Worth Revisiting: Sea of Galilee and Mount of Beatitudes

But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary.. 

Just the night before I spent hours wide awake with no respite from the events of the day. In my thoughts I pleaded for sleep as I knew that, body and soul, I needed rest. Feeling a bit “battered by the waves” myself  I prayed realizing that grace can be found here too. And, in my unrest that he called me out upon the water. Rather than sinking, I chose this time to take one step at a time. My heart responding and as I take each step eyes transfixed on our Lord, I feel no fear. These calm waters I embrace, this peace I seek to keep. You are the Christ and I am in awe of who you are. Here in these moments I appreciate profoundly the difference between spiritual peace and unrest.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth”

Within the first five minutes at the Mount of Beatitudes, I suddenly discovered myself an unwelcome guest by the colony of red ants who previously occupied the seat that I had chosen. Deciding to walk it off, I soon felt their keen sting and began to wonder how my time here would be spent. Yet as I began to walk on, I found the spot where I had been called. A picturesque scene unfolded before my eyes as I overlooked the Sea of Galilee. At least 15 minutes passed as I stood there gazing at the Sea. My heart could not contain my feelings- a dichotomy of tranquility and overwhelming joy bringing me to tears. And there I heard Christ’s words yet again…”Blessed are the peacemakers”.

A peacemaker- an essential part of the very nature of my soul, yet still not something that I was content with calling a gift. Peacemakers, I had ascertained, are rarely welcomed unless successful. Each side clinging to their understanding yet unwilling or unable to move. Yet this, I realized in that instant was what Jesus was asking me to do- and who he created me to be. With tears streaming down my face, I finally made peace with being a peacemaker.

Processing into the church itself, I fell to my knees in front of the cross. To my delight, in gazing up to its center was Christ himself as the Blessed Sacrament. Above that still, a dove sat perched on the high arch above the altar waiting for me to notice it. Then in a fluttering of wings, it was gone. Kneeling there for some time, I thanked God for the gift of himself and for the opportunity to give him praise for the gifts he had given me.

Oh my Jesus, you are the preeminent consoler and author of all good gifts. Enable us to both discern and accept your gifts that you have placed within. And strengthen us for the steps ahead as we seek to put your plans into action.

Peace,

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Inch by Inch

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Jos. 1:9

In praying the stations of the cross, nestled under the oak and pine, my eyes spied him. His tiny frame stretching almost impossibly to reach the next ledge. Then, instantly curling back into itself as if to gain momentum, it took its next step. There was nothing between but air, and each time it was a gigantic move for one so small. In awe of this tiny creature’s endeavors, I recalled a morning spent with my oldest after a late summer’s rain.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him. Psalm 37:23

“Where did he come from..where is his family?”, my son, then 5, had asked. And where is he going? Wherever that is it will probably take him awhile”, he added. And there we sat watching the miraculous gains and effort expended in mere seconds. Never knowing if the inchworm was indeed trying to get back to where he had been or to somewhere new.

Now, years later, it occurs to me that this is much like our spiritual journeys- a series of falls and growth with the opportunity for new beginnings. While we may never get back to where we were, for God’s plan may challenge us to move forward along a different course. Inwardly, we curl back inside seeking the comfort of God within to gain the strength for the path ahead. Stretching us too, in ways that we could never imagine to reach for the Christ beyond ourselves.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John:14

In Him and in those he places along the way, we find the support and respite we need. Until that is, it is time once again to stretch, move and grow. Yet, after we find that place of comfort many of us are reluctant to leave. We may refuse to take that leap or bend to the extraordinary surprises that God has in store. Much like the inchworm, however, we were never meant to stay in one place, and lest we forget God promises direction, protection, and all the tools needed for the journey.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Reflect:

Where in my life Lord am I being stubborn or immovable?

Pray:

Lord help me to see you and your will for me each day. Help me to let go of the known to accept your purpose for my life even though it’s unknown.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: You Lead I’ll Follow

Spiritual direction, it seems to me, is a beautiful dance.

An intimate sharing of self, a gracious reception of the Other. Each step towards self knowledge is but a lyrical movement towards acceptance of the pre-existing dispositions and disequilibrium within our lives. Oh the freedom of  movement that comes with self acceptance! No longer are we resolutely restrained by the confines of our former self, but in desiring to model the steps of our divine Partner we can finally abandon our will for His.

This is what St. Ignatius would refer to as resignation or indifference, a course of abandonment from self seeking fulfillment to a desire to know and follow the will of God for our lives. This conversion of self and discernment of our next steps is, of course, the fruit of spiritual direction. Yet, as mankind is by nature relational, this dance reaches its fullest potential in dialogue with and under the guidance of a trained spiritual director.

Helpful Rules of the Road of Spiritual Direction:


1.    “Spiritual direction cannot be confined to the religious realm, as though this existed in isolation, but must deal with the whole man and his actual problems” Friedrich Wolf, Encyclopedia of Theology, ed. Karl Rahner.  Because of this, the more authentic and truthful you with are with the challenges you face in spiritual direction- the more helpful the time spent will be.

2.     You must be open to hearing and giving consideration to what your spiritual director notices about you and your situation without automatically defending a position. In entering spiritual direction, you are eliciting a consulting perspective, not asking simply for an echo of your own. You may have not noticed something simply because you are too close, or to familiar with its occurrence.

3.    If there is something in particular that you are aware of holding you back before a session, and your spiritual director is a priest, ask to begin with the sacrament of reconciliation. If this is the case but you are seeing a lay spiritual director, consider reconciliation at a nearby parish before your session. Otherwise, you may feel very self conscious of the sin, guilt or shame you are harboring and unable to be as open and ready to be moved through direction.

4.    Spiritual direction does compel a response or corresponding action by you.

“nothing less than a real conversion is needed if the searcher is to accept the profound self-knowledge which he gains with the help of another…in a word to carry his own cross after Christ.” Friedrich Wolf  

Simply speaking, once we see ourselves truthfully, in the light of faith, we begin to desire change. When we seek to follow Christ, we also wish to model our lives after him.

5.   Letting go of that which prevents us from growing spiritually closer to God.

Very few choices in our life are without consequences, be they good or bad. So it goes without saying that which doesn’t bring us closer to who God has intended us to be, is at best keeping us spiritually delayed.

6.  Recognizing who we are now, allows us to envision who God wants us to be and to            invite God into the decision making process. This is the ideal environment for spiritual      growth! Our relationship with God grows as we partner together in all of the                        decisions-big and small- that come before us. We may just find that we are less                    stressed about the outcome, because we trust that we ask God to guide us in the first          place!

Reflect:

Have you thought about seeking greater direction in your life? If so, research local spiritual directors in your area to find one that might be accepting new directees.

If you already have a spiritual director, does he/she challenge you to see things from a new perspective? Are you resisting or accepting of the task ahead?

Peace,

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Less Than Nothing

Service and compassion for the poor“Mom..we have NOTHING to eat in the house!”

This familiar refrain, that can be heard echoing throughout our homes, never ceases to annoy us as moms who know better. Yet, if we take a moment to consider, what we are truly bothered by is the lack of understanding of what real need looks like by our children. Need that has no instant fill, and want not for the frosting on the cake but for the cake itself and for the person caring enough to bake it. And gratitude, found in time spent with those you love and an awareness that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee.

Growing up, there wasn’t always the food I wanted but we always had food and plenty of it. And my mother had instilled in me that service wasn’t simply an activity to try on, but more of a lifestyle. So I became used to “neighbors” coming to our door, sitting at our table and passing down clothing and toys that were no longer needed. This perspective, to see others as myself, has remained despite any change in circumstance or surroundings. And yet, I have to say that God still had much to teach me during my recent mission trip to Haiti.

His tear-brimmed eyes were so striking that they seemingly took up the most of his small round face. And behind them was a haunting loneliness and hunger, the depth of which far surpassed any that I had encountered before. Unlike other huts visited, no smile came forth , rather an unknowing and apprehension of the kindness shown. Today we were there, but tomorrow well, the isolation and uncertainty would return.

Coming home from Haiti then, to the laments of my own children desiring more ample food choices, was almost too much to bear. “You have so much, and yet you only can see what you lack!”, the words spilling out almost uncontrollably. “But Mom, would you stop treating us as if we are orphans from Haiti!”, my youngest responded. This is when I realized they couldn’t fully understand what they had never seen or experienced. Instead of criticizing them, I decided that now was the perfect time to show them. With each photo a story, and behind each story a teachable moment and a commitment to foster mission in their lives.

Although there is much that is difficult to translate with just a picture, they began to ask questions about the people that I encountered. As well as, questions as to the problems that have caused the systematic poverty and unrest that have so embroiled this island nation. “Mom, how can we really help if tomorrow things will return back to where they were or worse? ” Accompanying these words, were a felt culpability and contrition along with a desire to solve a seemingly endless problem. As a mom, I want to encourage  and empower them to be part of the change wherever they are.  Instantly, I recalled the passage from Deuteronomy 15:11  and Proverbs 31:8-9 which not only acknowledges the longevity of poverty but also our responsibility to care for the poor and work for change.  Isaiah and Paul to the Romans take it a bit further stating that we must:
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow”.  Isaiah 1:17
All the while…
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:11-13

This is not an easy request and yet old and new testament alike call us to accountability on our care and compassion for those in need. So it isn’t that being in a position of authority or wealth is inherently wrong, rather it is what we choose to do with that wealth and power that is the important distinction. In fact, if we allow God to use or gifts for his good then those gifts do not end with us but are endlessly multiplied.

Pray: Lord, I come to you today, asking for a servant’s heart. Please show me the ways in which I can best serve and give to those in need, and help me to be willing become less attached to the created things of this world and more to your beautiful creation within it. And, if it pleases you Lord, let me teach my children to do the same.

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Worth Revisiting: The Church of the Transfiguration

A little more than a year ago I returned from a graced pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Each site now holds for me spiritual remembrance where, if I close my eyes, my soul is instantly transported. With words waxed poetically and where there were no words at all, God spoke.  Where the scriptures came alive, I took my place walking at times beside, behind and enveloped by the living Christ.

 The Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor is a magnificent scene to behold, overlooking the Jezreel plain in Galilee. According to scriptures (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9: 2-8 and Luke 9:28-36) that the divine incarnation of Christ was revealed to the apostles as Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes.  And just as with Jesus’ baptism, God spoke with clarity as to who Jesus was.

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

(The following conversation is the reciprocity of my own heart to the scene that lay before me.)

 Here I am again in Your gardens, led by your hand having witnessed your splendor. Being given this time to ponder Your love for me. Offered this moment to remember who you have called me to be. Today, I recognize my surprisingly subtle demeanor is at odds with my spirit inside. Who ablaze is all consuming refusing to stay quiet and hide.

“Proclaim my love”, You say, ” In all the world let it be known”. In all creation there is no other, in all the heavens no one above. For You are Lord and this is my joy, my hope, the sum of  a disciple life’s reward. The harmony in the chaos-the remedy to new found discord. Transforming, yet disarming you ask me to follow without delay. Father, grant that I may know you better, love you greater and serve you endlessly until your face I see one day.

As I sit in the gardens atop Mt. Tabor, surrounding the site of Your transfiguration, I cannot help but be drawn to praise. Like the apostles, I seek to comprehend all that You are. To glean through a gradual unfolding of Your mysteries the fullness of your words- the gift of your presence.True God and true man, I am in awe of who You are and desire to be in my life. Oh the glories You yearn to show me and the mercy given that is greater than all of my sin!

This day I bring to you the many intentions carried here- to this place on Your holy mountain. My Lord carry them with you up to the heavens. Leaving only Your peace. And in times of Your absence, let me not be passive but let me desire the intimacy of Your forgiving embrace. This is reconciliation – this is love set ablaze. And it all happens in the stillness of a gentle breeze.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: An Invitation to Lead

The following article appeared in the University of Notre Dame’s Institute of Church Life Journal a year ago on May 23, 2016.

Since it was written, God has continued to move me towards new roles and responsibilities within the life of the church. Lay ministry is indeed a graced vocation, one that not everyone is called to but one that can go unheeded in the fast pace of our society, and amidst prior commitments. What gifts might lay untapped in your life today? How might God be inviting you to use your gifts to lead others to Christ?

There is an extra spring in my step this morning knowing that today has been reserved, indeed set apart, to spend with both some of the youngest and oldest members of this parish community. After opening prayers they bound forward, from the left and right, towards the bright red book of the Gospels that I am holding and head to the lower church for children’s liturgy. This is indeed their community, one that the over 50 gathered have come to joyously participate in. With hands held together, in lieu of uncomfortable boredom, there are instead small voices raised and petitions uttered as the prayers of the faithful are spoken.

Pausing momentarily, in the back of the sacristy after Mass, I am instantly reminded to thank the altar servers whom I personally helped train and scheduled to serve that day. A hoped-for beginning to a life of service and love, their gift can easily go unnoticed. Many of these altar servers (a large percentage of which are girls), I have seen “graduate” on to Eucharistic ministry, lectoring and service-based volunteer work within the Church, families, and the greater community upon entering college.

Lay ministry leadership then takes on visible and invisible aspects and roles, enabling the community to not only run smoothly but also to be an inviting encounter with Christ in one another. So too is the work of those who respond to serve the larger community beyond the doors of the Church. Walking the halls of one of the nursing homes that I serve, I am familiar with each name on the door and many of the family members of the residents I see. There is such grace here, in bringing Christ and community to our older, at times forgotten, members of the Body of Christ. Moreover, this joy is meant to be shared, whereby all feel enjoined and invited to partake in this beautiful ministry.

Over the years, I have seen the need, heard the invitation, and taken on these and a number of other lay ministry roles—as catechist, coordinator, presenter, and Catholic radio show host. Perhaps you too have recognized the great need within our parish communities, unearthing a desire to serve through leadership within the Catholic faith. Yet, what does this look like realistically? First, it needs to be said that women have been serving in leadership positions within the Church for quite some time—not only filling roles left vacant due to a shortage of priests but also actively involved in the faith formation and pastoral care of the community.

Still there has been a definitive shift recently in encouraging the participation of women in lay ministerial leadership roles. Pope Francis and others like Cardinal Sean O’Malley are even expressing their openness and anticipation for “more women in positions of responsibility at the Vatican.”[1] Likewise, in recent years a number of women are seeking to receive additional theological training and advanced degrees to gain the tools to better utilize their gifts and help build the Kingdom. In 2016, women held 80% of the over 39,000 lay ecclesiastical ministry positions, and 9 out of 10 “considered their ministry ‘a vocation, not a job.’”[2] This is the path that I, too, followed, and which has led to my recent acceptance of a paid staff position as Director of Parish Ministries for two parishes entering soon into collaboration. While there still remains much discussion and polarization about shape of leadership within the Catholic Church, I am witness to the innumerable ways to serve and immeasurable blessings in doing so.

Peace,

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[1] John L. Allen Jr. and Lisa Wangsness, “Pope Softening Tone, not Stance Cardinal Sean O’Malley Says” in The Boston Globe (February 9, 2014).

[2] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Research Review: Lay Ecclesial Ministers in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 2015).

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Gospel Reflections: Matthew 14:13-21

Daily Gospel Reflection for April 21, 2018

Today, I share both my reflection and the wonderful community of CatholicMom.com with each of you! Tune in daily for wonderful insights, reflections, recipes, book reviews and more!

Mt 14:13-21

After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus understandably seeks to get away to spend some much needed time in prayer.  With crowds constantly surrounding him, the time for renewal not to mention the time needed to grieve would prove formidable. His heart, however, moved by compassion on the people who were seeking to be healed could not remain idle in their need. And through this miracle, we are not only given this beautiful prefigured allusion to the Eucharistic celebration but also to God’s call to responsibility for each one of us in our discipleship journey.

 “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

As a mom the essential quest for alone time, particularly in prayer, has always echoed resoundingly for me. For, almost without fail it seems the moment I had hoped to squirrel away to rest and renew ends up being the very instant the most of me is to be called upon. Couple this with our desire to be attentive to our spouse and friends and we begin to wonder if there really is such a thing as perfect peace. And, is what we have sufficiently enough, for the ready demands upon our time and resources that everyday life brings?

In this way we look at our gifts and see little, forgetting that Christ is the multiplier of all gifts. Then, we look at our strength and recognize our weakness, unable to believe that God will enable us for the work ahead. Yet, our heavenly Father who knows that we are weak and broken seeks to make of us the very miracle of mercy, love and compassion that is needed today. What is reassuring is that all that is needed from us is the simple offering of ourselves.

Pray:

Jesus, though I come to you today unable to fully imagine how you may seek to use my brokenness , it is yours. Help me to respond, as you did, with love and compassion willing to give you my all.

Reflect:

What might I be holding back from Christ today out of fear that it isn’t enough?

Peace,

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