I Will Not Leave You Orphans

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I am remembering and praying for my own mother, for my husband’s mother, for my sisters-in-law, and for all mothers. I also know that this is a hard time for many women, whether they are grieving over lost motherhood, a lost child, longing for motherhood, missing their own mother, grieving that they did not have a loving mother, or some combination of the above. All will be in my prayers in a special way.

I will particularly be thinking of, honoring, and praying to and with our most beloved Blessed Mother tomorrow, on Mother’s Day. I have long been deeply devoted to our Blessed Mother. I have many, many memories of her faithfulness to me and signs of her presence and care in my life. I will share just one of these small but concrete signs here.

Once when my children were very young (they are 19, 17, and 14 now), my husband had to go out of town for several days, so my mother came to stay with me and help me. One of these mornings, I was out walking our dog; she was at home with them. I was at a nearby park, enjoying the morning quiet and the dew on the grass, but also greatly appreciating how beautiful it was that my mother so generously came to help me in my time of need. If she wasn’t here, it certainly would not be easy to care for the children and the dog early each morning by myself. I was praying the rosary, the 2nd joyful mystery, which is the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. I pondered my mother visiting me in my time of need, likening it to Mary visiting Elizabeth in her time of need, and I was praying for our heavenly Father’s blessing on my mother and all our family. While praying and walking, I suddenly profoundly sensed Blessed Mother’s beautiful presence. It was amazingly peaceful, joyful, and so close to me. And then, I happened to look down in the grass, and I saw a small, plastic heart that said, “Holy Mother” on it. I was astounded, and joyfully picked it up, held onto it like the greatest treasure I had ever found, and I have kept it in a keepsake box ever since.

image1 (1)

And here it is. As you can see, it’s not much to speak of, just a cheap piece of plastic. However, for me, and I hope for you, it is a sign of our Blessed Mother’s true and real presence in our lives — because Jesus made it so out of His unfathomable love for us. “I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18). To me, this confirms that I did not imagine that feeling of her presence; she was there, and she IS here with each one of us–always. She is a mother that is ever loving, ever present, not limited by time or space, not judgmental, always accepting of her children. It is us that simply need to learn to tune into her presence. We do that through prayer, calling on her for her intercession, trusting in her care, just as any child would with his or her loving, wise, mother.

Entrust yourself to this mother. You simply cannot go wrong. She will lead you to her Son, to greater holiness, all while helping with all your needs, temporal and spiritual. Jesus wanted it so.

All glory be to God.

Advertisements

Divine Healer

healing

 

I drop the cloak,

exposing self-inflicted wounds,

my faults laid bare.

Head bowed, laying-on of hands.

His tender forgiveness–received.

In a wordless, breathless deep

the Spirit settles in.

To heal,

to infuse Love,

to unroll a sky of all new stars,

Wisdom for me alone.

So much, so much!

All through the night,

heart adoring, eyes damp with joy.

He has come.

Unseen. Powerful.

I long to capture All.

But I can’t find the Beginning,

or the End.

+ + +

 

 

Do You Not Yet Understand or Comprehend?

bread

Yesterday, on the day before the opening of Lent, the words in the Gospel of Mark 8:14-21 cut me to the heart, and I at last felt Christ had given me my spiritual focus for Lent.

To set the scene here, we are early into Jesus’s ministry. The disciples are in a boat with him, having just witnessed unfathomable, heart stopping miracles. The feeding of 5,000 people from five loaves of bread, the feeding of 4,000 from seven loaves of bread, the walking on water, countless healings, demons cast out, and Jesus had also already sent the disciples themselves out and empowered them to heal and exorcise demons in his name.

After all this, Jesus now tries to warn them against what he refers to as the leaven of Herod and of the Pharisees. This image contains much wisdom; however, it’s completely lost on the disciples because, as the Gospel says, they conclude he’s talking about the fact that they forgot to pack enough bread.

Jesus somehow becomes aware of this. And his response is described in this passage as a series of questions. These questions are heartbreaking. They are profound. They reveal so much about the human condition. They tell us so much about how blind we are to the fact of God’s love for us, and how much abundant life we are missing out on. How difficult it is for God to get this through to humanity–his immense love and care for us!

Here are the questions:

  • Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
  • Are your hearts hardened?
  • Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
  • And do you remember…
  • Do you still not understand?

I enter into Lent pondering these questions.

The first one first, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend?” What is Jesus saying here? “Do you not yet understand that there is nothing you need besides me? That all you need is to have me with you? All your needs, all your desires, everything will be fulfilled for you. All you need is to put me, following my will, advancing my Kingdom, listening to me, bringing my love to those around you, as the number one and primary concern of your entire existence, and everything will be taken care of for you.” Doesn’t Jesus say this essentially when he says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you”?

Notice how the disciples missed out on the teaching that Jesus was trying to give them about Herod and the Pharisees and their toxic way of thinking. They completely missed it because they were so concerned about the bread. I imagine that poor Jesus’s jaw was on the floorboards of the boat when he realized this. I also believe it was a moment of deep disappointment and a smack of reality as to just how pathetic we all really are. All of these moments that they had spent with him witnessing and even themselves facilitating the miraculous, they simply forgot in the face of such a minor detail as forgetting to pack a picnic. Alas, I am not under any delusions that I’m different at all from the disciples in that boat worried about their one loaf of bread.

What wisdom am I missing from Jesus because of my hangups and anxieties that should be trustfully handed over to Him? What would I do today if I fully understood, knew, realized, experienced, and remembered God’s deep love and care for me? What would be different about my day–today? How would my interactions with people be different? What decisions would I make differently? What words would I say, or not say? How would my thoughts differ? My outlook? My worldview?

Oh Lord, I am so helpless. I am absolutely destitute before you. The disciples had you and all this right in front of them and they literally could not see it. I have you present in the Sacraments, plus 2,000 years of theology, and I also cannot understand the way that I should. Lord, please open my eyes and my ears. I pray for the grace to understand and comprehend your deep love for me. And then, to live that deep understanding and comprehension, to let it bear much good fruit in my life, and for your Kingdom.

Blessed Mother, pray with me, that I will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a renewed heart that fully understands and comprehends your Son’s love for me.

Jesus, save us from not knowing your love! It is all we need to truly live!

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve and the Parable of the Ten Virgins (2017)

image1I woke up this morning before dawn, so excited that it is both the 4th Sunday of Advent, and Christmas Eve! I joyfully spent time in prayer, pondering this Sunday’s readings, the magnificent ways in which God works to fulfill His promises for our salvation, and how short sighted and blind we are to all of it. All that is necessary for us is openness and good intentions, and His love, generosity, and providence will do the rest! May His name be blessed forever!

I also, however, prayed about an issue that I know many are struggling with today — that Catholics are “obligated” to go to Mass for the 4th Sunday of Advent, plus Mass for the Nativity of the Lord. For our family, this will mean Mass at 10am this morning, and then the 5pm vigil Mass tonight. I know it’s been discussed on social media over the past several weeks, as people try to figure out how to fit this into their holiday schedule — doesn’t it count to go to Mass once on Christmas Eve? Why twice? There are reports by the Catholic News Agency that explain it, but the language is all about obligation, and I honestly am not interested in obligations. Honestly, if it’s just about “obligations” — ugh. I don’t think any bridegroom would be happy with His bride meeting him out of obligation, do you? How sad, especially one as beautiful, noble, and worthy as our Lord.

In pondering all this, the parable of the 10 virgins came to me very strongly this morning. Obviously, not all of us are joyful about the prospect of 2 Masses today, as I am! And I understand this, I really do. There was a time when I definitely would not have been either. Obviously something in my life changed, drastically. What does it have to do with this parable?

The parable is in Mt 25:1-13, and in brief Jesus describes 10 virgins who went out to wait for the bridegroom to celebrate a wedding feast. Five were wise and brought extra oil in their lamps, and 5 were foolish and did not. (Remember, this was before telephones and modern communications, so they had no idea when he was arriving.) The bridegroom was delayed and they all fell asleep.  At midnight, there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here!” So they all woke up and trimmed their lamps; however, the 5 foolish ones saw that their lamps were going out. “Give us some of your oil,” they said to the 5 wise virgins. The 5 wise virgins said, “No, then we won’t have enough for us and for you. Go purchase your own.” Of course, when the 5 foolish virgins go off to purchase their oil, all the guests go into the banquet, the doors are locked, and they are left behind.

This story is often perplexing, but today it spoke to me deeply. The key to understanding this parable lies in identifying what is the “oil” in the lamps. I propose that the oil is faith, hope, love, and JOY. The theological virtues, which lead to a deep, abiding joy in all of life’s experiences because they are lived with the Lord.

What is faith? Faith is not just assenting or agreeing to a concept, such as that God exists or that Jesus was God, etc. No, even Satan assents to that, does he not? Faith is going way beyond that, faith is trust in God, giving our life to Him, putting all our eggs into that one basket, entering the Kingdom, banking all on Him alone, purchasing the pearl of great price. But, how can we have faith in, or trust in, someone that we do not know? We can’t.

What is hope? Hope is not optimism. Optimism is keeping your chin up, looking on the bright side of things, for the silver lining, putting a smile on your face. It is related to optimism, but faith provides a reason for it, and that reason alone is God. Because really, we have no reason to hope without God.  Without God, life has NO meaning. None. We live, we work and toil, and in the end, we die. Death wins in the end. But with Jesus, death has been conquered! So, because of Him, and because of Him alone, we can endure all things, and hope in all things. He is with us — Emmanuel. This is what we celebrate in the Incarnation (Christmas!). But, how can we hope if we do not know Him in whom our hope rests? We cannot.

What is love? Love is to will the good of the other. It is not the world’s definition of love, which is often fleeting, me-based, emotion based, or objectifies others. It is simply wanting what is truly for the eternal, long-term good of the other, and that may or may not have a benefit for us personally. It is seeing and acting with the eyes of Jesus Christ. But how can we truly love if we do not know His Word, and what is important to Him? We cannot.

What is Joy? Joy is not pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting. It comes and goes. Pleasure is often a diversion or entertainment, which is good and fun, but it is not the same as joy. Joy is knowing beyond doubt, because you have experienced it, that heaven has begun, eternal life with Jesus, has already started, and nothing can ever take that from you, no matter what comes. Joy is there through thick and thin, good times and bad, through every experience in life, for the believer. It is based in confidence in Jesus, and in knowing His constant presence. But, how can we have joy, if we have not experienced Him and His saving power in our lives? We cannot.

So this is why the wise virgins say, no, we cannot give you our oil. You must go purchase your own. We simply cannot give someone these gifts. They come from God, actually. BUT, but…we do need to take concrete steps to cultivate them and open ourselves to them. They do not just come on their own. It is fitting that it says the virgins have to “buy” the oil. It will be purchased at a great price for sure. This oil comes at the cost of our time, giving our time to God in prayer, on a regular basis. It comes at the cost of giving over our selfish ways — giving over to His mercy habits that we know are not according to His ways, because they are not good for us. It comes at the cost of humbling ourselves — going before Him in the Sacrament of confession, making a good confession and receiving His unfathomable, inexhaustible mercy and strength to do better, over and over again. It comes at the cost of picking up our cross, day after day, and following Him.

However, know this — what we are giving up, and we perceive to be great sacrifices, are really very small in relation to the immense gifts He wants to pour out on us, if only we will open up those channels of grace. We open the channels of grace through prayer, fasting, and the Sacraments — note, these do not make us holy, but they are the means by which we open ourselves to God, and He can complete His work in us, transforming us into His image, from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

And what are the rewards? First of all — the oil of faith, love, hope, and joy. Living the beatitudes (blessed are you ), taking on the yoke of Christ rather than the yoke of the world, because He gets under it with us, and it’s easy and light. The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit will flourish and grow within us (love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and God’s life will increase in us more and more, and we will be astounded as we watch His plan for our lives unfold. Just as Mary our Blessed Mother was, and still is today, fulfilling her role as the Mother of all God’s children into eternity.

Don’t delay — the bridegroom is coming at an unknown hour! Look around at the world, is the hour perhaps approaching?

Happy 4th Sunday of Advent! Merry Christmas!

+++

Take Care to Guard

greed

Today’s Gospel comes from Luke 12:13-21. The words that have been with me all day are “Take care to guard against all greed.” “Greed,” according to Dictionary.com means “intense and selfish desire for something.”

These words, spoken by Jesus so long ago, have come to me at the perfect moment. I needed His gentle counsel with regards to a particular area of my life. I prayed for help with this. Here is His answer: His beautiful Word.

I have not been tempted towards money or material goods, as is the man described in this Gospel passage and parable, but in another way, also another powerful but deadly temptation. Truly, it’s one that surprises me, because I naively thought I would never have this particular temptation, and yet, here it is. I did not try to hide it from the Lord, but entrusted it to Him, and prayed about it, and tried not to become disturbed when my mind has returned to it often. When I become aware of it, I simply bring it back to Jesus in prayer. And then, today, He speaks to me gently about it. Take care to guard your heart. It is precious. Take care.

How do I take care? Through prayer. Through vigilance. Through the Word of God. Through having recourse to our Blessed Mother. Through fasting and self denial. Through avoiding tempting situations as much as possible. Take care. Store up riches that are important to God, which are the virtues.

I noticed the rich man in the parable does not seem to consider God at all. “He asked himself,” Jesus says, “He said to himself,” etc. When did he ask for God’s input? He didn’t. He was totally self centered, i.e., centered on himself, his own desires, his own agenda. This is greed, is it not? We all are tempted towards this. When we become aware of it, we need to mindfully and purposefully re-direct our thoughts, actions, and wills towards God. “Take care.” “Guard.”

We guard something that is precious. Our life with Jesus is precious. Our riches that we store up for God are precious. Let us take care to guard them, with the help of Jesus, our Savior, who does not leave us alone in our temptations.

Jesus, I trust in You!

+++

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Magdalene.jpgToday, July 22nd, is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, who is often referred to as the Apostle to the apostles because, as we read in John 20:11-18, she was the first to encounter the risen Christ after His crucifixion and announce it to the apostles.

Mary Magdalene is very often referred to as a reformed prostitute, but there is no Scriptural basis for this. What the Scriptures do say is that Jesus had exorcised her of seven demons. We may gloss over this as we read Scripture, or may not be aware of it, but consider it now.

Many people today do not even believe the devil is real, much less that Satan can influence human events, threaten us, harass, or possess us. For example, Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, who is the superior general of the Jesuits, recently said in interview, “We have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil.” His intent and meaning was clearly that the devil is not a person, and is merely a personification by people of faith to express the reality of our own bad choices, whether individually or as cultures.

However, the Gospels and the Catechism could not be more clear that Satan is real. He is a fallen angel; other angels followed him, and we should not be afraid, but we do need to be prudent and take up our spiritual weapons in battling and defeating these enemies. As angels, they are superior in intellect to humans, and we cannot rely on our own cleverness or resourcefulness. There are so many accounts of Jesus exorcising demons and referring to Satan (the Father of Lies) in the Gospels, that I cannot even fathom how Fr. Abascal can defend his statement or stance. Indeed, it is why Jesus came — “Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). I also know from experience that anyone who determines to seriously embark on the path of prayer will very soon encounter this enemy, and do battle with him and his minions.

I have a book, Unbound by Neal Lozano, about deliverance. The title of chapter 2 is, “Satan has a plan for your life.” This is powerful, and it’s a flip of the typical statement of faith, “God has a plan for your life.” Both are true. Whose plan will we live? His book is excellent, and it speaks of how our choices, both conscious and unconscious, knowingly and unknowingly, either open us to God’s plan, or to Satan’s plan. I would argue that most of us have both at work in our lives, but hopefully the believer increasingly is freed from the binds of Satan and living in the freedom of Christ. The world often thinks of God’s laws as restricting, oppressive, and no fun, but it is just the opposite. Be sure — we want God’s plan to unfold in our lives, not the evil one’s. Living in the freedom that Christ offers us — free from the oppression of sin, free to choose the love of God, free to trust in His goodness and providence always — gives us tremendous love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — all the fruits of His Spirit. I would argue that someone who lives these qualities is truly happy and living in great peace and trust in God, rather than someone who is bound by compulsions (such as drinking, drugs), anxieties (excessive worry, lack of trust in God), desire for instant gratification (being impatient), who can’t control their appetites (greed, intemperance, lust), etc.

Consider someone at the extreme end of this spectrum of being not only bound, but actually possessed by seven demons, which is what the Gospel of Luke says Jesus saved Mary Magdalene from. Possession is occupation of the body by unholy spirit(s), and it cannot happen by accident but the victim must acquiesce knowingly to the unholy in some manner. Manifestations of demonic possession vary but the Gospel of Luke, for example, describes the Gerasene demoniac as living among the tombs and not in a house, not wearing any clothes, not able to be restrained even by shackles or chains, and being driven into deserted places by the demons (Luke 8:27-29). This is a pathetic, lonely, and dangerous state of being, and it said the demoniac had been that way “for a long time.”

We have no information about how Mary Magdalene became possessed or what her life was like during that horrible time, but we do know that Jesus saved her — because that’s what He does, and that she was eternally grateful. She knew what hell on earth was like, and she knew His power, and His alone, to vanquish the evil presences from her body and soul, and she knew that she needed Him to remain free from their influence. Most importantly, we simply see in the Gospels how much Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. That’s what strikes me about her, and this is something we all can model from her. She lived a very close, personal, loving relationship with Jesus. I think this is why stories and modern myths, if you will, such as those from Dan Brown’s novel gain popularity claiming that Jesus was married to her — because unless you have lived and experienced this love for Christ, it’s just not possible to understand other than in the context of a human, intimate, sexual relationship. And, this is really not such a bad comparison, because her love for and relationship with Jesus was and is passionate, loving, deep, extremely personal, and on fire. However, no — it was not sexual. It was so beyond that. This is what’s confusing to our modern sensibilities, so consumed with everything sexual. But, I digress. The good news is that we are all invited to this relationship with Jesus! It’s open to all, and there are many who have lived it (I refer you to the Saints)!

The devil’s first goal is to make us think he doesn’t exist, and to a large extent he has accomplished this in today’s rational mind. However, as Christians, we neither want to be fearful and looking for him behind everything, nor naive and oblivious to his operations and machinations in our world, or his temptations in our lives. We need to be prudent and on guard but also at peace with great trust in our Savior. Our Lady in Medjugorje speaks of five stones to wield as weapons against him. This alludes to the stones that David had in his bag when he defeated Goliath. Therefore, the five stones or spiritual weapons through which we open oursleves to Jesus to overcome not only the devil, but also our own inclinations to selfishness, and worldly temptations are:

  1. Prayer. Way more than you think. Honestly, everyone should have at least an hour each day of prayer time – half hour in the morning and half hour in the evening. Include the rosary because it is prayer with Blessed Mother that crushes the head of the serpent.
  2. Eucharist. We should both receive the Lord (in proper disposition; please see here) as often as possible (daily Mass if possible), and spend time, preferably at least once a week for an hour, in adoration.
  3. Monthly Confession, at least. More if grave sin is committed.
  4. Fasting. This can be corporal or non-corporal, but the best fast is on bread and water, twice a week (Wednesdays and Fridays). This should be modified if you are unable. Don’t be prideful; rather, do something that you can without risking your health. Fast from complaining. Fast from excessive speech. Fast from social media and use the time for prayer instead; ask God what he desires and follow His grace.
  5. Scripture reading/praying with Scripture. Lectio divina or Ignatian methods of praying with Scripture, Bible study, etc.

Obviously these are goals to work up to. One doesn’t begin doing all this in one day! Above all, pray for the gift of God’s love to give to others, and entrust everything to our Blessed Mother, all cares, worries, and problems. She WILL help you! You, worry only about being holy, pleasing Jesus, and loving His people.

In today’s Gospel, we see Mary Magdalene encounter the risen Jesus, and then run to tell his apostles the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” She is so traumatized by the events of the previous days that she almost doesn’t recognize what has happened, but Jesus calls her name, and her heart melts with love, awe, joy, amazement, and devotion. Something too good to even be true has just occurred. The love of her heart, the fulfillment of all desire, is not dead. He is alive! She MUST tell the brothers!

This passage shows us the model of the two great missions of the Church: encounter, and evangelization. We ARE the church, that is us! Therefore, we must strive to constantly encounter Jesus, and then tell others, by our lives and our words, the Good News. “I have seen the Lord!

St. Mary Magdalene, Pray for us!

+++

 

 

Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening

the sower vince van gogh
Sower with Setting Sun by Vincent van Gogh

See Today’s Mass Readings here.

In today’s first reading, we hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim that God’s word goes forth from His mouth and effects what it says, and it does not return to Him void. Just as when He created and said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, so it remains today. This is what is amazing about the Sacraments. In Reconciliation, God says we are forgiven, and so it is. In the Eucharist, God says, “This is my body; This is my blood,” and so it is, the bread and wine are transformed. His Word does not return to Him void. It achieves His will.

Think about Jesus as the Word of God. He goes forth from the Father, accomplishes His will, and does not return to Him void. His miracles, and especially His resurrection, give testimony to the fact that His word effects what He says. He says, “Be healed,” and those who received His word were healed. He said He would rise on the third day, and so it happened.

Now consider the Gospel reading, Matthew’s account of Jesus’s parable of the sower. The sower went out to sow, and scattered the seeds carelessly and liberally. Seed was not cheap! Yet, he did not seem to be calculating or hold back, but spread it around on all kinds of soil, hoping to yield fruit where, humanly speaking, this would not even be possible. This tells us about God, does it not? He sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust. His grace is undeserved, and freely given. He does not give it only to those who are thankful, or generous in sharing it. That’s how we are; that’s not how God thinks.

Now look at the soil. This is us. Let us truly examine whether we are that good soil, and do what is needed to prepare our hearts to be good soil for God’s word to take effect. God’s word indeed goes out, but if the soil is not prepared, it simply will not bear fruit in our lives. However, if it is, the results are incredible. At first, they are not perceivable, but then they grow exponentially.

How do we prepare the soil? We prepare the soil through prayer, through good works, and through avoiding sin. Then when we receive God’s Word, whether it be through Scripture reading/meditation, the Sacraments, through prayer, through encountering Him in nature — in whatever way He comes to us — that soil is rich and ready to receive the seed. And if we continue to prepare the soil, new seeds during new planting seasons will always produce new harvests.

When hearing the Word today, I prayed that I would be very rich soil, ready to receive the seed and produce good fruit for God’s kingdom. I feel the Lord even now at work in my life, and I pray that I will be faithful to that work, faithful in prayer, in listening, in responding with openness to Him first. It is so easy to become overwhelmed with fear, or to have cares, busyness and anxiety choke out His Word. When we don’t give time for prayer, this quickly happens. However, when we do, and respond in silence, reverence and awe, saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” we truly can only wonder at the ever increasing gifts and blessings the Lord unfolds in our lives. Our lives with God are like an upward spiral, continually coming back around to the same places, but at different levels, and we can see from different vantage points the same issues He wants to heal in us, and blessings He wants to impart. Yes, let us be open to receive everything He desires to give in His Word. Let us have awe and wonder at His marvels at work in our lives.

+++

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10