Tag Archives: love

Jesus on the Street

Guest post by Catherine Santos.

It’s strange not having anything to do on a Monday, but at the same time I’m so grateful for it because it allows me to have some solid down-time with Jesus!

Today’s thought was inspired by the feast day of one of my favourite Saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who said:

“What matters in life is not great deeds, but great love.”

This prompted me to ask myself: “Do my actions match with my heart?”

Mine don’t — not completely and not always. I love helping my family, friends, colleagues and in church. And this is all good and well, but Jesus calls us to love deeper — to go beyond our comfort zone.

I made a quick (and frantic) run to a store last week for last-minute items for a conference starting later that afternoon. Along the way, I noticed this rugged man standing on the street. To be honest, I’ve noticed him for a while but never had the courage to step up and say something. We made eye contact and I gave a smile. “That’s enough right, Jesus?” No. The man says “Hello,” and so I greeted him back. This simple smile and hello lead to an exchange of names and understanding why he stands on the street. This gentleman stands on the street selling magazines as a mode of income, in hope that it will help him build his skills and work experience.

In just 5 minutes, I’ve encountered Jesus: His heart, His hurt and His desire to be loved.

This broke me. I began to tear up at the thought of missed opportunities of making Jesus known to others and my failure to love Him deeper.

This message isn’t anything new, I’m sure many of us know this deep inside. But it can be easy to forget in the world we live.

I pray that we may come to know His love for us more each day and that through it, we may never hesitate to help those in need. Lord, please give me eyes to see the needs and wounds of those hurting around me. Help me not to worry about what others may think and to do everything with a heart that only desires to bring you joy and glory. In times where I don’t know how to help, please give me the ears to hear Your guiding voice so that I can truly give the best care to the person You’ve entrusted to me.
Amen.

The Crucifix as a Passive Symbol

While doing some research recently, I came across reference to the crucifix as a “passive symbol” by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in its 2011 decision in the Lautsi v. Italy case.

The context was the Grand Chamber’s pronouncement that the Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in classrooms did not infringe on the rights of parents to ensure that the education of their children is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. According to the Grand Chamber, the display of the crucifix, unlike compulsory religious instruction or religious oath- taking, did not require action, prayer, or reverence from those who view it. Hence, according to the Grand Chamber, “it cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

(The Grand Chamber gave other reasons for its decision. For a more thorough discussion of the Lautsi case, please see “The Case of Lautsi v. Italy: a Synthesis” by Gregor Puppinck in Issue 3 of the 2012 volume of The BYU Law Review, available online.)

Whether the Grand Chamber realized it or not, the phrase “passive symbol” in relation to the crucifix is rich and deep in meaning. In more ways than one, the crucifix is indeed a passive symbol – although it is passive, like all other symbols it communicates meaning.

The crucifix tells the story of a God Who, out of love for humanity, freely became Man and allowed Himself to suffer the worst cruelty that humanity can think of. On the Cross, Christ rendered Himself powerless. He Who is God deliberately refused to display His omnipotence to a hostile crowd who was daring Him to show that He is Christ by coming down from the cross and saving Himself. Christ passively, albeit freely, suffered and died.

The crucifix shows Christ madly in love with us, yet too helpless to coerce us to respond to His love. He could only hope that the sight of Him nailed to the cross would move us to love Him in return.

This is His way of winning us over, because He wants us to love Him freely and without coercion.  Indeed, we can and do reject His love. With or without realizing it, perhaps the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights was on to something more when it ruled that the mere display of the crucifix “cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”

Ironically, perhaps it is precisely the self-effacing love that the crucifix symbolizes that makes some people uncomfortable at the sight of it. For we can be incapable of responding to such love which begs to be repaid with love.

The crucifix depicts the apparent defeat of God and at the same time is powerful proof of His love for us. The sight of a crucifix and the meaning it conveys can be disturbing, consoling, or inspiring.  Christ may be passive on the crucifix, but the sight of Him there does not leave people indifferent.

Because of these, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights correctly referred to the crucifix as a “passive symbol”. The image of a God Who allowed Himself to be treated the way He was treated communicates a lot of meaning.

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.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.
Image: PD-US

No Fear in Love

Today, my community did an exegesis of John 20-21.

What struck me the most is found in John 20:21 and 21:3.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples (who were hiding in fear, locked up in the upper room), He said “Peace be with you”.
These words were uttered to the very disciples who betrayed Him through denial; who fled the cross. Jesus didn’t reprimand them, neither did He bring up anything about the past. He simply said: “Peace be with you.”

This brings me so much hope. It is a prefigurement of Heaven. When we see Jesus face to face, I know that He will say “Peace be with you”.

Indeed, peace drives out fear. And in the past month of struggling, I’ve come to realize that peace cannot be attained until we surrender everything to Jesus — to simply say to Jesus “This is all I have, it’s not much. But take them. All I have is Yours.”

It is in the surrender to God and the vulnerability of our very selves that His love can penetrate our souls. Jesus can do nothing if our hearts are closed to His will. Often, I wonder: how do I know what is God’s will for my life? I’ve come to understand through experience that it’s probably the thing that brings most peace in your heart. You’ll know it when you feel it.

Back to the story of Jesus appearing to His disciples. After that encounter with Christ, they allowed the love and mercy of God to penetrate their hearts, and the very next day they were no longer fearful and stuck in that room; they went about their day and went fishing (Jn 21:3).

Indeed, God is love and He is the bringer of peace. Love indeed drives out all fear, only if we allow our hearts to be open and vulnerable and receive the peace that God has promised to us.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

The Gleam of Heavenly Treasures

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

“The lamp of the body is the eye.
If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;
but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.
And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”

—Matthew 6:19–23

Antonio_de_Pereda_y_Salgado_-_The_Knight's_Dream_-_WGA17164Our relationship with God is the lens through which we view the whole world. If we seek Light, if we pursue virtue and beauty and wonder, every experience we have will be illuminated by that encounter. If we truly know how loved we are, it will change everything. But often our selfishness and insecurity and anger cloud our vision and keep us from grasping the reality of Love. When we allow this to happen, all the wonders that surround us become cloaked in darkness. Our joy, too, grows dim.

When our pursuit of earthly treasures distracts us from our relationship with God, the Light inside us begins to fade, and even our earthly treasures fall into shadow and lose their glimmer. But for heavenly treasures, the reverse is true: the more we pursue them, the more brilliantly they shine. For as we increase our desire for holiness, our capacity for God’s Light increases, and we begin to see everything more clearly.

Jean-François_Millet_Angelus

If our vision is rightly ordered, this pursuit of heavenly treasures will follow naturally. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, though he was born into wealth, didn’t consider his riches to be of any importance. He didn’t act in the way you would expect a young man raised in comfort and affluence to behave. Instead of trying to accumulate more and more possessions, he secretly gave his money away to the poor. Instead of trying to impress other people, he embraced humility. This all flowed from the fact that he was able to see his situation more clearly, because he had encountered the Light. He recognized that, in the bigger picture, his wealth was ultimately meaningless, and thus he set about securing a treasure far more important. His wealth was a gift that was meant to be used to pour out grace upon others. If Pier Giorgio had clung to his wealth out of selfishness, it would have been a great burden, holding him back from the greatness to which he was called.

May we too loosen our grip on our earthly treasures, so that we can make room for greater ones; and may we invite God to shine His Light upon us.


1. Antonio de Pereda, The Knight’s Dream / PD-US
2. Jean-François Millet, The Angelus / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

The First Commandment

Mark 12:28-34

In this Gospel, Jesus reveals the first commandment,

“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:29-31)

This command demands of Catholics to ‘Latria‘, which means ‘Supreme worship to God alone’. How do we do this? Simply put, by following the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. These three virtues in their totality is the epitome of what becoming a Christian means. I will be sharing and reflecting on each of these virtues through bite-sized points:

We are first obliged by Faith given through Grace. This involves three steps: 1) Making efforts to find out what God has revealed, 2) To believe and obey God’s revelation, 3) To profess God’s Revelation openly whenever necessary. (c.f. Mt 10:32).

We are next obliged through Hope. Hope is to trust with confident assurance that God will grant us eternal life and the means to obtain it. (c.f. Titus 1:1-2).

Lastly, Charity. Charity obliges us to love God above all things because He is infinitely good, and to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (c.f. Mt 22:35-40).

If we can adhere to Faith, Hope and Charity with all our souls, hearts and strength, we can be sure that we ‘will not be far off from the Kingdom’.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

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?

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Image: PD-US

God Does Care About Your Sports Team

Recently I saw a video making the rounds on Facebook. One of its claims was that God does not care about whether your sports team wins or loses.

This brought to mind an excellent article which I read on a Christian parenting website some months ago, and which I lamentably cannot locate. It was written by a father reflecting that he came to understand God’s love for us and every detail of our lives, by thinking about his own love for his children and their beloved possessions, in particular three ratty old stuffed toys.

Because he loves his children, he loves what they love. What they care about matters to him, not because of the intrinsic value of the objects, but because whatever concerns his beloved children, concerns him. Their happiness and fulfillment concerns him.

Certainly, as God is transcendent, He possesses an awesome majesty that goes far beyond the nitty-gritty of our mundane lives. In one sense, it really does not matter to Him if a sports team wins or loses. But at the same time, God is Love. He is the God Who made Himself vulnerable to us, sacrificing Himself in order to save us from eternal damnation and separation from Him. He cares profoundly about every detail of our lives. Jesus listened when His mother observed the lack of wine at the wedding in Cana, and He provided it in abundance, performing His first miracle and beginning His public ministry. Little things can have a profound impact which we cannot foresee.

“Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details. The little detail that wine was running out at a party. The little detail that one sheep was missing. The little detail of noticing the widow who offered her two small coins. The little detail of having spare oil for the lamps, should the bridegroom delay. The little detail of asking the disciples how many loaves of bread they had. The little detail of having a fire burning and a fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at daybreak. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present.” – Pope Francis via Gaudete et Exsultate ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #TheCatholicWoman // Photo by Annie Spratt

A post shared by The Catholic Woman (@thecatholicwoman) on

When I was about 12 years old, I was upset when my mother gave away a little packet of sherbet powder from Disneyland, not because of the sherbet itself but because I had planned to use the tiny spade-shaped spoon inside for my Barbie dolls’ garden. A decade or so later, my brother returned from a trip to Disneyland with a packet of sherbet for me. I didn’t really appreciate the sherbet itself, but my heart was filled with joy because he had remembered that detail from my childhood. As the Chinese say, 爱屋及乌 (ài wū jí wū): if you love someone, you will love even the crow on the roof of his house.

The Church has given us the wonderful gift of patron saints for every possible profession and situation. God’s heavenly family cares about every member of the Church on Earth, and they are always available to us, encouraging us on our earthly pilgrimage (cf. Hebrews 12:1).

So, although God may not be as invested in the outcome of a sports match as you are, He definitely does care about it because He cares deeply for you, and He takes joy in sharing every aspect of your life, no matter how trivial it may seem to others. God, the ground of our being, sustains us in every moment, the magnificent and the mundane, and through each moment He grants us the outpouring of His sublime love.

___

Image: PD-US

Lady Liberty and The Statue of Responsibility

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl would have to be classed among the most profound works of the twentieth century. A survivor of both Auschwitz and two concentration camps affiliated with Dachau, Frankl — a Jewish Austrian psychiatrist — reflects on his holocaust experience and in the face of it responds to life and its meaning.

Frankl lays bare the human condition at its lightest and darkest, best and worst. Boldly speaking about the imperative of life to find meaning, even and especially, in the face of suffering. His experience gives him license to speak rawly about universal and personal truths, lending it something of the prophetic. Despite his own sufferings and ability to maintain a sense of moral integrity during those testing years, he writes honestly, but without resentment against his oppressors, and without taking the moral high ground against those who compromised themselves under the weight of the Nazi jackboot. His sharing challenges our modern sensibilities—pointing out not the demands we should make of life, as we are taught to, but the demand that life makes of us.

There is so much one can take from this work, of what is really an introduction to Frankl’s Logotherapy. For a Christian, a Christian reading of the text is inevitable. The mystery of the Logos, the Word, and the Cross, seeps through the words on every page.

The Cross as Reality

Through Frankl, the Holy Spirit can help us recapture the true meaning of the Cross in our postmodern landscape where that meaning is all too often deconstructed, institutionalised, privatised and novelised. For the Christian today, faced with the crossless standard of secularism, the Cross runs the risk of becoming nothing more than an identity-concept, an intellectual corner stone, a symbol to muse upon and defend—a point of difference, instead of a reality and mystery to be lived and breathed and believed in.

It’s an imperative for every generation and age to rediscover the truths of our faith, particularly the Cross, which always has and forever will run against the grain of the status quo. The Cross will never be cool, and if in certain pockets it ever does become trendy, it could only be a kitsch version of it. It’s a mystery far too great and gritty to be reduced to something bite-sized or to something that merely flashes on a billboard or dangles upon a neck. It will always be more.

The Wisdom of the Cross speaks uniquely in every age to those with ears to listen (Mt 11:15), but the message remains the same—a call to discover the meaning of life in Christ by shouldering his yoke of love and burden of responsibility.

Liberty & Responsibility

In Part II of Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl says the following:

Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth… Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.[i]

With such a simple proposition Frankl says many things…

Freedom without responsibility is arbitrary, aimlessly egocentric and condemned to meaninglessness. It’s a license for a self-autonomy void of consideration for the other. It’s the kind of freedom that allows an S.S. soldier to push a woman into a gas chamber. Sure, he might find meaning in doing so, but such subjective meaning is arbitrary, false and without substance. One of the many reasons it is exposed as such is because of its inability to register with universally held human values.

Yet what is freedom with responsibility? It is a yielding to the summons of life to be responsible, to take responsibility in the here and now, in fulfillment of one’s vocation.[ii] It demands one’s search for meaning, and one’s execution of their responsibility necessarily supplies it. It is the kind of liberty that rendered the woman being pushed into the gas chamber—St. Edith Stein—free to lay down her life of her own accord (Jn 10:18) despite being forced to die. Sent to the gas chamber but going freely, in her words, “For my people.” It is the kind of freedom that discovers and begets meaning even in situations intended by forces of tyranny to be vacuums of meaninglessness for its victims.

In an opposite strain, the fact that there is only a Statue of Liberty speaks loudly and immaturely of rights, and little of responsibility. It’s indicative of the attitude of the modern western man who first and foremost asks himself, not “What are my responsibilities?” but “What are my rights?”

There’s certainly a place for Lady Liberty but without Lady Responsibility she is like that personification of folly in the Book of Proverbs, who without the wisdom of responsibility leads men astray after the fancies of their own will, for “her steps follow the path to Sheol, she does not take heed to the path of life; her ways wander aimlessly” or we might say—meaninglessly (Prov 5:5-6).

What is this Statue of Responsibility?

We all know well what the Statue of Liberty looks like. Yet what might the Statue of Responsibility look like? There can be no doubt about it. The Cross. History has supplied us with the image, and God with its unexpected force of meaning brought about by the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who shouldered to the peak of Calvary the responsibility humankind owed to God and to itself. And where humanity failed to shoulder its dual responsibility, the humanity of God Incarnate succeeded.

Yet such success was not carried out to deliver us from our responsibilities, but it was carried out to enable us to fulfill them in He who has gone before us—by His strength, His grace and His love.

This is not because God is a Father who demands we earn our salvation by the sweat of our brow, but because to exercise our freedom to live responsibly is the only way to enter into this salvation. A salvation from sin, which is our inability to be perfectly responsible on our own, so that we might be enabled free to love—which is freedom to be responsible, to find meaning, purpose and dignity, not just now and in the face of the grave, but hereafter and beyond the grave.

The Statue of Responsibility is the Cross, and specifically, it is the Crucifix with Jesus nailed to it. Here a flaming torch is not held in the hand, but rather a heart burning with love, consumed by responsibility. The voice from this statue does not declare His rights, but rather invites each Mary and John, each woman and man: “Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Pick up your daily cross and follow me.”[iii]

Here the promised rest is not a false comfort secured by the abandonment of personal responsibility. It is that peace of heart and mind the world cannot give—infused by Jesus into one’s soul, and which begets a meaning no nail of suffering can destroy. It is the symptom of embracing one’s cross. The vertical beam representing one’s responsibility to God, and the horizontal, one’s responsibility to one’s neighbor. It’s not a cross without both these beams, and Jesus invites—commands even, that we shoulder it.

Easy and light? Ridiculous it’d seem. Offensive even. But isn’t that the strange miraculous power of love, that it really is madness to the rational observer, yet pure sense to the one afflicted by it… the one liberated by it? That after all is love—not emotion, but embraced responsibility.

The Ultimatum of Life

In the context of considering the divergent extremes human nature can take in the face of the worst kind of suffering, Frankl writes:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.[iv]

He is not saying we deserve or don’t deserve the sufferings we get, but from the Christian angle—the Cross is there, looming large in the midst of our lives—we cannot escape it. Most of the time it makes its presence felt through little things. Yet sometimes the experience of the Cross is deeply felt, and at times it can be experienced as unspeakably terrible, a result of human evil or sickness, in such a way that its reverberations never leave us. Yet whatever form the Cross takes in our lives, it can either be something that crushes and corrupts us with the bitterness of resentment, leading us to lash out at the world with hatred; or a rare and testing opportunity to grow in depth—to be drawn deeper into meaning, into our humanity, and deeper into the Mystery of God who is our Holiness.

In other words, the Cross is surely forced on our backs by circumstances we can’t control, but we can decide whether it is an occasion that will crush us and break us, or an opportunity to carry it with Jesus for love of God and man.

It’s an ultimatum posed to us by human life itself, and Jesus the Life takes it and eternalises its meaningfulness beyond the human sphere. An ultimatum to choose to be crushed by the cross or to carry it, and our response is up to ourselves as individuals. “Let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Mt 16:24): it’s all in the singular because the proposition is profoundly personal. We cannot judge our neighbours, nor probe their motives, nor are we even capable of discerning the difference between being crushed by the cross and carrying it, for these things can look identical to outward appearance. No, it’s a matter for ourselves to consider, and at most, to invite others into an awareness of this summons. Thus our place is to use our often shoddy discernment not to judge, but to discern how to act as a Simon of Cyrene, instead of a shouting, flagellatory Roman soldier who only makes the crosses of others heavier.

One person may be paralysed and haunted by the profundity of their cross, and it may involve the severest kinds of trauma; or one may be able to meander along under its heaviness, and no doubt life will involve moments of both. Yet whoever we are, whatever our cross, the underlying truth is that to be able to bear and carry the Cross we needn’t be professionals who can run circuits with our cross, but we must simply accept it, even if it takes a while, in the faith that God can use this suffering–big or small–to make us better people, to teach us how to love, to give Him glory, and to help save souls.

The option is there, to either suffer meaninglessly in vain or to suffer meaningfully with purpose. To invoke the Name of Jesus is enough to inject our pain with infinite and eternal value.

“May Raise Him”

Frankl then elaborates:

Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.[v]

“Man’s inner strength may raise him” indeed. Perhaps in our strength we cannot all rise above our outward fate—prisoners as we are of our own weaknesses. Then on the matter of sin—there is no way anyone can rise above that by their own strength. Just as well. God can achieve all these things, and in Christ Jesus, He has already raised us higher than “man’s inner strength may raise him”. The reality of this resurrection awaits us in our cross: those two beams of responsibility which are far from abstract. For already they weigh upon us and demand our response in the very moment we occupy. We need not search for meaning nor liberty elsewhere. In this respect our Statue of Liberty and Statue of Responsibility are really the same thing, it’s the Cross, through which God in Christ mediates the gift of the liberty of grace through our embrace of responsibility.

The Virgin Mary is a testament to this truth. She is the eminent member of our race raised into immaculacy from the moment of Her conception; sanctified, liberated into union with God, from the get-go. She only rose higher with leaps and bounds into this sanctity through Her profound union with Her Son – realised through Her responsibility to God and man, a responsiveness to Him the God-Man. A union made manifest and typified by Her standing by Him at the foot of the Cross—the True Statue of Liberty and Responsibly.

Lady Liberty & Lady Responsibility

Our Lady can thus rightly be called Lady Liberty and Lady Responsibly. For other than Jesus, who else knows better the twin-beams that make up the Cross? That dual responsibility to God and neighbour which crushed Her Heart in a pain worse than death? She was with Jesus in the face of His Cross, and we need Mary in the face of our own. She can teach us how to carry these beams, and calling upon the Name of Mary–confident in, and obedient to the fact that Jesus has given us to Mary, and Mary to us—is enough to realise Her maternal presence and aid already at our disposal.

As Lady Responsibly She will help to hold on to the splintery wood of the Cross, in the face of every kind of interior and exterior hardship. As Lady Liberty She will help us to do so with love, peace and even joy.

The United States has its own Statue of Liberty, its own Lady Liberty—without a signifier of Responsibility—a gift from the French, and all as a sign of national independence. Through faith, may we allow the Holy Spirit to erect in the land of our soul the real and everlasting Statue of Liberty and Responsibility, the Blessed Cross, and its accompanying Lady, a dual gift of God, and a testament to our freedom as pilgrims whose life and citizenship in Jesus, through Mary, is not of this “mortal coil” on earth but in that “undiscovere’d country” where angels smile,

To rest forever after earthly strife.
In the calm light of everlasting life.[vi]

[i] Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 154-155, full text available from archive.org.

[ii] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Part II, 130.

[iii] A loose synthesis drawing from Mt 11:28-30; Lk 9:23.

[iv] Ibid., Part I, 87.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light (1833).
Other references, Hamlet, and Phil 3:20.

On Useless Pursuits: A Reflection on Prayer

People usually ask me “Oh, what did you major in at university?”
“Linguistics”, I reply shyly most times; for I know it’s a pretty useless degree. It isn’t very pragmatic for earning a living, very unlike the engineering and and the practical sciences.

But on hindsight, it’s precisely that it’s useless that makes it the “highest” pursuit in a way.

Many of us are slaves to doing something because there is something we want to achieve. I work because I need money. I need money because I need to feed my family. I need to feed my family because I want them to be happy and healthy… because I love them.

Put this way: the ‘highest’ cause in the above chain is love. I love them because I love them.

Precisely the fact this love free from the expectation that it will serve some higher cause that makes it the highest cause.
It is these ‘useless’ pursuits that are the higher cause.

The Sisters of Cottolengo at prayer. Photo by Rachel Zamarron

It’s so much alike our prayer life. As Henri Nouwen once said that prayer is a “USELESS” pursuit. Wait, what? Exactly that. In his book, The Only Necessary Thing, Nouwen beautifully expresses that:

“Prayer is not being busy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily a useless hour… Prayer is primarily to do nothing in the presence of God. It is to be NOT USEFUL and so to remind myself that if anything important in life happens, it is God who does it. So when I go into the day, I go with the conviction that God is the one who brings fruits to my work, and I do not have to act as though I am in control of things.”

And very much so if we think about it, prayer is the HIGHEST pursuit in our lives precisely because it doesn’t serve anything, it is not subordinate to an end; it is an end in itself.

We pray not to request for some healing, neither do we pray because we have to finish those novenas or simply out of guilt… Nothing about prayer is DOING, it really is just about BEING. We pray because we’re created out of love to participate in God’s Being… We pray because that’s what we were created to do.

We are human BE-ings after all, not human doings.

Such is the wonderful fact that the liturgy demonstrates: it unites art and reality in a supernatural childhood before God… [Worship] has one thing in common with the play of the child and the life of art — it has no purpose, but is full of profound meaning. It is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight — not to create, but to exist — such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness.
Fr. Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Imitating the Gaze of Jesus

I used to be (and unfortunately, still am at times) a rather obnoxious Catholic. Fueled by my enthusiasm for Truth — and wanting affirmation of my knowledge — I would loudly proclaim Church teachings urgently, so that other people would no longer live in error. Particularly in a culture of moral relativism and a “do what makes you happy” environment, wanting to immediately step onto a doctrine-blasting soapbox seemed like a good thing to me. Yet, the more I examined my life, heart, and ever-abundant pride, the more I realized that I was going about evangelization in the wrong manner. As I began to read Scriptures more and more, I began to really notice how Jesus interacts with other people.

“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,* like sheep without a shepherd.” ~Matt 9:35-36

Jesus’ heart was moved with pity. In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus encounters a rich young man, we learn that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). Time and time again, we see that Jesus is moved with love, and pity for the people he meets-and he lets this compassion flow into the interactions he has. He looks at these men and women intently and listens to them. 

As I reflect on the actions of Jesus, I feel challenged. Even when people were living in sin, he didn’t immediately jump onto a moral high horse. First, he looked upon them with love. In our current culture, Jesus’ approach may not seem to initially be challenging — after all, we are living in an age that is all about acceptance and affirmation. “Just love people for who they are and accept them” is a common refrain.  How dare we criticize sinful actions! After all, aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus, who looked on others with love?

Yet, while Jesus looked on people with love, compassion, and pity, he never affirmed the sinful choices and lifestyles that pushed people away from God. The story of the woman who was caught in adultery (recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel) is fairly well-known and loved, so let’s look at that for a moment. When Jesus encounters this woman, does he say “Woman, I just want to love and accept you; you need to do what makes you feel happy“? No, he does not. Instead, Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11). He looks upon the woman, loves her, listens to her, and invites her to become transformed and change her life. 

This is what really challenges me as I reflect on the words and actions of Jesus.  It would be fairly easy for me to, upon meeting another person, jump into an attitude of “I will preach doctrine at you because you’re living in sin and I know better.” I’ve done this far too many times as I’ve sought to fuel my pride and be known as the person who was instrumental in another individual’s conversion. It would also be convenient to fall onto the other end of the spectrum and embrace the all-too-common attitude of moral relativism that’s sweeping our culture.

Instead of these extreme approaches, I’m trying to imitate what Jesus does — and this is hard for me. I’m holding my tongue more and first listening to the stories of the people I meet. I’m seeking to encounter others with an open heart. I’m trying to walk into conversations without the expectation that I’ll convince another person of a certain teaching or doctrine. I’m trying to slow myself down and actually form relationships and build bridges of communication with other people. I’m striving to be more open to the Holy Spirit, and while I don’t back down from my convictions, I’m seeking to gaze at other men and women with God’s love and compassion.

I often fail at this. Sometimes, I should be quicker to speak up about my beliefs, but I’m silent. Other times, I should probably remain silent instead of speaking up in a rather harsh manner! I’m an imperfect evangelizer, but I’ll keep praying and try to let God use me in whatever small ways he can.

Photo Credit: “People” by MabelAmber via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain. 

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.”

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

* paraphrased from Abp. Fulton Sheen.