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

Throw Open Your Heart

The road to communion is beautiful. So open your heart to the world. We are meant to be one. We are one. We come forth—each and all of us—from the creative word of the same Father and Creator: “Let us make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness….” (Gn. 1:26).

Throw open the doors and windows of your heart to brothers and sisters looking for someone whose heart is filled with the wind of the Spirit…

Throw out the furniture to make more room, for only a heart that is poor and waiting can receive the other…

Throw down the welcome mat and refuse to no one access to your charity and compassion and care…

Let them come, my friends, these others who are your brothers and sisters. Let them come from wherever they are now, from whatever country, political persuasion, faith, poor or rich, healthy or suffering in any way, and together let us build a new way of living in communion.

What would it look like to live together knowing our total dependence on God for everything?

To wait upon the Lord…

To let gentleness live within us and among us…

To claim nothing as our own, but to share all things as one family…

To be single-hearted and pure of spirit…

To be makers of peace, to wish well-being to all…

To work that no one might suffer…

The road to communion is beautiful. The possibility of living the way of the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus attracts us. When I was younger, I had great hopes for a heart characterized by this charity. At 57 I realize that I cannot change my own heart in so radical a way, much less transform others and the world. The terrors and pain that wound my brothers and sisters in the world frighten and overwhelm me. Sometimes they seem to steal my voice and paralyze my own hope.

At 57 I realize that the beauty of this path is created by the eagerness of the continued journey, and the willingness to let God wreck my idealism about myself and the world. So know, my friend, that deep inside your heart lies the seed of God’s own power to build communion. The gift of unity and shared respect grows like the mustard seed and in our tentative, gradual and often faltering steps this broken yet gifted world is transformed into the Kingdom. 

So allow others into your life and heart. They are God’s messengers to break you out of your own frozen places and constricted ideas and opinions about what is true, good, and beautiful. Even the ugly can teach you beauty. Even the harsh can call forth your tenderness. Even the proponent of ideologies you do not share can push you to kneel before the One alone who is Truth, Way, and Life.

Ask Jesus for the grace to know who you may need to forgive or where bitterness and resentment are keeping you apart from this oneness for which you are made. May these days be a time of healing, a calling to the center, a uniting into one family, a restoring of what has been lost, a re-membering of what has been forgotten. May these days be filled with graces beyond your wildest dreams.

Never stop running for the goal!

In this spring and summer we are almost holding our collective breath as the pandemic seems to be slowly winding down here in the US. We wonder what normal will look like after having “worshipped” via Zoom for so long.

The Spirit is actively creating something new in this transition and return to the celebration of the Eucharist with our brothers and sisters, together, as a community in Christ, as Christ’s body. Those who have been waiting for Baptism can now receive that most important sacrament by which, as St Paul tells us, we die with Christ and rise with him.

Through the sacraments of baptism and the receiving of the risen Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, a deep and radical change takes place within us. In the words of Nicholas Cabasilas (a 15th-century Greek theologian): “O wonder of wonders! It is God himself we touch in the Eucharist and God becomes one with us in the closest union.” And again, of the sacrament of baptism, “When we come up from the water we bear the Savior upon our souls, on our heads, on our eyes, on all our members…. We have been stamped with Christ.”

These days can be a renewed experience for all of us of the life we receive only through Christ, in Christ, and in the sacramental life of the Church. This was a favorite topic of St. Paul, so I reached out to Sr. Margaret Kerry for some thoughts on this theme. She has such a rich experience of speaking with people both about the faith and about St. Paul to help us deepen this topic. For years she has been writing reflections on Paul’s letters for our lay Paulines (Pauline Cooperators) as an ongoing study. Her focus is on baptism, the sacrament that opens the door for all of the sacraments as we join the family of God. The following material is from Sr. Margaret.


                                               

Thank you so much for inviting me to explore the sacraments with you in the spirit of St Paul. I would first like to put this in context by recalling Paul’s words, quoted loosely, “Never stop running for the goal!” St. Gregory the Great wrote, “Jesus became incarnate so that he may be seen by us. And Jesus wants to be seen so that we may imitate him.” In relation to this, Blessed James Alberione exclaims, “How sublime this is! All baptized Christians are called to become one personality in Christ, to graft ourselves to Christ, so that truly Christ lives in us.”

St. Paul explained this imitation of Christ, this goal of becoming Christ, in terms of living in Christ when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:19-20). St. Paul imitated Christ so brilliantly that he could exhort others, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Through our baptism, this conformity with Christ is already a reality in us. We enter a covenant with God. On our part, we pray that the “grace of God will bear fruit” so that this conformity with Christ will attain fullness. We have been given the first fruits of the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. “With Christ in us we are a new creation!” (see 2 Cor 5:17).

Saint Paul, you lived in deep intimacy with Jesus and spent your life proclaiming him to all God’s people. Teach us to do the same.

By virtue of our baptism, we live in Christ; in him “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are members of his Body, his dwelling place. Show us what it means to live out of this amazing reality: that, having encountered the love of God in Jesus, we are called to share it as his missionary disciples.

Baptism admits us into a mysterious and permanent communion with Christ. In the ancient church, baptism was also called “illumination,” because the sacrament gives light; it truly makes us see. This is clear from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts Paul’s encounter with Jesus, his “conversion.” He had traveled to Damascus prepared to take any followers of the Way into custody to Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus appeared to him outside Damascus, calling out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Paul asked Jesus who he was, he was told to get up and go into Damascus where he would be told what to do. Paul waited three days in Damascus, unable to see anything. The darkness gave way to light when Ananias, sent by the Lord, baptized him so that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul was transformed by the irresistible presence of the Risen One. Once blind, he was now able to see. The illumination that Paul received on the road to Damascus is what happens for every Christian at their own baptism. Baptism admits us into mysterious and permanent communion with Christ. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6).

Lord, illumine us, grant us an encounter with your presence in our world, open our eyes, grant us a lively faith, an open heart, and great love for all, love capable of renewing the world.

Even after such a tremendous grace as was this encounter with the risen Christ, Paul writes again and again in his letters about an ongoing “conversion.” In his letter to the Romans, he famously writes about his struggle: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom 7:15, 18-19).

The verb Paul uses for conversion is an active verb signifying “ongoing transformation.” Paul admitted that he was always on the road to conversion. “I strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). He depicts the ongoing struggle we all experience in our call to live fully our Baptismal commitment. “Creation waits in eager expectation for us to be revealed as new” (Rom 8:19).

Yet Paul also assures us that, through our baptism and our ongoing transformation, we are being transformed from glory to glory. “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).

Lord, grant us freedom in your Spirit so that, from this inner abundance filling our earthen vessel, we can say “it is no longer I who live, Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20)

Ultimately, our transformation takes place, not through our own power, but through the power of the Risen One. Paul invites us to glory in our weakness as the power of Christ is manifested in us. When Paul experienced what he called a “thorn in the flesh,” he begged God to take it from him. But Paul said that the Lord refused to take this suffering from him. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then glories in his infirmities, because the power of God is made manifest through them: “So I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (see 2 Cor 12:9).

Through our baptism, Christ confirms a permanent dwelling in us, the beginning of new life. “He will change our lowly body to conform to his glorified body” (Phil 3:12). Paul speaks of this permanent dwelling, this conformation to the glorified body of Christ, as living “in Christ.” In fact, Paul uses the word “in” over 164 times when he refers to life in Christ! By living in Christ through the graces of our baptism, by deepening our union with Christ through the Eucharist, Jesus restores us to the fullness of life in the Triune God in whose image we are created. In turn, we are sent as Christ for others.

God, in your mercy, transform us into your likeness so that we become way, truth and life for our families, our neighbors, our Church and for those who have not yet encountered you. Amen.

Jesus, I want what you have!

Keeping the commandments. It is something that children wrestle with as they prepare for their First Penance. Do you remember that first time you had to examine your conscience? Later this tension to fidelity to God’s Word and the Ten Words of Law becomes “second nature,” spiritually speaking, or else rebellion to the invitation to holiness found in the commandments becomes ingrained in thoughts, words, and habits, ultimately manifesting in a life of pain and sorrow. According to the words of Jesus there is no middle road: “Whoever breaks one of the of the least of the commandments…whoever obeys and teaches these commandments…”

St Silouan the Athonite said that the apostle John says that the commandments of God are not difficult to keep (1 John 5:3). For the one who loves, they are easy to keep. They are difficult only for the one who does not love.

Keeping the commandments is a matter of the heart. Recently I was resting in prayer, silently contemplating Jesus who had climbed a mountain for time alone with his Father. It was night. I imagined myself quietly watching from a short distance, my elbows on a large boulder, holding my face in my hands, as I observed Jesus standing a few yards away. I could just see the silhouette of Jesus as he stood looking up into the star-lit night sky in this place to which he had retired to be with his Father. The intensity of love that I sensed between him and his Father, the energy of their wordless communion, the giving and receiving, the loving and responding, the gift and obedience…. Even though I was not a part of their unspoken communication, Jesus’ bond with his Father was unmistakable and strong. When Jesus’ had finished praying he turned and noticed me watching. He walked quietly toward me and sat down. My heart full, I said simply, “I want what you have.” And he said to me, “I want you to have it too.”

I want the love that Jesus experiences to take hold in the deepest recesses of my heart. I want my sole desire to be to surrender my life entirely to that love, to desire to speak, think, and do only what the Father has given me to do. In other words, I want to be true to the Father’s love for me and for others in the totality of the way I live. But when I examine myself I see that I am not like Jesus who could say, “I say only what I hear from the Father.” My love is only a distortion of divine love.

I want the love that Jesus experiences to take hold in the deepest recesses of my heart. I want my sole desire to be to surrender my life entirely to that love, to desire to speak, think, and do only what the Father has given me to do.

The law of God helps us recognize our poverty and our utter dependence on God. It floods us with God’s mercy which renews us, as we realize we cannot keep the commandments unless God himself remakes our hearts. And he will do so, if we open our heart to him. As Jesus said to me, “I want this for you too!” What generous kindness that will not fail to be brought about through Jesus’ action on my poor heart.

Pope Francis said that the commandments help people face the disarray of our hearts in order to stop living selfishly and become authentic children of God, redeemed by the Son and taught and guided by the Holy Spirit.

The commandments are a gift. They save us, as Saint John Paul II reminded us in his speech on Mount Sinai, from the “destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw [us] into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and grades our human dignity and that of our neighbor.”

To keep the commandments is paradoxically to know that we can’t keep them without the power of God at work within us, without the Spirit remaking our hearts and minds, without the blood of Jesus washing us clean and transfiguring our entire being in himself.

Image credit: Il Ragazzo via Cathopic

Guest Post: The Hearts of Jesus and Mary

June is the month of the Sacred Heart, and this year the feast of the Sacred Heart falls on Friday, June 11. In this feast Jesus pours out the love of his heart on us. But Jesus always comes with Mary. The next day, June 12, is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the union of these two hearts we are completely enveloped in divine and human love.

The heart is the symbol of love, one that’s even used widely in our secular culture (as in Saint Valentine’s Day). It’s a universal symbol most people can relate to easily. From his heart, Jesus pours forth the ocean of his love, and Mary does the same from her own tender maternal heart. They both have an unconditional love for us. That doesn’t mean they don’t care if we sin, but rather that they still love us despite our sins. Jesus in his Sacred Heart and Mary in her Immaculate Heart want to pour out their love on us. If we stray, they call us back.

Mary can transform hearts. In Paris in 1836, a holy priest, Monsignor Charles Desgenettes, was assigned to Our Lady of Victories parish. Spiritually the parish was dying. Only a faithful few old people still went to Mass. Determined to bring about a spiritual revival, the priest consecrated himself and the parish to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. He announced that he was going to call a meeting about being consecrated to Mary. To his astonishment, the church was packed for the meeting! In time a complete spiritual revival took place—and devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart was the driving force.

If we need renewal in our life, whether as a church or as an individual, devotion to Mary is a great place to start. She will draw us closer to her son, Jesus, and together the two hearts of Jesus and Mary will help our own hearts burn with love of God and neighbor.

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Tacho Dimas via Cathopic