“Not a dime to my name”

Gospel Mk 12:38-44

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

At Mass today, we heard this Gospel passage of the “widow’s mite.”  The mite was the smallest of Roman coins.  This widow had just two of these small coins, today worth less than a penny, and she gave them to God.  Jesus says of her contribution, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

This Gospel passage is not about currency or donations – it’s about trust.  This woman trusted God with everything she had.  To be a widow during that time period, was to be in a very vulnerable position, especially economically. At that time, women were generally financially cared for by men.  Almost always, to become a widow and remain unmarried meant a lifetime sentence of destitution.  She would have had very little opportunity to make her own money, and if she did have some skill or handiwork, she would still be able to earn only very small amounts of money without a man to represent her in business interactions.  It took a lot of courage to donate all of her money.  Her donation belied her deep trust in God. This was a woman who was completely confident that God would provide.

Every time I hear this passage, it reminds me of the first time I completely trusted God myself.  One day, when I was in grad school, I did what she did.  I wasn’t thinking of the “widow’s mite” passage.  It wasn’t even in the corner of my mind.  I just needed a miracle.

I had five dollars.  It was July. I had just paid my very first rental payment on my off-campus housing and I didn’t have a job yet.  I had no financial resources. My car had broken down. I had no money to fix it.

So, I had five dollars to buy food for the whole week.  I knew I could buy a frozen pack of bagels, a dozen eggs, and some cheese with this five dollars.  I knew this because I had been surviving on this budget and this food for over a month.

I needed a job.  I had applied to various positions that would fit my graduate student schedule but hadn’t heard back from any yet.  So, I went to Mass to ask God for help.

As I went to put my money into the collection basket, I looked at my $5 dollars, surrounded by $20’s and hesitated a brief moment.

I thought to myself, “Look at all of those $20’s. What difference will my measly $5 make anyway?”

I dropped the $5 bill into the basket.

I prayed, “Lord, I’m taking a leap of faith here.  I’m trusting you to provide.  If you don’t, I won’t have any food at all. I’m hungry now but, without this five dollars, I will starve. You know I love you, Lord, and you know I trust you. Please help me.”

At that moment, I literally “didn’t have a dime” to my name.

I walked out of Mass and waited for the phone to ring.

It did.  In fact, it rang three times that afternoon.  Three interviews.  I remember being downright giddy – not because I had interviews, that was definitely nice – but even moreso because I knew God had actually heard my prayer!

By the end of that week, I had a job that paid well, offered a flexible schedule, and I had great new co-workers!  I would stay at that job throughout my two coursework years.

My prayer was answered on that day, when I trusted God with everything I had.

That was nearly twenty years ago.  Every time I’m up against the wall, I still have to remind myself that He will provide – but I have to let go of what I’m holding onto first.  I have to make the jump. I have to really, really trust God.  I’ve learned that as long as I’m “playing it safe” and still holding onto something it just doesn’t work.  I can’t hold anything back –  it’s gotta be an “all in” gesture.  Every single time I do this, every time I trust Him completely, He provides.

And, every time, He provides more than I could hope for – way more.

The widow knew this secret.  The power is not in grasping on, clutching tightly to that which we have, but in letting go of everything and handing it over to God.

Trusting God –  it’s terrifying and it’s thrilling – and you can’t get a better deal.

“Take Lord Receive” – John Foley, SJ

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Time, Suffering, and the Power of Prayer

Back to the Future

I was chuckling at this meme today and it got me to thinking about time and prayer.

It reminded me of something Padre Pio once said that really challenged my concept of time.

One day, Padre Pio told his doctor, “I’m praying for the good death of my great-great grandfather.”

The doctor said, “but he died more than one hundred years ago!”

Padre Pio replied, “Remember that, for God, there is no past and no future and everything is present. So God made use, at that time, of the prayers I’m saying now.”

It is especially helpful to remember God’s omnipresence when we are suffering. One of the beautiful aspects of the Catholic faith is “redemptive suffering.” The notion that we can combine our suffering with Christ’s passion and offer it up for our own (or another’s) needs is a hopeful concept. When all seems bleak, when we are undergoing profound suffering, this concept gives added meaning and value to suffering.  Suffering is painful but it’s not useless. How beautiful is it that we can even apply our suffering to prayerful intentions for the past or the future?

It also brought to mind a recent comment by a priest that struck me by surprise, “If you find yourself with a cross, you find yourself with Jesus.”  When I think of “my crosses” or “bringing it to the cross,” I often think of the wood of the cross. However, reframing one’s own crosses in light of Christ’s presence there with us at the cross, brings awareness of the privilege of enjoying His presence during our suffering. Suffering together with Christ seems more of an honor and privilege than the lonely prospect of carrying ones’ cross alone.

And, any time things get rough, I always fall back on St. Ignatius’ hope-filled explanation of suffering: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”

So, when hard times come, as they inevitably will, do not despair!  Make use of that suffering and “offer it up” in prayerful intentions for the past, future, or present and remember that you are not alone – Jesus is always right there with you.

“Christ’s cross, embraced with love, never leads to sadness, but to joy!” -Pope Francis

Matt Maher reminds us of God’s omnipresence in his song “You Were on the Cross”

Gratitude Attack

autumn_leaves

Every year, as the days grow shorter and the skies grayer, I feel immense gratitude. The crisp autumn air, brilliant leaves rustling on the trees, and gusty winds bringing them swirling down to crunch underfoot – it all makes me immensely happy.

It makes me so happy that, during this season, a certain angle of the sun on the pane can literally send my heart into a gratitude attack. My heart overflows with joyful prayers of thanks for the blessings of family and friends, food, clean water, power, transportation, and shelter.

And, every year, this season draws me into a deeper love for the Creator of all of this beauty too. I see the delicate leaves, loved into existence for one short season, at their full glory, swirling down. I think of my soul, my life, all of us, just a “breath” in the span of history, so small, yet so significant because He loves each of us into existence too. As I gaze at the intricate patterns the leaves draw upon the air in their final abandon, the words of St. Ignatius come to mind, “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”

And so I pray:

Dear God,

Creator of the autumn winds,

You cool the summer sun

And paint the autumn hues.

Teach me,

Like the beautiful swirling leaf,

to abandon myself ever more unreservedly to you.

Give me the grace

To allow the breath of your Spirit

To direct my path.

That my swirling journey would intersect at your will

And my landing be at your will.

And that, at every moment,

my journey might bring

greater glory to you, My God.

Amen.

In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks. St. Teresa of Avila

 

My heart your home – Watermark

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.

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

“The Word of God is Volatile”

 

“The word of God is volatile.  It is unpredictable.  It produces a zeal that can be a little embarrassing.”

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the priest at Mass yesterday.

“Yes,” I thought to myself.  “It certainly is. I can’t believe I am writing a blog in the public domain  about my spiritual journey.”  Those of you who know me, know that I’m a very private person and I rarely talk about such things even “in person.”

Yet, over the past few years, I’ve had an amazing journey.  I didn’t intend any of the journey and I certainly didn’t plan to share about it.

Let me start by sharing with you what was going on when I really put on “my walkin’ boots.”  Over the past decade, our family has weathered many serious illnesses.  Actually, to say we have been innundated by illness probably wouldn’t be an overstatement.  We have dealt with preterm pregnancies and the NICU, neuropathy, cancer diagnoses, diabetes, heart issues, neck injuries, concussions, blood disorders, multiple surgeries, epilepsy, dyslexia, and much more.

Over these years, when I would go to pray, I often felt like I would come before the altar of the Lord and fall “flat out” and face down in front of Him because I had no strength to stand.  I had no words to say.  I was too exhausted to even process thoughts.   I was empty and deflated.

Sometimes I wondered if it could even be considered praying – to drag myself before the Lord and then just say nothing at all.

It was during one such very difficult stretch a couple of years ago, that I came across a prayer card stuck between the pages of a book I was reading.  I had received it while I was on an Ignatian retreat in college. It is called the “Suscipe.”

 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.

                                                            –          St. Ignatius of Loyola

I took it out and prayed it.  “What could I lose?” I thought to myself. I didn’t really feel anything at all the first time I prayed it.

I prayed it again a few days later.  “I think I’ll just hand it all over,” I thought to myself.  “God knows, I really am not doing a great job of handling all of it myself.”  So, I prayed the Suscipe, envisioning myself literally handling all of my burdens over to Him.

It felt good.  I felt lighter.

I decided to try to pray it every day.  I didn’t really know that God would even care to receive my weak prayers but I decided to say the Suscipe every morning on the way to work.

Things started to happen.  Just saying the prayer left me feeling comforted.  After saying it, I seemed to have renewed energy and peace.  Some days, it literally felt like an infusion of energy.  Things started to fall into place. I started to meet people in all areas of my life whose friendships would enrich and sustain me.  I also started listening for God more.

I have come to realize that this is an incredibly powerful prayer.  In speaking with a Jesuit friend recently, I learned that this prayer is more than just a prayer of words.  It is an offering of the full and total person to the Lord – mind, body, and spirit.  When we pray this prayer, amazing things happen.  Just try it.  You’ll see.

Ignatius-Suscpie