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.

+

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

Fight the Right Battle

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.” -Mark 3:24-25

The devil is sneaky, yet so predictable when we realize what he is up to. He nags at our insecurities, picks at the scabs of our wounds, and tries to whisper shame into our identities. The devil comes to steal, confuse, distort, and destroy.

We have to fight the right battle. Sometimes when conflicts arise with those we love, whether that be family or friends, I think we can tend to forget that we are fighting on the same team. But the devil doesn’t want us to see it that way, because then his darkness will have no choice but to flee. Instead, he tries to pin us against one another, making us lose sight of the common goal of mutual love.

Lord Jesus, heal our families, our marriages, our friendships, our relationships.

I just want to shed the light of Christ on some lies that may be in your heart. When Christ’s light shines, darkness cannot overcome it. Let’s call the lies out for what they are today and not let them have dominion over our hearts.

If you are feeling like you are defined by a sin you struggle with or that there is no hope for healing, that is not of God. You are defined as a beloved, delighted-in child of God.

If you are feeling defined by your past hurts or past brokenness, that is not of God. God doesn’t see you as defined by your sins and wounds.

If you are feeling stuck and that God will never answer your prayer, that is not of God. God hears each prayer, thought, and longing of your heart. Seasons change.

If you are feeling like your vocation is lost or will never happen, that is not of God. He has marvelous plans for you that can never be forgotten or lost.

If you are feeling isolated, alone, or abandoned, that no one understands your deepest longings or deepest pain, that is not of God. He is always with you, and you are never left orphaned.

If you feel that things will never get better, that is not of God. He brings good out of the darkest of storms.

If you are feeling unlovable, that is not of God. You are His beloved one. You are held.

If you are feeling like God doesn’t care about you or that He is far away, that is not of God. He knows you better than you can ever know yourself. He loves you infinitely.

If you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you are responsible for every little thing, that is not of God. You do not have to be the hero.

If you feel like you’ve been given too much to handle, that is not of God. Let Him work through you.

If you feel like you don’t have what it takes or that you aren’t capable or good enough, that is not of God. He has already given you everything you need, and He wouldn’t call you to something you couldn’t do.

If your efforts to love God and love others feel unseen, that is not of God. God sees. He rejoices when you take steps to love like He does.

If you feel hopeless, that is not of God. There is always hope.

Jesus, we rebuke these lies in Your Name. Deliver us from evil.

The devil wants us to forget that Jesus has already won the victory. He wants us to see ourselves and one another as defined by our failings and wounds. He doesn’t want us to live from our core identity as beloved sons and daughters.

Not today, satan. Not today. Jesus, You are the Master of our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Jesus, You reign. Jesus, You are greater.

A Companion in Darkness

“What? You too? I thought I was the only one!”
-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In the communion of saints, we are lucky to hear the stories of men and women who ran to Christ together, including Our Lady and St. Joseph, St. Catherine of Siena and Bl. Raymond of Capua, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and so many others. These kindred spirits desired nothing less for their friends than for them to be led “further up and further in” to the very love of Christ. The anthem of their lives? “Draw me after you! Let us run!” (Song 1:4)

St. Francis de Sales, whose memorial we celebrate today, and St. Jane de Chantal were one such pair of friends who “were a gift of God to his Church, and their love was fruitful far beyond the mutual personal sanctification of the two involved” (Hinnebusch, 46). St. Francis met St. Jane after she had suffered the deaths of her husband and several children, mistreatment at the hands of her father-in-law, and years of longing for such a friend and guide. An immediate affection sprang up between the two, and he became her spiritual director. “They wanted nothing from their love but God’s glory and their own mutual holiness” (51), and their holy friendship led to St. Jane founding the Visitation sisters, which had been St. Francis’s cherished dream.

A friendship like this is a special kind of friendship. These friends are not drawn together just because of some mutual benefit, as classmates or colleagues may be. They don’t just share similar interests or enjoy spending time together, as many friends do (and should!). These true friends, at their deepest level, share a common commitment to the same ultimate good outside themselves, and that foundation will not crack. When both friends want what is best for the other and act accordingly, even though their own hearts could be “wrung and possibly broken,” we begin to see the love and joy of Christ. St. Francis had this kind of friendship with St. Jane, as “his heart…rejoice[d] in her heart as in itself” (51). He told her, “I am going to try to keep you ever exalted on the throne which God has given you in my heart, a throne based upon the cross” (51).

When a friend like this enters your life, even for a little while, give thanks and praise to God for the gift of their life, “praying always with joy” (Phil. 1:4) in your every prayer for them. These friends, ones to whom we can entrust our hearts, are unmerited gifts from God. How can our souls not proclaim the greatness of the Lord? As Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., writes, “I am especially blessed if God gives me a very close friendship with some specific person who is filled with the grace of God and divine love, and who has received a special faith, hope, and love for me” (53). Remain in his love always, “encourage one another” (1 Th. 5:11) as you encounter the joys and sorrows of life, let your friendship bear fruit, and evermore point your friend “further up and further in” to the heart of Christ, the source and summit of your joy, and the only ultimate good which will fully satisfy your hearts.

If you are longing for a friend like this, just as St. Jane was while waiting for St. Francis, or if you are reeling from being separated from such a friend, as St. Jane was after St. Francis entered eternal life, know that you are not alone. Among the “great crowd of witnesses” in the communion of saints, you have hidden friends loving you and praying for you—and none intercede for you as ardently as Our Lady does. She whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow will lead you deeper into the thorn-crowned heart of her son, Jesus, who is your greatest friend.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13), and he already has. Christ has chosen you as his friend, delights in you, and will never leave you. He longs for us to love as he does so we may be filled with his joy, even if the road is sowed with tears and strewn with briars. Lean into the love of the cross, and know that every tear has power when united to his passion. Be patient, for “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.” Remain in his love always, take courage, and know that joy will come, even when all seems dark—for his joy will be in you, and your joy will be complete.

Reading List
Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., Friendship in the Lord

We Belong to Each Other

They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
—Mark 2:3–5

Imagine how it felt for the paralyzed man to be so close to Jesus, and yet so far: within sight of the Healer, yet held back by the very impairments that needed healing, utterly helpless to bridge the gap.

In moments when we feel paralyzed and helpless, unable to fix things for ourselves, God does not want us to go it alone. He wants to heal us, and He seeks to work through the hearts of others in the process. He uses our frailties to bear greater fruit: not only in ourselves, but in others, too. We can only be healed if we are willing to admit our weakness and ask for help. We must allow ourselves to be lifted up, carried, and lowered into the arms of Jesus.

And when we lend a hand to help someone else, it is a privilege: to share in the sacred struggle of their suffering, to draw close to the fountain of grace and healing. God uses these moments of weakness to teach us to rely upon other people and knit us closer together as a community.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
—Mother Teresa

The Odor of Sin

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati loved the poor wholeheartedly. He went out into the slums of Turin to visit them each day; he did this not to assuage his conscience or to give them something from his material excess, but rather to receive them, to visit with them, to love them as God’s own children and to offer his whole self to them. He saw Jesus in each of their faces. Once, a friend asked Pier Giorgio how he could bear the odor of the poor, the dirt and filth of the slums. He replied, “Don’t forget that even if the house you visit is very dirty, there you may find Jesus. Remember always that it is to Jesus that you go: I see a special light that we do not have around the, sick, the poor, the unfortunate.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of Jesus healing a leper. I would imagine that this man was used to people recoiling in his presence, shrinking away from the fetid odor of his infection. He would have learned to lay low, to avoid other people so as not to feel the sting of their repulsion. But when he saw Jesus, he did not back away. Had he already sensed, in that first glance, that Jesus did not look at him the same way as everyone else? He lay prostrate before Jesus and begged for healing. If the people were horrified to see a leper approaching Jesus, imagine their disgust when Jesus responded by reaching out and touching this man. He was not deterred by the stench; no, He was in fact drawn toward this man, filled with nothing but love for him.

We know where our sores and infections lie within our souls, and more often than not we try to cover them up. We expect that Jesus will be disappointed by our faults and failures, and so we try and mask the odor of our guilt. But Jesus is not deterred by the stench of our sin, and He does not want only part of us. He wants all of us, warts and all, for He seeks to love us totally and completely. He bends down to greet us, looks us in the eye; all He needs is for us to affirm our trust in Him to fully heal us. Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.