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. 

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 us to know you in this breaking of the bread. 



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.

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." 

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!*

Thursday, March 12, 2015

reconciliation + encounter

"Lord, I love you; have mercy on me and forgive my sins."

The first thing I pray when my knees hit the kneeler before Mass or at Adoration is some version of the above - an expression of love, coupled with a request for mercy and forgiveness because my love is imperfect, and the sin is born from my inability to love perfectly is blinding. I want to eliminate the sin that keeps me from "seeing" God. 

In other words, I am seeking reconciliation. And usually about once a month or so, I seek this reconciliation formally, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation... Confession. 

But what does reconciliation really mean?

I like to break words down into their most basic meanings, and this is a great word to pull apart. I'm not the first to comment on this, by far (I've read it in articles, on numerous blogs, and Fr. Robert Barron discusses it in his "Priest, Prophet, King" series, as well), but if you break the word reconciliation into its component parts, you have: re-con-cilia-tion. The first three are the most important: re = again, con = with, cilia = eyelash. So, reconciliation essentially means "to be eyelash to eyelash again". When we are reconciled to God, we have literally turned away from the disorder of our sin, and have turned back to face him again. 

Once reconciled, we are able to love and honor God properly - totally facing him, instead of turned away, facing the world. We are free to encounter Jesus, the Living Word. 

One of the great stories of conversion recounted in the Gospels is that of the Samaritan woman at the well, and I think it illustrates well this idea of reconciliation and encounter. The Samaritan woman, who is living in sin, is at first unable to comprehend his presence at the well. She doesn't really "see" him - until he reveals his knowledge of her sin, and his identity as Messiah. Reconciliation and encounter are somewhat implicit here, but they become clear through their effects when the woman returns to her village, proclaiming Jesus. Because of her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman - who had presumably been an outcast in her village because of her sin - has now become an evangelist, seeking to bringing more people to the same reconciliation and encounter she has experienced. 

Though I've certainly not had five husbands (happy with the one I've got, and one is definitely enough!), ;) and have never drawn water from a well in a dusty town in Samaria, I can relate to the woman at the well - and just fielding a guess, we probably all can relate to her. Jesus knows everything I've ever done, and has offered me his mercy. When I accept his mercy and am reconciled to him, he invites me into encounter - invites me to know him, as the Living Word, as Love, as Lord. 

"Lord, I love you; reconcile me to yourself so I may live in your love." 

Linking up to the Blessed is She Sisterhood!

Friday, February 20, 2015

something to let go

On Monday, a colleague asked, "So what are you giving up for Lent?"

It occurred to me several days ago that perhaps this was something worth approaching from a different angle for a change. You may be familiar with the idea of the "God-shaped hole" that exists in every human heart (words that are popularly, and as I have recently discovered, incorrectly attributed to Blaise Pascal).

The rest of the thought about the God-shaped hole, of course, is that we try to stuff that hole with all kinds of other things that are ultimately unsatisfying because they are not God. So, then, the idea for Lent should be to let go of something (or somethings) with which we have been attempting to fill the God-void. To let go... instead of to give up.

Okay, I'm sure I could come up with some bad "Frozen" joke here, but I'll refrain.

If I consider letting go of something, there seems to be a certain kind of peace in the relinquishment - as in, relinquishing it to God, offering it to him in order that he might come to fill my own God-void. 

I think that sometimes we get so absorbed by the idea of giving something up for Lent, that we don't really think about why we're doing it. Perhaps it's only semantics, but the idea of letting go of something for Lent reminds me of the reason why I should, more so than if I think of it in terms of giving something up. It reminds me of my own longing for God - and of God's longing for me - and that helps me to consider more deeply what I should "let go."

Lord, help me to see more clearly what is holding me back from you. 

(Photograph taken at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish - "Redemptorist Church" - Kansas City, MO - July 2014)

Monday, February 2, 2015

oh, atlanta

Last week found me away from home... again... Traveling through four states, and stopping in three of the four, in the course of five days is exhausting, to say the least.


Last Thursday night found my companions and I in Atlanta. 

Oh, Atlanta. All I'd ever known was your airport, which I thoroughly despise. 

On the long drive to Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, I browsed restaurants on my smartphone, at the request of my traveling companions - over the last several months of our traveling together, I have apparently proven myself adept at selecting good restaurants. 

As I browsed through the establishments listed on OpenTable, one caught my eye: Babette's Cafe. Surely, I thought to myself, this was a reference to Isak Dinesen's story Babette's Feast. Intrigued, I quickly browsed the menu, liked what I saw, and booked a table. 

Babette's Feast is a wonderful short story (adapted for film in the late 1980s) about two austere Protestant Norwegian sisters - Martine and Philippa - who refuse marriage at their father's behest, breaking the hearts of two men - one, a young lieutenant, and the other, a talented opera singer - in the process. 

One dark night years later, a peculiar Frenchwoman arrives on the sisters' doorstep, with a letter from the rejected opera singer - introducing Babette, and imposing on their Christian generosity to take her into their home. "Babette can cook," the letter closes. 

Several more years later, as the anniversary of their now deceased father's birthday approaches, the sisters wish to remember him with the other members of the church he had founded. They wish only a simple remembrance, but Babette, who has just been notified that she has won ten thousand Francs in the French lottery, implores them to allow her to create a French feast for the guests. They finally give in, and she goes about the planning. 

Babette creates a truly grand meal, foreign to these austere Norwegians, and as the dinner is served and wine flows freely, a sort of redemptive ecstasy falls upon the guests - their hearts are opened to one another in love and laughter, alleviating bitterness and forgiving past wrongs - healing painful wounds. 

The feast completed, and guests departed, the sisters realize that the evening's mastermind has had no share in the fruit of her labors, and rush into the kitchen to find Babette exhausted - completely spent, surrounded by a multitude of dirty dishes. She has sacrificed herself for tremendous good, yet the only thing Martine recognizes is, "It was a very nice dinner." 

Indeed, Babette's Cafe in Atlanta was a reference to the short story - a framed print of the movie poster graced the wall by the door. We had a lovely dinner there, with plenty of good food and wine - but most importantly, the opportunity to enjoy one another's company as friends instead of as simply a group of engineers who were, yet again, traveling together. 

Like the story, that evening reminded me that there is always more to things than what we see or can even understand. In the story, Babette is, of course, an allegory for Christ, and her amazing dinner is allegorical of Christ's sacrifice - which we recall every time we attend the celebration of the Eucharist. (Fr. Robert Barron has an excellent commentary on this in his book Eucharist.) On the plane of our daily lives, though, we all have known a "Babette". It might be the cook making our dinner in a restaurant kitchen, the spouses left at home alone for the week while we are on travel, or something very different. We often fail to recognize their sacrifices, just as we often fail to recognize the sacrifice of Christ. 

Oh Atlanta... I would sooner forget your airport, but I hope I always remember dinner at Babette's Cafe - and more importantly, of what it reminded me.