It is Easy

“Brothers and sisters:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his Body, which is the Church.” –Colossians 1:24

I sadly don’t have many memories of my grandma before she got sick. She was diagnosed with Alzheimers and Parkinson’s when I was young, and her memory started to quickly fade.

My grandfather was heroic through it all, insisting on caring for her himself until it was absolutely necessary for her to have round the clock care from medical professionals. There was one night where she had gotten up and fallen so many times that my grandpa finally decided to just lie on the floor next to her for the rest of the night until morning.

When she was really sick, my family went to visit to help out for several days. All of us felt the exhaustion of caring for my grandma, coupled with the pain of seeing her suffer so much. My dad asked my grandpa, “How do you do it?” My grandpa immediately and simply replied, “It’s easy. She’s my wife.”

This is the beauty of the sacrificial love that Christ calls us to. All too often I find myself giving into anxiety and doubt in moments of suffering. But Christ calls us higher, to rejoice in our sufferings for the sake of other people. In all things, He is here! May we not waste a single moment of our suffering!

The Very Wine of Blessedness

“Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.”
—Psalm 100:1–2

Almost nine months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates when Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Having journeyed through many liturgical seasons since then, we are now quickly approaching her nativity on September 8. What a day of great joy that must have been for her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, for “a woman’s greatest joy is when she brings a child into the world” (Sheen). What a day of great joy it should still be for us, the beloved children of Mary, though we live in a very different world.

From the start, “the melody of [Mary’s] life [was] played just as it was written,” Fulton Sheen writes. Blessed among women and prepared from conception to receive the Lord, she heard the song of Christ, the very Word of God, and observed it, singing back with all her heart. Her fiat began with the Annunciation, continued in the Visitation, and lasted her whole life, even when her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. As St. Louis de Montfort says, “Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ.” Her own immaculate heart—taken, blessed, broken, and shared with us, much like her son’s—remains perfectly in the sacred heart of her son, the true bridegroom and the new Adam.

Mary is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, chosen by God to be the vessel through which Christ comes into the world. She is “the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy,” Pope Francis writes, as we hear in today’s Gospel. “Her ‘contagious fullness’ helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim and even overflowing, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy.” Her joy is already complete in her son, but it overflows to the children given to her at the foot of the cross. She always leads us to her son and longs for us to remain in his love, to bring us home to heaven, so that our joy may be complete in him for all eternity.

The days have come when the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Jesus has ascended into Heaven, Mary has been assumed after him, and we remain here, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” We fast, we pray, and we long to see the source of our love face to face, even as we adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. For now, our joy, as Lewis describes it, “is never a possession… [it is] always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” But, when we remain with him in silence, pondering these things as Mary did, he sings to us and makes us into new wineskins, ready to receive him and those he sends us. Over time, “[our] hearts, wounded with sweet words, [overflow], and [our] joy [becomes] like swords, and [we pass] in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness” (Tolkien). Our hearts become new creations in Christ, ready at last to pass from death to life.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

Reading Suggestions
De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Sheen, The World’s First Love
Tolkien, The Return of the King

You are Delighted In

“The Lord takes delight in His people…” (Psalm 149)

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing gift of being able to go on a mission trip with a Catholic organization called Mustard Seed to Mandeville, Jamaica. We were serving 18 children with severe disabilities. Most of them were wheelchair-bound and not able to talk or walk. Many of them had been abandoned by their parents and found in the streets. Each day we would feed them, play with them, help with their physical therapy, and give them the one-on-one attention they are so often unfortunately lacking.

One of the best parts of each day was taking the kids to Adoration in the little chapel at their residence. They came to life in the chapel, and it was really beautiful to see them each converse with Jesus in their own way. I just *knew* that they knew Jesus was really there. They would move around, smile, clap, or make sounds to pray and praise our Lord.

One day, I took a girl named Shenell to Adoration. She couldn’t talk and only had peripheral vision, and I had made it my mission all week to get her to smile, something she didn’t do often at first. I purposefully put her wheelchair directly facing the tabernacle, as close to Jesus as I could get her. I was sitting next to her, holding her hand and silently praying for her. During prayer, I was moved to lean close to her and whisper, “God loves you so much.” When I did this, her face immediately broke into this HUGE smile, and she starting giggling with sheer joy. Tears immediately rolled down my cheeks.

I was struck by how much Jesus delights in Shenell and all the other kids, and how they don’t have to do anything to have Him delight in them—He delights in them just because they’re His. How beautiful to think that He delights in us the same way! We do not have to earn God’s love or delight—He simply rejoices in us just as He rejoices in all those precious kiddos in Jamaica. May we be able to delight in one another the same way!

So today, I will speak the same words to you that I did to Shenell in that little chapel: God loves you so much. Really, deeply, intimately, and with so much rejoicing over you. Soak in that love today and let it permeate into the core of your being. Let His joy fill you, sustain you, and hold you through no matter what season you are currently in.

20190805_101901
The chapel at Gift of Hope in Mandeville, Jamaica.

A Sacrifice of Praise

“Lord, I am your servant,
your servant, the child of your maidservant;
you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer a sacrifice of praise
and call on the name of the LORD.”
– Psalm 116:16–1

Many years ago, a Dominican friar told us—a group of fairly naïve college students—that we would wish we had suffered more once we came to the end of our lives. Back then, sitting in that dimly lit church, anxiously awaiting the day of our total consecration to Jesus through Mary, how could we have understood his words? For, as St. Paul writes in today’s first reading, we are suffering; we are afflicted. The whole world “is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:22), whether these pains are from illness, poverty, loneliness, loss, betrayal, our own struggles and sins, or even death itself. We are perplexed—we don’t understand how our loving Father could allow such sorrow, and we may never know the whole story behind the problem of pain on this side of Heaven.

What do we know? Let’s start at the beginning. This valley of tears was not God’s original plan for us, not before the fall. Yet, even when we chose to hide our faces from him, his love was so great that he devised a plan more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. He chose to suffer with us, dying in the most horrific way possible, to loosen our bonds, to open the gates of Heaven, and to lead us home. And, as St. Pope John Paul II says, Christ’s passion gave our pain a supernatural value. “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris). Think about it. This world may very well be that valley of tears. But, every tear now has meaning and power when united to his sufferings. Our prayers and sacrifices, whether they are St. Therese of Lisieux–sized or St. Teresa of Calcutta–sized, will help bring our brothers and sisters home to Love itself.

Even if this is all a mystery, and the pain is too great—we do not have to bear it alone. From his cross, at the height of his passion, Christ gave us Mary, his mother, to be our mother. And, he gave us to Mary to be her children—just as he tells his Father “they are your gift to me” (John 17:24), we are a gift to Mary! St. Louis de Montfort writes, “As in the natural life a child must have a father and a mother, so in the supernatural life of grace a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his mother” (True Devotion to Mary). We are the spiritual children of the handmaiden of the Lord, whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. We can run to her in complete trust, asking for her intercession, weeping with her each step of the way, “closely united to Him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of the Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of the Cross” (Salvifici Doloris).

If that wasn’t enough, Christ found a way to physically stay with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). How? Precisely through what is described in today’s psalm: a sacrifice of praise—the Eucharist, Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we read in the catechism, “The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church” (CCC 1407). We even hear this as the priest says Eucharistic prayer 4: “We offer You His Body and Blood, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. Lord, look upon this sacrifice which You have given to Your Church; and gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise.”

Death may be at work in us, as St. Paul writes, but life is also present, and this life grows every time we receive the Eucharist, a living sacrifice of praise. Our hearts are changed when we receive him in the Blessed Sacrament and cooperate with grace, so that his life “may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). Our hearts become more like his heart as they too are taken, blessed, and broken, meant to be shared through the tears—and meant to be filled with his joy, another mystery. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it” (A Grief Observed). Our grief can, miraculously enough, become joy when united to his, just as Christ told his apostles at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist.

This life is full of suffering, yes, but there is also joy, even if that joy is tinged with the greatest sorrow. Call on his name and try to remember that the tears have power, even if your heart is breaking. Receive his own heart, blessed and broken in the Eucharist. Trust in the love of your mother, who always leads you to her Son, who is himself the answer to all our questions. As Lewis says, “What other answer would suffice?” What other answer could? Maybe we will someday be able to echo the words of St. Paul when he says, “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). And maybe, just maybe, we will someday be able to wish we had suffered more, as our hearts cry out of love for our brothers and sisters, with a love a little bit more like his.

Totus Tuus.

 

Reading Suggestions
St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of PainA Grief Observed, Till We Have Faces
Fr. Paul A. Duffner, O.P., Redemptive Suffering
St. Pope John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris

Radiant Faces

I’ve been told by quite a few people that my blue eyes change color depending on my mood: they’re a bright, brilliant blue when I’m joyful and happy, a deep blue when I’m tired or reflective, and a dark blue-grey when I’m sad.

I’ve seen this in other people, too. With the teens that I serve in youth ministry, I’ve seen noticeable changes in their faces and eyes after they have a powerful encounter with Jesus on a retreat or at a Youth Night. They smile more, laugh easily, hold their heads up with confidence, and their eyes sparkle.

The joy of the Lord changes us. When we let Him transform our hearts, it is reflected in our outward appearance. The power of His joy cannot be contained—and so we become visible witnesses of His love.

Jesus wants His resurrection to radiate from us.

In today’s first reading, we hear that St. Stephen had the “face of an angel.” Now, he had every reason to look distressed, anxious, and downtrodden as he faced persecution and the trial before the Sanhedrin leading to his martyrdom. His joy in how he lived fully alive in the Spirit bothered people so much that they wanted him to be killed. But that didn’t stop him from proclaiming the amazing news of God’s saving power to all he encountered. And even in the face of death, the joy of the Lord remained burning within him so brightly that he looked like an angel.

No matter what we are facing, can we let Jesus’ resurrection joy dwell within us so powerfully that it explodes onto our outward appearance? Even in the darkest of days, we can be joyful. We can be joyful because Jesus’ resurrection joy is for everyone, and you are no exception to that rule. He is with you, He is at work, and He is ALIVE. The story He is writing for you is full of transforming glory. Amen, hallelujah!

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.

Embracing Seasons

A few weeks ago, our first son, Leo, got his first haircut. And for many weeks prior to that, Aidan had been telling me over and over again that Leo needed one. I had been putting it off because I KNEW I would be so sad when he would come back looking like a little man and not my little baby with super blonde tips and a curly mini-mullet from the hairs evidencing his babyhood. 

The slowness of motherhood can feel so arduous sometimes, but it also gives me space to listen closely to His voice. When I was rocking Leo back to sleep in my arms after he woke up very upset from a nap, I could feel God shifting the perspective of my heart. As I truly enjoyed and savored being Leo’s comfort in that moment, God was teaching me that He gives us seasons, stages (ways to help us make sense of time and our existence) primarily to delight us and teach us about Himself in different ways we don’t have the same access to in other seasons.

All too often, I have made the mistake of defining seasons by what I could NOT do or receive in that season (e.g. here, toddlerhood as the solemn absence of babyhood, and let’s not forget, dating as the “no-sex-before-marriage” stage). We often are overwhelmed by crippling nostalgia or sadness for what is past (or only exists in imagined ideals!), longing for it, while we miss what He is doing and offering right in front of and within us. 

And so, when I read the verses for today, there is a similar struggle among God’s people through salvation history. We see parallel verses of Moses and Jesus from the Old and New testaments, exhorting those listening to follow and abide in the Law God sets forth for His people.  Moses, a great prophet and leader of Israel, is about to talk about the Ten Commandments and other commands about keeping the covenant with God. Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, has just preached the Beatitudes. The people Jesus spoke to hear what is different, how Jesus is seemingly changing what God had said in the past, but Jesus knows their hearts and addresses those fears by proclaiming and clarifying Himself as the fulfillment of what those laws and prophets said. Jesus is connecting these seasons of salvation history and God’s revelation of Himself to mankind; the crowds can only see the differences and, as a result, lose trust in Jesus as the Messiah.

Just like the crowds, we often resist the cusp of a new season. Many times, we are afraid of what it might bring, but I find most often for myself, the prospect of finding a new way and rhythm of life is most challenging and daunting. But, as Jesus reminds us, each season is meant to fill us more and more, not taking away from or “abolishing” the season that came before.

It is very important to take note that the way God tells us about Himself in the Old Testament is paramount to understanding how His Son fulfills them. I encourage us all to read the Old Testament readings during the Easter vigil and really meditating on what each has to offer in terms of telling us how God is revealing Himself in salvation history. We cannot understand the Son without the Father, and vice versa. We worship a Trinitarian god Who has revealed Himself over time, and the order in which this has happened is integral to how each word informs the other, culminating in The Word of God, Jesus, our Messiah. The God who called for bloody animal sacrifices and holy temples and a priestly nation set apart for Him is now a Person, a Son, speaking to the crowds of fulfilling the words of His Father.

May we receive the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to understand and fully embrace our current season of life, and live with the expectant hope that there is unique joy in this season to be uncovered and savored.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa