Jesus Christ Has Won. Love Has Won.

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
And let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
In the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
In the day when I call, answer me speedily.
—Psalm 102:2–3

The responsorial psalm for today is piercing through my soul. Due to the current COVID-19 crisis in the world, how many of us are crying out to the Lord in distress, praying for a miracle? Many of us. How many of us might be feeling anxiety, fear, and loneliness? Many of us. How many of us are clinging to faith in this time of uncertainty? I hope, too, that the answer is many of us.

The last time in which I celebrated communion, I did not know it would be “the last time.” I had accepted the Body of Christ and rejoiced in a beautiful Holy Hour. I remember feeling FULL, feeling HAPPY, feeling THANKFUL. I am holding on to those feelings of peace as I obediently wait for the church doors to be opened to the public again. But, as I wait, I know that the Church is ALIVE. I know that God the Father loves all His children. I know that Jesus Christ has won.

In today’s first reading, the people of Israel were complaining about the manna bread that God had given them to eat in the desert. They had been wandering in the desert for years, only eating of the miraculous manna bread that fell from heaven to sustain their lives. Yes, they were in the hot and lonely desert. Yes, they did not have a variety of food to choose from. But the people of Israel failed to see the good within the situation that they were in; they had much to be thankful for. First, they were freed from slavery in Egypt—they had been enslaved for 400 years and God broke their chains. Second, they had food and water—the manna bread does not naturally grow in the desert; it was bread from heaven that God provided for His children to eat so they’d be nourished and remain strong. And have you heard of this rolling rock that just followed them in the desert and provided water?

As humans sometimes we tend to only focus on the bad and choose to sit with it. We neglect to acknowledge all the good that God has already done in our lives. And at times, even in the midst of living in the good of life, we fail to give proper thanks to God. The people of Israel eventually realized their sin in complaining against God and asked for mercy. God then instructed Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole; anyone who had previously been ill had only to look at the mounted serpent and would be healed.

How interesting that God chose the image of a serpent to be mounted on the pole. A serpent was the creature that manipulated Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, causing the fall of mankind. A serpent, representative of sin; that is what the people of Israel looked at to be healed—their sins hung on a wooden pole. We also need to look at our own sin. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoings, acknowledge when we complain against God and ask for mercy. We need to look at Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. We need to see the Son of God sacrificed for our salvation. Look at the cross, walk towards it, lay all that is weighing you down at the foot of the cross, and let Jesus heal you.

Throughout the bad that is present in the world, we must keep faith to that which is good. Our faith tells us that the battle is already won. Jesus Christ died and was nailed to a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Love has won.

These are very difficult and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus has affected all of us. But have faith, the Church remains alive. Pray and invite God into your life for peace. The people of Israel asked for prayer—I encourage you to submit your prayer intentions HERE so that, as one body in Christ, we can pray for you as well.

the-bronze-serpent
Image Credit: Moses showing the bronze serpent, mounted on a pole to the people of Israel [Public Domain].

God the Father, Our Father

My earliest memory of learning to pray is closely tied with my mother; as a child sitting with a rosary that I thought was pretty and sparkly, while very quietly mumbling through the words of the Our Fathers and Hail Marys that I did not yet fully know. That memory of learning to pray is always full of love. It’s a warm feeling of someone comforting me and gently guiding me towards good.

In today’s Gospel, this is how Jesus teaches us to pray:

“Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
—Mt. 6:9–13

I am imagining the reaction of the disciples and the crowds while listening to Jesus: Did he just call the Lord his Father? Abba? Dad? For at the time it was acknowledged that God was indeed “Father.” He was God and Father of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. But at the same time, God was thought to be distant, someone far away and out of reach. God was to be respected, praised, and given sacrifice. But He remained at the temple, and you went back home. There wasn’t an established relationship. Jesus changed this. By teaching us to pray the Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer), Jesus taught us how to be in close relationship with God. That He is not just some distant God (as the false gods were) but that we are His children whom He loves, and He resides in our hearts. We are called to have an intimate relationship with God the Father, the same intimate relationship that God the Father shares with Jesus, His Son.

The Our Father is a perfect prayer, divided into seven petitions. The first three petitions are everything that belongs to God, given to Him first: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will. As Jesus calls us to be in relationship with God the Father, He also calls us to be in relationship with one another. Note that we begin the prayer as “Our Father,” not “My Father.” In the remaining four petitions we ask God for ourselves and for our community of brothers and sisters in Christ: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.

I imagine God the Father as my protector, and I just want to run into His arms and be comforted by His embrace, knowing that each one of my worries or struggles is minuscule to the love He has for me. Everything is just oh-so-little in comparison to the love He showed by giving up His only Son for me and for you. He has given us everything we need. He has given us all of His love.

Friends, I encourage you to embrace the title of “daughter” or of “son” that’s given to you by the Lord. Allow yourself to be wrapped in the Mother’s mantle and gently rocked in the Father’s arms. To know that His name is Holy, to know that you have a place in His kingdom, and to always be open to do His will.

“At the Savior’s command and formed by Divine teaching, we dare to [always] say, Our Father.”

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Image Credit: Art by Jen Norton; Painted prayer featuring the Our Father woven in the branches of an olive tree. [Public Domain]

The Theology of a Snooze Button

“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” -Leviticus 19:2

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 6:2

One of the most challenging Lents I’ve had was the year I decided to give up my snooze button. I loooove my comfy and cozy bed, especially in the winter months, amen? I am the girl who sets a litany of alarms, all going off at perfectly-timed 7-10 minute increments to ensure that I squeeze in every last drop of rest possible. My room in the morning becomes a chorus of started and stopped worship songs as my alarms go off and promptly get snoozed.

In actuality, does that lead me to getting more rest? Probably not…okay, definitely not. I usually just end up lying in bed trying to pray but thinking about my long to-do list instead, turning to worry rather than greeting the new day with joyful surrender to all the Lord has for me.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote about what he called the “heroic minute,” where you get up immediately as soon as your alarm goes off. He talks about it being a conquering of oneself for the Lord, to get up without hesitation and serve the Lord.

This all points to a deeper temptation within all of us…why do we delay our holiness? And for what?

I find myself asking these questions of my own soul, too.

“Now is a very acceptable time…”

What are the things that hold us back from giving ourselves entirely to our Lord? We can buy into the devil’s traps of busyness, fear, frustration, thinking we’re not good enough, thinking it’s impossible, or thinking radical holiness is for other people and not ourselves. We get comfortable in our routine, in whatever the equivalent of cozy beds and litanies of alarms is for you.

Striving for holiness is messy…and uncomfortable. But it is always worth it to dare to live up to the greatness God is calling us to. Will we fail? Yes. But that doesn’t give us any reason to not start at all. With God’s grace, we can do it, as best we can, each day.

Now is that acceptable time to leap out of bed, to dive to your knees in bold prayer, to talk to your friends about God, to wildly and radically love our Lord and other people in whatever way He has designed for your holiness. Eyes fixed on Heaven, we can be holy, all by His grace that sustains us and His Spirit that moves us.

Each time I hit that snooze button on my alarm, it cuts off the worship song that I have set as my alarm tone, and that doesn’t sit right with me. In a deeper way, decisions like these stifle the song of praise that my life is meant to be. I turn inward instead and away from my fullest potential of holiness. Our lives are meant to be a continuous song of worship flowing from resting in God’s heart. He calls us to live fully alive in Him, living in each moment to love Him and love others by reflecting His love. And with Him, all this is possible!

Jesus, make our hearts like unto Yours, so that we may be holy as You are holy. May all our words be Your words, all our thoughts be oriented towards You, and all our actions be an outpouring of Your amazing love. Amen.

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.