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. +++

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.”

 

Victory is Ours, and Everyone’s

Lord, how your people are suffering. I was praying for and remembering all of the body of Christ this morning at Mass, particularly with the horrendous event of the bombing in the Coptic cathedral last week during Mass fresh on my mind. They are our brothers and sisters, and I don’t want to forget them, or neglect to pray and fast for them. I also recalled when Fr.Jacques Hamil was martyred and others attacked while celebrating Mass in a chapel in France this past summer. After that vicious incident, Muslims across France attended Mass as a beautiful gesture of solidarity with Catholics – we are one, and indeed, most of the world is one as we watch, aghast and in hImage result for muslims attend mass in france to show solidarityorror, the brutality that humanity inflicts on one another.

Jesus has told us, “…the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.” Recall the faith, courage, and endurance of the 21 Coptic martyrs, who were kidnapped and then beheaded by ISIS. The recording was  released showing the shameful acts of terror, along with a threatening “Message to the Nation of the Cross.” It is so moving to know that each of these men was given a chance to deny their faith in Christ, but did not, and paid the ultimate price. The 21st man was not originally a Christian, but upon seeing the steadfast faith of the others, when given his chance, simply said, “Their God is my God,” knowing that he, too, would lose his life. How desperate all of these acts of violence and destruction are. They obviously have no idea, no clue whatsoever, who God is, and that they simply cannot destroy Him. And this – having 21 of them together was certainly a mistake. These brothers strengthened each other in faith and courage. They can destroy our churches, imprison us, remove us from the public square, take away our jobs, mock us, scoff at us, tell us that God does not exist, that we do not need a Savior, and ultimately, they can kill us. But, it doesn’t work. Jesus told us to expect this, and not to be afraid. He provides grace for the moment. I, for one, only pray that I can be courageous, and endure, even half as well as these have. Yes, Lord, I will drink the cup, if only you enable me.

Please enjoy this beautiful response to the evil. It is “Who Would Dare to Love ISIS? (A Letter from the People of the Cross). But much more than a letter. Love is coming. Love is coming after you, and me, and all of us. The victory is already decided and already won. It is everyone’s. Nobody is excluded. Are we ready to accept it?

Please keep our persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer. Don’t forget them or abandon them. They are us. We are them.

My RSVP to the Suicide Party

My beloved friends and family, I hope and pray that this is never anything we have to deal with, but I will write about it, nevertheless. If one of you should experience the devastation of being diagnosed with a terminal illness, please do not decide the best way to deal with it is assisted suicide, and — please God — do not decide to have a pre-suicide party, and do not invite me to it. Suicide is an even greater tragedy than the diagnosis itself. Why, you wonder? How is this possible, you ask?

The many arguments for assisted suicide include empowering phrases such as taking control, dying with dignity, ending suffering, going in peace and not being a burden. Does not Satan always masquerade as an angel of light? These sound lovely, but if you believe them above the Lord’s promises, then you do not know the Gospel, and you do not know the Lord.

When we wring our hands and say, “But I don’t want to lose control,” the good Lord beckons us to abandon ourselves completely into His care. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you…plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

When we are afraid of the future, we don’t know what lies ahead, and terrifying thoughts assail us night and day, the Lord comforts us, tells us not to be afraid, and that He is always with us. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Isaiah 1b-2)

When our body or mind fails, and we lose our good health, we feel useless, and suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually, know that Jesus suffered this Himself. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” and “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 22:44 and 23:46)

When we desire to die with dignity (with our narrow, preconceived notion of what that looks like), know that Jesus died as a condemned man, stripped naked, with not a single possession to his name. Even his apostles (except John) had fled in fear and abandoned him, and one of them had betrayed Him and handed Him over to His enemies. Yet, there has never been anyone who died with more freedom and dignity than Jesus did. My friend, do you not have the opportunity to prepare prayerfully for your death, to face it with the love of friends and family, and the benefit and comfort of modern health care? Would you deny your loved ones the opportunity to love you, comfort you, serve you, pray with you, read to you, and just be present with you as many hours as possible to care for you and help usher you to the threshold of the next life, come what may? Is that not a dignified way to die? Is that not what love is about?

Would you not wish to confess your sins to a priest, receive absolution, and thus strive to remove every obstacle to God’s grace, as you journey towards Him? Would you ask to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick frequently during your illness? I personally know many people who were given very stark diagnoses indeed, but who with prayer and the Sacraments lived much longer than expected with good quality of life. The Lord is gracious and patient, and He gives time to His faithful ones to open themselves to His will. Those of faith I know who have died, died with great hope and after experiencing much spiritual and emotional healing by suffering patiently with the Lord as a close friend. Be faithful and trust in Him. Never say, “I will do things my own way.” Never think you are alone. God Himself gave you life, and there is absolutely nothing of this earth that you can claim as your own. The only thing we can bring with us into heaven are our good deeds and mercy.

And last, to address suffering. None of us wants it or desires it, nor should we ask for it. Yet it comes. However, suffering does not have the last word. Jesus conquered suffering through His life, death, and resurrection. He is victorious. The angels asked the women on the first Easter Sunday, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” As followers of Christ, we can take up our crosses with love, and with trust in Him. He will use it for our everlasting good, and for that of others. I say it again: Trust in Him! “In all things, we know that God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28)

Finally, I will share my go to Scripture passage for when I am scared, discouraged, or anxious. This is Sirach, Chapter 2:

My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.
Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days.
Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient.
For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him.
You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy, do not stray lest you fall.
You that fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost.
You that fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations long past and see:
has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him and been ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.
Woe to timid hearts and drooping hands,
to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint of heart! For they do not trust,
and therefore have no shelter!
Woe to you that have lost hope!
what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?
Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words;
those who love him keep his ways.
Those who fear the Lord seek to please him;
those who love him are filled with his law.
Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts
and humble themselves before him.
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord
and not into the hands of mortals,
For equal to his majesty is his mercy;
and equal to his name are his works.

I will visit you, care for you, pray with and for you, comfort you, listen to you, send you flowers and cards, and just be with you.

However, do not invite me to your suicide party, because I decline with regret.

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