Believe

For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?

John 5:47

In today’s first reading, freed from slavery the Israelites are wandering in the desert. Surviving slavery, witnessing the plagues, the parting of the red sea, but more importantly, how God did not forget them, His people, yet, they quickly forgot Him who saved them. Moses leaves them to commune with God on top of Mt. Sinai, (a period of about forty days). In their perceived fear of abandonment, the Israelites ask Aaron to build the golden calf. “They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it.” They would rather worship human creations, something they can see right now, rather than wait for God who has freed them and is taking them to the promise land.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees, present a façade of faithfulness but Jesus knows, “I know that you do not have the love of God in you.”  They have had many witnesses that give evidence to who Jesus is, the writings of Moses (“But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”), John the Baptist (“for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.“), the miracles of Jesus, and yet they refuse to see God in any of these things. “But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.” They worship their golden calf of pride, strict rules and empty encouragement; they too have turned away from God.

In both passages, the Israelites and the Pharisees believe they can attain the promise land or achieve eternal life on their own. We are not always wiser. Let us learn from Jesus, from scripture, from the witnesses in our lives, from the sacraments, from tradition, and from the personal relationship that the Father calls us to have with himself, that the way, the truth, and the life is through Jesus.  

In this season of lent, as we wait, as we journey further into the desert, as Jesus accompanies us, have courage and faith that the one who brought you to this point has not abandoned you, will not abandon you. Friends, believe that although you may not hear his voice, see the signs you want, have not heard a full yes or a full no, the Father’s promises are true. Believe that in your hearts, and strive to live a calling that witnesses to the immeasurable faithfulness and love of the Father. “The LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened.” His grace and his mercy are abundant and because of it, we are saved.  

The Adoration of the Golden Calf
Nicolas Poussin

Divisiveness

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,
and when the demon had gone out,
the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and /quotesaid to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, 
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Luke 11:14-11:23

What a reading for today’s gospel, friends. Today I was given the privilege of discussing one of the most oft-quoted passages in the gospel: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid to waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

As many of you may know, it’s one of the most famous lines of the gospel, and plenty of theological discussion has been had about just these two verses. It has of course, even seeped into larger popular culture and if you’ve ever seen Seinfeld, you know how it’s mentioned—it’s even reached sitcoms, albeit with the message subverted for some comedic effect. But moving on from my tendency to ramble on or make pop culture references, there are two things to note from today’s gospel reading.

First, note how Jesus rebuffs the townspeople who demand a sign from Him to prove He is from Heaven. Jesus, of course, “knew their thoughts,” and rather than give in to their demands, Jesus simply gave words of wisdom. Jesus, of course, also rebuffs Satan in a similar fashion when He is in the desert for 40 days. (Feed himself and abstain from fasting? No. Christ speaks, “Man does not live on bread alone.” See the temptation of Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)

Rather than forcefully show his divinity to appease people, Jesus speaks the truth as He does to Satan. However, on another dimension, this often reminds me of the relationship we may have with Christ. Do we often make “deals” with Christ to prove He loves us? Do we often “ask for a sign from Heaven?” Have any of us ever prayed for something and claimed we’ll change our ways or stop habits that engender sin if we get something in return? And do we then simply forget to lead lives of virtue not because it was “proven” to us that God loved us, but because we should strive for lives of virtue because loving God is the ultimate good? This focus on virtue is something I want us to keep in mind because it’s significant. Thomas Aquinas cites caritas as “love,” or more specifically, the type of friendship based in the “the love which is together with benevolence, when to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him.” (See Second part of the Second part, Question 23 of Summa Theologica.) Additionally, Aquinas writes that caritas moves us to order our lives properly, gradually leading us to love and desire God for His own sake and nothing else. This “good” and the move towards virtue is what I want to focus on.

Second, God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one and united within the Holy Trinity. We are united with Christ, and we should expect to be in His good graces by living lives of virtue, leading others to Him, and by of course, loving Him. Why else did Christ call for the Great Commission? Well, for one, Christ knows that Satan is the one who causes division. This is especially apt when Christ makes the townspeople ask themselves, “If I drove out the demons by Beelzebul, well ok, how do you do it then?” This of course leaves them speechless. But which division am I speaking of? For some, it could be a loaded question. There is, of course, enough division in the American political sphere but that’s not where I’m going. In my experience, we as Catholics often do not present a united front or send an accurate reflection of our beliefs to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many explanations have been given from time to time for a decline in faith in America—changing cultural practices, postmodernism, inaccurate catechesis, etc. There is no singular answer, and debates rage on. The Lord said to His disciples that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, but we could still lose an untold number of souls if we send often-conflicting messages and signals to others about our beliefs and practices. If the mission of Holy Mother Church is about saving souls, then sometimes we should be aware that how we may act and express ourselves could be sowing division. Even unintentionally!

Disagreements are often messy, but necessary. But I’m not talking about differences in opinion, I’m talking about divisiveness within the larger Church and the family unit. And as you can imagine, it can be an awkward conversation and can stir a lot of passions from a lot of people.

When the fall of man happened, a consequence of original sin was a disruption in our relationship with God. We know this and the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about this as well.  We know this almost immediately from reading Genesis because upon eating the forbidden fruit of the tree, Adam does two things. First, he hides from God, because his relationship with the Lord has been disrupted due to sin. Second, he almost immediately blames Eve for his sin. This is something I have often seen in talking to spouses and it’s unfortunate—blaming your spouse for one’s sin. We have to remember—we’re supposed to be helping lead our spouse to Heaven! This is something we often see in families, often a core element of one’s growing up—a lot can be traced to early family life. Even sociologists and adolescent psychologists speak about how a child’s performance in school can be affected due to a messy and turbulent home. I don’t want to quote Jordan Peterson at length or ask your opinion of him, but he’s not exactly wrong when he states that for a lot of men, we have to keep our “house” (literal and metaphorically) in order. If we’re divided against ourselves due to sin or despair, how can we lead lives of virtue?

I’ve spoken at some length previously in prior reflections how one’s home life—however unfortunate—can lead to disruption in the life of faith. Adam refuses to take responsibility for his actions, blames his wife, and he is in essence, a symbolically divided individual. For me, when my father left at an early age, I traced the absence of an earthly father to our Heavenly Father not caring for me. In my experience (at least anecdotally) in talking with other Catholic men, this rings true. An absence of a father, divided families, leads to disruptions in the life of faith and brokenness and woundedness that we then unfortunately (and incorrectly) associate with God not caring or “abandoning us.”  Because the adage goes, if we can’t trust an earthly father, how can we trust our Heavenly Father? (We of course can. I am of course not dismissing woundedness in any way.) This then, of course, leads to a symbolic and literal divisiveness in each one of us. That’s divisiveness in the family and in our own lives affecting the life of faith.

However, there is another kind of divisiveness that I see that happens in how we express our thoughts on other Catholics we may disagree with. And I’ve been guilty of doing it a few times just as well. We often lob terms of “liberal” or “conservative” Catholic as insults and pejoratives in the context that we feel certain groups of people are not fully living holy lives. Mind you, however, that’s not to say fraternal correction is never necessary. It absolutely is needed at times. And Church teaching is well, Church teaching for a reason. Doctrine is not subject to change. I don’t have to explain what these terms mean—you’ve all heard some variation of what they mean and simply giving my take on what terms these may or may not mean isn’t instructive in the slightest. Point being—both of them have nuggets of truth, but not in ways you might expect. My larger point? Every Catholic should be “conservative” in that we wish to pass on, live, and conserve sacred truths of the Apostolic and lived faith. Every Catholic should also similarly be “liberal” in that we wish to “liberate” people from sins as Holy Mother Church asks of us so that we all can lead truly holy lives. I’m reminded of my therapist’s tattooed wrists—she tattooed broken chains on her wrists to demonstrate her life of faith was to show that by following Christ, she was choosing a life away from sin. Free of the chains of sins. Liberated.

But why do people use the terms “liberal” and “conservative”? For one, It’s often a woefully convenient (and inconvenient) shorthand in American politics, but it’s not entirely accurate and it unfortunately leads to a lot of divisiveness. One may have “liberal” or “conservative” ways (on a larger level of public policy for example) how best to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. But most people will tell you they want to alleviate poverty and show the poor person Christ’s love. And of course, perform the corporal works of mercy. And why shouldn’t we?

Today’s gospel reading is not lost on me during this time of Lent. Divisiveness leads us away from Christ, Our Lady, and Holy Mother Church. Jesus is not ambiguous or vague. We should put our faith in Him and turn away from lives of sin and turn to Him. Or scatter.

Don’t Look Back, Look Forward to Heaven

During holy week at my grandma’s house two things will happen, we will make habichuelas con dulce and we will watch some very old Bible-stories made movies on TV. For some reason one of the most vivid memories about this family tradition is watching the very old Bible-stories made movies. One scene in particular stands out to me, Lot’s wife looking back and turning into a pile of salt and then being blown away by the wind. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to “remember the wife of Lot”. It’s one verse in the middle of a parable and it doesn’t seem to make sense, until you look a little deeper at Scripture. If we are unfamiliar with Lot or his wife, we might be asking ourselves why does Jesus want me to remember her? In the Bible, Lot is the nephew of Abraham (patriarchal father) and his wife was a Sodomite woman. They lived in Sodom. Two angels had come to their family, urging them to leave the city at once because it was going to be destroyed, but they should not look behind them as they flee. Lot’s wife disobeys this order from God and as she looked behind to the city of Sodom, which was in flames, she turned to salt. My little kid brain just could not comprehend this – I was like, woah! God that’s kind of dramatic, all she did was look back. It was nothing, right?

The Father gives us everything that is good and all of himself. He is love himself and He gives all of Himself to us. All we have to do on our part is accept his love. Once we accept God and decide to walk with Him our lives change. They change for the better. A life in Christ is filled with peace, joy, and love. Nothing is missing from this life. 

However, being human as we are, we begin to think of all that we have to give up to walk with God. We give up being angry and mean towards other people. We give up getting drunk and using drugs. We give up being selfish to our own desires. We give up the pleasures of the world. We give up lying to get our ways. There are many things we give up – and sometimes we look back to those moments of “easy fun in the world” and start to want them back. We start to think “just a little bit of it won’t hurt”. What we need to realize when we do this is that we are telling God that He is not enough. By looking back to our old life, as Lot’s wife looked back to her old life, we are telling Jesus that his death is not enough. These are the lies that Satan whispers in our ear. 

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it. – Luke 17:33

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is warning us to not look back on our old life. To live in Christ we must die to our old selves. When we choose to follow Christ we should follow him 100% of the way, not half way or part of the way. We shouldn’t just follow him when it’s convenient and easy for us, then turn around when it’s hard and requires work. We should follow Jesus all the way to heaven! All the riches awaiting for us in heaven are so much grandeur than anything of the world. This is why Jesus says that the man on the rooftop doesn’t need to go back into the house for his possessions. Or, that someone doesn’t need to go back into the field for something that was left behind. God always provides for us! 

We are never alone when we are in the middle of our sins. If ever we feel like we’ve done too much wrong to ever be made right with the Father, know that to be a lie! Lot, his wife, and their daughters were in the middle of Sodom, a pagan city that had sinned against God, and the Father sent two angels to help them escape. God the Father sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to die so we could be set free. And the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation is always available to us. God never leaves you alone when you need Him. Do not look back on your old sinful life, look forward to the new and eternal life that awaits for you in heaven.

Image Credit: Lot’s Wife turning to Salt [Public Domain]

Jesus Christ Has Won. Love Has Won.

Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O Lord, hear my prayer,
And let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
In the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
In the day when I call, answer me speedily.
—Psalm 102:2–3

The responsorial psalm for today is piercing through my soul. Due to the current COVID-19 crisis in the world, how many of us are crying out to the Lord in distress, praying for a miracle? Many of us. How many of us might be feeling anxiety, fear, and loneliness? Many of us. How many of us are clinging to faith in this time of uncertainty? I hope, too, that the answer is many of us.

The last time in which I celebrated communion, I did not know it would be “the last time.” I had accepted the Body of Christ and rejoiced in a beautiful Holy Hour. I remember feeling FULL, feeling HAPPY, feeling THANKFUL. I am holding on to those feelings of peace as I obediently wait for the church doors to be opened to the public again. But, as I wait, I know that the Church is ALIVE. I know that God the Father loves all His children. I know that Jesus Christ has won.

In today’s first reading, the people of Israel were complaining about the manna bread that God had given them to eat in the desert. They had been wandering in the desert for years, only eating of the miraculous manna bread that fell from heaven to sustain their lives. Yes, they were in the hot and lonely desert. Yes, they did not have a variety of food to choose from. But the people of Israel failed to see the good within the situation that they were in; they had much to be thankful for. First, they were freed from slavery in Egypt—they had been enslaved for 400 years and God broke their chains. Second, they had food and water—the manna bread does not naturally grow in the desert; it was bread from heaven that God provided for His children to eat so they’d be nourished and remain strong. And have you heard of this rolling rock that just followed them in the desert and provided water?

As humans sometimes we tend to only focus on the bad and choose to sit with it. We neglect to acknowledge all the good that God has already done in our lives. And at times, even in the midst of living in the good of life, we fail to give proper thanks to God. The people of Israel eventually realized their sin in complaining against God and asked for mercy. God then instructed Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a pole; anyone who had previously been ill had only to look at the mounted serpent and would be healed.

How interesting that God chose the image of a serpent to be mounted on the pole. A serpent was the creature that manipulated Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, causing the fall of mankind. A serpent, representative of sin; that is what the people of Israel looked at to be healed—their sins hung on a wooden pole. We also need to look at our own sin. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoings, acknowledge when we complain against God and ask for mercy. We need to look at Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. We need to see the Son of God sacrificed for our salvation. Look at the cross, walk towards it, lay all that is weighing you down at the foot of the cross, and let Jesus heal you.

Throughout the bad that is present in the world, we must keep faith to that which is good. Our faith tells us that the battle is already won. Jesus Christ died and was nailed to a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Love has won.

These are very difficult and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus has affected all of us. But have faith, the Church remains alive. Pray and invite God into your life for peace. The people of Israel asked for prayer—I encourage you to submit your prayer intentions HERE so that, as one body in Christ, we can pray for you as well.

the-bronze-serpent
Image Credit: Moses showing the bronze serpent, mounted on a pole to the people of Israel [Public Domain].

Take Me Back to the Garden

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” -James 3:16-18

Oof. One of the worst feelings is when jealousy comes, fear strikes, or selfish words and actions come out instead of compassionate, peaceful, life-giving words. These sins cut to the core and are so ugly and uncomfortable when we commit them. We choose to be the worst version of ourselves out of fear or frustration rather than choosing to put on Christ (Galatians 3:27), at the expense of others’ pain and damage to our own relationship with God.

As St. Paul says, “I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).

How quick our hearts can be prone to wander sometimes…and why?

It all goes back to the Garden.

“Take me back to the Garden

Lead me back to the moment I heard Your voice

Take me back to communion

Lead me back to the moment I saw Your face…”

Jesus, when we sin, oh help us to remember the constancy of Your love.

In those moments, we fail to trust the Lord will provide for our every need, that He is just that good. We forget that He is right there with us in any difficult moment, and that He will see us through. We rely on ourselves rather than casting ourselves into the arms of His mercy.

When jealousy, selfishness, fear, and uncompassionate words rear their ugly heads, we forget who we are, who God is, and who we are in God. It can be so easy to lose sight of His love for us and our belovedness in Him.

Jesus, when we sin, oh help us to remember when we first fell in love with You with childlike joy.

“You are closer, closer than my skin

And You are in the air I’m breathing in

And here’s where the dead things come back to living

I feel my heart beating again

It feels so good to know You are my friend…”

The invitation the Lord gives us is to be so radically immersed in His Sacred Heart, covered in His Most Precious Blood, and rooted in who we are in Him. Jesus has this available to us each moment of the day, ours for the taking, freely poured out by Him. He beckons each of our weary hearts to rest on His. He desires that we turn away from ourselves and our sin and be totally filled and satisfied by Him.

“This is where I’m meant to be

Me in You and You in me…”

As Lent begins this week, Jesus whispers to our hearts, “Come close to Me. Come back. Come home.” He so aches for you and so desires to fill you with His love and His mercy. When our hearts are fixed on His in constant, heart-to-Heart prayer, we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to let anger take over. We don’t have to be envious of others. Because He truly does provide for everything we need.

“This is where I’m meant to be

Me in You and You in me…”

(“Communion” by Maverick City Music ft. Steffany Gretzinger)

Praying in the Name of Jesus

There are probably a lot of souls that have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers.

This was the thought that was said almost two years ago during a Frassati Bible study. We were studying the Gospel of John; somehow the conversation went from the topic of healing to the works of St. Augustine, which led to talking about St. Monica because it was her prayers that helped her son’s conversion, then we were talking about the intersession of our heavenly mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and at the end of that discussion someone said that there were probably a lot of souls which have been saved because of their grandmother’s prayers. The entire discussion was led by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the paralytic man who gets up, picks up his mat, and miraculously walks to his home. It’s an incredible and powerful passage in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ ministry was growing; people had come to know about his preaching and healing. While he was at Peter’s house many went over to see Jesus. So many people went to see him that the house was full—there was no room for anyone else to enter. But there was this group of friends determined to see Jesus. You see, their friend was paralyzed and unable to move, but they fully believed Jesus could heal him. As there was no room for them to enter the house through the front door, they cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered their friend into the room where Jesus was. Can you see the magnitude of their faith? Who knows the distance that they had already traveled while carrying their friend to get to the house? Then they get there, and instead of things being easy, it gets complicated. They are blocked from getting to Jesus, who, they know, can heal. I imagine them talking amongst each other at this point encouraging one another not to lose faith and to keep doing anything possible to get to Jesus. What other way is there to get in? People will not move out of the way, it’s too crowded. We must get him inside to Jesus. He will be able to heal him. You’ve heard of all the wonders and signs he’s done. Let’s get our friend in through the roof. Yes, let’s cut open the roof to get him inside. Yes, let’s do it for our friend, to get him to Jesus!

The paralytic man was healed because of the faith his friends had; he was healed because his friends prayed, believed, and carried him to Jesus Christ. Those are the types of friends we all need. Those are the types of friends we should all be. If your friend is spiritually paralyzed due to the sins in their life, sin that is stopping them from walking on their own towards Jesus—help them. You can be that light that guides them. You can set a good example of how to live a virtuous Christian life. You can pray for them. A prayer is a conversation that your soul has with God.

Prayer, in itself, and the importance of praying for others have taken a very important part in my life. We cannot be like the people in the first reading who thought God wasn’t with them to fight in battle at their side. God is always with us helping us to fight our battles. Wether those battles be spiritual brokenness or physical illness, God is always by our side. When his children cry out, He listens. And I believe He takes delight in listening to the prayers of His children, especially those prayers (that act of love!) where we put our own needs aside and pray for the needs of others; when we pray for someone else to be healed and for them to encounter God’s love. Praying in the name of Jesus is powerful! He commanded the twelve apostles (and in turn commanded us) to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8). God has freely given us these gifts to heal through prayer in His name and, we should freely give these gifts to others—so they may come to know Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, after the paralytic’s friends bring him to Jesus, Jesus heals his soul and his body. The forgiveness of sins heals both the spiritual and the physical. After this miraculous healing the paralytic gets up and walks home—not just to any home, but he takes his first steps of healing amongst those who followed and believed in Jesus, he takes his first steps to walk home into the Church.

Let us give thanks to our devoted grandmothers (or anyone else!) whose prayers brought us to the Church and kept our faith alive. In turn, let us pray for our friends and relatives so they may be healed, in the name of Jesus, and so they may get up and walk home into the Church.

Image Credit: James Tissot (French, 1836–1902) The Palsied Man Let Down Through The Roof, 1886–1896 [Brooklynmuseum.org]

Do What Is Righteous Now

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without shape and God formed it and gave it life. He created light, land, vegetation, animals. He separated the waters and created the moon and the stars. God created mankind and gave us dominion over all the earth: to fend for it, take care of it, and use it according to our needs. Over the many years of mankind’s existence we have learned many things about the earth: how to cultivate food, that it’s warm when the sun is out and cool at night, that different animals migrate throughout seasons, that clouds bring rain. All this and more we have learned, and we’ve used it to grow and prosper in our societies. All thanks to God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is saddened by the crowds because they do not know what time they are in; they don’t know who He is or why He is amongst them. Jesus reminds the crowds that they can easily tell when the earth is changing, when a cloud rises in the west and it brings rain or when the wind blows from the south and it’s hot. God created the earth; the signs that they interpret are God’s signs which He created so long ago. How come it’s so difficult to see God standing before them now and acknowledge Jesus’ miracles which are happening among them in the present time?

It is easy to only see what we want to see.

It is easy to only hear what we want to hear.

I read and think about the crowd in today’s Gospel and I think, how could they not realize the Son of God is among them?! But then I look at myself—how many times did I ignore the signs God gave me? Too many. I have walked down busy streets, I’ve gotten on the subway, and I have sat at my own dining table ignorant of all the signs God gives me of His presence. Signs to remember His commandments, signs to be kind and loving to my neighbors, signs that He loves me. I’ve chosen to be blind and deaf.

The crowds from the Gospel had missed the sign that God was giving them: it’s time to ask for forgiveness. Jesus is urging the crowds to choose what is right—following God—and asks them to repent. It’s important to ask for forgiveness not only from God but also from anyone to whom we might have done wrong. Jesus tells us that if we are in opposition with someone, we should work to resolve the matter on our own in good faith. If we still bicker and cannot soften our hearts to resolve the matter, a court (a higher power) would rule a decision over us, and the judge may throw us in prison. How much worse is this than if we were to settle things on our own? Friends, this is a clear depiction of Judgment Day. If we die in a state of unrepented sin, we risk our souls going to hell. What a terrible outcome this is! My heart breaks at the possibility that anyone’s soul would forever be separated from God the Father, who loves us so much.

Jesus will come again at the second coming, Judgment Day. But as we wait for Him, there are many signs we should be aware of in the 21st century. We live in a broken world where we will be tempted. People will try to deceive us. Our love for God will be tested. In the first reading, Saint Paul is telling the Romans that the law of man is not equal to the Law of God. By following the law of man alone, we are hurting our relationship with God and giving in to sin. Only God’s grace through Jesus Christ can help us repair that relationship.

As you go about your day and encounter different procedures, policies, regulations, rules—think for a moment: are these things of the world bringing me closer to God, or are they keeping me away from His saving grace? We must be able to see and hear the Word of God in order to do what is righteous now, in the present time.

Image credit: The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo. [Public Domain]

Stay Close to Me, My Child

I was moved deeply by today’s psalm… 

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted”

Lent is a penitential season – a season for us to grow in self-awareness, to look inward and acknowledge our sins and weaknesses.  It is a blessing to be reminded to reflect in this way, especially as we are called simultaneously to be drawing near to Christ’s Passion, reminding us to do this in the presence of the Lord.  Facing our weakness and sin without being immersed in God’s mercy and grace can be detrimental.  In our self-reflection, guilt will likely come up and this is a wonderful thing inasmuch as it draws us to contrition, confession, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and freedom.  If we have confessed, we must trust God’s forgiveness and allow ourselves to receive that mercy and blessing.  Though at times, guilt, rather than being constructive and leading us to God, can be destructive.  At times it may tempt us toward focusing and dwelling so much on ourselves and our sin that, instead of drawing us to God’s grace, it draws us further away from Him as we dwell on our failure, our weakness, our inability, our hurt pride, or our disappointment. Did you notice a pattern there?  Note the emphasis on ourselves. This way of thinking is subtly undermining God’s power and revealing that we may be trying to achieve holiness in our own power. Now, we mustn’t fall into even more destructive guilt upon realizing this, but ask God for forgiveness, trust in His mercy, and be led to dwell on the awe-someness of His power. We can’t achieve holiness in our own power – it is only in humbling ourselves, receiving His power and His divine life within us. 

This is the goal of a penitential season – to increase our self-awareness of our weakness, not so we may dwell in it, wallow in it, and so be led further into a self-centered mindset, but to understand our weakness and so empty ourselves to allow Christ more fully in.  To feel true sorrow for our sins and weakness so we understand better the Lord’s love for us and be drawn more fully into it.  Receiving the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist are beautiful and integral ways of encountering God’s grace during this time, in addition to personal Lenten commitments (personal prayer, fasting, almsgiving). (NOTE: if you haven’t been keeping up with your Lenten commitments very well, don’t wallow! I’m right there with you. Let’s ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and strength in these last couple weeks. He wants you to draw close to Him. It’s not too late to have a beautiful Lent!) 

The key is to approach this time in close proximity to the Lord and His grace.  He is close to the broken-hearted.  As sins and weaknesses are revealed to you this Lent, even throughout the day, immediately invite the Lord into those places.  As you reflect, keep Him close.  The Lord desires a truly contrite and sorrowful heart, and wants to bring His mercy into that heart – in fact, when He is invited in, he can’t help but rush in.  Love and mercy are who He is.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes to God that he is recalling his “most wicked ways and thinking over the past with bitterness so that you may grow ever sweeter to me” (2.1.1, emphasis mine).  It is my prayer that our Lent does not draw us further into our guilty selves, leaving us feeling self-pity or disappointment or with a hurt pride, but that it draws us ever more deeply into the sweetness of God.  As we are emptied out and His love pours in, He will heal us and lead us into deeper freedom.  We cannot do it.  It is only in His grace. 

Thank you, Lord, for your inexhaustible love and mercy! Thank you that self-awareness may help us know your sweetness all the more. Lord, we invite you into our hearts now and throughout this season of Lent. Draw us close to your heart. We come to you with hearts sorry for our sins and we ask your forgiveness. Help us to see ourselves the way you see us, most loving Father. We surrender and consecrate the remaining days of Lent to you in gratitude for this beautiful season. In the precious name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Rebel Heart

Hearing about events and hangouts I wasn’t invited to…

Wondering what my life would look like if I had “normal” work hours and didn’t have to miss out on so much community time…

Being so joyful for all my friends getting married but my heart still aching and longing for my own vocation…

Seeing people’s posts on social media and feeling less-than…

Jealousy. Comparison. Envy. We’re all familiar with that throat-tensing burn of pangs of jealousy. It’s ugly. It’s messy. Even just typing out the four examples above made me cringe.

In today’s first reading, we hear the story of how Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him, then decided against that and threw him in a dry cistern before selling him into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. At least Joseph’s brothers spared his life, but their actions basically still said he was dead to them.

The things we do when we are jealous and afraid. Now, most of us don’t go to the extremes of Joseph’s brothers, but envy is a deadly sin and is a temptation that sneaks up on all of us in some way. We live in a culture focused on being the best and having lots of attention all the time. Our society thrives on competition, competition, competition. Our bodies, minds, and souls are even created to ache for more, but that ache can only be fully satisfied by our Lord. So what happens? We end up self-loathing and licking our wounds. We can get caught in the vicious cycle of striving and proving ourselves, seeking earthly approval when the Heavenly Father’s voice is the only one that matters. We chase after other people’s dreams because we feel like that’s where we have to be, while God has greater adventures for us. His dreams are uniquely for us, surpass our wildest expectations of what we should or shouldn’t be doing, and point to our greater mission on this earth to get us to the ultimate goal of Heaven.

When we get caught up in striving to prove ourselves, it’s like we are running full-speed ahead on a hamster wheel: we don’t go anywhere, and we end up absolutely exhausted and frustrated. With trust and surrender, especially of those insecurities on our hearts that lead to jealousy, we can live from a place of being rooted and grounded in our identity as sons and daughters of God.

We have nothing to prove to God. He already knows the darkest, messiest corners of our hearts and loves us anyway. We don’t have to earn His love. We don’t have to earn His plans for our lives. As my grad school professor said, “God’s promises cannot be usurped, because they’re not ours to take. God’s promises can only be received as a free gift.”

Lord Jesus, forgive us for the times we’ve let envy take over. Help us to surrender with trust when we are weakened by jealousy and insecurity. Help us to trust in Your great plans for our lives. Give us the courage to say “yes” to who You are calling us to be.

“Lord, I offer up this rebel heart // So stubborn and so restless from the start // I don’t wanna fight You anymore // So take this rebel heart and make it Yours.” -Lauren Daigle, “Rebel Heart”

Sweet Mercy

“Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” -Psalm 79

How great is the mercy of God. I sometimes feel, though, that it is a struggle to receive it. Jesus invites us to make our hearts an open space to receive the intense reality of His mercy for us. If our hearts are open to mercy, to truly receiving all the mercy God has for us, this means that we must not run from the reality of our sin or brokenness. We don’t need a Savior simply because we exist—we need a Savior because we are sinners, because we fall down, because we’re all broken. We have no need to be afraid of the Cross, for the Cross brings redemption, resurrection, transformation, and forgiveness. What a gift that Jesus not only knows our suffering so intimately but that He took it all upon Himself on the Cross, mercy poured out for us and the whole world.

Sin blinds us into thinking we can do it all on our own. Shame buries us so we feel like we have to do it all on our own. Despair haunts us into feeling like the weight of our sin is forever.

Praise God that He doesn’t deal with us according to our sins but from the standpoint of His mercy. His mercy covers a multitude of sins and cannot be exhausted. Do we receive it? Do we believe that there’s nothing too great or impossible for our God?

Amazing things would happen if we made ourselves radically available to the compassionate mercy of Christ our King and Savior. He makes Himself radically available to us in His infinite mercy, in the way He pursues after our hearts, in the way He overcomes all.

Mercy says that sin is not the end of our story. Mercy says that we are defined by what our Savior says of us, not what others say of us or what our sin says of us. Mercy enables us to get back up and keep going, day after day. Mercy has a name: Jesus, who is Love and Mercy itself.

“All grace flows from mercy … even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.” -St. Faustina, Diary 1507