“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

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

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

“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