Juneteenth

By Jacqueline Casquero

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

I joined #rendyourhearts, a community that prayed the rosary, the St. Michael prayer, and the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for peace, justice, reconciliation, and reparation for the sins of racism in our homes, communities, government, and churches for nine days (ending today, June 19).

I’m glad to see that the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York City are both in agreement about making Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a holiday. Since that day of emancipation, black Americans still had to continue to fight for full citizenship rights such as voting and integration. The experience that they endured, being treated in a way that denied their human dignity, is an inescapable part of American history.

Pope Francis called out racism for what it is: a sin, since it rips away the dignity of men. He said“We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Let us take time to look into our hearts and pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to have a new heart:   

Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

I. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” Behold I knock, I seek, and ask for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be to the Father….

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

II. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be To the Father….

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

III. O my Jesus, you have said: ‘Truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away. ‘ Encouraged by your infallible words I now ask for the grace of… (here name your request). Our Father…. Hail Mary…. Glory Be to the Father….

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender Mother and ours. Hail, Holy Queen….

St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.

A Heart Contrite and Humbled

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
—Psalm 51:19

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
—Matthew 9:14–15

During this Lenten season, we talk a lot about we’re doing or giving up for these forty days. But let us not forget that the whole point of all these external activities and devotions is to form the interior disposition of our hearts. What God wants more than anything is to be close to us. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus identifies Himself as the Bridegroom. Jesus desires union with us, to know us intimately, to cultivate relationship with us.

All our Lenten fervor should not be about mere self-improvement or testing our own strength. Rather, it should facilitate our union with Christ, perhaps making us even more aware of our weakness as we learn to depend upon Him. As we fast while waiting upon our Bridegroom, we leave space for the feast that is to come and open up room in our hearts for Jesus to enter.

If we go beyond the surface level of our Lenten devotions and allow them to truly form our hearts, it will affect how we act toward one another. When we create space in our daily routines and welcome the emptiness that Lent brings, we can begin to hear Jesus’s voice more clearly in the silence. And if we listen, we will hear His overwhelming love for us ringing out even in the desert. When we know we are loved beyond measure, our own capacity to love will deepen.

This type of fasting, which brings us closer to the Heart of God, is what will lead us to the promises described in the first reading from Isaiah:

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.
—Isaiah 58:8

He is the Light in the darkness of Lent; He is the One who heals all our wounds. And He invites us to use these forty days to draw close to His Sacred Heart.

Your Heart Is My Home

About 8 months ago, while on a retreat, I glanced through the retreat house’s library to borrow a book for the weekend.  Though I can’t even recall the title of the book, the spiritual nugget that the Lord gave me through it has stuck with me.  And on today’s Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I am reminded of this nugget. 

The book was a sort of prayerful and guided walk through St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, and while I barely had time to skim the book, this specific principle stuck with me.  The author encouraged the reader to prayerfully discover a personal representation of the place within her (or his) soul where she meets and dwells with God.  I wish I could more accurately remember how the author guided this meditation, but the point is, it was an opportunity to create a visual “place” that resonates with you personally to help you enter into the presence of God in the innermost chambers of your heart and soul. 

For me, as I took time to allow the Lord to show me this “place,” I began to visualize a flower.  The flower petals opened gently, and there, safe within the beauty of the petals, I saw a tiny version of myself.  I was “Honey I shrunk the Kids”–sized, peacefully dwelling in the center bed of this flower.  A peace came over me as I received the gift of this image from the Lord.  It was like He had given me a new way to enter in to His presence in prayer through the uniqueness of this image of my heart and soul. 

Even though I began this prayerful meditation trying to visualize my own heart, as I sat with the image, I felt this security of being enfolded in the Lord’s Heart.  It is difficult to describe the experience, but I think it represents the reality of the exchange of hearts we partake in when we are in covenant with the Lord.  A Christian covenant is more than a contractual exchange of goods—it is an exchange of persons.  And we are loved enough by Him to be in a covenant relationship, a dynamic exchange of love, with our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our heart, the place where He dwells, is swept up in His own precious and Sacred Heart.  I believe it is this mutual abiding of hearts, mine and His, that I was experiencing in prayer.

I invite you to spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord to help you see your own heart in which He dwells, and so come into contact with His Heart.  Today’s readings illustrating Jesus’ role as our Good Shepherd remind us of His overwhelming love for each of us.  He will go out in search of you, His single lost and beloved sheep, to bring you back into His Sacred Heart.  He loves you personally, deeply, and unashamedly. 

Allow yourself to sit and receive this immeasurable love of His Sacred Heart today.  Dwell in the joy of your covenantal relationship with Him.  May this remind us that Jesus’ love is this genuinely personal for each and every person.  I pray that we can receive this great love of our Savior each and every day, so we can in turn reflect this love to every soul who has yet to experience this love.  Right now, I hope you will take a few moments to dwell in the reception of His love for you.

“Why should I love God? …if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us.”

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God

To further your meditation, check out this song that guides me right to His heart… Will Reagan — “Your Heart is My Home” Listen on Spotify | Listen on YouTube

 

 

Open, Wounded, and On Fire

“Behold this Heart,” Jesus said sorrowfully, as He held His pierced Heart out to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. “Behold this Heart which has so loved men, that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself in order to testify to its love. In return, I have received from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and their sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this sacrament of Love.”

Jesus suffered all things, holding nothing back from us. He calls us to conform our hearts to be like His.

As we enter into this first full week of Lent, we are challenged by today’s Gospel to examine how we love others. Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

When we look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and carefully observe how He loved in His time on earth, we know that He held His love back from no one, even the people who were most difficult to love. His Sacred Heart is totally open, totally vulnerable. No walls, no hesitation, no fear; He just gives. He gives Himself to us freely and totally—how will we respond? Do we hold anything back from the Lord out of self-preservation? Do we run to Him and spend time with Him in prayer? Do we have walls up with others? Do we put masks on pretending we’re okay? Do we withhold love from other people out of fear, resentment, or judgment?

Jesus’ Sacred Heart was also wounded, wounded for all souls. He intimately knows our pain. He understands what we go through. When we suffer, we can find solace in Jesus’ Sacred Heart that has been through it all for us. When others suffer, our hearts too, can beat for theirs, and God gives us the gift of being able to be His vessels of love and comfort for others when they are hurting. And when we suffer, we can unite our aching hearts to Jesus’ Heart, offering our pain to comfort Him on the Cross and for the good of others. Let’s not run from our crosses nor the crosses of others.

Finally, Jesus’ Sacred Heart is on fire, burning with so much love for us and for the Father. Sometimes this fire in our hearts gets put out by pride, sloth, fear, or lies from the enemy. Do our hearts burn with love and zeal for bringing others to the Heart of Christ? Jesus so desires to enkindle the fire of His love within us so that we can set the world on fire with His powerful love, healing, and redemption. The fire of His love and mercy cannot be contained, cannot be put into a box.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” Jesus, give us the grace to continue surrendering every part of ourselves to Your good will for us, daring to be totally open, accepting of our wounds and compassionate towards the woundedness of others, and on fire with Your radical love in our world that is so hungering for it.

Are You For Real?

“Suffering is Jesus kissing you from the cross!” Mother Teresa is reported to have told a woman in great anguish.  “Well then, tell Him to please stop!” the woman supposedly retorted.

Lately, I have been inclined to agree.

I wrote recently that it is when you hit rock bottom that you discover just Who that Rock really is.  But I feel as though instead, I am lying splattered and splayed upon its hardness.  Previous pious platitudes have not brought comfort.

“I can’t handle this, Lord.  I have nothing left to give.”  I was praying weeks ago in front of the Pieta, on Saturday afternoon of the Frassati retreat, begging for a reprieve from fatigue and stress.  Neither the statue nor any other voice spoke into the silence, but I felt a pain like a cross beam spread across my shoulders, then slowly into my neck.  That pain did not subside after my prayer was over.  It only grew, and I blamed my relentless stress.

A few days later, I was not able to turn my head without a cocktail of ibuprofen and prescription drugs.  The doctors took some bloodwork, which revealed elevated lymphocytes and some other anomalies, and I was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

“Are you for real?”  I asked God.  “Didn’t I ask for rest, for reprieve?  Did you hear me correctly?”  Silence.  “All right, I will say Yes, if this is Your will for me…”

After ten days of doxycycline, the pain had only worsened, spreading from my elbows throughout my arms and legs.  I was unable to lift even small items without intense pain, so I called my sister Teresa to help me take care of my mother, and my 88-year-old aunt who has also been staying with us.

On the way back from the train station, I was telling my sister about my symptoms when suddenly the pain increased exponentially.  Simultaneously there was a terrific bang and lurching.  I struggled to breathe as the now excruciating pain tore through my ribs and neck.  It took a few seconds to figure out what was happening—an SUV had smashed into our car, which in turn propelled our small Honda into the SUV in front of us.  I didn’t even get a look at the scene as the ambulance carried us away.

“Are you for real God?  Surely this is not happening…” I was mostly laughing, as I later texted neck-brace selfies from the ER to friends and family, but maybe it was the morphine.  I was admitted to the hospital, to ultimately be diagnosed with a fracture of my neck vertebrae.  Teresa returned to the city with her own very painful injuries (diagnosis still in progress).

A few days later I was finally feeling strong enough to sit up at the table for dinner.  But a bit later, my mother started complaining of abdominal pain.  The complaints grew in urgency and volume, and I looked to see that she was as white as a sheet and sweating.  A call to a nurse friend directed me to call 911, in case she was having a heart attack.

My few minutes of sitting up became seven hours in the ER, only to have Mom admitted, not for her heart but her pancreas.  “Really, not again…” I sighed.

The next morning, before I call for a ride to the hospital, I stumble into the kitchen to make myself some coffee.  Something doesn’t smell right.  Maybe it’s because there’s been nobody to do the dishes, but there aren’t that many, and the smell is worse than that.  I painstakingly bend down to peer into the corner, to discover that an unwanted gift from Saint Martin has been decomposing in the corner of the pantry.

This is the last straw.  “I HATE ALL LIVING THINGS!” I scream into the Silence.  But I hate even more things that used to be living.  Surely this cannot be real.  Surely there is someone else to deal with this.  I have said many times that I don’t mind being single and without a husband, except perhaps on garbage night.  I add this to the list.  “This is not okay, God!!!”

Mom is released from the hospital two days later, and I think I can finally breathe.  But then we get the news that the car is likely totaled, and I look at our finances, and feel my feet sinking into an ocean of panic.  “I trusted you, God!”  Without a job, our finances have been precarious for awhile, and this is one hit too many.  What are we supposed to do now?

On Saturday evening I am nauseous from the stress, worry and pain.  We go to Mass, at which the Gospel is the Rich Young Man, who leaves Jesus, sad because of his preference for possessions.  I feel an odd sense of conviction, that despite technically living below the poverty line, I am no different from this rich man.  That there is still more to surrender.

“ARE YOU FOR REAL?” I ask God incredulously.  Surely He cannot want more of me…surely there is nothing left to give!

God is silent, but other voices start piping in.

“Are YOU for real, Grace?” asks the Girl I Ought to Be. “Where is your trust in God?” snaps her snarky sister.  “You talk about it all the time, about faith on the tightrope, about thanking God in all things.  Time to see what you’re made of!”

Real Me responds with words that could constitute material for Confession.

“What do you want from me God?  I am trying to trust you.  I am trying to say yes.  I am even trying to thank you, but it seems like a joke.  Are you even there?  Are you, in fact, for real?”

Doubt comes around like a Dementor, threatening to consume me with its darkness and despair, so I quickly shut the door, in my will if not my emotions.  “Jesus, I trust in you.”  The words comfort me, even if only 1% of me can get on board at the moment.

On Sunday I sit down to pray.  “Lord, I am trying to say thank you.  Trying to say yes.  Trying to trust.  But that is above my paygrade right now.  I need you to do all these things for me, in me.  I don’t even know what that means.  I even need you to give me faith to believe that you are real.”

And I remember suddenly, that it is the date of my baptism, that (quite a few decades ago) on this very day I was brought as an infant to a small church in Kentucky.  Brought to be marked with the sign of the cross, to receive the gift of faith.

The Silence remains, but I find rising up within me the grace to look up and say “You.”  To remember and know that my prayers are not being spoken to or received by an abstraction, but by a Person.  By Someone who is loving me in this.  That I am saying yes not to the cross itself but to the Person who asks me to carry it (or more accurately, carries me during it).

Today is the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom God entrusted the vision and message of His Sacred Heart.  A Heart that was incarnate that we might know God’s love is not an abstraction, but in fact deeply human.  A Heart that was pierced and bled for our sins, yet still burns with a personal love for each one of us.

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not a man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
—Hosea 11:8–9

Jungholz_-_panoramio_(5)The Heart of Jesus, pure and tender, feels all human emotions more intensely and yet is not ruled by them. His Sacred Heart is not hardened or cold like our own, and so the feelings He experiences are powerful and raw: love, anger, joy, pity, solace, grief.

When Jesus faced His crucifixion and brutal death, He knew that this was the Father’s will for the salvation of the world, but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel distressed or afraid or angry about what was to come—in fact, He felt all those things even more acutely than you or I would. His perfect Heart felt everything more distinctly, and yet He was able to feel those emotions without allowing them to dictate His actions. Jesus stayed the course and persevered for our sake, even as His Heart was filled with dread.

Sometimes, when our emotions distract us from carrying out our plans, we try to numb our hearts and stop feeling anything at all. But our hearts are a gift, to be nurtured and cherished, and if we lose touch with them we will find ourselves without meaning or purpose. So how can we persevere in God’s will as Jesus did without making ourselves numb to those inner cries of joy and anguish?

Mehrerau_Collegiumskapelle_Fenster_R06c_Herz_JesuOnly when we are connected to the Sacred Heart of Jesus will we perceive the immense graces that come from being in tune with our emotions and aware of how God formed our hearts. They are a compass for us as we discern His plans and seek to understand who He created us to be. We will see the beauty of our human emotions, even when they make it harder for us to do what is right. We will find the mysterious grace of sharing in Jesus’s sorrow, knowing that He walks alongside us in our pain. We will remember His Passion amidst our greatest joys and His Resurrection amid our deepest sorrows, and everything will be offered up to Him. Jesus will grant us the heavenly perspective that will allow us to press onward through all the ups and downs of this life, knowing that this is not the end.

Jesus invites each of us into His Sacred Heart. He has sacrificed for our redemption and cleansed us through Baptism, that we might enter into His Love and not be destroyed by the flames. May we offer Him our whole heart, holding nothing back, so that He might transform it like unto His own.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
—Ezekiel 36:26


1. Photo by Richard Mayer / Mosaic in Jungholz, Austria / CC BY 3.0
2. Photo by Andreas Praefcke / Stained glass window, Collegium Chapel, Vienna / PD-US