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.”

Say a strong YES to your existence (Horizons of the Heart 1)

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment.

Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, the retreat guide Until Christ Be Formed in You by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

The 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.

Wrestling with trust like Job

At the beginning of my retreat, I wrestled with this one thing. I read the book of Job, chapters 38 to 40. After having suffered a number of serious injuries to life and livelihood, Job struggled with trust. He becomes impatient with his friends who frustrate him with their long speeches in which they attempt to explain to him why he was being punished. He cries out at the beginning of the book, “May the day of my birth perish…” (Job 3:3a), and makes his demand of God near the end: “I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me!” (Job 31:35a).

Then in chapters 38 to 40, God does answer Job from the whirlwind. Having entered upon retreat with a bit of a Job-like experience just behind me, I spent several hours meditating upon God’s words to his servant Job.

If you haven’t read these three chapters recently, I highly encourage you to do so. Reading them in one sitting is like being surrounded by a whirlwind of God’s power and activity, God’s attentiveness to the details, every last detail of his creation. Here are a few verses:

39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labor pains are ended.
Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return….

13  “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    though they cannot compare
    with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.

“Kathryn,” God said to me as I walked along Tampa Bay later that day. “Kathryn, do you see the details that I take care of for each creature I have made. I count the months till the mountain goats give birth. I see when their labor pains have ended. I know the day on which their young leave and do not return. I made the ostrich and see how she lays her eggs on the ground, for she was not endowed with wisdom. Yet I gave her great speed. When she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider who even as they race fall far behind her. A whole world of creatures and I know every detail of each one of them. I care for every detail of their existence. I do all these things every day. I can certainly take care of your life, Kathryn.”

O God of the details. A myriad of details. Endless details. It is in the details that subtle beauty is found, amazing uniqueness.

I asked God, “What is my detail?”

“You, Kathryn, are my compassion.” It is my unique way in which I mirror and manifest God’s love in the world. God has given me to be his compassion. Compassion is the detail of God’s own heart that he has given to me. It is to be the calling card of my personality, of my discipleship.

What is your detail?

Read Job 38 to 40. Notice the details God has planned into the lives of his creatures, the details he knows about, cares about, the details that make each unique. Then very simply, very tenderly, ask God to reveal to you the specific and special detail that he has planted in you. The unique way in which you manifest God’s love to the world.

You can trust God because he knows and concerns himself with every detail of your life. In a certain way, we each manifest to others some detail of God. He has entrusted this detail to us, he develops it in us, he rejoices to see it in us.

Say a strong yes to your existence. Say yes to the detail of God’s character you bear inscribed on your heart and display through your actions.

Grieve and worship even if you can’t yet trust

At the end of the book of Job, we find a beautiful verse (42:5).

My ears had heard of you before,
    but now my eyes have seen you.

Remarkably it doesn’t say that now Job “trusted” God in spite of all his sufferings. It says that Job in his grief, now recognizes God and worships him. Job says:

“I know that you can do all things
    and that no plan of yours can be ruined….

 I will change my heart and life.
    I will sit in the dust and ashes” (Job 42:2, 5).

Job can grieve and worship at the same time. If you cannot yet trust, truly trust, with a “deep down nothing can shake me” trust, if pain and loss and confusion sear your soul with sorrow so that you are afraid to trust again, do as Job: grieve and worship. As you take as your own, develop and become the detail of God that he has given you and you alone, you will find that slowly, ever so slowly, the solid heart of God will wrap itself around your shaky soul and shore up trust within you.

I promise.

Image credits: Manolo Franco from Pixabay, ivabalk from Pixabay, Iuliia Bondarenko from Pixabay

Lectio Divina on Joel 2

Ah, my Lord, how we dishonor you when we approach you with anything less than expectation, wonder, and praise. Sometimes the Lenten season overtakes the whole year: sorrow and penance, self-improvement strategies and pleading for mercy, memories of the way we’ve messed up and knowing we can’t entirely make things right on our own.

After his resurrection, Jesus filled his disciples with joy and wonder. We can’t skip that part of the story. We can’t neglect absorbing Jesus’ divine love and unendingly tender mercies with overflowing gratitude for all he pours out on us through his paschal mystery.

Ash Wednesday thrusts us into a penitential season with the reading of Joel:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
    and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
    for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
    declare a holy fast,
    call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
    consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
    gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
    and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
    weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Then the Lord was jealous for his land
    and took pity on his people.

And there the reading ends. The passage is a perfect beginning for Lent, but also for any point in our life when we are in a difficult time, bearing the crushing weight of the cross, or sorrowing for sin.

However, we never really get to pick up this prophet’s vision and understand how the Lord takes pity on his people.

In this scriptural meditation, we will look closely at the Lord’s reply which immediately follows this Ash Wednesday passage. I have made bold and underlined words and phrases to bring to your prayerful awareness as you are reading the Lord’s response to his people who are crying out to God that he might spare them. In italics are my interjections.

19 The Lord replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
    enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
    an object of scorn to the nations.

Note: it is the Lord who will feed and honor his people, satisfying them fully and forever. The LORD will do it.

20 “I will drive the northern horde far from you,
    pushing it into a parched and barren land;
its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
    and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
    its smell will rise.”

Note: the Lord will free and protect his people, completely liberating them from their enemies. The LORD will do it. He will act. He will get things done. He will start things moving in the direction of our joy.

Then Israel replies:

Surely he has done great things!
21 
    Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
    be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22     Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
    for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
    the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains —why?—
    because he is faithful.

Note: stop and shout it out! “Because he is faithful!” We can be glad and rejoice, we see the desert turn into an oasis because he is faithful. The fig trees on the terrace yield their riches because HE is faithful. Our Ash Wednesday reading earlier in this second chapter of Joel made it clear that we were NOT faithful. Here now is the key to our joy. Even though we are not faithful, GOD IS FAITHFUL. And he can do all things. He will do all things. He has pity on us and can reverse the most terrible consequences of our weakness and sin.

He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

Note: pay close attention to the next section. God understands clearly what his people, what you and I, have been through…”the years the locusts have eaten.” He declares: I will repay you for all you have lost, I will make it up to you for the lean years and will fill you until you are full. To what purpose? So that “you will know that I am in Israel,” says the Lord. I am here, he says, “I am the Lord your God.”

25 I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,

    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Note: the Lord prefers working wonders, creating joy, causing us to burst out with praise, assure us with his fidelity calling forth our faith and fidelity. God prefers to be pouring out his gifts, which is where it all started with creation in Genesis. “Let there be….and God saw that it was good….” It is in God’s nature to love, to give, to overflow with goodness, to pour out his wonders on his people.

So, my friend, here are three ways to live in wonder at God’s fidelity:

Have the courage to let God restore you

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” To allow God to restore us for the pain, the loss, the failure, the marginalization, the injustice, demands a fierce yielding to him. I know that that many times I am clinging to me, my own ideas of myself, my future, what’s best for me. I cling to my own resentments, my own ideas about God and what he should be doing. It is only when I have the courage to allow God to restore me in his own way, on his own terms, and in his own time, that I discover that the desert busts into bloom in surprising ways that perfectly satisfy all my dreams and fill me with happiness and contentment. It is always just right. It is always surprising. “Surely the Lord has done great things!”

Surrender to God’s authority over you

“I am the Lord your God…and there is no other.” To surrender is to put one’s full weight on someone or something. When we surrender to our bed at night, we relax and allow our whole weight to rest on the surface beneath us. It involves letting go, a release of effort, the melting of our tension and fear. Surrender involves great trust. God’s power over us is not that of a despot or someone out to see us fail or suffer. In this passage of Joel says, the Lord says:

26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God…

Stop searching as if you had to find something that probably doesn’t exist

I have to admit I spend too much time looking for things that are right in front of me. Yes, this applies to keys and other things I habitually lose. And it also applies to God’s love, his mercy, the miraculous and wondrous way God is active in my life. In this passage from Joel, the Lord is making a promise to them by virtue of his own faithfulness to his people. When I search about for light, hope, a way forward, it is usually hampered by my awareness of my own infidelity. God is faithful because he cannot be anything less than faithful. He cannot be anything less than entirely true, wholly loving and completely good. Stop searching and see that you are surrounded by the sea of perfect love.

I invite you to pray quietly with this verse of Joel:

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains —why?—
    because he is faithful.

Deepening your reflection:

  • In what areas can you shout out: “The Lord is faithful!” In what areas of your life is that difficult?
  • Have you been aware of the way God is acting in your life? What are some of the things you notice about how God acts?
  • Is your spiritual life marked more by lamentation or praise? Is God asking you to develop either of these more in your prayer at this time in your life?

No power of evil can take us from Jesus’ hand

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”

This is one of the most powerful lines in the second reading for Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. In this reading from the book of Revelation (chapter 7), evil exists only as something that has been eliminated through the victory of Christ, through the triumph of the blood of the Lamb….

Evil no longer has any power to destroy God’s people….

A vast multitude of women and men from every nation, race, people, and tongue worship the One who sits on the throne. They fear the powers of evil no longer, for they have survived the time of great distress and are now shepherded by the Lamb who wipes every tear from their eyes….

No tears.

No hunger.

No thirst.

No wounds.

No death.

No war.

Nothing but the triumph of love….

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28).

On August 1, 1943, eleven sisters of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth stood in a secluded spot in the woods about 3 miles from Nowogródek, located in what is now central Belarus. The town had been occupied by the German army since 1941. The sisters were an integral part of the town and had helped the community find hope and faith through the days of “distress” in which half of the population had been murdered because they were Jews. Now, the sisters huddled around a mass grave.

When the women of the town had turned to the sisters to pray for the release of their husbands and sons who had been arrested and slated for execution, the sisters gathered to discuss what they could do. Unanimously they had expressed their desire to offer their lives in sacrifice for the prisoners.

The Superior of the community, Sister Maria Stella, C.S.F.N., shared the community’s decision with their local pastor, Father Zienkiewicz, telling him: “My God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us and spare those who have families. We are even praying for this intention.” Shortly thereafter, the plan for the execution of the prisoners was changed to deportation to work camps in Germany, while some were released.

When the life of their local pastor was threatened, the sisters renewed the offering of their lives: “There is a greater need for a priest on this earth than for us. We pray that God will take us in his place, if sacrifice of life is needed.”

The youngest sister, Sister M. Boromea, was just twenty-six. The oldest sister and superior, Sister M. Stella of the Blessed Sacrament, was fifty-four. With one heart and soul the eleven young religious now stood together awaiting their death. The Lord had accepted their sacrifice. They, like Christ himself, the Lamb upon the Throne, had offered their lives for their brothers and sisters. As they were gunned down by the Gestapo and buried in a common grave, they had indeed “survived the time of great distress” because they had loved others more than preserving their own life. No power of evil, no weapon on this earth, could take them from Jesus’ hand. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

Declared martyrs by Pope John Paul, he said of them at their beatification in 2000, “Together and unanimously they offered their lives to God, asking in exchange that the lives of the mothers and fathers of families and that of the local pastor be spared. The Lord graciously accepted their sacrifice and, we believe, abundantly rewarded them in his glory.”

Friends, we all face the power of destruction in our lives. We may face it in personal wounds, our own or those of loved ones, and in the powers of evil set loose in the world. These eleven martyrs teach us four important things:

  1. We will not perish. God has us in his hands. Nothing and no one can take us out of his hands.
  2. Only love is victorious, a love modeled on the self-giving heart of the Shepherd. No tanks can destroy that love.
  3. Our lives unfold in the time of great distress, but we do not need to fear what is happening around us because of who is in us.
  4. No matter the power of destruction that rages in our times, we need to wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, and we too will stand before the throne and before the Lamb where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, because death and evil at last will be no more.

I’m tired of storms

I must admit that I am tired of storms. I’m worn out trying to find my life story—my Covid pandemic life story—reflected in the apostles’ experience of storms at sea.

I’m exhausted trying to outsmart an invisible enemy.

I’m finished for a while with helping people make sense of what has been senseless suffering in their lives for these past two years.

The global consequences of the pandemic are so overwhelming I want to just sit down and cry. I long for the former days that seem in misty memory to have been more carefree and happy.

So the words that attracted my attention in the Gospel reading in today’s liturgy were these: “the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.”

The apostles wanted to take Jesus into their boat. They were prepared to take charge and figure out the next best thing to do.

Oh, how much of my life I’ve spent doing precisely this. These past two years that have been not only pandemic-riddled but also have been years of great loss on different levels have finally worn me out. I certainly don’t know the next move and I’ve finally acknowledged that I certainly don’t have what it requires to take the situation in hand and plot a way forward.

If you feel this way, just a little, trust in the Lord who brought the boat immediately to the shore to which they were heading. Sometimes we get taken to places in our lives that we would never have gone on our own, places that we would never have chosen, that we still don’t entirely comprehend. Somehow through it all we are taken by God to a shore where we are safe, yet we don’t how we got there, where we are to go, or how we are to get there. We simply realize that God himself did it for us because he loves us poor storm-weary children.

It is a place of trust and of magnificent wonder: God is taking us somewhere, and he is doing it on his own, surprising us with his power, surrounding us with his love. “Do not be afraid,” he says. “It is I.”

I want to finish this reflection with three lines that perfectly express my prayer in these days. They are from a poem by Marie Noël (The Hours: Prime) found in the book Born from the Gaze of God: The Tibhirine Journal of a Martyr Monk (1993-1996).

Father, carry my soul in its carefreeness
To where you want, and let it sleep in your hand
Without asking the meaning and the goal of the road.

Learning the Art of Spiritual Discernment

Dear Friends,

The 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead, began in great silence. At the final meeting with Pilate before Jesus was ultimately condemned to death, the crowd was “shouting,” “howling,” and “shouting at the top of their voices,” (words from Luke’s Gospel in the New Jerusalem translation). The first lines of the narrative of the Resurrection are filled, instead, with silence, awe, rest, and joy.

“On the morning of the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared….”

And the first words are those of the angels. A few verses later Jesus joins two disciples who share with him the confusion within their own hearts and desires, their disappointment at Jesus’ death, the disintegration of their dreams. And Jesus’ voice cuts clear through all of that, a quiet, clear, strong voice.

The only people that populate the narratives of the Resurrection appearances are Jesus and his disciples. It is like Jesus took them on a 40-day retreat with him. He wanted to comfort them yes. But he had so many things he wanted to tell them. He wanted to shape them in his image so they could love the world as he did, serve as he did, preach as he did…with his voice, his heart, his wisdom and love.

The Easter season is a wonderful time to listen for the voice of God as did the disciples during those first beautiful days after the Resurrection.

Last night on my Facebook group we began a series of meetings in which we will be meditating on the Easter Gospels in relation to how God communicates with us. We began to explore how we can grow in our interior awareness and hear more clearly his voice through the muddle of our disappointments, confusion, dreams, desires. We began last night with two gospel passages that recount Mary at the tomb and talked about what makes an experience “spiritual” and some of the ways we can tell the difference between our voice and God’s voice.

Together during the Easter season we will be developing the art of spiritual discernment along with the apostles and women who followed Jesus.

If this sounds like it would be a great way to spend the Easter season, learning at the feet of Jesus how to hear his voice as it clarifies your heart and orders your desires, I’d love for you to join us. We meet on Tuesdays at 8pm EST. Even if you can’t come at that time, most people watch it in the days after since the video remains. In fact, you can still catch this week’s video if you’d like. Here’s the link to join the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/srkathrynhermes

And here’s the link to sign up for my mini-retreat this Saturday offered free on SmartCatholics. It’s just an hour (3-4), and you’ll receive an email link for 9 days to a daily prayer guide, leading you to a more silent, restful prayer in which you will more deeply abide in God and God in you. Again, if you can’t come Saturday you will be able to watch the re-run after. The link for the retreat is here: https://hopin.com/events/abide-in-me-retreat

Both of these opportunities are wonderful ways to transition from the “penance” focus of Lent to the “growth and transformation” focus of Easter which culminates in Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, and the amazing changes we see in the Apostles who then go out to the ends of the earth as witnesses to all they have seen and heard.

Know that I am praying for each of you in these days.

Christ is Risen indeed!

Thanks for joining me on the journey,
Sr Kathryn

A blessed and most grace-filled Easter!

 My friends who join me on the journey, Happy Easter. Christ has risen, and with him you and I have also risen. God exalted Christ who humbled himself even unto death. Not only did he raise Jesus from the dead, his whole plan is to raise up the whole of mankind through him from the death of sin. 

We can be certain that the whole of God’s will, the entirety of God’s plan, his ultimate end toward which everything tends is to establish all things in Christ risen and exalted at his right hand. The picture above is of Christ leading the souls out of limbo after his death. He has burst open the doors of hell, to the consternation of Satan, and has brought joy to the first Adam and Eve and Moses and Elijah and Isaiah and all those who were being held captive waiting for him to free them.

Lent, and retreats, are a time when we look back over our lives. We might experience this captivity in our own experience. We wonder why things happened the way they did, or why things we so wanted didn’t happen. These things might seem to have trapped or imprisoned us. We look at where we are and where we’ve come from. We see the tiniest details of our lives and how they have affected us, and we mourn the great losses which we have borne.

Jesus, in his life and death, submitted himself entirely to the details of his life, trusting in the care of his dear Father, in the wisdom and purpose of his Father. He also mourned, wept, feared, felt deeply the pain of loss. The Father’s one purpose is to establish all things in Christ, and that is why we can ultimately let go of all we try to make happen and surrender to the merciful and magnificent plan which God is unfolding in us day by day, as he establishes us in Christ. We may still mourn and weep, but we believe.

This is such a grace to receive: this vision, this hope, this faith. 
That even in the dark there is light, in the wandering there is purpose, in the fear there is courage,  in the visible there is always the invisible working of grace, in the end always a beginning.

May you have a blessed Easter Season, all of these amazing days that lead up to Pentecost.

Thanks for joining me on the journey,
Sr Kathryn 

The Liturgy of the magnificent Easter Vigil

Holy Saturday…

A day of quiet and calm. A day of intimacy and hope.

A day when all creation sighed in exhaustion after witnessing the sorrowful and tragic events of Calvary the day before.

A day when the earth trembled as it held the sacred Body of the Savior as it lay in the silent darkness.

A day of waiting….

The liturgy of Holy Saturday, the magnificent Easter Vigil, teaches us the divine art of waiting.

We wait in the dark around the Easter Fire, usually shivering in the early spring evening for the service to begin. We wait as the Paschal candle precedes us into a darkened church and our tiny candles gradually become a sea of lights punctuating the shadows. We wait for everyone to take their place before the lovely Exultet is proclaimed in song. And then finally we wait for the reading of the Gospel of the resurrection as the Liturgy of the Word “takes us by the hand” in the words of Benedict XVI and walks us through the whole trajectory of salvation history. If your parish proclaims all the readings for Holy Saturday Liturgy there will be seven Old Testament readings and one from the Epistles in the New Testament.

As these readings follow upon each other, one after another, I feel that in some way I take my place in the long centuries of creation waiting for redemption as I look through the “scrapbook” of memories and miracles, of suffering and assurance that is the heartbeat of the Liturgy of the Word of the Easter Vigil. Story after story is read from creation through the promise made to Abraham and the miraculous freeing of the Hebrew slaves as they raced across the path made by the Lord for them through the Red Sea, to the prophecies of how God has chosen Israel, making with them a covenant, inviting them to fidelity, through to God sorrowing over his unfaithful people to whom he promises a new heart and a new spirit.

Every baptized person stands in this arc of salvation, this mysterious longing of the Father’s heart for our return to him. We are baptized into Christ’s death and rise with him.

In the Easter Vigil, the readings assure us with the unmistakable echoes of a Father’s heart: “I love you. All of this was for love of you. I have always stood by my covenanted people and I will do so forever. I will stand by you. Even if you walk away. Even if you are weak and wobbly in your love for me, I will love you. You do not need to be afraid.”

And lastly, the community breaks out with joy as we celebrate the Baptisms of those who have waited many months of preparation. I always feel more complete as we welcome them among us, each of us holding them spiritually to our hearts.

If you have never been to an Easter Vigil, someday give yourself that gift. Don’t wait any longer!

Photo Credit: Cathopic, paulcamposraw 

Do not be afraid, I will fight for you: a meditation for calming anxiety

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.”
Exodus 14:10-11, 13-16

Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
Matthew 26:36, 39


We live in a broken world in which bad things really do happen, and when they do, we feel trapped. We feel everything is beyond our control. There seems to be no way to save ourselves or provide for our loved ones. Think of the level of panic, the sleepless nights, the tears that are shed when there is not one dollar more to pay for groceries, or rent, or daycare.

Both the Israelites and Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died cried out in fear. It isn’t wrong to feel fearful and overwhelmed, especially in distressing circumstances. Feeling anxious is not wrong. The experience of being uncertain or anxious and stressed forces us to realize we aren’t in control. And thus we “cry out.”

Even though the Israelites cried out to Moses in anger that he had put them in this predicament, God stood firm in his promise to free them from Egypt. “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” And he did. When we are afraid, angry, and ready to blame someone for the predicament we are in. God is still faithful.

Jesus in Gethsemane shows us how to face our fear, to name it. He spoke directly to his Father about what he was most afraid of, and how he wanted out of the situation. But he also declared fear a liar when he said his Father would care for him, no matter what happened. Ultimately the Father didn’t save Jesus from crucifixion and death, but through it, Jesus killed death’s power, defeating it by dying himself, and then rising as victor over it. He conquered that which we most deeply fear: losing our lives. He did so to “deliver all those who through fear or death were subject to lifelong slavery”—you and me.

Jesus Lord, help me to face my fears, to name my fears, to bring you my fears. Just as you conquered death, help me to conquer all the things that keep me separated from you and your love. I hold to your promise of deliverance and know that even in my darkest moments you are there with me. Amen.

A reflective pause

Write or tell the story of a time in which you faced a distressing situation with anxiety and discovered that you became stronger or blessed through what you suffered.

To tuck in with you tonight

I am at peace, knowing your love is faithful.

by Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Image: Francesco Trevisani, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons