Where the Waves Grow Sweet

“To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series—the plot, as we call it—is only really a net whereby to catch something else… No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.”
—C.S. Lewis

There are moments in our lives when grace can act like a certain slant of light cutting through a dim room at dawn. Providential conversations, series of events, and even the worst of trials can suddenly fall into place like the threads of a story at its close—and the strands of those memories can seem to gleam like liquid gold, pointing directly back to Christ, the master Storyteller. Yes, He knew what He was about. Yes, He knew what He was doing. Yes, it’s true, He was with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—even if you could not see Him through eyes filled with salty tears. Have you ever heard it? Can you remember—?

In this Gospel reading, we find the apostles back where their story began, before they embarked on the adventure of living with and learning from Christ. How the familiar creaking of the timbers, the gentle lapping of the waves, and the dappled moonlight on the deck must have consoled them—and yet, not have consoled them, for these men were not the same fishermen Jesus had called years ago. At the end of a three-year spree of miracles in which their hearts were transformed and prepared for Something by Someone, the last miracle—the greatest miracle—must have seemed just out of sight, hidden by a veil of confusion and hope. It is the point in the story when each page feels like an eternity, where, as Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade writes, “ordinary human common sense, seeing no way out of it, realizes all its weakness and shortcomings and feels completely baffled.”

It is at this very moment that the story—particularly Peter’s—comes full circle. At dawn, Christ appears “to those who belong wholly to him and disentangles them from all their troubles far more easily than novelists, working away in the peace of their rooms, extricate their heroes from all their dangers and bring them to a happy and successful end” (De Caussade). At the start of his adventure, when the nets are empty, Peter does not seem to trust when instructed to put out into the deep (Luke 5:1–11). Now, the nets are lowered without delay, and on the right side of the boat. Before, the nets are tearing, unable to contain what Christ is sending them. Now, they remain whole, receiving the entire gift. Before, Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to depart from him, for he is a sinful man. Now, in the light of the Resurrection, in the light of Merciful Love, he immediately jumps from the boat to go to Jesus, despite his sins, just as he did to walk on water with Him—perhaps inspiring C.S. Lewis’s valiant mouse who vowed to sail, paddle, or swim until reaching Aslan’s country or sinking with his nose to the sunrise.

Most importantly: the Last Supper becomes the first breakfast, in which Christ is revealed in the breaking of the Bread, the edible Light. By this new charcoal fire, far from the crowds and crowing birds, Peter’s three denials turn to three affirmations of love, as Jesus sets his life on a new course. While Peter’s heart had torn earlier and could not follow Christ to the cross, his new heart would not tear as he laid down his life for the early church, as seen in the first readings this week. Every moment, every seemingly insignificant detail, led and would continue to lead Peter to love with a love more like Christ’s, a love with a decisive direction and courageous trust that the gates of hell would not prevail against. This was a moment where the threads of Peter’s life gleamed like gold, pointing to Christ—almost like the ends of stories in which hobbits grow up and save the Shire, children return to England and learn to love Aslan by another name, and boy-kings go on alone (and at once) to lead their kingdoms. Can you remember seeing such flashes of gold, and feeling your heart sing, safe in His own heart—in the folds of His Mercy?

Still, Peter’s life goes on past this moment, just like ours do. Events continue to happen, and we again find ourselves in the dark, being led where we might not have chosen to go—for all hearts being conformed to Christ’s will be led to the cross. Peter is crucified far from home. We are enduring isolation and illness, desolation and death. In the stories, the hobbits say farewell to their dearest friend, the children lose their lives in a British railway accident, and the grown king is parted from his wife and only son—going on yet again alone (and at once). But, these events are not the end of the story. “God has His pen and an open book before Him, and in this book He writes a blessed story which will end only when the world ends.” Along the way, there will be wounds that words like these cannot heal—only the Word can heal. There will be times when we don’t understand why something happened, like the apostles, like Mary Magdalene, weeping by the tomb. And there will moments when He is revealed to us at dawn, and our hearts sing in the sunrise.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Even if we cannot see the streaks of gold amid the gloom and each page feels like an eternity, we can try to remember and remind others of the radiant light of His resurrection. He is our greatest Friend, who desires nothing less than our whole hearts, is always with us, and weeps with us along the way. Every moment we allow Him to take, bless, break, and share us is precious, for His grace heals and elevates our hearts if we unite our sorrows to His sorrowful passion, even if our eyes are filled with tears. Yes, He knows what He is about. Yes, He knows what He is doing. Yes, it’s true, He is with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—you can trust Him, even in the dark, especially in the dark. And, from the diary of St. Faustina, “You will not be alone, because I am with you always and everywhere. Near to My Heart, fear nothing… Know that My eyes follow every move of your heart with great attention. I am bringing you into seclusion so that I Myself may form your heart according to My future plans” (797). In other words, “Take courage, dear heart” (Lewis).

Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
St. Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, On Stories
Peter Kreeft, The Worldview of C.S. Lewis and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
His Own, Remember

Overcome

“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.” -2 Timothy 1:10

You will not be overcome.

Jesus is the Master of our hearts, and He has won the victory over sin and death. It was impossible for our Savior to be held by the bonds of evil (Acts 2:24).

This reality changes everything for us if we let it. If we dare to live fully in the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, we will be set free—not to live recklessly, but to live with radical trust and surrender to the will of God at each moment of our lives.

It’s one of the hardest things to surrender with joy to God when we’re faced with a situation that makes no sense or one that absolutely wrecks us. It can be tempting to fall into thinking that somehow we will be overcome. It can be tempting to grasp at control.

In those moments, God whispers to us, “Wait and trust.” He calls us to stick right there with Him, to keep our eyes locked on His and to let Him guide each step of the way. We can stay so close to our Lord, trusting that He will lead us in every moment, never failing us.

We are His children, and He grabs us by the hand to guide our steps, like a parent helping a child learn how to walk. He won’t let go of you.

You belong to God, and this means that His victory over all evil is your victory, too. He won’t let any amount of evil ever win in the end.

You are so loved. Sometimes, we just need to take a breath and receive that simple yet profound reminder: you are so loved by God. And you will certainly not be overcome. Let this settle into your heart.

Amen, hallelujah!

“In darkness, at times of tribulation and distress of the spirit, Jesus is with you. In such a state you see nothing but darkness, but I can assure you on God’s behalf that the light of the Lord is all around you and pervades your spirit…You see yourself forsaken and I assure you that Jesus is holding you tighter than ever to His divine Heart.” -St. Padre Pio

A worship song recommendation for this theme is “Overcome” by Sarah Kroger!

Setting Captives Free

+

How saddened the disciples were that Jesus would not be with them much longer in the way they had imagined He would be.  While their encounter with the Living Word-made-Flesh had turned their lives completely upside down, journeying with Him during the years of His public ministry, they still did not understand the full picture.  In the Gospel today, Jesus sees the grief that fills their hearts in this moment, knowing still the grief yet to come at His Crucifixion, but also knowing the complete joy of His Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is the deep reception of the Holy Spirit in their inmost beings that set the Apostles on fire after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they can be faithful to their mission of baptizing the world in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, no matter where they go or what they endure.

In the first reading, we see Paul and Silas stripped, beaten severely and thrown into jail.  Yet even there the kingdom of God reigns.  Though they are prisoners in every outward sense—put in the “innermost cell” with their feet secured to a stake—they are set free in their innermost selves by Christ and able to be instruments of God’s grace, singing His praises and praying in the dark of night.

Imagine being one of the prisoners nearby, overhearing their love for God spilling forth.  Would you scoff at them?  Might your own heart be stirred to whisper a small prayer of thanksgiving?

Either way, you’d definitely be most attentive the moment you felt the earthquake shake the very foundations of the jail!  What a dramatic revelation of God’s glory!  Each prisoner being set free from bondage—chains broken, doors blown open, light piercing their own hearts.  This freedom is not just physical, but spiritual—freedom from sin.  This outward manifestation of God’s power seems small compared to the inner transformation of the jailer, much like the instance where Jesus healed the paralytic, saying first “Your sins are forgiven,” and then performing a physical miracle to account for our poor human blindness (Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26).

For the jailer and his family to have received the Holy Spirit so as to know the truth of Jesus Christ is a true miracle and a cause for great rejoicing indeed!

And what about us?  How is it that we live in the light and joy of this truth, no matter how dark our present situation may seem?  And do we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us so as to be ministers of joy and truth to others in our lives who may themselves feel imprisoned by doubts, sadness or trouble? 

By virtue of the Sacraments and living in a state of grace, we have the Holy Spirit! We too are set free!  Jesus promised His disciples, as He promises us, that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  And what a mighty work He has done!  No matter if we were born into the Faith or converted later (or find ourselves on the path of conversion!), it is a gift that by His Light we know Light. 

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
~Ps. 138:7-8

What a grace it is to be transformed in the waters of baptism, confirmed in the Faith, brought freedom from our sins in reconciliation, and to receive JESUS Himself in the Holy Eucharist! The Lord has a plan for our lives. We must trust Him every step of the way and bear the crosses He allows us to carry for our sanctification, for even in the darkest night He is the Light we need.

We still have some days of Easter left, before arriving to the great Feast of Pentecost.  Prepare your hearts and souls to grow closer to the Holy Spirit. Receive a new outpouring of the Spirit by praying a Pentecost Novena, learning the Veni, Creator Spiritus prayer (which St. JPII prayed every day!) and shedding any chains of bondage to sin in the confessional.

God awaits to do marvelous things in your soul. Let Him in ever more! And let us cry as one with the whole Church, Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well-beloved Spouse!

Radiant Faces

I’ve been told by quite a few people that my blue eyes change color depending on my mood: they’re a bright, brilliant blue when I’m joyful and happy, a deep blue when I’m tired or reflective, and a dark blue-grey when I’m sad.

I’ve seen this in other people, too. With the teens that I serve in youth ministry, I’ve seen noticeable changes in their faces and eyes after they have a powerful encounter with Jesus on a retreat or at a Youth Night. They smile more, laugh easily, hold their heads up with confidence, and their eyes sparkle.

The joy of the Lord changes us. When we let Him transform our hearts, it is reflected in our outward appearance. The power of His joy cannot be contained—and so we become visible witnesses of His love.

Jesus wants His resurrection to radiate from us.

In today’s first reading, we hear that St. Stephen had the “face of an angel.” Now, he had every reason to look distressed, anxious, and downtrodden as he faced persecution and the trial before the Sanhedrin leading to his martyrdom. His joy in how he lived fully alive in the Spirit bothered people so much that they wanted him to be killed. But that didn’t stop him from proclaiming the amazing news of God’s saving power to all he encountered. And even in the face of death, the joy of the Lord remained burning within him so brightly that he looked like an angel.

No matter what we are facing, can we let Jesus’ resurrection joy dwell within us so powerfully that it explodes onto our outward appearance? Even in the darkest of days, we can be joyful. We can be joyful because Jesus’ resurrection joy is for everyone, and you are no exception to that rule. He is with you, He is at work, and He is ALIVE. The story He is writing for you is full of transforming glory. Amen, hallelujah!

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

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Happy Easter, friends! Jesus is risen; alleluia! It was impossible for Him to be held by death, as today’s first reading tells us (Acts 2:24).

Resurrection hope. What does this mean for us? In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary experience this first hand. What were they thinking when they saw the empty tomb? Were they so caught up in the trauma and horror of seeing their Lord crucified that they forgot that He said He would rise?

When they receive the good news of the resurrection, it says that they were “fearful yet overjoyed” as they ran to tell everyone the great news.

For us, sometimes seasons of resurrection can bring simultaneous doubt. We can find ourselves questioning if it’s too good to be true. If we’ve been hurt or have suffered a long time, it can be hard to fully open ourselves up to the marvels of the resurrections when they do at last come. Jesus encounters us along the way, just like He did with the two Mary’s, telling us to not be afraid. We can trust.

We can let our uncertainties vanish in the light of His resurrection. With this one act, Jesus proved and completed everything He ever said. Jesus overcame the impossible in a way no one has ever been able to do so. And He did it all for you and me, with infinite love.

Jesus’ resurrection makes a way for hope in all the seemingly impossible circumstances of our lives. His resurrection is the road to the gift of Heaven for us. If we are feeling fearful yet overjoyed as we ponder the glory of His work in our lives, hear Him proclaim to your heart today to not be afraid. Jesus wants to give you the good things you are experiencing. It’s not a mistake or just a coincidence: His blessings are good and true, and always from Him.

Lord, thank You for Your Resurrection and for all the little resurrections you grace us with here on earth. We praise You with awe and joy. Amen.

Among the Tombs

Today’s Gospel tells of the healing of the Gerasene man possessed by many demons. Mark’s narrative says that the man had been living among the tombs. The demons had taken ahold of him so greatly that he was literally living among the dead, and probably feeling very close to death himself. I imagine his great anguish every single day, feeling utterly tortured and helpless and unwanted by everyone else. We don’t know how this man became possessed or what happened, but that is not necessarily important to dwell on in light of the glory of Jesus revealed to us here.

Do we not sometimes find ourselves feeling as though we are living among the tombs? The sin we can’t shake, the constant narrative of self-beratement in our minds, the masks we put on to pretend we’re okay when we’re not, the images we hide behind on social media, the mindless scrolling to numb or distract ourselves, the desperate strife to earn the love we do not have to earn, resigning ourselves to thinking we just have to suffer and God won’t come through for us, etc.

Brothers and sisters, we are made for so much more. The tombs of our lives do not define us and will never have the last word. Let’s call to mind another tomb—a tomb where the glory of our salvation occurred, the tomb where, in the middle of the night, our Savior rose and Heaven was opened. The tomb of Jesus. The tomb of His resurrection is the only tomb that will ever define us, because His tomb is empty and death is defeated.

As the man in today’s Gospel comes before Jesus, the demons within him tremble. Even they recognize Jesus’ power and His glory. We can place our hope in the all-powerful God! Jesus cares so much for this man that he not only casts all the demons out from him, but he sends them into the swine so that they will never return. In the death of the swine, this man’s salvation was possible.

You are beloved. God is calling you out of whatever your tomb is. There is nothing to fear—He loves you so. Lay your heart bare before Him in prayer today, and don’t stop there: listen for His response. Let Him fill you with His love. He will give you exactly what you need. Let Him declare the victory of His resurrection over you today!