What Kind of God

Recently it seemed that a wish was about to come true. It was the wish that I made the last three years while blowing out birthday candles. The wish that I had been working tirelessly for and praying for on a daily basis. I worked feverishly to prepare, past the point of pain, and then on the promised day enlisted all my friends and family to pray as well.   I was confident that God had heard my prayer, sure that it was all finally going to work out as I had hoped.

It did not.

The disappointment was crushing. At first I could only laugh at the horror of it all. But fatigue and frustration fed my feelings which quickly turned black and melodramatic. Not only was there no light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel itself had fallen in, and an entirely new tunnel would have to be built.

The Opposition Voice began to whisper words of doubt and discouragement. “Surely if God were good, He would have heard and answered your prayer…”

I have at times in my life felt a supernatural joy, disproportionate to the circumstances, from a source that had to be More than human. This was the opposite. For just a few moments, my heart felt burdened with an inhuman aching; the pain of promises broken and dreams dashed and all the failed expectations of all my friends and family and those I don’t even know seemed to take over. Miscarriages. Broken marriages. Failed operations. Caskets lowered into the ground. Unanswered prayers of every kind. “What kind of a God do you believe in?” the voice taunted.

The devil always overplays his hand. In his very taunt he offered me the antidote: I believe in a God who is good.

I don’t know how God will bring good into or out of all of these situations. But I know He is good.

This trust in the goodness of God: the virtues of faith and hope—these are the weapons of life in the desert.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be rejecting not only the Syrophoenician woman’s request for the healing of her daughter, but the woman herself. “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Yikes!

But despite the apparent harshness of Jesus’ rebuke, the woman persists, and cleverly turns around this unflattering epithet: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Scripture scholar Mary Healy notes that not only is this Gentile woman filled with chutzpa in her persistence, but she is the only person in all of Mark’s Gospel who addresses Jesus as Lord. This remarkable recognition of Jesus’ sovereignty comes not from an Israelite, but from a foreigner. She pays Him homage, falling at his feet, and in her reply expresses confidence that His goodness will include Gentiles as well.

Her faith and her persistence move Jesus to grant her request. Her daughter is healed.

The Syrophoenician woman turns out to be a model of Christian faith…She refused to take no for an answer—and her boldness is rewarded. The clear lesson in this story is that the Lord does hear our prayers, and even his apparent refusals are meant to awaken in us a yet deeper faith, which opens us to receive the gift he has for us. Few sayings of Jesus are recorded more often than his reassurance that what we ask in prayer with faith we will receive. –Dr. Mary Healy

Lord, grant us the grace to trust always in Your goodness, even when we cannot see your plan.

Michael_Angelo_Immenraet_-_Jesus_and_the_Woman_of_Canaan

Source: Healy, Mary.  The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academics, 2008) pp. 143-145.

Image: Michael Angelo Immenraet [Public domain]

He Knows Your Heart

“The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12

Your heart is known.

Each and every part of your heart is known by our Lord, even the parts no one else knows about, the parts that carry our deepest desires and our deepest scars. And to be known by God is to be tenderly, intimately loved by God. There is nothing to be afraid of in Him knowing all of us, because He loves us totally and completely.

God knows our hearts and loves our hearts. He desires to so badly pour His love into every nook, cranny, and crevice of our hearts. The Lord waits for you in each moment to fill your soul to overflowing with His dazzling peace, with His wondrous light that shatters all darkness.

Sometimes we can find ourselves crying out to God with questions of, “why?”, “how?”, or “when?”, especially when we are struggling. God always hears and answers these questions, but oftentimes with a “who.” In those moments of uncertainty and questioning and wrestling, God so tenderly answers by pointing us to Himself.

You see, the more we know who God is and who we are as His beloved sons and daughters, the easier it is to trust that He has got every single one of our whys, hows, and whens on His Heart, too, and that He’s already working on it before we can even utter a single word.

When He knows our hearts, He loves our hearts, and everything on our hearts has His complete and total attention. He is always working for our good, in every situation.

Let yourself be known by God, and receive the beautiful intimacy of who God is, for He is love.

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]

Holding and Beholding

“This night a battle has been waged and won for you. Love had to come back for you. Love had to get you. The Love that has been coming for you since the beginning—He slays dragons for you. This is the truest love story of history, and it’s His-story, and it’s for you. All the other fairy-tale love stories only echo your yearning for this truest, realest one—this one that has its beginning before the beginning of time.

This night, you on this visited planet, your rescue is here. You can breathe.

Your God extends now on straw.

He lays Himself down in your mire.

He unfolds Himself in the stench you want to hide, in the mess that is your impossible, in the mucked straw you didn’t want anyone to know.

Rejected at the inn, holy God comes in small to where you feel rejected and small. God is with you now.

Wherever you are—in a soundless cry or hidden brokenness or in your ache—God always wants to be with you. You are not ever left alone in this. We are never left alone in this; God is with us.

This is Love you can’t comprehend.

You can only feel and touch this kind.

There, in the place where you feel rejected, you can be touched by God.

There, in the places you feel small, you can touch in God.

He came in the flesh.

Come kneel close.

Let the warm breath of heaven fall on you.

God waits to be held.

God waits for you to draw close.” -The Least in the Kingdom, Ann Voskamp

Merry Christmas, dear friends! A friend sent me this reflection the other day, and I was moved to share it with you all.

God waits to be held. He beholds us, and He desires that we behold Him.

This weekend I was blessed to go on a retreat, and in the chapel there was a statue of baby Jesus in a manger in front of the altar. After spending some time in prayer, I was moved to go up and kiss the statue of baby Jesus before leaving the chapel. That got me thinking…”How can I, unworthy as I am, behold our Lord this Christmas?”

The next night, I found myself in the chapel again, kneeling in the aisle, in a place of total humility and vulnerability with our Lord. I looked up at the same statue of baby Jesus, then at the Tabernacle that beheld Jesus in the Eucharist, and finally at the crucifix above it that beheld all Jesus’ pain for our salvation, in awe of who He is and how He died for us. I was confronted with my own weakness, yet somehow still beholding Him.

Beholding our Lord comes with a beautiful, raw humility—those moments where we stop and say, “Wow,” where we marvel at His majesty, and realize just how much we need Him. That is beholding Him.

The Lord came to us with that same beautiful, raw humility. We can be real with Him. We can behold Him as we are, with all that we have, hearts bare like Jesus’ Sacred Heart that beats on the outside of His body.

He wouldn’t want us to behold Him any other way.

O come, let us adore Him. O come, let us behold Him. O come, let us hold Him.

Moment by Moment with the Lord

On September 21st, mine and my husband’s lives changed forever as we welcomed the baby who had been growing in my womb for nine months into the world! In her first eight weeks outside the womb, our sweet little girl has already encouraged and challenged me to grow. One immediate change I’ve experienced in my day to day is how little my ideas of a plan or schedule really matter. Of course, the words ‘plan’ and ‘schedule’ mean nothing to an eight-week-old, and that is the beauty (and challenge) of it. By nature, I tend to be pretty go-with-the-flow and not much of a planner, but even a plan as simple as making breakfast and coffee when I get up in the morning may or may not come to fruition in the way I imagine now that I have a little one depending on me. Breastfeeding, a diaper change, and/or a snuggle may all need to happen before I have a chance to take a sip of that coffee. In short, any number of little things can re-route my simple daily plans. Equally as often, I am anticipating my little girl getting hungry only to find that she is perfectly content and smiley, giving me an unexpected opportunity to get something done that I wasn’t expecting to do or enter into that smiley moment with her. As I’ve begun to adjust to caring for my sweet little infant, I’ve realized how it encourages me to be present to the moment. I can choose to cling to my ideal plan and be disappointed or upset when it goes differently, or I can choose to be open to what is most important moment by moment.

Holiness is a calling that asks for our whole present selves first and foremost. God asks us to come into His presence and everything else flows from there. Plans and schedules are not bad at all – they are in fact very good. A plan for our day or our entire life plan can be a beautiful source of Hope. What’s important is that this Hope is rooted in the Lord and not the plan itself. He is the source of all Hope and our plans only matter insofar as we don’t lose the source Himself in the midst of them. We must learn detachment from the plans themselves. And while our plans can be good, meaningful, and holy, God often has surprises up His sleeve anyway. As a good friend of mine always says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of His second coming, when the “Son of Man is revealed” (Lk 17:30). These Scriptures make me ask myself, “What can I be doing to be ready when the Lord comes?” But I think that question can be misleading. At the center of anything I am “doing” to prepare for the Lord, is the simple act of being in Him. Through the grace of God, made concrete through our baptism and the other sacraments, we are in Him and called to remain in Him (Jn 15:4) moment by moment. The Holy Spirit speaks to us and calls us outside of our own plans into His own. At the core, we yearn to be so attune with Him that we don’t miss His voice because it didn’t fit into our own schedule. 

How do we become more attune with Him? Talk to Him, spend time with Him, welcome Him in to every moment. And as often as we forget to do this, ask Him to forgive us and start again, asking for His help because we can’t do this in our own power. And He will. He will teach us, just like He is teaching me through the presence of my daughter. In a time where my prayer time is sporadic, He is teaching me through the very vocation He has given me. He is speaking a specific lesson to me through my daughter in these first weeks of her life. I ask Him to help me be open with each moment so I don’t miss an opportunity to play with her when she is awake or use the time she is sleeping peacefully to eat something… or write this reflection. My motherly instincts are encouraging me to become attuned to my daughter and what she is communicating to me. And so it is with the Lord… He welcomes us to become attuned to Himself so we may not miss the important things He is communicating to us. How is He currently communicating to you through your life, and how can you invite Him in more fully to each moment?

Lord, I welcome you into this day, into each moment. Teach me how to surrender my plans and live more truly moment by moment with you. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Irrevocable Love

“Lord, in your great love, answer me.” -Psalm 69

Sometimes it can be easy to forget that God never leaves us. When we find ourselves in a place of searching for answers, He’s already there, already working on it. With Him, we are safe, and we don’t have to be afraid.

A lot of people talk about how God always hears our prayers, which is true, but let’s focus for a second on how God receives our prayers:

God receives your prayers with the utmost love, care, and concern. He receives your prayers with tenderness and compassion, with deep knowing and understanding for every cry of your heart. No corner of who you are is left unloved or unnoticed by Him. He really does care about every single detail of every prayer, repeated or only uttered once, spoken out loud, or buried in the depths of your heart.

Whatever is on your heart is on God’s heart, too. You always have His attention. His gifts and calls are irrevocable, as today’s first reading says. This applies to His loving, constant focus on you, too–that’s a gift He will never take away.

And so we can go to God, as we are. We can go to Him unmasked and hearts unveiled, because He always receives our prayers with love.

We praise You, Lord.

The Scent of Unseen Roses

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis

The world is our ship, and not our home. Surely you have felt it: in the good desires that do not satisfy, even when they are fulfilled, in the deep stirrings of your heart when faced with the numinosity of true beauty, or in the grief of being parted from loved ones as they pass from this world, emptying us with “the loss and the silence.” We are haunted by “the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of ‘melodies unheard’” (MacDonald) that come from a home we were made for but have never truly seen. As Lewis says, “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”

Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints—those pilgrims who have made that journey home and now see God face to face, as he is. Now, they know: the echo has swelled into the song of praise we hear in today’s first reading, and they are part of the greatest music there is. We remember all of our patron saints, from Our Lady and St. Joseph to the well-beloved St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, and so many others. As C.S. Lewis says, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints!” There are great scholars and teachers, heroic priests and religious, selfless parents and friends, holy mystics and martyrs, little children, steadfast souls who helped the poorest of the poor—and ordinary people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. What they all had in common was the longing to see the face of God, “to press on to that other country, and to help others do the same” (Lewis).

Though we can hear the echo of that song, are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, and even receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are not home yet—we are here in the valley of tears, in the state of the “not yet,” pressing on to that other country as best we can. How can we respond to this inner tug, this state of anticipation? What will our song be? Tempted at times by despair and presumption, we must turn to the virtue of hope. Generally speaking, “in hope, man reaches ‘with restless heart’, with confidence and expectation… toward the arduous ‘not yet’ of fulfillment” (Pieper). As St. Augustine describes it, “God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.”

This kind of hope, the hope of heaven, is a theological virtue, along with faith and love. It is “the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself” (Pieper). Hope depends on a person: Christ. As trust extended into the future, it is much deeper than natural optimism; it is an act of the will. Hope is a fighting virtue that inspires one to keep stepping forward even when all seems dark—and the saints did take these steps, as they journeyed through any and every kind of persecution, loneliness, and grief, through God’s grace. When faced with the problem of pain, “in sorrow [they went], but not in despair” (Tolkien). For, just as Christ describes in the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel, “we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory… Estel, Estel!” (Tolkien). Hope, hope!

We must hope, and “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting” as we press on towards Christ. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.” Hope helps lead one from an imperfect love of God—desiring him only for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones—to the perfect love of friendship, caritas—affirming God for his own sake. This kind of love, another theological virtue, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is the kind of love we see in the saints, especially in Our Lady, who believed what was spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled, bore the son of God in her womb, endured the death of her son for the sins of the world, hoped against hope for Christ’s resurrection, and longs to lead us home to her son, interceding for us from heaven. Who knows how many “unseen roses” come from the loving intercession of Our Lady!

All of the saints intercede for us in this way, loving us as we stumble forward. We are not alone in running this race; they have valiantly kept the faith and now help us on our way. So, let us take courage, run in their footsteps, come out of ourselves, and draw others after us! Let us persevere in hope that our faith will yield to sight, and our hope will yield to possession after a lifetime of self-surrender. That, as we behold the face of Love, all will be well, and all of our questions will die away as the echo swells into the sound itself and we join in the glorious praise of God by those living in their own country—not as wayfarers, but as children home at last. The term will be over, and the holidays will have begun. The dream will be over, and it will be the morning, on the first page of the most beautiful story that never ends, and “in which every chapter is greater than the one before” (Lewis). At last, we will never doubt again, and there will never be a need.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Letters
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien
Josef Pieper, On Hope
St. Augustine, Sermon 256, 1.3.4.
Fr. Mike Schmitz: Homesick, The Fighting Virtue, Kingdom Come