A few weeks ago, my Bible study group was discussing the topics of suffering, healing, and the lies that we tell ourselves when afflicted by painful situations. Lies like "I am unloved, unwanted or alone," that make us feel hopeless, despairing or confused. Lies like "God has abandoned me in this situation," which lead us to distrust in the Father's goodness. We agreed that it is often easier to believe lies like these because we are already in a position of pain and in some sense they allow us run from or numb ourselves from the situation that caused the original pain.
The leader of my Bible study, a beautiful mother of eight children, then compared this coping mechanism to giving birth. She explained to us that throughout her eight deliveries with her children she has come to grow in her capacity to lean into the contractions she experiences. She went on to say that the more she is able to relax and breathe through the contraction, the faster and more apt her body is able to do what it is called to do. “I don’t want to waste my contraction,” she said. Women tend to fight their contractions in labor (understandably in pain), but the tensing of the body prevents the contraction from doing what it is meant to do. She explained that leaning into the contraction is a lot like leaning into the suffering that God calls us to.
Today, on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, I find myself reflecting on what Thomas is most known for, his “doubting” ways. Thomas’s human response to seeing the Resurrected Lord is one with which I resonates with me deeply. Jesus gently allowing Thomas to put his finger in his side is a part of the Gospel that constantly baffles me – the compassion and understanding of Jesus in that moment! Thomas’ wound of doubt is healed by Jesus’ wounded side. With the Lord’s guidance, he leans into the “contraction” of his own suffering by allowing himself to experience in a limited way the suffering of Christ. With the Lord’s gentle hand leading him, Thomas leaves his doubt and finds faith and joy!
Have you been fleeing or numbing yourself from a painful situation of suffering? What are the “contractions” of your life that the Lord wants to lead you into? What parts of your life need the gentle hand of Christ? Today, let us ask St. Thomas to pray for us and let us ask for the grace to lean into our own pain and into the Lord’s side so that we too might respond, “My Lord and my God!”
“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely.” St. Catherine of Sienna
“Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ just as travelers on a staff when they begin a long journey.” St. Anthony of Padua
But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." -John 20:25
During this beautiful liturgical season of rejoicing in the Resurrection of Our Lord, I always find this particular passage about “Doubting Thomas” extremely important to stop and reflect upon. After weeks and weeks experiencing the desert of Lent, the Passion on Good Friday, and the somber waiting on Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Father’s goodness, His promise fulfilled, His Son glorified on Easter Sunday! Praise Him, for “by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
On the Sunday when the Gospel passage about Thomas is proclaimed, I tend to sympathize with the “doubting” disciple. Thomas was not there the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples. I resonate with Thomas’s human response of needing to touch the side of the Lord in order to believe.
What strikes me about Thomas is his initial understanding that the Resurrected Lord would have His wounds. Why did Thomas believe the Lord in His glory would still be wounded? I find myself thinking of the Lord in His glorified body as “perfect,” without blemish, without the aftermath of pain, with every scar from Good Friday completely gone. Thomas, however, needed to see evidence from the Lord’s action on Friday for the sake of belief. Thomas came to know the Risen Lord through His wounds.
Do you fall into the same temptation that I do, that resurrection means pain and suffering will be completely dispelled and erased, as if it never happened? This is not how the Lord comes in His glory. Jesus returns with His wounds, glorified, resurrected, transfigured. In fact, Jesus’ wounds were necessary for the increasing of faith for His disciples. Christ takes on the burden of our sins in order to overcome them. He conquers man’s greatest foe, death itself, and invites us to eternal life. The scars and wounds Christ shows Thomas give testament to this truth. The pain of Good Friday brings the sweetness in the joy of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday and thereafter.
How does this apply to our lives? Are you struggling with something you see little hope in? Do you find yourself asking the Lord for a different cross? Just as Jesus’ wounds and sufferings are glorified, so shall ours be if we turn them over to God. We can be sure then that our own struggles, crosses, and sufferings will be brought to glory, not forgotten, but resurrected. Our particular areas of pain can bring others to the glory of Jesus Christ! Let us ask St. Thomas to help our unbelief and truly live in the hope of the Resurrection.
“Each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” –St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris
Question for Reflection: How can the story of “Doubting Thomas” increase your faith? Have there been times in your life when you, too, need to see in order to believe?
Hope lives! It might seem to be a strange phrase at first, but if we replace the word “hope” with “Jesus” or “Christ,” then it immediately makes sense to a believer in the Resurrection. The 50-day Easter season is a celebration not simply of an event that happened in the past, but is also a season filled with the hope that comes from belief in the Risen One, Jesus Christ.
What is this hope? It is the hope that all believers in Christ have that they will rise with him. It is the hope of salvation that comes through him. It is the hope that no matter the suffering, pain, challenge, and difficulty that is encountered in life, our lives as Christians belong to Christ. Our lives are meant to serve him, rather than self-serve—to do his mission, rather than our own. None of this is easy; it requires hope in the One who lives! As Pope Francis tells us, “He who hopes, hopes one day to hear these words: come to me my brother, come to me my sister, for the whole of eternity.”
The way to the hope of the Resurrection is the way of the Cross. Only through the painful experience of Good Friday do we come to Easter joy and hope. Most of us want to avoid pain as much as we can. However, I have learned the most and deepened my faith, trust, and hope, as well as become more loving and compassionate, as a result of painful, cross-like experiences. Some will say that suffering is meant to test us or is sent by God. Instead, I prefer to believe as my mother does, and say, “Stuff happens.”
Indeed, it does. Suffering happens as a consequence of personal sin, the sins of others, and also the action of evil. What do we do when these things happen? Do we curl up into a fetal position in the corner of a room and wait for life to end? No, as I learned well during my years at a Pallottine shrine dedicated to the patron saint of hopeless cases, St. Jude. The pilgrims who came there taught me by their lives and their joy that even in our suffering, in our experiences of the Cross, we strengthen our belief that hope lives. Christ calls us to continue moving forward in life and in love, sharing what we have found in him with all those we encounter.
As the Father raised the Son on that first Easter, God still provides for us today. He saves us from our sins and gives us hope. We are called to see with the eyes of faith in Christ, feel the love of Christ, and be filled in our hearts with the hope of Christ – a hope that lives now and forever.
Question for Reflection: How can you spread the hope of the Easter season to your friends, family, or community?
“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle . . .” I can distinctly remember hearing these words for the first time when I was at daily Mass several years ago. My first thought was, “That’s a little intense for a Tuesday!” quickly followed by, “I wonder what prayer that is?” Little did I know that years down the line that startlingly intense prayer would become my go-to in times of trouble.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Archangels – Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael. Although they all have different roles to play in the course of salvation history, all three serve as constant reminders of God’s providence and majesty. St. Michael, in a particular way, is our “heavenly help” in this world that is so riddled with pain and evil.
When invoked, St. Michael not only protects us from our daily struggles with sin and evil, but by the power of God, he also allows us to more effectively share the Gospel of life. When invoked, he strengthens our ability and freedom to conquer sin and temptation, enabling us to more effectively share the good news of Christ. In this prayer – and St. Michael’s intercession – I have found great comfort in my daily life. I pray it after Mass when I know a loved one is fighting a particularly difficult battle, and most especially when I’m frightened.
When consecrating the Vatican to St. Michael the Archangel in 2013, Pope Francis said, “St. Michael wins because in him, there is the God who acts . . . Though the devil always tries to disfigure the face of the Archangel and that of humanity, God is stronger, it is His victory and His salvation that is offered to all men. We are not alone on the journey or in the trials of life. ”
One only has to turn on the news for 30 seconds to see that our brothers and sisters, both domestically and across the globe, are hurting – hurting for authentic love, for peace, and for a purpose greater than the world offers. And not only is the world hurting and disfigured, we are in a battle – a battle between good and evil, authentic truth and moral relativism, selflessness and selfishness.
Although the battle is difficult, the reality for Christians is that we know the war has already been won. We have victory in Christ – victory in His cross, victory in His triumph over death, and victory in the promise of eternal life. This victory is ours not only to claim, but also to live and share. But we can’t do it alone. Let us call upon St. Michael – and one another – to fight these battles together.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!
August 27th marks the feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Monica spent seventeen years praying for the conversion of her son, whose reputation for hedonism and religious skepticism preceded him. St. Monica is said to have wept for her son Augustine every night. Her devotion to him is an example of what it means to love unconditionally, even when it hurts. As a new mother, I have spent many hours reflecting on the mystery of unconditional love and have recorded some of my thoughts below. Let us turn to St. Monica when our hearts are weak and we need help loving as God calls us to love. St. Monica, pray for us.
“This is my body, which will be given for you” (Luke 22:19).
Christ’s words at the Last Supper never fully resonated with me until I became a mother. From the moment of her conception, I gave up my body to my daughter. Baby books, friends, and other women warned me of the physical tolls of pregnancy--the aches and pains, the nausea, the swollen feet, the labor--but I was unprepared for the physical sacrifices afterward. My body is not my own. It is at service to a squirmy, snorty, sweaty being who doesn’t even realize how needy she is. And yet, this physical sacrifice is good and necessary. It has helped me to remember that God wants all of us. Not just our souls and intellects, but our bodies too.
I am an intellectual person by nature and often use my love of study to learn about God. But learning about God and knowing God are not the same thing. Just like reading about how to ride a bike and actually climbing up on the seat are not the same. It is easy for me to pick up another historical commentary on the gospels and feel like I am improving my relationship with God. It’s hard to deny myself a second cup of coffee. It’s hard to place my phone in another room and walk away. It’s hard to lower myself onto my knees to pray, or even to sustain prayer for longer than a minute. These bodily actions are hard because they require sacrifice. And yet, I suspect the sacrifices I make for God are more important to him than whether I know if Jesus was born in cave or a wooden stable.
Motherhood, too, is a bodily commitment and one that can be difficult to embrace with joy. I sacrifice my body in a small way every time I stop what I am doing to nurse my baby, or to get down on my knees and engage her in yet another game of “rub the belly, rub the belly”. Yet, as I commit to these physical tasks, I hope I also die to self a little more each day. With each physical act, with each twinge between the shoulder blades, I remind myself, that--in a much bigger way--this is what Jesus did for me on the cross.
Ironically, it actually was a book that helped me to understand the beauty of bodily sacrifice. No, it wasn’t the Bible, or Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, it was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. The gist of the story is that a tree continues to give and give to a boy throughout the boy's life to make him happy. First she gives him her apples so the boy can sell them for pocket money, then she gives him her branches so that he can build a house, then her trunk so that he can build a canoe. Eventually the tree is reduced to a stump and the boy hasn’t visited her in years. And yet the refrain after each gift is, “And the tree was happy.” By the end of the book, my husband found me lying on my back crying while my daughter kicked her feet unconcernedly next to me. Our conversation went as follows:
“I told you not to read that book!”
“It’s just so stupid! The boy is so ungrateful! The tree gave him everything and he never even said thank you. She literally let him cut down her trunk for him. It’s not fair.”
“Would you do that for Elizabeth?”
My answer was immediate. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s what it means to love unconditionally. And the craziest part is that my bodily sacrifices to Elizabeth don’t even compare to Christ’s sacrifice for me.
Truly, to be loved by Christ is a humbling thing.
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In my 2nd grade class, the students are preparing to celebrate First Eucharist. They are busy learning all they can about their Catholic faith, the parts of the Mass, prayers and responses, forgiveness and preparing their hearts, and most of all: about the Eucharist itself. They are beginning to understand the purpose behind the Mass and why we say certain responses and kneel or genuflect at particular times. My class was recently interviewed by a couple of 8th graders about expectations they have for receiving First Communion. Some responses were priceless, such as:
“I’m nervous to forget to say, AMEN” and “I’m afraid to drop the host.”
There were more practical answers such as: “I am excited to eat in church” and “I’m nervous to have 5,000 eyes on me!”
My students are still learning, and during this time of preparation, I want to be sure they understand how they can reach intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist.
With the Easter Triduum beginning on Thursday at the Last Supper, there is no better time than now to focus on the Eucharist. In both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. Luke 22:19 says, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” In Matthew 26:27-29, the Lord says something similar when he blesses the cup saying, “...and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We learn and believe that in this highest moment of Mass, in transubstantiation, the bread and wine transform into the Body and Blood of Christ. As I teach my students about the Eucharist, this consecration is the pinnacle moment that they must learn about and understand.The consecration in the context of the Last Supper is something we can all look forward to on Thursday.
As Lent draws to a close and the Triduum begins, how prepared are we? My class’s preparation includes the preparation of their hearts through reconciliation. We go to confession as a class at the beginning of Lent, relieving ourselves of the pain and sins we have weighing us down. As we draw nearer to Easter, it is through this penance that we can see God more clearly, grow in intimacy with him, and be ready to receive Christ in the Eucharist. I invite you to consider going to confession before Easter.
Although my 2nd graders will continue to learn about their faith and the Eucharist throughout their whole lives, my hope is to prepare them well-enough to make their First Communion as meaningful as possible. Part of this preparation is encouraging personal prayer for these youngsters. As a class, we are beginning to use more and more prayers for specific times in the day. We pray in gratitude or practice intercession.
Loyola Press offers an Ignatian Examen for reflection each day that has a variety of topics and purposes. They are all calming and peaceful, with background music and an ending prayer.
The Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Glory Be help us learn more about how Jesus taught us to pray and other traditional Catholic prayers to know by heart.
We also have personal prayer, taking quiet time to talk to God and ask him for help or to give strength to someone in pain.
Finally, we will be learning a Communion prayer as we get closer to April and May to prepare the class to receive Christ for the first time.
My Communion Prayer
Dear God, I know that You give me many gifts.
The gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ in Holy Communion
is the greatest of all. How can I ever thank You
enough for this special gift?
At Mass we are called to be like Jesus, by loving
and serving one another in the world.
As I become more like Him, please continue to
help me. Show me the places and ways that
I can bring Your love, kindness, and peace
in my family,
in my neighborhood,
in my community,
with my friends.
(Moment of silent reflection)
Teaching 2nd grade religion has taught me more about my faith than I ever thought was possible. Now, I urge you to use these last few days of Lent and the Triduum to use prayer and penance to grow in closeness to God through the Eucharist. Like one of my students said, “I can’t wait to get communion because then I’m totally part of Mass and I don’t have to just be blessed with my arms crossed.”