Where the Waves Grow Sweet

“To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series—the plot, as we call it—is only really a net whereby to catch something else… No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.”
—C.S. Lewis

There are moments in our lives when grace can act like a certain slant of light cutting through a dim room at dawn. Providential conversations, series of events, and even the worst of trials can suddenly fall into place like the threads of a story at its close—and the strands of those memories can seem to gleam like liquid gold, pointing directly back to Christ, the master Storyteller. Yes, He knew what He was about. Yes, He knew what He was doing. Yes, it’s true, He was with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—even if you could not see Him through eyes filled with salty tears. Have you ever heard it? Can you remember—?

In this Gospel reading, we find the apostles back where their story began, before they embarked on the adventure of living with and learning from Christ. How the familiar creaking of the timbers, the gentle lapping of the waves, and the dappled moonlight on the deck must have consoled them—and yet, not have consoled them, for these men were not the same fishermen Jesus had called years ago. At the end of a three-year spree of miracles in which their hearts were transformed and prepared for Something by Someone, the last miracle—the greatest miracle—must have seemed just out of sight, hidden by a veil of confusion and hope. It is the point in the story when each page feels like an eternity, where, as Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade writes, “ordinary human common sense, seeing no way out of it, realizes all its weakness and shortcomings and feels completely baffled.”

It is at this very moment that the story—particularly Peter’s—comes full circle. At dawn, Christ appears “to those who belong wholly to him and disentangles them from all their troubles far more easily than novelists, working away in the peace of their rooms, extricate their heroes from all their dangers and bring them to a happy and successful end” (De Caussade). At the start of his adventure, when the nets are empty, Peter does not seem to trust when instructed to put out into the deep (Luke 5:1–11). Now, the nets are lowered without delay, and on the right side of the boat. Before, the nets are tearing, unable to contain what Christ is sending them. Now, they remain whole, receiving the entire gift. Before, Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to depart from him, for he is a sinful man. Now, in the light of the Resurrection, in the light of Merciful Love, he immediately jumps from the boat to go to Jesus, despite his sins, just as he did to walk on water with Him—perhaps inspiring C.S. Lewis’s valiant mouse who vowed to sail, paddle, or swim until reaching Aslan’s country or sinking with his nose to the sunrise.

Most importantly: the Last Supper becomes the first breakfast, in which Christ is revealed in the breaking of the Bread, the edible Light. By this new charcoal fire, far from the crowds and crowing birds, Peter’s three denials turn to three affirmations of love, as Jesus sets his life on a new course. While Peter’s heart had torn earlier and could not follow Christ to the cross, his new heart would not tear as he laid down his life for the early church, as seen in the first readings this week. Every moment, every seemingly insignificant detail, led and would continue to lead Peter to love with a love more like Christ’s, a love with a decisive direction and courageous trust that the gates of hell would not prevail against. This was a moment where the threads of Peter’s life gleamed like gold, pointing to Christ—almost like the ends of stories in which hobbits grow up and save the Shire, children return to England and learn to love Aslan by another name, and boy-kings go on alone (and at once) to lead their kingdoms. Can you remember seeing such flashes of gold, and feeling your heart sing, safe in His own heart—in the folds of His Mercy?

Still, Peter’s life goes on past this moment, just like ours do. Events continue to happen, and we again find ourselves in the dark, being led where we might not have chosen to go—for all hearts being conformed to Christ’s will be led to the cross. Peter is crucified far from home. We are enduring isolation and illness, desolation and death. In the stories, the hobbits say farewell to their dearest friend, the children lose their lives in a British railway accident, and the grown king is parted from his wife and only son—going on yet again alone (and at once). But, these events are not the end of the story. “God has His pen and an open book before Him, and in this book He writes a blessed story which will end only when the world ends.” Along the way, there will be wounds that words like these cannot heal—only the Word can heal. There will be times when we don’t understand why something happened, like the apostles, like Mary Magdalene, weeping by the tomb. And there will moments when He is revealed to us at dawn, and our hearts sing in the sunrise.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Even if we cannot see the streaks of gold amid the gloom and each page feels like an eternity, we can try to remember and remind others of the radiant light of His resurrection. He is our greatest Friend, who desires nothing less than our whole hearts, is always with us, and weeps with us along the way. Every moment we allow Him to take, bless, break, and share us is precious, for His grace heals and elevates our hearts if we unite our sorrows to His sorrowful passion, even if our eyes are filled with tears. Yes, He knows what He is about. Yes, He knows what He is doing. Yes, it’s true, He is with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—you can trust Him, even in the dark, especially in the dark. And, from the diary of St. Faustina, “You will not be alone, because I am with you always and everywhere. Near to My Heart, fear nothing… Know that My eyes follow every move of your heart with great attention. I am bringing you into seclusion so that I Myself may form your heart according to My future plans” (797). In other words, “Take courage, dear heart” (Lewis).

Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
St. Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, On Stories
Peter Kreeft, The Worldview of C.S. Lewis and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
His Own, Remember

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)

The Egg and the Rock

Today’s Gospel seems to tell a Tale of Two Peters. Jesus asks his disciples the pivotal question: “Who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who proclaims in reply: “You are the Christ!”

Peter is able to see supernaturally, beyond the humanity of Jesus to His divinity. God will continue to reveal to him what is more than human, and so give him the grace to lead the Church.

But like yesterday’s story of the blind man whose ability to see comes in two stages, Peter is still blind to the full mission of the Christ he has just professed.

Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this He turned around and, looking at His disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8:31-33)

It is easy with 21st century hindsight to scoff at Peter’s blindness. We who know the good of Good Friday, the joy of Easter Sunday, the promise filled at Pentecost—we can accept the mangled God on the cross, perhaps a little too easily. We can shrug off the scandal of suffering. We wear the cross around our necks, hang it above the doorway, see it every Sunday on the altar at Mass.

One of the most powerful, but deeply dark and disturbing stories that I have ever read, is told by Stephen Mosher in A Mother’s Ordeal. The book follows the story of Chi An, who comes of age during the Communist Revolution in China, and whose life later becomes entangled with China’s brutal One-Child Policy.

It is not an easy story to read, not just because of the shocking cruelty and violence, but because it lacks a comfortable division between victim and perpetrator. Chi An was both.

Following the birth of her son, Chi An became pregnant a second time, in violation of the population agreement she had been forced to sign on her wedding day. When her pregnancy was discovered, population control officers compelled her to go to the hospital to have an abortion. She and her husband were heartbroken, but reluctantly complied. “How can an egg break a rock?” her husband asked sadly.

In her pain, however, (or perhaps in part because of it?) she went on to implement the very policies which had cost her her child—and which had now become the infamous One-Child Policy. “By now my envy of women with more than one child had hardened into something akin to resentment,” she admits. Her primary role was to convince women to agree to abortion or sterilization voluntarily—but if they did not agree, more drastic measures were taken.

She became a primary enforcer of both mandatory sterilization and abortion. The stories that she tells are deeply horrifying. Women were subjected to extreme pressures to give in to “remedial measures” but when they did not comply, abortions were done anyway by force—even in the ninth month, even during labor. When one baby boy survived even that, she watched as the doctor quickly took care of it.

At one low point, Chi An’s own best friend Ah Fang went into hiding to protect her unborn child. Chi An ruthlessly tracked her down, finding her in her last month of pregnancy. When labor began, Ah Fang begged Chi An not to call anyone, to look the other way until her child was safe. Chi An did not.

Later, her doings caught up with her, as Chi An herself became pregnant with an illegal child. She sought asylum in America (where she was living temporarily due to her husband’s work). Even from afar the Chinese government exerted pressure to abort, threatening not only her but those she loved back in China with all sorts of punishments. She became again a victim of the same policies she had worked to enforce. As she fought to save her daughter, the guilt and grief over all of the horror that she had participated in began to fill her life. “’What right do I have to have this child’, I thought bitterly, ‘while so many others have lost theirs?’”

Chi An found no way to escape the pain of her past: “‘What good is your regret?’ I sneered at my newly awakened conscience. ‘How does it help the troubled and despairing women, now forever barren, who you tortured, aborted and sterilized?’”

One day, to her surprise, her husband suggested they go to church. She had no experience with Christianity—her family was atheist, and her husband’s family had been either atheist or Buddhist. Yet one Sunday she found herself in Saint Michael’s Catholic Church and, for the first time, was confronted with the crucifixion.

I was fascinated by the painful figure on the cross above the altar. Why would anyone worship a dead god? I thought to myself. Chinese gods were always robust and happy…the idea of a dead God was simply absurd. Surely the fact that this man had been killed proved that he wasn’t a God at all. Who would want to kowtow before a defeated creature, I thought, unless he was not a mere a creature at all but the Creator? But then why had he allowed himself to die? It was almost beyond belief, certainly beyond the human imagination. The wildest dreams of human beings, I was sure, could not have begun to conjure up a dead God. Perhaps there was something to this after all.

I remembered the hundreds of women who I had forced to have abortions, how they had writhed and screamed and cried. I remembered my own abortion, how I had writhed and screamed and cried. If this tortured figure was God, then surely he felt and understood the pain I had felt and caused. Was there in his death some larger meaning?

…Months later, I made my first confession—and felt at peace with myself for a long time. The little hands that had been clawing at me could no longer reach me in the new place where I lived. My mind laid the little-boy-who-would-not-die to his rest. From now on the only cries that would wake me at night were that of my newborn daughter.

I was forgiven, but justice demanded that I do more…how could I help women still in China? I resolved to begin by telling Steve my story, however painful that might be, so that he might write it.

Applegate crucifix

*You can read Chi An’s story in its entirety in A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy by Stephen Mosher, published in 1993.  For those readers who have Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, this book is currently available as a free selection.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Like Children

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
(Matthew 18:1-5)

The USCCB has designated today as the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. As such, I’ll be talking about one of the gospel readings recommended by the USCCB to be proclaimed during the liturgy. (Depending on where you reside in America, your parish may observe this day, or your parish will follow the readings today that fall under Ordinary Time.)

Not many know this about me, but I share the same birthday as my mother. My mother was born on April 1st, 1963; I was born on April 1st, 1989. Aside from it being a cute piece of trivia about me, it’s a fact that I have always been close to my mother. I often joke that the relationship and friendship I have had with my mother has been one akin to the one shared by Rory Gilmore and her mother, Lorelai, from the dramedy Gilmore Girls. But on a larger and more relevant note, it’s an even lesser-known fact that my mother was *almost* never born. My grandmother, already married in 1962 and raising one child, felt pressure from relatives to terminate her second pregnancy. Upon going to an abortion clinic, my grandmother felt a sudden thrust of pain in her abdomen.

Ignoring that pain, my grandmother went to the abortion table, but heard a voice urging her, “Don’t do this!” My grandmother then fled the abortion clinic in tears, not caring about getting her money back. My grandmother told me the voice sounded feminine and that she presumed it was Our Lady who urged her not to go forward with the abortion. (Was it an interior locution similar to the ones St. Teresa of Avila writes about in The Interior Castle? I don’t know. Ultimately, my grandmother decided against the abortion.)  In a very real way, my mother was almost never born. Similarly, I could have never been born and never ensouled. I may have never written the reflection you are now reading. I am thankful for the life I have been given. My mother is too. Neither of us hold any resentment towards my grandmother.

I don’t want to politicize my reflection, because that’s not my intent. But the Church does recognize the need to pray for the unborn with days such as today, and with other days such as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (That’s when we pray for the souls of the children lost in the massacre ordered by Herod I in Bethlehem. See Matthew 2:1.)

When I read that gospel reading from Matthew, I am constantly reminded of the infighting that occurred with Christ’s twelve disciples. I am reminded too of the attempts by the Pharisees to catch Christ in a “gotcha moment” when they question Christ about the law of divorce. (See Matthew 19.) I am reminded of my own struggles with heartbreak, loss, and tragedy and when I have often gone to Christ, angry and resentful, demanding, “How can this be?” It is of particular importance that Christ is asked whom is “the greatest” by his disciples. Christ doesn’t say St. Peter; Peter is the disciple who gets the “best job” (becoming the first Pope) despite his thrice-denial of Christ. Christ doesn’t say St. John; John is considered “the beloved disciple.” Instead Christ does something else. Christ simply directs them to a child and asks them to become child-like in their disposition in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For the innocence and mind of a child is a wondrous thing.

Consider this. Many of us, upon being asked what God is, might be tempted to say, “God is the Alpha and the Omega.” Or if you enjoy Thomistic theology, you may cite the following, as declared by Pope Pius IX in 1914, “The metaphysical motion of the Divine Essence is correctly expressed by saying that it is identified with the exercised actuality of its own being, or that it is subsistent being itself. And this is the reason for its infinite and unlimited perfection” (Postquam Sanctissimus §23). (Hey now, I’m a Lay Dominican and it’s practically a requirement to enjoy some Thomistic theology.)

Asides from that being a very profound statement, such a statement may read dense to some of us. In contrast, a parent simply tells a child, upon being asked what God is that, “…God is love” (John 4:8). A child understands immediately what God is, because they often equate the love of God to the warmth of their parents. And indeed, God is a loving father.

My larger point is this: do we approach God as a child in prayer and in our daily lives? As an obedient disciple? To the men out there (including myself!), do you act as a servant-leader rather than as leader-servants? Do we treat others, such as the homeless, as St. Teresa of Calcutta would say, with love and affection, because they [the homeless] are “God in His most distressing disguise?” Do we take up our crosses joyfully, and offer up our sufferings lovingly for the souls in purgatory, or in today’s case, for the unborn? Or. Do we approach God as a Pharisee? Do we question God at every turn? Do we approach God in anger with different shades of resentment? If we see a mother who has decided to go through with an abortion, do we judge them, or do we show them mercy and love? Do we tell them to seek the services of the Sisters of Life? Do we treat them with mercy and compassion? Do we pray for them? Do we tell them that no sin is beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness? You are unique! You are loved! You are truly a daughter or son of Christ, King of the Universe!

I am grateful for the life I have been given. My mom is too. And I pray every day for a greater culture of life. I have dealt with many tragedies in my life, have dealt with the loss of many family members and friends, and I have had many personal struggles in my past and present. (As we all have.) As followers of Christ we are to believe that every person is valuable, sacred, good, and wholly unique. Every person’s life has profound meaning and worth. And I pray every day that I treat everyone I meet in my life, from friends, family, and strangers, as Christ would. I pray everyday that I go to Christ as a child, wholly and completely reliant on Him.

Our Holy Father Francis remarks in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, of his lament and grief of the adverse impact we have had on creation. Remember, as directed in the Book of Genesis, we are to be stewards of God’s creation: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). The culture of today can often be a “throwaway” culture. Such a culture has also had a tragic impact on the unborn. Today’s day of prayer is meant to recognize the right to life and ask for acts of prayer and penance for violations of the dignity of the human person, particularly through abortion. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Praying in the Name of Jesus

There are probably a lot of souls that have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers.

This was the thought that was said almost two years ago during a Frassati Bible study. We were studying the Gospel of John; somehow the conversation went from the topic of healing to the works of St. Augustine, which led to talking about St. Monica because it was her prayers that helped her son’s conversion, then we were talking about the intersession of our heavenly mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the end of that discussion someone said that there were probably a lot of souls which have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers. The entire discussion was led by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the paralytic man who gets up, picks up his mat, and miraculously walks to his home. It’s an incredible and powerful passage in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was growing; people had come to know about his preaching and healing. While he was at Peter’s house many went over to see Jesus. So many people went to see him that the house was full—there was no room for anyone else to enter. But there was this group of friends determined to see Jesus. You see, their friend was paralyzed and unable to move, but they fully believed Jesus could heal him. As there was no room for them to enter the house through the front door, they cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their friend into the room where Jesus was. Can you see the magnitude of their faith? Who knows the distance that they had already traveled while carrying their friend to get to the house? Then they get there, and instead of things being easy, it gets complicated. They are blocked from getting to Jesus, who, they know, can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to lose faith and to keep doing anything possible to get to Jesus. What other way is there to get in? People will not move out of the way, it’s too crowded. We must get him inside to Jesus. He will be able to heal him. You’ve heard of all the wonders and signs he’s done. Let’s get our friend in through the roof. Yes, let’s cut open the roof to get him inside. Yes, let’s do it for our friend, to get him to Jesus!

The paralytic man was healed because of the faith his friends had; he was healed because his friends prayed, believed, and carried him to Jesus Christ. Those are the types of friends we all need. Those are the types of friends we should all be. If your friend is spiritually paralyzed due to the sins in their life, sin that is stopping them from walking on their own towards Jesus—help them. You can be that light that guides them. You can set a good example of how to live a virtuous Christian life. You can pray for them. A prayer is a conversation that your soul has with God.

Prayer, in itself, and the importance of praying for others have taken a very important part in my life. We cannot be like the people in the first reading who thought God wasn’t with them to fight in battle at their side. God is always with us helping us to fight our battles. Wether those battles be spiritual brokenness or physical illness, God is always by our side. When his children cry out, He listens. And I believe He takes delight in listening to the prayers of His children, especially those prayers (that act of love!) where we put our own needs aside and pray for the needs of others; when we pray for someone else to be healed and for them to encounter God’s love. Praying in the name of Jesus is powerful! He commanded the twelve apostles (and in turn commanded us) to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). God has freely given us these gifts to heal through prayer in His name and, we should freely give these gifts to others—so they may come to know Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, after the paralytic’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus heals his soul and his body. The forgiveness of sins heals both the spiritual and the physical. After this miraculous healing the paralytic gets up and walks home—not just to any home, but he takes his first steps of healing amongst those who followed and believed in Jesus, he takes his first steps to walk home into the Church.

Let us give thanks to our devoted grandmothers (or anyone else!) whose prayers brought us to the Church and kept our faith alive. In turn, let us pray for our friends and relatives so they may be healed, in the name of Jesus, and so they may get up and walk home into the Church.

Image Credit: James Tissot (French, 1836–1902) The Palsied Man Let Down Through The Roof, 1886–1896 [Brooklynmuseum.org]

Justice in the Smallest Things

For the last few weeks the word “justice” has been following me around. I’ve seen it in Bible verses, heard it at Mass, met parish members whose work focuses on it—the word is everywhere. We often see or hear it in mainstream media and conversations, but do we really know what it means to be “just”?

In today’s first reading, we are given glimpses of what it means to be just in a biblical sense. In Jeremiah 23:5–6, it says, “See, days are coming…when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” Although there’s much to be said about the verses, I believe the highlights of those verses are that those that are just do the following: 1. Act wisely & execute fairly; 2. Provide safety to others who wouldn’t have so otherwise; 3. Have a connection with our Lord.

While you might be thinking, yeah, that’s great and all, but what does a king or a chapter from the from the Old Testament have to do with me? Well, a lot. If you reside or work in New York City, or any metropolitan area, you’re bound to come across unjust circumstances and societal issues. Homelessness. Hunger. Poverty. Things that are beyond the average citizen’s control. Yet, despite that, I believe everyone is called to be just in their daily interactions with others. We are called to act wisely and fairly. We are called to provide safety and comfort to those without. We are called to connect with our Creator. It is through our connection with God that we are able to employ just, or fair, practices. God continuously has mercy on us, and we’re called to do the same with others, no matter what stage of life they’re in.

Being just might look differently for everyone, but in practical terms it could mean having patience during rush hour, serving a homeless individual with the dignity and respect he/she deserves, welcoming a new member of your parish with open arms, or even giving your employee another opportunity at work. During this time of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, I ask that you meditate on what it means to be just and how you can apply today’s readings to your daily life.

If you need an example of what that might look like, St. Joseph is a marvelous example of someone who acted with righteousness and wisdom. When Mary discovered that she “was… with child through the holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18), she had only been betrothed to Joseph, and they hadn’t yet moved in together. In her time, adultery was a grave sin punishable by death, so being pregnant without any “logical” explanation as to how it occurred would have given Joseph enough justification to punish her publicly. Despite that, Joseph decided against punishing her because he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and “decided to divorce her quietly” instead. This action in itself was radical and uncommon at the time, which gives us insight into the kind of character Joseph had. Instead of publicly humiliating her, at best, or stoning her, at worst, he decided to quietly settle his affairs with Mary so that their divorce wouldn’t make her an outcast or target of the community.

How often can we say this about ourselves? Do we purposefully and intentionally try to cause as little harm as possible to others during our daily interactions? Or do we sometimes act from a place of hurt and anger, thereby perpetuating the cycle? God calls us to treat others as He treats us, from a place of justice and mercy.

Joseph, however, didn’t just stop there, as we all know. He eventually accepted Mary into his home after an angel appeared to him in a dream:

“He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matt. 1:24).

Although we can only guess what occurred then, it would be enough to speculate that Joseph might not have fully understood what was going on. He might not have understood why God was calling him to accept this woman, with whom he’d had no relations, into his home and take her as his wife. Yet he did so anyway. Just like Joseph, God calls us to follow Him through the uncertainty and discomfort. Through the sacrifices. Through the difficult decisions one must make in order to act justly. Despite how overwhelming all of this might sound, take comfort in knowing that our God gives us all the grace and strength we need. Through Him, we can obtain the wisdom and grace we need to bring a little more justice into this world we live in.

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]

As We Forgive

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the dishonest steward. While this steward who squanders his master’s property is not exactly a model of ethical behavior, Jesus draws our attention toward how he engages in an economy of mercy. After receiving news that he will lose his stewardship, this man calls in his master’s debtors and forgives their debts, so that once he loses his position, they will still welcome him in. He understands that if he extends mercy to others, he will then be received with mercy by those he has forgiven. And in turn, we see that his master subsequently shows mercy to him after seeing what he has done.

We know that God’s economy of mercy is even more generous than what we see in this parable—Jesus specifies that this steward is a child “of the world” and not a child “of light.” He forgives others their debts, but ultimately he is operating out of a desire to protect himself, not out of a true sense of charity. However, Jesus tells us that the children of light are less prudent in these matters than are the children of this world. How can this be?

Consider our knowledge as Christians of just how much we have been forgiven, of the immeasurable price that Jesus paid for us on the Cross. Do we act from this knowledge on a day-to-day basis? Are we aware of the immense debt that has been lifted from us, or do we feel as though we are the ones who are owed something? We have experienced a radical mercy, one that should utterly transform us. But how often do we thank God for His forgiveness and then turn around and hold a grudge against our neighbor for something petty?

When we say the Our Father, do we really understand the meaning of the words we are reciting? Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We cannot expect to be treated mercifully if we do not extend mercy to others. Let us learn from the story of the dishonest steward and remember that those who have been forgiven have a duty to forgive in turn. We, who have been forgiven much, must learn to radiate God’s mercy to others.

Eucharistic Hearts

“Oh humble sublimity! Oh sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides himself under the form of Bread. Consider, brothers, the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.” -St. Francis of Assisi

The chapel is bare, except for the San Damiano cross, the Our Lady of Guadalupe image, and a tiny vase of yellow flowers. A single sunbeam falling across the room seems to make the tabernacle glow with an inner light. In front of our small group of volunteers, gray-cloaked sisters and friars vowed to Lady Poverty kneel in prayer, quietly saying the words we say each Mass when we lift our hearts up to the Lord.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest…

Faithfully joining with the angels and the saints and the sounds of the city streets, we behold our Love, who is love, and who daily descends to be with us, even to the end of the age. “And as He appeared in true flesh to the Holy Apostles, so now He shows Himself to us in the sacred Bread; and as they by means of their fleshly eyes saw only His flesh, yet contemplating Him with their spiritual eyes, believed Him to be God, so we, seeing bread and wine with bodily eyes, see and firmly believe it to be His most holy Body and true and living Blood” (Admonitions). The priest standing before the altar begins to raise his hands. It is the “the point of intersection of the timeless with time…the gift half understood.”

Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you…

Hundreds of miles away, a little girl stares up at the same cross with folded hands and wide eyes. Her gaze darts from the cross to the priest, and then to the tiny host in his hand. An even smaller boy kneels beside her, squirming slightly and leaning against their mother, whose head is bent over clasped hands. As the white-cloaked priest genuflects, their father catches her eye and smiles slightly. She can’t help but smile back, gently putting an arm around her son and holding him close.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me…

The family then proclaims the mystery of their faith: their Lord and Love has died and risen from the grave. He sets them free, breaking open their stony hearts and slowly giving them natural hearts—hearts that pour themselves out little by little in “service, love, sacrifice, and courage” (Admonitions). United with our friends in gray, they see Christ in the breaking of the Bread and are given strength for early morning holy hours, first steps and last days of school, and unspoken hopes and murmured prayers. It is “a lifetime’s death in love, ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.”

Repair My house which, as you can see, has fallen into ruin…

Finally, we kneel in silence, having received the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In those precious moments, our hearts—having fallen into ruin—are also changed, are transformed and repaired by Love. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, it produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.” For “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And for this reason, staring up at the San Damiano cross, “we call [that] Friday Good.”

For our Lord is here, hidden under the forms of Bread and Wine, the “one great thing to love on earth.” He is with us; he has not and will not abandon us. Even if we leave and follow our own devices, even if it feels like we are held in captivity and only prayers for deliverance can escape from our lips. He is here, and he is waiting to bring us home. Oh humble sublimity! oh sublime humility!

Oh loving mercy, oh merciful love…

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitions
Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper
Catholic Underground Music

You are Delighted In

“The Lord takes delight in His people…” (Psalm 149)

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing gift of being able to go on a mission trip with a Catholic organization called Mustard Seed to Mandeville, Jamaica. We were serving 18 children with severe disabilities. Most of them were wheelchair-bound and not able to talk or walk. Many of them had been abandoned by their parents and found in the streets. Each day we would feed them, play with them, help with their physical therapy, and give them the one-on-one attention they are so often unfortunately lacking.

One of the best parts of each day was taking the kids to Adoration in the little chapel at their residence. They came to life in the chapel, and it was really beautiful to see them each converse with Jesus in their own way. I just *knew* that they knew Jesus was really there. They would move around, smile, clap, or make sounds to pray and praise our Lord.

One day, I took a girl named Shenell to Adoration. She couldn’t talk and only had peripheral vision, and I had made it my mission all week to get her to smile, something she didn’t do often at first. I purposefully put her wheelchair directly facing the tabernacle, as close to Jesus as I could get her. I was sitting next to her, holding her hand and silently praying for her. During prayer, I was moved to lean close to her and whisper, “God loves you so much.” When I did this, her face immediately broke into this HUGE smile, and she starting giggling with sheer joy. Tears immediately rolled down my cheeks.

I was struck by how much Jesus delights in Shenell and all the other kids, and how they don’t have to do anything to have Him delight in them—He delights in them just because they’re His. How beautiful to think that He delights in us the same way! We do not have to earn God’s love or delight—He simply rejoices in us just as He rejoices in all those precious kiddos in Jamaica. May we be able to delight in one another the same way!

So today, I will speak the same words to you that I did to Shenell in that little chapel: God loves you so much. Really, deeply, intimately, and with so much rejoicing over you. Soak in that love today and let it permeate into the core of your being. Let His joy fill you, sustain you, and hold you through no matter what season you are currently in.

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The chapel at Gift of Hope in Mandeville, Jamaica.