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

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