Focus on Love

As we begin our final march toward Calvary, I pray each of you have enjoyed a fruitful Lent. I began reading the Word Among Us earlier in the year. It provides the daily readings and accompanying meditations for U.S. Catholic Mass.

One meditation instructed that we should ‘focus on Jesus on the cross and imagine the LOVE that put Him there.’

As I read this, I realized that I always focus on all the sin that put Him on the cross, and maybe most especially, on my sin that added to His pain and suffering.

It feels entirely different to consider too the love — His love — with which He sacrificed Himself and forgave us.

Meditating on His love builds to my sense of sorrow and penitence, adding an even stronger sense of humility. I found with that humility I experienced a growing desire to allow His love to fill me so full that through His grace it will just spill over and pour out upon all I meet.

Blessings on you and yours this Easter. I pray that your journey brings you closer to Him and His peace.

Focus on love

I pray this finds each of you enjoying a happy and fruitful Lent. I have begun to read the Word Among Us, which  provides the daily readings and accompanying meditation for U.S. Catholic Mass.

The meditation last Wednesday (February 17, 2016) instructed that we should ‘focus on Jesus on the cross and imagine the LOVE that put Him there.’

As I read this, I realized that I always focus on all the sin that put Him on the cross, and maybe most especially, on my sin that added to His pain and suffering.

It feels entirely different to consider too the love — His love — with which He sacrificed Himself and forgave us.

Meditating on His love adds to my sense of sorrow and penitence an even stronger sense of humility. I found with that humility I experienced a growing desire to allow His love to fill me so full that through His grace it will just spill over and pour out upon all I meet.

Blessings on you and yours this Lent. I pray that your journey brings you closer to Him and His peace.

Choosing to be chosen

Prodigal Son ImageOur priest’s recent homily touched on being chosen by God. Each of us is. Not all of us know it.

Many have never heard His call. Some hear it, but turn away. For some, recognition happens all at once. For others, God’s call is revealed more slowly and in stages. Continue reading

We are all called to be saints

No, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke. Although when I first heard that we – all of us – can be saints…are called, in fact, to be saints, I had a similar reaction: ‘You must be kidding! Me?’

But, what I am slowly coming to appreciate more fully is that God’s most important call to each of us is to be saints – each in our own special way, each in our own individual circumstance. Our only challenge is to learn to say ‘Yes, Lord, I’m willing. Show me how.”

Maybe you won’t have as hard a time as I did hearing these words and taking them seriously, but let me share what some writers who actually know what they’re talking about have to say about our call to sainthood:

In discussing Saints, People Like Us, Henri Nouwen says,

Through baptism we become part of a family much larger than our biological family. It is a family of people “set apart” by God to be light in the darkness. These set-apart people are called saints. Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people. Some of their lives may look quite different, but most of their lives are remarkably similar to our own. The saints are our brothers and sisters, calling us to become like them. (Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 328-9). )

He went on to describe that:

The saints are God’s holy people. The apostle Paul speaks about all those who belong to Christ as “holy people” or “saints.” He directs his letters to “those who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be God’s holy people” (1 Corinthians 1: 2; see also Ephesians 1: 1). This sanctity is the work of the Spirit of Jesus. Paul again says, “All of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3: 18). As saints we belong to that large network of God’s people that shines like a multitude of stars in the dark sky of the universe. (Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 330))

Fr. James Martin S.J. in his book My Life with the Saints, quotes Thomas Merton to say,

“For me to be a saint means to be myself.”

And Merton says in his own book, The Seven Storey Mountain:

And they were saints in that most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by usual skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within, and from the habitual union of their souls with God in deep faith and charity. (Merton, Thomas (1998-10-04). The Seven Storey Mountain: Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition (p. 62))

So this is my Easter gift to you…the good and joyful news that Christ lived among us, died for us and rose again to be with the Father. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to live within each of us. To be with us in times of trial and triumph. To guide and direct our hearts along our journey. To call us to walk with Him in sainthood, as He shares the truth of His love with the world.

It’s simple. Just say ‘yes’ to God

Thank you, Lord, for guiding me (at last!) to the answer I’ve been searching for now for so many years.

For decades (all those years before my children and husband), I’ve wondered why I jumped from relationship to relationship. I would start out delighting in showering someone with all my energy and affections, only to tire of them after a year or two. They weren’t the real problem. I always knew there was something missing in me.

Even though, I was told repeatedly in many different settings that God loves me (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”), the meaning of the message – how it all works on the ground – for some reason just didn’t connect.

But, praise God, I finally got it.

It was in a Bible study I attended (nearly 25 years ago now). In it, we focused for nearly eight weeks on the lesson, ‘We love, we are loved by others, we are Beloved (loved unconditionally) of God.’ That class was an important turning point for me. In fact, my angel put in a brief appearance during one particular meditation to rejoice with me and invite me to continue my search. I sensed at the time, even as it was happening, that I’d graduated to a deeper level of understanding.

I’m loved by Him unconditionally and, because I am (we are), I am not only able to love others without the expectation of reciprocity, but I’m able to accept what they offer as gifts from Him through them…without wanting more…or less.

Henri Nowren in The Inner Voice of Love, describes it this way:

…Only when you know yourself as unconditionally loved—that is, fully received—by God can you give gratuitously [without need]. Giving without wanting anything in return is trusting that all your needs will be provided for by the One who loves you unconditionally…

…The danger is in pouring yourself out to others in the hope that they will fully receive you…

…A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support.

Well, this morning, in passing this book on to a young friend of mine (with whom I have always felt a sense of déjà vu, as her life challenges seem so familiar), I finally realized I’ve received the answer to my long-standing question – “where the hell did all this come from!?” Hell, indeed!

My family studied a host of books on religious thought – everything from the Bible to Buddhism, the Hindu Vedas and Upanishads, and Islam. Along the way, I ended up with a very fuzzy sense of God and no real understanding of His love.

But what I didn’t realize until this morning was the cause-and-effect connection between my lack of understanding of God’s love and the failure of my early relationships.

I not only had a very limited sense of His love for me, but I had a strong sense that I could figure it all out on my own – outside church teaching, outside community … outside … period. The road less traveled, maybe…probably because it’s so circuitous and rough and rocky. What a sad, unnecessary waste of time.

Who knew there is a more direct route?

I guess, for me, it always seemed too simple. (Editor angel: You even used to joke back then that you wouldn’t want to simplify anything you could over-complicate!) What I wanted most in my youth was to be seen as capable, adult, self-sufficient.

Sure enough, one of my big life lessons was formed: I got to learn that caring for oneself is not ‘all that,’ as my kids would say. I was ‘outside’ going it on my own all that time, while I could have simply given into God’s love – believed I was loved fully and unconditionally by Him – and skipped all the intervening pain and hardship.

It’s that simple. And that tough for some of us.

Quiet comes to rest beside me

Entering into God’s silence,” is Merton’s theme for Monday of the first full week of Lent. He says, that in silence we

are formed and prepared so that [we] may speak what [we] have heard.

And doesn’t this resonate with all of us who spend our time here in this virtual space? We share our experience and our reading and our revelations with others, in hopes of offering words, sharing stories, which might help someone else to find their way.

But silence, Merton says, and time apart from others is necessary for all of us.

At church yesterday our priest spoke about a similar theme, discussing Jesus’ time in the desert – in desolation, in silence, tempted and tried. Like Jesus, he said, during these quiet times God teaches us how to distinguish His voice — that voice planted like a seed deep within us at the moment of conception — from all the other voices that might ring in our ears.

I wrote a poem years ago — 40 years ago now — I was so young then and immature. Yet, even then, I knew that while I kind of liked the words…the way they sounded together…the sense that they said something important…I knew, even then, I didn’t really understand them or what they meant, even to me. It went like this:

Night sounds begin and light
becomes a shadow of a shadow
As dark isolation settles with a chill.

 

Breath won’t come. “Don’t go
…Don’t leave me here alone!!”
Wandering, lost,
Separate from all but One.

 

Then quiet comes to rest beside me,
And the crowd from the inner room
Pushes to be free.

What does it reveal about that girl nearly a half century ago? Fear of being alone.

I used to hate being alone. The silence when I was alone was never silent. When I was little, being alone scared me in that ghost-and-hobgoblin sort of way. As I got older, I just didn’t know what to do with silence and alone-ness.

By the time I wrote this, I had begun to catch just a faint glimmer. When I wrote that “quiet comes to rest beside me,” I always thought that when I really finally understood whatever this this work is that is mine to do in this life, that the line would read “quiet comes to rest within me.”

Still, now when I am silent and talking with God, I have a strong sense of His coming to rest beside me, His quiet loving presence cleansing me and making me whole again.

And even though there is a peacefulness associated with the experience, there is an incredible excitement. The crowd — all those unformed feelings and partial thoughts and gentle urgings — they rally up within me in a sort of freedom song in which I catch a glimpse of the person He intended me to be. They demand my attention, insist that I free them from my own anxieties and fears and expose them to the Light of His grace.

Content ourselves to Our Father’s purpose

In Thomas Merton’s meditation for today, he says:

In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life.

“...learn to be detached from the results of our own activity.”

As much as I would like to believe I understand and have mastered detachment, I find it’s often a bit like planning…Our Father has a very long laugh, as He shows me in the gentlest of ways how far I have yet to go to be truly detached.

As I was reading and pondering Merton’s words, I was periodically checking my blog stats, Facebook, Twitter, my email to see if anyone had yet opened one of my recent blog postings or — better yet — ‘liked’ one of them…sent me a note (I cherish those, even if it isn’t very detached!).

I’m such a child with my emotions being tossed and tugged by every bit of outside opinion. Feeling validated by praise; uncertain when there’s no response. Even though, my brain and my heart know that I have a holy purpose that I’m serving, my ego binds me still with its need for hearing, “you’re okay.”

As I said in Getting Started,

It is my prayer that God has drawn you to this place and that you will find it a blessing along your own journey with Him. It would certainly be a blessing for me, if you were to let me know you’re out there. But, as much as I will give thanks to God for leading you to me, to this place, I really have no other choice but to do this divine work.

Merton goes on in this meditation to say:

We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.

So, on this first Saturday after Ash Wednesday, I ask Our Father’s help to be content with the product of our work together — His and mine. To seek only His approval. To rest quiet in the certain knowledge that He knows who is searching for just the words He and I have written together. He knows whose heart is ready and waiting to be blessed by Him through me.

Yearning, God’s small seed of hope within us

In this second day of Lent, Thomas Merton in Seeking God in All Things acknowledges how stultifying the world can be, especially for those of us living in busy cities, working in noisy factories, or commuting daily with thousands of others.

He reminds us that for so many, the hope – even the seed of a hope – has long been crushed.

For the rest of us — even those of us who feel frustrated by the crowds, deafened by constant cacophony, demoralized by the brokenness we see about us – for us, we still yearn with hope for silence and peace and unity.

This yearning is God’s small seed within us, calling us, reassuring us that we are loved by God.

Our job is to allow this yearning to bless us.

Even this most basic connection to God’s love for us can draw from us feelings of compassion for those others who have lost — or have not yet found — their way.

This small seed of kindness in our hearts may then grow into a prayer upon which our Lord will shine, through which may blossom in us a deep sense of peace and joy.

To stay anchored in God – in this experience of inner peace and joy – we must each find a place each day where we can be alone and silent and uninterrupted, says Merton. Some special space where we can, without obstruction, learn to experience God’s presence, maybe even hear His voice.

In this special place where we surrender fully to God’s loving embrace, we then allow Him to prepare us and repair us…make us whole and clean once again…armed with His Love, ready to venture back into a noisy and messy world.

Pray for the Council of Cardinals

This week begins a third meeting between the Pope and the Council of Cardinals. Pray for God’s love to fill their hearts and for His guidance to enlighten their discernment on key reform issues facing the church. Read more here: With reforms unclear, Francis starts possible bellwether week | National Catholic Reporter.