God the Father, Our Father

My earliest memory of learning to pray is closely tied with my mother; as a child sitting with a rosary that I thought was pretty and sparkly, while very quietly mumbling through the words of the Our Fathers and Hail Marys that I did not yet fully know. That memory of learning to pray is always full of love. It’s a warm feeling of someone comforting me and gently guiding me towards good.

In today’s Gospel, this is how Jesus teaches us to pray:

“Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
—Mt. 6:9–13

I am imagining the reaction of the disciples and the crowds while listening to Jesus: Did he just call the Lord his Father? Abba? Dad? For at the time it was acknowledged that God was indeed “Father.” He was God and Father of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. But at the same time, God was thought to be distant, someone far away and out of reach. God was to be respected, praised, and given sacrifice. But He remained at the temple, and you went back home. There wasn’t an established relationship. Jesus changed this. By teaching us to pray the Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer), Jesus taught us how to be in close relationship with God. That He is not just some distant God (as the false gods were) but that we are His children whom He loves, and He resides in our hearts. We are called to have an intimate relationship with God the Father, the same intimate relationship that God the Father shares with Jesus, His Son.

The Our Father is a perfect prayer, divided into seven petitions. The first three petitions are everything that belongs to God, given to Him first: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will. As Jesus calls us to be in relationship with God the Father, He also calls us to be in relationship with one another. Note that we begin the prayer as “Our Father,” not “My Father.” In the remaining four petitions we ask God for ourselves and for our community of brothers and sisters in Christ: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.

I imagine God the Father as my protector, and I just want to run into His arms and be comforted by His embrace, knowing that each one of my worries or struggles is minuscule to the love He has for me. Everything is just oh-so-little in comparison to the love He showed by giving up His only Son for me and for you. He has given us everything we need. He has given us all of His love.

Friends, I encourage you to embrace the title of “daughter” or of “son” that’s given to you by the Lord. Allow yourself to be wrapped in the Mother’s mantle and gently rocked in the Father’s arms. To know that His name is Holy, to know that you have a place in His kingdom, and to always be open to do His will.

“At the Savior’s command and formed by Divine teaching, we dare to [always] say, Our Father.”

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Image Credit: Art by Jen Norton; Painted prayer featuring the Our Father woven in the branches of an olive tree. [Public Domain]

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.

He Knows Your Heart

“The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12

Your heart is known.

Each and every part of your heart is known by our Lord, even the parts no one else knows about, the parts that carry our deepest desires and our deepest scars. And to be known by God is to be tenderly, intimately loved by God. There is nothing to be afraid of in Him knowing all of us, because He loves us totally and completely.

God knows our hearts and loves our hearts. He desires to so badly pour His love into every nook, cranny, and crevice of our hearts. The Lord waits for you in each moment to fill your soul to overflowing with His dazzling peace, with His wondrous light that shatters all darkness.

Sometimes we can find ourselves crying out to God with questions of, “why?”, “how?”, or “when?”, especially when we are struggling. God always hears and answers these questions, but oftentimes with a “who.” In those moments of uncertainty and questioning and wrestling, God so tenderly answers by pointing us to Himself.

You see, the more we know who God is and who we are as His beloved sons and daughters, the easier it is to trust that He has got every single one of our whys, hows, and whens on His Heart, too, and that He’s already working on it before we can even utter a single word.

When He knows our hearts, He loves our hearts, and everything on our hearts has His complete and total attention. He is always working for our good, in every situation.

Let yourself be known by God, and receive the beautiful intimacy of who God is, for He is love.

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

Say Yes to God

Could Mary have said no?

This was the question one of my confirmation students asked me. Could Mary have said no?

Well, yes, she could have said no. She could have said to the angel Gabriel that this was just too much, that she wasn’t ready to be a mother, she wasn’t ready to be talked about behind her back or be disgraced because it wasn’t Joseph’s child. She could have said that she didn’t want the responsibility. She could have freely said no. Lucky for us, that’s not the way the Annunciation goes.

Mary said yes to God.

Through Mary’s “yes” the word became flesh and God was amongst us. Through Mary’s “yes” a child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary freely and willingly accepted her mission as the mother of God. She knew that the fruit of her womb, her son, Jesus Christ, was our redeemer, the perfect lamb by which the world would find its salvation. And she pondered on all of this in her heart because God chose her to love and take care of a small, innocent, and special baby. Mary’s “yes” aligned the will of God with her own will, obediently allowing herself to be an instrument of the Lord.

Mary’s “yes” was powerful.

In the Gospel reading for today, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.” That message is for us as well. The Most High, almighty and omnipotent God can do everything and anything—He made every inch of the universe. And nothing is impossible for God. Let us remember that in our hearts when we pray and when we walk up to the altar. Let us remember that the impossible does not exist to God. Whatever fear or doubt we might have in accepting God’s good word, let us renounce it. Whatever uncertainty we may experience that is stopping us from going forth with God’s plans, let us be aware to walk away from it.

In today’s society we are always busy. Our calendars are full of meetings, appointments, dinner parties, sports tournaments, work, and classes. The list goes on and on. We plan our schedules thinking that we are in control. The hardest thing for us to realize is that our lives are not our own; our lives belong to God and therefore should be centered around God. He is the one in control, and He is the one in charge of our final schedules.

God made us in His image to love us and for us to love Him. That love has to be given freely. So, yes, Mary could have said no. But it was her love for God that willed her to say yes and be open to receive baby Jesus in her womb. It is that same love for the Lord that will shape our individual lives. Through our own “yes” to God, we will be open to receive His many gifts of grace.

During this Advent season, as we are waiting and preparing our hearts for Jesus, let us prepare in a special way to do God’s will. Pray that when God changes our schedules we’d be open and willing to accept this change, always aligning our will with the will of God. Let us prepare to always want to say YES! to our God. That the uniqueness of our individual “yes” may be as powerful as Mary’s fiat.

Image Credit: The Annunciation, 1742, by Agostino Masucci [Public Domain]

A Highway for Our God

There are some moments in our lives where we just feel lost and out of place. For me, the moment of complete and utter confusion happened my senior year of college. In preparation for my future, this should have been the year in which I checked off all the boxes on my master plan. But that was not the case; I checked off none. I didn’t even have a plan. I was lost. Although I knew my physical location—on the University campus—I couldn’t find myself anywhere on the map. Someone could have arranged fluorescent direction markers and flagged me down with bright orange batons and I still would not have known in which way to turn. I would have blindly walked past them, lost and uncertain with myself.

I have known about the parable of the lost sheep since I was a child—seeing this Biblical passage through the eyes of a child, I always saw a perfect, fluffy sheep in a picture book. I didn’t realize the impact in my heart this parable would make until my adulthood, when I found myself, no longer lost, in the Catholic Church.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that a shepherd has one hundred sheep and one of them goes astray and is lost. Just one. Jesus asks for our opinion, will you go in search of the lost sheep? I’m sure the disciples listening to Jesus were thinking: “Well, the man has ninety-nine other sheep left. He should be fine. He has more than what he lost. He should just let that one sheep go.” Jesus, however, continuing with the parable tells them the answer to his question: the man will leave the ninety-nine on the hill and go off in search of the one lost sheep. In the children’s picture book the shepherd and even the perfect, fluffy sheep look happy surrounded by beautiful green pastures and mountains, both underneath a beautiful blue sky. The reality, in first-century Palestine, is that a shepherd must have been crazy to leave ninety-nine sheep behind and travel the dangerous, unknown, and hard terrains of the mountains for one lonely sheep.

Who would realistically do this? God would. God would do this for you. Because out of one hundred, one thousand, one million, one billion sheep in his flock, God loves you and He will go after you.

Notice that in the parable it’s not the shepherd who loses the sheep. It’s the sheep that went astray. We are that one sheep. We expect God to love only those who listen to Him and follow His commandments. We forget that God does not love by the boundaries of this world. His love is immeasurable and powerful because God is love. Where we limit our love to those who are undeserving, where we neglect those who disobey or do not follow orders—God gives them His love. He follows these lost sheep, and when they are ready, He guides them home.

In the first reading the Israelites have been called back home after being in exile. They have been in the wilderness, and the Biblical passage describes the way they need to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. Normally it’s a dangerous and rough journey, but God is with them in preparing the way for them to come home. Every mountain and hill is made low and the rugged lands will be made plain and easy to travel. Here is God gathering his lost sheep and leading them home.

“A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”

Back in my senior year of college, my lost years, I found myself on my knees lovingly admiring the altar. The place of sacrificial love. I kept thinking about the lost sheep and painfully acknowledged that it was me. I kept thinking that I wasn’t the sheep from my childhood picture book. I wasn’t “fluffy and perfect.” I was a mess. Dirty. Broken. Defeated. I realized that I was looking at myself through the world’s eyes and wrongly thought I didn’t deserve love. But God’s love knows no boundaries. The sheep in the picture book is “perfect” because God always sees you as his perfect child. In the Catholic Church looking at Jesus on the cross, truly knowing that the good shepherd had walked through the wilderness to find me and bring me home—I believed him when he told me he loves me. God’s love is unconditional and no matter how long ago you’ve gone astray, what mountain or valley you’re lost in, no matter how deep of a mess you’ve made of things, if you haven’t gone to Mass in years, or you carry anger or guilt, nothing that you do will take away from God’s love for you. The good shepherd is in search for his lost sheep to come back home. And He will help you to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

Image Credit: The Lost Sheep [Public Domain]

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!