I will never ever forget you

In today’s first reading, the Servant of the Lord is announcing freedom to the Jewish exiles in Babylonia.

In a time of favor I answer you,
            on the day of salvation I help you;
            and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people….

There is no way to overstate the crisis the exile in Babylon was for God’s people. They had been deprived of homeland and had been stripped of everything that had given them their identity. There on the banks of the streams of Babylon they must have wondered how God could truly have been God if he had let the Babylonians defeat them, desecrate the temple, and force them to leave the land that had been promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Were they now forgotten by God? Would he ever remember them? Would he save them? Did God still love them? Could they ever trust the Lord again?

The conversations of the people of God in Babylon are similar to the conversations whispered in the homes where we’ve isolated far from our churches and from everything that had been “normal” about our life. We might have said with Zion: “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”

Isn’t it too late now for God to show up, after loved ones have died, livelihoods lost, children affected by years of education interrupted? After millions across the globe have suffered indescribable loss.

The Jewish people in Babylon must have wondered also at this prophecy spoken by Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD:

In a time of favor I answer you,
            on the day of salvation I help you;
            and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,
To restore the land
            and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the ways they shall find pasture,
            on every bare height shall their pastures be.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
            nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
            and guides them beside springs of water.

As we one by one continue to reshape our lives, we might wonder why the Lord didn’t “comfort his people and show mercy to his afflicted” by stopping the pandemic in its tracks before the damage across the globe had been done.

Our lament is as sorrow-filled and pitiful as the songs sung by the exiles who hung up their harps, refusing to sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land.

I hear such kindness in the final words of this first reading. God understands his people’s tears, their loss. He listens to the confusion and hurt of his people who, because of their infidelity to the Lord and their choices to align themselves with other nations instead of trusting in him, had been carried off into exile by these same nations. God doesn’t correct their theology with reminders about how good he is, how faithful, how he is ever present.

Instead, he evokes the image of tender love that is at the very foundation of every human life, an image that means warmth, safety, nourishment, a generous life poured out that a child might live.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
We say with them.
            my Lord has forgotten me.”

Can a mother forget her infant,
            be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
            I will never forget you.

Take a deep breath, my friend, and allow yourself to share your true feelings and fears with God. Wail and rail if you must. Be honest with the Lord in every way. And then receive his arms that surround you with a mother’s love, this God who pours out his life and tenderness in absolute fidelity to us forever. Let these words wash over you again and again, “I will never forget you. Never. Ever. My child. I could never be without tenderness for you.”

Image Credit: Pixabay

Even in the dark you know me: a meditation for calming anxiety

Even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139,12

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
Jn 10,14-15

There is an anxiety that stems from not naming our fears. That comes when we don’t stop and ask ourselves why we suddenly feel so tired or why strangely the space that our heart occupies seems to have become tighter.

When this happens to me, I realize it is my body telling me it is time to stop and ask myself what it is I am afraid of. It is my own body telling me to go to the chapel and face my fears with Jesus!

It may seem surprising, but a shepherd counts his sheep several times a day, knows them all by name, and more, is able to identify each of the sheep in the dark by touch, so deeply he knows them. Our fears can disfigure our image of ourselves. That is why it is important to stop to face them, not as a nameless amalgamation of problems, but identifying each of the things that concern us. Only then can we surrender our fears one by one to Jesus.

Lord, help me remember that nothing we fear is unknown to Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd; he knows our name and is able to recognize us even in the middle of our darkness. Help me give Jesus my fears, one by one, and therefore liberate a space within me that is free to trust, a space that belongs to Jesus and where I can hear him say once again: “I give my life for my sheep.” Amen.

A reflective pause

  • Find a quiet place where you can pray, and take a cross with you
  • Breathe deeply
  • Bring to mind all that worries you right now.
  • Take a few moments to look at the cross and fix your gaze on the open arms of Jesus, who embraces all of humanity from the cross.
  • Welcome the embrace of Jesus who knows you by name.
  • One by one, tell Jesus all your fears.
  • Remain a few moments in interior silence and let Jesus open a space in you to trust.
  • With a free heart pray Psalm 23.
  • End with a word of gratitude to God.

To tuck in with you tonight

I trust, Lord, that even in the dark you know me.

by Sr Helena Marta Infante Gaspar, FSP

In your hands is my destiny

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

A Reflection on today’s Gospel reading: The mother of James and John requests places of honor for her two sons in the Lord’s kingdom.

Possibilities, prestige, power…. As any good mother looking out for the interests of her children, she took the opportunity to ask for places of honor for her two sons.

The other request for a place in the kingdom of Jesus that comes to mind is the request made by the repentant thief recorded in the gospel of Luke (23:42-43). 

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What is the difference between these two requests for a place in the kingdom? They clearly received two very different responses from Jesus.

The repentant thief speaks from a place of surrender, of petition, of awareness of his sin and his need. He turns to Jesus with the trust that is available to him at that most desperate moment of his life. He responds to the action of the Holy Spirit in the measure to which he is capable in this first encounter with his Savior. In a sense, we can say that he is more completely in the form of holiness which is Jesus himself, the form of obedient humble surrender:

Mary, the mother who stood beneath her Son as he died on the cross, no doubt heard this plea that broke from the heart of the repentant thief, and in her heart echoed her own words of obedient surrender uttered years earlier at the Annunciation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), and at the wedding feast of Cana: “They have no wine,” “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:4-5).

The Kingdom of God is received, it is surrendered to, it is entered into by one’s complete alignment with God’s will for oneself. We can prepare ourselves, but we do this only by fertilizing the soil of our hearts through the living of the Beatitudes.

This is why it makes sense that Jesus asks the sons of Zebedee if they are ready to drink the chalice he was to drink. It was a matter, he was saying, of moving downward and pouring out one’s life for others. Then Jesus stated that he himself didn’t have that power to give away these seats in the Kingdom. This was a decision that was the prerogative of the Father. Jesus himself in his very identity as Son deferred in all things, in all ways, to his Father in complete and obedient surrender.

The request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee, and most probably the desire of the two apostles themselves, did not correspond to the very being of Jesus as Son and so was impossible to grant.

We are called to serve, to be last, to give our lives for others, to trust that the One who holds in his hands our very lives and defines our destiny is faithful and can be trusted.

What places of honor might you be seeking? They may be as world-oriented as the request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee or they might be as spiritual as great holiness or a ministry that stands out and stands above the mundane work of others. In any case, the trap is often very subtle. This Lent come to your Savior with your need and your poverty and see where he himself wishes to lead you.

But my trust is in you, O LORD;
            I say, “You are my God.”
In your hands is my destiny” (from today’s Psalm).

Image credit: Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


I will turn your mourning to dancing: A meditation for calming anxiety

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy.
Psalm 30:11

Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.
John 4:46b,47

Anytime I’m feeling anxious, I turn to Scripture and always find words of encouragement. These readings, above, are brimming over with hope and the promise of healing. And as the royal official in the story told by St. John experienced, God’s promise is always true. The official insisted that Jesus come with him to his house and cure his son, but Jesus does not comply with the official’s conditions; he doesn’t follow his directions, though he does cure the boy: “You may go; your son will live.” And the official believed Jesus and went home to find his son healed. Imagine how he first felt anxious because Jesus wasn’t following him home; and then imagine how that anxiety turned to joy!

There are times when I, too, tell the Lord not only what I need, but exactly how he should do it! I probably do that more than I realize. Even in my own worst days, as I experienced my own helplessness and vulnerability so acutely, I found myself praying, “Lord Jesus, what do you want of me? What is it you want me to do?” The answer that echoed in my heart was, “I don’t want you to do anything. I simply want you to remain in me and trust me.”

I know that in doing what he asks, I will experience his promise of “new heavens and a new earth.” He will most certainly change “my mourning into dancing.” In the meantime, while I wait in confidence, I am seeking to slow down, to accept the added limitations and spend some time in contemplative hobbies (I like to make rosaries); and become always more aware of God’s presence and his gifts – rejoicing and happy in what he creates.

Help me remember, God, before I lose myself in whatever it is that is frightening me, I can be still and remember these promises. You have promised my mourning will someday turn to dancing. You have promised my sadness will turn to joy. Help me to be patient, because everything happens in your time. You love me and you are with me, no matter how I feel, no matter what is going on in my life. You are always here. Amen

A reflective pause

  • Go to a place where you can be alone for a few minutes, where you can find silence. Find a posture or position that is relaxed and comfortable.
  • Breathe deeply. Inhale, exhale. Do it again.
  • If you feel sorrow creeping into your heart, tell it that it has no power. Sorrow and pain have no power over you. They have no power over God. God is stronger than all your grief, stronger than all your hurts.
  • Imagine Jesus speaking to you, and saying, “You do not have to do anything. All I want is for you to simply be. Be with me in this moment.”
  • Invite your heart to be still. Offer a word of gratitude to God.

To tuck in with you tonight

I trust, my God, that you know my sorrow and my pain.

by Sr. Mary Leonora Wilson, FSP

Lent Is About the Glory of God Revealed in You

What do you most judge about yourself? Can you list five things that you appreciate about yourself? Are you certain that God couldn’t do anything but unconditionally love you?

These first days of Lent I pondered these questions. Rooted in my earliest childhood years I found events that in some way had contributed to breaking down an awareness of the absolute reality of God’s claim on my life which he had instilled in me at my Baptism. I found that as I was reflecting on these questions, I was judging myself harshly, couldn’t list even one thing that I appreciated about myself, and wasn’t deeply certain that God endlessly loved me.

Let me share with you an image.

When I consider the ways in which I try to be significant, central, satisfied, I imagine a beautiful, glistening sunshine-drenched path in front of me (outside of me) leading to a horizon of happiness that I can’t quite see but am quite sure is there. When I traced the roots of this image back to my earliest years, I discovered one particular day in which I maliciously made a statement against another person, thinking others would be proud of me, include me, want me, praise me because I had aligned myself with their values.

It didn’t happen. In fact, I was told that I was never to speak that way again.

As I pray with this wounding situation, I have to admit that my child’s heart had been filled with malicious glee at the expense of another person who became the target of my criticism. I had been sure that I would at last attain acceptance in behaving in a way that didn’t spring from my Christ-self. I was elated at the promise of at last belonging. I felt a lightness and strength and happiness.

That sunshine-drenched path that seemingly stretched before me, however, was suddenly drenched in tears, the glistening light extinguished.

As I prayerfully rested with this image it shifted, and I had a sense of walking, as a child, among the stars in the night sky. I couldn’t see around me, no goal stretched out before me, no one else’s values or ideology fascinated me with the false promise of personal significance. Yet I felt safe and a type of cosmic and divine belonging, stepping through the starry night as each star became a bridge on a path, that was being put there just for me. A path not sought. I was enjoying going step by step, unseeing, where I was led. I was blessed with a feeling of the peace of holy childlikeness.

In a veritable song of triumph, Saint Paul exclaims in Romans 8 this one reality that truly grounds our life: “Now Christ lives his life in you!” (v. 10) Yes, our bodies are dead because of the effects of sin, but the Spirit of God, the life-giving Spirit imparts life to us because we are fully accepted by God. The Spirit breathes life into us and will raise us to life, as God raised Jesus to life!

Lent is a time to refocus our attention from the flesh which suffers the effects of sin to the full acceptance that is ours because we have been enfolded by the Spirit of Jesus into the family of God (v. 14-15).

Yes the body is dead because of the effects of the original fall of Adam and Eve, as well as the sins of others who affect my life and my own sins. AND the life-giving Spirit has imparted life to me. I can taste this life if I no longer live controlled by the flesh (v. 13). The penances of Lent aren’t really about proving we have the grit to last 40 days without something we really like or doing something that we don’t normally do. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving train us to live our lives no longer controlled by the flesh so that we can taste the abundance of life God has given us in his Son. The children of God are those who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit, who are moved by the impulses of the Holy Spirit (v. 14).

Everything I wanted in that childhood event: acceptance, association with another by talking their  values, personal value, I receive as the Spirit rises within me. The “sun-drenched path before me” suddenly becomes the Spirit’s linking my life to the Trinity when he whispers with tender affection to my heart: “You are God’s beloved child!” I have received the Spirit of adoption who has me cry out, “Abba! Father!” Sacramentally at Baptism the words, “Beloved Father!” became my joy to say, my declaration of true and everlasting belonging. I share all his treasures and will be co-glorified with Christ provided I accept as my own the suffering caused by the Spirit working in me the death of my sin and my darkness (v. 14-17). The glory of God to be revealed in us is far greater than anything we give up in this process of spiritual maturation in Christ.

Again, this glory which I have sought in external things that have pleased and flattered me, promising me a rosy future is actually bestowed on me in Christ. The whole universe is standing on tiptoe as it were, watching in the darkness to see the unveiling of God’s glory in those he has claimed for his family. The Holy Spirit takes hold of us making our destiny coincide with God’s plan. Our destiny and God’s plan are one thing. And because they are woven into one, we can trust that in every detail God is working out his perfect plan to bring good into our lives. The Lenten blessing this very morning for Wednesday of the First Week of Lent prays: “in your kindness cleanse [your people] from all sins, for if evil has no dominion over them, no trial can do them harm.” We have been called, shaped, redeemed, and empowered by the Spirit to fulfill God’s divine purpose. “For he knew all about us before we were born and he destined us from the beginning to share the likeness of his Son” (v. 29-30). In the Amplified version these verses read: “For those whom He foreknew [and loved and chose beforehand], He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [and ultimately share in His complete sanctification], so that He would be the firstborn [the most beloved and honored] among many believers. And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified [declared free of the guilt of sin]; and those whom He justified, He also glorified [raising them to a heavenly dignity].”

This Lent, instead of mourning all the ways in which my happy plans for personal glory have been obstructed, I’m resetting my spiritual life to focus on how God has been determined to stand with us and nothing else can stand against us. I am rejoicing in Jesus who said that nothing could snatch us out of his hands! I am carefully adjusting the lens of my heart so that I can reverently praise my Beloved Father who freely offered his Son up for us all and will certainly not withhold from us anything else he has to give.

So nothing, not even my silly vainglory, not even my wounded desires to belong, can separate me from God’s endless love. God is having me triumph overall because he made me a conqueror. His love in me is my glorious victory over everything! Nothing can separate my belonging, my sure groundedness, my absolute certainty of being loved because of his love lavished on us in Christ Jesus! (v. 35-39). Nothing. Ever. Will. Separate. Me. From. Christ.

Images Credit: Via Cathopic: Marilopz, Luis Ca, Carloscastolo

Ukraine invasion: Strengthen your heart in God’s Sovereignty

Dear Friends,

I have just come from prayer as I’m sure have many of you. As we pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, I can imagine rising from each of you the sighs, the groaning of prayer for a situation for which there seem to be no adequate words.

The terror of what is happening and the panic about what could happen have the power to numb and exhaust us. The confusion in our minds and hearts can keep us from opening our souls fully to the power of God available to us when we align our hearts with him. Can God do anything to stop this? Do my prayers amount to anything in the face of so much evil?

Just now in prayer, God led me to pray that he would cover himself in glory by bringing about the defeat of the Russian forces. The Advent cry of Isaiah was in my heart:

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
    How the mountains would quake in your presence!
As fire causes wood to burn
    and water to boil,
your coming would make the nations tremble.
    Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!
When you came down long ago,
    you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.
    And oh, how the mountains quaked!
For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him! (Isaiah 64)

I found that grounding my heart in God’s sovereignty—his lordship over history and nations—made my own heart stronger. Yes. We all need to be stronger now than we have been. Like President Zelenskyy, who is the face and flame of heroic strength for the Ukrainians and those who are joining them as they fight for their homes and their homeland, we each must stand boldly with courageous hearts to declare that God is sovereign and evil will not triumph.

“Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial. You yourself are from the everlasting past. The floods have risen up, O Lord. The floods have roared like thunder; the floods have lifted their pounding waves. But mightier than the violent raging of the seas, mightier than the breakers on the shore— the Lord above is mightier than these! Your royal laws cannot be changed. Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever” (Psalm 93).

3 ways to strengthen your heart

I wanted to share with you a few things that have strengthened my heart and may strengthen yours:

  1. Ask Jesus: What or who do you want me to pray for in this situation” When I asked Jesus this question, I immediately saw images of mothers with newborn children. I prayed that these courageous mothers would be safe, that they and their child would have sufficient food, that they would the electricity they needed to care for their child, that their husbands would one day return to them safe. I invite you to ask Jesus this question. When we focus on the entire situation in Ukraine it can be overwhelming. Following the heart of Jesus, and praying for a particular group of people, humanizes what is so tragic. It focuses us.
  2. Share with Jesus and Mary your emotions and thoughts. It would be perfectly understandable for them to feel out of control, but we have to be careful here. Panic and speculation pull our hearts out of the ground in which we flourish. That ground is the heart of God. Psalm 73:26 helps us here: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We give God charge or the inner storm when we share it with him. Then truly we discover that God is our strength.
  3. One of the most prominent statues in the Ukraine capitol’s Independence Square is a powerful image of St Michael the Archangel, watching over the city of Kyiv. The Ukrainian people have a 1000 year devotion to St Michael as a powerful protector over the people of Kyiv. Call on the power of St. Michael to come with his angel armies to the protection of the people of Kyiv, for as the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:16). The archangel Michael, Prince of all Angels, is a symbol of power and divine leadership in the battle against the forces of darkness. Throughout its history, the Ukrainian nation has had a deep symbolic connection with the triumph of goodness, truth and justice over evil and tyranny. Pray to St Michael to protect the people of Ukraine, to fight for them, to provide for them, to seal their cities against the power of evil, to lead them in the paths of truth and justice as they fight off evil and tyranny again in their land.

Here are some other resources that may help you:

Free Online Retreat Opportunity: St. Joseph’s Way to a Calm Heart: A Spiritual Path for the Anxious

Wisdom for the Week: Meditation for Calming Anxiety

Featured Article: Prayer for Ukraine: O God, Rain Down Your Mercy

HeartWork Practice: You Are God’s Divinely-Loved Ones

Featured Prayer Guide: A Mini-retreat to revive your heart: Ukraine and War-Related Anxiety

John Eldridge: Praying for Ukraine Podcast

What are you doing to strengthen your heart and align yourself with God’s heart in these days?