How to keep love alive in violent times

Lord, remember not only men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this; and when they come to judgment let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”

~ Written on a piece of wrapping paper found near the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck, the second largest concentration camp for women in the German Reich, where 92,000 women and children died in the Holocaust.

How, O my God, could a woman in this death camp write these words?

How did she find the courage to keep her heart open? To care about the eternal salvation of those at whose hands she suffered and very likely died?

Friends, today we also are living through turbulent and violent times. As we watch the social fabric of our nation disintegrate with mass shootings and watch with horrified anger at what Russia is inflicting on the Ukrainian people and the world, we may find our hearts closing. It could be that our hearts are hardening in fear or anger without our even realizing it. Whatever we are feeling, it is okay. We might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of the future for our children and grandchildren. It is okay. We might feel lost in the midst of everything that is going on around us. It is all okay.

How difficult are you finding it to love and believe in the power of love in these days?

The news cycle overwhelms and incites the fires of anger and fear and hatred in our minds and hearts. It all can feel so righteous, so right. After all, there is a clear bad guy in these incidents, and our hearts immediately take the side of the innocent victims. Today only the bravest can keep lit in their hearts the flame of charity. 

You will show me the path of life (Eccl 2:1-11)

Recently I spent an hour with one of my dear friends. The room was quiet as we spoke together. Now in her eighties, she is no longer able to walk about freely and falls are frequent. She told me that her memory is going, making it difficult to carry on a conversation for very long since the topic quickly vanishes from her mind.

Together we gazed out of her large window at the beautiful trees that grew in the front yard. With a sigh we both realized that Jesus was beginning to take her into the wilderness of his Heart, that place of unknowing where we all are eventually invited to restfully trust in him as he leads us to glory.

But as it is written:

‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
    and what has not entered the human heart,
    what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NABRE).

Questions about life’s meaninglessness, about the way in which our days pass like vapor, about how all that we do and accomplish seems to vanish without a trace as we age, these burden not just the heart of Qoheleth in today’s first reading, but at certain points in our lives these questions haunt us too. I once heard that the book of Ecclesiastes identifies the question to which the whole of Revelation is the answer. In this quickly changing world, all that our life has been seems to slip through our fingers, and our heart longs for life, true life, life that is a treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy.

“You will show me the path to life,
    abounding joy in your presence,
    the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Both Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians and the Psalmist see life as a great river rushing toward a goal prepared for us by God where we will find joy and delight at his right hand forever. How different is this message from the distressing observations of Ecclesiastes in our First Reading today:

“One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going” (Eccl 1:4-7)

There is something cyclical in this description of continual, unending, “coming and going” of things. In this reading there is no sense of the enduring, of divine gift and guidance and mission, of an end which has been ordained for all things by God. Instead, the more things change, as the saying goes, the more things stay the same, endlessly repeating to seemingly no purpose.

Today many experience life in this way. Not being grounded in the fertile soil of God’s action and love, much of what constitutes activity in our world seems to have no real meaning. I believe that during the pandemic many began to feel this way. The tasks they had been doing in their jobs were now no longer satisfying to them, no longer seemed purposeful, no longer worth devoting their whole life to. They began to seek something more meaningful to do with their careers.

It is ultimately only God who truly defines us and the purpose of our lives, their unending purpose.

This discouraged sigh of Qoheleth whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes may escape also now and then from your heart. However, Saint Paul encourages you not to give in to this sense of futility and hopelessness. Instead, take on Paul’s own strength, faith, and hope when he cries out, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6 NABRE).

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ. There are four movements in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:1-11

“You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11)

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

Photo Credit: Negative Space via

Jesus is always passing by (Mt 9:9-13)

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

In the Gospel passage that recounts the calling of the tax collector, Matthew Jesus shows us that he is where we are. Whether we are living a holy life, struggling with temptations inundating us like a hurricane, or lost in the mire of vice or sin, Jesus is always passing by.

Jesus is not passing by intent on avoiding us. He is passing by in order to see us, to show us that we are seen with the eyes of respect and love. Jesus sees us, as we most deeply are. He delights in us, for he has made all things good.

There are many reasons why I want to avoid your gaze, Jesus. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t know how to respond to you. I’m afraid. But here you are, passing by, seeing me as you saw Matthew.

I can imagine Matthew with either an arrogant gaze—by which he defended himself from the hatred of his fellow countrymen—or a defensive, sullen, withdrawn attitude as he isolated himself from their disdain. Jesus looked into Matthew’s eyes, eyes that had known only rejection from others, and for the first time Matthew knew that someone truly saw him. Someone had seen his wounds, his fears, his desires, his folly, his sin, and his potential.

You saw him, Lord Jesus, and you called him by name and you invited him to live in your presence. You wanted him to be both your disciple and your apostle. In following you, Matthew was to embark on the adventure of metanoia and mission, to proclaim your glory to the world. In fact, he did both immediately.

“And [Matthew] got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.”

The rich young man had walked away sad, unable to really give himself over to the following of Christ. Matthew, on the other hand, jumped up, immediately corresponding to the grace of his call. To the one who had really seen him—who did not consider simply that he had betrayed his people by extorting their money and overcharging their taxes—to this Lord and Master he entrusted his whole life.

This one loving look of the Savior that expressed a commitment to his dignity and a willingness to care about him, changed his life forever.

Pope Francis in his peace message published on December 17, 2021, invited us to have the eyes of Christ for each other. He called it the “culture of care.”

“The culture of care … calls for a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance…. May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.”

When I am hurt or angry, I have to admit my eyes are not caring. My gaze can be arrogant or withdrawn or sullen. Jesus’s gaze alone restores to us the joy of life, the kind of happiness that radiates from our soul through our eyes. When you see a person perfectly at peace or someone who spends a lot of time in prayer, you can see that radiance, that happiness. Their eyes have a depth to them that cannot be fathomed.

Allow Jesus today to see you as he passes you by. He is there to call you again and again to follow him. When you have followed him, turn then to cast eyes of concern and respect and acceptance on your brothers and sisters. For it may be that they will only know the gaze of the Lord through your eyes, and his gentle compassion through your words.

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

Photo Credit: Wilfredo Mendoza via Cathopic

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

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

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

There is a mysterious passage in the book of Jeremiah:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statue in Our Lady of Providence Retreat House, Tampa Bay. Photo taken on retreat.

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

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

I wanted to hear Jesus say these words to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrés Chávez Belisario Pixabay

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

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

[The words of Israel:]

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

[The words of God to Israel:]

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

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

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

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

Gabriel Manjarres via Cathopic

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

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

“If my steps have turned from this path”:

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

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

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

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

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

“Or if my hands have been defiled”:

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

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

My sin is ever before me

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Cristian Guttierez, Cathopic

Need refreshment? Find your “deserted place” today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven is the final goal.

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

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

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

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

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

According to Pope Benedict XVI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bend your knee before your King!

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

And they cried out with a loud voice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Cyber Hymnal #4879

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three years earlier Bhatti said in an interview,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is longing for your heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay.

Maintaining Peace when Worries Overwhelm You

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

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

This mother had learned the difference between concern and worry.

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

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

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

“Leave the care of your affairs to me!”

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

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

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

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

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