Bend your knee before your King!

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

And they cried out with a loud voice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Cyber Hymnal #4879

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three years earlier Bhatti said in an interview,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Bear the Fruit of Christ in Your Life

I certainly would never compare my life to that of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. The memories I have of my childhood are of a little girl who always wanted to be a nun and who was—by my own standards at least—well-behaved. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, however, had a will of steel and a temper that raged into violent outbursts even at the age of four. She was impossible to control. Family and friends recalled how she would lock herself in a room in a rage when she didn’t get what she wanted, kicking the door in her fury. Only when she had spent all her energies and was exhausted could her mother sit down with her and attempt to teach her gentleness and charity.

Though my childhood personality, at least as I remember it, was pretty calm, I have a distinct memory at twenty-one of raging against God. Just a month after suffering a stroke, and a year after my first profession of vows, I was silently before Jesus in the Eucharist one day in the chapel and from somewhere deep inside came words which surprised me, even shocked me. “I hate you,” I said to him. I had lost dreams and ambitions and physical abilities and, what seemed to me as a young adult, my future. And from somewhere within me, this anger and hatred at the one I felt was to blame came raging out. It took me by surprise, for, after all, I had been “well behaved” up to that point. Day after day, in a struggle that stretched to weeks and months and years, I submitted my heart to the transforming action of the Spirit at work in the Eucharist. Each day after receiving Jesus in Communion I prayed, “Help me, for I see now how poor I am, how in need I am of you, Jesus.”

In her diary, Elizabeth herself recorded how her first encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist was a moment of transformation. In fact, she said that it was decisive for the rest of her life. She began to take on from that moment the gentle self-control that would characterize her as an adult.

“In the depths of her soul, she heard his voice…. [The] Master took possession of her heart so completely that thenceforth her one desire was to give her life to Him” (The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth, pg 2).

I learned in a new way in those days after my stroke, in that period of heart-raging when the strength of my heart’s hurt and fury surprised me with its force, that I was a sinner and that Jesus had known that all along, that he had known me all along. He had come to me on the amazing day of my First Communion and had not given up on me. He continued, again and again, to join his life to mine, even when I struggled to accept what had happened in my life and to believe in his love for me, Jesus still gave himself to me in Communion.

Go to Jesus in the Eucharist with your struggles

Writing in the 4th century, St. Cyril of Alexandria recognized that the Eucharist was the place Christians needed to go with their struggles. Here is what he wrote:

If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.

In those raging days as I struggled to align my dreams with God’s dreams for me, I learned that Jesus wants us to share our weaknesses and struggles with him, not hide them. It became clear to me that Jesus is not afraid of the mess we try to conceal from others and even ourselves. Jesus is the doctor who can heal us when we are unable to help ourselves when our lives or relationships are riddled with the consequences of our passionate outbursts or resentments at what our life has become. I learned that even when we think we are “well behaved,” we are still not so holy that we are transformed in Christ. We still fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom 3:23).

In his Angelus message on June 6, 2021, Pope Francis encouraged us all with these words:

“Each time we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus comes to give new meaning to our fragilities. He reminds us that in his eyes we are more precious than we think. He tells us he is pleased if we share our fragilities with him. He repeats to us that his mercy is not afraid of our miseries. The mercy of Jesus is not afraid of our miseries. And above all, he heals us from those fragilities that we cannot heal on our own, with love. What fragilities? Let’s think. That of feeling resentment toward those who have done us harm — we cannot heal from this on our own; that of distancing ourselves from others and closing off within ourselves — we cannot heal from that on our own; that of feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining without finding peace; from this too, we cannot heal on our own. It is He who heals us with his presence, with his bread, with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an effective medicine for these closures. The Bread of Life, in fact, heals rigidity and transforms it into docility.”

Be docile to the action of the Spirit

No matter how well-behaved we think we may be, we cannot transform ourselves into Christ which is the goal of every Christian life. That is the work of the Holy Spirit who is at work in the Eucharist. But how does this happen we might ask. In the recently released document Desiderio desideravi, I found this amazing passage:

“Liturgy is about praise, about rendering thanks for the Passover of the Son whose power reaches our lives. The celebration concerns the reality of our being docile to the action of the Spirit who operates through it until Christ be formed in us (cf. Gal 4:19). The full extent of our formation is our conformation to Christ…[our] becoming Him.” (n. 40).

To become Christ begin by sharing with Jesus your fragilities, your weakness, even your raging hearts. Show him your struggles, your resentments, your deceit, your discouragement in the desert of life. In the Eucharist, “Jesus tells us he is pleased if we share our fragilities with him. He repeats to us that his mercy is not afraid of our miseries. The mercy of Jesus is not afraid of our miseries. And above all, he heals us from those fragilities that we cannot heal on our own, with love” (Pope Francis).

We are in Christ and Christ is in us

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem described our being united with Jesus through the reception of Communion with this beautiful image: “Just as by melting two candles together you get one piece of wax, so, I think, one who receives the Flesh and Blood of Jesus is fused together with him. And the soul finds that he is in Christ and Christ is in him.”

It is clear, then, that Christ “infuses himself into us,” using a phrase dear to Nicholas Cabasillas, in his book Life in Christ. Jesus transforms us into himself as a small drop of water is changed when it is poured into a great vase of ointment. That small drop of simple water is infused with the fragrance of the ointment. The two could no longer be divided from each other, even if we tried to do so.  Just like that drop of water, we ourselves are poured in a vase of ointment so to speak, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and we become the sweet-smelling fragrance of Christ whose very life was poured out for us (2 Cor. 2:15).

Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, often used the image of the olive tree to express the power of Jesus that in the Eucharist at Mass unites our life to his own. It is the power that we see active in the young life of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity who remarkably began to mature in her Christian life after her First Communion. Alberione explained that in Communion it is like this: Jesus is like the good olive tree and we are wild, uncultivated olive trees that left to themselves would only bear fruit of inferior quality. However, when the wild olive tree is grafted into the cultivated olive tree of greater quality, the wild tree no longer bears its own fruit but begins to bear the fruit of the good olive tree itself.

In the same way, when you and I consent to allow ourselves to be grafted into Jesus through receiving his Body and Blood in Holy Communion, we no longer bear the fruits of our own weakness and sinfulness. Instead, by being united to Christ’s Flesh and Blood through partaking of them in Communion, we begin to bear the fruit of Jesus’ own life. Gradually, through the work of the Spirit, we become the Body of Christ and bear the fruits of Christ in our lives.

Image credit: Photo by Gary Barnes: https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-faceless-gardener-touching-olives-on-tree-in-garden-6231906/; Photo by amorsanto: https://www.cathopic.com/photo/3655-bendito-alabado-sea-siempre-jesus; Photo by cottonbro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/bench-light-man-people-6284260/

“The Meaning of the World is Love”

Love—God—is not only the Creator of the world. Love is the Design that God gave the world. The dance of love within the persons of the Trinity overflowed into the world so that all who believe and love would be drawn into trinitarian life. As Hans Urs von Balthasar would put it: “The meaning of the world is love” (Heart of the World, 203, quoted in The Meaning of the World Is Love).

God is Love. He is the ecstasy of Love, overflowing outside himself, enabling creatures to share in his life. “God also goes out of himself … when he captivates all creatures by the spell of his love and his desire . . .” (Dionysius the Areopagite, Divine Names, IV,13 [PG 3,712]). (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pg 22)

Our life has meaning only when we are lovers patterned after the divine Design of selfless giving of ourselves to the other.

My mom made most of our clothes when we were growing up. We used to love going to the store to choose patterns for our clothes that she would sew herself. Once my mom let me cut the fabric for my new dress. She showed me how to carefully follow the paper pattern she had pinned to the material. The dress would only truly fit me well if I was faithful to the pattern, to the design that the creator of the pattern had in mind.

God has made everything for love

Following the divine Design of the way God loves is the only way that we will flourish as humans. God invited us from the very beginning into intimate communion with himself. Julian of Norwich wrote: “He has made everything which is made for love,” and we could say for eternal loving communion with himself!

When we separated ourselves from him in the Fall, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

Jesus emptied himself in order to dwell among us. He showed us how to love by loving us. “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1), offering his very life for our salvation. Teaching us that this is the design of love we each must follow if we are enter into divine communion in the mystery of eternal love, Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).

This love is real.

This love costs.

This love is deadly serious.

In these days of tensions and war I have been thinking of how this love can be lost in the static of war when we take sides against the enemy who is committing atrocious injustices and horrors against innocent people.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” (Mt 5:43-47).

How do we love in a time of war?

Fr. Andriy Zelinskyy, SJ, chief military chaplain of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said in an interview with The Pillar that war is unlike any other human experience—and the challenge for a soldier is to hold on to his humanity.

When I read these words, something shifted inside me. A pastor’s “main task is always to preserve what is God’s in man. And, accordingly, to protect the humanity of each soldier.” 

I have witnessed myself being dragged into the conflict via the filter of the media. Sometimes as I read the news, I don’t like what I am being manipulated into feeling and thinking. I sense spiritually that I am being “infected with hatred,” as Fr. Andriy Zelinskyy states later in his interview, for the media has its own agenda which can reach deep into the minds and hearts of even the most casual viewer.

After the beginning of Russia’s open invasion in February, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Department of Military Chaplaincy issued the “Catechism of a Christian Soldier.” This Catechism helps “the Christian soldier not to become infected with hatred but to focus on the struggle. This struggle helps us protect life, especially those who cannot do it on their own. In other words, the Christian warrior must be armed above all else with his noble mission,” Fr. Zelinskyy explained. This is very different, he states, from the intentions of the “oppressor.”

“The soldier remains a human being who, while preserving his freedom, remains responsible for his actions. Our purpose is not to destroy life but to protect it. These are two very different goals. The Christian warrior takes up arms to protect himself, his loved ones, and life itself. This is where the Catechism begins – with a reminder that the legitimate defense of life is not only a possibility but a duty of the Christian. God has called me to life and, accordingly, in doing God’s will, I should protect it and protect the lives of others.”

Those who stand against the tide of love

“Worldly being is destined to be harbored in divine being.” This is von Balthasar’s way of reminding us that Love has made us and love is our destiny, God’s infinite and loving giving of himself to us that we might live in the state of eternal loving self-gift as does the Trinity itself.

“To close ourselves off is to go against the very law of being that underpins us” (You Crown the Year with Your Goodness, 149). Those who stand up against love, those who are the oppressors, who refuse the impulse of divine loving, will be swept away in the dustbins of history.

“Whoever loves is obeying the impulse of life in time; whoever refuses to love is struggling (uselessly) against the current” (Heart of the World, 27).

“Love is never defeated.” St. John Paul II

The other day as I cursorily read the headlines on the news gathered together on my browser—news about the Ukraine war, political news, personal news about people’s lives and deaths, fearful news about the financial future, news that had previously infected me with anxiety or moved me to resentment and anger—something set me free from that all that. Yes, these things matter.

It all matters.

All of these people matter.

All of the prospects for the future matter.

All these countries matter.

I knew, however, that at that moment I had been set free from the particular news items on the page before me to inhabit the reality of love that surrounds and holds all the tragedy and joy of the world: the reality of divine love, God’s love that is the meaning of the world, the design of the world.

Each person, each country was playing out in their lives and decisions a drama of love: they were either overflowing with love, sacrificing themselves out of love, or resisting and refusing to love with all the horror this creates for others.

Love made us. Love keeps us. Love is the design of the world, the only meaning of our lives.

By God’s love, I could, at last, contemplate everything in love, even evil. As St John Paul II said to us: “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us and does not now bear with us.”

During the summer of 1940, Caryll Houselander along with everyone else in Britain was preparing for a coming German invasion. There was preparing the First Aid post and exhausting days of training for nursing tasks for which she felt unequal. Caryll increasingly reflected on the upcoming atrocity of wartime as a participation in the Passion of Christ. When the war was declared the previous September, she had written to a friend:

“I do feel we’ve just got to shut our eyes and dive in this sea of Christ, dive with the trust of people who can’t swim and yet go straight into the dark water.” Later in her reflection printed in The Grain Magazine, she wrote: “Because He has made us ‘other Christs,’ because His life continues in each one of us, there is nothing that any one of us can suffer which is not the Passion He suffered.” (I would say, that Christ continues to suffer the Passion today through us, the members of his Mystical Body and his presence in the world.)

Nevertheless, even though Caryll was able to lift the horror of war with her spiritual reflections, she was not immune from fear and anxious thoughts. She tried to build up her courage and get rid of her anxiety. However, one day she realized that this wasn’t going to work. She wrote to a friend, “What God is asking of me to do, for suffering humanity, is to be afraid, to accept it, and put up with it.” Later she wrote regarding this realization:

“I felt that God had put His hand right down through all the well upon well of darkness and horror between Him and me and was holding the central point of my soul; and I knew that however afraid I was then, it would not, even could not, break me.”

Love is worth living for

In a sermon preached to students at Oxford in the autumn of 1939, C. S. Lewis asked the question of why the students of Oxford should take an interest in the placid occupations of philosophy, science, history, “when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?”

We could ask ourselves of what use love is when whole countries, all of Europe, the streets of American cities, and indeed our very schools where children seek to learn are being torn apart by the horror of violence, racism, and war? Is love of any use when others are on the front lines defending life, justice, and freedom?

In this sermon, C. S. Lewis pointed out that the war makes unmistakably clear “the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.”

Keeping abreast of the news can be disheartening. Sometimes I feel guilty if I am not thinking, praying, and keeping front and center before my mind and heart the tragedies of our day. However, C.S. Lewis reminds me that though we may need to die for our country—and that one’s country is worth dying for—it is not worth, in an exclusive sense, living for. It is love that we must live for, even though we each at different times may be called to give our life to obtain peace and freedom and life for another, and even a whole country.

I must prepare to love. If I love in grand ways or in little, it matters not.

“Love is the end to which I have been created,” wrote Carlo Caretto. “Jesus died to teach us how to love: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn. 13:14). He died for love.”

Our life has meaning only when we are lovers patterned after the divine Design of selfless giving of ourselves to the other.

It is said that when St. John the Apostle was carried out to the community to tell them about Jesus and preach to them, he only had one thing to say, one sentence, one invitation, Let us love one another.

Sisters and brothers, let us love one another.

Image credit: Photo by Markus Spiske: https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-on-the-street-holding-placards-with-message-11622842/

Want a way out of a troubled heart? Do this

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me!

The headlines are ripping apart my heart, Lord.

For troubles surround me—
    too many to count!

Missiles and abuse and injustice and outbursts of anger and scathing online comments and polarization and war and shootings on our streets and in our schools and mass graves of indigenous children….

Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect us.

Lord, the troubles in our world crowd out the peace in our hearts. Anxiety takes over. Sleepless nights. And worry. And feeling alone, isolated, powerless.

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.
    Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles surround me—
    too many to count!

Ps 40: 11-12

My dear friends, Saint Paul described the troubles he found himself in with words like these: “troubles press in on us on every side,” “we are perplexed,” “hunted down,” “knocked down,” “our bodies are dying” (cf. 2 Cor 4:8-9, 16).

Can you relate? Stop right now and jot down a few words to describe how you are feeling about the world and your life right now.

I think Saint Paul had it right when he said he felt as though he was holding within himself a great treasure. He described it as the “glory of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” But from his own experience, Paul knew himself to be a very fragile, easily breakable, not too sturdy clay jar. That’s all he was: a clay jar. Nothing spectacular. No fine china. Just a regular drinking glass that could easily be broken. Something that didn’t even amount to much.

Pause here. How would you describe the treasure you are holding within you? When you describe yourself what would be your words for “clay jar” or “fragile vessel”?

Precisely because Paul knew himself to be a fragile vessel carrying a great treasure, he knew that it wasn’t all up to him. In fact, very little was up to him. It was God who had formed him in the womb, who had called him to be Jesus’ follower, who had given him a mission, who had announced to him that he would have much to suffer in carrying out the task he had been given, who was with him all the way, directing and guiding his steps, who forgave him, made things right when he got them wrong, stood by him to the end…

That’s why when Paul looked at his troubles he could say: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. … Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day (2 Cor 4:8-9, 16). 

Where have you personally experienced or heard about in another’s life how God saves people from being crushed? How he never abandons his children? How he renews the spirit even as the body suffers? Talk to God about this experience or share it with someone else.

Saint Paul knew clearly the power of God because as a Jew he often prayed with Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40: 1-3

I posted three articles to invite you to soak in this amazing treasure of God-with-us in the midst of all the world’s current troubles and whatever you may be dealing with in life right now:

The Meaning of the World is Love: “I knew, however, that at that moment I had been set free from the particular news items on the page before me to inhabit the reality of love that surrounds and holds all the tragedy and joy of the world: the reality of divine love, God’s love that is the meaning of the world, the design of the world. Each person, each country was playing out in their lives and decisions a drama of love: they were either overflowing with love, sacrificing themselves out of love, or resisting and refusing to love with all the horror this creates for others. Love made us. Love keeps us. Love is the design of the world, the only meaning of our lives. As St John Paul II said to us: “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us.”

How to Bear the Fruit of Christ in Your Life: “In those raging days as I struggled to align my dreams with God’s dreams for me, I learned that Jesus wants us to share our weaknesses and struggles with him, not hide them. It became clear to me that Jesus is not afraid of the mess we try to conceal from others and even ourselves. Jesus is the doctor who can heal us when we are unable to help ourselves when our lives or relationships are riddled with the consequences of our passionate outbursts or resentments at what our life has become. Each time we receive the Bread of Life, Jesus comes to give new meaning to our fragilities. He reminds us that in his eyes we are more precious than we think.”

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

My friends, we can be of great courage, for as Saint Paul, the apostle who lived through great troubles and tribulation, has testified: “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Cor 4: 8-9, 16-18).

Image credit: Photo by Ray Bilcliff: https://www.pexels.com/photo/antelope-canyon-arizona-1533512/

You are so important to the Divine Physician

Today’s Gospel reading is from the beginning of chapter 9 of the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s take two steps back and get some perspective on where this healing narrative falls in the development of Matthew’s Gospel.

We know that Matthew gives us the beautiful Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5 and 7 of his Gospel. Beginning in chapter 8 and carrying through chapter 9 we are caught up in the love of the heart of the Divine Physician.

First, he healed a man with leprosy: “If you are willing you can make me clean.” “I am willing, be clean!” Jesus said (cf. vs. 1-2).

Next the Divine Physician heals the servant of the centurion from afar because of the centurion’s great faith (vs. 5-13).

After the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, a great crowd descended on the house begging Jesus to drive out evil spirits and heal the sick. Jesus healed all who came to him. Then he got into a boat with his disciples, and he calmed a great storm. Their hearts were filled with awe. Jesus is Master of the powers of nature, of evil, and of sickness (vs. 14-16, 23-27).

Chapter 8 ends with Jesus healing two men possessed by demons, sending them into a large herd of pigs. Then we are told that the whole village came out to see what was going on and pleaded with him to leave. The joy and awe that has surrounded Jesus’ healing is met here with rejection and expulsion (vs. 28-34),

 So Jesus entered a boat to cross to the other side.

At this point we come to today’s Gospel in which Jesus forgives a paralytic of his sins and then heals him, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”  The crowds are in awe, but the scribes accuse him of blaspheming. It is becoming more and more clear that we must make a choice regarding Jesus.

Tomorrow’s Gospel will be the calling of a tax collector, a sinner, Matthew. Tax collectors worked for the foreigners who ruled over the Jews, so this made them traitors. They weren’t paid a wage by the Romans, but were expected to take extra money and keep some for themselves. They were hated and considered sinners. And yet this one sinner “got up and followed” Jesus immediately when he said to him, “Follow me.” We then see Jesus entering into the community of tax collectors and sinners, eating with them, because “the sick” “need a physician” (Mt 9:9-13).

The story of the paralytic should wake us up to the decision we each need to make. Where is it that you need forgiveness? What has paralyzed you? Are your limbs lifeless because you have used them in your own pursuits rather than the will of God? Sin is more than just a failing. In little ways, or in grave, sin distances us from God. Sin makes us spiritually weak. We are so important to God, so dear and precious to the Father, that he sent his Son to heal us. Jesus came to call us out of all that holds us back from giving ourselves completely and in trust to God. The Son of God enters into communion with us, the community of sinners, and he says, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and be healed.” And then he says, “Follow me.”

Where is Jesus today asking you to follow him?

Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0

You play a vital role in the story of salvation

“What then will this child be?” How many parents, marveling at the mystery of their newborn nestled in their arms have asked the same question. “What will this child be?”

We are certain that God has a plan for great people who populate the pages of Scripture and have an important part to play in the story of salvation. We can think of Moses, and Jeremiah, and Peter, and Mary, and Paul. We can imagine the divine plan prepared for them which unfolded day by day in their life. When we read the narrative of their response to God who called them for a specific purpose, we might be a little bit in awe of how God used them and how clearly he loved them. Maybe even a bit jealous. “That could never be me.”

Today is the feast of one of these “greats” of salvation history: the birth of John the Baptist. The mystery and the miracles that surrounded his birth indicate how important he was as a hinge between the Old Testament prophets and the arrival of the Messiah. The Baptist’s austere life and courageous preaching when he became an adult confirm the divine predilection God had for this child.

He truly could say with the words of the responsorial psalm today:

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
            you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
            wonderful are your works.
My soul also you knew full well;
            nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
            when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.

These words of the psalm came spontaneously to my mind one difficult yet amazing day 40 years ago. I remember it so clearly. I was sitting on the side of my bed in the hospital after having suffered a stroke. On that day, I was finally able to stand up with the help of two of the nurses. How marvelous! How amazing is the human body! We are truly “fearfully, wonderfully made,” and how “wonderful are your works,” O God. Look, today I can stand!

Whether we are the greatest prophet who ever lived as was John the Baptist, or someone sitting on the side of a hospital bed struggling to stand up for the first time in a week, God has a plan for our life.

Remember, you are important to God and play a vital role in the story of salvation.

In your mother’s womb God loved you more than your own parents. He created you as a unique expression of his image and his glory.

Surely, the hand of the Lord was with you, and he continues to be with you each day of your life. As the courageous and difficult life of St. John the Baptist reveals, in both happy times and in paths filled with shadows, on mountain tops and in the deepest of valleys, you are fulfilling the very special purpose for which you alone were created. It is only as we wander through these ups and downs of life, faithful to allowing God to have his way with us, that we discover truly who we were made to be.

Photo credit: Cathopic

Soften your heart: How to keep love alive in violent times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pema Chodron in Practicing Peace in Times of War counsels us, “We have to take responsibility when our own hearts and minds harden and close. We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and play with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility.”

The tiny snippet of paper found alongside the body of a child who had died in Ravensbruck, this one prayer that testifies to a love greater than death, could so easily have been lost to history. It is a testament to someone who courageously took responsibility, in the most atrocious suffering, to soften her heart. How many others there must have been in these concentration camps who lived and died with soft hearts! We’ll never know the hidden and silent acts of heroism among those who perished as well as those who survived.

I think of Etty Hillesum who at the age of twenty-eight was murdered in Auschwitz. She became known to the world when her diaries were published under the title An Interrupted Life. The diaries reveal a heart that could not be sullied even by the evil she saw.Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld honored her in his preface to the Hebrew translation of the diaries saying she was one of those who “on the edge of the abyss, rise to become saint-like.” He compared her to Janusz Korczak, the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw, who in 1942 declined an offer of sanctuary and accompanied the children to the Treblinka extermination camp.

We too stand on the edge of an abyss. We are in the midst of turbulent changes that will transform Europe and the world as we know it. Just as Etty and Janusz and the woman who wrote the note in Ravensbruck  couldn’t see into the future to understand the full horror of World War II and what lay beyond it, neither can we from the vantage point we have now comprehend the transformations in society the world is undergoing or where it will lead us as a human family.

3 ways to keep love alive in violent times

I want to offer three ways to open our hearts, soften our hearts, live with hearts set on fire with the love only God can give us. These three suggestions I have culled from the diaries of Fr. Christophe Libreton, the youngest of the seven Trappist monks assassinated in Algeria by terrorists in 1996. Their story has been dramatized in the film Of Gods and Men, and Christophe’s journals have been published in the book Born from the Gaze of God.

1. In each Eucharist we celebrate the victory of the Living One over against those who kill.

When his two friends Henri and Paule-Hélène were killed by the Islamic terrorists in Algiers a year before his own assassination, Christophe wrote these words in his journal on May 29, 1995: “After the murders of Henri and Paule-Hélène, our Christian community is marked, just like the people at large, by this shed blood—shed unjustly by the assassins and quite often courageously offered by their innocent victims. And then there is the blood of Christ, which gives life and offers us communion in eternal life…. In each Eucharist we celebrate LIFE: the victory of the Living One over against those who kill. This celebration overflows into a service of charity, exercised by each one according to the measure of his gift of faith: ‘caring for all life, and for the life of all’” (page 158).

The heart’s capacity to open outward in love flows from the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death.

A way to keep your heart open:

At Mass we live already what the world will become when the Kingdom of God arrives and the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven. Give as much time or more to prayer, the Mass, and Eucharistic adoration as you give to following and discussing the news.

By sharing life, giving life, sacrificing ourselves for the life of all, in whatever way you can, you overcome the power of death at work in the world with the power of love.

2. Open your heart for we belong to each other

In his meditation on March 11, 1995, Christophe reflected on the Gospel reading of the day: “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:44-46).

Christophe recorded his thoughts in his journal: “What’s at stake is love: non-exclusive, unlimited. Excessive love. Prayer for those who kill people (they haven’t threatened us explicitly yet, despite the arms they undoubtedly were ready to use against us) sustains our relationship with them. It also disposes us interiorly and identifies us as sons of the Father with regard to brothers who are also his beloved sons” (page 144).

These are hard words to hear, even more difficult to live. My heart wants to scream out No, I will not love a murderer, I will not love a perpetrator of war.

I, however, will only be truly human when I can love with an unlimited love that can embrace even the bad guy. It goes against all logic to call a murderer brother. We humans so want to charge the guilty, to dismiss them to the shadows of punishment where we no longer have to think of them again.

Fr. Christophe’s words are reminiscent of Mother Theresa’s admonition: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

A way to keep your heart open:

Every snippet of news is a call to enter into the lives of our brothers and sisters. Whenever you see the headlines of news on the internet, television, or social media, whisper a prayer for everyone involved. Be honest with Jesus about what you are experiencing and feeling in the face of the tragic event, and plead with him for all of those who are affected. You could use words such as these: “Jesus, I am angry about this. What is happening makes me nervous about the future of society and the world. I worry about my own family. About the future. But right now, I beg you to send your angels to comfort the victims, to hold in your powerful care all those who are suffering from this. And yes, Jesus, this is hard for me, but I ask you to have mercy on the one who did this. Stop him. I pray that peace may be restored. Through your divine mercy change his heart. Help us all. May your Kingdom come. And, Jesus, I pray that this person who has created this tragedy may be with me in heaven. Father, we both are your children. Have mercy.”

You could pray the rosary, or favorite novenas or litanies for particular individuals or groups suffering in the world today.

3. Rest your head on the heart of Christ

Christophe looked out onto a world where there seemed to be no future in sight, where everything possible for peace was blocked, where there seemed to be nothing and no one that could stem the tide of violence. The monks at Tibhirine were becoming increasingly aware that this violence would also one day snuff out their own lives.

Yet as Christophe struggled with the thought of his own death, as he grew in trust of God’s providential care even in the midst of the evil all around them, his began to undergo a transformation of heart, almost a transplantation of heart, so that Christ’s own heart on the cross replaced his human and faltering heart. In time he no longer feared for his own life. He wrote at the end of 1994, “Ah, if dying could stop and prevent the death of so many others, then I would gladly say: Yes, I volunteer” (page 128).

Just today I read the account of drivers who are going into the war zones in Ukraine to bring humanitarian aid and to ferry out civilians who are stuck in cities now demolished by constant missile attacks and artillery fire. These individuals run into the danger because they know there are women and children who can’t save themselves and who need someone to bring them out. Many of those left are the elderly who need to be carried from their homes. It is in times of trial that we discover truly who we are becoming.

In his journals, Christophe includes quotes from various sources he was reading in those days. I have been greatly moved by this selection from Father Lev Gillet, speaking about the Apostle John who alone remained on Calvary with Mary Jesus’ mother:

… “ ‘The only one who remained standing in the hour of affliction was the one who, the night before, had bent his head to rest it on your breast’ (Father Lev Gillet, Un moine de l’Église d’Orient [“A Monk of the Eastern Church”], by Élisabeth Behr-Sigel, Éditions du Cerf, p. 311). I want to rest my head on you….”

What did the apostle John hear as he rested his head on Jesus’ chest? He heard the beating of a Heart overwhelmed with love, a great love, greater than any love ever known on earth. It was the beating of the Sacred Heart of the Savior of the world who would shortly give his life for this youngest Apostle and for all of us. Because the beating of that heart remained in the apostle John’s memory, because he had, in a certain sense, synched the beating of his own heart with that of the Sacred Heart, John could stand beneath the cross, where his Lord and Master died in an act of atrocious violence. John could stand there still loving, remaining in love, abiding in love, in that love that flowed from the Heart of Jesus. He saw how Jesus loved through it all.

A way to keep your heart open:

Give your life to others in an ever-growing divine love. No doubt, in some way, you are already giving your life, putting yourself on the line for others. It may be for your family, those you care for in ministry or career, elderly parents…. We can serve others for many reasons: it’s a good job, it’s what is expected of me as parent or daughter, it makes me feel like my life has meaning, it puts the dinner on the table, it’s what I always wanted to do in life…. None of these are bad reasons for giving of ourselves to another. However, this moment in history calls us to something more, to a love that is greater. At this moment raise your intentions to the supernatural level. Resolve to serve because you love. Resolve to serve because you care about the others. Resolve to serve even at the cost of your life. Resolve to love with the very love of Jesus who gave his life for us.

Greatness begins with the heart

Friends, we are living in times that call for greatness, and greatness begins with the heart. We can all begin right here, wherever we are, right now, to become giants in the love that beats in the heart of Christ.

Brother Luc, the medical doctor who served in the community where Fr. Christophe lived in Algiers prayed at the prayer of the faithful on December 31, 1993: “Lord, give us the grace to die without hatred in our heart” (page 25).

In the spirit and vision of Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, may we “on the edge of the abyss, rise to become saint-like.”

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

Image Credit: Christian R. Rodríguez via Cathopic

The Ascension: a tremendous transition for us all

Beloved in Christ!

With what tenderness must have Jesus looked upon his apostles and disciples gathered on Mount Olivet…

Those final moments when they were alone, forty days after he rose from the dead…

With what joy did he look into each of their eyes that last time he saw them in his human body on this earth, flooding his heart with their face and the dearest memories of who they were, their characteristics, their love for him, their potential, their spiritual growth in the previous three years. Memories of conversations, struggles and victories, secrets of their heart…

These beloved friends who had been such a part of his life and mission and paschal mystery (yes, even in their failure, for their betrayals and fleeing from the cross have given us hope in our own fears and disloyalty)…

As he blessed them…  And withdrew from them… Here still in his blessing… Taken from their sight…

“When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).

The ascension was a moment of tremendous transition for Jesus, for Mary, for the Apostles and disciples, for Mary Magdalene and the women who had faithfully tended to their needs. Yes, clearly Jesus had gone and, as the angels said, would return one day. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Spirit. (And what a transition that was for these fearful and self-centered novices of the Lord who became the fearless messengers of the risen Jesus who had loved them, filling the world with his holy Name!)

But there is another hidden transition that affects you and I as well. Today. Right now. And how we need to hear this good news!

If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, we are as well.

We dwell not only here on earth, looking forward to the happiness of heaven in an eternity beyond time, but now… right now… you and I… as members of the body of Christ who is our Head… as children of God… as inheritors of the kingdom of heaven… We dwell eternally in glory even now.

Ascension is not just about Jesus, his destiny, his glory…. It’s not like we peer into a heaven to see the Lamb seated on the Throne while we trudge through our lives on this earth alone… The ascension is about our present reality… here… now… today….

Benjamin West (1738-1820) The Ascension; Berger Collection

The truth is, “Jesus is not glorified in his own Person only. His Apostles had fed upon him [and so have we], had his body within them, by virtue of the Holy Eucharist…. Now upon his Ascension, His body in them is glorified instantaneously with the glorifying of his body at the right hand of God. Like an electric flash the glory of the Spirit shines out in the fires of Pentecost. The body of Christ, however veiled in our flesh, in our sinful persons, nevertheless cannot but have the glory of the Spirit of holy fire burning and resting upon it. We do not, I think, dwell as we ought to dwell upon the present glorification of our nature in our own persons, as members of the glorified body of Christ” (Benson, Richard Meux Further Letters, pages 268-269).

If Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, we are as well, as members of his body.

So, friends, look to the glory.

As Paul reminds us, “and all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Mass is a remembrance of Christ’s passion and pledge of future glory. In the Eucharistic liturgy the Ascension is celebrated again and again by us, in via, on the way. It is the holy banquet in which Christ is received. “Here heaven and earth meet, constellated around the ascended Christ who brings humanity into the very heart of the Godhead…. We need to rekindle the Catholic eschatological imagination: to realize anew Jesus Christ’s ascension as inaugurating the transfiguration of humanity and to envision boldly the cosmic scope and implications of that decisive and ongoing event” (Fr Robert Imbelli, Ongoing Ascension, May 10, 2018).

So, friends, may this year’s celebration of the Ascension and Pentecost be a moment of transition for you. We are invited in each Mass to lift up our hearts and we exclaim, “We have lifted them up to the Lord!” Raise your eyes from this earth. Upwards! Lift up your hearts! Dwell already where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2).

Image Credit: Benjamin West, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now heaven is present on the earth

The Solemnity of the Ascension can be eclipsed for most of us by the Resurrection, Good Friday, and Christmas. For me, the Ascension is a liturgical feast that draws me inward and upward. Pope Benedict stated in his homily for the Ascension in 2013: “Christ’s Ascension means that he no longer belongs to the world of corruption and death that conditions our life. It means that he belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form.”

My human existence led into God’s presence as Jesus took with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form….

My human existence led into God’s presence…

My human existence…

St. Augustine said that although Jesus ascended to the Father alone, “we also ascend, because we are in him by grace.”

We are led by Christ into the new world of the resurrection, where all the members of his body are drawn upwards to the Father in heaven.

The apostles, in the reading today, were still wondering when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. His answer to them is that they “would receive power” when the Holy Spirit was given to them:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

In other words, Jesus directs their attention to this “new world of his resurrection.” After being brought to the life by the Spirit, they were to set their minds and hearts on things above where Christ is, not on earthly things (cf. Col 3:1-2).

In the early Church the Christians placed the Christ of the Ascension in the dome of their Churches to remind them that Christ ascended to his Father in heaven and that he was returning.

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

In a world of turmoil and crisis in which so many are suffering unjustly and needlessly, we can pray daily, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Perhaps we feel that we cannot effect the change the world so needs, but we can be that change. With our faith in Jesus Christ who is real, the strength of our belief in the kingdom present and among us in Christ who is close to us in our every need, we can experience how we are changed, how heaven is present on the earth and every sorrow, every closed door, every crisis is but a window to his drawing us with him to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Sauber, <a href="http://CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons