This Advent let God do something new

The Church has begun its new liturgical year with the haunting strains of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The One who is Emmanuel—God-with-us—breaks through the prisons in which people had been confined by the experience and expectations of millennia of history. Yet this Jesus who is the key of all of history and the One who alone can make sense of our chaotic hearts was born in the dark of night to parents whose lives had been upended by a royal census. The shivering Babe was noticed only by sleepy shepherds and three wise men who found him inadvertently after stumbling into Herod’s palace for information about the star that had led them to Bethlehem.

I am doing something new….

As I leave my parents’ home to return to the new community to which I have been transferred, I too feel small. Yet Jesus said to me, “Do not allow the past to circumscribe the future I will create for you.” As we stand at the threshold of a new Advent, a new Christmas celebration, and the New Year 2022, these are words that the Christ Child says to all of us.

The Lord shakes us awake with similar words that he had once spoken through his prophet Isaiah. As I read them I think of the excitement of children on Christmas morning as they wake up and race to the Christmas tree to see if Santa has been to their house. How much more eager, I say to myself, should my heart be to see the fulfillment of these promises of the Lord in me, in us, in the world today.

I am doing something brand new, something unheard of.
Even now it sprouts and grows and matures.
Don’t you perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and open up flowing streams in the desert.
Wild beasts, jackals, and owls will glorify me.
For I supply streams of water in the desert
and rivers in the wilderness
to satisfy the thirst of my people, my chosen ones,
so that you, whom I have shaped and formed for myself,
will proclaim my praise (Isaiah 43:19-21 TPT).

 “Do not allow the past to circumscribe the future I will create for you.”

As I begin to allow God to do something brand new, I start each day with the expectation that events will unfold that only God can account for.

As I begin to expect God to do something brand new in my life, I feel less overworked and overwhelmed by the constant influx of bad news and fear-engendering headlines.

As I begin to expect God to do something new in the world, I find myself praising and thanking God throughout the day for—and sometimes despite—whatever happens.

As I begin to expect God to do something new in history, I am more confident that I can make a real difference and look around to see how I can serve and love.

As I begin to expect God to do something new, I close my eyes, know I’m protected, and exchange the hypervigilance created by screaming headlines for a constant affective gaze that rests with confidence on the face of the One who is God-with-us.

I wish you all a Blessed beginning of Advent, praying that you will discover the new things Emmanuel wishes to accomplish for you and through you. May no fear, no memory, no hesitation block the advent of the King! “God called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world” (1 Pt. 2:8 TPT).

Thanks for joining me on the journey,
Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Photo Credit: Eduardo Montivero via Cathopic

Someone needs your “beautiful feet”

In today’s first reading in this first week of Advent, St. Paul refers to a verse from the great prophet who accompanies us through every Advent: the prophet Isaiah (flourished 8th century B.C., Jerusalem): How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news….

The entire verse found in the book of Isaiah reads this way:

Therefore my people shall know my name
    on that day, that it is I who speaks: Here I am!
How beautiful upon the mountains[a]
    are the feet of the one bringing good news,
Announcing peace, bearing good news,
    announcing salvation, saying to Zion,
    “Your God is King!” (Isaiah 52:6-7)

Those beautiful feet that Isaiah envisions came running to me in a restaurant parking lot several weeks ago when our family was gathering for a final meal before we placed mom in memory care in a facility where we could visit her daily. I was walking alone. “Hey, sister, is school out today?” a woman called out cheerfully. I laughed and shared with her the sorrow that was in my heart. “That is so hard,” she responded. “I promise you my prayers. I always ask God to take my body before my mind.” Then she continued with a mischievous smile, “But I tell my kids, don’t be afraid to put me in a nursing home at the end. If I have my mind it will be my last chance to evangelize. If I don’t have my mind I won’t know anyway.” Then she surrounded me with a great hug that completely warmed my heart before going on her way.

“Beautiful feet…”

In the last meeting we had with the administrator of the memory care facility on the previous day, she had said to my dad, “You have cared for your wife with great love till now. We are here to help you now. But in the end, even though we think we are the ones caring for her, we are the ones responsible, it is really God who is caring for her. God who is responsible for her. We are all just helpers.”

“Beautiful feet…”

Those who bring us the good news have beautiful feet because they are partnering with God to bring joy and salvation to others. Those feet that are actively moving about represent the way the Gospel reaches us in surprising places, through unexpected people, in exactly the right moment to assure us of God’s presence and God’s protection and God’s tender love for us.

Therefore my people shall know my name
    on that day, that it is I who speaks: Here I am! (v. 6)

Today is the feast of St Andrew and we celebrate liturgically the calling of this great apostle who in his turn became the beautiful feet that announced the good news to any and all who would listen.

You, too, can be the one who in beautiful ways brings the good news to someone else, in a parking lot, in a meeting, in a moment of confusion or sorrow or grief.

At some times you will be the one who announces the news that God says through you, “Here I am!” At other times you will be the one who receives the message of God reaching out to you. Later that day, God whispered quietly in my heart, “You know, Kathryn, I love your mom too.” I had to let her go and give her to her Father’s very capable hands and hide her in his heart.

So I end with this Advent reminder: Every year Advent and Christmas is a relearning that God is saying HERE I AM! We have a month to receive this message into our very bones so that we can in the new year be the beautiful ones that carry this message to others throughout the coming year. Or maybe someone needs your beautiful feet to find them today.

Image Credit: Will Bolanos on Cathopic

No shortage on Christ this Christmas

Yesterday the haunting verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel were a welcome massage for my heart. Since early October we’ve been warned of supply chain shortages and inflation that threaten ruin to all we hope for in the Christmas holidays. Hearing the name of God-with-us cracks open our hearts to receive the light, the Light of the World.

The invitation of this morning’s liturgy redirects our attention from commercial revelations to divine revelation. We almost catch our breath as we hear the nations cry out, Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain…. The Lord’s mountain will be seen as the highest mountain, according to the vision of the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the final age. Worship of the true God will be so conspicuous that it will be known to all people. The Kingdom established by the Messiah will be so attractive that all people will willingly lay aside the violence at hand to kneel before others in service: They shall beat their swords into plowshares / and their spears into pruning hooks.

This “mountain” envisioned by Isaiah is presented to us by today’s Gospel reading as a Person, a man with two hands and two feet. The One who doesn’t wait for us to climb the mountain but who instead comes to us who are poor, wretched, made up of a billion needs, dependent. The One whose coming we celebrate at Christmas, and whose coming is so tenderly depicted in the nativity scenes that we’ll soon see in churches and homes.

Jesus says to us, as he said to the centurion in Capernaum who appealed to him for his servant who was paralyzed, “I will come [to you] and heal you.”

As Christians we can hold on for sure to this promise even in the midst of the storms of these years we’ve lived: Christ has come. Jesus the Christ is here with us today. Christ will come again. The historical situation in which we live cannot rob us of the grace we’ve been given, the grace freely bestowed on us in Christ by the Father.

Take heart, my friends, from the simple words of the centurion in today’s gospel. A simple, clear, humble statement: Lord, my servant is suffering. Jesus immediately responds: I will come and cure him.

Lord, I am old and worry about my life. I will save you.
Lord, I am exhausted and suffering. I will come and cure you.
Lord, my children are far from you and from me. I will come and cure them.
Lord, I don’t know where to turn. I will come and hold you.
Lord, I feel alone and depressed. I will come and sit with you.

In the midst of all the struggles, trials and tribulations both in the world and in our lives, it is to the Lord himself this Christmas that we must look, to the God become man who walks among us even today, even now. It is to the Lord, more than any other resource, that we must turn to hear the Advent-Christmas promise: I will come. I have come. I will come again. There will be no shortage of Christ this Christmas.

Image credit: Laura Tapias on Pixabay

When your heart aches at the holidays

Have you been experiencing deep longings in your heart? As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and the Advent-Christmas season, we wonder maybe a little more than usual about what truly makes us happy, what completely satisfies us. With the changes happening in my family as my mom has been placed recently in memory care, Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions are also being modified. Since I was a child I remember spending hours before the manger scene that graced the fireplace in our living room year after year. When my parents moved from the house to independent living, the crèche went with them and continued to have pride of place in their new apartment. But this year, I find my heart confused with a number of conflicting longings.

I long for things to be the way they were.

I long for my mom to be back in the apartment with Dad.

I long to set up the nativity with my Dad, as some sign that things will go ahead without really changing that much.

I long to let go and allow God to lead us all through this in his perfect design.

Our hearts ache a little more during the holidays, don’t they? We still haven’t found exactly what we are most deeply searching for.

And that’s OK. Because our longing–it’s good. The ache itself keeps us in touch with our need for God. The sometimes sharp pain keeps us focused on the billion needs that we are before God, that we are filled with needs that ultimately only God can satisfy.

Sr. Sharon, a good friend, shared with me an entry from her journal a number of years ago. In the very first line is the key to finding the peace we so long for:

Thank you, Jesus, for your delight in me, your creation.
I am a miracle of your love and mercy.
I love you. You love me.
Thank you for everything.
Love, you are love. May my humble life give you glory.
Lord, have mercy, have mercy. Amen.

Sr Sharon Legere, FSP

Our greatest desire is to know that God delights in us, wants to be with us, loves to hear our voices in prayer, chooses to “spend his time with us,” so to speak. God’s love for me is a miracle that will never fade. It is eternal.

What do you wish the Father would whisper right into the depths of your being? Quiet yourself down for just a moment and search inside for the answer to this question. Read as a prayer the journal entry above. And then listen to this Letter from God to you:

Image credit: #ArqTl on Pixabay

Sometimes there are no words…. (Tears at the Afghanistan evacuation)

One of my friends posted this on her Instragram account. To me, it said more than words could ever say. It includes the artist’s name.

This reminds me of the reflections of Etty Hillesum in her book An Interrupted Life. Esther (Etty) Hillesum (15 January 1914–30 November 1943) was the Dutch author of confessional letters and diaries which describe both her religious awakening and the persecutions of Jewish people in Amerstdam during the German Occupation. In 1943 she was deported and killed In Auschwitz concentration camp. In one of her diary entries she wrote, in a similar vein to the image above, that even the German mothers are mourning the loss of their sons, just as the Jewish mothers are. I have always kept An Interrupted Life and love to pull it out at times such as these. Some of my favorite quotes from Etty:

“All disaster stems from us. Why is there a war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbour. Because I and my neighbour and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war with all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live. And I believe that I will never be able to hate any human being for his so-called wickedness, that I shall only hate the evil that is within me, though hate is perhaps putting it too strongly even then. In any case, we cannot be lax enough in what we demand of others and strict enough in what we demand of ourselves.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
― Etty Hillesum

“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”
― Etty Hillesum, Lettres De Westerbork

“Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.”
― Etty Hillesum

“I know and share the many sorrows a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them; they pass through me, like life itself, as a broad eternal stream…and life continues…”
― Etty Hillesum

“I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned.”
― Etty Hillesum, Lettres De Westerbork

“I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“When you have an interior life, it certainly doesn’t matter what side of the prison fence you’re on. . . I’ve already died a thousand times in a thousand concentration camps. I know everything. There is no new information to trouble me. One way or another, I already know everything. And yet, I find this life beautiful and rich in meaning. At every moment.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“We go too far in fearing for our unhappy bodies, but our forgotten spirit shrivels up in some corner. Our lives are going wrong, we conduct ourselves without dignity. We lack historical sense, forget that even those about to perish are part of history. I hate nobody. I am not embittered. And once the love of mankind has germinated in you, it will grow without measure.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

God’s living message is very close to you

“God’s living message is very close to you, as close as your own heart beating in your chest” (Rom 10:8, TPT).

These are the words of Moses quoted by St Paul in his letter to the Romans. We could read them today in this way: “You may feel alone. You may be scared about the future. You may be worried for your children. You may wonder if God will do something to protect you. What I want you to know is that God’s living message of salvation is very close to you. His revelation of faith for salvation is truly the news that is good, that makes your heart skip a beat when you realize how near to you is the One who speaks and is the true promise and guarantee of your being loved forever and ever. Nothing can shake that love. In my hands you are safe.”

The ongoing media discussion about the nation’s crises in these early days of September 2021 will never satisfy your heart. It isn’t the “good news” that God knows your heart needs to sing and flourish. It isn’t the “good news” that will guide you into all truth. The constant commentary is like piling up stones and bricks and wood and paint and cement…a pile that never becomes a building of any sort. The arguments don’t hold together. The words don’t become wisdom.

For “In HIM, in Christ,” Paul states, “all things hold together.” This is because “He is before all else that is” (Col. 1:17). Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of all that exists. Apart from Him we can “do nothing” (Jn 15:5). A Cornerstone “is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.”

Nothing in our life or in the history of the world “hangs together” if it is without reference to Jesus Christ.

Nothing in our life or in the history of the world “hangs together” if it is without reference to Jesus Christ. “All before or after Jesus is meaningless without experiential contact with him” (Philip Krill, More Than Conquerors). As you listen to or read social and news commentary on the truly critical issues of our day, ask yourself, “Where is the Cornerstone? Where is Jesus? What is the “glue” holding together this person’s ideas?”

Jesus recapitulates in himself all of humanity and all of the entire creation. It is because of our Bridegroom, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb without stain, beautiful Jesus, Savior of the world, that we can have the expectation that no matter what the sufferings of this present time, the glory of God is to be revealed in us (1 Cor. 2:9).

Paul could be so absolutely certain of this glory because he had been given a foretaste of it on the road to Damascus when he was thrown to the ground before the manifestation of the glory of the resurrected Jesus who called him by name, who knew everything about him, and who had chosen him to tell the world about the mystery of salvation.

Friends, when I see the terror on the face of Afghan women, try to understand the complex situation regarding the crisis at our border, look at so many cities that are now after Hurricane Ida no longer livable in Louisiana and Mississippi, consider the thousands still attempting to escape the Taliban, I too throw myself down at the feet of Jesus, the “one who holds the seven stars firmly in his right hand” (Rev. 2:1). Through the victory of his resurrection he now holds the keys of life and death.

“Don’t yield to fear. I am the Beginning and I am the End, the Living One! I was dead, but now look–I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys that unlock death and the unseen world” (Rev 1:18).

To seven churches, the apostle John was directed to write seven letters (Rev 2–3). In these letters to Christians who were suffering persecution and martyrdom for their belief in Jesus, the risen One calls the churches to account: return to the passionate love you had for Christ at the beginning! Do not become discouraged! Do not yield to fear in the face of suffering! Repent of believing the words of men and listen to the Spirit! Flee immorality for I search your mind and heart! Remember all the things you’ve received and heard, turn back to God and obey him! Cling tightly to what you have so that no one may seize your crown of victory! Jesus wants his Bride the Church to burn brightly, bringing light and illumination to the world as a witness of God’s glory.

In the face of the barrage of the words of men–analysis, anger, manipulation, fear–I need help sometimes to cling to the Word of God–to Jesus the Cornerstone, the Bridegroom of the Church whom he has made the Light to the nations. If Jesus called and missioned Paul to announce Jesus to the world, he has called and missioned the Church, and you, and me, in the same way. Each of us has our own unique corner of the world in which we shine, certainly, but we each were created to manifest God’s glory to this world. It doesn’t help any of those suffering so tremendously in today’s political climate if I neglect to be and do that for which God has sent me. It is the glory of God that in mysterious ways more powerfully sways nations and rulers and the powers of nature than any human plan or political agenda.

So let us take as our rule of life these directives to the seven churches: Return to the passionate love you had for Christ at the beginning! Do not become discouraged! Do not yield to fear in the face of suffering! Repent of believing the words of men and listen to the Spirit! Flee immorality for I search your mind and heart! Remember all the things you’ve received and heard, turn back to God and obey him! Cling tightly to what you have so that no one may seize your crown of victory!

Read them morning and night. Remind yourself of them during the day. Post them where you can see them often. Read them after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Examine yourself on them as you prepare for confession.

Hold onto faith, preserve your expectation. John Howard Yoder stated when we say, “I hope so,” it is most often a polite way of saying, “it probably won’t happen.” Christian hope, instead, is an absolute unquestioned confident expectation that what we have already experienced in Jesus Christ will give us the courage to put away the fearful questions that haunt our uncertain dreams with the proclamation from the depths of our hearts that Jesus, and only Jesus, “makes all things new” (Rom. 21:5).

If the Church doesn’t hold out this hope for the world, then who will? This is the hope that has saved the world. You and I can be the hope the world needs today.

Image credit: Cathopic, Angie Menes

Examen on Trust and Surrender

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to trust in the Lord? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible The Walking on Water (Matthew 14: 22-33)

Allow yourself to surrender your idea of how things should be and trust in where the Lord leads you.

He made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’


Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ (Matt. 14:22-33)

This scene from the Gospel of Matthew is quite intense. It is night, the disciples are being tossed back and forth in their boat by a violent storm, and they see a figure walking on water. Instead of running away, Peter faces the situation with courage and an openness to trust in God’s plan. He recognizes Jesus and knows that he is trustworthy, even in this unbelievable situation.

Read the passage again, placing yourself in Peter’s place. You are afraid in the violent storm and are unsure of the person you see walking on water, but the possibility that it is Jesus is enough to make you want to get closer. Are you willing to step out of the boat?

When Peter places his trust in Jesus and stepped out of the boat onto the water, something amazing happened. He surrendered his idea of how things should be, about how they were supposed to be, and he moved towards Jesus. He is walking on water, moving closer to Jesus in the midst of a storm. Even when he took his eyes off the Lord and began to sink, he still had faith that Jesus would save him. And he did.

God can do amazing things when we trust him only with a small amount. As you reflect upon the incident that you chose for your examen, ask yourself where God is asking you to grow in trusting him. What would happen if you surrendered your idea of how things should be, stepped out of your boat, and moved towards the Lord and his peace? He will not disappoint you, and he will be there even if you begin to sink.

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward trusting in him.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any times you have not trusted the Lord in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater surrender through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming more trusting in God’s love that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a surrender your life completely to God.

Examen on Encouragement

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where has the Lord sent his Spirit to encourage you? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11)

Allow Christ to encourage you in living the life he has planned for you with love.

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ (John 8:1-11)

This Gospel passage is a familiar one. The woman has been caught in adultery. Her sin is real, and it carries great consequences for her, for her family, and for her relationship with God. She finds herself literally facing death because of what she has done, without any hope of redemption.

Then Jesus enters. He breaks through the darkness of the condemnation that the woman faces and shines a light of love. God looks at her with complete love, a love that she never knew existed. Christ encourages the woman caught in adultery to live a life free of sin, knowing that it is truly possible through the gift of his grace.

Read through the passage again, imagining yourself in the passage. Perhaps you are the woman or just a quiet bystander. Allow yourself to be surprised by how the Lord breaks through the crowd’s condemnation with his words of strength and encouragement.

God does not give empty encouragement. This woman has been defined by her sin, but Christ restores her dignity as one of his children, knowing that she can live a beautiful life of love. He looks at you with this same love. As you reflect upon the incident that you chose for your examen, Jesus looks at you and speaks words to encourage you to live a life full of hope and grace. What would it be like to believe his words of encouragement?

As you reflect upon the incident you chose for your examen, remember that the Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. One of the best ways to learn how to live in relationships is by seeing how Jesus interacts with people. How could words of encouragement help to welcome Christ’s presence in your life?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward the Lord’s encouragement.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any discouragement in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater encouragement through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more encouraging person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more encouraging person.

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (January 2, 1873–September 30, 1897)

Saint Thérèse is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Thérèse’s particular prescription for holiness can teach us how to keep love at the center of everything.

Thérèse was born to Saints Louis and Zélie Martin. The youngest of five girls, her childhood was in many ways idyllic, but also touched by profound suffering. In 1877, when she was four, Thérèse’s mother died. Greatly impacted, she became sensitive and overly attached to her older sister Pauline who then entered the Carmelite monastery. The bereft Thérèse fell seriously ill until, miraculously, she was healed after having a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On Christmas Eve 1886, Thérèse experienced another miracle of a deep healing of her extreme sensitivity. Soon after, she felt drawn to religious life, but she was too young to enter.

Thérèse’s desire to become a Carmelite was finally granted when she was fifteen years old. She professed her vows in 1890 and took the name Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face. Her time in Carmel was not always easy, but Thérèse showed quiet heroism in simple ways. In a time when much emphasis was put on individual effort in the spiritual life, Thérèse pioneered a spirituality of trust in God’s mercy that she called “the little way.” On Holy Thursday night, 1896, Thérèse felt a stream of blood rise to her lips. The stained handkerchief she examined the next morning confirmed her in joy: her Divine Spouse would be coming to take her to heaven soon. Thérèse died of tuberculosis the next year, after a time of deep spiritual darkness that she endured by relying on her trust in God. In 1997 Saint John Paul II declared Thérèse to be a doctor of the Church.

Saint Thérèse’s prescription: Take the “little way” to heaven.

Thérèse is famous for her “little way” of spiritual childhood. She often meditated on this saying of Jesus that took deep root in her heart: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). For Thérèse, love was at the center of everything. Doing little things with great love is the easiest way to reach great holiness. She said that her way of reaching God is all about confidence and love. She had a very positive image of God, whom she saw as full of merciful love. She was blessed to have had a beautiful loving relationship with her father, who was a kind and gentle man. Those who have had a difficult relationship with their father may find it harder to follow Thérèse’s little way. They might struggle to have a positive, trusting relationship with God, but God’s grace can overcome all barriers. God will give them the grace to realize his love.

Thérèse took advantage of every opportunity to show her love for God. She offered up the smallest things, such as when one of the other nuns kept splashing her with dirty water while they were doing laundry. But she endured great suffering in other ways. During her final illness as she battled tuberculosis she also experienced a profound spiritual darkness. She was tempted to atheism and to think that heaven was not real. That was a huge trial but God allowed it so that she would become even holier and help to save more souls.

As we follow Thérèse’s way to holiness, we too can offer everything to God—big sufferings and small ones, whatever comes into our life. God calls us to holiness too, and Saint Thérèse will intercede for us on our own journey to God.

Some practical things to do:

  • Get a copy of Saint Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul, and read it.
  • Form the habit of offering up small trials and inconveniences to Jesus as a token of your love for him and ask for the conversion of someone you know who is away from the Church.
  • Make a novena in honor of Saint Thérèse for some special intention you have. Don’t be surprised if by the end of the novena someone gives you a rose!

Prayer

Saint Thérèse, you led a cloistered life in a hidden way. But your heart expanded to embrace the entire world. Pray for us that we too may gain graces for others by offering to Jesus small actions with great love. Help us to see everything that happens in our lives as part of God’s providential plan for us.

Feast: October 1
Patron: Missionaries, France, Russia, florists, gardeners, loss of parents, tuberculosis

Excerpt from Story of a Soul

“In the heart of the Church I will be love.”

The answer was clear, but it did not satisfy my desires, it did not give me peace…. Without being discouraged I continued my reading, and this phrase comforted me: “Earnestly desire the more perfect gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). And the Apostle explains how all gifts, even the most perfect, are nothing without Love… that charity is the excellent way that leads surely to God. At last I had found rest…. Considering the mystical Body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather, I wanted to recognize myself in all… Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church has a body composed of different members, the noblest and most necessary of all the members would not be lacking to her. I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!

Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”

Excerpt from writings of Saint Thérèse. Click here for entire selection.

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Celine Martin (Sor Genoveva de la Santa Faz), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Athanasius (c. 296–May 2, 373)

Saint Athanasius is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Athanasius’ particular prescription for holiness can help us be courageous and strong in our love for Jesus in the midst of life’s challenging situations.

As a young man, Athanasius spent some time with Saint Anthony of the Desert to learn the ways of the spiritual life. That formation served him well, for Athanasius became one of the most important defenders of the Christian faith at a time when the early Church was finding a way to teach clearly about who Jesus is. Athanasius accompanied Bishop Alexander of Alexandria to the Council of Nicea in 325. The Council upheld the divinity of Jesus Christ and condemned Arianism, the false teaching that Jesus was not divine. Despite the Council’s clear teaching, Arianism spread widely, especially because it was supported by the emperors.

In 328, Athanasius became bishop of Alexandria. He constantly struggled to uphold the true teaching about Jesus Christ. Four emperors exiled Athanasius five times, for a total of seventeen years. Athanasius spent years in hiding from his enemies who wanted him dead. Even when it seemed as if Arianism could triumph in the Church, Athanasius never gave up. He wrote important theological works, including De Incarnatione, (On the Incarnation of the Word), and a biography of Saint Anthony, which helped Christian monasticism to grow. In 381, after Athanasius’ death, the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

Athanasius’ prescription: Jesus is both God and man. Put him in charge of your life!

Athanasius spent much time in exile and suffering because of his tenacity in upholding the truth about Jesus Christ: he is fully divine and fully human. In Athanasius’ day, Arianism had spread widely and had many influential supporters in both the Church and the government. At that time, the emperors often meddled in Church affairs and this imperial support for Arianism was hard to overcome. Athanasius had so much opposition in upholding the truth of the Catholic faith that he was often described as Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world.)

Why did he insist on upholding his position? Because it was the truth of the Catholic faith, not just some idea that Athanasius had. What was at stake? To deny the truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ would have meant rejecting the Catholic faith. It would have meant there was no redemption, because if Jesus was not divine his death on the cross could not have saved us. Saint Paul wrote this in regard to the resurrection:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.. . .  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:13-14, 17). If Christ is not divine, then we are still in our sins. That is why the divinity of Christ is so crucial.

On a practical level, what does this mean for us?

It means that we must place Christ at the center of our lives, and believe in the teaching of the Catholic Church that Jesus is both God and man. It means growing in union with Jesus by prayer, the sacraments and good works—knowing that whatever we do to another, we do it to Jesus (see Mt. 25). It means reading the Gospel and meditating on what Jesus said and did. It means completely entrusting ourselves to him, knowing that we are in his safe hands.

Some practical things to do:

  • Honor the divinity of Christ by making a holy hour at church in front of the tabernacle.
  • Honor the holy Name of Jesus by always using it in a respectful way, never as a swear word.
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world.

Prayer

Saint Athanasius, you dedicated your whole life to preaching the true faith about Jesus Christ, that he is fully divine and fully human. Despite all the opposition you endured you clung to the truth and never stopped proclaiming it. Help us to have a deep faith and to be fully Catholic in our way of thinking despite all the errors that are so prevalent in our own time. Pray that we will have the light and courage to proclaim the truth like you did.

Feast: May 2

Patron: Theologians, those who uphold the truth of the Christian faith

A selection from Saint Athanasius

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. For just as if a man wished to see the light of the sun, he would at any rate wipe and brighten his eye, purifying himself in some sort like what he desires, so that the eye, thus becoming light, may see the light of the sun. Or it is as if a person would see a city or country, he at any rate comes to the place to see it. Thus he who would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God must needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul, by his manner of living, and approach the saints themselves by imitating their works. Then, associated with them in the conduct of a common life, he may understand also what has been revealed to them by God. Thenceforth, as closely knit to them, he may escape the peril of the sinners and their fire at the day of judgment. He will thus receive what is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, whatsoever things are prepared for them that live a virtuous life, (see 1 Cor 2:9). They will then love our God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through whom and with whom be to the Father himself, with the Son himself, in the Holy Spirit, honor and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

From On the Incarnation, no. 57, as found here: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2802.htm

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP