Love One Another

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
—John 15:12–14

Jesus, knowing that He only has a few more hours to spend with His disciples, knowing that they will soon be tested in ways unimaginable to them, speaks these words with great care and intention: “Love one another as I love you.” Just hours later, He shows them what His love really looks like. Spread out upon the Cross, pouring out His love and mercy until the very end, He gives us a model of boundless, sacrificial love.

How could we possibly keep this commandment, to love one another as He loves us? Amidst our sins and human frailty, the love that is shown to us on the Cross seems utterly unattainable for us. We are neither courageous enough to face martyrdom nor humble enough to accept insults in silence, and our love for others is guarded by our fears. But Jesus does more than just tell us to follow in His impossible footsteps. When we receive His love, He begins to love through us. In order to truly love one another with a love that echoes Calvary, we must know—really, truly know at the core of our being—that He loves us madly.

When we deeply know this truth, it changes us utterly, and we see the proof of this through the saints. Look at the radiant love of Mother Teresa as she serves the poorest of the poor, or the devotion of St. Damian, sacrificing his life serving the lepers who had been cast out of society. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was beloved by so many because he loved so well, and he always credited this to his devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, saying, “Jesus comes to me every morning in Holy Communion; I repay Him, in my very small way, by visiting the poor. The house may be sordid, but I am going to Christ.” Pier Giorgio, too, expressed God’s radiant love in his very being, not by trying to achieve greatness but by allowing himself to be loved.

When you are totally consumed by the Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God, who has called you to become part of His family. Then you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in this world have never experienced, because true happiness, oh young people, does not consist in the pleasures of this world, or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure of heart and mind.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

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.

Rooted in Love

The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding, 
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

—Mark 12:32–34

If we truly love God with all our heart, all our understanding, and all our strength, then our natural response will be to keep His commandments—not out of a sense of guilt or mere obligation, not out of a desire to prove our worth to Him, but joyfully in love. When a person is in love, it affects their every thought and every action; when our hearts are infused with the love of God, that love will overflow into every aspect of our lives, and we will naturally desire to keep His commandments.

God commands us to love Him. By that very command, He makes it possible. He gives us the grace to love Him with a sacrificial love that echoes Jesus’s love for us on the Cross. He awakens us to recognize Him in every soul we meet. It is nearly impossible to love your neighbor as yourself if you are not already receiving God’s love, but when we have that awareness of the beauty of each soul, we can deeply and sincerely love people even when they are difficult to love.

The spiritual life is rooted in relationship; everything else flows from that. And a healthy relationship with God produces the fruit of trust in Him, from which flows obedience to His law. We must never fall into the mindset of viewing our relationship with God as transactional, consisting of a series of offerings we must make to atone for our wrongdoings or requests that we ask God to grant. God is not interested in a transactional relationship with us; He desires something much more meaningful—a close, loving, intimate relationship that wholly captivates our hearts.

Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.

—Hosea 14:2–5

Hope and Trust

Have you ever noticed that the themes of Hope and Trust normally are paired together? These two themes also tend to point us to the Lord and the promise of happiness. If we place our trust in the Lord we will be blessed. The readings today focus on trust and hope, pointing out the difference between one who places his or her trust in earthly possessions and one who places his or her trust in Lord.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.” –Jeremiah 17:7
 
The Gospel makes a comparison between a rich man and a poor man, Lazarus. The rich man was rewarded during his time on earth, as opposed to Lazarus who received his reward in heaven. I must admit when I was younger I would read this passage and focus more on the rich man. I focused more on the fear that I might end up suffering the same fate as the rich man instead of focusing on the inspiring story of Lazarus. As humans, I think it is easy for us to fall prey to fear, and by doing so we lose sight of the hope that the Lord is really trying to show us. For the first time, I was able to read this passage without fearing I would endure the fate of the rich man. The truth is that our Lord is calling us to grow and draw closer to Him by asking us to place all our trust in Him. By doing so we will never have to worry about successfully enduring the hardships of this earthly life or even ending up like the rich man in the afterlife. We can be like the tree in the first reading from Jeremiah: “In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” The reason why the themes of trust and hope are always paired together is because by placing our trust in the Lord we are promised the gift of hope, the hope of eternal life with Him and in Him.

Open, Wounded, and On Fire

“Behold this Heart,” Jesus said sorrowfully, as He held His pierced Heart out to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. “Behold this Heart which has so loved men, that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself in order to testify to its love. In return, I have received from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and their sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this sacrament of Love.”

Jesus suffered all things, holding nothing back from us. He calls us to conform our hearts to be like His.

As we enter into this first full week of Lent, we are challenged by today’s Gospel to examine how we love others. Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

When we look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and carefully observe how He loved in His time on earth, we know that He held His love back from no one, even the people who were most difficult to love. His Sacred Heart is totally open, totally vulnerable. No walls, no hesitation, no fear; He just gives. He gives Himself to us freely and totally—how will we respond? Do we hold anything back from the Lord out of self-preservation? Do we run to Him and spend time with Him in prayer? Do we have walls up with others? Do we put masks on pretending we’re okay? Do we withhold love from other people out of fear, resentment, or judgment?

Jesus’ Sacred Heart was also wounded, wounded for all souls. He intimately knows our pain. He understands what we go through. When we suffer, we can find solace in Jesus’ Sacred Heart that has been through it all for us. When others suffer, our hearts too, can beat for theirs, and God gives us the gift of being able to be His vessels of love and comfort for others when they are hurting. And when we suffer, we can unite our aching hearts to Jesus’ Heart, offering our pain to comfort Him on the Cross and for the good of others. Let’s not run from our crosses nor the crosses of others.

Finally, Jesus’ Sacred Heart is on fire, burning with so much love for us and for the Father. Sometimes this fire in our hearts gets put out by pride, sloth, fear, or lies from the enemy. Do our hearts burn with love and zeal for bringing others to the Heart of Christ? Jesus so desires to enkindle the fire of His love within us so that we can set the world on fire with His powerful love, healing, and redemption. The fire of His love and mercy cannot be contained, cannot be put into a box.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” Jesus, give us the grace to continue surrendering every part of ourselves to Your good will for us, daring to be totally open, accepting of our wounds and compassionate towards the woundedness of others, and on fire with Your radical love in our world that is so hungering for it.

“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.

A Companion in Darkness

“What? You too? I thought I was the only one!”
-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In the communion of saints, we are lucky to hear the stories of men and women who ran to Christ together, including Our Lady and St. Joseph, St. Catherine of Siena and Bl. Raymond of Capua, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and so many others. These kindred spirits desired nothing less for their friends than for them to be led “further up and further in” to the very love of Christ. The anthem of their lives? “Draw me after you! Let us run!” (Song 1:4)

St. Francis de Sales, whose memorial we celebrate today, and St. Jane de Chantal were one such pair of friends who “were a gift of God to his Church, and their love was fruitful far beyond the mutual personal sanctification of the two involved” (Hinnebusch, 46). St. Francis met St. Jane after she had suffered the deaths of her husband and several children, mistreatment at the hands of her father-in-law, and years of longing for such a friend and guide. An immediate affection sprang up between the two, and he became her spiritual director. “They wanted nothing from their love but God’s glory and their own mutual holiness” (51), and their holy friendship led to St. Jane founding the Visitation sisters, which had been St. Francis’s cherished dream.

A friendship like this is a special kind of friendship. These friends are not drawn together just because of some mutual benefit, as classmates or colleagues may be. They don’t just share similar interests or enjoy spending time together, as many friends do (and should!). These true friends, at their deepest level, share a common commitment to the same ultimate good outside themselves, and that foundation will not crack. When both friends want what is best for the other and act accordingly, even though their own hearts could be “wrung and possibly broken,” we begin to see the love and joy of Christ. St. Francis had this kind of friendship with St. Jane, as “his heart…rejoice[d] in her heart as in itself” (51). He told her, “I am going to try to keep you ever exalted on the throne which God has given you in my heart, a throne based upon the cross” (51).

When a friend like this enters your life, even for a little while, give thanks and praise to God for the gift of their life, “praying always with joy” (Phil. 1:4) in your every prayer for them. These friends, ones to whom we can entrust our hearts, are unmerited gifts from God. How can our souls not proclaim the greatness of the Lord? As Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., writes, “I am especially blessed if God gives me a very close friendship with some specific person who is filled with the grace of God and divine love, and who has received a special faith, hope, and love for me” (53). Remain in his love always, “encourage one another” (1 Th. 5:11) as you encounter the joys and sorrows of life, let your friendship bear fruit, and evermore point your friend “further up and further in” to the heart of Christ, the source and summit of your joy, and the only ultimate good which will fully satisfy your hearts.

If you are longing for a friend like this, just as St. Jane was while waiting for St. Francis, or if you are reeling from being separated from such a friend, as St. Jane was after St. Francis entered eternal life, know that you are not alone. Among the “great crowd of witnesses” in the communion of saints, you have hidden friends loving you and praying for you—and none intercede for you as ardently as Our Lady does. She whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow will lead you deeper into the thorn-crowned heart of her son, Jesus, who is your greatest friend.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13), and he already has. Christ has chosen you as his friend, delights in you, and will never leave you. He longs for us to love as he does so we may be filled with his joy, even if the road is sowed with tears and strewn with briars. Lean into the love of the cross, and know that every tear has power when united to his passion. Be patient, for “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.” Remain in his love always, take courage, and know that joy will come, even when all seems dark—for his joy will be in you, and your joy will be complete.

Reading List
Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., Friendship in the Lord