I Choose Love

I was talking with a friend the other day and he was reciting an endless litany of all of the bad things going on in the world right now: terrorism, horrible refugee situations, the plunging stock market, eroding race relations, the selling of baby body parts, unstable international affairs, etc. He concluded, “Things just aren’t looking good.”

I had to disagree. Yes, there absolutely are a lot of horrible situations in the world right now – situations that we cannot ignore and that we are called to address. We must respect the dignity of human life in every way we possible and this includes helping those experiencing poverty and those without home or nation. We must be living witnesses of respect for people everywhere of all races, nationalities, and creeds, young and old, born and unborn. We must see the reflection of the God who made us in the face of each of our brothers and sisters. We must recognize that we are all one human family and do all we can to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes, however, we are far away and we don’t feel we have the power to change such situations. We can fall into hopelessness.  We can despair that “the world is falling apart.”

The problem is that hopelessness and despair deny the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.  Jesus said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33

Jesus offers Hope when everything around us seems to be falling apart. Jesus offers the warmth of his Love when the world seems barren and destitute.

In his August 16, 1967 speech, “Where Do We Go From Here,” the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of Love in elegant words of timeless import:

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces …to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.”

Love is the way.

An ocean away, at nearly the same time in history, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina said, “Don’t spend your energies on things that generate worry, anxiety and anguish. Only one thing is necessary: Lift up your spirit and love God.” Likewise, St. Mary McKillop said, “Do what you can with the means at your disposal and leave all the rest calmly to God.”

Suffering in life is inevitable. There have always been and will always be atrocities and strife. How we react to these difficulties is our choice. We can turn away from our suffering brothers and sisters or we can live in love, encountering, respecting, and serving others compassionately. We can be crippled by fear and worry or we can lift up our hearts in prayer and trust that the God of Love hears us.

Myself?  I choose Hope. I choose Love.

“Set A Fire” – Will Regan & United Pursuit Band

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

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

New Year, New Beginnings

Everywhere I turn, I see articles about cleaning-out and organizing.  It’s “out with the old, in with the new,” as the old adage goes.

I recently read a great article by Joshua Becker, an author who promotes “minimalist living” by getting rid of all the “stuff” we don’t really need. In it, he said, “You don’t feel the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.” What truth!

The same process of purging that he promotes for the home, can be effective for the mind and spirit too. How many things do we hold onto that clutter the mind and spirit? How often do we hold onto things spiritually that that hold us back and weigh us down? What would it feel like to live without all this “stuff” – to live freely and unencumbered?

I remember hearing a news story last year about a man in New York who, before Christmas, would open his answering machine to people to anonymously confess things that were bothering them. He said, “People sometimes really just need to get things off their chest and they feel good when they do.”  I remember thinking it somewhat odd that a fraction of what the Catholic Church has offered for centuries in the Sacrament of Reconciliation was being featured as a national news story.

Although most people don’t enjoy that “moment of truth” as they step into the confessional, the exit is always a great moment, marked by a complete freeing and unencumbering of the spirit. The beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that not only can one “get everything off ones’ chest” though, but one can also be assured that God has heard this confession and has given forgiveness. What a beautiful and profound offer!

Yet, even saints, who went to confession frequently, have sometimes forgotten just how much God offers us. Take, for example, St. Faustina. Having believed she had already offered everything to God though her vow of consecration to Christ, she asked in prayer what more she could offer. She was confounded by the response, “My daughter, you have not offered Me that which is really yours.” She continues,I probed deeply into myself and found that I love God with all the faculties of my soul and, unable to see what it was that I had not yet given to the Lord, I asked, ‘Jesus, tell me what it is, and I will give it to you at once with a generous heart.’ Jesus said to me with kindness, “Daughter, give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property” (Diary, 1318).

God offers to take not only our sins, but even our misery. He offers to take everything that holds us back and pulls us down. It’s up to us to accept His offer though. “New Year’s” happens only once a year, but every day God offers us a life unencumbered by regrets. He constantly offers us new fullness of life, abundant in grace and blessings. It’s up to us to accept this gift though.

It’s up to us, like St. Faustina, to let go of misery and give it to God. We can place it in His hands or put it at the foot of the cross – either way, now’s the time to clean out. Go to confession. Give Him your sins. Give Him your misery. Give it to God…and let it go.

“Few souls understand what God would effect in them if they should give themselves entirely into His hands and allow his grace to act.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola