Receiving the Word: Stay Awake!

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“Jesus said to his disciples: “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’” Matthew 24:37-44

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What does it mean to be awake? I had this on my mind after reading this Gospel last night, and in my readiness for sleep, I was short for answers.  I told myself I would think about it in the morning, but as usual I woke up not to any thought of my own, but to a little boy climbing on my belly excitedly saying, “Time to wake up?!”  Before I could even really respond, he went through his usual morning requests for breakfast (this time asking for tacos), wanted to watch “Dinosaur Train” (which he knows he never gets in the morning), and asking for Lucy, his sister, to get up with him (she’s his best friend).  His excitement for waking was met with my reluctance to start the day.  Before I begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed to tend to his requests, I remembered the Gospel I read the night before, and thought to myself:  So this is what God is calling me to?  Half of me wanted to stay in bed, but the other half knew I had to get up.  I have responsibilities that require my attentiveness and slacking on the job is not optional, or at least, not optimal.  So, in my weariness, I looked at my son’s face—so excited for a new day—and thought, if only I could wake daily with the excitement that he has.

Why was I so wanting to sleep, more than wanting to start my day?  Because a new day requires me to work again.  It requires me to get up, be alert, be ready to respond to my children’s needs and the needs of my husband; to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to run errands, to write, to study, and accomplish the most that I can, in the best way that I can, for the time that I have before I have to get up and do it again tomorrow.  And it can be exhausting.  I huff under my breath each morning, “Just a little bit more sleep”; a little bit more sleep to rest from the work that I am called to do.

In examining the very simple task I have each day of awakening (and my daily reluctance towards it), I see many parallels in my spiritual life.  It is so much easier to rest in the things that leave me spiritually complacent and carefree than to work on my relationship with God and on myself.  I allow myself to be spiritually lazy and blame it on the fact that I have got a million other things to do, and very little time to accomplish it all.  If I can squeeze in prayer or my daily examination of conscience, great.  If not, He understands.  I feel satisfied with my day when I have checked off all (or even some) of the boxes on my to-do list and can just collapse on the couch at night to wind down by watching Netflix or scrolling endlessly on pinterest.

The problem that I face in my spiritual life, though, is similar to what would happen if I decided to stay in my bed in my pajamas all day, ignoring my responsibilities and the offerings my day brings me: I would end up a less fulfilled version of myself.  If I failed to respond to the calling of the day, I would lose out on the accomplishment and daily opportunities for growth, and I would be less because of it.  I have to get up, and I have to work, but it is through that work that I find fulfillment in life.

Today’s Gospel reminds us—no, beckons us—to stay awake! Not to merely thrive physically, but more importantly, spiritually.  In the Gospel, Jesus is calling us to three things: to be alert, to work, and to guard.  Just like my physical waking is the only way I can serve, love, move and respond, so too is it in my spiritual life.  The crutch, though, is that I have to wake myself up to God’s calling—it is not anyone’s responsibility but my own.  This requires me to be alert to the opportunities God sends me every day to grow closer to him and to the people around me.   This requires me to work (harder than I do to accomplish the daily physical tasks I am called to)—to put in the effort my faith requires that is sometimes even more difficult, trying, and tiresome.  This is a calling to be joyful in the face of obstacles, frustrations, weariness, and pain; to make the effort to listen to the Lord (especially by reading Scripture and by setting aside time for prayer), instead of just throwing my petitions at him; to see the value and dignity of every human being I encounter throughout my day; to not fall into the trap our world sets for us of settling in complacency; to strive daily to live a virtuous and holy life; to be aware of Church teachings; and to guard my relationship with the Lord by devoting time to him, and especially by running to the Sacraments.

To be truly awake is to be close to the Lord, and we cannot achieve this without work. We learn who we really are and what we are called to only in and through him, and we cannot grow closer to him if we allow ourselves to stay asleep and be robbed of the gift of his love.  untitled

This Advent season, ask yourself: In what ways am I spiritually asleep?  Am I truly alert to God’s will for my life and aware of his love?  Do I guard my relationship with him, protecting it as my greatest good?  What can I do to wake myself up to his love?  What is one change I can make this Advent season that will draw me nearer to him?

May this season of Advent be a time of awakening for us all!

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Receiving the Word: Which Side Are You On?

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,  “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” 

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?

Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”–Luke 23:35-43

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Today’s Gospel is a powerful scene from the passion narrative, because it sums up quite perfectly two very distinct takes on the crucifixion of Jesus.  Through one of the last human encounters with Jesus before he died, we are presented with a very real scenario for our own lives and our faith in Christ.

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Scripture tells of two men sentenced to death as criminals, one on either side of Jesus as he died.  We read that their sentence, as the good thief says, fit their crimes.  Crucifixion was one of the most disgraceful forms of execution, reserved primarily for the vilest criminals, so we know that whatever they had done, it was enough at that time to warrant such an extreme punishment.  Yet everything we know about who Jesus was reveals that he was anything but vile.  He was good: he healed, and he loved people (especially the weak and sinful) with a merciful heart that only our God could.  He was as innocent as could be, and his goodness lead to his passion and death.

The rulers and soldiers who persecuted Jesus didn’t want to hear what he had to say nor did they want to open their hearts to the reality of who he was and who they were in his eyes.  Rather, they chose to scoff at him, call him a liar and a lunatic, and ultimately condemn him to death.

And here we see in this scene how Jesus, mocked all the way to the point of his death, is once again poked and prodded.  One of the thieves yells at him, “Are not you the Christ? Save yourself and us,” and through his words, the criminal offers him one final condemnation.

His words summed up the feelings of all those who persecuted Jesus, because he was really saying: “You think you’re so great.  You think you are God.  Ha!  You are nothing but a criminal like me, put to an awful and heinous death.  How can you help me, a sinnerlook at yourself!”  In the end, all that Jesus claimed and proved himself to be, failed in the face of evil and death.

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At least in the eyes of the criminal.

What a sad depiction of humanity’s continuous response to God.  Just as the Israelites in the wilderness fell into fear, anger, and despair in their moments of suffering and pain—so here we see man failing to see God’s love through Jesus in these last moments. Here we see one final attempt of sin, wickedness, and pride pummeling one of the very foundational aspects of faith in God: hope.

Imagine if the story ended with his words.

Yet, hope and goodness prevail in the perspective that the other thief—the good thief—takes on the suffering Christ.  Immediately upon hearing his fellow criminal’s words, the good thief rebukes him, saying:

“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”

As the good thief hung on the wood, he recognized completely the very thing the other failed to see: the far reach of God’s love.  God’s love, through Jesus, reaches into the depths of humanity, from his entering into salvation history as the promised one in the form of a little baby, all the way to his death on the cross.  He entered into humanity, and though innocent, paid the price we could not pay, out of love for us.

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Out of all of those who encountered Christ’s mercy firsthand, I think the good thief was given a special understanding of God’s great love for humanity.  He didn’t need the countless miracles of Christ to convince him of this love; he witnessed firsthand the extent of God’s love.  Unlike the other thief, the good thief humbled himself enough to look directly into the broken and battered face of Christ, see his own weakness and sinfulness, and recognize the very reason our Lord was lead to such a terrible death.  A criminal did not hang on that cross and die that day, love itself hung there—the kind of love that pours itself out completely for the sake of the beloved.

Jesus’ death on the cross was not a chance happening but rather was divinely chosen as part of God’s plan to bring about redemption for mankind.  The crucifixion was not something he had to do, but something he rather chose to do.  What the criminal failed to see as he hung next to the innocent Jesus on the cross, was that God permitted Jesus’ crucifixion, and Jesus freely chose it.

Could he have destroyed his persecutors and sent all against him trembling in his path?  Of course.  Could he have chosen a different way to bring about salvation for man? Certainly.  Yet, just as he condescended to our human nature by becoming a weak and dependent human baby, he condescended to our human nature by dying a physical and horrible death.  As both fully human and divine, Jesus paid the ultimate price in expiation for all the sins of human kind and fulfilled the covenantal promises made from long ago.

Throughout Scripture we see that sacrificial death was both important and necessary in order to redeem man and save him from his sin that continuously led him into destruction and away from God.  Yet, no matter how sweet the offering, finite man could not redeem himself with a finite offering. Jesus didn’t die merely to satisfy the wrath of God, but rather—through his divinity—swung wide the doors for us that lead to communion with God so that we may access his everlasting love.  All the sin and wickedness that entered the world time and time again through man’s own sinfulness, pride, and unwillingness to surrender himself to the Almighty God, was offered up through Jesus’ divine intercession in and through his passion, death, and resurrection.  Without it, we could not share in the divine life of God.  What the criminal failed to see was that Jesus was saving him.  By entering into the depth of human suffering, Jesus took on all that was sinful in the world and offered it back to God in the sweetest offering in the history of mankind.  And all the criminal had to do to receive the Lord’s favor, like the good one, was repent; to face the ugliness of death—his spiritual death caused by his own sin—and humbly cry out for Jesus to remember him.

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This scene in the passion narrative is so powerful for us today because it calls us, too, to make a choice.  We can humble ourselves and examine our actions, repent of all that we choose that is contrary to God’s will and his goodness, and place our trust in a God who loves us to an extent that is beyond our comprehension.  In doing so, we receive the goodness of his love and presence here and now.  Or, we can turn a blind eye to the ugliness in our own life that hung our Lord to the cross that day, and reject his divine offering.

Sin is ugly and gruesome, and our instinct (much like the criminal’s) is to hide from it and turn a blind eye to it.  We stamp our feet demanding that the Lord save us as we simultaneously rest in our sin and take it for our own, clutching the very things that burden and enslave us.  We go on living in this manner, and jeer at him when we end up unhappy, burdened, and enslaved.  But the Lord God wants to free us of all of that.  He wants to transform the ugliness of our own lives (our sinfulness, our weaknesses, and especially our pain), and in conjunction with his own offering, help us rise to new life with him.

So we are called to make the choice: Will we look the ugliness of our sin—the sin that nailed our Lord to the cross—head on and repent, remembering the Lord’s profound love for us; or will we continue to turn a blind eye to him, mocking him as we lead lives so contrary to his love and goodness?

We have to make the choice.

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Receiving the Word: Entering Through the Narrow Door

He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from. And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where [you] are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. –Luke 13:22-30

Every time I hear today’s gospel, the thought of Jesus rejecting me makes my heart tremble.  So often I presume of God accepts me because I know his love for us is great.  He desires for us to enter into communion with him, yet here he reminds us that the path to eternal life with him is narrow, and entry is slim.  I shudder at the thought of seeing Jesus face to face, and hearing that he does not know me and that I better depart from him.  As much as I wish to be united with him, how do I know if am I truly on the right path?

It is fitting that our second reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13) precedes this ominous passage from the Gospel of Luke.  The reading begins with Saint Paul calling our attention to an exhortation given to children.  The passage he cites is from Proverbs and teaches children the importance of willingly receiving discipline from their parents, and enduring times of difficulty so as to receive the “fruit of righteousness” that comes with discipline and training.  The passage ends by calling the faithful to “strengthen” their “drooping hands” and “weak knees,” and “make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

When I hear this passage I flash back to all the times I found myself bubbling with anger and frustration at my parents when they enforced rules upon me that I didn’t agree with or want to follow.  From the time I was a small child all the way into adulthood, I was confronted with their firm (but loving) guidance which steered me away from things I desired because they were leading me down an unnecessary, distracted, or even destructive path.  This is the job of every parent: to guide and direct their children, leading them towards the good, and steering them away from the bad.  It is clear to me now that I am an adult that their guidance along the way helped shape and form me into the person I am today.  Had I not relied on their help and advice, I would have definitely ended up worse for wear.

It is significant that both Jesus and Saint Paul often point us towards a childlike obedience, not complete and total self-reliance.  The biggest sin that has overcome man since the beginning of time is the sin of pride.  It is truly a challenge for man to hand over the reins to someone other than himself because he is a free being who can order his will according to his own volition.  It is easy to submit to God when we are set on cruise control and all is well.  But God’s love is not merely friendly and approachable.  It is also parental.    As we grow older and gain more know-how for the ways of the world and taste for the things that please us it becomes harder and harder to lay down our lives for the Lord and willingly submit all that we perceive to be good for our own lives in return for all he has planned for our lives.  We cannot always accept when he tells us that some things are not good for us, and we murmur against him when he allows us to take a tumble for our own good and for the sake of transformation.  We fight our Lord in an effort to hold tight to our stubborn ways, and we kick and scream when we are called to submit to a law outside of our own.  It is easier to say, “Thanks God, but I’ve got this,” than to run to his arms and trust that he truly has our best interests in mind.   We love to hold God’s hand when things are going smoothly and we are happy, but when we learn that he is asking something of us—that we are called to develop as moral and socially responsible people—we let go of his hand in shame and embarrassment, opting instead to run off and play on our own.

God’s love is reproving, but the discipline he applies is carried out through a fatherly kind of love.  This is a love that sees the good when the child doesn’t; the kind that sets barriers for the sake of the child’s well-being.  This is a love that guides us in saying “no” to our wanton desires, in order to help form inclinations to virtue and disdain for vice.

One of the blessings I’ve been given in becoming a mom is realizing that this kind of love—the protective and admonishing kind—is so very instinctive because it stems from a heart overflowing with love.  My heart aches at the thought of all the times my son falls from climbing something he knows he wasn’t supposed to, or slipping when I told him not to run.  It’s in those moments when he is sobbing in pain that my heart wants to cry out: “Don’t you know?!  I told you not to do that because I knew you would get hurt!”  I comfort him, but I also want to help him understand that when I tell him “no” it is because I want him to avoid pain.  All of my “no’s” and “don’t do that’s” are not because I want to make my children’s lives miserable, but because I love them so much that I don’t want them to hurt or for them to hurt others.

Also, in knowing this kind of parental love I am continually growing to realize what it takes for me to be a child of God.  It requires trust, and confidence in knowing that he has my best interests in mind.  It means that, with the help of his grace, I have to allow his love to guide me towards the good—even if my ideas of what is “good for me” are contrary to his plan.  And it demands that I seek reparation for the times when I disobey, and that I cry out in sorrow for the times that I lack faith in his everlasting love and seek instead to do things my way.

I think it is in this faithful obedience that we come to know God and he comes to “know” us.  He knows each one of us from the moment that we were conceived, but it is this kind of relationship—a familial kind of knowing—that brings about a deeply intimate and relational bond.  So much so, that when we knock, our Father opens the door inviting us to come in as his sons and daughters and rest in his goodness, take off our shoes, and stay as long as we like.

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Receiving the Word: He Will Set the World on Fire

Jesus said to his disciples: I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Luke 12:49-53

Jesus’ message today runs deep for all of his believers. In Scripture, fire is frequently associated with God. He often appears in the Bible in the form of fire as an image of his love. Here, Jesus reminds us of his desire to spread the heat of his love, but despite his longing to fill us, the world is not yet blazing. We still lay on soppy beds of straw, drenched by our sins and our attachments, unable to be set aflame.  We must remember, though, that it is not God who impedes his flame from fanning alive within us. Oftentimes we make it hard on ourselves.

I’ve been reflecting on this for the past few days because I was humbly reminded of the weakness of my prayer life recently.  I tried to fast, for the first time since lent, and it did not go very well. My attempt at fasting wasn’t without motivation or reasons. I went into it hoping to lift up my small sacrifices in prayer for a family who is in desperate need of prayer.  Yet as the day wore on—through both forgetfulness and also appetite for those things I was giving up—I found myself over and over having to recommit myself to my small sacrifices. My attempt at fasting ultimately had me feeling like such a failure and so weak.  How is it that saying no to such small things was so hard for me when the desire to offer them was so strong?

Today’s gospel is all about fire, unrest, and division—three things we all try to avoid at all times. We desire to stay cool, sitting lukewarm and comfortable in our attachments that bring us a low-grade contentment at all times. We cry when it is “too hot” outside, and lament when “we don’t have anything to eat.” We desire to have peaceful and uncomplicated days, and we fill our cups to the brim with both small and large satisfactions to make things just a little bit easier and more pleasant for ourselves.  We avoid talking about the hard truths of our faith, steering clear of confrontation.  We keep quiet and run from tough conversations with friends and family, afraid of fights and fallouts.  What we forget, though, is that nothing great is ever achieved without sacrifice. If my daily goal is to satisfy my own soul with both small and large indulgences, how can I ever offer myself—my nothingness—as something that God can truly transform and use?  The Baptism that the Lord speaks about–the Baptism that incorporates each one of us into God’s Kingdom–wasn’t brought about easily.  Jesus suffered much on our behalf, but he did so that we might obtain a glory that is beyond our own reach.

God wants to completely consume us with the fire of his love, but for us to be consumed by him we have to allow him to purify us of our attachments to things that are not of him. We cannot be filled completely with him, if we allow other things to take his place. In order for his love to burn within us, we must allow that fiery love to refine us. It requires us to pay attention to those things that impede our enflaming, and trust in him as we begin to weed out these attachments with his help. It necessitates that we evaluate ourselves frequently. Are we able to properly order our attachments or are we so weak that even small sacrifices require a tempering of the heart?  Are we really truly ready to be refined by the flames of God’s love, so as to be transformed into a living fire?

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If you don’t feel yourself alive with the fire of God’s love, ask yourself where your attachments lie. If you want to burn deeper still and allow yourself to be completely consumed by him, continue to filter those attachments and order them under the one true good. When we allow ourselves to be emptied of attachments that weigh us down, we allow the spark within us to fan into flame; we become light enough to be immersed in the fire of God’s love—a fire that is all consuming and burns deep. Then, when that fire is ablaze in our hearts, we will be filled with the strength to overcome both small and large sacrifices, sufferings and trials, and offer them over for the good of the Kingdom.

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“I Rejoice in My Sufferings”

Brothers and sisters: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. The word of the Lord. Alleluia, alleluia.-Colossians 1:24-29

In Colossians 1:24, Saint Paul tells us that in his sufferings, he “makes up for what is lacking” in Christ’s sufferings. This piece of Scripture can seem so confusing, but it is an incredibly important message for us today because the reality of suffering is such an impediment to the faith for so many people. I often hear it said, “If God is so good, why does he allow suffering?”

Good point. Why does he allow suffering in the world?

Everyone experiences suffering in various ways; not one of us is exempt or immune from pain.  Each day we are confronted with both personal suffering (be it minimal or severe), and also communal suffering.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see some sort of suffering in the world when I turn on the TV or open up my news feed online. We’re confronted with hatred, terrorism, bigotry, religious persecution, and racism everyday.  Together, we are living in a world that seems a little bit scarier than it ever has.  Each one of us faces suffering in some form, and in many cases it proves to agitate the faith and cause doubt.

Yet Saint Paul is proclaiming something so incredibly profound: He is reminding us that the suffering you and I experience in this world has redemptive power.

How is that possible? We are not God. We did not bring about salvation for the history of humankind. We are fallible, and weak, and finite. The sufferings that Christ endured on the cross extend to the end of time—his great act of love reaches out to all of mankind so that we might share in salvation. So what could still be lacking in Christ’s suffering?

 What’s lacking are the afflictions of the entire Church. Through the grace of the cross, we have been given the greatest gift of becoming the adopted sons and daughters of Christ, and as such, we are incorporated into his Body. Though the redemption offered through the sufferings of the Head is infinite, we participate in his sufferings and “make up for what is lacking” by clinging to our own crosses.  We are called to take up our cross just as Christ took up his. Thus, suffering and self-denial are central to the Christian faith.

Saint Paul knew that when he suffered for the word of God, he was building up the Body of Christ. Similarly, when we endure suffering with the eyes of hope and faith we become witnesses to others of Christ’s eternal glory. We proclaim the truth that suffering, no matter how tough, is temporal. We proclaim, with tear-filled eyes, that we are a people of hope.

Rejoicing in our sufferings doesn’t mean that we won’t cry and we won’t experience pain. Look at Christ suffering on the cross. The greatest act of love in the history of the world was an endurance of affliction all the way to the end, but in his humanity Christ still asked the Father for his cup to pass, and he still cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me!” The beauty is that he willingly drank of the cup; he endured the suffering out of love for his people; he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” We are called to participate in that same kind of beauty—the kind of love that is persevering and enduring. Suffering is powerful because it is can be fully transformative if we work with it and with God through the eyes of hope. Saint John Paul II explains that God not only allows suffering, but desires to act through it, because suffering throws man into the depths of his weakness and emptying of self, and when man is at his weakest, he is keenly perceptive to God’s presence. This is why Saint Paul “rejoices” in his sufferings, and Saint Faustina says that it is in suffering that “we learn who our true friend is.” Similarly, Blessed Mother Teresa says,

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Though we all will face suffering in our lives, my hope is that in the midst of it, we will turn to find the face of our Lord Jesus, who suffered and gave his life for us…and we will rejoice.

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I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but reposting today because it is a fitting reflection for today’s Gospel reading from Luke 10:38-42 

Lately, the practice of prayer has been in my head and my heart. As an RCIA teacher, one thing I have learned is that if you want to “talk the talk”, no one is going to listen to you if you are not “walking the walk.”  Now, that is not to say that I have ignored my prayer life all my life, or that I feel obligated to strengthen it just because I am teaching the faith—I feel like prayer has always been an important thing for me—but I definitely feel the call right now to dig even deeper in my prayer life, and to come to know and love Him more intimately than ever before.

For me, a lot of what I have always dubbed as my prayer in my life is what you can think of as the “Martha” stuff (see Luke 10:38-42).  I have always, always been a busy body—I have to have something to do, and am the master (ok, more like, “master”) of multi-tasking.  Even when relaxing I’m usually busy folding laundry or making plans for the week.  So much business.  Yet, even in all this, I have always talked to God in my head while doing these things—there’s always been an ongoing dialogue with Him in all this.  (Or maybe it is more real to call it a monologue, with a very patient and quiet God listening on the other end of my chatter).  I have never had a problem being the Martha, and I am sure most of us relate more to her than to Mary.

One thing that I forget in all of this, is exactly what Lk. 10:40 describes: “But Martha was distracted with much serving.”  That is such a funny sentence, considering one of the main themes of Christianity is serving others, and loving them above yourself (see Philippians 2:3-4 as an example).  I have always loved serving others (most especially my family).  For me, the little means of serving my family have always been a blessing and great sign of love.  Folding my husband’s socks and putting his clothes away are not mundane tasks, but have always been my way of lightening his load—it has meaning and purpose, and because of that it becomes an act of love instead of a meaningless task.  Doing the dishes doesn’t so much come from my desire for cleanliness itself, but rather the peace that comes with it (it is much easier for my husband and I to relax in a clean home vs. a messy one).  Creating an environment for peace in my home has always been a priority for me, for I’ve learned that where there is peace it is much easier to love.

I can just picture the scenario: Martha has the incredible opportunity to welcome Jesus into her home, and she is so excited by this opportunity that she busies herself in preparation.  I can only imagine her anxiety!  Whenever I have people come into my home I make it a big priority to make sure they feel as welcomed as possible: I clean the house; sweep the floors; make sure there is food on the table.  I can only imagine the restlessness in trying to prepare for the Lord’s coming! I know that I would be on my knees looking under the refrigerator for grime, scrubbing the toilets, making my best meal.  I get anxious even thinking about it…

Yet here in this scripture, serving is referred to as a “distraction”.  A distraction?  How can serving be a distraction, when it is a sign of love?

We find the answer in Mary’s response to the Lord’s coming.

Where Martha felt the need to prepare for the Lord’s coming (to wash the dishes, put away her laundry, clean the countertops, cook a nice meal for him), Mary felt the presence of the Lord’s coming.  Where Martha busied herself getting ready for the Lord, Mary sat down with the Lord. As scripture says, she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”

Mary was enraptured and captivated by his love. 

I picture a different scenario with Mary: Mary too is excited by the news of the Lord’s coming.  I picture Mary trying to help Martha, yet she gets distracted in anticipation.  She picks up a rag to help her sister, but cannot help herself from running to the window again and again to see if he has yet arrived.  When he finally walks through the door, she sees him and she falls at his feet.  She desires so greatly to just be in his presence.  She knows the importance of getting ready for the Lord, but she also recognizes that just being in his presence is the highest priority.   

How much beauty is there in resting in the presence of God, in taking the time to choose the “good portion”, as Jesus calls it! This is exactly what I tend to neglect and forget in my prayer life.  I forget to take the time to be at peace with God, and to practice being in his presence.  This is another level of prayer—the level which recognizes a real and living God who desires that we come to him, to communicate with him, and to rest in his peace.

He calls us to himself all the time.  I know it and I even feel it when I busy myself with my “to-do” list.  I hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear, “stop, and come to me.”  I can feel him calling me to prayer in a deeper way, yet often I shush him out, and continue on with what I am doing, reasoning with him that this is my way of loving him.

Yet, I have experienced those times when I respond in faith to that call, stop what I am doing, and put myself in his presence.  That is when my closeness to God is strengthened the most.  It only takes that stopping.  It takes me stopping what I am doing, stopping my worrying about the things I need to “get done”, and focusing solely on my prayer to God in that moment.  Jesus says that the “good portion will not be taken away” from us.  He reminds us in this story that all the “stuff” we have to get done, all of our business, all of this doesn’t matter in the long run.  Sure, it  matters in the here and now, and surely there are things that we do need to get done, but spending time with Him and being in his presence is something that will never leave us.  This relationship we develop with God is sustaining, and will go on long after anything here on earth.

As Peter Kreeft says, “Stop being Martha; if you don’t, you cannot be Mary.  You cannot sit at the Lord’s feet while you are running around on your own feet.  You cannot hear him if you are frothing at the mouth and fussing at the fingers.  You cannot look unless you first stop; you cannot practice the presence of God if you are just too busy for him.”

Stopping is the first step towards strengthening your prayer life.  If you hear the Lord calling you, or maybe even recognize that there is too much static going on in your life and head to even hear the Lord’s call, stop what you are doing.  Take the time to sit, and be still.  Practice his presence.

May we all be a little more like Mary and seek to be in the presence of God.

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Today, I’m sharing my 5 favorite Catholic videos and series on youtube.

-1- Father Mike Schmidt at Ascension Presents

I recently went on a Father Mike Schmitz binge! I think he is one of the best sources out there right now because he communicates our faith in such an approachable manner, and he makes issues that seem untouchable today easy to talk about.  He embraces all that is good in our culture, but also teaches us about the things that should be filtered out and why.  He’s awesome.

Plus he’s super cool.  He comes from a large family, often quotes Michael Scott from the Office, and has completed several triathlons!

-2- Jason Evert

Jason Evert has touched my life more than any other Catholic speaker out there has.  I have been listening to his stuff since I was a teenager.  He drew me in with his talks on chastity, but as I have grown, his talks on sexuality, marriage, contraception, abortion etc., have all grown with me.  He is a great resource for learning about living out God’s plan for love, sex, and marriage, and his teaching is deeply rooted in Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

-3- Leah Darrow 

The moment you see Leah Darrow, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Wow, she’s beautiful!  She should be a model!”  Fun fact: She was a model!  She competed on America’s Next Top Model and moved on to New York City to continue her career after the show.  While she was there–right in the midst of a modeling gig–she had a major conversion of heart and felt God calling her home.  Listen to her story.  She is a beautiful example of what it means to respond to God’s call, and be bold and unafraid.

-4-Bishop Robert Barron

Bishop Barron is a great resource for learning about the faith.  He covers a wide range of topics and is a trustworthy source.  The topics he covers are both theologically and culturally relevant today–great stuff!

-5-

Jenny Fulwiler grew up an atheist, but had a “religious awakening” and ended up converting to Catholicism.  She is both smart and hilarious, and her perspective on the faith is refreshing.  She also writes over at jenniferfulwiler.com, and has a podcast!

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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