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

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

2013: An Extraordinary Year

As I sit by the tree and review my journal, I realize what an extraordinary year 2013 has been for my family.

I have no lists of accomplishments to present. I’m sure there were some, but that’s not what strikes me about this year.

In April, on the eve of my birthday, my mother called and told me she had cancer. Less than two months later, my father was diagnosed with cancer also.

Interestingly, for over a year before my parents’ diagnoses, I had felt God’s constant and close presence. Not just in prayer, it was a constant, and I just knew I wasn’t alone. I wondered many times why I felt His presence so closely.

In retrospect, as I look back over year, I see that this awareness of His presence was an answer to one of my long-time prayers that when my parents’ “time came,” He would give me the strength to get through it. Indeed, I had incredible strength, peace, and presence of mind that was far beyond anything I could have gathered from within myself this year.

My mother’s surgery in June was extremely high risk. The doctors thought it would be a long surgery with many complications – if she made it through.

I prayed with a confidence instilled by this Presence. And, I asked everyone I knew everywhere, and everyone they knew to pray for my parents. I also asked all of my favorite saints to intercede too.

So here’s what happened. My mother made it through the surgery in an hour and fifty minutes instead of the maximum of five hours they had allowed for the operation. She was off the ventilator within two hours instead of two days. The surgeon was able to do the surgery laparoscopically instead of the full open abdominal surgery he was fearing he would have to do. And, she went home the next morning at 11 am instead of going to short term rehab for weeks.

It was so funny when the doctor came out of the OR – he looked so surprised at the outcome. He said “he just couldn’t believe how well it went.”

My mother had just three sessions of radiation to ensure that all of the cancer was gone and has been declared cancer-free.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks later, the doctors gave him weeks to live. It was an aggressive cancer and a huge tumor. The risks were so high that he couldn’t even find a doctor to operate.

Then, a doctor came along visiting his ENT office and said he would go ahead and try the surgery. “What was there to lose?” he said. He scheduled the surgery for the fourth week in August.

The third week in August, a week before my father’s surgery, my son had an appointment with his neurologist. At age 3, he had been diagnosed with epilepsy. At age 6, he had been diagnosed with dyslexia. At this appoinment, we would hear the the results of his yearly EEG (a test of electrical activity in the brain). I expected to hear the same results we had been hearing for the past five years. I expected to receive a couple of prescriptions for anti-seizure medication and I had the “Seizure Action Plan” school paperwork ready for him to sign.

The neurologist sat us down and told us he had the results from the EEG. Without much ado he said, “there is no abnormal electrical activity on his scan.” I was floored. “What?”, I said. “He is not epileptic anymore. He has been cured.” Those were his exact words.

The funny thing was, I had just been saying in prayer the night before, “you know, Lord, I really believe you can heal him. I’ve been praying for five years for this. I know you can, so why haven’t you?” Then I prayed and asked Padre Pio to intercede. “I know that He can do it, can you please ask Him to heal my son?”

And, the next day, the doctor said, without any ado at all really – “He is not epileptic anymore. He has been cured.”

I wanted to cry and do a jig at the same time.

I also wanted to go to adoration and drop flat on my face and say, “Thank you, God!” And that’s exactly what I did that night.

A week later, my father underwent surgery for the huge Sarcoma in his head. My father’s surgery was difficult. He teetered on the edge of death for two weeks in the hospital.

The whole time, I continued to ask everyone I knew to pray. Deep down, I knew he was going to be ok though.

Three weeks later the biopsy came back on his tumor. What had been a huge sarcoma was now classified as “pre-cancerous.” He needed no chemotherapy or radiation therapy at all.

This time around, I wasn’t at all surprised.

The next week, I touched base with my son’s speech and reading therapist who had been helping him with his dyslexia. She recommended that we stop seeing her because she said she saw no need at all for her services anymore. His speech was perfect and he was reading and comprehending above grade level. He scored 98% on reading comprehension of the standardized tests. Today, he is at the top of his class. He just got a big award for reading – only the third in his class of 18 to get this award.

So, as we wrap up the year, here are my conclusions based on my “Year in Review:”

1. There is true power in prayer
2. God is really present and hearing our prayers
3. Miracles can and do happen

1. There is real and true power in prayer

I have been proud. Like many people, I have prayed only when up against the wall. And, in all honesty, I have to tell you, I was a doubter. I generally need to see data or at least a “track record” to believe. I weigh the data and then come to a logical decision.

Well, I’ve got my data, I’ve got my “track record,” and I believe. I wish I wasn’t a “doubting Thomas” but I am so glad He “met where I was at.”

So many times I have said, “I’ll pray for you,” when I didn’t actually have time to do anything for someone. Praying seemed too easy. I felt like physical labor must be required to actually help someone. Don’t get me wrong – offers of physical labor can be extremely helpful – cooking a meal, offering childcare, running errands, etc. Now though, I realize that praying is actually really helpful too. It’s not a matter of – “well, all we can do now is pray.” It is the first and last thing we should be doing and it’s way more helpful than any help I could offer because it calls down the God of all creation to help out the person who needs help. What could be more helpful?

The saints knew this. All of them spoke about the power of prayer. St. John of the Cross said, “In all our necessities, trials, and difficulties, no better or safer aid exists for us than prayer and hope that God will provide for us by the means He desires.”

The twentieth century Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, succinctly sums up the power of prayer. “By leaving everything in God’s hands, the love that bears all things carries us further, it achieves more in the extreme suffering of not “being able to go on any further” than in potent, self-assured action.”

2. God is really present and hearing our prayers

Who, at times, hasn’t asked in prayer, “God are you really there? Can you hear me?”

Throughout the bible, we hear people wondering if God is there and if he is hearing their prayers. In Psalm 22, David says, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Even Jesus, on the cross, says the very same thing (Matt 27:46).

After this year, I can’t doubt that God has heard my prayers and the prayers of everyone I asked to pray during these ordeals. God isn’t a figment of the imagination or a literary figure of the past. God is real and present and hears my prayers.

It wasn’t just my prayers though. There were people praying all over the world for my parents. Dozens of priests were praying and offering prayers and masses – in at least 8 states, in London, and at Lourdes. I’ve heard also that people from all over the US were praying as well as people from France, England, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Brazil, The Philippines, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, and Burundi.

My friend Marcia, said her mother from Brazil was on a pilgrimage and was praying in a small church in Italy and thought of my mother so she started praying for her. She called Marcia and asked when the surgery would be. It turned out that she thought of my mother and was praying at the exact time that my mother was in surgery.

Over the past few months, my co-workers, who are from all corners of the globe, have asked many times how my parents were doing. They have said that they even had their families “back home” praying for my parensts. As I recount to them how well my parents are doing, almost every person I’ve told has said “praised be to God” in their own language…Arabic, Kurundi, Amharic, Tigrinya, etc. My colleagues also come from many different faith traditions. It struck me that Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and followers of even more religions around the world were all praying for an intention together and praising God. Isn’t that beautiful?

3. Miracles can and do happen

I can’t deny that what happened in my family this year was miraculous. My mother’s doctors, my father’s doctors, and my son’s doctor were all surprised. The outcomes were not at all what they expected. They can’t scientifically explain why things turned out the way they did.

I have great confidence that, if it’s God’s will, he will perform miracles if asked. I do not think miracles are meant to be extraordinary occurences because Jesus said, “whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Matt 21:22).

St. Augustine said, “God is not a deceiver that he should offer to support us and then, when we lean upon him, should slip away.”

Our hopes and prayers our limited by our own finite nature but God is infinite and omnipotent. We would do well to expand our expectations of God beyond the box of our limited minds. St. Therese of Lisieux, who had very little formal education but was granted the grace of great knowledge of God said, “We can never have too much confidence in God; as we hope in him so shall we receive.

St. Patrick too, a victim of human trafficking and a man who knew a lot about suffering and miracles, said, “Turn trustingly to the Lord. Put your faith in him with your whole heart, because nothing is impossible to him.

In fact, every saint seems to know this secret that we are apt to forget – God offers all of us infinite love every moment of our lives and, included in this love, is the well-being of all we hold dear. For our part, we need to trust him – drop all defenses and completely trust him. When we “drop our defenses,” it enables us to see God’s love in action outside and above the finite projections we had for the outcomes of each situation. God’s love is always there for the taking. It is we who reject it, or limit it, or just can’t recognize it. Just think – we could be living in this love every single moment if we so choose.

So, as I look back at this extraordinary year, my “takeaway” is that, going forward, I’m not going to worry. I’m going to bring it to God in trust and actually trust him. I know, deep in my bones, that He’ll take care of it and it will all work out the way it should. I’m going to heed Padre Pio’s words – “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!”