The Law of Love (The Love Project, Day 24)

naughty kidAs the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
John 15:9-10

Today at work I spent the day watching the DVD presentations and reviewing the workbook for Encounter, the new middle-school Scripture study based on The Bible Timeline. In the second lesson, on the book of Exodus, Mark Hart made an observation that made me sit up and take notice:

“God gave us the commandments not to control us, but out of love. The Commandments are for the soul what an X-ray machine is for the body: They show us where we are in need of healing.”

Well said, Mark!

Today’s Love in Action: When was the last time you made an examination of conscience, and availed yourself of the healing sacrament of reconciliation (confession)? Open yourself to the Divine Physician, who loves you no matter what.

“Love one another…” (The Love Project, Day 23)

ballroom imageBeloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
1 John 4:11-12

In his Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II released into the world a revolutionary message about human love as a reflection of the divine. “The body, and only the body is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” (TOB 19:4)

This is true not only in married love, but also in the priestly and religious vocations. In a recent exchange with a priest friend of mine, I was struck by how much our vocations had in common. For each of us, the fullest expression of love came not in sexual/genital expression, but in a willingness to sacrifice our personal interests and comforts out of love for our children (and at times, even our spouse). The temptation to look on the other side of the fence can be great — at the end of the day, the harried wife and mother longs for a moment of peace just as the harried priest longs for the comfort of wife and children. But both of us are an embodied expression of an invisible reality of our ultimate destiny as the Bride of Christ.

Today’s Love in Action: How will your love be perfected today? What small sacrifice will you make to love just a little more generously?

Weekend Ponderings: Water Carriers

water carrier

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”

He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he 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?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.”    Mark 14:12-16

Sunday’s Gospel reading is a familiar one to most Christians — in his characteristically spare style Mark records the events leading up to the very first Eucharistic celebration. Mark doesn’t even name the two disciples Jesus sent to make Passover preparation — but the Gospel writer goes into some detail about Jesus’ directives on how to find the place they were to spend Passover: a man carrying a water jar would lead them there.

Why was this “a sign”? How could they be sure they were following the right water-toter?  Simply put, carrying water was “women’s work,” and few men would be caught in broad daylight engaged in such a humble endeavor.  It simply wasn’t done.

Earlier today I posted an announcement about the review of “Raising Up Mommy” at CatholicExchange. No many how many other books I write, this little book will always be close to my heart. It records my own journey toward grace, my own purifying experiences in motherhood. Most of them involved copious quantities of humble pie. And yet, invariably good things — life-transforming things — were the result.

Sometimes God asks us to do things that take us outside our comfort zone. We may even appear foolish — as I was reminded last night at a VBS meeting, in which I taught my Tribe Leaders the songs they would be singing next week with the kids. (This year we have an “International Church” theme, so it involved singing songs in other languages, which was clearly outside the comfort zone of most of them.) “Don’t worry,” I encouraged my sheepish group. “If you look like you’re having fun and enjoying yourself, so will the kids!’

That’s true for most of the “water carrying” tasks God gives us. Attitude is everything. Just hoist that water jar, put your chin up — and lead on! In the words of Oswald Chambers, “If you’re going to be used by God, he’s going to take you through a myriad of experiences that were not meant for you at all. They were meant to make you useful in his hands.”

Weekend Ponderings: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar

alabaster-jarThis is one of my favorite Gospel accounts

“When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard.

“She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head” (Mk 14:3).

While the woman in this account is not named — some believe her to be Mary Magdalene, others Mary of Bethany.

The thing I find most remarkable about this is not the anonymity of the woman, but the reaction of Christ. Unlike his host, who recoiled at the sight of the woman touching his honored Guest, the Lord defended her. “Leave her alone … She is preparing my body for burial. Wherever the Gospel is preached, what this woman has done will always be remembered.”

The others wanted to brand her for her past … but the Lord looked into her soul, and saw fully the present in light of the future. And He continues to do this for each of us. Whatever our past mistakes, whatever our faults and failings, Our Lord covers them all as we present ourselves to Him for wholehearted service.

He knows our faults all too well — He died to cleanse us from every one of them. And so, when He looks at us, He sees not the times we have faultered, but the times we have demonstrated our love. This is mercy, this is grace, at its most remarkable and enduring.

Have you been to confession this Lent, to get ready to receive your Lord in His Easter glory?

Photo credit:  Under Her Starry Mantle

Weekend Ponderings: Let Your Life Shine!

child-in-churchFrom this weekend’s Gospel reading (John 3:14-21).

“And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

While he was on earth, Jesus declared himself to be “the way, the truth and the life.”

And yet so often, even as Christians, we make our own way, define our own truth, and live our lives on our own terms. In extreme cases, a kind of double life can result, in which we cultivate certain habits and ideas in our weekday lives that we do our best to keep hidden on Sundays.

Sometimes the duplicity is obvious — as plain as a computer screen, or the bruise on a spouse’s cheek. Other times, the problem is more subtle, or couched in spiritual-sounding terms. The church gossip heads the “intercession team” or prayer chain.  Harsh directives masquerade as “spiritual leadership.” Church hopping every couple of months “as the Lord leads” is a great way to make sure no one gets too close, or makes too many demands. 

Can we ever be truly transformed interiorly if we are unwilling to relinquish our most strongly held opinions … in light of revealed truth? Not “truth as I see it” but “truth as it has been passed down for two thousand years to the present moment.”

I don’t know if you’ll notice this, but I’ve edited down my original post here. It was too finger-wagging, too harsh. Just yesterday I was visited by a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their twenties who reminded me so much of what I was like in MY twenties … so earnest, so zealous, so (dare I say it) persuaded of their own handle on truth.

So I told them mine: The time will come — sooner or later, it comes for everyone — when doctrine alone will fail to satisfy you. When you need more. When you want to sit in God’s presence and just be.

And when that happens, know that God will meet you there … and take you the rest of the way. He’s given us the sacraments, and He’s given us a whole world full of faith-filled brothers and sisters to stand with us when the chips are down. Trust God to guide you where you need to be.

Is there some area of your life right now that could use a little more light? 00

Weekend Ponderings: When God’s Way “Doesn’t Make Sense”

abraham-isaacThis weekend the first reading is a story from the life of Abraham that for most parents would be very difficult to understand in light of our view of God as a loving Father.  It’s the story of Abraham offering Isaac to God as a burnt offering … and God stepping in at the last possible moment, to rescue the boy and provide an alternative.

What kind of God, we ask ourselves, would demand that a father kill his only son as a human sacrifice? And what kind of father would agree to it? In point of fact, the human race was reconciled to God through the suffering and death of His only son, who willingly offered Himself up for our sakes. And in that sense, this scenario is a prefigurement of the incarnation, Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ (which is why this reading is paired with the Gospel account of the Transfiguration, in which Christ’s divine nature is revealed to His disciples).

It is in light of this revelation that we can most fully appreciate God’s response to Abraham:

“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

The concept of “offering up” is one that we hear frequently during the season of Lent, the notion that giving up the good things and enduring without complaint the bad, can somehow be of lasting spiritual benefit.

We do not always understand why the bad things happen:  the sudden loss of a loved one, a financial setback, a professional disappointment, or the painful consequences of a bad choice (whether our own or someone else’s). The icky feelings these realities produce — anger, retribution, envy, despair, depression, and the like — often multiply the burden.

It is this secondary burden of the passions that the “offering” mitigates. Grieving the loss will undoubtedly take time (and is, after all, not a sin but a natural response). When we endure from a position of trust … rather than resistance. 

Sometimes there is no getting around the pain … the only way is through it, trusting God to work through even the most difficult circumstances of our lives to create something beautiful.

Photo Credit: Peter Bentley

Weekend Ponderings: Bad Fast?

frenchbreadThe spiritual discipline of fasting — choosing to obstain from certain foods, or even all food for a time in order to pray and restore order to physical passions and desires —  have always been a part of Christian tradition. During the season of Lent we engage in fasting and abstinence (refusing  certain luxuries such as meat) both as a sign of penitence and as a way to deepen our prayer lives. The rumbling in our tummies reminds us of our utter dependence on God for all we have, and makes us grateful for His providence.

These practices aren’t always understood, even by other Christians. Years ago I was visiting a friend’s church and felt like smacking the teacher for his prayer-in-a-sermon, for “those who are going to hell because they think eating fish sticks on Fridays will get them into heaven.” (Ah, yes, empty-headed mockery is a much BETTER qualification!)

In reality, eating fish sticks on Friday or any other day won’t get you any closer to the Pearly Gates (unless you happen to choke on one in a state of grace). However, by eating more simply (and donating the money saved to those who have less) we give ourselves an opportunity to identify with the poor and teach ourselves to detach from unnecessary luxuries. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus, “for theirs is the Kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3).

In today’s first reading, from the Book of Isaiah (58:1-9), the prophet teaches us the difference between a “good” and “bad” fast — one that is beneficial to the spirit, and the other that leaves us with nothing but a growling stomach and sour disposition.

“Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed …”

Weekend Ponderings: Squall Terrors

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet!  Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?” 

Mark 4:35-40

Storms come in all shapes and sizes.

An estrangement. A loss. A bitter disappointment. A mistake for which, no matter how much you might wish it otherwise, you cannot make amends.

Jesus remains in the boat, knowing that no matter how closely we follow Him, sooner or later the storm will come and we will reach the end of ourselves and need a helping hand.

“Peace, be still.” Whether the storm is in our circumstances or simply in our hearts, it does not have to overwhelm. The sooner we reach the end of ourselves, the sooner we can encounter the only sure source of help in times of trouble.

“Peace, be still.”  Have you found your peace?

“Who is my mother?”

who-is-my-motherOne of my children’s favorite books is a Dr. Seuss classic, Are You My Mother?  The little bird pops out of his shell moments after his mother goes off in search of a tasty worm to feed her baby, and sets off on an arduous journey to find his mother: dog, cow, plane, and finally “SNORT.”

Ironically, it the creature most unlike the bird that gets the baby back to the nest, where he is reunited with the mother bird where (presumably) a happy ending was had by all.

The thing is, a mother is not a machine. The bond she forms with her child (and her child with her) over the course of his life is a permanent one. This is as true for adoptive mothers as it is for birth/natural mothers. Whether formed through biology or adoption, the mother-child bond is natural, designed by God in the formation of the family — a temporal, visible image of Trinitarian love. 

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Weekend Ponderings: A Mother’s Ambition

motherofzebedeesIn the Gospel reading this weekend, the Lord chooses the first four Apostles: two sets of brothers. We don’t hear much about the parents of the first pair — Andrew and Simon (later Peter, the first pope). The second set, James and John, were the “sons of Zebedee.” In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we read:

He [Jesus] walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.

The passage doesn’t say what old Mr. Zebedee thought of this development. Very likely, not much … What father doesn’t dream of his sons working alongside him, continuing the family business? As he watched his sons walk away, following the itinerant Nazarene preacher — did he shout for them to honor their father, and return? Or was he a man of faith, who understood that they had responded to a higher call?

And what of their mother? In Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 20), we find a hint:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?”

She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”

They said to him, “We can.”

He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 

If her sons were going to foll ow this Jesus, she would do her best to make sure they would distinguish themselves! And so they did … James was killed by the sword at Herod’s command (Acts 12:1).  And John (thought by many Scripture scholars to be the one who is identified in the Gospels as “the one whom Jesus loved”) remained close to the Lord throughout his life, writing his Gospel account and other important works while exiled on the Island of Patmos, having first been boiled alive in oil.

And what of the mother?  In Mark 16:1,  Mary “the mother of James” is among those who prepares the body of the Lord for burial. As she washed and anointed those still, cold limbs… Did she think again of the request she made of Jesus, and wish she hadn’t spoken so hastily?

No matter how our children come to us, or what challenges and gifts they possess, we have dreams for them. It can be difficult to let those go, especially as time goes on and we discover that they are responding to a different call. We can encourage them, and offer them advice … and yet, parenting is about working ourselves out of a job. The best we can hope for is to give our children the skills they need to make good choices, and trust God for the rest.

After all, our children are entrusted to us for a time … but they belong to Him!

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