Rest in God

sleeping-dogsYesterday the W.I.N.E. blog posted a short article called “Shepherd of My Heart,” about the need every soul has to rest in the mercy of God. (It’s a short, easy read – a slice of life from the Saxton household featuring Maddie, our Aussie shepherd.)

Like any good parent, God is relentless in his love and care for us — perhaps especially when we are struggling. Today’s first reading reminds us of another side of God, the disciplinarian who loves us too much to let us remain ensnared by sin.

Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.

Say not: “Great is his mercy;…

My many sins he will forgive.”

For mercy and anger alike are with him;

Upon the wicked alights his wrath.

Delay not your conversion to the LORD,

Put it not off from day to day.

Sirach 5:1-8

None of us knows for sure how much time she has on the  hourglass of life. Life is fleeting and fragile, and eternity is forever. The good news is that God has provided a way for us to rid ourselves of the toxic habits and unwanted burdens we carry, cleansing us in the sacrament of reconciliation and strengthening us in the Eucharist. Those who are sick and suffering can also avail themselves of the graces of the sacrament of anointing, to give them strength for the journey.

We need not fear death. Something greater is in store for each of us if we spend our lifetime following Christ. So rest in God . . . and keep short accounts.

God bless you! Pray for me as I head to Minneapolis for the W.I.N.E. conference on Saturday!

How to Get Rid of Impatience

catholic crossThis week I found myself over at “Whispers in the Loggia” and came across Rocco Palmo’s post dated May 21, 2013 containing the homily of Pope Francis, who spoke of his personal encounter of faith.

In his own warm and personable way, Pope Francis recalled receiving the personal challenge of his “Nona” (grandmother) to follow Jesus — and later encountering a priest at his local parish, who was waiting to receive his confession. “He had been waiting for me for quite some time,” said the Holy Father. He would never forget it — and it had a profound effect upon his decision to become a priest.

I smiled as I thought of this confessional encounter, remembering my own encounter with Jesus last weekend, an unexpected gift that I found in a poor old parish in downtown Reading. To be honest, I had gone in not expecting anything remarkable, going through my laundry list of faults and sins. Again and again I found myself saying the same word: impatience. Impatient at home. Impatient at work. Impatient with my family.

“You know the best way to get rid of impatience, don’t you?” came the voice from the far side of the screen.

“Tell me, Father.”

“Not by praying for patience … That only brings more challenges. You can ask for perseverance, and that will help. But the most IMPORTANT thing you can do is fast.”

“Fast? From food?”

“From food, from radio, from television. Like at Lent. When we fast, it reminds us that we are not in charge of our lives. It puts our own will in the back seat, and allows Jesus to take the driver’s seat. Fast, and you will find your impatience disappear.”

In that moment, a light went on. It was a timely gift. In that moment, I knew Jesus had been waiting to give it to me.

“You are mine…” (The Love Project, Day 13)

catholic crossDo you ever wonder if God is taking a day off, or tending to someone’s needs on the far side of the universe?

Ever feel as though your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling?

The other day I was talking with a friend of mine about this, and she suggested I read Isaiah 42.

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit . . .

She reminded me that this week’s Gospel, the story of the baptism of Jesus, is primarily about Jesus’ identity. Before he could go off and begin his public ministry, he had to be established in that identity as God’s Son.

It’s the same with us. Before we can do anything, we must first be. In particular, we must be secure in our identity as a child of God.

But what do you do when the circumstances of your life have conspired against you, and you feel as far from God as you could possibly be?

What do you do when … you feel angry with God? What then?

First, you tell him how you feel. If you don’t, the distance increases.
Next, you acknowledge the mystery of suffering: God has not caused your pain — rather, he identifies with it.
Then, you wait with expectation.

“When we are angry with God, he comes to us not in great and mighty ways — that would be too scary. Instead, he comes to us in the still, small voice. In small ways.”

For me, it was in the gleeful chortle of a twelve-month-old baby, a little bundle of love that met me at the door each day when I came to pick up my daughter. Oh, how I came to love that little kid, who showed me the great affection God has for us.

Then, finally, until the smoke clears . . . you just keep finding reasons to thank him. Because thanksgiving is the surest way to trust.

Today’s Love in Action: What passage of Scripture do you turn to most often, when you feel as though your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling?

Married or Not, Please Read This (The Love Project, Day 6)

11891-Two-Entwined-Golden-Wedding-Rings-Clipart-PictureIs your marriage struggling, or just not as golden as it once was? Today’s contribution may speak to you.
“When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, I’ve got something to tell you. She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes. Suddenly I didn’t know how to open my mouth. But I had to let her know what I was thinking.
I want a divorce. I raised the topic calmly. She didn’t seem to be annoyed by my words, instead she asked me softly, why? I avoided her question. This made her angry. She threw away the chopsticks and shouted at me, you are not a man!
That night, we didn’t talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage. But I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer; she had lost my heart to Jane. I didn’t love her anymore. I just pitied her!
With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, our car, and 30% stake of my company. She glanced at it and then tore it into pieces. The woman who had spent ten years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her wasted time, resources and energy but I could not take back what I had said, for I loved Jane so dearly.
Finally she cried loudly in front of me, which was what I had expected to see. To me her cry was actually a kind of release. The idea of divorce which had obsessed me for several weeks seemed to be firmer and clearer now.
The next day, I came back home very late and found her writing something at the table. I didn’t have supper but went straight to sleep and fell asleep very fast because I was tired after an eventful day with Jane. When I woke up, she was still there at the table writing. I just did not care so I turned over and was asleep again.
In the morning she presented her divorce conditions: she didn’t want anything from me, but needed a month’s notice before the divorce. She requested that in that one month we both struggle to live as normal a life as possible. Her reasons were simple: our son had his exams in a month’s time and she didn’t want to disrupt him with our broken marriage.
This was agreeable to me. But she had something more, she asked me to recall how I had carried her into out bridal room on our wedding day. She requested that every day for the month’s duration I carry her out of our bedroom to the front door every morning.
I thought she was going crazy.
Just to make our last days together bearable I accepted her odd request. I told Jane about my wife’s divorce conditions. . She laughed loudly and thought it was absurd. No matter what tricks she applies, she has to face the divorce, she said scornfully.
My wife and I hadn’t had any body contact since my divorce intention was explicitly expressed. So when I carried her out on the first day, we both appeared clumsy. Our son clapped behind us, “Daddy is holding mommy in his arms.” His words brought me a sense of pain. From the bedroom to the sitting room, then to the door, I walked over ten meters with her in my arms. She closed her eyes and said softly; don’t tell our son about the divorce. I nodded, feeling somewhat upset. I put her down outside the door. She went to wait for the bus to work. I drove alone to the office.
On the second day, both of us acted much more easily. She leaned on my chest. I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I realized that I hadn’t looked at this woman carefully for a long time. I realized she was not young any more. There were fine wrinkles on her face, her hair was graying! Our marriage had taken its toll on her. For a minute I wondered what I had done to her.
On the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I felt a sense of intimacy returning. This was the woman who had given ten years of her life to me. On the fifth and sixth day, I realized that our sense of intimacy was growing again. I didn’t tell Jane about this. It became easier to carry her as the month slipped by. Perhaps the everyday workout made me stronger. She was choosing what to wear one morning. She tried on quite a few dresses but could not find a suitable one. Then she sighed, all my dresses have grown bigger. I suddenly realized that she had grown so thin, that was the reason why I could carry her more easily. Suddenly it hit me… she had buried so much pain and bitterness in her heart. Subconsciously I reached out and touched her head. Our son came in at the moment and said, “Dad, it’s time to carry mom out.” To him, seeing his father carrying his mother out had become an essential part of his life. My wife gestured to our son to come closer and hugged him tightly. I turned my face away because I was afraid I might change my mind at this last minute. I then held her in my arms, walking from the bedroom, through the sitting room, to the hallway. Her hand surrounded my neck softly and naturally. I held her body tightly; it was just like our wedding day. But her much lighter weight made me sad.
On the last day, when I held her in my arms I could hardly move a step. Our son had gone to school. I held her tightly and said, I hadn’t noticed that our life lacked intimacy. I drove to office…. jumped out of the car swiftly without locking the door. I was afraid any delay would make me change my mind…I walked upstairs. Jane opened the door and I said to her, Sorry, Jane, I do not want the divorce anymore. She looked at me, astonished, and then touched my forehead. “Do you have a fever?”
I moved her hand off my head. Sorry, Jane, I said, I won’t divorce. My marriage life was boring probably because she and I didn’t value the details of our lives, not because we didn’t love each other anymore. Now I realize that since I carried her into my home on our wedding day I am supposed to hold her until death do us apart.
Jane seemed to suddenly wake up. She gave me a loud slap and then slammed the door and burst into tears. I walked downstairs and drove away.
At the floral shop on the way, I ordered a bouquet of flowers for my wife. The salesgirl asked me what to write on the card. I smiled and wrote, I’ll carry you out every morning until death do us apart. That evening I arrived home, flowers in my hands, a smile on my face, I run up stairs, only to find my wife in the bed -dead. My wife had been fighting CANCER for months and I was so busy with Jane to even notice.
She knew that she would die soon and she wanted to save me from the whatever negative reaction from our son, in case we push through with the divorce.— At least, in the eyes of our son—- I’m a loving husband….
The small details of your lives are what really matter in a relationship. It is not the mansion, the car, property, the money in the bank. These create an environment conducive for happiness but cannot give happiness in themselves. So find time to be your spouse’s friend and do those little things for each other that build intimacy. If you are not in a relationship now, remember this for the second (or third) time around. It’s never too late. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ♥
Today’s Love in Action. Are you thinking about getting a divorce? Before you do, consider taking the 40-Day Challenge . . . Or, if your spouse will join you, consider Retrouvaille.

The “Prayer of Agony”

This week I’m writing from the beautiful Black Rock Retreat Center in south central PA, attending the week-long “Head and Heart” Immersion Course offered by the Theology of the Body Institute, to seep in the teachings of Blessed John Paul II on the sacramental view of the human body, and in particular through our sexuality.

I won’t kid you, it has also been an excellent opportunity for me to catch up on some much-needed rest. No television or email in the room (I was warned there would be no Diet Coke machines, either, so I came fortified).

For the past two days I’ve been listening to Christopher talk about God’s plan for the human race from the beginning  (“original man”), the restoration of what was lost in the Fall (“historical man”) and our ultimate destiny as the Bride of Christ in the marriage feast of the Lamb (“eschatological man”). All this was helpful in the way of professional development . . . but what helped me most, personally speaking, was something he said Sunday night about the role of suffering in the Christian life: that the “prayer of ecstasy” (think “The Ecstasy of Teresa of Avila by Bernini,” pictured here) is always preceded by the “prayer of agony.”

Christopher explained that, because of sin, the human heart becomes so hard (he called it “full of vinegar,”) it cannot receive the honey of God’s abundant love. In order to prepare us to receive this abundant grace, God has to empty the vinegar and soften our hearts — something that takes place only through suffering. He was quoting from St. Benedict’s “Spe Salvi,” p. 33:

Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13). He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God’s tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined[26]. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father.

As a Catholic, I believe in the concept of “redemptive suffering,” that the pain we bear in this life can be applied in effective intercession for our own intentions and on behalf of those for whom we pray. This “prayer of agony” is aptly named . . . of course none of us would choose it. But in accepting it, even embracing it, we allow God to bring something good out of it. That is my hope. That is my prayer: that at the end of the pain, comes the joy.

Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!

God of Comfort and Healing

Yesterday I spent the morning at the allergist with Sarah, who mightily resisted the idea of getting multiple pokes to be tested for allergies.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly. She screeched and carried on like we were skinning her alive, so bound-and-determined was she not to get scratched by a dozen little plastic toothpicks. Happily, none of the tests proved positive, though we are going to have her treat her room for dust mites.

The last time we were in the doctor’s office to get a flu shot for the kids, Sarah put on a similar display … and was dumbfounded by how her brother sat stoically while he got his shot. “Doesn’t it hurt him, too?” she wanted to know.

“Well, probably not as much. You see, when he sits still and thinks about something else, his body relaxes and the shot doesn’t hurt so much. When you get yourself all worked up and upset, your muscles tense up and the shot hurts even more than if you just sat quietly.”

Of course, that sage bit of advice didn’t do much good yesterday. At the sight of the toothpicks, she went into full panic mode. But she did recall the advice I gave her … she recited it almost verbatim. “If I sit still and sing a song, the shots won’t hurt so much, right Mommy?”

Right, Sweetheart.

Today I was reading Barb SFO’s blog, and came across her post on receiving the sacrament of anointing in preparation for an upcoming surgery. When I was going to classes at Sacred Heart, I remember sitting in Father Daniel Jones’ class on the sacraments, and asking him about the power of the sacraments. As a Protestant, I had attended many healing services, and had even once received physical healing through the intercession of an elder (a story for another time). But so often, the sacrament of anointing does not produce physical healing — in fact, it is most often given at the end of life, to one who is near death. What, then, was the point?

I’ll never forget his answer. “The real power in the sacrament is not physical healing alone, but spiritual healing. Sooner or later, we all die. Even those Jesus healed, sooner or later, succumbed. The power in the sacrament is often to strengthen the faithful for whatever lies ahead — be it death, or convalescence, or (in some cases) return to physical health.”

In a way, the sacrament is like a mother’s arms. Sometimes those arms are comforting and even healing as we hold the crying child, apply the bandages, take the temperature. Sometimes those arms are unpopular and unwanted as we prevent her from doing something she really, really wants to do but that would not be good for her.

And sometimes, like yesterday, a mother’s arms are called upon to become harsh and unyielding, to do the really difficult thing: to restrain our child to receive a painful treatment. We allow her to endure the pain, the horror, the fear, the anger. And we stay with her, holding and comforting as best we can, all the while.