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

He Sustains All Things

“In these last days, he spoke to us through the Son,     
whom he made heir of all things 
and through whom he created the universe,

who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.” -Hebrews 1:2-3

Happy chilly and wintry Monday, friends! To be honest, I had a whole post prepared about following Jesus based on today’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20), but the Holy Spirit shook things up a bit. So here we are.

One of my favorite prayers is the Litany of Trust, written by the Sisters of Life. It really gets to the heart of the human struggle against the lies the devil tries to tear us down with. One of the lines from the prayer is:

“That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me…Jesus, I trust in You.”

He sustains all things. He is faithful in all things.

Brothers and sisters, He sustains you.

Yes, you.

He never stops.

It’s one of the hardest things, isn’t it sometimes? To be dependent on God and to let Him truly sustain us? We live in a world of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and control. “I’ve got this.” “I can handle this on my own.” “I don’t need anyone.” “I can only trust in myself.”

Any disposition of heart we have towards the world/our jobs/other people absolutely affects our relationship with God. So when we fight His sustaining power? Ouch. Our hearts are blocked; full, vulnerable reliance on God is severed. We hurt ourselves and separate ourselves from the One who desperately longs to hold us.

Have you ever seen a child who’s throwing a tantrum kicking and pounding their mother or father as they pick them up off the floor? But what do the parents do? They hold them anyway; eventually the kicking and screaming subsides, and they are comforted by their parent’s embrace.

This is how I imagine Jesus with us as He’s sustaining us. He loves us too much to leave us there. He will pick us up, even as we fight Him in our thinking we know better than He does, and He will hold us until the storm passes.

Jesus will keep holding you as you learn to allow yourself to lean into His embrace and be sustained by His love. He won’t stop His love for you.

I know this isn’t easy. This is a struggle for me, too. Vulnerability is never comfortable, acknowledging that we need help is hard, and relying on Jesus over yourself is a risk that requires a leap of faith.

Letting Him sustain us, truly sustain us in every way, means that we have to let Him into the darkest and most hidden places of our hearts. We have to allow Him to soften our hearts and go to the depths so He can heal, free, and redeem. This is an endeavor worth taking. We are so safe in His arms. Jesus is the “refulgence” (the brilliance, the splendor, the shining light) of God’s glory. Darkness flees in the presence of Jesus.

Let’s go there with Him. Jesus, break through. My prayers are with you.

P.S. This song speaks to the journey of letting Jesus sustain us.

What Are You Looking For?

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher),
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
—John 1:35–39

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feast we celebrate today, lived a busy life as a wife and mother of five in New York City. She was an upper-class socialite who entertained George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in her home, and her family had deep roots in the Episcopalian church. At the time of her birth in 1774, Catholicism was outlawed in New York City; by the time she was ten years old, the ban was lifted, but Catholics were still looked down upon by wealthy Protestant families such as Elizabeth’s. The modest wooden Catholic church, St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, was the home of lower-class immigrants; Trinity Episcopal Church, on the other hand, was a refined, elegant place for peaceful reflection among the social elite. Elizabeth’s sister once commented, “Let me be anything in the world but a Roman Catholic,” and saw Catholics as “dirty, filthy, ragged, the church a horrid place of spits and pushing.”

None of Elizabeth’s friends or family could have predicted her conversion to Catholicism. It was unthinkable, that she would lower herself to the depths of society, forgoing “civilized” worship to join a disorderly congregation with baffling beliefs. Serving the poor was one thing; joining them was another.

But Elizabeth had experienced Jesus calling her to His Church in a way she could not deny or explain away. While in Italy, mourning the death of her husband, she witnessed the beauty of the Catholic faith. She encountered the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and fell to her knees before the monstrance in utter surrender to God. She had met Jesus in His Church, and after that there was no turning back. Even though her friends and family were shocked and bewildered by her decision, she sacrificed her reputation to enter the Catholic Church and receive Jesus in the sacraments. She so desired this greater intimacy with Jesus that everything else in her life seemed trivial in comparison.

Just as Jesus invited the disciples to follow Him, just as He invited St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, so He invites each of us in our own lives to follow wherever He leads. The above passage from today’s Gospel should not seem distant or foreign to us; Jesus is pursuing us in the same way. He interrupts our daily routines and asks, “What are you looking for?” What are we pursuing? Is it wealth or social prestige? Is it comfort and security? Or do we seek something deeper and more substantial, something that written on our hearts from the very first moment of our existence? Jesus beckons us, “Come, and you will see.”

At last God is mine and I am his….The awful impressions of the evening before, fears of not having done all to prepare [for my first Holy Communion], and yet even then transports of confidence and hope in his goodness.

My God….the fearful beating heart…the long walk to town, but every step counted nearer that street then nearer that tabernacle, then nearer the moment he would enter the poor, poor little dwelling so all his own—and when he did the first thought I remember, was, “let God arise, let his enemies be scattered,” for it seemed to me my King had come to take his throne, and instead of the humble tender welcome I had expected to give him, it was but a triumph of joy and gladness that the deliverer was come, and my defense and shield and strength and salvation made mine for this world and the next….

Now then all the excesses of my heart found their play and it danced with more fervor….Truly I feel all the powers of my soul held fast by him who came with so much Majesty to take possession of this little poor Kingdom….

My God is here, he sees me, every sigh and desire is before him.

—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Holy Innocents

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

—Matthew 2:13–18

As Joseph and Mary anticipated Jesus’s arrival, surely they had some idea that they should expect the unexpected when it came to parenting the Son of God. After all, they had already received one giant surprise and had chosen to trust in God’s plan. Still, I don’t think they could have guessed this next curveball in their journey. After traveling to Bethlehem and delivering the child Jesus in a stable, Mary and Joseph were now asked to leave behind everything and everyone they knew, fleeing the country to protect their newborn son from being hunted by King Herod.

It is a testament to his unshakeable trust in God that Joseph responded to the angel’s warning without hesitation, picking up and leaving for Egypt immediately. After all, it was a big sacrifice to make for a message that had arrived in a dream. How did he know that this was truly God’s will for him and not some crazy manifestation of his own subconscious? Only by being so familiar with God’s voice through daily prayer was Joseph able to discern with clarity that this was a message he should heed. And he did so without wringing his hands wondering where they would stay, how they would get by in a foreign land, and why such senseless bloodshed must ensue at the hands of Herod. He dropped everything, including his own plans, to follow God’s call.

God gives grace for the situation, not for the imagination. The only way that Joseph and Mary were able to follow God so resolutely was by continually seeking His will in the present moment. They didn’t become distracted by worries and plans for the future; surely they had hopes and fears of what might lay ahead, but they placed it all in God’s hands and trusted that He would direct their steps.

Herod, on the other hand, was driven entirely by his own wild fears and self-serving plans. Filled with fear and insecurity upon hearing of the birth of this newborn king, he lashed out with merciless brutality and ordered the massacre of innocent children. But even this act of violence did not achieve its intended end, for the Holy Family had already escaped into Egypt.

Herod’s inflated ego numbed his conscience and skewed his perception of justice; he was willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary to preserve his own power, even innocent lives. Herod grasped for control when he perceived a threat to his power, but God was always in control of the situation. The newborn king would die at the appointed time and place, not through Herod’s feverish display of power and cruelty.

We are not in control, and that is a marvelous thing. Let us embrace the unknown path that lies ahead, knowing that we have a good and loving God who will lead us every step of the way. When unexpected situations arrive, may we trust that God will provide us the grace we need in the moment. And may we always be willing to speak up for the innocent and vulnerable, who are so often trampled upon and exploited by those in power.

Hierophanies

Back in my undergraduate career, I took a fascinating class on Religious Studies. Coming from a small-ish town in Minnesota, I had a yearning to hear about the world and how people lived; my upbringing was about as homogeneous as it gets (unless you count the occasional interdenominational Christian marriage as “diversity”), so I wanted to soak it all in; I ended up majoring in Global Studies and Spanish, after all.

After I had knocked out my homework for my required classes, it was almost something of a treat to dive into the study of spirituality and find common threads and distinguishing characteristics of various religious experiences around the world.

Surprising (or possibly, unsurprisingly, if you’re familiar with the academic world), this class came with a dense vocabulary book; terms invented or repurposed to define the through lines between different expressions of spirituality. Until today, one term in particular has stuck in a way that others haven’t: Hierophany.

A hierophany, simply put, is a bursting through of the divine or the spiritual into humanity. It is a melding of the “sacred” with the “profane,” or at least an interaction between the two. Some traditions are rife with them; it is not at all uncommon for some peoples’ gods to manifest in regular, frequent ways.

Now in Advent, I’m drawn to reflect on this theme within my own beliefs: What constitutes a hierophany in Catholicism? Where does God burst through into our very human existence? How does Jesus Christ meet us?

In some ways, I would almost argue that the term doesn’t even apply; if you believe that God is ever-present, is he really ever breaking through any kind of divide between the “sacred” and “profane”? If the God-Man came to Earth as a human infant, can anything human truly be called profane?

But let’s flip the script. Can anything be more accurately described as a bursting through of the divine than the incarnation? What about the Eucharist? While it’s true that God is always with us, that His Spirit dwells within us, we also profess a unique faith in the Sacraments. The Sacraments reflect God’s understanding of the very human desire for a tangible, material experience of the divine.

Sisters and brothers, GOD CARES FOR US. Even the imperfect parts of us that cannot believe without seeing! He gives us real matter, things that we perceive with our five senses. St. Thomas Aquinas is famous for his view that our physical perception of the world around us was an essential to experience and learn more about God.

If this is true, how good it is that God gave us His Son, who became man! How wonderful it is that Jesus gave us the Sacraments!

Last week, I discussed the “Three Advents”: The birth of Jesus Christ, his Second Coming, and Christ coming into our lives every day. The first two move us greatly. What inspires greater celebration than Christmas? And what inspires greater fear and awe than the Second Coming?

But how deeply are we affect by the Third Advent, where Jesus Christ bursts forth into our lives every day. He is present in Spirit, in Scripture, and in the Sacraments. Let us rest in His Spirit, soak in the Scripture, and avail ourselves of the Sacraments. As we reflect on his birth during the Advent season, may we also reflect on the ways he visits us every day.

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.”

At Midnight, in Bethlehem, in Piercing Cold

Today begins the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, also called the Christmas Anticipation Prayer. I first heard about this tradition a few years ago, and it’s a really beautiful prayer:

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.

Traditionally, this prayer is recited fifteen times a day, beginning on November 30, the Feast of St. Andrew, and finishing on Christmas Eve. It is a meditative prayer, helping us to place ourselves in Bethlehem and focus on the coming of the Christ child as we prepare for Christmas. Praying with this novena has given me a richer awareness of God throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. It helps me to connect my own present experiences and petitions with the miracle of the incarnation.

Last year, I created a lock screen for my phone with the novena prayer written on it, so that throughout the day, whenever I checked my phone, I would see the novena and be reminded to pray it. I’ll share it with you here, in case any of you need the same reminder!

IMG_0151.JPG

Wishing you all a blessed Advent!