Appealing to Mercy

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
—John 21:15–19

There are a few instances in the Bible where we are given a direct contrast between two sinners—one who is remembered for his sins and another who is forgiven and honored. In the Old Testament, we see Saul and David. Neither of these kings were blameless in their actions, but only David—an adulterer and murderer—is described by God as “a man after His own Heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). How could David deserve such an honor? It is because David, unlike Saul, repented wholeheartedly of his sins. By dying to self and embracing humility, David entered the Heart of the Father.

Here in the New Testament, we have the contrasting examples of Judas and Peter. Both betrayed Jesus at the time of His Passion. But the reason that Judas is condemned for his sin instead of being forgiven alongside Peter is not because his sin is greater but because he despaired of God’s mercy. He could not believe that God was so good and merciful as to forgive even this ultimate betrayal, and so rather than kneeling before Him in humility and offering up his tears of regret, he gave up. Peter, however, was bold enough to place himself at the feet of Jesus even after denying Him three times and abandoning Him in His Passion. His trust was stronger than his fear, and Jesus’s love for him abounded all the more because of his humility and trust. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to rewrite the narrative, asking him to affirm his love for the Lord three times, which echoed and reversed his three denials.

Nothing is more pleasing to God than repentance: appealing to His great mercy, acknowledging our sinfulness, and embracing our dependence on Him. God is not surprised by our sinfulness; in fact, He plans to use it for good—if only we allow Him. He chose the flawed Simon Peter to be the rock upon which He built His Church, for Peter had learned all the more to call upon the strength of God to act as that foundation, not on his own meager strength.

When we stumble and fall on our path, when we fall short of our own expectations, when we feel the sting of guilt wash over us, let us follow Peter’s example and turn to Jesus in trust. Let not our pride keep us from receiving His overflowing mercy.

Always Faithful

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

‘I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.’” -John 15:26-16:4

In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares the disciples’ hearts for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a great gift of God’s faithfulness. Whenever we are struggling or confused, we do not have to turn far, because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are never left alone.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember God’s faithfulness. We can get cynical and believe the lies that nothing good will ever work out for us, that we are not wanted, that we don’t belong. The truth is that God has great things for us. He is a good Father who desires to lavish His love on His children.

As we read on in the Gospel, Jesus is real with the disciples just as He is with our hearts—this life of following Him is not easy, and people will turn against us out of ignorance, hatred, and their own brokenness. I’m sure we have all experienced this in one way or another, and it hurts and is difficult. But we have the Holy Spirit right there with us, and when we speak the truth with love it is always a victory with God.

God is too good to give up on Him when things get difficult. I was thinking about this the other day when faced with the recent death of my grandfather—as tempting as it is to give into despair in painful circumstances, God is just too good to do that. He never promised a life free of suffering, but He promised to be with us through it all in very real and intimate ways. And when we surrender our will to Him, He brings about the most beautiful graces. Time and time again, He paves a way out of seemingly impossible circumstances. Time and time again, He brings resurrections. His goodness never fails us. When we open our hearts wide to what He has for us, we have no need to be afraid because the Holy Spirit is within us, desiring to work through us and show us the way through childlike dependence on our Father.

A Rose Wrought from Steel

In strewing my flowers… I will sing, even if my roses must be gathered from among thorns; and the longer and sharper the thorns, the sweeter shall be my song.
—St. Therese of Lisieux

On this day nearly one hundred years ago, St. Therese of Lisieux was canonized by Pope Pius XI. A sheltered girl turned cloistered Carmelite nun, this young woman died when she was only 24 years old. She would later be declared a Doctor of the Church—along with St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Hildegard of Bingen.

Many may think of St. Therese as just the “little flower,” a naive girl perfectly fashioned for children’s stories. However, her spiritual autobiography reveals a soul filled with an intense longing for God, a deep-seated courage, and an absolute trust in him as her loving Father, even in the midst of great suffering. As Pope John Paul I wrote in his Illustrissimi, “[She] called [her book] ‘The story of a spring flower.’ To me the will-power, courage and decisiveness it showed made it seem more like the story of a piece of steel. Once [she] had chosen the path of complete dedication to God, nothing could stop [her]: not illness, nor opposition from outside, nor inner confusion and darkness.” How similar this is to her role model, St. Joan of Arc, who, according to Chesterton, “chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt!”

St. Therese had wild and holy daydreams, feeling “called to be a soldier, priest, apostle, doctor of the church, martyr… to perform all the most heroic deeds for… Jesus.” She felt in her soul “the courage of a crusader, of a soldier for the Church, and [wished] to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church.” Yet, face to face with her limitations, she found that her vocation was to love, for “Love alone makes its members act… if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.” She understood “that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!” Her dreams were realized by staying “close to the throne of the King and Queen” as a little child, patiently suffering out of love and rejoicing out of love, “letting no little sacrifice pass.”

In today’s Gospel and the following verses, Christ exhorts his apostles to have such trust in him and in the Father, for “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” St. Therese embodied this childlike faith in her “little way” of spiritual dependence on God. She was not childish; she courageously worked hard to overcome her weaknesses and childhood sorrows. She had a deep life of prayer and desire for holiness, choosing to let her imperfect heart rest in and abandon itself to God alone. As St. Pope John Paul II said in a homily at Lisieux, “The Spirit of God enabled her heart to reveal directly… the reality of the Gospel: the fact of having really received “a spirit of adoption as children that makes us cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The ‘Little Way…’ holds a confirmation and renewal of the most fundamental and universal truth. For what truth of the Gospel message is more fundamental and universal than this: that God is our Father and we are his children?”

One of the places from which St. Therese received this spirit of humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude was in the home, from her own parents, St. Louis Martin and St. Zelie Martin. She called them “a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.” They showed her the face of the Father through how they faced the unexpected joys and sorrows of life with courage, entrusted their hearts to divine providence, and fiercely loved all who entered their lives. May we strive to act with the same childlike trust, persevere with the same courage, and faithfully love with the same strength, despite our weaknesses, so that others may see the face of the Father in ours and know how deeply loved they are.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

 

Reading Suggestions
St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
Fr. Jacques Philippe, The Way of Trust and Love
Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
Dr. Tom Neal, “The Vocation to Furious Love”

“_________.” (Insert Your Name Here)

“How’s my sweetheart?” my grandma said on the other end of the phone call. Those three words immediately put my anxious heart at ease. It was my junior year of college, and I was going through one of those seasons of lots of change where my heart felt like it had been through the wringer.

The way the voice of a person who knows and loves us deeply can instantaneously calm us is something to marvel at. Everything about that seemingly ordinary phone call with my grandma years ago was exactly what my heart needed. We didn’t talk about anything extravagant; I updated her on my classes and the fall break service trip I was going on, and she told me the latest updates on how her church was doing. But it was the deep tenderness and care for me with which she spoke that turned it into a phone call I will always remember.

In today’s Gospel, we are told more of the Good Shepherd narrative that we heard in Mass yesterday: “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).

Jesus knows you by name. He calls you by name because He intimately knows you and cares for you. He calls you by name so that you know that with Him you are safe, that you are not just another face in the crowd. You’re so much more than just one of the flock to Him. On the days when you feel forgotten or unseen, stop and imagine Jesus saying your name with great rejoicing.

Jesus’ track record of trustworthiness is pretty great. He’s gotten you through every single day so far, and He won’t stop now. Through every hill and valley, He’s been there, steadily leading you, calling you by name. He has protected you in all things, going before you so that you wouldn’t have to go through anything He didn’t already (John 10:4).

In moments of weakness, where the voices of the world and the enemy swirl around you to distort and distract, listen for the only voice calling you intimately by name, the voice of Jesus, and follow. He will surely lead you to safety.

So, stop and listen today.

“_________.” (Insert your name here)

He so sweetly calls you by name.

Hidden Fruits

He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.
—John 10:40–42

Often, we do not see the fruits of our good works. We may plant a seed, for instance, by witnessing our faith to others, but true conversion will not come from us. It can only come through an encounter with Jesus. John the Baptist witnessed to the One who was to come, but many did not believe him. However, they remembered his words when they met Jesus Himself, and when they stood in Jesus’s presence, suddenly they saw John’s words in a prophetic light. John’s witness laid the groundwork for the moment of conversion that would come later, when they would meet Jesus face to face and recognize in Him the fulfillment of so many promises.

Let us not be discouraged when it seems are efforts to do God’s work are not yielding results. When we serve Him faithfully, in joy and gratitude, our efforts will never be wasted. We may not see the effects, but we can trust that God is using each of our actions—even our apparent failures—to build up His Kingdom. He takes the seeds we have planted and pours His water out upon them, bringing new life into the barren fields of our fallen humanity.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is a perfect example of this. During his lifetime, no one knew how much time he devoted to the poor in his community. Most likely, even he did not realize the extent to which he had affected so many souls and brought them toward Christ, and his family certainly had no idea. Not until the day of his funeral, that is, when they were shocked to find the streets flooded with mourners. So many people had been touched by Pier Giorgio’s everyday attitude of joyful service. He had gone out into the city and shown people an example of Christlike love, which laid the groundwork for them to encounter Christ Himself.

Not one of our actions is small or insignificant in the eyes of God. Any act done with great love, however little it may seem, can plant a seed. Even when we do not see those seeds sprout before our eyes, they are there. At every moment of our lives, we have the chance to prepare the way of the Lord and make a place for Him in the world around us.

Do Not Scatter

We can all relate to being misunderstood at one point or another. Our good intentions can be seen as inadequate, or even counterintuitive. In today’s Gospel, Jesus does a good deed. He drives out a demon, yet he is misunderstood. Some even accuse him of evil, while others want him to perform another miracle.

We can relate to Jesus in this situation. We can also relate to those in the crowd.

How often do we misinterpret the intentions of others, and jump to conclusions about their good deeds? How often do we find our hearts divided? We want to believe in the goodness of others, in God’s goodness, yet doubts enter our minds.

In He Leadeth Me, Father Walter J. Ciszek experienced moments of doubt and despair while imprisoned in Russia. In the moment when he lost all hope, Father Ciszek turned to prayer and told God he was his only hope. In that moment of self-surrender, he received great strength and consolation. He realized he had to continue living with this self-abandonment and lose any hidden doubt he had left. Even in our most difficult moments, we can find God and abandon ourselves to his will. This is easier thought, said, and even written down, than done. Yet we must try and try again.

As we journey through Lent, we must decide whether we are with Jesus or against him. Rather than being scattered in our thoughts and actions, let us choose to journey together with Jesus, for “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Today, let us pray the Act of Faith, that we may lose our hidden doubts and abandon ourselves to God.

Act of Faith
O my God, I firmly believe
that you are one God in three divine Persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe that your divine Son became man
and died for our sins and that he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe these and all the truths
which the Holy Catholic Church teaches
because you have revealed them
who are eternal truth and wisdom,
who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
In this faith I intend to live and die.
Amen.

The Great Unknown

“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
-St. Pope John Paul II

March twenty-fifth may be the most important day in salvation history. It is traditionally regarded as “the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light’” (Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy). It is the day Adam and Eve fell, the day Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, the day the Israelites were led through the Red Sea, the day of Christ’s crucifixion—and the day of the Annunciation, which we celebrate today.

Our Lady’s fiat was foreshadowed from the very instant Adam and Eve were led out of the garden with the words, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Toil, thorns, and death may have lay ahead of them in the great unknown, but this “truly necessary sin of Adam” would be “destroyed completely by the Death of Christ,” and this “happy fault” would earn “so great, so glorious a Redeemer.” The road ahead may have been hidden, but the light at the end was not.

This moment was only the beginning of the story, for God’s promise would echo through the centuries in the hearts of people who “believed, hoping against hope” (Romans 4:18). Abraham stepped out in fearless obedience, leading his family away from home and into the unknown. Despite his age, he trusted that he would be a father someday—and when God nearly called him to sacrifice his beloved son, he did so willingly. Moses led his people through the Red Sea and out of Egypt, despite his doubts and weaknesses. Even with their many failings, the Israelites followed the Lord into the wilderness, where only he could guide them.

At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel asked Our Lady to take the next step into the unknown for the sake of all creation. “Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise…This is what the whole earth waits for” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux). He did not say that she would not suffer, or that her heart would not be pierced. He did not list all the twists and turns in the road ahead and show her how God would provide for her family along the way. He did not even guarantee that St. Joseph would be with her when her child was born—or when he died upon the cross on another March 25, when God fulfilled his promise from the dawning of the world.

What did the angel tell her? He spoke the words that still echo in the hearts of those who hope against hope, even when “all other lights [have gone] out.” The words that give us the strength to move forward whenever we are called to take a shaking step into the unknown. The words that give us courage when we tell our Father that we are here to do his will, even if we can’t understand where the road will lead or why we must take it. Do not be afraid. Nothing is impossible with God. God is with us—the Word made flesh, Emmanuel!

For Reference
Fra. Angelico captured this in his paintings: “Even the setting in this Annunciation scene lends itself to the mystery of the Incarnation…for in the background there is a door opening onto the unknown” (Fr. Guy Bedouelle, In the Image of St. Dominic). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annunciation_of_Cortona#/media/File:Fra_Angelico_069.jpg