Whom Do We Let In?

“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone,
it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says,
‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’
But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order.
Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits
more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there,
and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”

—Luke 11:24–26

Jesus compares the human soul to a house, the state of which is a reflection of our spiritual well-being. When He drives out demons from a man possessed, He sweeps that house clean and puts it in order. He can do the same with all of our interior messes—removing our excess and clutter, dusting off our cobwebbed habits and vices, making room for a most important Guest.

Whether or not Jesus cleans our house is entirely up to us. He is already knocking at the door—will we welcome Him in? If we do, He will rearrange our hearts and guard the door against any intruders who might harm us. But if we don’t, He will respect our privacy and leave us alone. Intruding demons, however, are not so polite; they will pester us constantly and slip inside at any available opportunity. And if our house has already been cleaned, that is all the more reason to be vigilant.

We cannot be complacent and ignore the safeguards Jesus has put in place for us against the demons that seek to destroy the work He has done in us. If we open the door to sin and invite malice into our hearts that the demons will be easily evicted, it will not be easy to return to a neat and tidy state. Openness to sin has lasting consequences.

It is up to us whom we will let in. Will we answer Jesus when He knocks? Will we monitor what passes over the threshold of our hearts, or will we prop the door open and let all manner of shady creatures move in? Jesus has entrusted us with the power to invite and shut out whomever we will. May we use this power wisely, always keeping in mind the goal of creating a space hospitable to our loving Guest.

Fruit of the Vine

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

—Matthew 9:9–13

In the Confirmation class I taught, we covered the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit. During a review game, my class of seventh-grade boys was split into teams, and one team was asked to name a few Fruits of the Holy Spirit. After a few blank stares where it became clear they had no recollection whatsoever of our lesson discussing these Fruits, one smart-alecky student replied, “Apples, oranges, blueberries…” His partner soon chimed in with “Strawberries, mangoes, bananas…” I rolled my eyes and asked if they had a real answer. When the first student said no, I started listing off the actual Fruits of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience…—only to be interrupted by the second student. “Wait a minute,” he said, “those aren’t fruits!”

So, in case you were not aware: no, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are not literal fruits. The Holy Spirit does not, to my knowledge, operate a juice bar. But why is it that we refer to them as Fruits in the first place? In today’s first reading, St. Paul’s description of our relationship with the Holy Spirit gives us more insight into the metaphors of Fruits and Gifts.

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace…
But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ.

—Ephesians 4:1–3, 7, 11–12

Paul tells us that as Christians, we are all called by God to live uprightly, actively cooperating with the Spirit and developing virtue. But he also speaks of graces that were given to us freely, without merit on our part; these graces vary based on the needs of the Body of Christ. In order to develop the virtues he describes, we must receive these graces with open arms and allow them to take root within us.

If Christ is the vine and we are the branches, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are the nutrients that flow into us through Christ, giving us life and enabling us to grow. If we are connected to this nourishing Spirit, it will naturally follow that we will bear fruit. The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are evidence that God is working within us; they are the external virtues that flourish when we cooperate with God’s grace.

If we are truly living in the Spirit, the Fruits will manifest themselves in our lives. Unlike the Pharisees, who followed the law and yet lived in ways that were critical, impatient, harsh, and self-serving, we can become truly gentle, peaceful, and loving by softening our hearts and being open to receiving God’s grace. Just as He did with St. Matthew, He calls to us and asks us to follow Him; He seeks to heal us from our infirmities and pour His grace into us, that we might be grafted back onto the Vine and bear fruit. May we allow Him to reconnect us to the Source of all grace, that our souls might bloom ever stronger.

Like Children

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven….
…If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?…
…In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.” Matt 18:1-5,10,12-14

Our peaceful Pentecost prayers were interrupted by the wail of an emergency siren.  It was emanating from my 18-month-old niece Zippy, who was making a compelling case that evolutionary descent was not from apes but from banshees.  “Owwwww” she wailed, convincing the entire congregation to look our way, expecting blood.  But it was just an abbreviation for “out” by which she meant “out of the pew”, “outside” and also “now.”

So I extracted her writhing figure and brought her outside to the statue of Joseph holding Jesus, where she was once again happy.  “Ball!” she said, noting the sphere in the hands of baby Jesus.  “Ball!” she said louder.  “That’s the world, Zippy, not a ball,” I explained, but she still thought that Jesus ought to hand it over to her.  I realized she had a good share of my DNA blended in with the banshee.

Several years ago I read a book about Saint John Paul the Great which deeply inspired me to want to be a saint.  “I am ready to get serious about my faith” I told God.  The images that came to me in prayer, however, were not of great sacrifices or even good deeds, but rather of a nursing infant.

“What does this mean?” I asked, and then followed another image, of myself as toddler, sitting on Jesus’ lap at the Last Supper.  I looked around with great delight.  “I am ready to sit with the big kids!” toddler-me told Jesus.  “I want to be one of the apostles.”  Then I thought for a moment, and toddler-me replied, “Actually Jesus, I want to be you.  I want to be in charge!”  Jesus only smiled, and I saw once again the nursing infant.

There was a time when serious-adult-me would have rebuked this little toddler, but now I only laugh, because I know that Jesus delights in her, in her big dreams and small stature.  Certainly a humility check is in order (and still in progress) but there is something in her honesty, in her way of relating to Jesus, her confidence in His love for her no-matter-what, that adult-me can learn from.

After Mass, we take Zippy to Red Robin for dinner, and order her mini meatballs from the kid’s menu.  Because I am an amateur, not a parent, I hand her the tomato sauce for dipping.  Moments later, I am sitting next to a pint-sized serial killer, covered head to toe in red.  Because I am an aunt, not a parent, I snap pictures in lieu of cleaning her up.

I hand her a cup of juice, which she sips daintily, careful not to spill any.  When she is finished, she indicates so by pouring the remaining juice directly into her lap.  She looks up, smiles, and reaches out her arms to be picked up.  She is confident that my love is greater than my aversion to sauce and stickiness.

I bring her outside to fend off impending sirens, and she hears some music from a nearby restaurant, and begins to dance.  She has not yet learned to judge herself on the reactions of others, the number of Facebook likes, or even her skill at dancing, which is only a slight improvement over her table manners.

I am reminded of teaching my four-year old class the story of The Found Sheep. For this one, Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to search diligently, until He finds it and carries it home jubilantly on His shoulders. At first I worried in the back of my mind that children in their sensitivity might worry about the ninety-nine—those poor sheep left behind while Jesus goes looking for the one.  But the child sees what adults do not: to Jesus, there is no ninety-nine.  There is only the one.

Children know the secret to holiness is simple.  Love. Dependence. Trust. Confidence in the goodness of God, in His care for us, in His willingness to love us even when we are messy or awkward or do things badly or even completely wrong.

The key to holiness is not the greatness of our deeds but the greatness of God’s love.  Prayer is not one of the good works performed by the holy, but rather the food which makes any other work possible.

A few months later I am standing at the seashore with little Zippy, the waves which wash pleasantly over my ankles are strong enough to push her off balance.  But unafraid, she reaches up her arms to be picked up.  Safe and comfortable in my arms, she points to the deep, trusting that she can go anywhere as long as she is held.

May we like little children be confident always in the Father’s love for us, trusting in His goodness and protection to feed us, to lead us, to carry us home.

To the Heights

You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
—Matthew 10:22

I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
—Hosea 14:9

As we grow into a deeper relationship with God, we may reach a point where it feels as though He has started ignoring us. Whereas we were at first captivated by the words of Scripture or felt a great peace in prayer, we now feel dryness and discontent. We aren’t “getting anything” out of prayer anymore, and we feel disconnected.

God uses these periods of discontent to push us toward a deeper, more lasting faith. He allows us to experience moments of frustration, helplessness, and humility so that we can learn to depend on Him more fully. While we might be content to float happily through life with a surface-level faith, God wants more for us. He wants us to be strong, walk boldly, perform great deeds, and endure persecutions. As Grace told us during retreat: God loves us right where we are, and He loves us too much to let us stay there.

frassatiGod is training us to be sheep among wolves: to walk amongst sin and evil and yet be uncorrupted, to maintain our innocence—our steadfast faith, our enduring hope—as we journey through treacherous lands. He is preparing us for an adventure more epic than we’ve imagined.

This spirit of adventure is what motivated Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati throughout his life. He saw his journey in the Christian life as an ascent up the mountain, and with joy he climbed ever higher—verso l’alto, to the heights. He will help us, too, to see the path before us with wonder and excitement, tackling each obstacle as we continue our ascent.

May Blessed Pier Giorgio help us to rise above our complacency, our frustrations, and every challenge before us.

Learn to be stronger in spirit than in your muscles. If you are you will be real apostles of faith in God.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Every day that passes, I fall more desperately in love with the mountains…I am ever more determined to climb the mountains, to scale the mighty peaks, to feel that pure joy which can only be felt in the mountains.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

The Gleam of Heavenly Treasures

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

“The lamp of the body is the eye.
If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;
but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.
And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”

—Matthew 6:19–23

Antonio_de_Pereda_y_Salgado_-_The_Knight's_Dream_-_WGA17164Our relationship with God is the lens through which we view the whole world. If we seek Light, if we pursue virtue and beauty and wonder, every experience we have will be illuminated by that encounter. If we truly know how loved we are, it will change everything. But often our selfishness and insecurity and anger cloud our vision and keep us from grasping the reality of Love. When we allow this to happen, all the wonders that surround us become cloaked in darkness. Our joy, too, grows dim.

When our pursuit of earthly treasures distracts us from our relationship with God, the Light inside us begins to fade, and even our earthly treasures fall into shadow and lose their glimmer. But for heavenly treasures, the reverse is true: the more we pursue them, the more brilliantly they shine. For as we increase our desire for holiness, our capacity for God’s Light increases, and we begin to see everything more clearly.

Jean-François_Millet_Angelus

If our vision is rightly ordered, this pursuit of heavenly treasures will follow naturally. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, though he was born into wealth, didn’t consider his riches to be of any importance. He didn’t act in the way you would expect a young man raised in comfort and affluence to behave. Instead of trying to accumulate more and more possessions, he secretly gave his money away to the poor. Instead of trying to impress other people, he embraced humility. This all flowed from the fact that he was able to see his situation more clearly, because he had encountered the Light. He recognized that, in the bigger picture, his wealth was ultimately meaningless, and thus he set about securing a treasure far more important. His wealth was a gift that was meant to be used to pour out grace upon others. If Pier Giorgio had clung to his wealth out of selfishness, it would have been a great burden, holding him back from the greatness to which he was called.

May we too loosen our grip on our earthly treasures, so that we can make room for greater ones; and may we invite God to shine his Light upon us.


1. Antonio de Pereda, The Knight’s Dream / PD-US
2. Jean-François Millet, The Angelus / PD-US