Death does not have the final word.

On this All Souls’ Day, we may find ourselves with a different perception of death this year. The weight of lost loved ones is always painful, but this year definitely hits deeper with the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to COVID-19, with the pain of not being able to have funerals in the spring, and with a greater awareness of our own mortality in all the pandemic has brought on. Life is short and sacred and so precious.

First, I will say this: it is *good* to mourn, to grieve, to cry. Even if you don’t have someone close to you that died of COVID-19, but you find yourself aching and sad about the immense loss, amen! That shows the love in our hearts for others, the Christlike love that we are supposed to reflect. It is *okay* to feel overwhelmed by death, especially during this time–how could we not? Jesus is very close to us, that is for sure. Let Him hold you, let Him love you, and hold onto Him for everything you need.

So how do we grapple with all of this, with this heavy burden that has just been so brutal and overwhelming? When we look to Jesus in this, what do we see?

I see our Lord who knows our pain better than we can understand, who made Himself weak to take on all our weaknesses and sin and pain. I see our Lord who when we cry, our tears become His tears. I see our Lord who wept over His friend Lazarus and who promises to wipe all our tears away. I see our Lord who is with us in our grief and sees us through: “Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23).

I see our Lord who redeems, who is not afraid of death, because He would not let Himself be held by it. I see our Lord who took all of our sin and suffering onto Himself, tortured and bloody on the Cross. I see our Lord who thought of each of us with intense longing and love as He died, choosing death so that death would never have to have the final word for us or for our loved ones: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6:8).

I see our Lord who makes all things new, who opened Heaven for us. I see our Lord who constantly draws us close to Himself. I see our Lord who wants to spend eternity with us in Heaven and made that possible for us because He loves us just that much: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” (Wisdom 3:1).

The cries of our hearts when we lose someone we love are very dear to our Lord. He has not forgotten them. And so we unite our hearts today to pray for the souls of all those who have died, that everyone may reach eternal life in Heaven. Death does not have the final word, dear friends.

Pray with me: Lord, we offer everything today for the souls in purgatory, for the souls of all of our loved ones who have died, and for the souls of all the lives lost in the pandemic. We unite our aching hearts to Your Sacred Heart, pouring out everything at Your feet as a sacrifice of praise. May our cries rise like incense to Your throne, and may we grow in holiness every day to one day see You face to face. Thank You for dying and rising for us, Lord. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Holding and Beholding

“This night a battle has been waged and won for you. Love had to come back for you. Love had to get you. The Love that has been coming for you since the beginning—He slays dragons for you. This is the truest love story of history, and it’s His-story, and it’s for you. All the other fairy-tale love stories only echo your yearning for this truest, realest one—this one that has its beginning before the beginning of time.

This night, you on this visited planet, your rescue is here. You can breathe.

Your God extends now on straw.

He lays Himself down in your mire.

He unfolds Himself in the stench you want to hide, in the mess that is your impossible, in the mucked straw you didn’t want anyone to know.

Rejected at the inn, holy God comes in small to where you feel rejected and small. God is with you now.

Wherever you are—in a soundless cry or hidden brokenness or in your ache—God always wants to be with you. You are not ever left alone in this. We are never left alone in this; God is with us.

This is Love you can’t comprehend.

You can only feel and touch this kind.

There, in the place where you feel rejected, you can be touched by God.

There, in the places you feel small, you can touch in God.

He came in the flesh.

Come kneel close.

Let the warm breath of heaven fall on you.

God waits to be held.

God waits for you to draw close.” -The Least in the Kingdom, Ann Voskamp

Merry Christmas, dear friends! A friend sent me this reflection the other day, and I was moved to share it with you all.

God waits to be held. He beholds us, and He desires that we behold Him.

This weekend I was blessed to go on a retreat, and in the chapel there was a statue of baby Jesus in a manger in front of the altar. After spending some time in prayer, I was moved to go up and kiss the statue of baby Jesus before leaving the chapel. That got me thinking…”How can I, unworthy as I am, behold our Lord this Christmas?”

The next night, I found myself in the chapel again, kneeling in the aisle, in a place of total humility and vulnerability with our Lord. I looked up at the same statue of baby Jesus, then at the Tabernacle that beheld Jesus in the Eucharist, and finally at the crucifix above it that beheld all Jesus’ pain for our salvation, in awe of who He is and how He died for us. I was confronted with my own weakness, yet somehow still beholding Him.

Beholding our Lord comes with a beautiful, raw humility—those moments where we stop and say, “Wow,” where we marvel at His majesty, and realize just how much we need Him. That is beholding Him.

The Lord came to us with that same beautiful, raw humility. We can be real with Him. We can behold Him as we are, with all that we have, hearts bare like Jesus’ Sacred Heart that beats on the outside of His body.

He wouldn’t want us to behold Him any other way.

O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us behold Him. O come, let us hold Him.

Let Him Love You

“I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His Eyes.”
–St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

As the sun sets, a soft, rosy glow from the Christmas tree fills the silent room. The dying light just catches on small flecks of gold in the sparkling ornaments, the star above the crèche, and the glittering cards from loved ones that line the mantle. On them, simple words written with paper and ink wish you a merry Christmas from across the country. The words seem to come to life with the thought of seeing someone’s sweet smile or hearing another’s joyful laughter, especially if they are far from home this year.

In the beginning, another Word, the Word, was with God, and was God—but this Word did not stay still. Knowing our sins and miseries, this unchanging and creative Word reached into the silence, “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). As St. Augustine explains in today’s office of readings, “In this way, what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.”

But, it was not enough for the Word to simply be seen, for Love to just appear to the beloved: our Love went into action, “springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). In becoming visible, he became vulnerable, as an innocent newborn baby hunted by Herod. He became a servant, healing the sick, shepherding the lost sheep, and washing the apostles’ feet. He became the man of sorrows, carrying our sins and miseries to the end, when his heart was pierced, letting blood and water flow forth for the world. “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), and he loved us from a cross on a hill in a faraway country, even when we were so very far from home.

It was still not sufficient for the Light to die and rise, for Love’s very heart to be pierced—for Love mingled with grief, and grew all the greater. During the Last Supper, Love took, blessed, and broke His own heart to be shared with the apostles and those to come, instituting the Eucharist and finding a way to be with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In his last moments on the cross, he broke his mother’s heart and placed us in the folds of her mantle through the beloved disciple, St. John. “Woman, behold your son… Son, behold your Mother.” His birth in a stable under a star “cost her no sorrow, but this birth of John and the millions of us at the foot of the Cross brought her such agony as to merit the title ‘Queen of Martyrs’” (Sheen). Her lifelong union with Love’s cross led her to loving us in the crossing of her arms, arms filled with roses.

Loving Someone like this takes courage. But, sometimes it takes far more courage to let ourselves be uncommonly loved by Someone who “moves the sun and the other stars,” a Love we receive under the visible appearance of bread and wine, forms of gold that do not glitter but are Light itself. Just as Christ names us as gifts from the Father (John 17:24), he gives us the gift of himself, calling us to arise and run to him, for “the winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11). As the Son is unveiled in our hearts and we come face to face with this “excess of love,” we can hesitate, one step away from being closer to home than we’ve ever been.

We know all too well our miseries and sins; we all know how vulnerable hearts can be “wrung and possibly broken” by imperfect people, or by stories that end far too soon. We know the way of Love is also the way of the Cross, filled with thorny branches and briars that will piece your heart as well as heal it. Even so—let yourself be loved more than this, by more than you think you could be loved. Even if your heart feels frozen under a bitter frost, or hidden inside a silent tomb, do not be afraid of love that is the gift of one who is “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). For, as St. John Paul II says, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Let yourself be loved by the Love who can heal your precious heart this Christmas and always. Take courage, and “may the Lord of heaven grant you joy in place of your grief” (Tobit 7:17). For the Word was not content to simply use paper and ink to come across the world and bring us home. He came to us in a stable that held Someone “bigger than the whole world” and comes again each day in the breaking of the bread, in the breaking of his heart, so we may have joy, and our joy may be complete—our soul in His Soul, our hearts in His Heart, our eyes in His Eyes as we too are taken, broken, blessed, and shared with others. We have only to receive Him—and to let ourselves be loved.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Let Yourself Be LovedLetters
Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Knowing the Love of God
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Josef Pieper, On Love
Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love

My Heart Burns for You, Lord

“For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.” -Malachi 3:2-4

We are almost to Christmas, dear friends! No matter the ups and downs of your Advent journey, we are here, and God is with us, loving us and sustaining us.

In His saving power, Jesus comes to us with a fierce desire to refine and purify our hearts to be more like His. This is not out of vengeance nor a punishment. He does not come to us in anger, but He takes on the human flesh of a little baby, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph. Who doesn’t love a cute baby? He took on our humanity so He could draw us ever closer to Himself in love. Jesus came into the world in a humble, messy, way—His tiny beating heart longing for us. He wants us to know that He understands everything about us, that He is real, and that He came to save us.

So this refining, this purifying of our lives, is nothing to fear. How great is the Lord’s love that He desires to intricately mold the details of our hearts so that we can be set free to live fully alive with Him! Jesus’ Incarnation is such a profound gift that begs a response from us. And the best response we can give Him is by saying, “Refine me! Consume me! I’m totally Yours!” with wild self-abandonment. May we be able to be a living sacrifice for our Lord. May we surrender all the parts of ourselves completely to His mercy. He desires to rescue you, so that you may no longer be a slave. He aches for you so much that He came to earth to die and rise for you.

As St. John the Baptist prayed, may there be more of You, Lord, and less of us in this refining. Jesus, consume us with the fire of your overwhelming love. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine. Help us to surrender ourselves entirely to Your refining care. We want to burn for You! Come, Emmanuel, and purify our hearts! Amen.

I encourage you to give this song a listen and pray with it for Jesus to consume your heart!

Keep your eyes fixed on His Sacred Heart that outpours with so much love for you, and Merry Christmas! You are in my prayers! He is with us!

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.

As We Forgive

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the dishonest steward. While this steward who squanders his master’s property is not exactly a model of ethical behavior, Jesus draws our attention toward how he engages in an economy of mercy. After receiving news that he will lose his stewardship, this man calls in his master’s debtors and forgives their debts, so that once he loses his position, they will still welcome him in. He understands that if he extends mercy to others, he will then be received with mercy by those he has forgiven. And in turn, we see that his master subsequently shows mercy to him after seeing what he has done.

We know that God’s economy of mercy is even more generous than what we see in this parable—Jesus specifies that this steward is a child “of the world” and not a child “of light.” He forgives others their debts, but ultimately he is operating out of a desire to protect himself, not out of a true sense of charity. However, Jesus tells us that the children of light are less prudent in these matters than are the children of this world. How can this be?

Consider our knowledge as Christians of just how much we have been forgiven, of the immeasurable price that Jesus paid for us on the Cross. Do we act from this knowledge on a day-to-day basis? Are we aware of the immense debt that has been lifted from us, or do we feel as though we are the ones who are owed something? We have experienced a radical mercy, one that should utterly transform us. But how often do we thank God for His forgiveness and then turn around and hold a grudge against our neighbor for something petty?

When we say the Our Father, do we really understand the meaning of the words we are reciting? Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We cannot expect to be treated mercifully if we do not extend mercy to others. Let us learn from the story of the dishonest steward and remember that those who have been forgiven have a duty to forgive in turn. We, who have been forgiven much, must learn to radiate God’s mercy to others.

Home.

“Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” -Ephesians 2:19-22

It was Saturday night during the Steubenville NYC Conference this summer, and I was sitting with my 30 teens in the grass at St. John’s University, reflecting on what they had just experienced in a powerful night of Eucharistic Adoration. Each teen poured his or her heart out, telling of how God’s incredible love had touched them that night. As one of the boys was sharing, he stopped for a second, grinned, and then said: “Jesus is home.”

Jesus. Is. Home.

Those three little words from that wise 14-year-old boy pierced the depths of my soul that night.

Jesus is HOME.

We are no longer strangers and sojourners, as today’s first reading proclaims. A sojourner is someone who stays in a place temporarily. We can stay permanently with Him, because He is home. We can get cozy, settle in, and make His Sacred Heart our home, abiding and remaining in Him as He invited us to do at the Last Supper.

When we feel we don’t belong in our job, or in a city, in a crowded NYC apartment, or even in our own families, we always belong with Jesus. When we feel like we’re in constant change, He is our mainstay. In Him all things hold together, like a sturdy house (see Eph. 2:21 and Col. 1:17). We are known by God, loved to the deepest parts of who we are that we don’t even know ourselves.

We can dare to trust in God’s goodness enough to stay with Him, to hold on, to hang in. We can trust Him enough to set up permanent residence in His Heart. He is home, brothers and sisters; He is home. Rest in Him.

He’s Jealous for You

“Thus says the LORD of hosts:
I am intensely jealous for Zion,
stirred to jealous wrath for her.” -Zechariah 8:2

God wants your heart with such an intense ferocity.

He always has. He always will. On the cross, when He said “I thirst,” He was thirsting for you.

Today’s first reading and some popular worship songs describe God’s love as jealous or reckless. Some people argue against that and say, “No, that can’t be possible. That doesn’t sound like God’s love.” But the truth is that it is indeed the reality of this wild love of the Lord for us that is so far beyond our comprehension. To us, it seems reckless, but to Him, it’s exactly how things are supposed to be. God is love and mercy itself, poured out fully and freely without ever counting the cost.

Jesus just gives, and gives, and gives some more. He loves, and loves, and loves…forever. In every moment.

Jesus’ love is jealous and reckless because He took on human flesh to show us the Father’s love. He made Himself an outcast so we could be set free. Through His death and resurrection, He ripped open Heaven because He wants to be with us forever. He puts His whole self in the bread of the Eucharist so we can receive Him and adore Him.

Jesus knows we sin. He knows we mess up over and over again. He knows some people turn away and never come back. He knows some people hate Him. Yet He gives, and gives, and gives. And He loves, and loves, and loves.

Can we open our hearts to receive the extent of Jesus’ jealous, longing cry to love us? Can we declare our love and longing for Him in response?

He loves you so. He wants you all for Himself.

Amen and amen!

Had Not the Lord Been Here

“Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Had not the LORD been with us–
let Israel say, had not the LORD been with us–
When men rose up against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us.” -Psalm 124

“Had not the Lord been with us…” How often do we say the opposite? “God, where are You? Why aren’t You here?”

Today’s Psalm gives us some perspective. Even when things are terrible, God is right there with us in the mess. We can take a breath and say, “This is hard, and it doesn’t make sense, but I know You are here. I know You will not let me be overcome.”

Last week I had a crisis situation with one of my youth ministry teens and her family. It was one of those horrifying situations you pray never happens to you. I was so humbled that they even wanted me there with them. I was at such a loss for what to do and say, and I remember looking into my teen’s heartbroken, fearful, tear-stained eyes and saying, “God is here. I know this is terrifying and it hurts and it absolutely sucks, and God is here in it with you. I promise.”

God’s presence permeated that whole long night, even amidst the shock, the pain, the terror. I just knew He was there, holding it all together. His steadfastness was with us, as if He was saying, “I know this is excruciating. And I’m right here with you in it. I know your pain. This hurts Me too.”

Had not He been with us? Despair and total darkness would’ve taken over. But having Him there? He gave the family strength, bravery, the grace to endure the pain, and abounding love through it all. Sometimes in those moments, all you can do is call upon the Name of Jesus, and He’s there, rushing in to save us.

Thank You Jesus, for always being here.

Believe

“Do you believe now?”

These words that Jesus spoke to His disciples in today’s Gospel echo in my heart.

I heard similar words at a pivotal moment in my faith several years ago. I had just gone to Confession for the first time in over a year, and I poured out all the sin and mess that I had been hiding and carrying, shrouded in shame. The Sacrament itself was very healing, and then when I went back to my pew and knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament to say my penance, I heard Jesus say: “Now will you trust in My love for you?”

It was such a simple yet profound question. From His Eucharistic Heart to my heart, that question changed things for me. Jesus spoke it with such gentleness and tender compassion. He wasn’t angry; He wasn’t accusing me of anything. He was inviting me into a deeper love.

This is what Jesus does for all of us when He asks that question, “Do you believe now?” He is constantly inviting us to a deeper love. He desires to fill us to overflowing. He desires for us to believe in Him and follow, because He is the only path of peace. He calls us out of our hiding places, out of ourselves, to a greater holiness.

When we respond to this invitation of repentance and letting Jesus mold our hearts to be more and more like His, He does not leave us orphaned. Tribulations will come; persecution will come. But Jesus is our Prince of Peace, and He has conquered the world.

“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but take courage, I have conquered the world.” -John 16:33