“Laugh and grow strong.” -St. Ignatius
It’s 10pm and the limbs are flowing. Arm circles, head bobs, tapping feet. I clean the kitchen counter like Mr. Miyagi – wax on, wax off--and jam out to my favorite song after an exhausting day. The sheer ridiculousness of my dance moves makes me smile. But I don’t care. I realize life doesn’t always need to be taken so seriously. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I walk home on a Tuesday evening from the playground with my three children. My four-year-old turns back to look at me only to collide into this older brother. The two fall to the ground, crumpled together like a terrible game of Twister, and an eruption of wailing ensues. The chaos startles my eight-month-old daughter, who decides to join in on the chorus. The sheer ridiculousness of the incident currently occurring on the main avenue of our neighborhood causes me to chuckle. We must look like a pitiful sight to the cars zooming up and down the street. I soothe my daughter and stoop down to hug my boys and offer to race them home. As our limbs fly down the sidewalk, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I stretch my leg out over the strawberry patch, my daughter strapped closely to my chest, and find myself practically doing the splits in the mud. Thankfully, my shorts are unharmed. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
What a wonderful world indeed. It’s a sentiment not many might feel while watching the news or scrolling on their social media feeds. In fact, many things have occurred lately in life that evidence the very opposite. I’m not belittling the world’s or my own suffering, nor am I ignoring it or living naively. But lately in my life and in my motherhood, the Lord has given me the gift of a sense of humor. I have been swimming in my sheer helplessness and finding out everything will be okay if I let the Lord be my current. I do not need to have my act together to be infinitely loved and cared for by my heavenly Father. I do not have to bemoan my littleness or earn God’s mercy. I just have to ask Him for help. Every day, I am Peter flailing in the water. All God is asking me to do is to reach back for the hand that’s always been extended. So I reach and then bow down my head to pray: “Dear Lord, please help me not be a nincompoop today.”
So much of my life and motherhood is serious business. Sneaking in as many vegetables as possible into my children’s diets. Teaching them how to scrub their teeth diligently. Choosing books and music and television that reflects truth and beauty. Modeling (or attempting to model) virtue. Practicing superhuman patience. Answering and acknowledging 1,000 pieces of information (mainly in the form of random questions) a day.
But so much of it is silly and joyful too. Pretending to be a pirate with my sons and collecting buried treasure. Responding to the incessant demand to “get us!!” at the playground and becoming incredibly adept at climbing play structures. Reading books using all the voices. Having dance parties. Ooing and ahhing at their latest insect find or screaming that a fire truck is coming and pointing wildly to where it is. Watching my daughter shove food into her mouth with delightful noises and finding half of it on her lap. Seeing her crawl for the first time. Having a deep conversation with her using babbling noises.
I can choose to view my life through so many lenses. But what I’m being reminded of most recently is to choose the lens of the good, true, and beautiful. Of the silly and the miraculous. The lens of joy and gratitude.
Why do we take life SO seriously all the time? When did we stop dreaming or doing awkward dance moves in the kitchen by ourselves? When was the last time you laughed until the tears streamed down your cheeks?
After having three children, I guess I’ve realized how fleeting it all is. How quickly this growing up business happens without my permission. And so even though motherhood and raising a family are incredibly hard and stretching (re: strawberry patch), I can’t help but pause for a moment and relish this time in all its sheer ridiculousness and glory.
Having entered into my third decade of life, I’ve experienced a decent share of hardship, loss, suffering, and death. I’ve attended many funerals, prayed for many sick people, and heard many tragic stories. Lately, it feels as though the accumulation of these events and stories has become stronger and more prevalent. It seems that many people within my network are experiencing the loss of friends or family members: the death of a parent, young people battling cancer, tragic childhood accidents.
Tragedy and losses like this have re-opened my eyes to the reality of how fleeting life is and helping me more deeply appreciate the hidden blessings all around. I’ve often mused recently that my biggest issue these days is likely poop-related or has to do with a lack of sharing. My problems can generally be solved with hugs, eye contact, a fresh diaper, sleep, or a snack. The checkerboard of crumbs on my dining room floor that normally seems like a mountain now feels surmountable. I stop and thank God that these are my issues and annoyances. So I dance, mostly by myself, in the kitchen. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
We walk amidst the shadows and call them life. We’re so accustomed to the dimness of this world that light is too abrasive. It burns rather than warms, offends rather than illuminates. We stumble around in the fog, thinking we are dancing. It’s like looking in the mirror and confusing the reflection with the person. Many things prevent us from truly seeing ourselves—from knowing who we are, from where we’ve come and where we are going. We’ve convinced ourselves that we are comfortable. “Comfortable” is our best friend. It doesn’t demand much of us, doesn't pry, doesn’t ask us to change. It leaves us quite alone, minds its own business. Comfortable—a makeshift refuge amidst the vast discomfort of the world we face each day. Comfortable—the often elusive goal of our lives. Comfortable—a concession to a fate that is not our true end.
Peter, James and John were comfortable in their lives before a rabbi from Nazareth invited them to drop everything and follow him. Their lives were not inherently sinful; their occupations were worthy. Life seemed good. These men were comfortable until they met the Christ who called them to something more. While the high calling Christ invited these men into was glimpsed throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, it is most fully revealed on earth in an apocalyptic way in the Transfiguration of Christ. As the Gospel tells us, soon after Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of Mt. Tabor. Once there, Jesus is transfigured before them, “his clothes became dazzling white. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus (Mk 9: 3-4). His apostles are terrified. They have seen something almost greater than they could physically behold. Next, they hear the words of God the Father, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (9:7). They have been confronted by light, the Eternal Light of God himself, and are roused out of any makeshift comfort they had created for themselves. The apostles were uncomfortable, puzzled, amazed.
What does the Transfiguration tell us? First, that this luminous state is our destiny. As baptized Christians, we are called to be fully transfigured into Christ himself, shedding anything in our being that does not reflect his light and love. This capacity is already within us, though we diminish it with sin. Second, the Transfiguration shows us that comfortable is not enough. It is neither the goal of the Christian life, nor what we were made for. The Transfiguration instead shows us that we were made for greatness and excellence even amidst the discomfort of our world. We were never made to settle, just as we were never made for the fog, darkness or failure many people accept as daily life. Instead, Christ invites us to love. The Transfiguration is a testament to this love, for this transfigured destiny is only made possible because of his sacrifice of love on the cross. The Transfiguration is pure gift and mercy. And we can begin to be transfigured now, today.
To be transfigured, we are called to imitate Christ’s love. This is an uncomfortable love that demands all of who we are. It is love that evaporates our egotism, that hurts, that pushes us out of ourselves and into the lives and well-being of others. Love that we have to practice, and will fail at, again and again. Love that is, and will be, crucified.
But love that is worth it. Love that reminds us who we are and why we’re here. Love that takes us from the shadows and actually calls us to dance. Love that breaks through the fog and never diminishes. Love that is the true light. Love that transfigures.
As today’s reflection from Magnificat says, “The Savior begs: ‘Become what you behold!’”
**This post was originally published on 8/6/2015**
They bought into the lie—that nothing had changed, that their dreams were stifled, that death prevailed. The locked doors reflected their locked hearts. Like anyone, they were afraid, inconsolable, at the point of despair. Save one—a virgin. She continues to model to us today what it means to live faith, what it looks like to be a disciple.
The fear of the disciples in the upper room is understandable. They had abandoned the man whom they had left everything to follow for three years. The same man they had pledged to follow unto death had been tortured and killed as their backs were turned, as they cowered for their own lives. Their hopes of a restored Jewish kingdom, a glorious king from the line of David, freedom from Roman rule and the return of God’s presence to the Temple seemed to be nailed to a cross on Golgotha, laid in a tomb hewn from rock. They had yet to see God’s plan amidst the perceived failure. How could this be God’s plan? It was so unlike their own.
Their fear is our own. It is the fear of unmet desires, of unworthiness, of death, of uncertainty, of perceived silence. Like the disciples, we often fail to see God’s plan in our lives. We look around in despair and sense that He is silent. We live the reality of death, confusion and suffering and say, “nothing good can come from this.” But as the disciples quickly realized, our ways are not God’s ways. Our wills are not yet one. Much stands in the way: selfishness, greed, egoism, materialism, pride. All changes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What makes a law-abiding Jew abandon his persecution of Christians in favor of joining them and proclaiming the Christ to Jerusalem and Rome?
What makes uneducated fisherman leaders of the universal Church and martyrs for the faith?
What makes the son of a wealthy Italian merchant the begging founder of a religious order and a friend of the poor?
What makes a cloistered nun in Lisieux a Doctor of the Church?
What makes a German priest in Auschwitz volunteer to die in place of a father?
What makes a modern day Italian mother and doctor offer her life for that of her child?
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the game changer for the Church—what will now set the disciples apart from the whole world and what continues to set Christians apart today. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of conversion in man, the third person of the Trinity who opens up the Scriptures and sets our hearts on fire. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live our mission. The Holy Spirit, God’s love, is the difference between the fearful men in the upper room and the on-fire disciples of Christ preaching the Gospel and converting thousands in a single day.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane while also speaking directly to you and me. He prays for something seemingly impossible: “that they may all be one” as the Trinity is one. Christ speaks these words not to frustrate his followers but to call them to a perfection possible through God alone. He utters these precious words knowing he will be sending the Holy Spirit to enable man to do this. The goal is outward. This communion—the call to unity—must lead to mission: “that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them.” God’s love is efficacious. It cannot be contained but must be proclaimed to the world. Only God could deign to give man so dignified and impossible a call. And only God could enable man to fulfill it.
This high priestly prayer of Jesus (which encompasses John 15-17) is one of my favorite parts of Scripture. It is so imbued with Christ’s love for us. The purpose of the Incarnation is about to be revealed. Christ is living his last moments and wants to remind his followers, you and me, why he came: to reveal the Father, to invite man to eternity with Him and to assure man of his lovable-ness in the eyes of God. This love of God is meant to abide in us and reach out from our hearts to the hearts of others. This is only possible through the Eucharist, which physically is Christ’s love present in us and which is made possible through the Holy Spirit. God himself calls us, but God himself equips us…with Himself. It is astounding to what we are called: to holiness, divine love. This is the Christian destiny, but not our inclination. Like the disciples, so quickly do we turn inward. So quickly do we lock the door in fear. God calls us to sanctity, which can only be achieved after an experience of the fire of God’s love. We call this Pentecost, the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. The same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive every Sunday in the form of the Eucharist.
Are we being transformed by this grace or do we remain in the upper room? I challenge you to go back to your own story, your own moments of conversion. When did you fall in love with God? Have you? Only armed with the certainty of being loved will we be able to love others and live out the communion and mission Jesus calls us to. And so we call upon the Holy Spirit, the love of God Himself, who was breathed out upon the disciples at Pentecost in tongues of fire. We ask the Holy Spirit to breathe new life within us, within the Church. We ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the fire of God’s love.
This results in unlocked doors, an empty room.
The disciples emerged, transfigured. Will you?
**This post was originally published on 5/21/2015**
“Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism… It is they who testify to the beauty of life.”
I sit on the second leg of a cross-country plane ride sandwiched between a carseat and a five- year-old boy. My son sleeps deeply with his head on my lap, scrunched up in his seat. In my arms is my six-month-old daughter, whom I attempt to nurse over her brother. I sit in this makeshift human game of tetris, breathe in deeply, and think, hours left in our journey, “what is my life?”
There are many times when I have asked this question throughout the past five and a half years. It’s a question I ask bemusedly from time to time when I have been stretched in such a way that I never thought would be possible—in the moments when I am asked to give creatively, humorously, or abundantly. As you might imagine, motherhood presents those opportunities quite often.
I smirk in these moments because I know these thoughts come from the woman who said as an adolescent that she would rather not have children. Babies were foreign to me and teenagers seemed like purgatory. Why would I want to have kids who would one day likely treat me the way I had treated my parents as a young person—always keeping them on their toes, suggesting another mission trip or school program that happened to be thousands of miles away in third world countries, or simply giving them attitude, ungrateful responses, and callous words?
Why would I want to pour myself out to a being that may not appreciate me or reciprocate the love I gave?
Why would I want children?
My family loves to tease me about and remind me of this fact with each child I have.
Here I find myself, three kids in, packing extra clothes for that one blowout, using a toddler potty in dire instances of emergency, cutting sandwiches into bento lunch boxes, sneaking vegetables into homecooked dinners, and bandaging the latest knee scrape. Here I find myself, convincing toddlers that shoes are a good idea, cleaning the mold from bath toy crevices, trying to keep my cool when the freshly assembled yogurt and granola bowl is tipped over, listening to children’s saint podcast episodes, and reading all the books using all the voices.
How did this happen?
The best answer I can say is grace. God took the young callous woman who had never changed a diaper and made a mother out of me (more on that journey another time), and I found that I loved it.
I remember when our first son was born. I would go to bed after he was asleep and lay there hoping to be needed by him again (I know—crazy right?). I relished the fact that I could provide for him—I could feed, soothe, hold him. It felt like the most important task I had ever been given. Probably because it was and continues to be. As John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women, “For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfil their deepest vocation.”
Today, motherhood takes every ounce of my energy and creativity and patience. There have been many times when I have fallen short of my vocation to love unconditionally, forgive immeasurably, and respond charitably. I lose my patience, raise my voice, and threaten ridiculous consequences. Sometimes I wonder who indeed the child is in a scenario.
But I don’t regret a minute of it. My task, though often behind the scenes, is to help form a civilization of love starting with my domestic church—my home. My task, though often overlooked, is to raise men and women of virtue striving to become saints. My task, though often ignored, is to bring the "genius of women” to society--“placing [myself] at the service of others in..everyday [life].”
I have learned slowly what St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of when he prayed to “give and not count the cost.” As a teenager, I could not fathom the depths of true love and mercy. Years later in graduate school, I heard a professor define mercy as “love that keeps giving in the face of rejection.” What seemed like it was for chumps to my teenage mind now comprises my entire life mission. Mothers, and parents overall, are called to live this mercy profoundly—imaging for the world in a special way the love of God.
And I’m not the only one attempting this kind of supernatural love. I’m surrounded by these kinds of mothers. I’m surrounded by women who give of themselves extraordinarily every day. Mothers who offer to watch my kids for a couple of hours to give me a mental health morning. Mothers who drop off a day of meals when our family is sick. Mothers who leave notes of encouragement for one another. Who call to say hi and just check in. Mothers who remember my birthday. Who encourage me with their witness of authenticity, humility, and courage. Mothers with multiple roles or jobs ,new mothers and seasoned mothers.
So many times, I have looked around and thought not only, “what is my life?” but “what is life, what is society, what is culture, without motherhood?” And not only physical motherhood, but spiritual motherhood, too. Women who bring life into the world in ways as unique as themselves—with their compassion, sensitivity, creativity, and love.
I have been humbled by this vocation time and again.
And so, I look up with a smirk to the Lord, my shoulders wrapped in a nursing cover, finagling an infant and sweating, trying to keep two children asleep in a cramped airplane row, and say not only, “what is my life?” but “thank you for this life.
I remember singing the songs over and over again and thinking, “I can’t wait to teach these to my children.” I envisioned us waking up to greet the day with certain hymns, humming them during chores and tasks, listening to them during meals, or resting our heads with their familiar words in the air. Years later, they are barely known. Yet they resurrect in my heart and on my lips as I wash the dishes after bedtime, exhausted but experiencing a newfound contentedness.
“In the Lord, I’ll be ever thankful. In the Lord, I will rejoice. Look to God, do not be afraid. Lift up your voices the Lord is near. Lift up your voices the Lord is near.”
At some point, the music stopped. I found myself too frazzled by all the other noise to add any more. There were constant questions to be answered like, “How are popsicle sticks made?” and “Is heaven farther than outer space?” There were sibling squabbles to ameliorate, stomping to quiet, odd raspberry noises during meals made by silly little boys to redirect.
Throughout motherhood, I have often found my head and heart pulled in all directions at once – caring deeply for my little family, attempting to be present to each of my children, nourishing them, educating them, creating a clean environment for them, being a good spouse, daughter, sister, parishioner, friend. There have been people to pray for, close by and across oceans. There have been bad habits to overcome. There has been communication to improve on. Works of mercy to be lived. On top of everything, a digital life to participate in and comment on—my own and the lives and reflections and insights and meals of others. How could I be adding more noise? It seemed too much.
But Scripture, especially when sung in hymns, is not noise. And so, I found myself the other day on Ash Wednesday standing at the kitchen sink after bedtime singing.
“In the Lord, I’ll be ever thankful. In the Lord, I will rejoice. Look to God, do not be afraid. Lift up your voices the Lord is near. Lift up your voices the Lord is near.”
In spite of a long day, with dishes still strewn about, sticky counters, and a kitchen floor sprinkled with crumbs, I found myself singing. In spite of the laundry that needed to be moved to the dryer, I found myself singing. In spite of the article I still needed to write and the prayer I still needed to rest in, I found myself singing—with joy and renewed in strength.
This is what I love about hymns and Scripture. They so often speak the words of my heart that I cannot find the strength to compose myself. This is so true especially of the psalms. In this case, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit, who reminded me of the words and melody. And I responded with an act of the will. It was a small moment where I said “yes” to the Lord and an example of how he gave me the strength to carry on in my vocation.
The words never would have erupted from my heart otherwise. Instead of thanksgiving, I could have muttered complaint and grumbled through my late-night tasks. I could have given up and gone to bed, promising to wake up early and take care of things in the morning. I could have ignored the song of my heart.
But as I hummed and sang aloud, I remembered that we were made for praise, for worship. These are so deeply part of our identity and humanity. Creation praises the Creator. When we praise and give thanks, we live out our deepest identity. Selfishness, ego, and pride melt away, leaving humility and a rightly-disposed heart. And that’s something God can work with.
I’ve had so many ideas for how to experience renewal this Lenten season, but that evening, the Lord revealed his plan for me. My yearning to quiet the noise is worthwhile and important. I can do that by eliminating as many distractions as possible and creating boundaries for the information I process and encounter. I can set times to check my email. I can put my phone in the other room during the day. I can set a limit to how much I go online or scroll. But I can also keep singing. My goal for this Lenten season is to remember and rest in my belovedness. And I think praising God and singing in gratitude, small as it may seem, will help me remember.
“In the Lord, I’ll be ever thankful. In the Lord, I will rejoice. Look to God, do not be afraid. Lift up your voices the Lord is near. Lift up your voices the Lord is near.”
“The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” -Exodus 14:14
There is something so comforting about the feeling of warm water. I revel in it every time I absentmindedly wash another dish or hop into the shower. The latter, especially, has become a type of mini-retreat for me. I turn the water to just under scalding and sneak away after my children’s bedtime for what has become a time of personal prayer. Here, there are no diapers to change, no sibling qualms to suppress, no crumbs to pick up, no stains to spray. There is only me, the water, and God.
Sometimes, I choose to put on some favorite songs or hymns. Other times, an insightful podcast will do. But most of the time, I just crave the silence that cascades all around me, washing the ups and the downs, the moments of peace and frustration, away.
It’s not haphazardly that the Church uses water in the sacrament of Baptism. And it’s not coincidental how soothing and renewing a warm bath or shower can be. From the beginning of time, God has used water to make things new.
In the story of Creation, his spirit hovers above the waters and creates order and beauty out of chaos. In the story of Noah, he cleanses the earth of sin through water and creates the world anew—giving humanity a fresh start. In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites pass through the water of the Red Sea from slavery into freedom. And at the Cross, Christ pours out blood and water from his side to give birth to the Church and open the doors of salvation.
It is for these reasons that water is so significant in the sacrament of Baptism. Throughout salvation history, God has used water to create order out of chaos, cleanse us of our sin, lead us from spiritual slavery to freedom, and incorporate us into the Church as his sons and daughters. Baptism does all of these things. It is the first sacrament of initiation and the most life-changing event we will ever encounter—more life-changing even than our birthdays, wedding day, ordination day, or the day we may become parents. The other sacraments, life-changing and beautiful as they are, cannot occur without us first being baptized. As the Catechism explains, “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (1213). Furthermore, Baptism fundamentally changes our identity. St. Paul explains in Ephesians 4:22-24 that in Baptism we “put away the old self of your former way of life…and put on* the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
A few weeks ago, as we entered into the second week of Ordinary Time, we heard another story with water: the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana. In this case, God takes water, an ordinary, natural element, and changes it into something new. Where there was lack, he created abundance.
He continues to do this today -- a thought that gives me hope during trying times. After a week of illness in our immediate family, the loss of an extended family member, elevated sibling rivalry, communication breakdowns, a close friend in the hospital, general isolation, and a stolen credit card (for good measure), I find myself in the bathtub once more—slowly breathing, closing my eyes, and praying: make me new. With ragged emotions, a fried brain, and a heavy heart, I whisper, “Lord, I have nothing to give.”
Like the jars of wine at Cana, I am empty.
How fortunate for us that this is the area of God’s specialty: our weakness. Only weeks ago at Christmas we marveled at this in a special way as God physically entered into our frailty in the frailest of forms—as an infant. Now we hear about this God-man beginning his ministry by providing an extravagant amount of wine at a wedding.
God doesn’t skimp.
And as I breathe in and out slowly in the water, I remember the truth of who God is and what he has done. He can take my chaos and make order and beauty. He can take my slavery to sin and my ego and free me to love. He has incorporated me into his family. And every time I choose to participate in the sacraments and live out my baptismal identity, he makes me new by filling me with his grace.
If you, too, are feeling tired, sick, overwhelmed, or stressed, I invite you to remember in prayer,
“The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”
“Serve the Lord with laughter.”
It’s a quote from a favorite and incredibly popular saint that might surprise us, for the man who spoke these words was so deep, profound, and intentional that we might overlook the fact that he laughed. When we think of St. Padre Pio, we often instead focus on the deep wounds in his hands—the stigmata which he bore for 50 years—or his ability to levitate, speak with his guardian angel, read souls, or bilocate.
Laughter seems too ordinary, perhaps, for sanctity.
And yet, as a practical jokester and manager of mischief, I am drawn to this quote deeply—for I feel a personal apostolate of joy and am experiencing that call more starkly in a season in my life marked by exhaustion, stress, and transition.
Some of my favorite saints and quotes from Scripture focus on the theme of joy. When asked to speak to a group at Theology on Tap several years ago, I chose “The Serious Call to Joy” as my topic. I love Psalm 34, which reads, “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy.” And I often meditate on Christ’s words to his disciples: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Finally, a patron of our family is St. Philip Neri, who was lovingly nicknamed “Apostle of Joy.” My son John Philip was even born on his feast day and shares his name.
When I think of what I want to be called after my death, I can’t think of anything better than that title given to St. Philip Neri (apart from, perhaps, being known as the Patron Saint of Bacon). To me, joy just seems like the natural fruit of holiness—a sure sign of a deep and profound relationship with Christ.
Pope Francis himself has noted this—dedicating an entire encyclical to the joy of the Gospel. He made waves when publishing the encyclical because he said there was no room in evangelization for “sourpusses”—the first time any such term has appeared in a papal document.
He explains, “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.”
I think now of joy perhaps because I’m seeing so little of it in general. The world seems bogged down by burdens greater than we think we can bear. And being 8 months pregnant, I find myself a bit bogged down physically and emotionally, too. But, Pope Francis reminds us that the joy of Christ is possible even in the midst of our suffering and hardship. This does not diminish our suffering, nor does it erase or ignore it, but points out that Christian joy can transcend and transfigure suffering.
So, when I came across Padre Pio’s quote on his feast day earlier this month, it was a powerful reminder of my call to laughter—or at least of my commitment to being an apostle of joy.
Pope Francis continues, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (EG, 6)
The knowledge that I am infinitely loved despite my frailty and littleness, especially in this season of pregnancy, is what beckons me ever onward.
If I think of my life right now, I don’t know how else to keep going other than by laughing. I look down to find crumbs and stains dotting my bulging belly. My goal most days is not to waddle while walking. I find myself stopping mid-sentence because I forgot my train of thought or walking into a room to get something just to leave puzzled, muttering to myself. Turning over in bed practically requires the use of a crane. And I face my staircase each day with the determination of one climbing Mt. Everest.
Humor aside, if we turn to Scripture, we find a love story saturated with calls and invitations to joy. From the Old Testament to the New, God speaks to us throughout salvation history because he wants to restore his creation to be “man fully alive.” For me, someone who is “fully alive” is a person of joy that radiates love wherever they go.
As our world and society continue to navigate times of hardship, transition, and injustice, and as you personally continue to navigate your own crosses (whether they be staircases or not), I invite you to ask St. Padre Pio and other holy men and women to help teach you the secret of joy that comes from “the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father.”
May we all become apostles and ambassadors of joy to a world thirsting for Christ’s love and may we find creative and nourishing ways to serve the Lord with laughter.
As Pope Francis quotes Paul VI saying,
“Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.’”
I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. -Ps 27:13
The three of us sat around the dining table and cried—a toddler, a little boy, and a pregnant mom. A pitiful orchestra unleashed after a season of transition, a day of disobedience, and the moment that broke the camel’s back: a bowl of yogurt.
The toddler had insisted on finishing the yogurt with his hands—which he was told would result in that being his final serving. He looked me in the eye and dipped his little hand in the bowl once more, using it as a makeshift spoon. The yogurt was taken. The wailing ensued.
After what felt like 1,000 moments of defiance that day, after consecutive days of a 6-months-pregnant woman chasing small boys in the summer heat with little rest, and after racking my brains out to creatively navigate sibling rivalry, whining, and toddler grumpiness, I put my head on the table and started crying too.
My 5-year-old joined in for moral support.
After a few minutes of this little concert, I couldn’t help but laugh at the pitiful scene. What must it have looked like to the outside world? Two children and a grown woman competing for the loudest sobs.
My husband came in a few minutes later from working in the yard and took over. “Go and rest,” he said. “I’ll take care of the boys.” I shuffled up the stairs, sniffling in defeat, for a few minutes to reset.
And I knew I needed to see Him. I knew once again I needed to spend time with my Creator and regroup.
Meditating on today’s Psalm from the daily readings reminds us of a beautiful truth: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” Whether or not I felt it in this moment of exhaustion and despair, God’s goodness is always there. He stands ready to bestow on us His strength, His mercy, and His love in the here and now—even in the midst of suffering. The Lord never promised the removal of suffering from our lives (which any of us can note by listening to 30 seconds of the news cycle), but He did promise to sustain us and be with us “even to the end of time.” And it is for this reason that I can join the psalmist in choosing to see “the good things of the Lord” right here and now “in the land of the living.”
This Psalm is particularly close to my heart because it has been turned into a lovely song by the ecumenical Taize community in the Burgundy region of France. The music of the Taize community was instrumental (no pun intended) in my reversion at the end of my college career and became an easy way for me to “pray without ceasing.” I have come to sing the song inspired by Psalm 27 for nearly a decade: “I am sure I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” the chant goes. “Yes, I shall see the goodness of the Lord. Hold firm, trust in the Lord.”
There have been many days in this last trimester of pregnancy when I have had to cling to this belief and hold firm in trusting the Lord. My third pregnancy has brought with it the usual physical demands on the body, as well as the benefit of chasing two toddler boys around in the summer heat. Perhaps I can blame the extra dose of female hormones from my baby girl for the extra emotional complexity I’m experiencing. In my weekly women’s group in which we are reading “This Present Paradise: Spiritual Reflections from Elizabeth of the Trinity,” one of the questions for reflection was “do you ever feel small and insignificant?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “All the time!” I answered, especially now in a season in which I am grappling with my physical and emotional limitations. The independent woman who has always done things on her own, found a creative solution, and seen life in the glass half full perspective can barely walk to the playground, cook a meal, or lift a laundry basket. My easygoing nature has given way to my temper more times than I can count, and my patience is wearing thin.
I’ve realized I can’t do anything during this time but cling to God. I am small. I am insignificant. But I am His. The Lord knit me in my mother’s womb, called me by name, and looked at me and proclaimed: “She is good.” The Lord worked throughout time and space to bring me into the fullness of redemption and sent His only begotten Son to die for me. And He continues to pour out His grace, mercy, and blessings on me through His Church, the sacraments, and my loving friends, family, and community.
So yes, I am one of billions. I can only do so much. And though I may feel small and insignificant and overwhelmed these days, I can still see and experience the goodness of the Lord right here and now—in the land of the living.
Hold firm. Trust in the Lord.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began and so much seemed outside of my control, I turned to prayer as a source of comfort, nourishment, and stability. Favorite Catholic podcasts, powerful homilies, Gospel-inspired music, Scripture reading, and devotions like the Rosary kept me grounded in a higher reality than the confusing, dark, and humbling one I faced.
Perhaps I felt the need to overcompensate in a time when I couldn’t physically receive the Eucharist. The lack of physical Communion meant I searched for spiritual, mental, and emotional communion with the Lord in other ways I found fruitful. In this way, times of trial can bear much fruit—suffering sharpens our eyes to the eternal and true. It is sobering. Surrendered to God, suffering can be the most direct path of conversion and redemption.
As the pandemic continued and I was able to adjust to my new “normal,” my sense of emergency slowly began to fade. I found ways to be comfortable and to continue meeting needs like friendship, worship, and rest. No, everything was not as it had been. Life was still a shadow of its former glory. And yet, I had found ways to cope.
As this trajectory continues with the reopening of society in many ways, I have begrudgingly found that my deep prayer life has slowly faded. Becoming more of a checklist than a time of renewal, my prayer time is filled with distraction and noise.
I’ve come to realize that I would rather fill my time with the noise—albeit good noise—of a Catholic podcast or homily instead of turning everything off and filling my time with God Himself. I’m more comfortable hearing others talk about God and their spiritual insights than talking to God. I’m also more comfortable talking AT God than WITH Him. I have a lot to say, but am not spending time listening or receiving. Finally, once I do settle down to pray, my tasks, chores, and rambling thoughts bombard me. My prayer time is filled with noise and distraction.
Why is it easier for me to scroll through a newsfeed of beautiful images and consumer goods than to thumb through my Rosary meditatively? Why is it easier to respond at all moments to the latest texts in a never-ending group thread than it is to respond at all moments to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Why is my heart more easily captured by the words of the media than by the Word of God?
For perhaps the millionth time, I must face again a thorn in my side that prevents me from greater holiness: noise.
“Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires,” says the demon Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters. He continues, “We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.”
Lately in my life, it seems like Screwtape and his friends are succeeding. I’m having trouble hearing the melodies of Heaven amidst all the noise. And can’t we all admit to knowing this deep down—that much of our lives is an endless stream of noise and distraction threatening to drown out the still small voice inside?
I reflect on these things once again while reading a powerful book and meeting virtually with other women--This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. Elizabeth, through the author Claire Dwyer, is shaking me from my complacency and passing through the distractions to help resurrect my heart. This young French Carmelite nun who lived over a hundred years ago mastered the interior life of prayer and encourages all to do the same—regardless of their vocation in life.
I know I am called to more than what I’m filling myself up with; an hour of scrolling through items on sale or watching a home renovation show will never compare to fifteen minutes of virtual Adoration or a few decades of the Rosary. Any time consecrated to God is not returned unsanctified.
In times of greater stability, comfort, or complacency, I’m also reminded of the Scripture passage about the wise virgins at the gate. We are called to fill our lanterns with oil as we await the Bridegroom so that we will be prepped and ready for His return. I have personally found that my preference for news feeds, shows, or internet browsing fills my lantern with something akin to water rather than oil, and so I am using this season of Ordinary Time to recommit to a quieter, more fruitful prayer life.
Below are a few things I have found helpful for overcoming spiritual distraction and ensuring daily prayer:
As the world continues to reopen in ways that give us hope, I invite you to reflect on your prayer life throughout the pandemic months and set goals for yourself during this season of Ordinary Time. In the end, may we find that the melodies and silences of Heaven triumph over the noise of the world.
Beauty transformed my soul—waking it up from the depths of hibernation and shaking loose the layers of grief, bitterness, and resentment which had grown over time. My heart could not resist the lure of cobblestone streets, golden light cascading down narrow alleyways, or the shadows of the towering cathedral. I felt alive during those months abroad in a way I had hardly known was possible. Afternoon jogs on an ancient Roman bridge. Secret courtyards and hidden gardens overlooking the city. Tucked-away alcoves and incense emanating from ancient chapels. A croissant shop with an expansive menu that dared me to try them all.
I did, by the way, try them all. I had goals like that while I was studying abroad. For the first time in many years, the over-achiever A-student was not living for grades and recognition. She was living for experience, for delight, for beauty. And in this was a newfound freedom. I remember sitting in the cavernous cathedral of Salamanca for long stretches between classes breathing in the music that played softly between services and basking in the magnanimous splendor. Moments like this made me long for something outside and above myself, though I could not precisely say what or why. Only later would I come realize it was the Bridegroom Nicholas Cabasilas writes of in “The Life in Christ” calling me to glimpse the eternal I was created for.
Cabasilas explains, “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."
Beauty wounded me that semester in a delightful way. It awakened my heart with a longing to reach for what transcends human experience: the eternal. My experience living abroad enabled me to delight in creation and life in a way people seldom do or ever get the chance to. And this knowledge humbled me profoundly.
“I do not deserve this,” I thought many times throughout my studies abroad. What had I done to earn the experience of such majesty? The short answer: nothing. It was sheer, unmerited gift. I knew almost immediately who the gift givers were. First: my parents, who had spent their lives providing for their children and modeling servant leadership and sacrificial love. It was because of them and their contributions to my education that I was able to study abroad in the first place. The other gift giver: God himself—the author of beauty.
It was in this way that God revealed himself to me personally and began to bring me back to himself.
The famous line from Dostoevesky, “Beauty will save the world” started for me that fall in Spain. Beauty saved me. God, beauty itself, the author of beauty, created us with a desire to grasp at and experience beauty in order to draw us closer to himself.
Beauty is sheer gift—unnecessary by logical standards and not necessarily functional or efficient. It does more than just appeal to our senses: it awakens our soul. It is meant to draw us outside of ourselves with what Cardinal Ratzinger at the time called a “longing for the Ineffable, [a] readiness for sacrifice, [and lead to] the abandonment of self.” Furthermore, “Beauty does not end with us or with our experience, but calls us outward on mission. Artistic beauty provokes interior emotion, it silently arouses astonishment and leads to an ‘exit from self’, an ecstasy” (Pontifical Council for Culture, Plenary Assembly Final Document-The Way of Beauty. section III.2, The Beauty of the Arts).
This was my experience exactly. I came home a different person—one overflowing with gratitude and humility. It manifested in frequent phone calls to my family, much to their concern. The formerly independent, cold, aloof daughter was calling her parents each week to say thank you and to check in. After ascertaining that my mental health was still sound, my mother offered wise advice to her daughter now bubbling with gratitude: spend 5 to ten minutes a day thanking God.
Beauty was, therefore, God’s entry point into my heart. As a result, I turned back to him in praise and thanksgiving. My friends and family noticed the transformation, the newfound peace that overflowed, the eyes now on the lookout for glimpses of the Creator hidden among his creation.
Beauty resulted in action—slow and gradual, but intentional in my remaining college years. I entered the Campus Ministry office for the first time upon my return stateside. I began making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly and sitting in the beautiful mission church of my alma mater for daily Mass. I attended retreats, began participating in service opportunities, and mentored younger students. Beauty drew me outside of myself and into the other—I had received an unmerited gift and wanted to reciprocate the giving.
As Bishop James D. Conley said at an apologetics conference, “When we begin with beauty, this can then lead to a desire to want to know the truth of the thing that is drawing us, a desire to participate in it. And then the truth can inspire us to do the good, to strive after virtue.”
Almost a decade later, as a mother of small boys, often limited to the sphere of my domestic church, how and where can I experience beauty? How can each of us, in whatever vocation we find ourselves in, find and experience beauty?
After a year in which sin, division, sickness, and isolation threatened to obscure the beauty of life and our world, I believe we are called to reclaim this truth and open our eyes to the beauty and wonder of God once again.
Beauty is not reserved for a special place or time, but can be found all around us: in the newborn’s first cry, the child’s wonder, the cicada’s song, the family dinner, the work done well, the priest’s sacrifice, the nun’s contemplative prayer, the humor of a colleague, the glowing of the stars, the dawn of a new day.
Let us allow ourselves to believe and hope in the glimmers of beauty all around us that reveal a greater beauty we are called to. Let us strive to make the world more beautiful with our kind words and gestures, deeds done with love, hope, and joy, with the way we relish life as a gift and inspire laughter, with the way we live our lives authentically—in such a way that others are drawn to the joy of our Gospel message. Why? So that the world can see and come to know him. The ultimate purpose of beauty is redemption—knowing and experiencing Christ himself.
The then-Cardinal Ratzinger put it so well, “We must learn to see him. If we know him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.”
“Why are you standing there?”
The angels who spoke these words to the astounded disciples now turn to ask us this question today. Perhaps, like the disciples after the Ascension, we too have been stuck looking up at the sky, wondering where Christ is.
Our answers to the angels’ question are probably very legitimate. “I am standing here because of the pandemic, because I lost my job, because of isolation, because of sickness, because of racial discord, because of people’s differences, because I don’t know what else to do.”
In this passage from today’s Gospel reading, which is the same as this upcoming Sunday’s, I remind myself that at least the disciples were looking up. They at least had their eyes fixed on Christ. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But what God wants to convey through the angels after Jesus’ Ascension is that just seeing Christ or believing in him is not enough. A relationship with Christ results not in paralysis, but in action.
“You will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells his disciples moments before he ascends to the Father.
And it is by living out our relationship with Christ as witnesses that the world comes to know him and that our faith comes alive. Witnessing to our faith and accompanying others on their faith journeys shake us out of our paralysis and help us overcome our fear. Jesus is not conveying that hardship, suffering, or unrest will be absent from our lives, but that these no longer have the power to paralyze and trap us. His Resurrection has changed the narrative. And as the Easter season comes to a close, Jesus is calling us not only to believe in him, but to act— to have our lives transformed by the knowledge of the Resurrection and to live boldly and faithfully as a result.
At this point, however, the disciples are still focused on earthly things. Just before Jesus’ Ascension, they ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Many of us have similar questions.
“Lord, at this time will I get my job promotion? As this time, will my addiction be healed? At this time, will the pandemic end? At this time, will our family be reconciled?”
These are valid, important questions of the human heart. Questions that long for answers, for resolutions, for miracles.
Jesus’ response seems mystifying and even unrelated:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”
While the disciples are still caught focusing on the restoration of Israel and victory over their oppressors, Christ promises more. So much more, in fact, that they are unable to grasp it without the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on the Feast of Pentecost on May 23rd.
It is why Jesus chose to ascend at this time. He had spent 40 days teaching and opening the Scriptures to his disciples after his Resurrection, but they still could only fathom human goals and objectives. Jesus knows his ministry has come to an end and that a new chapter of the Church will begin with the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
After he answers them, Jesus compels his disciples to look up to the heavens as he begins to ascend to the Father. He is physically showing them the needed disposition of their hearts and minds in order to receive the Holy Spirit: they should be considering heavenly things and a heavenly goal.
But then, moments later, they are startled to hear: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
It can be tempting at times to separate ourselves from the reality of the here and now by over-spiritualizing things or being preoccupied with the past or future. The disciples are left looking up (very understandably), but this looking up and clinging to Jesus in his physical form distracts them from the action to which he has called and chosen them: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
This balance between living in the world but not of it can be difficult to grasp and practice.
It’s important first to consider where you find yourself today. Are you asking the Lord to restore the kingdom to Israel? Are you standing looking at the sky? Many of us are somewhere in between.
Below are 6 practices that help ground me in Christ and deepen my ability to witness to his love:
By considering these practices, it is my hope that, renewed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will enter into Ordinary Time ready to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. Christ calls us each to so much more than simply remain standing.
For more resources on living as missionary disciples, please click here.
“Have you seen Him?”
The question is uttered among the bewildered Apostles and echoes out to us this Easter season.
In the Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday, Thomas hadn’t seen him. Thomas didn’t believe the men who had become his brothers when they told him about the resurrected Christ. Not even the details of his wounds swayed him.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” he says.
Believing meant vulnerability. It meant more heartbreak. The Man for whom Thomas and the others had left everything, the Teacher who had sent them two by two to preach and heal, the Master who had washed their feet and fed thousands with a few loaves and fish was gone—betrayed, tortured, killed.
It was easier not to believe. It was easier to stay hidden away in the Upper Room with a heart as locked up as the doors. It was easier to go back to what they knew. Even Peter resumed fishing.
Today as we continue in the third week of Easter, I ask you what the disciples likely asked each other in those first days:
Have you seen Him?
We prepared for Easter throughout 40 days with prayers, fasting, and almsgiving. We kept vigil with Jesus on Holy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane and in Caiaphas’s prison. We shuddered at His scourging, covered our ears to the mocking, and knelt in front of Him at the foot of the Cross. We waited in silence as the tomb was closed and we entered into Holy Saturday. Then, we celebrated His rising on the third day.
But as we continue in the Easter season, can we truly say we have seen Him? Have we experienced Easter joy or are we locked in the Upper Room or back to fishing?
Grief, anger, passivity, media consumption, alcohol, food, loneliness—all of these could be our Upper Rooms. All of these could be means of locking our hearts to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
But what does Jesus do in response to our locked hearts?
He shows up. He extends His wounded hands. He breathes peace.
This is what this fifty-day Easter season is all about: encountering the Risen Lord. Seeing Him. Touching His wounds. Sharing a meal with Him. Allowing Him to open the Scriptures to us and reveal God’s plan of salvation—even in the here and now, even in our own lives.
Our fasting, grieving, and sighing is over. Our desert is over. But sometimes entering into the light, joy, and beauty of the Easter season can seem jarring after all we’ve worked on spiritually or given up. Even more so, we look at the world and may not hear the Easter song. We see humanity still trapped by sin, death, and division.
Perhaps our hearts, like Thomas’s and the other disciples’, are broken. Perhaps after a year of fear, isolation, confusion, and division, it feels easier to lock the doors than to believe. Believing requires faith, hope, vulnerability. It requires opening yourself to the possibility of another heartbreak. And it requires letting go.
And so, Thomas says, “I will not believe.”
And we may say, “I cannot believe.”
But Christ’s wounds change everything.
They show that suffering can be redeemed. That our scars, while part of our story, are not the end. That death has been humbled, and that glory and resurrection await us.
Over these next few weeks of Easter, as we prepare to celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I invite you to spend time with the disciples as they sit once again at the feet of Christ. Jesus spends 40 days with them—the same length of time as the Lenten season—instructing them, encouraging them, accompanying them. Do not let this most holy of liturgical seasons end on Easter Sunday. I invite you today and every day to encounter the Risen Lord. Spend time with His wounds. Show Him your own. Allow His words to penetrate your heart: “Peace be with you.”
Only then can the doors of our hearts be unlocked.
Only then can our wounds be transfigured.
Only then can we fall to our knees and proclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Click here for more ideas to cultivate Easter joy.
“O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”-Ez. 37:12-13
“Come out!” The words reverberate and resound in the stench-filled tomb. We too need to hear the words proclaimed to the dead man as we approach the end of our Lenten journeys.
Lent has been our own time of preparing for resurrection—abstaining from anything that deadens us to the voice of Christ inviting us to the fullness of life. For the past few weeks, we have participated in spiritual practices that renew and refresh our spirits. We’ve journeyed with Jesus in our own deserts. And the culmination of this journey is about to occur in only a couple more weeks. Lazarus’ resurrection precedes the Resurrection that changes everything. It is a glimpse of what awaits us after death.
The once rotting man stumbles out of the dark and into the light of Christ—his dear friend. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, do not even say his name when telling Jesus of his illness, but identify him simply as “the one you love.”
The one you love…What a beautiful way to be identified. I think about this for a moment before realizing this is what we are all called to and all invited to: to be the ones Christ loves. This short phrase is our deepest identity as baptized sons and daughters. We are the ones He loves. And as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter Sunday, this reality will be fully demonstrated: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).
Jesus will tell us on Good Friday, embracing us with arms wide open on the Cross, “you are the one I love.”
As a result of this great gift, Christ can call us to resurrection—not only after death, but in the here and now. So many realities in our world today threaten to numb us from this true reality. Perhaps we find ourselves in Mary’s shoes. When she and her sister hear of Jesus’ coming, Martha runs to meet Him, but Mary stays where she is. Was hope dead within her? Was she too consumed with her grief to dare to have faith? Did death have the last word?
Perhaps many of us feel the same way: disillusioned. Tired. Grieving. Doubtful.
But Mary’s sister, Martha, shows us another way. Her path leads to the resurrection of her heart in the here and now. In today’s Gospel, the sisters seem to have traded places. Today, it is Martha who chooses the better part. She runs to meet Christ at the moment she hears of His coming. In spite of any doubt, fear, disillusion, or grief—she acts in hope. And this leap of faith is what enables her to give Jesus her all and say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (emphasis added) (John 11:22)
In these words, I hear her say, “Lord, I am disappointed. I am grieving. My brother has died and you were not here. Had you been here, he would have lived. But I give this desire to you. I trust in you. Let it be done according to God’s word.” This, in a sense, can be Martha’s fiat. Her surrendered disposition, mixed with faith, trust, and hope, is what then enables her to confirm, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha has joined the woman at the well and the Apostle Peter in confirming Christ’s identity as the Messiah. She has “come out” of her own tomb.
This past calendar year has likely felt like a tomb for many of us. Perhaps we feel most like the seemingly abandoned Lazarus languishing in the dark. “Where were you, Jesus?” we may ask with Mary and Martha. “Do you not care that the one you love is suffering?”
Jesus does more than care. It is so comforting to read that “Jesus wept” at the knowledge of Lazarus’ death and became greatly perturbed. I can imagine the same, if not a greater, reaction at the death of his earthly father, Joseph. Christ weeps at our suffering. The Creator shudders to see His creation perish. This is not what we were made for. And in His humanity, Christ weeps with us and for us.
But not only will the Son of God weep for His loved ones; He will die for them in just a few days. It is not enough for Him to acknowledge our suffering—He takes it on. He transforms it. He transfigures it. He resurrects it.
As we approach the end of the Lenten season, let us not stay put with Mary but run out with hope like Martha. I pray this Easter Sunday to say firmly with her, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
We are the ones whom He loves. Let us spend some time relishing, resting, and growing in this identity in the remainder of the Lenten season and beyond. In these final weeks of Lent, let us continue to “come out” of our tombs with our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving so that we may not stumble as Lazarus did but run out towards Him who calls our name.
Let us come out into the light.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, please click here.
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A lyric of one of my favorite Advent hymns, “O Holy Night,” shares the simple yet profound posture in which we are called to enter into the Advent and Christmas seasons: on our knees.
Perhaps many of us already find ourselves there—either out of reverence or sheer exhaustion. For many, the year 2020 will forever be overshadowed by confusion, darkness, anxiety, fear or stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps you, like me, have just wanted it all to be over. We may feel tired of the masks, the canceled events, the physical distance from our friends and loved ones, uncertain job security, or the fear for our health and for those around us. Our hands are raw from sanitizer. Our hearts are raw from stress and confusion. Pandemic fatigue is real.
Is this exhaustion, stress, and confusion similar to what the Jewish people felt as they traversed to their hometowns for Caesar Augustus’ census two thousand years ago?
“Where is the Savior foretold by the prophets?” they must have thought. “Where is the king who would overthrow all oppressors and establish God’s kingdom forever? Where is God? And why does he seem silent?”
For God’s Chosen People, continued faith and hope must have been a hard choice.
For God’s chosen people, continued faith and hope is a hard choice.
And it is precisely when we are caught up in our feelings of negativity, sadness, or desolation that we fail to see God at work. Too consumed by looking inward, we forget to look up and see the star. It is precisely for this reason that hardly anyone attended the most important event in all of human history: the birth of the Savior of the World, a child born quietly in the recesses of Bethlehem.
So where do we find ourselves? Are we grumbling that God has not done enough to fix our broken situation? Are we stressed about the logistics to get our family to the census? Are we awaiting our own version of the Messiah, making our own golden calves? Do we look back longingly, preferring the slavery of Egypt to the wilderness? Or have we abandoned our relationship with God altogether?
Finally, are we on our knees?
Mary models this posture with her very life. I cannot help but imagine that she received the news from the Angel Gabriel on her knees. “How can this be?” she asked, greatly troubled at what was said in the midst of the holy and miraculous encounter. Her fiat was only possible because of her posture of humility. This receptivity is what every Christian is called to emulate.
This posture in the presence of God is also important because kneeling is a physical reminder of reality: God is God, and we are not. Put another way, God is Creator, we are created. By kneeling in prayer, we enter into a dialogue with God in a posture of humility that reflects the true order of reality. Kneeling is also a posture of vulnerability that manifests our littleness before a great God.
This littleness is not belittling, but reveals our true dignity. We have the courage to kneel because, in a sense, God knelt first. As St. Paul reminds us, “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself” (Phil 2:7). How can we then fear to approach such a gentle and humble Savior?
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are not in control. Mary experienced this too. She did not anticipate a virgin birth, losing her Son for three days, or watching her Son’s crucifixion. This lack of human control is the truth regardless, but it’s a reality often obscured by our schedules, appointments, bank accounts, occupations, or social events. And when many of these good things have been stripped from our day-to-day lives, we are forced to reckon with our vulnerability. We are reminded that, ultimately, our Good Father holds us and our world in existence. We fall to our knees.
Let us therefore approach Him lovingly this Christmas in this humble posture. Let us honor and reverence Him by offering to the Christ-child all our insecurities, fears, or limitations.
I invite you to offer each sacrifice, hardship, or suffering as a piece of straw to warm the Christ-child this season. To look for the guiding star each day that leads us to Bethlehem. To name throughout the day what you are thankful for rather than succumb to grumbling. To spend some time reading Scripture, attending a Mass virtually or in person, sharing food or gifts with the needy, or singing an Advent hymn. To open our hearts to God’s way of doing things rather than grasping for control on our own. To fall on your knees.
This season, may we join the shepherds, the wise men, and all the angels and saints in this humble posture filled with breathless hope, joy, and excitement to adore Christ the Lord, the newborn King, the answer to each prayer, the fulfillment of all desire.
And may we prepare a full, warm manger for the Christ-child to rest in on Christmas Day.
Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship - Top Quotes from Pope Francis' Latest EncyclicalRead Now
On the vigil of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint who influenced the choosing of Pope Francis’s papal name, Pope Francis released the encyclical Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship. Beginning with the example of St. Francis himself and continuing with the parable of the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis calls the world once again to consider the common good and to strive for unity based on fraternal charity. In doing so, he reminds humanity of an important truth: that we belong to one another.
In this blog series, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quotes from the pope’s latest encyclical. May they bring you peace, hope, and joy as we continue to grow and adapt in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our world.
“Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (FT, 8)
Today I believe that many of us have forgotten to dream. We are mired down with anxiety, isolation, pandemic fatigue, stress, financial and political uncertainty, or disillusionment. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis reminds us to dream and to hope. There is room for each person at God’s table. Each person brings their own gifts, talents, knowledge, expertise, experiences, and self to the world. Rather than reject our differences, it is important to acknowledge and even celebrate the richness in our human diversity. We are many parts, but one body. Let us celebrate our humanity and practice dreaming once again—of unity, of peace, of justice, of truth, of love.
“Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think” (FT, 20).
As several incidents within the United States have reminded our nation once more, racism is a sin which directly contradicts the truth that all people are born with equal dignity in the image and likeness of God. The sin of racism continues to be present in our world, and eliminating it involves the intentional work and learning of each person. This process includes listening to other’s stories and journeys, learning about and from history, conducting a personal examination of conscience, and intentional action to change systems and structures of racism. Pope Francis reminds us that racism is intolerable, not only among Catholics, but among mankind as a whole.
“True, a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together” (FT, 32)
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on the way we live, times of hardship also remind us of what’s important. Often, we re-focus on our priorities because we are reminded not to take them for granted. Many turn to faith, family, and community and are more likely to help those who are less fortunate. Practicing gratitude is an essential component of not only surviving but thriving in times of hardship. Pope Francis points out that tragedies such as COVID-19 can bring humanity together in a common bond of fraternity. Let us turn outward during this time and use our talents and resources to bring joy, love, and hope to others.
“We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes. Let us take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies. Today we have a great opportunity to express our innate sense of fraternity, to be Good Samaritans who bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment” (FT, 77)
Co-responsibility is an important theme at the Catholic Apostolate Center that has been given even greater attention in the Church today. It involves collaboration from the beginning and values the important contributions each person brings to the Church and world. St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, understood that the Church cannot thrive and spread the Gospel without the active participation of the clergy, religious, and laity. Today, Pope Francis reminds us that we all have a role to play in the renewal of the Church and world. This begins when we can accompany our brothers and sisters, stand in solidarity with those who are hurting, and bring them the joy of the Gospel.
“Solidarity finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others” (FT, 115)
Charity comes alive in works, just as St. Paul says, “faith without works is dead.” The Gospel is lived today through our actions—an understanding promoted in Catholic Social Teaching and exemplified through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It is one thing to express solidarity with our brothers and sisters, but a very different thing to walk alongside and serve them. Pope Francis is calling us to both. As we are reminded in Gaudium et Spes, “Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (24).
“Nor can we fail to mention that seeking and pursuing the good of others and of the entire human family also implies helping individuals and societies to mature in the moral values that foster integral human development...Even more, it suggests a striving for excellence and what is best for others, their growth in maturity and health, the cultivation of values and not simply material wellbeing. A similar expression exists in Latin: benevolentia. This is an attitude that ‘wills the good’ of others; it bespeaks a yearning for goodness, an inclination towards all that is fine and excellent, a desire to fill the lives of others with what is beautiful, sublime and edifying” (FT, 112)
In the Christian worldview, politics, economics, culture and society must be built and exist for the common good. They are man-made structures designed to serve this purpose. In pursuing the common good, we aim to create a society in which mankind can flourish as a result of respect for every person’s inherent dignity. As St. Thomas Aquinas stated, “Love wills the good of the other.” Pope Francis echoes this truth and reminds us that willing this good is comprehensive: we must care about one another’s spiritual well-being as well as our physical well-being. When man’s fundamental needs are met—when he is cherished, nurtured, respected, fed, and rested—he is better able to “fill the lives of others with what is beautiful, sublime and edifying.” He is able to reach out and better experience and rest in the divine.
To learn more about Fratelli Tutti, please click here.