Called to Belong

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” –Romans 1:5-7

Our restless hearts wrestle with the deepest questions: Do I matter? What’s my purpose? Where is my place in this world? Who is God calling me to be?

We desire to belong, to be wanted, to be noticed and seen. We want to be loved as we are. We search for that feeling of home among pockets of family, friends, church communities, and nostalgic places. We tuck into our hearts conversations and moments that remind us of who we are and why we’re here.

Sometimes the striving takes over and the search for belonging becomes a competition of comparison, envy, insecurity, and pride.

Our anxious, searching hearts can find rest in the God of the universe who calls us His own, who enfolds us into His arms and says, “You’re Mine.”

Each human heart is etched with the longing for God. We always belong with God, and not only that, but He calls us to belong. He wants us.

And so we can rest in Him, never having to doubt who we are and if we fit. Never having to feel the impostor syndrome, the lies, the endless questions. In His gaze, all of that fades away because we are His own, and we always belong.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” -Catechism of the Catholic Church 27

Our Identity In Christ

Then [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:20

In today’s Gospel Peter confesses his faith by saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one by God. This is the first time in the Gospel which a human on his own has the insight to KNOW that Jesus is Christ. In first-century Palestine, this declaration was a very big deal. For years and years and years, Israel has been waiting for the Messiah, the one anointed by God to come and save them. Earlier in his ministry (look at yesterday’s reflection) people were confused by Jesus’ identity, thinking he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet. But Peter, in an intimate moment, clearly and definitively states that Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Christ. The new David that Israel has so earnestly been waiting for.

We declare our own confession of faith when we recite in the creed, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Frassati retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Called by Name.” A name is important. We fill out forms with our names. We wear name tags with our names. We write cards and letters and sign them with our names. Our names are special. Just as the name Jesus is special. There is power in a name. Just as the name of Jesus is powerful.

Throughout the retreat I was attentive to hear God call me by name, Mariela. And in hearing him say my name I was reminded of my identity. I am a child of God. Sometimes the world may confuse our identity, as the crowds had earlier been confused by Jesus’ true identity. The world may perceive us in such a way that they may neglect our feelings, deny our dignity, or make us feel less than welcomed. They do not know us. Our true identity is being a child of God.

After Peter speaks Jesus’ true identity, Jesus tells the disciples that he has to suffer, be rejected, be killed and then he will rise on the third day. This is the first time that Jesus mentions his death, telling of the extreme and necessary means by which he would fulfill God’s will. Explaining how he is a different type of Messiah.

In the creed, we confess truth to his Passion when we say, “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection is part of his mission. The mission of the Messiah was much more than to be a military figure that would bring Israel out of Roman authority; Jesus’ mission is to save souls. The Catholic Church, the Church Jesus built—its mission is to save souls. You and I are a part of that mission.

Believing in Jesus’ name, in his identity, in his mission, is at the same time believing and trusting in God’s plan. If we were to ask God the same question Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”—and let’s be real, we have asked that question every time we have lost our way, every time we wanted to feel loved and desired, every time we wanted to feel like we mattered—God would easily answer us by saying, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). God the Father would not leave his children out of his plan!

When we know with confidence who Jesus is, as Peter knew that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we must also be confident in who we are. Our names are delicately engraved in the palms of God’s hands, and upon hearing him say our names, we should be reminded and reaffirmed of our own identity in Christ.

Suggested listening: Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship

Image Credit: Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter [Public Domain]

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.

Crossing a Bridge

In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs 16:9

In today’s first reading, we draw near the end of the story of Joseph the dreamer, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers. What followed—a life spent in exile, filled with heartache, loneliness, and imprisonment—could not have been further from the dreams his parents had for their beloved son. Still, Joseph surrendered to the will of God, took the adventures that befell him, and eventually guided the entire country through a seven-year famine. As he tearfully told his brothers upon their reunion, “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5). After years of suffering, the family was healed, countless lives were preserved, and God’s saving power was revealed. What a story!

Much like Joseph, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, whose feast we celebrate today, totally abandoned themselves to divine providence and freely undertook the adventures God presented to them. Both had deeply desired to enter religious life in their youth, but those desires remained unfulfilled. Louis had been refused entry to the Great Saint Bernard Monastery in the Swiss Alps, and Zélie had been turned away from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Faced with living in the world, each then trained to enter an artistic profession. He became a jeweler and watchmaker, and she became a lacemaker. Yet, they were still filled with grief and an aching desire for holiness—Zélie especially, for her older sister did have a vocation and entered the Visitation Monastery in Le Mans. For a young woman already filled with anguish and who truly viewed life as an exile, the additional separation from her sister was particularly painful.

But, not long after her sister entered religious life, Zélie found a kindred spirit in Louis—a gentle yet energetic man living a quasi-monastic life in the world—while crossing the St. Leonard Bridge in Alençon. They were married three months later at midnight on July 13, 1858, each vowing to be “an angel in each other’s life, radiating the face of Christ to each other and committed to bringing each other closer to God” (Renda, xxiii). When the two visited her sister on their wedding day, Zélie writes, “I cried all my tears, more than I’d ever cried in my life, and more than I would ever cry again. My poor sister didn’t know how to console me… [Louis] understood me and consoled me as best he could because his inclinations were similar to mine. I even think our mutual affection grew through it. Our feelings were always in accord, and he was always a comfort and support to me” (Renda, 288).

Marriage was not a consolation prize for Sts. Louis and Zélie, as they soon learned. It was a true calling, and one meant to be lived out fully. During a time where consecrating your life to God, performing miracles, or dying as a martyr were considered the best ways to achieve holiness, this couple was instead led to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way, a little way. Their fiat was embedded into every aspect of their marriage—they put God first and loved him more than they loved each other or their children, and they loved each other and their children very much indeed. One only needs to look at how they signed their letters when away from each other: “Your wife who loves you more than her own life” and “Your husband and true friend, who loves you for life” (Renda). Their daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, called them “a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

Sts. Louis and Zélie lived lives seeped in prayer, the sacraments, and charitable works and raised their children to love God. Their spirituality was characterized by humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude. Zélie was a Third Order Franciscan, and Louis had a particular affinity for Eucharistic adoration. They were devoted to Our Lady, received Communion as often as was acceptable at the time, and continuously gave of themselves to each other, their children, their extended family, and their whole community. Zélie was both a brilliant businesswoman and a dynamic mom; Louis was both eager to run to someone’s rescue and dedicate himself to study in his monastic-style cell in the family attic. They adored their children, accepted all the joys and sorrows of family life, and leaned on Christ in all circumstances, knowing they were not perfect people or parents.

Their story of crossing a bridge may seem like nothing but a charming tale, just as their daughter may seem like nothing more than a little flower. But there is much more to their marriage. St. Catherine of Siena describes Christ as a bridge reaching from Heaven to Earth in her Dialogues. For the rest of Louis and Zélie’s marriage, crossing a bridge meant uniting their sufferings to Christ, carrying their crosses, and “enduring to the end.” They had nine children, but four died at a young age, including the sons Zélie hoped to see celebrate Mass as priests. They faced many sicknesses in their family. Zélie valiantly endured an excruciatingly painful death in Louis’s arms at the age of 45 from breast cancer. Louis lost his wife too soon, gave his daughters to Christ one by one as they entered religious life, and quietly suffered from severe physical and mental illnesses before dying at an old age.

Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin are not saints because their daughter Thérèse is a saint and Doctor of the Church. They aren’t even saints because all their children entered religious life, or because they suffered greatly. Sts. Louis and Zélie are saints because they did the will of God, and they did it with all their hearts. They lived lives of astounding holiness and simplicity, offering their sufferings to God with courage, living in the grace of the present moment, and trusting in his love unconditionally. As the first spouses to be canonized as a couple, let us pray for their intercession for the healing of families around the world and for us to let God love us and lead us—even if we are led, one shaking step at a time, to somewhere different than we originally dreamed, like Sts. Louis and Zélie, like Joseph the dreamer, both sent ahead of us to help point the way to Christ, the bridge “walled and roofed with Mercy.” May God’s saving power be revealed through our lives, and may he make us saints and bring us home. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Original composition: A Rose From Our Lady
Mongin, The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Renda (ed.), A Call to a Deeper Love
Martin, The Father of the Little Flower
Martin, The Mother of the Little Flower

Our Mission: Holy Boldness

Their message goes out through all the earth – Psalm 19

If we have a familiarity with the Gospels, we are familiar with stories of Jesus healing people.  We know his healing of the blind man, telling the paralyzed man to pick up his mat and walk, and his raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn 9; Mt 9; Jn 11).  But how familiar are we with current stories of Catholics healing in Jesus’ name?  Have we seen someone be healed?  Do we even expect Jesus to heal people now?  Have we ever thought to pray for healing for someone in person, in Jesus’ name?  This is where my own spirit of skepticism likes to make its entrance (and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this)… ‘Those things don’t really happen now…’ ‘Well, Jesus only heals through certain people who have that gift and I don’t think I do…’ ‘I definitely believe Jesus can do those things, but…’ 

Are these thoughts in line with what we are learning from Scripture during this most wonderful season of Easter?  Actually, not at all.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“[w]hoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these because I am going to the Father.” 

Wait a minute… Did Jesus say only certain Christians with certain spiritual gifts will do the works that He does?  No!  He says, whoever believes in Him.  So wait…. that includes me?  Yes!  I definitely believe in Christ, and if you believe in our Lord and Savior, this includes you!  Wow.  This is really exciting and can also seem kind of scary.  And I can imagine the first apostles didn’t feel much differently than you or I.

Today’s feast celebrates two apostles, St. Philip and St. James.  The apostles were not exempt from that same spirit of skepticism.  In the Gospel, after Jesus has just told them that if they know Him they also know the Father, James responds that it will be enough if they can just see the Father (Jn 14:7-8).  Many, if not all, of us can identify with James.  Truly, it is only through God’s grace that our skepticism can be healed and we can receive greater faith in its place.  In the book of Acts, God reveals to us His mission for His Church:  That as the Father has sent the Son, so now the Son will return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to believers, that WE may perpetuate and carry to completion Christ’s earthly mission – the restoration of the Kingdom (Jn 20:21, Acts 1:6-8). What characterized His earthly mission? Teaching and preaching the good news, accompanied by signs & wonders — healings.  As Christ promised, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost — the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  And this is the same spirit each of us have received through the grace of our baptisms.  It is through the Holy Spirit of God that Christ can do His work in and through us, just as he did through the first disciples of the early church.  These are Jesus’ words that we read today:

“And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

In His name, He has promised to work great signs and wonders through us for the glory of God.  The rest of Acts is an exciting account of how the first disciples of the Lord lived out this mission of the Church.  The Church is still called to this mission today.

In the past couple of years, the Lord has worked to transform my skeptical heart.  He has taken me to places I never could have imagined by inviting me to partake in healing ministry.  He has drawn me in to witness His healing firsthand and, in His grace, He has built up my faith, inspired me, and ignited me.  I have seen the glory of our God through miracles of a woman’s cancer healed, people’s chronic pain be healed, my own husband’s injured wrists be healed, and felt my own body and uneven shoulders be restored to even-ness through prayers of healing, among other countless miracles, all for the glory of God. As I have witnessed these incredible physical healings, I’ve seen and experienced personally the greatest miracle – how God uses His signs and wonders to bring inner healing, convert our hearts, and set us free.  Our God is alive and at work through his church worldwide.  He only asks us to have faith and not be afraid to step out in faith in His name, and this is how we partake in and perpetuate Christ’s mission. 

Today, may we ask our Lord for the gift of holy boldness in our faith, through the intercession of Sts. Philip and James.  Let’s ask this for ourselves and for every Christian.  That as we approach Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit would reignite our hearts and enflame us with the all-consuming love of God. 

Holy Spirit, come, fill our hearts with the fire of your Love.  Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting us into your earthly mission. Father, thank you for drawing us in to your divine plan of salvation for the whole world.  Lord God, ignite our hearts anew with holy boldness.  Heal our hearts of skepticism, we surrender our skepticism to you and ask for greater faith.  Help us to know who you are more fully.  Fill us with your charity, your burning love, your endless mercy and compassion, and inspire us through your most Holy Spirit to live out the mission you have given us.  We pray all of these things through the intercession of St. Philip and St. James, and in the most Holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. 

For more info, I highly recommend: The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom by Randy Clark and Dr. Mary Healy

Prayer is the Battle Plan

In my favorite movie, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly laments not being able to come up with the right words at the right time, finding herself tongue-tied and her mind blank. “What should I have said, for example, to the bottom-dweller who recently belittled my existence?” she says. I think we’ve all had those moments, where we realize later, perhaps at 11:30pm when we’re lying in bed trying to sleep, the thing we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. These situations arise in moments of conflict, in a moment where we feel misunderstood, or when we are put in a circumstance where we are invited to stand up for the truth with love.

What do we say? What do we do? How do we get better at fighting the fear and speaking up, or maybe biting our tongue when anger arises and allowing God’s truth to pour out of us instead?

The Apostles in today’s first reading act with wisdom when they had every reason to both lash out in anger and be totally tongue-tied. Faced with opposition and death threats all around them, and after having just been released from prison, Peter and John and the other Apostles gather together to pray for boldness. They could’ve had a meeting to come up with a battle plan to confront their persecutors, or they could’ve strategized how to go into hiding. They could’ve given up on their mission to evangelize entirely. But praying for boldness was their battle plan. Surrounded by challenges and fear, they knew that it was not them doing the work of growing the early Church, but the Holy Spirit at work through them. They realized their acute need for the Holy Spirit to empower them and give them the boldness they needed to go out and answer God’s call.

So they prayed for boldness; then, trusting that the Holy Spirit would not abandon them, they went out and kept preaching.

I don’t think our Catholic Church has an issue of too many people living with holy boldness. That is not our problem. I think we are more caged in fear than anything. In what areas of our own lives do we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us with boldness? Where is God calling us to shake off the fear and trust in His faithfulness? The more open we are to the Holy Spirit, the more He can empower us. When we are faced with those challenging situations where we know in the pit of our stomach that we need to say something, we can call on the Holy Spirit to give us the words and the courage to speak as He is leading us. We can put the pressure on God to show up and give us what we need—we just have to be open.

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Help us to be bold and on fire for Your mission for each of us.

Again…

“Again!” little Zippy claps with delight. “Again! Again!” she pleads.

I wonder just how many more “agains” I can take. The Five Little Monkeys have fallen off the bed enough times to warrant a CPS intervention. Baby Shark could probably have little grandbaby sharks of his own. And still the Wheels on the Bus go ‘round and round and round… “Again! Again!” cries little Zippy.

In today’s Gospel, Peter is invited to cast his nets into the sea, again.  Again, he and a few others have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Perhaps the “again” is accompanied by skepticism and weariness, even a resigned “going through the motions.”

I wonder if Jesus, standing on the shore of the sea of Tiberius, has something of a childlike delight at the coming surprise, as He invites Peter again. “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something…”

*            *            *

“Again!” This is not the first time that Jesus has intervened while Peter was fishing.

The first time (in Luke 5), Jesus asked Peter to take Him out in his boat. Using it as a platform, Jesus taught as the people listened from the shore. Jesus then invites Peter to cast His nets—and Peter protests, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” No doubt he is skeptical, the fisherman taking advice from a carpenter, but he concedes: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

When they raise the nets, they are full to bursting—so much that two boats are filled to the point of almost sinking. Seeing this, Peter falls on his face, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

It is not a surprising reaction—the shock of seeing a miracle performed before his very eyes. But this is not the first miracle Peter has seen.

We know disciples were with Jesus when the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana. (Some have joked that their presence explains why the wine ran out…) Peter and the disciples saw the changing of water to wine.  They saw Jesus cast out a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum, and they saw Jesus heal a woman with a fever—Simon Peter’s own mother in-in-law. Peter then is present as “all those who had any that were sick with various disease brought them to [Jesus]; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” (Luke 4:40)

So why is Peter so overcome by a net full of fish? Surely it is not more spectacular than those works already witnessed?

Yet observing a miracle is very different than being a part of one. In the net of fish, Peter’s own work is changed. His own actions produce a result that is clearly more than human. This is beautiful and awe-inspiring…and terrifying.

Jesus did not come primarily that we might see signs, but that might become one. His greatest work is not to transform water into wine but to change stony hearts into hearts of flesh. He makes it that human beings might do the works of God.

“Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” Peter doesn’t yet understand that it is precisely sinners that Jesus has come to be with, to save, to change. “Do not be afraid…henceforth you will catch men,” Jesus tells him.

*            *            *

In today’s Gospel, Peter at first doesn’t recognize the voice that calls from the shore.  But once again the nets are filled, and John says: “It is the Lord.”  This time Peter doesn’t run away or beg Jesus to leave him. Instead he “tucks in his garment and jumps into the sea” rushing towards Him.

Peter is now more aware than before of his sinfulness and unworthiness. His denials of Jesus have stripped away any illusions of self-sufficiency. He knows who he is, what he is made of.  On his own, he has only empty nets and empty promises to offer.

But he also knows who Jesus is. Jesus who is able to fill his nets, will also fill his heart with courage. One day, empowered by the Holy Spirit, he will fulfill his wish to follow Jesus and lay down his life for Him.   He will become a sign.

Today, let us, like Peter, resolve to invite Jesus to come into our boat, “again.”

 

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Photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash