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.

Directing Our Steps

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”
—Luke 6:39–40

Jesus has entrusted each of us with free will, leaving us room to act as we choose. Knowing our weakness and tendency toward sin, this can seem a terrifying responsibility. Sometimes I would rather God just take the reins entirely instead of leaving any decisions up to me. But God does not want to control us; He wants a relationship with us. He does not want us to act out of fear or passive obedience but out of love. When I overthink a decision or think I can’t live up to what God is asking of me, I forget that God knows me better than I know myself and has already accounted for the fact that I will make mistakes. There is nothing He can’t handle.

When it comes to discerning where God is leading us, we can often feel blind to perceive the road ahead. We turn to advice from others, hoping that they can tell us where to go, but they too are only human, unable to see our path fully. So how do we make our way forward? Jesus tells us that as His disciples, we are to listen and follow His ways, training ourselves to become like Him, so that instead of stumbling along like the blind leading the blind, we can learn to walk in His footsteps.

Any good teacher knows that there is a learning curve, that students will make mistakes along the way before they can master any new skill. And when Jesus calls us, He is aware that we are stepping out blindly, not yet able to make out what lies ahead. But He also knows that we won’t learn how to orient our steps if He doesn’t give us a chance to move freely, stumbling a bit as we go.

God knows that our attempts to do good may go awry, but, in the words of Thomas Merton, our desire to please Him does in fact please Him. When we go off course, He can redirect our steps and bring good out of any situation, as long as we continue to invite Him in and give Him permission to act in our lives.

Though we cannot see further than one step ahead, He leaves it up to us to take that one step and then allow Him to illuminate the next. He will never force us; He guides us, if we accept His help, with a gentle hand. Learning to trust Him means believing that He can handle my weakness and that He invites me to follow just as I am.

Created for Communion

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
—Matthew 19:3–9

As human beings, we are made for communion with one another. God created us in a way that makes it impossible for us to go it alone, for He made us in His own image. Just as He exists as a loving community of three Persons, we also are designed to live in relationship with Him and with one another. We see this in the complementarity between men and women: each is a reflection of the love of God, but they express this in different ways. Their complementary strengths bring them closer together.

Whether our need for communion is fulfilled through the vocation of marriage—a relationship that echoes the love of the Trinity—or through consecrated life—a sacred relationship with God Himself—it points to a deep desire written upon our hearts: to love and be loved, to make of ourselves a gift to others. Even while we are still waiting upon our vocation, God still calls us, here and now, to be part of His family. Each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, it is an opportunity for intimate connection with our Beloved.

Jesus is the Bridegroom, and we, the Church, are His bride. He lays down His life as a gift for us, and He assures us that His promises to us are eternal, never to be broken. When Jesus speaks against divorce, it is not to shame His disciples or to place burdens and restrictions upon us. He even acknowledges that in some cases, the marriage was unlawful and fundamentally lacking in what is needed to establish a true, healthy marriage as He intends for us. Rather, He wants us to understand that marriage is a great gift, not to be carelessly tossed aside. It is not merely a well of contentment that eventually dries up; rather, it is an opportunity for us to fulfill our deepest purpose through serving one another. To be truly fulfilled, we must each offer a gift of our whole selves—not just the parts we like about ourselves, not just one stage of our lives, and not just a surface-level desire for comfort.

God has blessed us with many great gifts, but do we truly understand their purpose? Or do we see them only for our own benefit? Our own personal gifts are meaningless if we cannot understand ourselves in relation to others—how we are called to serve them, what we have yet to learn from them, and how we need to rely upon them. We can form a true sense of self only when we look outward.

An Infinite Love

edith stein

I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD

These words were read at Mass today in celebration of a very special saint of our times, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). A saint very close to my heart, St. Teresa Benedicta is one of the main reasons for my conversion back to my faith.

Edith was raised in a Jewish family in the early 1900s in Germany, eventually converting through an encounter with Christ through philosophy and the lives of the saints. A prominent philosopher, teacher, and speaker, Edith earnestly searched for the answers to who we are as human beings, what that means regarding our call to relationship with God. She died in Auschwitz during World War II, serving others whole-heartedly until her final moments.

The words from Scripture today are from the book of Hosea, words which God spoke to Israel. He desired an all-consuming and faithful relationship with His People. Even in their unfaithfulness, He kept pursuing them with this love.

The reason the Scripture reading was picked for St. Teresa Benedicta’s feast is that she lived her vocation as a human person, in particular, as a woman, to the fullest. She knew that she was created by Love and for Love. She had been captivated by the love of God, and in that, felt she could not contain that message of His love. Her life is a witness of what it truly means to allow God to love us.

When I read the words of the Scripture reading today, in all honesty, my heart is uneasy. I desire to be loved with such unconditional, all-consuming, and infinite love. But how often do I settle for less? In my own heart, I find that when I resist these words from God, it is because I doubt He is enough.

While we each have these desires for such love, it is so much easier to settle. We fill our hearts with finite things which give temporary satisfaction, in order to fill that inner void. But these temporal goods, while gifts from God, are not enough. They are finite. They are gifts which ultimately are meant to point us to Him. 

Today, as we pray through these words of Scripture, place yourself in a position of receptivity. Hear them as Jesus speaking them directly to you. Let us ask ourselves, “What are those things which I grasp onto to try and fill that spot in my heart meant only for God?”

Give these desires to Him, and allow Him to fill them. Give him the doubt in your heart, and allow Him to surprise you!

As we celebrate today’s feast, let us ask for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to intercede for us. She received the love of Christ the Bridegroom, trusting that her heart’s desires were given to Her by God for a reason. She was one who was not afraid to allow Herself to be loved.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, intercede for us and help us to surrender wholeheartedly to the one who loves us. Give us the interior freedom to receive His all-consuming love without fear!

For more information on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s life, go to http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19981011_edith_stein_en.html

Recommended reading on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:

Life in a Jewish Family: https://www.amazon.com/Life-Jewish-Family-Autobiography-Collected/dp/0935216049

Essays on Woman: https://www.amazon.com/Essays-Woman-Collected-English-German/dp/0935216596

The Law of the Sabbath

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath.
His disciples were hungry
and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him,
“See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did
when he and his companions were hungry,
how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering,
which neither he nor his companions
but only the priests could lawfully eat?
Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath
the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath
and are innocent?
I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
—Matthew 12:1–8

Jesus’s response to the Pharisees in this passage highlights the purpose of the Mosaic law: it is was not implemented as a means of controlling and restricting the Jewish people, but rather as a way to establish a relationship between God and His chosen people and to serve as a constant reminder of the covenant that was yet to be fulfilled. Jesus gives examples in which God called people to violate the letter of the law in order to serve a much higher law. Though unworthy of drawing close to God by serving Him in the temple and of consuming the bread of offering, the Jewish priests perform these actions because God has called them to do so. When they are serving in the temple, their actions, though technically against what is prescribed for the sabbath, are holy, for they are standing on sacred ground and fulfilling the duties of their calling. They prefigure a closer intimacy between God and man, when God will sanctify men to be in relationship with Him and serve at the highest altar.

It follows then, that Jesus’s words carried an implication that would have been shocking to the Pharisees. He is speaking with authority above the law, declaring that His disciples are following a higher purpose just by being in His midst. Simply being in Jesus’s presence is sacred—even more so than the temple itself. He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant, of the Holy of Holies. He is the Temple of God’s new covenant of mercy. Through His sacrifice for us, the veil between God and man has been torn in two, and we can behold the Face of God without perishing.

In Jesus’s presence, the disciples ate grain on the sabbath to assuage their hunger. Hunger is an inescapable part of the human condition—both the hunger of our bodies for sustenance and the hunger of our souls for meaning and redemption. Jesus responds fully to our hunger, ministering to the deepest aches and longings within us: body and soul, mind and heart. Every Sunday, we consume Bread on the sabbath, opening ourselves up to receive the only food that can truly fill the deep, piercing hunger within us. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue us from the depths of our sin. Jesus, present in the Eucharist, looks upon us with mercy and invites us to draw closer to the mystery of His overwhelming love for us.

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

Love One Another

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
—John 15:12–14

Jesus, knowing that He only has a few more hours to spend with His disciples, knowing that they will soon be tested in ways unimaginable to them, speaks these words with great care and intention: “Love one another as I love you.” Just hours later, He shows them what His love really looks like. Spread out upon the Cross, pouring out His love and mercy until the very end, He gives us a model of boundless, sacrificial love.

How could we possibly keep this commandment, to love one another as He loves us? Amidst our sins and human frailty, the love that is shown to us on the Cross seems utterly unattainable for us. We are neither courageous enough to face martyrdom nor humble enough to accept insults in silence, and our love for others is guarded by our fears. But Jesus does more than just tell us to follow in His impossible footsteps. When we receive His love, He begins to love through us. In order to truly love one another with a love that echoes Calvary, we must know—really, truly know at the core of our being—that He loves us madly.

When we deeply know this truth, it changes us utterly, and we see the proof of this through the saints. Look at the radiant love of Mother Teresa as she serves the poorest of the poor, or the devotion of St. Damian, sacrificing his life serving the lepers who had been cast out of society. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was beloved by so many because he loved so well, and he always credited this to his devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, saying, “Jesus comes to me every morning in Holy Communion; I repay Him, in my very small way, by visiting the poor. The house may be sordid, but I am going to Christ.” Pier Giorgio, too, expressed God’s radiant love in his very being, not by trying to achieve greatness but by allowing himself to be loved.

When you are totally consumed by the Eucharistic fire, then you will be able more consciously to thank God, who has called you to become part of His family. Then you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in this world have never experienced, because true happiness, oh young people, does not consist in the pleasures of this world, or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure of heart and mind.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati