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.

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!

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

The Scent of Unseen Roses

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis

The world is our ship, and not our home. Surely you have felt it: in the good desires that do not satisfy, even when they are fulfilled, in the deep stirrings of your heart when faced with the numinosity of true beauty, or in the grief of being parted from loved ones as they pass from this world, emptying us with “the loss and the silence.” We are haunted by “the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of ‘melodies unheard’” (MacDonald) that come from a home we were made for but have never truly seen. As Lewis says, “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”

Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints—those pilgrims who have made that journey home and now see God face to face, as he is. Now, they know: the echo has swelled into the song of praise we hear in today’s first reading, and they are part of the greatest music there is. We remember all of our patron saints, from Our Lady and St. Joseph to the well-beloved St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, and so many others. As C.S. Lewis says, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints!” There are great scholars and teachers, heroic priests and religious, selfless parents and friends, holy mystics and martyrs, little children, steadfast souls who helped the poorest of the poor—and ordinary people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. What they all had in common was the longing to see the face of God, “to press on to that other country, and to help others do the same” (Lewis).

Though we can hear the echo of that song, are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, and even receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are not home yet—we are here in the valley of tears, in the state of the “not yet,” pressing on to that other country as best we can. How can we respond to this inner tug, this state of anticipation? What will our song be? Tempted at times by despair and presumption, we must turn to the virtue of hope. Generally speaking, “in hope, man reaches ‘with restless heart’, with confidence and expectation… toward the arduous ‘not yet’ of fulfillment” (Pieper). As St. Augustine describes it, “God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.”

This kind of hope, the hope of heaven, is a theological virtue, along with faith and love. It is “the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself” (Pieper). Hope depends on a person: Christ. As trust extended into the future, it is much deeper than natural optimism; it is an act of the will. Hope is a fighting virtue that inspires one to keep stepping forward even when all seems dark—and the saints did take these steps, as they journeyed through any and every kind of persecution, loneliness, and grief, through God’s grace. When faced with the problem of pain, “in sorrow [they went], but not in despair” (Tolkien). For, just as Christ describes in the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel, “we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory… Estel, Estel!” (Tolkien). Hope, hope!

We must hope, and “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting” as we press on towards Christ. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.” Hope helps lead one from an imperfect love of God—desiring him only for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones—to the perfect love of friendship, caritas—affirming God for his own sake. This kind of love, another theological virtue, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is the kind of love we see in the saints, especially in Our Lady, who believed what was spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled, bore the son of God in her womb, endured the death of her son for the sins of the world, hoped against hope for Christ’s resurrection, and longs to lead us home to her son, interceding for us from heaven. Who knows how many “unseen roses” come from the loving intercession of Our Lady!

All of the saints intercede for us in this way, loving us as we stumble forward. We are not alone in running this race; they have valiantly kept the faith and now help us on our way. So, let us take courage, run in their footsteps, come out of ourselves, and draw others after us! Let us persevere in hope that our faith will yield to sight, and our hope will yield to possession after a lifetime of self-surrender. That, as we behold the face of Love, all will be well, and all of our questions will die away as the echo swells into the sound itself and we join in the glorious praise of God by those living in their own country—not as wayfarers, but as children home at last. The term will be over, and the holidays will have begun. The dream will be over, and it will be the morning, on the first page of the most beautiful story that never ends, and “in which every chapter is greater than the one before” (Lewis). At last, we will never doubt again, and there will never be a need.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Letters
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien
Josef Pieper, On Hope
St. Augustine, Sermon 256, 1.3.4.
Fr. Mike Schmitz: Homesick, The Fighting Virtue, Kingdom Come

Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry

Today is the feast of St. Padre Pio. He was an extraordinary priest who took on great sufferings for souls. He spent hours upon hours of his life hearing confessions, because his desire for everyone to know the love and mercy of Christ in a tangible way was so great.

St. Padre Pio was known for saying this simple phrase to anyone who came to him with a troubled heart: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” He then went on to say, “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer. Have courage and do not fear the assaults of the devil.”

There is great depth to be unpacked here. Within these straightforward words, St. Pio gives us a road map of trust and surrender, all pointing the way to Christ.

Pray. Prayer is our relationship with God. If we’re not praying, we are failing. Prayer is where we get to come before God with our whole hearts laid bare, sin and all, and be in communion with Him. Prayer is the open space of resting with God, speaking to Him what is on our hearts, and listening to the word He desires to speak to us. Prayer is the first step to surrender.

Hope. One of my best friends always says, “Steer into hope.” We need this theological virtue of hope to infuse our lives, because God is trustworthy, and God will never abandon us. St. Paul writes, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). There is always, always, always hope. We may not see the way, but we can hope. No matter how bad things get, there is the hope of God always being with us. His light shatters all darkness.  He so desires your good.

Don’t worry. Worry can be such a slippery slope. There is so much in life that is worrisome; we certainly all experience it. Worry leads to despair, doubt, and discouragement. Worry robs us of our peace. Worry suffocates us, growing into a dull hum in our hearts that tells us God is not here, or that God cannot overcome whatever situation we find ourselves in. Worry breeds lies. Jesus commanded us to not worry in Scripture several times, and St. Pio reminds us of His words—don’t worry. God is here. God is greater. You will not be overcome.

Let’s join together and pray, hope, and refuse to worry. Surrender and trust is not easy, but it sure is liberating. It allows us to let go and allow God into everything. He’s not worried. Big problem or small fear, He’s got us, in every single way.

**If you need an anthem for letting go of worry, I recommend this song by Housefires. The bridge says, “God’s not worried, so why should I worry?”

A Posture of Humility

This week, I helped facilitate the confession line for a group of middle schoolers. Many were nervous; several had not gone to confession in years. I tried to help settle their nerves and calm their fears before going in, assuring them of God’s great mercy and that there was nothing to be scared about. A few children inspired me with their eagerness to enter the confessional—one who hadn’t been in six years, as well as one who had just gone last week. They didn’t allow any apprehensions to hold them back from receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness. They simply went forward with a sincere trust that by humbling themselves before God, they would experience grace. And what inspired me the most was that all these kids, even the ones who were most nervous, came out of the confessional beaming with joy and relief.

Kneeling in the shadows of the confessional, coming face to face with the reality of our sin and articulating it aloud—this is not something that demeans or diminishes us. Rather, it ennobles us, for it unites us more closely with our Creator as part of His Divine Body. By kneeling down and making ourselves small, we become part of a greater whole. Yet many of us hesitate to take this posture of humility. Sometimes a sense of perfectionism holds us back from admitting our mistakes, even to ourselves. But this sort of perfectionism is ultimately rooted in fear—that our faults will make others think less of us, or that God will be disappointed in us (as if He doesn’t already know all that we’ve done!). So instead of confessing our sins, we live in denial of their existence—and then we never receive the graces that will help us overcome them. We never come to understand that our goodness does not come from ourselves, but from the God who loves us so much that He laid down His life to redeem us in our sinfulness.

Jesus Himself has taken the ultimate postures of humility: on the Cross, with His arms spread open in surrender; and in the Eucharist, where He comes to us as Bread and Wine, food for us to consume. Through these gestures of love, He offers Himself as a gift to us. His arms are open wide to receive us; His Flesh nourishes and strengthens our souls. He offers His Body, broken and crushed, to heal us of our own brokenness:

For my Flesh is true food,
and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
—John 6:55–56

This week I also mourned the passing of John Aroutiounian, with whom I co-taught a Confirmation class three years ago. I was so moved by his eulogy, which reflects on the mystery of redemptive suffering and illustrates the fullness and meaning of his short life. John was very intelligent, had multiple prestigious degrees, and likely would have gone on to have a remarkable career. Yet when presented with a more humble calling—to suffer deeply, to physically waste away, to witness to the strength of the human spirit and the dignity of life even amidst great affliction, and to lay down his life at just 26 years old—he did not hesitate to embrace this cross. During his life, John fought to defend the dignity of every human life—even our enemies, even those who are inconvenient to us. He was a pro-life advocate and volunteered as a suicide hotline counselor. He believed at his core that life, every life, was worth living, and that each human soul has incalculable, eternal worth. He gave no greater witness to this conviction than through his own suffering and death.

We all have a natural desire to protect and shelter ourselves and our loved ones against suffering. However, it is through those painful experiences that we encounter the true meaning of our existence. Only when brought to our knees by suffering do we realize how deeply we must depend on God. A happy, complacent life can cause us to forget that, in the words of St. Thérèse, this world is our ship, not our home. We are meant for something greater; our deepest desires will not find fulfillment in this world but point us to the fulfillment that awaits us in heaven. And the path to heaven is through the Cross, following in the footsteps of our Redeemer.

Indeed, the fear of suffering can be worse than actual suffering. For when God allows us to suffer, He provides the graces in that moment to bear crosses we never thought we could carry, as long as we surrender to Him, acknowledge our own weakness, and trust that He will use every second of our pain for His divine purpose. Only by lowering ourselves into the depths of our humanity can we be raised into the divine Light. If we accept our crosses with a posture of humility, our suffering will surely bear fruit.

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.