For much of the past year my work as an auditor has had me traversing the country each week by plane, train, and automobile to attend to various client needs. The destinations often change depending on the assignment; one week it might be Philadelphia and the next it might be Los Angeles, one month it could be Denver and the next Minneapolis. While exploring new cities and meeting new people is exciting, I’ve also found incorporating the logistics and time it takes to go from point A to point B each trip adds another layer of exhaustion onto what is usually an already busy schedule.
On a recent Monday morning flight, while praying Morning Prayer, I came across this reading from Isaiah 55:6,8-9;
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
I looked out my window at the view from 35,000 feet and saw an expanse of plains surrounding small midwestern towns that eventually morphed into suburbs and cities. In each locale there were thousands of people going about their day, unaware of the part they played in this picture I saw. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” I paused and thought about how God’s view of our own lives must look something like this. We, just like the people on the ground, go about our day unaware of the part we play in the bigger picture He sees.
So often I find that I allow the stresses to become my sole focus of the day: a difficult audit assignment, a cancelled flight, maintaining relationships with friends and family while on the road, etc. While these daily stresses need our attention, in the big picture of our lives they are small blips on the radar that we can’t allow to distract us from seeking the Lord. Ultimately it is our continuous pursuit of God that allows us to press through our daily challenges, large or small, trusting in the knowledge that He has the view of our lives from 35,000 feet and will never fail us.
Questions for Reflection: Is there an instance or time in your life when things didn’t go according to your plan? Has God’s way of doing things in your life ever proven more fruitful or beneficial than you could have anticipated?
Seek Progress, Not PerfectionRead Now
This year, I tried something new for Lent. Instead of giving up sweets or the snooze button on my alarm clock, I felt God calling me to spend more time in prayer with a regular reflection routine. I am someone who has to constantly fill my schedule with things to do and places to go—I knew God was asking for silence in my life.
Rather than making an unrealistic commitment during Lent, I selected something I could add to my already established morning and evening routines. I bought a Lenten journal that included a Bible verse and reflection with a corresponding prayer and question for free response. There were a few days I missed an entry and would make it up, but overall I felt I accomplished my Lenten promise and journey. The biggest thing I learned from this Lenten walk with Jesus was the idea of progress and not perfection.
As Matthew Kelley says, “we’re imperfect beings striving for perfection, and we have to learn to celebrate our progress.” Becoming more aware of what went on in my day and noticing where I was or was not being my best self made me more aware of God’s presence in my life. I could more easily notice when something in my day was a gift or where He was visibly working on something in my life.
As Lent progressed, I found myself yearning to know God in my life more and more. I went to Adoration more, sought out additional reflections through Kelley’s Dynamic Catholic resources, and attended my local women’s group more frequently. I think that’s what Lent should be: being on fire for your faith in God. Our Lenten practices shouldn’t just last for 40 days, but should be 365 days a year—though perhaps not to such a high degree as during Lent. Since Easter, I have continued to journal and have started a gratitude list I add to each day.
Here are some thoughts regarding seeking progress and not perfection that I have found helpful to continue working on after Lent:
Question for Reflection: What are some ways your past Lenten journeys have changed your spiritual life after Easter?
The Easter season is an incredible time of celebration and joy for the Church. Jesus Christ, after being tortured and publicly executed, has resurrected from the dead and restored us to the heavenly communion from which sin had kept us. Death, solitude, and fear no longer have the last word; eternal life for the faithful is no longer impossible thanks to God’s great sacrificial love. And yet, death is still a certainty for each of us. At times, it can be difficult to cope with the death of a loved one, especially if it is unexpected or tragically sudden. How can one reconcile death with the elation with which we celebrate death’s demise at Easter?
I like to recall the words of Reverend Paul Scalia at the funeral Mass of his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: “It is because of [Jesus Christ], because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend [the deceased] to the mercy of God.” While Christian funerals themselves can be somber occasions, their focus is not on the end of the departed’s life, but rather on the hope of his or her reception of God’s mercy and sharing in the eternal victory of Jesus. This is not to say that grief and other emotions have no place through the final committal—they are very real and should be allowed to fully run their course—but as Christians we unite any sufferings in this life to Christ’s and so recognize their redemptive values and purposes. The annual celebration of Easter, then, recalls the impossible achievement of Christ’s resurrection, “the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint.” As Saint John Paul II quoted St. Augustine, “We are an Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!”
If you look at the Order of Christian Funerals, you can see this hope so wonderfully imbued in the liturgical norms. Always calling to mind the merits and glories of Christ’s Resurrection, the celebrant leads the congregation in recalling the baptismal promises of the deceased: dying to self and the rejection and repentances of sin results in being raised like Christ in the merciful goodness of God on the last day. And it doesn’t end there. As Saint Ambrose preached, “We have loved them during life; let us not abandon them in death, until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord.” We should continue to pray for the dead. The Mass, as Reverend Scalia reflected, is the best way of doing this:
Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever… this is also the structure of the Mass—the greatest prayer we can offer for [the deceased], because it’s not our prayer but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past— to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection— and it makes those mysteries and their power present here, on this altar. Jesus himself becomes present here today, under the form of bread and wine, so that we can unite all of our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself, as an offering to the Father. And all of this, with a view to eternity— stretching towards heaven— where we hope to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see [the deceased] again, and with [them] to rejoice in the communion of saints.
The Church, has always upheld the merits of praying for the dead, especially for the souls undergoing final purification of venial sins in purgatory. As the Catechism notes, the sacrifice of the Mass transcends time and space to unite the faithful on earth, in Heaven, and those in Purgatory to Christ in Holy Communion (cf. CCC 1391-1396). In praying for the dead, much good can thus be done for them who otherwise might not be remembered beyond the grave!
As we continue to praise Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, remember to intercede for those who await being raised up themselves. Just as we implore the saints to pray for us, so too do the souls in purgatory desire to be prayed for as they undergo final preparation for Heaven. Just as the Universal Church links the faithful of God across earth, so too does this Heavenly Communion unite believers in Christ’s love as celebrated at Mass and recalled in His Passion and crucifixion. May the glories of Easter move us to rejoice in God’s eternal victory over the grave and prepare to reunite us to those who have gone before us in Faith.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Question for Reflection: Did you know that praying for the dead is considered a spiritual work of mercy?
“Blessed Paul VI, in referring to obstacles to evangelization, spoke of a lack of fervor (parrhesía) that is ‘all the more serious because it comes from within’. How often we are tempted to keep close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into the deep and let down our nets (cf. Lk 5:4). He bids us spend our lives in his service. Clinging to him, we are inspired to put all our charisms at the service of others. May we always feel compelled by his love (2 Cor 5:14) and say with Saint Paul: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:16).” – Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, 130.
In the passage above from Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), an apostolic exhortation on the “call to holiness in today’s world,” Pope Francis offers a concise summary of over forty years of papal teaching on evangelization as well as over two thousand years of the Church’s missionary efforts of the baptized going forth to all in word and deed in the name of Jesus Christ. Over fifty years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, the teaching that holiness is possible for all (Lumen Gentium, 11) or the “universal call to holiness,” seems to be still a teaching that is not fully received by all the baptized, partially because of an understanding on the part of some that growth in holiness needs a special and particular way or is only possible for certain people. Pope Francis disagrees with this view:
“We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (GE, 14).
But, just what is “holiness?” Pope Francis offers a definition of Pope Emeritus Benedict, “holiness is charity lived to the full” (GE, 21). It is the charity of Christ living in and through us. Pope Francis, continuing to quote Pope Benedict, provides further reflection: “As a result, ‘the measure of our holiness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our whole life on his’” (GE, 21)
Modelling our “whole life on his” needs to be done through moving outward on mission (EG 18-34) in mercy and love toward our brothers and sisters who are near us every day (GE, 63-109). It is done through our discernment (GE, 166-175), prayer, and worship (GE, 147-157) in the community of faith, the Church (EG, 140-146), resisting evil and doing good (GE, 158-165).
“Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.” (GE, 94).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on! (2 Cor 5:14)
This Sunday's reading from Luke is from one of my favorite passages in the Gospel. We pick up with the two disciples who just encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Whatever business these disciples had out in the countryside, they abandoned their plans after their encounter with Jesus and ran back to Jerusalem to share what had happened. The Gospel says that “While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Based on how abruptly Jesus appears to the rest of the disciples, we can imagine that they were incredulous at what Cleopas and his companion were telling them. As with “Doubting Thomas,” it seems that the other disciples also needed to see in order to believe.
It’s interesting to compare the encounter on the road to Emmaus to the interaction that takes place here. When the two disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they had no idea it was him. He walked with them, developed a rapport with them, and only then did he challenge their worldview and lack of faith in the promises of God. He gently rebuked them, opened up the Scriptures to them, and then broke bread with them. And it wasn’t until that moment that they truly understood who Jesus was and how he fulfilled the Scriptures: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” Jesus was patient, meeting them where they were and letting them understand God’s work at their own pace.
When Jesus appears to the rest of the disciples, he seems to appear out of nowhere. They all panic and think he’s a ghost until he proves his physical presence to them: he shows them his wounds and even eats something right in front of them. It seems he has the intent of driving the point home, opening their minds to understand the Scriptures. This time, it’s without rebuke, without judgment or frustration. He instead gives the disciples something to look ahead to: “You are witnesses of these things… I am sending the promise of my Father.” He doesn’t just explain the past, but also hints at what’s to come!
I love this passage because it speaks loudly to our tendency to not really take matters of faith to heart. And it’s so easy to do. Even for a person of faith, the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ can seem completely outrageous! We can be slow to understand God’s plan and actions in the world and in our lives, especially when they are different from our own. Even saints like Mother Teresa experienced doubt at times. But we can take heart in knowing that, when these times of doubt come up, Jesus will make himself known to us in some way, much like he did on the road to Emmaus and in his appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem. He may not be as explicit as we’d expect; it can come through a word from a friend, a kind gesture from a stranger, or even our own actions toward others. God uses all the experiences and encounters in our lives to invite us to encounter him, too. Just like on the way to Emmaus, he walks with us, befriends us, and shows us the truth. Sometimes when we are slow to understand, he acts more directly and obviously in our lives, as he did with the disciples in Jerusalem.
As we continue this joyful season of Easter, let us always listen to those times our hearts are burning within us. It is then that God speaks to us most clearly, if only we pay attention to Him.
Question for Reflection: How is God walking with you this Easter season?
The Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which is formed from two other Latin words: “miseriae,” which means misery or suffering, and “cordia,” which means heart. One could thus say that the mercy of God draws misery out of a person’s heart. It is of the nature of mercy to therefore heal wounds. The mercy we are speaking about here is broader than the reception of forgiveness from God and granting forgiveness to others. It includes all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which are also aspects of God’s very own love for us. As Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Mercy is love’s second name.” However, in this brief post, I’m going to focus on that aspect of mercy we are the most familiar with – forgiving and receiving forgiveness.
I am an adult child of divorce, so I have seen first-hand what the lack of forgiveness can look like. I believe that divorce typically involves one or both parents withholding mercy. There are, of course, other complicating factors for the divorce, but I believe there is usually a failure of mercy somewhere in the relationship. I knew I did not want to repeat the mistakes of my parents, so I took a long look at mercy and examined how it might be a key to love and to healing wounds.
In terms of love, I have always been struck by the beautiful reality that Matthew 19, which is Christ’s strongest teaching about the indissolubility of marital love, is preceded by one of Christ’s strongest teachings on mercy in Matthew 18, where he exhorts his followers to forgive 77 x 7 times. This number is a symbolic way for saying, “infinitely and unconditionally.” The proximity of these two teachings in the Bible suggests that the form of indissolubility is merciful love. Merciful love is not optional in relationships, but the foundation for its long-term success. Offering forgiveness gives a new beginning to the one who offends and helps relationships build from injuries that inevitably arise in any relationship, even great ones. As Ruth Graham, the wife of the recently deceased protestant minister Billy Graham said, “Marriage is a union of two good forgivers.”
To offer forgiveness in the radical sense Christ is proposing here, we need to experience Divine Mercy ourselves. We can do this by going frequently to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and understanding what is occurring. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive unmerited forgiveness from Christ. He does not owe us forgiveness and yet he forgives. He also always forgives us despite the number of times we repeatedly fail at the same sin. “Christ never tires of mercy,” Pope Francis reminds us. And Christ forgave us while we were sinners before we were even repentant and able to receive that forgiveness. His cry on the Cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is echoed down through the centuries.
When we experience this unmerited forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are healed because we recognize that Christ loves us “just because.” He does not love us because we do not have sin, failures, or weaknesses. He loves us despite these things and the ugliness of our actions. He loves us “just because” we are always His beloved. Of course, Christ wants us to be repentant, to promise to be holy and sin no more, in order to be reconciled with Him and others. Yet at the same time, we must never forget that this divine forgiving love always remains unmerited because Christ loves unconditionally.
With the reception of this Divine Mercy, we can then live mercifully in our own relationships in the same way and not be afraid when we or our spouse, friends, or family make mistakes, have conflict, or sin. These things happen; we are not perfect. In such moments, it is always possible to forgive, to receive forgiveness, and to love if we draw continually upon God’s grace and forgiveness. By doing so, we’ll experience healing and a deeper unity again and again through mercy.
Questions for Reflection: When was the last time you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation? How have you experienced God’s mercy?
This Sunday the Church celebrates the Feast of Divine Mercy, a fairly new feast day in the Church. Pope St. John Paul II, who declared Divine Mercy Sunday formally in 2000, stated that, “This [day] is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.” I never understood that phrase more than when I went on pilgrimage to Poland.
In the summer of 2016, I had the privilege of going to Krakow for World Youth Day. The pilgrimage was filled with many graces that I am still unpacking today. 2016 was declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy by Pope Francis, and World Youth Day was held in the country where the Divine Mercy devotion was birthed. Mercy and grace surely abounded that year.
Early in the trip, we experienced a day that weighed heavy on our hearts. Our group leader announced that we would make a morning trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum. As a group we made the decision that, as a sign of respect for the more than one million people who lost their lives at that dark place, we would not speak while we were on the grounds. The silent walk through the memorial shook me to the core. The sadness was hard to comprehend, and the absence of God felt real. As we were nearing the end of the memorial, we came upon a tablet that read the same quote in different languages from all over the world. The quote began like this, “Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity…” That was my experience of the memorial: a cry of despair.
After we returned to the bus, we departed for the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy, where St. Maria Faustina Kowalska lived and is now buried. A basilica has been built as a shrine for Divine Mercy at the Sanctuary and was named “the Capitol of the Divine Mercy devotion” by St. John Paul II. The juxtaposition between Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Divine Mercy Shrine were too extreme for my heart. I was unprepared for the transition from a witness of utter despair to complete hope.
Still in agony over our morning visit, I waited in line to get into the chapel where St. Faustina was laid to rest. In the chapel, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was also taking place. I was apprehensive to sit in the quiet with Our Lord and at the same time ready for some answers from Him. I walked into the chapel and received my answer from a familiar image hanging inside. In the chapel where St. Faustina is buried was a huge image that seemed to be made exactly for my desolate heart: the image of Divine Mercy; the image which came to St. Faustina in an apparition. It displays Christ in his glory blessing the world with one hand and touching his heart with the other. Two large rays beam out from his heart: one red and one white.
There was Jesus with His open hands and open heart, summoning me. Jesus looked as if He was walking towards me, coming to me with His merciful love. The rays of red and white, representing the blood and water that come from His wounds, revealed His heart that desires to reach all of His children and reached me in that moment. Flowing from the heart of Jesus was the hope that was seemingly lost at Auschwitz and in the hearts of millions during WWII. For me, this was the answer to despair.
At that moment I realized that although I have never experienced—and could never fathom—the suffering within the walls of that concentration camp, I could see that Christ’s mercy triumphs over all despair. It was triumphant during His perfect sacrifice on the Cross, and three days later at His Resurrection. Christ’s mercy does not hesitate to pierce our hearts, especially during times of suffering or despair in our lives. He only asks us to trust in that perfect mercy.
Jesus asked St. Faustina to share with the leaders of the Church his desire that the first Sunday after Easter be declared and celebrated as the Feast of Mercy. It is no coincidence that St. Faustina died less than one year prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Perhaps Jesus appeared to her when He did because he anticipated the great need for mercy to flow over the world. Christ knows us, and longs to let His love and mercy pierce our hearts. He only asks us to trust in His sacrifice, His love, and His desire to know us and to be known by us deeply and intimately. When Christ revealed the image of Divine Mercy to Faustina, He asked for the image to be inscribed with three words: “Jezu, ufam Tobie” – “Jesus, I Trust in You.” As we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy this Sunday, let us trust in His infinite mercy and in His infinite love.
Question for Reflection: How do you see God’s mercy alive in Scripture, history, or everyday life?
To learn more about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.
“Rejoice! Hidden within your life is a seed of resurrection, an offer of life ready to be awakened.” -Pope Francis
What does Easter look like for you? Does it mean plates filled with sweets, a backyard sprinkled with hidden eggs, a large family gathering, wearing your Sunday best, a long evening at the Easter Vigil? The first Easter Sunday was comprised of an empty tomb, faces that went from fear and despair to bewilderment and excitement, and hands and feet that were pierced but glorified. But for all Christians, Easter Sunday is a day of transformation: darkness to light, despair to hope, death to resurrection. We have journeyed with Christ for 40 days in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in order to reach this point of transformation. We have been made ready, through God’s grace, to join Him in the celebration of His victory over sin and death. And so Pope Francis reminds us to “Rejoice!,” for the resurrected life of Christ is offered to each and every one of us. Will you allow it to be awakened?
The Paschal Mystery is so great that the Church will continue to celebrate this central event for the next 50 days until the Feast of Pentecost, on May 20th. I love the significance of the length of time. Though we have fasted with Jesus in the desert for 40 days, we celebrate as a Church for longer—symbolizing the ultimate victory of our efforts when united with Christ. Though we are called to have periods of intense fasting and prayer in our spiritual life, the end goal is the Resurrection.
Let us not fail to celebrate the Easter season and let us celebrate it well! We do this by allowing the life of Christ to live within us long after the Lenten season. Pope Francis said, “The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon. The beating heart of the Risen Lord is given to us, and we are asked to give it in turn as a transforming force, as the leaven of a new humanity.” Will our hearts beat in time with Christ’s? Will we become the leaven of a new humanity? And if so, what does this even look like?
The Gospels give us a few clues. On the night before Christ gave Himself over to be crucified, we read about an intimate encounter between Him and John who has come to be known through tradition as the “Beloved Disciple.” At the Last Supper, after Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, we read in John 13:23 that “One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side.” During this time of heightened anticipation, it’s an easy detail to miss. John was literally resting on the heart of Christ. He was also present at the crucifixion, the one who did not abandon his Master in this time of fear and confusion.
Spending time with Christ in prayer, resting on His heart, allows our hearts to beat in time with His and helps us become “leaven of a new humanity.” The holy women who followed Jesus also understood this. They were present at Christ’s crucifixion and were the first disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the day of His Resurrection. May we look to the example of John and the holy women as we embark on this Easter season. Let us go frequently to meet the Lord and rest with Him by spending time in reflective prayer, reading Scripture, receiving the sacraments, and “washing the feet” of our brothers and sisters. These actions allow our hearts to sync with His. Let us go quickly to the tomb—as the holy women did— only to find it empty, so that we can return with the joyous news of the Resurrection and proclaim it to all who will listen.
Pope Francis encourages us, “Let us go, then. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give. May we allow his tenderness and his love to guide our steps. May we allow the beating of his heart to quicken our faintness of heart.”
Questions for Reflection: How has your spiritual life transformed throughout Lent? How can you faithfully celebrate this Easter season?
Click here for more resources to guide you through this Easter season.