Tag Archives: gift

The Gift of My Presence

Loneliness is something every human being has to face, for it is the hunger for perfect union. Even happily married people know this loneliness, for we cannot penetrate another’s innermost being. Loneliness ultimately comes from not knowing that God loves us, for as St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
— Servant of God Catherine Doherty, Dearly Beloved (Volume 1)

In regular life one may feel lonely at times, and appreciate the company of friends. But I have never quite felt the enormity of the gift of human presence until recently, especially on the day I visited both my fiancé in prison and my friend in a psychiatric ward.

When visiting a prisoner, you cannot bring anything with you — no gifts, no cards or letters (mailed and examined, as in a convent or monastery), no food, no books. All you bring is yourself.

For an hour twice a week, family and friends can visit their loved ones in prison. This begins with non-contact visits, through a glass. After background checks have been cleared — usually after a month or more — we can have contact visits. The gift of human touch is never so appreciated as when it has been denied for awhile. My fiancé could barely contain his joy, saying, “I feel like running around the room in excitement!”

One of the first things in facing loneliness, especially that of old age, but any kind of loneliness, is to understand that Christ calls some people to share His loneliness. This calling is redemptive! For if we share in the loneliness of Christ we can also share in His redeeming of the world.
— Servant of God Catherine Doherty, Doubts, Loneliness, Rejection

Each time you visit, there is a chance you may not see the person you have come for. After being identified, you have to check that you have nothing prohibited on your person — no watches, no phones or tissues in your pockets, no bobby pins, no jewellery except wedding or engagement rings. A lady’s first contact visit with her son was almost cancelled when she realized she still had her watch on, under her sleeve.

Then the drug-detecting dog sniffs you; you have your shoes scanned; an officer examines your hair, your heels (not sure why — if someone wanted to hide anything in his socks, it would be between his toes, right?), your pockets, your ears for piercings, and your mouth (recently added to the litany of places to check for contraband). Then you step into a machine which checks your fingerprint (which regularly malfunctions), and on the other side an officer with a wand checks for drugs again. The other day a high school teacher was unable to have a contact visit with her son because the wand picked up something on her clothes.

Finally, you step through a series of doors into the visiting area. Then you have one precious hour to spend with the person who has been anticipating your visit all week. In this corporal or bodily act of mercy, you truly realize how humans are made for communion, especially through the physical presence of another. We can receive phone calls daily and letters weekly, but nothing compares to actually being with someone and being able to comfort them with a simple touch.

Prisoners are often moved from prison to prison, and some visitors sadly miss seeing their beloved. On two occasions I witnessed or heard of a visitor traveling from afar, only to find their loved one gone — and with the booking system, you often have to book visits a week ahead. I found a lady sobbing outside the reception area — she had driven an hour to see her husband, only to find that she had been mistakenly booked in for the prior visit and the bookings system did not allow her to enter for the current one. She also discovered that her husband was being moved to a prison much further away. With children to care for at home, she was overwhelmed at losing this precious hour, and completely brokenhearted.

Indeed, prison is hard on the families of the incarcerated. So is hospitalization. When I visited my friend, the other patients crowded around us, thirsting for human connection. From their manner of speech, I discerned that they had lived rough lives, and they probably didn’t receive many visitors. How many solitary people are out there in institutions, aching for a friendly voice? In prisons and in hospitals, chaplains bring the precious gift of their presence and the Real Presence, a selfless act which in turn acknowledges the inherent worth of each prisoner and patient which cannot be erased by sin, sickness or suffering.

Love is not abstract; it is a fire. It must spend itself in service. What you and I have to be is a flame, a lamp to our neighbor’s feet, a place where he can warm himself, where he can see the face of God.
— Servant of God Catherine Doherty, Restoration

Can you think of someone who may need your presence today? Find in him the Face of Christ, as he will find Christ in yours.

For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
— Matthew 25:35-36

Image: Saint Paul in Prison

Choices

People who know me know I hate making choices. I use my job as a convenient excuse. You see, I teach. And every second of every day in school I am making decisions in and outside of the classroom. I’m kind of done when it comes to deciding about stuff in my day to day living.

(FYI, it really is that bad, I once cried when a friend asked me to decide where I had wanted to meet for dinner.)

I saw this quote and it resonated with me:

“Choice was dangerous: you had to forgo all other possibilities when you chose.”

So maybe it’s not my job; maybe it’s me. I AM THE ONE WHO IS AFRAID.

I met a friend for dinner yesterday and it slowly became apparent that she too probably felt the same way.
But as a third party, I could see that either choice would do her good, and either choice would bring glory to God.

Then, it hit me…

The fact we have choice (and actually have to make choices) is God’s love for us. The fact that we don’t get “dictated” by God means He made us human and not robots.

Humanity — which entails free will, by virtue of the powers of our rational soul — is God’s greatest gift to us.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

Christ models for us how to give everything

The narrative this week serves as a wonderful opening because God is asking us a really important question: “Will you give everything up to Me?”

In the following weeks, the Gospels will build up to the climax of Jesus offering Himself in the form of bread of Life for the world (the end of John 6).

What a wonderful end to the chapter and what a beautiful lesson on love: because Jesus models for us the way we should be responding to the people around us and to our Father in Heaven. He knows that we don’t know how to respond to the question set out in the beginning of this chapter and He knows that we don’t know how to love.

So He shows us (by way of His life and sacrifice in the Eucharist) that we must give everything we have — every fiber of our Being. In this way, John bookends the chapter beautifully with an initial question and an answer that God Himself provides.

The real call to Christian discipleship is this. Can we offer everything to God just like how God has given up His life for us?

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

Nothing Will Be Wasted

When I saw last Friday’s Gospel reading, I thought, I’m pretty sure I’ve already written a reflection about this story before. Turns out—yepTwice. So I tried to think about what new aspect I could bring to light from this story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. What stood out most to me from John’s version are these words from Jesus:

When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
—John 6:12

Giovanni_Lanfranco_-_Miracle_of_the_Bread_and_Fish_-_WGA12454Jesus has just taken five loaves and two fishes and managed to feed five thousand people. Not only that, but there are leftovers—twelve baskets full of scraps! There is more food left over than there ever was at the beginning. Which leads me to the question: If Jesus can multiply the loaves with such abundance, why does He ask His disciples to go to all the trouble of picking up the crumbs? Why would He need to be economical about saving all the scraps when everyone in the crowd can be satiated by His grace?

This initiative to harvest every single gift that is given us—even the crumbs—is an expression of gratitude, of not taking anything for granted. At the outset, when the disciples were desperate for food, twelve baskets of bread would have seemed a gift. Why wouldn’t it be now? This too is God’s providence, and it should be gratefully received rather than overlooked.

Мадонна с младенцем под яблоней Холст (перев с дерева), масло 87х59 см Между 1520-1526Let us not forget that Jesus started with a few loaves in order to feed the five thousand—He began with a meager offering. He saw, then, in those leftover scraps afterward, the precious raw material for a miracle. We need Jesus to multiply our gifts, but we must begin by doing our own part, offering all that we can, however small it may seem. He will handle the rest.

Only five loaves for five thousand people? A worthy offering. Bread crumbs, broken and scattered around a field? Not to be wasted. Jesus doesn’t overlook the crumbs we give Him; He sees the potential in our offerings. Neither should we overlook the crumbs we receive: the little joys amid a mundane day, the incomplete responses to our prayers, the half-successes as we continue to learn and grow and make mistakes. Our sufferings, too, have value; not one moment of our experience will be wasted. All of it is a gift, to be gathered and given to God.


1. Giovanni Lanfranco, Miracle of the Bread and Fish / PD-US
2. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Virgin and Child under an Apple Tree (detail) / PD-US

Originally posted at Work in Progress: Frassati Reflections.

Lost and Found

One Saturday morning I reached for my watch, my saint bracelet, my ring and my necklace — only to realize that the necklace wasn’t there.

“I’ve lost my necklace!” I cried in dismay over the phone to my boyfriend.

“It’ll turn up, it’s there somewhere,” he said comfortingly, which only served to increase my annoyance.

“No it’s not!”

Indeed, after searching high and low through all the places I had visited the day before, I had to concede defeat. It was especially saddening because I had worn that silver chain with a Miraculous Medal for almost 10 years, and the medal was a turquoise hue which is no longer stocked in the cathedral bookshop here. I also lost a Jerusalem Cross given to me on pilgrimage last year by a kindly Orthodox gentleman at Jacob’s Well.

“I hope that Miraculous Medal changes someone’s life!” I quipped to the man behind the counter of St Vincent de Paul’s (Vinnies) charity shop.

My friend Heather at the Cathedral bookshop took pity on me. “Have this instead, it’s been sitting here for weeks with no-one claiming it!” she said, handing me a Seven Sorrows rosary.

“And you can have this too — your boyfriend can fix it,” she said, fishing out a broken rosary bracelet.

“Oh, and take this as well…”

I lost two precious sacramentals, but I gained three beautiful rosaries in return. I guess God wants me to pray more this Lent, and practice detachment from material things, even though they be sacramentals! Also, now I may not have a Jerusalem Cross to wear, but I’m finally wearing a crucifix. Have you experienced similar blessings in losing things?

Water

God is closer to us than water is to a fish. – St. Catherine of Siena

Water is weird. Have you ever had that thought? I’ve been having it lately as I sip from my glass. Water is this transparent, tasteless substance that our bodies naturally thirst for; it composes 71% of the world and 65% of the human body (75% for infants); it is necessary for life. “Water, with its amazing dissolving properties, is the perfect medium for transmitting substances, such as phosphates or calcium ions, into and out of a cell… all life on Earth uses a membrane that separates the organism from its environment. To stay alive, the organism takes in important materials for making energy, while shuttling out toxic substances such as waste products.”1

Angelica Kauffman, Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen (1796)

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He was the bearer of the water of life (John 4:10), which is the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). Knowing the chemical and biological properties of water, we may reflect on the richness of Jesus’ metaphor. The Holy Spirit sustains us; He transmits God’s grace into our innermost being, and He cleanses us of toxic impurities like sin and despair. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel records his vision of water issuing out of the side of a temple, a spring which became a river so deep that no-one could cross it (Ezekiel 47:2-5). This has traditionally been interpreted in light of John 19:34, the piercing of Jesus’ side with a lance – blood and water flowed out of His side, His very heart.2 Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit, our Paraclete or Advocate, would not come until He departed (John 16:7). After Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which made perfect atonement for our sins, man was reconciled to God and able to enter into His life, life without end.

Water is a tremendously precious substance. We who live in more developed countries can so easily take it for granted, but “only 1% of the world’s water is readily available for human consumption. Approximately 97% is too salty and 2% is ice.”3 One in nine people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water;4 “6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.”5

We who know we live by the Holy Spirit have been commissioned by Christ to bear this Living Water to others: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well has ‘been described as “a paradigm for our engagement with truth”.’6 He reached out to her across strict social taboos – The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). He asked her for the water she had, just as we may ask a non-believer for his friendship. Jesus’ ultimate aim was to offer the woman the gift of God Himself; likewise, through our human friendships, we too may draw others into relationship with God, offering our friends new life in Christ, so that they may discover their true identities as beloved children of God, the source and ground of their being (Acts 17:28).

You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink – let us be prudent and gentle in offering this precious life-giving Water to others, lest they develop a distaste for it without even trying It properly. Everyone is thirsty in some way – some thirst for beauty, so you can share the musical, artistic and architectural treasures of the Church with them;7 others thirst for truth, so you can find openings for reasoned discussions of the faith. Still others thirst for goodness, which you may exemplify by your living with the grace of God irradiating your life with peace, joy and charity in the midst of earthly trials. Find out what your friends are thirsty for, and you may deliver God to them in a Divine ice-cube to cool the fevered achings of their souls, or a flask of aqua vitae to give them new heart, or perhaps a sweet, fresh breeze that lifts their spirits to highest Heaven. Then you would have accomplished the best act of friendship, sharing your greatest treasure.

I have opened my Heart as a living fountain of mercy. Let all souls draw life from it. Let them approach this sea of mercy with great trust. Sinners will attain justification, and the just will be confirmed in good. Whoever places his trust in My mercy will be filled with My divine peace at the hour of death.
Diary of St. Faustina, #1520

desire for God

Images: Angelica Kauffman, Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen (1796); Catholic Images.

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1 Tia Ghose, “Why Is Water So Essential for Life?”, Live Science.

2 Bishop Wilhelm Keppler, “The Thrust of the Spear”, in The Passion (1929).

3 Jonathan Sarfati, “The Wonders of Water”, Creation.com.

5An increasing demand”, UN World Water Day 2013.

6Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life”, Pontifical Council for Culture & Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The Surest Path to Joy Is Living the Law of the Gift

“The human being, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself, cannot attain its full identity except through a disinterested gift of self.” (Gaudium et spes, 24).

One of the hallmarks of St. John Paul the Great’s teachings is the “Law of the Gift”, the paradox that the more of ourselves that we give away, the “fuller” we become. Mother Theresa echoed a similar sentiment, that “…if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” This concept is very easily overlooked but its message is very profound – that man can never achieve true fulfillment and joy without first giving himself away.

There are many ways in which we can make a gift of ourselves. We can give our time, talents, or earnings to those who are obviously in need or give back to our communities in other tangible ways. Those are valuable and meaningful acts of charity. However, in my own life, I have found that the most fundamental way of living the Law of the Gift is much more basic – it is actively trying not to consume other people.

The habit of consuming others is something we all struggle with, especially in our consumer-driven society. It is so easy to see the person behind the barista counter as solely a means to our morning caffeine, a friend as simply a person to go to a party with so we do not have to show up alone, or a significant other as a warm body to bring us physical pleasure or emotional comfort. These unique people become only bits and pieces for us to use for our own benefit instead of seen as whole persons. It is sad and dehumanizing but we do it automatically without a second thought.

As we progress through this life, we must actively fight the carnal desire within us to grope only for what can gain for ourselves. When we live the Law of the Gift, giving to others instead of consuming them, we become more aware of ourselves as fashioned in the image of God. The way we love others should be akin to His complete self-sacrificial love for us (His love spares us nothing, not even His only Son). He did not create the human heart to turn inward, to focus on itself, to go through life hoarding and consuming. When we do, we become sick and miserable. We live our lives feeling okay on the surface but empty deep down. It is only when we give ourself to others that our hearts are truly filled. Only when we live as servants, emptying ourselves, can we feel fully alive in our humanity.

If you want more joy in your life, start by living the Law of the Gift. That does not necessarily mean volunteering at soup kitchens or giving your used clothes to charity. It is actually much simpler:  In all of your relationships, stop subconsciously asking, “What can you do for me?” or “What value can you bring to me?” Instead, ask “What can I do for you?”, “How are you?”, or “How can I help?” I promise if you do, your entire life will change. Your heart will begin to overflow. And the emptiness deep down will slowly disappear.

3 New Ways to Give at Christmas This Year

The season of Advent is often overshadowed by a rush to the malls to buy the perfect gift for friends, family members and co-workers.  We get caught up by the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season that we forget about the greatest gift of all, Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. To redirect your Christmas preparation towards Christ, I offer the below ideas.

1) Donate to Charity

In next Sunday’s Gospel (The Third Sunday of Advent), the crowds ask St. John the Baptist what they must do to repent of their sin.  He says to them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)  In America, many of us are blessed by God with the things that we need, and often more.  As winter approaches, it would be a great time to clean out your closet and give away items you no longer use to the poor, who may not have a coat for the cold weather.

If you are really ambitious, give away something that you enjoy and still use but could do without.  This type of giving challenges us to put love for God above material possessions.  Just as the Lord asked the rich man in Mark 10:21 to “Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor” so he challenges us today to follow him and be detached from material possessions.

2) Include donations to your favorite charity as items on you Christmas gift list this year.

Recently, my mom has asked our family to use the money that we would have spent on a Christmas gift for her and buy something from the Food for the Hungry Catalog, an organization that helps bring food, clothing, water, and health care to those around the world who are truly in need.  This has been an inspiring example to me.  Although there are a few things around the house that my mom could legitimately benefit from with a Christmas gift, she foregoes looking after her own needs and asks for gifts to be sent to the poor around the world.

So instead of asking for everything on your Christmas list this year, maybe ask your family donate some of the money they would have spent on you to give to your favorite charity,  or use some money you receive as a Christmas gift to serve others.  I encourage you to do this in the spirit of St. Paul who said in Acts 20:35 “For it is better to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).

3) Give the gift of love to your family and friends this Christmas.

Consider the following two options: you received all of the gifts on your Christmas list on Christmas morning but have to enjoy them by yourself, or you get a few of the things you want at Christmas, but get to spend the day with those most special to you.  I think that given these two options most people would choose the latter one.  There is something inside of each person that wants to share life with others.  We were not meant to be alone nor were we meant to enjoy the good things of life by ourselves.  Gifts can not make us happy, whereas sharing in God’s creation with others can.

I think often we forget this at Christmas because the focus is so concentrated on the amount of money we spend on gifts for other people.  Gifts are alright, but what many of us are pining for today is love.  So as we approach Christmas, be proactive in spending quality time with family and friends.  Strive to show each of them love in the way that speaks most to them.  Maybe it’s baking cookies with grandma, assembling the new toy on Christmas with a younger sibling, writing a letter of appreciation to your parents,  the list goes on and on.  Make it a point that those closest to you know that you love them by your actions and words, and not just the amount of money you spend on a Christmas gift for them.

As we remember the Christmas story how Jesus has given us Himself as a gift of great love, may we reflect that love to all those we meet during this Christmas season.  Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day we celebrate today, and St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, may we thoroughly prepare for the coming of Christ into our hearts this Christmas.