“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

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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

I was really not into Lent…

For years, I really was not into Lent. It was a sad time. I really just wanted to fast-forward through those forty days and get on to Easter.

A few years ago though, I was on a “purposeful living” kick. I was attempting to be present in each moment. As we entered Lent, I realized I would have to be present in Lent. So, I prayed that I might be able to accompany Jesus in His suffering that Lent. I resolved to live Lent purposefully – to be present with Him in His pain.

In my prayer I envisioned myself crouched down, ready to receive a football – I said “all right, I’m ready. I can take it. I’m with you, Jesus.”

You know that old adage, “be careful what you wish for because you might just get it?” Ooh. Let me tell you, be careful what you pray for too because you may just get it – and more.

What was I thinking? 

It was the hardest Lent of my life. Every kind of hardship, difficulty, and temptation arose. At one point, I wondered why I even believed in God – a concept that previously would have been completely foreign to me. All kinds of things arose, one after the other – like a barrage of cannonballs – and I felt like I just wasn’t strong enough to handle them. I prayed, “Oh God, I think I prayed the wrong thing. I’m really sorry. Can you take it all away? I think I’m not strong enough to do this Lent thing with you.”

After coming clean with God about my complete and utter spiritual wimpiness, I opened a prayer book to the Anima Christi prayer. I had seen the prayer before, but this time it seemed to jump off the page at me. I resolved to pray it every time a difficulty arose. Things got easier. It became my “go to” prayer that Lent. In fact, it became one of my favorite “go to” prayers of all time.

_____

ANIMA Christi, sanctifica me. Corpus Christi, salva me. Sanguis Christi, inebria me. Aqua lateris Christi, lava me. Passio Christi, conforta me. O Bone Iesu, exaudi me. Intra tua vulnera absconde me. Ne permittas me separari a te. Ab hoste maligno defende me. In hora mortis meae voca me. Et iube me venire ad te, Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

SOUL of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds, hide me. Suffer me not to be separated from Thee. From the malicious enemy, defend me. In the hour of my death, call me. and bid me come unto Thee, that with thy saints I may may praise Thee for ever and ever. Amen.

_____

The more I prayed this prayer, the stronger I felt. The more I prayed it, the more I realized too that the Christian faith is less about taking things upon ourselves than handing them over to Jesus. He already suffered for us. We need to trust that He has suffered perfectly and hand every trouble and every difficulty over to Him. In all things, we are made strong in him – not by our own power – but though His sacrifice.

Yes, He wants our presence, we remember him asking his disciples to wait and stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has already done the suffering and dying though. He wants to give us Easter.

This realization was a transformative moment in my faith journey. Everything became easier, I felt lighter. The hardships, difficulties, and temptations still kept coming at me, but they didn’t rattle me. I felt grounded in Him because I was both painfully aware of my own limitations and also wonderfully aware of His complete abilities. Praying this prayer led to a gift that I couldn’t have prayed for – an unshakable confidence in Him.

During that same time, I came across a musical setting of the Anima Christi by composer Msgr. Marco Frisina of the Diocese of Rome. The harmonies are gorgeous and it remains, to this day, one of my favorite pieces.  Truly, it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Having studied classical and liturgical music myself, I have come to regard Frisina as one of my favorite composers of the modern era.

So, before a recent trip to Rome, I remarked to a friend, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow I could hear some of Frisina’s music while I was there?” It was a completely “blue sky” thought – a totally unlikely happenstance.

The fact is though, God always speaks the language of our hearts – and He happens to know what’s in them too.

While attending Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, I heard familiar harmonies. I whispered to the woman standing to my right, “Isn’t that Marco Frisina?” “Si,” she replied. There was Msgr. Marco Frisina himself conducting the Anima Christi. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had prayed to accompany Jesus through Lent that year and found strength through this prayer. Now, I was sitting next to the composer, conducting a live performance, of this most beautiful setting of this prayer. It was like a gift just for me. Only God knew what I had prayed, and only He could know what an incredible gift it would be for me to hear this prayer that had been pivotal in my faith journey, in live performance, while sitting right next to the composer. It was a gift beyond words.

At that moment, I realized more than ever before, that God hears each one of our prayers. Each one of us is loved. Each one of us is cherished. He loves us so much that He wants to fulfill even the deepest desires of our hearts.

I sat there with tears streaming down, completely overwhelmed by His love.

As we enter this Holy Week, let us realize that this Love is offered to each one of us – He waits for us to come to Him so that He can give us His love.

As we contemplate His ultimate sacrifice this week, let us remember that we have nothing to lose in going to Him except our own suffering, pains, and troubles. We can accompany Him, and in the silence of our hearts, lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross.

Believe me, there is no better offer.

Setting of Anima Christi by Msgr. Marco Frisina, Performed by Choir of the Diocese of Rome

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

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.

Impermeable Love and the Call to Relationship

Have you ever seen two young people who are in love? It sometimes appears that they are in their own little world. Absorbed in their love for each other, they seem unaware of what is happening around them. Their focus is solely on one another. They seem, in this state, to be floating through life.

God’s love for each one of us is like this. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.”

God loves each one of us and focuses on each one of us as if there were only one of us in the world. By human standards of comprehension, this amount of love is completely incomprehensible – especially considering He loves everyone He has created, down through the ages, in this same way.

And, like young lovers in their own little worlds, God’s love is impermeable. Like this love, His love, makes us lighter, burdens fall away.

Unlike the love of young lovers though, His love never waivers. Neither floods, nor war, nor even death can take us from His love.

If we accept it, His love is the only constant – through life or death – for all eternity. When one accepts His love and surrenders in trust to God, His love is impermeable. His love encircles us and guards us.

But we must accept it. St. Augustine said, “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst and ours.” It is a two-way relationship. God waits expectantly for us to accept Him and His love.

There really is no better offer – but we must trust Him – and accept the offer.

“God is indeed waiting for you; He asks of you only the courage to go to Him.” – Pope Francis

Jesus' love