“Jesus, let there be more of you and less of me.”
This is the short prayer I was once encouraged to pray as a penance by a wise, older priest. As we find ourselves at the start of Lent, these words once again come to mind, and I would like to offer them for your contemplation.
The Church offers the season of Lent as an opportunity to prepare Her children well for Christ’s resurrection–both at the celebration of Easter (March 31 this year) and at His Second Coming. These preparations take the form of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; the spiritual, penitential, and charitable practices we take up and the worldly things we put down. For forty days we walk into the desert, just as Jesus did, to humbly open ourselves to temptations and more fully offer our lives to the Lord.
So what does that prayer–letting there be more of Jesus and less of me–have to do with Lent? Well…everything. In the first reading at Mass on Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel extols us: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God” with your whole hearts (Joel 2:12). The Lord does not want to see what we can do of our own strength or will during this season; He wants us to see what He can do through us and the transformation He can work within us.
Lent certainly calls for a degree of testing the limits of our comfort zones. More than this, it is an invitation to leave behind our will and consider the offerings and changes that will help us become more like Christ. As you reflect on your Lenten practices, consider asking yourself: “What can I offer to Jesus? How can I make more room for Him in my life? What can I let go of that will help me on this journey?”
Approaching Lent in this way necessitates an act of surrender. It requires us to focus less on the material outcomes and more on the spiritual. This might mean to not give up ice cream like you do every Lent and instead, or additionally, prayerfully consider what areas of your life you have been keeping the Lord out of. St. John Henry Newman speaks to this in a sermon for the First Sunday of Lent: “...fasting is only one branch of a large and momentous duty, the subdual of ourselves to Christ. We must surrender to Him all we have, all we are. We must keep nothing back.”
This, admittedly, is a challenging invitation, but remember that we are not doing Lent on our own. We are doing it with Jesus. This act of surrender necessitates reliance. And this reliance requires humility; an admission of our own weakness and powerlessness compared to Christ’s great strength. When you want to snooze your alarm and eschew the morning prayer time you’ve committed to, offer that to the Lord. When you are tempted to join in the office gossip, ask for Jesus’ strength. Ordinary as these offerings may be, that does not mean they are easy. If we have chosen to subdue ourselves for Christ’s sake, we can trust that He will provide the grace and strength we lack.
As Catherine Doherty writes in Season of Mercy, “Mortification and penance are a passionate response of a man to a Passionate Lover who is God.” In humbly striving to more fully do the will of the Father, we naturally make more room for Jesus. As you surrender yourself to Him this Lent, also rely on Him. He wants us, and the attachments that bind us, to shrink away only so that His mercy and love can reign more completely.
“Jesus, let there be more of you and less of me.”
Today we celebrate the heavenly birthday of one of my dearest friends, St. Francis de Sales. It is often said that the saints choose you, and I have certainly found that to be the case with Francis. Since I first “met” him while reading a book about the saints, he has continued to captivate and encourage me.
Francis was born in France in 1567 to an aristocratic family. He was well educated, and while his father hoped this would lead Francis to a career in law, his studies ended up leading him to the priesthood. He was a sought-after spiritual director (perhaps his most well-known directee was St. Jane Frances de Chantal with whom he started the Visitation Sisters). Francis was also devoted to evangelization and catechesis through preaching and writing, and had a love of the poor which was manifested through works of charity and his own detachment from material things. He was canonized a saint in 1665 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1877.
One of the things that makes a saint is that their life and teaching transcend time and remain relevant over the centuries. This is certainly true of St. Francis de Sales. While Vatican II affirmed the universal call to holiness in the 1960s, Francis ardently promoted this teaching three centuries prior. When St. Jane Frances de Chantal wanted to leave her duties as a mother for the “higher” calling of entering religious life, Francis encouraged her to have patience and fully embrace her current vocation as a mother. Rather than imagining that holiness is better achieved in religious life, he reminded her that faithfulness to the real life unfolding before her was the place for her to become holy. As he said to another directee in An Introduction to the Devout Life, “work in quiet cooperation with him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to him you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.”
When Francis was named a Doctor of the Church, it was under the title Doctor of Divine Love. Francis’ personal devotion to the Lord and life of ministry flowed from his own love for God and awareness of God’s love. When Francis’ devoted friend, Bishop Jean-Pierre Camus, questioned him about how to grow in love of God and neighbor, Francis replied simply, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working. Just so you learn to love God and many by loving. If you really want to love God, go on and love Him more and more.” This simple approach to God is a hallmark of Francis’ spirituality. Without pretending that such growth in holiness would be quick or easy, he offered straightforward guidance that people in any vocation or stage of life could follow. While we may not be able to love God perfectly and completely today, we can certainly strive for that and lay our foundation today. Francis shows us that God’s love toward us and our love toward God are reciprocal, growing in relation to one another.
One of my favorite quotes from St. Francis de Sales is, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.” Francis offers the guidance of a gentle, compassionate father. He knew firsthand the temptation towards despair at our lowliness before God, but he also knew personally that God offers us the grace we need in our pilgrimage towards Him. God knows each of us intimately–our strengths and our struggles–and looks into our hearts. Rather than being overwhelmed by our shortcomings, spiritual and otherwise, Francis encourages us to extend God’s own gentleness and patience to ourselves. As Francis says elsewhere, God “delights to show forth his power in our weakness, his mercy in our misery.”
St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of Divine Love, pray for us!
Pope Francis. (2022). Totum Amoris Est: On the fourth centenary of the death of Saint Francis de Sales.
Campbell, Colleen Carroll. (2020). The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God's. Howard Books.
**This image is from https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=51**
On September 12th, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. Throughout the year we honor countless saints who have uniquely modeled for us the path to holiness. However, Jesus and Mary are the only two people for whom the Church sets aside a feast just for their name. Each person’s name deeply and intimately reveals something about who they are. If this is true for myself, you, and each of the saints, it is all the more true for Jesus and His Blessed Mother.
Throughout the centuries, Mary has earned countless and various titles based on the places she has appeared and the different characteristics that define her. But before all of these, she was given her first title by the child Jesus: Mom. This wasn’t a title Mary could have given herself; rather it was bestowed on her.
The Father chose Mary to conceive and bear Jesus, and it was in His birth that she became a mother. It was through the Incarnate Lord that Mary’s motherhood was fulfilled and she became “Mom.” For all of the times you have called your own mother’s name, Jesus called Mary “mother,” too. He spoke her name in joy and in sorrow, in petition and in gratitude. He models for us how to live in relationship with His own blessed mother and how to speak her name. However, even with Jesus showing us the way to His mother, it can still be a challenge to have a relationship with Mary. How do we relate to her and live under her maternity? How do we speak to Mary, our spiritual mother?
The Church models so many beautiful devotions in answer to this question. We can pray a morning offering through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, asking her to be with us throughout our day. We can pray the rosary, walking alongside her through Jesus’ life. We can sing a Marian hymn with our nightly prayers, inviting her to watch over us in our rest.
When we speak Mary’s name and call out to her as our spiritual mom, we are fulfilling St. Francis de Sales' words to “run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.” We can give ourselves to Mary, like Jesus did, and she will in turn bring us closer to God. In the repetition of these Marian prayers and hymns we spiritually speak our mother Mary’s name and ask for her help from the depths of our hearts.
Just like our earthly mothers cherish the little gifts we give and imperfect efforts we make, Mary graciously receives and multiplies everything we call out to her from our heart. Mary doesn’t need us to come to her with perfect devotion, but with an honest desire to grow closer to Jesus through her. Day after day, we can speak her most holy name and call on her assistance with the confidence that she will come to our aid.
As we honor the Most Holy Name of Mary, we pray the Lord will enkindle in us a deeper trust and devotion to His mother. Let us speak Mary’s name with love and devotion, trusting in the power of her intercession and mediation for us. Mama Mary, pray for us!
**This image is from:
I have friends that host an annual Epiphany party where each guest is gifted a word for the year. The word I received this year was wonder. “What a great word to carry through the year,” January-me thought. But, as we begin to make our way from summer to fall, I’ve all but forgotten about this word, let alone pondered it in prayer.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines wonder as “rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one's experience.” There is something about newness and mystery that captivates us. We meet a child that has just been born after staying hidden in the womb for nine months or watch a sunset over the mountains and are struck anew by the splendor of God’s creation. However, it isn’t every day that we’re meeting babies or hiking in the Shenandoah Mountains. When we get swept away in the activity of everyday life the opportunities for and objects of wonder can feel few and far between. I doubt many of us would describe the tasks that make up our daily lives as “awesomely mysterious,” let alone “new.” Yet, wonder isn’t meant to be reserved just for special occasions.
One of my favorite things about children is the sense of wonder that they naturally possess. Despite the ordinariness and repetition of their days, their lives are marked by wonder. As children go through the simple events that make up their days, they are able to see the awesome newness all around them: a colorful beetle in the garden, a new color made when mixing paints, sounding out a new word for the first time. It is true that as adults there may be fewer things for us to discover and learn; we've figured out how most things work and generally know what to expect from an event or situation. But, what if we still let ourselves be open to the wonder around us and approached situations with more curiosity? When we have conversations with friends, we can marvel at their goodness and how God is working in their lives. When we take the dog for a walk, we can leave our phone at home and soak in the sights and sounds around us. We can take time to cultivate a hobby or learn a new skill. These events might not be novel, but they can offer us an opportunity to slow down and see what newness God may be speaking into them.
This sense of wonder can be cultivated in our spiritual lives, too. God wants us to wonder at Him, to be captivated by Him, to enter the mystery of His presence among us. The great mysteries of the Church aren’t matters to be solved or rationally understood; rather, they are truths meant to be pondered ever more deeply. What better disposition than one of wonder with which to enter into these mysteries? We can give our “rapt attention” and “astonishment” to Jesus’ True Presence in the Eucharist or to contemplating the ways God has worked in the lives of people throughout scripture. Like children encountering the newness right in front of them, we can ask God to fill us with a spirit of wonder when we go to pray or experience the sacraments. In this way He can transform the parts of our spiritual lives that may just feel routine and ordinary into moving encounters of His perpetual newness.
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear that Jesus “went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles] that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:13-15) Among these twelve was the apostle Thomas, an apostle whom we often characterize by his doubt alone. However, if doubt is all there was to Thomas, I am fairly confident Jesus wouldn’t have chosen him as one of his closest friends and coworkers for the Kingdom. While the Gospels don’t reveal too much about Thomas, let’s reflect on the lessons he can teach us about how to be Jesus’ disciples.
First, Jesus desires to use our whole selves. As God, before ever having met him, Jesus knew all that Thomas had done and all that he would do. He already knew Thomas would question whether the other apostles really saw the resurrected Lord. We might wonder why Jesus would still choose Thomas in spite of this. But if we look at Jesus’ other apostles and those He chose to spend time with we see sinners, doubters, and deniers. We see fully human people that, though imperfect, always sought after and returned to God. Jesus didn’t call men and women who had it all together and never messed up; he called imperfect people who through their very imperfections glorified Him and revealed what the Kingdom of God is like. What imperfections or mistakes have you made that the Lord has been able to use for His glory and your sanctification?
Second, discipleship requires boldness. Being a disciple requires boldness as we walk with and follow after the Lord. Sometimes this boldness looks like Thomas bravely encouraging the other disciples to follow the Lord into Jerusalem to “go to die with him.” (John 11:16) Thomas may not have fully understood what he was proposing, but in his proposal we see a real desire to go where the Lord goes and take up the Cross. I think we can see that same boldness in Thomas’ doubt, too. It takes a certain amount of courage to be honest with the Lord (and ourselves) about our doubts, struggles, and imperfections. However, it is only when we present ourselves fully and imperfectly to Him that He can speak into those places and guide us. Where might the Lord be inviting you to boldness in your witness or your prayer?
Third, discipleship grows from our encounters with the Lord. Everyday Jesus gives us opportunities to encounter Him personally: when we receive the Eucharist, when we spend time with Him in prayer, when we experience His presence in the midst of our day. Thomas encountered Him as they broke bread, prayed, and ministered together. Thomas got to know the Lord by remaining close to Him and spending time with Him. It was this closeness and intimacy with Jesus that fueled Thomas’ ministry. If we want to have the zeal and courage to spread the Gospel, then we too must remain close to Jesus and receive His grace. How have you encountered the Lord in your life recently? How has that equipped you to go forth as a disciple?
We might first think of Thomas and his doubt, but there is much more to this apostle of the Lord. As we celebrate his feast and the fruitfulness of his mission, we can ask for his intercession to offer ourselves fully and entirely to the Lord, to be granted boldness in our spiritual lives, and to more deeply encounter the Lord so as to more deeply share Him with others. St. Thomas the Apostle, pray for us!