You Have Won My Heart

“But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.” -1 John 2:20

Dear brothers and sisters, as 2018 wraps up in this Octave of Christmas, something that’s been on my heart for the past few months that I am making my goal for 2019 is focusing back on the heart-to-heart relationship with God. It is so easy to lose sight of Whose we are.

We have received God’s anointing in Baptism, and from this anointing flows our identity as His sons and daughters, which is sealed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. God has put an indelible mark on your soul that cannot be washed off. His anointing of you is His irrevocable choice to make you a part of His family. No matter how much we fight and struggle with our sonship and daughtership as His beloved ones, no matter how much we wrestle with doubt and lies and fear, God says to us: “You are Mine!” And He says this with great delight over you.

What does this anointing look like in your life in a tangible way? From His anointing flows your purpose that clarifies why you were born. You are certainly not a mistake. You are not an exception to the faithfulness of God’s love. You are not an exception to the fulfillment of His call for your life. You are chosen. You are His. I will say it again: He delights in you, His precious child.

“But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name, 
who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” -John 1:12-13

I want 2019 to be a year of going back to the basics of focusing on God’s love for me and loving Him wholeheartedly in return. I want this to permeate my soul so much that it constantly outpours for others. I want to fall in love with the Lord over and over again. He dwells within us—our bodies are His temple. How often I forget that! We don’t have to go far to find Him. He’s already with us, already loving us, eyes already on us. St. Teresa of Avila said, “We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.”

Lord God, we thank You and praise You for choosing us as Your sons and daughters. Thank You for Your unending patience with our weaknesses. Thank You for Your kindness. Thank You for rejoicing at even the smallest steps we take towards You. No matter the season of life, no matter what prayers we are waiting on answers to, Lord, help us to make this a year of more of You and so much less of us. Help us to fall in love with You again. Help us to find You in the stillness of our hearts, and to be disciplined in silent prayer. Help us to bask in the sight of Your delight in us. Unravel and soften our hearts in a deeper love for You, God. We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more and more. Amen.

“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14

Would You?…Why?…For Whom?

“I want names,” he said.  I remember his words.  I remember his eyes, red and swollen.  I remember his face, creased with grief and pain, there on the nightly news.

His young wife had been struck with malignant melanoma while carrying their unborn daughter.  She was considered brain dead, but was kept on life support for three months in the hopes of the saving the baby.  The baby was born and lived for a few weeks, bringing joy in the place of sorrow.  But then the baby also died.

“They say God has a plan, that He can use our suffering for good.  That it can help others.  But I want a list of names.  I want details.  I want to know exactly what good will come from this…”

“I want names.“  Although it’s been many years, his words have come back to me recently.  It is easy, when in the throes of suffering, to question, to wonder just how such pain can come from a loving God.  Theology tells us that all things work for our good, but abstractions don’t comfort.  We know to trust, to hope, but how does one exercise this, practically, in the midst of darkness?

There is a game the kids play called, “Would you rather…?”  It is a conversation game, in which questions are posed: Would you rather be able to fly, or be able to change shape?  Would you rather be an elephant or a lion?  Would you rather have a pool full of chocolate pudding, or a pool full of skittles?

The questions suggested are silly and innocuous, but in my experience, they usually turn a bit darker (or maybe I know morbid kids).  Would you rather be buried alive, or burnt at the stake?  Would you rather go blind, or go deaf?  Would you rather be eaten by a lion, or by sharks?  But I have found that the real question is not “What you would suffer?” but “Why?” or, “For Whom?”

When my mother was first in the hospital in 2016, and I spent my days looking around for the adult in the room, for someone else to take over what I could not handle, it was my little orphan babies that gave me the strength.  Certainly the prayers of the six that I held, all baptized, before they went to heaven.  But it was the memory of little faces, little arms reaching up, little eyes questioning, seeking love, seeking to know they were not alone, not ultimately abandoned—these little ones carried me.  “Would you suffer this, for them?” a voice inside would ask.  “Yes!” was the only answer.

I had prayed to stay in China.  I had asked to give my life to rescue more little ones like these, to be love for the abandoned.  God said No.  But in the mystery of suffering, the economy of grace, He answered my prayer to help them in a different way.  To learn to intercede from afar.

More recently other suffering in the world, in the Church, has been splashed across headlines, across social media.  “Lord, something has to be done.  Help me be part of the solution.”

Would I suffer this (whatever I am going through)…to save a child from abuse?  Would I…to ease the trauma of someone who left the church because of unspeakable crimes by her clergy?  Would I…to stem the rising hate across the political spectrum?  Would I…to heal my friend from her disease, to save him from cancer, to stop the one about to commit suicide?

“The interesting thing about the Scriptures,” said the priest in a recent homily, “Is that they don’t speak of suffering as something that comes down.  They speak of it as something that is lifted UP, that is offered.”

The real offering of course, is Jesus on the Cross, Jesus lifted up for us.  But we with our little mustard seeds of love, can offer our little crosses in union with His.  And He can grow them, magnify them, until the smallest of seeds becomes the largest of shrubs, in which all the birds of the air come and find rest.

 

 

Mustard Seed

Image Credit:

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Zero-sum Game

Not only does the Lord work in mysterious ways, but He often speaks in mysterious ways.

My studies in college revolved around global economics, politics, and their effects on culture, and recently one of God’s mysterious messages has arisen as a theme in prayer and discussions that hearkens back to my freshman year lectures: the Zero-Sum Game.

A layman’s introduction: In the late middle ages and into the Renaissance, Europeans went goo-goo for colonies. Once new continents and worlds were discovered, a European Messiah complex, coupled with a healthy dose of greed, fueled a ravenous land grab. The international policies of the time were surprisingly simple: More colonies equals more trade and more resources to exploit, and that trade/exploration combo can make people disgustingly wealthy. The politics of the day revolved around this zero-sum, fear-based belief that “what isn’t mine is lost.”

During these Colonially-oriented classes, we touched on a commonly-held theory of the time: The Zero-Sum Game. Zero-sum politics can be summed up pretty easily: If I don’t claim something, somebody else will and I end up losing out.

Okay, Aidan, what in the world does this have to do with today’s readings?

Well zero-sum thinking goes far beyond politics; a host of psychological studies and papers have been written on the subject. With that in mind, I’ve recently spent a great deal of time thinking of how a zero-sum bias affects my faith life. Spoiler: it’s not how God thinks, and therefore it doesn’t end well.

Both today’s first reading and the Gospel treat on people’s perceptions of goodness. St. Paul discusses how Good Things, even so good as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are emptied of their meaning without love. Wisdom, prophecy, tongues, all fizzle out if they do not have Love. Alternatively stated, they mean nothing if they are not attuned to the mind of God, who is Love. We may believe that we are doing others a service, we may believe that our preaching has value, I might believe that my reflections are pretty stinkin’ good (as the Gospel says, “Wisdom will be vindicated by her children,” so I suppose time will tell…), but if they are not wholly rooted in a love of Jesus Christ and His Church, then all of those talents are worse than useless: they are distracting, irritating noise.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus likens the the crowds to kids in a shopping mall: they’re quick to criticize, even contradicting themselves in the process. They’re not happy, and can’t be made happy.

In my life, unhappiness nearly always has some kind of root in comparison. How many of these statements, pulled from my own brain, ring true for you? (I hope I’m not the only one who thinks these things)

  • Why do they have it easier?
  • Why don’t they have to work as hard as I do?
  • Why am I restless? Why don’t I have a more meaningful project that I’m working on?
  • Why don’t I have as much free time as they seem to have?
  • Why am I bored? Their life seems more exciting.
  • Why am I suffering? Especially when they are not?
  • Why don’t they trust me with more important responsibilities?
  • How could they possibly believe that? I’m so glad my beliefs are different.
  • Why can’t they just believe what I do?

Get the idea? “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Do you live your faith with a zero-sum mindset? In comparing yourself to others, do you feel threatened by them? Jealous of them? Do others succeeding make you bitter or eager to point out their shortcomings?

The love of God is overabundant, overflowing, it multiplies: it is grace upon grace. God does not operate in absolutes or finite amounts. God is absolute. God is infinite.

The more I hear of Jesus’ love, the more I see how my jealousy leads me astray from Him. Why does it irk me when others have good things?! Should I not rejoice? Am I no different than those kids in the shopping mall?

Goodness builds. Others’ success edifies, scaffolds, increases. Our job is to love, and to celebrate the blessings of God in our life AND in our sisters’ and brothers’ lives. Don’t be afraid to compliment, don’t be afraid to celebrate others. Most of all, do not give into the lie that what you do not possess is lost. Our call to Love is far different:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

—1 Cor 13:4-8