You Have Won My Heart

“But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.” -1 John 2:20

Dear brothers and sisters, as 2018 wraps up in this Octave of Christmas, something that’s been on my heart for the past few months that I am making my goal for 2019 is focusing back on the heart-to-heart relationship with God. It is so easy to lose sight of Whose we are.

We have received God’s anointing in Baptism, and from this anointing flows our identity as His sons and daughters, which is sealed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. God has put an indelible mark on your soul that cannot be washed off. His anointing of you is His irrevocable choice to make you a part of His family. No matter how much we fight and struggle with our sonship and daughtership as His beloved ones, no matter how much we wrestle with doubt and lies and fear, God says to us: “You are Mine!” And He says this with great delight over you.

What does this anointing look like in your life in a tangible way? From His anointing flows your purpose that clarifies why you were born. You are certainly not a mistake. You are not an exception to the faithfulness of God’s love. You are not an exception to the fulfillment of His call for your life. You are chosen. You are His. I will say it again: He delights in you, His precious child.

“But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name, 
who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” -John 1:12-13

I want 2019 to be a year of going back to the basics of focusing on God’s love for me and loving Him wholeheartedly in return. I want this to permeate my soul so much that it constantly outpours for others. I want to fall in love with the Lord over and over again. He dwells within us—our bodies are His temple. How often I forget that! We don’t have to go far to find Him. He’s already with us, already loving us, eyes already on us. St. Teresa of Avila said, “We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.”

Lord God, we thank You and praise You for choosing us as Your sons and daughters. Thank You for Your unending patience with our weaknesses. Thank You for Your kindness. Thank You for rejoicing at even the smallest steps we take towards You. No matter the season of life, no matter what prayers we are waiting on answers to, Lord, help us to make this a year of more of You and so much less of us. Help us to fall in love with You again. Help us to find You in the stillness of our hearts, and to be disciplined in silent prayer. Help us to bask in the sight of Your delight in us. Unravel and soften our hearts in a deeper love for You, God. We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more and more. Amen.

“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14

¡Viva Cristo Rey! (Part 2)

Yesterday, we celebrated one of my favorite feast days, the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Why is it one of my favorite feast days, you may ask? Not just because “Crown Him with Many Crowns” is my jam (really, though, it’s a fantastic hymn). I love this day so much because it is a day to celebrate the powerful truth that Jesus is Lord and I am not.

Praise God for that gift. As the liturgical year wraps up this week, I declare that truth with a sigh of relief in my lungs and with praise and gratitude in my heart—Jesus Christ is King. King over all my problems, King over our hurting Church, King over every situation in this past year that has made no sense, King over all the violence in the world and the turmoil in my heart, King over the days where I feel like I can’t do it, King over every. single. thing.

We praise You, Lord Jesus.

Saint_Jose_Luis_Sanchez_del_Rio
St. José Sánchez del Río

He is sovereign over all. We get to choose to surrender our control and let Him be King, no matter what the cost. A great Saint did this at just 14 years old, St. José Sánchez del Río. He lived in Mexico during the Cristiada movement of the 1920s, when a bloody war was waged against Catholics. The Church was under total control of the state, and it became illegal for Catholics to practice their faith in public. Monasteries and convents were shut down, Church property was taken over, and priests were arrested and killed for saying Mass. The Cristeros rose up to fight for Christ their King, and St. José asked his parents to join their army. He said, “For Jesus Christ, I will do everything.” He was their youngest member and became their flag bearer. St. José was imprisoned after giving his horse to the General and not being able to escape in time. While in prison, he refused to renounce his faith and could be heard frequently saying, “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!”

St. José’s godfather was the mayor of his town, but he did not let him go. He told him if he just said, “Death to Christ the King,” he would let José go home to his family. But he refused, so he was ordered to be killed. The federalists cut off the soles of his feet with a knife and then made St. José walk ten blocks along a dusty, gravel road to his grave. The soldiers beat him and mocked him, and he just kept shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!” They then stabbed him several times. They asked him what they should tell his father, and St. José replied, “That we will see each other in Heaven! Viva Cristo Rey! Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!” With that, the soldiers shot him, and he died.

Jesus was St. José’s King, and he let Christ reign over every area of his life, even when it meant dying a death much like our Lord’s. Is Christ King over every part of your life, or is there anything else that reigns? The ultimate expression of our trust in God is when we have childlike dependency on our Savior and King. As the liturgical year comes to a close and we prepare for the coming of our Savior, where do you need Christ to be your King?

Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

P.S. A great movie on the life of St. José Sánchez del Río is For Greater Glory. Here’s a powerful clip!

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.

Shepherds

Today’s first reading offers a scathing critique of the shepherds who have neglected or mistreated their sheep. I cannot help but think of the priests, and perhaps even more so the bishops, who were sexual abuse perpetrators and their conspirators who covered up the sins.

I know we’ve all likely heard more than we can stomach about the recent report from Pennsylvania. As a Minnesotan, the sorrow rings true in my heart as we have had our own reports, our own accusations, our own lawsuits, our own criminal ‘shepherds’ here, too. The Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul declared bankruptcy to help them pay settlements to abuse survivors.

Since we’ve all heard so much from priests, leaders, friends, media outlets, and secondary sources, I implore you to read today’s first reading and hear a response to corruption and scandal in the Church straight from the mouth of God.

Before doing so, search your heart and intentions. So often with Scripture, we can get what we want out of it: If we read looking for fire and brimstone, we can find fire and brimstone. If we look for feel-good platitudes, well even Biblical truth can be stripped of its potency by bad or incomplete readings.

Read these verses with the accused in mind. Read it again with the survivors in mind. Read it with your local parish in mind. Read it with yourself in mind.

Today’s prophecy from Ezekiel offers a critique and a warning, but it also offers justice and hope for the sheep. The Lord, with power and might, will come for his sheep.

Here it is, in its entirety:

The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.

Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep,
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.

For thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

-Ezekiel 34:1-11

Earthly Disconnection, Wounds

“Gross is the heart of this people,

they will hardly hear with their ears,

they have closed their eyes,

lest they see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their hearts and be converted

and I heal them.”

—From today’s Gospel

 

“Two evils have my people done:

they have forsaken me, the source of living waters;

They have dug themselves cisterns,

broken cisterns, that hold no water.”

—From today’s first reading

 

Dear fellow pilgrims, 

Today’s readings connect the misuse of a few things fundamental to human survival (water, the senses) with spiritual rebellion, laxity, or inattention.  God is the source of living water, a spring, a natural source, so fundamental to human survival and all life, and yet, humans do not trust this source and have dug cisterns (or an underground container) for storing rain water for themselves.  God is also the source of Truth and Reality, and yet, so often, the five senses  given to us by our Creator betray their purpose, which is to connect our consciousness with the reality occurring around us.  

Which is to say that all to often, we pick and choose what we want to see and hear, and thus, believe, because something within us rejects God as Reality and Truth. 

We also think we can find our own sustenance, appease our own various thirsts, our own lacks, without tapping into the living water, the eternal refreshment of the Holy Spirit. (Cue the cliche phrase: “Lookin’ for looove in allll the wrong places…”) All too often, there is a disconnect between the human needs God has allowed in us and the fullest means of addressing them. Spoken plainly… the people described here think they can meet their own needs; they don’t think they need God. 

Yesterday, Aidan talked about this theme of “earthen vessels,” how awesome it is that we who are made of dust were chosen to be purified in holiness the very Spirit of God, the Creator. Today, the readings seem to show the “dark side” of this truth: our given state is not divine, we must be purified out of earthly rebellion and into divine receptivity and attention. 

Our first reading today is an excerpt from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, expounding upon how the Jewish people were once completely in love with God and trusted Him in the desert, but then lost that trust when they were brought into the abundance of the promised land. Their needs that were being met by God in the desert so clearly were now being met by warped notions of “god” (the pagan gods of Baal, native to Canaan, the promised land for the Jewish people).  How often have you felt this shift in your own life?  I can recall vividly many difficult times when I was really close to the Lord for different seasons, and then feel myself slip away from Him when that season began to shift into what seemed to be “verdant pastures of repose.”  

Part of this disconnect between seasons of what is characterized by apparent difficulties and then abundance happens BECAUSE we revert back to trusting immediately what we see and hear in front of our faces. We have lost that inner knowledge, that lens of God’s reality, true reality, because our senses are given relief from that time thirsting for water in the desert. 

So how do we change, if this is where we find ourselves: Seeing, but not really seeing what God wants you to see. Hearing, but not really hearing what God wants you to hear. Drinking water to quench your immediate thirsts (i.e. for human connection, physical bliss, admiration from others) but not drinking living water that truly quenches your deep, inner thirsts. Jesus tells us: we must be converted by understanding these sights and sounds with our hearts, and this conversion involves healing. It involves healing because these modes of sensing are not only warped, they are wounded. Jesus is the divine physician, not the divine finger-pointer. He wants to heal the way we see, hear, quench our long list of human thirsts. 

Allow the Lord to speak to your heart tonight (or today). Pray in the silence of your heart: 

Jesus, please show me the thirsts in my heart that I try to satisfy by myself, without the thought of You entering my mind. Show me what wound is reflected by my thirst, what don’t I believe about your power to ultimately satisfy me? 

Jesus, please show me how I am seeing or listening to this world without stopping to consider Your Reality shining through it. Please show me how my understanding of myself and the world is broken and wounded. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

To an Unknown God

Hey Frassatians, I don’t have a lot of time for a reflection today, so I’m going to send out a draft I had written for two weeks ago, May 9th. Hop in your time machine and I hope you enjoy!

Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said:
“You Athenians, I see that in every respect
you are very religious.
For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines,
I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’
What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.

—Acts 17:22-23

In terms of theatrics, today’s first reading is top-notch. St. Paul delivers a Spirit-infused, moving monologue about the Lord’s hidden hand behind all the Athenians hold dear, from creation to power over life and death. How do the Athenians respond? The reaction is…mixed, quite literally. Some scoff, others humorously defer (“Can you just tell us about overcoming death some other time, Paul? Pretty please? We’re really busy right now”), and others immediately follow St. Paul as disciples of Christ.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s always easy to hear a reading like this and say, “Well, there’s their problem right there! They didn’t listen to Paul about Jesus!” Groundbreaking conclusion, that.

Anytime we hear about the crowd’s reaction in Scriptures, though, we’re being called to examine our own hearts. We’re asked to put ourselves in their place. If we had just heard Paul’s rousing proclamation of the Gospel, how would we react?

I first read today’s reading from Acts with a smugness that (at least in my case) comes in no small part from my identity as a cradle Catholic: while friends around me were dropping like flies from the Church and other churches were holding newer, hipper services, I took on the identity of martyr, and not the good kind. I was special. I could see something that others were missing. If only they knew the God that I knew. If only they knew how hard it was to stay Catholic while all of that was happening around me…

But after another read-through, I came to the truth of the matter that God wanted me to hear: That altar “to an Unknown God” is my own.

In a few recent reflections, I’ve touched on a theme pervasive in today’s faith climate: “I’m spiritual, not religious”. St. Paul’s words brought out the parts of me that had tacitly incorporate that mentality into my own faith. In the face of a political and social environment that discourages firm, immovable beliefs, tolerance is a logical outcome. Most people in NYC with whom I discussed my faith (that were not Catholic) had a similar response, sometimes stated and sometimes implied: “That’s great! ….for you.” Translation: “Don’t confront me or make me confront my beliefs, and I will be happy to politely hear about yours.” Sounds a lot like an altar to an Unknown God, huh?

And yet so often I felt this attitude of polite, partial tolerance was actually a reasonable and responsible approach. My own version of the above interaction went something like this: “We can’t possibly grasp the full mystery of God, so I’m going to leave my options open. I don’t want to push them away with firm truths.” I wasn’t questioning my faith, but I wasn’t willing to close the door on other spiritualities, either. I couldn’t bring myself to tell people that I disagree with their openmindedness. I, after having used my Catholic identity for years as evidence that I had a better faith life than so many of my peers, was unwilling to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak, and actually tell my non-Catholic friends why I believe what I believe and why I think it is the one and only Truth. I claim it with every Creed I pray, so why couldn’t I proclaim it?

When I first read Paul’s words, my reaction was something along the lines of, “Yeah, take that, Athenians!”

Upon further reflection, I realize that Paul was exhorting ME. I humbly thanked God for the lesson.

 

Pray with Scripture. It does things to your heart.

Divine Friendship

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
—John 15:12–17

Two lines from today’s Gospel passage may seem contradictory at first glance:

You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.

Andrea_del_Sarto_-_The_Last_Supper_(detail)_-_WGA00391First of all, Jesus tells us we are friends, not slaves—if we do what He commands us. Wait. Do friends normally take orders from one another? Then He says we are not slaves because we know what our Master is doing. But…do we really? At the time He spoke these words, his apostles had no idea that He was about to suffer and die (though, to be fair, it’s not like He didn’t warn them). The disciples seemed pretty clueless most of the time about what Jesus was really up to. Can we truly say that we know what our Master is doing? I think more often we feel we are flying blind, having to trust Him without really understanding what His plan is. After all, so much of our Catholic worldview is grounded in the concepts of mystery and faith.

What do we mean when we speak of the mysteries of God? Encountering mystery does not mean that we’ll never know the answers and should simply give up trying to understand. Rather, it means that no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn. Our human understanding is limited, but with God we can go deeper and deeper, until we are united fully with God in Heaven and can participate in His perfect understanding.

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet

The more we plumb the depths of these mysteries, the more we grow in both understanding and wonder. But in order to get anywhere we must first have faith. We cannot grasp at this understanding for ourselves; we must draw closer to God so that He can help us see. We must trust Him. Our hearts must be open to soak in His wisdom, rather than trying to sharpen our own, which is a losing battle. Understanding the mysteries of God requires more than just intelligence; it requires divine relationship. It requires friendship with Jesus.

And Jesus offers us that friendship as a great, unmerited gift. We can begin to understand what He is doing—though it be far beyond our depth—through our love for Him. He says, “You are my friends if you trust me. And if you trust me, you will follow my commandments.” Our obedience springs from love and gratitude rather than fear and servitude. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and chosen, and we can return that love by recognizing Jesus in others and loving one another.

We are not mere servants; we are friends. And we are made to delight in a Love that is greater than we can comprehend. When we remain in Him, we can begin to bear the fruits of understanding, cultivated through love alone.


1. Andrea del Sarto, The Last Supper / PD-US
2. Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet / PD-US