A New Heart and A New Spirit

“Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” -Ezekiel 18:31

Here we are, a little more than a week into Lent. How are you feeling about your Lent thusfar? You may be feeling good in your Lenten commitments, having successfully passed on any chocolate or being off of social media. Maybe you have created time each day for intentional prayer. Or maybe you are feeling discouraged… maybe you haven’t kept up on Lenten commitments or you still haven’t quite decided what to “do” for Lent. Firstly, wherever you are right now, God sees and loves you. He is pleased with anything you have offered this Lent and He desires to draw your heart closer to His. Wherever you are, today’s Gospel verse Ezekiel 18:31 (see above), reminds us what lies at the heart of this season — a renewal of our hearts and spirits.

The Lord promises us a new heart and a new spirit when we seek His forgiveness. “Repent” is the first word of John the Baptist’s Gospel proclamation, and it’s always our first step in uniting to the Lord. No matter how many times we sin, whether it be a stumble or a big fall, the Lord receives us back when we repent and ask His forgiveness. In its original Greek, the word translated as repent is metanoia, which means to turn around and literally change direction. To repent is to turn ourselves around, away from our sin, to change direction and face Christ. He is already facing us, loving us even in the midst of our failings, but He asks us to turn away from those failings and the hurt they cause ourselves and others. He wants to transform us, to renew our hearts and spirits.

Lent is the liturgical time for us to dwell on this reality of the Gospel. I encourage you to read through today’s readings or listen closely to them if you are attending Mass. They guide us beautifully through a Lenten reflection far superior to anything I could write. Through these Sacred Scriptures, God speaks to us of His desire to forgive us and His desire for us to forgive others. Forgiveness brings freedom. God invites us into this freedom at every moment. Metanoia is the first step… repenting, changing direction from the darkness of our sin to the light of Christ. Through this action we take toward Him, God will give us a new heart and a new spirit. Our Lenten penances or practices are ways for us to live out our repentance. They are sacrifices and commitments that help foster in us a truly penitent spirit. And this contrite spirit is what God is seeking, for it leads us to Him, the One who is able to transform and renew our hearts and spirits by His all-consuming Love.

Lord, show each of us what we need to sacrifice or commit to this Lent to truly grow closer to you. You know each of us in our uniqueness and you know what we need. Guide us so that we may all emerge from the penitent spirit of Lent with a truly renewed heart and spirit this Easter. We all these things in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt, Amen.

The Theology of a Snooze Button

“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” -Leviticus 19:2

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 6:2

One of the most challenging Lents I’ve had was the year I decided to give up my snooze button. I loooove my comfy and cozy bed, especially in the winter months, amen? I am the girl who sets a litany of alarms, all going off at perfectly-timed 7-10 minute increments to ensure that I squeeze in every last drop of rest possible. My room in the morning becomes a chorus of started and stopped worship songs as my alarms go off and promptly get snoozed.

In actuality, does that lead me to getting more rest? Probably not…okay, definitely not. I usually just end up lying in bed trying to pray but thinking about my long to-do list instead, turning to worry rather than greeting the new day with joyful surrender to all the Lord has for me.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote about what he called the “heroic minute,” where you get up immediately as soon as your alarm goes off. He talks about it being a conquering of oneself for the Lord, to get up without hesitation and serve the Lord.

This all points to a deeper temptation within all of us…why do we delay our holiness? And for what?

I find myself asking these questions of my own soul, too.

“Now is a very acceptable time…”

What are the things that hold us back from giving ourselves entirely to our Lord? We can buy into the devil’s traps of busyness, fear, frustration, thinking we’re not good enough, thinking it’s impossible, or thinking radical holiness is for other people and not ourselves. We get comfortable in our routine, in whatever the equivalent of cozy beds and litanies of alarms is for you.

Striving for holiness is messy…and uncomfortable. But it is always worth it to dare to live up to the greatness God is calling us to. Will we fail? Yes. But that doesn’t give us any reason to not start at all. With God’s grace, we can do it, as best we can, each day.

Now is that acceptable time to leap out of bed, to dive to your knees in bold prayer, to talk to your friends about God, to wildly and radically love our Lord and other people in whatever way He has designed for your holiness. Eyes fixed on Heaven, we can be holy, all by His grace that sustains us and His Spirit that moves us.

Each time I hit that snooze button on my alarm, it cuts off the worship song that I have set as my alarm tone, and that doesn’t sit right with me. In a deeper way, decisions like these stifle the song of praise that my life is meant to be. I turn inward instead and away from my fullest potential of holiness. Our lives are meant to be a continuous song of worship flowing from resting in God’s heart. He calls us to live fully alive in Him, living in each moment to love Him and love others by reflecting His love. And with Him, all this is possible!

Jesus, make our hearts like unto Yours, so that we may be holy as You are holy. May all our words be Your words, all our thoughts be oriented towards You, and all our actions be an outpouring of Your amazing love. Amen.

A Heart Contrite and Humbled

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
—Psalm 51:19

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
—Matthew 9:14–15

During this Lenten season, we talk a lot about we’re doing or giving up for these forty days. But let us not forget that the whole point of all these external activities and devotions is to form the interior disposition of our hearts. What God wants more than anything is to be close to us. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus identifies Himself as the Bridegroom. Jesus desires union with us, to know us intimately, to cultivate relationship with us.

All our Lenten fervor should not be about mere self-improvement or testing our own strength. Rather, it should facilitate our union with Christ, perhaps making us even more aware of our weakness as we learn to depend upon Him. As we fast while waiting upon our Bridegroom, we leave space for the feast that is to come and open up room in our hearts for Jesus to enter.

If we go beyond the surface level of our Lenten devotions and allow them to truly form our hearts, it will affect how we act toward one another. When we create space in our daily routines and welcome the emptiness that Lent brings, we can begin to hear Jesus’s voice more clearly in the silence. And if we listen, we will hear His overwhelming love for us ringing out even in the desert. When we know we are loved beyond measure, our own capacity to love will deepen.

This type of fasting, which brings us closer to the Heart of God, is what will lead us to the promises described in the first reading from Isaiah:

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.
—Isaiah 58:8

He is the Light in the darkness of Lent; He is the One who heals all our wounds. And He invites us to use these forty days to draw close to His Sacred Heart.

Take Me Back to the Garden

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” -James 3:16-18

Oof. One of the worst feelings is when jealousy comes, fear strikes, or selfish words and actions come out instead of compassionate, peaceful, life-giving words. These sins cut to the core and are so ugly and uncomfortable when we commit them. We choose to be the worst version of ourselves out of fear or frustration rather than choosing to put on Christ (Galatians 3:27), at the expense of others’ pain and damage to our own relationship with God.

As St. Paul says, “I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).

How quick our hearts can be prone to wander sometimes…and why?

It all goes back to the Garden.

“Take me back to the Garden

Lead me back to the moment I heard Your voice

Take me back to communion

Lead me back to the moment I saw Your face…”

Jesus, when we sin, oh help us to remember the constancy of Your love.

In those moments, we fail to trust the Lord will provide for our every need, that He is just that good. We forget that He is right there with us in any difficult moment, and that He will see us through. We rely on ourselves rather than casting ourselves into the arms of His mercy.

When jealousy, selfishness, fear, and uncompassionate words rear their ugly heads, we forget who we are, who God is, and who we are in God. It can be so easy to lose sight of His love for us and our belovedness in Him.

Jesus, when we sin, oh help us to remember when we first fell in love with You with childlike joy.

“You are closer, closer than my skin

And You are in the air I’m breathing in

And here’s where the dead things come back to living

I feel my heart beating again

It feels so good to know You are my friend…”

The invitation the Lord gives us is to be so radically immersed in His Sacred Heart, covered in His Most Precious Blood, and rooted in who we are in Him. Jesus has this available to us each moment of the day, ours for the taking, freely poured out by Him. He beckons each of our weary hearts to rest on His. He desires that we turn away from ourselves and our sin and be totally filled and satisfied by Him.

“This is where I’m meant to be

Me in You and You in me…”

As Lent begins this week, Jesus whispers to our hearts, “Come close to Me. Come back. Come home.” He so aches for you and so desires to fill you with His love and His mercy. When our hearts are fixed on His in constant, heart-to-Heart prayer, we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to let anger take over. We don’t have to be envious of others. Because He truly does provide for everything we need.

“This is where I’m meant to be

Me in You and You in me…”

(“Communion” by Maverick City Music ft. Steffany Gretzinger)

Anoint Him

Happy Holy Week, friends. In today’s Gospel, Mary of Bethany anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive perfumed oil. This wasn’t just any ordinary act of service at the time. In fact, Judas got upset with Mary for “wasting” the oil on Jesus when they could’ve sold it and given the money to the poor.

Is any gift a waste for the Lord?

In Jesus’ time, perfumed oil was like that special china your mom only uses at Christmas. It was used to anoint kings. It was used to bury the dead. It was used to show love and honor. It was not a functional thing, but something special, beautiful, and precious. In addition, the Biblical word for perfumed oil is the same as the word for anointing. Mary was honoring Jesus as the Messiah, as the Anointed One, as the King.

So, this Holy Week, anoint our Lord.

Anoint Jesus King over your life, over your circumstances, over anything you’re grasping at that He wants to hold. What will you entrust to Jesus at the foot of His cross this week?

Anoint Jesus as we journey through His death this week. Stay there with Him in it. Allow Him to get personal with you through His suffering. What does He want to speak to you? What does He want to show you? What does He say about your suffering? Wait with Him at the tomb like Mary Magdalene; wait with Him in the tombs of your own life, in the things you’re hoping will change, in the areas your heart is begging for a resurrection. Wait with Him, anointing Him with your presence and your surrender. Anoint Him in the waiting.

In anointing Him, we give Him more than is necessary: we love like He loves.

You see, time with Jesus is never a waste. We waste time scrolling through our phones and binge-watching shows, so why not waste time in a way that is truly never wasteful—with our Lord. Sit at His feet, kneel at the foot of His Cross, wait at His tomb, anoint His feet with the oil of your love. What a perfect week to do this. Love thrives and grows by spending more time than is necessary. No relationship flourishes when just the bare minimum is done to function. The same is true with our relationship with God. Our relationship with Him is in danger of becoming merely functional if we don’t spend more time with Him than necessary, if all we’re doing is checking off the boxes to go to Mass and stay in a state of grace.

When we spend more time with Jesus than is necessary, we, too, receive the anointing He has for us more fully. We are all anointed with the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and this is sealed in us in Confirmation. How do we live this? By spending time with Him, by simply being with Him, by telling Him we love Him. Then the grace of His anointing overflows from us, the beautiful scent of His perfumed oil outpouring from our souls to others. It doesn’t matter how many retreats you run or Catholic events you attend, if our time is not wasted with Jesus in the garden of our hearts, everything falls apart. This is true love.

Let’s lavish the Lord this week the way He lavished His love on us from the Cross. Waste some time with Him. Anoint Him. Love Him.

 

For more on this, check out this talk by Dr. Johannes Hartl.

Stay Close to Me, My Child

I was moved deeply by today’s psalm… 

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted”

Lent is a penitential season – a season for us to grow in self-awareness, to look inward and acknowledge our sins and weaknesses.  It is a blessing to be reminded to reflect in this way, especially as we are called simultaneously to be drawing near to Christ’s Passion, reminding us to do this in the presence of the Lord.  Facing our weakness and sin without being immersed in God’s mercy and grace can be detrimental.  In our self-reflection, guilt will likely come up and this is a wonderful thing inasmuch as it draws us to contrition, confession, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and freedom.  If we have confessed, we must trust God’s forgiveness and allow ourselves to receive that mercy and blessing.  Though at times, guilt, rather than being constructive and leading us to God, can be destructive.  At times it may tempt us toward focusing and dwelling so much on ourselves and our sin that, instead of drawing us to God’s grace, it draws us further away from Him as we dwell on our failure, our weakness, our inability, our hurt pride, or our disappointment. Did you notice a pattern there?  Note the emphasis on ourselves. This way of thinking is subtly undermining God’s power and revealing that we may be trying to achieve holiness in our own power. Now, we mustn’t fall into even more destructive guilt upon realizing this, but ask God for forgiveness, trust in His mercy, and be led to dwell on the awe-someness of His power. We can’t achieve holiness in our own power – it is only in humbling ourselves, receiving His power and His divine life within us. 

This is the goal of a penitential season – to increase our self-awareness of our weakness, not so we may dwell in it, wallow in it, and so be led further into a self-centered mindset, but to understand our weakness and so empty ourselves to allow Christ more fully in.  To feel true sorrow for our sins and weakness so we understand better the Lord’s love for us and be drawn more fully into it.  Receiving the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist are beautiful and integral ways of encountering God’s grace during this time, in addition to personal Lenten commitments (personal prayer, fasting, almsgiving). (NOTE: if you haven’t been keeping up with your Lenten commitments very well, don’t wallow! I’m right there with you. Let’s ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and strength in these last couple weeks. He wants you to draw close to Him. It’s not too late to have a beautiful Lent!) 

The key is to approach this time in close proximity to the Lord and His grace.  He is close to the broken-hearted.  As sins and weaknesses are revealed to you this Lent, even throughout the day, immediately invite the Lord into those places.  As you reflect, keep Him close.  The Lord desires a truly contrite and sorrowful heart, and wants to bring His mercy into that heart – in fact, when He is invited in, he can’t help but rush in.  Love and mercy are who He is.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes to God that he is recalling his “most wicked ways and thinking over the past with bitterness so that you may grow ever sweeter to me” (2.1.1, emphasis mine).  It is my prayer that our Lent does not draw us further into our guilty selves, leaving us feeling self-pity or disappointment or with a hurt pride, but that it draws us ever more deeply into the sweetness of God.  As we are emptied out and His love pours in, He will heal us and lead us into deeper freedom.  We cannot do it.  It is only in His grace. 

Thank you, Lord, for your inexhaustible love and mercy! Thank you that self-awareness may help us know your sweetness all the more. Lord, we invite you into our hearts now and throughout this season of Lent. Draw us close to your heart. We come to you with hearts sorry for our sins and we ask your forgiveness. Help us to see ourselves the way you see us, most loving Father. We surrender and consecrate the remaining days of Lent to you in gratitude for this beautiful season. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Tears

“Thus says the LORD:
Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years,
and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.” -Isaiah 65:17-21

Today’s first reading is a little reprieve of hope in the midst of Lent, a reminder of what is to come. A reminder that suffering is never the end of our story, that God brings about resurrections from our seasons of suffering and the ultimate resurrection from all our pain in the hope of the eternal life Christ won for us.

“No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying.” This reminds me of the line from the Psalms where it says that God collects our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:9). One of my friends and I joke about a bottle not being big enough for God to collect our tears, but that instead we have bathtubs full. Why would God collect our tears? Why would God make it a point to tell us through the prophets that in Heaven there will be no more weeping?

Because our suffering matters to God, and He wants us to know that it is not in vain. Our suffering is sacred to the God who suffered it all for us. Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die for us, but He did so He could understand our pain and so when we suffer, we wouldn’t ever have to be alone in it. His suffering meant an eventual end to ours, that Heaven could be opened for us.

In Heaven there will be no more tears of sorrow, no more pain. Every ounce of hurt and betrayal will be redeemed and atoned for. Every wound healed. Every sin taken away. Revel in that glory for a second. That is how much we’re loved by our Father. That’s what this Lenten journey is all about. Earth is not our home. Heaven heals. And in the meantime? God counts every single tear. We don’t even know how many tears we cry, but He does. He holds each one as precious and sacred, collecting them and not letting them go to waste. He is not absent in our tears; He is here.

Ponder the marvels of Heaven today, and allow God’s glory to reorient your hope.

P.S. My song recommendation of the day is one of the most beautiful choral hymns based on the first reading and a similar passage in Revelation, “And I Saw a New Heaven” by Edgar Bainton. Listen for the part where they sing, “And God shall wipe away all tears.” Enjoy!