Sunday, November 29, 2015

Waiting with Our Lady

Today I was meditating on the Visitation, when Our Lady visited her cousin Elizabeth. I was thinking about how many times I have had that friend who has come to me in my time of need. Come to me in person, come to me in a phone conversation, or come to me in an e-mail or letter. A friend who says exactly the right words at the right time. Who listens to my sorrows, comforts me in my anxiety, rejoices with me in my joy, offers me words of wisdom in my time of perplexity. Their visit is a relief, comfort, Godsend, blessing.

As I was thinking about The Visitation, I was thinking about how, beautiful this event is. It expresses the friendship and love between Our Lady and St. Elizabeth as they share the unfolding of God's plan - Mary, with Child, the Son of God;  Elizabeth, with Child, St. John the Baptist.

Mary doesn't just visit Elizabeth, though. The expectant Mary will come visit US, if we just ask her to. This Advent, she will come to us, with the same joy of the expectancy with which she went to visit her cousin. She will come to us, the with the same fulfilled Promise with which she came to share with Elizabeth. If we ask her to come be with us, to stay with us, that same power of the Christ child will stir our hearts, just like it stirred the heart of St. John the Baptist - even in his mother's womb.

Mary is the best friend that could come to visit us. She too will listen to us, comfort us, rejoice with us, inspire us. And most of all, during this Advent season, Mary will teach us, in a perfect way, how to wait for the Savior - in joyful hope.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Advent Season of...Me?

Advent is this Sunday, and I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do to make it a prayerful, meaningful 25 days. Something came to me tonight, that was rather unexpected. What if, this Advent, I focus on self-care, rather than self-denial? Sacrifices and penances absolutely have their place. But perhaps the Lord is asking me, for 25 days, to be especially good to myself. To be mindful of  my need to unwind, to rejuvenate, to be refreshed? To honor that need, to honor myself, a daughter of the King, created in the image and likeness of Christ. To intentionally try to temper the temptation to do, do, do, with the permission to be.

As it is, December is a month that tends to stress me out. Introverted me gets overwhelmed about the quantity of small-talk holiday gatherings I must attend, cookies and treats I must bake, gifts I must buy, etc. By December 25th, I just end up tired, and cranky and certainly not feeling very edified and spiritually prepared to celebrate the birth of Christ.

This past year as been an extremely busy one for me. It has drained me and stretched me and left me feeling pretty depleted here in late November. I am weary and worn.

But Jesus says come. He says to "be still and know that I am God."

How do I attain this stillness, this tranquil hush where I can hear Him whisper, "My daughter, you are Mine. You are beautiful. You are worth it. You are loved."

Perhaps for me, perhaps for you, this is to be intentional about self-care; perhaps it means creating and oasis of rejuvenation in the midst of a frantic, totally stressed out world.   Perhaps it is in creating that spiritual space - getting rid of the clutter - so there is a place for communion with the Little One when He comes at Christmas.

I remember once in a homily, a priest talking about our duty to love others; and first and foremost, the duty to love and care for ourselves. For if we don't first care for, honor, and love ourselves, we will not be able to be present and whole to those around us. Another time, a priest at a retreat while I was in grad school talked about how "we need Divine Mercy in order to love ourselves." We can be so, so hard on ourselves. We must ask Jesus for His Divine Mercy in order to help us see ourselves as He sees us. If we could do that; we would be receiving the most beautiful and perfect gift at Christmas.

So what will help me to be still? To settle? To be well? I think I will create a list, but for starters, things like making nourishing meals, listening to calming music, writing letters to old friends, gentle exercising, sweetly smelling candles and journaling may be some ways.

In giving myself a little extra care, may I be reminded of the sweetest care that He has for me. Maybe you will too!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Having it All

We want to have it all. We think we should have it all.

There is a pervasive syndrome running through our society today: the syndrome of discontent. We are never really happy with what we have. We always want that one more thing. Many times, these are very good things in and of themselves, but still, we covet. We grasp beyond the lot of what we have been given today. If I only had more money. If only I had a husband. If only I had children. If I only had more children. If only I had children who behaved. If only I had a bigger house. If only I had a nicer house. If only I had another degree. If I only had a more fulfilling job. If only I had more energy. If only I was prettier. If only I was healthier. If only I could travel more. If only I had more time to volunteer. The list goes on and on and on ad nauseam.  

We want it all. 

But you know as well as I - that as soon as we might arrive at one of those things on the list, we are craving the next thing. In the meantime, while we try to be happy and grateful with the gifts we have been given, we continue to long for the perfect life, in the perfect house, with the perfect stuff, and the perfect set of virtues, with the most perfect white picket fence. 

Anything short of this? Crushing discontent.

Because we feel entitled to each of these things. Because the culture tells us that we deserve theses things. Because why shouldn't we want to have it all?

I think that the reason many of us become unhappy and discontent is because we are measuring ourselves up to this extraordinarily fake and unrealistic vision of what we think our lives should be. We feel entitled to each and every one of these things. And when something falls through, or it doesn't come a long in the time frame that we expect, we are disappointed. And sometimes, even angry with God. But who said we were entitled to any of this?

Measuring our lives against these ideals of perfection is crushing our spirits, and robbing us of the precious joy we are meant to hold. The joy that was meant for us, even as we are purified by fire.

We were never promised and of these things. And we certainly don't deserve any of them.

But there are things we are promised. Things that will endure. Things that are meant for each and every one of us:

Faith, hope, and love.

"These things will last forever - faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love." 1 Cor 13:13

No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in: sickness or health, joy or sorrow, wealth or poverty, struggle or sunshine, these gifts are ours for the taking, they are ours in abundance.  We will never lack them, if we but ask. We can have them all. 

Everyday, no matter what is going right, no matter what is going "wrong", we have a chance to receive the gifts of faith, hope, and love. We have the opportunity to grow in faith, hope, and love. These gifts rise far above the confines of earthly life. They are carved into our souls; they lift our spirits; they mold us and strengthen us. The way that they adorn our souls is far more significant than the way any white picket fence adorns a "perfect little life."

In light of this truth, the lies of inadequacy and discontent can begin to fade. We can stop measuring our personal news feed against a backdrop of earthly perfection and ideal circumstances: we can start measuring our progress by the faith that is growing, the hope that is holding on, and the great love in which we "live and move and have our being." Acts 17:28

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On Weakness and Flaws and Redemption: A Lenten Reflection

"All of your flaws and all of my flaws
They lie there hand in hand
Ones we've inherited, ones that we learned
They pass from man to man"...Bastille

Lent is that time of year when we look our flaws and examine our weaknesses in a very deliberate way. We identify those parts of us that need improved, purified, redeemed. 

We are flawed. We need to change. We need a program. We need to overcome ourselves. Right?

I know in my own life, though, there is a tendency to use Lent as a "self-improvement project." Identify my flaws, and work on fixing them. This is a very laudable endeavor. We are called to strive for virtue, and Lent is an ideal time to try and cultivate those virtues more intentionally, especially the virtues that we routinely fall short on.

What can end up happening, though, is a overwrought focus on my "success" or my "progress" and my "effort". We can get carried away thinking about how well we are doing on our life improvement plan, rather than using it as an opportunity to focus on our need for grace.

The sheer fact that it is so difficult for me to give up chocolate, or social media, or to pray more for the people that annoy me, or trust that God will provide for me,  is a little pathetic. These little moments of struggle illuminate my weakness.

But what if rather than letting our weakness disgust and discourage us, we were to glory in it. 

Not out of laziness and despair, but out of hope.

What if we don't just simply try and power through, stoically strengthening our self discipline muscles, but to take some time to rest in the reality of that weakness. To come to peace with it. Not to berate ourselves for that weakness. But to glory in that weakness. “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Sounds counterintuitive, right?

But it's not.  "God I am WEAK. And I need you."

In encountering our weaknesses and flaws we recognize our dependency. It's as if we can cry out to God,

"There's a hole in my soul
I can't fill it I can't fill it
There's a hole in my soul
Can you fill it? Can you fill it?" (Bastille)

I know the sins and weaknesses that I am prone to. I will probably always struggle with lack of discipline, laziness, desire for comfort, and at times, cowardliness. Your tendencies might be completely different - perhaps yours are anger, resentment, control. But whatever they are, we all have them, and we will battle with them and wrestle with them for a lifetime. It are these very struggles, though, that will be are path to sanctification; these flaws that cry out for a Redeemer. 

Sometimes it frustrates me, whether it's on the way to the confessional, or looking these weaknesses in a more penetrating way during Lent - that I continue to struggle with the same. things. over. and. over. again.

When am I going to overcome these? When will I reach perfection?

These moments where we realize our weakness and sinfulness should not be a moment of self-censure, but an opportunity for Thanksgiving. It is because of weakness that we are dependent on His grace to overcome them. And it is through His grace that we are transformed and saved.

Because it is that place of emptiness, of inadequacy, of failure and defeat, where the torrent of His love must rush in and make us new.

Where we are weak, He is strong.

So at the end of Lent, our perhaps our question should not be "how well did I do in overcoming my flaws, in denying myself?" It should be, "How well did I let Him fill that hole in my soul?"

When His love rushes in to transform the dirty and decrepit places in our souls that are our flaws, we are made new. We are healed. We are made whole. It is by His love, not simply our willpower, that we are transformed.