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.

Would You?…Why?…For Whom?

“I want names,” he said.  I remember his words.  I remember his eyes, red and swollen.  I remember his face, creased with grief and pain, there on the nightly news.

His young wife had been struck with malignant melanoma while carrying their unborn daughter.  She was considered brain dead, but was kept on life support for three months in the hopes of the saving the baby.  The baby was born and lived for a few weeks, bringing joy in the place of sorrow.  But then the baby also died.

“They say God has a plan, that He can use our suffering for good.  That it can help others.  But I want a list of names.  I want details.  I want to know exactly what good will come from this…”

“I want names.“  Although it’s been many years, his words have come back to me recently.  It is easy, when in the throes of suffering, to question, to wonder just how such pain can come from a loving God.  Theology tells us that all things work for our good, but abstractions don’t comfort.  We know to trust, to hope, but how does one exercise this, practically, in the midst of darkness?

There is a game the kids play called, “Would you rather…?”  It is a conversation game, in which questions are posed: Would you rather be able to fly, or be able to change shape?  Would you rather be an elephant or a lion?  Would you rather have a pool full of chocolate pudding, or a pool full of skittles?

The questions suggested are silly and innocuous, but in my experience, they usually turn a bit darker (or maybe I know morbid kids).  Would you rather be buried alive, or burnt at the stake?  Would you rather go blind, or go deaf?  Would you rather be eaten by a lion, or by sharks?  But I have found that the real question is not “What you would suffer?” but “Why?” or, “For Whom?”

When my mother was first in the hospital in 2016, and I spent my days looking around for the adult in the room, for someone else to take over what I could not handle, it was my little orphan babies that gave me the strength.  Certainly the prayers of the six that I held, all baptized, before they went to heaven.  But it was the memory of little faces, little arms reaching up, little eyes questioning, seeking love, seeking to know they were not alone, not ultimately abandoned—these little ones carried me.  “Would you suffer this, for them?” a voice inside would ask.  “Yes!” was the only answer.

I had prayed to stay in China.  I had asked to give my life to rescue more little ones like these, to be love for the abandoned.  God said No.  But in the mystery of suffering, the economy of grace, He answered my prayer to help them in a different way.  To learn to intercede from afar.

More recently other suffering in the world, in the Church, has been splashed across headlines, across social media.  “Lord, something has to be done.  Help me be part of the solution.”

Would I suffer this (whatever I am going through)…to save a child from abuse?  Would I…to ease the trauma of someone who left the church because of unspeakable crimes by her clergy?  Would I…to stem the rising hate across the political spectrum?  Would I…to heal my friend from her disease, to save him from cancer, to stop the one about to commit suicide?

“The interesting thing about the Scriptures,” said the priest in a recent homily, “Is that they don’t speak of suffering as something that comes down.  They speak of it as something that is lifted UP, that is offered.”

The real offering of course, is Jesus on the Cross, Jesus lifted up for us.  But we with our little mustard seeds of love, can offer our little crosses in union with His.  And He can grow them, magnify them, until the smallest of seeds becomes the largest of shrubs, in which all the birds of the air come and find rest.

 

 

Mustard Seed

Image Credit:

Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues

I tell you, my friends,
do not be afraid of those who kill the body
but after that can do no more.
I shall show you whom to fear.
Be afraid of the one who after killing
has the power to cast into Gehenna;
yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?
Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.
Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.
Do not be afraid.
You are worth more than many sparrows.
—Luke 12:4–7

My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings.
—St. Isaac Jogues

st-isaac-joguesToday we celebrate the feast of St. Isaac Jogues, one of the North American martyrs who gave his life serving the Native American people (and also the first priest to set foot in Manhattan). Through his life and martyrdom, he embodied the verses from today’s Gospel. He had no fear of those who threatened to kill his body, although there were many. He focused instead on the well-being of the soul, both preserving the sanctity of his own soul and awakening other souls to Christ.

In the summer of 1642, while Fr. Jogues was traveling with the Huron people he was serving, he was captured and tortured by attacking Mohawks. They beat him mercilessly and chewed off his forefingers, leaving his hands permanently mutilated. Fr. Jogues spent the next seventeen months in captivity, treated as a slave. Even in those unimaginable conditions, he sought to connect with people’s souls. He baptized seventy people and tended to the sick, including one of the men who had bitten off his fingers.

For Fr. Jogues, the horrible bodily tortures he suffered—undoubtedly painful though they were—were ultimately inconsequential. When he was freed from captivity and returned to civilization, he spoke fondly of his former persecutors, never allowing the physical pain they had caused him to cloud his awareness that they were beloved children of God. He had demonstrated his genuine love for these people, who had reason to distrust Westerners, by learning their language and customs and being attentive to their needs. He wanted them to realize the incalculable worth of their souls—they were worth more, indeed, than many sparrows.

People thought Fr. Jogues was crazy to return to his mission after the ordeals he had suffered, but he was undeterred. He was eventually martyred in 1646, captured again by Mohawks and killed by a blow to the head with a tomahawk. Some of his last words were, “I do not fear death or torture. I do not know why you would kill me. I come here to confirm the peace and show you the way to heaven.”

Curiously, his killer later underwent a radical conversion to the Catholic faith and took the name Isaac Jogues when baptized. He too was martyred just a week later. One of the missionary priests said afterward, “God willing, there are now two Isaac Jogueses in heaven.” I have to imagine that the first Isaac Jogues had taken an active interest in caring for his persecutor, interceding for his conversion and a martyr’s crown. His goal, after all, had always been heaven, not just for himself but for everyone. Ultimately, his joyful confidence in Christ drew many souls upward in his wake.

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.

“In Bitterness Is My Joy”

Today’s readings may seem a little harsh: God putting Job in his place, Jesus proclaiming woe to those who reject Him. Why would God point out Job’s insignificance and insufficiencies when he is already experiencing so much suffering?

Becoming aware of our own weaknesses is, in fact, a grace. It can be a struggle, too, for it requires us to learn humility, but it also brings freedom. Being aware of our weaknesses frees us from any pretense of perfection, from feeling as though we have to carry the world on our shoulders, and from a false perception of reality, of the world and our place in it.

It is through these weak points that the enemy will try to break in, through our bad habits and less noble inclinations. As the Church Militant, we are continually fighting the good fight, storming the forces of evil and protecting what is sacred—including, first and foremost, our own souls—from being corrupted. If we are aware of the weaknesses within ourselves, we can mount a defense to enemy attacks. In order to do so, we must put aside our pride and call in reinforcements. The battle is bigger than any fantasies we may have for ourselves of glory and heroics. If we want to win the fight, we have to be willing to take orders from our Master, who is infinitely stronger and wiser than we are.

When we understand this greater reality, we will be able to proclaim our weaknesses without shame. We are mere soldiers in a spiritual battle that is far beyond our depth, but we will receive unyielding support to bolster every weakness, if only we ask it of God.

Today is the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. She beautifully illustrates this idea of confident humility, and her receptiveness to God’s message of Divine Mercy was cultivated by her great dependence on God and the knowledge of her own weaknesses.

We cannot receive God’s mercy if we are not aware of our need for it. St. Faustina shows us though the example of her own life that accepting humiliations leads not to despair but to great joy. When St. Faustina faced trials and injustices, she did not view them through the lens of her own ego but through God’s mysterious economy of grace. She knew she was playing a part in a larger story. When her things did not proceed according to her plans—when she was turned down from several convents, faced serious illnesses, or was misunderstood and ridiculed—she did not cease to trust in God, because her faith was not in her own wisdom but in God’s alone. When she was mistreated, she did not become indignant but instead thought of how Jesus was mistreated at Calvary, drawing close to Him. She was not ashamed of her shortcomings but humbly accepted them, knowing that God created her with those weaknesses for a reason. She used every struggle as a chance to learn to depend upon God all the more and to increase in joyful gratitude for His overflowing mercy.


And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred, and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the Face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: “Jesus, I trust in You!”
(Prayer of St. John Paul II)

Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend.

True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.

Thank you, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears, and uncertainties, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.

I thank you, Jesus, who first drank the cup of bitterness before you gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of your holy will. Let all be done according to your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In you, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank you, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon you, O incomprehensible God!

—St. Faustina Kowalska

Who Is Like God?

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

—Luke 9:18–22

Jesus’s two questions to his disciples—“Who do the crowds say that I am? …But who do you say that I am?”—highlight the fact that He wants us to come to know Him personally, not merely through what we hear from others. He knows that a flurry of rumors and opinions surround Him, but He doesn’t want His disciples to be distracted by them. Rather, He wants them to form their knowledge from their own direct encounters with Him.

Peter’s response—“The Christ of God”—cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Is Jesus a prophet or the Messiah? A conduit of God’s message, or the Source? Peter answers firmly that Jesus is not merely a human leader but is the Divine Redeemer.

However, declaring Jesus to be the Messiah has some troubling implications. If He is the Redeemer, then He is also the Lamb, destined to be sacrificed for our salvation. The disciples do not realize this; they do not yet know the necessity of the Cross, but Jesus immediately and directly speaks to them of the great suffering He must endure.

The truth of Jesus’s divinity was much harder to process than the other narratives floating among the crowds. To be a follower of a prophet required much less than to be the follower of the Lamb. Jesus was asking His disciples to follow Him in the way of sacrifice, to take up their own crosses. It would have been much easier for them to accept an alternate explanation for Jesus’s teachings and rationalize that He didn’t really mean that He would suffer. But it wouldn’t have been the truth.

We are living in turbulent times, where the truth is twisted in a thousand different directions every day. As we try to come to know Jesus, it can be very easy to become distracted by the noise that surrounds us, the many alternative explanations and lies that try to steal our attention and confuse us. But Jesus Himself is the Truth—and the Way, and the Life—and if we focus ourselves on Him, we will find the truth illuminated for us everywhere.

We are called to earnestly seek truth in every situation, not to accept incomplete accounts or one-sided descriptions that may be easier to digest but ultimately keep us in the darkness. The truth is difficult and often uncomfortable, but only the truth will set us free.

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, who were the forerunners for us in this decision between truth and comfort. For the angels, the revelation that they would be called to serve fallen humanity and bow before Mary as their Queen was difficult to receive. In response, Satan rebelled against God and refused to serve. Michael could have made that choice, too, but he didn’t. Instead he responded, “Mîkhā’ēl,” or “Who is like God?” He knew that even though the path ahead would involve suffering, he could trust God to lead him through it. And honestly, who was Satan kidding? Did he really think he could defeat God? He can whine and scheme and throw tantrums; he can wreak havoc throughout the world; but in the end, he cannot win. He is not like God. Unlike Michael, he refused to acknowledge this truth.

Michael’s words, “Who is like God?”, are very similar to Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else would we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.” They are kindred spirits in their clear-eyed understanding of their own dependence upon God. They know that God’s teachings are difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is trustworthy. They look to God Himself and find Truth within the Mystery.

In response to the current abuse crisis in the Church, many parishes (including St. Patrick’s Cathedral!) have brought back the tradition of saying the St. Michael Prayer together at the end of each Mass. As we look toward his feast tomorrow, let us keep this prayer on our lips as a guard against the lies of Satan and a declaration of trust in God. May truth prevail, in our own hearts and in the whole world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

The Heart of an Only Son

Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her and said to her,
“Do not weep.”
He stepped forward and touched the coffin;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.  –Luke 7:11-15

*            *            *

At first she was just a little confused, having trouble remembering the passwords to her computer and her phone.  She had lost some weight; she was very tired; she had a persistent cough that was strong enough to trigger the automatic water faucet a few yards away from her bed in the ER.  But nobody seemed particularly concerned.  “There are some anomalies in her blood work—we’d like to keep her overnight for observation—but don’t worry; she’s not being admitted.  She’ll likely go home in the morning.”

My mother had walked into the ER, normally if somewhat reluctantly. But the next day she was stumbling a little, the bloodwork was still a little “off.”  She was admitted.  On day two she needed assistance walking, and by day three she was a little confused as to where she was.  “How is Teresa going to get into the school if they lock it up at 3:00 p.m.?” she worried.

By the weekend she could not get out of bed unassisted.  Each day brought dramatic decline, both physical and mental.  “Do you know who is there?” the nurse asked my mother, pointing to where I stood by her bedside, as I had every day for a week.  She looked up with benign bewilderment.  “No,” she said, “I don’t know who that is…”

But she could figure out certain things. “If they ask you where you are, tell them you are at XYZ Hospital!” she would tell me and anyone who would listen.  But then add with a devious grin, “even though we know it’s not true…”

An MRI revealed part of the cause: a shower of strokes over both hemispheres of her brain.  “I’ve never seen anything like this!” reported the doctors with amazement.  Her bloodwork continued to reveal more strangeness, markers that didn’t match, and the doctors began to look for a cause for this “mystery illness.”

A few weeks in, still confused, she began to complain of stomach pain.  This was a new symptom.  “It’s probably just constipation,” they said.  “Or she’s just confused.  Don’t worry.”  This continued for three days, until a new blood draw revealed a drastic drop in her hemoglobin. By then she was crying, begging to be given something for the pain.

After looking at the CT-Scan, the doctors finally gave us permission to worry.  She had an internal bleed the size of a watermelon, and was being rushed down to ICU.  “I have to be honest—she may not make it through the night.”

*            *            *

In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes face-to-face with family grief.  From within the crowd that accompanied Him—many no doubt begging Him for favors, answers, healings—He sees a coffin being carried.  His heart is moved, not just by the young man’s loss of life, but by the grief of the widowed mother.  Why does this touch him so much?  What is it that so moves the heart of the Unmoved Mover?

Father Paul Scalia writes:

By His divine nature He performs the miracle.  But He is moved to do so in His human nature.  That He was moved with pity refers to His Sacred Heart and His capacity to be moved with human love.  Saint Luke tells us that the deceased was “the only son of His mother, and she as a widow.”  (Lk 7:12) This describes Our Lord Himself, and His mother.  So it should not surprise us that He turns first to the widow, in whom He sees the anticipation of Mary’s sorrow.  “Do not weep,” He tells her—as if to tell His own Mother.  Yes—Our Lord is all-powerful.  But in His sacred humanity He places Himself within our reach—so that our misery moves Him to act on our behalf.1 (emphasis added)

Jesus touches the coffin, and the man is raised back to life.  Saint Luke then uses an interesting expression, “Jesus gave him to his mother.”  Father Scalia notes that Jesus does not “allow the miracle of raising a man from the dead to obscure the importance of the man’s human relationships.”

We know that God is love, but the words do not always reach us.  Some time ago I watched a grim-faced woman on the subway who barked at high volume: “Jeee-zus loves you!  Jeee-zus loves you!”  I watched as people rolled or averted their eyes.  Some squirmed; a man across from me seem apoplectic with agitation at her words.  I, who claim to be willing to die to defend such a pronouncement, found myself cringing and sliding down in my seat.

Yet I’ve also seen those same words move men twice my size and strength, and reduce them to tears.  “Jesus loves you!”  When these words become real, when the hearer is convinced that God’s love is in fact profound and personal, something greater than resurrection happens in the human heart.

This weekend Father Columba spoke about the power of Words of Knowledge.  God uses human instruments, to speak into human hearts, often by revealing small, intimate details that only a concerned Father would know to reveal.  It is one thing to believe in a love that is generic and amorphous.  It is something much more when we realize that His concern and care for us is concrete, specific and personal.

Like the widowed mother, Our Lady would also be given her Son, there under the cross.  We see her suffering, that Michelangelo carved into the Pieta.  She held in her arms the lifeless Body of one who died that we might know that personal love.  But she received Him forever when He rose from the dead.

*            *            *

I was there in the ICU that night as my mother journeyed to the edge of death, but came back.  I was there again at his bedside, several months later, when my father took that same journey, but he did not return.

There was much suffering that year; it would be months before my mother returned home, her illness still classified as a mystery.  There were many days in which I thought that I could not endure more, that there was nothing left in me to die.

But one of the beautiful things about hitting rock bottom is that you discover just Who that Rock Is.  We are never alone.

 

 

Notes:

1Scalia, Rev. Paul. That Nothing May Be Lost. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) p. 134