When you wonder how the pieces fit together: A midlife meditation

In his unpublished manuscript The Wound of Existence, James Moran talks about the game we adults play, the game of “happy ever endings,” overcoming every challenge, “blasting” through every obstacle. We find our consolations in the crutches of ego, predictable order and reliable control, measurements, outcomes, neat and tidy boxes where we label everything to keep it safe.

We are all in this game that is stretched out on the surface of reality and only by remaining on the surface, contrary to every heart’s call to the deep, can we stay in the game.

But life’s purpose isn’t fulfilled by games of child’s play. It is that uncontrollable twist of our life’s story that brings shipwreck to the games, casts our hearts into the nothingness of a future that we cannot control, and ultimately puts us into the arms of God. These twists and turns of our life can be dramatic or simple, but they are there to free us from illusion and deepen our joy in life.

Yesterday, Jesus urged me to immerse myself again in the life and heart of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, soon to be canonized. **

Born into a wealthy French family Charles lost his faith and his bearings after being orphaned at an early age. He barely made it through military school, was often disciplined for his behavior and for openly parading his mistress about town. He managed to pull himself together when needed as part of military operations in Algeria and it was through seeing the faith of the Muslim people there that his own journey towards faith began.

He left the military and undertook a very risky exploration of Morocco, which was closed to Europeans at the time, disguising himself as a poor rabbi and traveling with various caravans. This event aroused all the questions and yearnings of his heart as he faced his own vulnerability and witnessed up close the lived faith of Islam.

As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that there was nothing else I could do but to live totally for him. My religious vocation dates from the same hour as my faith.

It took him many years and wanderings before he met the one whom he called his beloved brother and Lord, Jesus. But when he finally encountered him, Charles was overwhelmed by the love of God he found in Jesus.

Charles wrote later:

“…outside events beyond my will forcing me to detach myself from material things which had so charmed me and which would have held back my soul and bound it to the earth; You violently broke these bonds like so many others. How good You are, my God, to have broken everything around me, to have annihilated everything that might have prevented me from belonging to You alone!… 

Charles de Foucauld: Life and Spirit by Carlo Carretto, page 40

Hafiz, the Sufi poet of Persia, understands the love at work in God’s breaking into our lives (or sometimes I think it would be better termed “busting into our business”), though he expresses it with humor and aggression rather than grieving over it. He writes:

“Love wants to reach out and manhandle us
Break all our teacup talk of God.
…Ripping from your grip
all those toys in the world
that bring you no joy.
…And wants to rip to shreds
all your erroneous notions of truth
that make you content within yourself, dear one.”

Hafiz starkly remarks that when we hear that God is in the mood to do us this great favor,

“Most everyone I know
quickly packs their bags and hightails it
out of town.” (quoted in The Wound of Existence Volume Two: The Heart is Deep, by James Moran, page 36-37)

When you and I look on our life we may wonder how all the pieces fit together. We might feel that there were points in our lives when nothing was left standing, when we were overturned, or we just turned a corner toward something new.

Other times we may feel we have lost everything: our possessions, our relationships, but even more painfully, our life, our self, our God.

There have been times in my life when I have entered a place of mourning where tears became exhausted. A place beyond everything. In other lengths of the journey of my life I stood confused, uncertain where to move as conflicting voices sought to win my allegiance.

Every one of us has a story filled with broken pieces, unfortunate choices, and ugly truths. It is also a story filled with turns in the road courageously taken, faith that has moved the mountains of what we had believed utterly unmovable in life and others and ourself, and prayer that has freed us miraculously from illness, exile, and the demons of our past.

Charles de Foucauld offered me some wisdom as I immersed myself yesterday in his story and his spirit. In July 1880, Charles arrived at the tiny Trappist monastery at Akbes in Syria. He had pursued the Trappist vocation because he felt that it was in this place that he could most completely love the Lord, by imitating him in poverty. It wasn’t long until he realized he had made a mistake. Though the Trappists are the strictest order in the Church, they were not poor enough to match the ideal that had so taken Charles’ heart: the desire to live the life of the Holy Family in union with Jesus, with Mary and Joseph, in complete poverty, which to Charles meant to have no more than a poor workman of the world. After three years he wrote to his long-time spiritual director Father Huvelin and his Trappist superiors that he wanted to found a new religious order: The Little Brothers of Jesus which would imitate the hidden life of Jesus and told them he had already written a rule of life for this new community. Both Fr. Huvelin and his Trappist superiors asked him to wait and not make an impulsive decision. Through the next seven years, Charles struggled with obedience to his superiors and obedience to what he felt God wanted of him. He was tense and unhappy with the community. In The Two Dancers in the Desert, Charles Pepetit offers this helpful image:

It was as if he were dancing away, trying to keep up with an orchestra’s demands. One movement took him close to the flutes: ‘Everything within me says that I should give into my wishes.’ The next took him close to the violins: ‘My father [his superior] tells me to wait….what really keeps me back is obedience.’ Then it was the flutes again: ‘Every day I see more clearly that I am just not at home here.’

Charles was slowly learning an important lesson of life: the divine Partner does not act alone.

It was He who was secretly whispering in his heart, as he followed the flute. It was He who sounded through human voices like the moving forest of bows on violins. 

If you listen only to the flutes, you cannot hear the symphony.  … Seven and a half years, then, were to pass before the voice of men and the sound of the flute were heard in unison. Eventually the superior-general of the Order advised Charles to follow his impulse. It was time.

Two Dancers in the Desert, Charles Lepetit, page 28-29

Here are five things we can learn from the experience of Blessed Charles de Foucauld to help us as we navigate the changes, disruptions, and sometimes “shipwrecks” of our life.

  1. God never acts in a hurry. In his life as a soldier and an explorer, Charles was able to do things on his own timetable according to what suited him best or what was to his best advantage. Through the seven years of waiting as a Trappist, Charles learned that God isn’t in hasty decisions, nor is God in a hurry to get something done in our life. He is in the moments as they fill our days, in the uncertainty that cracks open our hearts, in the frustrations that cause us to live in the blessed not-knowing.
  2. When we’re tempted to tell ourselves, “I’m stupid, I never do anything right,” I think the life of Charles teaches us to say to our hearts with gentleness: “What can I learn about myself from what is happening?” And “What can I learn about God from what is happening?” When we fear we’ll never amount to much, Charles would point us to what he eventually learned: that God is always bringing about good in our life, no matter how the present passing situation makes us feel. When the direction of our life is incomprehensible to ourselves and others, questions that would open our eyes and our hearts would be: “How is God preparing me in this for what he has in mind for my life?” “How are these experiences, relationships, lessons, re-creating me for what he is forming me to be for his glory?”
  3. Charles learned that there was no one voice that was God’s, a voice he had to choose from conflicting voices. It wasn’t either-or, but both-and. He felt the voice inside him strongly urging him to begin the Little Brothers of Jesus. He also heard the voice of his Trappist superiors and his spiritual director Fr Huvelin urging him to wait, to listen, to ponder, to mature. During this time he was sent to study for ordination. Although study was the least important thing to Charles de Foucauld at this point in his life, he obeyed. Over time, the voices began to speak in unison. All of our experiences can be used by God in the gradual unfolding of our response to God. The seven years were not a waste.
  4. Brother Charles’ guiding principle was: “Jesus is Lord of the impossible.” Sometimes you have to let faith lead the way even though you can’t see where it will take you (He took me by the hand, Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus, page 60).
  5. It’s important to listen to what God’s call is telling you about you. Own the fact that you are different. Perhaps you, like a delicate instrument, are tuned to a different frequency. Own that you are done trying to fit in with everyone around you. Own that what you thought was God’s will for you may at this time be something different, something more. Put your foot down and don’t let others hold you back any more.

Charles de Foucauld left the Trappists in 1887 and walked into the unknown. It had not been a straight path or even very clear for himself. But he followed the voice  within himself which kept pushing him further and deeper. This intuition led him to eventually return to Algeria, to share with those from whom he had received so much, the love of God that he had discovered.

His belief in this double presence – presence to God and presence to others – was a unifying and healing factor in his life. Charles lived this out in Algeria, which had played such an instrumental part in his conversion, and among the Tuareg people. He saw his way of presence and friendship, as well as his life of prayer, as his mission. He understood that it was not a time for conversions, and felt that his life could be about creating bonds of understanding and respect with this people. In fact, he made not a single conversion in his missionary life.

Charles was killed December 1, 1916 in the confusion of World War I, having chosen to remain among those in Tamanrasset who were too poor to flee the conflicts in the area. He had been well aware of the risk to his own life.

Charles de Foucauld had no followers at the time of his death and would have remained virtually unknown had it not been for a biography published a few years after his death by Rene Bazin (Click for full text). New religious congregations, spiritual families, and a renewal of eremitic life have been inspired by Charles de Foucauld’s life and writings.

He was beatified in Rome on November 13, 2005, and the path has been cleared for his canonization. A date is still to be set.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.

Most people know Charles de Foucauld through his Prayer of Abandonment. It is a blessed lens through which to view our life when in the middle years we look back and we look forward and we wonder where we are:


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,
for you are my Father.

**Life of Charles de Foucauld from website The Legacy of Charles de Foucauld. Click here to learn more about his life and spirit.

Image by Finmiki from Pixabay

Finding Our Way Back to Friendship

For many people, 2020 was a lost year. Many of us stayed in our homes, didn’t see our families, found new ways to work and attend school and keep our wheels turning, learned all there is to know about Zoom. Still more of us lost our jobs, suffered grave illness, grieved the death of family and friends, could not pay our rent or mortgage, succumbed to addiction, even became homeless.

2020 was also the year of Laudato Si’, and it’s easy to dismiss care and concern for the earth when so many other worries and events have taken over our lives. It’s been easy to lose sight of something that didn’t feel all that immediate.

And yet, as we approach the end of the Laudato Si’ year, if we look at all these things together, we can see there’s a connection running through them that is very real and very immediate indeed. “Nothing in this world,” writes Pope Francis, “is indifferent to us.” The connection between our care for the earth and our care for other people, as well as our care for our spiritual lives, is profound and irrefutable.

It is Pope Francis who draws our attention to the model of our sense of connectiveness:

I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

Pope Francis has never lost sight of the interwovenness of God’s creation, and he calls us to remember where we came from and where we’re going. His is not a plea from on high, a homily of instruction and advice; this is someone who has lived precisely what he’s urging us to consider living.

And in a sense, one of the words that really leaps out is…friendship.

Before he was elected pope, Francis lived in a modest apartment in Buenos Aires, rather than in the archbishop’s mansion; he took public transportation rather than using a church limousine; he cooked his own food. Yes, these were symbolic gestures. But symbolism matters.

And it was more than symbolism that drove him to befriend the people he met on the streets, to listen to them, to touch them, emphasizing that the Gospel teaches charity, not hypocrisy, as he himself said, “giving to someone who cannot pay you back, serving without seeking a reward or something in exchange.” In order to truly find that peace, the pope said, each Christian must have at least one friend who is poor.

Think about that for a moment. We should all have at least one friend who is poor. Not someone we fling coins at in the street, not someone we serve at our soup kitchens… someone who is a friend. A person we consult, listen to, value.

“The poor are precious in the eyes of God,” Pope Francis says. “They remind us that that’s how you live the Gospel, like beggars before God.”

“So,” the pope continues, “instead of being annoyed when they knock on our doors, we can welcome their cry for help as a call to go out of ourselves, to welcome them with the same loving gaze God has for them. How beautiful it would be if the poor occupied the same place in our hearts that they have in God’s heart.”

How can we make that beauty reality? It begins with friendship, with doing what Sr. Thea Bowman used to describe as simply crossing to the other side of the room and engaging in the conversation there.

Once we see other people as friends, then we can start to see how all our decisions affect them, and we can start finding our way back to friendship and communion. We can start thinking of including others rather than excluding them.

It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. 

The isolation we’ve experienced as part of the pandemic has allowed us to focus inward, to our own experiences, and not have to think about others who have less and are suffering more. Human beings can never be an afterthought. Everyone on earth was made in the image of God and is beloved by God. When we pollute other areas of the world, we’re telling God that the people who live in those regions are, in our opinion, of less value than we are. By saying we don’t care, we consign them to invisible lives filled with misery.

The most vulnerable around us are the ones most affected by a changing environment, cautions the pope:

Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.

Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. 

The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming

It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.

Throughout his life, Pope Francis has extended a hand of friendship to everyone, from the most powerful to the most vulnerable. In finding our way back to friendship, we’re finding our way back to the Gospel, to the shores of Galilee when Jesus extended his own hand of friendship to all. In finding our way back to friendship, we’re claiming our inheritance as children of God, beloved of our Father, whose brothers and sisters encompass the world.

“Everything is connected,” writes Pope Francis. “Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

We had to deal with the pandemic. We had to change our lives, grieve and bury our dead, and find a way out of it. But it is time now to once again hear “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” We need to find our way back to what matters.

We need to find our way back to friendship.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Prayer for the People of the Earth

Blessed Lord, it seems that
most often
we encounter you in a church.
which is good; we know you’re there.
But…
We sometimes forget you’re
everywhere else, too.
In the beauty of the earth
you gave us
(a gift we often have not
taken care of)
In the fragility of a flower
In the song of a bird.
You created the cosmos and the earth
and gave us each a small part of the stars
in our bodies
and in our hearts.

And yet…

We have left a life sustained
by interdependence.
We now live in the era of the self.

We have created systems that foster
innovation but promote competition
and materialism.
We see ourselves as separate beings,
experiencing our human condition
individually,
separate from everyone else.
Disasters that take place far away
hold no meaning.
We forget people who don’t
have enough to eat
when we plan our own healthy meals.

Lord, you know this well:
when we feel disconnected, we lose
our compassion and empathy for things
not directly concerned with our advancement.
We lose touch with the divine.

We all share the same human journey,
we experience the same universal
emotions, joy and grief,
pain and surprise.
We all call earth home.
We breathe the same air,
eat food grown in the same soil,
drink water from the same oceans.

Some of us live well
in solid homes with solid incomes
go on vacations, buy anything
we need.
More of us live not so well
in homes that can be devastated
by storms
by illnesses
by poverty
We don’t go on vacations.
We don’t make purchases.
Our children go to sleep
hungry.

From your hand,
our planet sustains us
gives us a place to
live and prosper.
We treat it as though there
were several other planets
we could use when we’re done
with this one.

Help us reconnect, O Lord.
Help us rediscover our first loves
love of the soil
love of each other
love of your creation in all
its forms.

AMEN.

A meeting with Jesus never ends in fear

There are times when we have to deal with big questions. And then there are times when big questions sear deeply into our identity, shake our consciousness, tear our hearts with guilt. They toss us about with fear, doubt, and loneliness. The big questions seem to be dealing with us. We might stay up at night wondering where we fit in God’s plan. Questions haunt us: Who am I? What is the purpose of my life? How will I go on from here?

When we’re haunted by these big questions, we are like the apostles after Calvary’s sorrow and the collapse of their hope, when rumors suddenly swirled around that some of them had seen Jesus alive. How they must have longed to see once again the face of their Beloved Master, and yet also perhaps felt their hearts shrink in the uncertainty of what his eyes would say to them.

The forty days of Easter before the Ascension are like an educative process. After the resurrection, Jesus doesn’t engage the apostles on the level of emotion. He becomes their guide through the complexities of their hearts and the events that left them fearing what God’s plan might be. To them, Jesus asserts the authority and gentle power of his presence: Do not be afraid. It is I.

For forty days, Jesus engages his apostles and disciples who are astonished at God’s way of acting in Christ now risen. For forty days, Jesus leads them on an educative process in which they learn to mistrust themselves, their interpretation of events, and their own evaluation of who they are before God. Instead they become convinced of the reasons for their faith, a faith so strong they would give their every moment and their very lives, witnessing to others, telling them who this Jesus is and what he’s done for them.

The Easter season teaches us anew that, in our hearts, we also have already risen with Christ and experience something even now of the heavenly Kingdom. In Baptism we have died with Christ and have received an initial grace, which is the point of departure, of gradually intensifying experiences of grace through prayer and sacramental encounters with the risen Lord. Each time we receive the Eucharist we are fed at the heavenly banquet. It is true that this interior glory, which is still mostly hidden within us, will burst forth only in the eschaton.

These days, may we learn the Easter lesson to not rely on our own experience, to trust God as our guide, and to let our souls continue in communion with God—no matter what inner storms toss our hearts.

Image Credit: Cathopic

Take your troubles to the Risen One

A long year has sputtered out during the holy season of Lent. Conflicting messages about the end or the resurgence of the pandemic… Life-changes and unexpected transitions… Worries over my parents’ health…

I have found myself feeling exhausted, listless, desolate.

This Easter, Jesus has come and stood in my immediate presence and I have stood in his.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus has whispered to me, proclaimed to me.

“I have been here all along. I rose from the dead. I live, the Risen One. Why are you troubled about the events in your life? Why do you wonder if I am here? If I can do anything?”

What troubles us…what troubles you…these 2000 years since Jesus burst the bars of death? Why does Jesus have to ask the same question of us as he asked of his disciples in today’s Gospel just days after his Resurrection?

I believe we sometimes don’t even realize we are troubled, we question, we doubt, we worry… Did the Apostles, after all, really get the depth of their confusion, insecurity, guilt, fear?

I believe that an inner suspicion gnaws at our heart today even as we recite the Credo… After all, we breathe the same air as the rest of humanity.

I believe there is this subtle desperation, so subtle we don’t even suspect it is there…

Why?

Even more than a year into the pandemic, we remain surrounded by questions, haunted by emptiness, suspicious about whether our life has real meaning. We have touched the small daily nothingness that often threatens to dominate our days. How much time people admit to scrolling through an endless social media feed without the will power to stop until they are exhausted? We live in a time where nothing is very strong as we are half-aware of the “dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why,” as C. S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters.

We suffer the absence of something—of Someone—that fascinates us, captivates us, bowls us over, seizes us…. “We are all of us limp” (Leo Tolstoy, The Idiot).

And then there is the Risen One who appears in our midst. There is something that happens right in front of our eyes. Someone who creates something new again and again, in heart after heart that will gaze upon him.

Jesus, in each encounter with another as recorded in the Gospels, asks only one question, “Will you love me?”

He doesn’t ask, “Did you get it right?” “Have you really learned how to pray yet?” “Have you converted completely this time?” “Have you succeeded?”

No. Instead, “Look at me. Love me. I am your brother, your Savior, your Shepherd, the One who is risen and at your side.”

I realized this Lent that my heart has been torn apart with this existential nothingness for quite some time. Call it nihilism. Call it skepticism. I believed. I trusted. But how I suffered because something had been taken from me as I breathed in the scary information and the ideology that has passed for the news which has bombarded us for over a year.

Then this Easter Vigil, Jesus said to me, “I am here, you can touch me, my hands my feet. I am real. My word is a promise. I guarantee it with my life. You can hold onto it and it will truly satisfy all your desire for affection, ultimate meaning, eternal desire and infinite happiness. It will not let you down. Breathe it in. Drink it. Read it not as inspiration. Read it as something that God has done and is doing and will do. They are not words. They are events that cannot be undone.”

Jesus opened my mind to “understand the scriptures,” to understand that he is acting in his Word for me. Now I am a witness to these things. I believe in this man, Jesus, the Risen Son of God and Savior, the Lamb of God. He has all my heart.

God so gently and only gradually is building up his story within my history and within world history. I trust him. No matter what happens to me, I shall live because he lives. I. Shall. Live. 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus whispers to you, proclaims to you.

“I have been here all along. I rose from the dead. I live, the Risen One. Why are you troubled about the events in your life? Why do you wonder if I am here? If I can do anything?”

Take your troubles to the Risen One. Doubt no longer, but believe.

Image: Robert Wilhelm Ekman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Slowly has the joy of Easter taken my heart

The joy of Easter is the joy of the Gospel, the Good News that breaks open our lives with the possibility of mercy and hope.

That life could be more than we could ever have dreamed, that our days could be other than what we believe we’ve deserved.

Resurrection joy this year has been a time of real grace for me.

I like to imagine the apostles after the Resurrection. The Gospel stories leave us with a sense of breathless wonder and excited disbelief. Slowly, though, ever so slowly do our minds change and our hearts reshape their hopes. There must have been such gentleness about the gradual realization that Someone had changed everything about what they thought would be their future. Even Jesus thoughtfully came again and again in different places, in different ways, to help his incredulous followers take in sips the ultimate Reality of his Resurrection and continuous presence in and among them.

Slowly is the perfect word to describe this Easter for me. Slowly has my heart warmed to the fact that I am different than who I thought I was. Broken then, still broken now, but loved forever.

Slowly have I taken in my poverty as Jesus stands by me to tell me it is going to be okay. That he is the one that does things. He is the one responsible for making things happen. I will mess things up, again and again, the woman in bedraggled gown crying in the corner, so aptly described by Jessica Powers in her poetry. I must let Jesus be the One who bears the sign of victory.

Slowly have I let the slightly warming spring weather creep into my wintry heart and open the fragile flowers of my dreams once again.

Has your Easter been more like a trumpet blast from the Hallelujah Chorus or like an uncertain breeze announcing something unknown but unmistakably true?

Thanks for joining me on the journey,

Sr Kathryn

Jesus meets us at our “charcoal fires”

When it comes to St Peter, those last days of Jesus’ life and his death on Calvary became pretty intense. “You will never wash my feet!” Peter told the Master kneeling with basin and towel before him.

“I will never betray you!” Peter attested before his brother apostles when Jesus revealed that someone was going to betray him, someone in the room, someone he had known and trusted, someone he didn’t name. What a surge of terror may have passed through Peter as he imagined what that meant, what that might mean if it was him, what that would mean for their future. No. I will never betray you! the burly fisherman asserted if only to keep the potential terrors at bay.

“I do not know the man!” Before a wimpy servant-girl, the self-proclaimed immovable column of fidelity and strength collapsed. Three times. I don’t know this Jesus.

The witness of this intense shame was the charcoal fire around which everyone was warming themselves on that chilly and fateful night.

All of us have our own charcoal fires.

Back in the shadowy cobwebs of memories we wish were not our own, there are plenty of charcoal fires where we have chosen safety, pleasure, conceit over this Jesus whom we proclaim to love with all our hearts. The embers of these charcoal fires still may be warm, the ashes not yet blown away on the winds of mercy.

The charcoal fire appears again in Peter’s story shortly after the resurrection. He was out fishing, unsuccessfully, when a man called across the lake to lower their nets on the starboard side. Immediately the nets were filled to the breaking point. “It is the Lord!” John whispered to Peter.

What emotion must have gone through Peter’s heart at that moment. Without a fear, without a worry, without a memory of the ashes that still smoldered from the charcoal fire that witnessed his betrayal of the Lord, Peter leapt into the water and ran ashore.

And there Jesus stood.

Next to the visual symbol of his betrayal, of his weakness, of his shame.

And it was at that charcoal fire that Jesus asked him one question, three times: Do you love me? In the Passion Translation of the Bible the footnote for John 21:15 sheds some light on this question: The Aramaic word for “love” is hooba, and is taken from a root word that means “to set on fire.” This was the word Jesus would have used to ask Peter, “Do you burn with love for me?”

This time there were from Peter no blustering assertions and self-important declarations. Peter had touched the very roots of his weakness. Those weaknesses and mistakes and even sins that have been witnessed by our charcoal fires become the bridges to truth, to humility, to the trust that children have because they are not able to do anything for themselves.

The footnote continues: It was Peter’s boast that he loved Jesus more than the others, and though everyone else would leave him, Peter never would. That boast proved empty, as within hours of making the claim, Peter denied he even knew Jesus three times. So Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. In essence, Jesus knew how to bring healing to Peter and remove the pain of his denial. Three times Peter denied Jesus, but three times he made his confession of his deep love for Christ. By the third time, the “crowing rooster” inside Peter had been silenced, and now he was ready to be a shepherd for Jesus’ flock.

Here are five things always to remember when you think about the wounds the charcoal fires in your life have witnessed:

  1. Jesus resets the relationship we have with him. After three denials he invited Peter to express his love for him. No shame or guilt or failure or regret. It is about love. It is one hundred percent about love. No matter what you have done in your life, Jesus wants to know only one thing: Do you love me? Right now, here Jesus calling you by name and asking you that question.
  2. Peter and several other apostles went fishing, spending a futile night on the lake. He who had been made to be a “fisher of men,” returned to what he had been before he met the Lord Jesus at the lake’s shore three years earlier. Perhaps Peter thought that was all he was good for after having failed so miserably. But Jesus knew Peter. Jesus knew Peter loved him. Sometimes we are ashamed and we also reduce ourselves to a small life, letting go of dreams, relinquishing hope, sometimes even the hope of eternal life. It seems that there could be no way that God could not be disappointed in us. At the charcoal fire, however, Peter realized that God was not surprised, angry, vindictive or disappointed. When we stumble God is there to meet our failure with grace, a limitless love for all of us limping saints.
  3. Charcoal fires have a distinct smell. When Peter swam to shore and smelled the fire, the memory of the other, so recent and still stinging experience at a charcoal fire still seared his conscience. Jesus invited Peter to follow him into the memory of his failure and betrayal. Instead of leaving Peter to sink in the shame of these memories, Jesus invited Peter to let him into those memories. They could face them together. We all have memories of sins committed, as well as sins committed against us. Shame and guilt surround these memories. Memories that wound, that we want to hide, that we pretend never happened. But Jesus helped Peter confront the memory of his betraying the Master he loved. It is an invitation to not fear the healing process when Jesus stands on the shores of our heart, asking us to let him in, to let go of the past, to allow him to heal and transform our wounds with his glorious mercy. Jesus will often take us into memories where we do not wish to go, but he knows that we are more than we think we’ve become by our mistakes and weakness. By standing in our memories with Jesus, things change.
  4. Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him a third time, Do you love me? God’s love for us doesn’t gloss over our pain, the wounds that need healing in our life. Jesus specifically drew Peter to himself in order to reset the broken places of his denial with mercy. But just as a doctor carefully resets a broken bone (he doesn’t just say, “Oh, you’ll be all right. Everything is just fine.”), Jesus re-sets what is broken within us through the medicine of mercy. Even if the “brokenness” in our life has hardened and our hearts are “deformed” because they’ve never been taken under the Divine Physician’s care, love can make us pliable and whole once more. This is what Jesus does. In some mysterious way he is right now arranging your renewal through mercy and the willingness to love.
  5. When Peter denied Jesus, he also denied himself. He denied his love for the Master, the three years of growth and transformation as he walked by the Master’s side. Peter denied who he had become as the follower of Jesus and his apostle. On the shore that post-Resurrection morn, after a futile night fishing on the lake, Peter had again come up with nothing after relying on the one thing he felt he should be able to do–fish. He was a fisherman, after all. Jesus needed Peter to understand that he could not continue relying on himself. Again and again, with every boastful or desperate attempt to prove himself or provide for himself, he realized the nothingness from which he came and the nothingness of which he, of himself, was capable. “Throw your nets off the starboard side and you will catch something.” “Simon, do you love me? Feed my lambs.” Jesus has a plan for Peter who is to lead the Church as Rock. However, Peter needed to lead as sinner, not savior. Only Jesus saves. All of us, everyone of us, needs saving, yet participates in the mystery of the salvation of others. Always, it is miracle. Forever, it is mercy.

This Easter Jesus wants to bring you healing. He wants to turn the charcoal fire of your shame to the place that witnesses your humble love for him, your answer to Jesus’ heart that you will be his friend, that you will let him lead you, forgive you, heal you, and shape anew your life.

What Calvary are you walking away from?

Emmaus. One of the Easter stories of the risen Jesus appearing to his beloved followers. It has the fresh breeze of a spring morning: “that very day, the first day of the week.” The day of resurrection.

Somehow, however, for these two disciples at least, their gaze was not on the risen, the new, the astounding glory of what “some women from our group” proclaimed to them. The women “were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his Body; they came back with a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.”

However, their minds were filled with other voices. Not the voices of angels, but the voices of people. The voices of people arguing about the meaning of the things that had taken place in Jerusalem that week concerning Jesus that Nazarene. The voices of people speaking to dominate a conversation, voices of power, of fear, of skepticism.

In these two disciples at least, their memories were trying to figure out what had happened to this leader whom they had followed in earlier days of so much promise and hope.

Their gaze was now filled with nothingness and confusion. Their eyes “downcast.” They were “prevented from recognizing” the Lord.

What stories are you telling and retelling and rehearsing yet again? Over what situation in your life is your gaze “downcast”? What can you never forgive for entering into your life?

What stories are you telling and retelling and rehearsing yet again? Over what situation in your life is your gaze “downcast”? What can you never forgive for entering into your life?

Jesus wants to take you where you cannot bring yourself on your own terms.

Jesus wants to free you from those conversations that trap you in complaint and criticism and certainty.

Jesus is dying to be your conversation partner.

Jesus wants to set your inner being on fire, that you may run with joy to tell others that you too have seen the Lord. Yes. You. Today. Now.

Jesus wants to share with you his secret. He wants to flood your consciousness with his Father. His Father’s presence. His love. His providence. His power.

Jesus wants to share with you his secret. He wants to flood your consciousness with his Father. His Father’s presence. His love. His providence. His power. His overwhelming closeness that encompasses us in every detail of our life. At any moment in Jesus life, he was conscious of his Father’s desires for him and his will for his life.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told these two apostles that there was a plan. Beginning from Moses and all the prophets he opened their eyes to how they all referred to him. It was a plan of love for them. He revealed to them a plan that Jesus carried out with immense trust in his Father, ultimately breathing forth his spirit into his Father’s hands.

There are many things about which we disagree these days. We see unthinking online mobs attack people, reducing a human being down to one idea they have had, one deed they have done (or neglected), one word they have said. We may have joined in, taking sides as we listen to the news, or in conversations with colleagues and friends. Prizing being right, being first, being on the right team. In the end, it’s only what we’ve figured out on our own terms, through our own interpretation of events.

Jesus is showing us today that we need to walk with him in order to understand his interpretation of events. To see how this one detail of human history fits into the whole. To reverence how all of human history is part of God’s salvation history that is unfolding and can never be stopped.

This Easter week, Jesus shows us the real words of power, the deeds of authentic greatness, the meaning that gives true value to life. Only if we live as a child of the  Father will we know the fullness of what is true, what is good, what is life.

Walk away from your Calvarys if you must, but walk away with Jesus at your side. Listen to him along the way, and meet him in the “breaking of the bread.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia: Fritz von Uhde – Der Gang nach Emmaus (1891)

One glorious week of salvation

Holy Week begins with the cry, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” 

In the Hebrew Bible, the word “hosanna” is used only in contexts like “help” or “save, I pray,” such as in Psalm 118. In the Gospels—for example, when Jesus enters into Jerusalem riding on a donkey surrounded by jubilant crowds waving palm branches—hosanna is used as a shout of jubilation. In this case, hosanna means a special kind of respect and honor given to the one who comes to save.

For a year, even those who may not normally pray have cried out to God, save us! Save us from the pandemic. Save us from financial loss. Save my job. Save my loved ones from death. Protect us from prejudice, racist attacks, bullying. Save me from the thousand terrors that fill my mind by night and by day.

And now in this week, this holiest of weeks, the week in which the Son of God kneels before us to tend to our deepest wounds, we whisper, Save us that we may live forever with you in the Kingdom to come!

Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom, cried out the repentant thief. Two bookends to one glorious week of salvation.

One of Jesus’ deepest heart-cries this week is the longing for us to understand what was in his heart for us. Mary, who anointed him at Bethany a few short days before his Passion—she understood him. His mother who met him on the way to Calvary as he trudged beneath the wooden beams of our salvation—she understood him. John, standing beneath the cross to receive for all of us the precious treasure of Jesus’ mother—he understood him.

There are many things in the world today that could make us run and hide, just as did the apostles who didn’t understand Jesus deeply enough to overcome their fear for themselves. Remember Hosanna. Save us that we may live forever with you in the Kingdom to come! Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

Whatever you are facing this Paschal Triduum and Easter-tide, Hope is here. Hope is strong. Hope has a name. Our hope is Jesus. Save us that we may live forever with you in the Kingdom to come! Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP