Deep Breath In, Deep Breath Out
Have you had a chance today to think about God’s love? No? Well, do this with me… Deep breath in. Deep breath out. With every breath we take, we know we were made for here, for right now, this time, this century, not by accident, but for a purpose.
The first paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully explains, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, and to love him with all his strength.” (Emphasis added.)
Did you read what the Catechism reminds us? God draws close to man! Can you believe this? No? Hey that’s ok! It’s hard for me to comprehend too, but do this with me…
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
It is unnerving that we, His children, can go day-to-day and not really live out of the understanding that we were made by love, for love, to love.
At the graduate school I attended, the chaplain for our program would constantly remind us of this fact. On days when my mind was worn down, when I was struggling with anxiety or doubt, I would stumble into his office and explode the complexities of my mind onto him (poor fellow). Ever so gently, he would stop me in my rambling and say, “deep breath in, deep breath out.” He explained to me that the mere fact that we can breathe is a clear sign of the Father’s love, “because if He forgot about you for a millisecond, you would not exist.” He is loving us into existence with every breath we take.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Do we really live as though the creator of the universe, the creator of love, the Father of heaven and earth has made us, loves us here? If I lived in this simple, yet mind-blowing truth, I think the day-to-day would be less burdensome and my exterior circumstances would not define my level of contentment. My life would be colored with purpose because I was made for love, by love.
Are you stressed? Does the state of our world or society bring you fear? Are you looking for fulfillment? Do you desire to be loved? Are you waiting for your vocation? Do this now…
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
You were made for here, you are necessary for now, and you are loved into existence because the Father loves you.
“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of is necessary.” –Pope Benedict XVI
Lately, I have found myself in circumstances of trial and uncertainty, unsure where the Lord is in the midst of everything. The waiting certainly parallels the season of Advent in which we await the coming of Our Lord, the Messiah. Waiting is painful and uncertainty requires trust, both of which my control-hungry self wrestles with.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, is the remedy to our fear and doubt. There’s something unique about the portrayal of Our Lady of Guadalupe: she wears a black belt. In the Aztec religion, a black belt indicates someone who is with child, showing that She too is waiting for Christ in solidarity. She wants to wrap her motherly love and protection over us, to mother us through the waiting, through the anticipation, and straight to Her Son Jesus Christ.
Our Lady came to peoples who were deeply enthralled in the Aztec religion, with angry gods who required sacrifice. She spoke a language they understood. The image left on St. Juan Diego’s cloak for the people of what is now Mexico destroyed the power of the Aztec gods and elevated the glory of Her Son. She wants to do the same for you this Advent season. Look at these words she spoke to Juan Diego, the simple farmer turned saint, “My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains existence.”
In my circumstances, I am comforted to know that I am not abandoned. I have a Mother who will fight for me, exclaiming, “Let not your heart be disturbed. Am I not here who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happy within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not be grieved or disturbed by anything.”
As we wait for the coming of the Messiah, find comfort that Our Lady waits with us. From the moment she encountered the Angel Gabriel, to searching for a place to give birth, to fleeing to the desert, to the painful prophecy of Simeon, to the loss of Her child for three days, to the witness of His persecution, to the foot of the Cross, Mary waited. Mary waited in faith of the Father’s goodness, exclaiming, “be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Just like in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pregnant with Our Lord, Our Lady knows how to wait with peace. She wants to give you Her peace; she wants to speak your language, love you where you are, and guide you to the joy of the coming of the Lord.
This time of the New Evangelization in the Church is beautiful: all the faithful are called to spread the love of Christ to the hearts of modern men and women. While the term New Evangelization, though beautiful, has become almost overused, common jargon within the Church, we are called to the radical joy and love the New Evangelization promotes.
The task seems lofty at first glance. With controversies of all sorts in society today, the charge to love like Christ is even greater. However, the Body of Christ has been in trying times throughout the ages, and it’s the ability of holy men and women to magnanimously love that makes a difference in society.
Today, the Church celebrates a saint that is a perfect example for the faithful of living out the call of the New Evangelization: St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Joy. St. Philip Neri, a radical saint of the 16th Century, was known for his humility, obscure and hilarious means of mortification, pastoral care, humor, and charm. The legend and stories of St. Philip Neri are plentiful and cannot all be spoken of in this short post, but his charity is worth mentioning for those who are attempting to live out the call of the New Evangelization.
Philip was known to have a strong devotion to the Holy Spirit. At the age of 29, before the feast of Pentecost, Philip was praying for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit when he saw a globe of fire enter his mouth, move down his chest, and travel to his heart. At that moment, Philip experienced an immense amount of joy, as if his heart had expanded. The saint had been filled with the love of God!
Throughout the rest of his life, when Philip was ministering to people in the confessional, celebrating Mass, or performing acts of charity, his heart would violently palpitate. Oftentimes, Philip would embrace his penitents and hold them close to his chest. The faithful would receive an immense amount of consolation from the embrace and this practice became known as “the most effective way of being delivered from temptation.”
St. Philip Neri was known as the Apostle of Joy because his aim was love, and the Holy Spirit, the Flame of Love, was the driver in his mission. Philip died at the age of 80, dedicating his entire life to mercy, love, and joy. The many stories that follow him affirm that claim. He was dedicated to the Sacrament of Confession and would be available for Confession at all hours. Dispensing the mercy of Christ, Philip spent his last day on this side of heaven hearing confessions from the people he served and loved. Those he ministered to claim they could not be sorrowful or depressed around Philip; he exuded a constant flow of Christ’s joy. During an evaluation to determine Philip’s cause of death, the examiner found Philip’s heart to be twice the size of an average heart, causing the ribs around the heart to break and curve out. The love of God had been made manifest physically within him.
Today could you imagine a Church with followers whose hearts, like Philip’s, are enlarged with love for neighbor? This is the call of the New Evangelization—to spread Christ’s fragrance of love everywhere, “for we are the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). The Church is in a unique time. Our intellectual arguments often mean little, but our actions and witness of love are powerful. The New Evangelization calls us to be little Apostles of Joy. Wherever we are and wherever we go, we are to love.
Cardinal Ratzinger explained that evangelization is teaching people the path to happiness. “To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living,” he said (Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, 12 December 2000). St. Philip Neri taught those around him the art of living a joyful, humble life, motivated by the love of Christ. To live the New Evangelization, we are to have a heart like his, witnessing and walking with others and teaching the art of living.
The Body of Christ must be propelled by the love of God. Today, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts in a deeper way so we might gain a greater capacity to love like our joyful friend, St. Philip Neri. May we be a people of love with enlarged hearts for Christ, spreading joy to all.
“The love of God makes us do great things.” –St. Philip Neri
For more resources on the New Evangelization, click here.
This year, the Church experienced the collision of a feast day and a day of fasting on March 25. For some, the day was approached with awkwardness, “This is both a Marian Feast Day and the Day of the Cross?” But, as Holy Mother Church exercises her wisdom, She encouraged the faithful to first enter into the solemn day of Good Friday on March 25th, while today, April 4th, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.
The “stacking” of these Holy Days happens irregularly in the Church’s history, and we will never experience them again in our lifetime (unless you live to 2157). Because of the moving of the Feast of the Annunciation, we continue to have the opportunity to soak up all the graces we can from the two days, to ponder the beauty and similarities of the day of feast and the day of fast.
“Hail full of Grace!” (Luke 1:28)
“Hail King of the Jews” (Mark 15:18)
In Scripture, the word “hail” is synonymous with a naming, a giving of a title. As Mary is given the title “Full of Grace,” our Lord is given the title “King of the Jews.” These titles are given to reveal their deeper identity—Mary, as the Mother of Christ; Jesus, as the Savior of all.
Just as Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:28), we too must ask ourselves this question. What does it mean to venerate Mary the Mother of God and Jesus Christ? What do these titles and these identities mean to us as Catholics living in the world today?
“May it be done to me according to your will.” (Luke 1: 38)
“Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Mary’s faith and trust in the Lord carries her to make the journey to a city of Judah to visit Elizabeth. This prayer then carries her to Bethlehem, to the journey to Jerusalem, to the raising of the Child Jesus, to the act of faith at Cana, and to the foot of the Cross. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, too, carries Him to make the journey to Calvary, to make the greatest Sacrifice for the sake of our sins. These prayers of trust in Nazareth at the Annunciation and in the Garden of Gethsemane both find their glory on Calvary.
When we are presented with moments to trust God, do we make that act of trusting surrender or do we run? Imagine if Mary operated out of fear and Jesus rejected His Cross. Let us pray to Our Lady and Her Son to increase in us faith and confidence to walk this journey on earth to our heavenly home.
“The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:34)
“Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
As the Angel of the Lord announces to Mary that the child within her womb will be the Son of God, the centurion at Calvary proclaims that Jesus is “truly… the Son of God.” Mary’s faith in the Lord brings others to the salvific realization that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah! Due to her faithfulness and receptivity to the Holy Spirit, she bears the Son, bringing Jesus, bringing Redemption, to the world. The Angel of the Lord comes to Mary to announce His Divinity. Let us sit with Mary and find Her Son through her receptive heart.
It makes sense that we encountered a bit of awkwardness at the clashing of the Annunciation and Good Friday, but these days reveal the paradox of the Christian Faith. We cannot have one without the other; in suffering comes joy. Let us cling to Mary’s motherly heart and ask her to show us the way to her Son.
As we venerate Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation, may Her faithfulness bring us to a deeper faithfulness in Her Son. As we celebrate the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus Christ, we remember the birth of Holy Mother Church through the flowing of Blood and Water from the side of Jesus on the cross. This demonstrates that Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. These stories, the Annunciation and Good Friday, are actually our own and show how our “yes” can be used by God to bring about the salvation of the world in unexpected ways. May Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan through the Angel Gabriel and Jesus’ “yes” to the will of the Father through the Cross be our joy throughout this Easter Season.
At the graduate school I attend, there is a simple chapel on the second basement level. I typically find myself the most comfortable sitting in the back of the chapel for daily Mass. One day, I scooted in a minute before Mass started, leaving the only space for me in the front pew (GASP, I know!). As I settled into the pew, I looked up, seeing the front of the chapel much closer and in a new way. In front of me was the reason why sitting in the back was more comfortable.
I faced His dislocated shoulders, His God/Man shoulders bloody, His bowed head spurned with thorns, His emaciated figure hanging, His flesh slashed, His knees worn from His falls, His side pierced, and those nailed hands, those feet. I could not keep my eyes from Him and I could not comprehend, “Why?”
I get quite used to the pretty crosses, the ones that are bedazzled, the Southern rustic ones, the ornate, or the ones where He is not even present and His suffering can be watered down to a pretty symbol. You could say I get comfortable with them.
The Crucifix in this small, simple chapel does not forget His suffering. No, it is displayed loudly, proudly next to the tabernacle, right next to the Eucharistic Table. His sacrifice is not reduced. The scandal of the King hanging on the cross is revered, and yet I worked hard to keep my eyes from the weight of the cross.
Later in the day, I found myself in the chapel alone. This time, I slowly made my way up to the large Crucifix. I realized my heart was pounding loudly in my chest. I knelt underneath the Crucifix. I looked up to see His head bowed down. I saw His sacrifice for the first time. And mostly, I was in a disposition of responsibility for the first time, and the weight was crushing. I could not hide.
This Lenten season, I am spending more time kneeling in front of this Crucifix, facing my sins and facing my Savior. I encourage you to do the same! You see, by beginning to take in the weight of His sacrifice, the next questions that will arise are, “Why me? Why this sacrifice in this way?” As you ponder His wounds, His shoulders, His crown, His side, His hands and feet, you will hear in a still voice, “Love, Love, Deep Abiding Love for you.”
Taking in the shocking death of the Savior only leads us to grasping the true reason of this Lenten journey: the agape love of the Christ. How can we bear our own crosses, the struggles and weaknesses that are a part of the human condition, if we haven’t grasped the passionate love He has for His children? We may try and hide it, water it down, bedazzle it, but the Crucifix is Divine Love thinking of you.
“Look into My Heart and see there the love and mercy which I have for humankind, and especially for sinners. Look, and enter into My Passion.” –Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary 1663)
For more Lenten resources, please click here.
To learn more about the Year of Mercy, please click here.
Advent, the word in and of itself instills hope and builds anticipation for greatness, joy and peace. What is it are we waiting for?
It seems with the close of the year, we wait anxiously for those intimate times with our family and friends, a break from work and the routine and a time for closeness. Maybe, we are waiting for a Christmas party, presents and the holiday ambience. As a student, I always find it paradoxical that finals would be during the season of Advent. The hectic study and preparation of exams easily muddles the preparation I could be doing in my own heart for the King.
The anticipation, the excess and busyness I find myself in reminds me of the Gospel story where the disciples forget the presence of the Lord in their midst:
“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but [Jesus] was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:23-26).
Looking without eyes of faith, the disciples found themselves in a panic and disarray. With a focus on the storm and on the circumstance that assailed them, the disciples forgot the most essential truth that was right there with them on the boat: the Sleeping Christ. The answer to their cries for help was peacefully present in their situation ready to grace them with a great calm.
What is it, again, that we are waiting for during this Advent Season?
The gift we are waiting for is the sleeping babe, the sleeping Christ, in the manger. The Divine Son, who humbles Himself so greatly that He arrives in the stillness of night, in the quiet with shepherds and sheep alike. The Creator God comes in the stillness. What we are waiting for is the Prince of Peace.
My own hurriedness in finishing all of my papers and exams, finding the perfect gifts for my friends and family, making travel plans and somehow finding time to stop and recognize where I am headed resembles the experience of the disciples. I am awaiting His peace, but my actions reveal otherwise. I must intentionally make the effort to stop and breathe in what I am truly searching for this December.
May the anticipation throughout this Advent season bring us to stop and ponder the mystery of the Lord of the Universe resting in a manger who has come to encounter our hearts. May the peace of the Sleeping Christ invade our hearts, our minds, and our actions so we too may accept the true gift He wishes for us all this season: a great calm (Matthew 8:26).
Have you ever been called frail before? I was once by a priest in a homily; the word was unsettling. As the priest slowly enunciated the words, “You. Are. Frail” a flood of various thoughts rushed over me. Mainly, I was proudly scoffing and thinking, “I’ve got this. I have my spiritual life together. I mean, I am one of the few Catholics that goes to Mass every Sunday…That says something, right?”
Frailty. The word itself seems weak, puny. In reality, those thoughts of mine, the “Oh I got this” or the “I’m not doing so bad”—don’t they reveal my frailty, my weakness? They reflect a mindset rooted in pride that doesn’t think that I need Him.
Perhaps more unsettling are Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul writes about begging God to remove a thorn in his flesh, to which God replies, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul continues in his Letter, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong!”
Doesn’t the world tell us that we need to have our act together—the complete opposite of Paul’s words above? Why would we boast in the things we are not good at? The saints are saints because they know they are weak sinners, and yet they never became complacent. They boasted in their weakness while asking God for the grace and love to grow in the midst of it and didn’t attempt things on their own. They were receptive to the Lord’s guidance, His divinity. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, also exhibited this “boasting” at the beginning of his papacy when he said, “I am a sinner…but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Scripture, we are compared very often to sheep. Sheep need the shepherd to survive. They have been known to graze on the same grassy area, gnaw the grass to its root, which kills the grass, and eventually starve themselves to death due to the lack of nutrition. The shepherd must therefore guide the sheep for survival. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, guides us. Will we let him or will be remain complacent?
The real problem that I encountered in the pew that Sunday was this complacency. Like the sheep, I was gnawing at the same grassy area, stubbornly thinking I was getting the nutrients and food I needed. I, like Pope Francis, must recognize that I am a sinner—that I am frail and I need Him. Only this will allow me to boast in my weakness. When I acknowledge that I am weak, I am acknowledging my need for Him evermore. When I acknowledge my dependence on Him, He then can give me the strength I need to make it through the day—to accept His Love in my human limitations.
If we are to journey on the beautifully romantic and stretching road to holiness, we must be careful of feeling too comfortable while gnawing the same patch of grass. Instead, we are called to boast in our weakness and invite the Lord to move in us, to change us. Change and growth are uncomfortable, but necessary to the Christian life. For we are frail, and yet we boast in the sheepishness—knowing our Shepherd is strengthening and guiding us along the path.
The quickest and surest way to be led by the Good Shepherd is by letting Him consume us in the Holy Eucharist. There, we are united with our Shepherd, held in His gentle and loving arms close to His Sacred Heart through the good and the bad. There, we will find true comfort, there we will be able to join St. Paul and see our frailty turned into true strength!
Elizabeth Pawelek is pursuing her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado.