Horizons of the Heart 1: Say a Strong YES to Your Existence

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-zihmy-1237cc9

he most difficult thing about being a follower of Jesus Christ is not climbing mountains of virtue or even walking through the valleys of incomprehensible sorrow. No. As difficult as these things may be, there is one thing more difficult still. Strangely, it is something even a child can do. Something we were created to do. Yet we, caught in the complex web of adulthood, we, more sophisticated Christians so far from the simple childlike faith that pleases so much the heart of God, we find this one thing, I dare say, almost impossible. We can talk about it, pray about it, preach about it, encourage others to do it. However, to totally and completely do this ourselves is the most difficult. Though it is the deepest desire of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus to see this in us, we’d rather do everything else but this.

The first thing to which we are invited—nay rather pushed to risk everything we have in order to do—is this: to trust.

To trust that God knows my name. That God cares about me. That Jesus is speaking the truth when he says, “I love a single soul as much as I love all souls together.” To trust that God reveals himself to me daily, even in each moment, in every situation without exception. That I am loved as I am. This love that flows to us from God’s heart is the most basic and secure fact of my life….

St. Charles de Foucauld: Everyone can live his spirituality

On May 15, 2022, Charles de Foucauld was canonized by Pope Francis. I have always been attracted by Charles de Foucauld’s spirituality, almost mysteriously so. The life I live is nowhere near his vocation as a desert hermit in the Sahara. Yet, in God’s Providence, I have felt there was always a connection, as have so many others.

The short story of Charles de Foucauld’s life reads like this: he was born in Strasbourg France in 1858 into an aristocratic family with great means and privilege, he lost his faith as a teenager, he served as a soldier, then an explorer, had a conversion experience and became a monk, and finally a desert hermit, serving most of his years among the Tuareg people of Algeria. 

He witnessed to his faith above all through his quiet example, without words. His desire was to live his faith through deep prayer and friendship and service to the people he came to know and love.

If you scratch the surface of his life, however, there is so much to this holy man that speaks to us today.

The tragic losses in the early years

When Charles was six both of his parents died just a few months apart. He and his sister lived with their paternal grandmother. One day they were out walking when a herd of cows came running at them. The grandmother was so frightened she had a heart attack, and shortly thereafter she died. The children went to live with their maternal grandfather who spoiled them.

After these tragic losses, it is no wonder that Charles grew up a very troubled young man. Through his reading he was led away from his faith and lost any sense of meaning in his life. His didn’t want to study. His grandfather got him into the military academy, and he finished at the bottom of his class. And that’s just a taste of his troubles. He was often disciplined for his behavior and openly paraded his mistress about town.

Charles was sent for military operations in Algeria, and in the mysterious ways of God it was there, that his journey back to God begave. It was through seeing the faith of the Muslim people who prayed together often during the day, these people who seemed to Charles to have this sense of the presence of God about them always, that his own journey towards faith began. Charles left the army after only a year of service and then spent a year exploring Morocco in disguise, since the country was closed to Christian Europeans.

God redeems the wounds we suffer on the way

One of the most beautiful things I think we can learn from the life of Charles de Foucauld is that our vocation unfolds gradually over time. We discover the meaning of our life little by little throughout the entirety of our life. We all come through experiences in our life that sometimes knock us off course, as we see in the life of Brother Charles. This journey that God leads each of us on redeems the wounds we suffer along the way.  Because of the death of three important figures in his early childhood, Charles became rootless. However, this rootlessness that broke him in his earliest and most tender years, was transformed into a life that had no roots anywhere on this earth, but was ever and always a search to root himself in God. He wanted his roots to be in God’s will for him. Period. Praise God!

In his twenties, Charles became friends with his cousin Marie de Bondy who was like a second maternal figure to him. When he returned from Morocco and lived for a while with her and her family, he noticed how kind and intelligent and good she and her friends were and how warmly and respectfully they received him. Charles began to think that whatever it was they believed as Catholics couldn’t be that bad. But he just couldn’t get his head around the teachings of the Church…doctrines like the Trinity and the one person and two natures of Christ.

In his mid-twenties he went early one morning before Mass into a church, entered a confessional and announced to the priest Fr Henri Huvelin that he was not there for confession but wanted to talk about doctrine. Fr. Henri was famous for his gifts as a confessor and he realized immediately that Charles needed to meet Christ, not just talk about him and debate about doctrine. The priest told Charles to kneel and confess his sins. Amazingly, Charles did. After much time, and after sharing the troubles of his whole life, he left the confessional weeping. And then as Fr. Henri went to vest for Mass, he told him to receive Communion. That meeting of Charles with Jesus was so powerful, that later he wrote, “As soon as I knew there was a God, I knew I had to live for him alone.”

Father, I abandon myself into your hands

Even though many may not know the life and spirit of Charles de Foucauld, they probably have come across his famous prayer of abandonment:

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 you’re your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence
For you are my Father.
Amen.

Actually, this prayer was not written in this form by Charles de Foucauld. When Magdeleine Hutin founded the Little Sisters of Jesus based on the rule of Charles de Foucauld almost twenty years after he had died, she was looking through his writings for a prayer that could be used with her new novices. She found notes that Brother Charles had written in his journal when he had been struggling to decide if he should make solemn profession as a Trappist monk. He had entered the Trappists three years after his conversion, looking for the religious order in which he could live a life that was the most poor and obscure. The words that now make up the famous Prayer of Abandonment came from that painful struggle that had so seared his soul. He felt God calling him to Nazareth, to imitate Jesus in his poverty in complete obscurity, and he felt he couldn’t find this in the Trappists. The monks wanted him to study for the priesthood and had already decided that he should be the next novice master. This was exactly the opposite of all he wanted in following Jesus in Nazareth. So these words were written in a dark moment as he struggled to know what God was mysteriously calling him to do. It wasn’t clear to him. God didn’t show him the whole path of his life, every decision he should make. He had to abandon himself into God’s hands and pray, “Do with me whatever you will. I am ready for all. I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself….”

We can wonder sometimes if our life has any meaning. So many disparate starts and stops, choices that lead in opposite directions or even to dead ends. Brother Charles shows us through his life that there is a thread of meaning that very gradually emerges through the entirety of our life. We haven’t lived our life through to the end yet in order to see where that thread leads, and Charles was in the same condition when he wrote this prayer. But he knew one thing: he was ready to give up all and follow the Lord wherever he called him.

I like to think that this prayer of abandonment was in Brother Charles’ heart in some way through the many losses of his life. He was eventually ordained a priest at 43 and left for the Sahara, eventually creating a place to live, in a rugged, desolate land, Tamanrasset. He wanted to be among those who were “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother.” He wrote a rule for a community to gather around him and live the same way. In his lifetime no one came. He was alone, always alone, except for the beloved people he took care of in the areas around his lodging. “Father, whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all.”

On the evening of December 1, 1916, Charles was killed by a band of marauders who had encircled his lodging. Brother Charles knelt on the ground outside his hut, facing the wall, his hands behind his back.

“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….


A group of soldiers rode up and in the confusion the man holding Brother Charles at gun point shot him.

I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your Will be done in me, and in all your creatures.


Everyone can live the spirituality of Nazareth

The poverty and obscurity of Jesus at Nazareth was an ideal for St. Charles de Foucauld that was determinative from the moment of his conversion to the very last moment of his life. We don’t have time here to go through the evolution of this Nazareth spirituality in Charles’  life, but just to touch upon the final evolution of this ideal, that can really guide us in this world in which people don’t want to hear what Catholics have to say, what Jesus invites us to in the Gospel.

When Charles settled down in the Sahara desert, he wanted to bring Jesus and his Gospel to others through a Nazareth way of life. This meant he would bring Jesus not through words but through a modest life of prayer on behalf of others, living among them, almost indistinguishable from them. When Jesus lived in Nazareth, he lived in our place, in our little town, the poorest most despised little town of Galilee. Charles would live in a place like this, living a spirituality of welcome, openness and presence among the people that lived around him.

I said earlier that no brothers came to share Brother Charles’ life. Eventually this holy desert hermit came to realize that Nazareth could be lived anywhere, in every life, in every vocation: religious, monastic, priestly, lay.

For St. Charles de Foucauld, the poorest of the poor are those who have not received the Gospel, or we could say, those also who have resisted or refused the Gospel. He wanted to bring the seed of the divine Word to as many of these poor people as possible. Every one of us can live this Nazareth spirituality. We can each in our own way, in wherever we are living and in whatever we are doing, bring the seeds of the Gospel through what we do, how we do it, why we do it.

Remember, Brother Charles’ life was transformed by a cousin who was respectful to this young man who lived a wayward and disgraceful life and who had long before left the faith. Without a word she was the instrument of God for this first thought that sent him on a lifetime journey of holiness: “Maybe what my cousin believes isn’t crazy. She is so good.”

Each of us today lives in mission territory. The new book Saint Charles de Foucauld: His life and spirituality is an easy but penetrating read that’s well worth the time you give to it. St Charles de Foucauld is the perfect companion for us who have to learn how to be Christ for others so often more by who we are than by what we say.

Pope Francis, at the canonization of St. Charles de Foucauld, spoke words so true of the new saint and for each of us, “Let us never forget this. Our abilities and our merits are not the central thing, but rather the unconditional, free and unmerited love of God. Our Christian lives begin not with doctrine and good works, but with the amazement born of realizing that we are loved, prior to any response on our part.”

Ukraine invasion: Strengthen your heart in God’s Sovereignty

Dear Friends,

I have just come from prayer as I’m sure have many of you. As we pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, I can imagine rising from each of you the sighs, the groaning of prayer for a situation for which there seem to be no adequate words.

The terror of what is happening and the panic about what could happen have the power to numb and exhaust us. The confusion in our minds and hearts can keep us from opening our souls fully to the power of God available to us when we align our hearts with him. Can God do anything to stop this? Do my prayers amount to anything in the face of so much evil?

Just now in prayer, God led me to pray that he would cover himself in glory by bringing about the defeat of the Russian forces. The Advent cry of Isaiah was in my heart:

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
    How the mountains would quake in your presence!
As fire causes wood to burn
    and water to boil,
your coming would make the nations tremble.
    Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!
When you came down long ago,
    you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.
    And oh, how the mountains quaked!
For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him! (Isaiah 64)

I found that grounding my heart in God’s sovereignty—his lordship over history and nations—made my own heart stronger. Yes. We all need to be stronger now than we have been. Like President Zelenskyy, who is the face and flame of heroic strength for the Ukrainians and those who are joining them as they fight for their homes and their homeland, we each must stand boldly with courageous hearts to declare that God is sovereign and evil will not triumph.

“Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial. You yourself are from the everlasting past. The floods have risen up, O Lord. The floods have roared like thunder; the floods have lifted their pounding waves. But mightier than the violent raging of the seas, mightier than the breakers on the shore— the Lord above is mightier than these! Your royal laws cannot be changed. Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever” (Psalm 93).

3 ways to strengthen your heart

I wanted to share with you a few things that have strengthened my heart and may strengthen yours:

  1. Ask Jesus: What or who do you want me to pray for in this situation” When I asked Jesus this question, I immediately saw images of mothers with newborn children. I prayed that these courageous mothers would be safe, that they and their child would have sufficient food, that they would the electricity they needed to care for their child, that their husbands would one day return to them safe. I invite you to ask Jesus this question. When we focus on the entire situation in Ukraine it can be overwhelming. Following the heart of Jesus, and praying for a particular group of people, humanizes what is so tragic. It focuses us.
  2. Share with Jesus and Mary your emotions and thoughts. It would be perfectly understandable for them to feel out of control, but we have to be careful here. Panic and speculation pull our hearts out of the ground in which we flourish. That ground is the heart of God. Psalm 73:26 helps us here: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We give God charge or the inner storm when we share it with him. Then truly we discover that God is our strength.
  3. One of the most prominent statues in the Ukraine capitol’s Independence Square is a powerful image of St Michael the Archangel, watching over the city of Kyiv. The Ukrainian people have a 1000 year devotion to St Michael as a powerful protector over the people of Kyiv. Call on the power of St. Michael to come with his angel armies to the protection of the people of Kyiv, for as the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:16). The archangel Michael, Prince of all Angels, is a symbol of power and divine leadership in the battle against the forces of darkness. Throughout its history, the Ukrainian nation has had a deep symbolic connection with the triumph of goodness, truth and justice over evil and tyranny. Pray to St Michael to protect the people of Ukraine, to fight for them, to provide for them, to seal their cities against the power of evil, to lead them in the paths of truth and justice as they fight off evil and tyranny again in their land.

Here are some other resources that may help you:

Free Online Retreat Opportunity: St. Joseph’s Way to a Calm Heart: A Spiritual Path for the Anxious

Wisdom for the Week: Meditation for Calming Anxiety

Featured Article: Prayer for Ukraine: O God, Rain Down Your Mercy

HeartWork Practice: You Are God’s Divinely-Loved Ones

Featured Prayer Guide: A Mini-retreat to revive your heart: Ukraine and War-Related Anxiety

John Eldridge: Praying for Ukraine Podcast

What are you doing to strengthen your heart and align yourself with God’s heart in these days?

Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: We have to keep faith in God

The Pillar today is publishing an interview that is very important. They reported:

We talked yesterday with Bishop Andriy Rabiy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church about what has happened, the history of the two countries, and what it means to have “hope” while your home is being invaded.

“People are trying to make sense of what is going on, they are overwhelmed, in shock, it is hard to think clearly,” Rabiy told us.

But the bishop was clear: Christians, Ukrainians, and especially Ukrainian Christians have a very particular mission right now:

“It’s not time to start ‘whining’ so to speak, it’s time for us to pull ourselves up. As spiritual people this is what we are supposed to show, hope: that God will provide, that everything is in His hands, and we believe in it.”

It’s an uncompromising message. But this is an uncompromising reality Ukraine is facing. 

Bringing the Ukrainian community together in prayer, the bishop explained, is an essential part of strengthening faith, and of understanding hope as a spiritual reality instead of an irrational optimism. 

“Speaking the words of the Gospel and praying the Psalms, this helps us to pray and to recall the history, how God worked in the past, how He has saved people — so why would we have a reason to doubt that this time he will save us? We believe in Him, but our hope and faith have to be really sincere — even as Jesus said, if it is the size of a mustard seed, the tiniest of all seeds, but we have to show something!”

“We do not lose hope for a glimmer of conscience on the part of those who hold in their hands the fortunes of the world. And we continue to pray and fast – as we shall do this coming Ash Wednesday – for peace in Ukraine and in the entire world,” Parolin added.

Read the whole interview here.

2022: Like Mary and Joseph Let Yourself Be Swept Up Into God’s Purposes

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-qur2q-116c334

You are an indispensable instrument of God’s plan and in perfectly surrendering to the divine flow of love, as mysterious and incomprehensible as it sometimes appears, you will find your happiness.

New Year’s Resolutions often target weaknesses in order to increase strengths so we can be who we want to be. Mystery and divine providence often relies specifically on our weaknesses to be the places where the glory of God shines through as we play our part in the drama of the mysterious plan of salvation.

In the end, life is Mystery:  not perplexing confusion, but the Wisdom that is larger than our strategies, the Future that is greater than our projects, the Love that will encompass all of our potential.

Mystery means God has a plan for you that is perfect in every way, a plan that can encompass and save even suffering and disappointment.

Mystery means God will use you just as you are for a plan that has existed since before the foundation of the world and will exist into the unending future of the eternal kingdom.

At Christmas, it‘s okay to feel just the way you do…

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-9v229-1154772

I’ve been missing for 6 months because I’ve been home caregiving for my parents. What a gift, what a wealth of healing and mercy it has been.

Today I share a story from a young mother whom I observed yesterday that was also a moment of healing and grace.

As we gather near Jesus this Christmas season, we all have moments of tears, wistful memories of what could have been, empty places in our hearts and at our tables…. We sometimes shed tears, and are unable to explain exactly what they mean or what it is we need. God, like a good mother, says to you, “It’s okay to cry.”

God wraps his arms around you, kneels down to look you right in the eye, and whispers, “It’s okay to feel the way you do.” In a season where we are told we should be happy and nostalgic and romantic and excitedly anticipating sleigh rides “over the mountains and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go….”, it’s more than okay if your heart also carries a weight that is tearing open the veil to eternity from whence comes “the Dawn from on High.”

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Catherine of Siena (March 25, 1347-April 29, 1380)

Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Catherine’s particular prescription for holiness will help be more focused on the important things in life.

Catherine Benincasa was the twenty-fourth of twenty-five children born to her parents, though only about half survived childhood. From a young age, Catherine had mystical visions and felt drawn to give her entire life to God. But her parents had other plans. When they began to arrange a marriage for her, Catherine resisted and took up extreme ascetical practices to demonstrate her firm resolve. Her parents eventually gave up and Catherine became a Dominican tertiary, living the Dominican spirituality within her family home.

For three years, Catherine lived in silence and solitude in a cell in her family home. After a mystical experience of union with Jesus, Catherine felt called to leave solitude and began aiding the ill and serving the poor. Gradually, she began to receive attention for her holiness and requests for advice from many prominent people. She dictated at least fifteen letters to Pope Gregory XI, insisting that he move back to Rome from Avignon—and he eventually relented. Around this time, Catherine began work on her Dialogues, the book of her meditations and revelations. Catherine died in Rome after a three-month illness. She was only thirty-three. She was canonized in 1461 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Catherine of Siena’s prescription: Think often about your salvation! Salvation comes through the blood of Christ.

Catherine reportedly died while saying “Blood! Blood! Blood!” It was a word she used often, over 1800 times in her writings. In using it she was thinking of the blood of Christ. The salvation of souls was of paramount importance to Catherine, and she knew that we are saved through the blood of Christ. She emphasized blood so that people would think about salvation more. She also stressed the reception of Christ’s blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Blood represents life, food, communion with Christ and with each other, and grace. It is a very rich concept and stands at the foundation of Catherine’s spiritual teaching.

Her love for Jesus spilled over into love for other people. Catherine could be found nursing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching others about the great love God has for them. Because of her extreme penances, Catherine might seem odd or strange. Her mystical prayer life contained many visions and supernatural experiences. But she always insisted that apparitions don’t make a person holy; only love does. While she was deeply involved in working for the reform of the Church and in helping others, she never let go of the ultimate goal: salvation. And that salvation comes through the blood of Christ.

Some practical things to do:

  • Pray for the salvation of all people. Keep in mind especially those people who are wandering far away from God.
  • Pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is a way of praying by offering the blood of Jesus to the eternal Father. Here are instructions on how to pray it.
  • Perform one of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy as a way of showing love toward others.

Prayer

Saint Catherine, in your life you did unusual penances and experienced mystical phenomena. But that’s not what made you a saint. You became a saint because of your great love, love for Jesus first of all and then love of your neighbor. You  spent yourself in works of charity to aid the poor and the outcasts. Pray for us that we too might spend ourselves in love of neighbor by seeing Jesus in each person whom we meet. Help us to be authentic witnesses of the joy of the Gospel.

Feast: April 29
Patron: Italy, Europe, nurses and the sick; against fire, sexual temptation, illness, miscarriages

Selection from the writings of Saint Catherine

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!

From the Dialogue on Divine Providence, chapter 167

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo via Wikimedia Commons