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

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.

Our Mission: Holy Boldness

Their message goes out through all the earth – Psalm 19

If we have a familiarity with the Gospels, we are familiar with stories of Jesus healing people.  We know his healing of the blind man, telling the paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk, and his raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn 9; Mt 9; Jn 11).  But how familiar are we with current stories of Catholics healing in Jesus’ name?  Have we seen someone be healed?  Do we even expect Jesus to heal people now?  Have we ever thought to pray for healing for someone in person, in Jesus’ name?  This is where my own spirit of skepticism likes to make its entrance (and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this)… ‘Those things don’t really happen now…’ ‘Well, Jesus only heals through certain people who have that gift and I don’t think I do…’ ‘I definitely believe Jesus can do those things, but…’ 

Are these thoughts in line with what we are learning from Scripture during this most wonderful season of Easter?  Actually, not at all.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“[w]hoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these because I am going to the Father.” 

Wait a minute… Did Jesus say only certain Christians with certain spiritual gifts will do the works that He does?  No!  He says, whoever believes in Him.  So wait…. that includes me?  Yes!  I definitely believe in Christ, and if you believe in our Lord and Savior, this includes you!  Wow.  This is really exciting and can also seem kind of scary.  And I can imagine the first apostles didn’t feel much differently than you or I.

Today’s feast celebrates two apostles, St. Philip and St. James.  The apostles were not exempt from that same spirit of skepticism.  In the Gospel, after Jesus has just told them that if they know Him they also know the Father, James responds that it will be enough if they can just see the Father (Jn 14:7-8).  Many, if not all, of us can identify with James.  Truly, it is only through God’s grace that our skepticism can be healed and we can receive greater faith in its place.  In the book of Acts, God reveals to us His mission for His Church:  That as the Father has sent the Son, so now the Son will return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to believers, that WE may perpetuate and carry to completion Christ’s earthly mission – the restoration of the Kingdom (Jn 20:21, Acts 1:6-8). What characterized His earthly mission? Teaching and preaching the good news, accompanied by signs & wonders — healings.  As Christ promised, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost — the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  And this is the same spirit each of us have received through the grace of our baptisms.  It is through the Holy Spirit of God that Christ can do His work in and through us, just as he did through the first disciples of the early church.  These are Jesus’ words that we read today:

“And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

In His name, He has promised to work great signs and wonders through us for the glory of God.  The rest of Acts is an exciting account of how the first disciples of the Lord lived out this mission of the Church.  The Church is still called to this mission today.

In the past couple of years, the Lord has worked to transform my skeptical heart.  He has taken me to places I never could have imagined by inviting me to partake in healing ministry.  He has drawn me in to witness His healing firsthand and, in His grace, He has built up my faith, inspired me, and ignited me.  I have seen the glory of our God through miracles of a woman’s cancer healed, people’s chronic pain be healed, my own husband’s injured wrists be healed, and felt my own body and uneven shoulders be restored to even-ness through prayers of healing, among other countless miracles, all for the glory of God. As I have witnessed these incredible physical healings, I’ve seen and experienced personally the greatest miracle – how God uses His signs and wonders to bring inner healing, convert our hearts, and set us free.  Our God is alive and at work through his church worldwide.  He only asks us to have faith and not be afraid to step out in faith in His name, and this is how we partake in and perpetuate Christ’s mission. 

Today, may we ask our Lord for the gift of holy boldness in our faith, through the intercession of Sts. Philip and James.  Let’s ask this for ourselves and for every Christian.  That as we approach Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit would reignite our hearts and enflame us with the all-consuming love of God. 

Holy Spirit, come, fill our hearts with the fire of your Love.  Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting us into your earthly mission. Father, thank you for drawing us in to your divine plan of salvation for the whole world.  Lord God, ignite our hearts anew with holy boldness.  Heal our hearts of skepticism, we surrender our skepticism to you and ask for greater faith.  Help us to know who you are more fully.  Fill us with your charity, your burning love, your endless mercy and compassion, and inspire us through your most Holy Spirit to live out the mission you have given us.  We pray all of these things through the intercession of St. Philip and St. James, and in the most Holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 

For more info, I highly recommend: The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom by Randy Clark and Dr. Mary Healy

Spiritual Amnesia

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I was speaking with my dad recently, expressing my disbelief and frustration at the far-reaching consequences of the poisonous “sexual revolution;” flabbergasted at how women could still be gulping down such lies: that pre-marital sexual relations and contracepting are “empowering,” when they’re really enslaving! That we are the ones who decide a life’s inherent dignity and worth, instead of understanding this all comes from God! That the way to have “equality” is to lower the bar to give into the whims of our over-sexed culture as long as it’s “on our terms,” instead of learning to live in the light of God’s love and purpose for us! Humanae Vitae, anyone?!

My dad amusedly raised his eyebrows and paused for a moment—“You fell for it…”

I shut my mouth and sighed. Yes. Yes indeed, I had fallen for it for a time…hook, line and sinker. Hence my irritation. As the psalmist writes, “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock” (Ps 106:20).

I had forgotten my God. I had lost myself.

What frustration God must have felt (and still feel!) with such a “stiff-necked” people (Ex 32:9)? The constant protection, guidance and revelations of His awesome majesty and love —only for them to worship a large baby cow made of gold? Really?

But I can’t roll my eyes too far back or shake my head too hard. The years in which I lived away from the Lord—attempting to normalize, even celebrate, my sinful life after seeing His miraculous hand at work—sting my heart. I had my own golden calves, my own spiritual amnesia. But the Lord’s love and mercy are unfathomable, and He chased me relentlessly until I truly recognized that I must “come to [Him] to have life” (Jn 5:40).

We, as Catholics are not permitted to believe anything of our own will, nor to choose what someone has believed of his. We have God’s apostles as authorities, who did not themselves of their own wills choose anything of what they wanted to believe, but faithfully transmitted to the nations, the teachings of Christ.

(from today’s Saint—St. Isidore of Seville)

In the darkness of this world, in the darkness of our own hearts, Jesus—alone worthy of all adoration and worship—challenges us to deeper trust and belief in Him. We have each “turned aside” (Ex 32:8) from the path God has pointed out for us and believed a great number of lies—yet we continually return to God and ask the Lord’s grace: to enlighten the darkness of our hearts and minds, and to open our eyes, so that we may truly seek “the praise that comes from the only God” (Jn 5:44) in knowing and loving the One sent by the Father with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. As antidote to our sinful forgetfulness, we strive to always praise the Lord for His everlasting lovingkindness (Ps 136).

After speaking with my dad that day, I was reminded how exceedingly grateful I was to the Lord for the journey on which He’d led me. Eternal thanks be to God, Who remembers us even when we have forgotten Him and ourselves! May the Lord redeem the time we have spent turned away from Him; make us grow in deeper humility; help us recognize our true worth and dignity in Christ; and may we, like Moses, beg mercy for all.

(*The links above lead to 3 wonderful prayers: Prayer to Redeem Lost Time, Litany of Humility, and the very powerful Seven Offerings of the Precious Blood.)

“And nothing would again be casual and small”

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The just one’s sacrifice is most pleasing,
nor will it ever be forgotten.
(Sirach 35:9)

Imagine making a sacrifice that causes Heaven to spin out in such rejoicing for all the ages to come.

What do you think that would be? What would it take?

Of course, we may rightly think of Our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion, whose infinite merits we cannot even begin to grasp while on this side of eternity.

And yet…

Would you believe that something as “simple”as the sacrifice of making a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, or a good and graced confession, does just that?

St. Mother Teresa, in her book Rosary Meditations: Loving Jesus with the Heart of Mary, writes when contemplating the first Sorrowful Mystery—the Agony in the Garden:

The blood He sweat was grief poured out from a broken Heart, caused by the sorrow of His Eucharistic Love being so rejected. Then an angel brought Jesus indescribable strength and consolation by showing Him every Holy Hour that you would ever make. At that moment in the garden, Jesus saw you praying before Him now and He knew that His love would be returned.

This is why your visit today is so important to Him. Your Holy Hour consoles Him for those who do not love Him, and wins countless graces for many to be converted to Him.

And Luke 15:10 tells us about the dance of the angels:

In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The just one’s sacrifice is indeed most pleasing.

What a fitting set of readings, then, to contemplate before the beginning of Lent, widely known as “the time to give yummy things up!”

This season is about so much more than muscling through your morning without coffee (though for some that struggle is real, I believe it! For me personally, it’s chips.)

This time that Holy Mother Church sets aside for us to turn back to God, to journey deeper with Jesus into the wilderness of our lives, is one that can bear great fruits of joy, sacrifice and praise—if we allow ourselves to be led and pruned by the Holy Spirit as He wills.

This is the season for delving deep to ask: Where in my life has my love grown cold? Where do I value comfort over acts of sacrifice? How aware am I of the Lord walking through my every moment with me?

Every heartbeat should remind us of the Lord’s infinite love and mercy, yet it is so easy to become numb and distracted with the anxieties and preoccupations of the everyday and the world around us.

However, even that very heart is a gift.

We only have what has first been given to us, poor as we are. But Our Father is so very rich and desires to share with us all that He has, just as Jesus gives all of Himself.

Our Lord makes Himself so vulnerable in thirsting for us to love Him and to let Him love others through us, that the more we come to know Him, the less we want to hold back anything from Him.

God is not to be outdone in generosity. Ever. Jesus promises that in the Gospel reading of today and shows us this repeatedly throughout His public ministry.

We may wonder at times what can we really offer the Lord, what can we give of any real consequence. But our wild, most beautiful Lord desires us to work with Him in His plan of salvation and redemption, offering to Him all that we can, no matter how “small” or “insignificant” (fish and loaves, anyone?).

How varied are the blessings He gives to us? This then should ignite our souls to find new ways of loving Him each day!

In 2 Cor 9: 6-8, St. Paul encourages us to sow bountifully so as to reap bountifully, and that…

…God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

We can be sure that whatever we do offer to God in love, in union with Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, has infinite value beyond what we can ever dream.

As Rev. John Duffy writes in his poem “I Sing of a Maiden,” recounting the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat, “And nothing would again be casual and small.

This Lent let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with His fire and love so as to grow and give beyond our comfort zones.

Let us pray for each other as we find new ways of putting our love for God and neighbor into living action, sacrificing with a cheerful heart in the (not so) small and hidden ways, all of which are seen and cherished by Our Heavenly Father.

Dig Deep

“To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.
Return to him and give up sin,
pray to the LORD and make your offenses few.
Turn again to the Most High and away from your sin,
hate intensely what he loathes,
and know the justice and judgments of God,
Stand firm in the way set before you,
in prayer to the Most High God.

Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High
in place of the living who offer their praise?
Dwell no longer in the error of the ungodly,
but offer your praise before death.
No more can the dead give praise
than those who have never lived;
You who are alive and well
shall praise and glorify God in his mercies.
How great the mercy of the LORD,
his forgiveness of those who return to him!” -Sirach 17:20-24

Well friends, Lent is coming. And if you’re like me, that means that over the weekend you listened to as many worship songs as possible with “Alleluia” in them. Just kidding. Well…sort of…haha.

On a more serious note, I have two thoughts to share with you as we prepare to enter into Lent on Wednesday:

  1. Dig deep.

I feel like sometimes we can tend to set the bar way too high or way too low for Lent. I’ve marched into Ash Wednesday before with my mile-long list of added prayer and books to read and email devotionals subscribed to and fasting upon fasting. Not that any of these things are bad, but too many of them usually leads to crashing and burning 2.5-3 weeks into Lent, like a New Year’s resolution gone wrong. Or the temptation comes to set the bar low and not really walk with Jesus through Lent because life is too busy and I’m already doing enough “Lent” things in ministry. Friends, I want to recommend what’s possibly an unpopular or uncomfortable opinion here: I want to dig deep this Lent. I want to get to the heart of what Jesus really wants me to sacrifice and focus on this Lent. You see, sometimes we can even distract ourselves with great spiritual things to avoid what Jesus is crying out from the Cross to our hearts. What is that one thing that Jesus is really calling you to receive His mercy in this Lent? What is your heart aching for Him to redeem? What’s the one thing you know you really need to cut back on that is preventing you from saying a fuller yes to Him? Perhaps a bad habit or an addiction, maybe a sin you really need to address and let Jesus uproot, maybe a lot of fear or self-hatred. The rich young man in today’s Gospel was afraid to go there with Christ, and he went away sad. Let’s learn from him and have the courage to go there knowing that Christ went there first. It could get messy to really go there, but take heart in that the redeeming “mess” of Jesus’ blood spilled out from His broken body for you covers a multitude of our messes of sins, wounds, and the parts of ourselves that are most difficult to face. Jesus is greater than any of the darkest, most buried parts of your heart. And He’s already there. He’s already taken all of your mess into Himself on the Cross with so much love for you. He would’ve died for you if you were the only one left on earth.

  1. Focus on the goodness of God’s mercy.

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is, “Surely Your goodness and mercy will pursue me, all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). Jesus’ mercy is good, loving, and is nothing to be afraid of. He gazes at you with such love—His bleeding, pierced heart aching for yours on the Cross. When He cried out, “I thirst!” on the Cross, His cry was not just for a drink but for your soul. He loves you that much. I feel that sometimes in Lent if we miss a day of what we planned to do, or if we fail all together, we can give into despair and think we are a failure to God. But just like when Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross, we can get back up and keep going when we fall. His mercy is always available for us, and we are not defined by how “good” our Lent is, or that this person did more prayer and fasting than we did. God writes straight with crooked lines, and maybe He will reveal to you a greater plan for your Lent where He wants to transform something in your heart. Don’t fret. Take it day by day, little by little, eyes fixed on our Lord. Give Him your whole heart as best you can each day. Keep going.

So let’s dig deep and keep our hearts turned towards our merciful Savior this Lent. You will all be in my prayers.