Worth Revisiting: See You Soon!

From those knowingly facing death to those whose life is suddenly and unexpectedly ended  we are given a glimpse of the brevity of our time on earth and the urgency to be prepared. Yet, what are we preparing for, and what awaits us thereafter? Are we preparing for the end of our life, or a transformation to something greater?

Pope Francis has noted that “If death is understood as the end of everything, it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way.” Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, general audience on Nov. 27, 2013.

However, in our faith as Christians, we are given hope- that our present existence is as temporary scene, a blink as it were, passing into a greater eternity. It is a continuation of God’s immense love for us, a incomprehensible desire for us to be forever with him. How easy it is to be overwhelmed with the everyday details of this life or with living in or for the present moment that we fail to live in this awareness of eternity ahead.

What then does a life prepared look like?

Having sat with those imminently anticipating death, it is a surrender -of the events of the days and years leading up to that very moment to God. It is an acknowledgment that God is aware of all choices good and bad, and mercifully has embraced and forgiven them. It is a readiness to meet God, as St. Aquinas would say, not “through a glass darkly” but  look forward to the day when we shall see our Creator “face to face.”

What would our last words be?

A priest friend of mine the other day gave his homiletic retelling of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s heart attack last April. As the heart attack came on, Fr. Pacwa recounted that his thoughts and words were surprisingly not on where he might be going, but on the fact he did not want to die in the middle of Walmart. Though there is humor in this retelling, it does give each of us pause to contemplate how we leave this earth.

My aunt Bonnie, was given but a few months to live with a sudden diagnosis of Pulmonary Fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs. With this very painful condition, gradually the lung tissue becomes so thickened that oxygen cannot move and breathing becomes increasingly more difficult. As the days drew closer, and she was seemingly in between worlds, her last words remain with me. “I’m going home..I’m going home..I’m going home.” What a witness to the hope that God promises. What a gift to our family left behind. And when I think of my own final moments, it is how I wish to meet God and those who have gone before me.

Rather than dread, this instills in me such joy that I have already had the conversation with my immediate family on “if I were to go today”. For their benefit I have chosen readings, songs, and expressed my desire for them not to go overboard on the funeral expenses. This is not my home. Though while here, I fully intend on growing in love and learning all that I can to show that love to those I encounter along the way.

See You Soon,

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Messy Work

There honestly is no other way of describing it- the work of evangelization is a messy work. It isn’t that the message itself is cloudy or unclear, for the love of the Gospel given is simple.  “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35). The difficulty then lies in part to our own understanding of the fullness of God’s love and mercy.

While we cannot limit or contain God’s love, time and time again we try to do so even albeit unconsciously. Yet, Jesus did not parse words, or seek to delineate all the exclusions to that love marked with an expiration date.  Rather, he witnessed the love of the Father to the thief on the cross beside him, and welcomed him into the fullness of heaven that very day.  And if we think about it, this is exactly the patient, merciful and unwavering love we desire for God to have for each one of us.

Here is where we begin to comprehend the who, what, and why of this term, evangelization,  we toss about so loosely in christian conversation. For it is in the midst our brokenness, and the mess of life that we all too readily recognize how desperately we are in need of a savior. Only from this personal experience of just who Christ is for us in our lives can we really proclaim the joy of the Gospel. Not merely words, evangelization then is a lived encounter with Christ, a voice that calls us back with a love which compels us to go forth and share with others.

Share with one another

Are we, however, Christians in practice? Of the estimated 2.3 billion Christians (Pew Research Center, 2015) in the world why is it that we are not also growing exponentially in number? Naturally, deaths and smaller family size would attribute loss.  Yet, if we were in fact living out the call of discipleship “to go forth and make disciples of men” , would we not be seeing growth of some kind commiserate with the population change?  Perhaps, we have forgotten that this call once again was not for a select few, or that our faith cannot exist as a private exercise. Every sacrament in the Catholic church is by its very nature a community experience, as is to be every moment in between. For, by virtue of our baptism each of us has been called into relationship both with God but also with one another in the body of Christ.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter 2: 9-10

Relationships are messy

God never said that discipleship would be easy or that sharing the love of the Gospel would always be met with success. Unfortunately, many simply never try. While a vertical relationship with our Creator is essential, so is our seeking and encounter of Christ in others. This entails the practice of much patience and the commitment to surrender the result to God.  Behind that irate or obstinate personality before you may lie a lifetime of pain, and neglect. Your witness today of God’s love and mercy may not bear fruit for some time, and may require others to water or nourish the ground to flourish. And, there may be several obstacles in the way that need to be removed in order for love and joy to take root.  Messy yes. But you and I indeed, have been asked to get our hands dirty and hearts tested in this beautiful mess of life. To choose love, to choose mercy and in doing so to choose life.

Reflect:

What would Christianity look like today were it not for courageous men and women who were willing to share the joy of the Gospel? Am I comfortable witnessing my faith to others? If not, what is holding me back?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Work Harder, Pray More

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In light of upcoming elections, many of us have spent time considering our options, weighing the consequences and praying that not only our nation survives but can address necessary issues. As difficult as this election year has been, I am reminded that my faith, though resting solely in Christ, cannot remain isolated from the reality that it is practiced in a world that often runs counter to that faith. Noted Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stressed three elements of “costly discipleship”: (1) prayer, (2) community, and (3) an engagement with surrounding political realities.

At this time in my life, I  seek to have an active life of prayer, a discipleship in community, and in small everyday ways to be engaged with the political realities in the world around me. Yet, in my youth, I was undoubtedly more political- even devoting my undergrad entrance essay to the the apathetic attitude of Americans towards voting and working towards change. In the last 10 years, admittedly I have become somewhat disillusioned in the leadership to protect and preserve  life, and determination to truly accomplish transformative change. However, the mission of  working towards the kingdom of God  is calling us forth as a church, as the body of Christ, to respond. And before we ask, “What can I do?”, we need only look to the efforts of those individuals who have taken that step to make a difference and the power of a “Yes!”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

St. Catherine of Siena knew the intimate connection between contemplation and action, between our baptism the living out of our discipleship. Renowned for her care for the poor, diseased, and the conversion of sinners, she used her insight, and conviction to influence both pope and city state leaders alike in a call for peace and unity of the church.

“Ora et labora”

For St. Benedict, prayer and work were the basis of monastic life directed towards the commitment to  further“seek after peace and pursue it.”

“Praying with my feet”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first gave this response when asked why he, a renowned Hebrew scholar, chose to march with Martin Luther King in Selma. For when prayer is centered on God, there is an invitation both to piety and praise, as well as to commit our actions towards that love of God. Whether or not you feel represented, led or inspired by either candidate in this election, the majority of us can agree that there remain many steps to be taken ahead.

“May prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother.. is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ.” Pope Francis, Angelus 7/21/13

Pope Francis is setting a beautiful model that we can all emulate in calling us to reach out as a community to meet those who are suffering and in need…to embrace, heal, provide reconciliation and be a means of hope. He articulates the necessity to be aware of the intimate presence of God within, to seek moments of contemplation in our everyday world, work for the common good, and encourage others to do the same. It is here that I see my place currently within the community of faith in working towards these initial steps, and in enacting my faith albeit locally towards new paths. Each step is a prayer, and a hopeful course of action. Each life encountered, an opportunity to see and meet Christ in one another.

Reflect: What shape does “costly discipleship” take in my own life today and in the years ahead? Am I engaged in active discipleship and willing to “pray with my feet”?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Our Call to Become Saints

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Last year at this time, to my heart’s delight, my son Peter was confirmed in the Catholic Church as Paul. In this moment I was reminded both of the importance of this sacrament and of the journey ahead. These were my words to him..

“Welcome to the school of the Spirit, the sacrament of Confirmation…for those who want to be holy, to be saints, to be warriors of God, men and women of Spirit”

– from Rites of Justice by Megan McKenna

Perhaps, you haven’t thought about this sacrament in this light and thought of it as a conclusion to your learning in the Catholic faith. If so, let’s look again at what happens in this sacrament and what it truly symbolizes and signifies.

First, confirmation is not considered a sacrament of conclusion but of initiation into a more active participation into the life of the church. Once celebrated with baptism and the Eucharist, it highlights the reception of the Holy Spirit to empower the candidate to walk the sometimes difficult path as a follower of Christ. The sacrament is marked by a laying on of hands, anointing with chrism oil with the words, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, and a sending forth by God and the community to serve as “true witnesses of Christ”.

So, there is a reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us, but also an invitation to respond to the suffering, and injustice in the world with the very witness of our lives. Therefore, this sacrament is not an end, but a challenge to go forth and to be a visible sign of Christ in the world. God confirms you as a member of the body of Christ, but then the response and the choice is yours. It is a call to a higher standard to strive for love, mercy and peace not only within the doors of the church but as saints in the world.

In answering this call..

we can look at the examples of Christian faith set by the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter, originally named Simon, was a fisherman by trade who heard the call to “come after me” and become “fishers of men”. Although Peter’s boldness put him in the wrong at times it is because of his faith that Jesus called him “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”.  In the life of Peter we learn of a man who lost courage in walking on water to Jesus, and who was taught humility of service- in being asked not once but 3 times if he loved Christ and in having his own feet washed by Jesus. Even after having denied Jesus, Peter was one of the few disciples chosen to witness the resurrected Christ. Peter lived that witness with his life, in preaching and leading the early Christian churches, and in facing a martyr’s death. Paul, who we know was previously a persecutor of Christians, encountered a vision of Christ that transformed his life forever. From then on he is known as a passionate teacher for Christ, traveling far to the east and west, establishing early Christian communities, and suffering martyrdom as well for the faith.

Likewise, there are later saints like Catherine of Siena, born in 1347, known for her care for the poor, diseased, and for the conversion of sinners, who used her “insight, passion and determination to tell the truth in the chambers and cathedrals in the larger church”. Another beautiful example, of one who courageously walked the lifelong path of discipleship is Teresa of Avila. Born in 1515, Teresa joined the Carmelite order at age 20, but realized that even in the monastery the Christian life “demands much more”- a deeper friendship with God and other Christians that aren’t always encouraged in society. Led by visions from God, Teresa was very aware of God’s presence in prayer and championed active reform of the monasteries and in the “lives of all of the people she touched- a woman who inspired and gave life”.

Looking within the past century, we are given numerous contemporary saints like Maria Faustina, and Pope John Paul II. St. Faustina, born in Poland before WWII, joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in 1925, and soon thereafter began to receive revelations on the Passion of Christ. In these meditative experiences, Christ urged Faustina to tell others about His enduring Divine mercy and forgiveness for the sins of the whole world. . Beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday, John Paul II is considered one of the most beloved popes in the history of the Church. Instrumental in the continued work of Vatican II, John Paul II worked tirelessly to encourage communication and interfaith initiatives between Catholics and other Christians, and between Christians and other religions of the world. He is both the longest serving pope and the most traveled pope having visited 127 countries.

Yet, if we should begin to think that saints are a thing of the past..

we only need to look around us to find the saints among us. In each of these stories we are witness to the “gracious work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ” in taking our natural gifts and talents and adding grace so that so that Christ’s mission in the world may be visible to all. There is no “distinction on the basis of gender, social status, or ethnicity”and each one of us is given gifts “simply by being members of the body of Christ”.

As you can see, there are many ways God could be challenging and calling you to be a saint in the world today. And while you may not know yet what that is to be, you need only to be ready and willing to do God’s will. If you put God first, then the path is clearer.  It is now that I ask of you, what will you do today with your gifts as a confirmed member of the body of Christ?

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This hopeful saint in the making,

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A Cause of Celebration

When you think of the many reasons that might lead you to celebrate, odds are that this experience would not make your top 10 or even your top 100. And yet, as a believer in Christ, the truest promise of salvation should be our greatest cause of celebration.  Inexhaustibly matched by a Father’s joy and overwhelmed by the hope found in Jesus, grief is a journey of discovery of each of these.  What then, if we intentionally began this journey from this perspective?

At a mere eleven in years, I had found one of the greatest teachers that I would ever have. Standing at 5′ 3 she was spunky, compassionate, enthusiastic about grammar, and a paradox of interests and gifts. Her two favorite loves were unquestionably Jesus and Magnum PI, both of whom adorned her personal grading and lesson plan book. That sixth grade year, she would have me both detesting and embracing the fine art of diagramming sentences. I also found that year a teacher that took a genuine interest in every single student that walked into her class. Though she would certainly have not chosen favorites, she was undoubtedly mine.

And then suddenly she was gone.

Sitting in my kitchen that Sunday evening, the phone rang. How odd, I thought, it was that one of my teachers called to speak to my mother, seeing as how she taught high school. Yet, apparently I wasn’t the only one who knew how much this amazing teacher and woman of faith meant to me. As my mother relayed what had transpired since Friday with a sudden illness and complications, I sat motionless. Though hearing the words, I could not connect the series of events to the fact I would never see her again.  The following day, when the principal addressed the students with the news, I laid claim to grief. And still, I felt the best way to honor her, would be to be present in her Father’s house, though I wasn’t sure where her church was. “Are you sure, Elizabeth..are you sure you want to go to the funeral?”, my mother asked.  “Yes, I need to say goodbye..would you go with me?” “Of course ” she said,”let me find out the arrangements”.

As we walked up to that small white church, the music carried out the open windows on the cool fall breeze. Entering in, I was ready to say goodbye but not for the lesson of love to come.  While it mattered little to me, and to anyone else gathered, that my mother and I were not of African American descent I did wonder what they must of thought of why I was there. And even I was unsure that I had the right place. For, gone were the somber clothes of black and grey, and in its place instead was a vibrant array of color. Bright flowers, and joyful songs raised in praise revealed not sadness but unparalleled hope in the life that awaited. Though it was almost more than a little girl in mourning could take- it was the very thing that was needed.

That night my heart was full of questions. How could they sing when the loss is so new..did they not miss her too? Didn’t they know it was a funeral and not a birthday? That was it! They sang because it was a birthday of sorts, not an end but a beginning of a new eternal life with God. They celebrated the fact that their joy for her in the promise of heaven could more than bear their loss. To this very day I cannot think of funerals in the same way that I did before. Do I mourn? Yes, but I also sing..and celebrate!

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Refrain:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

 What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]

 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

“How Can I Keep From Singing”, Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

Peace,

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This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Bloghop.  To read more like this:siena-sisters

Worth Revisiting: Music that Moves Us- “Take Me”

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(This post is part of a series to be found at ReconciledtoYou.com hosted by Allison Gingras featuring the music of Ben Walther. For other bloggers and songs check out #MusicthatMoves)

“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”       – Sucipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola

The first time I heard this beautiful song by Ben Walther, I instantly recognized its Ignatian underpinnings. The Sucipe prayer by St. Ignatius is one that, as with Ben, speaks profoundly to a need in my own life- a need for surrender. A need to relinquish any misconceptions or desires to control situations, or cling to any gifts that I have received in my life.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”Romans 12:1

Understanding that all that I have or am comes from God does not imply a lifetime warranty or use thereof. Rather, it is accepting each gift or grace for the limited time that it may be given to me and expressing my heartfelt gratitude in these moments.Be prepared for surprises too, for God is the ultimate giver and will not be undone in love or mercy. Perhaps you have yet to discover a particular talent within, or a way to use that talent. Not to worry, when needed God will seek to bring forth the best use of that gift. All he asks of us is to “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning” Luke 12:35

God is calling us to be transformed- ready to be moved, to follow his lead and this entails letting go. Trusting that even in the most uncertain times, that the One with the map will guide and accompany us each step along the way. And sometimes we may become so certain of our place in life, of our abilities or lack of,  that we cannot see the greater opportunities he has in store. We resist taking on this new perspective, and in doing so become fearful of losing what was never ours to lay claim to in the first place.Detachment then from all that impedes our following God’s will is so essential in our discipleship.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

A once in a lifetime decision to follow Christ? Not hardly.  It is a daily turning of heart and surrendering of self (body and soul) to Christ that is being asked of us. In our doubt and trials as well as in our faith and joys our Risen Lord asks for our trust, our will, our understanding -our all.

For, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

What is promised through surrender?

There is much peace in actively and fully surrendering. In knowing, that He is God and we are not. In allowing God to be the primary mover in all that we do. In this invitation of surrender, and petition for direction we continually experience his unfailing love.

Father, when my own steps are unsure or I seek to better secure the path ahead please lead me on. For those times I rest in the grace that surrounds me when you are asking me to move, help me to find my security in you. All I am and do are because of You- and this life I live is Yours. Take All of Me.

Reflection:What if we each held onto the life we are living presently? Would we be able for God to move us where he wanted us to be..would the safety we feel be worth the treasure that awaits?

The Gift of a Father

In my life I have most certainly been blessed with an unfathomable gift- that only a heavenly Father could have known was even necessary. Growing up, I knew profoundly the space left behind with the absence of my own earthly father. Still, it wasn’t the basic provisions and necessities of life I truly sought, but strong spiritual leadership and guidance. Desiring to better understand and imploring for direction, I would time and time again turn to prayer for answers.

From my daily walk to the ample crossroads encountered, God has never ceased to speak to my questions,  as well as provide a tangible presence in my life. Certainly, since becoming a Catholic I have not been at a loss for spiritual mentorship either. Where ever I have traveled and however God has moved me to discern new paths there has been assistance. From sacrament to sacrament and the infinite moments in between they have been a constant reminder of a Father’s love. Clad simply in black and white these giants of faith, spiritual counselors and brothers-in-arms have also become indispensable friends and colleagues.

I thought of this a little over a week ago as I sat amidst a cloud of witnesses at a clergy benefit health and trust dinner. With every unique diverse vocation story, I could not help but think how God had not just answered my own need but that of so many countless others. Each in his own way had heard God’s voice, and chosen to follow offering his gifts not for his own glory but for God’s alone. All who had gathered that evening in support echoed these sentiments.

To theirs I add my own undying gratitude for the gift of a Father and the many spiritual fathers I now know in my life: (in no particular order) Fr. Michael Reardon, Fr. Jim Rafferty, Fr. Tom Nestor, Fr. Mike McNamara, Fr. Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Fr. Paul Soper, Fr. Tom O’Connor, Fr. Joseph McCarthy, Fr. Joseph Infantini, Fr. Paul Bailey, Fr. Matt Williams, Fr. Chip Hines, Fr. Kenneth Quinn, Fr. Steve Krupa, Fr. Ed Serena and many more!

Thank you for your “Yes!”, your constant encouragement, guidance and steadfast friendship. It means more than you may ever know!

In Christ,

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Worth Revisiting: Open Windows

Beyond the treasures of abundant color, pumpkin lattes and cool crisp days, fall carries the promise to unwind, unplug and connect in a distinct way. With open windows, the tall sheer curtains stirring amidst the early morning breeze lays the invitation to allow the outside in. Beckoned to welcome the sunrise, to encounter the stillness, what a sweeping bequest upon my heart to throw wide the sash and to be open too.  To feel the Holy Spirit’s rousing presence to awaken, both to God at work within but also without in the world around me.

Oh, the temptation we face to sit on the other side of the pane of glass looking out. How easy it is to remain in the comfort of our own convictions, walled in by certainty and secure in customary routine. Surrounded by the air of self-assurance, we may not even fully realize the difference in what we are experiencing to what God is calling us to be and do.

Is this why vulnerability is so essential in our journey with God? Is our surrender and openness to God a window for us to begin to understand Christ’s gift on the cross?

With arms outstretched from East to West, we visibly see Christ as the profound sacrifice and witness of the unconditional love of God faithful from the very beginning of time. It is a love that draws us nearer into relationship, out of our selfishness and pride, to become vulnerable ourselves for others.  As the life of St. Ignatius exemplifies, a life of excess and self-importance are not satisfying alternatives to what a life lived in Christ can offer.

Yet, this invitation of Christ is not without risk, for this openness to love entails:

  1. Considering the armor that we have used to protect ourselves in the past. What is my go to defense, that shields me from the experience of pain and keeps my distance from the love that God has for me? Rather than in the security found in the things of this world, be it in wealth, power, pride, or vengeance we are called to find our strength in the counsel, generosity, righteousness and compassion of God.
  2. Acceptance that our hearts may be broken by others. For any of us that lay our hearts and lives bare in our discipleship, we understand all too well this reality. Still, one look at the cross and life of Christ and we recognize that vulnerability means a willingness to give without counting the cost. Are we willing, like St. Ignatius to lay down our sword to become men and women for others?
  3.  Radical forgiveness. Yet in these moments grace and healing await too. If we hold on to our pains, it can be quite difficult to open up fully to anyone else, or to share in the intimacy of Christ. Is there anyone in my life that I am being asked to forgive today? Am I being asked to forgive myself?
  4. Gratitude. When we are truly open to God’s love, it is difficult to remain unchanged, or unappreciative of the gift we have received. The open window which conveys that pleasant breeze of God’s presence, stirs our hearts to love, and challenges us to do the same also transforms our vision. Looking out upon the world, we can glimpse the One who is greater at work and respond in praise and surrender.

“Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours. Do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

The invitation is there for you, to open the window of your soul and discover God who is ever present and actively at work in all things. 

Peace,

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