Worth Revisiting: Witness the Resurrection

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:10

There is a moment at the Easter Vigil where the whole atmosphere seems to be transformed from tranquil, dim and somber to one of joyful euphonious illumination. It was here that this scripture found me and resonated the joy present for these women. The austere mournful mystery of the tomb revealed not as defeat but as Christ’s victory over death, and we as witnesses to that certainty. And in an instant, with feet set on the path and my heart filled joy I yearn to share the Good News to everyone I encounter. “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” As Archbishop Fulton Sheen would say,  our testimony is but

“to tell people about the life and death of Christ. Every other approach is a waste.”

And yet..why don’t we?

With dishes done, and our family dissipated we can so easily let our Easter promises rest at the close of the day. Yet, the fact should not escape us, as Catholics, that Easter comprises a entire season. A period of 50 days beginning with Easter and concluding with Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Where, we are then sent forth to the ends of the earth to continue our witness to others of the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives today.

For, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. St. Pope Paul VI

And what about when we experience opposition from others to our witness?

Should that be a reason for our idleness or should we through prayer and perseverance continue to run the race? St. Maximillian Kolbe knew where the real battle lay, and what was found in Christ that no one could take away or refute.

“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”

So as each of us goes forward this Easter season we must as the disciples did, search our hearts and allow the presence of the risen Christ to comfort and strengthen us for reception of the Holy Spirit.

Pray:

Lord, we are overwhelmed at the depth of your love and mercy for us- all the way to the cross. We stand amazed as we gaze at the empty tomb and wonder what you would have us do in the days ahead.  Yet, you have not left us alone. Your victory you share with us as well as your cross. Please let our joyful encounter be our sincere prayer and sacrifice as we seek to witness the truth of your glorious resurrection. Amen.

Peace,

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Soulful Struggles

“What’s healthy for my soul on a given night depends a lot on what I am struggling with more. Am I …losing vitality, energy, hope and graciousness in my life? Or, conversely, am I full of life and energy but so full of it that I am falling apart, dissipating, losing my sense of self” Fr. Ron Rolheiser, Wrestling with God

Though it may come as a bit of a surprise, and simply as a part of our human condition, we may wrestle with this soulful struggle more times than we care to admit. Somewhere between the need to have our soul enkindled, and all the while not burning out ourselves we are seeking to live out our divinely created purpose in this world. Innately our souls, made in the image of our Father, mutually comprise compassion and a desire to give endlessly and yet yearn for a greatness beyond our human limitations.

We can see this in countless ways daily in each of our lives. Perhaps in the parent who gives selflessly albeit happily to their vocation as mother or father and yet has other God given gifts that await discovery and use. Or, in the person who has achieved a position of success in this world and still struggles with how to truly give of themselves. Hardened to the concerns of others, who through prior hurt or circumstance, has now become unable to share their soul with another. Even still, we see it more often in the  sometimes obscure choices that we encounter each day. In small innocuous ways, we are challenged in our ability to walk with one another and still find the strength to do the more that we are called to be.

And it isn’t that that all of these are choices between good or bad. Quite often, it is a choice between two competing “goods”. Do we help the neighbor whose husband recently entered assisted living and can no longer maintain her yard? Or do we spend the afternoon at home to recoup after a hard week at work? Do I get to work early to get ahead, or do I attempt to make daily Mass today? How do we prioritize or discern amid these competing desires?

Prayer. Known to be the greatest recourse of sinners, prayer is the lifeline that we have to tap into God’s will for our lives. It is a place where we are made aware of the need for love, hope and renewal in our lives but also where we receive the energy and fire to pursue that will daily. And while we may think we would like to have it all figured out, that beautiful mystery intrigues us and demands our connectedness to God.

“Put God first, and everything else will follow.”

In a conversation as a young boy, my husband’s grandfather instilled in him this simple principle of life to live by. One, that has remained with him all these years when other  mantras or commitments have failed. It is to make space in your life for God’s will, to take time to grow in friendship with Christ, and to invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in decisions big and small. While weekly Mass is an essential part of the living out of our faith,  there is so much more that God wishes to be a part of. In order to hear God’s voice and receive guidance regularly, we need to make time to talk (and listen) to him.

Likewise, we couldn’t eat but one meal a week to sustain us physically, so why would we need but one for our spiritual health?  Mass is intended to be a wellness center, not only a critical care unit when times are difficult. The Eucharist and the word of God are our lifelines, here we receive both the real presence of Christ and are given the aid to better discern God’s movements amidst our daily life. In this way, when we do struggle we can recognize that God is there, ready to get his hands dirty in the mess of life and restore the brokenness that we feel.

“Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles…
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats..” Acts 5:12-15

Reflect:

Where am I struggling today? Has my heart hardened to the suffering of the world, or the needs of others? Or do I neglect myself forgetting that I too am important in God’s eyes?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Journey Through the Sacraments


The other day I was having a conversation once again with a friend of mine who is the parent of a teen who was now experiencing  a conflict about her daughter’s unwillingness to attend church. Her daughter argued that she,

“does not need to go to church or receive the sacraments to experience God in her life because she experiences God in creation. Further that  church is boring and most of the people who attend are hypocrites anyway”.

This certainly is not the first time many of us have become acquainted with this perspective,  and yet how would we both address the daughter’s concerns and that of her parents?  

It must be noted that this discussion fully involves the skill of listening, even more so than providing a correct answer. Allowing each a chance to be heard, to articulate their concern is the first step in being open to consider how God might be meeting these concerns in every situation. Yet, there are theological premises here that can be invaluable in such a discussion as this.

To begin, I would say yes, we can encounter God in creation! There is no doubt that when we look at a sunrise or the beautiful world around us that God is there. We innately sense our relatedness and connectivity to the Creator of it all. Yet, this is the broadest setting in which we can experience God’s presence and action. For, in and through the church and the sacraments we are given the opportunity to visibly and intimately experience God’s grace through God’s greatest gift of Himself that of Jesus his son.

Here are tangible moments where we are met with mercy, love and unconditional forgiveness that are welcoming, nourishing and healing, felt on both personal level and in unity as a community. This is the beauty of our faith- it speaks not only to our desire for relationship with our Creator, but to our longing to be in relationship and communion with one another. Moreover, God’s offer of love, mercy and forgiveness is continuous so should our response to his offer be.

Have you thought recently about the sacraments? Perhaps you are thinking that they are simply an event to be completed once that no longer requires any new action on your part?

If so, maybe that is why your experience of church has become boring and one dimensional. Let’s take a new look at a few of the sacraments:

 In Baptism

you were cleansed, blessed and welcomed into community, with promises from your parents, grandparents and the church to help guide and support you in responding to God’s offer. Each time you bless yourself, or are making a professing of faith you are giving your response and yes to that offer of God’s salvation in your life.

In the Eucharist

we are given the opportunity to join our yes to that given by Christ on the cross. There is Christ’s offer of himself in ultimate love and mercy for us, but also we bring all that we are and do and offer it to God as well. We bring all of our strengths, and weaknesses, all of our joys and sorrows. We bring, in truth, our brokenness. Notice that I said “our” because we do this also as a community. So, when you speak of hypocrisy- we all come knowing that there are times when we have sinned and our relationship with God has suffered.

In the Eucharist we are renewing that relationship, and recommitting ourselves with our lives.  All of this requires our participation and our response. Do we look for Christ’s presence in the priest? In the people gathered? In the reading of the word, listening? In the offering of the gifts and see Christ’s sacrifice and reconciliation to us? How do we respond? Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke it and shared it with all- we are called to do the same both in bread but also with our very lives. And as such we need to be committed to dealing with hunger, poverty and justice in the world around us.

In Reconciliation

we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered. Jesus takes our frailties, and our  with health, peace, and hope. We are called to seek to reconcile or repair relationships, love justice, and seek peace and hope for those who have no hope.

Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend. If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving? In those times, we don’t just hurt ourselves but our choices effect others we love and the community in relationship. Therefore, in penance we are given a chance to receive forgiveness, to show we are sorry and to repair these relationships..and celebrate as a community.

Even Confirmation

is not an end but a challenge to go forth and to be a visible sign of the body of Christ in the world. God confirms you as a member of the body of Christ and then the response and 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 in the world.

To the parents specifically, there is a challenge to be a model of faith: more than going through the motions. Also seek to encourage your child to become involved in youth and peer ministry activities so that they can experience community more fully. Participate in outreach activities together, so that they too can come to understand God’s offer and our response to care for others, to love deeply and show forgiveness and mercy.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Holy Week

The sights, sounds and scents of Holy Week that so permeate our remembrance of Easter are indeed rooted in centuries of tradition. One look around and one immediately sees layers of history and meaning in every ritual movement, prayers embedded within the hearts of a people of faith.  From the swish of the robes, to the smell of frankincense and lilies, and the lofty notes of the Exsultet sung we are drawn into the sacredness of this moment in time. More than a sign, these symbols call us to look beyond the object itself to something deeper, more meaningful, and often mysterious to be truly experienced in this same multi-layered way.

Was there one special moment that stood out for you? Did you feel the invitation to connect, to go deeper and answer God with the fullness of your heart?

After countless Triduum masses, I have found that only rarely is the answer ever the same. That is the beauty of opening yourself up to the experience of the mysteries of Holy Week again and again. Personally, I never tire of hearing the profound impressions and recollections that are taken forth from a mass. Or even the silent expression of joy or love that rests of the faces of those in attendance as they leave the doors of the church.

This all happens in spite of our best efforts, our missteps and last minute adjustments made in the course of preparation of the mass. God perfects and works through all of our faults to reach out to each person gathered in community. If but for an instant, I am certain of the unworthiness of my own efforts I am also reminded of the One far greater than myself. For that I am so truly thankful!

With that being said..those that serve for these masses carry with them the stories of errors and omissions and how God worked through all for good. One such year, due to windy weather, the option to light the Pascal fire indoors was made. Needless to say, the addition of extra isopropyl alcohol was a perfect mix to set off the silent smoke alarms, thereby alerting the fire department. The dark church, gathered for Easter Vigil, was filled with swirling red lights, and the entrance of several concerned firemen. All this unbeknownst to our beloved priest who was enthralled in singing the Exsultet and had his back to the congregation. None noted that evening that this detracted from the mass, but had in fact added to the sense of community already present.

I thought of this story as we were waiting to make the call for the fire at this year’s Easter Vigil with the promise of high winds throughout the day. Though this concern was averted, just minutes before the start of mass we found ourselves furiously working to put together more individual votive candles. The box of holders, placed near the ceiling could only be reached with the hook of the snuffer and the long arm of the priest…while standing on the counter top!

“Ministranti-ctyrak” by OndraZ

 With God’s presence as the only guarantee- through the years, I have determined these are my top 5 tips for altar servers.

  1. In serving, it’s all about what God does in the celebration of the mass. Work as if to blend into the scene. Be well rested, fed, on time, and joyful.
  2. There is a significant need for ponytail holders. Why? Because, girls, the overabundance of candles present at Holy Week and long hair do not mix well.
  3. Thurifers: Do not rest the thurible on the carpet or under the hem of the your robe. There is no need for a new martyr of the faith due to complacency.
  4. Do your best and give God the rest. Rather than becoming anxious over what you did or failed to do, let God work through it.
  5. Sing and pray- You are there to serve but it’s important that you too recognize the invitation to participate and pause for God’s voice.

With Easter Joy,

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Worth Revisiting: Entering In

Since I was small child, springtime has always been a celebration of life. This I found especially true in the South where tulips, irises, and lilies make their way early on through winter’s barren landscape.  And always so anxious to see this sight, I all too neglected to stop and befittingly reflect on the season left behind. Easter too, as a young Southern Baptist, also entailed this liturgically forward press towards life. Though perhaps not intentionally, it had become for many a celebration of the risen Christ, without the full look back at the steps that had brought us there. Amidst the shopping for the perfect Easter dress, coloring eggs, and the plan for dinner there were ample days left bereft of the journey our savior walked.

While these same observations could be made of any of us at a given time, there is within the Catholic faith the graced gift and provision of Holy Week that allows us to enter in. It is the invitation to enter into not only the celebration of life but also into the sacred mystery of Christ’s death. From the swaying of branches and cheers of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to Easter we are beckoned to walk beside, and accompany Jesus on the journey ahead. From humble students of the suffering servant and participants in the first Eucharist, we are summoned to share in his anguish in the garden and keep watch. For, the enemies are pressing in and the time draws near when His sacrifice will be for all the world to see.

This incomparable spotless lamb, this gift of a Father’s love given so that we may come to know what love truly is, entreats our response. For, how can we ever truly comprehend or appreciate our redemption if we deny ourselves this time with Jesus on the way to the cross? Or the repose with Mary and John at the sight of God’s only son, crucified and suspended by the weight of the world? To do so is a privilege, one bought and paid for over two thousand centuries ago, and yet a sacred journey that we are each year implored to once again enter into.

Today as an adult, I not only joyously await the liveliness and celebration of Easter but indeed Holy Week itself. In fact, I have come to truly cherish the quiet time spent in church in anticipation before each Triduum Mass. Here I mentally walk through each liturgical motion and its significance as I pause to consider the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. Such a incredible faith tradition we have where Christ’s presence can so fully be experienced! Please accept this gracious invitation to participate in the Triduum, from Holy Thursday, Good Friday to Easter Vigil.

Reflect:

Am I merely walking through the motions of this Lenten season? Is my gaze so fixed on the Resurrection that I am failing to enter into the mystery of Christ’s Passion and death?

Peace,

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Living Redeemed

“A pessimism of life is not Christian. It is rooted in not knowing that you are forgiven, it is rooted in not feeling the caress of God. And the Gospel, we may say, shows us this joy.” We must make “every effort to show that we believe we are redeemed, that the Lord has forgiven us everything.” Pope Francis, general audience, 12/21/17.

During Lent, as Catholics, we often speak of things given up or challenges taken on all with the intention of growing closer to God. Even the smallest thing can subtly secure a place of importance in our lives, usurping family, friends, and even Christ as the center of our lives. And at some point in our faith, each of us has felt this pull away from temptation and sin, towards God’s limitless love and mercy. Yet once aware and received, do we live it… do we live our life knowing that we are redeemed?

The first part to this you see is knowing that we are a people forgiven. Even before we speak of it, that our sin is known, but also ready to be pardoned. That though there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace, that it is there in anticipation -already won by Christ’s victory on the cross. Yet, part of the difficulty lies in our own struggle with forgiveness including that of forgiving ourselves. We hold onto our fears, faults and limitations and then place those upon God. Nevertheless, our God is a promise keeper and not bound by our human imaginations always ready to welcome us home.

Several years ago, I had an unexpected but similar conversation with a man then in his 50s who had stopped into Starbucks for a coffee. Noticing my t-shirt which sported one word forgiven, with forgive highlighted, he had felt compelled to ask the question. “Pardon me, but I could not help but notice your t-shirt..What is it that you could ever have to be forgiven for?”  Oh, what a conversation starter that turned out to be!

Marketing statistics note that people will read and remember a t-shirt slogan when they may not crack open a book, or even remember your name. In this case, he had looked at me, my smile and made his own presumption as to what a sinful person should look like and in general what Christianity represented. “Unfortunately, your supposition is not uncommon, I said, that as Christians we have given a false face to the incredible gift of grace and redemption. And while undoubtedly I fall short every day, I live knowing that I am loved beyond measure. How could I ever not be joyful about that? ”

With that, his look of curiosity and concern turned to a smile.  Sharing a bit of his childhood faith, he explained how life and circumstances had moved him away from church. How every time he had considered returning he had been met with an unconvincing expression of gloominess, judgement or hypocritical behavior. “Well though we are to be the body of Christ in this world, the human part of us can, at times, behave more like an amputated limb.” I quipped.  “When that happens it means that we too, even temporarily, have forgotten the love and mercy of Christ.”

Our children more easily understand what we, as adults, have made such a formidable challenge- that we are unconditionally loved. They come to us with penitent hearts and  tears but with a certain assurance too that they will be forgiven. And just as soon as they are, the sadness is replaced with joy and they are free to embrace the day and one another. With Easter upon us, let us live today with that same joy, and trust in God’s mercy, as a people redeemed, reclaimed and loved.

Pray:

“Jesus you have won the victory, the power of your life shines in me. Though I do not always live this life perfectly, I rest in knowing my life is perfected in you.  And if you send someone to me today that needs to hear this message of love and forgiveness may I reflect this light of joy in my redemption.”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Shadows and Darkness

This Lent, our Catholic collaborative parishes will once again host a Tenebrae service of worship. Latin for darkness or shadows, Tenebrae invites us to prayerfully reflect on Christ’s pain and suffering the day of His crucifixion through both music and readings. One of the most conspicuous features of the Tenebrae service is the gradual extinguishing of candles as well as the pauses for silent prayer.  In contrast to the celebration of Easter, the mournful tone of Tenebrae enables us to enter into the reason for our hope and joy through these expressions of grief.

The service is typically divided into eight parts, an Evening Office prayer and seven Day Offices or prayers: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.  The first part consists of  three nocturns each composed of 3 psalms with responses and three lessons, which are taken either from scripture or from the Church Fathers.  The second part has 5 psalms, verse and response, a Benedictus song reflecting on the birth of John the Baptist and a Pater reflection on the death of our Lord. This dramatic service even includes a loud noise to indicate the earthquake that occurred when Christ died. After each of these sections of psalms and prayers a candle is extinguished until the church is left in relative darkness and silence.

It is an intentional glance forward as we begin our journey through the liturgical celebrations for Holy Thursday and Good Friday culminating in the joyful celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Please accept this as your invitation to join us tonight or participate in a Tenebrae service near you if you are able.  May God bless you all in this most sacred of weeks!

Peace,

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