Worth Revisiting: Be Reconciled

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Not just a prettier or more approachable  version of confession, the act of reconciling is instead, a richer and more complete description of what transpires in this beautiful sacrament. For, reconciliation means“to walk together again”[1] , to reestablish a close relationship in friendship, peace, and love. Confession is just one part of this sacrament replete with mercy, grace and love.  Reconciliation then more fully represents  “what is most important, what Jesus does”. [2]

Growing up protestant, I have heard all of the following questions and consequent arguments against the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. Undoubtedly even for those having grown up in the faith, there still lies a temptation to rest on these as a means of justifying ourselves in our walk with God. However, there is also a challenge here to really consider the effects of sin, the grace that is present here and the freedom in walking humbly with our God.

1.“My relationship with Jesus is good..I can tell him anything. Why would I put a 3rd person in the middle since Jesus is the one who forgives me?  What this question begs is a heartfelt response. Yes, there is solid scriptural basis but the person asking this is seeking to know the soul benefit in uttering and entrusting their sins in this way.  They understand the need for forgiveness and may have a very good prayer life. Coming into the faith as an young adult this was a hurdle I myself encountered. I prayed often, went to church, read my bible and asked for forgiveness daily. So what does the sacrament of reconciliation really provide that is different?

  • In confessing our sins we give voice to that which we have privately carried and share it with the community in the priest who is also representative of Christ. The weight of our sins that we have carried is lifted, the slate with our sins wiped clean and we are free to begin anew.
  • Likewise, in both our sin and sanctity we are a community and are called to help one another in the journey. Our sin which has hampered and even damaged our relationships is removed and so, as a community we celebrate.
  • Receive peace and comfort by the grace of Christ to go forth to both amend our ways and to strive for greater justice and peace in our families, communities and world around us. Our penance is an essential first step to express our commitment towards this transformation.

2. “So, where is the need for reconciliation in the bible?

  • “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
  • Parable of the lost sheep- Jesus’ story of the shepherd and the 1 lost sheep among the 99. Jesus leads us to reconciliation with God and others (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Prodigal Son explores the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and helps bring this forgiveness into our daily lives (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Great Commandment- Jesus’ teaching about loving God, ourselves, and others (Matthew 22:36-40)

3. “These priests are human too, how can they hear and absolve my sins, aren’t they just as prone to sin?”

  • As Catholics we believe that Jesus intended to give authority to his apostles to guide, teach, forgive and heal the followers of Christ to come. And, that they in turn in succession handed down this authority.

” And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19.

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

  • Yet, this question also points to the need for forgiveness for all of us, as a result of our human condition and our inclination to sin. St. John Paul II went to reconciliation frequently as did newly sainted St. Teresa of Calcutta who is noted for going 2-3 times a week for even venial sins.

“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.” St. JP II[3]

4. Finally, “Didn’t they just go to reconciliation? So why are they still  (*mean, rude etc.) ?

First obviously this question implies a bit of judgement of others rather than looking at our own walk of faith. Yet, to address the intended issue, does this sacrament have the grace and power to effect true and lasting change? Yes, but again we have a propensity and inclination to sin and our sins are not always exactly the same. Reconciliation is a sacrament that is intended to be received again and again throughout our lives either individually or with the community. So, it does not “end with the words of absolution”, but “in order to achieve it’s purpose it must take root in their whole lives”.[4]

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.

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?

Remember, our choices not only hurt ourselves but effect our relationship with God, and so many others that we encounter daily. Mercy and forgiveness are waiting-take time today to be reconciled.

Peace,

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[1] McKenna, Meagan. (1997) Rites of Justice. New York. Orbis Books

[2] Richstatter, Thomas. O.F.M, S.T.D. (1990) “Ten Tips for Reconciliation: The Gift of Reconciliation”. Catholic Update. Ohio. Catholic Update.

[3] Pope John Paul II,  Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. March 27, 2004.

[4] Kane, Thomas. Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches.Rite of Penance 7b.

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Worth Revisiting:Necessary and Indispensable

“Three things are necessary for everyone: truth of faith which brings understanding,
love of Christ which brings compassion, and endurance of hope which brings perseverance. ”  St. Bonaventure

Given the recent turmoil in the church, these last few weeks have been challenging to say the least. Conversations ensued revolving around what hasn’t been done, what should be done and who’s to blame in this crisis. Wounds that had healed in part have been reopened and the hurt and broken trust now visible once again. Especially in a community that went through the worst of it in 2002 with two of the most notable priests having led the flock.

Even personally, I had questions too. How could we not have learned as the universal church from hard fought battles of the past? If you, as leadership, witnessed the effects of what transpired in Boston, Ireland and elsewhere why wouldn’t an investigation within each diocese occur?  Sins incurred do not go away simply because we close our eyes and change cannot occur if cannot face the truth. Shameful and egregious wrongs  must be addressed for healing and trust to return.

Am I angry? Absolutely! This is the church that I love- it is the faith that I chose and that also chose me. Yet, my faith does not rest solely on the actions of man, even holy men, but on Christ.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Cor. 3:5-9

As such, it cannot be shaken for my hope is in God knowing that he has called each one of us to witness to his truth and love in this broken world. We are not, however, left alone. With his Word and Spirit to guide and the Eucharist as our strength together we walk onward allowing God to rebuild us as a people. We need only look to thousands of years of tradition to see that this would not be the first time. Yet, this begins today and with each one of us.

What can we do?

Pray. I cannot emphasize enough how important this first step is. For how can we be the body of Christ in the world, his holy church, if our actions are not discerned and directed by prayer? And by prayer I mean not just tossing up a “God please fix the present circumstances”, but continually spending time with God to learn His ways rather than relying on our own. Consider adoration. It is an incredible time to listen to what God has to say, and to allow him to move your heart, mind and soul to the work ahead.

Fast.  Why fast you may ask, when the sins committed were not ours personally? First, fasting is both a way of expressing our sorrow and also to seek clarity. Secondly, our faith is not a solitary one. Every sin or injury to the body of Christ is felt by the whole. We also take responsibility in calling one another to holiness beginning with each one of us. God will raise holy men and women to be saints- and the time is now.

Work. No place to sit on the sidelines here. We are being asked to step into the messy and difficult tasks ahead. This may be to listen to a friend, co-worker or family member who simply needs to vent or is seriously considering leaving the church. It could also be explaining to others why you choose to stay. Maybe, you feel called to write to your pastor, bishop, cardinal or Pope Francis to speak to this issue requesting further measures be taken as I have done. Yet whatever you do- please do not despair. For, though “We are hard pressed on every side, (we are ) not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:8-9

Today I pray, fast, and work albeit willing to fight for this Church that I call home. Join me and countless others!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Catechesis of Mercy2

There are four core principles in the Catholic Church’s social teaching: respect and protection of the dignity of the human person, the pursuit of the common good, the value of solidarity, and subsidiarity—that matters are if possible to be handled at the lowest level, by those most affected. With each pope in succession, through  papal encyclicals—and most notably in the Second Vatican Council, there has been a reaffirmation of these teachings..  This is why an essential element of a catechesis of mercy involves service and active works of mercy.

Look around your community, are there service learning projects that are already available in your community that you might participate in with your child or if they are old enough that they can join in themselves? There is no need to reinvent the wheel, if a suitable service activity is already up and running. Yet, if none of these seem fitting, consider developing a new service based project. What are needs in your area that aren’t being met? What are some possible solutions? What are the resources that you might can tap into?

There are several types of service..

Direct (whereby the participate is in direct contact with the person/s they are working with. Examples include volunteering at a nursing home to read or visit, doing yardwork or chores for the elderly, or working at a soup kitchen.

Indirect (Involves fundraising, or drives to assist people in need) An example would be a toy drive for a local children’s hospital, clothing drive for a homeless shelter, or making cards or placemats.

Promotion or advocacy (Getting the word out about a cause, and working to convince the government, or organization to make a change in behavior. ) Maybe you have a gift of telling or motivating others to get involved in a cause. If so then this might be where you feel most helpful.

Whatever you choose to do, reflection is a very essential part of service learning both in deciding what to commit to as well as what was taken from the experience. This is where a trained group leader is very beneficial, both to guide the questions but to show the diversity of the experiences.

What did you expect this experience to be like?
Was there anything different from this expectation?
Did you find anything challenging and/or surprising?
Was there an opportunity to talk with those whom you were helping? If so, did you learn anything new?
What is the relationship between your service and your faith?
How does your participation in this activity affect a situation or create change in the lives of those you are with?
Is it important for you to stay involved with this activity?

Remember that it is never too early to begin a catechesis of mercy, and that your child already has that divine love within and the capacity to show that love to others. We have been given a freedom to choose love and goodness in the world, to avoid what is destructive or harmful, and to make these choices quite early in life. And though not always easy choices, it is these moments that help shape us, form us and continue to define us as we grow in our Christian discipleship.

Reconciliation

As mentioned earlier, reconciliation is indelibly linked to mercy. God is loving and forgiving, God is merciful. God forgives us when we have done wrong, when we come wishing to forgiven, and desire to be in relationship once again. If your child is old enough to have celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation before, take the time to discuss its continued importance in the life of the individual and the church.
1. Discuss how to make a good confession and examination of conscience http://www.thelightisonforyou.org/confession/

2. Set aside a time to go to reconciliation as a family. Allowing your child to glimpse the importance of reconciliation for you is an essential way for him/her to see its importance in their own life as well.

3. Reflect on how God’s love and mercy is always present and calling us into relationship.
Look at the broader understandings of reconciliation within the community and world. For ideas visit St Vincent de Paul.org, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and the Childrens’ Missionary Association which is part of the Pontifical Society.
Discuss the importance of and ways to work for peace both locally and global

Mercy is like a small seed that requires our active participation in the planting and growing, allowing God to be the master gardener and harvester of the fruits.[1] To extend this analogy, we cannot plant that which we do not see or understand. Likewise, how could we then tend to the requirements necessary for its growth? Therefore, it is clear that first we must become aware of the poor, and the marginalized and desire to walk with them to understand their journey. Then our hearts and steps are to be guided towards recognizing our own need to take responsibility, and the essential right to a greater voice and participation in society of the least of these. Together, as a people of faith, we can then “water” those seeds planted to witness their rooting within the hearts of individuals, and the communities in which we live. While fully aware of the resistance of many for change, a catechesis of mercy relies not solely on our own efforts. But rather on the power of God for strength, and guidance to accomplish the realization of all efforts. Hope then is what our trust in God provides, it is faith that God’s love and mercy are unfailing, and that we are part of his divine plan for the world.

Peace,

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[1] Brady,Bernard. Essential Catholic Social Thought. Orbis Books, 2008.

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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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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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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Worth Revisiting: When the Spirit Speaks

God, I have found, is never outdone in generosity. Always the gracious giver, he longs to surprise us breaking into our everyday ordinary to do the extraordinary. And still how easily these moments could have been missed by our failure to respond. Ever have a day where an inconvenient appeal on time and energy turns into a unexpected source of joy and grace? Where had the answer been no that the loss, in hindsight, would have been great? Oh how precious are the lessons that our Father has in store for us! All that is required of us is our “yes!”..and then the Spirit does all the rest.

Recently called to the bedside of a woman actively dying, I unexpectedly felt unprepared. Tying up last minute details, both professionally and personally, in preparation for our family move and my upcoming pilgrimage to Israel, time has been elusive. Each minute spent planing ahead so that my absence is not severely felt and everything runs seamlessly. Yet, here I was sprinting to squeeze in prayer time on the way to another communion call.

With a bit of creative parking and magnificat left behind I resigned myself that the Spirit had this in hand. I had brought the most important part, I was reminded, clutching the pyx and proceeding ahead. Upon entering her room, I noticed there was not an inch of space unused. For, she was not alone. Surrounded by her family, she was being held and loved in these remaining days. Taking my place at her feet in her chair, I invited her family to pray together. The sound of their voices in harmony provided such a beautiful resonance, and it was clear that I indeed was witnessing a gift.

Closing in prayer and requesting the Spirit to intercede, I prayed for her strength for the next steps in the journey till at last she would meet Jesus face to face. Knowing how hard it was to leave this loving family behind, she needed assurance. For, they too had a journey.  Pouring forth an appeal for God’s grace, strength and peace to be felt among them in the coming days ahead, I said Amen. Glancing up, it was remarkable how her face had relaxed and her breathing eased. Softly, she whispered something to her son standing beside her.  “Wow,  that was beautiful wasn’t it mom?”, he said. “Yes.”, I thought, “the Spirit does beautiful work. ”

Having only brought one communion host, and surveying the room of expectant faces I suddenly was met with a joyful dilemma. “I only have one host…”, I said. “It doesn’t matter how small, we would all like to receive if possible” “Well, ok then.”, I said reminded of the loaves and fishes. Not even counting the members in the room, I stopped at 10 equal pieces. And wouldn’t you know, it was exactly enough with one piece remaining for “Mary”.

The family and I spoke for awhile about her life and how much her faith meant to her. A lifelong parishioner, she endeavored to bring each of them up in the faith. The children also added that they had all been baptized and married in the church. “Do you know what a blessing you are to her right now?”, I asked. “Do you know what a blessing she has been to each one of us?”, they responded.  Truly, this brief encounter with this incredible family would have been missed if I hadn’t responded to the Spirit that day.

Reflect:

Have I ever considered praying with someone in need, or that is dying? If so, what has prompted my words, or guided my actions?  If not, what has held me back from responding?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: In Deep Water

Never a strong swimmer by any means, the mere idea of treading water is completely unappealing to me. As well is the comfort of being within reach of the shore, and the proximity of my toes on the safety of the bottom. Every inch of distance apart requires surrender, faith and trust. Yet, while there is risk in venturing out there is also promise of new discoveries never to be found in the shallow.

The treasures of the day-  the perfect sand dollar tucked away under a shiny blue mussel, and the brightly colored conch shell alongside the finger like coral just out of arms length. Seems like an easy choice right? Well, not if we consistently cling to the safety of the familiar and certain. For, then even though we might glimpse the possibility of a fortune that awaits we cannot let go to claim it. God asks each one of us to be open to the disclosure of his will, to embrace the beauty that lies in surrender and the joy that springs forth from change.

Recently, our family finally made the decision to move closer to where my husband and I now both work. Having tried for the last 3 years to find a new home in the area, we have most certainly been down this road before. So what makes this time different?  Abandonment of the safety net that we had so insisted on before. After prayerful discernment, we are decidedly moving without the contingency that our home sells first.  Trusting that God will work out the rest, we are taking a leap of faith.

Sometimes, the right decision is not the easiest one.

Though this is the right decision for the family our youngest is perhaps the most impacted by the consequences of change. Heading into the 8th grade, he is leaving behind his friends, school and home that he has known his entire life. All to move into a community where he knows no kids his own age, at a time where acceptance is paramount.

“Mom, I understand that this move is good for everyone else but I can’t see how I am benefiting at all.”
“Thomas, do you trust me?”
“Yes, of course mom.”
“Have your dad and I ever made a decision without considering every member of our family?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Good. Because, your dad and I are looking at the big picture and God is revealing wonderful things to come for our family, especially more time with one another, in this move. Just like my earlier question to you, He is asking us to trust him.”
“It’s important that you know how hard this is for me. I am thankful, though, that you are listening.”
“I will always listen, and your dad and I are always here for you. Thomas, you see the gifts that you are clutching in one hand- your friends and home and their value. But sometimes God wants to give us more, that can only be taken with both hands. That doesn’t mean that we loose completely what we had but that are open to the greater that He promises.”

Pray:

Father, you are the Giver of all good gifts. Help me today, in this moment, to surrender my will to Yours. Help me not to be so content in the life that I have that I refuse to embrace the life you have meant for me. Though not always the easiest path, let me trust you always. Knowing that there are so many opportunities that await in the offering.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Scent of Her Presence

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“An awareness of smells can illuminate our present. It can help us live more mindfully and gracefully. It can help us recognize that God’s goodness saturates the world, in scents that are both obvious and subtle.”

Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Taste and See ( Loyola Press)

Early morning dew, the scent of grateful peonies and roses greet me.
The aroma of homemade strawberry rhubarb and blackberry pies cooling midday meet me.
Nighttime breezes carrying a day well spent at play, leave me ..the promise of yet another summer day in the South.

My Grandmother’s house was my favorite place to be as a child, particularly in the summertime.  What might appear as lacking in structure or activity, each day was abundant in hidden treasures that could only be discovered by a slower pace and ready spirit. All this I too might have missed had I not been seeking- albeit anticipating- God’s respondent grace and presence. Grandma’s hard work in the garden wafted through her small home as she baked and canned the fruits of each day’s gifts. Receiving the present she also prepared for the future, when these would not be as easily gathered. Mindful also that nothing given should ever be wasted.

Indeed, there are so many indelible memories forever tied to the smells of my childhood spent with my Grandma. Sunday mornings brought an even more unique scent- as my Grandma readied herself for church service. Not accustomed to wearing makeup or perfume during the week, grandma was on this day a delightful combination of Ivory soap, Jergens lotion, Covergirl makeup and Emeraude perfume. How I loved this smell, so much so that I would take it all in as I cuddled close before church. Infused with the understanding that Sunday’s were intended to be special, she put forth her best for God.

Many years later I would smell that smell once again, over 1, 400 miles apart. Then 33 and in my third trimester I could not travel as she feel seriously ill this time. My heart was nonetheless with her, and almost without pause I found myself praying for her throughout the day.

“Lord let her know how very much I love her, let her know that though I cannot be there in person that I am truly beside her. If I could carry her as she carried me all these years, I would.”

God heard my prayer, and knew the close bond he had established between us would not end in death. Only moments before the phone rang, God gave me an otherwise inexplicable gift-my Grandmother visited me. In the shower, I suddenly and overwhelming experienced the all enveloping scent and presence of my Grandmother. It was all around me, permeating every space with love and memories. As tears of joy and grief streamed down my face, I said my goodbyes- for now, fully embracing the gift of being with her again. Profoundly aware that God was allowing me to experience this sacred moment of my Grandmother’s passing from this world to the next.

Then just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Though I tried to recover the scent for an instant, I knew that she was no longer there. As the phone rang, with my cousin who had been sitting with her in these last few moments on the line, I knew her words before they were spoken.

“Liz, Grandma just left us..”
“I know..she was here..and just left too.”

I then shared with her how I knew and the unbelievable love that I had felt in these last moments.Together we cried tears of joy for the gifts given to be with our grandmother all these years. Though eleven years have now passed- the fond memories of growing up through every season infused with the scent of her presence will forever remain, evidence of the world unseen .

Peace,

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