I Am Not the Christ

Today’s Gospel is John 1:19-28, where John the Baptist is questioned by the priests, Levites and Pharisees who are sent to find out who he thinks he is, baptizing and attracting followers and disciples. They ask him, “Who are you?” How does one answer that question? Who are you? This is not, “What is your name?” or “What do you do for a living?” or “Where are you from?” This seems to get at the essence of the verb “to be” – “Who are you?” I feel like I can learn so much about John by his response to his questioners. His first response is simply that he is not the Christ. John’s whole worldview and perspective is so focused on the coming Messiah, his relationship to Him and his role in preceding Him, that this is his first thought. I am not; He is.

Does this not sum up all that we need to learn in the spiritual life, all that Christ the Master needs to teach us as disciples?! Lord, you are. I am not. John’s humility is apparent in his response, “I am not the Christ.” I think to myself that sure, I may say this, but do I actually practice it, and in all the layers of my being, motivations, inclinations and thoughts, do I believe it? No! I actually believe I am the Christ. Do I not interiorly put myself on a little pedestal, from where I can hold court and judge all around me — circumstances, situations, behaviors, actions, and God forbid, even people — according to how they affect me, the all important little demigod? If I am honest, yes, this is often my first instinct, my knee-jerk reaction. This is what I begin to do when I do not give time to prayer and proper effort in striving. I have to consciously and constantly work on not trying to be God! I have to become aware of when I am trying to be God! I have to continually strive to step back, take a breath, look to Christ, pray, reflect, repent, reconcile, and heal. One step at a time. John seems to have been well on his way in that process.locusts

Perhaps I should live in the desert and eat locusts and honey. Ah, no, thankfully that won’t be necessary and as a wife and mother, I am definitely not called to do that. I have the Sacraments to strengthen me, and I can fast and/or offer small sacrifices and pray. Praying this litany of humility is also helpful:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…

+++Lord, help me to remember in word and deed, that I am not the Christ. +++

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The Shepherds Went in Haste

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Today is the great solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. We celebrate and honor Mary as God’s mother, and our mother. The Gospel, from Luke 2:16-21, speaks of the shepherds hurrying to find the infant lying in a manger, whose birth the angels announced to them. They found Mary and Joseph, and the Christ child swaddled and lying in a manger, just as the angels had told them. In their excitement, they spoke about what had happened, and the Gospel said people were amazed. I pondered this word “amazed” and how in awe they must have been after their experience. In our modern age of special effects, entertainment, Google, and almost everything at our fingertips, I tried to recall when was the last time I was truly “amazed” at something. What these days even causes me to feel wonder and awe? Honestly, not much. It says also that Mary “pondered” all these things in her heart. This idea of pondering is speaking so deeply to my heart right now – this I feel is the call that I am receiving for 2017. God wants me to take more time to ponder His word, and to do so with my family. He calls us, day by day, to read the Scriptures, reflect on them, ponder them, and be amazed. We need to — like the shepherds — listen to the Word of God, respond with haste, let it lead us closer to Jesus, and then be amazed! I want to feel this! I want to be in awe at God’s immense love. Because only then, after encountering and knowing His love for me, can I even begin to bring it to others.

What happened to the shepherds after this experience? It says that they returned, glorifying God. They did not have the benefit of knowing Christ’s whole story and having 2000 years of theology laid out before them as we do today. But what they did know, was that God sent angels to them – to them! – to announce the birth of His Son. They went with haste, and they found Him, encountered the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and left with hope, joy and the knowledge that God was present and acting in the world, and in their lives. Would this not be a life-changing event? I would hope so. The amazing thing is that this event was not just for them. The angels made that announcement for all people of good will, as they said. We only need to respond, as the shepherds did.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

See the full text of Pope Francis’ beautiful homily for the Solemnity of the Mother of God.

And You Yourself a Sword Will Pierce

Today is the Fifth Day of Christmas, and we are presented with the Gospel of Luke 2:22-35. We read about the Holy Family–Joseph, Mary and Jesus–going to the temple to consecrate Jesus to the Lord, for every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, according to the law. Simeon is “driven by the Spirit” into the temple, where he recognizes the Messiah, receives Him with joy, and prophesies. He tells the young mother, Mary, “…and you yourself a sword will pierce.” The Gospel includes this as a parenthetical note, an interruption of Simeon’s statement about Jesus being a sign that will be contradicted.

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Here we have Mary –the mother of the Messiah, who we recently learned is greatly favored, who all generations will call blessed, who should fear not because the Lord is with her–being told that her future will not be all ease, comfort and glory. Right from the beginning of Jesus’ life, the Father was preparing Mary for her extraordinary role and making her aware that it was to involve pain. How just hearing these words must have hurt Mary.

The Lord knows how my own faith has been tested in times of trial. Yet, the way of the Christian–indeed, the way of life, is joyful but is also touched by sorrow and difficulty. The book of Sirach advises, “Child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials…” Jesus Himself told us to “count the cost” of discipleship, to “take up your cross” daily, and to build your foundation on rock for when the floods come, not if they come.

So, how did Mary react to Simeon’s words that her heart would be pierced by a sword? All the Gospel of Luke says is that Jesus’ parents were amazed by what was spoken about Him, and that after they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law, they returned to Nazareth, Jesus became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon Him. To me, this says that Mary simply continued loving Jesus, nurturing Him, caring for Him, praying with Him, teaching Him, and mothering Him, all while praying and pondering the Scriptures and the words of Simeon as well as the events of their lives while asking for God’s guidance, protection and light. She had to live a life of faith, just as you and I do. She had to go about the duty of the day and the moment, just as you and I do. She had an irreplaceable role to fulfill, just as you and I do. She would not be held back by fear or dread, but would press on with trust in the Father.

Holy Mother, pray for us–we know that you are no stranger to pain and confusion. Show us how to be at peace and to live abandoned to God’s providence in all situations, nurturing the life of Christ within us day by day, as you did. Help us to remember these words by Simeon to you, “…you yourself a sword will pierce.”

 

Does Your Heart Throb and Overflow?

Today is Epiphany. The world has forgotten about Christmas – family has returned home, school has resumed, we are back at our jobs, decorations are packed away, and trees are discarded on the curbside for trash pickup. However, the Christmas liturgical season continues, and today in particular, God wishes to make Himself known to all the world. Today we learn from St. John the Beloved that no one has ever seen God, but if we love, then we make Him present (see 1 John 4:12). This is how God is manifested to us, and this is how we manifest God. The circle of grace continues – to love is to see God, and to see God, we should love. Lord, let that alone be my beginning and my end, my source, and my goal – Love.

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Song for this post here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmuxoBsl5GY

Christian and Pro-Choice? The Incarnation, and Abortion

I’ve had a friend say to me, “But Jesus never spoke about abortion.” Well…true, but the whole of the Gospels encompasses the issue of Life.  The Incarnation refers to the mystery and teaching that God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation distinguishes Christians from every other major world religion; there is no other faith that teaches that God took on human flesh. According to Scripture, the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin, Mary, and told her that she was to conceive and bear a son, and she would name Him Emmanuel (God with us). Mary was troubled and had questions, but she said yes, in fact, what she said was, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

This moment, which we call the Annunciation (it refers to Gabriel announcing God’s plans to Mary), is not only a real, historical event, but also a paradigm for our soul’s interior, spiritual life with God.  Understood this way, the Incarnation is not just something that happened to Mary 2,000+ years ago…it is also something that we are called to live here and now, in each day and moment. When we strive to live with Christ, we go about our day living this mystery of the Incarnation. In each moment, we experience what God is presenting to us, and—whether it is perceived as “good” or “bad,” whether we have questions and anxieties, or whether the whole, clear path is laid out before us (it never is)—we are called, like Mary, to accept what He offers with joy and deep trust in God. In each moment, Jesus comes to us as a helpless, vulnerable, unborn infant, who needs to be accepted, nurtured, and allowed to grow within our hearts. We can say “yes” or “no.” We often say “no,” and when we do, this is called sin. “Sin” is not accepting or being open to spiritually conceiving Him, perhaps not even recognizing it. Many people recognize the beauty of the practice of mindfulness, which simply is living in the moment, being open to what it will bring and accepting all peacefully and with attentiveness. In Christianity, we do this but we also have the joy of doing this with and for Christ, walking with Him and accepting all as if it were Him or coming from His hand. When we say “yes” in each moment, we have a part in bearing Christ to the world, just as Mary did.

Evelyn Underhill wrote in her book, Mysticism: “The Incarnation, which is for traditional Christianity synonymous with the historical birth and earthly life of Christ, is…not only this but also a perpetual cosmic and personal process. It is an everlasting bringing forth, in the universe and also in the individual…soul, of the divine and perfect Life.” The Incarnation, then, is of utmost relevance and importance, both in the individual Christian’s life, and in that of the world.

If we extrapolate and consider the concept of abortion in such a paradigm…where does that leave us? We understand that our external acts most certainly have an effect on our interior life with God, and vice versa. One who lives with Him, and who wants to teach others to do so, does not—cannot—accept abortion as it is a complete cutting off of the life that God wants to live in us. It is a “no” to God, and this “no” is both a grave internal act and an irreversible, external act that results in the loss of precious, human irreplaceable life. It completely cuts off at the source the life of who we are as Christians—the mystery of the Incarnation.

Abortion cannot be accepted by Christians as compassionate, or as good. Women, and their children, need to be protected from abortion and from the lies that perpetuate it.