Patron for the Pandemic

About six years ago I was sitting on the beach with my friend Monica when I had a startling idea. “Why is there no 24-hour adoration chapel in Manhattan?” Surely a city which hosts eight million people on any given day could, should, muster enough adorers for an adoration chapel! And sitting there with my hair full of salt water and sand in my toes, I began to make plans to make that happen.

By coincidence other young adults had the same idea, and I joined their efforts and we began to plan. I worked feverishly to research options and funding ideas and to extend inquiries to various churches. As my ideas took form I grew more and more excited. This was really going to happen! Until one day I noticed that something felt off.

I felt energized, but not completely at peace. Little things that shouldn’t have bothered me instead brought out the worst in me—I found myself easily angered, impatient, driven. I felt passionate but at the same time unsettled.

“Did God give you this task, or did you give it to yourself?” my spiritual director asked.

I was stunned. What kind of a question was that? Surely, God would want me to build an adoration chapel! How could such a thing NOT be God-willed?

As I was mulling over this odd question, a friend (in whom I had not confided this story) let me know she had a word for me from God. It was from the 2nd Book of Samuel, which begins with God asking David (through Nathan): “Would you build Me a house to dwell in?” and continues ultimately with rather “The Lord will make you a house…”

Ouch.

This divine smack-down put an end to my planning, but was just the beginning of a new spirituality. I am still learning what it all means—to receive, to let God do all the heavy lifting, to let Him lead and instruct and ultimately be God.

To effect these plans, God sent me Saint Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today.

Of course, it is Joseph who would literally help complete the promise actually written in Scripture about the house of David. It is he who legally gave to Jesus his title as Son of David, fulfilling for all time the prophecies of a royal dynasty that would last forever.

Saint Joseph knew about planning. And he learned about letting go of his plans, for God’s sake.

He was not given a superhero cape. Rather, he was given, repeatedly, situations that were beyond his power to control.

Tasked with providing for the Blessed Virgin and her Unborn Child, he was forced by government edict to travel to Bethlehem during her third trimester of pregnancy, where, when her time came, he was unable to procure for her even a room and a bed. Instead, he kept vigil as the Queen of Heaven gave birth to the Maker of the Universe and laid Him, not in a carpenter’s cradle, but in a feeding trough for animals.

When it was time to present the Child in the temple, he could offer only the poor man’s sacrifice, a pair of turtledoves, and heard Simeon prophesy not only joy but sorrow for his wife and small son. Did his heart break a little, even then, wanting to protect them from the promised pain?

And then came another edict, this one from Higher Authority: “Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.” How it must have pained him, how his heart must have wrung with fear and anguish, to learn that Herod’s soldiers were seeking his tiny son. I wonder if, for a moment, he was tempted to stay and fight, to resist, to protect the child and his mother with his own strength. How strong he must have been to obey God, to put aside his pride and flee with his family to safety.

And then he found himself distanced from everyone he knew, alone in a foreign country, away from the temple and synagogues and the life he had known before. He found himself without work, without his carpenter shop or clients, starting all over again in Egypt. And then a few years later, he returned to Nazareth and began yet again.

We don’t know anything else about the hidden years with Jesus, apart from the time that he lost him, seeking him anxiously with Mary. After he was found, we know only that Jesus was obedient to him. Surely, that must have been a fearsome marvel in itself—to be the teacher of the Incarnate Wisdom.

In Scripture Joseph never said a word, but his life was a continued yes to all that God gave…and all that He did not.

It was not given to Joseph to share in Jesus’ public ministry, or in His passion. Instead, he was asked to sacrifice his desire to protect Mary and Jesus, to say yes to the goodness of God, entrusting them to the true Father above, of whom he was only an image.

If there were ever a patron for this pandemic, it is Saint Joseph.

As he was tasked with protecting and providing for the earthly Body of Christ, the boy Jesus, let us entrust to him the spiritual Body of Christ, the Church. Let him teach us, like Jesus, to always say yes. To always trust. To embrace humble and hidden tasks. To embrace wood, even the wood of the Cross.

And like Joseph, let us say yes to all that is given to us to do, and surrender to Jesus and Mary all that is not.

The Theology of a Snooze Button

“Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” -Leviticus 19:2

“Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 6:2

One of the most challenging Lents I’ve had was the year I decided to give up my snooze button. I loooove my comfy and cozy bed, especially in the winter months, amen? I am the girl who sets a litany of alarms, all going off at perfectly-timed 7-10 minute increments to ensure that I squeeze in every last drop of rest possible. My room in the morning becomes a chorus of started and stopped worship songs as my alarms go off and promptly get snoozed.

In actuality, does that lead me to getting more rest? Probably not…okay, definitely not. I usually just end up lying in bed trying to pray but thinking about my long to-do list instead, turning to worry rather than greeting the new day with joyful surrender to all the Lord has for me.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote about what he called the “heroic minute,” where you get up immediately as soon as your alarm goes off. He talks about it being a conquering of oneself for the Lord, to get up without hesitation and serve the Lord.

This all points to a deeper temptation within all of us…why do we delay our holiness? And for what?

I find myself asking these questions of my own soul, too.

“Now is a very acceptable time…”

What are the things that hold us back from giving ourselves entirely to our Lord? We can buy into the devil’s traps of busyness, fear, frustration, thinking we’re not good enough, thinking it’s impossible, or thinking radical holiness is for other people and not ourselves. We get comfortable in our routine, in whatever the equivalent of cozy beds and litanies of alarms is for you.

Striving for holiness is messy…and uncomfortable. But it is always worth it to dare to live up to the greatness God is calling us to. Will we fail? Yes. But that doesn’t give us any reason to not start at all. With God’s grace, we can do it, as best we can, each day.

Now is that acceptable time to leap out of bed, to dive to your knees in bold prayer, to talk to your friends about God, to wildly and radically love our Lord and other people in whatever way He has designed for your holiness. Eyes fixed on Heaven, we can be holy, all by His grace that sustains us and His Spirit that moves us.

Each time I hit that snooze button on my alarm, it cuts off the worship song that I have set as my alarm tone, and that doesn’t sit right with me. In a deeper way, decisions like these stifle the song of praise that my life is meant to be. I turn inward instead and away from my fullest potential of holiness. Our lives are meant to be a continuous song of worship flowing from resting in God’s heart. He calls us to live fully alive in Him, living in each moment to love Him and love others by reflecting His love. And with Him, all this is possible!

Jesus, make our hearts like unto Yours, so that we may be holy as You are holy. May all our words be Your words, all our thoughts be oriented towards You, and all our actions be an outpouring of Your amazing love. Amen.

Overcome

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

You will not be overcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen, hallelujah!

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

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

The Miracle of God’s Food

Two pots were on the stove, both were empty. My grandmother had just finished portioning out dinner for everyone; a little bit of white rice and one piece of meat. Simple. There was no fancy side dish. No stewed beans. No green salad. The rice that was boiled and the meat that was cooked was measured out exactly to feed the nine people that lived under one roof. Simple. Small. Sufficient.

One night I came home with an unexpected guest. I hadn’t told my family that I was bringing my friend, and so dinner—already scarce and proportioned out—was not made to include her. Already knowing the answer would be no, I asked my grandmother if there was any extra food that she may eat. I remember seeing a quick flash of emotions in my grandmother’s eyes: shock and anger, sadness and concern.

“There isn’t any more food left,” she told me, “but we can take a little from our plates and make her a portion.”

Today’s Gospel is about the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. This miracle is so grand at showing the mighty hand of God that it’s the only one of Jesus’ miracles mentioned in each of the four Gospels. Friends, this should immediately tell you something: in our faith, community and communion are important. We attend Mass, we pray and worship as one body. We receive the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus Christ together.

After much work, Jesus and the twelve disciples had gone into the desert to be alone and rest. The crowds of people saw them leave and followed. They went by foot, which was a longer and harder journey, and followed Jesus into the desert. They wanted to be near Jesus, to be healed by Jesus and through him know God. They wanted this so badly that they traveled to a place that was far away, isolated and alone. The disciples told Jesus to dismiss the people so that the people could find their own food. Jesus did not agree to this. For some unknown reason the disciples were not speaking with reason—God never walks away from His people. He is with them through everything. Just as God was with the chosen people of Israel providing for them in the desert for 40 years, so too God will provide for His people here and now. After wrongly suggesting that the people be dismissed, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people themselves. Naturally the disciples question this, just as we question all the obstacles in our own lives in disbelief that we cannot overcome them. How can we possibly feed so many people? How am I supposed to do this? But something beautiful happens. The disciples give Jesus the very little food they had, five loaves of bread and two fish (now being without any food themselves) and Jesus performs a miracle.

“Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish.”
—Mark 6:41–43

How similar is this to the blessing Jesus said at the Last Supper? How similar are these words to the liturgy of the Eucharist? They are one and the same. It is the same God speaking then and now. It is the same grace and the same love. The Gospel tells us that Jesus fed 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Now given that approximately half the population is women, let’s double that number and add a few thousand more for the underage children. That number in your head, multiply it by two and double it again and multiply it by itself (yes, a little bit of math here). The new large number in your head, it’s still itty-bitty small compared to the love our God has for you.

I remember my grandmother taking from the very little we had and sharing it with someone she did not know. I learned a valuable lesson that day. We didn’t have much in material possessions and at times we didn’t even have enough food, but grandma’s heart was gentle when it came to feeding people. Every time I cook I am reminded of my family. Every time I cook I do so with love—because God is love—hoping that by inviting those to my home I not only feed the physical body but also help in feeding the spiritual body.

God is good. He fed the people in the desert before they entered Canaan. He fed the people throughout Jesus’ ministry. He continues to feed His people as we await for the Second Coming. God feeds us with everything we need. Give yourself completely to Jesus. Give him the little that you have and watch how he multiplies it: an overabundance of grace. God always provides. Share it with others.

Image Credit: The Multiplication of the Loaves by Musée de Valence [Public Domain]

Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry

Today is the feast of St. Padre Pio. He was an extraordinary priest who took on great sufferings for souls. He spent hours upon hours of his life hearing confessions, because his desire for everyone to know the love and mercy of Christ in a tangible way was so great.

St. Padre Pio was known for saying this simple phrase to anyone who came to him with a troubled heart: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” He then went on to say, “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer. Have courage and do not fear the assaults of the devil.”

There is great depth to be unpacked here. Within these straightforward words, St. Pio gives us a road map of trust and surrender, all pointing the way to Christ.

Pray. Prayer is our relationship with God. If we’re not praying, we are failing. Prayer is where we get to come before God with our whole hearts laid bare, sin and all, and be in communion with Him. Prayer is the open space of resting with God, speaking to Him what is on our hearts, and listening to the word He desires to speak to us. Prayer is the first step to surrender.

Hope. One of my best friends always says, “Steer into hope.” We need this theological virtue of hope to infuse our lives, because God is trustworthy, and God will never abandon us. St. Paul writes, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). There is always, always, always hope. We may not see the way, but we can hope. No matter how bad things get, there is the hope of God always being with us. His light shatters all darkness.  He so desires your good.

Don’t worry. Worry can be such a slippery slope. There is so much in life that is worrisome; we certainly all experience it. Worry leads to despair, doubt, and discouragement. Worry robs us of our peace. Worry suffocates us, growing into a dull hum in our hearts that tells us God is not here, or that God cannot overcome whatever situation we find ourselves in. Worry breeds lies. Jesus commanded us to not worry in Scripture several times, and St. Pio reminds us of His words—don’t worry. God is here. God is greater. You will not be overcome.

Let’s join together and pray, hope, and refuse to worry. Surrender and trust is not easy, but it sure is liberating. It allows us to let go and allow God into everything. He’s not worried. Big problem or small fear, He’s got us, in every single way.

**If you need an anthem for letting go of worry, I recommend this song by Housefires. The bridge says, “God’s not worried, so why should I worry?”

Holy Hands

“It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” -1 Timothy 2:8

We express with our God-given bodies the very disposition of our hearts.

I remember watching a video all the way back in my college psychology class about how our body language not only conveys things to other people about who we are and how we are feeling, but to our own minds, as well. If we sit hunched over with our arms folded, that sends signals to our brain that we are unhappy or closed-off. If we stand up straight, that sends signals to our brain that we are confident and at ease.

What are we conveying to other people with our bodies? Do we use the hands and feet God has given us to serve others with compassion? Do we meet the gaze of people who need Christ’s love? Do we use our voices to bring God glory?

St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

We are not our own. We belong to God. So when it comes to prayer, too, how we express our love for God with our bodies makes a difference. Now, I’m not talking about a particular spirituality here, because I think our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is sometimes too fragmented by the, “I’m this kind of Catholic” mentality. Let’s meet for coffee if you’d like to discuss that haha.

I will give you an example to describe what I am getting at: my spiritual director once told me, after a season of difficulty, that I needed to pray with open hands again. Without even realizing it, I had been praying with my hands over my heart out of fear, as if I was shielding myself from letting God in. Interiorly, I had walls of self-protection up, and exteriorly, it was manifesting in my expression of prayer.

God gave us our bodies to physically express our love for Him. Do we pray in a way with our bodies that tells God we are open? Prayer and worship are not about us, in the first place; it’s about giving God the glory He deserves with our whole heart, soul, mind, and being. God deserves all of us. And we have the awesome opportunity to offer our very beings as a sacrifice of praise to our almighty God. With an open physical expression, our disposition of heart is opened to God, like the centurion in today’s Gospel who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Luke 7:6).

There is something so powerful about praying with an exterior posture of surrender. It expresses worship, surrender, trust, and vulnerability. It admits our own weakness. It declares our total dependence on our Heavenly Father. It changes things, takes us out of ourselves, and helps us focus totally on the Lord, body and soul aligned in love for Him. We get to give God all that we are, holding nothing back from Him.

Let God be Mighty

“For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome.” -Deuteronomy 10:17

Sometimes it’s hard to let God be God.

In some cases, we put Him in a box, restricting what God is able to do in light of our own human expectations. We put limits on our limitless God, putting finite restrictions on His infinite nature and love. We forget that He is outside of time, can move mountains in an instant, and is always working for our good.

In other cases, it is really hard to let go of control, especially when faced with a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation. Sometimes, we know deep-down what we need to do, and the only thing holding us back is the fear that when we take the leap, we will fall to our destruction rather than falling into His arms.

Sometimes, our big hearts swell with the desire to heal and fix problems and be everything to everyone. But we can’t: only God can be God. Jesus calls us to love like Him, knowing that we can’t be Him. And He doesn’t want us to or expect us to. Even in the most dire situations, He whispers, “Let Me be the Savior.”

Can we let God be mighty? Can we let Him surprise us with His love? Can we let Him rescue and save us, our families, and our friends, especially those closest to us who are hurting?

Today, let’s loosen our grip on control and fall to our knees with open hands, asking great things of our almighty God. He wants to do great things for us. He wants to save, heal, restore. And He can and will—we can’t. We are nothing without Him, but we have everything with Him.

Jesus, You are the almighty Savior, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. You are infinite love, mercy, and goodness. You can do all things. You are the way, the truth, and the life. We surrender all we have and all we are to Your almighty, all-powerful hands, trusting that You always have us and those we love in Your tender care. You are God, we are not, and we praise You for that. We let go of all we’ve been holding onto and fall into Your arms. Amen.