How to know for sure God loves you (Horizons of the Heart 3)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-meymm-1246469

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment, even in the events of our life that are our undoing.

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.

I love to pray Psalm 103, particularly with the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible:

Bless Yahweh, my soul,
from the depths of my being, his holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all his acts of kindness.
….Yahweh is tenderness and pity,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love;
his indignation does not last for ever,
nor his resentment remain for all time;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve,
nor repay us as befits our offences.
As the height of heaven above earth,
so strong is his faithful love for those who fear him.
…As tenderly as a father treats his children,
so Yahweh treats those who fear him;
he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust” (vv. 1-2, 6-11, 13-14).

The day I meditated on this passage of Scripture at the beginning of my retreat, my soul was bleeding to know, truly know, that God cared for me, loved me, was near to me.

Did you ever ask yourself: What would it look like if God were caring for me? How can I know for sure?

God’s Love is forever (Horizons of the Heart 3)

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment, even in the events of our life that are our undoing.

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.

I love to pray Psalm 103, particularly with the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible:

Bless Yahweh, my soul,
from the depths of my being, his holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all his acts of kindness.
….Yahweh is tenderness and pity,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love;
his indignation does not last for ever,
nor his resentment remain for all time;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve,
nor repay us as befits our offences.
As the height of heaven above earth,
so strong is his faithful love for those who fear him.
…As tenderly as a father treats his children,
so Yahweh treats those who fear him;
he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust” (vv. 1-2, 6-11, 13-14).

The day I meditated on this passage of Scripture at the beginning of my retreat, my soul was bleeding to know, truly know, that God cared for me, loved me, was near to me.

Did you ever ask yourself: What would it look like if God were caring for me? How can I know for sure?

It is a mystery for sure, but even more than that, it is mystical. The Lord then led me to another passage: Isaiah 49.

Sing for joy, O heavens!
    Rejoice, O earth!
    Burst into song, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on them in their suffering.

Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
    the Lord has forgotten us.”

Pause: have you ever thought that the Lord had deserted you? That he had forgotten you? What was happening? What was the final straw that brought you to this conclusion? What does being “deserted” and “forgotten” feel like? What does it make you think about yourself? About God?

God responds to Jerusalem:

Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
    Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
    I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands (vv.13-16).

Photo by Kyle Nieber on Unsplash

“See, Kathryn,” the Lord helped me to understand. “I carry you in the womb as does a mother.” A baby in the womb receives everything from its mother: life, form, food, growth, blood, development. Receives is the key word here. A pre-born baby is wholly receptive. To be held in the “womb of God,” is to receive from God, to become and come-to-be through the nurturance, love, and fidelity of the God who creates, sustains, and keep us in existence at every moment of our life.  

Inherent in motherhood is the desire to protect her children. A couple of weeks ago I listened to an interview of a mother who was first at the scene when an active shooter was reported at Robbs Elementary in Uvalde and ran immediately into the school to find her two children. Nothing could stop that mother from running toward danger to rescue her children. To save their child, a parent will race into a fire, risk their life in gunfire, throw a child to safety at the cost of their own life….

It is the same with God. His love is forever, surrounding us with walls of care. He sent his beloved Son Jesus to offer himself for our salvation, at the cost of his life. God, in a sense, ran toward us in our sin to save us, not considering the loss he would himself incur. The image of the father of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke is also an image of our heavenly Father. He ran toward his returning and repentant son who was returning after having squandered his inheritance, probably nearly half his father’s estate. Yet how his father loved him with that forever love that is the hallmark of God’s heart.

To be honest, however, we each suffer at the hands of others, some in lesser ways, others in greater. God’s love for us doesn’t necessarily magically preserve us from all pain, suffering and sorrow.

A mother and father who have truly grown wise through the sufferings of their own life, know that the moments of suffering, injustice, and challenge that their child faces may also be their most defining moments.

Anyone who saw the 2012 film For Greater Glory will recall the story of the teenager José Luis Sánchez del Río, the 14-year-old martyr who died defending the Faith when the Catholic Church in Mexico was being bitterly persecuted in the early 1900s.  He was canonized on October16, 2016 in Rome.

The Vatican website has this for Blessed José’s biography: 

José Sánchez del Río was born on March 28, 1913, in Sahuayo, Michoacán, Mexico. Wanting to defend the faith and rights of Catholics, he followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers and asked his mother for permission to join the Cristeros. She objected, telling him he was too young. “Mama,” he replied, “do not let me lose the opportunity to gain heaven so easily and so soon.”

On February 5, 1928, the young boy was captured during a battle and imprisoned in the church sacristy.

In order to terrorize him, soldiers made him watch the hanging of one of the other captured Cristeros. But José encouraged the man, saying, “You will be in heaven before me. Prepare a place for me. Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon.”

In prison, he prayed the Rosary and sang songs of faith. He wrote a beautiful letter to his mother, telling her that he was resigned to doing God’s will. José’s father attempted to ransom his son but was unable to raise the money in time.

On February 10, 1928, the teenager was brutally tortured and the skin of the soles of his feet was sheered off; he was then forced to walk on salt, followed by walking through the town to the cemetery. The young boy screamed in pain but would not give in.

At times the soldiers stopped him and said, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we will spare your life.” But he answered: “Long live Christ the King! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!”

Once he arrived at the cemetery, José was asked once more if he would deny his faith. The 14-year-old shouted out: “Long live Christ the King!” and was summarily shot.

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Again and again, in the Scriptures, it is in the darkest and most dreaded moments that glory shines. Think of Israel on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army barreling down behind them. The parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus became the image for all time of how God himself saves his people not from their difficulties but through them. It is through death that we come to life.

Think of Judith and Esther and Peter in his betrayal of the Lord. Consider the persecution of the early Church, the martyrs, and the countless women and men who in every walk of life have bravely been carried by the power of God through the midst of the flames and have not been burnt. They have walked through the floods and not drowned. Their most painful moments became their glory through God’s power.

We may not be in a situation where we fear for our lives or are called to stand up for our Faith at the cost of martyrdom. At least not yet! What most brings us into the darkness and dreaded loss that threatens to break us apart are situations where we are “undone.”

We call these moments, the “carrying of the cross.” Jesus told us that to follow him we would need to take up our cross and follow him. To live with him in glory, we will need to die with him on the cross. How much we may want to avoid the cross: the consequences of failure, mistakes, being helpless before the injustice of others, having our plans or dreams unraveled by unexpected illness, job loss, financial burden…or pandemic, chain supply issues, or war in some other part of the globe.

Jesus says to us, “If you want to follow me disown your life, surrender to my ways.” I have been quite taken by the simple prayer of the humble Canadian religious Blessed Dina Bélanger: “Jesus, I love you. Have your way with my life.”

Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

In the face of the myriad paths I could take in life, it is God who decides which alternative is of value to me and my life in the world. “Jesus, I love you, have your way with my life.” God is the one who knows whether a possible choice will make me more selfish or more selfless. “Jesus, I love you, have your way with my life.” God knows what things will lead me more to him and to become my authentic self. “Jesus, I love you, have your way with my life.”

I have to admit I have often bemoaned the losses of my life. Despite praying the Our Father countless times, it has taken me a long time to whisper to God, “Thy Kingdom come. My kingdom go.” I have focused on the clouds, on the cross, on the tears…surviving them, understanding them, growing from them. So patiently has the Lord waited for me to turn my eyes and heart to him. “Your Kingdom is all I want.”

I pray in trust to the One who knows and loves me more than I could ever know or love myself:

“…I have not immersed myself deeply in your glory. Forgive me. I have stayed on the surface where it is safe, where I can protect myself and manage my future. Now, my Father, I plunge myself into all your glory.

Take me in.
Take me deeper.
Assume me into you.”

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Featured image: Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

The amazing promise of new beginnings (Horizons of the Heart 2)

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment, even in the events of our life that are our undoing.

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

Beginnings are more important than endings. In fact, beginnings are already woven into every ending. The ending of the life the caterpillar has always known is already integrated into the process of the butterfly’s new beginning. The seeming ending of the Master’s life on Calvary was mysteriously taken up, and gently, in the Father’s hands, it became the stage for the mystery of resurrection beginnings that would be lived again and again and again in Jesus’ disciples’ lives.

“Why would you look for the living One in a tomb?” said the angels in white, angels of the resurrection whose radiance washed away the black sorrow of the ending of the Lord’s life on Calvary (Luke 24:5 TPT). The women who had come to seek the Lord buried in the tomb, locked behind a giant stone, dead, whom they feared they would see no more, these women faced the darkness of the sepulcher now lit with almost blinding brilliance. “He is not here. He is risen.”

“There’s no reason to be afraid” (Mt. 28:5). Pause a moment and think of an ending in your life that was particularly sudden, seemingly absolute. Or an ending you are living through now: termination, loss, failure. Any ending. One as great as the breaking of a relationship or losing a pet, or moving, or retiring. Or one as beautiful as the wedding of a child or the turning of a new leaf in life. Any ending.

Don’t endings bring on feelings of fear?

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” said the angel to the women. I’m not so sure that the command to not be afraid actually shifted their fear into trust. Nevertheless, it is helpful to remember that amid all our dread, struggle, the anticipation of an uncertain future, the uncertainty about what is happening, there is something permanent that is the reason why we needn’t fear…needn’t fear deep down, needn’t believe the absolute worst, needn’t believe that the ending is, well, an absolute and final and irrevocable end.

“I know you’re here looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here—he has risen victoriously, just as he said! Come inside the tomb and see the place where our Lord was lying” (Matthew 28:5-6 TPT).

Proof! That’s what we need to really believe the end is not the final ending. Come inside and see where the Lord was lying and that he is not here anymore.

Come inside. We interiorly flee our endings. We can’t take the shame. The sorrow. The worry about the future. It is all too much. The apostles fled and they didn’t turn back. They forgot that the Master at whose side they had lived had words of eternal life. They couldn’t remember that just three days earlier he had said it was good that he goes and that he would come back. It escaped their memories entirely that he had prophesied that he would die on the cross and three days after rise again. The women, on the other hand, sorrowing and loving and deeply yearning for the touch of their Lord’s presence and the sight of his face once more did return. They returned to the tomb. To the place of what they believed to be the utter ending.

We need to return to the places of our endings if we are to discover the brilliant process and amazing promise of new beginning.

There is, however, the message of a different type of beginning that the women are entrusted with. They are given the mission to run to their devastated and hiding brethren and tell them this message: “I am going ahead of you in Galilee and you will see me there” (Mt 28:7). Galilee… The place where it all began. By the sea of Galilee, he had called Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave their boats and follow him. The sea of Galilee had been his first pulpit, and had seen his first conversion. (“Leave me Lord,” Peter had said, “I am a sinful man.”) Galilee was the place of the beginning of their relationship with him. A relationship now grown old and sagging from the sorrow of betrayal and the worn thin by the confusion of the last days. The ending.

Everything of those three years and the colossal failure of the arrest and death of Jesus was still there…
for them
for him.

…return to Galilee
to the beginning
to the call
to the promise

…return to the beginning to learn afresh to be LOVED and to LOVE.

I distinctly heard his voice in my heart on the first day of my retreat, “Come back with me, Kathryn, to the beginning.

To your call
To the promises I made to you at your baptism, at your profession

I am faithful to promises through endings and into new beginnings. You can’t see the new beginning as you bend and peer into what appears to be the tomb of your life. Just as the women at the tomb had to believe the angels of promise who proclaimed that the world had been made new by something that had never happened before, that someone had risen from the dead, you too must believe without seeing that I have a new beginning for you. Come back with me to the early days, the first love, the first profession of trust in me as I called you, the first experiences of my love for you, Kathryn. That love still stands, always stands, will forever stand unshaken.”

He is not there. You may not know where he is right now. You may not know what he has in store for your life. You may not know if you believe in new beginnings or even want any new beginning that you can’t see and be certain of and in control of so that you won’t be hurt anew. Because let’s be real….endings hurt.

The paradigm of Jesus, however, holds true in us. Whatever it is that robs us of what we had is not greater than the Father who has us in his hands. And our Father is the God of life who brings victory out of failure and life out of death. In our very endings, or what to us seems to be an ending, is already the beginning of the new life. All is shrouded in mystery except for the very clear promise: “I will meet you in Galilee.”

We will not see Jesus where we expect to find him, if we are certain that our relationship with God stands in shambles because of the endings that have left our lives so torn… If we are certain that Jesus looks at our lives the way we look at them…. Lives of endings and tombs and hopelessly no beginnings.

What is your ending?

Where do you see the beginning of something possibly, tentatively new living already within you?

Where is your Galilee? Where did you experience the Lord’s love for you? His call? His promise? His trust? Where did you see his eyes looking on you and hear his voice calling you his beloved? Return to that place. Return with him. Patiently. The Lord is unravelling the endings of your life and with the very colors and threads of the past will weave the new that will be your unending joy.

He promises that to you. So weep if you must. Tears heal and are so good for us to shed. But then bend down to look into the tomb, hear the promise, and follow Jesus back to the beginning where you will meet the Weaver of the indescribable beauty of all that is new.

The Amazing Promise of New Beginnings (Horizons of the Heart 2)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cr4yq-123da78

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

Beginnings are more important than endings. In fact, beginnings are already woven into every ending. The ending of the life the caterpillar has always known is already integrated into the process of the butterfly’s new beginning. The seeming ending of the Master’s life on Calvary was mysteriously taken up, and gently, in the Father’s hands, it became the stage for the mystery of resurrection beginnings that would be lived again and again and again in Jesus’ disciples’ lives.

“Why would you look for the living One in a tomb?” said the angels in white, angels of the resurrection whose radiance washed away the black sorrow of the ending of the Lord’s life on Calvary (Luke 24:5 TPT). The women who had come to seek the Lord buried in the tomb, locked behind a giant stone, dead, whom they feared they would see no more, these women faced the darkness of the sepulcher now lit with almost blinding brilliance. “He is not here. He is risen.”

“There’s no reason to be afraid” (Mt. 28:5). Pause a moment and think of an ending in your life that was particularly sudden, seemingly absolute. Or an ending you are living through now: termination, loss, failure. Any ending. One as great as the breaking of a relationship or losing a pet, or moving, or retiring. Or one as beautiful as the wedding of a child or the turning of a new leaf in life. Any ending.

Don’t endings bring on feelings of fear?

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” said the angel to the women. I’m not so sure that the command to not be afraid actually shifted their fear into trust. Nevertheless, it is helpful to remember that amid all our dread, struggle, the anticipation of an uncertain future, the uncertainty about what is happening, there is something permanent that is the reason why we needn’t fear…needn’t fear deep down, needn’t believe the absolute worst, needn’t believe that the ending is, well, an absolute and final and irrevocable end.

“I know you’re here looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here—he has risen victoriously, just as he said! Come inside the tomb and see the place where our Lord was lying” (Matthew 28:5-6 TPT).

Say a Strong YES to Your Existence (Horizons of the Heart 1)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-zihmy-1237cc9

he most difficult thing about being a follower of Jesus Christ is not climbing mountains of virtue or even walking through the valleys of incomprehensible sorrow. No. As difficult as these things may be, there is one thing more difficult still. Strangely, it is something even a child can do. Something we were created to do. Yet we, caught in the complex web of adulthood, we, more sophisticated Christians so far from the simple childlike faith that pleases so much the heart of God, we find this one thing, I dare say, almost impossible. We can talk about it, pray about it, preach about it, encourage others to do it. However, to totally and completely do this ourselves is the most difficult. Though it is the deepest desire of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus to see this in us, we’d rather do everything else but this.

The first thing to which we are invited—nay rather pushed to risk everything we have in order to do—is this: to trust.

To trust that God knows my name. That God cares about me. That Jesus is speaking the truth when he says, “I love a single soul as much as I love all souls together.” To trust that God reveals himself to me daily, even in each moment, in every situation without exception. That I am loved as I am. This love that flows to us from God’s heart is the most basic and secure fact of my life….

The Ascension: a tremendous transition for us all

Beloved in Christ!

With what tenderness must have Jesus looked upon his apostles and disciples gathered on Mount Olivet…

Those final moments when they were alone, forty days after he rose from the dead…

With what joy did he look into each of their eyes that last time he saw them in his human body on this earth, flooding his heart with their face and the dearest memories of who they were, their characteristics, their love for him, their potential, their spiritual growth in the previous three years. Memories of conversations, struggles and victories, secrets of their heart…

These beloved friends who had been such a part of his life and mission and paschal mystery (yes, even in their failure, for their betrayals and fleeing from the cross have given us hope in our own fears and disloyalty)…

As he blessed them…  And withdrew from them… Here still in his blessing… Taken from their sight…

“When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).

The ascension was a moment of tremendous transition for Jesus, for Mary, for the Apostles and disciples, for Mary Magdalene and the women who had faithfully tended to their needs. Yes, clearly Jesus had gone and, as the angels said, would return one day. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Spirit. (And what a transition that was for these fearful and self-centered novices of the Lord who became the fearless messengers of the risen Jesus who had loved them, filling the world with his holy Name!)

But there is another hidden transition that affects you and I as well. Today. Right now. And how we need to hear this good news!

If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, we are as well.

We dwell not only here on earth, looking forward to the happiness of heaven in an eternity beyond time, but now… right now… you and I… as members of the body of Christ who is our Head… as children of God… as inheritors of the kingdom of heaven… We dwell eternally in glory even now.

Ascension is not just about Jesus, his destiny, his glory…. It’s not like we peer into a heaven to see the Lamb seated on the Throne while we trudge through our lives on this earth alone… The ascension is about our present reality… here… now… today….

Benjamin West (1738-1820) The Ascension; Berger Collection

The truth is, “Jesus is not glorified in his own Person only. His Apostles had fed upon him [and so have we], had his body within them, by virtue of the Holy Eucharist…. Now upon his Ascension, His body in them is glorified instantaneously with the glorifying of his body at the right hand of God. Like an electric flash the glory of the Spirit shines out in the fires of Pentecost. The body of Christ, however veiled in our flesh, in our sinful persons, nevertheless cannot but have the glory of the Spirit of holy fire burning and resting upon it. We do not, I think, dwell as we ought to dwell upon the present glorification of our nature in our own persons, as members of the glorified body of Christ” (Benson, Richard Meux Further Letters, pages 268-269).

If Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, we are as well, as members of his body.

So, friends, look to the glory.

As Paul reminds us, “and all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Mass is a remembrance of Christ’s passion and pledge of future glory. In the Eucharistic liturgy the Ascension is celebrated again and again by us, in via, on the way. It is the holy banquet in which Christ is received. “Here heaven and earth meet, constellated around the ascended Christ who brings humanity into the very heart of the Godhead…. We need to rekindle the Catholic eschatological imagination: to realize anew Jesus Christ’s ascension as inaugurating the transfiguration of humanity and to envision boldly the cosmic scope and implications of that decisive and ongoing event” (Fr Robert Imbelli, Ongoing Ascension, May 10, 2018).

So, friends, may this year’s celebration of the Ascension and Pentecost be a moment of transition for you. We are invited in each Mass to lift up our hearts and we exclaim, “We have lifted them up to the Lord!” Raise your eyes from this earth. Upwards! Lift up your hearts! Dwell already where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2).

Image Credit: Benjamin West, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now heaven is present on the earth

The Solemnity of the Ascension can be eclipsed for most of us by the Resurrection, Good Friday, and Christmas. For me, the Ascension is a liturgical feast that draws me inward and upward. Pope Benedict stated in his homily for the Ascension in 2013: “Christ’s Ascension means that he no longer belongs to the world of corruption and death that conditions our life. It means that he belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form.”

My human existence led into God’s presence as Jesus took with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form….

My human existence led into God’s presence…

My human existence…

St. Augustine said that although Jesus ascended to the Father alone, “we also ascend, because we are in him by grace.”

We are led by Christ into the new world of the resurrection, where all the members of his body are drawn upwards to the Father in heaven.

The apostles, in the reading today, were still wondering when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. His answer to them is that they “would receive power” when the Holy Spirit was given to them:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

In other words, Jesus directs their attention to this “new world of his resurrection.” After being brought to the life by the Spirit, they were to set their minds and hearts on things above where Christ is, not on earthly things (cf. Col 3:1-2).

In the early Church the Christians placed the Christ of the Ascension in the dome of their Churches to remind them that Christ ascended to his Father in heaven and that he was returning.

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

In a world of turmoil and crisis in which so many are suffering unjustly and needlessly, we can pray daily, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Perhaps we feel that we cannot effect the change the world so needs, but we can be that change. With our faith in Jesus Christ who is real, the strength of our belief in the kingdom present and among us in Christ who is close to us in our every need, we can experience how we are changed, how heaven is present on the earth and every sorrow, every closed door, every crisis is but a window to his drawing us with him to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Sauber, <a href="http://CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You have been called with a purpose

Here at the end of the beautiful month of May and near the end if the Easter Season, the difficult and heart-wrenching days of the paschal triduum and the suffering and betrayal of the Lord are in the mists of my memory. This reading, however, brings me back with joy to those sorrowful days.

At the Last Supper we got a snapshot of the spiritual state of the apostles before the passion and death of their Master…before their dismal failure to stand with the One who was their Life. Peter boldly proclaimed at that Passover supper that he would die with Jesus, only a few hours later to declare he didn’t even know him. All of the Twelve wanted to be sure that they weren’t the one who would betray the Lord. “Is it I, Lord?” they each asked.

As Jesus walked into the mystery of his salvific death, alone, abandoned by his chosen Twelve, they each learned what they were capable of doing without their Lord and Master. Nothing. They each in some way abandoned Jesus. Before, they had fought with each other to see who would be the greatest, who was the most important, and Peter had tried to convince Jesus that the cross and death in Jerusalem was really not a good idea for the Messiah. In those dark and fear-filled days after Jesus died on the cross something happened to each of them.

The Apostles learned existentially that they were completely dependent on Jesus. They needed him for absolutely everything. Without him they were nothing, like branches cut from the vine. For each of them it was a crisis, a turning point, a transformation as they painfully emerged into who they were truly to be in the Kingdom: the foundation stones of the holy city Jerusalem in heaven.

“The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

Moments of failure, of change, of challenge…we all have them. They are stages in our life in which we are still who-we-were and not quite yet who-we-will-be. And this liminal stage of confusion and darkness is what makes these times in our life so painful.

These transcendent crises come into my life on a regular basis. Sometimes the loss and confusion even last several years as I integrate who I was with who I am becoming, who I have been with who God has made me to be, my next step on the journey of my response to the call and grace of God. These are graced transitions.

If you are in one of these transformative crises in your life, take heart from the Twelve apostles. You may not be a stone in the foundation of the holy Jerusalem, and the Twelve certainly didn’t think they were during the 40 days after the resurrection when they remained fearfully hiding away. You have your own place in that holy city. You have been called with a purpose. Every event in your life has meaning. And no matter what you have come through or come from, God is working actively through every aspect of your daily life to keep moving you toward the fullness of what he has created you to be. Rejoice. Alleluia!

Image by Andrey Grachave on Pixabay

St. Charles de Foucauld: Everyone can live his spirituality

On May 15, 2022, Charles de Foucauld was canonized by Pope Francis. I have always been attracted by Charles de Foucauld’s spirituality, almost mysteriously so. The life I live is nowhere near his vocation as a desert hermit in the Sahara. Yet, in God’s Providence, I have felt there was always a connection, as have so many others.

The short story of Charles de Foucauld’s life reads like this: he was born in Strasbourg France in 1858 into an aristocratic family with great means and privilege, he lost his faith as a teenager, he served as a soldier, then an explorer, had a conversion experience and became a monk, and finally a desert hermit, serving most of his years among the Tuareg people of Algeria. 

He witnessed to his faith above all through his quiet example, without words. His desire was to live his faith through deep prayer and friendship and service to the people he came to know and love.

If you scratch the surface of his life, however, there is so much to this holy man that speaks to us today.

The tragic losses in the early years

When Charles was six both of his parents died just a few months apart. He and his sister lived with their paternal grandmother. One day they were out walking when a herd of cows came running at them. The grandmother was so frightened she had a heart attack, and shortly thereafter she died. The children went to live with their maternal grandfather who spoiled them.

After these tragic losses, it is no wonder that Charles grew up a very troubled young man. Through his reading he was led away from his faith and lost any sense of meaning in his life. His didn’t want to study. His grandfather got him into the military academy, and he finished at the bottom of his class. And that’s just a taste of his troubles. He was often disciplined for his behavior and openly paraded his mistress about town.

Charles was sent for military operations in Algeria, and in the mysterious ways of God it was there, that his journey back to God begave. It was through seeing the faith of the Muslim people who prayed together often during the day, these people who seemed to Charles to have this sense of the presence of God about them always, that his own journey towards faith began. Charles left the army after only a year of service and then spent a year exploring Morocco in disguise, since the country was closed to Christian Europeans.

God redeems the wounds we suffer on the way

One of the most beautiful things I think we can learn from the life of Charles de Foucauld is that our vocation unfolds gradually over time. We discover the meaning of our life little by little throughout the entirety of our life. We all come through experiences in our life that sometimes knock us off course, as we see in the life of Brother Charles. This journey that God leads each of us on redeems the wounds we suffer along the way.  Because of the death of three important figures in his early childhood, Charles became rootless. However, this rootlessness that broke him in his earliest and most tender years, was transformed into a life that had no roots anywhere on this earth, but was ever and always a search to root himself in God. He wanted his roots to be in God’s will for him. Period. Praise God!

In his twenties, Charles became friends with his cousin Marie de Bondy who was like a second maternal figure to him. When he returned from Morocco and lived for a while with her and her family, he noticed how kind and intelligent and good she and her friends were and how warmly and respectfully they received him. Charles began to think that whatever it was they believed as Catholics couldn’t be that bad. But he just couldn’t get his head around the teachings of the Church…doctrines like the Trinity and the one person and two natures of Christ.

In his mid-twenties he went early one morning before Mass into a church, entered a confessional and announced to the priest Fr Henri Huvelin that he was not there for confession but wanted to talk about doctrine. Fr. Henri was famous for his gifts as a confessor and he realized immediately that Charles needed to meet Christ, not just talk about him and debate about doctrine. The priest told Charles to kneel and confess his sins. Amazingly, Charles did. After much time, and after sharing the troubles of his whole life, he left the confessional weeping. And then as Fr. Henri went to vest for Mass, he told him to receive Communion. That meeting of Charles with Jesus was so powerful, that later he wrote, “As soon as I knew there was a God, I knew I had to live for him alone.”

Father, I abandon myself into your hands

Even though many may not know the life and spirit of Charles de Foucauld, they probably have come across his famous prayer of abandonment:

Father,
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 you’re your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence
For you are my Father.
Amen.

Actually, this prayer was not written in this form by Charles de Foucauld. When Magdeleine Hutin founded the Little Sisters of Jesus based on the rule of Charles de Foucauld almost twenty years after he had died, she was looking through his writings for a prayer that could be used with her new novices. She found notes that Brother Charles had written in his journal when he had been struggling to decide if he should make solemn profession as a Trappist monk. He had entered the Trappists three years after his conversion, looking for the religious order in which he could live a life that was the most poor and obscure. The words that now make up the famous Prayer of Abandonment came from that painful struggle that had so seared his soul. He felt God calling him to Nazareth, to imitate Jesus in his poverty in complete obscurity, and he felt he couldn’t find this in the Trappists. The monks wanted him to study for the priesthood and had already decided that he should be the next novice master. This was exactly the opposite of all he wanted in following Jesus in Nazareth. So these words were written in a dark moment as he struggled to know what God was mysteriously calling him to do. It wasn’t clear to him. God didn’t show him the whole path of his life, every decision he should make. He had to abandon himself into God’s hands and pray, “Do with me whatever you will. I am ready for all. I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself….”

We can wonder sometimes if our life has any meaning. So many disparate starts and stops, choices that lead in opposite directions or even to dead ends. Brother Charles shows us through his life that there is a thread of meaning that very gradually emerges through the entirety of our life. We haven’t lived our life through to the end yet in order to see where that thread leads, and Charles was in the same condition when he wrote this prayer. But he knew one thing: he was ready to give up all and follow the Lord wherever he called him.

I like to think that this prayer of abandonment was in Brother Charles’ heart in some way through the many losses of his life. He was eventually ordained a priest at 43 and left for the Sahara, eventually creating a place to live, in a rugged, desolate land, Tamanrasset. He wanted to be among those who were “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother.” He wrote a rule for a community to gather around him and live the same way. In his lifetime no one came. He was alone, always alone, except for the beloved people he took care of in the areas around his lodging. “Father, whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all.”

On the evening of December 1, 1916, Charles was killed by a band of marauders who had encircled his lodging. Brother Charles knelt on the ground outside his hut, facing the wall, his hands behind his back.

“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….


A group of soldiers rode up and in the confusion the man holding Brother Charles at gun point shot him.

I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your Will be done in me, and in all your creatures.


Everyone can live the spirituality of Nazareth

The poverty and obscurity of Jesus at Nazareth was an ideal for St. Charles de Foucauld that was determinative from the moment of his conversion to the very last moment of his life. We don’t have time here to go through the evolution of this Nazareth spirituality in Charles’  life, but just to touch upon the final evolution of this ideal, that can really guide us in this world in which people don’t want to hear what Catholics have to say, what Jesus invites us to in the Gospel.

When Charles settled down in the Sahara desert, he wanted to bring Jesus and his Gospel to others through a Nazareth way of life. This meant he would bring Jesus not through words but through a modest life of prayer on behalf of others, living among them, almost indistinguishable from them. When Jesus lived in Nazareth, he lived in our place, in our little town, the poorest most despised little town of Galilee. Charles would live in a place like this, living a spirituality of welcome, openness and presence among the people that lived around him.

I said earlier that no brothers came to share Brother Charles’ life. Eventually this holy desert hermit came to realize that Nazareth could be lived anywhere, in every life, in every vocation: religious, monastic, priestly, lay.

For St. Charles de Foucauld, the poorest of the poor are those who have not received the Gospel, or we could say, those also who have resisted or refused the Gospel. He wanted to bring the seed of the divine Word to as many of these poor people as possible. Every one of us can live this Nazareth spirituality. We can each in our own way, in wherever we are living and in whatever we are doing, bring the seeds of the Gospel through what we do, how we do it, why we do it.

Remember, Brother Charles’ life was transformed by a cousin who was respectful to this young man who lived a wayward and disgraceful life and who had long before left the faith. Without a word she was the instrument of God for this first thought that sent him on a lifetime journey of holiness: “Maybe what my cousin believes isn’t crazy. She is so good.”

Each of us today lives in mission territory. The new book Saint Charles de Foucauld: His life and spirituality is an easy but penetrating read that’s well worth the time you give to it. St Charles de Foucauld is the perfect companion for us who have to learn how to be Christ for others so often more by who we are than by what we say.

Pope Francis, at the canonization of St. Charles de Foucauld, spoke words so true of the new saint and for each of us, “Let us never forget this. Our abilities and our merits are not the central thing, but rather the unconditional, free and unmerited love of God. Our Christian lives begin not with doctrine and good works, but with the amazement born of realizing that we are loved, prior to any response on our part.”

Say a strong YES to your existence (Horizons of the Heart 1)

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment.

Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, the retreat guide Until Christ Be Formed in You by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

The most difficult thing about being a follower of Jesus Christ is not climbing mountains of virtue or even walking through the valleys of incomprehensible sorrow. No. As difficult as these things may be, there is one thing more difficult still. Strangely, it is something even a child can do. Something we were created to do. Yet we, caught in the complex web of adulthood, we, more sophisticated Christians so far from the simple childlike faith that pleases so much the heart of God, we find this one thing, I dare say, almost impossible. We can talk about it, pray about it, preach about it, encourage others to do it. However, to totally and completely do this ourselves is the most difficult. Though it is the deepest desire of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus to see this in us, we’d rather do everything else but this.

The first thing to which we are invited—nay rather pushed to risk everything we have in order to do—is this: to trust.

To trust that God knows my name. That God cares about me. That Jesus is speaking the truth when he says, “I love a single soul as much as I love all souls together.” To trust that God reveals himself to me daily, even in each moment, in every situation without exception. That I am loved as I am. This love that flows to us from God’s heart is the most basic and secure fact of my life.

Wrestling with trust like Job

At the beginning of my retreat, I wrestled with this one thing. I read the book of Job, chapters 38 to 40. After having suffered a number of serious injuries to life and livelihood, Job struggled with trust. He becomes impatient with his friends who frustrate him with their long speeches in which they attempt to explain to him why he was being punished. He cries out at the beginning of the book, “May the day of my birth perish…” (Job 3:3a), and makes his demand of God near the end: “I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me!” (Job 31:35a).

Then in chapters 38 to 40, God does answer Job from the whirlwind. Having entered upon retreat with a bit of a Job-like experience just behind me, I spent several hours meditating upon God’s words to his servant Job.

If you haven’t read these three chapters recently, I highly encourage you to do so. Reading them in one sitting is like being surrounded by a whirlwind of God’s power and activity, God’s attentiveness to the details, every last detail of his creation. Here are a few verses:

39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labor pains are ended.
Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return….

13  “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    though they cannot compare
    with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.

“Kathryn,” God said to me as I walked along Tampa Bay later that day. “Kathryn, do you see the details that I take care of for each creature I have made. I count the months till the mountain goats give birth. I see when their labor pains have ended. I know the day on which their young leave and do not return. I made the ostrich and see how she lays her eggs on the ground, for she was not endowed with wisdom. Yet I gave her great speed. When she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider who even as they race fall far behind her. A whole world of creatures and I know every detail of each one of them. I care for every detail of their existence. I do all these things every day. I can certainly take care of your life, Kathryn.”

O God of the details. A myriad of details. Endless details. It is in the details that subtle beauty is found, amazing uniqueness.

I asked God, “What is my detail?”

“You, Kathryn, are my compassion.” It is my unique way in which I mirror and manifest God’s love in the world. God has given me to be his compassion. Compassion is the detail of God’s own heart that he has given to me. It is to be the calling card of my personality, of my discipleship.

What is your detail?

Read Job 38 to 40. Notice the details God has planned into the lives of his creatures, the details he knows about, cares about, the details that make each unique. Then very simply, very tenderly, ask God to reveal to you the specific and special detail that he has planted in you. The unique way in which you manifest God’s love to the world.

You can trust God because he knows and concerns himself with every detail of your life. In a certain way, we each manifest to others some detail of God. He has entrusted this detail to us, he develops it in us, he rejoices to see it in us.

Say a strong yes to your existence. Say yes to the detail of God’s character you bear inscribed on your heart and display through your actions.

Grieve and worship even if you can’t yet trust

At the end of the book of Job, we find a beautiful verse (42:5).

My ears had heard of you before,
    but now my eyes have seen you.

Remarkably it doesn’t say that now Job “trusted” God in spite of all his sufferings. It says that Job in his grief, now recognizes God and worships him. Job says:

“I know that you can do all things
    and that no plan of yours can be ruined….

 I will change my heart and life.
    I will sit in the dust and ashes” (Job 42:2, 5).

Job can grieve and worship at the same time. If you cannot yet trust, truly trust, with a “deep down nothing can shake me” trust, if pain and loss and confusion sear your soul with sorrow so that you are afraid to trust again, do as Job: grieve and worship. As you take as your own, develop and become the detail of God that he has given you and you alone, you will find that slowly, ever so slowly, the solid heart of God will wrap itself around your shaky soul and shore up trust within you.

I promise.

Image credits: Manolo Franco from Pixabay, ivabalk from Pixabay, Iuliia Bondarenko from Pixabay