Friday, October 16, 2020

Sorrow, Presence, & The Desire To Be Heard And Understood (Mary's Sixth Sorrow)

While Scripture doesn't detail the transition from Jesus' death to his burial, centuries of tradition contemplate the sorrow of Mary receiving her son's body from the cross.
I wonder if John and Mary Magdalene considered pulling Jesus' mother away until after his body was wrapped for burial; wouldn't an up-close experience with her son's tortured body overwhelm Mary? Oftentimes, if a victim's body is badly damaged, a medical examiner will protect family members with only discrete opportunities to view or touch part of the body. 
And yet, Mary holds her precious son's body, grieving at the brutality of his death, while also aware that this story isn't over. After 33 years of presence, listening with her heart, pondering one strange occurrence after another in the life of her son, Mary understands, even in her sorrow, that something bigger is happening here. 
This is the sixth post in a series on how Mary's Seven Sorrows reflect our seven basic human desires. Consider the Sixth Sorrow, Mary Receives Christ's Body from the Cross, in light of our basic human desire to be heard and understood
At Jesus' death, his followers were confused and despondent. Many had fled. Perhaps they were thinking, "What was it all for? What a waste." 
But Mary recalled Jesus' warnings about what was to come. She remembered Simeon's prophecy that her heart would be pierced. She knew Jesus had allowed himself to be scourged, mocked, crucified, killed. And she must have connected, as her Magnificat declares in Luke 1, that all of this was somehow part of God's promise to Abraham nearly 2,000 years earlier.
Even as chaos and sadness descend on the scene, Mary's intentional presence throughout Jesus' life helped her hear and understand her Son. 
Was there someone in your childhood who really listened and understood? So often, when one of my kids begins to talk, I hold up a finger of pause: "Not now… I'm busy… I'm on the phone… I'm tired… I just talked with you five minutes ago… Can you just give me a moment?" What about as an adult? Can you recall a time when someone really listened intently as you shared?
When we're repeatedly ignored or misheard, we might begin to think our concerns and ideas don't matter. We might stop trying to communicate altogether—why bother if no one's listening? We might start shouting our thoughts in an attempt to make ourselves heard. We might talk quickly without stopping, afraid to lose control of an opportunity to speak. When children feel unheard, they often resort to tantrums, yelling, flailing, and acting out. 
How do I respond when I feel unheard? Talk louder? Talk more? Talk angrily? Do I stop trying to talk altogether? 
How can I more intentionally be present to hear and understand others? As a parent, how can I help my child feel heard and understood? 
 
Pieta
Michelangelo / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Next week, we'll reflect on Mary's Seventh Sorrow, Placing Our Lord in the Tomb, in light of our basic human desire to be blessed.
You can read the first post in this series (Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed) here.
You can read the second post in this series (Sorrow, Escape, & The Desire To Be Safe) here
You can read the third post in this series (Sorrow, Absence, & The Desire To Be Chosen) here.
You can read the fourth post in this series (Sorrow, Suffering, & The Desire To Be Touched) here.
You can read the fifth post in this series (Sorrow, Loss, & The Desire To Be Included) here.
For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser
*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Sorrow, Loss, & The Desire To Be Included (Mary's 5th Sorrow)

Jesus' dying words were a gift of community to those He loved most:

"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, 

'Woman, behold, your son.'

Then he said to the disciple, 

'Behold, your mother.'" 

(John 19:26-27)


As Mary's physical motherhood ends with Jesus' death, He asks her to begin a spiritual motherhood, not just for John, but for any, for all, who might desire to slip their name into Scripture as "the disciple whom [Jesus] loved." (John wrote several opportunities in his Gospel account for readers to substitute their names as "the beloved disciple" of Jesus. See John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7, John 21:20.) 


This is the fifth post in a series on how Mary's Seven Sorrows reflect our seven basic human desires. Consider the desire to be included in light of Mary's Fifth Sorrow, Jesus Dies on the Cross. 


As Jesus died, He created a community, a spiritual family, for his disciples that continues even today. And Mary, recognizing her unique relationship with Jesus wasn't meant to be exclusive, expands her motherhood; she desires to include anyone in need of a spiritual mother.


Each of us longs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Are there groups in your life where you know that you belong no matter what? Sometimes we pretend to be different than we are to feel included. Sometimes we exclude others to feel more secure in our own inclusion. 


Our first experience of community is within our family. As a child, did you feel included in your family? Did you feel known, welcomed, and included in your early church experiences? Sometimes a bad encounter at church makes us think God is exclusive—definitely not interested in someone like me.


But Jesus loves community. He said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). Anywhere and anytime we get together, Jesus desires to be present and included. Do you believe God wants a friendship with you that's deeply genuine, that goes far beyond "polite-dinner-conversation" into honesty, vulnerability, and true inclusion? 


When Jesus died, Mary responded to his invitation to community by opening her heart to all as a spiritual mother. How will I respond? Are there ways I can open my heart to include others, to create communities where people feel invited and welcomed?


As a parent, how can I meet my child's need to be included?



Next week, we'll reflect on Mary's Sixth Sorrow, Our Lady Receives Christ's Body From the Cross, in light of our basic human desire to be heard and understood.

You can read the first post in this series (Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed) here.

You can read the second post in this series (Sorrow, Escape, & The Desire To Be Safe) here

You can read the third post in this series (Sorrow, Absence, & The Desire To Be Chosen) here.

You can read the fourth post in this series (Sorrow, Suffering, & The Desire To Be Touched) here.

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Sorrow, Suffering, & The Desire To Be Touched (Mary's 4th Sorrow)

An encounter between Jesus and Mary on the way to Calvary, the place where Jesus would be crucified, is not recorded in Scripture. However, John 19 confirms Mary was present during Jesus' final suffering, and tradition has long held she met him as He carried his cross.


Jesus Meets His Mother, Mary

GualdimG / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)


What a moment of respite for Jesus, to find a caring face among an angry crowd.


It's said that the soldiers jeered at Mary when she met Jesus in his suffering; they labeled her a failure as a mother. Why else would her son be executed by the state? 


I wonder if Mary and Jesus could hear each other amidst the noise of accusations, torture, and heckling. Even so, a momentary touch between them could communicate a lifetime of truth more loudly than any words: You are a good mother. You are a good son. I believe in you. I love you. I support you.


Positive physical touch is a powerful human connection: it can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress; it can calm and comfort a crying baby; it can express deep sentiment when words fall short; it can bring solidarity in suffering. 


This is the fourth post in a series on the seven basic human desires (to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood) in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. Today, we consider our basic human desire to be touched as we reflect on the Fourth Sorrow, Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary.


Every person desires honest, positive touch. It's a manifestation of mutual love and affection in a relationship. Do you remember positive touch as a child? Hugs, high fives, snuggling, kisses, holding hands, gentle guidance through daily tasks… 


In the Gospel scriptures, Jesus constantly reaches out to others in affirming, gentle ways: for Peter's sick mother-in-law, "He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up" (Mark 1:31); for Jairus' dead child, He "took her by the hand, and the little girl arose" (Matthew 9:25); for two blind men, He "touched their eyes… and their eyes were opened" (Matthew 9:29-30); for the disciples, "he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash [their] feet" (John 13:5); for children, "he took [them] in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:16). 


In the sacraments, we still experience this physical interaction modeled by Jesus -- a gentle touch, sometimes with water or oil -- that reveals and communicates a spiritual reality. 


Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash


Touch is a healthy, normal part of our humanity that can be used to express love, affirmation, and even healing. However, touch can also be used in negative, harmful, or dissonant ways, for example, when Judas kissed Jesus, not as a reflection of their strong friendship, but as a signal of betrayal to the Roman soldiers (Mark 14:44). When we experience the harm of negative touch, healing is needed to restore our trust in good touch, to heal our hearts and minds. Professional counselors or therapists are an invaluable resource for help in this healing.


As we reflect on Mary's Fourth Sorrow, a brief encounter with her tortured Son shortly before his death, may the Lord help us reflect on our own desire to be touched in positive, affirming ways. As a parent, we might ask, how can I help my child experience healthy physical affirmation of my love?


Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash


Next week, we'll reflect on Mary's Fifth Sorrow, Our Lord Dies on the Cross, in light of our basic human desire to be included.

 You can read the first post in this series (Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed) here.

You can read the second post in this series (Sorrow, Escape, & The Desire To Be Safe) here

You can read the third post in this series (Sorrow, Absence, & The Desire To Be Chosen) here.

 For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Lives of Good Fruit: A Reflection on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Do the everyday moments of my life create good fruit? And what does the Bible even mean comparing people to produce

Good fruit is described as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" in Galatians 5. How can I produce that kind of fruit in my life? 


We see that God works first, preparing the land, planting good vines, anticipating a good crop, in this Sunday's Old Testament reading:


"...he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press." (Isaiah 5)


And so, every life is an opportunity to produce something good. In the Responsorial Psalm, we picture ourselves as a vine, recognize our frailty, and ask the Lord's protection and restoration: 


"O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see, take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted… give us new life… restore us." (Psalms 80)


Jesus tells the parable of abusive caretakers in this Sunday's Gospel. They lease a vineyard while the owner is away on a journey, but rather than receive their due harvest and offer the rest to the One who prepared and planted the vineyard in the first place, the temporary tenants become proud, presumptuous, and greedy. They kill anyone who threatens their power ‒ even the vineyard owner's son. 


When I think of my own life's vineyard, the people and responsibilities entrusted to me, am I humble enough to realize that I'm caring for what is not my own? That someday, I will need to make an accounting to God for how I treat others and for the fruit I produce? 


Thankfully, we read in this Sunday's New Testament scriptures a guaranteed way to produce good fruit: 


"...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4


St. Paul doesn't just promise us good fruit and peace of heart when we meditate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, or praise-worthy. St. Paul promises us the God of peace, God's very presence with us in our daily work to produce good fruit.


In my current circumstances, where do I need God's peace?


Lord, help me to see the opportunities you give me to produce good fruit today. God of peace, be with me.


*For this Sunday's Mass readings, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Sorrow, Absence, & The Desire To Be Chosen (Mary's 3rd Sorrow)

 "Can you find me in this photo, Mom? Can you point to me?" 

It's a game easily ignored on any busier morning, but Providence and a rainy day made me unusually amenable, so I let myself get tugged from picture to picture around the house. My chirpy 4-year-old beamed as we treasure-hunted together, searching for his small image in our crowded family photos.


One of our basic human desires is to be chosen: for someone to see us, know us, like us, and desire a special relationship with us. Do you remember feeling chosen as a child? 


Maybe your parents told you they were happy you were born. Maybe someone took time to listen to your joke or story. Maybe they took you on a special trip or planned a day just for the two of you or wrote you a letter or called you just to chat. 


When we experience the joy of being chosen, it affirms great truth: I am unique, I have great worth, my life has purpose. When our desire to be chosen goes unmet, it can cause us to believe lies about ourselves: I'm not special, lovable, smart enough, attractive enough, nice enough, rich enough, professional enough, perfect enough… 


This is the third post in a series on the seven basic human desires (to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood) in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. Today, let's consider our basic human desire to be chosen as we reflect on Mary's Third Sorrow, The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple


In Luke 2, we read Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover when he was 12 years old. On the return trip home, Mary and Joseph search for Jesus in their crowded caravan of friends and family for a full day only to realize they've left him behind in Jerusalem. It takes them another two days to find Jesus in the temple, conversing with an astonished and captivated group of religious leaders.


In Mary and Joseph's search for Jesus, we see the passion of a mother and father desperate to find a beloved child. They can't give up. They can't just bring home a different kid. They can't just have a baby and forget about pre-teen Jesus. This loss of their child isn't a void that can be filled by any other child. (Let's rest for a moment in the affirmation that God feels this same way about each of us. Each person is deeply special and unrepeatable to God.)


How affirming for Jesus to see the love of his parents when he was lost to them, to realize how unique and irreplaceably special He is to them. Upon finding Jesus with teachers in the temple, Mary exclaims, “Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48)


And then, a beautiful reciprocation happens: Jesus also chooses Mary and Joseph.


Despite his longing to be in the temple — a place Jesus feels close to God, his Father, a place He's welcomed and applauded and admired by the teachers, a place they'd surely invite him to stay longer — Jesus chooses instead to go home with Mary and Joseph:


"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51)


It must have been an overwhelmingly joyful experience for Mary and Joseph to be chosen by Jesus. Mary pondered this experience among all of the other holy mysteries she collected in her heart during Jesus' life.


Since the world often chooses those who are particularly spectacular — the most talented, charming, beautiful, well-spoken, useful, accomplished, decorated — we might think we need to be a particular kind of person for God to choose us. But in addition to Mary and Joseph, look at the people Jesus "chose" to be in a special relationship with: social pariahs, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, people angry with the government, people who worked for the government, people dissatisfied with the mainstream religious beliefs of their day… Do you believe God has chosen you also, that God desires a unique, affirming, loving relationship with just you? 


How is the basic human desire to be chosen fulfilled in your life? As a parent, how can you help your child feel chosen, sincerely known and irreplaceably loved by you for who they are? 



Next week, we'll reflect on the Fourth Sorrow, Mary Meets Christ On The Road To Calvary, in light of our basic human desire to be touched.

 You can read the first post in this series (Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed) here.

You can read the second post in this series (Sorrow, Escape, & The Desire To Be Safe) here

 For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.



Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sorrow, Escape, & The Desire To Be Safe (Mary's 2nd Sorrow)

 When you were a child, do you remember feeling safe?

Were you worried whether your house was secure from crime or storms or disrepair? Or whether you would be fed when you were hungry? If your family had enough money? If something might happen to your parents? 


What about emotional safety? Were friends and family loving in their words and actions? 


And how did you experience spiritual safety as a child? Did you believe God desired good for every person, including yourself? Are your early faith memories positive or negative? 


This is the second in a series of posts reflecting on our seven basic human desires in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. This week, we consider Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, and the basic human desire to be safe. 


Matthew 2 tells the classic Christmas story of wisemen following a star in search of the new royal baby whose birth the star announced. In their excitement, the magi unwittingly alarm King Herod to Jesus' presence, and Herod reacts like any power-hungry monarch: he makes plans to kill the child. (In defense of the magi, who would have guessed a newborn king wouldn't be the son of the current king?)


Note how spiritual safety becomes integral to their story: "Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country another way" (Matthew 2:12). After finding and worshipping Jesus, the magi felt spiritually safe enough to trust a message from God in a dream over a powerful, angry monarch with whom they had made an agreement to report the child's location. 


Joseph had a similar experience: "the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt…'" (Matthew 2:13). Because Joseph's experience of God to this point assured him of God's goodness and love, Joseph could act from a place of spiritual safety, trusting the message of an angel in his dream and fleeing with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. 


Do you feel spiritually safe enough to hear and trust God's voice in your life? 


Emotional safety is also paramount to this story: Because there's a history of loving action from Joseph in their relationship, Mary can trust Joseph when he shares that he received a godly message in a dream, and she can support his conviction that they must escape to Egypt. 


Do you feel emotionally safe in your relationships, that those closest to you are aware of and desire your good? 


Surely concerned thoughts prodded Mary and Joseph as they traveled with their infant son… Is the road safe? Are there provisions along the way? Will a strange land welcome them? 


When we feel unsafe -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- or if we experienced these unresolved fears as children, it can surface in unexpected ways: the inability to live confidently, pressure to control the smallest details of everything around us, relational anxiety… 


As parents, there's a new level of fear that affects us even more than our own safety: is my child safe? We see this theme repeated in countless stories of refugees and immigrants throughout history. Good parents will go to any length to provide safety for their children. 


As we reflect on Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, let's ask ourselves: In what ways is the basic human desire to be safe fulfilled in my life? For parents, how can I help my child feel safe -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually? 


Flight of the Holy Family Into Egypt c. 1647

Jacob Jordaens / Public domain


Next week, we'll reflect on Mary's Third Sorrow, The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, in light of our basic human desire to be chosen.


You can read the first post in this series (Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed) here


For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out:
Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and October 2020 at CatholicMom.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed (Mary's 1st Sorrow)

Every person has seven basic desires: to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood.*

These desires begin in childhood, and their fulfillment contributes to our healthy development as adults. We might ask ourselves, how were these desires met when I was a child? Did I feel affirmed? Safe? Chosen? Included? Blessed? Heard and understood? Did I experience positive physical touch?


As parents, we can ask, how am I meeting these needs in my children? 


An 800-year-old Scripture meditation on Mary's Seven Sorrows can deepen our understanding of these seven basic desires. In the words of St. Alphonsus Di Liguori: "As a general rule, the sufferings of children are also the sufferings of their mothers who are present at and witness their torments."


When we meditate on Mary's sorrow at different points in Jesus' life, it opens our hearts to a new perspective on Christ's revolutionary mission. Consider Mary's First Sorrow, The Prophecy of Simeon, in light of the basic human desire to be affirmed.


In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple for consecration. Mary knew she held a special baby; but what did that mean practically, for the future and for that moment? Were they making the right choices so far? Were they missing anything? What if they messed up? 


How affirming it must have been to hear Simeon's prophecy, reassuring Mary and Joseph, yes, this is God's chosen one, "a light for revelation" (Luke 2:32). Yes, God is working in good ways in your life! 


His prophecy was both comforting and disconcerting, as Simeon warned Mary: "You yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:35). His words brought a foretaste of the sorrow Mary would experience at Jesus' Crucifixion.


I wonder if Simeon felt nervous as he stopped to talk with Mary and Joseph. Have you ever felt your heart stirred to share an encouraging word with someone? Have you hesitated for fear it wouldn't be well-received? What if it doesn't resonate with them? What if they think I'm crazy? Couldn't the Holy Spirit say this better through someone else?


We are affirmed when someone acknowledges the good in us and the good in our work. Simeon affirmed Mary's role as the mother of the Messiah. Mary affirmed Simeon's prophecy and received the truth that she would experience deep sorrow as Jesus' mother. 


As we reflect on Mary's First Sorrow alongside the basic human desire to be affirmed, consider: How is this desire for positive affirmation met in my life? How can I meet this need in my child? 


Next week, we'll contemplate Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, and the basic human desire to be safe.


Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin,

fresco by Niccolò Circignani and Antonio Tempesta, c. 1580

Alekjds / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) / Wikimedia Commons


*For more information on the seven human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and CatholicMom.