Healing

In light of current events, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve often felt frightened, anxious, ashamed, convicted, angry, resentful, and confused. I’ve had a hard time making sense of things and have prayed for cunning eyes and the grace to see Truth amidst the many voices and headlines that seem to assault me every time I glance at my phone…which is basically every spare second of my time because I’m an addict. Working on it.

In response to that, I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading Scripture. Every day I try to start my morning by reading the day’s readings and devotions I subscribe to. I’ve been opening up my bible to read the scriptures in deeper context and to take time to really meditate on them instead of just reading them on my phone. It has been a life-giving practice.

I rarely have a hard time finding a way to connect with the day’s readings, but today the readings just gutted me. It was like they were written specifically for this very moment in history.

My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground at the brokenness of the daughter of my people, as children and infants collapse in the streets of the town.

They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I compare you – to what can I liken you – O daughter Jerusalem? What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is vast as the sea; who could heal you?

Your prophets provided you visions of whitewashed illusion; they did not lay bare your guilt, in order to restore your fortunes; they saw for you only oracles of empty deceit.

Lamentations 2:11-14 NAB

Gracious, if that isn’t relevant. I’ve never really spent much time in Lamentations, because honestly it’s not very pleasant. I’m definitely guilty of seeking out scriptures of hope and promise and avoiding the uncomfortable ones. The introduction to Lamentations in my bible says, “…the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it.” I feel the same way about the news every dang day. “But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same (emphasis mine).

I think that’s where we are, friends. Or at least that’s where I am. I feel assaulted by the pain, horror, injustice, and evil in my country and overwhelmed by the fact that it comes from all sides. But I’m learning that I have to lean into the uncomfortable parts of life in order to grow. I have to examine my own heart, to identify my personal responsibility, look my sin in the face, and make it right. I’m heading to confession today.

I don’t understand the world. I don’t have all the answers and I have failed so many times. I feel pinned and inadequate, ill-equipped to grapple with the things going on in my country and paralyzed by the fear that whatever it is I do, it will never be “right” or “good enough.”

But here’s what I do know. Racism is a horror, an unequivocal sin, and a blight on our culture.

I also know that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance.

I know that we are all sinners and we are all deserving of mercy. Everyone.

I know that nothing will heal us but God, and that we’re not all called to fight injustice the same ways. But just as with the book of Lamentations, I am called to look sorrow and pain in the face and to listen. Everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t easy for me to understand or agree with. The only way forward for me is to push into the pain and to pray.

Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.

Rise up! Wail in the night, at the start of every watch; pour out your heart like water before the Lord: lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who collapse from hunger at the corner of every street.

Lamentations 2:18-19

Right now my heart feels like the Centurion in today’s gospel (Matthew 8:5-17): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I know that I am unable to heal anything on my own, unable to affect change without first being healed myself, without being radically transformed by Christ.

Healing is the central theme of the gospel and healing is what our world so desperately needs. Today in Matthew, Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many more:

When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

‘He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

Matthew 8:16-17

He’s here to heal us, friends. We’re never going to conquer evil or injustice or pandemics without looking into our hearts with humility and honesty, taking responsibility for our place in the world, and opening ourselves to the healing light of Christ.

We have to boldly seek truth, realizing that political leaders and organizers of movements may not be completely rooted in gospel truth, regardless of whichever cause they serve. We have to develop open hearts and cunning eyes, constantly checking in with Jesus. He must be the only one we serve, not politics, parties, or movements. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we take no action but rather that we carefully discern which organizations and individuals we support rather than being swept away by every social media post we see that has an eloquent quote (something I am guilty of). We have to do our research before we align ourselves with anything or anyone.

Healing starts with recognizing the belovedness and inherent dignity in each and every person, even those who seem the most evil and ugly to us. We are called to serve justice with mercy and reconciliation. We are required to take responsibility for our actions, even if that means admitting we were wrong. We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, leaning into the discomfort and hiding ourselves in the wounds of Jesus.

Here is the prayer of my heart:

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts, where they are aching, consumed by anxiety, gripped with fear, where they are hurt, wounded, and hardened. You know all the places we store up little hopes. You know our wants and needs and all the false gods we turn to. Give us the grace to turn to you today. Lord, bolster us where we feel weak, weary, and worried.

Jesus, heal our hearts. Bind up those things in us that rebel against you. Purify us and give us hearts of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.

Father, give us eyes to see you at work in our lives, hearts that break over what breaks yours. Give us ears to hear you speaking directly to us and the humility and obedience to serve you.

Reveal yourself to us, Lord, in every person we meet. Remove our blinders that we might see belovedness all around us.

Jesus, this world is broken. We are broken. Draw us to you and comfort us at your breast. Help us to recognize you offering yourself to us and give us the grace and fortitude to offer ourselves back to you.

Amen

Much Will Be Required

I read the following scripture passage yesterday, one that I’ve probably read or heard a bajillion times. It’s the story of Peter and John curing a crippled man and I can’t get it out of my head. It goes as follows:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer. And a man crippled from birth was carried and placed a the gate of the temple called “the Beautiful Gate” every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “look at us.” He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the one who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10 NAB

As I read and reread this passage, I’m struck by the crippled man being healed and the idea that, even though he experienced a miraculous healing and his life was obviously immensely improved, much would now be required of him. Being healed took away the impediments holding him back, but I wonder if this new development also took away a certain level of comfort. I can’t presume to know what the crippled man was thinking or feeling as his life began to unfold in such a new and dramatic way, but when I put myself in the situation I’m left with a lot of fear, if I’m honest.

This healing meant that he would no longer have to beg for alms at the temple. But now he’d have to find work, reintegrate himself into society, essentially come to terms with an entirely new identity. Let me be clear: these things are not bad. Working, contributing to a community, embracing an identity based on Christ, these are all deeply good and holy things. Yet I can’t help but imagine how difficult it would be to navigate these life changes after the miracle. When I put myself in the place of the crippled beggar, of course I am delighted to be healed, yet so wary of everything that is sure to come after.

As I dig deeper into the feelings that this story draws up in me, I’m forced to ask myself, where am I crippled? Where am I in need of healing? Where do I cling to my pain or my crutches, or the mat that I’ve laid on so long that it conforms to my body?

Am I hesitant to claim healing because of what it will require of me, of what I will be asked to give up? Am I letting my fear of the unknown drag me every day to the Beautiful Gate of the internet, the pantry, the world to beg for acceptance that won’t sustain me?

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

Luke 12:48 NAB

Have I become so comfortable in my infirmities, so dependent up on what I know now, that I’m unwilling to trade in my paralysis for the opportunity to run and jump and praise? I wonder.

I think part of my fear is rooted in the idea that maybe I won’t be strong enough to rise to the challenges of adapting to life after healing. That I’m not strong enough to fully give up the things I cling to: the likes, the sugar, the idea that I’m in control and if I do the right things, I’ll be whole.

It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to step out in faith even when I know that the One beckoning me forward is only concerned with my ultimate good. And the truth is, I will never be “enough.” I will never be equipped to do battle with my addictions, dependencies, worldly alliances, or to reconcile my humanity with my call to holiness, at least not on my own. And that’s the point, right?

The crippled man doesn’t get a happily ever after tied up with a bow. He is arrested, along with Peter and John, and put to trial before the Sanhedrin where Peter boldly proclaims the truth of Christ. However, it is on his account that they are all released, as the community knew him and his story well: “…they released them, finding no way to punish them, on account of the people who were all praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been done was over forty years old.” (Acts 4:21 NAB)

Being healed, knowing Christ, being transformed in Him is not a one time event. The crippled man wasn’t healed and then allowed to walk off into the sunset. Much was given him and much was required. The path to holiness is one that we have to keep choosing over and over and over again, knowing full well that more will be asked of us than we think we can give. We aren’t called to a happily ever after, but rather to work out our salvation with fear and trembling even and especially in moments of doubt and fear, trusting that He who tells us to get up and walk will be guiding us on every step of the way.

If you’re like me and can identify with this struggle and the difficulty to trade the battle for control for an alliance with the Holy Spirit, I guess I just want you to know that this is all normal. You’re not alone and, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, I do have faith despite my doubt. I realize my struggle is not due to any failing on the part of God, but due to my fallen nature and my humanity. And that’s okay. God blesses the struggle. There is holiness in admitting that we don’t have it all together and still struggling on toward Him. We don’t always have to get it right and I truly believe that any forward movement toward holiness is honored by Christ, whether that’s a full on run, a stumble, or a crawl. Jesus meets us where we are, as we are, no matter what.

If you’ve never prayed the following prayer, I highly suggest it. I usually follow it up with, “Lord, help my unbelief.”

LITANY OF TRUST

From the belief that I have to earn Your love
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that I am unlovable Deliver me, Jesus.
From the false security
that I have what it takes
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that trusting You
will leave me more destitute

Deliver me, Jesus.
From all suspicion of
Your words and promises

Deliver me, Jesus.
From the rebellion against
childlike dependency on You

Deliver me, Jesus.
From refusals and reluctances
in accepting Your will

Deliver me, Jesus.
From anxiety about the future
Deliver me, Jesus.
From resentment or excessive preoccupation with the past
Deliver me, Jesus.
From restless self-seeking
in the present moment

Deliver me, Jesus.
From disbelief in Your love and presence Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being asked
to give more than I have

Deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my life
has no meaning or worth

Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of what love demands Deliver me, Jesus.
From discouragement

Deliver me, Jesus.

That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me
Jesus, I trust in You.


That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings and transforms me Jesus, I trust in You.

That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You Jesus, I trust in You.
That You are with me in my suffering Jesus, I trust in You.

That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next Jesus, I trust in You.


That You will not leave me orphan, that You are present in Your Church Jesus, I trust in You.

That Your plan is better than anything else
Jesus, I trust in You.


That You always hear me and in Your goodness always respond to me Jesus, I trust in You.

That You give me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others Jesus, I trust in You.


That You give me all the strength I need for what is asked Jesus, I trust in You.

That my life is a gift Jesus, I trust in You.

That You will teach me to trust You

SISTERS OF LIFE
Annunciation Motherhouse 38 Montebello Road Suffern, NY 10901 845.357.3547
sistersoflife.org
Written by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, SV

Truth and Trust

Well, the good news is I think I hit my stride with the whole home school thing. The bad news is I still have my new chin hair. I tried real hard to find my tweezers, desperately ransacked the bathroom cabinets where they’re *supposed* to be before I remembered that I had to throw the tweezers away the other day because a kid was using them to fish for turds in the toilet. Not lying. Wish I was, but I’m not.

So, the next time you see me I’ll probably look like I’m auditioning for Duck Dynasty, but I’mma go with it and embrace the new normal. (It has yet to be determined if my husband will want to embrace this new normal. However, he is a wise, intelligent man, so I think he’ll take what he can get chin hairs not excluded.)

As I settle into this new schedule, new facial hair and all, it’s been amazing to me to look back and see how God has been preparing me for this time. I’m part of a ministry team that leads a women’s retreat every year at our church. This year’s speaker, Amber VanVickle, spoke about suffering and trust. She told us about how she did a challenge once in which she didn’t ask God for anything for an entire month. And the second she said it, my stomach dropped. I instantly knew I had to, needed to try it, and I thought, “Well… shit. I’m going to have to do that.” (Sometimes my response to the Lord tugging at my heart is less than stellar, y’all.)

So that’s what I did for Advent this year. I did not ask the Lord for anything in prayer. There were no requests, no supplication, no demands, nothing. Just me and Jesus and lots of time…because incidentally this was around the same time that I thought I was signing up to do a holy hour in the Adoration and somehow got signed up for a holy two hours. This was also before I had come to terms with the idea that silence before the Lord is an integral part of prayer. I had the blessing of hearing Meg Hunter Kilmer speak at my parish and when asked about how to pray, Meg said, “Silence. You need to sit in silence with God for at least 15 minutes a day.” My response, again, was, “Well, shit.”

Clearly Jesus had work to do on my heart.

What followed was an intense, challenging, beautiful time of me being frustrated with my own distraction and struggling to maintain focus while also trying not to fall asleep in Adoration. And at the same time, I was fighting every urge to ask, ask, ask in prayer.

Important side note: obviously, God wants us to ask things of him. Very specifically in scripture he tells us to knock, seek, ask. But so many times in our asking, we’re not surrendering. In our requesting, we’re actually trying to control or manipulate the situation. At least for me, my prayer life had become more about what I thought was the best solution to the problem and less about fiat and Thy will be done. Letting go of asking meant letting go of control.

When you take away the ability to ask and request, you’re left with only the ability to state and to profess. So my prayer life quickly became statements of trust and truth rather than begging to have my desires fulfilled. My journal entries during this time became less lists of demands and morphed into litanies of truth and surrender:

Jesus, you know my heart. You know my weaknesses and my failings. You know my addictions and sins. Lord, you know the depths of my hurt and all of the spots, the deep places I need healing. Jesus, I know that you are faithful, that you are before all time, and transcend all knowledge and understanding. You are unchangeably good. I believe you are pursuing me, healing me, drawing me out of the walls I’ve put up.

God, I believe you are faithful and you have a plan for me. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that no prayer is ever wasted, no moment unproductive if spent with you. I trust that your will would be done and that you are holding me securely in your hands. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that I will meet you in faithful silence every when it is hard for me. You are real, you are moving, transforming, dwelling, and guiding. You are love. Jesus, I trust in you.

Dec. 1, 2019

God, I don’t know what our future holds, sometimes I’m tempted to listen to fear and the idea that we haven’t suffered any real tragedy so it’s coming, that our future is somehow shadowed and shaky. But I’m reminded of your truth, that even in hardship and worry and storm and draught, you are present. You never change. Your love is constant and so is your mercy. So, whatever the future holds, I know you are holding us. Whatever the tides may bring, I will say yes to the call, your call to me within them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that whatever you’re calling me to, you will equip me and provide for me within that call. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that your ways are not our ways and that is good. Jesus, I trust in you. Trust that you are guiding, protecting, leading, and shepherding all of us. Even when you seem distant, you are there. Even when I’m confused, threatened, and afraid you are there. Jesus, I trust in you. Whatever the next days, the next year bring, I know I am covered in your mercy.

Dec. 15, 2019

I find myself compelled to return to these entries because once again I’m in need of peace. When my heart is troubled, when I’m grasping too much, attempting to control too much the answer, at least for me, is to trust. Trust and truth can do much in the face of fear and anxiety.

The truth is that God has not changed. He is real, He is moving, He is intimately in love with us, and He can redeem all things. All things.

The truth is that sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to really see how Christ pursues our hearts, how he wants to sneak in past our messy, disordered affections and addictions to show us what real satisfaction can be. There is truth and peace resting in his Sacred Heart and he longs for us to make our way there.

The truth is that when I let my dog out early this morning, the birds were still singing. Up before dawn, perched in a dying tree in my back yard, they were singing their hearts out to herald the coming day. They’re still singing and I think there’s a lot to trust in just in that.

St. Joseph

Photo by @seb on Pexels.com

Today is the feast of St. Joseph and I can’t think of a better example for our current situation. Before last year, I dismissed St. Joseph as someone who was rather boring. I mean, he’s important, but I never found him particularly exciting…until he started stalking me.

A year ago, St. Joseph kept showing up everywhere in my life. He turned up in books, in conversation, in emailed devotionals, and internet ads. I ended up getting to know him better and I’ve developed a deep devotion to this quiet, humble, holy man. I completed this consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph right before Christmas and it rocked my understanding of this incredible saint.

The thing I want to touch on today regarding St. Joseph is the idea that humble submission to God’s will is radically transformative.

I found St. Joseph to be boring partially because he never says anything in scripture. But that’s the point. Joseph doesn’t say anything because he is listening. God reveals himself to Joseph through Mary and through dreams. Joseph listens and obeys.

That’s obviously overly simplified. Digging deeper, we can understand that St. Joseph was handed a situation that he never predicted. Mary’s surprise pregnancy was never his radar. It was inconvenient, hard to understand, and difficult to accept. But instead of railing against the situation, instead of fighting, turning to bitterness or resentment, or even just opting out, St. Joseph put himself at the service of the problem. He made the conscious decision to partner with God, to willingly take on the role of protector for the Virgin Mary with all that in entailed, and in doing so his life was radically transformed.

I think it’s important for us to notice that St. Joseph took time to listen to God. It’s so easy to want quick resolutions, to want to hurry up the confusion and rush to a conclusion. But if we slow down and lean into the discomfort, we open ourselves up to hear God speak to our hearts.

Once he discerned God’s will, St. Joseph was all in. He took Mary into his home and embraced a situation that others wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. At the potential cost of his reputation, risking being completely misunderstood and mocked by his contemporaries, Joseph chose God’s will for his life and never turned back.

This partnering with the problem allowed St. Joseph to become co-creator with God and Mary. It allowed him to receive the Son of God into the world in a way that no one in human history can duplicate all because he listened, because he approached his discomfort and confusion with humility and trust of the Father.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, in places or events that are uncomfortable or difficult to understand, may we approach them in the spirit of St. Joseph. May we take time to listen, to slow down, to understand that even when things don’t unfold the way we want them to, it is usually because the Lord has a grander plan for our lives. God’s plan is certain to push us and draw us out of our narrow minded view of things. God’s plan isn’t necessarily safe in the way we’d describe safety in human terms (after all, Joseph fled a murdering king and lived the life of refugee in order to protect the Christ Child), but God’s plan is good.

A good plan from a good God is one that draws us into further holiness, into deeper communion with Him. Jesus promised us suffering, it can’t be denied. But how we live out that suffering is up to us. Will we partner with God in our suffering and allow the discomfort and difficulty to transform our lives? Or will we let the suffering harden us and lead us into submission to fear and anger?

The choice is ours to make.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us!

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.

Thoughts on the Cross

Things have been pretty quiet around here lately, partially because life it eternally nuts and also because I’ve been wrestling with some really weighty issues. Maybe it’s because we’re getting deeper and deeper into Lent so I’ve got these things on my mind already, but I find myself struggling with anger, fear, frustration, guilt, and feelings of unworthiness, loneliness, and doubt. So basically, I’m Catholic. (Ba-dum-ching!)

 

Did you get that that was a rim shot? ‘Cause it totally was.

 

I think this happens to us all from time to time. Not bad sound effects, though those happen too, but these moments of spiritual, mental, and physical grief. These are times when we just can’t wrap our brains around situations, around suffering, around life. And these are the times we need the cross.

 

And I don’t know about you, but the times when I so need the cross are the times I feel the cross is so unfair. When I’m struggling with my sins, the cross is hard for me to handle. The cross is ugly. It is violent. It asks too much of Christ. I hate that I so selfishly seek my own comfort when Christ went through such agony on the cross.

 

Sometimes I feel like life asks too much of us all, that God asks too much of all of us. Obviously, I understand that the Cross had to happen, has to happen, for us and for our salvation, but that doesn’t make it any less hard.

 

Now, I’m a firm believer in free will, and in knowing that bad things happen as direct consequences of the choices we make, not necessarily because God wills bad things upon us. God is not malevolent, He is not vengeful or spiteful. He’s not out to make me pay for my sins. Quite the opposite, actually.

 

In all the negativity, the struggles, the fears He is present. And what’s more, He wants to make me better. It is in the wrangling with sin that I find redemption. It is in the fighting to find goodness that I see that it’s been there all along…I just needed the grace of the cross to see it.

Quote from Shane Kapler at Just a Catholic.

 

 

I’ve been getting these daily Lenten reflections from Fr. Robert Barron and I really like them. The other day I read something in regards to the cross and Christ’s sacrifice that has really stuck with me:

“So the Father sent the Son all the way out into the furthest limits of God-forsakenness, but why? To usher into those places the divine light. Is death a place that God is not? No, because God is present there in Jesus. Is suffering a place that God is not? No, because the Son entered into suffering. Is sin a place where God is not? No, because God became sin on the Cross, says Paul.

Through Jesus, the divine light journeys into our worst darkness. His aim is to divinize us, to allow us to “share his divine nature” in St. Peter’s words, even in those dark places and conditions. Sin is a turning away from the divine life, and death is a fearful place that seems alien to God. But Jesus invades all those places, and thereby illumines them. He offers us new life even when we’ve wandered as far as we possibly can from God.

In that sense, the Cross was necessary for our salvation since it allowed the Hound of Heaven to hunt us down, even in the darkest places.”

 

I like that. I like knowing that I am hunted, pursued by a Savior who desperately wants to be with me in the midst of the darkest, most dismal places I find myself.

 

And there’s a deep, deep comfort in that. He’s not asking too much; he’s just asking to be with me.