“Who is Jesus for me?”

Pope Francis posed the following questions in his Angelus address on Sunday afternoon:

“Each one of us can ask himself, right now, “Who is Jesus for me? Is He a name? An idea? Is He simply a person from history? Or is He really the person who loves me, who gave His life for me and walks with me?” Who is Jesus for you? Do you remain with Jesus? Do you seek to know Him in His word? Do you read the Gospel every day, a passage from the Gospel in order to know Jesus? Do you carry the little Gospel in your pocket, in your bag, in order to read it everywhere? Because the more we are with Him the more the desire to remain with Him grows.

Now I kindly ask you, let us take a moment of silence, and each one of us, in silence, in his or her heart, ask yourself the question: “Who is Jesus for me?” In silence, everyone answer in his or her heart. “Who is Jesus for me?”

(http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/08/23/angelus_address_full_text/1166972)

At Mass, after Communion, I reflected upon this question, “Who is Jesus for me?”

In my mind’s eye, I was walking toward Jesus. His face was illuminated with the most joyous smile – he seemed exultant, so excited to see me, with eyes completely full of unreserved love. The impression was so poignant that my heart seemed to overflow with this love and joy – which almost made me laugh out loud.

While I was fighting the urge to laugh out loud at this most inappropriate time, it also occurred to me that Jesus offers this irresistible love and joy to all who approach Him. It’s not just for me, He offers it equally to everyone, everywhere. Which is why, as Pope Francis remarks, “the more we are with Him, the more the desire to remain with Him grows.”

Encountering Jesus is completely life-changing. It’s exciting. It’s freeing. And to meet Him, all we need to do is walk toward Him in prayer, in trust, through the Gospel, through the sacraments – with open arms, he meets us there.

The journey starts with one simple question, “Who is Jesus for me?”

“You Make Me Brave” by Amanda Cook, Bethel Music

What if I Just Don’t Have the Faith of Job?

I was reading this great piece by Dr. Gregory Popcak about how the way you were parented affects your experience of God. It’s a good read – I highly recommend it. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2014/04/attachment-and-faith-style-how-parenting-affects-your-experience-of-god/

After I read it though, I was left with some questions. “So what if my parents were completely unattached and I grew up to be ‘fearful and avoidant?’ What then? What if it I just can’t trust God because of this?”

If you look at the figure of Job in light of this article, it would appear that he had perfect parents. He totally trusts God. He never utters a word against him. Yes, he curses the day he was born and he wishes he had never come into being, but he never says a single word against God.

Despite his insistence of innocence, His friends cannot believe that he could possibly be “blameless” in God’s sight. They sit there for days lecturing him on how he must have done something wrong. Nice friends.

Still, he maintains his innocence. He begs God to tell him what he did. He asks why it is that he is undergoing such profound suffering.

God is silent and does not answer.

What a story. It’s a real page-turner. There’s some real suspense as we wait for God to show up and “set things straight.”

And, there are so many things to be learned from Job. Amidst the most profound suffering, he trusts God completely, he waits patiently, he endures the endless, berating lectures of his friends who clearly believe themselves to be better than him, and still he does not say a word against his creator. What faith.

What is it that Job possesses? What allows him such tenacity through trials?

He has an authentic relationship with God. He doesn’t hide his feelings. He’s quite vocal in fact. Yet, he’s respectful at all times. Even when God is silent, he holds on and trusts that God hears him.  When God finally answers with a long and intimidating response (Job 38-41), Job replies. I am always floored by that line, “Job replied to Yahweh,” (Job 40:3). By that point, I would likely be cowering in a corner, but Job, always humble and respectful, answers God. He doesn’t run away from the relationship. Even after God has taken everything away from him, he’s still willing to talk it out with God and hear what He has to say.

He trusts God implicitly. Although he wonders why all of this hardship is befalling him, at no point does he lose his trust in God. Maintains his innocence, yes. Loses trust, no.

So what are we to do if we didn’t have perfect parents and, as a result, grow up unable to trust God? What if we just can’t get real with God because we are afraid He’s going to drop us like a hot potato? What if we just don’t have the faith of Job?

The obvious answer is counselling. Counselling can be tremendously helpful in helping us to grow and heal those areas of pain and lack that hold us back.

There are two other things that can also be incredibly helpful though too:

  1. Spending time with the Word of God. Sit with the Word of God. In Scripture, we can find the words that we may not have heard growing up. Hearing “I love you,” “you are my beloved son (or daughter),” “I have chosen you,” “I knew you from before you were born,” “I know your thoughts from afar (and I still love you),” can be incredibly comforting. The more time you spend with Scriptures, the more comfort you will get. The more you will understand that you are His beloved son or daughter. When you know this deep in your bones, you will be able to trust Him.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit for help. As my wise spiritual director says, “ask the Spirit to pray through you…let the Spirit pray through you.” This is some of the most profound and fruitful spiritual advice I have ever received. When the Holy Spirit comes, great things happen – things that we could not orchestrate or plan, happen with great ease. The Holy Spirit can heal those areas of lack or hurt, those wounds that make it hard for us to trust and be real with God and with others. The Holy Spirit accomplishes within us that which we just cannot accomplish on our own without divine assistance.

So, if you find yourself struggling in your relationship with God, ask for God’s help. Approach in humility. Be patient. Ask God to help you have a more authentic relationship with Him. Immerse yourself in His Word and ask the Holy Spirit in. You will not be disappointed.

“Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history” (Lumen Gentium, 12).

Francesca Battistelli, “Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”

 

Lessons in Love: Cupcakes and Mercy

I’ve been trying to live my vocation as a mother more purposefully. This morning I was praying, “Lord, show me how to be a better mother to my children. Help me to listen to you when you present us with opportunities for growth. Help me to be present with them in the way they need me to be. Let me be like a reed in the wind, moving the way in which you want me to move, bowing to your touch.”

As I drank my coffee, I thought about my day and the things I needed to accomplish. I had it all planned out. My list was long but I thought I might be able to get through most of the items on my list if I really managed my time well.

Or not.

Because as I was reviewing the things that I needed to get done, my son, who is really pumped up about the fact that I told him he’s now old enough to cook whatever he wants, decided he was going to make cupcakes.

Everyone knows what delightful little bites cupcakes are, but boy, are they a mess to make…and, it takes time to make them…time that I hadn’t factored into the schedule for the day.

My mind returned to my morning prayer, “Let me be like a reed in the wind…” Flexibility is not always my strong suit. I have to constantly wrap my head around things that don’t fit my plan and remind myself that it’s God’s plan – not mine. So, I wrangled with the fact that cupcake making was not on my list and helping him make them would mean that I certainly would not finish my list today.

We had a great time making the cupcakes and whipping up the frosting.

Then, without a moment’s notice, the blissful cooking bubble popped. My son disappeared for a moment and started yelling that his brother ate all of the candy from his bag. They had divided up a bag of candy yesterday and his brother had eaten both bags. He stomped back into the kitchen yelling that his brother would not be getting any cupcakes because he had already had enough sugar.

“OK. Calm down,” I said. The word “mercy” popped into my head.

“I know your brother doesn’t deserve cupcakes because what he did was wrong. He knew he shouldn’t have eaten your candy but he did anyway. But, you love him right? Have you learned about mercy in school?” I said.

“Yes,” he grumbled, under his breath.

“Giving him a cupcake even when he doesn’t deserve it is actually showing him mercy,” I said. “It’s kind of like when we sin. We know we shouldn’t do it and we do it anyway. Then we feel really bad. Then we go to confession and feel better because God forgives us – even though we don’t really deserve it. He forgives us because he really loves us, right?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. Still not totally convinced.

“If you share a cupcake with him, you get to show mercy,” I said. “You are showing him that you love him and forgive him even though he did something wrong.”

He perked up and started frosting the cupcakes. He started by putting one aside for his brother and then another and another. When his brother came in, he pointed to the plate full of cupcakes and said, “look at all of the cupcakes I made for you!”

His brother was both humbled and grateful.

It was a “teachable moment” that I could not have planned. The kids learned about God’s mercy, and had the opportunity to demonstrate and receive mercy.

I also learned, yet again, that God is ready and willing to answer our prayers, but that we’ve got to give Him room to move – we’ve gotta wrangle the will (lists included!) and hand it all over to Him.  I’m reminded, time and time again, that it’s in those moments when we give it to Him, that we are given more than we could ever plan. As Blessed Mother Teresa used to put it, “He will fulfill it if I don’t put any obstacles in His way!”

 

cupcakes and mercy 1

The school of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place…Love will be the whole syllabus.”  – St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ

A Letter to all the Moms and Dads, Caregivers, and Listeners

I was reading a great blog post this morning and it infuriated me. (www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2015/06/im-triaging-my-life-for-thriving-not-just-surviving/ ). It left me in a tizzy  – the same state that I have been left in after countless conversations in the supermarket and on the sidewalk.

The conversation is almost formulaic and it goes like this: “I am caring for my (insert name of child, parent, loved one here). I feel so bad. I have no time to pray. I only get to Mass once a week. I’m such a bad (mother, father, son, daughter, loved one). I’m such a bad Catholic.”

Every time I hear this formula, I want to launch into a tirade about why this logic is completely, and utterly faulty. But, the grocery store and sidewalk are rarely ever good times to launch into such tirades.

So, here goes. Here is what I want to say to every person who thinks they are a bad person, a bad Catholic because they are busy caring for others.

To the parents – the stay-at-home parents, the working parents, all the parents who devote countless hours to keeping children safe, fed, clean and raise them to make a better world and build the Kingdom:

You are priceless. Your work may be unremunerated but it is no less important than someone who brings home a six-figure salary. In fact, many times it is more important. You are forming future generations. You are building the Kingdom each time you rise to feed your child in the night, with each cup of juice you wipe up and each cheerio you sweep up. You are building the Kingdom with each fight you break up, each time-out that teaches peace. You are building the Kingdom every time you listen patiently to your teen’s tirade and offer love when it’s the least thing you feel like doing. You are living the Works of Mercy.

To all those who care for parents and aging or ill loved ones:

You are priceless. God sees you every time you listen compassionately to the same story for the hundredth time. God sees you when you clean up the messes that happen. God sees you when your eyes cloud with tears because your parent doesn’t know your name. God sees you when you get up bleary-eyed to investigate that thump in the night. You are living the Works of Mercy.

To all those who listen compassionately to those who are caring for loved ones of all ages:

You are priceless. You hold up those who are wading through the muck. You are building the Kingdom here and now. You are the torchbearers to those whose lights are flickering. You are living the Works of Mercy.

And one last note – that thing about if “I could only get to Mass more than once a week…or pray more, I wouldn’t be a bad Catholic.” Your every effort can be a prayer if you offer it all to God. Your every breath, your entire life is your prayer, your song. Offer it to Him.

And, about Mass – the Church says we must go to Mass once a week, not to be a burden, but because it is refreshment for the weary. At each Mass, we are called to the table. It is there that we are offered peace, fellowship, and the sustenance to go on. It is there that we drink from the living waters that sustain us. It is a place to lay all of our burdens down, a place where we can dwell – if only for an hour a week – in peace. The Mass is a gift, not a measure by which to judge our achievement of faithfulness.

When I sit there at Mass, in that sacred hour, remembering all of my friends who give so much, who work so hard to build up the Body of Christ by offering themselves in service to loved ones every single day, who are living the Works of Mercy, I can only imagine what the Jesus I know might say to them:

“You are precious to me.

Every effort you make is a prayer.

I see all of your sacrifices, your tears, your lost sleep.

I hear your worries and frustrations.

Do not be afraid.

I am with you.

I support you.

I hear your song.

You are beautiful to me and I love you.”

 

Opening up to the “God of Surprises”

A friend of mine lost his mother this past autumn.  He was a good son – truly generous and always there for his mother during the illness preceding her death.

Today, he was so happy that it looked like he was “floating on air.”

So, I said, “What’s up?”

He said he knew that his mom had a small life insurance policy for burial but when he went to cash it in, the insurance company asked how he wanted the payment for the other policy. It was a large policy and he had no knowledge of it. He was able to pay off all of his debts and still had money left over. He showed me the bank receipts for all those debts with balances that had been zeroed out – student loans, cars, credit cards – all gone.

“I had no idea!” What a gift,” he said with tears in his eyes.

My first thought was that “it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.” Of course, his mother knew that and she wanted to give him a big gift – the gift of freedom. She liberated him from debt. It was a completely unexpected gift, a gift of great magnitude for him and his family.

This man’s generosity to his mother and the magnitude of her gift to her son brought to my mind the Gospel passage: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Luke 6:38).

It occurred to me that if paying off physical debt can be so freeing, how much more liberating then is God’s generous and loving offer of freedom of mind, body, and spirit?

He offers to forgive us our debts…all of our sins, he offers to take them. All that weighs on us, he offers to take that too.

Yet, we often box God in. We tend to limit our prayers and requests. Often, when we pray, we don’t want to ask too much of Him.  Perhaps we are trying to be polite and “not bother Him too much.” Perhaps we possess magical thinking and don’t want to use up our “three wishes” until we really need them. Sometimes, we think our troubles are so many and so big that we don’t want to “overwhelm” God with them.

Regardless of the thought process though, our misconceptions limit God. When we neglect to pour out our whole hearts to Him – with all of our concerns and all of our problems – we set limits on how much we are willing to receive from Him. He wants to give us “in good measure and overflowing” but we say, “Oh, I’ll just take a little.”

The saints knew well of God’s abundant kindness. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” Likewise, St. Therese of Liseaux said, “To limit your desires and your hopes is to misunderstand God’s infinite goodness.”

Echoing this sentiment, Pope Francis often challenges us not to limit God. He asks, “Am I attached to my things, to my ideas, am I closed (off)? Or am I open to the God of surprises?” (Hom. 10/13/14).

Don’t be bashful with God – don’t be too polite with God. After all, he already knows what’s in our hearts and what we need. Just unload all of your debts at His feet – debts of mind, body and spirit – and then trust that He’s got them.

When we do this, we make room for the abundance of blessings He wants to pour out on us.  We open ourselves to the gifts He offers each of us – gifts of peace, love, and joy in all areas of life.  And, we open ourselves to the grace of being able to really trust God  – to the trust that He’s got us and that He has great things in store for each of us.

We say “Yes!” to the “God of Surprises.”

Pope Francis has declared the coming year to be an “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.” Throughout the world, in each diocese, a special door of a church will be opened welcoming people back to the Church and the sacraments. With this declaration, Pope Francis reminds us of everything that God wants to offer us – spiritual debt forgiveness, overflowing love, and abundant blessings. For more information click on the following link:
http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/05/05/jubilee_year_of_mercy_a_re-awakening_for_all_christians/1141832

Really, people?! How do you not recognize Him?

Every year, when I hear the Gospel passages about Mary not recognizing the resurrected Jesus at the tomb and the apostles also not recognizing Jesus when He joins them on the way to Emmaus, I imagine myself saying to them, “Really, people? How do you not recognize Him?! How can it be that you were with this man every day for all those years and you don’t know Him? How can you have completely given up everything in your life to follow after Him and you still don’t know who He is? You were with Him at Golgotha and still you don’t know Him? How can this be?”

Was it that He looked different? Perhaps. Maybe it was something more though too.

We see that both Mary and the disciples were in a state of emotional desolation. In John 20:11-18 we read that Mary, “weeping,” was so overcome by emotion at the tomb that she did not recognize the angels or Jesus for who they were. The disciples too, on the road to Emmaus, were feeling emotionally desolate. “They stopped, looking downcast” after having recounted to Jesus that they “were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-35). Both Mary and the disciples were so besieged by sorrow, so deeply entrenched in their loss, that they could not see past it to Jesus present with them.

In his book, The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living, Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV, speaks of the Ignatian practice of discerning the workings of God in our lives. His words, although addressed to the modern day reader, could just as well be applied to the Mary at the tomb and the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He writes:

“Though they feel separated from God, persons in spiritual desolation are not in fact separated from God who is ever “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” Ignatius is highlighting a fundamental characteristic of spiritual desolation; while it endures, any felt consciousness of God’s loving presence is weakened or absent, and such persons feel as if they were separated from God.” (p. 66).

Fr. Gallagher explains that God allows this kind of spiritual desolation so as to teach us. “Ignatius understands that when we faithfully resist spiritual desolation we “learn” spiritual lessons highly useful for our spiritual journey” (p. 68).

So, what is it that Mary and the disciples, who were suffering from both emotional and spiritual desolation, were supposed to learn? What is it that we can learn from their experiences? How are we to see Jesus present when we are blinded by emotion or when we just can’t sense His nearness?

It seems that there are many answers to these questions contained within the Emmaus story (Luke 24: 13-35):

  1. Remember Him. The disciples were “conversing about all the things that had occurred.” They did not forget Jesus. They kept Him in mind.
  2. Confess.  Don’t be afraid to tell Jesus the truth. They confessed to Jesus that they really thought he was going to be the one to redeem Israel. They confessed to him their disappointment.
  3. Believe. Do not be like the disciples who recount the resurrection story to Jesus Himself and are reproached by him. “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
  4. Ask Him to stay. “But they urged him, ‘Stay with us…so he went to stay with them.’” They asked and they received what they asked for…and more.
  5. Break bread with Him. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” It was only when they broke bread with Jesus, that their eyes were opened. They could not see him for who He is before that moment. We cannot get by in the faith journey without the sacraments – confession, communion – they complete our faith.
  6. Recognize the workings of the Holy Spirit in the heart and in the Word of God. “Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” When their eyes were opened, they could see God at work in their lives.  Spend time with the Word of God and call upon the Holy Spirit to enlighten you as you read the Word.
  7. Go forth together and spread the Good News. “So they set out at once…(and) recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  Eucharist and community are essential to the faith journey and, once the Truth is “made known,” we cannot keep it to ourselves. We must go out and share – the Good News impels us to go forth.

It appears that there is no simple answer to my question, “Why do you not recognize Him?”  Mary and the disciples had a lot of walking to do on their faith journeys before they could get to the point where they could recognize and see Jesus in truth.  The same is true for us.

So, as we journey forth this Easter season, let us learn from the journeys of Mary and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Let us not end our journey in despair, but rather, ask the Holy Spirit to open our own eyes to see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ so that we will always recognize His presence in our lives.  Let us recall the wise words of St. John Paul II, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher