Tag Archives: God’s Love

The Eucharist

The Eucharist is the summit of Christian life and worship.

When I was 11, I heard a priest telling me this:

“You are what you eat, and the more you partake of the Blessed Sacrament, the more you grow in God’s goodness.”

Of course I never understood it back then, but I used to get all excited because there would be fun, games and food every time the Feast of Corpus Christi drew near — my parish had her feast day on Corpus Christi because it’s called the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. The excitement I had as a kid growing up towards this feast day was merely for superficial reasons.

But if I come to think about it, for some strange reason I was always drawn to the Mass as a kid and would always sit down in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration whenever I had time. I don’t even remember why, but I just did. For a period of time, I did leave the Church (I wasn’t always faithful) but even when I left the Church, it was the Eucharist that drew me back.

I don’t think these are mere coincidences, and everyone’s got something that REALLY connects them with the faith. For some it’s a special devotion to Mother Mary, for some it’s a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For me it has to be the Eucharist.

I am simply grateful.

A priest once said in his homily, and I will never forget this for the rest of my life:

“The greatest love story ever told lies in a white piece of consecrated bread.”*

God is love. And by taking on humanity, dying for us and asking us to participate in His Being by His presence in the Eucharist, it is God saying: “Be with Me; commune with Me. I would rather die than spend an eternity without you.”

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

* paraphrased from Abp. Fulton Sheen.

The Last Shall Be First

Mark 10:28-31

This Gospel passage continues from where the rich youth rejected our Lord’s counsel to cast away his riches and thus, went away sorrowful. It is in this context that the Apostles began to inquire of THEIR reward for they had ALREADY fulfilled this precept of leaving everything behind.

However, Jesus replies with a general answer. He instructs the Apostles to prefer the Glory of God over the things of this world. Finally, He closes the discourse by telling them the famous verse which all Catholics love: “But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mk 10:31)

From a human perspective, this may seem daunting, illogical and unfair. Even in the depths of my heart, I do ponder why this must be so. How is it fair that the last will become first? (The sin of envy is a very ugly sin.)

The fundamental principle to remember is that God’s ways are DIFFERENT from ours. If we can’t accept this, then we do not understand a thing about True Christianity. The heart of Mark 10:31 is God’s generosity. It’s about the way God deals with us and the way He asks us to deal with each other. The last will be first.

The world’s view is the exact opposite. The world loves winners and has no time for losers. The brightest student gets the scholarship while the weakest goes to work in McDonald’s. The world doesn’t have time for those who are last. Jesus invites us through today’s Gospel to ask ourselves: shall we act in the way the world does?

With God, there are no losers. Remember that He loves us all equally. Whether we choose to accept that love though, will always be our choice alone.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

By guest writer Catherine Sheehan.

The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most common images associated with Catholicism. Numerous Catholic churches and schools are named after the Sacred Heart and many churches contain an image or statue of the Sacred Heart.

But how often do we stop to think what the devotion to the Sacred Heart is actually all about? What was Christ communicating to us when He revealed His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century? Why did the Church establish a feast day devoted to the Sacred Heart and does this devotion still have relevance for us today?

For human beings, the heart symbolizes the very center of our being since it is the organ that keeps us alive by pumping blood around the whole body. It also symbolizes the depths of our feelings and therefore our capacity for love. We speak of being ‘heart-broken’ when something tragic happens to us, when someone we love dies, a friend betrays us or our love is rejected. When we desire to be close to others we refer to ‘speaking from the heart’ or having a ‘heart to heart’ conversation.

All of this tells us much about why Jesus desired a devotion to His Sacred Heart. He wanted to be close to us, to reveal to us the depths of His love for us, and to call us to respond to this love by loving Him in return and extending that love to others. Indeed He gave the commandment to His followers to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15: 12).

Since St. John told us that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing other than acknowledging and reinforcing this revelation of who God is, and asking us to enter more deeply into his love.

From 1673 to 1675, Our Lord appeared several times to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in the French town of Paray-le-Monial. The first apparition took place on 27 December 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. Interestingly, it was St. John who was called the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’, and who rested his head near Christ’s heart at the Last Supper (John 13: 23).

Christ showed St. Margaret Mary His Sacred Heart which was crowned with flames and a cross, and encircled by a crown of thorns. She also saw that His heart was pierced. This corresponds with the fact that Christ’s side was pierced with a lance when He hung on the cross (John 19:20).

Jesus expressed to St. Margaret Mary His desire that a devotion to His Sacred Heart be established and a feast day on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

As part of this devotion, Jesus asked that people receive the Holy Eucharist on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, in honor of His Sacred Heart. This is known as the First Friday devotion.

The feast day of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially established in 1765 and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart.

In his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII wrote:

… Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race … Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.

He further wrote: “The Church gives the highest form of worship to the Heart of the divine Redeemer.”

Let us celebrate the great feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with particular fervor, since it announces to the world the unfathomable love and mercy of Jesus Christ. His Sacred Heart burns with love for us each and every day!

The 12 promises of Christ to those who have devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, as revealed to St Margaret Mary:

(1) I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
(2) I will establish peace in their homes.
(3) I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
(4) I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
(5) I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
(6) Sinners will find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
(7) Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
(8) Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
(9) I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10) I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
(11) Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart.
(12) I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

___

Catherine Sheehan is an experienced writer and a journalist with The Catholic Weekly.

Divine Friendship

Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
—John 15:12–17

Two lines from this Gospel passage may seem contradictory at first glance:

You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.

Andrea_del_Sarto_-_The_Last_Supper_(detail)_-_WGA00391First of all, Jesus tells us we are friends, not slaves—if we do what He commands us. Wait. Do friends normally take orders from one another? Then He says we are not slaves because we know what our Master is doing. But…do we really? At the time He spoke these words, his apostles had no idea that He was about to suffer and die (though, to be fair, it’s not like He didn’t warn them). The disciples seemed pretty clueless most of the time about what Jesus was really up to. Can we truly say that we know what our Master is doing? I think more often we feel we are flying blind, having to trust Him without really understanding what His plan is. After all, so much of our Catholic worldview is grounded in the concepts of mystery and faith.

What do we mean when we speak of the mysteries of God? Encountering mystery does not mean that we’ll never know the answers and should simply give up trying to understand. Rather, it means that no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn. Our human understanding is limited, but with God we can go deeper and deeper, until we are united fully with God in Heaven and can participate in His perfect understanding.

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet

The more we plumb the depths of these mysteries, the more we grow in both understanding and wonder. But in order to get anywhere we must first have faith. We cannot grasp at this understanding for ourselves; we must draw closer to God so that He can help us see. We must trust Him. Our hearts must be open to soak in His wisdom, rather than trying to sharpen our own, which is a losing battle. Understanding the mysteries of God requires more than just intelligence; it requires divine relationship. It requires friendship with Jesus.

And Jesus offers us that friendship as a great, unmerited gift. We can begin to understand what He is doing—though it be far beyond our depth—through our love for Him. He says, “You are my friends if you trust me. And if you trust me, you will follow my commandments.” Our obedience springs from love and gratitude rather than fear and servitude. We can rest in the knowledge that we are loved and chosen, and we can return that love by recognizing Jesus in others and loving one another.

We are not mere servants; we are friends. And we are made to delight in a Love that is greater than we can comprehend. When we remain in Him, we can begin to bear the fruits of understanding, cultivated through love alone.


1. Andrea del Sarto, The Last Supper / PD-US
2. Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The Treasure in the Field

By guest writer Kimri Thetadig.

___

I didn’t know my heart needed to be broken into to be set free.

It makes sense though: ensconced in comforting cold rock lies a humble sparkle of gold that the great Finder knows and sets out to uncover.

I’ve yearned for You a long time. Since before time. And all those countless timeless aches of missing and hungering and begging for the comfort of Your embrace, as I stumbled down thorny dark paths searching for my place, seem now like a fairy-tale but for the fact that most of my life I’ve lived the pain of being utterly and indescribably stuck.

As a child, staring out into Mama’s hilly rock garden behind my favorite blue house, I recall gathering all my friends (which were the rocks and sticks of Mama’s garden, a battered old teddy bear whose eye was about to fall out, shells from the ocean); we’d explore the world that was there and it made me happy to see sunlight on water, rippling down green leaf and ants carrying a predator 10 times their size. But then, the Thought gonged. At first without afterthought, then repeatedly like a death knell in the pit of my young guts: “What if there’s nothing, Nothing, NOTHING, N.O.T.H.I.N.G. after this?”

My first remembered encounter with the true despair of my humanity: “From dust we came and to dust we shall return.” The world is a funny, strange place.

I grew up here, the world, and its thoughts began quickly to set like weeds in my soil. I fed my garden the way I knew how. With the fresh bottled water of pessimism and the choicest fertilizers of discontent, sprinkling her undergrowth with a spritz of faithlessness, that I know now reeks of death. I saw that no matter how much I tried to block out the clamor of hurtful noise from outside, it is a battlefield. and for a young soul who does not know or understand the food of love, to be fed on the food of world is rot to the flesh.

I’d found You though in many guises and forms throughout my wandering on this earth. You appeared in my Mama who’d strengthen me every night with the coconut oil shield of faith and strength as she taught me with her hands and her heart how true love is a daily fight for good, a choice every day to get up and prepare breakfast, walk me to school though her bones would wail and crack with every step, sneak in a roll up and chocolate cookies in my bag for lunch and buy us ice-cream on our bus ride home with her last $5.

Again, You were there in the blaring beauty of the bee that hovered into our apartment window every day around lunch time, visiting me as I offered fake honey from a bottle I took from you, little bee. You didn’t seem to care I was feeding you with the food you fed me. You came back time and again and my heart was elated.

And then You came to me as I recognized for myself the path I would not choose to walk down. That took a lot to be true. You kissed me in the gentle breeze as I walked away from the path I hadn’t willfully chosen but walked down anyway, and gave me a friend so strong and loving to help me believe it ok to desire something off the beaten path.

You were generous Love. You were my loyal unpretentious Friend. You were comfort and hope.

Tonight, in Your holy Silence, I understood, fleetingly, Your presence. I have found the treasure in the field, that neither time nor death can steal.

Pulsing eagerly beneath our caged physical bodies is the beat of all life that finds wonderful expression when the beat drops, the right rhythm pulls and the soul recognizes her spirit’s call in the physical, her Creator birthing in her immense unspoilt joy. All inhibition disappears, limbs dance to the sound of her first love.

You came to bring fire to the earth. But like a gentle breeze, Your love touches my brokenness and i choose surrender over fortification now.

Once, when I was a child and thought like a child, I believed the possibility of there being nothing else after we live this life here on earth. Now, returning to that time before time I recognize again, the reality of where I am, my place, and where I am going.

I am going to my Father’s House, which He has broken open for me when He rolled away the cold rock and allowed me to dance on the dust of death and behold His gentle golden glory.

I am surrendered.

_____
Originally published at Destillation.
Bio: Kimri Thetadig is a young Samoan Catholic living in Brisbane, Australia. She says: “I don’t know how else to describe who I am other than a desperately weak and constantly sinning daughter of an ever-loving, ever-forgiving Father. My name is Kimri. I write, I eat, I read, I laugh, I live, I ask God daily for the strength to love Him and every creature He created enough and unselfishly. It’s not the easiest, but His Love shows me it’s possible. I pray that my words can contribute to making a well world, by God’s grace.”

The Hipster Nativity Set

As a child, one of my favorite things about Christmas was the Nativity scenes. From the teeny-tiny one on my family’s home altar to the life-sized diorama at the Church of St. Alphonsus, carvings of the Holy Family brought the story of the Incarnation to life.

This morning I awoke to the sight of a “Hipster Nativity” on my newsfeed.

hipster nativity

It’s pretty darn clever. I mean, the three wise men on Segways bearing gifts from Amazon!? Too perfect. One of these generic “individuals” even has a waxed mustache. Nice detail.

And Mary. Mary holding a cup of Starbucks next to baby Jesus while making a pursed-lip duck face for their selfie…

— Tara McGinley, “Sweet Jesus: There’s a ‘hipster’ nativity scene you can buy”, Dangerous Minds

There was the attendant Catholic outcry on Facebook about blasphemy and sacrilege. A friend commented: “Good grief… Maybe this is just a comment on the already unbearable commercialization of Christmas.”

One of my favorite comments came from Stephen Duffy in the Catholic Discussions Facebook group:

Well the thing that stands out about the traditional nativity scene is that Mary and Joseph have NOTHING. They manage to find a water trough and some straw to make a bed for their baby. All the people who have stuff, are too busy partying at the local hotels. Now [here’s] a bunch of guys who want to take selfies at the nativity scene with their luxury devices. [It’s] cool to be involved in the nativity scene. Do you think these people would [have] sat round a dirty old stable seeing the baby of a couple of skinflints when they could be having fun with all cool people? If such people were to see the nativity happen right in their face they would call social services immediately and would perish the thought that there was something magical going on.

Personally, I saw it as an indictment of modern “culture”. Instead of Joseph and Mary focusing on Jesus in profound adoration, here the parents are taking a selfie. Isn’t that true of so many parents today, who even set up Facebook fan pages for their children? Instead of paying attention to God, people are driven by modern technology and social mores to seek attention for themselves. One can take away a chastening spiritual lesson from this Nativity scene.

If the birth of Jesus took place today, it would be a far cry from the historical tale as yesterday’s youth knows it. There’d be a Nav system to guide the Wise Men to Bethlehem, the actual birth would be “live” on Facebook and Tweets from the manger would be posted hourly…

The Hipster Nativity Set makes perfect sense for today’s Millennials. They can relate to a Man-bunned Joseph taking a selfie and a Starbucks-toting Mary.

— Laura, “A Hipster Nativity Set So The Millennials Can Relate”, if it’s hip, it’s here

There is something really crude about modern-day attention-seeking. It feels as if the populace has been infantilized, with rampant neediness and the draining demand to “Look at me! Look at me!”. One is tempted to stick up a cynical nose à la Holden Caulfield and deride all the “phonies”. Or to mock how contrived others’ selfies are, with hilarious parodies, as Chris Martin did with his daughter’s Instagram photos, and Australian comedienne Celeste Barber with celebrities’ sultry images. One also laments the accidental destruction of magnificent art in stupid quests for a selfie, as with the woefully broken statues in Lisbon (St. Michael and Dom Sebastião), and tragic deaths.

But underneath all this is a hunger for love: a deep, aching yearning for fulfilling communion, a communion that makes you feel accepted, wanted, and completely beloved.

That’s what Christmas is about. God loving us so much that He sent His only Son to become one of us, an ordinary-looking babe born to an ordinary-looking couple. Infinite Beauty and Divine Love deigning to be bound in the finitude of a human body with a human will. That’s true love. Look at Him! Contemplate Him, and you will then understand your true worth as an adopted child of God, a marvelous creation needing no selfies or human approbation for everlasting fulfillment.

In the Hipster Nativity, the parents have turned away from their child, rupturing the loving communion of quiet togetherness in a self-seeking lust for outward approval. In a traditional Nativity, Joseph and Mary are transfixed by the wonder of Almighty God lying helpless in the manger, offering Himself as Living Bread for the world, and depending on humans to carry out His will.

Epiphany

God makes Himself vulnerable to us, in order to heal our vulnerability, our wounds, and receive us into His heart. When we look at Him, solemnly gazing up at us from the manger, we begin to understand the first intimations of this wellspring of Love that will pour Itself out on Calvary. We begin to learn how to love ourselves, and to love others, seeing Christ in their faces hungry for the Living Bread born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. By loving others, we reveal their true nature to themselves as icons of Christ, bearing the stamp of divine Love by virtue of their humanity. True Love gives profound attention to a person, binding their wounds and helping them flourish. This Advent season, let us not be distracted by the junk food of facile attention, but go deeper, partaking of and giving the nourishment which is God’s Love.

“Needing attention is a p-p-powerful force in the world, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely. Most people would think of it as a very natural need. Almost a right.”
“By ‘natural’ you mean ‘m-m-morally neutral’?”
“Touché.”
“Without God, people find it very hard to know who they are or why they exist. But if others pay attention to them, praise them, write about them, discuss them, they think they’ve found the answers to both questions.”
“If they don’t believe in God, you can’t blame them.”
“True, dear. But it still makes for an empty, unhappy person.”

“Are you saying, Father Joe, that in the matter of motives, or even morally, there’s not ultimately much difference between me and my targets?”
“I’m afraid not, dear. If the result is that you only have a personality other people shape. If you really exist only in other people’s minds.”
“I think you’ve just described celebrity.”
“I’ve just described pride, dear.”
― Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul

By His own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: He was absolutely helpless; He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him; He could not speak; her breathing was His breath; His heart beat in the beating of her heart.

To-day Christ is dependent upon men. In the Host He is literally put into a man’s hands. A man must carry Him to the dying, must take Him into the prisons, work-houses, and hospitals, must carry Him in a tiny pyx over the heart on to the field of battle, must give Him to little children and “lay Him by” in His “leaflight” house of gold.

The modern world’s feverish struggle for unbridled, often unlicensed, freedom is answered by the bound, enclosed helplessness and dependence of Christ — Christ in the womb, Christ in the Host, Christ in the tomb.

This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry Him in our hearts to wherever He wants to go, and there are many places to which He may never go unless we take Him to them.

— Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 31 [Christian Classics]

Images: Dangerous Minds; Hallowedground

The Good News About Suffering

We are surrounded by human suffering. Many people are hurting in today’s world. Some suffering is horrific and some minor, but every kind can be soothed, and even removed, by trusting in God’s infinite Love and Mercy. Furthermore, God desires for us to become images of His Love and Mercy and to play a role in the alleviation of the suffering of others.

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

God brings good out of all situations for those who love Him. Nothing on our planet has happened, is happening, or will happen without God’s allowance. And He would not allow something to occur if He could not use the situation for our good.
Sometimes, we who have our tiny perspective of the world, history, and even our own life, forget this. We forget that God has the bird’s eye view of every human’s life and desires all to find fulfillment in Himself. We lose sight of the fact that He understands that there is nothing in our existence worth more than this fulfillment and that even our temporal suffering is worth it if it helps us to our Salvation.
So does God hurt us to save us? No, He allows us to be hurt to save us, seeing the pain we experience infinitely less important than our salvation. Our pains come from ourselves, other humans, or the world around us, which has been broken by the first humans and many more thereafter.
Humanity was created with, by, in, and for Love, to be Loved and to Love. However, love cannot be forced. It must be freely given and accepted or we would be merely programmed robots instead of free humans who can choose and therefore Love. So, with the freedom to choose comes the freedom to be wrong, and with the wrong choice comes the undesired outcome, which will bring with it some level of pain as proportionate to the choice.
God is Love. He knows us. He knows what we can take and what would be too much for us.

“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

God is faithful and will not let us be tried beyond our strength. In the Gospel, Jesus asks what father would give his son a snake when the son asks for a fish, or a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread. God is a Good Father. Sometimes it might seem to us like He is giving us stones and snakes, but in reality we are getting bread and fish.
God wants to give us every desire of our hearts, but we have tarnished hearts filled with desires that could keep us from God and Salvation. Therefore, God might need to change our hearts, redirect them, in order to satisfy us completely. Anxiety, sadness, pain, discomfort, death, all these remind us of our human nature and need for God.
This humble remembrance of our humanity allows us to approach God in the way we ought. In return, He provides for us in all of our necessities. Keeping this in mind, we can live each day in the satisfaction that God will provide for us today and in the future. We can be at peace with the truth that we already posses, in a way, all that we need, because we know that God will provide it.
Suffering is a difficult aspect of the human condition. It has caused many to walk away from the Faith and seek consolation in other things. However, it is only through God that we can overcome suffering.
My favorite example of this is found with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was able to transform suffering with love. She understood the value of her suffering in the currency of souls saved. Furthermore, she loved God and souls so much that she said she could no longer suffer as she fully grasped the true meaning behind it.
Likewise, Jesus said to St. Faustina, “accept all sufferings with love”. By keeping these words of Our Lord to heart, we can find in our suffering opportunities to grow in virtue and open the floodgates of grace into our lives. This grace will not leave us unchanged. But first, we must change our approach and our attitude toward suffering, and in particular, our approach and attitude toward the daily grind of our lives.

“If you wish to feel and to have an attraction for suffering, you are in search of your own consolation, for when we love anything, pain disappears.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

They Call Today “Good”

Every Triduum, starting with Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday, I re-read T.S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets”. It is four of his best poems, and for anyone who only knows his poetry ala in “The Hollow Man” or “The Wasteland” (critiques of modernity, not praise), his words may be surprising.

For instance, it is in “East Coker”, the second of the quartet, in which Eliot wrote,
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Crucifixion Icon by Olga Christine

How can this Friday be good? Today Jesus was denied, whipped, humiliated, crucified. And why? In today’s gospel, John remind us that all this happens to fulfill the Scriptures. Jesus accepted the cup his father passed him – he accepted, fully, what must happen. Did he have the power to prove himself, as Satan tempted him to in the desert? Of course. But the hardness of the high priests should not be softened by might, but by truth.

What is truth? asked Pilate; a question so modern still that audiences cannot help but relate. Good Friday is the day when Jesus seems the most human. He is condemned and he dies. We are reminded in the second reading that “we do not have a high priest/ who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,/ but one who has similarly been tested in every way,/ yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Indeed, as the reading continues (Heb 5:7-9):
In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

The goodness of this day lies in Jesus’ very passion for us all; a love to conquer death, a truth that “I AM” is a witness as well as a declaration. Today, the veil has been torn and we enter Golgotha, the place of skulls. The King of the Jews is dead, and so Eliot finishes his poem: “In the end is my beginning.”

Today was hard. Today was terrible. Today was good. We wait. The tomb is close by…

The Absurdity of Divine Love

“God was made man…If I could love a leper’s sores, couldn’t I love the boringness of Henry? But I’d turn from the leper if he were here, I suppose…I want the dramatic always. I imagine I’m ready for the pain of Your nails, and I can’t stand twenty-four hours of maps and Michelin guides. Dear God, I’m no use…Clear me out of the way.” -Graham Greene, “The End of the Affair,” Book Three

This quote, from the incredible novel of Graham Greene, typifies for me the experience of God’s love in a way that is impossible to put correctly into words. Sarah Miles, the character speaking in that quote, is everything that many of us are: she’s a sinner, a sinner who is falling in love with the Lord and doing it while kicking and screaming and trying with all of her might not to. While this might not specifically be every one of our experiences in a direct way, it certainly is indirectly; no matter how much we want to love the Lord, no matter how clearly we have made a choice to follow Him, we still must battle in our own selves to actually give ourselves completely over to Him.

Isn’t this, then, the absurdity of the love that He has for us? He loves us – and it is a complete, total, incomprehensible love – despite the fact that we are unable to reciprocate that love in the way that His love demands. The Creator of the whole universe spoke us into existence and loves us with every moment, yet we spend much of that time fighting back, flailing away from His grip of love and choosing ourselves over Him repeatedly. The brilliance of Divine Love is precisely that, no matter we do, He loves us. No matter how far we fall, no matter what choices we make, no matter how often we rebel our God will forgive us and accept us, allowing us to come back into His arms like only a perfect Father can.

Isn’t that, then, quite absurd? A Perfect Lover chooses in every moment to love His beloved perfectly, and when the beloved doesn’t reciprocate that love, the Lover still loves all the more. What a God we have, my dear friends, what a loving, incredible, God we have.

This is the reality that the characters in Greene’s novel so openly struggle with: I want something that God doesn’t want me to have, and He loves me whether I choose Him or the other. That other, which for each of us takes such different forms, calls out to us from the world, appearing to offer something that we don’t have. Through it all, though, the Voice of Love calls us back to Him, knowing that so often, even when we say we are ready to respond to that Voice, we will ignore it; nevertheless, He continues to call.

So often I imagine – as I’m sure many of you might, and as Sarah Miles said in that quote above – that I can do incredible things through love, things like Saint Francis of Assisi did when he loved the leper with His sores. I imagine I am ready to imitate this, and yet I struggle to love the boringness or simple personality quirks of those closest to me. And yet, as I am learning and believe we all must continue to learn, the mercy and tenderness of our God draw near to me even in those moments when I choose not to love the other, for He loves with a love that I cannot even begin to fathom or truly approach.

In these moments, you and I must come back to this reality of the man on the cross, joining Sarah Miles and all sinners to understand that “love extends itself all the time,” and that we must look no further than the cross to see the beauty of what extended love can really look like.

Parents as Lay Ministers

One of the most horrifying things I’ve seen as a chaplain intern is a mother curled up in bed holding her dead teenage daughter. I’ve seen a half-dozen families with babies in the ER. When I come home from the hospital, the first thing I always do is hold my infant son.

So, what is a parent to do in my situation? Is it a detriment to my ministry if I see my boy in the face of every pediatric patient? Is it bad for me to sympathize with all parents, especially mothers? Do I risk putting families above all other patients in my priorities? Do I risk not being able to see clearly due to my own biases? Here are a few of my thoughts on the situation:

How to treat parents

As part of my internship, I had bi-weekly supervisory meetings with the head of the Spiritual Care Dept. Once, we reflected on my work with the family of a severely injured child. I admitted to my supervisor that as I went to meet with the family, I tried to put myself in their shoes. I thought, “What would I be thinking or feeling if I were them? What would be most helpful for me if I were them? What would be least helpful?”

I think that last question is the most important one for a parent/minister to ask. Every person and every situation is different. The parents of this patient have their own stories and backgrounds. You can’t use your worldview to judge theirs. There may be emotions felt and expressed that you may never understand. They may need something that you’d never think of. But, at the end of the day, we’re all human and while you can’t use yourself as a gauge on what to do, you can usually use yourself as a gauge for what not to do. Although there are some people who are more sensitive than others, generally speaking we’re all offended and hurt by the same kind of things.

For example: Some people are huggers, some people are not, but most people would agree that laughing while someone else is crying is extremely insensitive.

Now is not the time or the place to swap dirty diaper stories or to talk about your own children and parenting adventures. The topic at hand is the sick child and the goal is to help the parents in any way you can, period.


How does being a parent affect my priorities

Clearly, you cannot put parents first, above all of the other people vying for your time and attention. You will want to and it’s only natural to want to. As a parent/minister, you can most sympathize with the parents and you have deep concern for any and all sick children. But that doesn’t mean that you shirk your responsibilities to the rest of the hospital.

Priorities need to be set regardless of how well you can relate to the patient and family. My priorities tend to be set as follows:

1) Those who clearly need spiritual assistance come first. (i.e. those who directly request a chaplain)
2) Life threatening injuries and illnesses
3) Provocative cases (for example, suicidal patients or cases in which there is more than one patient from the same family)
4) Everybody else

Notice that my priorities say nothing about the age of the patient (although the age of the patient could be a factor in any of these) nor does it say anything about the religious affiliation or lack thereof of the patient. Most of my patients are not religiously affiliated. I think that might be a product of the overall culture.

Being able to see clearly

I have to admit that when I see a child injured or sick, I am taken back. But the trick for me is to not let that paralyze me from doing my job. For some reason, in our culture, we find it hard to believe that young people can get injured or sick. We associate youth with health. Regardless if you are a parent or not, seeing a child unconscious on a hospital bed does lead to some cognitive dissonance. When you are a parent, there is an added layer of seeing your own kid in the face of the kid who is hospitalized. It’s natural. It’s okay to see your kid in the sick kid and to have some of that parental instinct come up. Of course it’s going to happen because being a parent changes everything!

You can’t let it get in the way of your work though. You have to funnel it to give you energy to help the family, not to start crying. You don’t need to make everyone else’s job harder by being the chaplain who can’t keep their stuff together. The patients don’t need that and you’re just making yourself look unprofessional. At the end of the day, by all means, cry! You need to get it all out but, don’t do it in the moment in front of the family.

Seeing your work through the eyes of a parent can also be a blessing. Your identity as a parent gives you just one more thing in common with our Father in heaven: You know what unconditional love feels like. You know how much God loves every single person in that hospital. So, your identity gives new meaning to your work as you know part of your job as God’s representative is to reflect that love to everyone. “What am I to do?” you ask. You are to do what you think God-who-is-Love would do.

And I think that is what it all boils down to. Of course your identity as a parent is going to affect how you minister. You can’t stifle all of that nor would you want to. But you can’t let it get in the way of your job. Your job at the moment is to care for all patients and their families. But, again, being a parent kind of gives you an inside track into understanding the mind of God. As it says:

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. – Isaiah 49:15

God loves everyone more than you love your own child. Doesn’t that blow your mind?

This post was initially published on the author’s own blog.

Not So Complicated

Flying home, the college lady next to me mentioned she was in a “complicated” relationship with someone back home. I smiled and said I’d been there.

“Make sure you draw clear lines,” I said. “Relationships don’t have to be complicated.”

Perhaps this sounds too simplistic – as I fear the lady took it – because life itself is full of complications. But if it’s the wrong time for one person, it’s the wrong person for both parties. If this is the case, it is time to step back and seek perspective on what God could have planned for us during this season of our life.

In Isaiah, God says that he knew us before we were knit in our mother’s womb. In Tobit, he speaks of putting two people together before they were born. Yet, this is not to say that one specific person is destined to only be with another specific person. A highly romantic notion, to be sure, but also an unlikely one. That idea puts limitations on God’s creation and takes away the beauty of two people who choose to marry, verses two people whom accept that they are destined to be married.

Love is of God, and God allows people to be compatible with more than one person, just as people could be happy and able to do many different jobs or live in a variety of locations. God works between the cracks of choice and acts of free will. God has plans for us: follow his commandments, love and be loved. The rest is expendable.

It is easy to talk about the hook-up culture, tsk at the people who participate, explain intellectually why playing with such emotions through a physical relationship is damaging in the long-term; but in the short-term, it is much, much harder to break out of it.

The people involved are not looking for easy love – they’re looking for any kind of love. They want authentic love and they’re scared it might pass them by. They have a hard time grasping an emotion without a touch, a pursuit without a guarantee, a promise worth forever.

The place to start is yourself and with the company you keep. When you ask your friends for advice, do you often turn to God as well? He is no fair-weathered friend. He may know all, but he still wants you to ask and show that you value him. Make time to pray and find quiet within so as to listen better. Frequent the sacraments for grace and read the day’s mass readings. God talks to all of us through the Holy Scripture.

The more we turn to God as our friend, the more readily our complicated situation will have more light shed upon it and the right road shall be easier to tread.

Free Love And Other Redundant Phrases

We’ve all had that “ah-ha” moment, right, men? The one where you’re baking a meringue, blaring J-Lo, and you suddenly ask yourself, “Does love really not cost a thing?”. Or, ladies, when you’re working out to The Beatles and, right as you reach your personal chin-up record, it hits you that indeed, money CAN’T buy you love. Alright, so maybe those specific moments are unique to me, but I’m sure we’ve all had instances that came out of the blue and caused us to spend some time at our own Roxbury, asking the deep, eternal question: “What is love?” (On a complete side-note, I once walked into a gym full of weight lifters and the radio was blaring “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee-Gees, and it was one of the most surreal moments in my entire life)

Anyway, with a large majority of media being centered on using (and mis-using) the word “love”, it would do us all a world of good to pause for a moment and take stock of how we, as followers and friends of the God Who IS love, define and use it. I’m not referring to things like “I LOVE corduroy” or “I absolutely LOVE Fabio’s performance in Zoolander“; I’m speaking more along the lines of how we use it in relationships and sexuality. (Though, I HAVE met a few extreme types with an unnatural devotion to noisy, grooved trousers.) Considering that Enrique Iglesias’ hit “Tonight (I’m loving you)” is only the edited title (swap “loving” for “f*@#ing”), and the same goes for Akon’s “I’m gonna love you” (swap “love” for….), it seems that we need to find a way to wade through the mire of contradictions and euphemisms and arrive at solid ground. Fortunately, we have just such a path.

In his encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), Pope Paul VI gives us what I call a litmus test for finding authentic love, a test comprised of 4 characteristics, generally referred to as the “Four Marks of God’s Love”. These four marks, or signs, are: Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful. (Yes, it drives me insane that the “T” ruins the alliteration). This post is the first of four in which I’ll take a stab at giving a brief, cursory explanation of God’s love–and therefore, perfect love–as defined by Humanae Vitae.

Because the very essence of real love is the act of giving (which is why “actions speak louder”), for love to be authentic it must entail a true gift of self on the part of the one who is professing love. However, though our intention might be to love, there are myriad ways in which our struggle with weakness, selfishness, and sin can taint our attempts and chip away at these four marks. As today’s title makes clear, we are first going to address the need for true freedom in love.

We’re all familiar with phrases like “After all I’ve done for you…” or “The least you could do in return is…” or “You owe me this…”. Statements such as these get right to the heart of one enemy of freedom in love, namely that of expectation. Whenever we put on the guise of giving, yet hold within us the expectation of ANY form of reciprocation, then we are not truly giving and, therefore, not truly loving, either. If we clean the house expecting accolades and/or a foot massage, not only do we almost invariably set ourselves up for disappointment, but we also remove true giving from the equation, since the “recipient” is now expected to give something in return. Whenever someone says, “I work all day long to put food on the table, and all I ask is…..”, then all others involved are no longer free to simply receive the gift of food, since there is now, apparently, a contract of sorts in play.

This is even more poignant and relevant in regard to relationships and sex. How many women have felt obligated to “put out” as a result of some guy purchasing dinner and movie tickets? How many marriages are soured by the unwavering, incessant expectation of one spouse exacted upon the other? Conversely, though, I’ll wager we can all remember a moment in our lives when someone simply GAVE to us, and we could clearly tell that nothing was expected in return, be it a parent, a partner, or even a postman. (Ahhh, alliteration)(Plus, my postman has NEVER asked for anything in return for delivering my mail…)

The other primary enemy of freedom in love can be summed up by saying, “If you can’t say no, your yes means nothing.” Whether you’re being pressured into something or you “just can’t say no” to your hormones in the moment, if you feel (or are) unable to say no in any given circumstance, then freedom is lacking and, therefore, so is true love. Regardless of how much someone professes their undying love for you, if you don’t feel free to say no, then they don’t love you, at least not completely; likewise, if you can’t say no to your sexual urges, called “the launch sequence” by Ray Romano, then what you’re feeling towards the other person is not love, it is the force of chemicals, instinct, and attraction. As powerful as desire can feel, if you can’t say no to it, it is merely a powerful slavery. Saying you’re free simply because you give in to desire is like saying a nation is free simply because its citizens don’t resist invading powers; in actuality, behavior of that nature signifies defeat.

So, in the muddle of whims, urges, misconceptions, lies, and pain that we see around us, possibly in our own lives, how in the world are we supposed to find good examples of this free love? Well, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, our perfect example of free love lies in God’s love for us. (4 marks of God’s love) In God’s love for us we see complete freedom. We were created simply because He loves. Each of us was made “for our own sake”, as John Paul II put it. God made you with NO strings attached. He never says, “After all I’ve done for you….” You actually owe Him nothing. His love has already been 100% freely given, whether you accept it or not. Though He longs for intimacy with you, He is in no way disappointed in you, nor is His love diminished, when you don’t feel the same.

Likewise, when He became man in order to suffer and die for us, He showed us what true, free love looks like. Starting from His fervently human prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (“let this cup pass”) to His miraculously divine prayers on Golgotha (“Father, forgive them”), he showed us what freedom looks like by saying no to the urge to run, the desire to flee. He was so free to love you that He could embrace every suffering necessary to gain intimacy with you. His only goal was redemption, not reciprocation.

So, brothers and sisters, let us begin to love freely, without expectation, pressure, or shackles. Let us feed people because they’re hungry, not because they do what we think is right. Let us give our time, treasure, and talent simply to be loving, because everyone is always worth it. Let us crush the bondage of passions we are told to give in to. Let us scrub, clean, and organize our houses simply for the glory of the Lover of our souls. Let us love freely. However, first, let us open our hearts wide to the free, unconditional, expectation-less love of God, for it is only by continually receiving His free gift of love that we learn how to truly and freely love anyone else. (Though, you CAN start by making a Bee-Gees mix disc for the postman…)

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Bio-Pic.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Nic Davidson and his wife joined the Church in ’08 after growing up in the Assemblies of God.  He has been a youth minister for the past 4 years and is currently working as a missionary on the Caribbean island of Dominica while his wife attends Med School there.  He is also writing a 3-year youth ministry curriculum for the Diocese of Duluth, MN.  Since youth ministry and missionary work are his bread-n-butter, there are ZERO normal pics of him for the bio pic. So, what you see is what you get, and what you see is him in a valley of volcanic steam vents.[/author_info] [/author]