Guided Meditation: The Storm on the Lake

Friends, many feel that these times have been and continue to be like a great storm. Maybe you do also. You might wonder where Jesus is? He might seem asleep amidst the sorrow and the pain, the uncertainty and the loneliness. I offer you this meditation on a scripture passage that is sure to bring us comfort. I pray you meet Jesus here in prayer.

Music: http://www.fesliyanstudios.com

At last, someone has seen ME

In today’s Gospel we witness the freedom Jesus brings to the possessed man who lived among the tombs, a frightening and violent man who was kept outside the community in the places of the dead.

I wonder what the man dwelling among the tombs with an unclean spirit experienced on the “inside.” We know how other people experienced him: he was a scary, out-of-control, possessed, and violent man. As I prayed with this passage, however, I entered within this unsubdued man bound with chains and shackles. What was it like to be this man? What did he feel? Desire? Fear?

I sensed that this person, deep within his spirit, could have felt shame, abandoned, powerless, hopeless, rejected as he dwelt away from the community, possessed by thousands of demons. (The name “Legion” refers to a Roman regiment of six thousand soldiers.)

Perhaps his heart was crying out, “Even though I’m screaming, no one hears ME. Even though people see me crying out and bruising myself with stones, no one sees ME.”

Sometimes I feel this way.

When life throws me unexpected detours shot through with loss and grief, my response can be public, embarrassing, insecure, out of character. I feel shame as people see my problems, mistakes, tears, reactions.

Yet at these times I too cry out from the deepest places of my heart, “No one sees ME.”

They hear my attempts to understand, analyze, and fix.

Responses such as, “I heard you already,” “You can’t do it,” “You’re too identified with your role,” “You’re out of the picture now,” can leave any of us crying out as the man who gashed himself with stones on the mountainside, ostracized from the community, our hearts broken open with the longing to be seen and heard and touched with gentle reverence.

In this Gospel reading, it is clear that Jesus saw this man. Jesus saw the external behavior that so frightened everyone who knew about this man. He also, though, could hold in his vision the heart and soul of this man created by his Father, this Beloved of his Heart. Jesus saw him. Jesus knew him. Jesus restored him to wholeness and truth. Jesus returned him to the community.

Jesus sees your deepest reality, your greatest suffering, your desperate need.

Jesus knows your true self and can understand and heal the parts of you that still cry out for wholeness and truth.

When we see ourselves and others in this beautiful and gracious way, we too can bring wholeness and truth to others and ourselves in the midst of any suffering.

Image Credit: Luis Ca from Pixabay

Sacred Moments: Silence

“Is there enough Silence for the Word to be heard?”

Stillness is tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. Stillness is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready. ~ Romano Guardini

If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence, like the sunlight, will illuminate you in God, and will unite you to God. Love silence: it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe. In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence. May God give you an expression of this “something” that is born of silence. After a while, a certain sweetness is born in the heart, and you are drawn almost by force to remain in silence. ~ from True Prayer by Kenneth Leech

A day filled with noise and voices can be a day of silence, If the noises become for us the echo of the presence of God. When we speak of ourselves and are filled with ourselves, we leave silence behind. When we repeat the intimate words of God that are within us, our silences remain intact. ~ from Poustinia by Catherlne de Hueck Doherty

I said to my soul, be still, and wait… In the darkness shall be the light And the stillness the dancing. ~ T. S. Eliot

Your Father ever and forever loves you

“The Father himself loves you.” This beautiful assurance of Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of John. (Jn. 16:27) And how our hearts are relieved to know that we are loved because the Father has decided to love us freely and generously and forever and ever.

Before you were created, God has loved you.

From your very birth, God has loved you. At every moment, in every place, through every valley and over every mountain, in every dark hole and corner of your life, in every bright and sunny joyous celebration, God is in you and you are in him.

When you feel beautiful and when you feel there is nothing in yourself to love, God loves you. Your Father ever and forever loves you.

He loves you tenderly. He never lifts his eyes from you. He never leaves your side.

“See, I lead everything to the end I ordained for it from without beginning by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How would anything be amiss?” In these words, God assured Julian of Norwich that he himself would make all things well because his love is so great.

I hold on to this promise, especially when I’m not feeling particularly beautiful. When I feel lost and confused about where I am or where I’m going. Or where the world is and where the world is going.

I hold on to my Father’s hand when I doubt my worth and on the occasional days when I dance beside him knowing what delight he finds in loving me. My Friend, if you struggle as I, I encourage you to trust. Don’t try to figure out his outrageous kindness or understand his tender mercies. Just receive them. Just trust them. Just let yourself be loved.

Sr Kathryn J Hermes, FSP

Two important questions: Who has the power? Who speaks for God?

Today’s first reading and Gospel from the Liturgy gave me great pause. The first reading narrated the familiar story of David and Goliath. The Gospel recounted the story of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. The Pharisees were watching to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath in order to have something to accuse him of and seek his death. Jesus did indeed cure the man.

These Scripture passages forced me to think about two questions that are as important today as they were at the time that these events took place in the life of David and of Jesus.

Who has the power?

Who speaks for God?

David: A man after God’s heart

In the first reading, King Saul, the anointed King of Israel, was responsible for leading his soldiers into battle. Instead, he cowered with his army for over forty days until a boy offered to fight the mighty Goliath.

Who had the power here? It seemed that Goliath had the raw power of size and strength. King Saul had the power of authority. David, who would be called “a man after God’s own heart,” had the power of trust in God, of truly knowing God’s heart. In the Responsorial Psalm we almost hear King David’s heart sing of his dependence on and trust in the Lord his rock:

Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
            who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war….
My shield, in whom I trust,
            who subdues my people under me….

You who give victory to kings,
            and deliver David, your servant from the evil sword.

For Saul to engage the situation with Goliath with complete responsibility he would have had to go into battle, relying on a God who was faithful and not on his own devices. He would have had to risk engaging the enemy troops even at the possible cost of his own death for the sake of securing the safety and sovereignty of the Israelites. David was absolutely sure that the Lord who delivered him from the claw of lion and bear would keep him safe while he engaged Goliath in battle. He looked not at the seeming power Goliath possessed, but at the power of God who had shown the shepherd David that he was never alone, that he couldn’t save himself, and that God would continue to deliver him.

Jesus: the One who shows us God’s heart for us all

In the Gospel, it appears that the Pharisees would have the power. They, the appointed shepherds of the people, used the man with the withered hand as a tool to trap Jesus. Their minds were set regarding what they thought about Jesus and the text says, “their hearts were hardened.” And indeed after Jesus heals the man in the synagogue that day, they join with the Herodians in plotting Jesus’ death.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, reaches out to heal, showing us the heart of God for us all. Jesus doesn’t change his story out of fear of the consequences for his own safety. Instead, Jesus, who does always what the Father tells him to do, enters into battle ultimately with the power of sin and darkness. Even through his death, he ultimately is victorious in the power of God.

Two different narratives: Then and Now

The Pharisees and Jesus would have talked about the situation in the synagogue that day in very different ways. While there was a blindness on the part of the Pharisees who had hardened their heart to Jesus and his teaching, there was in Jesus an openness, an obedience to God even unto death. Imagine sitting at table with the Pharisees later that evening, and then later around the campfire with the apostles and their Master. Two different narratives would have emerged.

Who has the power?

Who speaks for God?

JD Flynn, Editor-in-chief of The Pillar, in his article “Competing realities, ecclesial division, and ecclesial renewal,” talks about a similar situation in which we live today. “Right or wrong, we’ve learned in the past two years that before history can be written, there is sometimes a period in which wildly divergent narratives compete to account for even the most basic sequences of events.” (See The Pillar newsletter on January 4, 2022.)

There are “mutually exclusive interpretations and re-tellings at both the highest levels of government and family dinner tables” of the events of January 6, the coronavirus pandemic and vaccinations, the elections of 2020. Even Catholics are fragmented into sharply divided camps often led by strong personalities with a social platform giving competing accounts of ecclesial realities. Flynn notes that even within our family and Catholic circles we struggle with or against each other as we engage in conversations about vaccine mandates, or Vigano, or whether the parish should still be requiring masks.

It isn’t easy to live in these times of uncertainty. It can be disconcerting when we discover that family and friends with whom we ordinarily get along have very different conceptions of the reality around us. That experience is jarring, particularly in a situation in which everyone is sifting through information to determine as best as they can what is true and what is fake. What would have two years ago been an interesting conversation has turned into an attempt to convince the other of what each believes to be real, as each entrenches themselves more and more in their own camp.

Who has the power?

Who speaks for God?

Three touchstones for an uncertain time

I am taking away from these readings today three touchstones in living through this continued uncertain time, and I offer them for your consideration:

  1. It is reliance on God and not self-sufficiency that will give me the courage to risk being what I have been called to be, whatever may be the consequences for myself.
  2. If I use people, events or facts solely in order to bolster my own view of reality against another’s, I have to seriously examine myself if I am only increasing my own blindness and hardening my heart.
  3. Like Christ, we each live our lives within the great drama of salvation. We each have a role in the salvation God is bringing about in the Kingdom of God. Whatever I can do to keep my own attention on the larger mystery of what God is doing will help me engage with others more wisely, more freely, more lovingly.

Image Credit: Davide con testa di Golia (opera di Bernardo Castello) via Wikipedia

How to sustain prayerful strength in the midst of distractions and tribulations

“Be still and know that I am God”

When I think of the apostles asking Jesus to teach them to pray, after they had observed him at prayer, I can imagine them quietly repeating the words of what we have come to know as the Our Father for the very first time. Such sacred words addressed to a Father to whose service they had dedicated their lives at the call of Jesus. How the silence must have hung in the air when they finished the final words of the prayer, recited line by line after the Master. Nothing else in the world would have been as sacred and important as those few moments of stillness made holy by these words of worship now springing from their hearts. Did they silently soak in what Jesus had revealed to them, moments pregnant with meaning, suddenly free from all earthly cares and ambitions?

Ah! How I would want my prayer to be saturated with this stillness always. Many wonder how they can pray deeply when they are distracted by concerns and obligations and tribulations that tie their minds and hearts to the ferocious waves that keep them from settling down, settling in, abiding, resting. It seems Jesus’ promise that we come to him and rest is too elusive to be able to trust. One by one we might try relaxation and meditation techniques with the goal of emptying our minds of the thoughts, imaginations, and memories that harass our hearts.

The Lord of Hosts Is With Us

So let’s look more closely at this command that appears in Psalm 46:10 and is so often used as an invitation to contemplative prayer: “Be still, and know that I am God.” To put these words in context, the last part of the Psalm in which this verse is contained is as follows:

Come and see the works of the Lord,
    who has done fearsome deeds on earth;
Who stops wars to the ends of the earth,
    breaks the bow, splinters the spear,
    and burns the shields with fire;
“Be still and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    exalted on the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    our stronghold is the God of Jacob. (NABRE)

The Passion Translation can give us a more straightforward look at a Psalm we are so familiar with:

Everyone look!
    Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
    For he brings both ruin and revival.
    He’s the one who makes conflicts end
    throughout the earth,
    breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
    The Commander!
    The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
    The God of Jacob fights for us! (TPT)

Far from the call to struggle toward interior silence, Psalm 46 is a call to stillness that results from the surrendering of our anxiety in the absolute certainty that our God will act powerfully on our behalf.

This understanding of “stillness” is born out throughout the whole of Scripture and in the life of the saints. We can see this as we are promised tribulations in this life, and we witness God standing with his people in times of disaster, upheaval, and fear. Jesus promised: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Fear Not, Stand Firm

On the banks of the Red Sea, the Israelites cried out in terror against Moses as the Egyptians rushed toward them in full battle array. Moses, after consulting the Lord, said: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

And again, when the Moabites and Ammonites came to wage war against Jehoshapat, the King called all the people to fast, pray, and consult the Lord about what should be done. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel … as he stood in the assembly. He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. … You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”’ Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:14-17 NIV).

In both of these cases, God directed the people as to what they should do. And in both cases it seems as if God sends them even more directly into the path of terror, asking them to do impossible things. He enjoins them to be still, to be silent, and to see how he will fight for them.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

Psalm 37

In other Scripture references to stillness, God seems to call us to remove our eyes from others who are getting ahead of us, and to wait upon the Lord to act for us.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7 ESV)

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 131:1-3 ESV).

For I Know the Plans I Have for You

Blessed Benedetta Bianchi Porro, born in Forli, Italy, in 1936, is a woman who wrestled with these things throughout her short life. She didn’t have armies of Egyptians bearing down on her while trapped on the banks of the Red Sea, as neither do we, but her enemies were like ours: illness, misunderstanding, rejection, expectations not met, seeing others receive what she had sought for herself, life dreams lost.

When very young, Benedetta contracted polio. As a result her left foot was crippled and she wore a brace to keep her spine from deforming. In her teens she began to lose her hearing, and her overall health declined. At age 17 she enrolled in the University of Milan with a plan to study physics, but eventually changed her plans in order to pursue medicine. By this time Benedetta’s hearing was so poor, her teachers objected to admitting a pre-med student who had to have written questions during an oral examination. “Whoever heard of a doctor who couldn’t hear!” one of them exclaimed to her. But Benedetta was an excellent student and was able to pursue her studies, only to be forced, however, to pull out of the program one year before finishing. She had  begun to lose the sense of touch, taste and smell, and was completely deaf. It was the end of her dreams for a medical career. She had diagnosed herself with Von Recklinghausen’s disease which attacks the nerve centers of the body, forming tumors on them, and eventually causing deafness, blindness and paralysis.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV).

A surgery in 1958 was of little benefit to Benedetta and left the left side of her face paralyzed. A year later a surgery left both her legs paralyzed and she was bound to a wheelchair. In 1962 she went to Lourdes with her family seeking a cure and a paralyzed girl lying next to her was completely healed. But there was no healing for Benedetta. In fact, a year later another surgery left her blind and she could barely speak.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Life Has Only One Face: Love

At age 7 Benedetta wrote in her diary, “The universe is enchanting! It is great to be alive.” Thus began a life of faith in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds.

In a letter to a friend, she reflected on the Calvary she was living, “Sometimes I find myself defeated under the weight of this heavy cross. Then, I call upon Jesus and lovingly cast myself at His feet; He kindly permits me to rest my head on His lap. Do you understand Maria Grazia? Do you understand the ecstatic joy of those moments?”

In a letter to a young man who suffered similarly, she wrote:

“Because I’m deaf and blind, things have become complicated for me. …Nevertheless, in my Calvary, I do not lack hope. I know that at the end of the road, Jesus is waiting for me. First in my armchair, and now in my bed where I now stay, I have found a wisdom greater than that of men — I have discovered that God exists, that He is love, faithfulness, joy, certitude, to the end of the ages. … My days are not easy. They are hard. But sweet because Jesus is with me, with my sufferings, and He gives me His sweetness in my loneliness and light in the darkness. He smiles at me and accepts my collaboration.”

I call upon Jesus and lovingly cast myself at His feet; He kindly permits me to rest my head on His lap.

Benedetta Porro

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Benedetta turned her sick room into a room where she brought healing and gave support to friends, family members, doctors, and complete strangers who became her frequent visitors. Her joy in the midst of her struggles and her conviction of God’s love for us became her message of life and hope. She was gradually through the years more and more amazed at the glorious ways of God.

In 1963, Benedetta again went to Lourdes with her family seeking a cure. On that Marian pilgrimage she received her own miracle—the understanding that she would not want to change anything about her life. She wrote, “I am aware more than ever of the richness of my condition and I don’t desire anything but to continue in it.” She received the interior light that all she was enduring was a grace. It was a privilege to share in the cross of Christ. For the time that she had left, she communicated love, as stated in her diary: “Life has only one face: Love.”

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV).

Benedetta passed away January 23, 1964. She was declared Venerable on December 23, 1993, by Pope John Paul II, and beatified September 14, 1917 by Pope Francis.

Being Still in the Arms of God

Friends, if you are struggling with being still in the arms of the God who walks with you through every event in your life, let Benedetta lead you into the arms of Love. May your heart sing a new song of being loved, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:1-6 ESV).

And let your life flow forward in gratitude. “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14 ESV).

Everyone look!
    Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
    For he brings both ruin and revival.
    He’s the one who makes conflicts end
    throughout the earth,
    breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
    The Commander!
    The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
    The God of Jacob fights for us! (Psalm 46 TPT)

Image Credit: Ange Menes from Cathopic.

2022: Like Mary and Joseph Let Yourself Be Swept Up Into God’s Purposes

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-qur2q-116c334

You are an indispensable instrument of God’s plan and in perfectly surrendering to the divine flow of love, as mysterious and incomprehensible as it sometimes appears, you will find your happiness.

New Year’s Resolutions often target weaknesses in order to increase strengths so we can be who we want to be. Mystery and divine providence often relies specifically on our weaknesses to be the places where the glory of God shines through as we play our part in the drama of the mysterious plan of salvation.

In the end, life is Mystery:  not perplexing confusion, but the Wisdom that is larger than our strategies, the Future that is greater than our projects, the Love that will encompass all of our potential.

Mystery means God has a plan for you that is perfect in every way, a plan that can encompass and save even suffering and disappointment.

Mystery means God will use you just as you are for a plan that has existed since before the foundation of the world and will exist into the unending future of the eternal kingdom.