Jesus says: “I am the one you are looking for” (Horizons of the Heart 4)

The grace we are asking of God: To have confidence in the way God accepts us even in our sin, to believe in his path for us that weaves its way through forgiveness and mercy, and to have the courage to turn to the One who alone can give us all we need instead of trying to fix ourselves.   

Horizons of the Heart: Horizons of the Heart is a weekly retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Donec Formetur by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

There is a mysterious passage in the book of Jeremiah:

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (2:13).

Jesus, the spring of Living Water, watches us as we so often dig our own cisterns, our own wells, from which we hope to draw water that will satisfy our thirst, make us happy, give us life, at least a tolerable life on this earth. In the Gospel of John, we meet the woman in Samaria who was just such a woman. To tell you the truth, so am I.

The way and the gift of tears (Horizons of the Heart 7)

Horizons of the Heart is a bi-weekly retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

The grace I am asking of God: a growing and intense sorrow and tears for my sins with a deepening awareness of God’s merciful love.

I entered retreat shedding tears, tears that flowed from feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and confusion about myself and about my future. Tears were an unavoidable part of the introductory days of my retreat. Entering into a place of silence, refuge, and rest, I was able to settle down, to re-enter my heart that had been so wounded. These were tears of sorrow and pain. However, tears are also a sacred part of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises.

From the first day of my retreat, I was deeply touched by a statue of Saint Francis beneath the cross of Christ. It stood at the retreat house in a garden directly outside the small kitchen area where we ate our breakfast. In this sculpture, Jesus Crucified reaches down with his right arm to embrace St Francis.

As I sat quietly before this image I was deeply moved by the way the sculptor depicted Jesus and the saint of Assisi gazing steadily into each other’s eyes. In the eyes of Francis, I saw a humble hope even as he boldly put his arms around the body of his Savior. His gaze wasn’t bold, but gentle and loving. In Jesus’ gaze I read the question: Do you see me? Do you see how I have died for you? Do you see how I love you? Be absolutely certain that I love you so much that I have given my life for you and if it were necessary, I would do so again. The beautiful way in which Jesus’ arm reaches down from the cross to draw Saint Francis into his passion and life-giving death was trusting and tender.

I wanted to have the courage to embrace Jesus like Francis.

I wanted to hear Jesus say these words to me.

I wanted to be that close to the Master who gave his life for me so that I might live.

I wanted to see in Jesus’ eyes the love that assures me that he is here for me as he was for the humble man of Assisi.

In statues and artwork, we depict Francis of Assisi in joyful ways, preaching to animals, and gently smiling. We forget that in actual fact tears are what marked his spirituality. Francis shed so many tears for his own sins and the sins of the whole world, that it is said that he lost his sight from his weeping. St. Francis had a profound devotion to the Passion of Jesus and near the end of his life Jesus gave him a share in his Passion by allowing him to bear on his body his most sacred wounds.

In wisdom from the ancient fathers, we are told that it is grace that opens our eyes to see things rightly. When we see things as they truly are, we become aware of both our own failures as well as how much we are loved. When we have gained this “precise vision,” we will be given the gift of tears. “At that time your eyes will begin to shed tears until they wash your cheeks by their very abundance” (Isaac the Syrian, quoted in The Fountain and the Furnace, page 38).

Tears are the gift of the grace of God working within us. They are a sign of healing at work in our depths, healing that leads us to a trusting union with Jesus and a union with others. Maggie Ross says in The Fountain and the Furnace, “The way and gift of tears open the gate of death in this life to resurrection in this life…. Tears release us from the prison of power and control into the vast love and infinite possibility of God” (page 44).

As I began to think about the sinfulness and weakness in my life, I also prayed for this gift of tears. I had come into the retreat shedding tears over my own image of myself and the losses that were a part of my midlife journey, but now I asked for the gift of tears because I had put Jesus on the cross.

Andrés Chávez Belisario Pixabay

Like the sense of union depicted between Jesus Crucified and Saint Francis, I also longed for this trusting intimacy, this urgent desire for oneness. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik: “Man is drawn to Him and rushes to Him with all his strength.”

Draw me, O Lord! This is a grace, not something that can be forced. These are not tears from grieving over what I have experienced or seeking comfort or status once again. These are tears of the heart, shed out of love, just as Christ loved me and gave himself up for me.

[The words of Israel:]

“‘After I strayed,
    I repented;
after I came to understand,
    I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
    because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’”

[The words of God to Israel:]

Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him
declares the Lord” (Jer 31:19-20).

In the first week of the Exercises, we are invited to make an inventory of our sins. Saint Ignatius wants us to understand how we are trapped in the mire of human weakness and personal choices that focus on ourselves instead of the Kingdom. How we have chosen our glory instead of God’s glory, our will instead of God’s will. We are encouraged to look carefully to see where we have trusted God and where we have trusted ourselves instead. We are invited to weep over the “disgrace of my youth” as this passage in Job says, but always, always, always remembering that we are doing so with a God who is love. One beautiful way to do this integration of life—almost a spiritual processing of our past with Jesus as our divine and compassionate guide—is to take his hand and ask him to raise up memories from our life that still need his healing touch, that still need our acknowledgment and sorrow.

Recently I was back at our motherhouse after a year of having been away. As I walked the hallways and prayed, ate, and worked with my sisters, many memories began to surface. I took the time to re-enter situations long forgotten which never had received a “spiritual closure,” praying that I could move on without them continuing to affect my decisions and attitudes. Very simply we can ask Jesus to show us what he sees, what he knows, and what he loves in us. Memories will touch off other memories. We can talk to Jesus about them and ask him to help us see the patterns of how we escape his love to love ourselves. When we ask for this, Jesus is always quick to oblige, not because he has just been waiting to pull up before our eyes a full accounting of our falls, but because he yearns to give us love and to receive our love in return.

Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him
” (Job 31:20).

Gabriel Manjarres via Cathopic

On my retreat, I used this single verse to guide me as I meditated on my journey with the Lord thus far:

“If my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled” (Job 31:7)

“If my steps have turned from this path”:

Walking, paths, steps, following, the way, following the truth, and following the Spirit are themes that appear throughout the scriptures. Each snippet of Scripture listed below offers a different facet of how I reflected on keeping my steps along Christ’s path. I offer them here because I knew Jesus will use his Word to enlarge your own understanding.

  • Job 23:11: My foot has walked in his steps, I have kept his way.
  • Ps 37:23: whose steps are guided by the Lord, who will delight in his way
  • Jn 14:6: I am the way
  • Ps 3:6: He will make your paths straight.
  • Ps 18:31: God’s way is unerring
  • 1 Cor 12:31: the way of love
  • Mt 9:9: Follow me
  • Mt 10:38: Take up your cross and follow me.
  • Mt 19:21: Go, sell all, give to the poor and follow me.
  • Mt 20:34: Jesus touched their eyes, they received their sight and followed him.
  • Jn. 13:15: [Jesus washes his apostles’ feet] As I have done for you, you should also do.
  • Gal 5:7: following the truth
  • Eph 2:3: following the desires of the flesh and its impulses
  • 2 Tim 9:3: following their own desires and insatiable curiosity
  • 1 Pt 2:21: Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps

“If my heart has been led by my eyes”:

The eyes and the heart appear together in many passages of Scripture. Our heart and our eyes are set on the Lord or they are intent on our own gain.

  • Prv 21:2: All your ways may be straight in your own eyes, but it is the Lord who weighs hearts.
  • Ps 131: My heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes.
  • Prv 23:26: My son, give me all of your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.
  • Sg 4:9: [the Bridegroom speaks:] You have ravished my heart, my bride, with one glance of your eyes
  • Jer 22:17: Both your eyes and heart are set on nothing except your own gain.
  • Lam 7:17: Our hearts grow sick and our eyes grow dim
  • Ez 6:9: After I have broken their lusting hearts that turned away from me and their eyes that lusted after idols
  • Ez 24:25: I will take away the delight of their eyes and the pride of their hearts
  • Mt 13:15: Gross is the heart of this people, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their hearts
  • 1 Cor 2:9: God has prepared for his lovers what eye has not seen and what has not entered the human heart
  • 2 Pt 2:14: Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin…the hearts trained for greed
  • Eph 1:18: May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened…to know the hope of your call and the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones

“Or if my hands have been defiled”:

To climb the mountain of the Lord we need clean hands and a pure heart. Throughout scripture we learn of the ways in which our hands are not innocent, are not raised in God’s worship and glory, and also how God rewards “clean hands.”

  • Ps 24:3-4: Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart… Such is the generation that seek him. Seek the face of the God of Jacob.
  • Dt 4:28: They shall serve gods that are the work of human hands.
  • Ps 18:21: The Lord acknowledged my righteousness, rewarded my clean hands.
  • Ps 26:6: I will wash my hands in innocence.
  • Ps 26:10: in whose hands there is a plot
  • Ps 28:2: I lift up my hands toward your holy place
  • Ps 28:4: Repay them for their deeds, for the evil that they do. For the work of their hands repay them.
  • Ps 44:21: stretched out our hands to another god
  • Ps 58:3: Your hands dispense violence to the earth.
  • Prb 6:17: hands that shed innocent blood
  • Prv 31:20: She reaches out her hands to the poor.
  • Sirach 38:10: Flee wickedness and purify your hands.
  • Sirach 51:20: for I purified my hands
  • Is 1:15: Your hands are full of blood!
  • Is 2:8: They bow down to the work of their hands
  • Zech 14:13: Their hands will be raised against each other

My sin is ever before me

It is a gift of God that we are given the grace of memory, of not forgetting. In Psalm 51:3 the Psalmist says that “my sin is ever before me.” In other words, he carries the memory of his transgressions and weakness with him as he goes forward in life.

How does the Word of God encourage us to remember our past? I like to think of Zacchaeus the tax collector who threw a party after he answered the call of Jesus and received the forgiveness of his sins. To that party, he invited his fellow tax collectors and sinners. Zacchaeus knew what his life had been, who he had become. For the rest of his life, he probably met on the streets those he had cheated. He realized that what he possessed was at the cost of overtaxing his neighbors. Yet I do not imagine him hanging his head in shame for the rest of his life, withdrawing himself from the other disciples. Zacchaeus also knew that he was chosen, wanted, seen, loved, understood by Jesus just as he was. In that moment of being known by God, he desired to commit his life to him. Zacchaeus’ life was one piece. It was beautiful to God and now at last, in all its shadows and glory, his life was beautiful to him.

Jesus, I commit my entire self to you, every moment of my life, every breath, every thought, every desire, every word, every action. Break through my ignorance, my blindness, my unwillingness. Attract me so strongly to yourself that in a short time I will find myself renewed, created anew, and transformed in surprising ways. Amen.

Photo Credit: Cristian Guttierez, Cathopic

Need refreshment? Find your “deserted place” today

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

In today’s Gospel reading, we enter into just one of Jesus’ “days.” He had been teaching and healing non-stop for 24 hours at least. After he had left the synagogue [before today’s reading picks up], he went to Peter’s house, where he was asked to heal Peter’s mother-in-law who lay in bed with a severe fever. Jesus rebuked the fever and she immediately got up “and waited on them.” I imagine that meant cooking dinner, giving Jesus a bit of refreshment near the end of a busy day.

However, at sunset the house began to crowd with endless people pleading throughout the night for healing and hope. And now at daybreak, “Jesus left and went to a deserted place.” These are the words that are used in the Gospel of Luke to introduce the hours of solitude in which Jesus would be alone with his Father in prayer. These words are never used to indicate that Jesus was taking a break. He didn’t leave to escape the noise and demands of the crowds who needed him, but to reconnect with the Source of his Life, the Fire of the Love that burned within him, his purpose, his desire. His great need was to stay in communion with the Father, and it was from this communion that he gained the strength and energy to give, to serve, to love, and eventually to lay down his life.

Saint John Paul II seemed to get his cue from Jesus himself. He received his drive, and his purpose, from prayer. The Pope’s schedule, according to Andreas Widmer, author of the book The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, ran something like this: The Pope rose before 6:00 and prayed in his private chapel before visitors joined him for Mass at 7:00. After Mass and an hour or two in the office, he would greet official visitors at 11:00, and then give his general audiences which were followed by lunch where he was joined by various Vatican staff. His lunches were the opportunity for him to be brought up to speed on what was happening in the various offices of the Vatican. Often he invited guests specifically to engage in a vigorous discussion on various theological or philosophical issues that concerned the life of the Church. After lunch, the Pope headed for the rooftop gardens of the Papal Palace to walk and talk with God. After this time of quiet prayer and rest, there were several hours of office work and more audiences until dinner at 8:00 where guests dined with him once more. After dinner he returned to reading and writing and praying well into the night, only turning out his lights at midnight or even later. We can imagine that this was a leisurely schedule compared to his schedule while traveling.

Widmer recalls that when John Paul II returned after being weeks on the road he didn’t head straight for his own apartment and collapse for a few days in exhaustion. As he arrived at the Vatican, he would stop and greet all the staff who had gathered to welcome him home and inspect the Swiss Guard lined up in honor formation, talking to each one and shaking their hand.

Widmer, who was a twenty-year-old Swiss Guard at the time and who was, like his fellow guards, in peak physical condition, describes how the young Swiss Guards were unable to keep up with the energy level of Saint John Paul II. He shared in his book how he tried to remember even once when he saw that schedule taking a toll on the pope. He couldn’t remember John Paul II ever exhausted, bleary-eyed, burnt out, irritated. The Swiss Guards who traveled with him on those trips were 40, 50, 60 years his junior, yet they returned home exhausted. The Pope instead was filled with energy and ready to pour himself out for others.

Just like Jesus, just like Saint John Paul II, each of us has a mission in life. Each of us has demands, is busy, has an overcrowded schedule. Each of us must deal with the rapid force of endless change and the fear of the uncertainty of what is right around the corner, the endless unknowns that could upset our life. Each of us is called in our vocation to pour ourselves out in response to whatever God asks of us.

Take your cue from Jesus today. Find your “deserted place” to recharge, regroup, renew. You may be able to stay there for moments, or it may be hours. You may find your deserted place in the car on a long commute or at night when the house has grown silent and all your family members are sleeping. Wherever it is and for whatever length of time you are able to be there, cherish your “deserted places” to commune with your God who will renew your energy, return your joy, and recharge your purpose in life.

Image Credit: Josef August Untersberger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Feast of the Assumption: Slip your hand into Mary’s hand

My mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. In the lovely summer weather this year, she and dad have spent a couple of hours every afternoon sitting outside in the lovely garden where she lives. Listening to the birds, watching the squirrels play, and enjoying the flowers and trees has always been a blessed way for mom to spend her leisure moments, particularly in these last fifteen years. I am so grateful to God that my parents have had this very special final year together.

Even as the whole family has found a new and blessed rhythm of being with mom and surrounding her with love and experiences of  beauty that are familiar to her on this earth, we all know that this will probably be the last summer that we will have this gift.

I find my comfort in the Feast of Mary we celebrate today, Mary’s Assumption into heaven. The Collect for today’s Mass lifts our minds and our hearts:

O God, who, looking on the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
raised her to this grace,
that your Only Begotten Son was born of her according to the flesh
and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory,
grant through her prayers,
that, saved by the mystery of your redemption,
we may merit to be exalted by you on high.

Heaven is the final goal.

Even as mom and we enjoy these precious moments in the beauty of nature, the glory of creation, I remember that heaven is the final goal. From the moment of his glorious rising from the dead, Jesus has been lifting up our hearts, lifting them up above this earth, above this place of exile, above this vale of tears. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. The Spirit descended upon the apostles in the Cenacle. And today we celebrate the assumption of Mary into heaven.

On this day we celebrate the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever virgin Mary, who having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus 44). Pius XII affirmed in this dogma of the assumption of Mary, the elevation of Mary’s body to heavenly glory. We celebrate today the moment at which Mary was “taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (Lumen Gentium 59). 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians” (CCC 966).

And so we spend these days with Mom, these final months of life before Life with joy in our hearts, yes mingled with the sorrow of knowing she won’t be with us, but with transparent and joyful gratitude. She has already received the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Blessing at a point in which she seemed to be approaching the end. Now even as we cherish the beauties of creation on this earth, we know Mom is ready for eternity. Even as we enjoy those precious moments and share those selfies with her that we’ll keep forever, we remember that this life is put a preparation for eternity. Mary who has gone before us, body and soul, reminds us of this particularly on the Feast of the Assumption. There in heaven, the Mother of Jesus and our mother enjoys forever the beatific vision that is our hope, the hope of all Christians. What Mary now enjoys in heaven is promised to each of us:

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.” (Colossians 15:20-23)

According to Pope Benedict XVI:

“By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful.

“Consequently, we must not lose our serenity and peace even amid the thousands of daily difficulties. The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon.

We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 16, 2006).

If you are accompanying a loved one or friend in the last months or years of their life, or if you yourself are soon to enter your eternal home, slip your hand into Mary’s hand. Make beautiful memories in these days, cherish all the blessings you have on this earth, and also keep your mind and heart lifted high. Mary is your hope, the promise of a Life after this one, a Life that will never end, a Life of eternal joy. As you cherish the moments you have here, prepare for the eternal and unending forever that is our final destination, where Mary awaits to receive you her child.

Mary our Hope, assumed into heaven, pray for us.

Image Credit: Charles Le Brun, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bend your knee before your King!

I heard the voices of a multitude of angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. These angels numbered thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand of them. 

And they cried out with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb that was sacrificed
    to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength,
    honor and glory and praise.”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To the one seated on the throne
    and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
    forever and ever.”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders prostrated themselves in worship (Rev. 5:11ff.).

Worship. Worship is the inward gaze of the soul upon God. Worship is where we sink low to become what we shall ever be: adorers of our God.

“To the one seated on the throne
    and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
    forever and ever.”

O callous of heart! Bend your knee before your King… How many times a day I must recall my wandering heart and wavering mind to the King. To sink at his feet. To bless him forever and ever. To affirm him of my love. In the words of the hymn by Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri (one of my favorite hymns):

O God of loveliness, O Lord of Heaven above,
How worthy to possess my heart’s devoted love.
So sweet Thy countenance, so gracious to behold
That one, one only glance to me were bliss untold.

Thou art blest Three in One, yet undivided still,
Thou art the One alone whose love my heart can fill.
The heav’ns and earth below were fashioned by Thy Word,
How amiable art Thou, my ever dearest Lord.

To think Thou art my God—O thought forever blest!
My heart has overflowed with joy within my breast.
My soul so full of bliss, is plunged as in a sea,
Deep in the sweet abyss of holy charity.

O Loveliness supreme, and Beauty infinite,
O ever flowing Stream and Ocean of delight,
O Life by which I live, my truest Life above,
To Thee alone I give my undivided love.

Source: The Cyber Hymnal #4879

Worship and love put us before the greatness and loveliness of our God. How immense is God’s love that as small as we are, we are taken by him into God’s own life, his Kingdom, given a part in his salvific deeds.

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Mt. 13:31-32).

Our Mother General commented to us that this parable is extraordinary. The Kingdom of God is very important, eternally important, and yet it never makes the news. The world is fascinated by what and who is big and powerful, victorious and beautiful. But when Jesus collects the members of his Kingdom, he doesn’t gather these striking individuals and make a big splash. Rather, he announces the Kingdom that is as small as a mustard seed filled with small people. Before God we are all small people. She writes: “When we opt for the Kingdom of heaven, the Lord is able to heal us from the delusion that we are omnipotent, from the desire to be first, from the illusion to see ourselves as perfect and from the temptation to want others to be the same.”

Learning to be small isn’t so easy because it means that we give up control, direction, the self-made purpose of our accomplishments in exchange for the power of trusting in the goodness and providence of God in whatever form it takes in our life, in all circumstances.

We have many teachers on this call to smallness and this journey of the Kingdom:

The first is a prayer that has always meant a lot to me in moments of change and struggle. It is from Charles de Foucauld, willingly martyred in Algeria in 1916:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,

Another prayer like this was written some 350 years earlier. Like the prayer of Charles de Foucauld, this prayer leads us to offer our heart, our freedom, our entire being wholly and entirely out of love. It is given to us by St. Ignatius of Loyola:

“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will.  All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.  Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”

Those who are small, who live the life of a mustard seed, know that everything—absolutely everything—comes from God. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “God chose those who were regarded as foolish by the world to shame the wise; God chose those in the world who were weak to shame the strong. God chose those in the world who were lowly and despised, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who were regarded as worthy” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

Shahbaz Bhatti shows us the courage of the mustard seed. In the early 2000s in Pakistan, he was the only Christian on the Cabinet as the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs in the predominantly Muslim country.  It was a dangerous job, one that carried an almost inevitable outcome of assassination.  But Shahbaz remained in this position because he believed in the vision and values of religious freedom for his fellow Christians. Shahbaz was assassinated by Islamist terrorists in 2011.  His cause for beatification was opened in 2016 and he is now a Servant of God. Bishop Anthony Lobo, who gave an interview to Fides News Agency shortly before his death in 2013, said that Bhatti “decided to play an active part in politics in order to protect the country’s Christians and other minorities…. A man of great commitment, he decided not to marry. He lived a life of celibacy. He had no possessions and saw his activity as a service. I believe that Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was a dedicated lay Catholic martyred for his faith.”

Three years earlier Bhatti said in an interview,

“I do not feel any fear in this country.  Many times the extremists wanted to kill me, many times they wanted to put me in prison, they threatened me, they harassed me and they terrorized my family.  [I told my father], ‘Until I live, until my last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus, to serve the poor humanity, the suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor.’
“I want that my life, my character, my actions speak for me and indicate that I am following Jesus Christ.  Because of this desire, I will consider myself even to be more fortunate if – in this effort and struggle to help the needy, the poor, to help the persecuted and victimized Christians of Pakistan – Jesus Christ will accept the sacrifice of my life.”

This morning I was praying with St Joseph’s utter obedience and willingness to give his life over to the Kingdom. He was and he remained through his whole life small and vulnerable.

When I first held the Child Jesus at his birth
All the earth disappeared in his smile. In his gaze.
Too soon, however, the darkness tried to snuff out this life–
the Son of God, the angel said.

There is no room in any of Bethlehem’s inns, escape with the child to Egypt, the anonymity and disconnection from family, culture, Nazareth while in exile, the uprooting once again to return some seven years later.
This great plan of God, of God’s Kingdom, I served by loving the Child, and obeying each wild change on the path…

never building, no long-range plan, no monuments, no settled comfort,
no familiar surroundings that Mary and I had made.

And now, in Jerusalem, Jesus lost and at last found again. I cannot tell you the pain in my heart when I heard my son say, “I must be in my Father’s house.” My Father’s house. Not my house as his earthly father, but his Father’s house.

So soon, too soon, to give him up. Not to be able to create him in my image.

I was but a child…
of the Father’s deep affection,
trusted with his treasures and yet unable to do anything
to protect them except to obey.

no power
nothing built beyond serving in the present moment,
trusting because I could not do my mission on my own strength and planning

I could just instantly obey. It’s all I had. It’s all I could give.

That was all that was needed from me. And, Kathryn, that is what God needs from you.

Sometimes I look around the world and worry that somehow I’m not doing the one great thing that I was supposed to do on this earth. Joseph and Shabhaz Bhatti and Charles de Foucauld and Ignatius of Loyola remind me that the Kingdom of God is made of small people obeying in their little place at each wild turn of the road of their life. Nothing more.

Here is deep insight from John Henry Newman about trusting the smallness and unknown paths and purpose of our lives on this earth:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission.  I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next… I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

He knows what He is about… No matter what happens in my life, He knows what He is about. I pray you have a chance today to sit with the assurance of this simple act of faith.

God is longing for your heart

To the words that begin our first reading at Mass today…

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

…let us add these words of St. John of the Cross:

“To be perfectly united to God by love and will, the soul must first be cleansed of all appetites of the will, even the smallest” (Ascent of Mount Carmel).

In the language of St John of the Cross, the word “appetites” refers to disordered inclinations or affections for oneself or creatures, we could say the “vanities of the world,” tendencies which are more or less contrary to God’s will.

In talking about the value of Ignatian Spirituality for leadership in his book Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney talks about his being driven by the “I-want-it-so-badly” virus, a type of a modern formulation of the “vanity of vanities” of Qoheleth. Lowney shares how he so wanted to get to the top of company, to be wealthy, recognized, have the best house and the most exciting life. He wanted it so badly that it seemed it must be right precisely because he wanted it so badly.

Sound familiar?

How subtle are the deceptions of the evil one. This absolute certainty that God is on our side might be a delusion. Often it is one of the signs that we are after things that fall under the category of “vanity of vanities.” Maybe it is not God’s design for us that we have the things we so badly desire, but only an “ego itch” actually leading us astray as we chase after our vanities and vainglory. “Disordered inclinations and affections for oneself or creatures.”

In the second reading today, St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians teaches us simply, clearly, leaving us no wiggle room to justify collecting our vanities here on earth:

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

And lest we think that these words are some fantasy or imaginative contemplation of Christ in heaven, Paul clearly lays out in no-nonsense and practical terms what this means for us here on earth:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.

So, brothers and sisters, cherish these words today, these words of God who is longing for your heart, “put on the new self.”

Indeed, my friends, God says to us all, “If today you hear [my] voice, harden not your hearts.”

Image Credit: Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay.

Maintaining Peace when Worries Overwhelm You

Worries. It seems that worry is just a part of everyday life these days. Sometimes worries can overwhelm us so much that they take over a whole day. I can’t imagine living day in and day out with some of the worries that are shared with me when people ask for prayer.

The other day a mother told me her sorrow over a son who was a drug addict. Having known a couple mothers in the past who had walked this way themselves, I knew a little about the devastating ways this could affect a family. I shared with her my compassion. She leaned in closer and said in a quiet voice, “Sister, I told God that he has my son in his hands. This whole experience has brought me closer to God. I’ve learned to trust him more than I ever would have without having to deal with this addiction in my son’s life and the way it has affected my family. I keep telling God that I know that he is bringing good out of this. He is that powerful. God is love. I put my worries in his heart.”

This mother had learned the difference between concern and worry.

To worry is to take the burden of a situation on ourselves and to rely on ourselves to fix it or deal with the consequences.

Concern is to carry the same burden, but to entrust it to God who now takes charge of it (and who takes this task very seriously). The burden is no longer ours to carry but now belongs to God. We are asked to do what we humanly can and to trust in God to do what is needed. To do what only God can. The “freedom of the children of God” means that those who hand their burdens over to God walk the path of life with great lightness and carefreeness.

To move from worry to concern entails learning to let go. That can seem like such a huge leap when the burdens we carry are heavy. I’d like to share with you some of the living words of Jesus to Father Dolindo Ruotolo (1882 – 1970), an Italian Catholic priest who lived in Naples, Italy. Saint Padre Pio himself said to pilgrims who had come to Pietrelcina to see him, “Why do you come here when you have Don Dolindo in Naples? Go to him, he’s a saint!”

“Leave the care of your affairs to me!”

These words come from the living experience of the presence of Jesus in the prayer life of Father Dolindo:

“Why do you confuse yourselves by worrying? Leave the care of your affairs to me and everything will be peaceful. I say to you in truth that every act of true, blind, complete surrender to me produces the effect that you desire and resolves all difficult situations.”

“To surrender to me does not mean to fret, to be upset, or to lose hope, nor does it mean offering to me a worried prayer asking me to follow you and change your worry into prayer. It is against this surrender, deeply against it, to worry, to be nervous, and to desire to think about the consequences of anything. It is like the confusion that children feel when they ask their mother to see to their needs, and then try to take care of those needs for themselves so that their childlike efforts get in their mother’s way. Surrender means to placidly close the eyes of the soul, to turn away from thoughts of tribulation, and to put yourself in my care, so that only I act, saying ‘You take care of it.'”

The prayer that Father Dolindo encouraged people to say is so simple, it can be said at any time of the day, even all day: “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”

Jesus promises: “Close your eyes and let yourself be carried away on the flowing current of my grace; close your eyes and do not think of the present, turning your thoughts away from the future just as you would from temptation. Repose in me, believing in my goodness, and I promise you by my love that if you say ‘You take care of it,’ I will take care of it all; I will console you, liberate you and guide you.”

How to Bear the Fruit of Christ in Your Life

I certainly would never compare my life to that of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. The memories I have of my childhood are of a little girl who always wanted to be a nun and who was—by my own standards at least—well-behaved. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, however, had a will of steel and a temper that raged into violent outbursts even at the age of four. She was impossible to control. Family and friends recalled how she would lock herself in a room in a rage when she didn’t get what she wanted, kicking the door in her fury. Only when she had spent all her energies and was exhausted could her mother sit down with her and attempt to teach her gentleness and charity.

Though my childhood personality, at least as I remember it, was pretty calm, I have a distinct memory at twenty-one of raging against God. Just a month after suffering a stroke, and a year after my first profession of vows, I was silently before Jesus in the Eucharist one day in the chapel and from somewhere deep inside came words which surprised me, even shocked me. “I hate you,” I said to him. I had lost dreams and ambitions and physical abilities and, what seemed to me as a young adult, my future. And from somewhere within me, this anger and hatred at the one I felt was to blame came raging out. It took me by surprise, for, after all, I had been “well behaved” up to that point. Day after day, in a struggle that stretched to weeks and months and years, I submitted my heart to the transforming action of the Spirit at work in the Eucharist. Each day after receiving Jesus in Communion I prayed, “Help me, for I see now how poor I am, how in need I am of you, Jesus.”

In her diary, Elizabeth herself recorded how her first encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist was a moment of transformation. In fact, she said that it was decisive for the rest of her life. She began to take on from that moment the gentle self-control that would characterize her as an adult.

“In the depths of her soul, she heard his voice…. [The] Master took possession of her heart so completely that thenceforth her one desire was to give her life to Him” (The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth, pg 2).

I learned in a new way in those days after my stroke, in that period of heart-raging when the strength of my heart’s hurt and fury surprised me with its force, that I was a sinner and that Jesus had known that all along, that he had known me all along. He had come to me on the amazing day of my First Communion and had not given up on me. He continued, again and again, to join his life to mine, even when I struggled to accept what had happened in my life and to believe in his love for me, Jesus still gave himself to me in Communion.

Go to Jesus in the Eucharist with your struggles

Writing in the 4th century, St. Cyril of Alexandria recognized that the Eucharist was the place Christians needed to go with their struggles. Here is what he wrote:

If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.

In those raging days as I struggled to align my dreams with God’s dreams for me, I learned that Jesus wants us to share our weaknesses and struggles with him, not hide them. It became clear to me that Jesus is not afraid of the mess we try to conceal from others and even ourselves. Jesus is the doctor who can heal us when we are unable to help ourselves when our lives or relationships are riddled with the consequences of our passionate outbursts or resentments at what our life has become. I learned that even when we think we are “well behaved,” we are still not so holy that we are transformed in Christ. We still fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom 3:23).

In his Angelus message on June 6, 2021, Pope Francis encouraged us all with these words:

“Each time we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus comes to give new meaning to our fragilities. He reminds us that in his eyes we are more precious than we think. He tells us he is pleased if we share our fragilities with him. He repeats to us that his mercy is not afraid of our miseries. The mercy of Jesus is not afraid of our miseries. And above all, he heals us from those fragilities that we cannot heal on our own, with love. What fragilities? Let’s think. That of feeling resentment toward those who have done us harm — we cannot heal from this on our own; that of distancing ourselves from others and closing off within ourselves — we cannot heal from that on our own; that of feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining without finding peace; from this too, we cannot heal on our own. It is He who heals us with his presence, with his bread, with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an effective medicine for these closures. The Bread of Life, in fact, heals rigidity and transforms it into docility.”

Be docile to the action of the Spirit

No matter how well-behaved we think we may be, we cannot transform ourselves into Christ which is the goal of every Christian life. That is the work of the Holy Spirit who is at work in the Eucharist. But how does this happen we might ask. In the recently released document Desiderio desideravi, I found this amazing passage:

“Liturgy is about praise, about rendering thanks for the Passover of the Son whose power reaches our lives. The celebration concerns the reality of our being docile to the action of the Spirit who operates through it until Christ be formed in us (cf. Gal 4:19). The full extent of our formation is our conformation to Christ…[our] becoming Him.” (n. 40).

To become Christ begin by sharing with Jesus your fragilities, your weakness, even your raging hearts. Show him your struggles, your resentments, your deceit, your discouragement in the desert of life. In the Eucharist, “Jesus tells us he is pleased if we share our fragilities with him. He repeats to us that his mercy is not afraid of our miseries. The mercy of Jesus is not afraid of our miseries. And above all, he heals us from those fragilities that we cannot heal on our own, with love” (Pope Francis).

We are in Christ and Christ is in us

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem described our being united with Jesus through the reception of Communion with this beautiful image: “Just as by melting two candles together you get one piece of wax, so, I think, one who receives the Flesh and Blood of Jesus is fused together with him. And the soul finds that he is in Christ and Christ is in him.”

It is clear, then, that Christ “infuses himself into us,” using a phrase dear to Nicholas Cabasillas, in his book Life in Christ. Jesus transforms us into himself as a small drop of water is changed when it is poured into a great vase of ointment. That small drop of simple water is infused with the fragrance of the ointment. The two could no longer be divided from each other, even if we tried to do so.  Just like that drop of water, we ourselves are poured in a vase of ointment so to speak, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and we become the sweet-smelling fragrance of Christ whose very life was poured out for us (2 Cor. 2:15).

Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, often used the image of the olive tree to express the power of Jesus that in the Eucharist at Mass unites our life to his own. It is the power that we see active in the young life of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity who remarkably began to mature in her Christian life after her First Communion. Alberione explained that in Communion it is like this: Jesus is like the good olive tree and we are wild, uncultivated olive trees that left to themselves would only bear fruit of inferior quality. However, when the wild olive tree is grafted into the cultivated olive tree of greater quality, the wild tree no longer bears its own fruit but begins to bear the fruit of the good olive tree itself.

In the same way, when you and I consent to allow ourselves to be grafted into Jesus through receiving his Body and Blood in Holy Communion, we no longer bear the fruits of our own weakness and sinfulness. Instead, by being united to Christ’s Flesh and Blood through partaking of them in Communion, we begin to bear the fruit of Jesus’ own life. Gradually, through the work of the Spirit, we become the Body of Christ and bear the fruits of Christ in our lives.

Image credit: Photo by Gary Barnes:; Photo by amorsanto:; Photo by cottonbro:

“The Meaning of the World is Love”

Love—God—is not only the Creator of the world. Love is the Design that God gave the world. The dance of love within the persons of the Trinity overflowed into the world so that all who believe and love would be drawn into trinitarian life. As Hans Urs von Balthasar would put it: “The meaning of the world is love” (Heart of the World, 203, quoted in The Meaning of the World Is Love).

God is Love. He is the ecstasy of Love, overflowing outside himself, enabling creatures to share in his life. “God also goes out of himself … when he captivates all creatures by the spell of his love and his desire . . .” (Dionysius the Areopagite, Divine Names, IV,13 [PG 3,712]). (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pg 22)

Our life has meaning only when we are lovers patterned after the divine Design of selfless giving of ourselves to the other.

My mom made most of our clothes when we were growing up. We used to love going to the store to choose patterns for our clothes that she would sew herself. Once my mom let me cut the fabric for my new dress. She showed me how to carefully follow the paper pattern she had pinned to the material. The dress would only truly fit me well if I was faithful to the pattern, to the design that the creator of the pattern had in mind.

God has made everything for love

Following the divine Design of the way God loves is the only way that we will flourish as humans. God invited us from the very beginning into intimate communion with himself. Julian of Norwich wrote: “He has made everything which is made for love,” and we could say for eternal loving communion with himself!

When we separated ourselves from him in the Fall, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

Jesus emptied himself in order to dwell among us. He showed us how to love by loving us. “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1), offering his very life for our salvation. Teaching us that this is the design of love we each must follow if we are enter into divine communion in the mystery of eternal love, Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).

This love is real.

This love costs.

This love is deadly serious.

In these days of tensions and war I have been thinking of how this love can be lost in the static of war when we take sides against the enemy who is committing atrocious injustices and horrors against innocent people.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” (Mt 5:43-47).

How do we love in a time of war?

Fr. Andriy Zelinskyy, SJ, chief military chaplain of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said in an interview with The Pillar that war is unlike any other human experience—and the challenge for a soldier is to hold on to his humanity.

When I read these words, something shifted inside me. A pastor’s “main task is always to preserve what is God’s in man. And, accordingly, to protect the humanity of each soldier.” 

I have witnessed myself being dragged into the conflict via the filter of the media. Sometimes as I read the news, I don’t like what I am being manipulated into feeling and thinking. I sense spiritually that I am being “infected with hatred,” as Fr. Andriy Zelinskyy states later in his interview, for the media has its own agenda which can reach deep into the minds and hearts of even the most casual viewer.

After the beginning of Russia’s open invasion in February, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Department of Military Chaplaincy issued the “Catechism of a Christian Soldier.” This Catechism helps “the Christian soldier not to become infected with hatred but to focus on the struggle. This struggle helps us protect life, especially those who cannot do it on their own. In other words, the Christian warrior must be armed above all else with his noble mission,” Fr. Zelinskyy explained. This is very different, he states, from the intentions of the “oppressor.”

“The soldier remains a human being who, while preserving his freedom, remains responsible for his actions. Our purpose is not to destroy life but to protect it. These are two very different goals. The Christian warrior takes up arms to protect himself, his loved ones, and life itself. This is where the Catechism begins – with a reminder that the legitimate defense of life is not only a possibility but a duty of the Christian. God has called me to life and, accordingly, in doing God’s will, I should protect it and protect the lives of others.”

Those who stand against the tide of love

“Worldly being is destined to be harbored in divine being.” This is von Balthasar’s way of reminding us that Love has made us and love is our destiny, God’s infinite and loving giving of himself to us that we might live in the state of eternal loving self-gift as does the Trinity itself.

“To close ourselves off is to go against the very law of being that underpins us” (You Crown the Year with Your Goodness, 149). Those who stand up against love, those who are the oppressors, who refuse the impulse of divine loving, will be swept away in the dustbins of history.

“Whoever loves is obeying the impulse of life in time; whoever refuses to love is struggling (uselessly) against the current” (Heart of the World, 27).

“Love is never defeated.” St. John Paul II

The other day as I cursorily read the headlines on the news gathered together on my browser—news about the Ukraine war, political news, personal news about people’s lives and deaths, fearful news about the financial future, news that had previously infected me with anxiety or moved me to resentment and anger—something set me free from that all that. Yes, these things matter.

It all matters.

All of these people matter.

All of the prospects for the future matter.

All these countries matter.

I knew, however, that at that moment I had been set free from the particular news items on the page before me to inhabit the reality of love that surrounds and holds all the tragedy and joy of the world: the reality of divine love, God’s love that is the meaning of the world, the design of the world.

Each person, each country was playing out in their lives and decisions a drama of love: they were either overflowing with love, sacrificing themselves out of love, or resisting and refusing to love with all the horror this creates for others.

Love made us. Love keeps us. Love is the design of the world, the only meaning of our lives.

By God’s love, I could, at last, contemplate everything in love, even evil. As St John Paul II said to us: “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us and does not now bear with us.”

During the summer of 1940, Caryll Houselander along with everyone else in Britain was preparing for a coming German invasion. There was preparing the First Aid post and exhausting days of training for nursing tasks for which she felt unequal. Caryll increasingly reflected on the upcoming atrocity of wartime as a participation in the Passion of Christ. When the war was declared the previous September, she had written to a friend:

“I do feel we’ve just got to shut our eyes and dive in this sea of Christ, dive with the trust of people who can’t swim and yet go straight into the dark water.” Later in her reflection printed in The Grain Magazine, she wrote: “Because He has made us ‘other Christs,’ because His life continues in each one of us, there is nothing that any one of us can suffer which is not the Passion He suffered.” (I would say, that Christ continues to suffer the Passion today through us, the members of his Mystical Body and his presence in the world.)

Nevertheless, even though Caryll was able to lift the horror of war with her spiritual reflections, she was not immune from fear and anxious thoughts. She tried to build up her courage and get rid of her anxiety. However, one day she realized that this wasn’t going to work. She wrote to a friend, “What God is asking of me to do, for suffering humanity, is to be afraid, to accept it, and put up with it.” Later she wrote regarding this realization:

“I felt that God had put His hand right down through all the well upon well of darkness and horror between Him and me and was holding the central point of my soul; and I knew that however afraid I was then, it would not, even could not, break me.”

Love is worth living for

In a sermon preached to students at Oxford in the autumn of 1939, C. S. Lewis asked the question of why the students of Oxford should take an interest in the placid occupations of philosophy, science, history, “when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?”

We could ask ourselves of what use love is when whole countries, all of Europe, the streets of American cities, and indeed our very schools where children seek to learn are being torn apart by the horror of violence, racism, and war? Is love of any use when others are on the front lines defending life, justice, and freedom?

In this sermon, C. S. Lewis pointed out that the war makes unmistakably clear “the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.”

Keeping abreast of the news can be disheartening. Sometimes I feel guilty if I am not thinking, praying, and keeping front and center before my mind and heart the tragedies of our day. However, C.S. Lewis reminds me that though we may need to die for our country—and that one’s country is worth dying for—it is not worth, in an exclusive sense, living for. It is love that we must live for, even though we each at different times may be called to give our life to obtain peace and freedom and life for another, and even a whole country.

I must prepare to love. If I love in grand ways or in little, it matters not.

“Love is the end to which I have been created,” wrote Carlo Caretto. “Jesus died to teach us how to love: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn. 13:14). He died for love.”

Our life has meaning only when we are lovers patterned after the divine Design of selfless giving of ourselves to the other.

It is said that when St. John the Apostle was carried out to the community to tell them about Jesus and preach to them, he only had one thing to say, one sentence, one invitation, Let us love one another.

Sisters and brothers, let us love one another.

Image credit: Photo by Markus Spiske:

Want a way out of a troubled heart? Do this

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me!

The headlines are ripping apart my heart, Lord.

For troubles surround me—
    too many to count!

Missiles and abuse and injustice and outbursts of anger and scathing online comments and polarization and war and shootings on our streets and in our schools and mass graves of indigenous children….

Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect us.

Lord, the troubles in our world crowd out the peace in our hearts. Anxiety takes over. Sleepless nights. And worry. And feeling alone, isolated, powerless.

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
    Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles surround me—
    too many to count!

Ps 40: 11-12

My dear friends, Saint Paul described the troubles he found himself in with words like these: “troubles press in on us on every side,” “we are perplexed,” “hunted down,” “knocked down,” “our bodies are dying” (cf. 2 Cor 4:8-9, 16).

Can you relate? Stop right now and jot down a few words to describe how you are feeling about the world and your life right now.

I think Saint Paul had it right when he said he felt as though he was holding within himself a great treasure. He described it as the “glory of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” But from his own experience, Paul knew himself to be a very fragile, easily breakable, not too sturdy clay jar. That’s all he was: a clay jar. Nothing spectacular. No fine china. Just a regular drinking glass that could easily be broken. Something that didn’t even amount to much.

Pause here. How would you describe the treasure you are holding within you? When you describe yourself what would be your words for “clay jar” or “fragile vessel”?

Precisely because Paul knew himself to be a fragile vessel carrying a great treasure, he knew that it wasn’t all up to him. In fact, very little was up to him. It was God who had formed him in the womb, who had called him to be Jesus’ follower, who had given him a mission, who had announced to him that he would have much to suffer in carrying out the task he had been given, who was with him all the way, directing and guiding his steps, who forgave him, made things right when he got them wrong, stood by him to the end…

That’s why when Paul looked at his troubles he could say: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. … Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day (2 Cor 4:8-9, 16). 

Where have you personally experienced or heard about in another’s life how God saves people from being crushed? How he never abandons his children? How he renews the spirit even as the body suffers? Talk to God about this experience or share it with someone else.

Saint Paul knew clearly the power of God because as a Jew he often prayed with Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40: 1-3

I posted three articles to invite you to soak in this amazing treasure of God-with-us in the midst of all the world’s current troubles and whatever you may be dealing with in life right now:

The Meaning of the World is Love: “I knew, however, that at that moment I had been set free from the particular news items on the page before me to inhabit the reality of love that surrounds and holds all the tragedy and joy of the world: the reality of divine love, God’s love that is the meaning of the world, the design of the world. Each person, each country was playing out in their lives and decisions a drama of love: they were either overflowing with love, sacrificing themselves out of love, or resisting and refusing to love with all the horror this creates for others. Love made us. Love keeps us. Love is the design of the world, the only meaning of our lives. As St John Paul II said to us: “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us.”

How to Bear the Fruit of Christ in Your Life: “In those raging days as I struggled to align my dreams with God’s dreams for me, I learned that Jesus wants us to share our weaknesses and struggles with him, not hide them. It became clear to me that Jesus is not afraid of the mess we try to conceal from others and even ourselves. Jesus is the doctor who can heal us when we are unable to help ourselves when our lives or relationships are riddled with the consequences of our passionate outbursts or resentments at what our life has become. Each time we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus comes to give new meaning to our fragilities. He reminds us that in his eyes we are more precious than we think.”

Maintaining Peace when Worries Overwhelm You: “Jesus promises: ‘Close your eyes and let yourself be carried away on the flowing current of my grace; close your eyes and do not think of the present, turning your thoughts away from the future just as you would from temptation. Repose in me, believing in my goodness, and I promise you by my love that if you say ‘You take care of it,’ I will take care of it all; I will console you, liberate you and guide you.’”

My friends, we can be of great courage, for as Saint Paul, the apostle who lived through great troubles and tribulation, has testified: “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Cor 4: 8-9, 16-18).

Image credit: Photo by Ray Bilcliff: