Grain of wheat

The kids and I have started doing lectio divina together during Morning Time for school (apparently it’s a thing, too bad I didn’t realize it till they were considerably older). It’s basically what I do on my own, except for the sake of time–highschoolers do a LOT of work–we only read the daily gospel.

Today’s gospel veered off from the Matthew path since it’s the feast day of St. Lawrence.

Now, I’ve read this passage about a million times, but what struck me today was the word ‘alone.’ Typically it is my very favorite word, besides ‘book’, but in this context it’s not a pleasant thing. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12. 24, emphasis mine).

I like to be alone. I like quiet. I like to read and think and breathe. It’s hard to do those things when surrounded by others. But I don’t want to remain alone. There is a time to be solitary but even more, a time to be with others. We were created for community. Community with our fellow humans, community with our God. In order to attain this, I must die.

I don’t like the thought of dying, especially dying to self. It means I can’t have what I want, when I want it. For a human being, that’s a rum thought. (Sorry, been reading P.G. Wodehouse). But if I don’t die to self, I’ll find myself alone, barren. Like wheat, fig trees, vines, I am to ‘bear fruit’, to give of myself, not to hoard all things to myself. Paradoxically, it is when I give of myself that I receive more than I could grasp if I live only for myself.

Part of the way I ‘die’ is by letting go of an exciting life, an extraordinary life and embracing the ordinary, the dullness, the routine. Life has been pretty boring at our house lately. With four sick kids, a sick husband and ghastly humid and hot weather (I’m from New England, 85 is hot), I find myself longing for something new, something exciting to change life up. Maybe a new book? A new project? New running shoes? A camping trip? Two hours on Facebook? No, I need to ‘die,’ to pour myself out in the mundane and bear fruit here and now. To love the ordinary and to the find the holiness in it.

 

 

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Grace in the wilderness

The wilderness in the Bible is not a happy place. It is a place of testing, of struggle, of judgement, of purification to a painful degree. The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Both Jesus and John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness fasting, praying and being tempted before their public ministries began. And yet the prophet Jeremiah tells us that there is “grace in the wilderness” (31.2).

Grace is God’s Life in us, the very food and strength of our souls. Without grace, we are dead. I, and I dare say most of us, struggle when bad things happen. When I’m tested, tempted, subjected to trials. If Jeremiah is right, though, that’s exactly where I need to be because that’s where the grace is found.

I’m not saying I need to go looking for the wilderness–far from it! But if I see each trouble as an opportunity for grace, the pain of the moment (for in the light of eternity, even a lifetime is a moment) is made bearable. I can even begin to welcome the struggles, to bear my cross cheerfully, knowing that I’ll find that most precious gift, grace.

Just wanna be all by myself

Sometimes I get to the point where I am run down, stressed out, and find myself needing to “withdraw…to a deserted place” by myself (Matt. 14. 13). I also find that that’s when I’m called on most to be present for others. So far I think I have succeeded in responding to this need in others approximately zero times. When I read today’s gospel, it struck me that this is a real problem for me and that Jesus and his apostles have experienced it, too.

Jesus was saddened by the death of his cousin and felt the need to get away by himself. So far, so good. The people followed him, however, and instead of getting frustrated and angry at them, “he had compassion for them.” (v.14) And this is where I see that He’s perfect and I most certainly am not. I do not have compassion on the people who dare need me when I’m drained. Less compassion, more ‘enter at your own risk.’

Not only did Jesus have compassion and spend the rest of the day speaking to the people, He would not send them away, like His disciples suggested. Instead (and this is what spoke to me) He said to His disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples respond, “But how? We have nothing to give them!”(v.16, 17)

That’s how I feel. All these people need me: my husband, my children, my extended family, friends, strangers. I ask God to care for them in some other way, but He says, “You give them what they need.” I cry, I beg, I whine and stomp my feet. “But I don’t have anything! I barely have enough strength to be nice, let alone give them what they need!”

Then comes the rest of the story. Jesus says to the disciples’ lack of goods, “Bring them here to me.” (v.18) That’s all I have to do. I have to bring him my stress, my fatigue, my irritation, my ‘barely-holding-it-together-here’ and give it to Him. He’ll bless it and miraculously multiply my lack so that it can feed all those He brings to me. I just have to bring it to be blessed, and then give it away.

A joy and a delight

“…thy words became to me a joy, and the delight of my heart.” Jer. 15.16

These words struck me as I read today’s mass readings. God’s words are a joy to me and the delight of my heart. Is that true? Many things delight my heart: my children, my husband, books, fall days, temperatures below 70, solitude. Do God’s words make that list? I’d have to say, yes, but I don’t take advantage of tasting that delight and experiencing that joy often enough.

First, a word about happiness and joy. Happiness is a fleeting feeling based upon circumstances (my kids are obeying, everyone liked dinner, we have plenty of money, I did something fun), while joy is an emotion of delight that lasts despite what may be happening. It can exist with sorrow and suffering. In fact, the deeper the suffering I experience, the greater is my capacity for joy.

Anyway, so God’s words–when He speaks to me in silence, through His love letter (the Bible), and through persons and circumstances–bring me that lasting delight. When I read God’s Word, I often feel a sense of calm, of safety, of assurance. That all is right and orderly. Not always. Sometimes I feel nothing. That doesn’t mean the joy isn’t there. It’s just hidden.

My God, thank you for the joy of your words. May I listen to them, delight in them and share them.

 

 

Thankful Thursday. On Friday.

It’s been over a week since I wrote last. Mea culpa. In that time, my husband came home from 6 weeks away; we went camping as a family in the loudest, most miserable campground in New England; and I taught 5th-6th grade at a local Vacation Bible School. Yikes. Oh, and yesterday I had every intention of posting something, but we came home from VBS to a fly infestation in our house. We spent the next 9 hours killing and cleaning.

This week I am most thankful for the challenges God sends my way. They quickly demonstrate how far from perfect I am and how much in need I am of God’s strength and mercy. I need that reminder. Ever so often, I feel like, “Hey, I’ve got this!” That’s when God says, “No, actually, you don’t. It’s only by My grace.”

The biggest challenge this week was teaching VBS. It’s my second year as the 5th-6th grade teacher, and the second year was definitely not easier than the first. I think I was a bit more organized but still not prepared to handle three boys with the demanding diagnoses of various forms of autism, PTSD, etc. That’s in addition to the other children in class. Every day I was taking one to the director.

After the first day, I prayed every morning, “God, I come to You empty-handed. I have nothing. I can do nothing. Only let me do Your holy will and whether I succeed or fail does not matter.” I also asked for the intercession of St. John Bosco, patron of troubled youth.

Did I succeed? Well, there were moments perhaps but also epic failures. As it comes to a close I pray only that I did God’s will and planted at least a tiny seed of God’s love into the kids’ hearts.

Thankful Thursday

This week I am thankful for several things. First was lunch out with my dear friend/mother in the faith at a local restaurant with locally sourced, organic foods. I ate ricotta gnocchi with tomatoes, mozzarella and chicken. We talked for a few hours on a lovely patio, not even breaking for a passing thunderstorm.

Next, an enormous party in honor of my friend and running partner, on furlough from a missionary trip. Let me tell you, there is no party like a Catholic party. We all brought dishes from different countries and ate ourselves silly. Children definitely outnumbered adults. I got to see almost all of my friends from our previous parish, and my oldest got to attend his old youth group. I really miss that community. It’s where I feel truly at home, where I belong.

Finally, my husband came home after 5.5 weeks away! I missed him terribly but am thankful we were still able to communicate daily. And now, I have my partner back, so we can continue walking together the road of faith in this life.

Bearing Fruit

Yesterday wrapped up the readings from the book of Hosea. In the last chapter, God tells his people how he will heal and restore them if they will only turn back to him. He reminds them who it is that hears their prayers and looks after them. Not the idols they have been worshipping, but himself, God the creator of all. “From me comes your fruit” (14.8).

Christ echoes these words when he says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15. 5).

Sometimes I forget that any progress I’ve made climbing the Mountain of God has not come from my own efforts, but from the sheer gratuitous grace of God. Any time I have had success in showing forth the virtue of patience has been God’s gift, not my achievement. And so on with mortification or piety or charity or mercy. It is not by my power that any good thing has happened, but only by God’s.

Directly after he murders the king, Macbeth ponders why he cannot say “Amen” after hearing men bless themselves. It is because he has closed his soul to grace and its fruits by committing a mortal sin. If he, like the people of Israel, would turn back to God and repent of his sin, he would be restored and find himself able to bring forth fruits again.