Stirred into flame

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
– 2 Timothy 1:6-8

Today’s first reading is the basis for an incredibly formative moment in my faith journey, a college retreat called Fan Into Flame. Saint Paul’s Outreach (SPO), my campus Catholic community, would host this retreat for relatively new members of their ministry. It was intense, charismatic, and went deep quickly. It would be easy to think that the whole retreat might be a bit “heavy” for the college students who were still feeling out their identity and path in life, so why does SPO start with this retreat? The Scripture above gives the “why”: the laying on of hands is a direct reflection and prayer for an imposition of the Holy Spirit upon the students’ lives.

Through the sacraments and intercessory prayer, we have received the Spirit. Through Christ, we are temples of the Spirit. The Spirit is the mobilizing force of God, His Presence and Advocate in our soul. When we pray for a renewed outpouring, perhaps a “baptism in the Spirit“, we give the Holy Spirit permission to move in new ways. We cry out for manifestations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, not for drama’s sake, but for the good of the Church, to strengthen ministry. We ask the Lord for power, love, and self-control.

When was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit? I encourage you to pray today for an unlocking of the Spirit you have received, that you would be stirred into flame. Even better, pray with someone else, as St. Paul would have done (he knew a thing or two about the Spirit).

Then go forth in confidence, power, love, self-control, and with the strength that comes from God.

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.
—James 5:11

V0032624 Saint Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi. Etching by G. Fabbri, 1757.Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, the patron of the parish I attended growing up. On a trip to Florence, Italy, years ago, I was able to visit her tomb and see the chapel where she experienced many mystical visions. The austerity of her life as a Carmelite, juxtaposed with the wealth and dominance of her prominent Renaissance family that was so evident throughout Florence, was striking.

The life of St. Magdalene was marked by extreme highs and extreme lows. She experienced both ecstasies and desolations, and often the two were intermingled. She once said, “Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ, and who offer up their own to God through His passion, find their pains sweet and pleasant.” This paradox—the sweetness of suffering, the beauty of pain—encapsulates her philosophy and mission. She was determined to make her whole life an offering, both the joys and sorrows, the highest mountains and the lowest valleys along her path; everything was part of an unbroken hymn of praise to God.

Perugino,_crocifissione_con_la_maddalena,_la_madonna,_s._giovanni_e_i_ss._bernardo_e_benedetto,_1493-96,_01Beginning at the age of nine, St. Magdalene practiced mental prayer, cultivating an intimate friendship with Jesus. This is what prepared her for all her mystical experiences and desolations to follow. Through it all, she maintained this friendship, speaking to Jesus as a dear friend with frank sincerity and playful banter. When Jesus told her, “I called and you didn’t care,” she responded, “You didn’t call loudly enough.” She asked Him to shout His love. She was honest and genuine in her conversations with Jesus, and this intimacy was what gave her the grace to bear the sufferings she endured. Her ultimate motivation was to return the love of Jesus Christ: Love incarnate, who was neither known nor loved.

Pedro_de_Moya_-_Vision_of_St_Maria_Magdalena_di_Pazzi_-_WGA16308Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi share a few things in common: both were born into prosperous Italian families that valued status and wealth, both chose to forego earthly treasures and esteem for the sake of serving Jesus. Both were nourished by daily Communion, and both persevered in faith through many unexpected trials. Their charisms and personalities were very different—Pier Giorgio was a man of action, while St. Magdalene was a Carmelite devoted to contemplative prayer—but each was motivated first and foremost by a relationship with Jesus. This enabled them to discover their own unique gifts and callings and to offer everything back to Him in love.

St. Magdalene de Pazzi teaches us to be thankful for whatever season we are in, always persevering in prayer and penance. Every experience can be a channel of grace. In our joys, may we not forget our need for God, and in our sorrows not abandon our trust in Him. Above all, if we are rooted in friendship with God as St. Magdalene was, our lives will take on renewed purpose.

O Love, You are neither known nor loved!
—St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi


1. G. Fabbri, etching of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi / Wellcome Images / CC BY 4.0
2. Pietro Perugino, Crocifissione, la Vergine, San Giovanni, la Maddalena e i Santi Bernardo e Benedetto, fresco from the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Florence / CC BY-SA 3.0
3. Pedro de Moya, Visión de Santa María Magdalena de Pazzi / PD-US

Knowing the Holy Spirit

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

– John 15

On Friday, Erin reflected on the mystery of friendship that Jesus offers us. Jesus mentions a very important fruit of this friendship in today’s Gospel: He sends us the Holy Spirit. At first (and not just at first, honestly) the Holy Spirit seems rather mysterious: Who is He? What is He? How does He do His thing today, in 2018, in my life? How can we come to know Him?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 688 is a helpful guide:  

“The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:

– in the Scriptures he inspired;
– in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
– in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;
– in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit
puts us into communion with Christ;
– in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
– in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
– in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
– in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.”

So in other words, we find the Holy Spirit and come to know Him wherever we find the Church.  Read a biography of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and you’ll find he was working the entire list pretty hard – because he sought to live fully within the Church! What Erin said about mystery in general is very applicable here: “no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn.” The list above is not exhaustive by any means – there are many, many ways to know the Holy Spirit and to welcome Him into your life in a deeper way!

My challenge for you today: spend some time in prayer with the list above. Pray the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit!” throughout your day. Ask the Holy Spirit in what ways He wants you to come to know Him. And then be open! Have confidence that through your life, the Holy Spirit will testify the love of the Father to the world as shown through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit!

Pax et bonum,
Andy

They Thought They Knew Him

Coming to his hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed.  “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked.  Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?…Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him.  But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matt 13:54-58—Gospel from Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1st

*            *            *

It’s easy to feel smug about the crowds in today’s Gospel, who don’t recognize God in their midst in the form of the local carpenter’s son.  They are outraged because he’s a local boy; they’ve watch him grown up, they know his parents, they know all about him and what to expect from such a one.  When He claims to be More than what they know, they are scandalized and offended.

We of course know better.  We know to expect more of Him than from an ordinary man.  We know not to be shocked when He claims the power to change things, to work miracles, to be something other than what one might expect.  We know He’s God and He’s bigger than anything our tiny human minds are able to conceive.

Or do we?

Years ago when I was going through a spiritual crisis a priest suggested I spend some time each day reading the New Testament.  I nodded politely but inwardly sighed.  I “already knew” all of those stories.  I had a Master’s Degree in theology, I had read them repeatedly and had taught many of those passages so often that I could recite them almost verbatim.  How could God possibly speak through the same old stories I knew so well?

I look back sometimes, stunned at my ignorance and my arrogance, humbled by the fact that years later when I did put that advice into practice, God did show up in new ways and did work some “mighty works” that astonish me even to this day.  Simple words that I had heard thousands of times became at divinely appointed moments portals into paradise.   When I finally opened my heart, God showed up in so many unexpected ways and places that I could only stand in awe.  Even now, He continues to surprise me on a regular basis.

I would like to claim that I learned my lesson and no longer limit God to my low expectations.  But even now I am tempted to put God in a box, expecting Him to answer only in the ways I am familiar with and accustomed to.  And sometimes not even that.

Awhile ago my spiritual director suggested that I answer the question that Jesus asks of the blind man (Luke 18:35-43) and in turn to each of us, “What is it that you wish me to do for you?”  On one particular morning, I decided to get very specific and spent a long time journaling about various (pretty big) problems in my life and how I hoped He would fix them.  I felt better at the end, and thanked God for letting me get it all off my chest.

It was months later, on New Year’s Eve, when I was reviewing my journal that I came upon that list and realized how God had concretely and specifically answered the biggest of my requests!  I had been surprised and thrilled and suitably grateful when the gifts had come, but had frankly forgotten that I had been inspired to specifically request them in prayer.  How could I have so easily forgotten?  If I am honest, I never really expected God to answer me.

That same day, I also enjoyed one of my favorite little traditions, Jennifer Fulwiler’s “Saints Name Generator” and her new “Word of the Year Generator.”  Each randomly generates a word or saint for you for the year.  I did the Word one first and was given the word “see.”  I admit, I was hoping for something a little more personally meaningful—that word did not resonate at all with my past experiences or my hopes for the future.  Then I did the Saint generator and was given Saint Cosmos—invoked as patron of the blind and against blindness!  Could it be that God has something new to teach me?

There is no divine title “Lord of the Everlasting Same-Old Same-Old.”  Rather He promises “Behold I make all things new.”

Let us resolve not to limit God by our experiences or expectations!

*            *            *

*I chose today the (optional) readings for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  On the feast day we pray especially for those who are unemployed or underemployed, that they might find meaningful work, and that all workers throughout the world receive a just wage, just working conditions, and be treated with dignity and respect.  St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!

**For those beginning the 30 Day (15 minutes a day) Prayer Challenge, the linked reading to the story of the Blind Man can be a good place to start.  Using your bible, read the passage a few times, asking the Holy Spirit to help you, and imagine yourself in the scene, perhaps as the Blind Man (but let the Holy Spirit guide you).  Imagine Jesus asking you that same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” and answer Him, speaking as you would to a friend.  Let the conversation go wherever it goes (without fear or judgement), asking for help as you need to (Lord, help me to know what it even is that I want…or, Lord, help me to know the deepest desires of my heart…or Lord, help to trust that are even there, that you care enough to hear me speak these desires to you…)  When your 15 minutes are up, thank Jesus for your prayer time but do not pass a judgement on “how it went”—trust that all prayer is fruitful, whether or not we experience or feel anything. 

If you have questions you are welcome to email me, but please be aware it may take me some time to answer and/or I may try to work answers into future writing as I pray about them (generally, if one person has a question, many others are wondering the same thing).

 

Finding the Way

“Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:4–6

If we follow Jesus wholeheartedly, seeking first and foremost to know Him and grow ever closer to Him, then we will be on the right path. We might be led in very different directions than we imagined, we might be confused about the details as we go, but if we stay close to Him, we can trust that we’re on our way to the Father.

Like Thomas, we ask: How do we know the way?

Open your eyes, Jesus says. I am the way.

You are beholding God before you at this very moment. The Father’s house still awaits, but the Kingdom of God is already at hand.

How will you get there? Be with me. Focus on nothing else; do not worry yourself about directions. Stay with me, keep me company, let me delight in you. Relish this time we share together, even when you are disoriented, even when the path is steep. The journey itself is sacred.

The way to Heaven is not by intently navigating our path with maps and compasses and plans of our own making. The only way we’ll make it is with a guide—Jesus Himself. We cannot reach Heaven without embracing the way of Jesus: the way of the Cross, the way of mercy, the way of humility and love and truth.

Wherever God leads you today, seek the company of Jesus right where you are. Please pray for those of us who will be attending the Frassati retreat this weekend, to make the most of this opportunity to grow closer to God. And pray, too, for all those who are unable to attend—that they also will embrace the gift of this weekend and find the company of Jesus right where they are.

Seeking the Will of the Spirit

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Today’s first reading (found here) reminded me of a YouTube video I recently saw (found here) where a CFR friar talks about receiving a very clear and immediate answer to God when he asked Him, “Lord, is there anyone You want me to meet today?” Turns out, there was, and this friar was given a very specific description of him (something like, down to “a red hat, tan pants, and his name is David”). The friar followed the voice of the Spirit, Who even gave him a specific place to watch out for this man. Long story short, this friar met a man who fit this description exactly, and they ended up praying together spontaneously on the street. Nothing visibly miraculous happened, but this friar was so inspired by his experience that him and other friars continued to pray this prayer in the morning and waited to see what would happen, with expectation and willingness to be a fool for Christ stopping people on the street to say “Hey, I heard from God that I was supposed to meet you” (in so many words) and seeing what happened next. As this prayer practice spread, more miracles were occurring, some dramatic, like instant healings of chronic injuries. Turns out, God had some ideas and purposes just waiting to be asked for specifically.

And the same is undoubtedly true for us! There are Incredible works God has for us if we would only ask Him to work through us!

And as I type this, I am convicted by so many things in my life that have felt so obvious to me to pray about further direction. But all too often, I seek God only when I think I need Him. I seek Him in the manner of, “How can You fit into my life, how can You make my life better?” All too often, we are affected by the world around us that tells us, trains us from the core of our identity to the neurological brain networks governing our attention – and all too often, our consequent behavior – that following our desires will make us who we are meant to be, living our dream, speaking our truth, and now more than ever in the social media age of self-understanding, promoting and performing our brand of “yeah, my life is great, let me show you why it’s great.” Somehow, the great lie promulgated in our all-too-connected, consumerist, individualistic society is that life is about maximizing self-cultivation, and that we are all our own best judges over what that looks like.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of pressure. And I think this is where many of us get depressed, including myself: when we internalize the belief that we should know what will make us feel whole, and we either have tried different things over and over and never feel whole and happy, or we just generally feel like we have no clue, we get stuck in a perpetual failure loop. The greater news, and the truly liberating news, is that we. Need. To. Ask. God. For. This. We will not find the path to eternal life, and wholeness in this life, if we think we should know the way.

And that is the broader perspective shift that needs to happen. But what about on a smaller time scale? Basically, our automatic question usually driving our moment-to-moment decisions is “what do I want?” but living with the goal of being one with God calls us to reconsider, “what does God want?” I think we overthink prayer so often; God wants us to get back to basics. And one of the most basic beliefs about God is His Omnipotence, His all-knowingness, while we have tiny pinprick minds in the grand scheme of the universe. A very basic prayer but also infinitely powerful is when we simply ask God about what He desires for us. This first reading tells us just how amazing of a journey we can have in our lives if we harken to, listen for, and follow the voice of God over our own inclinations.

So, I challenge us all to give God our first fruits today. When you wake up, turn to God first, not your phone: “God, Here I am. What do You want me to do today? Is there anyone you want me to meet today? Please give me the grace to speak the words You want them to hear.” However, maybe there’s something that God has been putting on your heart again and again and you keep pushing it off to the side for another day. You know what God wants, or at least wants you to ask Him about, but you have not followed through. Bring that thing to the front of your intentions and give Him full reign over it, surrender that to His power and ask for clarity on what He wants for you.

May our hearts grow every more close with His own.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

The Scorpion At Supper

You have probably heard the cautionary tale about the boy and the scorpion.  They are at a raging river.  The scorpion pleads for help, and the boy full of compassion carries him across in his bosom, only to be stung by the ungrateful scorpion at the end.  “You knew what I was when you picked me up!” sneers the scorpion to the dying boy and we are left with the moral to choose our companions more wisely.

Today’s Gospel tells a different story.  Jesus knows quite well who is at the table with him.  He knows one will betray him for money; another will in cowardice deny even acquaintance with Him—not just once, but three times. He knows the others will run away in fear. He is “deeply troubled” because he knows that He will all too soon feel both the very real sting of profound personal betrayal and then the ultimate sting of death at the hands of those He deeply loves.

Yet He knows that they are more than their sins, and He loves each of them, inviting them to His table, into the deepest and most profound intimacy with Him.  And He continues to invite each of us, even while we are still sinners.  He loves (and calls) each of us, before, during, and after our sin.

For quite a long time, I did not believe that God loved me.  I don’t mean that I denied it as doctrine—I could in fact wax poetical about the love of God as a theological abstraction.  But I could not believe it as a particular and personal reality, for I knew who I was.  I thought that maybe God loved the Girl I Ought To Be, but He couldn’t possibly love me.  Or, maybe being God and all, He had to love me, but He didn’t particularly like me.  I suspected He was perpetually disappointed in me, waiting for me to become someone else, someone He could be proud of.

I remember going once to a priest for Confession who heard my litany of sins and said, “You need to stop trying so hard and just let God love you.”  I remember now my inward eyeroll, as I thought, “Great.  Another wishy-washy ‘liberal’ priest who missed everything I just confessed and how I am not trying hard enough…”

But then something strange happened.  The next priest I went to in Confession said the exact same thing.  Then another, then another, until it was too many to count.  I started to wonder if God was actually trying to tell me something. 😊

I am still learning how to do this.  But one key component for me (that I have mentioned previously) was instituting a designated daily prayer time, a time set apart to receive God’s love.

It is not that I didn’t pray before.  I would even sometimes pray at great length—usually when I was either deeply desperate or deeply inspired.  Other times I would be sure to “say my prayers”; to discharge that duty so that I wouldn’t feel guilty.  But as a result, I avoided prayer when I didn’t feel like it—and when I most needed it.

Having a designated prayer time has required meeting God when I wasn’t camera ready.  When I would have preferred to wait until after I had gone to Confession, or perhaps hadn’t even finished sinning yet.  When I was stewing in anger or sulking or full of a thousand distractions.

Being “forced” to pray in those moments is when prayer got real.  When I had to be honest about myself, my motives, my desires.  “Lord I am not a big fan of your plan today.”  “Lord, I know this is wrong but I really want to do it anyway.”  “Lord, I don’t want to forgive her—here’s why….”

Sometimes my anger turned to tears.  Sometimes temptation dissipated.  Sometimes my entire prayer time was a wrestling match with me not yet ready to let go of my will.  Sometimes I had to just let God hold me like a toddler in a tantrum.  Sometimes I felt better; sometimes I didn’t.    Sometimes I didn’t feel much change during prayer time itself, but over time I would see the strength of the sin losing its force and hold on me.

Years ago my friend and I were going to take her two small children to the carousel.  Her four-year-old son who had been dying to go suddenly balked and decided he would rather “stay home” while we took his little brother without him.  We couldn’t understand this change of heart—why would he want to miss out on something he had been so looking forward to?  My friend knew her son, and she knew what questions to ask.  It turns out that he had pooped his pants, and wanted to hide the fact, even if it meant missing out on the joy that was planned for him.

God loves us even in our mess.  He invites us to come to Him even while still filthy, to be changed and to receive the joy He has in store for us.

We say that God’s love is unconditional.  That means that He loves us all the time.  His love doesn’t wait for Easter Sunday, when all is right again.  He loves us on Holy Thursday, when betrayal is imminent. On Good Friday, when its ugliness is revealed. On Holy Saturday, when we start to see just what His absence really looks like.

Challenge today: Ask God to show you the love He has specifically for you.