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“In the morning, O LORD, you will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” Psalm 5:3
In his ministry, Jesus was on the move teaching, healing and delivering people. Jesus was not sitting around meditating all day but going about doing the Father’s Will. Jesus is fully human and fully Divine. Being fully human, Jesus, like us, needed to rest and be refreshed. What did he do when he needed to rest?
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35
In the morning just before daylight fully blooms, I love sitting at my kitchen table just looking out the window at the stillness of the morning. There is something about the early dawn that beckons me to enter into a quiet time with God. God is speaking to me all day long but it is really in the quiet of the morning that I can better listen to His voice. His voice comes to me in his Written Word and in the silence of my heart. It is a time to be refreshed and renewed.
Like Jesus we all need to go apart from our to-do-lists and our agenda for the day, and spend a little time with the Master. When we do take this time, our to-do-lists and our agenda for the day seems to run smoother with less frustration.
We are all busy and we might think we have no time to sit and be quiet before Our Lord. No one was ever busier than Jesus. He had a mission and sometimes He changed His direction in order to help someone in need. His ministry flowed from an intense pray time with the Father.
Sometimes I get busy and I do not take time for quiet pray. On those days, I have less peace and I am more impatient with myself and others. Even if it requires that I rise a little bit early to enter into this quiet time, I come away always refreshed and more peaceful. I am better able to handle the challenges of the day.
Dear God, help me to enter into a time of quiet each day with Jesus. Let me hear your voice every morning in the silence of my heart. Refresh me with your word and renew my spirit that I may zealously do everything for your glory. Amen.'
My best friend Alice shared an experience that changed my life and started me on an amazing spiritual journey.
Ever since we met as children, I had been awed by her gentleness and kindness. She never willingly hurt anyone. Even when she was wrongly accused, she never justified herself but took all the blame upon herself. I often wondered how she was able to be so gracious, so one day I asked her. She simply replied, “I picture the sacred heart of Jesus in my heart. Whenever I am tempted to say or do anything wrong, I feel that Jesus will suffer and that is how I am able to keep away from sin.”
She then turned back to me and asked, “Agnes, don’t you know that Jesus longs to dwell in your heart?” I yearned to share this image of Jesus inside me too, so I decided to pray about it. From that day, every evening I went upstairs and asked Jesus to share an image of His sacred heart with me. One night, I had a dream about Veronica wiping the face of Jesus and receiving His image on her veil! I finally realized that wiping the wounds of Jesus would imprint the picture of Jesus on my heart.
Now my thoughts turned to finding ways I could wipe His wounds. I got another child-like idea. Every evening I would go for a walk with Jesus. I imagined myself as a little child, accompanying Mary during His sorrowful Passion. From the time I was very little, I could walk up to Him, without the soldiers stopping me, then look up into the face of Jesus.
As I walked along, I would slowly recall the negative ways I had reacted to adversity. Then, I would picture Jesus gazing back at me, encouraging me to do better. Each day I would divulge my present sorrows to Jesus, cleansing away the tarnish that had hindered my soul from discerning Him clearly. It became really delightful. In my prayer, I began to envisage my dear ones accompanying me on this daily journey, so they, also, could be purified by the precious blood that fell from His wounds. As we approached the scene of His crucifixion, Jesus reminded me to imitate Him, by forgiving all those who had injured me. Until I let go of my grievances, I was not able to follow Him any further.
As I stood by His cross, clinging to Mary’s hand, Jesus showed me how much He suffered whenever anyone fell into a mortal sin. Every time we lend a helping hand to lovingly assist those who have fallen away from Christ, it comforts the sacred heart of Jesus! Each day I spent accompanying Jesus and Mary along the way of the cross revealed more about the mystery of salvation.
This Lenten season, I encourage you to walk with Jesus, just like a little child. May this journey help you compare your sorrows with the sufferings He bore and share the load with Him. By recalling previous setbacks, we may realize we are still carrying unnecessary burdens for no reason at all! Let us invite Our Lord to polish off the tarnish from our hearts so we may shine with purity. His radiant love will then glow in our hearts and reveal the presence of Christ to all around us.'
Does Jesus Still Heal?
Do You Really Believe It?
“By His [Jesus’] wounds you have been healed,” was one of Father Rick Thomas S.J.’s favorite scriptures (1 Peter 2:24). Father Thomas founded the lay community I belong to, and he taught us the Lord is still in the healing business. He said that we should pray for people to be healed and give the Lord a chance to intervene. Over the years, we have seen the Lord work many marvels. It is wonderful to witness what God wants to do for us today.
I have prayed for many people but one day I came to the Lord with a healing need of my own. Due to many factors, I had been under a lot of stress over many months. Because it involved hours of computer use reading documents and files, my eyes were strained. They were often bloodshot, and my right eye especially was inflamed and sore. Although I tried to slow down and get some rest, my right eye continued to bother me.
Before I made an appointment with the eye doctor to get my eyes examined, I decided to pray for healing. “Lord Jesus, You can do anything. Nothing is impossible for You. Please heal my eyes.” Short and to the point, like Father Rick taught us to pray.
That same morning I went to Mass. After receiving Communion, an image came into my mind of the muscles surrounding the eye. They looked very strained and tight. Then I felt a warm, tingly sensation start to flow over my right eye and spread to the area around it. This feeling lasted for several minutes. It was accompanied by a strong sense of the Lord’s love for me. I sat in silence soaking it all in, thanking the Lord for whatever He was doing. My heart filled with gratitude and peace.
Throughout that day, whenever my eye felt sore I paused to pray. The same feeling of warmth flooded over my eye and across the right side of my face. The day was a busier one than usual, so it was not until the next morning that I had time to sit and reflect upon what had happened. When I did, I realized my eye had stopped hurting altogether. The constant pain of many weeks had completely disappeared. I thanked the Lord for healing me. Ever since that day my eyes have had no pain at all, not even a twinge!
This experience taught me that nothing is too small for us to bring to His attention. We can and should ask for healing for ourselves and those we love. Jesus healed many people when He walked on this earth, and He can do it again for you and for me.'
As a gardener, I often ruminate over the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8: 4-15). In every season, I find it very valuable to re-evaluate what I am doing to cultivate the soil of my heart. Here is the parable of the Sower for you to recollect:
The Parable of the Sower
When a large crowd gathered, with people from one town after another journeying to Him, He spoke in a parable. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and was trampled, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, it withered for lack of moisture. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.” After saying this, He called out, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
The Purpose of the Parables
Then His disciples asked Him what the meaning of this parable might be. He answered, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand.’”
The Parable of the Sower Explained
“This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the word of God. Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved. Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial. As for the seeds that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit. But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”
How To Cultivate the Soil of Our Heart?
In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the Apostles that the seed is the Word of God, but unlike a farmer who tries to only plant his seeds in good soil Our Lord throws the seed indiscriminately. He throws it on hardened soil, rocky soil, soil that has thorny plants and good soil. We should be like Him, sowing seeds of faith everywhere we go, not worrying about the state of anyone’s soil. We can trust God to water and till the soil so it will bear fruit. However, we cannot offer something we do not have—we must first cultivate our own soil. At the beginning of each season, I ask myself what the state of my soil is, what rocks need to be thrown away, what thorny plants uprooted.
On the Hardened Way
Is my heart so hardened or distracted that when I hear the Word of God I pay it no mind? Are there specific things the Church teaches with which I disagree? Am I pridefully thinking that I know better? I pray to be docile and attentive to the Word. As a teenager, I only went to church to sing. I did not believe in God and in my heart scoffed at the scripture that was read out loud. I had ears to hear but my heart was so hard that the devil had no problem snatching up the seed. It is frightening to think that had I died back then I would have rejected Jesus and His saving grace. I had no sanctifying grace and I was so far from God that I did not even have the ability to see the truth of Christ. I could have chosen hell … for all eternity.
From Rocky Road to Stepping Stone
Rocks are the temptations of life. It is not a sin to be tempted. In fact, God uses temptations to test us and strengthen us in our will to do the right thing. Even Jesus was tempted in the desert. We can use His ways to fight temptation—by knowing and using the Word of God. Because we are weak creatures, we succumb to temptations and end up sinning. When we commit a mortal sin, we separate ourselves from God. Thank God He has given us the Church to provide sacraments to help us repair our relationship with God.
At a retreat he offered, Father Leo Patalinghug taught us an easy ABCD method to fight sin.
A: Avoid the Near Occasion of Sin
This is the easiest way—not to get into tempting situations in the first place. I had a Facebook account for three years to connect with other writers in small groups, but I wasted too much time on it so I deleted my account.
B: Bypass it
Walk away if you find yourself in a tempting situation. For example, instead of joining gossiping coworkers I can choose to walk away.
C: Control it
This takes will power and a willingness to try and try again. For example, I am hot- headed so I try not to speak when I am angry. I have to be careful, even when the anger is righteous, because harsh words can drive people away from God.
D: Destroy it
Replace sinful habits with good habits. For example, procrastination is a bad habit and it can become sinful because our time does not belong to us but to God. I replaced the half an hour I spent surfing the Internet with half an hour contemplating the Word of God. The daily Mass readings are an excellent way to destroy a wide variety of sins. Confession is the ultimate weapon because we must admit and confront our sins and receive the graces we need to make the necessary changes.
In my teens and 20s, my life was full of rocks—particularly lust, greed and pride. Even after conversion, I discovered rock, after rock, after rock. I am thankful the Holy Spirit did not reveal all the rocks at once, otherwise I would have given up hope. Fortunately, God does not just reveal the rocks, He provides the help needed to dig them out as He brings them to the surface.
Choked by the Thorns
Thorns are the comforts, cares and pleasures this world offers. It is not a sin to enjoy good things but when they consume us they choke the Word, leaving no time or space in our lives to grow in the Word. Most of us are too busy trying to earn money, prestige or power so we must remove these thorns. This is arduous because, unlike thorns that cause immediate pain, our riches bring us pleasure and we do not feel them piercing us. I am very fond of good food; I enjoy cooking and going out to eat but I can spend too much mental energy, time and money on food instead of writing the stories God has placed upon my heart.
We can discern the goodness of a thing or a situation by examining whether it is bringing us closer to God or drawing us away. Thank the Lord for all the good gifts of the earth and ask Him how to use those gifts. Ask to develop detachment so we are able to part with good things and store up our treasure in heaven instead. For example, fasting on a regular basis (Fridays) helps build the discipline needed to develop detachment to food.
Growing Deeper Roots
We may think it is impossible to rid ourselves of habitual sins and favorite pleasures but with God all things are possible. With His help we can till and fertilize the soil of our hearts so we will bear a rich harvest and be capable of sowing the seeds of faith. This year, what rocks will you throw out of your life? What thorny plants will you uproot?
Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28).'
While sitting before the exposed Blessed Sacrament during adoration, I once happened to receive a deep insight on how our lives revolve around Jesus. The huge monstrance that strikingly resembles the rays of the Sun brought to mind the vast universe and the solar system we live in.
As we all know, our solar system consists of the Sun and the planets that orbit around it. Some of the planets such as the Mercury get most of the light from the Sun as it revolves more closely. While those that orbit far away from the Sun such as the Neptune receive very little amount of light, and so known to be colder and darker planet. At the same time, there are other objects which don’t orbit the Sun at all but just float in space.
About two thousand years ago, Jesus proclaimed that He is the light of the world. Curiously we find people of that time moving in different orbits around Jesus. Those who walked very closely with Him received much light: they grew stronger in faith, hope, love, and grace was abounding in their lives. While others who stood far away from Jesus, obtained much less light: they doubted, questioned and continued to live in darkness.
Now let us closely look at the people who chose different orbits around Jesus:
- Just like those extraterrestrial objects which merely float in space and does not orbit the sun, we find people who never recognized Jesus. This brings to mind the soldiers who needed Judas to identify Jesus.
- In the outermost orbit comes the great crowd who identified Jesus. They followed him, sought healing, miracles and were satisfied with their fill of loaves.
- Take heart! Jesus did have people who followed him more closely than the crowd. Remember the seventy-two disciples who were sent ahead of Him to different towns.
- Now we are moving closer to the Sun, and those who orbit Him now are those handpicked by Jesus Himself—His twelve apostles.
- The innermost, closest orbit Jesus had was Peter, John and James. These three disciples were so close to His heart and received most of His light.
Even today Jesus continues to be the radiant Sun for this world. Those invisible orbits still exist, and people are orbiting around him at different distances. ‘How close is my orbit from Jesus?’ is the question we need to ask ourselves.
Where am I?'
During the offertory time of the Holy Mass, I sometimes close my eyes rather than sing the beautiful hymn. One Sunday, I had my eyes closed while I listened to the Offertory hymn. The song reminded me of the melody of a graceful slow waltz.
In my mind’s eye, I pictured Jesus walking toward me, looking into my eyes and bending in front of me to take my hand and gently kiss it. Then, He invited me to dance with Him. I saw myself not as an adult but as a child with a flowing white dress and dainty white shoes. I placed my tiny feet on His large feet and so the waltz began. He swirled me around and around with incredible grace. As the waltz finished, I pictured Jesus leading me back to my pew and kissing my hand. As He did so I distinctly heard him whisper, “Prepare your heart to receive Me.” The tears softly flowed down my checks as I felt His love penetrating and transforming me.
I love to watch couples dance. I am not a dancer as I have two left feet. Despite my best efforts, if I attempt a waltz I end up tripping and stomping all over my unfortunate partner’s feet. I am so clumsy.
I kept pondering the image of Jesus dancing with me. Even though I try to be a good Catholic, I often end up tripping and stubbing my toes—and other people’s toes—along the way.
However, Jesus takes my feeble attempts at the practice of my faith and transforms them with His grace. He turns my journey of faith into a heavenly waltz. My prayer is that I always remember to take Jesus’ hand and enter into His dance of love.
I also contemplated the words I heard Jesus say to me, “Prepare your heart to receive Me.” How do you prepare to receive Jesus in the eucharist? I try to read the scripture readings before Mass and reflect upon them. I like to arrive a little early for Mass to pray the rosary since Our Blessed Mother helps to prepare my heart to receive her son, Jesus. As the priest raises the host and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God …” I whisper, “Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I come to receive You, sinful and sorrowful. I beg Your mercy upon me.”
Let us face it, none of us could ever adequately prepare our hearts to receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, Jesus takes our feeble preparation and showers us with His merciful love. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Jesus, You are all that I need.
Jesus, You are all that I want.
Jesus, You are worthy of all my praise.'
Being a Christian is a great calling, but do you know what it really takes to be one?
“What you are is God’s gift to you; what you become is your gift to God.”
To be a Christian is a beautiful calling because it essentially means to be a “follower of Christ.” In a deeper way, it calls you to be Christ-like in all you do. You are called to be a part of the saving mission of Jesus, reaching out to others with the good news He shared more than 2,000 years ago. Sadly, we frequently fail to participate in this mission.
As followers of Jesus, we are chosen to bring his good news to others as we find them. The Church does not wait for people to come to her; rather, she seeks them out and goes to them. Such an outward looking, missionary Church lives and breathes a “culture of encounter” (Pope Francis).
For this encounter to happen, we have to embrace some fundamental attitudes. The first is radical dependence on God instead of human initiative and maneuvering. As the Psalmist reminds us: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour” (Psalm 127). That is why Jesus instructed His disciples to venture forth without carrying staff or sackcloth. In other words, they were to be totally dependent upon God’s grace as they carried out the Church’s missionary endeavor.
The second is a willingness to be formed in Christ. To proclaim the Gospel is first and foremost the communication of the experience of Christ himself—as Saint Paul says, “To know Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Communicating the Gospel is offering others the opportunity to have a personal encounter with Jesus, the perfect image of the living God.
Knowing Christ profoundly changes our heart. We are called to be missionary disciples at our baptism but before Jesus sends us out He forms us so we can become effective witnesses to His resurrection.
How are we formed? Put simply, through prayer and suffering. Let us look at the first disposition and save the latter for another reflection. Prayer is an ongoing conversation between you and Jesus. Before we exercise our ministry we simply have to listen attentively. Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see that listening has to come before acting. That is not to denigrate action but this should be the chronological relationship between the two. The problem is that we tend to act without attending to the Word of God and trouble always follows from that. Action is essential but action without contemplation is ineffective. Listen first, then act.
Let God speak to you through Lectio Divina— meditatively reading the Bible. Set aside some time to slowly ponder the daily readings (Lectionary) and as you read consider how the Word of God is speaking to you.
At the same time, do not be afraid of the silence. God does not usually speak directly to you, however the quietness is not empty but “charged with the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manly Hopkins). Enjoy the peace as you sit patiently in God’s presence and He will recharge you with the strength to face your dilemmas. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46).
Praying is like breathing. We pray because it is essential for our survival and growth as a child of God. When you or someone you know is sick or troubled bring these concerns to your Father. He will heed you in the same way as good parents listen to their children. As you pray, call on Our Lady and the saints to join you and Christ will also be there with you. “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18:20).
As your prayer life deepens you may pass through stages. Letting go (purgative) may be followed by being imaginatively and cognitively present (meditative) and eventually you may experience unitive consciousness— resting in God. If you reach this stage repose in that union, not just in church or during prayer but in every action. Transformation becomes all-encompassing.
That is why Paul talks about praying always. Consequently, all our great liturgical prayers are prayed through Him. At Mass we do not pray to Jesus. WE PRAY THROUGH JESUS!
Saint Joan of Arc said at her trial: “There is one thing I know—the risen Christ and the Church are the one and the same.” We are the body of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Spirit is flowing through you to the Father when you act according to His holy will. When you become His instrument you pray through Jesus. Your hands do His work. You meet Him in every person in need. You receive the body of Christ and enter into union with Him. In a sense, as members of the body of Christ we are becoming Jesus. To be conformed to Him we let go of the boundaries between us and unite with Him..
O God, lead me to deeper prayer that my life may be formed in knowing and loving Jesus. Let my inner self be transformed to radiate the light of Christ. Help me to reach out to others with the touch of your unceasing love. Amen.'
Having dozed off while studying, I heard a knock. I immediately raced to the door, my heart pounding, with the hope of finding one of my new friends waiting for me at the entrance. The opened door revealed no one. Yet my hopes were not completely dashed and, in expectant bewilderment, I peered down the hostel corridors for any sign of my anonymous knocker.
I was staying at a JMJ convent back then. As the church was adjacent to the hostel I went to the daily 6:30 a.m. Holy Mass. On the very first day I woke up early and got ready for Mass only to discover that the doors of the church were closed. Undaunted, I left, hoping to return soon with better prospects. I did, again and again and again, but all in vain.
My efforts only amounted to frustration. I turned in desperation to the statue of the Holy Family, which stood in front of the hostel. My feet drew me closer but as each step brought me nearer to the statue I felt my heart waiver in its earlier resolution to return to the church. “Shall I go?” I said with one step. “Or shall I not?” I said with the next. I reached the statue on a “not” so, taking one more step, I closed the last gap and gazed up at the child Jesus. I poured out my heart to child Jesus about my morning dilemma, telling Him how I had awoke early just to go to church, complaining to Him of the closed doors, reminding Him of all the times He had watched me walk to and from the church and back again, finally bewailing my frustration at the unfairness of the whole situation.
All I could see was a smile on His face. It was only after I had begun to walk away that His response reached my heart. “How many times have I come to your heart and found it closed?” He asked me. “Do you know how deeply it saddened me to wait outside the doors of your closed hear?!”
His words burned my soul and I spun around to see the dear face of the child Jesus. He was still smiling. What else could I do but smile in return? Through the closed doors of the church He had opened my eyes to the pain my own closed heart had brought Him.
I am familiar with the picture portraying Jesus standing in front of the door; to think of it as the door of my own heart, where He was waiting outside and knocking, was something that had never occurred to me. What pain I had caused Him because I had been too busy to open the door to let Him in!
“Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear My voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
We must constantly be reminded of our Lord’s presence outside our hearts! How ignorant we often are to the knocking on the door of our hearts! We must open our hearts to the Lord, who is a loving God and never tires of knocking, no matter how much our ignorance hurts Him. The child Jesus has inspired me to open the door of my heart. He is there, smiling, outside of yours as well. Will you let Him in?'
I am a very keen student pursuing English at my university. My studies have enhanced my ability to use context clues, find themes and analyze characters when it comes to reading literature. I do not just read it, I think as I read. I sometimes ponder how a particular character relates to this point in history, is my life similar to this plot, do I agree with the author’s point?
Simultaneously, I have been diving into scripture throughout my college years. The way I read in my English classes’ transfers to the way I read scripture. I do not just read the Bible to tell myself, “Today I read one psalm. Good job.” I read the Bible to bask in its beautiful mysteries.
What makes the Bible so much better than any piece of literature I have read in class is that the Bible was written out of love for me, about me. In the same way it was written out of love for you, about you. The Bible tells of our past trials and victories, present mysteries and promises, and future fulfillments of God’s love. It is not my homework; rather, it is my story. So, yes, my English homework has taught me how to pray.
The word of God is not meant to be skimmed over—it is living and effective, sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Think about it. For the one who grew up in the faith, hearing the same gospels and letters from Saint Paul, can get very repetitive. That is why I have found it necessary to read scripture with a new perspective every single time. When I open the Bible, I pray, “Lord, speak to me today. Here and now. What does Your word mean for me today, right now?”
Then He shows up! Despite having heard a certain scripture passage many times before, or even if I am reading it for the first time, God always speaks through it. I just need to be sure I am listening.
How do we hear God’s voice? Here are some examples:
In January 2018, through social media I noticed a lot of people were praying for a “word of the year.” The purpose of this prayer is to sit with God and ask Him to give you a word that would describe how your upcoming year would play out. Many women around the country were getting words such as “love, grace, free, still, joy.” I decided to pray as well. I sat down to listen, although not really sure for what, then in my head/heart I heard the word “deep.” My initial reaction was confusion but I also found it funny. Other women received somewhat concrete words while I received a broad, open- ended word. Unsure of what it meant entirely, I began the year with “deep” in my heart.
By December I looked back at the depth of God’s love in my life throughout the year. In the beginning of the year, God steered me away from an unhealthy friendship which I thought I was handling well (but God knew otherwise). God introduced me to new friends who encouraged me to not pray like it is a checklist but pray because I am encountering the living God. They encouraged me to form a deep relationship with God because He really loves me. God called out to my deep wounds that went unnoticed, brought them to the light and began the healing process. He went into the depths of my identity and showed me who I really was in Him. That was God speaking to me. When He gave me the word “deep” He was prophesying over my year to come.
God also speaks through people, His body. In January 2019, I went to confession with a random priest in a random city. After confessing my sins, the priest said, “You need to trust people.” First of all, I was confused as to how trust was an issue because the sins I mentioned did not really deal with that. I replied, “But it is hard.” Those words slipped out of my mouth. I did not plan on saying that aloud. The priest, who I had never met before, said, “I knew you would say that. But remember, I never said it was easy.”
I left that confession focusing on what it meant to trust others and reflecting on how I was failing to do that. A week or two later I went to confession with another random priest in another random city. After I confessed my sins, he gave me a lot of helpful advice. At the end he mentioned, “And maybe you should try trusting more.” Again, from my perspective, I did not think trust was the issue.
Then while reading the scripture I came upon Psalm 125:1: “Those trusting in the Lord are like Mount Zion, unshakable, forever enduring.” Later, while trying to get things organized for a group project, one of the reserved group members said, “Let me help you.” God knew what I needed to hear even though it sounded bizarre to me. He pursued me, speaking through various people in order for me to get the message.
Only He Would Know
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday, I had a decision to make: either go to the local March for Life rally or visit at-risk children I had been developing relationships with through an organization. I knew both would be promoting life but March for Life only happens once a year. It was a tough decision but through prayer I felt God wanted me to stay with the children.
When the Saturday came, I felt uneasy about my decision as a lot of my friends went to the rally. Some other people in the organization visited an at-risk family in another neighborhood. When all the organization’s volunteers united at the end of the day they said, “Oh Renee, by the way, a father from the other neighborhood was having a yard sale when we visited him. We saw he was selling ‘Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.’ We told him it was your favorite movie and he asked us to give it to you.”
When they handed me the movie, I felt that was God’s little way of telling me, “I see you. You didn’t miss out today. Be present. Look at all the life flowing here.” I do not think God was necessarily rewarding me for the decision I made but He wanted to confirm that He delights in me. God could have chosen a million ways to tell me that, but He creatively used my favorite movie to do so.
When God speaks to us, it does not necessarily have to be a literal voice. Just as I have listed, God has no limits in the ways He speaks to us, so be open to His promptings and movements in your life. I am praying for you.'
Twists and Turns
Every morning for nearly 14 years, I have opened my kitchen blinds and watched a group of sycamore trees behind our property grow. Sycamore trees are common in California and the developer of this area planted a variety named London Plane, not indigenous to Sacramento County. This variety grows fast and very tall; at full height, they can top out at more than 130 feet! Although they thrive well in the hot dry summers of the Sacramento area, they need full sun to grow to such majestic heights. They will bend and twist to find the sun, which in turn can give them interesting shapes.
One of these sycamore trees had a rocky start when, only a few years old, it became badly infested with aphids. That weakened the trunk, making it droop to nearly a 90-degree angle. It could no longer seek the sun and looked like it was going to be removed. Fortunately, a local arborist—through pruning, nourishment and time— was able to save the little tree. It recovered yet had to twist to reorient itself for its upward journey to the sun. The misshapen tree is still angled quite a bit but if one can say they love a tree, I have to say it: I love this tree! This tree has a story and its very shape reflects my story and perhaps yours as well.
I am a “Cradle Catholic” born of Cradle Catholics. Having strong Catholic roots, I grew on a solid sacramental journey through my Catholic school years. The catechism of my parents’ generation seemed to focus on the “dos and don’ts” of the church but the “whys and wherefores” also intrigued my young questioning mind. At some point, when my questions could not be answered to satisfaction, I was told to “take it on faith.” It sounded like loving Catholic advice but to a growing inquisitive child, who did not quite understand the concept of faith, it equated to: “I don’t know,” “ Because I said so” or “Don’t bother me.” Those words planted within me small seeds of doubt.
Those seeds grew and weakened the faith I had, much like what the aphids did to the tree. Thus, throughout my young adult years I tested, stretched and ignored many of God’s and the church’s teachings. This led to sinful thoughts and behaviors that ultimately ended in painful consequences. My journey toward Christ had become weighed down by sin, and I had bent so far that I was no longer actively seeking the Son.
God loved me mercifully and unconditionally. Even though I had stopped seeking Him, He never stopped seeking me. “For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick’” (Ezekiel 34:11, 16).
To Be or Not To Be
The years passed, I married young and had three sons before I was 30. We baptized our children and tried to make it to mass when we were not too tired or could not rationalize our way out of it. Although I was not actively seeking God, the roots were still strong enough to at least consider God as a sort of good insurance plan, sort of like a “get-out-of-hell-free” card.
In my early 30s, I questioned whether it was worth the effort of taking our kids to church. Our boys could be rambunctious and noisy. Sundays felt more frustrating than fulfilling. When I wearily fed, bathed and dressed the boys in their Sunday best, I weighed the pros and cons of such a decision. Thankfully, one Sunday forever changed my life. I packed bottles, snacks, books, toys, blankies and diapers, then our little family dutifully headed to mass.
For some odd reason, that Sunday I chose to sit in the front row. We never sat in the front. It only meant a longer walk of shame to the back of the church if one of the boys acted up. In retrospect, God had a hand in that decision. I had rationalized that perhaps they might behave if they could see what was happening on the altar. I surveyed their behavior after the Gospel … so far so good. The thought popped in my head, “Hey, I might actually get to listen to a homily for a change.” The priest began speaking on the topic of faith, which immediately caught and held my attention because its concept still felt elusive to me. Then he spoke words that pierced my heart. He said that faith is not a RIGHT. Faith is a GIFT. It is a grace given by God and we just need to ask for it. WHAT?
A Gift for All
I thought being a Cradle Catholic meant faith came with the insurance plan and I just did not understand the policy. I had a swirling mixture of emotions. I was mad that I had not been told this before. I was sad that it had taken so long to hear this information. Yet, I was glad and grateful that it was just as simple as asking for it! Boldly, then and there, I prayed. “God, if faith is a gift and all I have to do is ask for it, then I want it. I want the gift of faith. I want all of it and I want it now! I’ve lost my way. The weight of my sins is too heavy for me and I need faith so I can find my way back to You.” I sat there waiting. Nothing obvious happened, but somehow just asking brought me peace. Maybe I would keep coming to mass.
God works in His timing and although I did not immediately recognize what was happening, He began to bring His own arborists into my life. Through pruning, nourishment, time and love, He introduced me to people whose faith was strong and healthy. They in turn introduced me to God through their words and actions. Eventually, they introduced me to God’s word and that is when the real healing began. I started to read the Holy Bible daily and continued to ask questions. Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Every day I grew in a faith that led me back to the sacrament of reconciliation.
Like the little sycamore tree, I had to twist my thoughts and actions to reorient them toward Jesus. My life straightened out when I actively began to seek Him and the weight of sin no longer bent me away from His Son. I am still a work in progress needing God’s grace to grow upward. When I recently closed my kitchen blind, I noticed something for the first time; the sun was shining through the leaves and branches of that twisted little tree and the light it cast was interesting and beautiful. That became my simple prayer: May the Son cast His light through me to shine beautifully every day. Amen.'
During a silent retreat a number of years ago, as I was quietly kneeling before my Eucharistic Lord in adoration I was overwhelmed with the desire to pour out my heart and soul to Jesus. I began to silently weep. As the tears began to flow, I started writing these words from the depths of my heart:
Lord, deliver me from the depths of my own personal hell. Deliver me from the darkness within my soul. Deliver me from the bondage of the snares and traps of the devil. Deliver me, Lord, from the fear deep within that keeps me from loving You fully. Deliver me from my sinful pride that encompasses my being.
Deliver me, Lord, from my self- reliance that keeps me in bondage to self. Deliver me from my guilt and shame that keeps me from being still and know that you are God. Deliver me from the self-hatred that keeps me from embracing my King’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Deliver me Lord from the inclinations toward sin. Help me Lord to allow you to be God And I to be your child.
After pouring out my heart to my Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ, He gently began to speak in my heart these most tender and healing words:
“My child, I have come to set you free from all your bondages. I enter into the garden of your heart. I root out the sin of pride. It is rooted up and tossed into the sea. I cast out all your fear with My perfect love. I shower you with My ocean of mercy and love which is never-ending. I clothe you with purity. I clothe you in the white garment of salvation. I call to you my precious child. Come and allow Me to hold you and wash you clean. I toss your stony, sinful heart into the depths of hell. I give you a new heart. I place my heart in your heart. You are my child. I make you whole. Enter into the kingdom the Father has prepared for you. You are washed clean. You are as white as the fresh, fallen snow. You are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. You are my beloved child. You are My light for the world to see. Walk in My light and bring others to me so I can set them free.”
“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your body your stony heart and giving you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel: 36: 25-26)
May these words bring you comfort and peace. No matter what you are going through at this moment in your life, there is hope and healing. Allow Jesus to enter into the mess of your life. He is the healer of your heart. Jesus is waiting for you.'