Archive | March 2015

It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Easter?

I love Christmas. I will confess that up until last year I listened to Christmas music year round. I can’t get enough of Christmas clearance sales at Hobby Lobby or beautiful ornaments of the nativity. I’m convinced there are few things more beautiful than the gentle intimate depictions of the nativity like this one:

nativity

There is something calming watching the gentle loving eyes of our Blessed Mother gaze upon her Lord and son Jesus. What amazement she must have had through this whole process from Annunciation and Incarnation to the Nativity. How did it feel to have the first kicks of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit? To hear the words of her cousin Elizabeth at her arrival? To hold her Lord in her arms?

Did you know that Mary didn’t feel birth pangs? How awesome is that?! According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Jesus passed through Mary as light passes through a pane of glass. He came peacefully and without destruction to her body. No doubt Mary had been around other births and knew how unusual hers was. I know if I had no pain and suddenly had a child before me I would gaze in wonder at his appearance just as she had.

On top of this there is the Incarnation itself. This small infant was infinite in power and wisdom. He existed at the beginning of time in full union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet, He did not deem an elaborate entrance appropriate for his ministry on earth. Here the infinite and the finite meet. At the moment of the Incarnation the earth should have quaked, rocks shaken, clouds parted and all creation come alive with the realization of the radical event taking place. Yet, he entered quietly. Humbly. In the smallest most helpless form completely dependent on his earthly parents.

This spectacularly quiet event grants us peace. As His ministry progresses towards the cross the Passion seems to shred this peaceful bubble. The Annunciation for the birth of Christ was given by an angel intimately involved in some of the greatest times of Israel’s history. Countering this is the various people, such as the woman’s anointing with fine oil upon Jesus prior to His Passion. There is no grand proclamation but a humble messenger to hint at the coming events.

In the Nativity, Christ passed through Mary painlessly without any damage being caused to her physical body. Now, Christ passes through this world painfully, bearing His pain for souls in His wounds. His elaborate exit from this world takes on a different appearance than one would expect. He easily could have shown the glory that was seen at the Transfiguration, called down legions of angels and escaped on a cloud into the heavens while claiming His heavenly throne without incurring a single scratch.

Instead, He quietly passes the people, bloody, suffering and on the brink of death. Most do not recognize this man as their Lord and those that do gaze upon Him with sorrowful amazement and wonder. His only comfort comes from a veil held out to wipe his face, a shared gaze with His mother and knowledge that in three days His mission will be complete.

Yet, the climax begins at His passing from this world to the next. The pangs that were absence in His entrance are now made present when the earth responds to the departure of the Incarnate Word from this world. God uses the very earth to emphasize His presence that day which is something to be noted. The earth quakes, the sun darkens, the Temple veil is torn, the stone is rolled away from the tomb. This alone indicates a greater event has just happened. God is using the very earth to get the attention of men. (This  story continues at every Mass with incense, bells, etc. Though the windows should shake at every consecration the church remains in tact, the people still and the sanctuary at peace.)

Tintoretto's crucifixion

(Painting by, Tintoretto in 1565. It is located in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco)

These signs come from a God who passed Elijah in a whisper and sat upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in silence and the form of a cloud. At pivotal times like Jericho, He made His presence known through the earthquake. In Egypt it was the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. God marks great victories and defeats of Israel with earthly signs. It is fitting then that at the death of Christ the earth is used. In order to reach the Resurrection Christ must first enter into bodily death. Like anything that has to be conquered, it must be entered into. If a general is to take a land He must enter it and emerge on the other side victorious. It is the same with death. In order to conquer it Christ must enter into it.

Just as the Incarnation when Jesus entered the world he did so quietly and after the message of an angel. So now, at His Resurrection Jesus passes quietly from the earth leaving behind only an angel to proclaim His victory. This victory is eternal and one that reaches us. Because of the Incarnation we were given Christ’s ministry in the Church to go out and make disciples of all nations. Because of His Resurrection the gates of heaven have been opened for us to enter. Because of Christ the call to become a saint increases and the path is set. And it is because of this sacrifice that Easter is the Highest feast of the Church. How will you enter into the season of Easter?

JPII quote

(This poster is done by catholictothemax.com)

Venerable Fulton Sheen ~ Boredom

I’m tired. From the time that I wake up to the time my head finally hits the pillow I feel how tired I am. Contrary to popular belief this tiredness is not just from sleep deprivation. It is an exhaustion that stems from somewhere deep inside of my heart. And it only grows worse in times of silence.

My days are spent storming around the house, the store and at work constantly thinking of all the things I have to do. Yet, when I reach the eye of the storm and see all that I have left in my wake, I feel how beaten down I’ve become. Suddenly, I can’t remember all of what I still need to do. Like shopping for groceries without a list I struggle to find what I am supposed to do instead of what I really want to do (which is to pick up the t.v. remote and veg out). I know whatever I’m supposed to be doing is something pressing. Something I need to do right now. But I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. All I feel is that nagging weight of tiredness beckoning me to the couch. The weight of the storm is too much for me to want to reenter right away.

From this point, every outside demand is the equivalent of a five pound raindrop or standing in hurricane strength wind. Demands from work, friends, family and God make me want to curl under my blanket and close my eyes. Then I saw this:

fulton sheen I am tired because I am bored. I’m tired of being bored with my life. Bored with its stresses, bored with the struggles, bored with my floundering prayer life.  The root of my boredom lies in the fear of loving these things.

Why fear love?

I fear the struggle to love. The constant giving love requires. It is hard to shake the cobwebs off my minimal prayer life. In order to love God I have to love Him more than myself. I have to put His desires above my own. His will above mine. His words above mine. I have to be willing to relinquish the control that I so desperately try to maintain over my life.

Just as I fear going to a gym after not working out in six years, I fear being stretched spiritually as well. I only have one heart and I fear it being torn in so many directions that I won’t have anything left for the things that I have chosen to love in the past. I fear further exhaustion, more storms and heavier weights being thrust upon me. Yet, I know from reading Scripture and lives of saints that holiness involves this struggle, it involves many storms and trust in Someone other than myself. It involves enormous sacrifice. It involves immense love. A love that trumps the sacrifice.

Still, I wonder, how can I divide my love among everyone I have been blessed with? That’s a lot of people. How can I give them the most of me, the best of my love and not deprive any of them of the love God has placed in my heart for them? How can I give all that I am to God, to those around me, to the tasks God has set before me and still find the energy to have a smile on my face? Then I remembered what I read in a Family Circus comic years ago. When asked how she divided her love among all her children the mom smiled and replied, “I don’t divide it, I multiply it.”

We don’t have a quota of love that once we reach the crest we will be tapped out. Instead, the more we give the more love we will have to give because the source of our love is eternal. God is love. Therefore the source of love will never dry up or diminish. If we open wide our hearts to God our love will only multiply and the weight of tired boredom will fall from our shoulders.

Reflection: Studying Mother Theresa or St. John Paul II shows that love multiplies when given freely. I can’t tell you how many times I worried about having a second child that I may not love them as much as my first. How could I? I loved my first so much. Yet, as I held my second baby in my arms I studied his face just as I did with my first. I felt the love flowing out from my heart and encompassing him. No words exist that can express the desire to fully give of yourself to another. Your heart is the fountain of love and God the source. The more you draw from God the more love you will have to give to others. Then like St. Faustina said often, the ground could open up and still we would trust in God’s love and mercy.

Challenge:  Make a list of things you want to get done this week and a list of what you need to get done. Then add in three times a day to pray. Even if it just ten minutes for a quick inspirational quote, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, or catechetical video. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to!

 

Prayer: A Labor of Love

My grandmother was a wonderful gardener. She used to have an entire three tier embankment next to her home that was filled with all kinds of flowers and plants. She spent hours outside planting, weeding and caring for her precious companions. As though she didn’t have enough plants outside she even had plants in her house. Upstairs, downstairs. It didn’t matter the season or how hard someone said it would be to keep a plant alive she found a way.

She was not a gentle woman and had been worn by the trials that had the Good Lord had sent her way. She weathered them like a rock. Yet, even under this hardened exterior her inner beauty shown through in her gardening. This simple act showed her delicate and nurturing soul.

This nurturing bled over into her prayer life. After her passing there were countless rosaries, prayerbooks and holy cards all around her home. And it was well known that if anyone was in trouble she would go to church and light a candle for them. Not only did she labor for the plants outside her door but she did so for all she loved as well, in prayer.

Prayer can be a chore. It can be a joy. But it can be hard. Inside each one of is a lovely garden waiting to be cultivated. Now, any good gardener will tell you that you need good fertilizer to get good results from your seeds. In life, this fertilizer is…how to put this delicately?…it is the crap that gets dumped on us.

You know what I mean. One evening you sit down and read great spiritual book, pray the rosary or listen to a segment from a great homily. You can feel the seeds settling in your soul. Covering them gently you happily settle into this great peace. The lovely little place we’ve dug out in our heart is pleasantly patted down and ready for growing.

And then the proverbial crap comes. Distractions, conflicts, stress.

How we deal with this fertilizer determines if the seeds are fed or not. If life was easy as pie why would I need to talk to God? Most likely those prayers would be much like those of the Pharisees, “Thank you God for making me so awesome! My life rocks! Thanks for not making me like the sinners over there. I’m practically a saint already. Thanks for making me practically perfect.” Though well intentioned, the prayer misses the mark.

Prayer, like any conversation involves two people (otherwise it is a monologue). If we do all the talking and don’t listen to the other how will the conversation go forward? Now, I don’t know about you, but my monologues can last for a long time before I realize that I left God way back at the beginning. By the time I realize this my prayer time is up and I have to go on. Prayer becomes something that I sit before the feet of Jesus without ever having intimate contact with him. I simply say, “Hey, could you hold on to this for a sec? I’ll be back for it later.” Then, much like I treat my children, I come back for all my issues and problems and pick them up from the hands of the Lord. I check them over to see if He has done anything to it and continue on my way trying to figure things out on my own.

It is a vicious cycle. God is more than a coatrack for problems. He wants to be a part of the solution. He wants to help. That is most likely why He gave us/allowed the problems in the first place. He’s desperately calling us towards Himself through what means He can.

But, who loves a coatrack? Who has a passion for a coatrack? It is a rather boring object. And there are times that in prayer we are bored with God. Usually when this happens I need to take a step back and see if I see Jesus or if I see a tall spindly stick of wood with my problems hanging off its branches. Just as we take the time to try to figure our problems on our own, God takes the time to set things into motion so we will realize that He is behind all of our joys and problems beckoning us to talk to Him.

Prayer should be about giving ourselves to God, all of us, our joys (however small) and our struggles (however big) and our worries (however unfounded). Like my grandmother laboring for her plants we should labor for a relationship with God so we can see its beautiful results. Her hours of weeding and watering helped the seeds to grow. Our hours of dialogue with the Lord will help us to weed the things in our life which suffocate threaten our spiritual life. With His nurturing hands and our docile spirit a beautiful bloom of a prayer life can begin. As we fight through the seasons of spiritual life a passion will grow. Prayer will no longer be the outside motions we put ourselves through but these prayers will become a loving dialogue with our Creator no matter the climate of the world.

Bottom line: Do we love prayer enough to fight through the ‘fertilizer’ of life to foster a relationship and dialogue with God? Will we fight to persevere through the frosty dry times of prayer in hopes of a great spring time? Will we labor for the One who labors for us?

Venerable Fulton Sheen

Fill in the blank “Trust____”.

What came to mind?

-Trust me

-Trust God

-Trust Fall

-Trust Fund

There are many saints who argue that humility is at the heart of life. Yet, when I struggle in my relationship with God humility doesn’t feel like the problem (though I’m certain it’s part of it).

I love St. Faustina (as you can tell from the quote in the header of this blog). Though the primary focus of Jesus’ messages are on the nurturing love and unfailing mercy of God intimately wrapped up in that message is that of trust. On the very image of the Divine Mercy is engraved the words “Jesus, I trust in you.” At the end of every Chaplet of Divine Mercy I say, “Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.”

Fulton Sheen 1

These words are so important yet their weight often escapes me. What does it mean to trust Jesus? What do I trust Him with? Is it the big or the small things that don’t really matter so if he doesn’t come through I am not disappointed?

Do I pray my favorite sports team will win, that I’ll get an A+ on test, that we will have chicken fajitas for dinner or that certain person will look my way, etc.? In the end if I fail my test will I blame God, no I’ll blame myself. If my team doesn’t win will I blame God? No, I’ll blame the coach, the team or the fact that I didn’t wear my lucky socks. But what about if I pray to God for my vocation? For a job? And if my hopes are granted and reality falls short of my wild hopes who do I turn to in blame? Sure, I may take a bit of the blame. But I also want to throw my hands to the sky and yell “What did you do that for? You brought me here! Why did you bring me here?” or “Where were You?”

The lie that satan spoke to Adam and Eve hasn’t changed in all the centuries of the world. In the Garden of Eden he referred to God as Elohim or ‘law giver’. He was trying to put distance between God and His people from the start. Even when there were only TWO people on earth satan succeeded in convincing them that God was out of touch with their needs!

Look at Abraham. He was content in his own land yet he trusted God and where did it get him? Wandering in the land of his enemies wondering if he would ever have an heir as God promised. There are times I’m sure he wanted to yell at God, “Why did you bring me here?” or “What did you do that for?”. Yet he trusted God with his entire life, the future of his line and the future of God had promised him. Where did it get him? Two sons (one because he didn’t trust (Ishmael) and the other because he did(Isaac)) and the foundation stone to Israel becoming a great nation. For from this line would come the 12 tribes of Israel which would ultimately lead to Jesus.

So, do you trust God? Are you ready to trust him in the big things that matter?

Reflection: It is easy to slip in to the mindset that God doesn’t really care about my life, big or small. After all, He is God, He’s a busy guy. There are countless wars and atrocities being committed every minute of every day why would He care about finding me my future spouse? Finding me my dream job? Or fulfilling my desire for another child? I’m small peanuts compared to the issues of the world. Why would the creator of the world take time out to help me? The answer is so simple it is hard for us to grasp it. He cares because He created us. Every breath we take and beat of our heart is known by Him. Scripture tells us He even knows the number of hairs on our head. Who does that? Someone that doesn’t care? No. The reality is that He is more in love with your soul than you could ever imagine. No amount of love given to you by another human can be more than a shadow in comparison to His love for you. It is easy to let this slip off and roll to the side. Don’t let it. Think about it. Let it resonate.

Challenge: This week, pray. Spend time with God just to talk about everything in your life. Lay your heart before Him if you can in Adoration (even if it is just a few minutes before, after or during Sunday Mass). Start that communication with God. Whether it is a silent conversation or through a letter, poetry or song. Let Him love you.