God’s saving power. It’s a season of light shining forth in the darkness. As we light each new candle of the Advent wreath, may we allow that much more of the light of Christ to pierce our hearts and renew us.

The other day in prayer, I imagined Jesus knocking on the door of the home of my heart, like a guest that comes forty-five minutes before the party when you’re still cleaning and haven’t showered. I imagined myself panic-stricken, trying to shove certain things behind the couch. And there He stood before me, smiling, seeing right through my couch cushions to all the mess and sin that I tried to hide. Yet He responded with nothing but tenderness. His kindness leads to our conversion.

We need to let Jesus in before we feel ready. Sometimes we need Him to help point out where we need to grow, and sometimes we need the affirmation of knowing that He loves us just the same no matter what mess we have in our hearts. He takes us as we are. When we let our Savior in, prepared or not, He speaks to our cluttered and weary hearts, “You are good. You are seen. You are known. I love you fully, as you are.”

Unceasingly

“As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me!”
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.” (Luke 18:35-43)

Dear friends, I cannot tell you the number of times my prayers for certain intentions have dwindled over time because they’ve gone seemingly unanswered. I get disheartened, listen to that tiny voice of despair telling me to doubt God’s faithfulness, and don’t pray about it as much—and not out of surrender, but out of fear, out of feeling unworthy.

Mea culpa. Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.

The blind man in today’s Gospel was persistent in his cry for Jesus. He, a beggar, an outcast and someone seen as less-than, didn’t doubt that Jesus would hear and answer him because of who he was. Even when the crowd told him to be silent, they couldn’t stifle the outcry of his prayer.

When people tell us to give up, when the world screams that God isn’t good, we cannot cease our prayer. When we pray steadfastly, we allow the steadfast love of God to enter our hearts. We renew our trust in Him each time we cry out to Him. We proclaim how much we need a Savior.

In acknowledging Jesus as the “Son of David,” the blind man is declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord, that as the Son of David, He is the Messiah. This shows his great faith in who Jesus is.

Even though the man couldn’t see Jesus and the miracles He was working before his sight was restored, he had faith. He believed that Jesus is the Savior. When we can’t see what God is up to or when our prayers seem ignored, we can have faith that Jesus hasn’t left the picture. He never abandons us, and He always hears and answers our prayers.

One of my favorite worship songs, “The King of My Heart,” has a line that says, “You’re never going to let me down.” Has God ever let us down? Even in the darkest moments, no. Will God ever let us down? No, we can trust in His unending love. We can pray unceasingly, knowing that God is with us, fulfilling our every need.

Choosing Our Fire

Dear fellow pilgrims,

We had quite the…uh…blunt readings for today, huh? God was not mincing words for these readings. The first reading paints a brutal picture of how the rich people of the world will be “devoured” by their corroding gold and silver pieces, how they have “fattened their hearts for the day of the slaughter,” feeding on the luxuries of the world instead of service and living a life of humility. The second reading, straight from Jesus’ mouth, reminds us of the primacy of living for the promise of eternal life, even if it means sacrificing things that seem so crucial to our lives if they lead us to sin (e.g. “cutting off” hands and feet, which I am guessing our Lord is using as figurative examples).

What struck me from these readings is that both the righteous and the unrighteousness go through the flames, but this process means two completely different things for each of them: there is the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, being “salted with fire,” but there is also the punishing fire of Gehenna in eternity. We pick our own fire, is the prevailing—and soul-searching, eye-opening—theme of these verses.

Part of this purifying fire of sanctification on earth that we must go through is explained by the gruesome example of cutting off limbs, sacrificing them, if they “cause you to sin.” I think once we get past the gruesomeness of the example, we can see that this is alluding to how we sometimes have to make extreme decisions about our habits or aspects of daily life that seem so given and owed and normal to us, like the use of a hand (or a smartphone or tablet…), if they are clearly causing us to turn away from God over and over again. Because it is better for us to be without these things during the life in which we think we need them than be without eternal life because of the sins we harbored due to our own preference for convenience or pleasure or pick your poison reason.

I think the fire we all need to experience on earth is the fire that burns away all that is of this world, the way in which we evaluate ourselves and others, and begins to see an eternal perspective from God’s point of view. Because while we are here, our default setting is of the world, we need to let God purify us with the fire of His Love, we need to let us “salt us with fire” if we want to remain in Him when we pass away from this life. The short-sightedness of the rich man in the first reading is on full display when we think about the tombs of Egyptian kings and queens…who literally thought they were taking it all with them after they died! I think it’s a helpful exercise to think about our lives in this way…what are we accumulating in our tombs to truly bring with us on our way back home to the Father’s embrace? What does He want us to bring to Him?

When I ask God this question, I hear “bring me the parts you can’t fix.” Well…yeah, God, that’s pretty much all of them…but I do hold so much of what I need to change about myself in my own tight clutches that it never truly gets healed. What do you hear from God when you ask Him about what He wants us to give Him on our journey back home? What is the hand or foot you might need to sever to avoid future sin? What is the loss you are trying to avoid by not giving that over to God, what experience of “being maimed,” or without, in this life are you afraid of and valuing over eternal life? Go into the silent room in your heart and have a conversation with your Father about these things.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa