Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Set the world on fire

I wasn't intentionally pondering St Catherine's famous quote this morning because it was her feast day.

It's well known, and with good cause. This single quote seems to sum up the life and message of this mystic saint, and doctor of the Church.

St Catherine challenges all Christians to live a life of discipleship. Of radical trust and encounter. Of mission and service.

Frankly, her words should shake us. They are very bit as radical and terrifying today as they were in the 14th century. The world is different, but her battle cry to all the baptized is not.

By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to "set the world ablaze".

And we are called to do that each day. In each opportunity given to us.

Sometimes, that means speaking out.

And sharing the truth.

It always means cultivating our own interior life of prayer. It always means deepening our relationship with Christ. Sometimes, I think it's easy to get wrapped up in the things that need to be done... and it's so very easy to move the box "God" down further on the list. Maybe that's just like any other checklist I write, where the most important thing is always the thing I put off the longest. But in this case, it never postpones something, it actually slows me down with all the other things! Because the God part of life isn't separate from the rest of life.

He's there, beside us always. Even when we don't sense Him. Even when we are simply so unaware of what the lack of His presence would mean that we just continue on, blithely ignoring Who surrounds us.

Set the world ablaze. You. Me. That guy you see buying the same thing at the supermarket each Tuesday. The girl who walks with her eyes cast at the ground. The little boy playing in the pool. You. Me.

We are charged with setting the world on fire. We are charged with spreading the Gospel. Today. Each day. We can't do that without a fire in our hearts, burning with love for God. We can't do that when we choose to live lives of lukewarm complacency. We can only do that if we commit. If each day we ask God to make the fire in our hearts stronger, so that it cannot be contained.

St Catherine of Sienna, pray for us.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Beauty of God's Creation

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my thoughts that I forget to look around and see the sheer beauty God gives us in nature.

As I was driving home tonight, three deer ran out in front of my car. Gorgeous animals. Strong. Sleek. Graceful. Beautifully built.

I braked. And mentally paused a bit.

A few minutes later, I had to pull over to take this shot.

The artistry of God's handwork is only complimented by the simple beauty of the country church.

Simplicity is a beautiful thing. It's clean. And pure. And innocent. And such a great symbol for how our hearts should be in the light of our Lord.

Now if only that tacky looking sign weren't there ruining the beauty ;) I jest... but that too, speaks of our tendency to overcomplicate the beautiful and the simple. Sometimes the sunset alone is enough.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mercy and trustful surrender

Sometimes I think one of the most difficult things about being a Christian is not just the laying down of my desires on the altar and the picking up of my cross, but in getting outside of myself enough to even see which things are my desires and which are God's.

For the last year, I've been one of those people who walks in a church and almost immediately the tears start. They might not be constant... but I've learned to bring some kleenex! The words in prayer don't come very often. And sometimes as I am there, trying not to draw attention to myself, not to cry, and to focus, I'm just so taken in by the awesomeness of God... that the tears just won't stop. I've learned that its a different sort of prayer, and while it might not be the rosary, or the words I think I want to say to God, it's what I need at the moment. To just be in the presence of my Lord.

So today was one of those days. I was blessed to be able to attend the last hour of a Divine Mercy Celebration including confession, adoration, benediction and the singing of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I've never been to an event quite like this and it was a truly beautiful thing to see so many Catholics gathered in prayer. The church was packed! Such a great sight!

I've found the message of St Faustina and Divine Mercy to be compelling since I first picked up a pamphlet on it at my parish during high school. It was the first novena I ever prayed, and I recall at the time, finding the words of the prayer to be profoundly beautiful and packed with meaning. Fast forward 6 years from then, when I rediscovered it with a greater Eucharistic devotion. The very idea of the prayer- that we are offering Christ to God. That we, lowly, sinful, fallen people, can offer Him to God.

Wow. Talk about Mercy. He doesn't just forgive us our sin, He raises us up. He invites us to put our hands into His. To put our fingers into His side. To look in His eyes. He isn't a God lords His greatness over us. Instead, He calls us toward Him. He came down from heaven, not just to save us from our sin, but to open the gates of heaven to us as well. O happy fault of Adam, indeed!

For the rest of my story to make sense, some backstory from this week is involved.

The other night, I introduced my seventh graders to this devotion. We've talked about sin, and confession, and mercy, and the Eucharist before. But with the celebration of Easter last Sunday and the octave this week, it seemed the perfect time to bring it up again. The kids, as usual, had some fantastic comments and questions (I'm a fan of the socratic method... which means the kids also know that they can ask any question and I'll try to answer it or find out by the next week. Questions are encouraged!) So towards the end of this conversation, I played the song "Love Was Stronger" by Audio Adrenaline. It wasn't my original plan (I'd been intending to play Matt Maher's "Christ Is Risen") so I didn't have the lyrics printed for them, but as I was driving to run errands before class, the song came on the radio and fit the theme for the evening so perfectly, that I had to incorporate it in. (Sadly, we never did get around to the second song... guess we'll use it this week!)

Audio Adrenaline - Love Was Stronger Lyrics
From the album Love Was Stronger (Single)

I was a child of wrath
An enemy of the King of Peace
But love was stronger
Love was stronger

I tried resisting grace
The son of God still took my place
Cause love was stronger
Love was stronger

You are stronger than my sins, You carried
To the cross with resurrecting love

Love was stronger
Love was stronger

When You had called me in
My flesh was weak, my heart was dead
But love was stronger
Love was stronger

I was in a foreign land
You made me a citizen in You
Cause love was stronger
Love was stronger

I am the one who pierced Your side
I put every thorn on Your head
Through the feet and through the hands
I placed all of my sins
But love was stronger
But love was stronger

From the cover of
Fr Michael Gaitley's Consoling the Heart of Jesus

That last verse was were most of our focus went. And then I showed them several images of Divine Mercy, including my favorite, to the side. We talked about the image, read the Gospel account of blood and water gushing forth from the side of Jesus.

And then, I talked a little bit about Divine Mercy Sunday, the indulgence offered. They were more with me for the entire class period than they have been the rest of the year. I threw the lesson together somewhat quickly. It wasn't very well prepared and I didn't plan exactly where the discussion would lead. Three hours before class started, I decided we should talk about the Divine Mercy chaplet. And 2 and a half hours before class started I drove 45 minutes away to get the prayer card... and some glow-in-the-dark rosaries (they are kind of cool!)... and Holy Water bottles.

And it was the best lesson all year. Not because of my preparation, or planning, by any means. I'd been considering this lesson for over a week, but hadn't figured out any of the details. Two of the kids hugged me and thanked me. Seventh grade boys thanked me for talking about confession, and giving them a rosary and prayer card. Not exactly the typical response (though we do have super awesome wonderful students who generally are very eager to study the Faith).

And that brings me back to today. I was holding the crucifix from my rosary and reached up to hold the one around my neck as well. And then I looked down, and realized that I was holding two crosses. And it was then that I realized that I've been trying to carry two crosses. And that since I don't know which one God wants me to carry, I've been stumbling along, dragging them both, sometimes trying to drop one of them, but never, ever, offering God the other. So today I laid that cross on the altar. I asked God to take that cross away from me if it wasn't the one He wanted me to carry. Because if I can trust Him to make a single lesson work when I didn't know what to do, I can certainly trust Him with this much larger thing. Divine Mercy, indeed, to so willingly accept what I was so reluctant to offer!

O blood and water which gushed forth from the side of Jesus as a fountain of mercy, I trust in You! Jesus, help me to trust You more.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On Trusting God

I titled this blog "I'm Diving In" three years ago. It's funny, because, today,  I'm still struggling to dive and not just stand on the edge and test the waters out some more. To keep staring at the murky waters and hope that they suddenly become more clear. I like the temperature of the water. It feels safe. It feels comforting. It's even really pretty when I look out at it from safely on the beach. But climbing up the ladder... taking that dive. That's terrifying.

Diving in is scary. Especially when you can't see the bottom. It involves trust. It involves faith. It involves courage to trust that there really is a plan and that it will really work out.

Over the last two weeks, I've had the realization more and more that at some point, I'm actually going to have to jump. And I've slowly taken all these baby steps. It doesn't look nearly as terrifying anymore, because I've taken a few more steps each time before backing down again and starting back upward.

The thing is, standing on the beach looking out at the water doesn't have nearly the same effect as being in the water, swimming. One doesn't stand on a diving board without wanting to swim.

Over the last week, I've seen this story, or similar quotes from it at least a half dozen times. I shared one quote on Facebook, and immediately after scrolled down through my newsfeed only to see it again. It's an account from Brennan Manning on an encounter with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Wow. Yes. That really is the goal. To trust.

Something Father said tonight at Mass struck me. He was speaking specifically about the conversion of 5000 after Peter spoke in Acts 4:1-12. He reminded us that it's not our job to convert people. It's our task to speak the truth. For some reason, I guess that really hadn't sunk in before tonight. Jesus didn't commission us to save anyone. We are completely incapable of that. But he did ask us to spread the Good News. Not all those present who heard Peter speak converted. But the Spirit was at work. And Peter had faith. He didn't stand around and convene a meeting with the apostles to discuss strategy. He preached the truth. He shared his knowledge of the resurrected Lord, the One who can save.

So lots of trusting to work on I guess. And a few more steps up the ladder.

Step one, ironically, is to hit publish. After writing this post, it occurred to me that I had another post from 10/30/2014 with the same title, yet blank. So a baby step up the ladder. Step by little step.