Sunday, July 12, 2015

making time for... what?

It's not easy to find a balance in life. 

Sometimes, the problem isn't making time for things... 

The problem is making time for too many.

Thursday morning, I woke up - later than I'd wanted - to a migraine that felt like an icepick jammed through my right eye.

My usual dose of black tea was not quite enough to wake me up, and in spite of the headache and exhaustion, I dragged myself to work, for the sake of one important meeting. 
By 3:00, everything was wrapped up. Though the icepick was still lodged firmly behind my eye, I didn't want to go home, because I knew that if I went home, the odds were not in favor of making it to evening Mass. 

A thunderstorm was looming in the south, and the air was fresh and cool. Not wanting to drive too far, but thinking that being outside in that lovely pre-monsoon storm weather would be good after a long day stuck in an office, I went to a nearby outdoor shopping mall. 

As I walked out of a store awhile later, it had started to rain. I stopped under the eave, and leaned back against the storefront. The rain wasn't hard yet, but it was steady.

I didn't care about getting wet.
I was only about 15 feet from my car.
But I stopped.
Just stopped.
And watched the rain.

I realized that it was the first time all week that I had paused so intentionally – that I had really made time to stop.

My heart and mind have been heavy in recent days, and perhaps in an effort to avoid thinking too deeply about weighty things, I lost myself in the busy-ness of everything else. It’s easy to do. There’s always some demand on my time. The problem isn't making time for those demands... The problem is, I make time for too many.

Sure, there are certain things I hold as non-negotiable, but some weeks, I wonder if I have enough of those. 

Watching the rain, I thought about how living at this pace – often technology-driven (what’s in my email?? what last-minute meeting just got put on my calendar?) – is often not really living, at all. 

We are overly connected, and utterly depersonalized... 

Some days, I wish I could just give it all up. Do something simpler. Something quieter. Something less connected, but more personal.

Some days, I wish I could just give it all up. Then, I'm reminded that giving it all up isn't the solution. Being who God needs me to be, right here, right now - in all the messy complexity that entails - is. Finding a way to keep some balance and simplicity in that mix isn't easy, and I fail at it all the time. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

return to the heart

May we alway seek refuge in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His love for us is deeper than any ocean... How he longs for us to return to his Heart! 

A few days ago, I read a meditation that talked about how, just as the blood in our bodies always returns to the heart, so we should always return to Jesus’ Heart.

I like the image that brings to mind – that we are like drops of blood, circulating through the body of Christ, always flowing back to his Sacred Heart. It’s a beautiful way to be reminded that if we strive to follow the path of Christ, we are united to him in everything – in our joys, our struggles, our outright sufferings. We are always able to seek the refuge of his Sacred Heart, as he loves us beyond the depth of the deepest ocean. Even in our failings, he says, as through the prophet Hosea, “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.” 

Lord Jesus, may we be your Precious Blood in the world, circulating through your Body however you will - but always returning to your Heart, the source of all love, all joy. "Make our hearts like unto Thine.." 

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! 

Linking up with Blessed Is She... on heart

Thursday, May 28, 2015

joy and sacrifice

Joy is mysteriously intertwined with sacrifice, because the origin of all joy is Jesus Christ.

Joy seems to be in short supply these days. A quick look at the world around us, is all we need to convince ourselves of that.

Immediately, I think of my colleagues at work. I can say that many of them have little or no concept of joy. Most of them may be reasonably happy - things are good (or at least not bad) at home, work is not terrible - but they don't seem to have any particular joy in their lives.

Joy and happiness are most certainly not the same things. One can be joyful in unhappy times, even those filled with terrible suffering. 

Over last weekend, seven men were ordained to the holy priesthood for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. I was privileged to have the opportunity to photograph the Ordination Mass. Over the past several years I've spent as a photographer, ordinations have always been my favorite event to photograph - the joy is always so pure, so unconditional.

What about weddings, you say? Well, weddings are great, yo, but today, so few weddings are about anything more than contrived expectations of what it means to have a "perfect" wedding, that joy is frequently a guest whose invitation is forgotten. The secular invades the sacred, and joy is lost. And marriage preparation? With few exceptions, marriage preparation is often more focused on getting used to sharing the toothpaste (and of course, an awful lot of people getting married these days are already doing plenty more than that), and managing finances, than it is focused on the fact that the joy of marriage is pre-loaded with sacrifice.

Back to ordinations.

There is a certain kind of joy that marks those who have responded unreservedly to the Lord's calling. They understand that the origin of all joy is Jesus Christ. They have already made many sacrifices for their vocation, spending years in preparation for ordination, often far from home. They know that the price of their vocation is their entire life – “poured out like a libation” – even if they don’t fully know the depths of what future sacrifices that pouring out may entail. (If only marriage preparation helped couples understand the sacrificial nature of marriage…)

As it was sung at the Ordination Mass, “Take me as I am – summon out what I shall be – set your seal upon my heart, and live in me…”

That “summoning out” – the conforming of our lives to Christ – is sacrificial. Sometimes it hurts. But there is joy to be found in the sacrifice, and joy to be found in the surrender.

Linking up with Blessed Is She today on finding joy! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


"Only that which is eternal can satisfy us." 
- St. Therese of Lisieux

Lord Jesus, you are love, sublime and beautiful. 
Oh, to be consumed by your love for all eternity. 
You are everything. 
Ever constant, yet ever new, your love. 
You poured out your Precious Blood for us - 
Your Sacred Heart aches and longs for us - 
Yet we love you so poorly. 
All you ask is for us to respond to your invitation. 
Draw us more deeply into your love, Lord... 
Show us your heart. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

finish the race

When life brings us the unexpected, 

grace helps us finish the race...

I've been away from the blog for a couple of weeks - life away from the computer intervened. As it often seems to happen, time passed more quickly than I'd imagined possible.

Last night, the high school students at my parish who have spent the last nine months or so preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, were confirmed. Thanks be to God!!

It was a special evening for them - a wonderful group of teens, with whom I was blessed to spend many hours over the months of their preparation. Back in September, I'd met them all for the first time as a Confirmation teacher. Last night, I presented them for the sacrament of Confirmation, as the parish's Confirmation program coordinator.

Yep, that was a big change. To say the least.

I certainly hadn't expected this - but a few months ago, the parish's director of religious education took a new job, and I was asked to assume leadership of the high school Confirmation program. I accepted enthusiastically - and yes, a few people thought that was crazy, in and of itself. I knew full well what I was taking on... 21 teenagers in the final months of Confirmation prep... All the joys of making sure they had fulfilled all of the requirements to be confirmed... While doing my day job, on top of all that.

There were moments of joy. The times when I just knew they "got it" - that they understood something of what I was trying to teach them - or when a teen who had been disengaged, found a reason to be interested in why they were studying to be confirmed.

There were moments of stress and thinking I might just lose my mind this time. Perhaps I had bitten off more than I could really chew.

There were moments when I said, "Lord, why am I doing this?" - when the demon of insecurity that often tries to creep into our efforts in youth ministry, would rear its ugly head. I mustered all the trust I could muster, and tried to forge ahead.

But at the end, there was joy, despite the fact that I was a bundle of nerves and adrenaline last night. There was joy in knowing that while this particular race was finished, these teens had finished it strong, and hopefully were ready to walk back out into the world, not as if they'd graduated from faith, but with greater strength, ready to live their lives with faith... Ready for the next leg of the race toward eternity.

They had persevered. I had persevered. We made it, together.
Because... Grace. Without it, we could not persevere. Please God, may we continue on the path you place before us.

Not the greatest pic, I know... But not bad for a snapshot from an early morning run a few days ago... the sun coming up over the mountains, headed up a hill... With the bonus of a bird flying through at just the right time! Kind of a nice analogy for life, right? 

Joining the Blessed is She linkup on "perseverance" this windy Thursday night... 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

running hills

Life is like training for a marathon - while running the marathon. 

Are you a runner?

I'm a runner. Of the crazy, "I need my six miles today" variety. Maybe you're a runner... Maybe you claim only to run when chased... 

Or maybe you're a runner, and you don't even know it.

But if you run, or are close to someone who does run, you are probably aware that there are two types of workouts that runners usually hate: hills, and speedwork.

Me? I hate speedwork - particularly speedwork on a track. So confined. So boring. Round and around and around... Bleh. It drives me nuts. But speedwork is a necessary evil - so when I do it (which is not as often as I probably should) I combine it with a run on one of my normal routes.

The other night, I combined speedwork with hills. 
Yes. I know. I'm crazy. It's nothing new. 

I actually like running hills, or at least I've brainwashed myself into liking them, as they are unavoidable in the neighborhoods where I spend most of my running time. Every run is on hills.

In the midst of this speed/hill workout the other night, it occurred to me that life is like this... like a hill workout - like a series of hill workouts. Some of them involve speedwork, training those fast-twitch muscles to react quickly. Some of them are long, slow distance runs, to build endurance.

But whatever the pace, they always involve hills, and some of them seem nearly impossible. Yet, as in running, when I reach the top of a hill after a grueling climb and stand at its crest, there is something glorious about reaching the top of one of those hills in the journey of life.

Yet the workouts get progressively harder. Life is like training for a marathon - while running the marathon. The hills get steeper, the overall elevation increases, the distances get longer.

Some days, it's hard to run fast. Some days, it's hard to run long distance. Once in awhile, the toe of your shoe catches a crack in the pavement and you land on your butt. Sometimes, you get hurt and have to take some time walking to recover.

And of course, you always have to eat. And if you want to perform your best, you have to eat well.

The further I run, the harder I run, the more hungry I am afterward. Makes sense. (And man, there is nothing like post-long-run hunger. Whoa.)

It makes sense spiritually, too - the harder I "train," the more time I spend trying to do God's work, or at least do his will, the more time I spend learning to hear his voice - the more hungry my soul becomes for him - and the more I need him, in prayer and particularly in the Eucharist. There is no better food than Jesus himself. 

Here is to running the race that is set before me, before us - to going the distance in faith, through the sore muscles, the heartaches, the sprains, the windy days, the days when we feel great, and the days (and months, and years) when we feel like everything is falling apart. 

Then, when we crest that last hill, and stand atop it next to the Lord, looking out over the heavenly Jerusalem, he will say, "You have finished the race. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come to the feast."

You're a runner... whether you knew it before, or not

Joining the Blessed is She linkup on "life" this lovely Thursday!

Friday, April 24, 2015


Your love, Lord Jesus, is extravagant. As if your suffering and resurrection were somehow not proof enough, you have left yourself for us in the Holy Eucharist. 

How could it be true that the uncreated Creator of the universe - who cannot be contained, who is boundless, outside of space and time - allows himself to be contained in bread and wine? And all so that his creatures might consume him? 

All the while, Lord, as we consume you in the Eucharist, it is really you who consume us. It is less that we receive you, and more that you receive us - because you found us, before we found you. 

It is truly beyond human comprehension, but that makes it no less true. You chose to remain physically with us, veiled under the appearance of bread and wine. Such complete vulnerability - and total humility. 

You have given your very self for us, Lord. Grant us the grace to return your gift of self in thanksgiving - eucharistia - through the gift of our lives. 

I love you.

Joining the Blessed is She linkup on the Eucharist. Late again this week, no thanks to a sinus infection that doesn't want to go away. (Prayers are appreciated!) 


Monday, April 13, 2015

the church is the solution

Many Catholics - and many more non-Catholics - today seem to believe the Catholic Church is a problem that needs to be solved by the world - that the Church needs to be liberalized, and that it is okay to only abide by the teachings of the Church that are convenient. 

After the events of Triduum and Easter Sunday, I returned to work last week, feeling like I’d been gone for a year. It’s funny how taking even just a few days to dedicate to the things of God can make you feel like even more of a foreigner in the world than you’d felt you were before (even if you spent part of those days corralling high school Confirmation students). 

I felt as if I needed some kind of reintegration plan, though all I wanted to do was leave. 

Warning: "passionate Catholic" rant ahead. 

While making small talk with coworkers before a meeting last Tuesday morning, religion came up in conversation – someone had mentioned something about Easter. Despite the fact that religion is one of those infamous topics everyone is told to avoid discussing at work, the ball started rolling. 

Somehow, Catholicism entered the conversation, and a (non-Catholic) colleague exclaimed, 

“I really like Pope Francis! I didn’t like that guy before him, though.” 

… … Well, thanks for your valuable contribution to the conversation, I thought. I wanted to stay out of this one, but now I have no choice. 

“I really liked Pope Benedict, actually.” I was met with shocked stares of silence. 

“But he didn’t DO anything!” the same colleague asserted. 

Um, seriously? Here we go with the people who know little-to-nothing about the Church telling the Church what the Pope has or hasn’t been doing…

“Besides, the Catholic Church needs to be liberalized,” another non-Catholic coworker piped in, “I mean, really, can we get over the abortion thing already?” (Believe it or not, a man - a husband and father - said this!)

Okay. If this goes much further, it will be all out WAR. Before I could respond, the only other Catholic in the immediate group offered, 

“I agree, the Church needs to be liberalized! You know, I’m Catholic, but I don't agree with all of the Church’s teachings. I just ignore the ones I don’t like.”

Oh. Dear. Lord. Have mercy.

As I was about to respond, the meeting was called to order. The conversation ended as quickly as it had happened, and was probably forgotten by everyone except me. 

I’m used to being the weird one who actually agrees with Church teaching on, well, EVERYTHING. I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that most people – even perhaps most Catholics – don’t understand this. If a colleague asks me what I believe, I will absolutely tell them. But other than wearing a crucifix and keeping some holy cards out in my office, I don’t “advertise,” and I don’t slap people around with my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I keep that at home, lest I be tempted. ;-)

But this conversation, though certainly not the first of its kind I've been involved in - deeply bothered me. A lack of understanding of the Church is, of course, common among non-Catholics, and although I don’t like it – particularly when non-Catholics think it is appropriate to armchair quarterback the Chair of St. Peter, or criticize an institution that they know so little about, and are often predisposed to dislike – this lack of understanding, I can deal with.

Blatant disregard of Church teaching by Catholics who clearly know Church teaching and are willing to publicly state their dissent, though… That’s hard for me, and it struck a particular nerve given the few days preceding.  

I know it's not easy to follow the teachings of the Church; some are harder than others to embrace. There are some with which I struggled for many years - but God is good, and I eventually learned the goodness, truth, beauty found in the teachings of the Church - and the importance of (much-underrated) obedience. I am certainly not perfect, but I have learned that life is hard enough without challenging God's truths. 

The Catholic Church has been an unchanging barque in the turbulent waters of the world for 2,000 years. She hasn’t sunk, while maintaining a consistent, if unpopular, course – particularly in the realm of teachings on human sexuality, which, at minimum, always seems to underpin the issue at hand. (I could write for WEEKS on this alone.)  

Want to see what happens when churches lack consistency and commitment to their teachings? A shining example (and there are plenty beyond this!) is today's “high church” Protestantism – whether Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc… – all have waged internal wars and have splintered over ordaining women or recognizing homosexual unions, or some other such thing to which the Catholic Church has said, and continues to say, “no”.

Consistency.  My God, it is a beautiful thing (and yes, I am addressing that remark to the Lord, not taking his name in vain). I find the Church’s consistency and fidelity to what she deems unchanging truths, beautiful. 
Basically, the principle is that the Church didn’t just make these things up – they are actually God’s ideas – it is the sacred duty of the Church to pass them on to the faithful, and the world.

Without apology to those who know Church teaching and knowingly dissent from it, I offer the following: 

The Church is the solution, not the problem. 
When we dissent from Church teaching on faith and morals, we become the problem, not the solution. 

The Church doesn’t need to liberalize. The Church doesn’t need to change her teachings. They are not hers to change. 

Catholics need to pray. Catholics need to study. Catholics, we need to let God shape us, and learn to do his will, instead of trying to change his Church to fit our will. 

In other words, we need to learn to be Catholic. I know it’s hard for us post-moderns, living in our liberal democratic society to consider anything other than fierce individualism as good – but the Church? It’s not a democracy. It’s not even a Pope-ocracy. It’s a THEOCRACY. 

The Church is not a problem to be solved by the world. The Church is the solution to the problems of the world. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

forgetting easter

Easter. Resurrection. Christ is risen from the dead. How quickly we forget that Easter is more than a day... 

I could wax theological on the resurrection, but waxing theological doesn't feel right to me this evening. I've pondered the topic of "resurrection" today, thinking about what I might write. Sitting here now, I realize that thinking about this, isn't the approach I need to take.

I'm analytical by nature - I like to think about things, to solve problems, to pick things apart - but some things don't require my analysis - they only require my heart.

This Triduum was difficult for me. My Confirmation  students were required to attend the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday, and Easter Vigil - and  sit together. Which meant I had to sit with them. Which meant I had to be constantly conscious of them, and their behavior - in addition to trying to be fully present to worship Christ. That was... not easy. To say the least. I had to focus on them with my head, while trying simultaneously to focus on the Lord with my heart.

By the time Holy Saturday arrived, I wasn't sure if I was more excited because the Easter Vigil was that evening, or because it was the last Mass at which I would have to play "mother hen" for my students... But if I'm honest, it was probably the latter. Yes, such joy to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!

Easter Sunday, my husband and I attended Mass again - this time, with my family - and then spent the afternoon with them. By Easter Sunday evening, I was tired, kinda crabby, and a bit miffed that well, Easter Sunday had seemed more full of chaos than grace!

The next morning - Easter Monday - I went to my parish's morning Mass. As I walked into the chapel, I noticed the morning light streaming through the stained glass window on the east wall. The warm light touched everything in the chapel sanctuary and it positively GLOWED... I knelt to pray, and suddenly, I couldn't stop crying.

Easter. Thank you, Jesus, that Easter is more than a day - and that your Resurrection is for all eternity.

Hitting the linkup with Blessed Is She - on resurrection!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

the breaking of the bread

Then the two recounted what had happened on the way, 

and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

Today's Gospel (Lk. 24: 13-35) tells the story of the two disciples who unknowingly meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus, not recognizing him until he blesses and breaks the bread. 
This is one of my favorite Gospel readings. I wait for it every year during the Octave of Easter, and it has often been a beloved companion in lectio divina. 

I'd hoped to go to Mass this morning, but other obligations (i.e., my day job) intervened. My home parish doesn't have a Wednesday evening Mass, so driving home from work this evening, I stopped off for Mass at another nearby parish where I attend daily Mass on occasion. I never quite feel comfortable there - it's a good, solid parish, but it's simply not "home." 

In any case, I wasn't about to give up Easter Wednesday Mass.

As I listened to the Gospel, I imagined how those two disciples would have felt - encountering Jesus on the way. They were completely out of their comfort zone - not yet knowing Jesus had risen - probably still in fear of the authorities, in addition to feeling confusion and grief - one can see how it would have been easy for them not to recognize the risen Lord. Yet, their hearts burn within them as he explained the scriptures, and then they know him in the breaking of the bread. 

They know him in the Mass, as it were - the Word, and the Eucharist. And though they were not "at home," they still found the Lord - or rather, the Lord found them

Lord Jesus, I prayed as the priest said the words of consecration, help me to know you in this breaking of the bread. 

Praised be our risen Lord, now and forever! 


Saturday, April 4, 2015

o felix culpa

O happy fault, that gained for us so great, so glorious, a Redeemer. 

Jesus, how I wish I could cradle in my arms, as your Holy Mother did, your sacred head - and weep over its bruises, over the punctures from the crown of thorns.

To kiss your pierced hands and feet. 

To lock myself in the tomb to guard your sacred body while awaiting the glory of your resurrection. 

O Lord, I would gladly kiss the stone closing your tomb - but I would rather that my heart were entombed behind that stone, next to yours. 

In the holy silence of this day, teach our hearts to love you, and to long only for you as we await your return. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

what wondrous love is this

"What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul... "

Lord Jesus, what love you show us - 
In the gift of your Body and Blood 
And the gift of your life for our sins.

In your gently waking me when I fall asleep on watch,
And in the grace that is to share in your Cross 
 - even when the pain is beyond my imagining. 

In the joy that is to know the fire of your love, 
And to know that you are Love, 
That you are Light, 
And Life everlasting.

And that as your life became intertwined with the mystery of suffering and death, 
Ours shall be no different.


Monday, March 30, 2015

work in progress

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week - yet the Church is largely silent after Palm Sunday, until the celebration of Holy Thursday. The first days of Holy Week are silent witnesses of anticipation that we should not overlook in our own preparation for the Easter Triduum.

Today’s first reading at Mass (Is. 42:1-7) carries a sense of anticipation, of waiting, in its use of “shall” and “until”. God’s servant “shall bring forth justice,” and “the coastlands will wait for his teaching” until he establishes justice. Isaiah’s words are evocative of a mission that is not yet complete – “I, the LORD, have called you… To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners…”

The eyes of the blind are not yet open; the prisoners are still captive; sight and freedom have not yet come. These things are essentially a work in progress. 
One could sum up this reading in a single sentence: “The world awaits the Lord’s salvation.”

And of course, salvation came, in the person of Jesus Christ, and through his death and resurrection. However, as Catholics, we know that our own salvation depends on our response to the Risen Lord over the course of our entire lives. We await salvation – until God grants us the vision of heaven in eternity. "The Lord is my light and my salvation..." (Ps. 27)

We are all “a work in progress.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

not what i will

The struggle to follow Christ, to obey his will, is constant - particularly in a dark world that does not acknowledge God... Sometimes, it is so hard to echo the words of Jesus in Gesthemane, "Not what I will, but what you will." 

I'm posting this quite a bit later than I'd intended to... But life has a way of intervening in our intentions sometimes... I had a migraine on Wednesday that lasted through Thursday and into Friday. No thanks to spring pollen and wind for that one! In any case, perhaps it is better that I was delayed in finishing and posting this - a few days' perspective, and with Palm Sunday, has hopefully improved my collection of thoughts. 

A few days ago, I was able to spend some time in the Stations of the Cross prayer garden that is adjacent to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, in Santa Fe. Praying before each of the massive bronze Stations, I slowly worked my way around the garden path. After praying the Stations, I sat quietly in the garden and meditated on Jesus' Passion. The bronze sculptures that make up the Stations of the Cross in this garden are rough and textural, nearly primitive in their expressions - and they illustrate the suffering of Christ in a manner that makes them painful to observe.

Suffering that we can barely imagine.

Suffering that was an act of love, to be sure. But beyond that, the suffering of Christ was also an act of perfect trust - trusting that God the Father would not let his suffering be in vain. And beyond that, Christ's suffering was an act of perfect obedience. 

During the reading of the Passion at Mass this morning, my attention was particularly drawn to Jesus' words: "Not what I will, but what you will." 

Lord, you know how poorly I obey you, so often. How often my words are not your own - when instead I say, "not what you will, Lord, but what I will." 

Lord, I love you. Yet clearly, I love you so poorly that I am unfaithful to you, unfaithful to your will, unfaithful to your unfathomable love. It seems to me that, knowing your great love, I should be more faithful to you, and doing your will should not be so difficult for me. Yet I struggle with it, in even the smallest of things. How can it be that my heart is still so hard? 

The Eighth Station: Jesus Speaks to the Women -
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, NM

Though I am a bit late to the party, still hitting the linkup with Blessed Is She! ;)

Monday, March 23, 2015

falling asleep in Adoration

Saturday morning, running on 4.5 hours of sleep, some caffeine, two bananas, and adrenaline, I plunged into leading a retreat for my parish's high school Confirmation students. Sunday afternoon, I went to spend time with Jesus in Adoration - where, still tired from Saturday's events, I fell asleep.

I love the NCAA tournament, but my version of March Madness this weekend involved nine hours of prayer, discussion, and laughter with 19 teenagers - and no basketball.
If you've ever led a retreat, whether it was a day, a weekend, or longer, you know what's involved, from the planning and preparation, through the retreat itself. I LOVE it, but it's not light on effort - retreats are a labor of love. That labor of love always exacts suffering in some way, and in my Catholic mind, that's not just okay; it's good. Things that are worth doing are worth suffering for - particularly when that suffering gives way to - please, God! - spreading the light of Christ.

Symbolically speaking of that light of Christ, I asked the confirmandi to pray about what they needed to let go of in order to draw closer to God. After time in prayer, they lit candles representing what they needed to let go of,  and placed them in a bed of salt in front of an icon of Christ - a reminder that they are called to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world":  

By the time things were wrapped up Saturday evening, I was happily exhausted after a wonderful day with a great group of teens. As I walked to my car in a completely unexpected rainstorm, I looked east, toward the church: 


Well played, Lord, well played. I try not to read into these things when they happen, but yes, I would like to think that maybe... just maybe... our Lord was letting me know he was happy. Of course, as long as he really was happy, it doesn't really matter if he was telling me that or not. 

Note: yes, that is a bright blue sky on the other side of the cloud... The rain seemed like it came out of nowhere. It was there, and then it was gone, rainbows and all. 

You might think, after the whole 4.5-hours-of-sleep-here's-some-caffeine-let's-go-lead-a-retreat-now experience, I would've slept in on Sunday. After all, we ended the retreat with Mass, so I didn't need to go Sunday morning. But no. I was wide awake at 7:00.

After a lovely morning and early afternoon relaxing and shopping with a friend, I decided I'd go spend some time with Jesus.

Sitting in the chapel, soaking in the goodness of our Lord's presence, it hit me. I was tired. Like, really tired. Sleepy tired. 

Truth: I totally fell asleep. Thankfully, I was wearing a chapel veil - and the sides make it harder to see my eyes - so hopefully no one else in the adoration chapel really noticed. ;-)

When *ahem* I awoke about 40 minutes later, I somewhat sheepishly recalled what St. Therese of Lisieux said about her struggles with staying awake when she was supposed to be at prayer: 

"I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake; I remember, too, that when they perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep. Finally, I remember that: 'The Lord knows our weakness, that he is mindful that we are but dust and ashes.'"

To be that little child in the eyes of the Father... 

To be the patient of the Divine Physician... 

To know the love of Jesus in spite of my own dust and ashes.

"O God, you are my God, for you I long..."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

unpredictable weather

Springtime weather in the desert is unpredictable - sudden storms can obscure our vision - forcing us to trust that we are headed the right direction. Likewise, in the spiritual life, God sometimes obscures the path from our sight. He knows what he is accomplishing, even when our faith and trust in him are challenged. 

Lent. Over the years, I have often felt as if I've been kicked out into the desert during Lent, feeling spiritually alone and unsure of myself - like parachuting out of a plane at night, not knowing where you'll land, or what you'll find when you hit the ground. 

Lent. You probably know, the word means "spring" - and this had often seemed so ironic. Springtime in the desert is often less tulips-and-daffodils, and more tumbleweeds and wind. The land is dry and dusty, begging for rain. Honestly, I prefer autumn.

Lent. Last year, I was particularly drawn to praying with the gospel story of Jesus' temptation in the desert. At the time, I was beginning to heal from some "tough stuff" I'd been through in the previous several years - tough stuff that had deeply challenged my faith and trust in God. A beautiful intervention of grace (more on that another time) several months prior had helped me find the will to begin rebuilding my life with Christ, but I was, by no means, healed. 

While praying this gospel one afternoon, I found myself, in my mind's eye, standing in the desert - the same dry, dusty, juniper- and chamisa-covered expanse that I have always pictured when praying with this passage. This time, however, it was much more "real" - as though the Lord was drawing me more deeply into prayer by allowing me a more vivid experience of the scene. 

looked around the dry, dusty desert, and lifting my head, looked up at the sky. Clouds were gathering, in the manner one might expect before a summer monsoon rain. An unexpected breeze swept across the land, carrying the sweet scent of desert rain and moist sagebrush. I closed my eyes, breathing it in, feeling unusually at peace. 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The breeze grew stronger. Eyes still closed, I flinched, expecting the stinging impact of blowing sand to follow. Instead, I felt raindrops, and heard their quiet drumming on the dry land.  

Sensing the presence of another, I opened my eyes. The "other" was Jesus, standing before me. I thought my heart would burst inside my chest, yet I hesitated

“My daughter,” he said, stepping forward to embrace me, “I love you.” 

The hesitance disappeared. I collapsed into his arms, sobbing into his cloak, unable to speak.  

After a few moments, Jesus spoke: "I know what you have suffered. Will you let go, and let me heal you? I love you." 

How could I not trust?

*Linking up with the Blessed Is She Sisterhood today, on the topic of trust - check it out!*

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the rules and the reasons why

Have you ever felt that we, as a Church, are quite good at laying out the "rules," yet sometimes quite bad at expressing why those rules are important to follow? 

I teach Confirmation preparation classes to high school students, and it is clear that many teens (and plenty of adults, too!) look at the Church and see an endless list of rules and regulations - whether it's the "administrative" things they are required to do in order to get confirmed, or the actual teachings of the Church.

These rules and regs and requirements are important - but unless their underlying reasons are understood, they lack meaning. When a rule lacks meaning, it is much easier to let it fall by the wayside. It is one thing to tell a teenager that premarital sex is a mortal sin; it is quite another to actually explain to them why sex is a gift to be shared within the bonds of marriage, and why treating that gift like a plaything outside of marriage is effectively playing with fire.

It seems to me that often, we do a great job laying out the rules, and a poor job of expressing their meaning... In other words, we're often really good at telling people what they have to do, and we're really bad at helping them understand why they should do those things.

Odds are, you've been on the "telling" or "being told" end of this at some point - am I right?

Halfway through Lent, it is worth it to point out that the same could be said for the manner in which we often approach Lent - giving something up in order to say we have done it, instead of considering carefully what we need to do in our lives to grow closer to God. We are good at observing the letter of the law - not unlike the Pharisees - but sometimes (often?) we fail to meet, or even recognize, its spirit, whether out of our own ignorance, fear, or indifference.

We all know what we have to do - we know the rules and regs  - we've been through the what, the when, the where, the who, and the how.

Don't lose sight of the *why*. The rules and regs aren't a checklist (and in the case of Confirmation, they are not "graduation requirements"). They are important, because they provide us with a framework for our lives - a way along which we come to know and love our God, and find that his ways are true, just as the Church has said.

High school Confirmation preparation programs are intended to help young Catholics develop a relationship with Christ that will continue to grow long after they are confirmed. The teachings of the Church are intended to accomplish precisely the same thing - to help us develop our relationship with Christ throughout our lives - though we often forget this because we lose sight of the why.

We need to know God because we live in a dark world that does not.

We need to know God so that we can offer the light of Christ to this dark world - and because we need a safe harbor when the world's storms come our way.

Ultimately, we need to know God so that, when we finally see his face in eternity, we can say, "Lord, I love you, and I have done your will."