Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Strength in Hope

   You'll have to bear with me on this post. I'm writing on my iPhone in a coffee shop while waiting to go to work. Lately, I've been reflecting on how much I dread watching the news. When is the next tragic event going to take place? Sometimes, it feels as though another kidnapping, another shooting, another bombing happens every week. Just as we begin to recover from one painful event, another hits us in the gut. It's difficult to remain hopeful when it feels like we live in such a violent, hateful world. And yet, that is just what we need to do. We need to have hope that God will take care of all things; we need to keep up the hope that Christ has already conquered death and brought us to new life. It is no coincidence that the Cardinal virtues are faith, hope, and love. With these three things we can overcome any tragic event.

   Recently, I was reading a book and came across this quote which has given me much hope: "The most beautiful works have been realized during the most difficult periods of history. This is a matter of fact, and it gives the life to those who lose heart when faced with painful events." Blessed James Alberione said this, and it is so true! Alberione founded multiple religious orders, societies of priests, and organizations of lay men and women - collectively known as the Pauline family- during tumultuous times. He knew firsthand the struggle of keeping hope and continuing the work of the faith during difficult times. While he was founding these societies in Italy, both world wars took place, fascism overtook Italy and much of Europe, and times were rapidly changing. And yet, even in the most dire of circumstances, The Lord provides. He gives us the necessary strength and courage to be examples of good in a world that is seemingly littered with evil. There is a need for ever greater faith in the world today!

     In the darkest of times, the Light prevails. This sentiment is beautifully illustrated in a song by one of my favorite artists, King Charles. The song features vocals by Mumford & Sons, so if you like them, you'll definitely be hooked. ;) This song is called "The Brightest Light," and one of the lines really struck me- "The Brightest Lights cast the darkest shadows."


Wherever there is Truth, the devil will try to stop it. The most difficult times in history have produced some of the most wonderful examples of true faith and heroism. And in the end, the light will always overcome the darkness! How beautiful! I have to run to work, but let us take heart in these words from a recent homily given by Pope Francis:

    "The age of martyrs is not yet over, the Church has more martyrs now than during the first centuries...We pray to Our Lady to protect us, and in times of spiritual turbulence the safest place is under the mantel of Our Lady. She is the mother who takes care of the Church. And in this time of martyrs, she is the protagonist of protection: She is the Mother. Let us state with Faith: Mother, the Church is under your protection. Care for the Church." Keep up the faith, brothers and sisters! Know that you are in my prayers and please, keep me in yours. 'til next time! :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Freedom of God's Will

           Let me start by saying that I will not always be posting this frequently, but I felt inspired to share with you a short reflection based on the feast of the Annunciation, which we celebrated yesterday. Don't worry if you thought, "Yea, but April 8th is more than 9 months before Christmas!" I thought the same thing...the feast was moved to this Monday because March 25th fell in Holy Week. Better late than never, right?

          There is so much that can be said about the Annunciation, when Mary gave her YES to God, becoming the Mother of our Lord. My reflection is taken from something I read in one of my iphone apps. Since I'm a poor college grad living at home, I cannot afford to buy myself the daily reading missals (like Magnificat). Instead, I've downloaded a couple free apps to my phone - Laudate and RC Calendar. Using these, I can look up the Mass readings, pray the rosary, read the Bible, and pray the Divine Office. How cool is that?!? Sometimes, these apps also have great reflections in them. Yesterday, I was reading RC Calendar's reflection for the Annunciation and was struck by a few things. First was this quote:

        "If God really wants us to do something he'll sweep us off our feet the way he did 
Mary, and if he chooses not to, it's hardly our fault, is it?"

           To backtrack, this reflection was defending the idea that Mary had absolute free will in her choice to become the Mother of God. Often, the argument is made that Mary, because of her lack of sin, was not able to say no to God's request. I held this belief for a long time. How could someone who walked so closely to the Lord have denied him in any way? It is important to remember that just because Mary was born/conceived without original sin (the Immaculate Conception), does not wipe away her innate God-given ability to choose. Everyone has to make choices on a daily basis; some are big and some are small. Most choices, especially if we are living a life of faith, are made between two good things and we are left to discern which way we think God is asking us to go. Sometimes, we become so obsessed with discerning God's will in our life (we think this is the only road to happiness) that we become bogged down and miserable. Instead of letting God search us out and reveal himself to us, we go on a massive, endless manhunt. I have been there! Throughout college, I was discerning whether God was calling me to marriage or religious life - two beautiful, but different paths. I was determined to find the answer by the time I graduated, but ended up being miserable when I couldn't say yes to one of these paths. I was afraid of missing that ONE moment, but what I had forgotten is that God created me and he knows me. He won't let me miss him....in fact, if he wants me to do something, he will sweep me off my feet. And that's the moment that turned my entire discernment on its head, if you will. :) In the moment that the Lord nudged me and invited me to explore more deeply one of these paths, he also made it very clear in my heart that I could say no. Even more, I had the sense that if I did say no I would still be happy in the end! Do you know why? It's because the Lord loves me in a way that I cannot comprehend. He has given us free will and he respects our decisions. No matter what we decide, he will keep loving us in that profound way. How freeing is that knowledge?!? 

            So, Mary had a choice to make and she said yes to becoming the Mother of our Savior. (Imagine, even if she had declined the offer, God would have loved her in the same manner!) THANK YOU, MAMA! Everyday, I pray for the same docility, to have the courage and the wisdom to joyfully say yes when God sweeps me off my feet. 

               I will leave you with another, astounding quote from this reflection: 

             "The Almighty Father creates heaven and earth, the sun and all the stars; but when he really wants something done, he comes, the Omnipotent and Omniscient, to one of his poor, weak creatures - and he asks. And, day by day, he keeps on asking us."

            What is the Lord asking of you today? 

Daniel Bonnell, The Annunciation, bonnellart.com

Monday, April 8, 2013

Finding the Risen Christ

        Happy Easter + Happy Feast of Divine Mercy + Happy Feast of the Annunciation! So many great things to be celebrating this week! So many graces for which to ask! :) The Mass readings this past week have been some of my favorites. Meditating on the Gospels, I have been inspired to start a blog based on my prayer. Last year, I wrote a blog on my year abroad while I was nannying in France. Since returning home 8 months ago (wow! Has it really been that long??!?), I've really missed having something to write about so I'm really excited about this project. I hope it is helpful for you in some way as well....and, if you ever have any suggestions or questions, please feel free to let me know. ^_^

       In this post I will focus on two Gospel encounters with the Risen Christ: Mary Magdalene at the tomb (ref. John 20) and the road to Emmaus (ref. Luke 24). I absolutely love Mary Magdalene's encounter with Jesus at the tomb. Warning: I may take some liberties using my sometimes quite vivid imagination, so if some things don't sound like they're straight from Scripture, they are probably just from my brain. Praying I don't become heretical in this approach! ;)
       Finding the tomb empty, Mary becomes distraught, and weeping, throws herself on the ground. Her beloved Christ (the one who had healed her), had not only died a gruesome death just a few days prior, but was now missing. Imagine if you went to visit the grave of someone close to you and found it dug up and empty? Quickly, you can begin to feel those intense emotions. At this point, you've begun to give up all hope of ever seeing them again (at least in a physical sense); where their body once laid, no trace of them exists. You would do anything to get them back. Since I'm an art historian (of sorts. Does a BA actually qualify me?), I'm going to add some art into the mix. Often, paintings or other images spark my meditation, or become a part of it. It is such a wonderful thing to place yourself in a painting - hear the sounds, the conversations, look at the surroundings, and feel the mood.

Detail, Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, Rembrandt, 1638

        This painting is a wonderful work. I have included just a detail of the larger work, which shows the Risen Christ approaching Mary outside of the tomb. Kneeling before the sepulcher, she holds a cloth- perhaps a piece of the burial cloth left after Jesus had arisen. She looks behind her shoulder as she hears a man ask her why is she crying, but does not recognize him immediately. In Rembrandt's painting, Jesus is seen in the garb of a gardener, wearing a hat and holding a spade which points to Mary Magdalene's initial confusion. The viewer, knowing the end of the story, can feel the momentum building towards Mary's recognition of Christ. How happy will that moment be! Rembrandt has painted Mary with her body facing the empty tomb, with which she is currently preoccupied. She is slowly turning toward Christ, approaching that pivotal moment of realization.

       So, at this point in the story, a distraught Mary Magdalene has placed herself on the garden floor outside the entrance of the tomb. Suddenly, she hears a voice, asking her why she is weeping. Assuming it is the gardener - the groundskeeper- she asks him to bring back the body of her Lord if he knows where it is. I was always struck by the thought that after following Christ for years, Mary fails to recognize his voice. How can that be?!? And yet, how often do I do that in my own life? I know that Jesus is with me at all times, and yet I quickly disregard that. Instead of letting him live in me, I often try to take control. Sometimes, I will admit that I like to sulk; I like to have things to complain about (similar to the Israelites in the desert!). I forget that God is with me, so I try to take control of things, and I ultimately fail miserably. I am left feeling unhappy, and can do nothing else but return to God. When does Mary finally recognize that this man is the Lord, the Risen Christ? It is when he calls out her name. How beautiful! The Lord calls each of us individually, in a special way. Personally, I can tell you that the few times I have heard the Lord speak to me in prayer, he has begun with my name. And what a tender way to begin! The Lord, our Creator, is recognized in the unique utterance of the name of his beloved creation (yes, that is you, too!). When Mary realizes who is standing before her, she throws herself onto him, wanting to keep him as close to her as possible. Yet, Jesus does not let her get too comfortable; He quickly sends her out to tell the world what has just happened. Again, the Lord does this to all of us. We are not to keep him to ourselves, but we are called to live out our faith and share him with the world. While I'd like to stay in Adoration all day long sometimes, I know this is not what I am called to be doing. At this time, I am called to live in the world and be the best witness to the faith that I can be. Sometimes I am not successful, but if I continue to return to the Lord, He will give me the grace to do his work.

    I know this post is quickly becoming a long one, so I will only quickly share on the Road to Emmaus. Once again, Jesus appears to two disciples outside Jerusalem but they fail to recognize him. Even after they have spent hours together and he has explained the Scriptures to them, they do not put two and two together. It is only when they sit down to a meal together and Christ blesses the bread that they realize who they have spent so much time with! Once again, we can meet our Lord in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. What a beautiful way to encounter him! If you are struggling with your faith or trying to grow in your faith, I encourage you to spend time with our Lord in the Eucharist. Again, the few times that I have heard Christ speak to me in prayer were all in front of the Eucharist. Further, Jesus once again does not stay long with his followers once they have recognized him. He immediately disappears, and the two disciples go out to proclaim this marvelous story. Are you seeing a pattern?: I think God is trying to teach us something! ;)

   Thanks for taking the time to read this! Feel free to contact me with comments, suggestions, questions, etc. Have a blessed week!

In His grip,