Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pray, hope, and don't, really.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!  Be sure to catch today’s canonization Mass on EWTN.  Popes St. John XXIII and John Paul II, pray for us!

Lately, I have been thinking often of our dear friend, Padre Pio.  As a child, Pio told his parents he wanted to grow up to be a friar “with a beard.”  And what a bearded friar he was.  St. Pio was known to spend upwards of 12 hours at a time hearing confessions.  He suffered the wounds of the stigmata, though he did not like to call attention to this.  The spiritual trials he endured are truly frightening.

When most people say cute things like, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” I shrug them off.  I have no desire for placations.  When Padre Pio says this, however, it gives me pause.  Here is a man who knew great suffering in his earthly life.  Just reading about his life leaves me feeling exhausted.  How much greater, then, must be his faith if he gives us such confident, simple instructions?

One of Padre’s many admonitions to us is not to entertain thoughts of past sins or failings.  We must not allow any shortcomings to occupy our minds, but entrust all this to God’s mercy.  These thoughts and feelings of despair over the past do not come from God, he insists.  Satan, the accuser, seeks to drag us down and keep our hearts and minds far from mercy.  God intends us to recognize our sins, confess them, do penance, and toss them into the abyss of His mercy.  If God moves us to remember any past sins, it is to inspire us to learn from our mistakes and start fresh.

All this is positively revolutionary to me.  I have the terrible habit of falling into the trap of despair over my faults.  At times, I panic over what I have done.  I know I cannot change the past, and I know God has forgiven me.  So, why all the fretting?  Part of it comes from my upbringing.  Forgiveness is not a strong theme in certain circles of my family.  While I have never subscribed to the idea that it is morally permissible to withhold forgiveness from another person, I somehow ended up applying this attitude to myself.

The crazy part of my spiritual turmoil is that many of the actions I fuss over are not even sins.  They were simply mistakes or awkward growing pains of a kid who could have used a few more role models.  The author of the sinking feeling in my chest tries to convince me that I am awful and do not deserve another chance.  I have failed.  It is too late to live a good and virtuous life.  I wasted my shot.  I am finished.

The devil surely knows how to lure us away from God’s love.  He finds our weak spots and pries them open.  This is why it is so important for us to build up one another.  We must follow St. Paul’s instructions to “strengthen the brethren” through encouragement and accompaniment.  Would I have believed these lies if other humans had not already told them to me?  Probably not. 

How does one go about this moving forward business?  How do we let go of our burdens and boldly strive for Heaven?  I tell you from experience: not of our own power or devices. 

I recently spoke to a priest about how to trust God.  I wanted to do it, but I barely knew what it meant and had no clue how to actually do it.  In short, he advised me to “look at God” in times of uncertainty.  When under duress, I am busy looking at my problems.  What would happen if I turned my mind and heart to God’s face?  I tried it and was a little shocked by the results.  In seeking to meet the gaze of my creator, I had to look where He was looking.  I learned that trusting God is less about finding a solution and more about directing the gaze of my heart to what God wants me to see.

This was certainly not the first time I tried to draw close to God in a time of struggle.  I was taught to “pray without ceasing” and have always sought to nurture my personal relationship with God.  This spiritual/mental exercise, however, has given me new and powerful insights.  I have not experienced many grand epiphanies through this practice, but it has allowed me to dip the vessel of my soul into the well of infinite peace.  Trusting God does not grant me the knowledge of where my life is headed next.  It floods me with the peace of knowing that I am not alone.  My situation is temporary.  What I must seek is eternity.  And guess what.  Eternity happens to be love.  Sweet, wonderful love. 

I did not have many epiphanies, but I did have one.  In my hourly daily flutter of panic, I turned to God to see what He had to say on the matter.  Often, God simply invites me back to His green pastures and still waters (in my heart.  Apparently God thinks it’s a splendid idea for my life to look a mess).  This time, He had something to say to me. 

“You are worthwhile.”

Umm.  Ok.  That’s not really what I was looking for, but thanks.  But no, that was it.  I felt certain God wanted me to understand that.  I wasn’t sure why.  Over the next few weeks, I rolled this idea around in my head.  Finally, I matched the burn with the salve. 

I am worth dying for.

All that pain of despair over my mistakes was in vain.  That pain has already been endured for me.  I am free.  If I repent for my sins and seek to live in God’s love, there is no evil in this world or another that can touch me.  “Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.”  My God has given me this fantastic gift.  Even better, He is really glad that He did!  He wants me with Him so much that He literally died to know me.  Man, I love Jesus…because He first loved me J

I am so thankful to my dear Savior for sending me that wonderful message.  Now, I must remember to think on it any time I become distracted by despair.  Before Mass began on Easter Sunday, I was having a difficult morning with being upset over past mistakes.  I knelt down in Church and stared at the crucifix.  I knew that to let go of my pain, I needed to hand it over to Jesus.  I told him of my pain, and I nearly laughed when I realized what He must have been thinking.

“Umm, I just rose from the dead.  I’m pretty sure I can handle this.”

Oh.  Right. And then He smiled and let me try again.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His mercy endures forever.  Ps 118

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Happy birthday, Papa!  We love you and thank you for your prayers for the Church.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not the fabulous post I meant to write

So I was writing this lovely post yesterday about how amazing it is to me that God chooses to work through humanity. It was really great. It had a personal story, a heartwarming analogy, italicized Scripture verses. Quality bloggery.

Where is it today, you ask? Still only half done, written on scrap paper, and stuffed inside my purse. I can hardly look at it. How can I possibly write about allowing the light of God's love to shine through ordinary actions after I fought with my husband for over an hour last night?

Yeah, I don't know either.

I feel terrible. We had just begun to say our evening prayers. All my poor husband did was make an observation that struck me the wrong way. In a split second, I considered my options. I could ask him to explain himself, knowing exactly where that conversation would go. Or, I could let it go and continue with our prayers. I even thought about something I read recently on how the devil will do anything to interrupt our prayer time.

Guess which one I chose.

What did I gain by all this? We lost precious sleep, we didn't say prayers, I got to say mean things to my husband, and for the finale I cried and told him I was sorry. Overall, a well spent evening. :P What was I thinking? What good was I trying to achieve? No good came from anything we discussed. Not sure how any of that qualifies me to talk about human love being a reflection of God's love.

So, now what? Well, because God wants me to receive the full Prodigal Son treatment, there just happens to be a special Lenten confession time at Church tonight. The service is even held at a time that allows Wesley to arrive right on time for his martial arts training. Which, he says, is great because we will have time to wash dishes together before we go. Did I mention that I got to frolick in the violets and perfect sunshine with my friends? Or that Wesley snuggled me even closer last night after I yelled at him and tearfully apologized?

Until a few years ago, I did not realize how difficult it is to be in the position of the younger son from this famous parable. "How nice," I thought. "He gets to run around and do whatever he wants with no consequences. Then, everyone throws him a party when he drags his sorry behind home."

Perhaps you see where this is going.

What kind of love is this? This God of mine is not only ready to take me back, He runs to meet me where I am. He showers graces of all kinds upon me, and I do not deserve a bit of it. Even more incredibly, He chooses to send me these blessings through people and this messy physical world. God could simply shoot me a mental email of forgiveness or grant me warm fuzzy feelings without an intermediary. Instead, He bestows His love in the form of a patient husband. He gives us the phenomenal sacrament of Reconciliation to draw us back to Himself. God has no need for any of this. He can do as He pleases. What amazes me is that loving us through the physical world is what pleases Him. We reject Him through sin and are not ready for the wonders of Heaven. Yet, He cannot resist giving us little glimpses of it. And He asks us to be the bearers of this Divine Light.

So, tonight I shall go before my God and tell Him how very sorry I am for hurting His sweet heart. I already know what He's going to say, and I will spend a full lifetime wondering at this awesome, wonderful, nonsensical love.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ouch, Jesus! That really hurts!

One of my greatest spiritual struggles is learning to trust God. Recently, I considered how strongly God speaks to us through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. Sometimes, though, the message I receive reveals a little more about myself than I would prefer.

About a year and a half ago, I went to confession at a local parish. I told the priest of my sorrow over my sins. You know, the ones I confess every single month cuz concupiscence – impatience, unkindness, pride. He listened intently. Then he asked me a question I did not expect.

“How is your prayer life?” he gently inquired in his melodious West African accent.
“Umm, not great,” I admitted.

I told him that I pray every day, but I am always afraid to ask God what He wants of me. I am afraid of God’s plan. He seems to think I am some kind of super hero. I often try to remind myself that “the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God will not protect you.”

“Ah,” said the priest. “But you do not truly believe this.”


He continued, his voice full of joyful confidence. He told me I must have faith that God wants the absolute best for me. His will is always the best plan. The priest encouraged me to be bold in prayer and to be not afraid of the God who loves me more than I can imagine.

Ever since, I have tried to practice this brave prayer. Most of the time, I fail. It is in these failures, though, that I am able to glimpse the unwavering mercy of God. Each time I become afraid and hide from Him, He always follows me and waits patiently for me to turn back around. Every time, He scoops me up and holds me close, thrilled for me to try again.

It is amazing how quickly I forget this embrace. After receiving our infertility diagnosis, I did not feel particularly close to God. One night, I talked to my aunt about my struggles. She assured me that even though I felt abandoned, God was using this time to sanctify my soul. She gave me a simple prayer for such times. God, I want what You want, when You want it. I know she was not brushing off my pain. She is no stranger to finding out God’s plan is different from her own. So many times, God has said to her, “No. Wait. I have something else in mind.” She cannot see the end of her story either. Yet, she is always faithful, always joyful in her sweet, quiet way. Why then, do I resist the prayer she gave me? Why can I not hear the Holy Spirit’s comforting voice in her words? The Psalmist knows me well. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Ever so slowly, that simple affirmation of trust has become a little easier to pray. My trust in God is tiny and fragile, but it is real.
Recently, God decided to use my own words to speak to me. I was leading a Girl Scout meeting for my troop of fifth graders. I love these girls. They are so fun and creative. One of them asked if I would continue to be the co-leader next year. “No,” I answered. I told them about our plans to serve as lay missionaries. Their eyes lit up, and questions started flying in my direction. I mentioned that we will be working with priests or nuns.

“But aren’t nuns scary?”

Hello, teachable moment. I assured them that nuns are people just like you and me. We talked about stereotypes and how the media perpetuates them. We are afraid of what we do not understand. If you do not take the time to know someone, you are much more likely to believe lies about them and distance yourself from them. The girls gave me examples of other stereotypes they had witnessed, and we discussed ways to discover the truth about who people are. It was a really great conversation.

Later that evening, I prayed at our parish’s Eucharistic adoration chapel. I knelt before Jesus in His humble disguise and told Him all that was in my heart. I told Him of my desire to serve Him. My stomach fluttered as I mentally stammered the prayer my aunt gave me. I asked God, “I know how much You love me. Why am I so afraid?”

As clear as day, I heard in my mind, “You are afraid of people you do not know.”


That realization was like a spear through my chest. I talk to Jesus every day. Is it really possible that I do not know Him? Yet, how many times do I keep the conversation superficial so as not to reveal the (sometimes hard) truth? I catch myself speaking to God and then hoping He doesn’t answer. Then, I might not be held accountable to the truth I encounter. How often do I become complacent and think that my prayer life is "good enough?"

Do I honestly think I can do this alone? That my plans are better than God’s? The notion is wholly ridiculous. However, when I fill my heart with anxiety instead of inviting God to dwell in me, His grand plans sound terrifying. I cannot do what He has planned for me. I cannot bear it. What I must learn to understand is that I do not have to bear much at all. If I am being crushed by the weight of my cross, it is because I refuse to hand it to Jesus – because I tell Him I can do it by myself.

Are you seeing the same absurd mental picture as I am? There I am, lying on the ground. My relatively small cross threatens to flatten me. Jesus is standing over me, begging to lift it from my shoulders. “No!” I tell Him. “I don’t trust you. Look at this giant cross you gave me!”

Then, maybe I remember the giant cross I gave HIM and wonder at His eagerness to love me. These revelations of the nature of God’s love for us are truly sobering. Why oh why can I not lay down my pride and say yes to the adventure Jesus longs to share with me?

Heavenly Father, thank you for these beautiful sacraments you have given us. They pour grace into our hearts and teach us to love as You love. Thank you for the people You have placed in my life who lead me back to You when I stray and hide. Please hold on to me and never let me go. I love you, and I want to know you better. Take my wimpy mustard seed of faith and transform it into something only You can create. Something bold. Something wonderful. Amen.