Monday, July 28, 2014

To find happiness stop looking for it

Though the Gospels don't cite this, in Acts 20:35 St. Paul draws from the oral, Christian tradition when He quotes Jesus as saying "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

This makes me think of the prayer of St. Francis which has it that "It is in giving that we receive."

Or how about the old adage "Virtue is its own reward?"

I think each of these phrases sheds light on the truth that love is a very generous thing.  It doesn't just give to the receiver but it even gives to the giver!  

What do I mean?

When we pour ourselves out in authentic love we are mysteriously filled up by the very act of pouring ourselves out.  To give love is to receive the joy of loving. To give ourselves away in love is to find our authentic selves.

We were made for love and we were made to love.

I've seen studies that note that Catholic Priests have the most fulfilling jobs and I think that's because they give so much of themselves away.  They typically dont have all the normal consolations which others have in life yet they're happier than most.  Why?

It is because they give away so much of themselves in love that they are just as often filled with the joy of having loved.

That's the secret to finding happiness.  Don't look for it.  

The secret of happiness for anyone - whether a Priest, a businessman, a mom, a student... - is to find out (and live out!) how you are to love.  

Because ultimately we're not only looking for happiness.  We're looking for love and true happiness will only come to the door when we've welcomed in love.  Happiness is the fruit of love.  So don't just look for happiness.  Look for love and, when you find how to love, happiness will find you.

"Where you do not find love put love and there you will find love." St John of the Cross


Saturday, July 26, 2014

What is our ending?

Click the link and have a watch and a listen.

I came across this song earlier and was inspired in a way I normally am not.  I'm grateful for that. 

The lyrics hit me but also the video itself.  I found the former to be honest and passionate and the latter to be symbolic of what I believe is one of the deepest desires of our hearts which is to find, and to be found, by mom and dad.

I have often thought that one of the unfortunate effects of Adam and Eve's original sin was a deep wound of rejection which slashed itself onto the hearts of all of their children after them.

Our first parents rejected us.  In saying no to God's plan for life they said a strong, intentional "no" to their children, too.  Thus, death was brought into the world and forced upon multitudes who never wanted it.  Many children - you and I - were rejected by the fore bearers of life - Adam and Eve.  We were orphaned.

(Adam and Eve with their dead son, Abel - his death being the eventual fruit of their own sin.)

Though God has always accepted us at the deepest level of our being we can't help but feel from time to time that initial - and all too often repeated - rejection from those who were supposed to image that love from God.  Instead of being shown Images of God we were simply rejected.  There is no pain greater than to be rejected, abandoned.

In the music video the little boy is reunited with his parents who have gone off in search for their little one.  A band member eventually lovingly points the boy in the right direction; the direction of his parents. The ending is how we all desire it to be - beautiful.

But the lyrics leave the question open for us.  "So tell me what is our ending? Will it be beautiful?"

I've shared before that one of the most meaningful passages in Scripture for me is where Jesus says, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (or "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.") It's meaningful for me because I have meditated upon that sense of orphanhood that we can all feel; that sense of rejection and abandonment not only from our first parents (Adam and Eve) but from so many others.  "Why didn't they want me?" We can feel alone, unwanted, desolate.

There is no way to heal a wound caused by a lack of love except through a greater love.  If our first father and mother rejected us it is nonetheless true that God intended to heal that human rejection by human means (hence why God became a man in Christ.) We know that, from the very beginning of the Church, Christians have seen Jesus and Mary as that New Adam and New Eve who did not say no and reject us but gave an all embracing yes us their spiritual children.  At the site of the fall there is a tree, a sinful man and a sinful woman.  At the site of the redemption there is also a tree - the Cross - but not there is a sinless man and a sinless woman (the one who is "full of grace" in Luke 1:28) Jesus turns to the "disciple whom He loved" (always symbolic of me and you) and says "Behold, your Mother."  (John 19:27)

He did promise, after all, that He would not leave us orphans.  Every child deserves a father and a mother.  I believe the fullness of the Christian life is experienced only after there is a reunification both to Jesus as the New Adam and perfect Image of the Father but also an acceptance of Jesus' mother as our mother and New Eve (as that beloved disciple did who "took her into his very home" (John 19:27 - have you taken Mary into your home? Into your heart as Mother?) She is the perfect Mother whom our little orphaned hearts have so long looked for.  Perhaps we never thought God was good enough to fulfill such a deep desire; to have a perfect Mother as well as a perfect Father.  A long for the perfect human Mother and Father we were supposed to have.  Did God somewhere along the line forget that we needed a Mother in addition to needing a Father?  Yes, God is our eternal Father; our source and goal and Jesus, the God-man, brings us into God's divinity.

But even the God-man needed a Mother.  That's why He gave her to us:

"Behold, your mother."  

We wouldn't be fully human without a Mother and, I'll be bold enough to say, we can't be fully Christian either.  If Jesus really did give Mary as a Mother to us "beloved disciples" then we are missing out on so much if we don't yet have a personal relationship with our mother.  

"So tell me what is our ending? Will it be beautiful?"

Mothers always make things beautiful.  

In fact, Jesus' mother formed the most beautiful thing ever created - the humanity of Christ.  Let let the Holy Spirit, through Mary your mother, form your humanity, too, so that you can more perfectly image the beauty of her Son, Jesus.  Accept not only the New Adam as a father but the New Eve as a mother.  This is God's plan for His children - not to leave us orphans.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The grace of graces for a Magdalene heart

I think if we saw our sins as God sees them we'd cry for days.

Think about it.

If our minds were opened to truly see the infinite (read infinite) love God has for us and the terribly inadequate response on our part we'd simply cry for not loving God the way He deserves.  We'd realize how unfair we are to God.  We'd know how delicate His heart is and how brutal our sins really are - even the lightest offenses.

Mary Magdalene was a Saint who knew her sins through and through and, because of such knowledge, was able to love God with tremendous ferocity.  In fact, after the initial Christian persecution in Jerusalem it led her to live the remainder of her life as a hermitess in southeastern France.

She only later reached such a point of desire for God because she had first realized God's desire for her - and how deeply her sins had betrayed the love which inflamed His desire.

All of us have hurt God.  More to the point our sins have hurt ourselves.  We're blind and insensitive to the truth of God's love.  If we accepted the whole reality of His love for us we'd be instantly transformed into a Saint.

There is a grace we must pray for.  It is, in essence, a great Wisdom which comes through a true sorrow for our sins.  We need to see our sins as God sees them.  The clear sightedness which will result from our tears of sorrow - tears which wash away spiritual blindness - will show us the way of love.  Repentance gives birth to the new life of love.

St. Mary Magdalene is a beautiful, powerful Saint for obtaining for us true sorrow for our sins (or perfect contrition.)  She's a model for complete repentance.  She held nothing back from God.  Her repentance (in fact, the repentance of all the Saints) was what made her such an ardent lover of God.  She saw reality - she saw what her sins really did to her God.

They crucified Him.

(Magdalene meditating upon a skull; a reminder that the wages of sin is death.)

This is why she weeps so bitterly in the depictions of the crucifixion which we've seen so many times.  She saw her responsibility for the Cross and Christ's loving acceptance of it - in order to bring her soul back to life.

"Woman, why are you weeping?" were Jesus' words to Magdalene after His resurrection.  She hadn't yet realized He was risen.  He was no longer dead because of her sins but was now alive -and she, too, was alive - because of His love.  May we find ourselves sorrowful for our sins and then allow ourselves to be found by Christ's love.

(Don't be disheartened or afraid at the thought of sorrow for sins.  When God grants such a bitter grace it is made sweet by His tenderness.  He holds us even as we crumble before Him.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why are you holding on?

Sometimes hope seems absurd.

It can be difficult, if not impossible, to see passed the thick, dark cloud of one's present reality - but hope doesn't need to see.  In fact, it's not supposed to.

Hope in God is a certain trust that He does indeed "work all things for the good for those who love Him."  It is being sure that God is faithful to His promises and that "the sufferings of this present time cannot compare with the glory to be revealed."  

Hope, the Scripture says, "does not disappoint."  It does not disappoint because hope cannot quite perceive (as it shouldn't - otherwise it would be vision and not hope) the joy and fulfillment that awaits us in Heaven.

St. Bernadette whose body is incorrupt.

I'm reminded of what the Virgin Mary told St. Bernadette (the visionary from the famous French town of Lourdes) that, in effect, "I do not promise you joy in this life but in the next."  This world is the only opportunity that we have to embrace the cross and the One Who rests upon it.  For all eternity we will rejoice with Him in glory.

But eternity is not enough.  We should want to spend time with Him.

And time?  Time in our fallen world is a Cross.  It is a Cross because it involves hope for what we do not yet possess fully, namely, the One Who makes the Cross worth it - and worth anything at all.  Without Christ then suffering is pointless and without ultimate hope.  But with Christ the Cross is full of hope.

And hope does not disappoint.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

No fair, God!

"Have you seen my Beloved?" (Song of Solomon 3:3)

"If you find my Beloved tell Him that I am sick with love." (Song of Solomon 5:8)

"When we search for anything with too much eagerness, we pass it by a hundred times without perceiving it." (St. Francis de Sales)


But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. (Bono)


Why does God seem to leave us sometimes? Why the apparently unnecessary trials in life?  "God's ways are unfair" we say! When I complain to God and say, in effect, "This isn't fair!" He often brings to mind the scripture passage which reads, "Are my ways unfair or are not your ways unfair?"  (Ezekiel 18:25) He is the fair One... I am unfair - made so by sin.  

I complain without right.  I suffer but I have never gotten what I truly deserved.  Fulton Sheen said something to that effect.  Even our sufferings are limited by the tender mercy of God.

Yet, even though I am unfair to God in my sinfulness I long to hear Him say,

"Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee."  (Song of Solomon 4:7, Douay Rheims)

When we love someone we want to be perfect for them. Knowing that we are, however, imperfect (though redeemed) and sinful (though being sanctified) we can often feel that the heaviest cross in our lives is our very self.  I am what is difficult about life! I make things much harder than they have to be. Ever been sick of your own company? Thank God that He never grows weary of spending time with us.

Oh, please don't leave me.

I see my unfairness, we all can see it in ourselves.  More often than not we've judged ourselves fairly harshly and we don't listen to God telling us what it is that He sees: You are all fair... You are my Beloved.

You see God doesn't expect absolute perfection.  What He desires (God has His desires, too) more than anything else is a soul open to receive the full weight of His love.  That's why Christ came; to open souls up to the Father.

In our lives there will be trials, yes, but many of them are "unfair trials" which we are, unfortunately, responsible for.  God is very fair (all fair, in fact.) His perfect justice takes into account our great imperfection and, in justice does not treat us the way we *think* we deserve.  His mercy is precisely what we need.   It would be unfair if God were not merciful to such blind and broken sons and daughters. We don't have to be perfect.  We just have to turn to God and let Him have a say in our situation.

To let God speak and then to listen.

"You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you." (Isaiah 43:4)

Yes, Lord. 

Because we can search and search for what we think we need and plead and beg until we're exasperated, frustrated, and ready to give up but what we seek is always closer than we think - it's God.  We don't have to search so furiously anymore and try to improve ourselves to be loveable enough to Him.  No, we just need to stop and be loved.

So be fair to God.  Give Him what He wants for a change.  Let Him love you as you are right here.

It's only fair.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Live the truth you know (or, have some integrity!)

There are some hard lessons in life.  Some of them are effectively (and sometimes only) learned when we find ourselves running up against and resisting those things which we already know to be true.  (St. Paul used the phrase "kicking against the goad" to describe a similar reality.  I've always taken it to mean, essentially, resisting the truth to one's own detriment.)

(Caravaggio's Conversion of St. Paul.  Paul was "kicking against the goads" - resisting the Lord - until the Lord pursuaded him otherwise...)

Here's an example: We all know we need enough sleep at night but how many times have we burned ourselves with staying up later than we already know we should?

Another example: Knowing we don't have enough money for something so we put it on a credit card.

A spiritual example: Not doing things God's way.  That's basically where all of our problems start.

But really, we often do know what God wants for us in most situations.  We're not dumb.  We've read 1 Corinthians 13 - we know what love should look like and we know we need to carry ourselves with true love wherever we go.  So why are we so surprised by the sufferings (albeit unnecessary if we just lived the truth like we know is best) which tend to come our ways when we resist and reject authentic love?

In other words, why do we sin?

I think oftentimes we sin because were trying to avoid suffering in some way by pursuing some good thing in an illicit way.  

Quick, obvious example: Sex before marriage.  Sex is good but, when such an expression of  the *total* gift of self (which implies a previously made, lifelong commitment aka marriage vows) is made where there hasn't *actually* been a total gift of self, well then you will have pain coming down the tubes. The act of sex speaks the language of "total gift of self" but if that total gift hasn't already been made then sex becomes a lie.

And lies never lead to joy or fulfillment. Our actions, good or bad, have real effects on our hearts.

In other words, we have to live with integrity or the integrity of our own consciences, our very souls, will be wounded - and sometimes deeply.

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." (1 Corinthians 13:6)

Love can't do it any other way because love means living the truth.

Love means integrity.


Friday, July 4, 2014

I want to have all the things

My heart is divided.

There.  I said it.

I want it all! I want God but I also want myself...

I want all the things!

Maybe you can relate because your heart is probably divided, too.  I think that's the nature and reality of sin in our lives. It divides our hearts away from giving themselves totally over to God.

We have to choose though.  Do we want to love or do we just want ourselves?

If we want to love then we have to allow the Lord to fill and heal our hearts with His Love because we can only love to the extent that we allow ourselves to be loved.

If we want ourselves well... then just follow whatever selfish, unfulfilling desire you happen to have at the present moment.  I promise you'll always be disatisfied!

But love? Love alone satisfies.  It is paradoxical then when a person stops looking at themselves, stops trying to affirm themselves, and stops trying to "grasp" at the fruit in the middle of the garden of Eden, that he will then be in a position to *receive* precisely what is deeply sought after.

To paraphrase a great man who was quoting a great council of the Church, "Only when a man gives himself away in love will he truly find himself." (That's me paraphrasing St. John Paul the Great who cited the Second Vatican Council.)

Love - authentic love - is our truest nature and highest calling.  When we love we are who we are most deeply.  When we give ourselves away we are, mysteriously, most ourselves even though we "lose ourselves" for the sake of the other.

So the question is how we you made to love? Or better, first, how is God trying to love you lately and how do you resist His love? And is your heart still grasping at itself and trying to affirm itself? Can you trust that as soon as you stop grasping at yourself and your own pleasure that then you'll be able to receive the gift God always wanted to give? That gift is true life, abundant life, a life so filled that it bursts at the seams.

How is your heart divided? What does God want to do about that? Will you let Him be Who He is in your life so you can be who you truly are?


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Love is patient

The only way to grow in the virtue of patience is to wait for it.

Ironic, isn't it? (In fact, every virtue is that way.  If we want to grow in it we have to exercise it.  We ust practice gentleness, mercy, or cheerfulness is we want to be more so gentle, merciful or cheerful.)

Why is patience important, you may ask?

Because love is patient. (I didn't say that, St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4)

There is a saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I think that is because when a person you care about is absent your heart then stretches as it longs for their presence.  

The only reason that the heart "grows fonder" is because it first loves.

What is God asking you to wait for?  

He often (in fact, always) has tremendous graces awaiting us yet He sees our hearts aren't (for various reasons) quite ready for them.  He allows desire to well up within us; desire for the good things He wants to give.  This desire expands the heart and allows for a greater capacity to receive an even greater good (better than what we would have received if God just gave us what we wanted right away.)

Psalm 37:4 says "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Matthew 6:33 has it that we should, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you besides."

Translation?  Don't primarily seek the gift but seek the Giver and trust that He is preparing not only the perfect gift but also your heart to receive it in a more perfect way.  The present absence will make your heart grow fonder for when the future presence (of the gift) comes.

What you want is to grow in love but love is patient.

You want to jump into the pool but He may first be asking you to sit with Him in the sun for a while.  

So be patient, yes, but wait with Him while you're waiting on Him.

There is a reason He wants to sit with you for a while.

Trust Him!