Worth Revisiting: Lenten Love Notes

Fair to say that when we remove the unnecessary, that we are more prone to notice the essential.  So too, it is in this intentional, purposeful consecration of time and space during Lent, that God’s voice can be so clear. Still, as we do not live in isolation, there remains a number of unavoidable interactions and temptations that inevitably seek to pull us away from our Lenten promises. And, I would be remiss not to call it for what it truly is-the devil at work. For, the closer we seek to walk with Christ the more determined Satan is to pull out all the stops.

Oh how prideful we can be to ever think we could accomplish any virtue on our own! What an open door these hard lessons can be for Satan to enter in with reminders of failure, guilt, suspicion and exhaustion. This voice can be so deafening that we might tend to forget that we are not alone on our Lenten journey. Or that in following Christ, we too would be tempted to abandon our faith and challenged to choose God’s ways over the world’s.

This Lent has proven not unusual in this constant barrage of testing and time of trial. Though, what has been remarkable is that God has given me the awareness to see it plainly. In disengaging from conflict, giving voice to the struggle, and going to prayer I can see my part and that of others. Regardless, however, there will always be moments missed or inadequately handled. And this is where God’s faithful love never ceases to amaze me.

In the upturned days of confusion and uncertainty , are the often missed reminders of his promises. In striking out on our own we may think it is too late to ask for guidance or call out for help. Yet, God is merely waiting for us to call on Him.  Here in our experience of frustration and loss, He meets us with intimate notes replete with love, mercy and peace.

In just a few words, and in just a mere motion of the heart much is conveyed. If but aware, the answer sought in prayer finds its homecoming in the most surprising ways.  Perhaps through a scripture passage, a conversation, a song, or creation’s beauty we glimpse God’s love laid bare for all to see.  And still, we know that these Lenten love annotations are indeed intended just for us.

Reflect:

Take a moment to write down on one side of a piece of paper the challenges you have encountered this Lent. Then on the other side, make a list of God’s promises, or answers to these challenges also experienced. Be creative in seeing God’s love spoken to you in these times of trial and testing.

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Worth Revisiting: Waking Up to Lent

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Isaiah 60:1

A purple sky gradually taking on the coral, rose and gold tones of the break of day, what  a spectacular sight to behold. Since I was quite small, I have cherished the soft warmth of a sleepy awakening nestled under the protective covers of a new morning. It is where the day before has been put to bed and the new day awaits to be discovered. Hushed stirrings of hope and a renewed resolution to seek a will other than my own. Where my heavenly Father has my undivided attention, and discernment takes shape in the freedom to surrender any preconceived notions of completeness.

And while it may be so tempting to remain where we are, undisturbed by the demands of others, our Father calls us onward constantly to a graced life of encounter. Eyes opened to see Christ in one another and hearts prepared to experience the deep contrition for our failure to love. Here, we are called to live out our discipleship not cloistered away but in the very midst of community. Where knees are made firm, hearts rended and hands strengthened for the work ahead.

In these moments Father, you are lovingly and continually recreating me.

Lent comes to us in the drowsiness of winter and beckons us to be awakened recreated anew.  “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die..”   And still to do so, we must take this essential time with God to search our hearts and steps, to even see the need for change.  To embrace this given space to delve into the commonplace, the habitual, and the un-examined parts of our life to reveal the invitation for conversion. To unearth the sin from the darkest corners that has slowly made its home, to be restored to what God has created us to be. For, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”

Now is the time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving…

Prayer:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions… be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Prayer is a light that reveals, and directs that without it we are truly without a compass in our desire for change. Using this time set apart to pray is likewise an opportunity to reconnect with God. Who, in the hustle and bustle of life may not be our closest companion in our journey.

Fasting:

Why fast? Scripture has a lot to say about the practice of fasting and the benefits of doing so. First of all, it expresses a desire on our part to offer sacrifice and penance for wrongs committed. Yet, it is also proven to be a quickening agent to prayer, providing the perspective to see God’s direction and will. And if done with also an awareness of community, it can lead to the directed efforts to offer the allocated money for food to others who may be in greater need.

Almsgiving:

The giving of money, time, and talents to assist the poor is to be a outward expression of our inner desire for charity. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Therefore, the Christian understanding carries with it more than just helping one another, but in doing so we actually are serving Christ. In this way, it becomes a visible witness of love in action. You need not travel far to identify ways to answer this call to charity.  In the inspiring words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, ” Stay where you are, find your own Calcutta…”

Reflect:

Is there a need in my life to wake up this Lent? Where might God be calling me to grow or serve?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Ash Wednesday!

Ash Wednesday Edition!

Today as we begin the season of Lent I thought that this beloved Catholic funny was definitely worth revisiting!  Beyond the obvious, when many of us have left with just a smear across our forehead, I see myself. (As a bit of perspective, I have actually corrected the cross of ashes on my forehead more than once in my life!) For so many years, I have let my own desire of perfectionism determine the outcome of success. It is a fruitless game of never fully being pleased. and where often the reason why we even tried gets lost in our own sense of pride.

True, this time of Lent is intended to work on those things in our life that distance us from God. However, we cannot do this solely on our own, nor were we ever meant to. Rather than seeking control, by forcing a square peg in a round hole, we are to allow God to chip away at our sins and challenges. To shape us in the true image we were always intended to be.

This is why I encourage you this Lent to:

  • Let go of who you think you once were, or who others have defined you to be to allow God to accomplish His work and what he wills within you. We cannot be transformed if we retain our old selves.
  •  Carve out space and time for both quiet reflection and dialogue.These next 40 days are a gift- an invitation to slow down, get away, and spend time with your heavenly Father. Jesus himself recognized the need to leave his everyday surroundings and daily to-do’s for clarification and direction. Yet, without ready access to a desert..we have to create the time and space in our lives apart from the noise.
  • Whatever you choose to do differently, agree to make it meaningful. If you decide to pick up a devotion this Lent, whether it be the rosary, adoration time, daily mass, Bible study, Liturgy of the Hours, or the Examen resist rushing through to check it off your list. Rather than passively going about this time be purposeful in seeking direction and unhurried in reaching a destination. Keeping in mind that our faith is a journey- one in which Our Father not only meets us but leads and indeed carries us home.
  • Oh, and don’t forget..

God Makes Beautiful Things Out of Dust!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Thy Will be Done

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Lately these four words have spoken profound volumes in my life. With the busy fast paced work of collaborative parish life, my own vocation as wife and mother, and the decision of putting our own house on the market,there is such solace in this simple prayer. In an Ignatian practice of pause, time spent in contemplation of each word prayerfully leads us to consider what God’s word means for our lives today.

Thy

All that is within creation is God’s alone. From the smallest grain of sand to the tallest mountain, from the fiercest storm to the most placid waters it is all His and in His control. From the tiniest spark of life placed by the Creator, to the life nearing the end of its days- God is present and attentive to our cry.  In awestruck wonder I stand amidst it all and offer my gratitude both for the grandeur of all I see, but also for my place in His plan.

This week my cousin was fatally killed when struck by an automobile while crossing the street. His childhood was a difficult one growing up on the outskirts of Chicago, and he fell easily into a life of addictions as did his sister who died early of an overdose.On and off again homeless, he did have moments of stability but none lasted very long. With his mother and father now gone too from cancer, there were but a few that were close to him. Though he too, I believe, was loved dearly by his heavenly Father, he longed for that sense of belonging here on earth. The reported images of his passing, struck and laying dead in the middle of the road left me immediately heartbroken. Yet, how could I let my grief consume me when I know the certainty of the love and mercy of God’s embrace? He is Yours now Father. May his struggle here meet your joy and forgiveness, and may he know that he is truly missed.

Will

Here there is a beautiful recognition that God is God and I quite simply am not. Truthfully, I do not want my life to follow my own inclinations, despite my repeated attempts to persuade or otherwise take the reins at times.

This week in bible study we turned towards Genesis-walking in the peace of the Garden, and experiencing the pain of our disobedience and prideful use of will. Do we too desire to have the wisdom of God? Whatever would we do if we did? I do not know about you, but I haven’t always made the best decisions when I have acted on my own. What are the consequences even when we have achieved our immediate desire? The key can be found in the search itself- the longing for happiness.  So often, we look for happiness not eternally, but rather satisfy ourselves with temporary happiness. Those things which pacify us but disappear quickly are our forbidden fruit. In consuming them they give us a feeling of self-empowerment, and control and cloud the reality of our utter dependence on God.

Oh, Lord please help my will to align with Yours! Please make straight my crooked paths and set everything right when I have forgotten your loving ways. Though I do not know the way ahead, I trust that you do.

Be Done.

Release of the outcome to the One in control of it all is essential in a life directed towards God’s will. His time, His direction, His edits and our “YES!”. Are we saying yes daily but our more accurate response is a maybe?

As anyone who has gone through the process of selling a home can attest to..one wishes not only for a good price but for the pain to end quickly. Living in a constant state of readiness and cleanliness is a work of wonder with a family of boys and a playful German Shepherd. Only week two and I who began this quest in an open surrender am already petitioning God to walk the right family through our home. I know, that God’s answer might be yes..but it may be a no, or perhaps later. After we do all that we can do to prepare each day, what remains for each of us is for the resolve of the situation to “Be done”.

Reflect: How do we respond when situations are slower than unexpected, or end unfavorably for what we would have desired? Can we let God who has the big picture take the lead? If not, what could we do differently?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Storyteller’s Guide to A Grace Filled Life

Image result for A storyteller's guide to a grace filled life

In reviewing this book, I cannot help but share a bit about the storyteller as who he is leaps off of every page in a humble, open, sincere and unassuming way. No different in real life, Tony has a profound gift of engaging the heart, inspiring reflection and engendering friendship. Through his eyes we glimpse the lost, lonely and forgotten and through his words we are invited to see ourselves in each of these.

“Since we cannot do good to all, we are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances are brought into closer connection with you.” St. Augustine (p. 27)

Whether close to home, at table with our families, in our daily interactions with others  or in a prison cell… grace is a chosen gift to accept.

As Tony illustrates, grace touches not only the ones we are moved to be attentive to but it can renew our faith, restore our relationships, and change the course of our very lives. What is remarkable is that when encountered, grace seeks not to occupy a corner of our hearts but to consume it entirely. Through prison and homeless ministry, Tony relates time and again our innate need to feel loved, and be reminded of our self worth despite the circumstances we might find ourselves in. Grace calls our name, and provides the reassurance that God loves us regardless of the past and ushers in the hope of change.

Within the family, Tony is key to point out the cultural influences of today that pull us away from deep conversation and allow us to settle for shallow waters of accommodation. Sacrificing both quantity and quality of time we far too often miss out on the numerous grace filled moments that God desires to bless our lives with. And in prizing our own idea of self we neglect to honor or claim who God has created us to be in our varied vocations. To this Tony is not remiss in offering a bit of well earned and honed wisdom from the challenges he too has faced in life.

Yet, more than a prescription, A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life invites the reader following each story to reflect on their own joys, sorrows, weaknesses and gifts to discover or re-discover grace. For grace does not expire, or cease but simply awaits our response to more fully be who God has created us to be. And our unique stories, as Tony so beautifully remarks not only “forms the fabric” for our understanding and struggles in our lives but also “become the glue that connects each generation to the next”.

A word of gratitude to my dear friend and fellow Catholic blogging evangelist Tony Agnesi who continues to share his “Grace-Filled” journey with the world. You are such a bright ray of hope and grace…Thank you for letting your light shine!

To hear an on-air conversation between Tony and I through An Engaging Faith, available on podcast tune in here .

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Whose we Are

“What I think is more important than what others think..The more you trust my love the less you care about their (opinions). Remember, Eli said, you are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.” You are Special, Max Lucado

As you reread these words again for a moment pause, and ask yourself if you could hear these words said by anyone who would you want for that to be? Truth is, from our very birth we have been created to seek affirmation and approval. The difficulty is that we choose, far too often, to seek it from all the wrong places. Am I smart, talented, pretty or successful? What is it that others see, and is that what truly makes me special?

In and of themselves these qualities are worthy to be appreciated, and yet they will never be the sole measure of our worth. For as we all know beauty fades, success wanes, and talents can come and go in an instant. Even the praise received by family, friends, and peers can quite easily be matched by criticism given time and circumstance. This is true too for quite the opposite. Some of the most creative minds in history have lived unnoticed quiet lives before their discovery. Prompting the world to ask , where on earth have they been?

So back to our original question, who and what are we living for?

As the youngest of three, with an incredibly beautiful sister and a successful brother ahead of me, I had decided to work on being the “smart one”. This was motivation for me to consistently aspire for the highest grade, receive recognition in the community, and be admitted to one of the top undergraduate schools in the nation. Pushing myself in this way for so long, there came the recognition that this was an endless pursuit that had not only taken a toll on me, but was no longer fulfilling. If it ever really was in the first place. There was so much more in life that lay unexplored including who I was at my core and had been created to be in this world.

While my faith had always played a substantial role in my life, somehow I had compartmentalized my interior and exterior life. Rather than approaching God to see who he wished for me to be, I was instead coming to God asking him to validate or not who others saw me to be. In doing so, I was not living like I was loved but in fear of the next critical word and anticipation of the next word of praise.  This has been, for me, a lifetime of reaffirming self discovery with God leading the way.

“You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

And still, what time and experience have revealed is the profound need for these words to permeate deep within the soul of every one of us in our lifetime. Yet, in order to do so we must keep our eyes and trust on him. It entails spending time with our Creator, and allowing him to remind us who and whose we are. The more often we do this, the less we care what others think whether good or bad in nature. We were created with and for an extraordinary purpose- the continual revelation of which has been, for me, an unimaginable source of true and lasting happiness.

Reflect:

Do I rely too much on the opinions or affirmation of others for an assessment of my self worth? How often do I seek God’s evaluation and affirmation in my life? 

Challenge:

Spend 15 minutes today in silence, free of distractions allowing God to remind you of your purpose and value.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Aquinas on Grace

I would venture to say that both the strength and weakness of Aquinas can best be understood in light of how he believes knowledge is acquired about God and his creation, the body and soul, and the part that our grace plays through it all.

For Aquinas, much like Aristotle, much knowledge is gained by observing the world through our senses and compartmentalizing its importance by reason. Nevertheless, while there are subjects that we learn through reason, there are others that we understand only through divine revelation, and still yet concepts that require both.  When we look at the world in God’s creation we are able to see beauty, wisdom, being and goodness.This notion that our bodies are not evil but through our senses we are able to understand God’s creation and, in part, knowledge of the existence of our Creator is a strength for Aquinas. We look at creation and understand the material that comprises it (clay), and in what shape it is in (pot), understand something about the creator who made it (potter), and ultimately the purpose for which it was made.

However, although this allows us to know aspects of God, Aquinas concedes that human reason is still limited in fully comprehending God’s magnificence.  Aquinas noted that “while a philosopher can show that God exists, he doubted that reason can tell us much about God’s nature…only what He is not.” [1]  Aquinas consequently argues that human reason must be met with God’s revelation of himself simply to understand his existence.  Therefore, since they both come from God, reason and revelation do not oppose each other, but supplement each other [2] .

When it comes to understanding mankind, Aquinas makes a further distinction in his causality argument. Aquinas sees the soul as the form for the body, and although they can exist separately it is not humanity’s ultimate purpose. Rather, the ultimate goal would be at “Christ’s second coming and the general resurrection when we will exist as embodied souls”. [3] .This ultimate goal or union with God is not achieved, however, by our own reason or will but as an added salvific grace. “Moreover, the Incarnation holds up to man an ideal of that blessed union whereby the created intellect is joined, in an act of understanding to the uncreated Spirit…returns by a sort of circulatory  movement to his first beginning, being united by the work of the Incarnation to the very principle of all things”. [4]

Foremost, Aquinas saw that grace and nature complemented each other in mankind in an “indwelling of grace that elevates our nature and leads us to pursue happiness” [5]  Further, there are also virtues of faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence that will bring us closer to God when matured. In cooperating with grace we are able to live moral lives and good works are seen. This is strength for Aquinas, because it helps us understand the search for virtue, meaning and happiness in those who have yet to experience God’s grace in conversion. [6] However ,what if one’s natural pursuit for happiness is more a product of society’s influence than of the moral law of our creator? Aquinas noted, that “ through sin the reason is obscured especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult, and concupiscence more impetuous”(Summa I-II, 85,3)

Further, Aquinas’ argument that some truths are only known by revelation from God, would also suggest that there are truths which will not be understood by those who do not believe in God. Hence, “the way in which we understand the substance of a thing determines the way in which we know what belongs to it” (Contra Gentiles 3, 3, 3) Those who do not believe in God, therefore will not accept divine truth and will look to society to explain the truths in the world. Thus, a salvific grace is “added to those of nature in such a way that it does not destroy the latter but perfects” [7] . On this idea of grace and the remission of guilt Aquinas notes, “Now the effect of the divine love in us which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby a man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive of the remission of guilt without the infusion of grace” (Summa Theologica II, 113, 3). Rather, because of sin, we cannot grow closer to God without the added grace to know and love God.

Without this God given grace, mankind could not achieve ultimate union with God which is the ultimate purpose of our creation.  Aquinas notes that through Christ humanity is restored, so that “henceforth men might serve God no longer out of fear of death…but out of love of charity”. The weakness in this concept of an added quantity of salvific grace is, I believe, that it does not adequately address the grace presently working in our continued relationship with God.  Here the ” ‘movement of the soul’ towards God is nothing more than faith”. [8]

It is important to recognize that the saints, much like you and I, were working out just who God is and how we come to know God in their own lives. Each one of us is invited to do the same, which in some ways unique to just who God created us to be. 

Reflect:

Who is God in my life today? What do I find moves my soul closer to God? What place does reconciliation play in my journey with God?

Peace,

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[1] Placher, William. (1983) A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. (First Edition). Westminster John Knox Press. p.152.
[2] Placher, p.153.
[3] Placher, p.155.
[4]Kerr, Hugh.  (1990) Readings in Christian Thought (Second Edition).  Abingdon Press. p. 119.
[5] Russell, (2012) Christian Doctrine Trinitarian Controversies, [Power point presentation]. Loyola University, Chicago, IL.
[6] Placher, p. 153.
[7] Ibid.
[8]Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. (2010) Holy Spirit and Salvation, Westminster John Knox Press, p.148.

Worth Revisiting: A Walk in Wisdom

“Right discernment of life begins with an obedience discernment of YHWH the Creator” (Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 309).  1

This quote by Bruggeman truly calls attention to just how we understand knowledge, and become aware of God’s immanence and transcendence. For many years,  I had difficulty with the wisdom tradition’s notion of knowledge stemming from a “fear of the Lord” . Perhaps, it was simply in my understanding of the word fear, which does not aptly describe my understanding of our relationship with God. Even still, was it’s usage in the numerous fire and brimstone homilies I had grown up with. Yet, when we place this word fully in the context of scripture, there is ample clarity.

In contrast to understanding God cosmically and historically at work within the world, Israel sought to understand God as Creator within the context of everyday life. Through the Wisdom literature we are attuned to a plurality of voices that speak to who God is and experienced in the daily lived reality of the community in which God is believed to be central to its ordering. 2  Here, we behold a deep concern with the very human and routine problems of life, death, sex, commerce, and relationships encountered in living in the world. Moreover, there is considerable moral weight placed on decision making, with the responsibility seen in the highlighted and inherent consequences.  In honoring this divine order, one’s life and that of the community, it is asserted, would be blessed the gift of well being. 3

Conversely, the consequences that are intrinsic to deeds that are negligent of Yahweh’s structuring of creation invite misery, suffering, and even death for the community.4  Skillfully, it is fashioned by reflective and inquisitive teachers employing literary designs of poetry, metaphor, drama to describe a “faith in the world as intended by the Creator”.5  Knowledge, as argued by the teachers of Proverbs, begins therefore in fearing the Lord with awe and wonder. (Prov. 1:7)  Thus, what we witness is an expression of faith seeking to recognize God’s intended purpose and boundaries inherent in creation that is believed to provide meaning and safety for the whole world. 6

Here “fear” reveals more of an overwhelming marveling at considering the magnificence of God, what he has done, and continues to do within creation. This we are invited to do each time we behold a sunrise, or connect with the eyes of the believer receiving communion, or hold the tiny hands of a newborn baby in ours. In our appreciation of God as the source of all life, and desire to know his will and purpose for our lives, we begin to seek to know more and grow in our love and service to him. What is knowledge then, if not our acknowledgement of the Creator who offers this gift and desires to be in relationship with his creation?

When I was a child, I would customarily ask my grandmother her advice on various questions of life. While she did have concrete suggestions for me to follow, it always came down to her embodied philosophy..put God first and everything else will fall into place. Or, better still, it will be shown to be inconsequential in the bigger picture. This seems so simple, and nonetheless we strive to make our lives so complicated. Yet, as the wisdom teachers assert, we will never be able to even discern the right path unless we take the “Creator’s large vision to bear on these everyday realities”. 7

In order that we understand this perspective fully, we are given God’s magnanimous answer to Job which attests to his “greatness and which transcends the small moral category of Proverbs”.8 What’s more, God demands a reply from Job as well, not to his innocence or guilt, but in questioning if Job recognizes that it is God alone who holds the entirety of creation in his hands.9  In Job, we are reminded of Jacob, who also “wrestled” with God..but won. Job, however cannot respond to God equally, and realizes finally that he needs to accept God’s mystery of purpose. (Job 42:1-6) In yielding his “complaint and protest” to renewed “hope and trust” God moves forward to restoration of Job’s life and indeed his relationship with God.

Interestingly too, God addresses the three friends who had “not spoken rightly concerning” God. (Job 42:7-9)  In penance, they were to offer holocaust, and seek the intercession of Job whose guilt they had so easily assumed. Thus, there was restoration for the three friends as well, and vindication of Job’s righteousness. This highlights the significance of sound pastoral ministry whenever we speak or offer comfort. Prayerful reflection must be given to what we do choose to say. Likewise, we must be open to recognizing that we are far from infallible, and when mistakes are made, we should seek reparation as well.

Many of us cannot help but smile whenever we encounter the bumper sticker that reads, “What would Jesus do?” particularly when its driver is behaving less than Christian . While, this might provide a somewhat humorous example, it does call attention to just how we live our lives of faith daily. While Proverbs attempts to catch us before we err and in the decision making process itself, experience is far too often the teacher. These are the issues that the writers of Proverbs and Job understood..seeking God in both presence and seeming absence in our lived reality. Both illustrate our need to let God’s wisdom speak in silence sometimes..and let God’s Spirit move in and renew the hearts.

Peace,

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  1. Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 309.
  2. Brueggemann, p. 275.
  3. Brueggemann, p. 310.
  4. Brueggemann, p. 312.
  5. Birch,Bruce, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 384.
  6. Birch, p. 422.
  7. Birch, p. 388.
  8. Birch, p. 412.
  9. Brueggemann, p. 298.

Worth Revisiting: Thy True Self

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”
― Thomas Merton

New year’s resolutions and Lenten commitments have one important common thread, they are only as effective as they are intuitive about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual.  For this reason, neither can be a one size fits all and both need to strike a balance between being challenging and in some degree feeling achievable. For instance, setting a goal of running a 5k would not be a worthy goal for a marathoner, and running a marathon would not be a realistic goal for someone who has never ran around the block. A primary difference, of course, rests in where we seek strength and desire to follow through with these commitments. For the Christian, there is a fundamental understanding that the path of discipleship and virtue is not a solitary one. Through Christ, however, there is both strength and guidance at the ready to lead us to God’s will to becoming the best version of ourselves.

In conversation with a friend of mine recently, a retired corporate HR director, the idea of personality and leadership traits came up. Many of us have taken personality assessments like the Myers Briggs, the Big 5 or emotional inventories. While these assessments are far from perfect, they can give us a glimpse into how we perceive our strengths and weaknesses and react in various situations. This is not only beneficial for understanding ourselves but also in how to understand and work better with others in community.

I just so happen to be one who enjoys drawing out the introverted, sitting beside the wounded, communicating one on one or to a crowd, diplomatic but not afraid to stand up for what is right or see things through. Yet, on the flip side I have been known at times to spread myself too thin, be overly self-critical, and take on other people’s problems as my own. Delays due to indecision, and multiple projects left incomplete can frustrated me. Self awareness has been invaluable in discerning God’s will in my life, while also helping me to step back and reflect on how best to inspire others to learn and grow too.

As Catholics, the exercise of our faith is never separate from the larger community even when living a cloistered life. And the living out of our truest best self is always a choice. One that we can disguise, or utilize in our daily interactions with others. Though, as Merton would note, if we ignore who we are at our core we “cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.” Likewise, when we  live indifferent to others and their inherent values, we fail as well to fully seek the truth about ourselves.

When we experience conflict, it not only speaks to the the behavior and inner self of others but to our own sense of identity. Conflict, therefore, has the potential to be interiorly revealing if we allow ourselves to ask two seemingly simple questions. Why it is this situation troubling in the first place and what would be necessary for interior or exterior balance?  To this point, the saints were not considered so because they lived lives of perfect peace perfectly. But rather, in the midst of conflict the saints sought to know God, to know themselves and live their truest self in the world around them.

Reflect:

In what situations in my life am I making the choice to be untrue to myself and in my relationships with others? What do the conflicts in my life reveal about myself and where might God be asking me to grow?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Gratitude’s Expression

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This week I once again had the blessing of sitting round a table with religious leaders from within our community from all different walks of faith and backgrounds. The purpose of our meeting not for the proselytizing or the conversion of one another, but the sharing of grace, and desire to serve and work towards a better tomorrow.  Each one of us knows that there are many things, premises or subtleties, which we would most assuredly disagree on and yet that is not the reason we are there.

With a warm bowl of homemade soup, and sandwich in hand the fellowship began and the conversation unfolded. As one delightful woman, of Jewish decent, was relating a recent story she paused to add, “Though it is a small thing really.. I don’t know, it made me feel rich.”  This insightful aside prompted a searching repose of soul for the small things which we found immeasurable appreciation for. Time with our family, nourishing meals, the comfort of our bed, and warmth in the bitter cold.

Today as the forecast for blizzard conditions with snowfall up to 16″ reveals, the last one holds special importance in my thoughts and prayers. Safety and warmth in this kind of weather simply are a luxury that many of our homeless, low income and elderly cannot afford. Right now, I wonder if “Adam” has found a place to hunker down and ride out the storm, or if “Sue” whose home is now her car has found her place on the snow laden roads. Many of our elderly and poor too, due to the rising cost of utilities, cannot warm the house adequately and if the heat goes out do not have a backup.

I mention this not to invoke a feeling of guilt but to illustrate gratitude’s corresponding response. For, gratitude and action go hand in hand. John 9 tells us of the man born blind who healed by Jesus went forth and witnessed to others of the healing he had received. Then when he encounters Jesus again he professes an even deeper belief. But do we? How to we respond to God’s generous gift of love and mercy in our lives? Does our initial thankfulness fizzle or does it lead us to a greater understanding of God’s will for our lives?

What then is it that makes me feel rich?

Well more than the gift itself- it is the overwhelming presence of gratitude. For with this comes a yearning desire to go deeper in our relationship with Christ – to share what we now recognize as priceless with others. In experiencing God’s generosity, what once appeared small now becomes a precious treasure. And rather than keeping this to ourselves, we wish for others to  partake as well and know in our hearts that there is a way.

Reflect:

Take time today to ask yourself, “What is it that makes me feel rich?”. Are there others that may not readily have access to this gift or for which this is a luxury? How can I better respond to God’s generosity in my life, and encounter Christ more fully in others?

Peace,

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