Yesterday 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.
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!
This 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.
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?
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. 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!
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?”
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.