Saturday, December 27, 2008

Microcosm of Abundance

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." (Ephesians 3:20)

My umbrella had been AWOL for a couple of days; I had looked everywhere! Winter rain - a lot of it - had finally come. It was the morning of our planned prayer vigil outside Planned Parenthood, and I was already resigned to standing in the rain, but said a little prayer for my umbrella anyway. Within a few moments - oh joy! - I saw it hiding behind something in my closet and my spirits brightened considerably.

Double joy! After finding the umbrella, I peeked out my bedroom curtains and saw sunshine. My umbrella wasn't needed after all. God gave me a little message that day: He takes delight in providing in abundance, even more than what is needed, like a double rainbow of answered prayer.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Presents are wrapped, stockings are stuffed, and I'm exhausted!

After what will certainly be a flurry of breakfast and presents in the morning, I'll drive myself quietly to Mass and celebrate the real reason for Christmas. I look forward to that.

A merry Christmas to all, and blessings to each one of you in 2009!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hope for the Holidays

These are not my words; once again, they are the words of Pope Benedict, from What It Means to Be a Christian, written while he was Cardinal Ratzinger. They are so appropriate for today, the day the world celebrates Christmas Eve. (And, by the way, it's also the day our little family celebrates our oldest son's 19th birthday. :) Read on and enjoy.

Faith, Hope, Love

There is still one thing for us to think about at the end. Through talking about love, we came upon faith. We saw that, properly understood, faith is present within love and that only faith can bring love to its proper end, because our own loving would remain just as inadequate as an open hand stretched out into emptiness. If we think a little further, we also come upon the mystery of hope. For our believing and our loving are still on their way, so long as we remain in this world, and again and again they are in danger of flickering out. It is truly Advent. No one can say of himself, “I am completely saved.” In the era of this world, there is no redemption as a past action, already completed; nor does it exist as a complete and final present reality; redemption exists only in the mode of hope. The light of God does not shine in this world except in the lamps of hope that his loving-kindness has set up on our way. How often that distresses us: we would like more; we would like the whole thing, round, unassailably present. Yet basically we have to say: Could there be any more human way of redeeming us than that which declares us to be beings in the course of development, on our way, that tells us we may hope? Could there be a better light for us, as nomadic beings, than the one that sets us free to go forward without fear, because we know that the light of eternal love stands at the end of the road?

Tomorrow, Wednesday, an Advent Ember Day, we shall encounter this very mystery of hope in the liturgy of the Holy Mass. The Church sets it before us on this particular day in the shape of the Mother of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary. For these weeks of Advent she stands before us as the woman who is carrying the Hope of the world just under her heart and thus, going before us on our way as a symbol of hope. She stands there as the woman in whom what is humanly impossible has become possible, through God’s saving mercy. And thus she becomes a symbol for us all. For if it is up to us, if it depends on the feeble flame of our goodwill and the paltry sum of our actions, we cannot achieve salvation. However much we are capable of, it is not enough for that. It remains impossible. Yet God, in his mercy, has made the impossible possible. We need only say, in all humility, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord” (cf. Lk 2:37f; Mk 10:27). Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Opposite and Upside Down

God's heart is so different than ours.

His birth was in a stable, without fanfare, without fireworks.

Angels made the announcement not to kings, but to shepherds in the fields.

He came to dwell and teach among an obscure and oppressed people.

His disciples were an unlikely lot; they were, for the most part, rough, uneducated men.

He spent His time with sinners and the outcast of society. He alienated the powerful.

He taught a new and unlikely thing: to love our enemies.

He died on a cross, a criminal's death on a most notorious instrument of torture.

Even so, two thousand years later, He is still changing the world.

His coming was foretold in hundreds of prophecies, yet the way He came was so unexpected.

Let us not underestimate this God of the unexpected. Pray with gusto in 2009, knowing our God is capable of anything!

Merry Christmas!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thy Will Be Done

"Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell, especially those in most need of thy mercy."

I long to pray, but I find all I can say is "Thy will be done." I feel frozen; I'm unsure how to pray anything more... or even if I should. A rock of sadness is wedged in my soul; I hold my breath, afraid to hope. The rock has been keeping me company for quite some time and despite the pain, I've grown accustomed to it.

Is my reluctance to pray for healing a lack of trust in God? Or is it a quiet knowing in my soul that I must endure this without complaint?

I know that pain is God's megaphone (CS Lewis) and that pain is used by God for our greater good (Romans 8:28). Is this particular pain necessary for me... or others? Or is it outside God's will?

I will grab the first fluttery butterfly wings of hope and dare to ask...

Lord, please resolve this situation...

...and help me to trust always in your love for me.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Truest Kind of Love

Truly loving, as God calls us to do, can wound deeply. The love of Christ is reflected in His wounds. I must be willing to receive wounds if I love. The giving of myself to others brings vulnerability; those I love may be unkind, inconsiderate, demanding or misunderstanding of my motives. Yet I must love, if for no other reason because it is what God asks me to do. Somehow this risk, this willingness to love, opens up a broad vista in my soul that would otherwise be dark. It is a great mystery that to achieve true beauty in Christ, I must be honed and shaped and stretched and burned and, finally, healed by pain.

I love the book, "The Velveteen Rabbit," because of this lesson. Each of us may be asked, at some point in our lives, to love so much it hurts. Will I sacrifice for love? Will I walk through the fire? Will I say yes to the kind of love God gives? It may seem much easier to say no. But in the end, if we love, we experience true freedom, as the rabbit did when he came out of the fire and was finally real. And then we find that love became the easiest choice.

Though this kind of love is expressed in marriage, it is more than that. It is something broader and deeper: a love for humanity, a love for God that runs so deep that we are willing to love all that He brings our way.

If I am misunderstood; still I must love. If I am rejected; still I must love. If I am in pain; still I must love. I see that Jesus was willing to "become nothing" and to be "obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2). This gives me comfort. How can I do less? He is my example.

Everything in me wishes to explain and defend, to fight and protect; I cannot. This path of the saints is not easy. To believe when I cannot see, to hope when I don't see the end, to trust when I don't know the outcome - this is tough!

I pray God will give me the greatest strength of all, the strength to love without being loved in return.

In honor of this great thing, love, I now offer some thoughts from those far greater than me:
Living Flame of Love
St. John of the Cross
1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.
3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.
4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

If you judge people, you have not time to love them. Mother Teresa

In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone. St. John of the Cross

Let us abandon everything within the scope of our thoughts and determine to love what is beyond comprehension. We touch and hold God by Love alone. The Cloud of Unknowing

I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Sometimes I seek another word to express Love, but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends (St. Augustine) is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: TO LOVE. St Therese of Lisieux

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God, for God is love.
St. John, the Apostle (I John 4:7 & 8)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our Beautiful Pope Benedict

I love this man. Just read his words below from the intro to his first encyclical, Deus Est Caritas (God Is Love) and you'll see why.

Today the word "love" is so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one's lips. And yet it is a primordial word, expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendor so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path. This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical. I wished to express to our time and to our existence something of what Dante audaciously recapitulated in his vision. He speaks of his "sight" that "was enriched" when looking at it, changing him interiorly [The textual quotation in English is: "But through the sight, that fortified itself in me by looking, one appearance only to me was ever changing as I changed" (cf. "Paradise," XXXIII, verses 112-114)]. It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us. I wished to underline the centrality of faith in God, in that God who has assumed a human face and a human heart. Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside. It is something very concrete: It is the criterion that decides our lifestyle. In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion to the point of culminating in hatred, neutral rationality on its own is unable to protect us. We are in need of the living God who has loved us unto death.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holy Hush Deux

Today I stopped by the parish office and borrowed a key to enter the church and pray. As I stepped inside, the presence of Christ was very real; His peace felt full and heavy in the room. Why, I wonder, would the Lord of Heaven wait quietly in a darkened church for us? He makes Himself present to us in the humblest of ways through the Eucharist. Not only did the eternal God pierce time and come to Earth wrapped in human clothes, He communes with us daily under the guise of bread and wine. Truly He loves us.

As I prayed, the tabernacle, where our Lord resides, was in plain view. As I gazed upon it, it became real to me that when viewed against eternity, my cause for prayer is small. Soon we will all be present at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where perfect fellowship resides.

My Marian Miracle

Yesterday, December 8, the Church celebrated a great solemnity: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am not sure why I chose this particular depiction of Mary (as there are many beautiful ones), other than a feeling of gratitude for the pain she suffered because of her willing "fiat" (her "yes" to God's plan). Though she was divinely chosen by God to bear His Son, she was a human, a mother, and a woman who did not escape suffering.

As a convert to the Church, Mary's place in Catholicism has been somewhat difficult for me. It was my final (and longest-lasting) stumbling block to entering the Church. As a former Protestant, I had a great fear of what we had been taught was Marian idolatry. I didn't want any devotion to the Blessed Mother to fall into that category.

Despite my resistance, I have been drawn to her through the years in sweet ways. The more I release myself to her goodness, the more she gently leads this stubborn child on a path toward holiness and reveals ways to please her Son.

Yesterday, on the day of her solemnity, her intercession wrought a miracle in my heart. While I sat at Mass, a sin was brought to light in my heart and a great burden winged its way to Heaven. It is amazing what happens in the spiritual realm when truth is exposed. The ripples from this have already revealed wonderful beauty.

Thank you, dear Blessed Virgin Mary. Thank you for your patience with my doubts; thank you for drawing me close to you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Under the Carmelite Moon

We Carmelite aspirants have been asked to write about what the journey to Mt. Carmel means to us. For me, this answer is in the undercurrent of a stream flowing just under my surface. The stream ripples and moves, with changing, swirling eddies that are visible but hard to grasp. Just when I think I can explain what draws me to the waters, the explanation or feeling or thought darts out of sight, as though it wishes to remain hidden, felt but not seen. Yet it moves me, this invisible current just under my surface. It moves me in ways I do not wish to resist.

When I journey to Mt. Carmel it feels as though I am stepping into silvery moonbeams that bathe the earth in soft, sweet light. The moonbeams are the witness of the saints that have trod this path before me; they freely pour their wisdom onto the path, beckoning all who choose to walk to move forward with them. These moonbeam saints reflect the light of the Son whom they love and follow. In their circle of brightness lies true peace.

Now that I'm here, I feel I was always meant to walk this path, though I would not have known to plan it. My adventure began when I responded to Christ's call to the Eucharist; it continues on the moonlit road to Carmel. "Deeper and further," says the Lord, and I follow. I look forward to the places He will draw me on this journey.

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