Gratitude Attack

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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

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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

The Scarecrow and The Body of Christ

Going back to school after time off is difficult, even when it’s just been a three day weekend. No matter how hard we try to plan the night before, it’s always a mad scramble to get out the door in the morning. There’s the litany of questions: “Did you feed the bird?”; “Do you have your clarinet?”; “Did you pack a snack?”; “Do you need us to sign anything else?”; “Do you have your potato peeler?  Remember, bring it right to your teacher.  You shouldn’t be walking in the hall with a potato peeler.” (Yes, potato peeler – don’t ask)!

“Oh my gosh!” I thought to myself. “I feel like a scarecrow! A scarecrow with wildly flapping arms – signing papers, tossing snacks, packing bags – and going nowhere fast.”

“We’re late, you’ve gotta get to school and I’ve gotta get to work!” I said.

Then it dawned on me…the Body of Christ!  “Thanks, St. Teresa!”

Unusual connection. I know. Let me explain.

Last night, in preparation for St. Teresa of Avila’s feast day today, I had been reading her poem,“Christ Has No Body.”

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet,
with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands,
with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So, while I was contemplating her poem, I asked St. Teresa to teach me more about how this “Body of Christ” thing works.

There are the obvious interpretations of her poem – the Corporal Works of Mercy and social justice interpretations.  I knew there was even more though, I just hadn’t quite been able to wrap my head around it.

As I stood there this morning, feeling like a scarecrow, I had another thought. “Stop. Breathe. Breathe in the Holy Spirit.”

Then it came together.

The Holy Spirit animates the Body of Christ. It oxygenates each cell.

We cannot move anywhere without breath.  When we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we shed our dull lifeless husks, our ragged exterior, and we come to life.  We take on a new life – a more vibrant life.  We begin to see in a new way; we see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ.  St. Teresa said, “I hold that love, where present cannot possibly be content with remaining always the same.”  It is the Holy Spirit that instills love in our hearts and the Holy Spirit that will move us forward.

Once we accept the Spirit, we begin to move forward not just as one, but as one body.  Without recognizing that we are part of this whole, just like my little family this morning, we can get stuck.  This is why it is not enough for one to simply be a good person and do one’s own thing. Thomas Merton reminded us that “no man is an island.” Why?  As the Body of Christ, we are so interdependent, we can’t exist without the other. If one part feels pain, the rest feels pain.  If one part is hungry, the rest feels the hunger. If one part is afraid, the rest is afraid.  A cell cannot go off alone – it is dependent on the body to live.

So St. Teresa’s words are not only a call to serve, they are actually a statement of a fact –  the fact that we are part of one body already and, as such, we cannot live but as completely interdependent parts.  Attempts to separate from the body will be fultile. We must live in community with all of the other parts, in constant communication with them, and in constant concern for all the other parts.  At the most fundamental level, this poem is her revelation to us that we just won’t be able to manage life alone.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  As parts of the Body of Christ, we are in more than just a symbiotic relationship. We must, at the nuclear level, hear and respond to the needs of the other parts.  At this fundamental level, the response is automatic and intuitive.  Living in this way presents a special challenge in the modern world since, in most developed countries, independence and individualism are highly prized. While we often hear the term “global community,” it is completely counter-cultural to live as a part of the Body of Christ.

It is our choice. We can choose to remain a lifeless scarecrow, stuck in the mud, or we can choose to breathe in the Holy Spirit and live a life animated by love as a part of The Body of Christ. Which will it be?

St. Teresa of Avila

Join me on my faith journey

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In the past few years, a lot of life has happened and I’ve done a lot of walkin’ on my faith journey. I hope you will walk along with me as I journey on.

I was looking at the calendar today and saw that St. Teresa of Avila’s feast day is fast approaching on October 15th.  She’s one of my favorite saints.

Let me tell you how we first met.  Here’s what she said:

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante;
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada la falta:
solo Dios basta.

Oh, wait.  Let me translate:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

OK, I know this all sounds strange.  Let me tell you more.

I first heard this excerpt from St. Teresa’s poem, “Nada te Turbe,” a year ago today.  I had never really known much about her prior to this.

On that day, I learned that my father’s kidney disease had progressed and that he would soon need dialysis. He was completely opposed to dialysis but, without it, he would die.

I tried to convince him that dialysis would be okay but he would hear nothing of it.  So, I went to church to pray. I prayed that, if it was God’s will, that my dad’s kidneys would get better so that I could have him around a little longer.  I prayed so hard.  It felt like “life-or-death” praying.

When I got home from church, I opened an e-mail that my father, who didn’t know I was at church praying for him, had sent me while I was there. It was the link to a beautiful musical setting of the “Nada te Turbe” on YouTube.

The words of the song seemed to be a direct answer to my prayer at church.  “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.”  I was so disturbed and frightened.  When I heard these words, I felt such a sense of peace.  The next line kind of scared me more though – “all things are passing.”

“Oh no,” I thought to myself, “there’s my answer.”  “All things are passing.”  Yet, over the weeks to come, when I prayed about my father, I still felt such peace.  A peace that seemed to say that everything would be okay.

Over the next couple of months, I kept seeing excerpts from this poem everywhere – at work, on Facebook, on the internet, and on the brochure shelves at the back of our church.  Every time I would see the poem, I would get such a sense of peace.

After a few months, my father returned to the doctor.  The doctor was surprised by the lab results.  He asked my father what he had done.  My dad asked him what he meant.  The doctor said his kidney function had not only not gotten worse, it had improved.  My father said, “we all prayed.”  Today, my father is still hanging on at the same stage.

In my heart, I feel that God heard my prayer that afternoon and asked St. Teresa to comfort me.   Now, when I pray, I always ask her to remind God of my prayers too.

Nada te Turbe video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMiyHknj3Rg

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