Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Secret Mission Before The Last Supper: A Reflection on Corpus Christi Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for Corpus Christi Sunday.

Jesus gives strange instructions to his disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel reading:

“Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him.” 

Why would a man be carrying a jar of water? Only women carried jars of water. Yet with Jerusalem crowded for Passover, a man with a water jar would be an easy target to find and follow without any personal interaction.

Wherever [the man] enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 

Why vaguely refer to The Teacher? Why not say Jesus wants a guest room for Passover? Jesus knows his time is short. There's a warrant out for his arrest, and anyone aware of his location has been ordered to report him to the chief priests and Pharisees (John 11:57).

Through these secret arrangements, Jesus ensures his safety just long enough to eat the Passover meal with his disciples before He is killed. He institutes a new Sacred Tradition, giving himself completely to his disciples through the simplicity of bread and wine:

"While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." 

Though Jesus is arrested later that night and crucified the next day, He resurrects from the dead in a glorified body just three days later. And because two faithful disciples were successful in their mission to secretly arrange for Jesus to celebrate the Last Supper before his death, we receive Jesus’ resurrected, glorified body each time we receive Communion.

Why would Jesus offer us such a humbling gift? In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:

"It is the law of friendship that friends should live together… Christ has not left us without his bodily presence in this our pilgrimage, but he joins us to himself in this sacrament in the reality of his body and blood" 

Do I believe Jesus longs for friendship with me? How can our friendship grow through Holy Communion?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Pruning and Growing: A Reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for the 5th Sunday of Easter.

After February's Arctic blast, which gifted southeast Texas with more snow and ice than we've seen in decades, spring brings a bittersweet reality. Our native plants just can't seem to recover. Orange, lemon, and lime trees sit starkly pruned. Even bushes with moderate cold tolerance need extra pruning this year. It feels like a death to lose what little green they've attempted after a difficult winter. But now, warming days with healing rains inspire leaves, stems, and blossoms on bare branches throughout our city. 

Something in us likens to this bleak condition: we have fought the good fight and are ready for spring!

In this Sunday's Gospel, we hear how the Father "takes away every branch ...that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes..." (John 15:2). Our Father removes dead branches, but also cuts back living branches. The loss through pruning might seem like a death, unnecessary suffering after an already difficult season. But, as we see in the plants of the tenderest gardeners, pruning brings life.

Where in my life are there branches—maybe even expansive or impressive branches—that produce nothing? What would happen if we allowed God to cut back the unproductive overgrowth? In our lives, as in the garden, we open space for healthy, new growth. Where do I need God's gentle pruning in my life, to cut away dead branches and cut back living branches, so my life "bears more fruit" (John 15:2)?

Father, help us to recognize and release what isn't producing fruit in our lives. As we hold onto Jesus, the true vine, help our branches produce life-giving fruit.

Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. ...I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit." (John 15:1,5).

Photo Credit: Skylar Jean on Unsplash

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Burial Cloths In An Empty Tomb: A Reflection on Easter Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for Easter.

We laughed while reading the Easter Gospel passage. Right in the middle of the most important story John will ever tell—the Resurrection of Jesus—he mentions three times in three sentences that he arrived at the tomb first:

"They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed." (John 20:4-8, emphasis added)

As a parent, I want to tell John to stop bragging: "We get it. You got there first. Congratulations!"

But John's words are more than just bravado at being a good sprinter. (One writer estimates they ran about 0.75 miles from the Upper Room to the Tomb.) John's details about the race provide supporting evidence for Jesus' Resurrection: John arrived first, but didn't go into the Tomb. Nothing was touched until Peter arrived. Once they were both at the Tomb, Peter went inside, followed by John, and they witnessed Jesus' burial cloths together.

Roman leaders were pushing a counter-theory, suggesting Jesus' disciples stole his body to fake a resurrection. Sounds like an easy scam: sneak in, steal the body, make up a story about finding the tomb empty, and start a religious revolution!

If you were going to steal a dead body from a mausoleum, how would you do it? Would you grab the body and run? Or would you take the time to unwrap cloths wrapped around the body and then sneak off with a stiff, naked corpse?

John's strange description of used burial cloths in an empty Tomb offers evidence for early Christians to realize Jesus' body wasn't stolen; He truly resurrected. John understands people might doubt Jesus' ability to overcome death. He doubted it himself until discovering the burial cloths in the Tomb, and then "he saw and believed" (John 20:8).

We have an opportunity to insert ourselves into the Gospel narrative this week. John often uses phrases like "the disciple," "the other disciple," or "the disciple whom Jesus loved" instead of his own name as he writes, which allows us to imagine ourselves in the story. (See John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7, John 21:20.) How would you react if you arrived first to Jesus' Tomb and encountered the burial cloths with Peter?

"They both ran, but ______ ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; ______ bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after ______, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then ______ also went in, the one who arrived at the tomb first, and ______ saw and believed." (John 20:4-8)

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad! Happy Easter!

Photo Credit: Dameli Zhantas on Unsplash

Friday, March 5, 2021

We Proclaim Christ Crucified: A Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

What good is religion? Why be Catholic?

In this week's Gospel reading, we hear about people attracted to Jesus because of "the signs he was doing." Others were drawn to the temple as an easy way to make money off religion—"those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers" (John 2:13-25).

Our New Testament reading describes people seeking spirituality for the sake of signs or wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

For those motivated by money, Jesus flips their tables in the temple. For those seeking miracles, Jesus "would not trust himself to them" (John 2:25).

Are we coming to religion for the sake of entertainment? Wise words? Feel-good emotions? Money?

St. Paul challenges us to check our motivation: "We proclaim Christ crucified," he writes to the Corinthians. "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

And so, we pray in this week's Responsorial Psalm: 

Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

He Heals the Brokenhearted: A Reflection on the Mass Readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection at our parish blog on the Mass readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job is a brokenhearted person. Can you relate to some of his feelings?

"Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?" (Job 7:1)

"Are not his days those of hirelings?" (Job 7:1)

"He is a slave who longs for the shade." (Job 7:2)

"...a hireling who waits for his wages." (Job 7:2)

"I have been assigned months of misery." (Job 7:3)

"My days… end without hope." (Job 7: 6)

In contrast to Job's dejection, St. Paul's exuberance in this Sunday's New Testament reading is almost annoying. Can you relate to some of his ambitions?

Desires to Freely Give
"What then is my recompense?... I offer the gospel free of charge." (1 Corinthians 9:18)

Desires to Serve Others
"I have made myself a slave to all." (1 Corinthians 9:19)

Desires Weakness
"I became weak to win over the weak." (1 Corinthians 9:22)

Desires Unity with Others
"I have become all things to all." (1 Corinthians 9:22)

What happens to make someone desire those things? Why would someone let go of money, prestige, strength, and tribalism?

We see the answer in this Sunday's Gospel reading. The transformation from brokenness to freedom is represented physically as Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. She is sick with fever, unable to even get up, but after a healing encounter with Jesus, she is revived and serves those around her.

Where in my life am I experiencing brokenness? Jesus, please heal me.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

House Blessings for the New Year: A Reflection on the Mass Readings for Epiphany Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection at our parish blog on the Mass readings for Epiphany Sunday:

On Epiphany, we celebrate the magi's visit to Jesus. This week's Gospel reading shares two very different responses to Jesus' birth:

King Herod is "greatly troubled" (Matthew 2:3). He is so upset at the announcement of this newborn king that he conspires to kill Jesus.

The magi are "overjoyed" (Matthew 2:10). They travel a long distance, then prostrate in worship before the Child Jesus.

Others mentioned in the story—the chief priests, scribes, Mary—aren't described with explicit emotions. Perhaps they felt concern, hope, fear, uncertainty, or curiosity.

How are you feeling this Christmas season? Troubled? Joyful? Uncertain?

In the spirit of Epiphany, let's open our hearts and homes to Jesus in this coming year. There's an ancient tradition of house blessings on Epiphany. Many Catholic websites offer creative suggestions, such as chalking the year and C+M+B (Christus Mansionem Benedicat: "Christ, bless this house") on doorposts. The USCCB also offers a simple and brief liturgy for Epiphany house blessings that concludes with this prayer:

Lord God of heaven and earth,
you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation
by the guidance of a star.
Bless this house
and all who inhabit it.
Fill us with the light of Christ,
that our concern for others may reflect your love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Monday, December 21, 2020

When Motherhood Changes Dreams

Advice on life and motherhood can be confusing:

On the one hand, pregnant women are assured that nothing will change: You can still do it all with a baby! A baby won't take away your dreams!

On the other hand, they're told any personal ambitions outside of motherhood are ultimately insignificant: Being a mom is better than anything else in the world!

We need to be careful with our well-meaning platitudes. By diminishing the real sacrifice of motherhood—claiming it doesn't have the power to change or replace the hopes and dreams of a woman—we also, inadvertently, diminish the love of a mother. A mother's love is the deepest understanding of love for many humans, not because it's uncomplicated, simple, easy, or painless, but precisely, because it is not.

Ten years after my first surprise baby, I'm still furrowing through the immersive lessons of repeated humiliation that frame motherhood. I wasn't expecting the messiness, the pee, the vomit, the intense neediness that deeply defines our humanity. How we need one another.

Some families seem to effortlessly incorporate children into their ongoing lives. Their moms use maternity leave to launch a business! For other families, caring for new life is much more difficult—health concerns, financial needs, a lack of family, parish, or community support.

As it happens, motherhood often means re-writing the life we thought we were living. So much of the cultural encouragement around motherhood has proven false. The reality is: I can't do it all. I have to let go of personal dreams and desires to meet the needs of my family.

And my proverbial box of every answer, so proudly toted around through high school and college, hasn't had all the answers since that first confounded pregnancy test. Oh, to have the faith of Mary, confidently declaring her fiat, even as she realized God's plan might not align comfortably with the future she had imagined.

Recently I see glimpses of new dreams on old themes, clearer and braver after pushing through endless sleepless nights of babies... toddlers... preschoolers... Even so, I'm unsure. What doors might providentially close because my family needs me? But then, what doors might providentially open because meeting the needs of my children puts me in the right place at the right time?

With motherhood I've realized, with gratitude, my one-size-fits-all ideal of God is just as wrong as it is useless. Jesus is far more personal than an XXL tee that "fits all" but sorts easily to the Goodwill pile.

Perhaps this was Mary's source of comfort as a mother. She already knew God as more than a calloused, lofty spirit or inconsistent wishing well. Mary weathered life with the Lord long before Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples. And even as the unexpected way of motherhood took Mary to the foot of the cross at the Crucifixion of her Son, it also led her through the Resurrection, to the Upper Room on Pentecost, and on to become an integral member of the early church community. Through this, Mary experienced the personal affinity of God—not just for her, but for each of us. What new work is God doing with you, for love of you?

Dear fellow mothers, your sacrifice is real! Perhaps it feels particularly heavy this difficult year. Maybe your life has seemed to drift farther from the storyline you thought you were living. May the Spirit of God find each of us wherever we are, comfort and inspire us with renewed hopes and new dreams.

Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for all mothers.

An edited version of this post was also published Dec 2020 at CatholicMom and Feb 2021 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Wilderness Waiting: A Reflection on the Second Sunday of Advent

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection at our parish blog on the Mass readings for the Second Sunday of Advent.

We're waiting… for a stack of Amazon boxes on the porch… for a COVID vaccine… for answers... for Christmas…

"...with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day." 
(2 Peter 3:8)

For many of us, 2020 feels more like 365,000 years than 365 days. And yet, we hear comfort in this week's Mass readings: God has purpose for our waiting.

"The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard 'delay,' but he is patient…" 
(2 Peter 3:9)

Perhaps your waiting is similar to ours—bouts of complacency, anxiety, impatience, furrowed brows, lost tempers, worry, hope… Advent reminds us that seasons of waiting are also opportunities for self-reflection and repentance. What am I doing? Where am I going? Why this long season of waiting?

We might find answers in a passage that's repeated several times this week, first in the book of Isaiah, then in the Gospel acclamation, and again in the Gospel:

"A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'"
(Mark 1:3, quoting Isaiah 40:3)

Even though they lived 700 years apart, Isaiah prophesied about John the Baptist's future road construction in the desert. John didn't build literal roads while he lived in the wilderness; he smoothed others' paths to Jesus—leveling proverbial valleys and mountains—to make God more accessible. And aren't there places within each of us that need to be encouraged, humbled, or calmed in order to see God's glory?

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God … Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed…" 
(Isaiah 40:4)

This year feels a little like a wilderness. The unique challenges of COVID are helping us rethink what it looks like to minister. We might find that God's work is simpler and more varied than what we've practiced in past years. What might Advent look like this year?

For our family, we want to focus on making Jesus more accessible to our kids, finding more silence and stillness during prayer together so our children can learn to clearly discern God's voice in their hearts and minds.

Perhaps another person will "prepare the way of the Lord" this Advent by:
  • emailing old friends to rekindle community
  • encouraging coworkers with kind words
  • calling relatives who miss family gatherings
  • leaving notes for neighbors who feel disconnected
  • simply starting each day in calm, quiet gratitude
In seasons of waiting, God works differently in each of us, raising valleys and lowering mountains to smooth our paths to him. How can I help "prepare the way of the Lord" in myself and for others this Advent?

*Also published December 2020 at Sacred Heart Parish Blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Are "Good Kids" The Goal Of Catholic Parenting?

Several years ago, the Los Angeles Times published an Op-Ed on secular family values, suggesting that children raised in non-religious homes are just as likely as their religious peers to develop "positive traits and virtues." It made me question my motives as a Catholic parent. Am I just raising my kids Catholic as an attempt to have "good" kids? But research says faith isn't necessary for that...

And it's true. My non-religious friends from childhood internalized the Golden Rule and treated others with justice and mercy just as consistently as my weekly-church-going friends. Even without God, they were genuine, kind, and just plain likable. And now, twenty years later, most of these religiously-unaffiliated friends—at least the same percentage as my Christian peers—are moral, upstanding, generous participants in the community.

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised that Christians don't have a monopoly on moral conscience. The Catechism teaches that every person has access to an internal compass of virtue, quoting Gaudium et Spes:

"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." (CCC 1776)

So why bother with our Sunday morning services, prayers before meals, family rosaries, parish socials, and Bible studies if the moral law is available to anyone and everyone, without any formal religious experience?

For one, whether our conscience is formed under secular or religious influences, it is not infallible. The still, small voice within us must be regularly examined, informed, and enlightened. While faith isn't necessary in this process, we receive help, as Catholics, through the Word of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the good counsel of others, and church teaching (CCC 1785).

Mass is also an immersive opportunity for moral formation. The Penitential Rite helps us examine our conscience as we acknowledge our failures. The Liturgy of the Word helps us form our conscience as we listen to Scripture. And throughout the Mass, we receive a concrete example of how to live in good conscience as we contemplate Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Still, the LA Times article warns that binding our moral framework to a single group can unintentionally backfire. What happens when a community that identifies as Christian doesn't bear the earmark of love? That answer can be found in the number of online support groups for "Exvangelicals" and "Deconstructing Catholics." All it takes is an awful experience with a clique-ish youth group, an angry church leader, an exclusive parish, or a dysfunctional religious family (with the necessary caveat that every family is a little dysfunctional, right?) for someone to question the entire moral structure of their associated Christian community.

One non-religious parent shared her concern with the LA Times:

“If your morality is all tied in with God... ...what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children… no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”

So is it worth the risk, as Catholic parents, to raise our kids in the faith, if a bad church experience could actually harm their internal moral compass? Or what if, after all these years of catechesis, our kids still choose a destructive path as adults?

The painful reality of negative religious experiences cannot be ignored, whether it's caused by the institutional church, a local community, a family, or even a well-meaning individual who speaks out of turn. (Admittedly, this has been me, and I'm deeply, deeply sorry.) For those who have been hurt by religion, I believe Jesus leaves the 99 and pursues each one to the place they've found as refuge and sits with them in the wilderness for as long as they need. (This has also been me, and maybe, it's been all of us, chased out to the wilderness at one time or another by those who claim to represent God. If you're there now, I know it's difficult. I'm sorry. I hope it can somehow be a place of rest and healing.)

As Catholic parents, our highest purpose is not to teach our kids every jot and tittle of the moral law, despite having access to a 2,000-year-old library of Sacred Tradition to help us out. Even if we could somehow teach them every rule, the highest purpose of Catholic parenting is still not to enforce it all.

Our greatest purpose, as Catholic parents, is to introduce our kids to the Author of the universal truth within us. The innate "sense of moral goodness" within each of us is a way of coming to know God (CCC 33). Accordingly, our conscience is much more than just a storehouse of good values. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the work of our conscience, analyzing the gradation of goodness or truth or virtue in an act, is actually a search for ultimate good, "and this we call God" (ST, I. Q2. A3).

Catholic parenting means connecting our kids to God, teaching them how to listen, dialogue and wrestle with the Spirit of God. When we bring our kids to Mass, pray with them, discuss Scripture, jump through all the bureaucratic hoops for sacraments, and volunteer in the parish or community as a family, we're helping our kids encounter the Eternal.

To be honest, one of my hopes in raising our kids in the Catholic Church is that they'll be "good" kids—kind, generous, just, and all the other virtues, even as I recognize that children from any background, religious or not, can develop similar well-formed consciences. However, my ultimate hope, as a Catholic parent, is that these childhood faith experiences will enkindle a curiosity in my kids' souls to help them connect deeply and genuinely with God.

Of course, there are many reasons to raise kids Catholic. What are some of yours?

*Also published 11/2020 at CatholicMom.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

When Patriotism Isn't A Virtue

Catholic Americans seem to revel in polarization. Our country's two-party political system, which siphons the electorate into severely limited options, certainly doesn't help. But there's an accompanying divisive insistence, particularly among Catholics, that one secular party or the other holds exclusive claim to virtue and love for our homeland.

What we overlook in these claims of virtuous patriotism are integral components of piety and charity. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "piety is a protestation of the charity we bear towards our parents and country."

Imagine if our children spoke to us with the same tone we exercise in online political comment feeds. Has your 8-year-old ever passive-aggressively expressed concern for your eternal damnation? How effective has that been in furthering parent-child dialogue?

Comparing filial dialogues to patriotic ones is not far fetched: the Catechism addresses patriotism in its exegesis on the Fourth Commandment"Honor your father and mother"—as an expression of filial piety to our fatherland. This means, as in a family, our interactions are meant for charity and the common good of all members, leading to growth in reverence toward our parents and, by extension, our fellow citizens and homeland (and ultimately, God).

Endless online pseudo-dialogue only compounds our poor practice of patriotism. Pope Francis addresses this failure of social networks to facilitate meaningful conversation in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti:

"Dialogue is often confused with something quite different: the feverish exchange of opinions on social networks, frequently based on media information that is not always reliable. These exchanges are merely parallel monologues. They may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone. But monologues engage no one, and their content is frequently self-serving and contradictory."

Why are Catholic comboxes some of the most vicious places on the Internet when it comes to politics? We miss countless opportunities to contemplatively turn issues under the light of church teaching when we compulsively pitch them left or right instead.

Please read the rest over at Where Peter Is.

Photo by Jon Sailer on Unsplash

Monday, October 26, 2020

Always, In Every Place: A Reflection on the Solemnity of All Saints

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, November 1, 2020, at From His Heart, our parish blog.

We celebrate a different saint nearly every day of the year. Some days, such as St. Patrick's on March 17, are more popular than others. (Anyone remember St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil on October 19?)

With such a crowded liturgical calendar, is All Saints Day just a catch-all feast for leftover saints?

We might try to put a number to it: 800 or 1,700 or 10,000 "official" canonized saints. Or in this week's First Reading, St. John references 144,000 Israelites in heaven:

"I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the children of Israel." 

(Revelation 7:4)

But it's St. John's next revelatory insight that best captures the spirit of All Saints Day: 

"...I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue…" 

(Revelation 7:5)

On November 1, we celebrate every saint, known and unknown, from every time and place in history. And we're not just celebrating that they've made it to heaven, but that all of us can

This week's Responsorial Psalm describes saints in the making: 

"Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face." 

Do I long to see God's face? Do I long to be in God's presence?

Our Second Reading from 1 John helps us further understand what it means to be a saint. To become a saint, we are—

Loved by God: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us…" (1 John 3:1)

Walking by faith: "...what we shall be has not yet been revealed…" (1 John 3:2)

Trying to imitate God: "...we shall be like him…" (1 John 3:2)

Living in hope: "...has this hope based on him…" (1 John 3:3)

Do I see myself as God's beloved? Do I try to imitate God's love for others, living in virtues of faith and hope?

Finally, in this week's Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a new standard for sainthood. Maybe, as we listen to the Beatitudes, we're surprised to hear that eternity with God isn't based on someone's place in church hierarchy, name recognition, or number of theology degrees.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 

(Matthew 5:3)

The first condition for sainthood is to simply realize we're too spiritually poor to even reach heaven without God's mercy in the first place. The Penitential Rite, prayers we say at the beginning of each Mass, and examinations of conscience are regular reminders of our spiritual poverty: 

"I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do…"

"May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life." 

Jesus lists seven more blessings for those who desire sainthood, an eternity with God in heaven:

"Blessed are they who mourn… the meek… they who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the clean of heart… the peacemakers… they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me…" 

(Matthew 5:3-12) 

Who comes to mind when you hear the Beatitudes? A particular saint? A family member who's passed away? Perhaps a friend? How can I better live the Beatitudes?

"Always, in every place, one can become a saint, that is, one can open oneself up to this grace, which works inside us and leads us to holiness… Every state of life leads to holiness, always! In your home, on the street, at work, at church, in that moment and in your state of life, the path to sainthood has been opened." 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed (Mary's Seventh Sorrow)

Two people show up unexpectedly as Jesus dies on the cross.

They're late in coming—but not too late.

It's Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two of Jesus' secret disciples. To this point, they've only met privately with Jesus for fear that his friendship could destroy their hard-earned reputations and high rank on the Council. However, in the final hours of Jesus' life, something changes.

Not only do Nicodemus and Joseph publicly identify as Jesus' followers, they ask Pilate for his body and then provide everything needed for Jesus' anointing and burial. Their actions passionately declare: I know this man. I love him. I bless him.

This is the final post in a series on Mary's Seven Sorrows as reflected in our seven basic human desires. This week we consider Mary's Seventh Sorrow, Placing Our Lord in the Tomb, in light of our basic human desire to be blessed.

To be blessed is for someone to see us as special and beloved. Surely Mary always had this regard for Jesus. From the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel first described Jesus to Mary—"the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God"—she believed in the unique goodness of her Son. How deep her sorrow as she buries the One who blessed her, who knew her and loved her better than any other. And now, as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea help with the entombment, they confirm a similar deep friendship with Jesus: yes, this is someone special, and we love him.

Are you blessed by someone in your life, someone who sees you, knows you, and loves you just for who you are? 

"Affirmations are about what we do, [and] blessings are about who we are," Mark and Debra Laaser write in Seven Desires, explaining how our desire to be affirmed differs from our desire to be blessed. "...This desire to be blessed may be our deepest, most primal need."

When we realize we are blessed—known and loved exactly for who we are—it's a nourishing comfort deep in our souls.

At Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River, He receives a blessing from God the Father. Jesus is blessed, not for any miracles He's performed or wisdom He's shared, but simply for who He is:

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Our first experience of blessing should be from our parents. Do you remember your parents delighting in you?

When we're unsure if we are blessed, unsure if we're loved for who we are, we might question if we're really worthy of love. It can lead to sadness, anger, and insecurity over whether we are enough.

Did you know God blesses you? God knows you and likes you. God delights in you.

Did you know we can bless the Lord? God is blessed by our desire to know him, our love for him, and our delight in him.

"Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!"

When life is difficult—seasons of discouragement, loss, disappointment, isolation, sickness, even death—may we experience blessing, God's interminable love for us, as a deep, sustaining comfort.

When life is joyful—like the party that Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary must have hosted when their friend Jesus, whom they so lovingly buried three days earlier, came back to life on the first Easter Sunday—may our celebrations spring from the comfort of blessing deep in our souls, the assurance we are seen, known, and loved by God.

Do you believe you are blessed by God—seen, known, and loved? As a parent, how can I comfort my children with the assurance they are blessed—seen, known, and loved—by both God and me?

Posts In This Series:

Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

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 Parish and May 2021 at CatholicMom.

Friday, October 16, 2020

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

Centuries of tradition and artistic representation 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. Such a tortured body would surely rupture her heart. Often, if a victim is badly hurt, a medical examiner will only allow discrete opportunities for family members to view or touch part of their loved one's body.

And yet, Mary holds her precious son's body, grieving at the brutality of his death, while also aware his 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 sorrow, something bigger is happening here.

This is the sixth post in a series on our seven basic human desires reflected in Mary's Seven Sorrows. 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 from Mary's song of Magnificat in Luke 1, she recognized this was all somehow connected to God's promise to Abraham nearly 2,000 years earlier.

Even as chaos and sadness descend, 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 be present with intentional attention to hear and understand others? As a parent, how can I help my child feel heard and understood?