Faith, Hope, Scripture

Not Go Empty

The brook near where Elijah was hiding ran dry, because no rain had fallen in the land. So the LORD said to Elijah: “Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have designated a widow there to provide for you.” He left and went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry,as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
1 Kings 17:7-16

This is the first reading for Mass today. I was reading it this morning while I ate waffles and put off thoughts of the workday for a few more minutes. It is one of my favorite Old Testament passages because of its portrayal of the providence of God. A prophet traveling through the land, dependent upon others to support him but meeting persecution in many places; a widowed mother enduring the famine and fully aware of the direness of her conditions; a command from God to count on Him… Like weights on a scale, the risk of trusting God will come through sits heavily in the heart of the woman. She cannot see what, if anything, will be set on the opposite end of the scale. Will her need be met? Will the risk be balanced?

It wouldn’t be risk and it wouldn’t be trust if she could forsee exactly how God might provide for her.

She risks and she trusts and God does not merely balance things out but truly overwhelms the need and anxiety by His generosity and faithfulness.

Faith, Holiness, Hope, Jesus

To Her True Country

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.” (C S Lewis)

This is the post I never wanted to write. Having written these posts: Please? and Joy Has Come, I knew I’d committed to writing the necessary follow up. What that follow up would be was known only to God. He has carried out His will. Amy died on Friday night, January 1st after slipping into a coma for a brief time.

I hadn’t seen Amy since June but from the bits shared with me by others, it was easy to piece together an image of her last weeks here. It is an image of faith and constancy that has repeatedly brought me to tears, challenging me to believe there truly is nothing that can, of its own force, separate us from the love and joy of Christ. As her brain was finishing its work on this earth, Amy’s mind was caught up in anticipation of eternal life. Her ability to communicate was dwindling, yet she repeatedly took up the topic of her Lord. She spoke of Him, she spoke to Him. She worshipped Him. She prayed to Him. She witnessed His miraculous presence in the Eucharist. I have a feeling that when she couldn’t communicate much else, Amy still managed to communicate her joy to her family. She looked forward to her true country, her home prepared tenderly for her by the Lord.

There are some beauties that overwhelm. They are almost painful to endure for you know that you are seeing beauty in its truest form and you cannot hold onto it. You cannot grip it and restrain it. This beauty must be released, trusted to continue on to thence from which it came. You must go on with the image of it ingrained in your heart’s memory; the experience of it drawing you toward more beauty wherever it can be found and making you willing to sacrifice anything that would mar its presence in yourself.

For numerous people, God provided this glimpse of beauty, a beauty shaped and molded for heaven, in Amy. I was able to hold in the tears until Mass this morning. As I worshipped there, knowing that my own meager devotion was joined with the perfect songs and prayers of the saints in heaven, the awareness that the beauty of heaven had, in a way, increased while the beauty of this earth had, in the same way, lessened could not be avoided.

I wanted to thank all of you who prayed for Amy and ask you to continue to pray for her husband, Todd and her family, Frank and Nancy, Michelle, Angie and Mike.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Christmas, Faith, Holiness, Hope, Jesus

Joy Has Come

“You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (Psalm 16:11)
Christmas has come. The simplicity and quiet of the celebrations this year (compared to how it is normally when the entire family gathers at my parents’ house) is lending itself to being more Christ-centered and reflective. I’m enjoying that a lot. It can be a difficult enough task, so any help is welcome. Fr. Mark’s homily on Christmas Eve was a compelling call to strip away all the wants of this life and want, above all, a “happy ending” to this life, or more truly a “happy eternal beginning.” Then yesterday, my friend, Erin, shared a little with me from Fr. Mike Chenier’s Christmas morning homily.
Fr. Mike is my friend, Mike, whom I mentioned previously in the post asking for prayers for his sister, Amy. That post can be found here. Excepting a miracle according to God’s great will, Amy is expected to live another one to three months. She is confused a lot of the time and has difficulty communicating now. The whole thing continues to break my heart. I have wept for Fr. Mike, who has been dear to me for so long, and for Amy, who ranks among the sweetest and most good-humored people I’ve been privileged to know. All of it breaks my heart in a way that tears away any pretense I might hold onto of knowing what this life will or won’t bring for me or my loved ones. The sense of vulnerability, our inability to sustain our own lives, and the prevailing authority of God as the Author of our lives is strong. I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind in the last few weeks.
What Erin shared from Fr. Mike’s homily has provided some necessary rounding out of these contemplations. I do wish I could have heard his sermon but the bits of summary have given me ample mental soil to work with this Christmas. He preached on joy, on the joy of Mary and Joseph and his and Amy’s joy, too. Joy instead of bitterness; that’s what was chosen by the Holy Family in the face of unavoidable suffering, certain hardship, and disconcerting mystery. Total entrustment of their lives to God’s Providence allows for this joy. The loss of all the plans and expectations for their personal lives; facing the unknown of what God was asking of them, taking from them, and giving to them, all of it could have led to fear and bitterness, even self-pity. Sorrow over the losses could take hold with no release; surely we all know people for whom this has been the case. This was not so for them. The sorrow and grief may be real but they are not the highest powers. Instead there is joy. True joy that comes from peace; true peace that comes from hope; true hope that comes from faith in the God who promises to never leave us, to always carry us back to Him, to be our “fullness of joy” for all eternity. Fr. Mike shared that in this most harrowing of times for his family, there is joy. Amy has joy; he has joy. I don’t know if I can think of another example that more effectively teaches me of the difference in depth and worth between joy and happiness. What a glorious sign of holiness when a soul still genuinely rejoices in the Lord when all sources of happiness are stripped away. I am humbled by the sight of this holiness in my friends.
Advent, Catholicism, Faith, Hope

What’s Your Compass?

As a Catholic I get to celebrate two New Years. This past Sunday signified the end of the Church year (the liturgical cycle of feast days and seasons commemorating the great truths, events and mysteries of Christ and the Church). With this coming Sunday, the new Church year is inaugurated by the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent: that holy season of preparation, waiting, anticipation, contemplation. During Advent we have a two-fold focus in our liturgies (and are invited to have them in our personal prayers as well) of the Incarnation, when the Son of God assumed a human nature to dwell among us for our salvation, and the Parousia, when that same Person shall return at the close of time for the final judgment of all men and women ever created. It’s a rich set of weeks, easily missed in the bustle of the “holiday season” celebrated by shopping centers and television programming.

Lately I’ve been troubled by how few things there are that I can count on, especially how few events or experiences I can count on happening. At any given moment, I could probably think of a dozen things that I want to happen, even that I have genuine hope of happening, but there is truly only one event left that I can count on happening. That is the coming of Christ. The 2nd Coming, to be specific. The glorious return of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, triumphant and final. Nothing else is guaranteed.

Is this a pessimistic, negative, ‘to hell with all my work and plans’ sort of perspective? Or is it a realistic, positive, ‘everything only matters in light of Christ’ perspective? I suppose it’s neutral in itself. But how do I apply it? How am I influenced by it? That’s where the rubber meets the road. Accepting and grasping this truth can shape those wants and hopes I have from day to day, year to year, as well as my reactions when they either do or do not come to fruition. The lasting weight of anything that happens in this life is only measurable in terms of eternity, e.g. did this loss unite me more closely to Christ? Did this gain incline me toward praise of and thanksgiving to God? “God works all things for the good of those who love Him,” assuming I freely submit to His divine Providence.

In a recent discussion with some fellow Catholics, the question came up of whether or not we were wasting our time to be pondering Heaven. What can we know of it? What can we hope for? What will it be like? Admittedly, we are almost laughably limited in our capacity to understand or grasp the reality of Heaven. So do we waste our time by thinking about it? I argued vehemently, no. Pondering Heaven (or likewise, the end of time when Christ will return) is not a waste of my time. To explore the reality of Heaven is to explore my destination, my eternal homeland. To contemplate the return of Christ in all His victorious glory is to contemplate the final, definitive consummation of love. All that was begun when God, out of the abundance of His love, created the heavens and the earth and all who dwell there, all that was redeemed and reconciled by the sacrifice of perfect, divine love in Jesus Christ on the Cross, all that is hoped for and sought by the generations of faithful believers since will be completed by His return. The Kingdom of God, that mysterious ‘now but not yet’ reality of what Jesus has done and what we are cooperating with by grace and free will, shall then be everything there is and ever will be.

The mind boggling truth that I get to contribute to this coming of the Kingdom has the power to shape every day that I live on this earth. Contemplation of the adventus, the coming of Christ at the end of time, does not cause me to neglect the things that make up my earthly life. Rather it informs that life, contextualizing it and directing it. Heaven is our true north.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Catholicism, Faith, Hope, Jesus

What It Means

I’ve just finished reading What It Means to Be a Christian by Joseph Ratzinger, who is now known as Pope Benedict XVI. This is a book of 3 sermons he gave one Advent season a few decades ago. The beauty of this book, in my opinion (formed by reading some of his other writings though far from all of his writings), is the applicability to all of us. While many might struggle with some of his other work (I like to think I’m an intelligent human being but sometimes the level of his intelligence and insight makes me feel like an uneducated child), this book is straightforward, simple to read and easy to internalize and contemplate. What better matter to internalize and contemplate than the meaning of being a Christian? Anyway, I had so many page corners folded over so that I could go back and reread passages and think them over properly that I couldn’t pass up the temptation to blog some of my thoughts. This may take a while…

p. 19 (regarding the evils in the world; all that seems as if it shouldn’t occur in a supposedly redeemed world) – “we quite often run a particular risk: that of not wanting to see these things. We live with shades down over our windows, so to speak, because we are afraid that our faith could not stand the full, glaring light of the facts… But a faith that will not account for half of the facts or even more is actually, in essence, a kind of refusal of faith, or, at least, a very profound form of scepticism that fears faith will not be big enough to cope with reality… In contrast to that, true believing means looking the whole of reality in the face, unafraid and with an open heart, even if it goes against the picture of faith that, for whatever reason, we make for ourselves.”

  • This was the first passage to jump from the page and into my thoughts for hours afterward. It is true that I often live this way, keeping the blinders on or downplaying the evils that exist and that I even personally encounter. I succumb to it often. My faith is strong, I might claim. My faith is steady. But does it maintain its strength and steadiness because I do not expose it to such tests as the world makes readily available to me, or because that faith has faced – openly, fervently, confidently – all that contradicts it?
  • The author doesn’t bring it up, but I think also of the pitfall of living in a constant test of faith. There are those who are consumed by all that isn’t well, all that ‘ought’ to be different. Their faith becomes desperate; never at rest in God’s peace, never reassured by hope. Though it may compel them to work for the common good and combat evil, they might not be able to slow down and explain to themselves or others why they are doing any of it. They might not trust in the surpassing power of grace and love that is our cause for hope.
  • I am also reminded of the words of John Paul II when he stated that teachers of the faith are called to teach Christianity “in all its rigor and vigor.” Whole, without fear, not balking at the risk of rejection or challenge.

pp. 35-37 – “Advent is a reality, even for the Church. God has not divided history into a light half and a dark one… There is only one, indivisible history, and it is characterized as a whole by the weakness and wretchedness of man, and as a whole it stands beneath the merciful love of God, who constantly surrounds and supports this history… for all of us God is the origin from which we come and yet still also the future toward which we are going. And that means, furthermore, that for all of us God cannot be found except by going to meet him as the One who is coming, who is waiting for us to make a start and demanding that we do so. We cannot find God except in this exodus, in going out from the coziness of our present situation into what is hidden: the brightness of God that is coming.”

  • This is part of the chapter entitled “The Hidden God”. Talk about perspective! All of time is an Advent season. I suppose I’ve already learned this, but I don’t think of it outside of the weeks preceding Christmas. To consider all of our days as Advent days, days of preparing and moving out from ourselves and toward God, is an enlightened understanding of history. The question of why there are such evils, such atrocities in a world that has been visited by Christ, a ‘redeemed’ world as we wish to categorize it, becomes a null question. Yes, this world has received Christ, has access to His grace and divine life, but we cannot forget that we are still not at our destination. Every generation, whether before or after Christ’s Incarnation and Paschal Mystery, is a generation of individuals beckoned to move toward a hidden God – individuals who have to choose.
  • The chapter goes on to speak of this hiddenness. In all His ways, God has remained hidden. Not entirely so, for do we not have Divine Revelation and above all, the Incarnation? Yet even in those events, speaking by human hands and voices, coming in human form; so humble, so veiled in His great glory. I demand signs and answers to prayers and declarations of His will; I wonder why He doesn’t make Himself more obvious. Who am I, though, to demand that He act differently for me than He has always acted toward humanity? And who am I to suppose I could handle Him without the veil of mystery?! He does come; He does reveal. I must seek Him in the hiddenness He employs.

pp. 39-40 “God’s incognito is intended to lead us onward into this ‘nothing’ of truth and love, which is nevertheless in reality the true, single, and all-embracing absolute, and that is why in this world he is the hidden One and cannot be found anywhere else but in hiddenness.”

  • This passage follows Ratzinger’s summary of Pascal’s teaching that there are 3 orders that exist – the quantitative order that is the object of all science, that is inexhaustible; the order of the mind, which doesn’t seem like much compared to all that exists in the quantitative order but is truly greater than that order because it is by the mind that we are able to “measure the entire cosmos”; thirdly, the order of love, of which he says “a single motion of love is infinitely greater than the entire order of mind, because only that represents what is a truly creative, life-giving, and saving power.”
  • God’s hiddenness compels us to move forward in faith, to dive into the reality of His love and mercy which cannot be fit into any of the categorical, measurable parameters a human mind is capable of using and understanding. We have to humble ourselves and seek Him in His veil of mystery, in His subtlty.
pp. 53-55 (regarding the “breakthrough” moment in the history of creation when Creator and creature meet, when God becomes man and enters human history) – “it becomes apparent that what seems at first to be perhaps just some speculation or other about the world and things in general includes a quite personal program for us ourselves. For man’s awesome alternative is either to align himself with this movement [toward God and toward becoming like God], thus obtaining for himself a share in the meaning of the whole, or to refuse to take this direction, thereby directing his life into meaninglessness… Becoming a Christian is not at all something given to us so that we, each individual for himself, can pocket it and keep our distance from those others who are going off empty-handed. No: in a certain sense, one does not become a Christian for oneself at all; rather, one does so for the sake of the whole, for others, for everyone… It should be enough for us to know in faith that we, by becoming Christians, are making ourselves available for a service to the whole… it means moving out of that selfishness which only knows about itself and only refers to itself and passing into the new form of existence of someone who lives for others.”
  • The great paradox of Christian life, of knowing God’s love and offer of salvation for you personally while realizing He does not offer it for your sake alone but for the sake of the whole of humanity. Is it not incredible that by becoming a Christian we are made able to serve God in whatever way He chooses?
  • Ratzinger mentions that it is not always for us to understand how God is using us or why He asked a service of us at a particular time or in a particular way. I see in this the reality that by faith we actually become enveloped by God’s hiddenness. Our lives are given an aspect of mystery, of ‘incognito,’ like God! It is a thrilling prospect.
p. 74-75 – “For what faith basically means is just that this shortfall that we all have in our love is made up by the surplus of Jesus Christ’s love, acting on our behalf. He simply tells us that God himself has poured out among us a superabundance of his love and has thus made good in advance all our deficiency. Ultimately faith means nothing other than admitting that we have this kind of shortfall; it means opening our hand and accepting a gift… [this reception of the gift] is grasping at nothing unless there is someone who can fill our hands with the grace of forgiveness. And thus once again everything would have to end in idle waste, in meaninglessness, if the answser to this, namely, Christ, did not exist.”
  • I am unsure how to comment on this. The starkness of this truth hits me hard enough. The prospect of nothingness, of meaninglessness, is dark; it is terrible. Consider that every moment for us is a pivot point. There is always a turning, always a movement: toward Him to receive Him and follow Him, or away from Him into meaninglessness. But faith, oh that great, great gift of faith! Faith places into our hands the truth, the reality of Christ, which lends all meaning to all of life.
Hope, Writing

The Waiting

My heart is heavy today. Not with distress or sadness, but with weighty thoughts and the unshakable need to pray. Yesterday did not end until 2 a.m. today, as I couldn’t bear to put down a particular novel I’d started reading earlier this week. The very satisfying ending did so much more than leave me happy. It compelled me to pray, to fall into the Lord’s hands and ask the questions I fear asking.

Besides the book, two other things have me asking those questions. One is a potential relationship I’d been excited to pursue until I was stopped in my tracks by a conflicting relationship. I feel I must step back and let it go, though I wish, wish, wish that wasn’t required. I am tempted to be selfish in this case, to not think of others with higher regard than myself, as the Scriptures would advise. Secondly, there is the reality that I have yet to hear back from the single, desirable publisher who has said they are considering my novel. No word for what feels like half a year, though it’s been a bit less than that, and no new ideas for who else to send the manuscript to when the likely negative answer is received. I cannot pretend I know what to do next.

This morning I read an article that continued the route my heart had taken up last night. The phrase “faithfully serving the Lord where He had placed [me]” keeps circling my mind. The author’s use of it had a nature of waiting and of contentment, allowing God to bring more into her life without specifically pursuing the ‘more’ at the expense of the ‘now.’ Perhaps it is the discouragement winning out against the drowning optimism, but I am nagged by the question of whether or not I am running from contentment. Do I write in order to avoid fully engaging in the placement the Lord has given me? Do I write because I am trying to create a life of my own planning and pursuit, rather than His? Because it’s begun to feel that way. If I gave it up and immersed myself in the circumstances in which He has placed me, would I be glad for doing so? Would I be grateful to be rid of that ongoing frustration of not being able to immerse myself in both? Or would I be sacrificing a calling, shutting down some of the life in me?

My prayer last night (or this morning, rather) ended with the idea of hope. I hope for things unseen, as every hope must be. My hope is for plans and life and love, unseen by me. But not by Him. I guess I just want to be where He prefers me to be, and do what He prefers me to do. I don’t want to have my back turned as He’s bringing a plan to fruition in my life, as He’s opening a door. I don’t want to pursue the ‘more’ at the expense of the ‘now’, but I do so passionately want more than there is now.

Hope

Distracted by Hope

This morning I’m having trouble concentrating. Maybe it’s the sunshine, my view of which the cubicle walls are cruelly obstructing. Maybe it’s the weekend full of good things that I didn’t want to see end. Maybe it’s the fact that I just noticed the bat is missing from the Ryan Braun bobblehead that stands next to my monitor… … Okay, found Ryan’s bat. Anyway, whatever the combination of causes, I am distracted today. I am trying to decide what could help. A mind-clearing walk would probably do the trick, especially if that walk took me to the adoration chapel for some time in prayer.

I’m wrestling with hopefulness. Optimism comes naturally to me, 92% of the time, but it also has a history of disappointing me. The call to be hopeful, as a Christian, is always resonating in my heart, compelling me to see the possibility in things, the potential and the silver lining. I can feel it pulling at me again. The great hope of eternal life won for me by Christ (the hope that doesn’t disappoint) spills over into littler hopes. But are there times that prudence or wisdom would have me curb the hopefulness, temper the optimism? The long fall when smaller hopes disappoint can really bruise.