God also asks us to “shelter in place”

In the United States over 70 million are in lockdown under the government’s orders. Across the world, government officials are pleading with people to stay home. We all have at least a tinge of anger at the students and adults who have crowded the beaches, some of whom having now returned to colleges and universities are testing positive for coronavirus and are infecting others.

“Stay inside!” officials are pleading. “Stop going to the beach, to the park, to the bar….”

In his letter to the Cistercian communities, the Cistercian Abbot General Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, reflects on our difficulty in heading this call to stop flinging ourselves into work or pleasure:One stops only if one is stopped. To stop oneself freely has become almost impossible in contemporary western culture, which is globalized, for that matter. One does not even really stop on vacations. Only unpleasant setbacks manage to stop us in our breathless race to take ever greater advantage of life, of time, often also of other persons. Now, however, an unpleasant setback like an epidemic has stopped almost all of us. Our projects and plans have been annihilated, until we do not know when.”

In Psalm 46 God himself asks us to “be still,” we could say “to shelter in place in the inner shrine of our heart.” This invitation is a healing word to a people constantly running, entertaining ourselves, always throwing ourselves toward some future! It is a word of meaning. A call to pull ourselves away from the superfluous to what is of true value.

Anxiety can make it hard to stop. I mean, this is a “hard stop.”  We aren’t just changing directions or occupations or locations. We’re not taking a breather before throwing ourselves anew into life as we have known it. The world has stopped. Activities, the economy, political life, trips, entertainments, sports have stopped, as well as public religious life. It is when we are forced to stop that we discover how we still run inside. That we were holding on to something that suddenly doesn’t appear to be quite as important as it was. Yet to drop the dramatic investment we’ve created in it, is to admit that we don’t know who we are without it. As long as we are running inside, in our thoughts and fears and feelings and demands, we will not stay home unless there is a guard at the door. And we certainly will not stay “home” in the inner shrine of our heart.

“Be still,” God says, “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46).

Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori reflects further:  “God asks us to keep ourselves still; he does not impose it. He wants us to stop before him and remain freely, by choice, that is, with love. He does not stop us like the police who arrest a fugitive delinquent. He wants us to stop as one stops before a beloved person, or how one stops before the tender beauty of a newborn who sleeps, or at a sunset or a work of art that fill us with wonder and silence. God asks us to stop in recognition that, for us, his presence fills the whole universe, is the most important thing in life, which nothing can exceed. To stop before God means to recognize that his presence fills the instant and thus fully satisfies our heart, in whatever circumstance and condition we find ourselves.” 

When we get to the other side of this pandemic, and we will, this newfound silence of soul in the overwhelming power of divine presence is what we should keep alive always. A sense of our frailty. Of our child-like dependence on our Creator. With the “capacity to renounce what is superfluous to safeguard what is more profound and true in us and among us, with this faith that our life is not in our hands but in the hands of God.”

As we struggle through the anxiety of not knowing the consequences of this pandemic in our own lives and in our society, we are not left alone, as a child is not left alone by a good parent. “God enters into our trials, he suffers them with us and for us, to the point of death on the Cross. Thus he reveals to us that our life, in trial as also in consolation, has an infinitely greater meaning than the resolution of the current peril. The true peril that looms over our life is not the threat of death, but the possibility of living it without meaning, of living it without being directed toward a greater fullness of life and toward a greater salvation than health.”

So as you shelter in place, stay home, or perhaps put your own life at risk on the front lines of essential services and medical care, let these words of God bring your heart peace. “Be still, and know that I am God, exalted over nations, exalted over earth!” (Psalm 46) This pandemic is not more powerful than God who holds us all in the palm of his hand. Having “outward stillness” imposed on us through “lockdowns” gives us the opportunity to search for the tiny flickering lights of inner stillness, the relieved sighing of our exhausted hearts that we are not alone, that the darkness has never and will never overcome the divine plan at work in the world’s history. “A time of trial can make people harsher or more sensitive, more indifferent or more compassionate. Fundamentally, all depends on the love with which we live them out, and this above all is what Christ comes to grant us and to awaken in us with his presence. Any trial whatever comes and goes, but if we live it with love, the wound that the trial cuts into our lives will be able to remain open, like that on the Body of the Risen One, like an ever surging spring of compassion.”

Let us find through all of this, the love that will give us meaning, so that we will delight in being still and in cherishing what is of true value.

ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:

  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace. Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.

 

Peace in the Pandemic

I remember during Hurricane Katrina the story of several Vietnamese families who were trapped along with 16,000 others who had sought refuge in the Louisiana Superdome in 2015. People recall seeing them continuously praying the rosary. Peaceful. Kind. And when everyone was being evacuated they quietly held back, still praying, offering to be the last to be rescued from the refuge that had come to be described as a “hellhole.” In the midst of chaos, violence, and everyone fighting to get what they could for themselves, they have always been a testament to me of who I’d like to be if I were ever in an emergency situation.

The crisis over the worldwide spread of the coronavirus pandemic is such a crisis. As I write this I’m sitting in our Los Angeles convent. After leading one more retreat Saturday, I’ll be boarding a plane to return to Boston Sunday night. Uppermost in my mind is getting on that plane and returning home before I’m stranded here. In other words, uppermost in my mind is “me.”

As the regular pattern of my life is disturbed, I discover that I really don’t have the control over everything that could adversely affect me that I once thought I had. I also am not as selfless and giving as I once thought I was. Fear does funny things to us.

This virus peels back the self-protective layers we’ve put on to hide our inability to protect ourselves at all. To protect ourselves from each other. From the weather. From accidents. From financial fall-out. From a virus that started its devastating march through the world from within a little-known city of China.

Wild fears stoked by continuous headline news make it even more difficult to find the ground of faith and the fire of love that burns within our souls as followers of Christ baptized into his death and risen with him.

This past couple of days I’ve been seeking a place of silence in the storm. An inner heart-space that is deeper than the thoughts and feelings that are swirling in my mind these days. A place where I could immerse myself in Christ, in his way of living the pandemic, in his absolute promise to be with us. A place where I could surrender everything into the hands of the Father.  I’d like to share with you a meditation I’ve been using that you may find helpful.

 

 

Below is a prayer of Pope Francis that we can say in union with the Church:

O Mary,
you always shine on our path
as a sign of salvation and of hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick,
who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.
You, Salvation of the Roman People,
know what we need,
and we are sure you will provide
so that, as in Cana of Galilee,
we may return to joy and to feasting
after this time of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform to the will of the Father
and to do as we are told by Jesus,
who has taken upon himself our sufferings
and carried our sorrows
to lead us, through the cross,
to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.

Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Translation done by Catholic News Service of the prayer Pope Francis recited by video March 11 for a special Mass and act of prayer asking Mary to protect Italy and the world during of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

 

Four ways to enjoy simplicity in your life

Do you know someone who has embraced the minimalist mindset? Simple food. A clean house. A stripped-down wardrobe. Quiet entertainment. Gentleness. Beauty. Simplicity. Essentials. Health.

I have friends who are minimalists. Who simply live—or live simply—with as little as possible. There is something very attractive to decluttering, getting back to nature, enjoying uncomplicated ways of living… There’s so much there, I could have written this article on embracing the minimalist challenge. However, I’d have to admit, I myself haven’t taken on the challenge myself! I look around my office and it’s filled with what I need to do my mission—along with numberless papers, piles of papers and notes and requests and reminders that eventually have to be tended to—or (hopefully) thrown out when they’re no longer relevant.

Instead of minimalism, what Jesus has been attracting me to is something at the heart of minimalism: simplicity. Finding and living from the essential.

I really like the definition of simplicity found on wikiuniversity:

Simplicity is the virtue of removing the unrelated things to reveal the essence. Simplicity is the direct alignment with reality and it is the opposite of false and its various manifestations including pretension, prevarication, bloviating, masquerading, exaggeration, denial, grandiloquence, falsehood, or misunderstanding. Simplicity is the opposite of excess, and its various manifestations including opulence, extravagance, gaudiness, ostentatiousness, and waste. Simplicity is also the opposite of indirect, and its various manifestations including oblique, roundabout, convoluted, devious, and circuitous. Simplicity fully enjoys the magnificent essence it has revealed.

Simplicity is not simple-mindedness, nor is it simplistic. Simplicity grasps the essence that organizes what is apparently complex. It reveals an elegance that often is only understood after examining and comprehending immense complexity. Simplistic ideas are false because they take invalid short-cuts that misrepresent the complexities, subtleties, and full scope of reality (read the full article here).

In these first weeks of 2020, I’ve been talking with God about what is essential in my life, in what makes up my “me.”

The Lord has shown me how we humans build up defenses, and masks, and monuments, and exaggerate grandiose projects in order to hide from the pain of not having found the essential. In a sense, we seek to become gods and escape the woundedness and poverty of  what it is to be human, to be created, contingent. Not the masters of our destiny.

In short, we don’t want to remain faithful to the humanity entrusted to us—that humanity with its limits, its trials, its unknowns, its risks.

We run away from the simplicity of who we are as created and loved creatures. In the words of Johann B. Metz in the spiritual classic Poverty of Spirit, “Man must learn to accept himself in the painful experiment of his living. He must embrace the spiritual adventure of becoming a man, moving through the many stages that lie between birth and death. Even the life of the child is darkened by the repulsive enigma of death. Soon enough, with man’s first feeble explorations into the unchartered inner depths of his personality, is he tempted to an outright denial of what is most his own. Man’s flight from himself begins early” (p. 8).

  1. Choose poverty

God chose to be born into that poverty from which we flee. God “became man.” The Word “took on flesh,” as John so starkly puts it in his gospel. He took on our flesh. For Metz, being man (as in created, as in not being God) is to be poor. It is to have no bragging rights before God. No support. No power. Only the enthusiasm of our heart. “Becoming man involves proclaiming the poverty of the human spirit in the face of the total claims of a transcendent God” (p 14). Friends, Jesus chose this because he loved us. He needed to show us himself the beauty of our fragile created humanness.

Jesus chose poverty. He chose to be simple. He chose to live what is essential.

So what does this look like for me? An image that came to me in prayer that represents my simple givenness, my poor essentialness, my trustful createdness, is that of a leaf floating gently down a stream. It is a small leaf. It has no plans, no projects, no dreams, nothing to build up or become. There is no masquerading, exaggeration, or falsehood. There is no excess, no ostentatiousness, no waste. The leaf is carried along by the stream, protected by the stream (as precarious as this seems), almost embraced by the stream. The leaf is a symbol to me of what is left when all else is stripped away… the essential. It is a place of simplicity. It is a place where I discover the absolute essential point of “me:” I am loved by the One who made me.

Simplicity is a difficult virtue to practice. It demands other virtues that come first: self-awareness, humility, the honoring of our heart’s reality with a listening and compassionate ear. It requires us to learn gradually to let go of all that clings and clutters, all our props, everything that pervades our lives with distractions and dissolution and dispersion. All that hides, and all that holds us back from embracing our own humble humanness.

It is a choice for essence, for the essential. A choice for beauty and authenticity. It is a life that grows in meaning and the power of intentional self-giving to others through a leap of the heart.

Whether you are attracted to minimalism, hoping to declutter your life, or are searching for the essential, these five practices will help you enjoy simplicity in your life. See which one resonates with you!

  1. Schedule sacred slow-down time

There is something to be said for putzing around. For taking 30 minutes, 90 minutes, half a day, all day, just to do whatever you want—or nothing at all.

It isn’t my way at all. I’ve been very focused, organized, intent, and can get an amazing amount of work done. But the soul, remember, needs leisure. It is not a project. It unfolds, enfolds as it is led to. So give your soul a gift and schedule in some leisure time regularly. As you spend that time you may feel like your wasting time. Good! You need to waste time to find yourself. To live from the essential. To feel your way into the deepest part of your heart’s desire…

  1. Take time out for the moon

In Awaken Your Senses, co-author Beth Booram remembers the long slow summer days of playing outside all day when she was a child. She remembers most her time watching praying mantises, catching tadpoles, and… gazing at the moon. She wasn’t raised in a church-going family, but when she looked at the moon, she said, “I would swear that someone was looking back at me.” Even as an adult, gazing at the moon remains one of her strongest “God moments.” She writes, “When I stare up into the darkness of night and see this incandescent globe, it has a humbling effect.”

Gazing at the moon, a long, wondering appreciative gaze, helps us become childlike again. We find the simplicity of wonder, the essential role of awe in our hearts.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Ps 8:3-4 NRSV)

And you know that even as you gaze at the heavens, God is gazing back at you.

  1. Assure yourself you are loved!

Love keeps things simple. It’s when we fear we aren’t loved that we begin to play a part, put on a power plays, amass distinctions, money, stuff, popularity—anything we can get our hands on. A simple way to start is this simple reflection: “I deeply love and unconditionally accept myself, because God does.” Try saying it nonstop for half an hour and discover the difference it makes!

And then ask God what simplicity looks like for you.

Images are powerful things. Like stories, they’re more persuasive in moving us toward an attitude adjustment, or to taking on new values that require difficult changes. God gave me the image of the leaf. Your image will be your own. To talk to God about receiving the gift of his vision for your more simple life this year, take just a few moments to jot down in the center of a piece of paper some highlights of where you’ve been and around that identify the feelings that come up for each of those situations. Then listen to God say to you, “Turn to me with all this.” As you picture yourself handing it all over to a loving and generous Father, ask him what he will give you in return. Wait for an image, an impression, a word or phrase. Let the meaning sink deeply within your soul.

It is the path to the essential.

I’d love to hear what is YOUR path to the essential!

ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:

  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace. Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.

 

Image by rawpixel.

May I abide forever in your embrace

Dear Friends,

May the blessings of divine grace and the peace, the shalom, the still and generous presence that is bestowed on us from God our Father fill your new year!

What’s on my heart this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord…is the way God has been reminding us all along that we are part of a bigger story…God’s big story…the story of His HEART. When Jesus came up out of the River Jordan after being baptized, the Father’s voice was heard saying, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Everyone else there that day saw their life bordered by birth and death, their need for repentance, their situation whatever it was. That moment reminded us all that we play out our lives within the larger umbrella of God’s fathering us, of his saving us, of his transforming the world as we know it into a new creation.

As year after year passes, we become more familiar with our own hearts, and with God’s great HEART. We begin to see how we live out our lives within the overarching story of God’s confident presence, plan, and dominion. We are brought along in the unfolding of his determined plan to save his creation, all of it. We travel “hid with Christ in God” on the highway that stretches from Genesis through Revelation.

I’ve been realizing lately how gentle this journey is.

How gently Jesus began his own public life by quietly standing among the penitents who lined the River Jordan waiting for baptism by the hand of John, the wild prophet of the desert. How Jesus began there in anonymity the three-year teaching, healing, holding, saving mission that would culminate in his death, resurrection and ascension…. That would culminate, actually, in the baptisms in baptismal fonts of every church in every century to the end of time…. That would culminate, ultimately, when he presents us all to his Father as his brothers and sisters, the lost sheep he would not return home without finding and rescuing and returning to him.

How gently began our own life. My own journey, though, and perhaps yours, has taken not-so-gentle detours. Hardened areas of my heart and rigid thought patterns have shadowed over the gentleness of who I most deeply am as child of a generous Father and a Good Shepherd. But in these later years, I see the rigidity for what it is. The selfishness for what it is. The cocky certainty. The anger. The resentment. It really isn’t worth it. It’s time to let it all go. It is time for love.

I think this is one of the reasons why we are given this Feast of Jesus’ Baptism every year. So we don’t forget the gentleness of the Shepherd who even now is searching for us. The voice of a generous Abba who says, “You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

I don’t know about you, but I usually am not “well pleased” with myself. I always have bigger and better ideas of who I should be by this time. My heart is never enough for me. God reminds us on this feast, however, that our heart is enough for him. That HE is the one who declared us “Beloved,” even if we do not love ourselves. We can be gentle with ourselves, no matter where we’ve been or how we’ve failed. It is really not all up to us. The story has been written already by God. Our responsibility, in the words of St Elizabeth of the Trinity, is to “let ourselves be loved.”

We are all unfinished women and men, or rather beloved unfinished women and men. This year let’s be gentle with ourselves so we can experience this love that saves, heals, and holds.

Be gentle with ourselves by slowing down so that our mind, body, and soul are in sync.

Be gentle with ourselves as we slow down so we can sense what God is bringing about.

Where he is leading.

How he is transforming.

What he is re-creating.

Capturing the faintest impression of his desire for us so that we can follow behind our gently compassionate and firmly purposeful Father who is determined in his Son that we would abide forever in his embrace.

You might also like to read: How Baptism expresses how close God is to us

ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:

  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace. Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.

 

Jesus’ Baptism Expresses How Close God Is to Us

When was the moment John knew? As he reached out his arms to baptize this young man before him, what tipped him off that this man was different from all the others who stood on the bank of the River Jordan, come to confess their sins and be baptized, “to flee from the coming wrath” (Matthew 3:7).

Was it when he looked into Jesus’ eyes? The eyes betray the depth of one’s soul. Or was it when his arms guided Jesus, submerging him in the waters of baptism and repentance?

How did he sense that this was at last the moment when baptism of water would yield to the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire?

The trembling awe-filled simple movements of baptizing. Pouring water. Words. The call to repentance. “I need to baptized by you,” whispered John, as he realized that before him stood the Messiah. “You come to me?”

A quiet hushed exchange surrounded by the water, just enough distance from the others. A sanctuary now of worship and glory.

Jesus chose to join the ranks of sinners, to be in solidarity with all of us who struggle through the mess and “muckiness” of life, so that he could express how close God is to us.

Benedict XVI put it this way:

Jesus shows his solidarity with us, with our efforts to convert and to be rid of our selfishness, to break away from our sins in order to tell us that if we accept him in our life he can uplift us and lead us to the heights of God the Father. And Jesus’ solidarity is not, as it were, a mere exercise of mind and will. Jesus truly immersed himself in our human condition, lived it to the end, in all things save sin, and was able to understand our weakness and frailty. For this reason he was moved to compassion, he chose to “suffer with” men and women, to become a penitent with us. This is God’s work which Jesus wanted to carry out: the divine mission to heal those who are wounded and give medicine to the sick, to take upon himself the sin of the world….

Indeed Jesus acted as the Good Shepherd who tended his sheep and gathered his flock, so that none might stray (cf. Is 40,10-11), and laid down his life so that it might have life. It is through his redeeming death that man is liberated from the dominion of sin and reconciled with the Father; it is through his resurrection that man is saved from eternal death and enabled to triumph over the Evil One.

John the Baptizer knew at that moment that his life had meaning. That the promise of his birth, the role he was to play as the precursor of the Messiah, was indeed true. Unexpectedly that morning he had bumped into the majesty of God and his glory. “As Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16-17).

And we, baptized in waters made pure by Jesus’ own baptism are “deeply united with Jesus for ever, immersed in the mystery of his power, of his might, namely, in the mystery of his death which is a source of life so as to share in his resurrection, to be reborn to new life. This is the miracle that is repeated [at every baptism,]. In receiving baptism [we] are reborn as children of God who share in the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father, in other words who can address God, calling him with full confidence and trust: “Abba, Father.” The heavens are also opened above [us] and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am well pleased” (Pope Benedict XVI, January 13, 2013).

Perhaps you are still waiting for that awe-filled moment when you realize not that the Messiah stands before you, but that God stands for you, is for ever with you, and has called you his beloved and dear child because you have been deeply united with Jesus in baptism.

It is fear that makes us feel lost, forced to hurry through our lives, too busy, buried in consumption and distraction. Yesterday in a Melkite cathedral my eyes feel on the loveliest icon of Mary holding her child. There was a purity, a transparent beauty that made all the distractions in which I immerse myself seem like mere dust. It is fear that keeps us focused on everything but the glory of being God’s child. The fear of the unknown, the fear of being undone, the fear of breaking and falling apart, the fear of rejection, and the fear of death. We look in every place but the face of God for solutions to these fears, this God who has walked our fearful ways and shown us that we are never alone wherever they may lead us.

Here is a simple practice to retrace our steps to glory:

Bless yourself with holy water. Holy Water is known as a “sacramental,” a sacred sign that bears a resemblance to the sacraments. Unlike a sacrament, a sacramental does not itself confer the grace of the Holy Spirit, but helps the faithful to sanctify each moment of life and to live in the paschal mystery of our Lord.

Holy water fonts are just inside the doors of the Church and we probably don’t realize the amazing gift we have to bless ourselves in this way each time we enter a Church. We can also bring holy water into our homes. When my brother and sister and I were growing up, we had holy water fonts in each of our bedrooms and at the front door. We blessed ourselves regularly and Mom often would bless us with the holy water when she woke us up in the morning.

When we make the sign of the cross with the holy water  we remind ourselves of our Baptism, when by the invocation of the Holy Trinity and the pouring of Holy Water, we were set free from original sin and all sin, infused with sanctifying grace, incorporated into the Church, and given the title son or daughter of God. As we make the Sign of the Cross with holy water we enter anew into John the Baptist’s call to repentance through baptism. We renew our life in Christ, in whom we have died and risen. Holy water is also a protection from evil. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote about the power of holy water with these words:

“From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like Holy Water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the cross, but return; so Holy Water must have great value. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact, it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once. It has happened again and again and I have observed it most attentively. It is let us say, as if someone very hot and thirsty were to drink from a jug of cold water: he would feel the refreshment throughout his body. I often reflect on the great importance of everything ordained by the Church and it makes me very happy to find that those words of the Church are so powerful that they impart their power to the water and make it so very different from water which has not been blessed.”

 

Holy water, then, is a powerful means to root ourselves anew in our identity in Christ. No matter how lost in fear or distrust we may be, no matter how far we may have wandered or how scattered we may feel we can find our way back to our baptism, to the moment of recognition, to the power of being called “my beloved child” by the Father, to the certainty of our being held in existence by Christ.

Image Credit: Baptism of Christ: David Zelenka Own work, available wikimedia commons.

Do not fear! No matter what happens, Christ reigns as King

In my pastoral struggles and weakness, the messy wandering and wonderings that are part of every life, I have found great power for perseverance by keeping before me the face of a man who said “no” to God when he learned of God’s plan for his middle years. When he found the bush burning in the desert, Moses learned that he was supposed to lead his chosen people to the Promised Land. But Moses didn’t see his life that way. His vision for his life was small as he stood before the burning bush. He herded sheep in the desert. That was enough. But God saw Moses in the larger story of salvation. He had a kingdom-plan for him.

In moments of struggle I remember Moses. In moments of crisis in church and world and community, I remember that I also am not living my life in safe isolation, but am a part of God’s Kingdom…called and loved and sent that God’s Kingdom may come…. I remember that despite his initial no to God’s plan, Moses became the person about whom God said, “I speak with Moses face to face as with a friend.” And I want that too!

I look to Moses because I’m able to survey his whole life, from the miraculous way he was set apart at his birth to the sad moment he stood on Mount Nebo looking into the Promised Land. Moses knew then he would never set foot there, despite his years of wandering the desert with a disgruntled people, people he’d defended and taught and cared for at great personal cost. I look to Moses because he discovered the ultimate plan for his life in the messy wanderings of his middle years.

Because of his rescue by Pharoah’s daughter, Moses spent his early years in the privilege of the Pharaoh’s household. He’d been saved from the death decreed for all male babies born to Hebrew women; his fate lay in the hands of God as he was set adrift in a humble basket watched over lovingly by his sister.

As a young man, he got himself in trouble by murdering an Egyptian who had struck one of the Hebrew slaves. He escaped to the desert and for forty years wandered there, serving his father-in-law as herdsman, until he encountered the burning bush that would set his life in a new direction.

When we’re young, we seek to find our vocation in life—the state to which we’re called and in which we will live out our destiny: married, ordained, religious, single. But the burning bush sets our life in a new direction, the ultimate direction for which we were created; and it often turns up only in our middle years, many times after disappointments and sorrows. As it did for Moses, it comes upon us, it chooses us, it calls us. Sometimes it calls through a sudden witness or moment; sometimes the call comes gradually over years of life. It comes as a surprise and is not of our making, although in hindsight it makes perfect sense and we feel that we could have seen it coming.

God’s dreams are greater than ours.

By this time, Moses may have been resigned to just being the shepherd in his father-in-law’s service. He certainly wasn’t eager to sign on to God’s great plan to send him back to Pharoah and demand the liberation of God’s people from slavery! Yet this was why he was born. This was his true vocation, to which every life-decision had mysteriously led. This was the goal from the very beginning, in the light of which every failure was still mysteriously a preparation. This was the larger meaning of his life into which his human spirit grew. God’s dream was greater than his for his own life.

Our plans and dreams and agendas for our own lives may be similarly small. We hunker down. We turn away from the challenge of greatness. We resign ourselves to our regrets. We plan carefully what is possible to us and draw the boundaries clearly so we will not be forced to walk beyond them. The past determined our possibilities.

God doesn’t see us in isolation. God knows us within his Kingdom, within his people, with his plan for the salvation of all creation. Our authentic vocation is ultimately known only in God, and it is always in reference to others who need us. The “others” may not be an entire people such as the Israelites who needed to escape slavery from Egypt. It may be one other person, a community, a family, a classroom, a hospital, the streets of a city. We may not even know who that other person is.

We are always called in view of the Kingdom.

“Thy Kingdom come!” we pray in the Our Father. “Maranatha!” we pray in Advent. “The Lord is King. He is robed in majesty!” we pray this Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925 in the encyclical Quas primas (“In the first”) to response to growing secularism. He recognized that attempting to “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law” out of public life would result in continuing discord among people and nations. That while governments crumble, we have the assurance that Christ the King shall reign forever. Today we do not face only the challenges of a secular society. The body of Christ must also tend to the wounds inflicted on the Church by priests and bishops, men who either committed acts of sexual abuse themselves or failed to respond to abuse with justice when they had the opportunity.

The Feast of Christ the King strengthens our hearts to believe that as governments come and go, as we struggle with the wounds we bear in the Church, Christ reigns as King of the entire world forever. And friends, you and I are important parts of the mosaic of that Kingdom that Christ is bringing about on this earth! Like Moses, we may have messed things up. Like Moses, we may wonder for years what our true place in the Kingdom is. Like Moses, we may be weighed down with the burden of our divinely assigned task. As it was for Moses, there will be ups and downs, joys and sorrows, ecstasies and depressions and disappointing moments. And like Moses, we might have even told God we didn’t think his plan was such a good idea, or we didn’t really want to be a part of it….

It doesn’t matter. That is all part of it. We need only pray, “Lord, show me where I fit into this plan of yours… that thy Kingdom come. Maranatha! Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!” 

As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then at his coming, those who belong to him.

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power (1 Cor 15:22-24).

 

The Path of the Heart: Three Ways St Thérèse can help us weather the storms in the Church today

The fast-approaching feast of St Thérèse on October 1 got me thinking. We mostly associate St Thérèse of Lisieux with her little way. I suppose if a person had the resources, time and energy to explore the depths of the spirituality that is Thérèse’s little way, a wide horizon of possibilities for personal holiness would open up. But, as most of us don’t have this opportunity, I’m afraid the “little way” becomes something of a comfort to us who are little. I know, it in some way justifies the way I feel and choices I make. It assures me that Jesus loves me, and that my sin doesn’t stop his loving me. However, Thérèse wrote “little way” only once. And she herself never wrote the words spiritual childhood.

Thérèse is a great saint. She is a doctor of the Church. Her life from the moment of her death brought light into a darkened Church and world. So instead of writing another article about the little way, I wanted to share with you her giant heart because, actually, we all need truly giant hearts if we are to weather the storms in the Church today.

These days it seems the question for some is this: should I stay in the Church and give it my fidelity and money or just cut my ties and go elsewhere. Obviously, the Church, meaning the hierarchy, doesn’t deserve my money and faithfulness. We may be feeling powerless in the face of so much chaos and pain on all sides around us, like we are stuck in a bad dream or a vast battlefield that we can’t escape.

In truth, however, we are called to be faithful to the Word of God in the way we live out our faith. What does St Thérèse tell us today, this cloistered nun who lived in the 1800s? Here are three things I think we can learn from this teenager of a hundred years ago:

  • Illusions die—and they are supposed to.

I’m sure that just as any young person who begins their vocation in life, Thérèse had great ideals as she entered the Carmel in Lisieux. She was fifteen with a heart aflame. In fact, her prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague wrote to the prioress of Tours on the eve of her profession two years later that though Thérèse was only seventeen and a half, she had the sense of a thirty-year-old and the religious perfection of an old and accomplished novice.

Thérèse’s postulancy began on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1888. Her desires at last realized, she felt a “deep sweet peace” which filled her soul and which never really left her for the rest of her short life on this earth. Looking from the outside at the community of the monastery of Carmel in Lisieux as a teenager, Thérèse probably had wonderful dreams about what it would be like. She had visited the parlors often. Her three sisters were already there. The nuns probably appeared very saintly. But like all religious, she discovered it is not all sunshine and roses. While a postulant, Thérèse’s lack of aptitude for handicrafts and manual labor caused her to be the butt of jokes among the sisters. Sr. St. Vincent de Paul, the finest embroideress in the community, made her feel awkward and even called her “the big nanny goat.”

After nine years she wrote, “The lack of judgment, education, the touchiness of some characters, all these things do not make life very pleasant. I know very well that these moral weaknesses are chronic, that there is no hope of cure.”

On top of the turmoil in her soul as she sought to navigate the community dynamics, her father Louis Martin, now himself a canonized saint, disappeared from his home for four days. He was finally found at the post office in Le Havre, but this first incident of wandering marked the beginning of her father’s steep physical and mental decline.

I have to admit that in 2002, when the Archdiocese of Boston was the epicenter of a clergy sex abuse scandal that rocked the lives and faith of so many Catholics, my own illusions about the ministers of the Church were quickly and painfully demolished. It was like standing stark naked with all one’s skin torn away in the darkness alone. It hurt.

This hole in my heart was for me a giant leap forward in being able to hear the Word of God and respond more faithfully in a rapidly evolving and devasting situation. It has been called, and certainly was, the Long Great Lent of 2002. To this day when we read the same cycle of readings during Lent, the emotions, the lessons, the pain becomes once more the kaleidoscope through which I examine my life with God. We all know that our illusions about life, relationships, the Church, even God get stripped away from us little by little that we might relate in truth, not in our idea of what the other is. It is one way to turn inward, and find the finger of God in our own soul, and to respond as he invites.

  • The contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus will nourish us in this time when we feel so disconnected from ourselves, from others, from the Church, and from faith.

While Thérèse was a novice, she contemplated the Holy Face of Jesus, and it was this Face that nourished her inner life. You have seen this Face, I am sure. It is an image that represents the disfigured Face of Jesus during his passion. If you have seen in person or on the internet the Shroud of Turin, you have seen this disfigured, yet stately, Face of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As she gazed upon the Face of Jesus, Thérèse meditated on the words of Isaiah in one of the suffering-servant psalms. Six weeks before her death she wrote: “The words in Isaiah: ‘no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, one despised, left out of all human reckoning, how should we take any account of him, a man so despised (Is 53:2-3),’ these words were the basis of my whole worship of the Holy Face.”

On the eve of her profession, Thérèse wrote to Sister Marie, “Tomorrow I shall be the bride of Jesus ‘whose face was hidden and whom no man knew’—what a union and what a future!” The meditation also helped her understand the humiliating situation of her father.

I have found that loving that Face is not easy. The Good Shepherd’s Face that smiles at me? I like that. It comforts me. But the disfigured Face of my Master haunts me. It is the Face of a divine Lover who loves me unconditionally at his own expense. That Face doesn’t say to me that he really doesn’t care about the pockets of sin that still hide in my heart. He assures me that he can hold in his mercy my weakness and sin even as he holds in his unconditional love who I am in my createdness, I who am a daughter of his Father, on whom he can still see the fingerprints of the Tender Creator. And like a fire he seeks to demolish all strongholds of sin that block union with him.

And that’s what’s so hard these days. We see and hear a lot that makes us angry, enraged even. We sorrow, we hide our faces in shame. But Jesus didn’t do any of that. He let his own Face be disfigured by pain and humiliation so that he could forever look on us in his Father’s Kingdom with an undying eternal delight.

As I look around the Church these days, there are many disfigured faces that I contemplate: the faces of the victims, the faces of the scandalized, the faces of everyone trying to continue ministry in this situation, the face of the Church. Friends, the Holy Face will always bear this disfigurement. Despised, humiliated, considered of no account…

I want to stand near all these Holy Faces as Jesus stood by me, with a love that overcomes sin and sorrow. She wrote: “I, too, wanted to be without comeliness and beauty…unknown to all creatures.” Since I probably will be unknown except to a small few, I can take a giant step toward loving in the Church by choosing not to beautify and promote myself, but like Jesus to live in solidarity with those whose Holy Faces bear the wounds of Christ.

  • Thérèse’s vocation was to be love, a love so sorely needed in the Church today.

Thérèse famously said her vocation in the Church was to be love. It was a direction for her life that she found in reading the Word of God. It was a direction she was faithful to all her life, at every moment, in the “little things,” (there it is… the little way), that presented themselves to her during the day. “In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.”

We’ve all heard the quaint stories of how Thérèse chose to assist the most disgruntled nun that none of the other sisters wanted to be around. Or she sat next to the sisters in recreation who were discouraged or down, rather than enjoy the joyous laughter of friends. She said nothing when she was splashed with dirty water while doing laundry. These seem so small to represent “being love in the heart of the Church.” I would imagine someone with such a mission would conduct herself like my patron saint, Catherine of Siena. Now that was someone who accomplished great things in the Church at a time in which it so needed holiness and prophetic witness!

But Thérèse is perhaps who this post-modern world needs. Things were simpler back in Catherine’s day. She sent letters to the Pope with messages from Jesus encouraging him to return the papacy to Rome. She visited his court. She probably had no knowledge of much else that was going on in the world outside her own part of Europe.

But we today know instantaneously the most hideous and the most glorious of news. We are bombarded with commentary and fake news and don’t know who to believe. People can make their case on social media and bring together millions of people overnight to advance their cause. We know what is happening in every country of the world, the minute it happens. How can we influence such a world, such a Church? Here is where St Thérèse’s small ways of loving are genius.

There is so much hateful language around us, and I believe it is truly changing our hearts in very sad ways. People feel free to say things without the slightest consideration of how their “thought” might affect others (or even if it is based on fact or pure emotional reaction). But I believe that divine acts of loving (even if seemingly insignificant) can work miracles. It is true that we need a St Catherine of Siena for our day, and a St Benedict, and a saint that God right now is raising up to show us God’s light in today’s shadowed chaos. But most of us, as St Thérèse teaches, like her will be little.

Thérèse wrote: “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”

To love is to give everything and to give oneself.” (PN 54, stanza 22, OC 755)

The strong maturity of this veritable giant of holiness is absolutely what we need today. We may not feel that we are giants, and I’m sure Thérèse certainly didn’t run around the monastery proclaiming she was a giant. But we can love the Holy Faces around us, wipe the tears of the Holy Faces that have suffered whom we know, honor the disfigured humiliation of the Face of Christ as it appears today as the suffering Christ continues to love you and me and all. Like Thérèse, we can BE LOVE.

If you have concrete ideas of how to BE LOVE today, or examples from others or yourself, I’d love to hear about them.

In my heart,

Sr Kathryn

ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:

  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace.  Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.

 

Getting free from sticky thoughts

It was the end of a long day and long days often leave me feeling very tired and depleted of energy. Those nagging nasty thoughts started to get the upper hand. You know the ones I mean: This will never change. She always does that. He doesn’t understand. No one cares…. We all have our own little set of ugly thoughts that rear their heads when we feel overwhelmed or pushed aside or misunderstood.

It would be one thing if these troublesome thoughts just passed through our minds and kept on going, but somehow, at least sometimes, they get caught. They become sticky thoughts, patterns of reflection that have an emotionally-heavy content to them that weighs us down. Thoughts like these become sticky traps, like glue boards that we use to catch rodents who have made their nest in our house. We become caught in the cycle of negativity (and at times nastiness or hopelessness), trapped by the stickiness that won’t let these thoughts be released…won’t let our hearts be freed from their deadening weight.

So that night I was thinking about why we keep holding on to these sticky thoughts with a vice grip. And I discovered three reasons. We’ve been convinced that:

  1. These sticky thoughts make complete sense to our rational mind and our ego that believes (at least sometimes) that we’re better, others don’t get it, someone else should pay for what they did to us.
  2. Nasty thoughts are a poison and to save ourselves from their toxicity we share them with others. We convince ourselves even more of their truthfulness and create a facade of falseness we need to keep up.
  3. When we share our negative stories about others, ourself, and situations we cause others to think negatively. It becomes a snowball racing down a hill that we can’t stop because it is impossible to take back words once spoken.

Definitely the pattern of the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Into this examen, into this image which represents the distorted falseness of my heart, comes the person of Jesus. He is dusting. Cleaning. Rearranging. Happy. Humming. Non-possessive. It isn’t a big deal to him, this sticky mess that is a big deal to me. He knows it will be different when he’s through.

What does Jesus know that I forget?

“Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm has already been lavished upon us as a love gift from our wonderful heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus—all because he sees us wrapped into Christ. This is why we celebrate him with all our hearts! And he chose us to be his very own, joining us to himself even before he laid the foundation of the universe! Because of his great love, he ordained us, so that we would be seen as holy in his eyes with an unstained innocence” (Ephesians 1:3-4 TPT).

Jesus can remove me gently from my sticky captivating thoughts, because he reveals to me who I am.

These types of thoughts charged with the energy of the passions tend to boast a power that deflects us from our basic goodness which is God’s gift to us—”he sees us wrapped into Christ.”

Both the elder brother and the younger son of the loving Father in the Parable of the Prodigal remind us that we need to remember that we have been lavished with sonship, chosen to be the Father’s very own, seen as holy in his eyes with an unstained innocence.

Jesus, the One who recreates and rehabilitates the sticky mess of my life, now possesses me.

I belong to him, as St Paul says:

“If you have really experienced the Anointed One, and heard his truth, it will be seen in your life; for we know that the ultimate reality is embodied in Jesus! And he has taught you to let go of the lifestyle of the ancient man, the old self – life, which was corrupted by sinful and deceitful desires that spring from delusions. Now it’s time to be made new by every revelation that’s been given to you. And to be transformed as you embrace the glorious Christ-within as your new life and live in union with him! For God has re-created you all over again in his perfect righteousness, and you now belong to him in the realm of true holiness. So discard every form of dishonesty and lying so that you will be known as one who always speaks the truth, for we all belong to one another” (Ephesians 4:21-25 TPT)

We humans have a negativity bias, meaning the bad things that we see, hear, and experience far outweigh the positive and pleasurable experiences. My angry reaction to a perceived slight will stick with me longer than my meditation on being the delight of the Lord. The negative and nasty things we remember make it just about impossible to see beyond to what is most true about ourselves and others, the goodness that is most truly who we are. If we know that this is true about the human mind and heart, it is only an intentional focusing of our thoughts and leaps of the heart on what is most true that will yield happiness and holiness in our lives.

To intentionally focus on the freeing power of truth, here are some tips:

  1. End the day by listing three positive and delightful things that happened in your life and in the lives of those around you.
  2. When you notice any nasty negativeness immediately replace it by stating what is true, “I believe you, Jesus, are here.” “I know that you are in him/her at this very moment. Show me.”
  3. Go a step further and say to someone you are interiorly having a difficult time appreciating one thing you want them to know about themselves that is truly a gift they are sharing with others.

It doesn’t take much energy to be negative. That can easily come about without us lifting a finger. Appreciative watchfulness and intentional kindness take effort. At least at first. Once appreciation and delightful kindness begin to flow through our thoughts and heart, it will easily wash away the negativity, and our hearts, our relationships, and our health will once again flourish.

Feel free to let me know how this touched you in the comments below.

From my heart to yours,
Sr Kathryn

ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:

  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace.  Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.