Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for December, 2018

Feeling Reflectful, at Year’s End

“Reflectful” may not be a real word, but it’s the combination of letters that best ex”presses how I feel this early morning of last day of 2018.

Respectful” would mean “full of respect,” right? So “reflectful” might suggest being full of reflect(ion). OK, I admit that’s a stretch. But here I am…and by now you might have gathered that I sat down to this screen without a clue as to what I would write about today. I considered dragging out one of my reflections from last winter/spring, but then I realized I felt “reflectful,” so here goes.

Looking back, the year seems to have got behind me before I really even knew it was coming. There is a risk, here, of feeling regretful, of thinking about the year gone by as something that got away before I got the good out of it.

Not so! I think my sense that the year went by so quickly comes from having, for the most part, truly lived in the moment and from having focused more and more on being where God wants me, doing what He asks me to do in service to Him and to the people in my life. Rather than being focused on the passage of time, or being focused on the anticipation of future stuff, I was focused on right where I was…at least, most of the time.

Living in the [spiritual] moment gets one outside oneself. And I mean that quite literally. Living in this way leads away from self-centeredness and all of the pride, impatience, and annoyance that go with it, and toward a way of spending time that relies far less on what I want or expect and far more on what God wants and expects.

I really love how this works. It’s a grace thing. One day from this past year stands out especially vividly as an example. I got up on a Monday morning, enjoying the thought that I had a whole unscheduled day ahead of me and making plans for what I would do. My first stop was at 6:30 a.m. Mass, where I offered my gloriously unscheduled day to God and asked Him to show me how I could serve Him.

Sometimes prayers are answered with incredible swiftness. Before I left the chapel, I had text messages asking me to take care of not just one, not two, but all three of the little ones in my nearby family. I don’t remember exactly why, but Plan A for daycare for all 3 obviously had fallen through, and I’m Plan B.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when my initial response would have been along the lines of “Oh, great. Just when I had a nice quiet day planned. Shoot! Well, I guess I can make the best of it….” I’d have said “Sure,” and I’d have made it work, but I might have been less patient and caring than one would expect of the best Grannie in the world. Even if I didn’t express it outwardly, I’d have kind of resented the disruption in my plans.

But that morning, my response was much different. I remember looking at the messages and thinking, “Oh! So that’s what You have in mind for me today!” I responded immediately with an affirmative and some heart and smile emojis for good measure, and started thinking about the fun and hugs that were in store for me. Rather than praying for patience, I found myself simply asking to be the best Grannie to those little ones so that they would have a great day.

And this kind of response to what comes into my path in life has become more and more common over the past year. When I think about the year in retrospect, in my “reflectful” state of mind, what stands out to me is that over these days and weeks and months, I have stepped more and more out of my self. I’ve begun to be less concerned about what I think I want and more concerned about where God might lead me.

I’m finding this to be an incredibly liberating and energizing way to live my days. When I’m indulging a self-centered state of mind, I’m constantly anxious and worried about whether events and people and things are going to line up so that my plans can be carried out. But here’s the thing! If I’m pushy enough and vocal enough, I can get everything to line up so that my plans work. And when it’s done, I’m left with — at best — an incredibly blah sense of “So what?” and at worst, increased anxiety and even guilt, because I realize, when I’m honest with myself, that I’ve probably accomplished it at the expense of the comfort of the other people involved.

When I take myself and my plans out of the equation, and start looking outside of me to what’s good for the people around me, it all changes. Why should that me? And yet it does — pleasantly and repeatedly. I get to turn the “So what?” back in the right direction.

So what if we aren’t going to arrive at our destination 5-10 minutes early? I’m with people I love, and they deserve not to feel rushed just because I have this little compulsion about being early.

So what if I’m in a noisy, crowded place? Is there a way to set aside how I let it make me feel, and instead look for ways to have fun and to see Jesus in those around me — and for ways to let them see Him in me?

So what if the day isn’t going to go just as I planned it? Whose day is it, after all?

And it’s the answer to that last question that brings me back to the source of this reflectful state of mind, today, on the last day of 2018: Whose day is it, after all?

God created it. God gave it to me and to everyone around me. God gave this day to the world. It’s God’s day, and by grace I am living it with His blessing as His beloved child.

Dear Father God, thank You for this day. You’ve created it and given it to me to live in, and I ask humbly for Your grace to live it in a way that honors You and shows my love for You. Please show Yourself to me in everyone I meet, and use me, Lord. Use me to show Yourself to everyone I meet. And I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, because when I try to deal with the future I get trapped in that web of self-centeredness; but please, Father, give me the grace to wake up each morning with my first thoughts centered on gratitude for Your gifts and on how I can better serve You in that day and in the events and people You put before me. You loved me into being; You loved me into redemption; and You daily love me into greater holiness. Grant me grace to live always in that love. Amen.

Ready, Set … Now What?

We have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions.

What’s not to love about the idea of a fresh start? The first day of the first month of a brand-new year: What a great time to put all of the big and small failures of the past behind us and begin all over again, heading into a future full of opportunities and free of the pain of regret!

What we hate, even though we may not really know it when we are standing on the threshold of a new year, is the deep disappointment that accompanies the first slip. What we hate, even if we are somehow sort of expecting it, is the creeping malaise that comes with forgetting what we even promised ourselves when we were on the cusp of that new beginning.

Personally, I also hate the idea that this year, this time, someone — maybe even me, aha!!! — has come up with the magic bullet that’s going to kill all that disappointment. One article says, “Don’t make resolutions, make affirmations!” Another says, “Treat every day like New Year’s Day!” Yet another trumpets the benefits of just being good to yourself, and so it goes, on and on.

The prospect of a new year, a fresh start, is exciting and enticing and wonderful. It’s also temporary, and it’s kind of a poor substitute for the renewal we are really looking for.

No magic bullets here. The way we look at the New Year is, I think, a symptom of the deeper need we have. Call it the need for redemption, the quest for salvation, the God-shaped hole in our souls; call it what you will, making and breaking a bunch of resolutions is not going to fill it.

Over the years, I’ve covered the spectrum of all the ways to celebrate the New Year on the calendar. I’ve partied the new year in, sometimes so boisterously that the hangover didn’t hit until January 2. I’ve slept it in, trying, in a state of depression, to ignore the fact that life was going on around me. I’ve celebrated it sober, drunk, with friends, with family, alone, and not at all — not necessarily in that order.

And in more recent years, I’ve discovered a way that makes a lot more sense, and keeps me pointed in a direction that lets me move forward into the New Year with a sense of peace.

The foundation of this celebration, for me, is rooted in faith — and it’s all the more significant for me since it was not always so.

Here’s the thing. I don’t need to redeem myself, and if I need a fresh start, I always have one before me.

The redeeming has already been done. Did we not just celebrate the birth of Jesus, Who came as a tiny child and grew to become the promised Messiah? Do we not yet realize that as our Messiah, His death and resurrection provided us with redemption once and for all? Do we still not understand that in God’s constant mercy and willingness to forgive, we have a fresh start in front of us every time we turn to Him?

Since my return some seven years ago to a life centered in faith, about which I’ve written before, I’ve enjoyed a growing sense of peace in celebrating the New Year. Instead of looking for the right New Year’s Eve party, I look for the Mass schedule at my parish church. Whether I go to the vigil Mass on December 31 or the morning Mass on January 1, I am enraptured by the focus on, and celebration of, the Holy Family. And in this quiet, joyful celebration, I am led into a new year of seeking, as did Mary and Joseph in bringing Jesus into the world and raising Him here so that He could redeem us, a new year of seeking to serve God in the people around me — my own family and all those I encounter.

The idea of a new beginning marked by all kinds of resolutions is seductive, in its way — we’ve been through it enough times to know how it’s going to end. I know how my new path is going to end, too, and can I be honest? I like it much better.

Instead of something big and shiny and new — and, by the way, unsustainable! — I get joy from doing what I have already been doing for the past year and what I hope to do all through this coming year. Nothing new here, but everything is new every day.


The gifts of the Holy Spirit include wonder and awe — words I prefer to “fear of the Lord,” because that phrase is so easily misunderstood. And I hope always to enjoy some sense of wonder and awe as I ponder and discover and rediscover how God works in our world and in our lives.

If there is a single experience for which I hope I never lose the sense of wonder and awe, it is the Consecration during Mass — that moment in which ordinary bread and ordinary wine become, in their very substance, the Body and Blood of Jesus. I think it was in learning about this profound mystery of faith that I first experienced some understanding of how faith works — that in the face of very complicated, complex events and questions, faith is so very simple. Faith just believes. Faith doesn’t look for elaborate explanations and expositions. Faith doesn’t dig for fancy answers.

Faith believes.

Like all moments of great significance that are repeated often throughout our days, however, that wonderful moment of Consecration can become a routine. The eyes and ears and body are so vulnerable to distractions. Those amazing words and actions happen before us, and before we know it we’re on our feet to go and receive Him. And we’ve barely been aware of the greatest of miracles that has just taken place — yes, again! — right in front of us.

I don’t have a magic bullet for keeping the entire ritual of the Mass, and Consecration in particular, fresh and exciting every time. But sometimes if I can just keep my focus on what is really happening, and be still and listen, I am led into reflection that brings deeper meaning to this wonderful and awesome Moment when Jesus makes Himself present among us.

A few weeks back, I was at a weekday Mass. I go to an early morning Mass, and the chapel is usually very quiet (unless my 2-year-old granddaughter comes along and chooses this time to sing her “hallelulahs”). On this particular day, as that Moment approached and the priest began saying the sacred words of Consecration, I imagined myself as one of the disciples at table with Jesus at the Last Supper. As I put myself in the scene, I remembered that for the disciples, it didn’t start out as “the Last Supper.” It was simply their Passover meal and celebration, with all the rituals and ceremonies that they expected in a traditional Seder.

It occurred to me to wonder at what point those disciples — the Twelve who were closest to Him and who joined Him for this meal — began to realize that something quite different from the traditional Passover meal was taking shape.

Certainly, when Jesus departed from the usual rituals and gave them His Body and Blood to eat and drink (Matt. 26:26-28), I would have had more questions than answers. I found myself in the moment, receiving what looked like bread and wine from His hands, and thinking back to what he had said earlier — that unless we ate His flesh and drank His blood we would not have life within us! Now in this moment, He is making that statement a stark reality — just when the world outside this upper room is getting very, very frightening.

In the midst of all the mystery of the connection between His earlier words and His actions during this meal, I might have found myself — even as I consumed the Bread and Wine He gave me — filing these strange ideas away in my head, letting them mull about in my mind even as the terrifying, and then awesome, events of the next few days unfolded.

What did He mean? “Do this in memory of me…” How are we supposed to have His body and His blood? He’s dying on a cross, the worst and most humiliating of death sentences for a criminal. Does any of what happened mean anything?

What are we supposed to do? I imagine myself asking that question again and again as I protect myself (I think) from the crowds and from falling victim to the same fate as my Teacher is suffering.

And once the terror is past and the first day of the week dawns, I imagine how the Twelve and those close to them began to reshape those questions once they knew that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Now He is alive once more. He appears here, shows up there — and we recognize Him “in the breaking of the bread.” The imagery of Jesus, cooking breakfast for the Twelve on the shore after they had gone — deeply confused about events and still missing the biggest message of Jesus’ resurrection — back to their fishing boats, grabs my mind and won’t let go. I imagine being in that group, seeing Him but not quite recognizing Him (oh, the grip of doubt!) — and then He begins to break off pieces of bread and hand them to us, and the connection is instant and visceral and undeniable.

Imagine being on the road to Emmaus with those two disciples, feeling the stirring of truth within as our new companion teaches us, and then realizing in the very moment of breaking bread that it really is Jesus Who was walking and talking with us….

But no one really knew what to do with all of it just yet. All they had at this point was a collection of experiences and moments and glimmerings of recognition; possibly there were moments of clarity when the connections would stand out, albeit briefly, and then a moment later be beyond their grasp. And yet, during these weeks following the amazing discovery that Jesus was once more alive, during all the times that He appeared to them and spoke with them and continued to promise His promises to them, in all that time there is no real understanding of what is next. I imagine myself in that group, thinking, “OK, fine. This is pretty good. We still see Jesus and He still teaches us. We can go on like this. It’s really pretty good.”

But Jesus, when we see Him, is talking about leaving again. And so there is a stirring of doubt and fear in our hearts, because we don’t really know how any of this works without Him, and we don’t have a very solid connection between what He said about His Body and Blood before that awful last night of His life, and what He said and did during the Passover Meal that turned into something else, and the way He died, and what it means that He came back from the dead.

And then, one day, just when we were getting used to this new way of living, He leaves. It’s a glorious leaving, a powerful and amazing experience, but to our minds it is, nonetheless, a leaving. We saw Jesus ascend to heaven, and without Him showing up every now and then to remind us of His teaching, we feel pretty frightened and we don’t understand how we are supposed to do anything He taught us.

So, in this new level of fear and doubt, we go into hiding. We are sure — at least we think we are sure — that Jesus is going to keep His promises, but we have no clear idea as to how He is going to do that.

And then: Pentecost! “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (John 3:34). I kneel in wonder at the Consecration during Mass, some 2,000 years later, because Jesus sent the Paraclete that He had promised — the Holy Spirit Who is the love of the Father and the Son, unstoppable and untamable and incredibly powerful — and in that moment of flames resting on the heads of the Twelve, all the things that they could not think through or reason out or even conceive of, all those things become crystal clear.

They know who they are.

They know Who has called them and for what.

They know what those words at the Last Supper mean, and they know what to do.

And there it is: the depth of wonder and awe at the love of a God who cares so much for His redeemed people that He keeps coming back to them. He pursues them until they catch Him, and then He stays with them so long as they open their hearts.

Regrets, and Seeing

Sometimes I really don’t like the way I behave.

Sometimes I let the fact that I’m being exposed to things that annoy me or trigger anxiety control how I react and behave. I always regret it. I feel it coming on, and part of me knows that I need to take a deep breath and make a conscious decision about how I’m going to be. And sometimes I let myself go down the wrong path.

It’s hard to say what bothers me most — noise, or being among a crowd of people, or the confusion of two or three voices competing for attention, or feeling like I need to rush to get something done or to be somewhere. It’s definitely the case that a combination of two or more of these things will set my teeth on edge. I’ll begin to feel impatient and edgy, tense and annoyed, and if I’m not careful I’ll be expressing those feelings in a most unpleasant way.

I know this, and I’ve made a specific decision in my life that I cannot and will not avoid those situations but rather will learn and decide how to handle them so that neither I nor the people around me suffer as a result.

Yesterday, I most willingly went on an outing with several children to one of those indoor play centers where the kids can climb and bounce and generally have a lot of fun.

It was noisy.

There were a lot of people.

To say that there were many competing voices right in my immediate circle is an understatement.

And I allowed myself to get grouchy and impatient. The little boys who were in my charge heard my impatient words and felt my annoyance. I snapped at them more than once, I groused loudly about the shoes that were hard to put on, I actually yelled about the seat belts in my new car that weren’t going easily into the proper slots on the top of the seats…I may not have been as unpleasant as I remember, but there is no doubt in my mind that everyone around me felt it.

I managed to spread hugs and love on everyone before the day was over, and I apologized for my rudeness. When I said my evening prayers, I asked God’s forgiveness for my selfish behavior, and I resolved with His grace to do better. When I went to Mass this morning, I again asked for forgiveness and grace, and then, because I’m finally learning to do this, I stopped and just listened.

I was a little surprised by what I heard. The thoughts that began to form were these: You are really beating yourself up over this, and you’ve already been forgiven. You can stop worrying about yesterday and think about how you are going to be today and tomorrow.  This continuing to pick at the little sore spot that yesterday’s lapse left is not coming from God, and it’s not going to make anything better. Maybe it will help to stop dwelling so much on the sin — you already know how to sin! — and start dwelling on the solution.

Thank You, Holy Spirit! As my evening readings yesterday proclaimed, “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (John 3:34).

I already know that when I allow myself to get in that unpleasant state of mind, it is rooted in selfishness. At the most basic level, I’m not getting my way, and I don’t like it. Instead of peace and quiet I’m experiencing noise and confusion, and I don’t like it. Instead of lots of space around me I’m existing among a crowd of people, and I don’t like it. Instead of a single conversation, I am trying to sort out three or four or more voices, and I don’t like it. Instead of being in complete control of my time and surroundings, I’m at the mercy of the situation, and I don’t  like it. I feel rushed only because I think I need to get out of this situation and because I feel out of control, when the reality is there’s no need to hurry at all.

And as I continued to let the “still, small voice” speak within me, I began to get some clarity.  “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows” (Ps. 16). I think that by first allowing myself to get in such a state of mind, then indulging it instead of controlling it, and finally dwelling on it and its effects instead of fixing the problem, I risk making — and choosing — a little god out of the self-centeredness that the whole cycle involves. And that just gives the whole cycle new life while making me feel worse and worse.

Fortunately for me, the people around me are almost as forgiving as my God is. (Sometimes, when I’ve apologized for my grouchiness, I’ve learned that they hadn’t even noticed it. Talk about an ego slump!)

What I have here is yet one more chance to be better, to be a person who listens to the “still, small voice” rather than choosing “other gods.” The voice I need to listen to is always there amid all the other competing voices. When I center myself on that voice that speaks in the quiet part of my soul, and when I allow myself to put the false god of self to one side, then all the rest is easy to handle. Then I am the person God made me to be.

My prayer reminder for the 2:00 p.m. hour each day chimes with “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Can I please have grace to remember that in each moment of my day, I am where God has placed me, and I can simply turn to Him and know that it’s not about me and my silly comfort levels — that it’s about Him, present in all the people and voices around me, and I just need to recognize Him and lean into Him. There. That’s where I find peace in the loudest, most confusing, most crowded places in life.

Mysteries, and Merry Christmas

Once, not so many years ago, I thought “the holidays” were forever marred, that I would never be able to enjoy “the season” as much because of the painful memories involved.

My beloved Tom, you see, was diagnosed with incurable, inoperable lung cancer the day after Christmas in 2003. What betrayal! After a happy Christmas day with family, we spent the entire next day in the emergency room, and what was supposed to be a lovely relaxing week off work became a maelstrom of appointments and desperate conversations and adjustment and, yes, some prayer as we sought a better outcome than was promised us.

And we drifted through radiation treatment and eight years of remission and fairly normal life punctuated by scans and updates. And then right at the start of “the holiday season” in 2011, we learned the remission was over and the cancer was once more in charge. Tom spend the entire time, from December 22 until January 4, in the hospital. And six months later, on July 1, he died.

Although those six months really saw the beginning of a new journey of faith for me, I still thought “the holidays” were never going to be really good again.

I was wrong.

I was wrong, because I persisted in seeing that time of year as somehow separate from the rest, rather than part of the seamless whole that is God’s love for us.

I was wrong, because I persisted in thinking of “the holidays” and “the season” instead of the constancy and depth and breadth of God’s love for us which is with us all the time.

I was wrong, because I had linked my experience of difficult times and tragic events to a time of year, and I had allowed myself to focus there instead of on the wholeness of God’s plan for us.

What I’ve learned: The joy of celebrating God’s love for and pursuit of His human creatures is not confined to a season or to a holiday. And neither is the sadness and grief that come with missing someone I loved who is no longer here.

It’s all part of the magnificent integrity of human existence as a child of God.

It feels like this faith journey has accelerated over the past year or so, with wonderful new insights presenting themselves. And as a result, my feelings about this time of year have transformed into a new kind of peaceful, joyful response to God’s love.

I find myself thinking not so much of “the holidays” or “the season” but simply of what we celebrate….The coming of Jesus in human form, His Advent into the world the Father called into being by His Word, the beginning of salvation for His sinful people.

This year, I literally could not wait to decorate the house for Christmas, and what I wanted was light — hundreds of tiny sparkling lights, on Christmas trees, on the porch, in the trees out front, in the windows, on the walls. And even while I was indulging my sudden passion for lights, I wondered — What is going on? I was responding to this desire for light without fully understanding it.

It was while I was twining a string of lights through the branches of a living Norfolk Island pine I had found that the light began to dawn in a vivid and real sense.

In the cycle of the Church year, we prepare to celebrate the advent of Christ, Light of the World — and what better way to do so than with lots and lots of light!

So I happily hung and strung my hundreds of tiny lights and put my candles in all the windows (this house has 17 windows!) and let the joy and peace flow through me.

Because it’s not just “the holidays.” It’s not merely “the season.” It’s one part of the continuing celebration, throughout the year, of God’s plan of salvation for His people.

Because Advent leads to Christmas, and you know what? Even if the rest of the world turns off the Christmas lights after tonight, Christmas really keeps going for quite awhile, and my lights are staying on. And after Christmas truly passes, after we reflect on the way Mary and Joseph became a family with Jesus and how Jesus grew, after we watch the shepherds and the Magi come and go, then we will follow the salvation story into the penitential time of Lent, anticipating and then celebrating the ultimate act of redemption and triumph with Holy Week and Easter. And then we’ll live out the weeks of God’s word and the festival moments of His Mother and His saints until the next cycle begins in Advent.

This journey has taken some time to bring me to this point, and I have no doubt that there are other destinations I’m meant to reach. I’m grateful for all the healing that has come my way as the seasons have come and gone, and my prayer and my hope is that the sense of wonder and awe that comes with this time of year will stay with me as the seasons come and go. And I wish that same sense of wonder and awe at God’s workings in our lives to all who may come across these words.

Merry Christmas!

I Trust

A few days ago, I wrote about trust, and a part of that writing was about how my trust in God is flawed, that my declarations of trust are all too often followed by a “but…”

Grace provides us the nudge to pray about those things we need help with, and that alone should impel us to a more perfect trust in God. Certainly I felt the nudge to pray about this over the last several days, and I even found my prayer taking a somewhat different form. I found myself asking God to deepen my trust in Him, and to help me get past the boundaries and roadblocks I seemed to place on my level of trust.

Now, I didn’t ask directly for a sign that my prayer was heard. I’m a little like Ahaz in the 7th chapter of Isaiah. Ahaz, when instructed by God Himself to ask for a sign from God, responded, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” And if I’m really, really honest, that attitude carries a lot of false humility. When God Himself invites you, you shouldn’t duck and cover. You should stand up and run, not walk, into His arms.

God chose, I think, to show me some things over the past day or so that would help me learn to trust Him more deeply and more fully, and I’m finding myself full of wonder and awe at how He works.

Here’s what happened. As things came up throughout the day, I actually remembered to pray about them. And three things happened that still have me shaking my head and smiling.

First, I had been notified that it was time to turn in my leased car and get a new one. Exciting, right? Except that I really hate the process. You go and sit at the dealership for hours while they parade cars in front of you, and the first few they tell you all the reasons you won’t really like them, and then they finally bring out the one they really want to sell you. And then the haggling begins, and I really hate the haggling part, so I usually don’t end up with the best deal I could get, because I just want to get it over with. So with a sigh, I set up an appointment with the salesperson, and my wonderful daughter and son-in-law agreed to go with me as support, so I wouldn’t cave too early in the process, and then it occurred to me that it wouldn’t hurt at all to ask God to be with me and guide me through the process. So I did.

I do not make this stuff up, people. Less than 30 minutes after I prayed about this, my salesperson called with a couple of questions about what I was looking for. A few text messages, a couple more phone calls, and some pictures, and what do you know? I had a lease deal in front of me that was so good that I gave my daughter and son-in-law their Saturday back. All I have to do on Saturday is go to the dealership, sign papers, make the exchange, and drive home in my new car.

I got way more than I asked for. I thought I was asking for patience to deal with the whole process, and I got so much more.

And I even received the grace to pray an immediate “Thank You” afterward.

In the immortal words of classic television: “But wait! There’s more!”

Late in the day yesterday, as I retrieved a couple of documents I needed from my little lockbox, it occurred to me that my passport should have been in there. And it wasn’t. There is no one so obsessed as I am when I can’t find something. My quest began, but all the places I would normally put something of that nature were barren, empty. And as I began thinking about the less obvious places, I prayed, “OK, St. Anthony, I’m going to need a little help here.” (We Catholics dearly love our ability to call on our saints when we need a boost. St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost articles, and as I age, I have more and more occasion to call on him for help.)

Did I mention that I don’t make this stuff up? I looked at the shelf just below my lock box, and there was a wallet that I had stopped using a few months ago when I found a better one. I picked it up and opened it, and there was my passport. Right next to a crisp $20 bill.

Again, I received so much more than I asked for. I was so startled that I said, “Well, thank you!” right out loud. I put the passport where it belonged; likewise, the $20. It’s going to be donated later today when I find the right spot for it.

My mind put those two events together right away, but God wasn’t quite done with me. He wanted, I think, to make sure I was picking up what He was putting down, as they say. So this morning, as I was going out the back door to go to Mass, I hit the wrong button on the remote control for my security system, and I set off the panic alarm. It’s not the first time this has happened, so I knew what was coming. With one hand, I used the button to turn off the alarm, and with the other I reached for my phone. The call from the alarm company was coming through before I even got the phone out of my purse. We went through our conversation — “We received a panic alarm, is everything OK? …. Good, glad you are OK, may I have your name and password?” Done, and done.

Like I said, it’s not the first time I hit the wrong button and sent an alarm by mistake. But what I knew, and what my actions demonstrated, was that the guys at the other end of that system were going to do what they said they would do — call and offer protection. If something bad was happening, help would be on the way. If everything was OK, we both get on about our business. Simple.

That’s when it all really clicked. That’s when I began to see how trust really works in my relationship with God. He’s always there. No matter what happens, even when the problem is of my own making, He’s always there to offer help and protection. He’s going to have the answer when I’m in trouble, and He’s going to be glad right along with me when it’s all OK.

What God showed me over the past day or so was that I don’t need to put conditions or limits on my trust. When I think I need to do that, those thoughts are not coming from my loving Father. He’s telling me that this is personal with Him and that He’s not only going to give me what I need, He’s going to give me a whole lot more.

Dear Father God, I am sitting here in a state of wonder and awe at the way You care for me and love me. You show me again and again how You are everything I need, and with the grace You give me I say to You now, I trust You, Father. I need no other words; I trust You. Amen.

How Many Times?


There are reams of work on the topic, from deeply spiritual writings to entirely secular advice on forgiving for the sake of one’s own mental health. I’m thinking about forgiveness today in the context of Advent, a time during which we humans reflect on the way God’s people waited and wandered their way through centuries and centuries until God fulfilled His own plan of forgiveness and redemption.

We ask, in the Lord’s prayer, that God forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Sometimes I think that if God forgave me as I forgive others, I’d be lost forever.

The gospel story where Jesus talks with Peter about forgiveness is one that has given me great difficulty in the past. Peter asks Jesus a seemingly simple question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And Jesus responds, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times….” In other words, we are called to forgive without limit.

Jesus goes on, wonderful Teacher that He is, to illustrate with a parable, but we tend to stop reading at “seventy-seven times.”

I struggle with this passage. I struggle with forgiveness every day of my life. Why? Because someone I love has repeatedly done wrong against me and other family members. She does not express remorse, nor does she ask for forgiveness. She is certain that all of us are to blame for her pain, and she is equally certain that she is in the right. We have been estranged for nearly two years, the culmination of many years of starts and stops, of repeated forgiveness followed by new hurts and new wrongs. And I have learned – learned in the hardest of hard ways – that letting her back in will do nothing more than create a new opportunity for her to “sin against me.”

I am pretty sure I am well beyond the 77 times Our Lord speaks of in His answer to Peter. And I sincerely question, as a devout Catholic Christian, what my spiritual obligation is in this situation. Over the course of time, some answers have begun to take shape – most of them developing from what I have read and what I have heard in homilies and from reading this section of scripture many times over.

The best definition of forgiveness I ever heard came in a homily I heard a while ago: Forgiveness is the state where we no longer wish harm upon the person who has wronged us. It’s natural, when someone hurts us or offends us or damages us in some way with their words or actions, to respond with a desire for retaliation. And retaliation is the opposite of forgiveness.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus instructs us to “turn the other cheek” (Mt 5:39). Catholic writings on this verse make it clear that Jesus is speaking (as He did with much of the Sermon on the Mount) with use of Aramaic hyperbole to make His point; that this statement, like many other statements in this same section, are not meant to be taken literally.

So turning the other cheek, and being willing to forgive without limiting the number of times we do so, are ways that we behave, in Christ, with love toward others. Rather than seeking retaliation when others do us wrong, we are instructed to love them and, in loving them, seek the best for them.

When someone displays repeated and escalating hurtful and damaging behavior, it sometimes becomes impossible to love them and seek the best for them in a direct way. In fact, with adult family members who behave in this way, I think that doing so may even cause us to be an occasion of sin for them. In my own case, I now know that if I let the person who has hurt me back into my life, she will inevitably lie to me, steal from me, lie about me to others, and possibly cause physical harm to me. Given that I have no power or authority to force her to receive professional help (as I would for a minor child in my care), the best way I can love her is to pray for her – for healing and for her soul to be filled with God’s love in place of the torture that seems to be there now.

Make no mistake: I do not write this as a justification for being from estranged my loved one. Nor do I write this as a justification for not offering or providing assistance and support, financial or otherwise, for her in her jumbled and chaotic life. Nor is my message that estrangement is somehow a necessary or even desirable or acceptable component of or outcome to forgiveness. Estrangement is really a last resort; it happens only when wrongdoers are intransigent and all efforts to maintain a direct loving relationship have been met with hate and hurt. Forgiveness should never be a basis or excuse for alienation from another person.

Rather, my intent is to seriously and prayerfully examine – on a daily basis, if necessary – the depth and quality of my love and forgiveness. And I dare to think that for anyone who struggles with forgiveness in even remotely similar circumstances, prayerfully asking themselves these questions may help them to achieve some reconciliation with it:

  • Do I pray, regularly, for this person’s healing and for good things in his or her life?
  • Do I avoid wishing for, or behaving in a way that supports, retaliation or harm in return for the wrong they have done?
  • Do I avoid dwelling on the wrong done to me? Do I avoid complaining to others about this person or the wrong was done to me?
  • Do I sincerely and wholeheartedly wish and pray for good things for this person?
  • Do I avoid creating situations where this person can do repeated or greater harm?

Jesus admonishes us throughout the gospels to live a life of mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Getting to a clear understanding of His meaning requires our full participation in prayer and reflection. Living a life where we refuse to return hurt for harm, pain for injury, or ill will for evil is very different from living in a way that allows, or even encourages, others to continue to sin against us. True forgiveness lies in turning the other cheek – not so that it, too, can be struck, but so that we turn away from the hurt and keep from hurting others in retaliation.

We need to ask not only for His guidance, but for the grace to hear and follow it. We are called to forgiveness, and when we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others, I think that we are asking Him to see that we are forgiving as He has called us to forgive: not as He forgives, for His forgiveness comes from infinite mercy and love and is beyond our power to give; but as we are called to forgive – without counting or limiting our forgiveness, and with prayerful desire for the good of the one who hurt us.

Father God, each day I need and seek Your forgiveness for all the ways I have fallen short of Your love, for all the choices I’ve made that separate me from You. And each day, as I seek Your forgiveness I also seek to forgive others. I am in great need of Your grace in order to do so, Lord. Remind me, please, of Your Son’s call to forgiveness and place in my heart a true desire for the good of every person who ever harms me. And give me strength, please, Lord, to withstand temptation, so that I do not create the opportunity or invitation for others to do wrong. In Jesus’ Name I ask it. Amen.

The Greatest Love

One of the Eucharistic prayers at Mass includes the beautiful words, “…though we once were lost and could not approach you, you loved us with the greatest love….” (Roman Missal, 3d ed., Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I). Although this prayer is commonly used during Lent, those words resonate for me here in this third week of the Advent season. With Adam and Eve’s decision to defy God and separate themselves from Him, the fate of all humanity was sealed: Lost in sin, we could not approach God on our own any more; we could not feel the fullness of His great love.

What’s it like to be loved with the greatest love? The prayer goes on to remember how God’s love resulted in His giving His only Son over to death on the cross for our redemption. It is actually painful to contemplate what this really meant. The mere thought of one of our own children being hurt makes the soul cringe and gets the adrenaline pumping; that such hurt might be deliberately caused by others does not bear thinking of for us in our human state. And yet God went that far for us, giving His Son. Jesus went that far for us, giving Himself. All this, not to preserve Himself as God. Not to glorify His Son – not yet. All this, so that we could once again approach Him. All this, so that we could be His children.

For this kind of redemption to happen, the Son of God first had to come into the world. God chose the humblest of beginnings, the simplest of human existences, for His Son – all so that He could bring about the greatest love. We can get lost during Advent, though. We like to wander happily through the sweetness and emotion of celebrating Jesus’ birthday, and enjoy the way it translates into happy family gatherings and gift-giving; for some of us, the season brings sadness or anger over estrangements or memories of loved ones no longer with us.

I think it is important, during Advent, to live and reflect in a larger and perhaps somewhat abstract perspective: That both the Birth and the Cross, together, represent what it means to be “loved with the greatest love.” And maybe at first, it’s enough to come away with the warm and sort of glow-y feeling of knowing that God loves us this much, that His Son loves us this much, and of knowing that He wants us for His own.

Maybe at first.

And then the soul wants to go deeper. The heart wants to know more. The self, the very self that God created in us and that Jesus wants to occupy when He dwells in us, wants to experience more directly what it is like to be loved with the greatest love.

How does someone behave who is loved in this way? How does someone who is loved like this encounter the world and the other people in it?

Better yet, how would we behave toward others if we saw them as people who are “loved with the greatest love”? Perhaps it helps, in thinking about this, to consider an analogy. Think about someone you greatly admire and respect, someone you love and feel certain loves you. Now imagine that person bringing someone new to meet you. How is your first impression of that new person affected by your relationship with your loved one? Almost certainly, you are predisposed to think well of the new person; at the very least, you will have an open mind toward seeing this new person in a good light. And even if there is something off-putting about this new person, you are probably inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, based on your relationship with the loved one who introduced you.

And so it is when we encounter others along the path of life. God has put them in our path. If we believe that He loves us “with the greatest love,” then we must necessarily believe the same of those we encounter. They are beloved of God, and He has brought them to us. Thinking of others in this way creates a predisposition to kindness and compassion and leads us away from judgment and ill will.

One of our parish priests, in a recent homily, reminded us that we are called daily to compassion, mercy, and kindness. Being thus called, how do we find ways to answer the call? When we make the choice to see others as beloved children of the Lord, we find ourselves kindly disposed toward them. When we choose to treat others as we would treat people who are valued in the same way we are valued, we will be an open spring of compassion, mercy, and kindness. It will start with an open smile that reflects our joy; it may continue in a kind word, an offer of help, a handshake, or sometimes simply in a prayer for that person’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. It will involve the complete suspension of any judgment as to their path, their intentions, their aspirations, their worthiness, or their need, as we simply trust God to lead us in the encounters He places before us.

It’s as simple as making the choice to think this way – a choice that surely will be led by the Holy Spirit, a choice that arises from being loved with the greatest love.

We live from Advent into Christmas, and we celebrate. The Cross inevitably follows, as it did in the life of Jesus. We need both if we are to truly embrace, in faith, our God and our neighbor.

Spirit of God, make Your place in my heart and in my mind, and dwell there so that by Your working and inspiration I may see myself and all those I meet as beloved children of the Father, beloved sinners whose redemption by Jesus on the Cross began with His birth in the stable, beloved souls embraced by You as they walk their own path in this world. Use me as a means to reflect Your love, so that my own sinful nature becomes powerless in the face of such love. Through Jesus, my Redeemer, I pray. Amen.

Who Do You Trust?

“Who Do You Trust?” was a TV quiz show hosted by Johnny Carson in his pre-Tonight Show days. The contestants were married couples; the basic play was to reveal the category for a question, and the husband would then either answer the question or “trust” his wife to give the right answer. I know, I know — but this was the 1950s.

Almost from the moment I climbed out of bed this morning, it seemed like the theme of the day was going to be around trust.

I read something yesterday that resonated so strongly with me that I added it to my evening prayer. Fr. Nathan Castle, in his book Afterlife, Interrupted [2018: Fluid Creations, Inc.], speaks about turning our consciousness over to God when we sleep, “maybe for safekeeping, or so that God can accomplish something in us that’s more easily done in the night.” When I knelt for my evening prayers last night and prayed in this way, it occurred to me what a wonderful expression of trust it involved. After all, we relinquish control of our consciousness when we sleep; how much better to relinquish it to God, Who created it in the first place, than to let it wander free in the night!

So I turned my consciousness over to God, along with my usual prayer for a safe, sound, and restorative sleep under the watch of my guardian angel to prepare me for a new day of service to Him.

This morning, I woke up thinking about trust, and the day’s readings and morning prayer took me deeper and deeper into considering what it really means.

On this Tuesday of the third week of Advent, my morning prayer began with Ps. 127, which warns us that all the great work we do is nothing unless we are partnered with the Lord: In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. Readings from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah remind us of God’s promise of a Savior for His sinful people; and then we heard Matthew’s gospel story of how, when Joseph was prepared to “quietly divorce” Mary because of her thus far unexplained pregnancy, an angel came to him in his sleep and told him what was going on. Just as Mary, some time earlier, had completely trusted God in His astounding revelation and call, Joseph, when he awoke, simply “did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him….”

If Joseph had not trusted God’s call and revelation to him, the custom of the time would have required that Mary, with her unborn Child, be stoned to death for her presumed adultery.

Can we aspire to the kind of trust that Mary displayed when she responded to the angel’s announcement, to the kind of trust that Joseph lived out when the angel came to him in a dream? I think the question is even bigger, because I think that such trust is exactly what we are called to.

But like most things I am called to in my spiritual life, in my relationship with God, my response is usually flawed.

Of course I trust God. But most of us would probably admit that even while we are telling Him we trust Him, right under the surface of our prayer we are imposing conditions on our trust.

We trust in God, but we still want to do things our way and get the outcomes we want.

We trust in God, but we caution Him not to give us anything too tough, because we don’t want to suffer.

We trust in God, provided He doesn’t let anything bad happen to us or those we love.

We trust in God, but we ask Him for direct signs that we are on the right track.

We trust in God, but we don’t want to give up on our things and our attachments.

Like that old TV show, we want the option to formulate our own answer, rather than trusting God to provide us with the answers.

How, then, do we offer ourselves to God in complete trust? How do we stop setting conditions on our trust in Him? At first, I thought that this required a tremendous act of courage — possibly courage beyond what our human weakness and the pride that accompanies it would support.

And then I realized that instead, what this kind of trust requires is deep humility — the kind of humility that’s defined as understanding exactly who we are in terms of Who God has revealed Himself to be.

This kind of humility knows God as the almighty, compassionate, loving, and merciful Maker of all things and as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of His people.

This kind of humility knows ourselves as beloved children of that God, as sinful, flawed, and imperfect as we are in our human nature.

This kind of humility recognizes that God is always present to fill in the gaps our sinful nature leaves open. Our response to adversity would be as flawed as we ourselves are, without God to lead us.

This kind of humility looks to God to bring good out of the adversity and harm the world can cause us. It sees that God does not send adversity and harm to test us, but rather is always with us and always ready to hold us up and carry us through those times of difficulty.

This kind of humility leads us to trust God completely and implicitly, because the only hope we have of dealing with all we encounter is in leaning on Him.

When I turn to God in prayer — hopefully, often throughout my day — and tell Him that I trust Him, I like to think that that’s all He chooses to hear. I like to think that He chooses to ignore the conditions I try to put on my trust, that he uses my attempts to rely on myself as a way of teaching me a better way. In other words, God responds to my imperfect prayer of trust with perfect love, compassion, and mercy.

Who do you trust?

Father, fill my heart with the kind of trust I need. Fill it so that there is no room for doubt, nor any room for my own feeble attempts to control my outcomes in life, but only room for Your love. Let me learn from Your grace that my actions and my response to life will be right when they reflect Your goodness and mercy and love. Amen.


Rejoicing, Exulting in Place

“Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the Lord, for He comes: He comes to rule the earth.” 1 Chron. 16:33.

The image of nature exulting in God recurs throughout the Old Testament:

  • Ps. 96:11-13, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;

    let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the LORD….”

  • Ps. 97:1, “The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.”
  • Isaiah 14:8, “…the very cypresses rejoice over you”;
  • Bar. 3:34-35, “Before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice. When he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are!’ shining with joy for their Maker.”

Have you ever been outside on a glorious morning when the beauty surrounding you just filled your eyes and soul? A few years ago, I went on a road trip with my grandson. We camped out in a tent as many nights as we could manage. One morning stands out in my memory. We were camped near Devil’s Tower in southeastern Wyoming. The Tower was visible when we stood at the front of the campground; the back of the campground lay along the top of a deep ravine, and the view across the ravine was of valley, high desert, and mountains. I stood on the edge of the ravine and I heard the sound of one lone cow, somewhere across the valley. And I remember thinking, This is what it sounds like when God’s creation praises Him.

Fanciful? Maybe. And yet the Psalmist and the prophets are pretty clear in telling us that creation praises God.

When the verse from 1 Chron. came up in my morning prayers today, I began to reflect on how and why nature praises God, and it led me in an interesting direction. It occurred to me that the greatest way nature has of praising God and exulting in Him is by being exactly what God created it to be, exactly where God placed it, doing exactly what God made it to do.

Isn’t that my own best way of praising God, of exulting in Him?

The greatest peace, the deepest contentment and joy, and at the same time the greatest challenges in life all arise from being who God made me to be, from being where He places me, and from seeking to do, then doing, what He wants and calls me to do.

The challenges come mostly from two sources: the noise and distraction and competing calls of the world around us, and our own resistance to the transformation that God requires of us in order to be drawn closer to Him.

The peace, contentment, and joy all come from a single source: God, in His own love, compassion, and mercy, gives us those so that we know when we are on the right track.

A few weeks ago, our family had gathered with a neighboring family for an evening of food and fellowship. As we began to enjoy our meal, the host invited anyone who wanted to do so to share something they were especially thankful for. When my turn came up, I said that I was grateful to the toes of my soul for being where God wanted me, doing what God wants me to do. And the host wondered out loud how I know that I am. My answer surprised even me, a little: I said that where I am and what I am doing in life is so far different and removed from what I planned when I retired a few years ago that I simply couldn’t have imagined it — in fact, probably would have rejected it out of hand; and yet here I am, finding in my life and in what I am doing with it the greatest peace, joy, and contentment I have ever felt in my entire six dozen years.

And so, with nature — both the nature around us, and our own human nature, created and given to us by our loving God — with nature, I exult in the Lord and praise Him with everything I have.

Dearest Father, You are glorious in all of Your creation — including Your creation of me. Let me remember to listen for Your call, each day, so that I may always be who You made me to be, where You want me to be, doing what You ask of me. The “me” of me is its best when I am letting You shine from me. Shine, Lord, and I will be filled with light and joy. Amen.

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