God and the VIP Treatment

So I went to my local coffee shop to get a coffee this morning. I paid and my number was immediately called. The funny thing was, there was a line of ten people in front of me waiting for their coffee too. As I came from the back of the line and was handed my coffee, those still waiting looked at me as if wondering how I “cut the line” and got such VIP service.

I kind of wondered too, given that I don’t have a VIP coffee card.

I do know though, that every time I walk into this place, they look happy to see me. Even when I’m in a pre-caffeinated, bleary-eyed, unbrushed-hair kind of state. It’s kind of like Norm on “Cheers.” They are always so animated in their greetings as I enter.

I thought about this as I walked out clutching my warm cup. It brought to mind the word “mercy” – God’s mercy. A timely thought, I suppose, given that Pope Francis just declared the coming year to be a “Year of Mercy.”

It has taken me a long time to figure out what the word “mercy” means. For a long time, it was a kind of obtuse term that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. I could only understand it in the sense of a king pardoning a subject.

I remember actually researching what the word meant. I read that you can exchange the word “mercy” with “God’s love” and it means about the same thing. As I read this definition though, I thought, well then why don’t we just write “God’s love”? Why do we still have a word “mercy”? There’s got to be more to it.

I think there is more to it. I’m slowly starting to understand what mercy means but I think understanding comes from experience of it. Mercy has to do with God’s action towards us because of His love for us. With God, every single one of us receives VIP treatment – whether we are in fact a VIP or a person that the world would view as a most unimportant person. St. Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” We are all loved completely by God – all desired completely by Him. We are all VIP’s to God.

Mercy is like that excited greeting, that VIP treatment, that gets us to the front of the line for no reason.  We don’t need to have done everything exactly right, we don’t even need to have waited our turn. We can go to God as we are, a complete mess, and He’s just as excited to see us as if every hair were perfectly in place. When he sees us coming he is overjoyed to see us – he rushes to greet us at the end of the line. Pope Francis says, “God does not wait for us to go toward Him but it is He who moves toward us.”

Pope Francis also said, “God always thinks mercifully.” That’s because God operates out of love. We operate out of our own sense of what we think the order ought to be – but God’s ways are above our ways. We might be standing at the back of the line saying, “I have to wait my turn,” but God may pick us out and say “I choose you now.” It is we that need to open our minds to God and allow Him to work in the ways that He works – which always surpasses our own human sense of reason.

Pope Francis, who can talk endlessly about God’s love and mercy, also said,  “The Lord is always there waiting to give us His love; it is an amazing thing, one which never ceases to amaze me!…He is indeed waiting for you; He asks of you only the courage to go to Him.”

Go to Him.

Let Him give you the VIP treatment.

 

“God always forgives us.  He never tires of this.  It’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.  But He does not tire of pardoning us.” – Pope Francis

Advertisements

Losing the Masks this Lent

I was reading something that Marilyn Monroe wrote and it really resonated with me.

Monroe wrote, “I’m finding that sincerity, and to be [as] simple and direct as I’d like, is often taken for sheer stupidity.”

There is truth in her words. Sincerity and simplicity are not often-prized in modern times.  Rather, from the time we are small, we are taught control – which often claims sincerity and simplicity as its casualty.  We are taught to control our words, deeds, actions, goals, and dreams.  We are taught that we can control our destiny and our entire world.

As we grow and realize that this is not actually always possible, we develop masks to cover those places where we feel less adequate or where we feel afraid.  Nearly everyone develops these masks.  There is a multi-million dollar industry built on the sale of self-improvement books that teach us how to project power and confidence in the boardroom – and every other area of life.  They teach us to “pretend until you become” and “fake it until you make it.”  They teach us how to survive by putting on masks of power and of control.

Yet, despite our best efforts to maintain control, hardships still arise.  As much as we may try to project confidence and control our destinies with positive thoughts and illusions of power, difficult things still happen.  How is one to reconcile this?

The problem with “masks” is that this mentality, this projection of control, completely closes the door to God.  If we try to control everything and mask those things we fear we can’t control, we leave no opening for God to work in our lives.

Yet, whether or not we admit it to ourselves, God knows our minds and our hearts: LORD, you search me and you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.” (Psalm 139)

God knows what is under our masks.  It is in this place of sincerity and simplicity that God works without hindrance.  He is at home in our unabashed fears and in our unencumbered happiness.  St. Therese of Liseaux, contemplating ways to get to heaven, spoke of her “Little Way.”  It is a way of simplicity. In St. Therese’s “Little Way,” there are no masks – just overflowing love for her Creator, the desire to please Him in her every deed, and an openness to receiving His gifts.

One of the most common ways that God helps us to “lose the mask” is through illness and other hardships.  Countless saints, including St. Therese, St. Francis, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and St. Ignatius, all learned through illness.  St. Ignatius lost his health in battle and during the long and painful months of recovery, came to the realization that he was not in control.  He dropped the masks of wealth and power that he had inherited at his noble birth.  It was during this time, that Ignatius wrote his famous prayer of surrender to God, the Suscipe.  This prayer represents a total offering of the self to God.

Suscipe

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

 

The more I pray this prayer, the more I realize how completely counter-cultural it is. The Suscipe represents a return to authenticity and simplicity – a removing of the masks before God. Essentially, what we are saying when we pray it is, “Here I am, Lord. I realize that I am dependent on you for every breath.  I offer myself to you totally and completely. I surrender my mask.”

In Latin, “suscipe” means “to receive.”  The beautiful paradox is that the more we give to God, the more we ourselves receive.

Perhaps because it presents an opening for God to work in our lives, each day I pray it, I also think of different things I should be handing over to God.  I offer whatever is weighing on me and whatever is making me happy that day.  As I pray it, I often find concerns that I didn’t even know were there rising to the surface of my consciousness.  I hand these things over too.

Praying the Suscipe almost always gives rise to further prayer which, for me, generally goes something like this:

Lord, I give you my joys, sorrows, victories, defeats, pains, consolations, and everything in between.  I give you my imperfections. 

Lord, please sort it all out. You know what’s best for me.  If it is your will, Lord, replace my fears, sorrows, and sufferings, with your love, joy, and peace.  Let me not hold onto things that weigh me down but let me hand them over to you. You are my strength in weakness. 

Even my dreams and aspirations – you may have better ones for me.  Let me not hold too tightly to these.  Keep my eyes and ears open to your designs for my life.  I am an empty vessel.  Fill me with whatever you choose – words, deeds, actions – according to your will, not mine.

Help me to see you at work in my life, Lord.  Open my eyes, my ears, my heart to recognize all of the ways in which you are working in my life throughout the day. 

Allow me to accept your love.

Allow me to accept the gifts you want to give me.

Allow me to accept the abundance of your gifts. 

Allow me to use these gifts you give me in word and deed for those around me too. Work through me in all things for your greater glory.

Praying the Suscipe creates a sacred space in our souls where we ask that “perfect Love” to “cast out all fear”; a place where we allow His mercy and His love to permeate our beings. It is a place where we come to the profound realization that, in the end, and every day in between, He is really our only strength.  In our weakness, He does make us strong.

This Lent, give Him your masks. Give Him all the fears that they cover.  Be weak in Him and let Him make you strong.

This Lent, open yourself to the Love that He is dying to give you.

A Good Man

Today my uncle David passed away.

My uncle was addicted to alcohol and drugs. He spent years drinking and taking all kinds of drugs. He became homeless. People would shun him on the streets. He was arrested countless times for public intoxication. He was in and out of prison many times for this – but never hurt anyone except himself.

He was also a really good man.

Most of you know that I’m pro-life. Some of you might think that means I’m judgmental. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Let me tell you how I first became pro-life. It wasn’t in biology class when I read about life beginning when the sperm and egg meet. I don’t understand how anyone can dispute scientifically that life begins at that moment, but that’s actually not how I became pro-life. I became pro-life in eighth grade when my mother first told me the story of how my uncle became an addict.

When my uncle was twenty, he was deeply in love with a woman. He proposed to her. She said “yes.” Shortly after, she learned she was expecting. She was embarrassed. He was embarrassed. She said it wasn’t the right time. He said “it’ll be OK, we love each other, we’ll love this baby.”

She decided she still didn’t want to have a baby yet. He asked her to reconsider. She scheduled an abortion. The clinic said she would be asleep and that she wouldn’t feel anything.

She asked my uncle, her fiance, to go to the clinic with her. Even though he didn’t want her to go he said, “of course, you’re my fiance, I will support you and I am part of this.”

He went into the room with her to hold her hand. He didn’t really expect to see anything. She was only a few months along. They told him it was “just a blob of tissue.”

Later that day, he hysterically recounted to my mother how it felt seeing his tiny daughter being dismembered piece by piece and the expression on her tiny face. He asked her how a father could stand by and let that happen to his child. He asked her why he let it happen. He said he felt like a monster.

What my uncle never intended to happen, what he had witnessed that day, changed his life forever.

From that day on, he drowned his guilt in whatever intoxicating substances he could get. He didn’t feel worthy of life. His fiance also became an addict. They didn’t marry.

For the next forty-six years, his brothers and sisters were always looking for him on the streets, bringing him home to get “cleaned up.” He would shower, eat, and go back to the streets. He worked so hard at becoming sober many times and maintained sobriety for years, but he still never felt worthy of life. He hated himself and thought God did too.

He was a good, good man with a beautiful heart and conscience but his life was, in the fullest sense, a tragedy.

There is so much to learned about loving people without judging –Mother Teresa was great at teaching about this. She used to say, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Pope Francis is doing a great job today teaching about this also. He exemplifies, each day how to be humble and loving – how to see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ. One can never know the burdens a person is carrying around with them. If we did, I believe we would all be more gentle with their hearts. What we can know for certain, is that everyone is carrying something, everyone is wounded, because it’s human nature to be wounded.

Some people hear that I’m pro-life and judge me to be “anti-woman” and “judgmental” – this couldn’t be farther than the truth. When I know people in these situations, I accompany them in their pain and think of them with love and compassion because I know that, no matter what anyone claims, there is always pain and death involved when it comes to abortion.

I am PRO-life. That is, I am for life. I am for the life of the woman, who’s life ended that day. I am for the little girl, my cousin, who’s life ended that day. And, I am for the man, my uncle, who’s life ended that day.

But that’s not the end of the story.

At 10 am last Friday, my uncle was received into the Catholic Church and received absolution. When my mother asked if he would like to see a priest, he said, “he would actually come and see me?” Can you imagine what it must feel like to drop all of those burdens of guilt and self-hatred and know that you are loved? As he lay dying the next nine days, his face would fill with joy only one time a day – the time when the priest would come and visit him.

On this day, I pray that as my uncle enters his new life, he will finally fully experience God’s tender and loving embrace.

 

the_embrace

“The Embrace” by Chris Hopkins