Advent day 3

Oh boy. I’m definitely making time for Our Lord every day, but outside of those times of quiet, it’s like a raging hurricane. Very early mornings are peaceful. My husband and I wake before all the children and have coffee and breakfast together. It’s the calm before the storm. Then the children wake and the storm hits full gale. School, breakfast, mass, outside classes, laundry, cleaning, lunch. After lunch I have a reprieve–a few minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then it’s off to track practice, swim practice, American Heritage Girls, cub scouts, boy scouts, CCD, dinner. The family rosary is another restful time.

Sometimes I wish there was less, that I was less busy with both home duties and outside activities. But this is my life. These minutiae are building my holiness day by day. I carve out times of rest and repose (be they ever so small) to commune with my Lord. He is the one who gives me the grace and the strength to keep going.

This verse from my daily lectio felt especially appropriate today: “When the cares of my heart are many, thy consolations cheer my soul” (Ps. 94.19).

Come, Lord, I am waiting for You.

Advent Day 1

It’s advent, my second favorite liturgical season. This year, I’m not going to take on any extra religious practices; I’m going to give extra attention to my current practices and try to do them with greater devotion and attention, though I am going to try to spend at least 10 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament daily. It shouldn’t be difficult since I live about 100 yards from the church. My arrow prayer that I’m shooting up to heaven throughout the day is, “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”

In my lectio divina, I’m picking back up in the Psalms, starting with 92.  The verse that resonated with me is “They [the righteous] are planted in the house of the Lord…” (13). I pray, Lord, that You will plant me in Your house. Let me not be uprooted. Let me not wither but grow and bear fruit. I’m waiting for you, my Lord.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

The best laid plans

Hosea is one of my favorite minor prophets. Actually, that distinction goes to Jonah (I get how Jonah feels. Check out 4.9). Hosea, though, gives a glimpse of God’s great love for His people. It shows his vulnerable side, his never-ending mercy and desire for His people’s love. When I was reading this section of Hosea today, this verse struck me: “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but without my knowledge” (Hosea 8.4).

The people of Israel have turned their backs on God time and again. Here God is complaining that though He should be an integral part in their lives, having an intimate knowledge and part in all their decisions, He is swept aside.

I hear Him chiding me. Where is He in my daily decisions? Does He have an intimate knowledge of me, my hopes, dreams, fears, plans? Of course He knows all, but He will not intrude where He is not invited. All that I do should include Him. All my choices should go through Him. Oh Lord, I invite You in. I want You to have knowledge of all of me, the good and the bad. The parts I want to show off and the parts I want to hide. I want You to be involved in all my life, small and great. I need Your wisdom in order to follow and do Your holy will.

Many Gifts

Today’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 66. In it is a verse that has always made me pause in consternation. “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me” (v. 16). I should be telling others what God has done in my life. Probably partly because of our American mindset of religion and faith being a “personal” individualistic affair and partly because of my introverted nature, I don’t do this. At all.

So this is my opportunity to “tell what he has done for me.” He has given me a husband who adores/cherishes/protects me, children who are a delight to me, extended family who love me, a lovely home, plenty of food and material goods. He’s given me the Catholic Church to mother me and lead me on my path to heaven. He’s given me friends I can depend on to laugh and cry with me. He’s given me health and strength. He’s given me the opportunity to be home with my children and educate them. He’s given me his Word, his love letter that I can open any time I want. He’s given me His very Self in the Holy Eucharist. He’s given me a love for my vocation to marriage and family life, a love that took many years for me to accept. I have been given more than I deserve. My God, I thank you for all you have given me. It is yours, and should you decide to take away what you have given, may you give me the grace, like holy Job, to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1.21).

The Kingdom of God is NOT concerned with equality

Last night I was talking to my Dad about the corrupting idea of “fairness.” It seems rampant in our age. From Facebook posts of children and young adults whining, “It’s not fair!” to philosophers positing the unfairness of children being brought up by families to gay “marriage,” our society is inundated in a culture of “rights” and obsessed with seeking to make life “fair” for everyone (read: uniformity). One catch: you have to be lucky enough to survive the pre-natal period in order to enjoy any of these things.

This afternoon in my lectio divina I read Matthew 20.1-16, the parable of the householder and the vineyard. In it, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a householder going out to hire workers for his vineyard. The first bunch he hires at the beginning of the day; the next group a few hours later; another group even later; and finally, he hires the last workmen with only one hour of the workday left. When he pays them, he begins with the last group, giving them a full day’s wages. The first group gets excited because they think surely they will receive more pay than was agreed upon, since the slackers who only worked one hour were paid for working twelve. Surprise, surprise, the first group is paid exactly the same as all the others. They are indignant. “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (12, emphasis mine). In modern English: “That’s not fair!” The householder explains that he has not, in fact, done anything wrong to them. “Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go” (13, 14). Jesus ends with the words, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (16).

The workers in the vineyard, from those who worked all day to those who worked only one hour, are all in the Kingdom of God, yet there is a certain inequality. There are those who give their entire lives to God, working, suffering, sacrificing. Then there are those who spend their lives as they wish, concerned with no one but themselves, and have death-bed conversions. Both–and all in between–make up the Kingdom of God.

So this concept of fairness, equality. I do not think those words mean what you think that they mean, my fellow Christians. Yes, St. Paul says that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28). He is talking about our ability to be members of the Kingdom of God. Under the Old Covenant, Jewishness was a requirement to be an heir of God’s promise to Abraham. Under the New Covenant, there is no such requirement. All are invited, but not all will accept the invitation.

This push in our society for fairness and equality is contrary to the Faith. It is a denial of what makes us human, what makes us male and female, what makes us different members of the Body of Christ, having different gifts and abilities and contributions. God loves all, but He gives to each what He wills according to His inscrutable knowledge of all things and His vision of all time. So our primary job is to love: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not to make sure our neighbor has everything we have (yes, basic necessities), not to make our neighbor exactly like us (male and female He created them), but to love them. Love concretely, love actively. Not feelings, but actions. How will they know we are Christians? By our love (John 13.35), not by our equality.