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

“_________.” (Insert Your Name Here)

“How’s my sweetheart?” my grandma said on the other end of the phone call. Those three words immediately put my anxious heart at ease. It was my junior year of college, and I was going through one of those seasons of lots of change where my heart felt like it had been through the wringer.

The way the voice of a person who knows and loves us deeply can instantaneously calm us is something to marvel at. Everything about that seemingly ordinary phone call with my grandma years ago was exactly what my heart needed. We didn’t talk about anything extravagant; I updated her on my classes and the fall break service trip I was going on, and she told me the latest updates on how her church was doing. But it was the deep tenderness and care for me with which she spoke that turned it into a phone call I will always remember.

In today’s Gospel, we are told more of the Good Shepherd narrative that we heard in Mass yesterday: “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).

Jesus knows you by name. He calls you by name because He intimately knows you and cares for you. He calls you by name so that you know that with Him you are safe, that you are not just another face in the crowd. You’re so much more than just one of the flock to Him. On the days when you feel forgotten or unseen, stop and imagine Jesus saying your name with great rejoicing.

Jesus’ track record of trustworthiness is pretty great. He’s gotten you through every single day so far, and He won’t stop now. Through every hill and valley, He’s been there, steadily leading you, calling you by name. He has protected you in all things, going before you so that you wouldn’t have to go through anything He didn’t already (John 10:4).

In moments of weakness, where the voices of the world and the enemy swirl around you to distort and distract, listen for the only voice calling you intimately by name, the voice of Jesus, and follow. He will surely lead you to safety.

So, stop and listen today.

“_________.” (Insert your name here)

He so sweetly calls you by name.

God in Our Midst

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
—John 20:14–16

Noli_me_tangere_-_William_Brassey_HoleHow often our eyes are blinded to recognize the presence of God in our midst. Just as Mary Magdalene mourned the absence of Jesus without realizing it was Jesus Himself who was speaking to her, we also cry out into the void when we feel alone and abandoned, while all the while Jesus is there, listening and responding to our every word. We are never, ever abandoned or forgotten, no matter how it may seem to us in the moment.

Perhaps it seemed to Mary too good to be true that Jesus might really be present with her there in the garden; it was an idea too wonderful for her mind to grasp, and so she could not see the glorious reality before her eyes. That is, not until He spoke her name.

When she heard her own name spoken by Jesus, she recognized Him instantly. She knew it could only be His gentle voice, communicating God’s love for her in a way no one else could. In the same way, we begin to see God present in our midst when we move away from a detached, abstract idea of God and toward an intimate relationship with Him. When we realize that He knows us and cares for us with loving tenderness, everything changes.

The reality of Jesus’s resurrection certainly may seem to us at times too good to be true. But when we open ourselves up to receive the outpouring of love and unmerited graces that He desires to give us, we cannot help but realize that He is indeed alive and present in our midst. God calls each of us by name and draws us to Himself. May we, especially during this Easter season, recognize His voice in our lives and rejoice in His eternal presence.


Image: William Brassey Hole, Noli me tangere / PD-US

Rooted in Love

The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding, 
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

—Mark 12:32–34

If we truly love God with all our heart, all our understanding, and all our strength, then our natural response will be to keep His commandments—not out of a sense of guilt or mere obligation, not out of a desire to prove our worth to Him, but joyfully in love. When a person is in love, it affects their every thought and every action; when our hearts are infused with the love of God, that love will overflow into every aspect of our lives, and we will naturally desire to keep His commandments.

God commands us to love Him. By that very command, He makes it possible. He gives us the grace to love Him with a sacrificial love that echoes Jesus’s love for us on the Cross. He awakens us to recognize Him in every soul we meet. It is nearly impossible to love your neighbor as yourself if you are not already receiving God’s love, but when we have that awareness of the beauty of each soul, we can deeply and sincerely love people even when they are difficult to love.

The spiritual life is rooted in relationship; everything else flows from that. And a healthy relationship with God produces the fruit of trust in Him, from which flows obedience to His law. We must never fall into the mindset of viewing our relationship with God as transactional, consisting of a series of offerings we must make to atone for our wrongdoings or requests that we ask God to grant. God is not interested in a transactional relationship with us; He desires something much more meaningful—a close, loving, intimate relationship that wholly captivates our hearts.

Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.

—Hosea 14:2–5

Redemption in the Present Moment

Notice the contrast between today’s first reading and Gospel reading. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that if a man is outwardly righteous and makes offerings before the altar of God, yet harbors anger within, then he will be “liable to fiery Gehenna.” Meanwhile, the reading from Ezekiel tells us that if a wicked man turns away from all his sins, “he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him.” Interesting, that per Matthew our good deeds do not excuse us from our present selfishness and hatred, while per Ezekiel our past sins do not block any hope of our redemption. What matters, then, is not the track record of good deeds we can present before God but the state of our heart in the present moment.

What are the intentions behind our good deeds? Are we trying to prove our worth, to God or to others? Or does our service stem from a genuine love of God? If our good actions are merely done for show, then they are meaningless. There aren’t any shortcuts to holiness—no matter how well we “follow the rules,” we can’t become saints if we aren’t also willing to do the hard work of forgiving our neighbors and striving to see each person as a beloved child of God.

But the good news, too, is that no matter how misguided our “good deeds” have been in the past, we are never, ever too far gone to hope for heaven. There is always hope for us to turn away from selfish thinking and lukewarm faith. We cannot allow our regrets for past sins to consume us, nor our worries for the future: what matters is the present moment. Will we open our hearts to God here and now? Will we let go of our attachments to sin and instead be motivated by love? Will we address the causes of our anger and seek healing instead of bottling it up within ourselves? If we do, if we tend to the state of our heart and continually choose God in the present moment, we will surely live, we shall not die.

Tradition

In today’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for rigidly observing the letter of the law while completely disregarding the spirit of the law. In their hypocrisy, they carefully keep the traditions that were passed on to them but pay no attention to the true meaning behind those traditions. Jesus points out that their actions are empty if they are not motivated by love of God, quoting Isaiah:

He responded,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,
as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

—Mark 7:9

The idea of tradition was kind of a big deal at my college. Founded in the Catholic faith, we carried the idea of tradition further into nearly every mundane aspect of our lives—football Saturdays, dorm activities, dining hall meals, snowball fights. One of my professors was fond of telling us, “Remember, there’s a difference between traditions and dumb things you do every year. Just because you did it last year, it doesn’t need to become a tradition.” There’s a good amount of wisdom there. Traditions can be powerful, and they should reflect the priorities we want our lives to be centered around. There isn’t much sense in keeping up a tradition for tradition’s sake alone—it ought to reflect a deeper purpose. We have been handed down a treasure trove of beautifully rich Catholic traditions. Do we reflect on their meaning, or do we just go through the motions? Are they really traditions to us, or just habits?

We all know toddlers who insist on watching the same movie on endless repeat, who want to be twirled in just the same way or play the same exact game over and over again. This is the same underlying emotion that moves us to create traditions: that childlike cry of the heart that says, “Again, again!” When we are savoring the moments of our lives and experience something truly wonderful, we want to repeat it in the future. We want to re-experience and remember those things that have shaped us for the better. When we do this with intention, it forms a beautiful rhythm within our lives. But without intention, it becomes a fruitless quest to recreate the past, when really God wants to invite us to walk forward with Him.

Traditions are comforting and familiar to us. This is a good thing, but we should make sure that it’s not the only reason we’re clinging to them. God cares less about the words on our lips than on the devotion in our hearts, and everything we do should reflect that deeper purpose. As we grow older and our lives continue to change, new traditions and habits will likely replace old ones. We can welcome these changes by keeping our eyes on what matters most, on the God who understands our need for the comfort, familiarity, and structure that traditions bring. He has responded to that need with a wealth of tradition, formed over millennia, held within the treasures of the Church—and He invites us to delve deeper into reflecting upon and understanding these traditions instead of merely going through the motions.

Want to be a Saint? Pray This.

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It is the essence of the prayer of Our Blessed Mother at the Annunciation— “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38).

It is the core of the prayer of our dear Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane— “…still, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42).

It is the focus of the prayer echoed in the depths of the heart of each Saint.

Here am I, Lord, I come to do Your will. (Ps. 40)

10 simple words.

10 simple syllables.

And yet, with this prayer, an explosion of grace sets to work in our souls.

When we let this be the guiding prayer of our every moment, we give the Lord our “yes” in letting His will be fulfilled in us. We take up the role that He has set apart for us in His plan of salvation.

Each time we renew our commitment to following the will of God, we essentially live out the lyrics of one of my favorite songs —“I give it all to you God, trusting that You’ll make something beautiful out of me.”

In the simplicity of this desire is the recognition that while we yearn for deep fulfillment in our lives, we know that apart from God we will never find it. We are released from anxieties and restless self-seeking. Indeed, “In [His] will is our peace.” (St Gregory Nazianzen)

With this entrustment of our lives to the Divine Will, we accept the invitation to sit with the Lord, to become His family.

“And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
‘Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.’”
(Mk. 3:34-35)

Jesus calls us by name to be His family! An honor beyond belief!

Belonging to the family of Jesus means we each have a unique and specific mission to fulfill that affects not only our souls, but the souls of those whom God has entrusted to us. God’s desire for us is nothing short of our becoming saints. And He will complete His good work in us, if only we seek Him earnestly.

Belonging to the family of Jesus calls for us to continuously discern and to do the work of God, in whatever state of life we find ourselves. It is the ongoing work of conversion, taking up our crosses daily to follow the Lord. We must not delay not in committing to daily prayer (the Rosary, especially), Mass, Communion, frequent Adoration, Confession, earnest study of our Faith, and works of charity and sacrifice.

Let our lives witness—whether in times of darkness and desolation or joy and consolation—that we know who we are and Whose we are; that we trust the Lord’s hand is at work in every circumstance.

Here am I, Lord, I come to do Your will.

It is this spirit of loving obedience and bold humility that allowed the Blessed Virgin Mary to repeat her Fiat, her “yes” to the Lord, every step of the way—from the Annunciation to the Passion and beyond.

It is this spirit of authentic childlike trust that truly raises us “verso l’alto”—to the heights of sanctity that God has dreamed for us.

It is this spirit of generous surrender that is so wildly needed today in these dark times:

“One day seeing the state of his country, St. Martin of Tours, a former Roman soldier whose father was in the famous Imperial Horse Guard, asked the Lord in tears, ‘What will it take to save my country?’ ‘What will it take?’ The Lord responded, ‘One saint!’  And a saint he did become. What will it take to save our present world? One Saint! May that Saint be YOU! May the devil say of you what he said of St. John Vianney, ‘If there were two of him my kingdom would end!’

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us the graces we need to persevere in the living out this prayer. Let us ask Our Blessed Mother to guide our steps and form our souls as we seek to imitate her in her surrender to God. Let us ask St. Joseph for his protection as we follow the Lord. And may Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and all our brave brother and sister Saints, pray for us!

“My child, make the resolution never to rely on people. Entrust yourself completely to My will saying, ‘Not as I want, but according to Your will, O God, let it be done unto me.’ These words, spoken from the depths of one’s heart, can raise a soul to the summit of sanctity in a short time. In such a soul I delight. Such a soul gives Me glory. Such a soul fills heaven with the fragrance of her virtue. But understand that the strength by which you bear sufferings comes from frequent Communions. So approach this fountain of mercy often, to draw with the vessel of trust whatever you need.” (1487 – Jesus to Suffering Souls) –Diary of Saint Faustina

Suggested Reading– Conversion: Spiritual Insights Into an Essential Encounter with God by Fr. Donald Haggerty