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)

There is nothing like missing the mark on the second day of a new resolution! But there is also nothing like forgiving yourself and starting over. When I started this Lenten series, I did not account for the two mornings a week that I volunteer at a vaccination clinic. By the time I got home from that yesterday, fed myself lunch, and got into my afternoon routine, my promise of a daily reflection to be published here had slipped my mind. So here I am to offer a reflection on yesterday’s readings, and then I’ll publish a reflection for today’s shortly thereafter, with thanks to the Holy Spirit!

The readings for February 18 resounded, for me, with the message that faith is both a gift and a choice. What I mean is that faith itself is a pure gift from God; how we accept it, respond to it, and use it in our lives is a choice. Don’t get me wrong: the choice itself is based in grace, but we have the free will to accept or reject.

Moses, in today’s reading from the book of Deuteronomy (Ch. 30:15-20), preaches passionately to his people about their choices: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.” There it is: God lays all before us. What we take up, what we live out, is our choice.

The theme continues in Psalm 1, which contrasts the choices of the sinner with those of the blessed man, whose choice to reject evil and wholeheartedly embrace the law of the Lord puts him firmly on the right path.

And in the brief Gospel reading (Luke 9:22-25), Jesus tells us of His own choice to suffernd die and rise again (and it was a choice – fully human, Jesus had free will), and lays our own choice out for us: We can choose to follow him, taking up our crosses and denying ourselves; or we can choose to “save” our lives – that is, to live as though we are rooted in this world – and thus ultimately lose them.

Jesus shows us the one choice that truly matters in life: We can “gain the whole world,” that is, immerse ourselves in the material things and daily activities of the temporal world, at the cost of losing our very selves. If my true self is the soul that God breathed into me at my making, then that cost is too high.

Jesus, my King and my Beloved, lead me in my choices this day and every day, so that in observing this holy season of Lent, I may learn to choose life – the life that You taught, rooted in the Cross and in Your love – and leave aside the false life that this world with all its temptations offers. Let me live a life of loving You, heeding your voice, and holding fast to you, as I fasten my eyes on the glorious hope of Your Resurrection. Amen.

During this holy season of Lent, it is my intention to write a reflection each day based on the scripture readings from that day’s Mass.

This morning, Ash Wednesday, the readings are drawn from the Old Testament Book of Joel (Joel 2:12-18), Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:20-6:2), and the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18).

These readings reminded me today that the primary relationship we must be concerned with is the one between ourselves and God. All sin causes a fracture in our relationship with God, separates us from Him, and hinders our ability to respond to the workings of God’s grace in us. God tells us, through the prophet Joel, to return ourselves to God through fasting and weeping and mourning. God reminds us, in Psalm 51, that our sins are ultimately against God and that the central problem with sin is that it is evil in God’s sight. And Paul “implores” us, in 2 Corinthians, to “be reconciled to God.” Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that our prayer, our repentance, or fasting all must be done where only our Father in Heaven can see them, out of the sight of the world and of other people.

Our sins are actions against God, actions of separation between God’s will and our own, acts of rejection of the loving relationship that God wants with us. Our repentance and our atonements, then, are owed solely to God. This means that as we begin to form, with the grace of God, a repentant heart, we recognize that our own actions are not enough to reconcile us. We need Jesus and His redemptive power, flowing into us with the Holy Spirit, to bring us back fully into that primary relationship with our Father.

That doesn’t mean that we are to ignore or set aside our relationships with the world and the people in it.

Our relationship with God, if we are wholly invested in it, will lead us to respond to all of those other relationships in a right way. When God takes pity on us to “leave behind him a blessing,” when He creates a clean heart in us, when He renews us, then what is left is for us to respond in faith and grace to the blessing, to share our renewed heart and spirit, and to become the blessing He wants to give to those around us.

The theme running through today’s readings is one of joy: Joy in the knowledge that God is, already, fully invested in His relationship with us, joy that He wants our hearts to belong fully to Him, and joy that He has provided us, in Jesus, a way for our relationship with Him to be complete and fruitful.

Father, through Your beloved Son You have extended to us the lifelines of faith and grace so that we can be reconciled to You. Help me, as Your beloved child, to grasp firmly those lifelines, to keep my feet firmly on the path that leads to You, and to be so filled with and open to Your love that it overflows onto everyone around me. I ask these things in the name of Jesus and through the intercession of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

When I began to quarantine in earnest again a week ago, one of the things I promised God (and, really, myself, because I was the one who would benefit most) was that I would pray the Rosary every day. Now, there’s a bit of backstory to this promise. You see, back when I was in the convent, part of our daily prayer routine was to pray at least one set of mysteries of the Rosary each day. It was one of those things that if we missed it for any reason, we had to “confess” it to our directress at the end of the day, and get a penance. And it always seemed to take up time that I secretly wanted to spend doing something else, so I had a bad habit (no pun intended) of rushing through my Rosary so that I could get on to the next thing. And then, of course, I left the convent and, shortly thereafter, the Church, and I didn’t pray the Rosary for many years.

One of the first things I bought for myself when I returned to the Church after more than 45 years away was a Rosary, which I then had blessed. But every time I tried to establish praying the Rosary as part of my daily routine, I kept coming up against the same roadblocks: it was hard to set aside a time to do it, and it was hard to devote the time it took. For awhile, I did fairly well by setting aside the time right after lunch; then when I began having little ones here all day, that schedule did not work and I couldn’t seem to give myself priority time for it in the evenings. And I still struggled with it seeming, somehow, burdensome.

And so, when it came to pass that I was going to have a LOT of time on my hands, the thought came to mind that this was an ideal time to reestablish a daily routine with the Rosary, and when I made this promise to God and our Blessed Mother and myself, I also prayed for the grace to enjoy it.

One of the things that always seemed to get in the way was the perceived need to set aside everything else and simply pray the Rosary. Unfortunately, when I did this I usually ended up having a nap. The rhythm and routine of the prayers simply relaxed me that much. And I know all about the tradition that when we fall asleep praying the Rosary, our guardian angel finished it for us, but I felt like that was really asking a lot and that I wouldn’t be getting the full benefit this way.

Perhaps it would be ideal to simply sit and pray the Rosary, but if that wasn’t working then I needed a different approach. So I begin to explore, and I found a nice app-within-an-app in the Rosary section of the Laudate app where I could use an on-screen representation of a Rosary to follow along, and I could knit on my current project while I prayed. I guess I’m just a multi-tasker at heart; I’ve never been able to just sit and read or watch TV without something in my hands, and it seemed that solitary prayer was much the same.

So I began, this past week, and what a lovely experience it is turning out to be. After lunch, I gather my knitting and set up my app, and away I go. And by some miracle (I really should not be surprised!), it turns out that my Rosary time is done in a flash, and I enjoy exploring some other daily prayers in the Laudate app before I go back to my “regularly scheduled programming.”

Best of all, this open and unhurried time has led to some wonderful moments of meditation and insight. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the simple act of having something for my hands to work on actually opens up my mind, my heart, my soul, and it’s a wonderful time of peace and reflection.

Our Lord really has a marvelous way of using the very surroundings that he gave us as a means of getting grace into our lives.

So now, finally, to the point of today’s title, “The Expectation of Fulfillment.” Most days, I find that my meditations on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary revolve around Mary’s involvement in the particular event, and what she might have thought or might have done in the moment. This feels like a fruitful way to pray the Rosary so that I get to know Mary better, and it helps me remember to turn to her throughout the day.

This past Thursday, while praying the Luminous Mysteries, the thought formed in my mind that in the events reflected by these Mysteries (all the Mysteries, really), we see how Mary and early followers of Jesus lived in an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises throughout the history of salvation.

Because they lived in this state of anticipation and expectation, God’s promises were often, if not always, foremost in their consciousness and their experience of the world around them. They lived their ordinary day-to-day lives, of course; they did all the mundane things we all must do to live and survive and thrive in the world Our Father has given us.

It seems to me like in our modern world, we’ve strayed from, even lost, to a great extent, that connection with God — that anticipation and expectation of the fulfillment of his promises. The world isn’t any bigger than it was in the time that Jesus walked on it as a man, or when his mother and his disciples and the early Christians went about their daily lives; but we have filled it with more and more things and ideas and inventions and entertainments and distractions, so much so that our focus is drawn to what we’ve filled our world with, and it is drawn away from what God would fill us with.

What a blessed relief, then, to set aside this time each day to pray the Rosary, and to reflect on those events that form the foundation of our beliefs. Perhaps in doing so, we can be led willingly back into the full anticipation and expectation of God’s fulfillment of his promises. Perhaps in renewing our focus on God’s promises, we will be open to their fulfillment in us. And perhaps we will then be open to the fullness of grace he desires to shower on us.

I know this: At this point, so late in my life, I look forward eagerly to my Rosary time every day. I enjoy this time of reflection and prayer, and I learn some new little thing each day that brings me closer to my creating, redeeming, sanctifying God through the Mother he chose for himself and then gave to us. I can’t regret any of my past foibles too much, because God for sure used them to help me grow into this present state.

And I can most certainly live with that.

Mary, beloved mother of Jesus, pray for me that I may fully enter into the mysteries of your Rosary and in doing so, may more and more fully experience the love of your son, Jesus. Amen.

What are we doing here, really?

When I was a young woman, the mother of one of my dearest friends died on my friend’s birthday. My friend told me after the funeral that her birthday was now ruined forever. Her brother had said, at the luncheon after the funeral, that he would never be able to wish her a happy birthday again, because doing so would be disloyal to their mother’s memory. And my friend mourned, for the rest of the time of our close friendship, the loss not only of her mother, but of the birthday which her mother had given her. Her thoughts on her birthday centered on the fact that her mother died that day, rather than on the fact that her mother had given her life that day.

For years, other friends and I tried to get this woman to celebrate and enjoy her birthday, and she just couldn’t. I have always thought that she grieved the wrong thing, that because of her focus on “losing” her birthday, she never really got over the death of her mother.

I’ve long since learned, through experiencing my own losses, that losing someone from this life is not something we “get over.” It changes us forever, does death — and it’s how we view what it changes, and how it changes what it changes, that drives the way we deal with it.

It’s an oversimplification, I think, and even a denial of the human nature with which God graced us, to dismiss grief on the grounds that our loved one is in a better place (even though they are) or on the basis that our own eyes should be focused on our ultimate goal of getting to heaven (even though they should, and the only way anyone gets there is by dying).

Here’s why. God created us and placed us in the world he made because (a) he loves us and (b) he wants us to be happy. To think otherwise runs counter to what we know about God. We are meant, even called, to enjoy the beauty and pleasures of life as human children of God in the world he made for us.

And part of our life in this world, part of our happiness here, has to do with the other human beings with whom God has surrounded us. That we love them, and they love us, and we make each others’ lives better, is part of God’s plan. We’re supposed to live this way! And so it is natural that when one of these people we love is taken from us by death, we miss them. We wish we had them back. We are, perhaps, only partly comforted by the knowledge that they are now in heaven, which is the ultimate goal for us all.

The problem for us humans is that because we’re humans, we get very wrapped up in this world that God created and put us in. We slide into a mindset that this life is the ultimate goal, and that moving from this life into the next one is an undesirable outcome. We hate and resist death, in ourselves and others, because it takes away from this present life.

Now, it’s probably a bridge too far for many people to think about celebrating death because it’s an entry into eternal life (even though that’s really what God’s plan calls for). We give lip service to this idea when we tell ourselves and our friends and family members that Aunt Rhoda is in a better place, or that little Becky is not suffering any more. But we don’t really live as though this world, for all its beauty and for all the joy that human companionship brings, is our temporary place. We go just a little too far in enjoying what God made for us. We claim it as permanent, and that makes for a traumatic time when we find out that it isn’t.

I would have loved for my friend, all those long years ago, to be able to turn her birthday back into a celebration — to be thankful that God chose that day to welcome the woman who gave her life, into her own eternal life.

I would love for myself and for everyone I know and love to be focused on living this life to the fullest, because that’s what God made us for, but always with faith at the center and always with the hope and expectation that as much as we love this life and this world, as much as we cling to it, God still has something even greater in store for us afterward.

Yes, we will still mourn when those we love leave us for that promised life in eternity. We will still mourn because that’s how God made us. But perhaps, with just a hint of what else God made us for, we can also turn our mourning into dancing, because the joy doesn’t end when our life in time ends.

And oh, my! I can live with that.

My dearest Father God, today I ask for grace to live my life in ALL the ways you have planned for me, knowing that you love me and desire my happiness, and also knowing that my happiness lies only partly in this world, and will be full and complete in the eternal life you promised, the life that Jesus won back for us by his cross and resurrection. Amen.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about humility. I ask for it in my prayers, and when I’m feeling particularly brave, I pray the Litany of Humility (https://ascensionpress.com/pages/litany-of-humility). My Father God has answered this prayer in interesting ways, and sometimes I have to remind myself with some firmness to express my gratitude.

I think I’ve written a little about humility before. Somewhere, in a homily or some reading, I learned that humility, or being humble, does not mean putting ourselves down, or even considering ourselves less good or less important than those around us.

Rather, it means being honest in our self-assessment — recognizing ourselves for our flaws and faults, and recognizing ourselves for our talents, our skills, and the ways that we shine. And I think it means something more, because these recognitions are worthless if they do not set us on a path that draws us closer to Jesus.

Yesterday, the gospel reading was Luke’s telling of the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector — a man of short stature who was so eager to see Jesus that he climbed a sycamore tree to get above the crowd for a good look at him. (I used to have a sycamore tree in my back yard. It was huge. What a climb that must have been!)

For many years, when I read this story and heard homilies based on it, the focus was on Zacchaeus’ faith and his eagerness to know Jesus, or on his response to Jesus’ recognizing him and coming to his house. But when I read it yesterday, it spoke to me of humility.

You see, tax collectors in Jesus’ time probably weren’t known for their humility, and yet Zacchaeus shows himself to be the epitome of humility. He recognizes that he is short in stature. Now, he could go in a couple of directions with it. He could stay in the midst of the crowd, moping and berating himself about being short and how that’s going to keep him from seeing this Jesus who he very much wants to meet. He could even get mad about it. God, why did you make me so short? Now I can’t even get a glimpse of this Jesus who I think happens to be very important to me.

But Zacchaeus doesn’t take either of those paths. Instead, Zacchaeus not only recognizes his short stature, he actively embraces it. And he uses it to put himself in an ideal — if by some lights, laughable — position to see and perhaps encounter Jesus.

And oh, how well it turns out for him! He not only sees Jesus, but Jesus sees him, and seeks him out, builds a relationship with him. And it only gets better from there. Jesus decides to come to Zacchaeus’ house that day, and Zacchaeus is simply filled with the grace of that encounter to the point where it changes his entire life.

This kind of humility is a wonderful thing. I kept thinking and thinking about it, and then this morning at Mass, the homily built right into the concept. The priest, preaching on Revelation 4:1-11, emphasized God’s holiness and glory and infinite greatness, all as a prelude to reminding us that God, who is all of everything, loves us with an all-encompassing love — not because we are worthy of it, but because he made us, and we need his love.

That homily took me right back to the story of Zacchaeus. I realized that the story is telling us that Jesus loved Zacchaeus, not because he deserved it but because he was made by God (of whom Jesus is the creating Word), and because he needed it.

And there is the beauty of humility: Recognizing that we are beloved of God, not because we are worthy but rather, and blessedly, because we so desperately need it. And because we do, God finds us worthy, deems us worthy as his own creation. That kind of love is unfailing, all-encopassing, and not just life-changing, but soul-changing.

It seems to me that the essence of humility is recognizing ourselves for what we are, and using each realization as a way and a reason to seek out Jesus. When we do, he will surely find us.

And I can live with that.

My family has been talking behind my back — about me! And they were understandably nervous when it came time to talk to me about what they were discussing. After all, I’ve been known to be a bit prickly, maybe a touch defensive, and sometimes lacking in patience. So when my daughter brought this up on Wednesday, I knew immediately that I needed to pay attention. She’s not given to drama, so when she said that this discussion had taken place and that we needed to talk it through, my ears were open. And so was my heart.

And it all had to do with the pandemic, and the current very frightening spike of new cases in our state and even our own city, and their concerns for my safety. I’d been overseeing online school for two little boys in our family, and it was now apparent that because of the number of people, known and unknown, that these boys were exposed to, it simply wasn’t safe any longer for me to continue having them at my house.

I could readily see the truth of this, and I was touched by everyone’s concern even as I began to battle an onslaught of other feelings. The first was guilt — what was their mom going to do? And it has taken some time for me to understand that there are some things that I can’t and shouldn’t feel obligated to fix. The second was relief. In a flash of clarity, I realized that the whole school/child care thing was not going very well for any of us. I was stressed out about it, I was beginning to be burnt out, and the little ones were not enjoying it very much. A grandparent/grandchild relationship just isn’t meant to have that much discipline and drudgery built into it, and as much as I hated to admit it, my age was a factor too.

I sat in my daughter’s kitchen and cried, and really talked about everything, and she saw to it that new arrangements were made for the boys. Over the next 2 days, we took extra precautions with masks, distancing, and sanitizing, and on Friday afternoon, I packed up all of their school materials and sent everything home with them (along with detailed instructions for how to get to everything online, which was entirely different for each of them).

What I wasn’t fully prepared for was the flood of emotions that kept washing over me. That’s a tired old metaphor, I know, but I can’t think of a better one. I was sad, and I couldn’t escape a sense of failure that I knew was misplaced, but persisted anyway. And at the same time, I found myself looking forward to having my days back to do my things. I realized that I had been missing my solitude. What was wrong with me?

The beauty of a relationship with Jesus is that you can lay all of those feelings and questions before him and ask him what you are supposed to make of them. And after a few rounds of tears and just a hint of self-loathing, that’s what I did. I brought this to Jesus with a spirit of gratitude. Sure, it was something along the lines of “Jesus, thank you for what you have done for me. I’m not sure exactly what it was or why I am so emotional about it, but thank you.”

And in the next moment a wondrous thought formed itself in my mind. I spend a fair amount of time asking God to make me and keep me humble, because my biggest failing and most frequent sin centers on pride and self-interest. And God had just  given me the most amazing opportunity to be humble. Because I wasn’t doing so well with the school business, and I kept clinging to it because it made me special to be doing it, and gosh darn it, I would keep making that sacrifice because only I could make it all work.

Clearly, I had my ego all wrapped up in a cloak and mask that looked like service. And it wasn’t working. So although the overarching issue in stopping it was safety, the lesson behind stopping was much more related to humility. And so once more what looked like a heavy cross turned out to be God’s way of blessing me.

There is more to this story, having to do with the need to hunker down and isolate myself much more than I’ve done since the beginning of this pandemic. Since way back in March, my daughter’s household and mine have pretty much behaved like one household. And with cases on the rise and no end in sight (a vaccine being months from general availability at best), we had to reassess the risks of our expanded bubble. My son-in-law is a doctor who may see as many as 45-50 patients a day. While he takes precautions, there is increased risk around my being exposed to him. My granddaughter attends preschool, and while the preschool itself has had no cases and is maintained separately from the K-8 school, the K-8 school has had a couple of cases. Again, increased risk. Then there was my oldest grandson, who is careful but again, is exposed to other people through classes and roommates.

So, my daughter said, we needed to rethink how we were approaching all this. My family wants me around for a lot more years, she said, and while it might be merely inconvenient for them to get a case of Covid, it could be a disaster for me given my history of pneumonia twice in the past 2 1/2 years, and given my age. So we made the decision: we’ll stay apart as much as possible; when we do see each other, we’ll use masks and we’ll keep the 6-foot social distance. I’ll stay home, have groceries delivered, and at least for now, do without hugs (that hurts).

It’s the right decision, for the right reasons. As I let it sink in, I fetl above all the depth of my family’s love and care. They helped me figure out all the decisions and actions that were needed and they helped me implement them. It is the right thing to do, and above all I feel both relieved and safe.

I still spent much of Thursday and a fair portion of Friday in tears. I’d be sitting here thinking how everything was going to work out and how this is all temporary, and then some part of my brain would holler “Pity party! Right this way!” and on would come the tears again. Someone called from our parish, checking up to see if members needed anything or had prayer intentions, and I burst into tears just over the kindness in that woman’s voice. This morning, I had a wave of sadness at the moment I would usually have noticed my grandson’s car over at my daughter’s house and would have headed over for our traditional Saturday morning breakfast.

But this is one year in my life; one season of missed holidays — and more important, of finding new and different ways to celebrate. We’re finding online games that we can all play together; we’re getting together on Zoom; we’re looking out for each other in different ways. And we’re going to be fine, so that when the pandemic is over and we begin to right the ship, we’ll be better at being a family and at being good humans than we ever were before.

So what I’m going to do in these coming weeks and months is stay home, enjoy the solitude that is my natural state anway, find new opportunities and ways to pray, stay in touch with people in the ways I like to do, and cry when I need to.

I’m going to make sure I exercise daily and eat right, because I’ve already found the Covid 15 everyone talks about. I’m going to find ways to serve my God and my people — family and others around me — that are, I hope, less pride-inducing than trying to take on too much and trying to do everything. I’ll knit, I’ll read, I’ll pray, I’ll write. I’m going to try to stay out of God’s way when he is trying to send grace and mercy my way. And I’m going to be grateful, every single day and night, for the lesson in humility that he has so graciously given me in this time of Covid.

I’m going to trust my Lord and Savior in all things.

I can live with that.

Well, once again it has been a very, very long time since I’ve chosen to sit down and write here. These months of pandemic, combined with a level of political turmoil I can’t recall ever being quite so extreme, have resulted in what I might call an almost malignant busy-ness.

There’s the busy-ness of having myriad and different things to do, priorities and commitments and tasks around helping two boys navigate a flawed online learning system since our schools remain closed, and supporting the ability of family members whose jobs are essential, to continue working without a worry as to child care, meal preparation, and lots of little things. All of it involves some stress, some worry that I might not be doing it “right,” and some impatience that probably comes from an underlying sense that it isn’t really supposed to be like this. And saying it that way reminds me that peace lies in the direction of accepting the blessing of being where God wants me to be, doing what God wants me to do.

Then there’s the busy-ness of keeping up with everything that’s going on “out there” without being out there. And then there’s the busy-ness of following political and religious trends on social media. And thereby hangs a tale. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. After weeks and months of muting voices that I felt were shouting false information with no basis in fact or research, of seeking sources that felt more congruent with my own views, of diligently exploring voices that might provide helpful and/or useful perspectives, it occurred to me that all of it, really, was just noise. And “mind noise,” I discovered, is just as anxiety-provoking and annoyance-producing as physical noise.

So I removed the social media apps from my phone. The realization that Facebook was presenting me with very little that involved staying in touch with loved ones who live far away (or nearby, for that matter), and with very much that played on my anxieties and annoyance levels, led me to turn it off. And Twitter is gone. I had originally reactivated my Twitter account thinking I would find interesting voices to provoke thinking and promote communication and idea-sharing. Instead, I found dissonant voices that ranged from ill-informed and biased, to rabid and malicious, to inane if at least inoffensive. I found extremes of expression both in voices that purported to be religious and in voices that held themselves out as having political truth (an oxymoron?). Rather than coming away informed and provoked to deeper thinking, rather than finding an avenue of communication in this time of relative isolation, I found myself obsessively opening these pages to see something new, to find something provocative, and then sitting and wondering why I felt, at the same time, empty and provoked.

And so they are gone. I admit to taking a look at Facebook in the browser on my tablet the other morning; I had kind of missed seeing the daily memories it presented me. So I looked at the memories, and I looked at my “news feed,” and I realized that despite several days’ accumulation there really wasn’t anything there I needed to know or cared to see. I haven’t been back.

In this time of pandemic, where staying home and avoiding large groups and gatherings is the best way to avoid a potentially disastrous or even fatal illness, even a naturally solitary person can begin to feel isolated. The community around us shrinks; mine consists of about 6 family members and 2 friends. Call it my bubble, call it my community — it’s a lot smaller than it was. What I can say about it for sure is that I know the people in it are people I can count on, absolutely and all the time. That’s obviously not quite so true of the larger community that used to be in place. The pandemic, and people’s reactions to it, revealed some truths about people that changed how I felt about them and in some cases destroyed my trust in them.

So for about the past week, I’ve faced the world without the filter of social media. I’ve watched and read some news from major networks and newspapers (those my research has indicated were the least biased), and I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that my true community, those 6-8 people, didn’t change when I left social media behind. I realized that when I left social media behind, not one of the people with whom that was my main or sole connection has noticed or inquired about my absence, even though I left one app in place that would allow direct contact. And I realized that slowly but surely, my peace of mind and my focus on the spiritual began to return.

This awakening has occurred after a few weeks of finally being able to attend weekday Masses 3 times a week, as well as being able to go to Sunday Mass with the family. Masses had been suspended from late March well into June. Just about the time that weekend Masses were reinstated, I picked up a stubborn viral respiratory infection — not COVID-19, but it still resulted in a stubborn case of pneumonia — and still could not go to Mass for several weeks. Finally in early August, I was well enough to go. My parish by then had reinstated daily Masses, and about that same time, the schedule was revised so that an early Mass was offered three days a week. Although I had continued to pray often throughout the months of no Mass, following online Masses when possible, and I found that when Mass was not available God opened other channels of grace, I was amazed at how being at Mass opened those channels wider.

As the weeks passed, I once again began to think in ways that seemed worth writing down. And finally, this morning, I began to think deeply enough that these ideas required me to write them down. I’ll capture them briefly here, and I hope to expand on them in entries over the next few days.

First, grace. I’ve been thinking a lot about grace in recent months, as a gift from God. It’s a gift with an almost ironic twist: we need God’s grace in order to recognize and accept God’s grace. And what is grace, really? I started to think about it in the terms that we use in everyday language. Grace describes a freedom and fluidity of movement which suggests a confidence and integruty of being in those possessed of it; it speaks of a certain congruity between the one endowed with it and the surroundings in which that person walks. I began to wonder how well that description translates to the spiritual life, and all manner of ideas began to form.

A second concept that has been working its way through my mind is that of free will. We were created with free will; although it’s one of God’s great gifts to us, when we consider how quickly and disastrously the first humans misused it, it can seem more like a curse. How do we deal with something that God gave us as a gift, but which we are so prone to use to separate ourselves from him by sin? What if we offer it back to him — not as a rejection of the gift, but in the same way that we offer ourselves and our works and deeds and actions? What if we offer it to him so that it can be reconciled with his own will? Much to think about there; such an offering cannot negate the gift of free will but instead must be a way of using the freedom. In much the same way as I turn my intellect and reason and consciousness over to God when I sleep, entrusting them to him for safekeeping, can I entrust my free will to him for safekeeping?

There’s a third idea rolling around in my head, having to do with who we identify with when we read the Gospels, particularly the Parables. For example, awhile back when the daily Gospel reading included the parable of the workers in the vineyard, I considered that every time I hear that parable, I identify with the ones who worked all day, only to see those who worked only an hour or so get the same pay. And I thought about what great mercy and grace could come from realizing that we are really the ones who were hired late in the day and yet received the full benefit of a day’s wages. What a wonderful thing to live in a spirit of gratitude like those last hired must feel, no matter when we came to the table. Much to explore there.

And then there was the reading from Ezekiel about the dry bones. This reading refers to the stony heart replaced, the dry bones restored. And I thought about how God changes us profoundly when we empty ourselves and let him. He doesn’t just change what’s in us, he puts something all new in its place! I want to explore this section of Ezekiel in greater depth.

That’s probably more than enough food for thought, and outright rambling, for now. The day awaits, and even though there is no online school to supervise today, there are many other things to do. Please, Lord, let me do them in a condition and state of your grace, so filled with your love that it simply spills over onto everyone I encounter and makes me a blessing to them!

The gospel reading (John 19:25-34) for this day, June 1 — the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church — brought this thought vividly to my mind: Jesus gave us Mary as our Mother in what arguably was the worst and most painful moment of his human life. And I found that this thought had special meaning for me on at least three different levels.

First, even in that worst of human moments — facing death, suffering horrible pain, and knowing that nearly everyone he loved had abandoned him — Jesus’ focus was on those he loved. He gave his beloved mother to his beloved people knowing that she was the best and most gracious mother we could ever hope for, and knowing that she, as the best and most gracious and loving mother, needed children to mother. Jesus didn’t stop at dying on the cross to redeem us from sin. Oh, no. He held on to give us a wonderful gift. He saw to it that in our greatest time of need, we would always have a Mother to love and care for us.

There is something so poignant in this moment, in Jesus assuring that the mother he loved would have children to love and nurture, and in Jesus providing for all of us to be her children. If we’ve experienced a mother’s love, either by giving or receiving it, we have some glimmering of what that means, and we can trust that it is far greater than our own tiny experience. If we have not experienced it for ourselves, for whatever reason, in the earthly realm, we can find in this Gospel moment an assurance that this love is ours not just for the asking, but for the needing.

Second, the idea that Jesus made this great gift to us in the worst moment of his own life surely tells us that he means for us to call upon the mother he has given us in the worst moments of our own life. A mother is always there for her children, of course. A mother always loves her children. In the good times, if we are aware and fortunate, we wrap it around us and bask in its light and comfort. In times of difficulty, she is ready to wrap us up in the light and comfort of her love. What a sad state of affairs when we are not willing to allow or accept her help! It reminds me of a time of crisis in my own life, when things had gotten just about as bad as things can get, and my own mom reached out to help me. I hadn’t asked; in fact, I felt I had no reason to expect help, and when she reached out to offer, I even resisted the idea. I had decided I was on my own and would have to struggle through as best I could, and how here was this offer. And the only response that came to me was to say that I couldn’t accept her offer because I had no way to repay her. My mom said the most wonderful thing to me, then: “Some day, probably more than once, you will find someone in need of help, and when you help them without expecting to be repaid, you will be repaying me. Let’s just do this.”

In our worst times, Mary is with us as our mother, with open arms and open heart, giving us what we need and asking only that we be as generous with our love for others as she is with her love for us. She actively desires for us to reach out to her in these worst moments, because after being the perfect mother to the Son of God, she needs to be the perfect mother to the children Jesus gave her in his own worst moment.

Third, I am struck with wonder at the response of “the disciple there whom he loved” when Jesus made this great gift from the cross. His response is so simple and so profoundly beautiful: “…from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” The simple beauty and completeness of that statement just captivates my heart.

He took her into his home. She became, then, a vital part of his daily life, a presence that affected every decision and every action of every day. Isn’t that true when we take someone into our home? We begin to think about how our own actions will affect that person, and we become aware of how their actions impact us. In the reality of daily life, sometimes this awareness can chafe on both sides of the situation. But isn’t it true that when we undertake this inclusion in the spirit of love, it’s less likely to chafe and more likely to enrich? Likewise, we receive the gift of Mary as our mother, and take her into our “home” — both our earthly home and the home of our spirit and soul — in a spirit of love and gratitude, and it changes us. We begin to think of our actions in the light of her presence and her love for us. We begin to turn to her in our greatest needs, to lean on her as our mother — because that is what Jesus wanted us to do when he gave her to us in that worst of his earthly moments.

Finally, I want to always remember the simple words of the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, which tell us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was with the disciples when they returned to the upper room. We aren’t given much detail about her interactions with them, but given what we know about Jesus’ gift of his mother from the cross, we can guess that she most wonderfully and lovingly exercised her motherly role, and that they in turn were changed by her love.

Mary, dear mother of us all, you are precious among the gifts your son gave to his people. Pray for us that we might be deeply and truly changed by your love so that we become the people that your son calls us to be. As we grow in your love, let us become channels of love for those we encounter each day. Amen.

Emmaus (Pandemic)

I suppose that from a certain viewpoint, just about everything that needs to be said, perhaps even everything that could be said, about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus has been said. I’m not going to tap some great brand-new insight this morning after reading today’s gospel — which, by the way, is among my favorite gospel readings.

The part where the “stranger” asks the disciples what they are talking about, and where they incredulously ask him if he’s the only visitor to the city who doesn’t know what happened, never ceases to make me smile. I love the way Jesus hides himself in order to draw people out, and I love how he gets those disciples on the road to Emmaus engaged in some evangelism even before they know who they are talking to.

But what stood out for me today in this gospel for the Wednesday of the Easter Octave is that “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” This line has always moved me as I visualized what it would have been like to be those disciples, remembering what Jesus did at the Last Supper and experiencing that great awakening as they saw him again bless and break bread with them. And this morning, the words brought tears to my eyes.

“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In these days of pandemic and continuing quarantine and isolation, we experience a unique deprivation: not only have we been excused from our obligation to attend weekly Mass, but in most places the public celebration of Mass is suspended while shelter-at-home orders are in effect. We literally cannot fully participate in the sacrifice of the Mass or receive Jesus under the forms of bread and wine. We cannot physically receive the Eucharist. And I don’t know about you, but it is breaking my heart to be physically deprived of him for this long.

And yet. And yet we have both an obligation and a uniquely wonderful opportunity to keep our faith alive. Are we not taught that Jesus is also present in his Word? Are we not taught that Jesus is available to us through spiritual communion? The opportunity here is that instead of mourning what we’ve lost — which is where the disciples on the road to Emmaus seemed to be headed — we reach for and hold onto what we have. We have the Word of God, and we have the people of God, and we have the ability to pray, to communicate with God.

Our need is not so much to have back what we always had — that physical experience of Jesus in the Eucharist. Oh, we definitely need that back, and I hope people will be there in droves when they can once more receive. But what we need now is to immerse ourselves in his Word. What we need now is to find him daily in his people. And what we need now is to unite ourselves with him spiritually, not just daily but hourly, even minute-by-minute. Let each moment of sadness over what we don’t have right now, become an opportunity to reach for Jesus in his Word, in his people, and in prayer and spiritual communion.

Jesus, I’m here to ask you, as the disciples on the road to Emmaus asked you: Stay with us. We too easily slip to the side of the road on our way to find you. Stay with us, and let us know you in the your Word and your people until we can once more know you by the breaking of the bread.

Seeing Jesus (Pandemic)

The Gospel reading for this Tuesday of Easter shows us Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, unable to fathom the absence of Jesus’ body there, where she fully expected to find it. It hasn’t dawned on her yet that Jesus has done exactly what he said he would do — that he has arisen from death to life, that he is somewhere else because he is alive, not because someone moved his body.

It’s interesting that the angels who question her weeping don’t tell her the truth of the resurrection. She turns away from them, perhaps before they can even begin to tell the story, or perhaps in distress at even being questioned about her weeping. She turns away, and there Jesus is.

Except that she doesn’t recognize him. It’s a common enough even in these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Sometimes it seems that he conceals his identity for a reason; I wonder, with Mary Magdalene, if she doesn’t recognize him because he is not what she expected. She came looking for a corpse. She came prepared to minister to his dead body, to remember and ponder someone who has left this world and whose mark on the world and the hearts of his followers, although great, will bade with time.

She doesn’t find a corpse. Her expectations are disrupted at their core when she sees a man and is yet again questioned about her weeping. Imagine her thoughts at this second questioning: Isn’t it obvious? I’m at a tomb, so of course I am grieving a loved one. And I’m grieving all the more because my loved one’s body isn’t here, and I’m horrified that it has been stolen and perhaps desecrated. Why am I weeping? Who wouldn’t be weeping?

And then he says her name. Mary. And in that moment, the moment when she hears her name spoken by that beloved voice, everything dawns on her.

It is Jesus who speaks her name, and if it is Jesus, he must be alive! Here he is in front of her, and I think of her heart and her mind just racing to process it all. Imagine the turbulent joy, the disbelief melting into absolute certainty; imagine the profound relief as she understands that Jesus has truly done what he said he would do. In this moment of recognition, she has not yet any idea of what’s coming next, but she knows with absolute faith that whatever it is will be perfect. I imagine that she can hardly wait to get started, once Jesus has told her what she is to do.

And what is it that he tells her? Just this one thing: Go and tell the others.

The beginnings of all evangelization, I think, are found in this moment when Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus and does what he tells her to do — go tell the others.

These days of pandemic and quarantine create such interesting opportunities to see Jesus. Everything about the way we live seems to have changed. It’s an interesting paradox: In our normal world, we spend the majority of our waking hours among people who are not our closest. We spend our time with people who range from complete strangers to people we know casually or through work, to closer associates and perhaps some close friends, and we spend only a few hours with those nearest and dearest to us — our families.

We’re called to recognize Jesus in all of them. But what a difference in these strange times. It’s one thing to think about recognizing Jesus in the encounters with strangers and near-strangers in our workplaces, out shopping, in volunteer activities, at school, or running errands. If we’re doing it right, we use each of these encounters to remind ourselves to look for him, to find him, to reach out to him.

It’s another thing altogether to look for him in the family members with whom we are suddenly spending 24 hours a day. We just aren’t used to being with the people we love for quite so many hours. We think we crave more time with those we love, and then when we get it — involuntarily, to be sure — what seems to happen is that all of the little flaws and foibles (which we can more easily ignore in normal times) become glaring huge faults and imperfections, annoyances that set our last nerves on edge and have us in a constant state of irritation bordering on rage.

It’s a lot harder to see and recognize Jesus in these conditions. After all, these are our ordinary, everyday people, but we are not experiencing them in the way we expected. Just as Mary Magdalene’s expectations got in the way of her recognizing Jesus at the empty tomb, so our everyday expectations of our everyday people can get in the way of our recognizing Jesus in them.

And we need to recognize Jesus in them. When our spouse or child or sibling or parent says our name, that’s the time to recognize him and be open to what he is telling us. We need to let the joy and certainty of who he is, and how he loves us, infect all of those interactions. And then we need to “go and tell the others.”

I’m pretty sure we can live with that.

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