“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!

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Moana, the Sacred Heart, and the Eucharist

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Note, SPOILER ALERT if you have not seen this movie.

I watched Disney’s Moana on Netflix the other night with my daughter. It was the third time we had seen it, because we both loved it! I woke up thinking about it the next morning, and realized (oh, how did I forget) when I looked at the Mass readings for the day that it was the Solemn Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Wow! This spoke to me.

The Sacred Heart is a beautiful solemn feast in which the Church celebrates the unfathomable love Jesus has for each of us, symbolized by the image of His heart. The heart of Christ is depicted as pierced with thorns, bleeding, and on fire. Ponder this image, which came to us through (among others) a mystic, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who said that in her visions, Jesus Himself gave her this image, and He wanted all people to know about it, meditate on it, see it, and have devotion to it. Again…Jesus wanted his heart depicted as wounded, bleeding, and burning to show the passionate love He has for us. This is not a collective “us”. This burning love is for you, [insert your name here]. Every hair on your head is counted, as He says in the Gospels. He calls you by name. His love for each person is extremely passionate, deep, and personal.  He wants us to know this, and so He has revealed it to us in so many ways. The Scriptures and the Sacraments testify to this love, and He gave us the image of the Sacred Heart, the solemn feast day, and also asked that devotion to His Sacred Heart be practiced on every First Friday.

Back to Moana, a Disney movie somewhat based on Oceanic mythology. From what I’ve read, much of it was done well and is accurate; some was not. At any rate, everyone I personally know who saw it absolutely loved the story, and found it very moving, even to the point of tears (often), during the movie. I conclude this is because there is much Gospel truth in the story, it has beautiful music, and Moana herself is a noble and inspiring character.

Longings throughout her childhood, mystical experiences, the wise guidance of her grandmother, and fate all lead Moana to discern that it is her mission to restore the heart of the demigod, Te Fiti, which had been stolen by Maui (another demigod), long before Moana was born. As a result, Te Fiti stopped creating new islands, the ones she had previously made began to decay, and darkness had spread, threatening Moana’s own island and her people. In a dramatic moment on the night her beloved grandmother dies, and against the wishes of her father, Moana leaves her island and people by night, crosses the reef protecting her island, and proceeds to persevere through a treacherous journey during which she learns to navigate and sail, overcomes numerous threats and obstacles, and receives help from the ocean itself, and from Maui.

Finally, Moana faces off with the powerful and demonic Te Ka. Maui’s first instinct is to try to defeat Te Ka with force, which is clearly impossible, given the strength and power of Te Ka. Moana, however, remains calm, and realizes (after gazing upon it) the power of the heart of Te Fiti she has carried on this journey — it is the power of love, which alone can conquer Te Ka. She courageously says to the ocean (which has supernatural powers), “Let her come to me.” Enjoy what happens next, and the beautiful scene of the restoration of the heart of Te Fiti here:

Note how the ocean parts (like the Red Sea did for Moses, which was a foreshadowing of Baptism); Te Ka angrily approaches, as Moana sings Know Who You Are: “I have crossed the horizon to find you /I know your name /They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you /This is not who you are /You know who you are.” And, then…Moana places Te Ka’s lost heart into her chest.

Isn’t this stunning? Isn’t Moana a beautiful and noble image of our Savior? Do the words of this song reflect that the Lord calls us by name, that He goes out to seek us when we are lost? Note how Te Ka is not forced, but invited to come, and comes on her own free will. Moana looks at the heart and sees that it is perfectly fitted and suited to fit into Te Ka’s chest, which speaks of the very personal and intimate love God has for each individual. Note Moana’s humility and “smallness” as she stands there, vulnerable, her only claim is the heart, shining brightly, attractive, stunning — divine love itself, and it is more than enough. Immediately after Te Ka’s heart is restored, she is healed, returns to her former self as the beautiful island goddess Te Fiti and her life-generating abilities return. Everything around her suddenly and magnificently bursts into vegetation of various vibrant colors.

I cannot help but see the heart of Te Fiti as a reflection of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whenever the Sacred Heart is depicted, Jesus is shown as revealing his heart and offering it to us. Consider that God says through the prophet Ezekiel (36:26), “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This Old Testament promise is fulfilled in the gift of the Eucharist, where Jesus truly gives us His heart! I think of the numerous Eucharistic miracles (in various times and places) in which the Eucharistic host has visibly turned into flesh, it was subsequently analyzed, and was shown to be heart tissue (and, as a side note, blood type AB). When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we are truly receiving His heart, and also His blood that was poured out for us, His soul, and His divinity. If the mythical story of Moana moves us, how much more should the truth of Christ’s love for us, and His continual gift of His heart given to us in the Eucharist? If we but take time to ponder it, should we not be overwhelmed with thanksgiving and love for Jesus for this unfathomable gift?

And, aren’t we like Te Ka without the presence of Jesus in our lives? “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). How easily and quickly do our hearts become hard, cold, and cynical? (I certainly speak for myself here.) If I just wake up and look at the news instead of turning to Him in prayer, I am already well on my way! But, with Jesus, holiness is possible, as is self control, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness — all the fruits of the Spirit! But, yes, I am often like Te Ka, and Moana is a reflection of our Savior. He beckons, and I approach salvation through the parted waters of Baptism, approaching the beautiful, shining heart (which is Jesus’s own heart, given for me, and you). He Himself places it within my chest. Immediately, I am transformed. I am healed. I am forgiven. I can love with His love. My life can be abundance, fruitfulness, and life.

This is what receiving the heart of Jesus in the Eucharist does for us spiritually — remember, the pierced, bleeding heart that is on fire with love. With Him, we are free from the slavery of sin, death, destruction, darkness, and evil. We are free to truly be the beautiful people that God made us to be (You Know Who You Are). Like the beautiful, life bearing Te Fiti.

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I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

The Torrent

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I have been heartbroken to see people become caught up and blown like leafs in the wind by the now very pervasive propaganda that is dominating the current political scene in the USA, resulting in constant and escalating public outrage and vitriol and a refusal to negotiate, cooperate, compromise, and dialogue. It is toxic. And it is literally like a tsunami, an overwhelming, destructive torrent. I keep thinking of Revelations 13:5a – “The beast was given a mouth uttering proud boasts and blasphemies”; Revelation 12:15a – “The serpent, however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth…”; and Jesus’ words in  Matthew 24:12 – “Because of an increase in evildoing, the love of many will grow cold.”

Please, be vigilant in prayer. Do not get caught up in all the events and outrages of the day; do not look to the media — social, mainstream, alternative, or otherwise — to tell you how to think about current events. Let your mind be formed in Christ. Let Him give you your first and last thoughts of each day, from Scripture, and have recourse to Him often in between. Do not worry about the things the pagans worry about. They do not know or seek Him. Instead, pray, hope, strive to do good in the opportunities you are presented with each and every moment, and don’t worry. Read Matthew 6:24-34 often. Jesus tells us not to worry. What good does it do? Our lives are in God’s hands. Any idea that we have of control over our lives is an illusion anyway. We are literally one boat ride away from total disaster (see Matthew 8:23-27), so we may as well trust in and abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ, who cares for us, and to whom all power in heaven and earth have been given! (see Matthew 28:18)

Also, I urge you, do not be dismayed as you see the unraveling more and more around you, in politics, in the media, and in social intercourse. Stay close to the Lord; know that you are safe with Him. Know that He made you, and He placed you in these times, in this day, and in this place for a mission. You are not here by accident! Each day, and each moment, seek the Lord and tell him, “Here I am!” First, cleanse your heart; be right with the Lord, and strive to do good. Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.

As for me in these days, I know that I have to keep speaking strongly but gently and holding to the truth — the full truth; not some truth mixed with lies, and not watered-down truth. The Truth is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ. My, how satan masquerades as an angel of light. That is how the evil one gets those who are blind, slaves to their passions, and/or poorly formed, particularly those with a strong sense of compassion who consider themselves to be social warriors. There are currently evil agendas that claim to have the moral high ground on issues, but at the expense of truth, and they unleash destruction and despair on their victims. All of this is fantastically toxic, and I am strong in faith and knowledge, but I know that I am utterly helpless against this deluge, this tsunami of lies and apostasy that are destroying faith and now even goodwill in Western society.

I am utterly helpless, but I have immense trust in the Lord, and in His saving power. After having a particularly intense conversation with someone I love dearly today, I turned to Jesus in prayer, and prayed the prayer given to St. Faustina by Jesus, “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!” And do you know in that moment, I realized that this divine mercy of Christ — the graces of baptism and the Eucharist — gushes from Jesus’ heart, and therefore we of faith have nothing to fear of the torrent spewed from the mouth of the beast (Revelation 12:15). This torrent of the beast, as overwhelming as it seems to us, is so pathetic compared to the unfathomable mercy of God, gushing from Christ’s pierced heart. “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more) (Romans 5:20b). This gave me great consolation and peace, and I praised the Lord. As much as I desire that all follow the Lord in truth and love and learn to hear His voice and love Him deeply — NOW — He desires it ever more ardently. And it is He who is the Savior of each and every person, not I. I will strive to do all that I can in His service, but let’s also pray that He will send all souls on earth now, particularly our own children, the experiences and people that they need in their lives to bring them to Him (and to teach them gently, please, Lord). Let us never look at anyone as our enemy but only as someone who needs to learn of the Lord’s love. And, Jesus, let us be Your instruments who can teach them. Let us who love you say each day and moment, “Send me, Lord!”

torrent-of-graceSo let’s remember this remedy the Lord gave us for the torrent described in Revelation to try to sweep away the woman (i.e., the Church) — His own torrent, but one of grace and mercy: “Oh blood and water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!”  Learn more about the Divine Mercy devotion as entrusted to St. Faustina by Jesus for the whole world.